Peachhead™ Approved Vacations: Vacation in Lake Charles, LA August 2014
Every year I look forward to attending Travel Media Showcase. This is an event that allows travel writers to meet destinations. This year the event took place in Lake Charles, Louisiana. I love visiting new places, and Lake Charles was no exception. We stayed at L’Auberge Casino Resort Lake Charles . I was given a newly renovated suite on the second floor. The room is high class all the way. The room has a an oversized flat panel television, a comfortable bed with luxury bedding, ipod docking stations, televisions integrated in bathroom mirrors (I had never seen this before), rain showers, a bath tub where the water runs from the ceiling, a refrigerator, and Keurig Brand coffee machines. The room also has two large dressers and two jewelry boxes (nice touch). My room overlooked the pool and lazy river. If you are a golfer you can also enjoy the 18-hole golf course.
The hotel has a number of stores at which to shop, a variety of restaurants, and a dessert place appropriately called "Desserts," which has wonderful pastries and house-made gelato. I had dinner my first night at Ember Grille and Wine Bar and the word that best describes my meal is decadent. We were lucky enough to meet Mark Chapman, the chef who created a number of the succulent dishes. We enjoyed a tasting of many of the items on the menu, and they were both delicious and beautifully presented. Our first course consisted of the baby arugula salad with fresh pomegranate, saved pecorino, fried quail egg, and a champagne vinaigrette, a wedge salad, and Ahi Tuna Tartare in a cucumber ribbon with pickled radish, cilantro, and mustard oil. The appetizers were wonderful, as well. We were given the opportunity to enjoy the Foie & Toast, Crab Cake, BBQ Pecan-Bacon Wrapped Shrimp, American Kobe Beef Carpaccio, and the Osso Bucco & Black Truffle Ravioli. All of them were amazing. Our main course consisted of the Ember Prime “Tomahawk,” a 40-ounce Rib Eye, carved tableside. The steak is served with different sauces such as peppercorn, cabernet, chimichurri, or bearnaise. We also enjoyed the pan seared scallops and the stuffed rabbit loin. The evening concluded with an array of desserts, my favorites being the crème brulée and the molten lava cake. The drinks were wonderful, as well. This was by far one of my favorite meals I have had the opportunity to enjoy.
The next morning I had breakfast at the hotel in Le Café. I had the Louisiana Omelet, which had crawfish tails, herb cream cheese, and chives. It was wonderful. Our first stop on our exploration of Lake Charles was Louisiana Spirits, which is the largest private rum distillery in the USA. We took a tour of the distillery, learned how the rum was made, and even did a rum tasting. I don’t typically drink rum and I was very surprised by how much I enjoyed the Satsuma, which is a rum liqueur. We also visited the Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge Visitors Center. There is a cute little animated show that teaches kids about the marsh. The refuge contains 9600 acres of fresh marsh, coastal prairie, and old rice fields. We also drove the Pintail Wildlife Drive, which is a 3-mile driving loop through moist soil wetlands. We even saw alligators. We ended the day at Rutherford Beach, a great place to go shell collecting. For dinner we went to 121 Artisan Bistro. We enjoyed a variety of appetizers, such as the Caprese Salad and the spinach and artichoke dip with flatbread. I enjoyed a shrimp and corn soup, and then the filet mignon, which was cooked to perfection. The sauce for the filet was incredible.
One of my favorite days in Lake Charles was when we spent the first part of the day at Grosse Savanne Eco-Tours. Bobby Jorden took us on a 2-hour boat ride through the Marsh. Being a California girl I have never experienced this before, and I was very surprised by how much I enjoyed it. There were so many beautiful plants, flowers, birds, and let’s not forget the alligators. It was an incredible way to spend the morning. After leaving there we went on an airboat tour with Airboats & Alligators. It was fun cruising the marsh in an airboat. Ben Welch, the owner, breeds alligators. He explained how they would use a helicopter to fly over the marsh looking for a nest of eggs and then harvest them to sell them, as well as use every part of the alligator (even the blood). After our ride we went across the street for the alligator encounter to see his alligators, and before we left we were each able to hold a baby alligator. That was pretty cool.
Mardi Gras is big throughout all of Louisiana. We visited the Mardi Gras Museum of Imperial Calcasieu. This six-room museum has the largest costume display in the world, and gives you the history of the festival. There is even a parade float you can climb aboard. The costumes are pretty elaborate, and cost between $2,000 - $9,000 each. We also decorated king cakes, which are the traditional cake for mardi gras. They are decorated in purple, gold, and green. The purple symbolizes royalty and justice, the gold symbolizes purity and power, and the green sympbolizes friendship and faith. We also had the opportunity to learn to dance zydeco, thanks to Harold Gulliory.
We spent our last night In Lake Charles at the outdoor concert at the L’Auberge Casino Resort. They had a great 80s band called The Molly Ringwalds playing all of the favorites. It was such a great scene. You can hang out by the stage and rock out, or you can hang back in the pool or lounge chairs and just chill….such a fun time.
The next day we left Lake Charles to visit Baton Rouge. It was a 2-hour drive. We stayed at L’Auberge Casino Hotel Baton Rouge. This hotel was built in 2012, so it is very new and beautiful. It has 2 separate buildings, one for the casino and a separate one for the hotel. There is a pool on the roof of the hotel building for hotel guests only. I had drinks in 18 Steak in the hotel. They have a wonderful selection and use fresh ingredients to create marvelous drinks. The rooms are a nice size, with comfy beds and pillows, and are very quiet. I never heard anyone walking by. I also had a great view of the Mississippi River from my room.
We started our Baton Rouge visit by taking the C’est Si Bon Food Tour. This is such a wonderful way to discover the city and try so many different types of food. Kim, our tour guide, taught us so much about the history of Baton Rouge and shared really interesting information about the restaurants. We started out at Poor Boy Lloyds, a very popular local po boy restaurant. I was surprised by how light and airy the bread was. Our next stop was Stroubes, a seafood and steak restaurant. We had 2 soups: the Duck and Andouille Gumbo, and the Corn, Crab, and Brie Bisque. Both soups were great but the corn, crab, and brie bisque was really unbelievable. I don’t think I have ever had brie in a soup before. One of my other favorite dishes was served at IPO restaurant. I thoroughly enjoyed the duck popper (grilled duck strips stuffed with green onion cream cheese, jalapeños, and tasso, wrapped in bacon and tossed in a house-made roasted jalapeno bacon peach pepper jelly. Our last stop was Kingfish for dessert…talk about something different. We had the most incredible beignets.
After our food tour, we visited the Capitol Park Museum, which features exhibits showcasing the state’s history and culture. The first floor shows you all about Louisiana’s history. The civil rights exhibit and the slavery exhibit were compelling. One exhibit showed the type of rooms that slaves were kept in, and you could listen to conversations the slaves were having during that time. It was very interesting. The second floor showcased the state culture with exhibits focusing on the food and music that is so very popular in Louisiana.
If you enjoy beer you should definitely visit Tin Roof Brewery. You can take a tour and they will show you how their beer is made, and afterwards you participate in a beer tasting. Be sure to try the watermelon wheat beer.
For dinner that night we went to Mike Anderson’s Seafood & Oyster Bar. This is a casual restaurant with sports playing on t.v.s in every room (the sound is even piped into the women’s restroom). We started out with a number of appetizers. I loved their onion rings. I also had their house salad with the most magnificent dressing. It is their house-made parmesan vinaigrette dressing. It was so good I wish I was able to order it and have it shipped to me. I couldn’t decide between the filet or the shrimp scampi so I ordered both, and they were both wonderful.
Our last day in Baton Rouge we started our morning at Strand’s Café, which is a quaint little restaurant with a Paris vibe. They make all of their pastries in house. We enjoyed a chocolate and strawberry scone that was to die for. I also had a triple cheese croissant…talk about heaven. From there we went to the Red Stick Farmers Market, which occurs every Saturday at the Main Street location. They had everything from fresh veggies and fruit to cheese and fish. The market is both indoors, as well as outdoors. Indoors they cook hot food such as crepes and other wonderful items. Outside they have vendors set up. They also had a wonderful singer playing guitar. What a great way to spend your Saturday morning.
We then visited the Old State Capitol, which is a museum showing the political history. The museum has multimedia exhibits that reflect the state’s politics, history, art, and culture. I especially enjoyed the Ghost of the Castle presentation, wherein the ghost Sarah Morgan explains the castle's history in such a unique way, using different video and sound effects. Walking through the building into the different rooms and exhbits was fascinating.
Our next stop was the very popular Tony’s Seafood Market and Deli. They bring in most of their fish fresh so we took a tour to see how they clean and prepare the different fish items, and then we enjoyed a feast of catfish, crawfish, crabs, and more.
After lunch we visited the Louisiana New State Capital, a National Historic Landmark. This building is a 34-story, 450-foot Alabama limestone-clad skyscraper. It is such an impressive building. Make sure you go to the observation deck on the 27th floor for an incredible view of the city.
Before returning to our hotel, we stopped at the Red Stick Spice Company. They have such a great array of spices, salts, and teas, and you can sample items. It was wonderful.
After a week of eating Louisiana food, our hosts felt it was time we learn how to cook this amazing food ourselves, so we spent our last evening cooking our own dinners at the Louisiana Culinary Institute. This place was quite impressive with the different cooking kitchens, pastry rooms, amphitheaters, and classrooms. After a tour of the facility, we donned our aprons and began preparing our meals in teams. I felt like I was on one of the cooking shows you watch on TV. It was such a great experience learning to cook with professional cooking care and expert guidance from Chef Colt Patin. After our cooking experience, we sat down and enjoyed our meal. The Lousiana Culinary Institute offers individual classes and group classes, and hosts a multitude of events.
Louisiana is a wonderful place to visit due to its rich culture, nature, and exquisite food.