Seven Wishes Before the Storm
A lesson before fleeing

By Lisa LeBlanc-Berry

June brings the season of backyard barbecues with cherry cokes and mint juleps, red popsicles and spearmint sno-balls, and lazy summer evenings rocking on porch swings with fireflies dancing in the shadows. But it also brings the start of another hurricane season in the Atlantic. For those of us who live in New Orleans, June is a wake-up call. It is time to make those annual evacuation plans before yet another storm wanders into the Gulf.

Two days before Katrina hit on August 29, 2005, I left New Orleans in a caravan with my two children, a few overnight bags and briefcases, and a box of family photos. Looking back, I would have planned it all very differently.

I learned a valuable lesson after taking flight and losing a house with all its contents, then staying away for months: You should always consider an extended stay elsewhere in the off-chance of an unprecedented cataclysm when living in a city with a metro area that is eight feet below sea level, and a levee system that has catastrophically failed.

Brenan's world-renownAt the time of our departure from New Orleans on August 27, President Bush’s declaration of a state of emergency did not include Orleans Parish. But the storm rapidly intensified, attaining a Category 5 status on the morning of August 28. Eighty percent of New Orleans was impacted by floodwaters that lingered for weeks after Katrina came ashore as a Category 3 the following morning. So the next time the storm chasers issue a hurricane watch, not even a hurricane warning, I will be making “extended stay” hotel reservations and gathering goodies.

For the next storm, instead of imposing on relatives, I will be booking rooms at a sunny beachside resort. I learned that insurance will take care of the bill for an extended period, so you may as well enjoy the scenery while away. I plan to pack a few locally produced items as well, including a supply of Southern Pecan PJ’s coffee, some tasty little Hubig pies, special seasoning blends and sauces, and items that freeze nicely such as Leidenheimer’s muffuletta bread and unique po-boy loaves. I will also be sure to visit some of my favorite New Orleans restaurants before loading up the mini-van. You just never know.

When dining recently with a group of foodie friends at Galatoire’s, someone started a lively discussion about which restaurants we would choose as our “seven last suppers,” should a storm occur worse than Katrina, like a Category 5. August 29, 2012 marks the seventh anniversary of Katrina, hence the cosmic number seven.

“If New Orleans should drown like the mythical city of Atlantis that forever vanished in one day under the Atlantic ocean, where would we have our last a lesson before fleeing Seven Wishes Before the Storm seven meals before the final storm?” asked one of my dining companions. She also prophetically pointed out that scientists estimate New Orleans is sinking at a rate of three feet per century, and by the year 2100, they predict the city will be entirely under water. “What better time than now to make our final wish list?” she joked while raising her glass for a toast.

For my last memorable meal in New Orleans, I revealed that I would dine at Brennan’s on Royal Street and sit at our favorite table overlooking the romantic courtyard. I would ask executive chef Lazone Randolph to prepare my favorite starters including oysters Rockefeller (the best version in town), a cup of turtle soup laced with sherry, followed by buster crabs pecan (baby soft shells sautéed in butter then topped with roasted pecans and crabmeat, to die for). For the main course, I would enjoy my two favorites entrées at Brennan’s: trout Nancy with oodles of lemony lump crabmeat, and tournedos Chantéclair (three prime tournedos each with a different sauce: Béarnaise, Choron, and Marchand de Vin). For dessert, I would order the world-famous Brennan’s creation, bananas Foster flamed tableside, which is scandalously fabulous, and then float out the door on a cloud of bliss. After dinner, I would engage one of those cute little French Quarter surreys for a drive past the clubs on Frenchman Street.

My next six wishes would be fulfilled with the following: Drago’s original charbroiled oysters created by the Cvitanovich family; an order of soufflé potatoes dusted with powdered sugar to go with Galatoire’s Gouté plate for lunch on a Friday (when the restaurant is filled with familiar faces); beef short ribs braised in NOLA Irish Channel Stout with a side of truffle fries at Ralph’s on the Park; voodoo shrimp with fried green tomatoes on opera night at Café Giovanni; pompano en croute with scallop mousse baked in puff pastry atop a green peppercorn cream sauce at Arnaud’s; and finally, an oyster loaf made with freshly shucked oysters on homemade pan bread at Casamento’s. After accomplishing these seven wishes, I would indeed be in “seventh heaven” before bidding adieu to the most treasured sinking city on the planet.

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