It’s no secret that we’re masters of multi-tasking for this blog. What’s kind of surprising is seeing multi-tasking so early in the year. Usually we wait until… mid-December-ish, and then start scrambling to combine all the remaining Achievements into a handful of days.
But no, here we were, multi-tasking all SORTS of Achievements in February… and multi-tasking Valentine’s Day while we were at it!
(I’ve been anti-Valentine’s Day for about as long as I can remember, while Michael just loves that holiday, so the first few years of our relationship, I’m sure you can imagine, were a little trying.)
We’ve finally settled into a nice routine of non-Valentine’s-Day Valentine’s Day celebrations. In 2010, we embarked on our cross-country train trip at midnight on Valentine’s Day. In 2008, we watched Eddie Izzard videos and ate ice cream. In 2009, we discussed the flaws in my plan to (raise and then) pay $100,000 to punch Michael Bay in the face. And in 2012, we ate alligator.*
First things first, I insisted on going out on Monday night (the night before Valentine’s Day) and not on the day itself, and guess what? There are only about four restaurants open in the city of Pittsburgh. Lucky for you, my fellow Monday night diners, NOLA on the Square is one of them.
Located in Market Square (as the name implies), NOLA immediately satisfied criteria for two of our Achievements: not only are they a downtown restaurant, but they’re a ‘Newbie’ restaurant, meaning that they opened within the past year. Our goal this year is to visit ten such restaurants, in an effort to check out the blossoming restaurant scene here in the ‘Burgh.
An added bonus that we realized upon opening the drink menu, is that NOLA also qualifies for one of our other Achievements: house specialty drinks! Inspired by the Angry Malkin drink at Papa J’s and the extensive booze list of Harris Grill, we decided to this year try 10 specialty drinks (each!) from different restaurants. NOLA has some great New Orleans cocktails, so Michael started out with a sazerac (which he drank in honor of one of his favorite shows, Treme, set in New Orleans).
I went for broke and WAY out of my booze comfort zone (which typically revolves around vodka) and tried their Bourbon Street Blues cocktail, a mix of bourbon, raspberry tea, lemon lime soda, and Blue Curacao. I have to say that it wasn’t something I’d find myself typically drinking, but I liked it! It was definitely boozey, but the bourbon wasn’t overpowering, which I think was my fear. While I did enjoy the drink, I had Tyler the bartender mix me up a classic Cosmopolitan for my second round.
As we sipped our cocktails, it was time to take in some New Orleans snacks! We shared a little serving of the gumbo, which again was something I probably wouldn’t have tried on my own, but I loved it! It had a great mix of chicken and sausage and the consistency of a better-than-chili chili.
And then, on our server Jennifer’s suggestion, we just HAD to try the alligator. And wow, are we glad we did. We were totally blown away by this dish: imagine a sort of cross between the consistency of popcorn chicken and fried calamari, with just a hint of spice, chives, and a nice aioli dipping sauce. That’s what this alligator appetizer was. I had been kind of tempted by the frog legs on the appetizer menu, but in the end, I’m glad we sprang for the alligator. Trust me: go beyond your fear of alligator-eating, and get this.
As round two of the cocktails arrived, so did our entrees. I got the cajun pork chop, because lately, the only thing I’m searching for more on restaurant menus than a good pork chop is the presence of beets. (And yes, I realize that I have a beet problem.) This pork chop was awesome. It was spicy, cooked to a perfect medium, and accompanied by that delicious pile of seasoned potato slices.
After what seemed like hours of deliberation, Michael finally decided on the Scallops Mac Daddy, which was this gourmet scallop-filled version of macaroni and cheese. I helped out with a few bites, but I have to hand it to Michael: that was a LOT of food to finish in one sitting, and he handled it quite well. Honestly, I’d recommend this dish for splitting because it was so massive.
And since we love being thorough, and it was non-Valentine’s-Day Valentine’s Day after all, we had to splurge on dessert. First, I got this gigantic cup of coffee to help keep me alert through the dreamy dessert-ness that was to come.
Our fantastic server rattled off a list of desserts that all sounded incredible, but one stuck out to Michael: the beignets. Blame it on the cocktails, but I thought for sure that my husband had pulled a neck muscle while diving through that scallop plate, and had just ordered a tube of BenGay in place of sweets. But once the plate arrived (and after I asked him for clarification and spelling), I knew that this dessert could work far more wonders on sore muscles than BenGay could ever dream to do.
For those of you who, like me, had never heard of this French delight, allow me to explain. A beignet (literally French for ‘bump’) is a heavenly cross between a donut and a funnel cake. It’s like the fried dough I used to get from the vendors on the banks of the Charles at the Cambridge River Fest, but in smaller portions, so you can eat more and pretend it’s not as bad for you. Oh wow. NOLA serves their beignets with a trio of different sherbets (I thought the raspberry was the tastiest) and a heaping of powdered sugar. If my arteries would not give up entirely, I would like to eat these after every meal.
So, while alligator and fried dough may not be the most romantic of Valentine’s Day choices, it was just perfect for us. NOLA is doing a Mardi Gras celebration on Tuesday, and I’m seriously considering making a return trip for some more alligator (or maybe to test out those frog legs!). I can say this for certain: if you like to try something new, and you don’t fear spice in your food, NOLA is a great option. They even have free valet parking if you’re coming into town and don’t know where to put your car. One thing’s for sure, we’ll be back!
*In 2011, we also worked on an Achievement on Valentine’s Day, which was probably still somehow our most ‘traditional’ Valentine’s Day of all.