Jun 30, 2016

Prairieville: Creole coffees, calcified cafes, and culinary cornerstones

I’ve been seriously hungover before, so I was very happy to roll out of bed (still early) with little worse than grogginess, a slight headache, and feeling more tired than usual.
Once Tay was up and ready to go look for coffee, we walked over together to the French Quarter to Addiction. This was a second-and-a half wave coffee shop. They had single-origin pour-overs and Chemex ready, but also sugary blended flavored coffee drinks. I suppose that since this New Orleans, even third wave coffee joints probably also serve irish coffee frozen daiquiris. Anyway, I got an iced coffee with honey, cayenne, and some other interesting things, which was pretty good.

Saori texted me to bring her some coffee too since she and her family were at the hotel cafe and she said “its bad” without clarifying whether the coffee or the cafe.

The Whitney hotel ground floor is a long hall which opens into the former bank lobby, which is partitioned in half since the other side is an actual bank lobby. Its a really beautiful space, cool, neoclassical, comfortable, and the hotel uses it as a cafe. The only  catch is that the cafe has one employee, Marge, who slowly shuffles between cooking, bussing, cleaning, and serving. To sit down to breakfast is to commit oneself to fully appreciating the details of the space.

Anyway, I brought back coffee for Saori and ran into her in the hall and we had a few minutes to talk before I went to join dad, Neri, Tay and Loretta for breakfast in the same cafe. Forewarned about the ponderous service, I ordered nothing but iced tea. I spent about an hour visting them over breakfast (about the time it took them to get their meals) before I had to go run to take care of something else.

Oh yes, we still had to conclude the wedding ceremony, something important to have hammered out before we met everyone for the rehearsal later that day. The way the wedding ceremony was written was like this:

  • Mom walked Saori and I though a traditional ceremony via Facetime
  • I typed up the notes into a rough outline of the ceremony and sent a draft to David
  • Saori picks the music she wants to have played for the beginning and end of the ceremony
  • We Facetime David and he suggests we ask a few people to speak at the ceremony. It was a quick decision who to ask and we were both totally on the same page about it.
  • Saori did a bunch of research online on wedding ceremonies and ended up basically re-writing the ceremony, basically the same, but a few tweaks here and there.
  • Weeks pass while we work on vows.
  • In Prairieville we decide if it rains, we’ll probably get married in front of the mantle
  • In the hotel room the afternoon before the rehearsal, I open up all the plans for the ceremony and using Saori’s draft as a basis, consolidate them by hand in my notebook, including the spoken parts by David and revising the seating schedule because Saori’s father would not be able to come.
  • We give my hand notes to David at the rehearsal and he directs, making edits with pencil.
  • Bridesmaid Casey tweaks the fine points and some major points and makes some great rough edits to the ceremony on the fly
  • Uncle David forgets the ceremony in the hotel room in New Orleans
  • Uncle David re-constructs the ceremony and simplifies with the help of all there for a living room ceremony without the seating procession

It was all great, but it was tense in the hotel room as we scrambled to finish writing so we would have at least something to work off of at the rehearsal. After that, I remembered I had book a new room at the Whitney starting that night. I went downstairs, checked in, and shuttled my luggage from Tay’s room.

I think I took a short, restless nap and then got changed for the rehearsal dinner as it started to rain. I wore a white dress shirt, no tie, and my lightweight Uniqlo blue blazer. Saori had a really pretty floral print pant-dress. I met Saori’s mom and brother downstairs and I got us an Uber together for the restaurant. Traffic in the french quarter was terrible as usual, and we ended up hopping out early and walking the rest of the way in.

Way back, or not so way back, mom said she would cover the rehearsal dinner and asked us to come up with a few places so she could call and ask around for pricing. Court of Two Sisters was one, Brennan’s was one, Arnaud’s was our top pick. We both said, wouldn’t it be fabulous to have a rehearsal dinner at Arnaud’s, but no way, it must be way too expensive, we shouldn’t even think about it.

Mom said, well, let’s ask and find out. And so she called them up and some other restaurants and did a bunch of other things and a few days later, she said, depending on the number of people you invite, we can make Arnaud’s happen, which made Saoi and I happy dance.

She and Tay worked on menus while Saori and I worked on the invite list.  Mom is a fervent believer in categories. The categories can even be tenuous like “cousins who are children of the host families” as long as it is a clear-cut category. It was a difficult excercise and we agonized being torn between inclusiveness to those who were putting considrable effort and expense to be in New Orleans with us and keeping the cost to the total budget.

Mom put Saori work designing the table cards to name the tables as well as the welcome sign and seating chart, a task well suited to Saori’s skills and interest in graphics, and we brought that with us on a usb.

But back to the rehearsal- we arrived finally at Arnaud’s and told the wait staff we were there for the rehearsal. They led us deep into the block, up and down stairs, through back corridors, and I realized that Arnaud’s had a bunch of old french quarter houses put together. We first met in a large anteroom where the bar was set up (mom also gave us a cocktail hour with passed hors dvours as part of the rehearsal). We met up with everyone, greeted uncle David for the first time and I quickly walked him through my hand notes on the ceremony.

He took over, corralled everyone, and we ran through the ceremony twice, making adjustments along the way. It was great to practice and to have David there directing, and Casey, Brenda, and mom giving feedback and suggestions. I felt a lot better after the run through, and then it was time for the cocktail hour! I got a drink and joined most of the crowd on the terrace. Oh yes, a wall lined with beautiful French doors opened up to a broad and high terrace overlooking nearly Bourbon street and supported by graceful wroght iron collumns. It was raining hard at that point, and a few people commented that the rainwater from the everyday normal flooding of New Orleans was even coming into the restaurant (!)

We mingled and chatted and then so soon it was time for the wedding couple to start moving people to the room to eat. When Saori and I sat at the table, we discovered that our place had been marked. A mysterious benefactor (later discovered to be Brenda and David) had put together a lego wedding arch with a minifigurine bride and groom. The groom’s facial hair had been carefully updated with a sharpie to approximate my own, and on the arch was written “Saori and Alec.” It was perfect.

We were served wine and bread before the first course, which was a delicious turtle soup. Turtle soup. Where else in the US can you find turtle soup? New Orleans should be declared a UNESCO world heritage site for its culinary traditions alone.

We ordered Arnaud’s famous crab cakes for our main and they were fantastic. The alternative, a steak, was lovely and everyone raved about as well. But for me, the star was the New Orleans staple, bread pudding, one of the best I’d ever had.

Between courses, mom came over to us and whispered we should do more table hopping and we tried but almost immediately the next course came out and then I felt a little strange because we are at this point preventing people from enjoying their meals, and then I snap out of it because our guests came to New Orleans to be at our wedding, not to eat. Anyway, we talked to a few people, although I didn’t get over to the table with Jeff and Ashley at all, before we returned to our table once again.

And far too soon, it was over! Guests were leaving and Saori and her mom and I were among the last to leave. What a fantastic dinner but what a whirlwind!

We walked through the small Mardi Gras museum on the way out. It was pretty much to ourselves. Looking at the historic photos of Mardi Gras parties and floats from 50-100 years ago, I thought, how bizzare it must have been, and also, remembering the beautiful buildings of a gilded era in New Orleans, how much the city has lost.

We walked back to the hotel and Saori and I joined a small party going on in mom’s suite. Brenda and David and Casey and a few others were there, but from what I remember we were all pretty tired at that point. Saori and I, continually wiped the whole trip, were no exception, and we bowed out relatively early after Saori started to fall asleep on my shoulder.

We parted for the night, a traditional last night that we would be apart before the wedding. I went to my room alone, and I don’t even remember showering and getting ready for bed (although I must have!). 

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