Friday, September 10, 2010. New Orleans Seafood Festival.

Written by Tom Fitzmorris September 20, 2010 16:06 in

DIning Diary

Friday, September 10.
New Orleans Seafood Festival. In The Rain.
Among the many effects of the relentless motion of the food culture to the casual pole has been a great increase in the number of food-centered festivals. No end is in sight. We seem to have an insatiable desire to attend these events. Each new festival inspires plenty enough enthusiasm to guarantee its long-term claim on the weekend it stakes out. The only limiting factor is the finite number of weekends.

The New Orleans Seafood Festival began three years ago on Fulton Street. Few Orleanians had that location firmly fixed on their mental maps. But they managed to find it and fill the street for two blocks. This year, the party moved to Lafayette Square, a much more pleasant venue with big oak trees and a prominence matched only by Jackson Square.

Indeed, this felt a lot like the Jackson Square component of the comparatively venerable French Quarter Festival in the spring. It even featured a lot of the same food vendors, selling the same dishes.

One thing I wish they'd copy from the FQF next years is the way music is played. The French Quarter Festival's music stage in Jackson Square can only barely be heard on the other side of the Square. Only one group of people would not agree that this is the way it should be. Musicians believe that their music must make conversation impossible anywhere on the grounds.

The musicians have had their way in all four runnings of the Seafood Festival. I know, because my radio show was present at the Seafood Festival every year. And every year it's a battle for me to hear what the guests, callers, or host is saying. This year was especially bad, with our broadcast table situated between the music stage and the cooking demo stage. The latter was not nearly as loud as the music, but they had pretty powerful amplification.

All of that was a minor irritation compared with what else we faced. A compact but powerful thunderstorm came through Lafayette Square during the first hour, making the relatively few attendees run for cover. (Except for about a dozen guys standing in front of the music stage, getting drenched.) Some pretty good puddles and water flows made walking squishy.

Then the storm cleared. The sun came out. The steam rose. The square drained quickly. A rainbow formed--in front of the adjacent office tower, something I've never seen before. And people began to show up. By the time my radio show ended at seven, the Seafood Festival had a nice crowd, one that would continue to grow through the evening. Rain free on Saturday and Sunday, the Festival was spilling over with happy people.

Crawfish pie.

Since I couldn't hear phone callers (they weren't calling, anyway), I spent most of the show talking with the chefs. I asked all of them the same question: "How has summer been?" They each brightened up and replied with some variation of, "Business has been terrific, even through August and into September! We laid off some people at the start of the summer and had to bring them all back right away!" A few restaurateurs here and elsewhere say this has been the best summer not only since Katrina, but in the last twenty years.

Shrimp and crab poor boy from Royal House.

The vendors were an impressive lot. They began with Mr. B's (seared tuna and pasta salad, below), Galatoire's, Broussard's, Arnaud's (crawfish pie, above, top), Drago's, Luke, and Café Giovanni, and went on from there. Royal House's shrimp and crab poor boy is above. Only a couple of festival specialists and caterers, but even those were good: Mr. Mudbug, for example, had a great seafood pasta. The prices were reasonable: five or six bucks for substantial servings. Three portions at most would have done it for most appetites.

Seared tuna from Mr. B's.

Mary Ann showed up in the middle of the show and helped me keep guest chefs coming. One of them refused to talk with me. I don't blame him: I give his restaurant--which opened with a huge p.r. push that it never lived up to five years ago--two stars. Every time I go there, the food gets a little less interesting. What can I do? Say I really do like it when I don't? If I didn't have a few restaurants mad at me, I wouldn't be doing my job very well.