April 15th, 2012

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New Orleans Trip, Wednesday, Mar-22-2011

Third time's the charm: unlike the previous two years, we managed to arrive in New Orleans on the day we'd planned to arrive. But the trip was unpleasant enough that we wondered if we'd made the right choice.

We were offered the chance to get bumped, but we declined, because we have had trouble using airline travel vouchers in the past and we wanted to get to New Orleans on time for once.

The flight to Chicago was unremarkable. We tried to get dinner at Frontera Tortas. Unfortunately, I overestimated how long we had before we boarded our next flight, and we had to carry our food onto the plane. We did not enjoy the tortas at all, and we found the tortilla chips much too salty - but that may have been affected by the fact that we were eating the tortas after they'd been cooling for forty minutes, in the dreadful ambience of a cramped plane seat where the person in front of me had leaned back so far that I could have used his hair as a napkin. However, the agua frescas that we had before boarding were wonderful; Lori had the mango lime flavor, and I had the cactus pear. Mine was really quite tart, which I really enjoy.
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The flight from Chicago to New Orleans was very bumpy and turbulent because of thunderstorms passing through Louisiana. I'm not normally prone to airsickness, but I was feeling quite uncomfortable.

The woman at the car rental agency made me feel that we had plunged deeply into Southern hospitality; her familiarities went from "honey" up to "sweetheart". She offered us a complimentary upgrade to a minivan. I considered the challenges of driving through the narrow streets of the French Quarter and declined the offer—which threw her off track. Finally comprehension dawned: "you're offering me a minivan because you have no mid-sized cars in stock." Once I understood that, I accepted the minivan cheerfully.

We found the bed and breakfast without difficulty, and I managed to parallel park the minivan, even though I had not routinely driven a car that large in a decade. The proprietor had stayed up late for us.
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New Orleans Trip, Thursday Mar-23-2011: Camellia Grill

We were very late to leave on Thursday morning. We woke up late, because we'd both been sleep-deprived in the days before our trip. (Our room did a fabulous job of keeping out the light; we discovered later that the curtains were lined with aluminum foil.) And when we woke, rain was pelting down, and the clatter of the rain made it seem extra cozy inside. So we didn't leave for Camellia Grill until very late in the morning.

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I have racked my brain trying to remember why I asked the waiter about the muffuletta on the menu. I had mostly resolved to have the red beans and rice, which I'd found delightful before. And I wouldn't have called myself a muffuletta fan; I had had the muffuletta at Central Grocery (where the muffuletta originated) in 2011, and I considered it good but not great. But some faint memory of Chris Ayers saying that he had heard someone speaking well of Camellia Grill's muffuletta triggered a stray neuron, and I asked the waiter about it. And he said that it was a great muffuletta, and then I felt awkward about the thought of choosing something else after such a glowing recommendation. So I ordered the muffuletta—and I'm very glad that I did.

Though the Central Grocery's muffuletta was just a good sandwich, the Camellia Grill's muffuletta was one of the greatest sandwiches I've ever had. There were differences from the original muffuletta; this used corned beef instead of the Italian meats, and used a bread that's not the traditional Sicilian muffuletta bread. The most significant difference, though: this was served hot. This did make it a sprawling, messy sandwich that had to be cantilevered with a fork to bring it to mouth, but the taste was sublime. The grilling made all the flavors blossom, especially the garlicky olive salad, so that the effect was like a brass band playing in my mouth. My mouth is watering now just at the memory.
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The waiter said that the city's best muffuletta is found at Nor-Joe Imports. I did not get a chance to test this claim.

Lori ordered the pancakes, because she's found them perfect on three previous visits. Unfortunately, this visit's pancakes were only very good.
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On this visit, the Camellia Grill had a whole lot of banter and sass flying back and forth among the staff, which was really fun to listen to while we ate.

One last picture of note: this iconic camellia is made from a few of the hundreds of Post-It notes that were posted on the walls imploring them to return after Hurricane Katrina.
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