’Tis the Season
Holiday shopping and lunch with my mother
Shrimp Pastrami Sandwich at Curio
“Shower the people you love with love. Show them the way that you feel.”
– James Taylor, “Shower the People”
Mary Elizabeth Steinlage Benson was born in New Orleans in 1929, and she spent the weekend afternoons of her youth taking in matinees at the Saenger, the Civic and the Joy theaters. A trip downtown was a reason for celebration, an occasion for proper attire.
As a child in the 1970s, holiday shopping with my mother meant an itchy dress and having my feet covered in silky white, lace-trimmed socks before they were crammed into horrible, stiff, patent leather Mary Janes. The socks would slip down into the shoes causing my clumsy self to slip and trip along as I tried to eliminate the discomfort of the bunched-up lumps growing like tumors under my feet in the already torturous shoes.
I would complain until we ditched the car in the D.H. Holmes parking garage and stepped out to the magic of once Canal Street. Mr. Bingle flew over Maison Blanche, the street lights and the streetcars were adorned with spruce garland and red ribbon and the sidewalks teemed with armies of elegant ladies like my mother, their wrists dragged down by rainbows of shiny shopping bags, their starry-eyed children following dutifully behind. The air rang with the bells of Salvation Army Santas who stood sentry outside of Krieger’s, Gus Mayer, Marks Isaacs, Godchaux, Labiche’s and the like.
Despite these considerable thrills, the highlight of such a memorable day was lunch somewhere in the French Quarter.
I was reminded of those days with my late mother as I enjoyed lunch at Curio. Located on the corner of Royal and Bienville streets with outdoor seating on the covered wrap-around second floor balcony, this spot would have been a sure bet on my mother’s radar. Though holiday decorations had yet to go up when I visited, the view was lush with the beauty of the hanging gardens on nearby balconies.
Holiday finery and the sweet ringing of bells were easy fathom.
That chef Hayley Vanvleet is a woman and her menu brilliant and seemingly crafted just for Mary Beth herself, would have sent my mother into orbit. Crisp boulettes that explode at the bite with a pop of sweet shrimp; earthy roast duck and black-eyed pea gumbo that’s just the ticket on a crisp day; a unique Reuben sandwich with pastrami shrimp, Swiss cheese and thousand island relish on a toasted onion bun. That sandwich, a combination of my mother’s favorites – shrimp and thousand island – surely would have been her chosen entrée. For dessert, my mother would have labored a bit trying to choose between the browned butter rum pound cake with coconut semifreddo and caramel, and the café au lait crème brulée with mini beignets before suggesting we get one of each to share.
Life is fleeting and precious. Meals shared make for beautiful memories. This holiday season take extra care to love your people.
(in The Old No. 77 Hotel & Chandlery) 535 Tchoupitoulas St., 599-2119, CompereLapin.com
301 Royal St., 717-4198, CurioNola.com
8201 Oak St. No. 1, 518-6889, DTBNola.com
808 Bienville St., 581-3467, GWFins.com
845 N. Carrollton Ave., 252-4999, ToupsMeatery.com
(in the Southern Food & Beverage Museum)1504 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd., 304-2147, ToupsSouth.com
In addition to the numerous Reveillon menus on offer all over town (FollowYourJoy.com) many restaurants are offering special opportunities this holiday season.
On December 6, Executive Chef Michael Nelson of GW Fins will reign over his annual Feast of the Seven Fishes, the traditional Italian holiday feast serving more than seven different species of seafood, each of which will be paired with wines.
Both Toups’ Meatery and Toups’ South will be offer New Year’s Eve Prix Fixe dinners with optional wine and cocktail pairings. Toups’ South will also throw down for a festive New Year’s Day brunch.
DTB will offer a lavish New Year’s Eve Dinner with à la carte specials and an optional prix fixe menu featuring chef Carl Schaubhut’s modern coastal Cajun cuisine.
At Compere Lapin, chef Nina Compton will offer a family-style feast with a Caribbean flair on Christmas Day, 1-8 p.m.