Every year, I look forward to/dread New Year’s Eve. I look forward to fresh starts and new attitudes and celebrations and fireworks and gatherings. I dread parking and crowds and the sinking feeling that I might have no one to kiss at midnight.
Once in a while, a perfect day comes along, a day even better than the one in your imagination. New Year’s Eve 2010 was such a day. I woke up already in the French Quarter so no worries about parking. We wandered the Quarter trying to find a good place for lunch with none of the holiday/Sugar Bowl crowds and found K Paul’s, normally open for dinner only, open with empty tables. The white linen tablecloths had been replaced with red and white checked plastic picnic cloths. We sent an emissary to the bar to place our order then waited for someone to yell out our name like at Subway, not the fabulous, no-freezers-on-the-premises-all-fresh-ingredients, Paul Prudomme-owned fun and fine dining experience K Paul’s is known for.
Turns out, they call it a “deli-style” lunch and offer the experience Thursdays through Saturdays. The prices are greatly reduced -$10 to $13 big portion entrees with a side. And the food? It changes weekly, but I had half of a fried green tomato with lump crab meat, grilled shrimp and a fabulous sauce on a bed of greens with cheese grits as well as gumbo and a fried flounder so tender and moist, I rethought my stance on fried fish.
I had an eye appointment Uptown, so we hitched a ride with family then took a long walk down fun and funky shop-lined Magazine Street to my place before finally catching a streetcar back into town. Celebratory spirit is pretty infectious around here so by the time the streetcar full of revelers got waylaid by traffic and had to walk the rest of the way, I was in the mood for more food and more fun.
Walking around the Quarter again, looking for a decent restaurant with open tables again, we ended up at Louisiana Pizza Kitchen. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t optimistic. In L.A., we have California Pizza Kitchen, which has decent pizza and salads but nothing worthy of the last meal of 2010. But this is the story of a perfect day and Louisiana Pizza Kitchen served up the perfect meal. I had the Shrimp Maque Choux (grilled shrimp with corn and garlic cream sauce $8.50) and marinated Grilled Italian Artichokes ($7.50). It was the perfect amount of food for me and big-time flavorful, all served as beautifully as anything I’ve seen on Top Chef.
We stopped in Molly’s for a drink, a pub best known for it’s Dollar High Life Thursdays and the interesting mix of people it’s been attracting for 30 years. When Rebirth Brass Band’s cover of Chuck Brown’s Bustin’ Loose came on the jukebox, my D.J. days in Georgetown D.C. and my new love for New Orleans’ music (especially Rebirth Brass Band) collided in a moment of musical perfection.
Then, it was off to the mighty Mississippi to watch fireworks. I’ve seen the display here many times, having visited New Orleans many a New Years with my cousins, but I’ve always stood near Jackson Square or somewhere near the top of the hill of the levee near Jax Brewery (now a mall). This time, further downriver, we crossed the railroad tracks on the top of the levee then kept going toward the Mississippi. A brass band wandered through the crowd, inspiring dance and collecting dollars in a cardboard box poised on one of their heads.
As we approached the downslope of the levee, the scene was out of a spooky, spiritual movie. Fog rolled off the river and up over the people standing on the rocky incline. They looked like shadow people. The fog lessened for a second and I realized there were thousands more people standing on the low-tide exposed river bank. You really had to be there to fully appreciate how eerie it all looked but I’ve done my paltry best to capture it on video.
The fireworks were sometimes wasted on our vantage. The fog got so thick that the lights on the bridge completely disappeared, people 5 feet away became invisible, but we cheered every gust of wind that blew our area clear and, why not, we cheered the bursts we couldn’t much see, too.
As we walked back from the river, we passed Cafe du Monde and decided to start the New Year with the best beignets in the world.
My first year in New Orleans ended with fabulous food and fireworks. My newlywed period with New Orleans is over. My second year here started with a kiss, French donuts and the optimism that comes from living a day better than I had bothered to imagine. I look forward to settling in with my city for a long and happy marriage.