Sunday, March 17, 2013

A Foodie Honeymoon: Friday Appetizers at Lüke

The smell of polyeurethane wafted past us as we walked through the entrance of Lüke.  What a gorgeous place.  Tin ceilings, parquet floors, heavily varnished wood, vintage lighting...  A beautiful bar lined the far right wall, and we made our beeline.

Luke in New Orleans, LA

Another couple was sitting at the bar being helped by the bartender, who told us he'd be with us in a minute.  We read through the beers on tap while we waited, and I couldn't help but eavesdrop when I heard the words "elderflower liqueur" escape the bartender's lips as he described a cocktail that the couple was thinking of ordering. But my distraction by the beers with Lüke's name on them overpowered my ears.  I would never make a good spy...at least not if it involved restaurants, beer, wine, cocktails, or liquors of any sort.  And as we all know from Mr. Bond, spying inevitably involves such things.  Good thing I didn't pursue that childhood dream with any earnest.

Minutes later, true to his word, Steve (as the bartender introduced himself) was pouring us Lüke's homebrew and talking oysters.  Lüke was, as I knew from my Besh menu research, a restaurant designed after the old brasseries of New Orleans' in times past.  Oysters was just a natural on the menu.  And, boy, did you see oysters when you walked up to the bar! Mounds of them, piled behind the glass, waiting to be sliced open and plattered by the cooks, a tasty accoutrement to the amber with the gorgeous head that Chef Reiton was sipping from his pint glass.

"I've never actually had a raw oyster," he confessed to Steve.

I think Steve almost dropped his bar towel.

I also think that Steve's second career will be in food education because, quite eloquently, he began to relay the types of oysters that Lüke served, their technical names and the names that I remember: freshwater oysters from the waters of the lake of Louisiana--Lake Pontchartrain, and the saltwater oysters, with their briny flavor of the sea off the southern coast.

"Do you want to try them?" he offered.  "You can compare the two."

I didn't respond.  I was hoping that I would be that kid in the back of the class who, if I didn't draw attention to myself, would become invisible.  I'd had raw oysters before (for you faithful readers, you may remember my reference to eating them in Illinois at a friend's house--not to be a good experience just from the state alone...), and it wasn't an experience I wanted to repeat--foodie or not.

But that is where my new darling husband was different.  "Okay," he said.  And my heart swelled with pride.  So brave.

Steve brought the first oyster, a freshwater specimen.  "Do I chew it?" Chef Reiton asked.

"It's up to you," Steve explained.  "Some people just swallow them off the shell.  I like to chew them so I can taste them."  I wanted to gag.  I watched the love of my life with complete awe as he loosened the oyster from the shell with his little fork, then lifting the shell to his lips, tilted it like a soup spoon and poured its contents into his mouth, chewing slowly and reflectively before swallowing.

I found myself holding my breathe--for what, I am not sure.  For him to throw up? For me to throw up?

"Wow. That wasn't bad.  Not at all what I expected it to taste like."

And that's where the foodie in me got a little jealous, damn it.  I was missing out on an experience! I didn't know what a freshwater oyster tasted like, and now I kind-of wanted to...

Next came the saltwater oyster.  "These are my favorite," Steve said, placing the plate in front of my husband.  "I like the briny water you get with the oyster.  It tastes like the ocean."

Chef Reiton picked up the next oyster.  I couldn't help but observe just how raw the shell and oyster looked in his hand.  He sipped the contents from its shell--and I saw a flicker of "eww" cross his face.  He politely chewed and swallowed and wiped his mouth.  "Interesting," he said, and there was a pause.  "I think I like the freshwater better."

"Everyone has their own personal taste when it comes to oysters," Steve said.  "It's just one of those things."

We sipped our beers and intermittently talked with Steve as he waited on the other couple.  I was relaxed but excited but sad.  Our honeymoon for foodies was almost to a close.  We had just one more Besh restaurant left.  If I could help it, I would drag it out as long as I possibly could.

I looked down at my coaster on the bar.  "Can I have this?" I asked Steve.  It would be a memoir of what almost wasn't.

Steve smiled and tossed me another one.  "Here, take two.  And email us when your blog is ready."



With a nod, a thank you, and a smile we were out the door, wending our way one final time through the sultry streets of New Orleans to our final destination: August.

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