To celebrate the first full week of 2016, EAT THIS CITY is headed to New Orleans. May your year be filled with delicious food and excellent company!
It’s hard to mention New Orleans without eliciting an emotional response. The French, Cajun and Creole roots are planted deeply into the cuisine and the culture. Jazz, Zydeco, and delta blues echo through the streets; alligators and nutria rats lurk in the swamps; parades and parties roar and rage during Mardi Gras — it’s a loud, brassy, beautiful city (and undoubtedly one of the best food cities in the country).
Even if you’ve never been, you probably have preconceptions and ideas about NOLA…but they can’t do the city justice. This is a city that sticks with you (like the praline sauces and andouille sausage).
Chef Alon Shaya has always had a love affair with Louisiana cooking — starting way back when he first devoured an Emeril Lagasse cookbook. He moved to New Orleans in 2003, prodded by his partner Octavio Mantilla, and has truly found home in the city. When Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, he says it made him even more loyal. He had the opportunity to cook for people who were truly hungry, and he remembers it as the best work he’s ever done.
In 2008, Shaya went to study in Italy, knowing he would open up his restaurant, Domenica, soon afterward. He says his dream at that point was to be the next Mario Batali. Then in 2011, he took a trip to Israel, where he was born, and realized he would be missing out if his food didn’t reflect the influences of his homeland. He had been sneaking some Israeli dishes into the repertoire at Domenica, but the trip prompted a shift. That’s when the chef opened Shaya to focus on Israeli cuisine.
Shaya and his restaurants are well decorated — he’s the winner of the 2015 James Beard Award for Best Chef: South, a Top Ten Restaurant in the Times Picayune’s Dining Guide, and a top restaurant pick by Food & Wine’s editor-in-chief, Dana Cowin.
What Chef Alon loves most about New Orleans is the culture infused into everything. He may not be a native, but he’s a dedicated transplant, and he knows what’s up. Here are his 15 choices, so you, too, can eat your way through The Big Easy.
I cannot have enough of a perfectly made Margherita. It’s a classic combination for a reason. The flavors come together so perfectly with sweetness from the tomato sauce, richness and tartness from a great quality bufala mozzarella, and the fresh and floral flavor of basil that cuts through it all. I love it when they are baked at 700°F so they char up a little but cook long enough to get a crispy crust. It just so happens I can get all of that from Chef Morgan Angell at PIZZA Domenica in New Orleans.
Crispy Louisiana shrimp tacos from Johnny Sanchez. They are beautifully tempura-fried and tossed in a chile mayonnaise with pickled carrots and onions. The flavor of the gulf shrimp really comes through and can only be experienced in this part of the world with shrimp that are out of the water for less than 24 hours. They make their corn tortillas from scratch and it makes all of the difference in texture and flavor.
I squeeze a pinch of lime over the top right before stuffing my face with three shrimp tacos.