Above: goats at La Provence in Lacombe
The first time Paul and I travelled to New Orleans together, for Mardi Gras 2005, I was a little confused about the geography of the city and the water surrounding it. When we were driving into town, I thought the large body of water to our left was the Gulf of Mexico. I did! In fairness, we had been on the road for a long time, and it was very late at night...but honestly, that body of water, which is actually Lake Pontchartrain, is HUGE. If you're new to New Orleans and you're not looking at the map for hours before you arrive, you too might confuse that lake with a gulf. But on the other side of that lake, there are several towns worth checking out, with festivals and top-notch restaurants of their own. The area is called The Northshore, and you have to cross the longest continuous over-water bridge in the world to get to it. It takes about 30 minutes to get from one end of the bridge to the other; bridge-a-phobes might want to take the long way around.
We've recently been to two iconic Northshore spots: La Provence (in Lacombe), and Trey Yuen (in Mandeville and Hammond). I was really excited to check out Trey Yuen, because Paul used to go to the one in Mandeville as a youngster all the time and order the "Pu Pu Platter" (of course he did!). They still have the platter, only the name has been changed to the "Trey Yuen Platter"...less fun to say, but still charming, with its carousel of chicken wings, shrimp, wontons, egg rolls, and pork, and flaming bowl of rocks in the middle:
Trey Yuen's thick, almost gumbo-like version of hot and sour soup
We went off-the-tilt family style, with 5 or 6 entrees placed in the middle for everyone to share. In the lower left corner is Crawfish in Spicy Lobster Sauce, one of Trey Yuen's signature dishes. Seriously rich and wonderful!
Trey Yuen is a good place to go for some quality Chinese food: the food isn't necessarily trendy or artful, but it's tasty and well-made. But a real treat, especially if there are children in your party, is the Chinese garden and koi pond (both locations have these; our photos were taken at Hammond):
Closer to the lake is the Mediterranean French restaurant La Provence, which has been in operation for over 40 years and owned by John Besh since 2007. I've been wanting to go there for years, so when we found out it was the location of a celebratory lunch in honor of our niece Amelia's baptism and Paul's parents' 40th wedding anniversary, we were thrilled! One of the reasons we really wanted to check out La Provence was that they keep their own animals on-site as part of their farm-to-table approach: there are goats, hogs, and chickens, as well as raised vegetable beds and a small fig orchard.
sleepy hogs (the chicken coop is way in the back)
a couple of mischievous goats enjoying the salad bar vegetable garden; fig trees in background
Our table, in the beautiful private dining room
A first course "salad nicoise" with seared tuna, roasted potatoes, olives, tomatoes, and a lightly poached egg in the center. This was so wonderful. I don't think I'll ever put a hard-boiled egg in a nicoise salad again. The poached egg makes it fantastic!
I ordered shrimp and grits, which were rich and wonderful, with chunks of Andouille on top,
while Paul got the pork ragout (topped with fresh haricots vert), which was, in a word, incredible. The pork had such a unique, deep, oaky flavor, and we found out later that the hogs they keep on site are heirloom hogs famous for their high fat content. So yes, we were eating one of those hogs from their yard, and yes, they were quite tasty.
Desserts: a simple but yummy creme brulee...
and a very dark chocolate torte with ice cream that's hiding bits of toffee on the plate.
A few things that are great about each of these places: First, they're both open on Sunday. Even in a land as full of restaurants as New Orleans, it can be shocking how many places are closed on Sundays, so it's always good to add new ones to the list. Second, both Trey Yuen and La Provence have a large, open feel to them, with places to sit outside, separate bars, and airy, expansive dining rooms, so you won't feel cramped or crowded. And finally, each has a menu with something for everyone; our La Provence menu was scaled down for our party, but check out the offerings on both restaurants' websites and I think you'll see something you can't wait to try.