A Taste of NOLA in LA

I have to believe I’m forgiven for playing hooky from church when there’s soul food involved. And jazz.

So on Sunday I went for champagne brunch to NOLA’s A Taste of New Orleans, wedged in between Los Angeles’s downtown neighborhoods of Japantown and the Arts District. It’s a nice new addition to an area that has come a long way in the last few years. What was once block after block of warehouses and urban blight is slowly being transformed into a happenin’ scene.

mmm, champagne and catfish

You might think that having champagne with your catfish–or catfish with your champagne–is just plain weird. But when you miss catfish and crave it like this Southern gal does and then you finally get some–and it turns out to be really good–it merits a glass of bubbly. And let’s face it: Like a little black dress, champagne goes with everything.

I asked a fellow at my table how he liked the food, and he shrugged and said, “It’s buffet food.”

“Did you have the catfish?” I asked.

“No, I didn’t.”

Well, there’s your problem right there, mister. As easy as it is to assume every buffet is the same, you have to approach the spread with a little discrimination. Skip over the standard items and zero in on the good stuff. If you study the photo above, you’ll see that I didn’t just willy nilly heap some of everything onto my plate. Rather, I singled out the items that are difficult to find in LA–catfish, shrimp etouffee, fried chicken and red beans and rice. Not just those foods, but rather, good representations of those foods. And respectable bacon. Yes siree, bacon with heft and flavor. Bacon a hog wouldn’t be dismayed to die for. As for the catfish, it was well seasoned and perfectly fried. No gloppy, heavy coating that doesn’t know whether it’s batter or wallpaper paste. The chef knows what he’s doing here.

As for that cluster of grapes on my plate: please don’t laugh at it. You and I both know I got some so I wouldn’t feel quite so dissolute. I did eat them. But then I went back for seconds on the bacon and catfish. And thirds. And I scooped up another serving of etouffee while I was at it. To misquote Scarlett, I’ll think about fruit tomorrow.

We tucked into our food as live jazz–both instrumental and vocal–warmed us from the stage in back. Owner Cabrini Schnyder stopped by to fill and refill our champagne glasses and told us she’s dreamed of opening this place for a long time.

The proprietress pours a mean glass of champagne.

A native New Orleanian making her home in Los Angeles, she explained that after detours into a few other business ventures, including a doggy daycare center, she finally got her wish.

If you’re looking for some jazz and satisfying Creole eats, you’ll get yours, too.

Incidentally, our table of invited and comp’d media weren’t the only ones enjoying the free-flowing champagne. It’s standard with the price of brunch. And the place was packed with paying customers. This isn’t just about showing up for the free meal. I’ll be back on my own, with cash in hand.

Laissez les bons temps rouler!

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