Thursday, May 29, 2008

Upcoming Quasi-Blog Related Event/Meet and Greet

Say New Orleans to people and they immediately think of a few things. Until recently those thoughts would always include food, drink, and good times at the top of the list. Depending on who you listen to New Orleans is either home to the only original cuisine in America or a waste land of laurel resting, terrible food producing restaurants(and if you are listening to Alan Richmond, my apologies to your ears). Regardless of your opinion you will soon be able to receive an educated look at the food and beverage customs of the South when the Southern Food and Beverage Museum opens next week where Julia meets the River.

A museum on food and booze and the cultures they beget or get begetted from seems like a no-brainer, especially in the South. Luckily, the South lacks the puritanical dread that other parts of the country seem to focus on when one combines delicious food, good drink, and good times. Mr. Bourdain said it best when he said, "Good food and good wine does lead to sex. And that is the way it is supposed to be." Southerners and New Orleanians (they are wholly seperate) enjoy good food and good drink. Now a museum will explore that relationship.

To celebrate the opening of the Southern Food and Beverage (SOFAB*) Museum a party (naturally what did you expect a lecture?) will be held next Thursday from 7-9 pm at the above location. Tickets are $60 and include food from not just New Orleans restaurants, but also some of the South's best known eateries. Some great spots on that list. Ohhh and booze, a good amount of it. I am in; Peter is in; Pope? Anyone else?

I hate to sound all civic booster-ey. But go to this. Its a Thursday night for crying out loud. You can be home, in bed, drunk, full, content and sound asleep by 9:15.

*I can't decide if I think the name SOFAB is hip or the worst thing I have ever heard. It sounds at the same time like a Manhattan Night Club owned by Sofia Coppola and Antonio Banderas, a skin condition which requires Blue Star ointment, and something we have all been called at one point in our lives.

The Saints and Food...Who could ask for more?

Ever wonder what it would be like to have Deuce place a composed cheese plate in front of you? Or what it would be like if Drew Brees tossed you a roll? Mike McKenzie pouring a vintage Burgundy as Scott Fujita unlids a Chateaubriand? Well, here is your chance. Saints, Food, and a good cause. In our book, that is a perfect evening.

If the link does not work, just go to

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Father's Day Alert

Recently Ralph Brennan released his eponymous cookbook covering the seafood of New Orleans. This book has a certain amount of heft to it; however one thing you will appreciate is the detail to which Mr. Brennan and his co-writers devote to each recipe. Ever wanted to know how to clean soft-shell crabs? A photographic step-by-step account awaits. I highly recommend this book (and Mr. Brennan will gladly sign and personalize a copy for you) for either you or say your dad.

On Saturday for lunch Lady and I tried out Mr. Brennan's recipe for Barbecue Shrimp. We scored some U-15s from the Crescent City Farmer's Market. The recipe turned out wonderful. However, in an attempt to make the recipe more user friendly, Mr. Brennan instructs the careful culinarian to add a few drops of water followed by bits of butter to the pan. This is of course essentially a technique known as beurre monte. However, for the sake of shrimp (and their fragile cooking time) I would suggest preparing the beurre monte beforehand and then ladling into the pan. This can easily by done by adding a tablespoon of water to a sauce pan and then slowly whisking in bits of cold butter. The resulting, still emulsified, melted butter is a great all around cooking tool (especially for ladling over meats before popping in the oven).

Using beurre monte, rather than making beurre monte in the pan, will allow you to better control the doneness of the shrimp. No real effect on the flavor, but perfectly cooked shrimp are easier to peel. And perfection is the only goal here at Blackened Out.

Other than that one minor problem, the shrimp exploded with flavor and of course, there was some serious sopping up to do. We drank a bottle of the Medlock Ames Chardonnay from the State Dinner. Then a nap. Nice little way to spend a Saturday.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

And the winner is...

On Saturday, local chefs competed in the first ever Louisiana Seafood Cook-Off in conjunction with the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience. Apparently no one deems this competition worth reporting. No one, that is, save for us.

You heard it here first, folks. The winner of the inaugural Louisiana Seafood Cook-Off is none other than Brian Landry, Executive Chef of Galatoire's. The winning dish: lemonfish topped with jumbo lump crabmeat and crab butter.

Your next question: "What is crab butter?" Well, let me tell you. Chef Landry dumbed down the process for me: He "boiled" crab shells in butter until the butter broke, removed the shells, then whisked the butter back together over ice.

Brian will represent our great state in the fifth annual Great American Seafood Cook-Off, which will be held on August 2 & 3 in the Convention Center in conjunction with the Louisiana Food Service Expo (otherwise known as the "LRA Show" - aka "Christmas in August" for The Pope). More on this event later.

Congratulations, Brian. All I can say is that I, for one, am really glad that you decided to forego dental school in favor of the culinary arts.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Vega Tapas Cafe - The Cure for a Case of the Mondays

I love wine. But the only thing that I love more than wine is half-priced bottles of wine drunk alongside numerous plates of tapas. It just so happens that Vega has such a special every Monday night to allow for me to satisfy this particular indulgence, so off I went accompanied by The Folk Singer ("TFS").

Tapas fit my personal dining style to perfection. If it were up to me, I would order all appetizers for my entire meal and skip the entree. Unfortunately, when dining with a group of people, the multiple courses for myself would interrupt the flow of the meal for my fellow diners. But not such was the case on Monday night. TFS and I began with a few mojitos which were refreshing with mint and lime, and a perfect way to start the meal.

We decided to order a round of salad and cold tapas to start, and then judge our capacity later on for the rest of the menu. We were first served a roasted duck caesar salad, which consisted of a roasted duck leg paired alongside a caesar salad topped with a copious amount of freshly shaved parmigiano cheese. Though the duck leg was served room temperature and required stripping the meat off the bone, I appreciated both of these details for two reasons. First, I am not a fan of hot protein on top of a cold salad mix. I think that contrasting temperatures result in warm greens which were intended on being served cold. Second, I liked that the leg was served in tact because it assured the recent preparation of the meat, as opposed to precooked and shredded duck meat (which I have no problem with it, just making a note). These are minor details, but I thought that they were worth noting.

Our next two tapas were served simultaneously. The first was the plato de quesos, which was several cheeses accompanied by accouterments. I will admit, I have no idea what the cheeses were (and neither did our waiter), but I have no doubt that they came from the preeminent cheese mongers at St. James Cheese Company. The board had cheeses of varying strength and texture, but the accompaniments were what made the course. First, the fig mustard was incredible. It had the consistency of jelly but with the spiciness of mustard. To die for. Also included were slivers of tart pear, crunchy toast slices, and sugary sweet pecans. Our final cold small plate was a carpaccio of thinly sliced filet mignon topped with balsamic onions and sauteed mushrooms. The saltiness of the beef and the sweetness of the onions resulted in a delicious contrast of flavors on the palate.

On to the hot dishes. First a trio of tempura fried asparagus drizzled with a spicy aioli. Then a dish of huge shrimp sauteed in garlic and olive oil and then topped with a salty olive tapenade. Finally chicken, mushrooms, leeks and feta cheese wrapped in phylo dough and placed upon a pool of sherry butter. Quite honestly, by the time we had made it to the final round, the bottle of Sierra Cantabria Rioja had been downed and my stomach had reached capacity, but I will say that my favorite dish was the shrimp.

Vega on Monday night. You owe it to yourself to go. Just pretend that you are sitting in a quaint cafe in Madrid or along La Rambla in Barcelona. It will help you forget (at least for the duration of the meal) that you have four more days of work till the weekend.

Given the steal on the wines, Vega is a tap-in birdie on Monday nights.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Korea House

Fat City gets a lot of laughs. The hubris of the 1960-70's Jefferson Parish council of believing it would become the new French Quarter beget a largely unpopulated derelict space in the 90s. However if one really thinks about it, there are some great spots down there to eat. Drago's of course, but not too far from Drago's is a spot that captured my heart: Korea House.

I did go to Doson's for lunch but my that only increased my desire for ethnic food. However at dinner the heat of ethnic food drew me like a moth to a flame. While walking the hounds, Asparagus and Penelope, we ran into Lady's boss who promised us Korea House was not to be missed. But she warned us, "the inside is nothing great."

I have a theory, well a lot of them, but this one is this: a certain amount of hodge-podge, accumulation of crap is indicative of a good meal. Beach side restaurant/shacks in the Caribbean always have a certain level of flotsam and jetsam which gives the place authenticity and character. Korea House has character, and of that a lot.

Our waitress who is also probably the owner steered us into ordering the following: Dumplings, Spicy Beef Soup (#37), the Squid (#9), short ribs(#18), and the pork (#19). Damn was it good.

All the food arrived at once. The dumplings were dumplings but very good to nibble on while the center of the table brazier heated up. At the center of our table a hole was filled with charcoal. On top of the charcoal a grate was placed. On top of the grate, meat was placed. Any questions, please ask the nearest Cave Man.

The soup had an huge beef broth which carried the flavors of tomato, spice, egg, scallions to a well-rounded finish. And enormous that portion. The squid, although a bit chewy, brought the spiciness we craved. But the real star of the evening was the beef short ribs and the pork.

The short ribs are sliced super thin, to allow their tenderness to show through following such a short cooking time. You remove the meat from the bone, place it inside a piece of lettuce, top it with rice and your choice of the condiments. My favorite was the bean paste, radish, and kim-chi (a preservation technique for things like cabbage and other vegetables). Roll it up and enjoy. This technique is also the way to eat the pork. Both are good, both satisfy whatever culinary urge you have.

I realize advocating for Korea House is nothing new. I am not trying to be Walter Cronkite here. But GOD DAMN is it delicious. As far as ethnic food goes, it blew me away. I suspect it will have the same effect on you.


Friday, May 23, 2008

For Lunch Today...

Summer sneaks slowly toward New Orleans. After yesterday's rain something puts me in the mood for Vietnamese. Doson's Noodle House produces some high quality food at extremely affordable prices. Located where Canal meets Carrollton, the best bet in the joint remains the pho. A large, steaming bowl of intense stock flavored with basil, jalepenos, noodles, and lime and your choice of chicken, shrimp, or beef. Chicken pho is the way to go.

Now, for those of you who may think it is crazy to eat soup when the weather is warm, consider this; Vietnam is located in the sub-tropical region of Southeast Asia. That means heat and humidity plague the Vietnamese the same way it does to New Orleanians. Thus, I think they know the reasons to eat hot soup in warm months, just like Indians (dot, not feather) drink tea. Eating and drinking warm foods (especially spicy, warm foods) cools you off by convincing your sweat glands to perspire. I am not a doctor, but I play one on the blogosphere.

Try out Doson's Noodle House.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Dr. John said it best...

Something about small restaurants grabs my attention. Vizard's redefines small and I could not be happier with my dining experience there. The wines were from Medlock Ames (Ames was in attendance).

Began with a glass of rose. Unlike the blush color of most roses, this wine had an almost copper tint to it. Good start.

First course arrived with a great chardonnay. Rather than stand by the California directive that all chardonnay's must have an oaky, buttery profile, this wine stood out for its delicate approach to a classic grape. First course was a lobster gnocchi with a smattering of mushrooms. Now, usually at these dinners that means if your dish has lobster in it, congrats you won, now do the dishes. Here enormous chunks of lobster rested their head on pillows of potato. Almost a unanimous choice for dish of the evening.

Next a cassoulet salad. Read that last sentence again. Duck Confit, pork belly, white beans, and escargot, (Holy Crap are you kidding me) plated onto a salad of frisee. The heat from the cassoulet heated the frisee and took some of the bitterness out of that green. Wine missed the mark, it being a Red Blend. With something as soulful and deep as a cassoulet salad, a wine with a smoother finish would have perhaps paired better. Not a bad wine, maybe a tad immature. As some have said about myself.

Now, veal tournedos encrusted in whole grain mustard with sweetbreads and a sauce flavored with spices and chocolate. The spice of the dish, which was really the mustard, worked really well with the tenderness of the veal. The sweetbreads were fried perfectly. Little nuggets of thymus gland, so good the I want more impulse took over. Wine was a merlot. Ames began his discussion on this merlot by once again telling everyone that just because Sideways (a terrible movie in my opinion) told American's Merlot is shit, does not mean it is. And this Merlot proved that.

Spinalis. I had no clue what this was so let me explain. It is the cap end of a rib eye. Tender as a filet with the marbling of a rib eye, this is one hell of a cut of meat. The plate was finished with some fried oysters. I think Chef Vizard was going for a play on a carpetbagger steak. Whatever he attempted it worked. Just an amazing all around dish. This course was paired with a Cabernet. Big, juicy and just that slight of hint of tanin. I really loved this wine, we made out.

Ended things with a cheese course, which I really liked as it meant I did not have to wake up in the middle of the night and stare at the ceiling.

Now, usually at these dinners the food is about par. Which is ok, the kitchen is taxed to turn out 45 plates of food at the same time. Well, last night the food broke the mold. All the food hit birdie or even eagle status. I anxiously await a return to Vizards and I suggest you go as well. That kitchen cooks. You know it is a succesful dinner when discussion centers around everyone's favorite dish; and each person argues persuasively for different dishes.

The Pope could not make it and we had to sub a different couple at the last minute. But our table had a great time. So thanks to everyone who made it and thanks to Medlock Ames and the staff at Vizards. We had great company, delicious food, interesting new wines, and an evening to remember. Such a night...

Eagle on the evening, Birdie-eagle on everything.

Mark your calendars for July 17th. Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Dinners.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A great read...

Thanks to the Bride-Has-Been for passing this along. Great detail in this article. If you wanted to get pumped/stoked/amped/jacked about food and or wine or NOWFE, here is your chance.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Holy Week is upon us

Its almost here. Not yet summer (thanks Live Earth), the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience begins on Tuesday and runs through Sunday. The blog and its devotee can hardly wait for dinner on Wednesday. A few spaces remain so if you still have interest in joining us at Vizard's, call and get a reservation.

Thursday evening, the Royal Street Stroll takes place on Royal. 92% of the galleries on Royal will have food and wine and your job is to march through drinking in, both with your eyes and your mouth, art and wine, respectively.

A multitude of seminars and the Grand Tastings on Friday and Saturday night round out what is sure to be a great weekend. Go, you do not have to work on Monday, and if you do not support events like this they will flee to some town like Little Rock. See I did learn something from Al Gore.

Information here.

Lady and I will spend next weekend in New York. We already have reservations at Craft and Babbo, any other recommendations will be appreciated.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

O Sole Mila

Next week I am going to New York; last night I got a taste of the Big Apple. My sister found a babysitter and wanted to go out for an adult evening. Why she chose to spend it with me, I lack an answer for. We tossed around a few ideas before settling on Mila.

Mila operates in the space that was formerly Rene Bistrot but long before that the original home of Jesuit High School. The space is sleek, but comfortable with large banquettes circling the walls and huge picture windows. Golds, blues, and chocolates dominate the color palate; while serious food rules your palate.

We started with some cocktails. A madras for my sister, a Louisiana 75 for Lady, and a mint julep. The Louisiana 75 missed the mark. An amuse arrived. A crawfish and lobster empanada. Really tasty start right there. The buttery crust serving as the de facto "drawn butter" normally served with lobster.

Appetizers got a little larger. A Tian of Louisiana Crab for sister displayed the utter sweetness of crab this time of year. New Orleans Barbecue Lobster revealed perfectly cooked lobster with just enough flavoring to make the dish interesting without overpowering the taste of lobster. I got a salad; albeit, one with house cured duck ham. Would have liked a touch more acid on the mizuna greens but maybe that is just me.

Entrees really displayed the entirety of the Rushing's vision. Based on the portions sizes up to now, we were all expecting a rather minuscule main (which would have been fine) instead we each received a sizable and satisfying main dish. Tea smoked duck with a sweet glaze on top. Love duck prepared this way, Lady said she would have liked some more vegetables on the plate (so all of a sudden you are a health nut). Sister enjoyed her lemon fish in what looked to be a ramp or other spring onion vinaigrette; although she found some pieces of the fish tasted more fishy than other pieces. I rocked and I do mean rocked the veal medallions. Beyond tender pieces of veal served with a mushroom cream sauce.

2006 Acacia Pinot Noir paired nicely with all the above; the wine cellar of the restaurant is really unique. I can not describe it other than to say, "cool."

A Cheese plate with an eggplant marmalade satisfied Lady. I chose to go another more adult route and got the peanut butter and chocolate tart. If I had to pick one last sweet to eat before going to the great gig in the sky, it would probably be a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup (or egg if Easter). This dish was a sophisticated, damn fine version of that.

Service is incredibly efficient and approachable. Besides the New York vibe of the space, this restaurant is within arm's reach of familiar New Orleans cuisine. Hopefully, Mila will continue to push the New Orleans food scene further.

Even better, walking in we ran into Tom Fitzmorris who was also dining at Mila that evening. What is that saying about great minds?

Birdie on a really difficult par 5.

Thursday, May 15, 2008


Next Friday for lunch, instead of doing somethign stupid, filling up on a prepackaged triangle of soggy bread, processed meat, dopey cheese, and institutional mayo, go to the NOWFE Charcuterie Seminar. Chef Rene Bajeux will inform and feed you. You can not imagine a better day. Meat, wine, French Chefs, at the Casino, amazing.

For Lunch Today...

Its raining and that makes me think of Irma Thomas. As such something with some body, some meaning, and quintessentially New Orleans to eat would fit the bill. Easy choice here: weather for the ducks calls for Gumbo. I don't care where you go for it. Perhaps you may want to duck into Herbsaint or Cochon and sit at the bar for Chef Link's always amazing Gumbo of the Day. Some critics* of this blog have mentioned my man crush on Donald Link. Fair enough, I won't deny it but his gumbo may be the finest in the city.

Maybe you would like to go Liuzza's By the Track. Perhaps just pop into Lil' Dizzy's. Gumbo Ya-Ya at Mr. B's. Or wait till dinner time and pick up a quart of gumbo from Leah Chase at Dooky Chase's. Your call.

What is your favorite gumbo?

*By critics I mean the 2 of the 4 readers of said blog.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


15 years ago it was Cigars; 10 years ago microbrews were all the rage; and the last five years or so have seen a surge in wine's popularity. One thing is certain people love vices, especially hip and trendy vices. Hopefully, sex with fat drunks will become the newest vice to take off. Until then, Cocktails are in again. Sure martini bars, gin and tonics, and bannana daiquiris have never really gone anywhere; but the cocktail is surging in popularity.

When I say cocktail what I really mean is the sublime blend of liqours, flavorings, sugar, and acid. Sitting on a porch with a Mai Tai, watching the horses with a Mint Julep, or toasting the birth of Christ with Egg Nog; cocktails fit all occasions. At one point my favorite gameday cocktail, the Gin Bucket, was outlawed in 7 states. Now thanks to intense lobbying the prohibition against drinking gin out of a bucket is gone.

Last night, the blog sent our crack investigative team to the Cocktail event at Cafe Adelaide. The Commodore Couple compiled a detailed report. So enjoy the recipes they gathered. Try one this weekend. I promise if done right you wont remember. My sincerest thanks to the Commodore Couple for their hard work.

Arnaud's French 75 - Lady Germaine
1 Fresh Strawberry
1 oz Plymouth Gin
1 oz St. Germaine
3 oz Champagne
1 Dash Peychaud's Bitters

Cafe Giovanni - Summer Passion
1 oz Absolut Mandarin
2 oz pineapple juice
1 oz Chambord
1/2 oz Cointreau
1/2 oz fresh sweet and sour mix

Lilette Restaraunt - Sage Julep
2 oz Plymouth Gin
3/4 oz Fresh Lemon Lime Juice
1/2 oz Simple Syrup
6 Sage Leaves
Top with Soda Water

Commander's Palace - Whiskey Smash
2 Lemon Wedges
1 oz Maker's Mark
1/2 oz Orange Curacao
1/2 oz Simple Syrup
4 Mint leaves

Iris - Thai Basil Ginger Mint Martini
1 1/2 oz Thai Basil Mint Vodka Infusion
1/2 Lime
1/2 Lemon
3/4 oz fresh pear puree, strained
1 oz Sake
1 tsp. honey
2 slices ginger

Carousel Bar - Pisco Sour
2 oz Pisco
1 oz fresh lime juice
1 oz simple syrup
1 egg white

MiLa - Mojo Rising
2 oz citrus vodka
1 oz fresh lime juice
1 oz simple syrup
2 sprigs fresh mint

Swizzle Stick - Ginnifer Flowers
2 ounces Plymouth Gin
3/4 ounce St. Germain
1 ounce lemon juice
1/2 ounce simple syrup
1 drop Fee's lemon

Whiskey Blue - Blueberry Fields
1.5 oz Finlandia Vodka
.5 oz Blueberry Syrup (Monin)
0.25 oz lime juice
0.25 oz simple syrup
4 mint leaves

EDIT: I just realized there are no instructions for each drink. Well, my best guess would be that all of the above would go like this. Add all ingredients into cocktail shaker filled with crushed ice. Cover, shake vigourously, and strain into a highball/cocktail/bucket also filled with ice. Enjoy.

* When Blackened Out the Blog begins its takeover of all things fun, we reserve the right to use the name "Coquetier" for our classic Cocktail Lounge. If you steal it, good luck getting into Heaven.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Monday, May 12, 2008

Cafe Giovanni

Well Lady's promise to never indulge in tasting menus again ended recently, but I think she was on to something. Let me first say this. I am not willing to write off this well-known, and in some circles, beloved Italian eatery, but I am pretty certain I will never do the Chef Duke "Feed Me" again.

Sat in the bar at Cafe Giovanni as we were early for our reservation. Had a drink and relaxed. The bar is dark and quiet; the main dining room is the complete opposite. Overly lit and full of noisy opera music. Some people really enjoy the opera singers, not me. I don't get it, I would not go to the Opera and expect to be fed.

Ok, so a glance at the menu revealed traditional New Orleans Italian Favorites. We had already decided to do the tasting menu and wine pairings, so quick decision. First course arrives with a prosecco. Oysters Giovanni; fried oysters set atop a plate with 5, count them 5, different sauces arranged in what our waiter called "the Stained Glass of Sauces". Not sure what the hell that does except muddle all the sauces together and produce a confusing flavor. It looked pretty but beauty without usefulness is a waste. But the oysters were fried perfectly.

Next, a caprese salad with a pinot grigio. Great, I love this salad. Unfortunately, this salad was topped with about a quarter pound of crabmeat that was way over dressed with a spicy mayo. Without being able to guarantee that I am correct, I am certain this dish was made hours ahead of time and then left to sit in a fridge. So, the tomato and mozzarella were rigid and absolutely flavorless. Ohh well.

Ok, now the best dish of the night. Simple ravioli topped with a lamb, pork, and beef ragu. This is why I came here. I had heard about the simple, unpretentious Italian food served, finally a glimpse of it. And then it was gone as elusive as the double rainbow.

Blackened Shrimp with Blackened Amberjack and dirty rice. What the hell is this doing here? Did the Flux Capacitor send us to Lafayette? Completely overloaded the spice level to a point of disgust.

Next a supplementary course. Our waiter could tell we were not yet pleased with the offerings so a big, beautiful, sensual bowl of mussels marinara was brought out. Great flavors, perfectly executed. The briny flavor of the mussels combined with the acidic, sweet tomatoes to create a flavor profile not unlike puttanesca sauce in one's mouth. Again, I wish the whole tasting menu would have been dishes like this and the ravioli.

Last savory course. Beef filet with spinach over mashed potatoes and fried leeks. Ok, sounds good in theory; but in execution completely flawed. Had I been a cow, chewing the leeks would have been easier. The spinach was heavily, too heavily, doused with Sambuca or another anise flavored liquor before service, leaving an almost astringent taste to the dish. Meat and mashed potatoes were good, until the Sambuca laced spinach infected the dish like a troubled kid in a new high school.

Tiramisu for dessert. Good but nothing to write about (I realize that I just wrote about it). The wines were also very basic and boring. Which I would not have had a problem with save they charged about $9 per glass for a 2 ounce pour from essentially the Cavit Collection.

All in all, we had a good night and were more just excited to have a night out together rather than be blown away by the food. The service was great and picked up on our clues, if I go back I will stick to the pasta dishes and Italian classics. It really was not until after we left and over the last few days, that I have been able to make sense of that meal enough to evaluate it. For what we spent we could have done the 11 course tasting menu at August again.

Tasting menus have jumped the shark for two reasons. First, they are incredibly faddish. Second, I know what I like to eat. Going to eat at a restaurant is a duel. A diner sees something on a menu the chef has put there to tempt a diner. The diner orders it and the cooks must execute the dish. Thats enough interplay between the kitchen and diner to satisfy me. When every kitchen in every restaurant can master that, I will be ready to order another tasting menu to test the creativity of the kitchen.

Bogey for the restaurant-Double Bogey for the Feed Me.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Blackened Out Rating System

Rating restaurants serves no beneficial purpose. There is a philosophical theory that one can never cross the same stream twice. In much the same way, one can never have the same restaurant experience twice. Restaurants nightly are wholly different creatures, an individual's tastes change, and sometimes well crab just is not in season. Socialism is better in practice than rating restaurants.

Some of New Orleans' best restaurants may be nothing more than deli counters or taco trucks. One can not label them as Five Star, 4 Bean, or Excellent because they do not fit the typical mold of dining. Last night in a moment of clarity or confusion or both, the Blackened Out rating system arrived in my conscious on the wings of skate and the angelic breath of pig.

Golf courses and golf holes receive a par score. Par, essentially denotes, how many shots the average golfer requires in order to make it in the cup. Birdie and eagle denote scores that were more impressive and bogey and double bogey represent my score after some clever mathematics. The Blackened Out rating system will function much the same way.

Taking into full account the food, atmosphere, service, price, and other intangibles, one can easily arrive at a score for a restaurant. Such a score will either be par, birdie, eagle, bogey or double bogey. Here are the guidelines.

Par: Totally decent, average, and expectable.
Bogey: Ok, but probably will not receive a return visit or certainly not going to recommend it to any one.
Double Bogey: Terrible, only to be used in cases of extreme emergency.
Birdie: Wow, surpassed my expectations. Food, service, atmosphere clicked. Would definitely bring out of towners, co-workers, friends here.
Eagle: The pinnacle, the best, top dog.

Let's use po-boys as an example: the standard roast beef po-boy. For arguments sake, Parasol's will be Par for the course. Great po-boy, bar, tons of history, etc... A bogey would be a serviceable but not very good deli around the corner from work, Serio's. A birdie would be Radosta's or Liuzza's (Domilisie's, a par somedays a chip in birdie others) and an eagle in my book would be Parkway. A double bogey is a roast beef po-boy from Arby's. Now you have a scale that judges each type of restaurant against other's of its caliber rather than pit a burger joint against August.

I hope this explanation cleared up whatever problems you have in your life right now.

Chucktown: Day 2

Reservations this weekend for 6 or more people have been pretty tough to come by, but fortunately some of my NOLA culinary connections have come in handy. Blondie's brother attended culinary school at Johnson & Wales up here (before the campus closed) and also worked at one of the more upscale restaurants in the city, so needless to say he knows a lot of the local foodies. So within no time Blondie dictated me a list of restaurants and names to drop, which has been a big help with the large number of people in town for graduation.

Yesterday was rather light on the stomach because everyone was still stuffed from the 1-2 combination of Jestine's and The Boathouse the day before. I guess some of my immediate family members lack the gastronomic stamina that only a few rare individuals possess (most notably The Pope, but myself to a lesser extent). So after a paltry breakfast at the house and a stroll up King Street, we were all starving for our late lunch at Magnolias.

We started with two orders of homemade potato chips topped with crumbled blue cheese (a la Bistro Byronz - Rene's favorite Baton Rouge eatery and sole recipient of the elusive "Golden Gavel Award"). Everytime I eat these things I wonder why more bistros and brasseries do not replicate this dish on their menus. Since I was feeling hungry (read "gluttonous") I ordered the Down South Eggroll as my personal starter. I know what most of you are thinking, "Don't they serve those at Chili's?" Well, sort of, but this one was stuffed with shredded chicken, tasso, and collard greens and sauced with a mustard and red pepper puree and topped with peach chutney. The spiciness of the sauce cut through the sweetness of the chutney to make an overall fantastic dish.

For my entree I was torn between the shellfish over grits and the cornmeal fried catfish; so I let my waiter decide, and she chose the catfish because it is "hot, spicy, and beautifully presented." Well, the presentation was eye-catching. but I guess my south Louisiana palate is too seasoned for the low country level of heat. Still, the fish was perfectly fried which resulted in a crisp exterior crust and a flaky interior of flesh. The fish was served atop a jalapeno and white cheddar grit cake which was smeared with a tomato butter - a perfect accompaniment to the fish. A fine meal all around.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Official Blackened Out State Dinner Location

As has been mentioned before, the NOWFE event is the culinary equivalent of a nasty Jazz Fest afternoon. And it is time for the readers of ye ole blog to convene and introduce one another.* The State of the Blog is strong indeed. The restaurant we have chosen is Vizards on Magazine. The cost is $85; the wines environmentally conscious. A regular "stuff white people like" Wet Dream. Call (504)529-9912 to make a reservation. Call today, I am serious about this.

Get out there and support eating great food and drinking wine.

*Scheduled to appear but no guarantees made: Lady, The Palm Room Hostess, The Pope**

**Subject to security concerns.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

A Charleston Affair

I am fortunate enough to travel to Charleston this weekend for my sister's graduation from the city's eponymous college. Everyone who has ever spent considerable time here has always told me that you fall in love with the city from the moment that you first walk down King Street, and I must say that the city does possess a unique charm not unlike The Big Easy. Some even go as far to boast that present-day Charleston is what New Orleans could be post-Katrina, but I wouldn't go that far just yet. NOLA has a lot more going for it than this small coastal town, but that is another question for another blog entry...

The first thing that I told my sister (aka "The Parisian Princess" heretoafter referred to as "PP") after picking us up from the airport yesterday was this: "Take us straight to Jestine's. Do not stop at the house. I need some fried chicken livers in my life." So off we went.

Our lunch consisted of classic home cooking. We started with fried corn fritters - tennis ball sized cakes of deep fried white corn meal studded with whole white corn kernels and a heavy dash of black pepper, topped with a sweet and sour relish of diced peppers. For my meal I had the aforementioned fried chicken livers which were served with grilled onions and cup of beef gravy on the side. The livers were sinfully rich, but dipping them in a puddle of Lillie's Low Country Loco Hot Sauce helped cut the richness of the livers with some vinegar and heat. For my sides, I went with mac & cheese and stewed collard greens (kicked up with hot pepper sauce). My Dad had the pecan crusted whiting (a local fish), but this tasted like a glorified fish stick to me. Dessert consisted of pecan pie (with finely chopped nuts as opposed to the half or whole nuts which most of us are used to) and coca cola cake - which if you have never had this caffeinated/cocoa/marshmallow madness of goodness, you just ain't livin'. I wish that we would have ordered their famous fried chicken, but my uncle (who orders like me but has the bankroll to do it consistently everytime he dines out) had eaten it the night before and assured me that it was some of the best he has ever had. So I took his word for it.

For dinner we joined PP's roommate and her mother (who, on a sidenote, was the second female commercial pilot in the US) at The Boathouse on East Bay. This was a cool spot that sported both a contemporary seafood menu and a sushi bar. Lots of wood on the interior and a general sailing motif. This would be the restaurant that Legend would open.

We started off with three appetizers: fried calamari which were accented with both a red garlic chili sauce and a lemon basil aioli - the dueling sauces raised this typical passed hors d'oeurves to a whole other level; the portabello fries were not the thin cut fungi that I anticipated but instead thick strips of mushroom served with a horseradish sour cream sauce for dipping; lastly we had lobster and crab hashbrowns with dill cream - great concept but not enough seafood in the dish.

For my entree I chose golden tile, which is a native fish of Charleston - the other local fish specials of the day included mahi mahi, grouper, and cavender - no clue what that is and neither did my waiter). There were three preparation options for your fish: grilled with lemon tarragon butter, blackened with corn salsa, or (my choice) macadamia nut crusted with mango coulis. This fish was cooked to perfection, but it could have used a heavier hand with the salt before the crust was applied. For sides I ordered the smoked gouda mac and cheese and the blue cheese cole slaw. The mac and cheese was aromatic and rich with the gouda, but a tad on the dry side - a little more bechamel would have put this dish as one of the top 5 side dishes of all time.

Othe dishes on the table included crab cakes, blackened mahi mahi, and a sirloin - all prepared well. Everyone said that they were too full for dessert, but after perusing the menu I decided that we just had to order the "549er" to go. This thing was RIDICULOUS - a thin layer of chocolate "cake" (actually it was denser like a brownie), then caramelized bananas, peanut butter mousse, and covered with dark chocolate ganache. So so rich, yet not too sweet.

I will be here till Monday, and we already have reservations at several other of the more popular eateries in the city. My only regret so far is that I waited till PP's graduation to visit here for the first time.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Blackened Out Official State Dinner

Is 2 weeks away on Wednesday, May 21st. More menus are available online. Peruse them and make recommendations. We hope to have a decision here in the next few days. These dinners sell out every year. So let's get cracking.

Also, one member of the Commodore Couple suggested GW Fins, which is already Sold Out. Do not repeat that mistake.

Restaurant Iris

I first learned about Iris when the chef/owner Ian Schnoebelen became a Food and Wine Best New Chef in 2007. Lady and I dropped into Iris a few nights before LSU dismantled the Buckeyes. We sat at the bar and were completely blown away by the food, drinks, and quaintness of this wonderful Riverbend eatery. As we were leaving that visit, Matt Flynn walked in; coincidence or good food?

This past weekend Legend came back to New Orleans after a 4 month hiatus and he brought with him the Ultimate Law Clerk. Also, joining us were the Bodegas. I had called weeks before to get reservations and I am glad I did. When we arrived at 9 p.m., the place was packed. It took only a few minutes to get our table ready and we were seated.

I need to mention this restaurant is tiny, minuscule even. In a converted Riverbend house with two rooms, space is at a premium; but it still feels comfortable. In fact the entire experience will make you feel like you went over to a friends house. Allow me to explain.

Cocktails, especially retro classics and new spins on old favorites, have made a strong comeback recently, although for some of us they never went away. Iris' barkeep is a delightful, only in New Orleans-esque character named Alan. His concoctions will blow you away. Lady had the honeydew melon and lemongrass daqiuri. Some egg white helped froth up this sublime toddy. I had the Parsely Julep (it was Derby Day after all). What sounds weird was actually incredibly refreshing, perfect after being in the heat at Jazz Fest all day. A bottle of Rioja and 2 vodka martinis and we all settled in.

First, a double order of the Washington State Oysters served with a classic mignonette sauce. The mignonette sauce is incredibly complex. Varying between black pepper and vinegar flavors and perfect not only oysters, but also to sop up with bread.

I was a little concerned that the food would suffer based on just how busy the place was. Luckily my fears were as baseless as an Eskimo's tan. An amuse bouche arrived. Duck Liver pate on a crostini topped with a hard-boiled quail egg. Ok, that was awesome. (Last time we went the amuse was a crabmeat stuffed Zucchini Blossom.)

Lady got the Lamb Meatball soup. A huge bowl of warm soup with 3 good size lamb meatballs arrived. The broth was sensual, the meatballs divine, and the tapenade smeared crust of bread added a delightful touch of salinity. Chef Ian loves using olives to add a sublime note of salt and remind one of simple pleasures.

An order of Gulf Shrimp, baked simply in garlic and tomato kept the bodegas occupied. Legend rocked some escargot and he refused to share so it must have been good. I got the gnocchi, good and light. But I should have gotten the Veal Cheek Ravioli, when I tried the ravioli on my first visit fireworks went off.

Two orders of Halibut for the Bodegas, they ooohed and ahhed. I should mention, they big New Yorkers who are used to eating in world class restaurants, were absolutely charmed and enchanted by Iris. Legend got the Lamb Loin. Cooked perfectly, I only tried the meat, but that could have been improved by the addition of nothing. Lady got the poussin. A young, tender chicken cooked and crisped with little more than butter, salt, and pepper. Served with simple summer vegetables, Lady was in her words stoked.

Two orders of what was essentially steak frites rounded out the table: perfectly cooked hangar steak topped with a marrow maitre'd butter and crisp house cut fries. The marrow in the butter instead of serving as a flavoring, functioned more as a textural device giving the butter, and hence the steak, a silken mouthfeel. I have stopped eating steak in fine dining restaurants recently (mostly, because whats the point, I can cook a steak), but this dish re-awakened my inner-carnivore.

Desserts: cheese plate, coconut creme brulee, and the best dessert in the city. Poached Pear filled with mascarpone, served with a caramel and sea salt ice cream. Remember when you were a kid and you came home to a snack of Potato Chips and Chips-Ahoy? Its like that only much better; the ying and the yang of snacking, salty and sweet.

Service is punctual, effectual, helpful, and very hip. Eric, our waiter, picked out an affordable, delicious Sonoma Pinot Noir for the table to compliment the variety of dishes. Laurie, the maitre' d/owner, and girlfriend of Chef Ian, keeps things moving along.

This description sums up Iris, in my view. A small gem of a restaurant; seriously good food and if you look at the Maitre'd close enough you will notice she makes no attempt to hide her ink. Iris knows what it is and is confident in its own skin. Go and feel welcome.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Jazz Fest Food: The Myth

I would rather never go fishing. And when I wore a skinnier man's clothes, I did not really enjoy ham. Strange yes; but give me a second to prove a point. When fishing, a ham sandwich tastes absolutely amazing. In reality all food tastes better in the outdoors.

You would send food you get at Jazz Fest back to the kitchen in a heartbeat if you got it in a restaurant. Yet, with the sun on your back and a parade of Indians passing by, it tastes like the best food in the world. Enough so that the symbiotic relationship between food and music keep raising the bar for each other. Come for the music, come back for the food. Love the food and discover a new band. Let me be real clear here: I love Jazz Fest, I have no complaints about it. But the food is not that good.

Now coupled with the atmosphere, the joie de vivre, the sounds, the smells, the outdoors, the thankfulness for another Jazz Fest, it works. And thank God for that.

The best thing I had, and we ate a lot, the Poulet Fricasse wowed us with simplicity. Grilled chicken on a wooden skewer; juicy, flavorful, and on a stick. The cochon de lait poboy varied from overly dressed to dry; but all in all that sandwich kicks some serious pork butt. The dibbi (grilled steak pita) had a killer mayo-hot sauce and was just what I needed. Crawfish Monica; good little dish there, but come on its cream, butter, green onions and pasta. Not rocket science there.

The crawfish beignets Lady had she described as "grease, that's is all I taste." Certain items like oyster patties and fried eggplant receive no help from being consumed in the heat. The mango freeze blew me over in the sheer refusal of it to taste like anything.

Ever notice that the "Authentic Louisiana and New Orleans Food" served at Jazz Fest usually only shows up at Jazz Fest? What restaurants serve a Cochon De Lait Po-Boy? A Crawfish Sack? When was the last time you saw Jambalaya on a menu? And why do restauranteurs not put those items on their menus?

I completely understand that the food will not meet expectations one would have if eating at a restaurant. Volume catering and cooking will never match individualized attention to each plate (same reason wedding food falls flat without fail). However, the restaurant space in the fairgrounds should allow a different restaurant(s) each day to come and offer an abbreviated menu. This would allow people to get out of the sun or rain, sit down, enjoy a meal, and then go on their merry way. The food would more accurately, and more deliciously, represent true Louisiana and New Orleans cuisine and you could still have all the food vendors outside.

With all that said, this last weekend at Jazz Fest again reaffirmed a lot of New Orleanians belief that this city matters and they made the right choice to come home to momma. With the sun on my back, a beer that slowly creeped towards lukewarm, Poulet Fricasse, and the last notes of Rebirth, everything I tasted, smelled, saw, heard, and touched during Jazz Fest I was thankful for and convinced was world-class.

Who knows? I love ham now and I would still rather fish than go shopping.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Mint Juleps

Sensual Spring has arrived; the birds chirp and sun dresses. During spring one has a plethora of opportunities to enjoy outdoor festivities, events, and parties. One of the greatest Spring traditions, Derby Day, occurs this Saturday. Dickie Brennan's Bourbon House will celebrate The 134th running of the hohses and Fred Metzinger's Christmas all month long by offering a souvenir Kentucky Derby glass (it really should be a pewter cup, but we allow indiscretions to slide; Christ, we hang out with Legend) whenever you order a Woodford Reserve Mint Julep. I really like Mint Juleps, and if you know what is good for you you will also.

Here is a guideline for you to use on Saturday.

Simple Syrup
In a pot you would cook rice in, combine 2 cups sugar and 1 cup water. Bring to a simmer until the sugar has completely dissolved. Allow to cool. At this point you could add flavorings to the simple syrup mixture, like say some bruised mint leaves, or orange zest. Its up to you.

In a mint julep cup, cocktail shaker, or just a glass, combine 4-5 leaves of mint, and a pinch of sugar, along with 1-2 tablespoons of simple syrup (make a couple test runs). Begin muddling. If you don't have a muddler (but I bet that Mojito kit your wife's Aunt, but who isn't really related to her, gave yall for your wedding has one), use the handle of a blunt wooden object (like a wooden spoon).

Then top with crushed ice, and a 5-8 second pour of bourbon. If you used a cocktail shaker, pour mixture into a glass. Then take one last, mint leaf, crush it with your finger, and rub the leaf around the rim of the glass. Enjoy.

Now for a twist on the above. Take some strawberries, take off the green part (the fancy term is Hull), and roughly cut them up. Add about 1 tablespoon of cut-up strawberries to the mint leaves, simple sugar and pinch of sugar and then muddle. Everything else stays the same. I had this version at the Antoine's Cocktail Party, dynamite.

Interesting Fact of the Day: People love asking questions like "What is the difference between Bourbon, Whisky, and Whiskey? "

It makes for great cocktail conversation, I guess. Now, there will undoubtedly be a know-it-all wherever you are who will answer, "Bourbon can only be come from Bourbon, Kentucky."

This will cause everyone in the room to say, "Wow, what an interesting young man, I bet he would win Jeopardy."

In reality, he has either erred or lied or both. The rules on "Bourbon" require it to contain more than 51% corn and to age in a new, charred barrel, along with a few other minor rules. The only geographic limitation mandates Bourbon be made in America. Therefore, you could make Bourbon in Gentilly.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Tales of the Cocktail

One of the great additions to the New Orleans internationally acclaimed festival scene, the Tales of the Cocktail, will take place from July 16-20th. Cocktail demonstrations, tastings, tours, lectures, spirited dinners and general frivolity ensue. A few years ago, we attended a spirited dinner at Brennan's with some illegally smuggled in hooch. A good time was had by all, including the chef of this hip NYC spot. Check out the sight, see what piques your interest, by some tickets, I guarantee a good time.

For Lunch Today...

If you can swing it, go to Jazz Fest and gorge on Cochon De Lait Po-Boys, Crawfish Bread and Beer for a delicious low carb lunch. Randy Newman takes the stage in the early afternoon and if you get close enough to him he may write a song about you: "Pretty lady eating an apple, right foot, left foot, right foot..."

However, that scenario will not likely occur. In response I would recommend that you go to Singha Thai on Carondelet (Towards Canal Street from Poydras). Snake past the kitchen to your left and find a table in the backroom. If the line seems long, do not worry you will probably be seated, served, and sent on your way in about 35 minutes. Start with a few appetizers for the table. Chicken Sate, Spring Rolls, etc... you know the drill. Lady loves the yellow curry [EDIT: Lady is now a Red Curry Aficionado]; the other selections deliver a load of heat if you ask for it. Ask for it. Go there and return to the office in a hurry so you can sneak out at 3 and catch a few bands.