I have flaws. Among them: I have little sense of direction, cannot do complicated math in my head (by which I mean addition beyond single digit numbers) and I am only intermittently good at giving gifts.

Now and again I come up with something that’s meaningful, but often I am at a loss as to what to get someone, and thus spend far too much time looking for the perfect thing without really finding it. My close relatives have come to terms with this and profess to still love me. Considering the universe of faults I could have, the fact that I have probably given my mother a plush bathrobe for Christmas three out of the last four years is probably not the worst thing in the world.

But I would like to be better at it, because it is very nice to give someone something they appreciate. A great gift does not have to be expensive, fancy or life-changing. A truly great gift is one that shows the giver put some thought into it; one that says, “I pay attention to what you like.”

I received such a gift a few weeks ago from a friend. She sent the gift with a short note in a manila envelope delivered by hand to my office. The envelope had already been opened when it reached me, so I took a quick look inside and when I realized it wasn’t work-related, I set it aside to deal with something else. I didn’t pick it back up for a couple of days.

When I did, in addition to the note I found two paperbacks: a pamphlet guide to neighborhood restaurants from 2003, and the 1976 edition of New Orleans a la Carte, Menus of Famous New Orleans Restaurants. The neighborhood guide is interesting; I always like to hear another knowledgeable take on a topic I enjoy, but the menu collection is fascinating.

It will come as no surprise that I am the sort of person who enjoys reading restaurant menus; I have several hundred from meals I’ve eaten over the last decade or so, and when I find a website that posts old menus, I can easily lose an hour just clicking on page after page. (Cool Culinaria, for example). So this book, in which no menu is more recent than 1976, (more likely 1975) is right up my alley.

Of the 39 restaurants represented, 12 are still in business, and that’s counting Marti’s current iteration. In truth, while the current Marti’s has a few things on the menu that were also there in the 70’s, the prices have gone up just a bit (in 1975 you could order trout amandine for $5.95, it’s $28 now) and there are definitely a few dishes that are not being duplicated these days – oysters “Imogen Coco” for example.

I have not replaced my (lost) copy of Lost Restaurants of New Orleans, by Peggy Scott Laborde and Tom Fitzmorris, so I cannot look up the two or three places with which I have to admit I am not familiar. Chez Francais, for example, was apparently located in Metairie, on Kingman street, and served a menu that would not be out of place at any number of local seafood and steak houses.

Then there are restaurants I’ve heard of, but never experienced, like Turci’s, or Le Ruths, and the restaurants I remember only vaguely, like Masson’s or Kolb’s.

Kolb’s was still in business when I first started working downtown in the early 1990’s, and I had lunch there a few times, sitting under belt-driven fans next to a bar that almost certainly been there almost 100 years. I had nothing by which to gauge whether the German food served there was any good or not; I was told by several people that it had gone downhill, but I certainly enjoyed it. Looking at the list of food and drink brought back a lot of memories.

One menu that brought back a lot of memories was Antoine’s. I distinctly remember being awed by the fact that the entirety of the menu was in French when I first visited, and for years I held Antoine’s up as the epitome of fine dining. There is a part of me that still does; it’s the same part of me that wants to cook through Escoffier’s Le Guide Culinaire and the part that very much enjoys looking at vintage menus.

Which brings me back to the start of this piece. The best part of receiving New Orleans a la Carte is how nice it was to realize that my friend found it and thought of me. She knew I’d enjoy it, and I do. I hate to get all treacly, but that really is the best gift of all.