My father, who passed away last fall at age 99, regaled us for years of his memories of New Orleans, where he was stationed briefly during WW2. I knew his favorite haunts, hotel, the food and music he loved. I don’t think my siblings and I really understood his passions, on any level, certainly not the depth of his love of New Orleans music, although the collection of 78s he had, Louis Armstrong, et al, should have been a clue. But he never played them in our presence.
As for the food? My dad was all about anything that swam. Family legend has it that after my mother passed on, he tossed all the canned and frozen foods out of the house and restocked with fish and seafood. I can see that. He came to visit me in Hong Kong for his 85th birthday, and I lived on a small island that was a Chinese fishing village, and we ate off-the-boat seafood morning, noon and nite. No complaints from me. He loved to throw a little piece of leftover fish in the cast iron skillet and heat it up for breakfast – especially local species like sunfish, bluegills, and crappies.
So New Orleans was magical in my mind, for years before I ever got there. My father often spoke of a restaurant he couldn’t recall the name of, that had been around since the year he was born, a place that served this mystical shrimp dish, heads on, swimming in butter.
Years later, when I was planning a business trip to New Orleans, I asked my mentor at the time, a well traveled fellow, who had never steered me wrong on food, if he knew the place my father referred to. His eyes got glassy and a smile came to his lips as he uttered the phrase that pays: “Pascal’s Manale.”
I immediately made reservations for 10, I was meeting colleagues from all over the world, and would greet them at Pascal’s, and experience the entire deal for myself.
That night went off without a hitch (if you don’t count the $700 cab ride, a story for another time), and I fell in love with the signature dish, “BBQ Shrimp”, which isn’t barbecued at all, but the name (although no one knows the origin) stuck. The large gulf shrimps, head on, are baked in buttery-oil concoction, served in a deep bowl, with a half-loaf of crusty French bread. No other city in the world, outside of Francophone countries, bakes bread like New Orleans.
The sauce is rich, terribly unhealthy, I suspect, and after you have eaten your “shrimps”, you spend the rest of the meal cleaning the bowl with your bread, splashing butter on the table cloth, your restaurant supplied apron, and your fellow diners. Damned near heaven.
In the years that followed that first experience, occasionally I would ring up the restaurant, and they would ship me dinner for two, on dry ice, wherever I was living at the time. Around 2000, I moved to New Orleans, and got to Pascal’s as often as I wanted. (BTW, just down the street is Charlie’s Steak House, another non-tourist restaurant not to be missed! Your only menu choices at Charlie’s are size? and doneness!)
Katrina came and went, did its damage on Pascal’s like every place else. I moved away, didn’t get to visit post K. But I heard eventually it was business at usual.
Fast forward, I am in Los Angeles for business a couple weeks ago, and the subject of food came up, as it often does in my business meetings. My prospective client learned I was on my way to New Orleans, and he got that same glazed over look Ray Stanfield had given me years before, and asked me if I would go into Pascale’s Manale and ask them if they still shipped the shrimp dinners. I told him I would.
When I finally got to the uptown restaurant, it was the start of lunch time, they were busy of course, and the maitre’d told me they did not ship anymore, too much trouble since Katrina. That’s an often told answer, and I know it to be true. But he said I should speak to the chef, Marcus.
I did, and after some lengthy kibitzing, Marc agreed to put up some dinners for me, if I would take care of the toting and shipping, which I gladly did.
My client in Los Angeles was overwhelmed at what he perceived to be a herculean task.
I was really impressed with the willingness to accommodate, that Marc went to the effort to hook me up. But that’s New Orleans. And New Orleans food. People understand that “you know what it means to miss New Orleans.”
I know I do.
(Someone sent me the foto below, it was uncredited. If it is yours, and you want credit, a link, or it removed, let me know.)
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