Thursday, June 26, 2008

This Week's Guest Judge...

Is Section123 Saints Fan who related to us this morning this disappointing experience. This guest review reveals a number of interesting things. First, the absolute disappointment and anger that results when dining out goes awry. And also, how waiters sometimes suck.*

Had to drop you an email about a very disappointing Bogey last night. Maximo's Italian Grill
I have heard such good things about this place recently, same chef as pre-K, great atmosphere,service, etc.... Maximo's did not live up to any of that

First and Foremost, Service: Double Bogey
We had a group of 8 people and wanted some wine, so I asked for a suggestion.

The waiter responded by asking me how much I wanted to spend. Now, I don't want to go on a long rant about this, but as someone who waited tables and bar tended for 5 years, that's not an appropriate question. You should be able to recommend an Italian red in each category, cheap, moderate, pricey, you're an Italian restaurant after all.

Anyway, I tell him that since we will be having 3 or 4, let's go with something under 50. His response: I have something okay for 50 and something great for 60.

Look, I'm here to have dinner, not be treated like someone trying to buy a used car. You don't have a single decent wine under 50 bucks? There are at least 10 bottles in that price range, do they all suck? Why are they on your wine list then? Are you kidding? I end up ordering the cheapest Chianti on the menu (cheap Chianti is kind of a guilty pleasure for me anyway) just to spite the guy.

Throughout our dinner, the waiter is rude and not attentive. He occasionally fills wine glasses, a role which I eventually relegate myself to because we' didn't come to play around and have a glass or two. He begins to hover over us around 10:00 PM, making it very obvious he is ready to go whenever we leave.

Then, in a final act of indifference and poor waiting skills, he adds a 20% tip to the entire check, including the price of wine (which was about 150 bucks). First of all, if you're a good waiter, you rarely ever do this - I know, from experience. And if you have done a good job and your table leaves drunk and happy, you may get well over 20%. But fine, if you want to do it, play by the rules at least. 18% is acceptable, and typically, you do not add it on the price of wine. Again though, all of this would have been fine if he had, at any point in the evening, acted like he gave a damn about us, but after the service we got, it was the last straw. I will never return.

Food: Par
I got the rack of lamb and the sauteed calimari. It was unremarkable. Girlfriend got the Veal Noci, and it was decent, although much too sweet. The waiter recommended the special risotto of the night, and one in our party got it - it tasted like overly buttered grits. Not good either.

For some reason, the waiter also suggested we get an order of this entree to put in the center of the table and all share (in addition to our other entrees - I guess he had already decided he was slapping the 20% on) As far as Italian joints go, I would take Venezia's and Vincents over this place any day. not to mention any other Italian place worth a damn.

Value: Bogey
If I pay 30 bucks for lamb, I expect it to be pretty damn good. It was blah.

Atmosphere: Par
Wants to be fine dining. Suffers from poor service. Many of the dishes were buried in sauce. The presentation on all but one of the salads was very weak.

All in all, it got a bogey from everyone I dined with. Unimpressed.

* The views of our guest reviewers do no neccessarily reflect the opinions of the Blackened Out Editorial Staff. However we do appreciate the use of the Blackened Out Scoring System.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Off the Beaten Path...

Food is important. Now, I do realize this is mostly political stuff, but it shows the importance of a good meal. Not only that, but the following articles raise interesting and thought provoking questions. Questions that I have been mulling over recently.

First, what the hell does organic mean anymore? You aren't on the farm. And how the hell did seemingly endless amounts of organic food producers enter the market in the last few years. Given that it takes years to receive government certification that your farm is organic. Is it really better to eat organic food flown from Chile or China than just to buy food from a local, non-organic farmer? Can we all agree global warming, food production, and energy policy (and the inter-relation amongst the 3) is an issue we are not yet ready to make decisions on?

Secondly, are you willing to give up drive-thrus?

Finally, I understand people believe Obama is a messiah, but I am positive Jesus didn't charge this much for some bread and fish.

For Lunch Today...

There are not many BBQ spots in or around NOLA, but the few that we do have put out a pretty damn good product. After living in exile in Austin for four years (no victory lap for this guy), I developed a hankering for BBQ which I brought back home with me. So whenever I get the itch, I head on down St. Claude to Poland Ave and make my way to The Joint.*

The Joint is such a dive, but that's what gives it its charm.** There are maybe 8 picnic tables and benches inside and a few outside, the A/C barely works, and the "bathroom" door is a curtain. But they make some great BBQ, so ambiance be damned.

In some regions, your choice of BBQ meats is strongly dependent on where you are. Brisket and sausage in Texas, pulled pork in the Carolinas, ribs in Memphis and St. Louis. Not the case at The Joint. They have Texas style beef brisket, St. Louis cut pork spareribs, Carolina pulled pork, smoked chicken on the bone, and a local Cajun specialty of smoked chaurice sausage. Can't decide which one to choose? No problem, go with the 3 meat combo plate. Oh and don't worry, they have both thick, sweet sauce for the brisket and thin, spicy sauce for the pulled pork.

As for sides, my favorite is the mac & cheese. The baked beans are rather light in color from the absence of tomato, but they are still sweet with either molasses or brown sugar. If you need a little greenery, order the salad with smoked tomato and onion dressing.

Finish it off with a slice of peanut butter pie for dessert, and you've got yourself one hell of a lunch. So head on out to the Bywater, tuck your tie inside your shirt (if necessary), and dive right into some great BBQ at The Joint.

* This "For Lunch Today..." goes out to Big Brutal Dave ("BBD"), an avid reader of the blog. He had some, shall we say, "complaints" yesterday:
BBD: f*king let me ask you this
where the f*ck was i supposed to go to lunch today
if yall didnt tell me
Peter: You are in Baton Rouge, mother f*cker
We only do it for NOLA
BBD: so f*cking what
its bullsh*t
you didnt do it for nola today
thats what im saying
Peter: Agreed
At blackenedout we try to post everyday
Sometimes we need to bill though
BBD: well where should i eat
or should i have eaten

**I noticed on The Joint's website that it will be featured on the Food Network's "Diners, Drive-Ins, & Dives," so some of you may think that I am guilty of plagiarism. But let it be known that I have been patronizing The Joint and calling it a dive long before Guy Fieri has. End of rant.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Reasons why you should come to State Dinner, The Remix

If you are still on the fence as to whether or not you would like to join us on July 17th as we celebrate the Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Dinner at Stella! allow this photo essay to sway or dissaude you. These photos were taken at the First State Dinner which took place at Vizards.

The night starts out tastfully enough. Good friends reconnecting and toasting the joys of life.

In this picture you can see in the background a painting of some Bluebloods lunching at Galatoire's. And they are exposing their breasts. This will be important later.
Girls! Girls! Girls!

If you get hungry, we have food.
You can eat very close to real live bloggers. Most people pay a fortune for an opportunity like this. Plus Rene will attempt to look like a Sumo wrestler and an Italian Mafia Don at the same time.

Everyone has a really good time laughing at Rene's jokes, which are always really funny. During this skit Rene was discussing why the last thing you ever want to do is be the last guy in a casino.
Peter takes his job as note taker extremely serious. He did not even blink an eye when Hammer stole his wine.
There is a very good chance a Cougar will volunteer to take your group's photo and the whole time be exposing her left breast. Then she will take a picture with you showing the same. And B Gunner will lick his lips.
Past results are no guarantee of future performance; but if you would like to join us please go here to buy your ticket.

Call to Arms

Recently this rapscallion, Robert Peyton, has used the Internet to publish outlandish, salacious, and dangerous rumors about the crew behind this noble journalistic institution. Obviously Mr. Peyton did not read the "Terms of Use" Contract which controls the entire Internet. If he did, he would remember that the only information which can be posted on the world wide web must be 100% accurate and/or absolutely true.

Perhaps one of us assualted Mr. Peyton with a knife, but neither of us are Turks. Peter could be Armenian, but Peter is still awaiting the gynecological survey he requested from the Mormons, or something like that.

Indeed, the Blackened Out Crew and Fan will dine at Stella. Mr. Peyton and his cohorts have chosen to dine across town at Iris on the evening of July 17th. Perhaps it is the prospect of fun, hilarity, bonhomie, and general tomfoolery that they seek to avoid. Or perhaps they need a more secluded spot to plan their impending retirements. Regardless, the editors of this stalwart and our crew of merry eaters issue the following statement to Mr. Peyton:

Please meet us at a place of mutual convenience following your gustatory celebration so that we may duel on the neutral ground. We will take the streetcar towards your restaurant and your gang of misfits is instructed to take the streetcar towards the Quarter. We shall meet at Fat Harry's. You, sir, may choose the weapon. Choose wisely, and remember Blackened Out would never bring a knife to a gun fight.

The Blackened Out Armenian (perhaps) and Frog

Monday, June 23, 2008

For Lunch Today...

Hop in the car, get out of downtown, and checkout Magazine Street Poboy & Sandwich Shop at the corner of Magazine & 1st. On Mondays the daily special is red beans (of course), but they also make a damn good poboy. My favorites are the fried shrimp and the near-vegetarian french fry poboy covered in american cheese and roast beef gravy. But remember: CASH ONLY.

Friday, June 20, 2008

The Gospel According to Lüke

Lüke may be the most popular lunch spot in the CBD. In fact, my guess is that several of you hundreds of devoted readers probably have 12:30 reservations there today. I have lunched at Lüke 5 times over the past month - all with different groups of people. What does that say about John Besh's Alsatian bistro? One word: consistency. If you are looking for a solid meal with good service, then Lüke is a safe bet.

The menu is a melange of culinary fare. Just glance at the list of appetizers. Where else can you order rustic pates and terines, crabmeat maison, and an onion tarte all from the same menu? On my latest lunch at Lüke, I was fortunate enough to dine with the extended Papal family, and we sampled a wide array of Chef Besh's culinary delights.

The pâté de campagne of wild boar comes in a mason jar with a 1/4 inch layer of fat on tap. One serving of this was more than enough for 8 people to enjoy hefty samples. The pâté was rich beyond belief, but the housemade mustard and cornichons provided enough acidity to cut through the fat. The crabmeat maison was excellent, and it just goes to show that when crabmeat is as bountiful and sweet as it is right now, little needs to be added to this wonderful seafood. The boudin noir was a deliciously course grind; but I thought the saute of potato, onions, and apples all caramelized into a menage a trois of goodness was the best part of the dish. Rene would fire me if I forgot to mention the pork rilletes, though I am sad to say that I have never tried them. Last but not least the flamenküche - that wonderful onion tart covered with bacon and Emmenthaler cheese. Simply divine.

The daily specials should be your first stop in deciding on a main course. The whole roasted cochon de lait is succulent. (Ask the waiter to toss in a few slices of skin. Just tell him that you know Rene, and he will hook you up). The veal cheeks with potato gnocchi might be favorite dish on the menu - tender morsels of veal accompanied by soft pillows of potato pasta.

All of the regular menu options are good, but might be a little on the heavy side for lunch. Ordering the shrimp and grits, steak au poivre, or jagerschnitzle with spätzle will guarantee you two things: a deliciously filling meal and zero billables hours for the afternoon.

So if either you are starting to get full from appetizers or need to hit your 2000 hours for the year, I would go with a sandwich. I mean, think about it: How would you make the aforementioned cochon de lait a lighter meal? Why throw it on some bread and call it a sandwich, of course. The BLT of bacon and buster crab is an ingenious invention, and the Luke Burger - a massive pattie of beef covered in bacon, sauteed onions, and Emmenthaler cheese - is one of the top 3 burgers in the city. But the best part about ordering one of these sandwiches is that they all served with the housemade fries, which are cooked in duck fat. Yes, you read that correctly - DUCK FAT.

OK, I just realized something. There is nothing "light" about eating at Lüke. Actually, the grilled paillard of chicken is rather light, but it is nonetheless flavorful.

So there it is. Lüke. You go there because you know what you're going to get. A good meal with fine service. It's an easy 3 foot birdie putt on a short par 4.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Disappointment Begets Joy

I exaggerate, but not often. However, after leaving Nine Roses on the West Bank, I could hardly wait to write the review. This food is damn good. Allow me to set the stage.

Peter invited me to lunch with he and the The Folk Singer. The Folk Singer is currently studying for the bar, so despite her best protestations to the contrary, she is not busy. We wanted Vietnamese Po-boys from Pho Tau Bay. However silly us, Pho Tau Bay is not open on Thursdays. We drove around the West Bank looking for Nine Roses. When we found it, the adventure began.

You know how in movies sometimes the soundtrack abruptly ends when the squares walk into the school dance. Well, a similar thing happened when we walked into Nine Roses. All the patrons (mostly Vietnamese, 90% Asian) turned and stared. First rule of dining out, whenever you walk into a spot and you are out of place only two things can happen. One of them is an amazing meal; that is what we got.

We perused the enormous menu. And seemed to settle on a few choices. Peter ordered Spring Rolls, Pork Meatballs, and the Bun Thit Nuong (char-grilled pork over vermicelli noodles). The Folk Singer ordered hot and sour seafood soup and Curry & Coconut Chicken.

Then the server turned to me. I audibled into the Number 9. "You been here before?" our server asked me.


"Well then you can't have that dish. You won't like it."

"Well what is it." My inner child now telling me, "If you dont get the number 9 we are burning this place down."

"Is a rar beef."

"Bring it. I'll eat it."

Rule number 17 in dining out, when the server doesn't think you are legit enough/could be a spy from the FDA/or an undercover investigative reporter from 6 On Your Side and refuses to let you order what you want, its got to be good.

The parade of accessories began pouring out of the kitchen: lettuce, Nuoc Mam Sauce, Peanut Sauce, Rice Paper. Then the spring rolls arrived. Through the paper-thin rice paper you could make out 3 large shrimp resting their plump heads on a bed of mint, vermicelli, and pork. An absolute explosion in your mouth. The mint took that roll over the edge, just a wonderful combination of flavors without being overwhelming.

The Folk Singer received a oversized bowl of soup chock full of U-12 shrimp, octopus, and a little crab. Ooohs and ahhs from her side of the table.

Then came my forbidden order. Tenderloin sliced so thin it made the rice paper look like cardboard. The beef was marinated in lemon juice and set atop thinly sliced onions, mint, and cilantro. The process goes like this. Dip the stiff rice paper in the steaming bowl of water, spoon the raw beef, onions, and grassy delight onto the moist wrapper, drop some Nuoc Mam sauce, roll and enjoy. The acidity of the dressing essentially "cooks" the beef. For lack of a more apt description this is steak ceviche. Don't worry the steak is sliced so thinly any bacteria are chopped in half. And I am no scientist but half a bacteria is harmless.

The taste is indescribable. Sour, salty, crunchy, tender and fresh flavorings dominate. You could eat millions of these Vietnamese Carpaccio Tacos. I stopped at 7. What I really loved is how fresh and clean this taste was without being bland.

Peter's pork meatballs arrived. 6 huge balls of ground pork, that were as light to eat as cotton candy and juicy as can be. Unfortunately, the rest of the food began arriving; we could have fed a platoon.

Peter's chargrilled pork came out. Crunchy exterior with a meltingly tender interior. A nice smoky flavor gave way to porky goodness. The cut of pork remains unknown ( Isuggest something from the belly or shank), but whatever cut it was, this was the essence of pork. Pork, thank God for that invention.

Folk Singer did not really share her curry. I guess she did not get the memo that when you eat with the Blackened Out Crew, the rule is bite, bite, pass. She is a rookie, we allow mistakes.

This meal blew away all our expectations. What began as disappointment became overhwleming joy. I can't claim to be the first food writer (for lack of a better term) to discuss the beauty of Vietnamese Cuisine, and I will not be the last, but this food is so incredibly different from anything you have experienced thus far. And Nine Roses does a hell of a job.

I suspect you will really enjoy your visit there. Just make sure to steer clear of anything that they let you order.


For Lunch Today...

Since the last few lunch spots have been admittedly low-key, why not blow it out today. Thursday lunch is the new Friday. Restaurant Cuvee offers a 3 course meal for $24.00. Sure that may seem like a sizeable investment for lunch, but in 2 days at Subway you would probably come close to spending that amount. And this ain't a sandwich shop. Well, I should rephrase there is a sandwich on the menu but it is a bacon, chicken and waffle club sandwich.

Restaurant Cuvee is only open for lunch on Wednesdays and Thursdays, a lesson I learned the hard way recently. Chef Bob Iacovone recently challenged Bobby Flay to an Iron Chef challenge. Chef Iacovone lost, but I think the real loser is the guy who plays the Chairman.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Everyone Loves a Creole

Tomato. Gus, a 2 and a half year old Basset Hound, pictured here got really mad recently because we did not take him to the Creole Tomato Fest. He exacted his revenge on us by stealing this perfectly ripe Creole Tomato (it was on a counter top), taking it in the backyard, and enjoying it while lounging in the sun. Afterwards his only complaint was, "it could have used a pinch of salt."

For Lunch Today...

LSU plays this afternoon to stave off elimination. To get yourself in the mood for some Tiger Baseball, why not head to Serio's Po-Boys and Deli in the first block of St. Charles. The name tells you the kinds of food you can expect. The wallpaper is a delightful blend of purple, gold, newspaper print, and old football helmets. Sure the place has a cafeteria feel to it, but the food is good and the place should be raring to go at lunch time today.

I think one of the best things about Serio's is the the owner, Mike, asks you on his website to email him with suggestions or LSU Tiger Talk. Mike is in Omaha this week, but I would love to hear how quickly he responds to your Tiger Talk query.

Monday, June 16, 2008

For Lunch Today...

Bacon, white Bunny bread, a slather of Blue Plate, salt, pepper, and some slices of creole tomatoes.
Smoosh bread. Enjoy.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Scene of the Crime Ahead of Time

On Thursday July 17th the Blackened Out State Dinner, The Remix will take place at Stella. This is the menu, if you are scared of jellyfish join the club. I look at this meal as a chance to vindicate the lashing I took by a jellyfish at Navare Beach in 1991. Its called payback, jellyfish, and it is a bitch.

Here is how this works. I can not make reservations for you. If you would like to join us and by all means do; you need to make your own reservation and purchase a ticket from this website. Scroll down and click on the buy tickets link. So far the crew is the following: Palm Room Hostess, MC Hammer and 2 Legit 2 Quit, the BB Gunners, Peter (hopefully), We Won't Get Sick Again(better names coming). We are still waiting to hear back from Le Bucket (who is beginning something called a residency) and The Zanimal.

This dinner will be a lot of fun. When you register for it, shoot us an email so we can call Stella and tell them everyone in our group. That way we can structure tables accordingly.

Seriously, 85 bucks (plus a 15 dollar enrollment fee) for 4 courses with booze at Stella is criminal. Join us readers, I can only promise you one thing: a hell of a night.

We Should Have Read The Sign

I hate when a restaurant stinks. No panacea exists for a bad meal; it lingers and stains the rest of your evening and sometimes week(end). Every time you drive by the restaurant or someone mentions it, you react in terror. The meal haunts you.

Unfortunately, Lady and I had that experience last night. People have raved to us about The Delachaise for months now. Well, everything missed the mark last night, from service to food it was a study in blah. However, I think the bar area is nice and I would go there for a drink again, just not to eat.

The Delachaise operates on St. Charles, down the side street from the old Hyde Park (the one where Come on Be My Baby Tonight bartended during Real World: New Orleans). Its quaint, European, and reminds one of being in a rail car. All very good things.

We walked in and wandered. The place was packed, seemed to be a good vibe but where was a hostess, maitre'd, waiter, to steer us in the right direction. We ambled toward the bar and stood around wondering if we were hip enough for this spot. The answer no.

Finally I spotted someone who looked like they may work here or at least someone who looked like they might know a person who worked there. "So how do we grab a table?" I asked.

"Didn't you read the sign? Order at the bar," he said scurrying off.

So after waiting at the bar for about 5 minutes finally I got two orders of Spanish white and a menu that came on a board. Ok, frites, bruschetta, and the pasta of the day (lasagna). More ambling, dang we just missed a table. Finally one opened up. We grabbed it and I dutifully went back to the bartender to tell him where we were sitting. I was instructed to do so in a tone reminscent of Mom.

Out comes the Bruschetta. Charred bread topped with skirt steak, arugula, and two colored Bobby Flay-esque sauces. First bite wonderful. Beef had a good flavor, the sauces seemed to work together and the arugula added pepper. Next bite, something began developing that reminded me of Little League. No, not that I was sitting on an uncomfortable bench. It was the unmistakable salinity laced flavor of sunflower seeds. Chef must be a smoker, this dish had some salt to it.

Here come the frites. Fried in duck fat these are supposed to be the best fries in the city. They were not. Greasy and flaccid these frites did not deserve the French name attributed to them by the menu. I hope this restaurant is not so hard on money that they could only dole out a teaspoon of sauce per dipping container. I wish I could remember what the sauces were, but there was so little of them it does not seem worth mentioning.

Tried to go get another two glasses of wine, this time a Sangiovesse. You can't order anything from your table, remember the Sign. Took 10 minutes all the while the lasagna at the table sat patiently. Lasagna complete failure. Again the salt overwhelmed the entire dish. Our mouths began to tingle; a sensation we are both still dealing with 12 hours later.

Someone came out from the kitchen to bring us the creme brulee (Honey apricot and viognier with ginger sugar), and asked how we liked the lasagna. When I told him it was over salty, he informed me we must have gotten a super salty bit of ricotta in ours. I wish he would have left the creme brulee back in the kitchen. The brulee suffered from being over thought out. Honey is good, and so is ginger, and apricots, so together they must be awesome. What resulted was almost perfumey, but mostly disgusting.

All the dishes suffered to me from the same fault. They were not as thought out in whole as they were in their component parts. If you know the ricotta is salty, then use less salt throughout the dish. If the beef is not tender enough to break off when you bite into the bruschetta, then change the way you present it so I do not have a chunk of meat hanging from my lip. Those fries I can kind of forgive as it was busy. But that creme brulee lacks precision and flavor.

Service requires one to be hip. Although to be fair, they did take five dollars off the price of the lasagna. I think I understand what they are trying to do at Delachaise. Pair wine, good beers, and liquors with good food. Upscale bar food, gastropub fare, and whatever other trendy name aside, it missed the mark.

When I go out to eat, I liked to be welcomed in, shown a place to sit, given a good drink, a menu, talk to a waiter about what is good, eat at a nice pace, and enjoy my meal. When I leave, I want to be asked to come back soon. At Delachaise, none of that occurred.

When we left, Lady and I both said to each other, "I had a feeling when we walked in it was going to be bad." We should have read the Sign.


Friday, June 13, 2008

So, You Say That The Summers Are Slow In NOLA, Huh?

Wrong. There have been and will be many festivals and events going on this summer. This weekend is no exception. The New Orleans Vieux-To-Do combines three festivals in one and will take over the French Quarter for the next 3 days. So go checkout The Creole Tomato Festival, The Louisiana Seafood Festival, and The Cajun-Zydeco Festival. LSU does not resume its quest for another title in Omaha till Sunday night at 6pm, so what else do you have to do?

Sidenote: One of the best things about Baton Rouge is that people from New Orleans occasionally come up there and do some pretty cool stuff. Tomorrow Galatoire's Executive Chef Brian Landry will be performing cooking demonstrations and passing out samples at the Red Stick Farmers Market, which is held in downtown Baton Rouge. The market is supposed to be one of the best in the region, so head on down and take a look if you happen to be in the Capitol City tomorrow.

For Lunch Today...

Ever notice how there are certain things about New Orleans that you swear you will not do? Like going to the Quarter during Mardi Gras, standing in line at Mother's, or taking the streetcar. Then you find yourself doing those things and realizing, "Hey, this is not to bad; I should not be such a jerk."

Port o Call to me is one of those places that almost seems cliche. 50's style cocktails with enough booze to woo a stewardess from a Pan-Am flight, big hamburgers, and loaded baked potatoes. There is always a line and sometimes it just does not seem worth the hassle.

Until you unlock your jaw to get your mouth around the beef behemoth. The shredded cheese, parts of it melted other parts still cold, huge slice of onion, lettuce, mayo mustard, and ketchup begin falling off the burger like the leaves of autumn. That is a burger.

An aside here. People often complain that the cheese is not melted, which is a valid complaint. However, when you grill a burger in the backyard. And that baby is ready to be eating, you have quaffed about 4 or 5 of Le Bucket's micro-Microbrews, and the sun is on your back; well sometimes you just cant wait for things like cheese to melt.

My favorite part of the Port o Call experience is the detritus on your plate after you have destroyed that burger. Combining all of that (bits of bread, mustard soaked cheese, etc...) with the baked potato to me is reason to keep on, keeping on.

The boozy Monsoons aint to bad either. It may seem like a cliche, but Port o Call is as good as it has always been. And that is saying something.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

For Lunch Today...

Small cafes and sandwich shops tucked away on the side streets of the CBD have always been a haven for those in search of a quick lunch on a budget. Unfortunately, our favorite lunch spots frequently close after only a few years or even months because it is so difficult to operate a profitable restaurant without dinner service (though some, such as the Commerce Restaurant, have endured). On the flip side, there always seems to be budding restaurateurs waiting in the wings to take over the vacant spaces of those that have tried and failed before them.

The Store is hidden away in the 800 block of Gravier Street just a few doors down from the more well known Steve's Diner. This sandwich shop is owned and operated by a young entrepreneur who was also an acquaintance of your bloggers in high school. Every day he there running the register, making fresh salads, delivering orders, or wiping down tables. With an owner that hands-on, you know that he is making sure that everything is up to his specifications.

The most popular item on the menu is the South Carolina style pulled pork sandwich, but the pressed turkey and brie might be favorite sandwich on the menu. Sandwiches come served with your choice of remoulade slaw, green onion potato salad, or sweet potato fries. The salads are also very good, which I attest to the fact that they are made with a spring mix as opposed to iceberg. The chopped cobb or the candied pecan and goat cheese are both solid choices.

The Store: birdie as a great lunch spot downtown.

Top Chef Wrap Up

Congratulations Stephanie, but no doubt your victory was slightly tainted by The Agenda. Please do not take this as a slight to your technique, skill, or expertise but when the first episode's fan poll asked, "what will we see first a Female President or a Female Top Chef?" one immediately believes the fix is in. I find it demeaning that Obama is only referred to now as the First Black Presidential Candidate from a Major Political Party; it cheapens his achievement. Stephanie is the 4th Top Chef. End of qualifiers for her.

Getting off my soapbox for a second and moving to more important matters. Lady and I watched Top Chef last evening and she pointed out something very important. The last challenge was too gimmicky. Pick your chef to use and you can only use the proteins they brought with them. In the past it has always been, "go cook the meal of your life." Perhaps it added a more interesting wrinkle this time around, but I just wanted to see these chefs cook with no instruction.

Many people, especially Legend, found it incredibly stupid of Richard to admit he blew it. I see it differently. A chef's work is always susceptible to changes, tweaks, and adjustments. None of Richard's dishes were bad they just all suffered from the lack of time to truly execute his dishes to perfection. By admitting to the judges, that which they already knew, namely that, "hey these dishes could have been better" Richard displayed an important aspect to a chef's repertoire. That being the ability to know what to do to make a dish better. I thought it was a good move.

Braised pistachios? Wow, some nuts won Top Chef for Stephanie. Stephanie was an incredibly strong contestant throughout and won because quite frankly she never got in over her head. She did what she knew how to do, nothing more, nothing less. And she was from Chicago so you have to figure knowing the ins and outs of the guest judges' wheelhouses did not hurt. But again Stephanie deserved to win. Lisa did not deserve to be in the final (based solely on watching, not tasting or actually being there...come on this is what the producers want us to think of Lisa).

Hopefully if Top Chef comes to New Orleans a New Orleans chef will take the title. I would love to see the Pope introduced as a guest judge. All Grand Marniered out, glassy eyed with Peter looking over his shoulder; the two of them asking, "You going to put some foie gras on top of that lobster or what?" But let us leave the numerical calculations of fowl to a time closer to their hatching.

All around a good season, I guess. I have an inkling the reason Dale got cut 2 episodes ago was because Tom was not there and that will be pointed out during the reunion. It is safe to say, Bravo has not driven me away yet.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Top Chef Finale

Tonight at 9. A few thoughts though before my prediction.

How is it that some moron can get paid an insane amount of money to come up with the idea that Bravo should host a Pop Culture Awards Show? Furthermore, what ad genius came up with the stupid American Idol style stunt in which Kathie Lee Griffin (a person I find very funny) "wins" the right to host that monkey crap? Isn't that the equivalent of winning the right to get infected with AIDS to see if a new medicine will work? Good thing she is already on the D-List.

How crappy is it to be the person who gets kicked off Top Chef first? You have to go to that reunion show and try and convince everyone that you "would have really wowed some people and gone far"; yet everyone knows that is a lie becuase you could barely make pizza taste good. And then awkwardly say, "My 24 hours spent in _____ will really help my career down the line."

Remember my earlier post on Top Chef? In which I pointed out the sneakiness of the top Chef Producers? Well, that was obviously foreshadowing that would have made Steinback say "Whoa!" (in a Joey Lawrence voice). I think Lisa takes it tonight. Here is why.

Lisa has some talent. She can not cook rice, she makes my basset hounds look active, and she is not a team player, but she can can put together unusual and delicious flavors, according to the judges. As of today I have yet to taste her food. She pulled off peanut butter mashed potatoes and that miso bacon. Although incredibly lazy and a huge brat attack, all she has to do is put together one amazing meal (and will have help from the last 3 Top Chef winners, this is my guess). If she gets paired with Hung, likely, she will walk away with the title of Top Chef (said in a Padma voice). She will be able to lean on Hung's classic technique, vast culinary knowledge, speed, and drive. Thus not only increasing her strengths but using Hung's strengths to hide her weaknesses.

The competition has trimmed away two of the best chefs all along, Dale and Antonia, leaving Richard and Stephanie to battle it out with Lisa. Many people think Stephanie or Richard is the obvious choice based on their near dominance so far. But remember Top Chef only takes into account the food prepared in the present. No points are awarded for last week.

Lisa is the obvious choice to win because its the same story line Bravo tried to do in season 1 and 2, with Tiffani and Marcel respectively and finally succeeded in Season 3 with Hung. The story line goes like this, granted it is all done in post-production (I do not think there is a conspiracy while they film the show, just in the editing room): hide a chef for the first few episodes, make this chef out to be a bad boy/girl that does not play well with others, they stick around by the skin left on their dull knives, and then suddenly they are winning events and in the finale. They put together an amazing meal and get to say, "Nobody believed in me, but me."

So the prediction for tonight. Either Richard or Stephanie shits the bed, the judges proclaim that all around Lisa presented the most thoughtful, well executed meal, and that Richard/Stephanie would have won but for course ______ which really "missed the mark." Of course the Patriots were the obvious choice to win the Super Bowl.

Take that to the bank and smoke it.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Tales of the Cocktail Heads Up

Begins July 16th. Information and tickets available here. This festival presents a wonderful opportunity to learn about the drink which New Orleans birthed forth upon an unsuspecting world. In fact one could make the argument in one paragraph that our nation's organized crime "dillema" can be blamed on one man: Antoine Peychaud. And here is how I got there.

Before Mr. Peychaud began mixing cocktails in his coquetiers, hard alcohol consumption claimed frontiersmen, moonshiners, and a few other rascally individuals as its devotees. Mr. Peychaud made these lickers potable, this in turn increased American's desire for the hooch. The same people who today want you to stop driving cars and stop using paper bags to make groceries, 100 years ago fought against the proliferation of the abomination of American Society at the hands of booze. Hence, a little experiment known as prohibition gave birth to network of criminals, bath tub gin men, and desirous consumers. When booze became legal again, the Mafia decided to expand into drugs, organized labor, waste management, and other lucrative businesses. So thanks to Mr. Peychaud (perhaps the first crooked pharmacist), we got the Mafia.

The above is by no means factually, historically, or grammatically correct.

Also, on July 17th the Second of this Summer's Blackened Out State Dinners will take place at one of the Spirited Dinners. Location to be revealed soon. To register you have to buy tickets online to the event. That serves both as your payment and reservation. We have a full agenda, so take good notes. Cougars who unknowingly or knowingly reveal their bosoms are always appreciated, welcomed, and enjoyed.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Just Another Thursday Night...

...Well, not really. But there are few other cities in the world where such events take place on a nightly basis. I implore you 4 (possibly 5?) readers to take advantage of the multitude of food and wine affairs such as the Grand Opening Gala at SOFAB. For the most part, the events are a bargain considering both the amount and the quality of the culinary and oenophilic offerings. I, for one, can say with 100% certainty that I got more than my $60 worth on Thursday night...

The Drinks
Rene experienced more variety than I did. If memory serves me well (which is unlikely), he tasted each one of the Classic Southern Cocktails. Lady Luncheon has a penchant for The French 75, while La Papa and I stuck with mint juleps all night long (which is what we started drinking at The Swizzle Stick Bar before the gala because, as we all know, it is necessary to have 3 cocktails before one of these events). I use the term "mint juelp" loosely here because the cocktail consisted of 4oz of Buffalo Trace and maybe a 0.5oz of simple syrup. But as The Pope explained, "That is how they are supposed to be made." I also had a few Abitas because, well, I like Abita.

The Food
I really think that I ate at least 15 deviled eggs from Acadiana. They were so f%*&ing good. The richness of the egg yolk mixture with the slight sweetness of the crabmeat and the saltiness of the Lousiana choupique caviar made for a wonderful combination of flavors. Plus these things were so easy to just grab off of the plate, as opposed to waiting to be served. Walk around looking for The Pope...grab a deviled egg. Need a fresh cocktail...I'll just swing on by and grab a deviled egg. Rinse. Repeat.

We decided to make a fashionably late entrance, so unfortunately some of the restaurants either had run out or were close to running out of food by the time we arrived. I watched Mr. B's serve its last crab cake while I patiently waited in line. Our group grabbed what were the last of the green tomato fried pies from Herbsaint, but I honestly cannot remember what I thought of that dish.

Bourbon House's oysters poached in horseradish cream with crispy bacon was the best dish in house, no doubt. Also up there was Upperline's duck etouffee with jalapeno cornbread and pepper jelly. The etoufee was made with a dark roux and had a hint of smokiness. Problem was that, in my opinion, it is too freaking hot outside to eat etoufee. This is the same reason that I chose to pass on trying the shrimp stew, gumbo z'herbes, and duck piquant. I did, however, devour the shrimp and grits from Louis's at Pawleys. And coincidentally, we walked out with Louis himself and his wife. While Rene and Lady conversed with Mr. Osteen, I talked with his wife Marleen about our mutual love for Charleston. Great people.

So I stuck with mostly cold dishes throughout the evening, and I was not disappointed in the least. Thus, my staples were the aforementioned deviled eggs, shrimp arnuad (which I love because of the sharpness of the remoulade), and creole tomatoes topped with (yes, more) crabmeat and choupique caviar doled out by Bourbon House. Oh, the sacrifices one must make for the climate we live in.

Top Porkographic/Gluttonous Moments

1) Taking way too much pleasure out of eating smothered pig cheeks over grits from Cochon.

2) Watching Robert Peyton react to Rene eating strips of pork skin (personally sliced by Chef Raymond Toups) which resulted in grease dripping all over his white linen suit.

3) The following conversation between the group of us and Chef Stephen Stryjewski:

Rene: Dude, your cholesterol must be through the roof. Your pork product intake for the week is probably higher than most people's for the year.

Stephen: Haha, yeah. My wife was watching some show (or reading some book) and she got all freaked out and made me go to the doctor to get checked out. Came back as only 181.

Pope: I think someone forgot to "carry the one" when they were doing the math. My cholesterol is 260.

Stephen: Jesus.

Pope: Yeah. Can I get another one of these pig cheeks? Peter, grab me another mint julep if you pass by the bar. Tell Chris McMillan it's for me. He'll know what that means.

Friday, June 6, 2008

How to make 27 Deviled Eggs Disappear

Last night Peter, Lady, Pope, and I journeyed over to the opening party of the Southern Food and Beverage Museum. Fun occurred and pig cheeks provided some great live entertainment.

The Pope and Peter picked me up from work and we headed to Cafe Adelaide for a few drinks. Woodford Reserve Mint Juleps drink very easily so by the time Lady arrived the workday was a distant memory.

Remember the Riverwalk? It is still there and where the Limited used to be (adjacent to the Food Court) is now a museum devoted to Southern Food and Beverages. This is going to be a long day.

One of the best dishes of the evening came from the Bourbon House. Oysters poached in horseradish cream with bacon and chives. The oysters were just barely cooked; their edges just beginning to curl like a prom date getting her bangs done. That last sentence may or may not make sense. The overall effect of the dish was like an oyster baked potato, if you can imagine that.

Chef Paul Prudhome was there with a delicious duo of pastas. Both presented penne in a cajun cream sauce one had oysters one had chicken. Dickie Brennan's Steakhouse's creole tomato topped with crabmeat and chopique caviar tasted a lot better than I thought it would. But one can rarely go wrong using creole tomatoes right now.

Cochon had pork cheeks over grits with a salsa verde. Conservative estimates on the number of these I ate range from 3-7. At two cheeks per pig, I have nothing but love for those beautiful porcines. Luke had a Cochon De Lait stuffed with jambalaya. The rice picked up a delicious smoky taste that I normally can find overwhelming. Not on this dish. I also asked for and received some of the pork skin, tough but so salty I understand deers and salt licks much better now. So I have got that going for me, which is nice.

7 on Fulton's Duck Piquant over grits (grits are in right now, did you not get the memo) was really more a cold weather dish, but that did not mean it tasted bad.

The deviled eggs came from Acadiana in Washington, D.C. I do not exaggerate as a general rule, but I am under reporting when I say Peter ate 27 of these crabmeat ravigote stuffed, caviar topped gems. His eyes fixated on the table. Internally you could see him pretending to decide if he wanted another one. Those deviled eggs never stood a chance.

On the way out we stopped by the Parkway Table, chowed down some Roast beef and gravy, and discussed future po-boy ideas with their chef, Justin Kennedy. He did not seem to get my idea for a Escargot Po-Boy, but then again no one does.

Lots of restaurant insiders, chefs, food writers, and wanna-be food writers who really just have some crappy blog (ok there are just two of us). You should head over this weekend and check it out, the museum is actually really neat.

The booze was the reason this recap sucks. Check back later for Peter's much more coherent take on the evening. And someone please tell the mariachi band on the Acura stage in my head, show is over.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

SOFAB Reminder

Tonight the opening gala for the Southern Food and Beverage Museum takes place where Julia hits the River. Luckily it will be air conditioned. Tickets, info, list of restaurants, etc...

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

For Lunch Today...

Across from the Hotel Inter-Continental on St. Chuck is a delightful brasserie known as Luke, with an umlaut. Had lunch there yesterday, it is a very busy, lively spot. Start with the pied de cochon. Succulent pig rolled in breadcrumbs and then fried, with a slightly tangy sauce Gribiche. Thats 3 of the 4 food groups right there, on one plate. Then try either the daily special or one of the amazing entrees. Yesterday I had the Chicken Paillard. While the chicken was a little dry (pounding it so thin makes it hard to not overcook), what amazed me most was the tomatoes. Fresh creole tomatoes had been blanched and the skins removed before being segmented and tossed with the arugula. That is attention to detail. Really good salads as well, the oyster, bacon, and avocado salad delivers oysters the size of wiffle balls.

I think one of the most endearing things about Luke is that it is good in a very workmanlike manner. Solid food, good prices, in a convenient setting; a winner in my book.

A full review from Peter is forthcoming.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Weekend in Review

Friday afternoon drinks at Bridge Lounge. Great spot only one problem. Everyone orders mojitos there. Which is great; although each one of those drinks requires numerous steps and considerable time. So sometimes getting an order in can take a while. On the flip side the bartenders have the forearms of a 15 year old boy. I am not at liberty to say which food journalist on New Orleans cuisine was also there, but lets just say he is easily the second or third most popular food journalist in New Orleans.

Another wonderful dinner at La Boca. That place is top notch. Pisco Sours, Provoleta, hangar steak for Lady, and flank for me. I got to admit the hangar steak beats the flank. Surprisingly fellow blogger Peter also showed up there for dinner (completely random) with the Palm Room Hostess, and two other law cronies. They too enjoyed their meal. Peter was coming off what many would consider a full weekend by 6 p.m. Friday evening: Lunch at Luke with the Papal Family, Old Absinthe House, 2 Hand Grenades and a lap dance. His evening continued; his dry cleaner thanked him the next day.

Then, the 25th Anniversary Rebirth Concert. Fellow Blue Jay Harry Connick, Jr. was in attendance; however the fight song was not sung. That concert blew me away. The best part about it was the Baby Boyz Brass Band; a group of tweens and teens that could really play. To me there is something so frightening and exciting about when the front line of a brass band, finishes a lyric and takes a step back before blasting notes into their instruments. That sight is the most joyous firing line one can imagine.

Saturday, Lady headed off to Shreveport for some baby shower thing. I stayed behind. The Crescent City Farmer's Market had Brian Landry of Galatoire's dolling out Shrimp Remoulade. What a breakfast. I picked up a brisket from Mr. Justin Pitts of Mississippi. Based on some personal instructions from Mr. Pitts and Steven Stryjewski of Cochon I slow-cooked that thing in a dutch oven for about 8 hours. I added a little crab boil, some creole tomatoes, onions and garlic and about a cup of water. What came out was heavenly and matched really well with the creole cream cheese grits I also made. Ok, so I totally stole that from Cochon. Judge if you must.

Saturday for lunch, before checking out The Dude's holdings, I grabbed a quick bite at Baru. A corn, cheese, pink sauce, and potato strips dish turned out to be the highlight. Sweet grilled corn, salty cheese, and then essentially mini-french fries. Also, a wonderful pair of flaky and just greasy enough to cure a hangover empanadas. The empanadas were served with this highly herbal concoction of parsley, cilantro, lime, and peppers. A tres leches cake that was really good but as I was dining solo became to sweet towards the end. Not Baru's fault; mine for having very few friends. Bring your own booze for now at Baru, but when that changes expect this place to really take off.

Sunday completely lazy. Cooked a rump roast by first triming it of some of its fat. Then, I studded the beast with garlic slivers. I then sliced the fat up into tiny pieces and used it to plug the holes where the garlic was and also to introduce fat into a pretty lean cut. Coated the rump in salt, pepper, Tony's, and garlic salt. Seared it on all sides; added onions, and deglazed with cognac and beef stock. Into the oven, covered, at 250 for about 7 hours. Served it over Romano cheese grits and with some caramelized red pearl onions. It tasted good. But the oven needs to go into hiding while the summer does what it does. Even better for lunch today as a po-boy, with Barqs, and Zapp's Cajun Crawtators.

That is in my book the definition of a New Orleans Weekend.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Same Old Story...but a Better Ending

Just finished reading a book by Sara Roahen chronicling her exploration and devotion to the cuisine and culture of New Orleans called "Gumbo Tales: Finding My Place at the New Orleans Table." I really enjoyed this book for the first 9/1oths. Then I got sick to my stomach. The reason for my illness is that this book reminds me of one of the big problems with New Orleans. Allow me to explain.

Mrs. Roahen moves to New Orleans as her then boyfriend now husband begins Med School. They find a little house Uptown, discover Mardi Gras, po-boys, Vietnamese markets, crawfish, and well, New Orleans. She falls in love with it and soon becomes the food writer for Gambit. Her book chronicles her love affair with our city. Things look good, New Orleans will gain another culinary voice, and a young doctor to boot.

And then they depart for Philadelphia (although they still own a house in New Orleans, to be fair). I think we have all heard this story before. "We loved New Orleans, we met in College there, but we moved away to live in Typical American City, USA because of the better schools/jobs/infrastructure." Great thanks for playing, please remember to take your lovely parting gifts: a Cajun Culinary Cornucopia from Creole Delicacies, a Saints Fan/Bud Man bumper sticker, and a now useless crawfish pot.

Not to use Mrs. Roahen as a straw man; but if you love New Orleans so much (and enough to profit on a book about her) than stay. Or at least come back and not just as a visitourist. Maybe just maybe, New Orleans could have better schools/jobs/infrastructure if the bright, fluorescent lights of Atlanta did not draw away our best and brightest from the gas lit lamps of the French Quarter. But then again, maybe not.

That aside Mrs. Roahen's book divides into different chapters based on the food item she explores (po-boys, snowballs, red beans and rice). Sometimes her analogies leave you wondering "huh?" but she knows her topic well. And her ability to describe food makes me hungry.

Gumbo Tales will undoubtedly leave you wondering how you have never had Big Mama's gumbo before or why you don't eat Ya-Ka-Mien. I love a book that gives me a lead on something new that I should have known about all along. New Orleanians take a lot of things for granted about our city, every now and then we need an outsider's freshly brewed cafe-au-lait to remind us how lucky we are to live in New Orleans. So for that, thank you Mrs. Roahen. Now come back. New Orleans needs you.

EDIT: I have been informed that Mrs. Roahen has moved back to New Orleans. And I could not be happier. To be proven wrong is a great feeling sometimes. But the fact remains that story, although Mrs. Roahen's has the happy ending many do not, occurs all to often.