New Orleans Jazz Fest Anticipation: Bayona is a Foodie’s Delight

The fourth post in a series about the New Orleans Jazz Festival covering food (restaurants and recipes), fun, music and travel tips.

In the run-up to our Jazz Fest trip in early May, we are building anticipation by looking back at past good times in New Orleans.  So many wonderful experiences!  Magical and memorable performances by musicians: famous, less famous and not-famous-but-fabulous.  Festival food so good that it inspires poetry.  World-class restaurants run by award-winning chefs that serve dishes so beautiful and tasty you think you might be dreaming (like Dorothy in the Emerald City).  I can’t wait to get back!

On the topic of great restaurant meals, I’d like to start this post with a confession:  I have a “food crush” on New Orleans chef Susan Spicer.

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Susan Spicer at the entrance to Bayona, from the Times-Picayune archives via NOLA.com

Spicer’s career journey is the one I would have chosen if I’d known earlier I’d be in love with food all my life, and if I had more talent, and if I was from New Orleans, and if I wasn’t truly in love with my own career in knowledge management…well, you get the idea.  Who is Susan Spicer, you ask?  Said Chris Waddington of the New Orleans Times-Picayune in a 2015 profile:

Susan Spicer’s Bayona qualifies as a New Orleans culinary landmark. That happens when a restaurant lasts 25 years in the same French Quarter location, when the chef piles up critical kudos, launches new talents, expands on local traditions and pens a well-regarded cookbook.

He’s right, and then some!  She has a James Beard award!  She has been a guest actor on the HBO Show Treme, and is the basis for one of the characters!  I first learned of Spicer’s restaurant, Bayona, while scanning travel guide books during the one-hour flight from the Bayou City (Houston) to the Crescent City.  (This was before TripAdvisor was a thing.)  My friend Nancy and I were on a girls’ trek to Jazz Fest, our first time to make this particular trip together.  We dog-eared restaurants that piqued our interest and vowed to hit as many as we could in our 3 big days in the Big Easy.  Bayona was high on the list – it “had me” at Cream of Garlic soup (see recipe at the end of this post).  The Frommer’s review included this single-word sentence (about lamb topped with goat cheese):  “Heaven.”

img_1098Bayona was beyond perfection when we visited for lunch.  Nestled in a 200-year old Creole cottage in the French Quarter, it is a quiet retreat from the throbbing pulse of New Orleans.  Seated on the patio amidst huge tropical plants protected by surrounding 18th-century brick walls, you are aware from the first moment that you are in for something special.

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Photo from Bayona’s files via USA Today

And then, there’s the food.  I could try to describe it, but…words fail me.  Truly.  The dish below was so good that I had it again the next year when the Grill-Meister and I made the Jazz Fest trek, our first time in the Crescent City together.

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My Grilled Shrimp with Black Bean Cake and Orange-Coriander Sauce – wow!
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Mango Cheesecake Flan, Pistachio Crust, Blackberries, Ginger-Mint Syrup, Mango, and Pistachio Tuile – another wow!
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The cookbook is available on Amazon

When I dragged the (very willing) Grill-Meister to Bayona in 2012, we asked about Susan Spicer’s cookbook, Crescent City Cooking.  They sell copies at the restaurant. I made my “food crush” confession to our (excellent) waiter and we enthusiastically told him to add a cookbook to our bill.  A few minutes later, out came Susan with the cookbook!  She was incredibly gracious and autographed my copy.  The cookbook is wonderful, and my food-love and admiration for her continues.

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My copy of Crescent City Cooking; I just couldn’t resist using the photo with Godfrey meowing (perhaps he’s saying “take me to Bayona!”

Like the rest of New Orleans, Bayona doesn’t take itself too seriously (except for the food). The staff is warm, welcoming, fun, and perhaps a bit quirky.  The interior decor is bright and colorful.

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Quirky good humor on display
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The sign above a big bay window, which keeps the natural light pouring into the dining room
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Nancy and me at that first enchanting lunch in 2010; look how happy we are!

After Nancy and I did the first recon, and then went back the next year, the Grill-Meister was my Bayona date.  He had the Cream of Garlic Soup during his first Bayona experience.  Oh. My. Gosh!  The recipe was published on the internet, so I have repeated it here, courtesy of the Times-Picayune:

Makes 8 servings

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6 cups peeled and sliced onions
  • 2 cups peeled but not chopped garlic cloves
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme, or 1 teaspoon dried
  • 7 cups chicken stock
  • 1 bouquet garni (parsley stems, thyme sprigs and bay leaf)
  • 3 cups stale bread, torn into 1⁄2-inch pieces
  • 1 cup half-and-half or heavy cream
  • Salt and pepper

Heat the butter and oil in a heavy-bottomed 2-quart saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add the onions and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until they turn a deep golden brown, 30 to 40 minutes. Add the thyme, 6 cups of the chicken stock, and the bouquet garni and bring to a boil. Stir in the bread cubes and let simmer for 10 minutes, until the bread is soft. Remove the soup from the heat and cool for 10 minutes.

Resources

Copyright 2017, Glover Gardens Cookbook

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