I know what you're thinking: Sydney is hella far. It seemed that way to me too when I was first approached about an opportunity to explore the Land Down Under. But after spending ten days in San Francisco's sunniest sister city, I can safely report that it's not that far, and it's a lot like California.
In the United States (and most of the world), Mardi Gras celebrates Fat Tuesday, the day before the fasting period of Lent begins, when gluttony and over-indulgence are encouraged and celebrated in the streets with colorful beads and costumes—we're looking at you, New Orleans. In Australia, however, Mardi Gras happens closer to Easter, doesn't involve enormous amounts of food, and doesn't even take place on a Tuesday. Confused? So were we.
With the Super Bowl, Lunar New Year, and Valentine's Day filling our brains and schedules, Mardi Gras (February 9) almost slipped by without us even noticing. There may not be time to stuff yourself with beignets, booze, and beads on a work night, but you can still celebrate Fat Tuesday with a classic NOLA cocktail.
It's no French Quarter, but San Francisco's Fillmore District is the place to be if you want to go out, drink a few, and listen to live jazz on Mardi Gras. You can buy tickets to next Tuesday's street festival here, or throw a party at home with local flair. From the perfect fried chicken to the Mardi Gras beads, here's how to make the greasy, boozy, fun of New Orleans' great holiday at home in San Francisco.
How could I forget that today is Fat Tuesday? Clearly I've completely lost my Louisiana roots. In a panic, I looked up what's left to be hand: Arizmendi Bakery's king's cakes are sold out, the Mardi Gras celebration at Town Hall? Sold out too. But, ah, who would have thunk? The Republic is ringing in Lent with a Mardi Gras party tonight. Their chef Ronnie New is from the Big Easy and he'll be making barbecued shrimp (which was my request for every birthday dinner I ever had growing up in Baton Rouge) and some classic gumbo. Hurricanes as well as Abita beer (both Purple Haza and Turbo Dog) is also available—another prerequisite. Starts at 4 pm and goes until 1 am.
Mardi Gras is coming up next week and Townhall is having its annual Fat Tuesday celebration. Co-owner Mitch Rosenthal recalled last year's celebration: "We shucked 1,900 oysters. It was brutal. There were about six of us, just shucking and jiving." Although for 2008, the restaurant ordered big, fat oysters straight from Louisiana (having grown up there, I like my oysters big, which often slightly horrifies people here who prefer delicate little—i.e. sissy—Kumamotos), they learned a lesson when the $900 overnight shipping bill came. For 2009, the oysters will be sourced locally.