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Chef Adolfo Perez plates his famous rack of lamb at Adolfo's restaurant on Frenchmen Street in the Marigny of New Orleans (AE, NGS)

“Monica! MONICA!”

A short, wiry-haired man in a rumpled suit coat yelled a woman’s name down the stairs. Three seconds later, a party of four  scrambled up the slanted wooden steps and took their place at one of the tiny square tables not far from where I was sitting.

The one-room upstairs restaurant was cramped and dark. From the steamy kitchen glowed a single yellow light; I could barely see my hands in front of me. My fingers coped awkwardly with the sticky red-and-white checked tablecloths and I squinted at the menu. “What is ocean sauce?” I wondered.

Nearly everyone I met had recommended Adolfo’s restaurant on Frenchmen Street in the Faubourg Marigny. Everyone except the two middle-aged British women at my bed & breakfast, who told me that Adolfo’s was the most horrid dining experience of their lives. Watching their faces of revulsion, I was resolved to go.

Nobody was greeting me with bright smiles–rather, the host at the door acted like this was my first day of high school gym class. Only one waiter worked the floor and on a weekday night, it took me over an hour to get my food. I think I drank five glasses of water before the signature crab and corn cannelloni arrived, sitting uneventfully in a pool of pink-orange sauce. And then I took a bite.


It was that delicious. Just a simple forkful of a classic and well-prepared Italian dish but with a lovely New Orleans twist — that unexpected-yet-mellow turn of heat at the end. Honestly, I didn’t want that cannelloni to end and I felt the same way about the ocean sauce, which I tasted with my main course. I still don’t know what ocean sauce is but I know it has butter in it.

As I scraped the last spoonful of sauce from my plate, I realized that I had just dined at one of the city’s amazing anti-restaurants. The floors were gritty. The menu was typed up on somebody’s home printer. When I had arrived, a woman on the sidewalk tried selling me a VHS collection that she had “found.” Upstairs, Adolfo himself was cooking alone in the phone booth-sized kitchen and after I had finished my food, the staff became increasingly candid.

“I’d offer you coffee but it was brewed like five hours ago . . . “shrugged the waiter, scratching his eyebrows.

“. . . and I’d show you the dessert menu but none of ’em are very good tonight, so  . . . I’ll just get your check, alright?”

I agreed that was probably best and handed him my card.

“We’re cash only.”  Of course. I paid him and thudded my way down the stairs, content.

I had just eaten a most fabulous dinner from a remarkable and talented chef, and that is all that I needed.