Saturday, February 15, 2014

Blue Crab Beignets, Drag Queen Jambalaya and The Green Fairy

 It's no secret that I relished my last trip to New Orleans.  It's a city that truly got under my skin when we visited.  I reveled in the rich history, culture and music and indeed it doesn't hurt that I'm stone cold crazy about the native Creole/Cajun cuisine.  Back in KC, there was purportedly a bastion of fine Cajun food and the same good folks had two very different but equally excellent locations to try.  So, with Mardi Gras approaching, it seems a good time to recount those visits.

The first locale is in City Market and is called Beignet.  I had heard from several friends about this little storefront cafe and accompanied several coworkers the morning after a work retreat.  Beignet specializes in the New Orleans French-style donuts made famous at Cafe Du Monde in NOLA and Beignet does them sweet or savory.  We went for the sweet this time around and sampled both the chocolate truffle and the brie and apple.

 The brie and apple was a tasty blend of tart Granny Smith apples and melty brie and the truffle one was appropriately decadent.  I paired mine with some excellent chicory coffee while Keith went with Louisiana-style sweet tea.  Next time, I want to sample the savory ones like the Bourgeois Pig with caramelized onions, cheddar and applewood and hickory bacon.  Beignet also features crepes, both sweet such as the lemon-berry and savory cornbread such as their signature crepe; the Muffaletta with Mortadella ham, Genoa salami, provolone, mozzarella and olive salad.  Actually, I would just like to come back and try every item on the menu.  Preferably, in the Spring and Summer, when the River Market is rockin'.

The second locale is called Nica's Lagniappe and its located on Southwest Boulevard.  I visited on a dinner out with our friends Ronnie and Jeff.  The interior is dark and funky and feels like it could be found on some less-touristy corner of Bourbon Street.  Surreal artwork peers from every available corner but doesn't feel like overkill, instead it makes me want to just examine every nook and cranny in the building.  We had a reservation but arrived early and sat at the bar and ordered a drink and appetizer. The amiable barkeep led us with great suggestions on what to try.

 Ronnie enjoyed his traditional Hurricane, made with myriad rums.  Keith went for the Whisky Flight (Athol Brose, cinnamon-infused Sinfire, Sweet Lucy Cream with Wisconsin dairy cream - we dug the Sinfire).

  I was swept up in the way-cool absinthe fountain and the fact that they did the whole presentation of the drip over the sugar cube, that I decided it was time....time to dance with the green fairy.

 Absinthe is an anise-flavored spirit that has had quite the storied past. It was popular in the late 19th and early 20th-century France among Parisian writers and artists and became a staple of bohemian culture.  Absinthe gained a sordid reputation for being hallucinogenic but it has never been proven to have any stronger psychotropic effects than "normal" spirits.  So dance with the green fairy I did, and outside of an odd tingle, there was no hallucinations, nor did I suddenly channel Oscar Wilde and become instantly witty and urbane..alas.

 Nica's also features a creative cocktail list including a version of Hemingway's Death in the Afternoon drink consisting of absinthe and Champagne. Our appetizer at the bar was our opportunity to sample one of the savory beignets their sister restaurant specializes in...a creamy, flaky and fabulous blue crab beignet with blue crab, herbed goat cheese and hickory bacon.

We moved to the dining room for dinner and all of us completely enjoyed our meals.  Keith indulged in their dangerous macaroni and cheese...a signature dish with six cheeses and cornmeal-parmesan bread crumbs.   Ronnie got their Dr. John jambalaya with chicken, andouille, shrimp and candied jalapeno.

  There is also an amusingly-named Drag Queen Jambalaya that would please the vegetarians among us, consisting of spicy tofu, seitan and holy trinity candied jalapeno.  Jeff had the Ormand Polenta: seared polenta with crawfish tails, lump crab. lemon and butter.  I had a small plate for dinner and this was more for the meat-lover..the Houmas House plate with grilled andouille, tasso ham, alligator sausage, with candied jalapeno cornbread, habanero pickles and creole mustard.  Our photos of the meals do not do these delectable creations justice (we were struggling with the lighting), so take it from me, they were all marvelous.  Nica's also features a beautiful "Red Room" for special and private events (photo from their website) and a "shotgun-style" patio for warmer weather days.

Beignet and Nica's Lagnaippe are both owned by proprietor/Executive Chef Bryan Merker and his wife Monica and they have brought a truly New Orleans-flavored experience to Kansas City.  I can't wait to go back to both places!


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