Thursday, August 21, 2014

House of the week: Arts & Crafts on Arts Street

Although I am taking a much-needed break from house hunting, I can't help falling into my familiar, old patterns, browsing realty sites and wishing on stars. It's an addiction ... I know.

Oddly enough, while searching the listings, fantasizing about being a millionaire, I discovered this beauty on Arts Street. "Is this further punishment from the Gods?" I ask myself. Whatever it is, it's a stunner. Less than eight blocks from the house-that-was-almost-mine, I found this drool-worthy Arts & Crafts-style house that, while it's WAY too much house for me, it's astoundingly affordable and jaw-dropping at the same time (too good to be true?).

Yes, the pictures for this listing suck, but what you can see is nothing less than juicy. All, original, natural hard-wood floors and architectural details like the cool, Craftsman staircase and arches with built-in shelving, woodwork on the ceiling and walls, gorgeous insets and mouldings, paneled doors ... can you hear me panting? It's a little over 2,600 square feet of living space with 5 bedrooms, 2 1/2 bathrooms, huge attic space, and a largish backyard. I can see a big, extended family living in this house listed at a mere $229,000. Can't you?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Family fiesta at Mizado Cocina

In quite a few articles and blogs, I've whined about the apparent lack of good Mexican restaurants in the GNO. With the recent proliferation of new cantinas, it seems that someone was listening. A few months ago, John's family came down from Ponchatoula to visit and we all decided to eat at Mizado Cocina and (thankfully) everyone loved it.

If you haven't been to Mizado yet (what's the holdup?), it's located in what was formerly a Semolina's on Pontchartrain Boulevard right on the edge between New Orleans and Metairie. Although we found it a tad awkward to get to, it was well worth the effort.

John, Ashley (his sister), Glenda (his Mom), Ava (his 5-year-old niece) and I decided to sit outside on the patio and split a bunch of dishes "family style." We started with an ooey gooey, Queso Fundido made with cotija, mozzarella and manchego cheeses which was a big hit, especially with Ava. In fact, she liked it so much, we should have ordered one just for her. It was a good thing we also got the Guacamole Tradicional, a fresh, bright green dip that seemed to be mostly an enticing, whole avocado roughly chopped and mixed with lime.

For our entrees we ordered three different kinds of tacos that we all shared round.  There were "Carnitas" made with Michoacan-style Duroc, all-natural pork braised with orange, cinnamon, and garlic; "Camaron" or Gulf shrimp in toasted garlic lime, ancho adobo, sweet pepper and onion; and "Carne" which was slow-cooked, beer-braised, grass-fed beef. The tacos were served DIY-style with warm tortillas, salsas and sauces. I thought all three were fabulous, but we also had our favorites and the tacos disappeared more quickly than I imagined.

For Ava we ordered a side of Mizado's version of the classic macaroni & cheese dubbed "Mac & Chorizo" concocted with their own, house made Duroc (type of pig) chorizo, elbow macaroni, queso and Salvadorean crema. Everyone absolutely loved it and we all gobbled it up, all of us except Ava. She was still very focused on the queso and found the chorizo in the mac & cheese to be a bit too spicy. Live and learn!

Though stuffed, we were curious about the dessert, so we tried an order of their bread pudding which was an interesting, Caribbean-style version with big chunks of pineapple and topped by a chewy meringue. It was a hit! The best part was that not only did we get to spend quality time with John's family, they got to try (and really enjoy) flavors that were a bit out of their comfort zone. I love introducing folks to new cuisines! Perhaps that's why I'm sure I have the best job ever...

Mizado Cocina on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

House of the week: The disappointment on Arts Street

Last week, John and I were informed by our lender that the city of New Orleans had denied our application for the Soft Second Mortgage Program. We feel rubbed quite raw due to the reorganization of our financials, and similar to that sensation after losing your virginity, we're sort of exposed and vulnerable, not to mention extremely disappointed. Most troubling of all, I can't help feeling like that "flighty mistress" fate (or is it luck?) somehow had a hand in all of this.

Although I'm a dreamer and a fantasy buff through and through (you can't shake the Mallorn leaves out of my hair), I've never subscribed to the idea of faith, any faith, except that which I still believe can be found in people. Regardless, I still don't think I was meant to have this house.

For example, two days after John and I finished our home buying classes on June 23rd (which oddly reminded me of traffic school), we were told that the city wouldn't be accepting any more applications for the Soft Second Program after July 30th. All of a sudden we were frantic. Though we'd searched the real estate listings online constantly, we never went to go look at houses because until the classes were over and we were pre-approved by the lender, we couldn't make a bid. I don't know if y'all have been watching the New Orleans real estate market, but it's hot. Houses I adored online were disappearing overnight and there seemed no use in going to look if we couldn't act almost immediately.

In less two days, I had a real estate agent, received the pre-approval and was assured we could make it before the deadline "no problem." The only catch was, we had less than three days to pick a house. It all felt so damned rushed. We had a list of over 15 different properties and we quickly narrowed it down to 3.

Two of the houses were totally me, you know, what I blab about every single time I do one of these posts. They were both older homes, at least 80 or 90 years, one in the Lower Ninth Ward and one in the Carrollton/Hollygrove neighborhood. The Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans had restored the one in the Lower Ninth Ward, a shotgun-style, two bedroom/one bath, that still sported the high ceilings, transoms, gorgeous hardwood floors, a cute front porch and an awesome master bedroom.

The other house, over in the Carrollton/Hollygrove area, was once a small, one bedroom shotgun that had an addition built on in front. Though from the outside, the house shape seems quite odd, on the inside, it's a whole other story with a unique, octagonal (hexagonal?) front room/dining room that leads up a couple of steps to a nice, updated kitchen with an island/bar and there were awesome, dark hardwood floors throughout. Two bedrooms led off of the kitchen and were pretty much the same size and there was only one, albeit largish, bathroom. Aside from the unusual front room, the best feature of this house was the big backyard. Three gorgeous trees grew in the yard and the owner had salvaged bricks from somewhere (they were really old bricks!) and had begun a patio. As with the rest of the house's renovations, the fence was brand new and offered more privacy than I ever expected find in the city.

Finally, there is the third house, the house on Arts Street. This house is nothing like any of the houses I have been talking about. This house is brand new construction with hardy plank siding and windows made to withstand 120 m.p.h. winds. This house was built above the "base flood line," filled with Energy Star appliances, security system, washer & dryer, central air & hear and closed cell spray foam insulation. This house had three bedrooms, two bathrooms and was built on a double-sized, corner lot. This was a Project Home Again house in Gentilly that had all the allure a new house brings.

We chose the Arts Street house. John wanted the Arts Street house, a majority of friends and family liked the Arts Street house, and part of me wanted that house, too. But there was a big part of me that did not want that house. A part that nagged all throughout the financial scrutiny, the inspections, the signing of purchase agreements and mortgage applications and the general jumping through hoops involved in the whole process. I'm embarassed to admit it, but I felt like I was selling out worse than when Metallica released the black album.

A good friend of mine argued that I was helping to reinvigorate a devastated community by moving to an area where others feared to tread. Her viewpoint made me more confident in my decision and an area that felt oh-so suburban (a.k.a. Gentilly) began to take on new life as I researched the history of the neighborhood and began plotting out driving routes to and from the gym, downtown, John's work, etc. Still, something just felt... off.

In the end, we lost the house on Arts Street due to an accounting snafu. Although I know it's not my fault, I partially blame myself for the blip that bounced us out of reach. We fell short $90 of being in the right bracket for the amount of grant money we'd been counting on, and though we still qualified for some money, it wasn't enough for the house we bid on and it was too late to restart the process. We were finished and the Soft Second money was completely out of our reach.

Was it fate? Should I have selected one of the other houses I liked so much instead of being "reasonable?" Instead of selling out? Is my house still yet to come or perhaps, was I never meant to have a house at all? Who knows? One thing's for sure, it hasn't stopped me from dreaming, but I think I might need to take a break for a little while.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Stopped in at The Rivershack Tavern

For almost three years, my commute was a simple one. I'd hop on Oak Street (just around the corner) and drive down River Road all the way to Hickory Avenue. It was an easy-breezy, beautiful drive that only took 10-15 minutes, seeing as I was going against traffic both to and from work. Every day on my way home, I would pass the brightly-painted Rivershack Tavern and everyday I thought to myself  "I really need to stop and eat there sometime." Did I? Not till very recently...

What the hell took me so long? Well, I'm not quite sure. I don't really have an excuse other than I just never got around to it. Better late than never?

John and I decided to go on a Thursday night about a month ago and, much to our surprise, The Rivershack just happens to have phenomenal specials on Thursday nights and we gladly took advantage. We sat in the corner, placed our order, and watched all of these families and friends greet and gather together in a place that seemed like their home away from home. 

We started out with a big basket of Fried Pickles, sliced dills that had been dredged in a cornmeal batter and deep fried into crispy, tart discs of heaven. We dipped them freely into ranch dressing, blue cheese and ketchup...mmm. 

Before we could make a big dent in the pickles, our entrees came out. John got the steak special which was a grilled, 8 ounce "Bourbon-Whiskey" steak served with both fries and a side salad, while I got the Seafood Platter. Both dishes were only $10.75 each! Talk about a bargain! Not to mention the quality (and quantity!) of each dish. 

John's steak was juicy and flavorful, though a little over-done. He asked for medium rare and got a bit more than medium. His salad was like a big wedge with fresh, plump tomato and thickly-sliced cucumber. My seafood platter had a huge catfish fillet, lots of shrimp, oysters, a big hunk of andouille sausage and a pile of French fries.    

Everything was quite good and we both had leftovers to take home. Now I need to go back and try Chef Mike Baskind's other specials like Crawfish & Corn Soup or Tuna Steak au Poivre. This time I won't wait so long...
Rivershack Tavern on Urbanspoon