Regional Reports from across the state complied and edited by jeanne frois
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Greater New Orleans
Fleur de Jaunet
When the profoundly blue cool days of a Louisiana February transition into the profoundly blue and warmer days of a Louisiana March, Carolina jessamine makes its ubiquitous and sunny appearance throughout the Big Easy and surrounding areas. From mid-March to late spring, drive through a piney forest, suburb or even a rundown section of New Orleans, and you’ll see this bushy, imperial dark-green vine, its wiry entwining stems covered with vivid yellow funnel-shaped flowers spreading like a picnic blanket.
The mere sight of this exquisite vine is a blues- chaser –– it likes full to partial sunlight and requires regular watering. It thrives in soil that’s kept consistently moist, but be careful not to overwater. Native to the southeastern United States, Mexico and Guatemala, Carolina jessamine can be propagated by dividing its root ball. Early one spring morning, take a cup of java outside and sip beneath its yellow stars.
FORK IN THE ROAD
Whenever I walk through the bewitching entrance of Antoine’s Restaurant in the French Quarter, I always somehow manage to feel that I’m underdressed, no matter how dressed up I actually am. Amid the soft lights, sitting on the Bentwood chairs in the 140-year-old establishment transports me backward in time, and I feel I should be wearing long satiny skirts draped over a bustle as I remove lace mitts and sip amber sherry.
The history of Antoine’s, which began in 1840 when young Antoine Alciatore gave up on the Big Apple and came to the Big Easy to start a restaurant, is nearly as delicious as its menu.
No other restaurant in America has been operated by the same family for as long as the Alciatores have lovingly run Antoine’s to present day. In Frances Parkinson Keyes sumptuous whodunit, Dinner at Antoine’s, members of the Alciatore family are depicted as characters by actual name.
In addition to the main dining room, Antoine’s sports several private dining rooms. The Rex Room, resplendent in purple, green and gold and vociferous in its regality, holds scepters and other mementos of Carnival kings of past.
Tucked discreetly away at the end of a corridor, the Mystery Room is a gem that possesses a droll past as well as Groucho Marx’s beret. During Prohibition, patrons of Antoine’s would enter a door in the Ladies’ Room that led to a secret room. When they exited the secret room, they left with coffee cups overflowing with booze.
The catchphrase response to any question about where the booze came from was, “It’s a mystery to me.”
Antoine’s gave the world Oysters Rockefeller (this appetizer’s recipe still remains a family secret –– the dish got its name because the sauce was divinely rich); Eggs Sardou, poached eggs served on artichoke bottoms and christened with rich Hollandaise sauce; and pommes de terre souffles, their classic fried puffed potatoes.
Antoine’s entrées are gourmet and generous. Among the poissons, you may relish Trout Pontchartrain, grilled trout adorned with butter-sautéed lump crabmeat, or slowly savor the Crabes mous grillés, soft-shell crabs delectably grilled and offered with hot melted butter.
For dessert, if you desire their signature Omelette Alaska Antoine (Baked Alaska), you must order it at least two hours in advance, so call ahead.
You might want to sip another of what Antoine’s proudly calls “notre creation” (our creation) –– the Café Brulôt Diabolique. Hot spiced coffee, served in a pedestal cup emblazoned with a red-suited Old Scratch, is obligingly flamed with brandy at your table.
Antoine’s Restaurant, 713 Rue St. Louis, New Orleans, (504) 581-4422.