Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Libation for Celebration

All of those who waited till today to make New Year's Eve plans raise your hands. Now all of those who may have already made plans but still need to buy booze for tonight raise. Is that everyone? OK, good. We're here to help.

If you are a beer drinker, then I have to second Rene's suggestion of knocking back a few Lazy Magnolias. Last week I was the fortunate recipient of a six pack gift of Southern Pecan from a relative, and it went very well with the whole suckling pig that we cooked on Christmas day. (More on that next week). Just swing on by the local grocery on the Northshore. [What? The Northshore is still technically in the New Orleans area. Just ask Fr. Tom. He lives in Abita.]

But if, on the other hand, you fancy a bit of bubbly, then head over to Cork & Bottle and grab a bottle of the Spanish sparkling wine Poema Cava. Sure, it's not true champagne, but neither is the Korbel or Mumm's which you usually drink. And at $10.99 per bottle, it's a steal.

Finally, for you oenophiles out there, why not pick up a bottle of Wine Spectator's 2008 Wine of the Year.* This bottle of Clos Apalta is courtesy of The Pope, whose affinity for this Chilean red stems not only from taste but also from the fact that the winery is owned by the Marnier-Lapostolle family (founders and owners of Grand Marnier liqeur). Plus uncorking a bottle like this is a perfect excuse to use that new decanter you got for Christmas. Please allow the Battle House Honey to demonstrate:

Happy New Year.

* We apologize for the amateur pictures of the wine. Unfortunately, we are not as photographically savy as Robert Peyton.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Hurray For Beer Fans

If you like good beer and you live on the Northshore, good news. Lazy Magnolia products will soon be available for purchase in your neckin of the woods. Champagne Beverage Company of Madisonville will be the exclusive distributor of the products in Slidell, Mandeville, and Covington.

The hand-crafted, climate specific beers of Lazy Magnolia Brewing Company offer a chance for the beer drinker to really explore different styles of beer. Lazy Magnolia has won two International Awards at the 2006 World Beer Cup. Plans are in the works for a Blackened Out Field Trip to the 2009 World Beer Cup. We are hoping to get into a fight with some of the hooligans from Smithwick's.

Plus what could be better than a drive across the longest bridge in the world to pick up a trunk full of beer. Pretend to be a modern day rum runner or bootlegger, wear a zoot suit, and give yourself a cool nickname like Short Pete or Lickin Larry. Then swing by and drop off your loot at an abandoned warehouse all the while escaping the Fuzz.

See beer is fun.

Sunday, December 28, 2008


We are back a bit earlier than expected.

, just for a second. Imagine that someone is coming over for dinner and they inform you that they/their spouse are vegetarians. Or even worse Vegans. What do you do now?

Here, let us help you. Red Beans really need pork to make them taste good and serving just grilled vegetables may assuage the hunger of the people bucking the trend of evolution, but will do little to make you feel full.

So how about a vegetarian chili with Red Beans? Like you had a better idea.

In a pot combine red beans, salt, pepper, and a bay leaf. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer until beans are al dente. You want the beans to have some bite to add textural contrast.

In a dutch oven, saute one onion, some diced peppers (you choose, any pepper you like from the Scoville scale) with some garlic on low heat in some olive oil. Cook for about 10 minutes. At this juncture add a can of whole tomatoes, a can of chipotle peppers, a bay leaf, some chili powder, some cumin, and salt. Using the back of a spoon, pop the tomatoes and chipotles. Simmer for 1 hour.

By this time your beans should be al dente. Add to chili mixture. Add some chicken stock or water if necessary. Cover halfway with lid and simmer for another 1 hour.

Serve. Then launch into an expose on why vegetarianism, and environmentalism, is really just a fancy way of being an elitist.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

While We Are Away...

The blog needs a vacation. She has worked very hard this year, rarely taking a day off. She has not even started shopping for the other blogs in her life. (What do you get for the Appetites that has everything? Also, we think Cork & Bloggle may be Jewish leading to that whole awkward, "Merry Chri...errr Happy Chanukah?" interaction.) Plus, the blog's office party ended poorly in a janitor's closet. So this will be the last post for 2008.

Face it, you have no desire to ruin your holiday/vacation by looking at a blog you read while at work. We will save our limited creative energy for the next odd year.

But here is a humorous story. The Friday before Christmas found Lindsay, the Avinator, and I for a light dinner following the festivities at Old Absinthe House. The food, save the raw oysters, was forgettable, only it was so bad I can't. I really want to like a Brennan joint (save Ralph's on the Park, which I find great), but they make it very hard. For instance, when I informed the waiter that the calamari arrived cold and soggy, he shrugged at me and said, "Well that is your opinion."

So after almost a year of trying to write about food and restaurants in New Orleans, I know exactly where we stand and what industry people think of our opinion. And quite frankly, it is a good spot to be. Moving madly on...

Thanks to one of our fans (yes, we actually have a few) we recently became alerted to this foodblog by a senior at McGehee, which is an all girls high school in New Orleans. Oops, I think we just made it on Chris Hanson's radar. Prison be damned, the author's writing style, sophistication, and elegance beats the snot out of this crap.

Enjoy the holidays. Be careful around New Years; call United Cab, tell them Legend told you to put it on his cab account. And if you are in town for the Sugar Bowl, thanks.

We have many exciting things planned for the coming year, including our one year anniversary party, the announcement of the Dude, You Were So Blackened Out Last Year Awards, a list of resolutions, and we are sponsoring a football game in South Florida between the winners of the American Football Conference and the National Football Conference. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Black Cat (a la Mexicana)

The Folk Singer was in the mood for Mexican the other day, and because we also wanted to walk around the Quarter, we decided to try El Gato Negro. We started the meal with a complimentary order of chips (which sadly were not fried in house) and a roasted tomato salsa that was very flavorful.
But I have to say that the salsa was the probably the high point of the meal. The queso mixed with chorizo lacked the smooth consistency which makes for easy dipping. TFS ordered tamales (below) which, though cooked properly and jammed full of pork, were remiss of any depth of flavor or spice which I consider the hallmark of Mexican cuisine.

I had the enchiladas, which had more spice than the tamales, but still left me wanting more heat. Another strange part of the meal was the "sweet oregano salsa" (as explained by the manager) which accompanied our entrees. This thin, cold salsa did not pair well with either the enchiladas or the tamales.

Overall, the meal was no bad, but not great. For now, there is still no longer any reason to drive down Esplanade for Mexican. Though that might soon change because I heard a rumor that the original owner of Santa Fe may be reopening once again in his former location in the Marigny. Stay tuned for more details.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Luuuuuuuuuuuuuuke, I Am Your Lunch

Finally. Peter returned to New Orleans recently. We owed Section 123 Saints Fan a lunch to celebrate him being the 10,000th visitor to El Blogo Diablo. We went to Luke. Somehow the Pope joined us and we even had a sighting of the Deli King.

We started as all meals should, with a round of Heiner Brau Pilsners and an order of Berkshire Pork Rillettes. The pig who was sacrificed for this delicious spread grew up in one of the most peaceful settings you can imagine: behind La Provence in Lacombe, they wallow around in a huge mud pit, their fat billowing out like an over inflated weather balloon, and get fed scraps from the kitchen. These are some happy pigs, and that life of luxury produces a very good rillette.

Next, a cold dozen raw of P&J Oysters served on the 1/2 shell with horseradish, cocktail sauce, and two types of remoulade. These buggers were juicy and cold; truly oysters get no better than this time of year.

Section 123 Saints Fan chose the Croque Madame - a ham and cheese sandwich topped with a Mornay sauce and a perfectly fried egg. You see that egg yolk dropping over the side of the sandwich like the world's slowest moving and most delicious waterfall? That is food art. You can thank Peter for all these photogs. Section 123 disappointed all by only eating half. He then followed up our insults by saying, "F&*kers, I ate at Herbsaint last night and I am eating at August tonight. I don't need to be a fat ass right now."

That my friends is called the Trifecta.

The Pope dove right into his pressed cochon de lait sandwich. The fries on the right were last seen fighting for their life with The Pope's index finger and incisors. If you have any information of their whereabouts, please contact Crime Stoppers.
I went with the Thursday Special. A Lamb Ragu with homemade pappardelle, gremolata, Parmesan, pickled radishes, and toasted almonds. A cup of matzo ball soup preceded this perfectly cooked pasta dish.
And finally the Resistance Piece. The order by which all others are judged. I present to you the first photographic evidence of cholesterol in its natural state...The Luke Burger.

An onion roll, lettuce, tomato, sauteed mushrooms and onions, Emmentaler Cheese, crack-cocaine, perfectly cooked beef, ohh and just for good measure, some bacon.

And remember dear readers, if you are the 20,000th visitor to the Blog, lunch is on us. And we will even let you pick which blog character to bring along. Consider it a cooler version of Breakfast with Disney Characters.*

*Which by the way is a scam. I remember going when I was a kid. I desperately wanted a picture with both Chip and Dale. Only Disney was cheap back then and hired just one guy to play both and only had one costume. I threw what can only be described as a shit storm meets a temper tantrum topped with a conniption fit (i.e. The Perfect Toddler Storm). And that is why to this day, I am not allowed on any Disney properties.

Friday, December 19, 2008

First Annual "Dude, You Were So Blackened Out Last Year Awards"

We have a motto here at Blackened Out Worldwide Media, Oil Change, and Tax Return Specialty Center. Our motto is "Above All Else Be a Cliche." Why? Because everyone remembers a cliche.

With that in mind we would like your nominations for the following categories. What we do with them is an entirely different story and quite frankly none of your damn beeswax.

Restaurant of the Year
Chef of the Year
Drink of the Year
Annoying food trend you can't wait to see go away of the Year
Sexiest Vegetable of the Year
Wine of the Year
Local Food/Wine/Booze related Festival of the Year
Character of blog LEAST likely to Succeed

Winners will receive a free one year subscription to the blog and something to print out, likely an email.

Don't act like you are busy today. Its the Friday before Christmas, in 2 hours you are going to be lit up like a Menorah in a Christmas tree hurtling back into the Earth's atmosphere. You can take five minutes to send an email to with your vote or just leave them in the comments section.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Lunch at Herbsaint for New Years Eve

Peter and I had lunch at Herbsaint recently to celebrate a new blog related development (Hint: It is not a movie deal). The Bub and The Avinator joined us. The above photo is an amuse bouche the kitchen sent out to assuage our hunger. Pork belly on brioche with pickled onions, mint and spicy mayo; very similar to the lovely banh mi. A bigger version of this sandwich will be available at Cochon Butcher. I suggest you buy 300 of them immediately.

Peter got a goat cheese, local greens, and bacon praline salad. Bub and I rocked a rust colored Duck and Andouille gumbo. The Avinator enjoyed the anise pleasure of their tomato, herbsaint, and shrimp bisque.
Above is what I consider to be the greatest pasta dish. Homemade spaghetti with a fried poached egg, a black pepper cream sauce, and cured guanciale. When you break open the egg, a squirt of warm yolk mixes into the pasta (and hopefully not with your tie) and the result is simply indulgence on a remarkable scale, if you would rather hear both sides of the tale. A meatloaf, beef daube, and capicola sandwich rounded out the orders. There were also fries with pimenton aioli. All of it very good.

That is a picture of Herbsaint. I did not take it; their website did.

Wondering how to ring in the 2009th celebration of the end of December? Well, check out the menu at Herbsaint. I went last year with a large group of friends and had one of the best group meals ever.

Herbsaint does events like this exceedingly well; providing intimate service, delicious food, and a festive atmosphere without any pretension. They will even take care of friends who have to much drink. As last year my friend Pikachu (that is his real name not a blog nickname. The Japanese animation character is named after him), got real wasted, puked on a passing street car, and the staff was kind of enough to from then on serve him only non-alcoholic beer much to his surprise. I have very adult friends.

I would call now, 524-4114. And Cochon Butcher shop is opening soon. Check back for details. 2009 will be the Year of the Link.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Louisiana Citrus Lemoncello

This jug has sat in an upper cabinet for 45 days now. It sits there in the quiet dark, the 190 octane alcohol drying out the peels from roughly 25 satsumas and Meyer lemons. I checked on it religiously the first week. The color changed from clear with a tint of yellow, like a cheap diamond to a brilliant, rich yellow-orange, like a diamond Kobe gets for his wife after a ski trip to Vail. Then I forgot about it; until the other night when I realized a) I was alone and had nothing to do b) it had been 45 days since I put the lemoncello mixture away.

The mixture went through a strainer. The peels had become brittle and hard. They snapped in half at the slightest provocation. Then, into the potent potable went two cups of simple syrup. The mixture sat for a few more days until last night when I tried it.

The aroma would wake the dead. The vapors of the alcohol made me wonder if this would be at all drinkable. Then I took a sip, the harshness of the vapors was replaced by a warming, smooth flavor of an intense citrus tree. A little bracing at the end, this libation reminded me a lot of Grand Marnier. With winter approaching this may become my nightcap. But I think this concoction would be equally as enjoyable in the summer time with a tall glass of lemonade.

If only I can restrain myself until then. And don't fret, if you are a good friend of mine, I have a jar set aside for you for Christmas. If you aren't, then why not?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Behind the Menu: Miss Hilda's Salad

Yesterday I joined The Pope for lunch at Mandina's with his father, The Bald Eagle, who has a longstanding tradition of Monday lunch at that Mid City landmark. Now I will agree that Mandina's serves neither the best nor the most innovative food, but I still love it for what it is: a neighborhood restaurant which thrives while the rest of that genre (Katie's and Landry's for example) have slowly faded away. And thrive it has, with a number of people still waiting at the bar when I left around 1:30.

Luckily for me, The Bald Eagle was already seated and had an Old Fashioned in hand when I arrived. After a shared appetizer of onion rings and what seemed like an entire basket of melba toast, I opted for a cup of turtle soup and Miss Hilda's Salad. My order prompted a history lesson from The Bald Eagle, who is a veteran of the local restaurant industry:

The Bald Eagle: Do you know why it's called Miss Hilda's Salad?
Peter: No.
The Bald Eagle: Because Miss Hilda did not want to call it a WOP Salad, even though that's basically what it is, so she named it after herself.
Peter: That's interesting. But can you explain why there are enough salted meats, cheese, and anchovies in this salad to cause me instant hypertension?
The Bald Eagle: Shut up, a**hole.

And now you've heard ... the rest of the story.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Zapp's Voodoo Gumbo

Apparently this new flavor was released over a month ago, but I have just recently tried it. According to the back of the bag, Voodoo Gumbo started with a potential worker's compensation claim and ended in a melange of 5 different flavors. As for which 5 flavors make up this gumbo, that remains a mystery. I taste a little Spicy Creole Tomato, some Sour Cream & Creole Onion, and a kick from Cajun Crawtator. Try a bag and let us know what you think.

And because it's Monday and it went from snowing to 70 last week and there are five long days till the weekend, we thought that we would start lively debate. What is your favorite flavor of Zapp's? Vote in the poll to the left, and if I omitted your #1 choice, well then your opinion doesn't matter anyway.

What's mine? A long lost flavor from the late 90s called Caribbean Key Lime.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Treme Creole Gumbo Festival

When the weather outside is frightful, is there a better way to warm up than scarfing down a steaming bowl of gumbo? Well, The Pope might argue that a nice, cordial glass of Grand Marnier does just the trick. But if for some reason you have a self-imposed rule prohibiting digestifs before noon, then the Treme Creole Gumbo Fest is your next best bet.
So head on down to Rampart on Saturday, grab a bowl, and maybe pick up a few local gifts for your out-of-town relatives. Because nothing says "Merry Christmas" like a voodoo doll with a pin shoved through its head.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Snow Day in the Big Easy

It is snowing in New Orleans. Which is big news. If you are wondering what to do with all that muddy snow accumulating in your yard, here are some tips.

Make snow into snow ball shape. Pour peppermint schnapps, Grand Marnier, or Baileys over snow. Enjoy. Or you could make some mulled wine. But only if you have all the ingredients, which I doubt you do.

If all else fails, pour yourself a glass of scotch, light a fire, and hope that Al Gore saves us all.

Gift Idea

Christmas. It always arrives quicker than you imagine, and leaves faster than you hope. Chances are you still have a few people left to shop for. Aunt Ethel in Huntington, your Boss in Palm Springs, you in Youville. Well, if you read this blog, you probably like food. We know you do not read it for the humor, so suggesting a DVD box set of Most Extreme Challenge would fall on deaf ears.

Want to make Christmas shopping easy? Certainly you have someone on your list whose FaceSpace profile includes the term Foodie. If so, why not send them a basket of cheese. That nose hair trimmer is offensive, a sweater will shrink, and the reflective jogging vest pretty much lets them know you think they are a fat ass. And listen a gift certificate is just an easier way of saying, "Here you do the work."

The St. James Cheese Company will ship a basket of specialty cheeses to a person of your choosing. For a full list of available packages or to design your own give them a call at 899-4737. Currently sitting in my fridge is a fragrant Brillat-Savarin with truffles, a meunster washed in Gerwurztraminer, and a vegetal Le Drean. Yes, my fridge is very luck indeed.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Garden Gun Soup

First thanks to Banker Hall for passing along a wonderful magazine article on the top 100 dishes in the South. And for also introducing me to Garden & Gun, a great magazine devoted to good things. Couple of local and sub-regional places made the list. How many of these dishes have you eaten? The Pope has eaten 120 of them.

Soups. Who doesn't love a good soup? Even people without teeth can enjoy soups. Recently, I made a white bean and cabbage soup (pictures above; that is not a magazine). An embodiment of peasant pleasures, it turned out very well. The ingredients are readily available wherever you shop. I got the white beans from Rouse's, which now sells white and red beans by the scoop from old timey looking barrel. I used two scoops, a la Raisin Bran.

White Bean and Cabbage Soup
First, saute some bacon (which has been cut into small batons). Remove the lardons, eat bacon. Save grease. In bacon jus, saute one large onion, two carrots, 4 stalks of celery all diced pretty small. Once vegetables are bronzed add salt, pepper, cayenne, one bay leaf, a sprig of rosemary, and a julienned head of cabbage. After five minutes add white beans. Cover with water. Taste, re-season if necessary (which it likely will be). Simmer for 2 hours or until beans are al dente.

Ladle into a warmed bowl. Add chopped parsley and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Serve alongside a crusty baguette.

Simple. Try it.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Heiner Brau

Abita has run its course. What began as a very interesting and pride inducing local beer with a distinct identity has naturally grown to become big business. This is not a bad thing by any means. But I have found that the beer has come to rely on intense malt flavors which results in a tolerance of only being able to drink one or two brews. As a result, I shy away from Abita products. Mostly because moderation smells like failure.

However, this weekend the introduction between Heiner Brau and yours truly took place. A six pack of the Festbier from Elio's later, and I have been singing this beer's praises since. Heiner Brau is brewed in Covington by German Master Brewer Henryk Orlik, which is a really fun name to say aloud. Perhaps Heiner Brau should have a competition where contestants drink a six pack of Heiner Brau and then say Henryk Orlik 20 times fast while spinning around a baseball bat. Whoever gets 271 electoral college votes wins.

Being brewed by a German, Heiner Brau only produces German style beers. As an added bonus, Heiner Brau sticks to the German Purity Law and only brews with malt, hops, yeast and water. The Maerzen and Kolsch are available year round, while other seasonal beers are released throughout the year.

The Festbier, a Bavarian style lager, is brewed to coincide with Christmas and Mardi Gras. The result is a refreshingly honest beer. I really think you will like the Festbier which is only available from December thru February. Subdued hoppiness, a great malt finish (but not enough sweetness to make your mouth feel sticky), and a lingering finish, this beer is very easy to drink.

Here are some places to find Heiner Brau locally. If your name isnt on this list, shame on you.


Zea St. Charles

Coffee Rani

Cork & Bottle

Dos Jefes Uptown Cigar Bar

Elio’s Wine Warehouse

Felipe’s Mexican Taqueria (Decatur)


Jager Haus


Martin Wine Cellar

Rotollo’s Pizzeria

Semolina Italian Bistro

Stein’s Market & Deli

The Club (Ms. Mae’s)

Monday, December 8, 2008

How to make simple things look and sound fancy

The above picture chronicles the result of the most food nerd thing that occurred all year in my kitchen: a delicious turkey consomme with shitakes and diced shallots, celery, and carrots. Essentially, a turkey and vegetable soup; but more fancy.

Some turkey stock from Thanksgiving, 4 egg whites, mire poix, 12 ounces of pureed chicken thigh and turkey heart into a stock pot on a gentle simmer. Stir. Eventually the proteins in the egg white and meat coagulate and form a life raft of sorts. This raft floats on top of the stock and removes the impurities in your stock; clarifying the stock and leaving you with a consomme. You have had this broth before at Japanese restaurants.

Not only does it look really cool, but the taste is very clean, yet hearty. More info on the process here. Trust me, you can do this. And yes, I know the consomme was not perfect; that is ok. Neither is man.

Pork liver and long grain rice croquettes with a green pepper Asian "mignonette" sauce and a horseradish and mustard seed emulsion. That would be one way to describe the above. Or you could call it by its Christian name: fried boudin balls with hot peppers and creole mustard. Were they good? You bet they were. And simple to make.

Remove boudin from casing, form into a ball bigger than a golf ball but smaller than a tennis ball. dredge in flour, then coat in egg wash, and then smother in bread crumbs. Fry in 325 degree oil until GBD. You could make these over the holidays when guests come over. Serve with a cold, dark beer or Rose.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Repeal Day (A Production of After Work Today...)

On this date 75 years ago, America's lame war against fun came to an end. For on this date in 1933, Prohibition was repealed. But be ever vigilante, dear readers, America's war on fun continues on college campuses, in barrooms, and backwoods stills across this great nation.

There is hope though. One reason behind the repeal of prohibition was that America's economy was in the tank. President Roosevelt recognized that everyone needed a good stiff drink. Well, the economy is tanking and a teetotaler is leaving office. So keep fighting the good fight against Dean Wormer and MADD.* But tonight celebrate by going to any one of the bars listed below for a Dewar's Scotch Repeal Day Celebration.

You see Dewar's was one of the first alcoholic beverages served in America (legally) after Prohibition's demise. This was because the Kennedy family made their money which beget their power on hooch. Then Ed Kennedy broke the number one rule of the blog and drove a car which happened to have a woman in it, into a bay. Or something like that. Anywho, these bars are celebrating Repeal Day with parties. I suggest you go and toast to revolution.

Pat O's
Napoleon House
Hotel Monteleone
Court of Two Sisters
Commander's Palace
Lafitte's Black Smith Shop

And remember a few months ago, when we told you cocktail people took themselves too seriously? Well, further proof.

*In a related note, there were two Latin teachers at Jesuit who founded a club called DAMM-Drunks Against Mad Mothers. If you went to Jesuit, you know these two.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Napa Report: The Wine

It's the reason we went to Napa. To taste. To learn. To experience. Every winery does things a bit differently - whether it be the height of the vines, the time of day they pick the grapes, or the type of barrel the wine is aged in. Thankfully, The Pope's contacts allowed us to experience an array of wineries: from the small, hands-on crafting at Opus One (where the above picture was taken) to the larger production facilities like Beaulieu Vineyard.

For those who have yet to visit Wine Country, a little background. Just like every winemaking process differs, so do each winery's tasting and tour offerings. A majority simply offer walk-in tastings in their rooms: there is a bar, and for $5-$25 you are poured 4-6 tastings of the current vintages. Others offer similar tastings but by appointment only. Then there are the "industry" tours and tastings which are setup by wine purveyors for their customers. Because The Pope is kind of a big deal in the NOLA wine world, he had a few of these "VIP" tours setup for us.

Beaulieu (or "BV") was our hands-down favorite winery. We go to do a lot of cool stuff, such as...

Barrel tasting in the wine cellar. These wines had not yet matured enough for bottling, but they tasted fine to me - straight out of the barrel. The wines we sampled came from specific clones of vines, which over time have proved to produce the best grapes. Note - if you see any wine which says it comes from Clones 4, 6, or 337, then it's probably going to be good.

After a tour of the production process, we had lunch at the Rutherford House - which is a private residence located on the vineyard. Above is the view from the driveway. How would you like to wake up to that every morning? The house had recently undergone an extensive renovation, which included the addition of cameras in the kitchen and flat screen TVs in the dining rooms so that diners can communicate with the private chef while he is preparing their meal. No, I am not making that up.

Speaking of food, we did not have a private chef, but we did have a great lunch catered by Napa Valley Grille. Flat iron steak with more sauteed mushrooms, marinated chicken, grilled yukon gold potatoes, and (the crowd favorite) a salad of mixed greens, goat cheese, grapes, and a cabernet sauvignon vinaigrette.

It was hard to top BV, but each tasting and tour is different. For example, Sterling Vineyards is located on top of a mountain. So how do they avoid sending visitors walking or driving up the narrow road to the tasting room? Why, a gondola lift, of course. Here is a picture from above, complete with the shadow of our passenger cabin.

Duckhorn Vineyards was definitely the "hippest" winery we visited. The tastings are sitdown, (everywhere else we visited was standup at the bar), they played music in the tasting room, and the house has a wraparound porch which allows you to fully take in the scenery. Above is a snack which was being served: turkey, stuffing, and cranberries. Sort of an all-in-one Thanksgiving appetizer.

We visited quite a few other wineries - St. Supery, Acacia, Provenance (which is where we stayed), and V. Sattui to name a few. Honestly, if you do the same standard walk-up-to-the-bar tasting every time, I could see that becoming quite monotonous and boring. My suggestion would be to do some research and visit wineries which offer unique experiences. If you can somehow score an industry tour, then do it. Besides the inclusion of a more extensive and in-depth tour, the industry tastings also include samples of the "reserve" wines which, I must say, are exponentially better than those with larger case production quantities. Problem is: the reserve wines are hard to come-by. Most of the reserve wines are available only through distributors, and even then the case numbers are so few that they are only sold to those vendors who move a large volume of the higher production wines. Thus, we tasted a lot of wines which we could only purchase at the vineyard. And so...

We made sure to take home as much as we could afford. There were quite a few judging looks as we pushed this luggage cart through the hotel lobby. I am not sure why.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A Tapas of Links and Other Miscellany

We interrupt Peter's chronicle of debauchery and bacchanalian exploits for a message from our sponsors.

Read our take on Dome Food and also our review of Rambla.

And an exciting link for us.

Have you ever dreamed of meeting a real live food blogger, but don't know where they hang out? Are you busy on January 17, 2009? Well, come on down.

When you link to yourself does that mess up the space-time continuum or is it more like how one can never cross the same stream twice? Either way enjoy our egotistical links of the day.

My attempt at making caramel sea salt ice cream did not succeed but did not fail enough that I will not try again. I used this recipe from David Lebovitz. All failings were directly my fault. The texture of the cooked custard produced an ice cream with a tremendously luxurious mouth feel (which seems like it should be a dirty word). However, I think I went a tad to far into the realm of burning the caramel then I should have. The result was intense, in a drunken, brawl with a college friend at 2 a.m. which involves a head butt to the bridge of the nose kind of way. But alas such mistakes are expected.

And also, I think my ice cream maker sucks. The cold beast requires ice and ice cream salt in a proportion that calls to mind a calculus class I had with Mr. Cohen. Needless to say, I am not a math major. Plus, it doesn't freeze fast enough. And I would like a new one for Christmas. So if you don't know what to get the blogger who has everything, an automatic ice cream maker would be a good choice, but feel free to pick one out (I have a Kitchen Aid Mixer, there is an ice cream attachment for it). Or if you know of anyone who slings liquid nitrogen on the side, I guess I could always use that.

I did not think it was possible to improve on the Satsuma Wrestler, but once again I was wrong. Into a Kerry Vodka Collins glass, add a 5 second pour of Cat Daddy Moonshine, available at Cork and Bottle. Follow this up with 4 ounces of fresh squeezed Louisiana Citrus Juice (I had a combo of satsumas, Meyer lemons, and navel oranges). Don't use store bought, that is worthless. Top with a dollop of fresh homemade whipped cream. Stir lightly. Take photo with of your new Creamy Mustache.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Napa Report: The (Other) Food

From our experience, it's evident that the people of Napa Valley all have two common interests: great food and great wine. Wherever we went, whomever we met would undoubtedly ask two questions: (1) "Where else are you tasting?" and (2) "Where are you having dinner?" As much as I love food (and as many hours of research I put in deciding where to eat), the wine tastings were undoubtedly the highlights of the trip. And so, I have decided to save "the best for last." But the food was not bad either.

There is one factor which defines Napa cuisine: seasonal ingredients. The menus are constantly evolving in order to utilize whichever products are at their peak at whatever particular time of year. It makes perfect sense: cook what's best... less frozen or preserved products... use local ingredients. Kind of makes me ashamed to see crawfish on New Orleans menus year round. But I guess that tourists who visit our city want to sample our indigenous cuisine no matter what time of year they are here, and they don't care if those crawfish tails come from China.

But I digress. Our second dinner was at Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen in St. Helena, which had a very laid back atmosphere and was a welcome downshift from The French Laundry the night before.

The Folk Singer started with this Caprese salad enhanced with sliced prosciutto. Not the most exciting or inventive dish, but the augmentation of sundried tomatoes instead of fresh is an indication of exactly what I mentioned earlier: a commitment to seasonal ingredients. The chef is took note that tomatoes are not exactly at their peak in late November and made the adjustments accordingly.

My main course was labeled a "Mushroom Tamale," but this one was definitely not made by Manuel. Grits replaced the masa, and the dumplings was wrapped in swiss chard instead of a corn husk. I have no idea why I ordered this, but it probably had something to do with a guilty conscience from the 1/2 dozen croissants I ate from Bouchon Bakery for breakfast - delivered courtesy of the Deli King & Queen. (Sorry, I forgot to take pictures of those breads. You just need to trust me that they were nearly as good as any pastry I ate during the 2 months I spent in France.)

This rocky road sundae was comprised of all of my favorite sweet ingredients: caramel, chocolate, ice cream, peanuts, and whipped cream.

But, as you can see, The Pope liked it more than I did.

Our last dinner was at Bistro Don Giovanni, a great Italian eatery which came recommended by a friend of The Folk Singer. The restaurant sported a wood burning oven, which enticed me into ordering a pizza.

This was probably one of the better pizzas which I have had in quite a long time. A thin, crispy crust, minimal sauce, a fair amount of fresh mozzarella, sauteed morels, and crispy lardon.

Our final meal was Sunday brunch at Boon Fly Cafe. This tiny restaurant, which is tucked away inside the rather upscale Carneros Inn, replicates a neighborhood cafe, the type of place where I like to eat brunch -think Elizabeth's in the Bywater or Surrey's. Surprisingly, the Napa area has only a few restaurants which have a focused brunch menu, but Boon Fly was exactly what I was looking for. That's not to say that I indulged in typical brunch or breakfast fare...

That would be a kobe beef burger topped with thickly sliced bacon and two fried eggs. Probably not the healthiest way to start your day, but there was no cheese on it so that made me feel better about myself.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Napa Report: "The Laundry"

Today marks the beginning of a three part series recounting the shenanigans of my recent trip to Napa Valley. The area has, in my opinion, some of the most beautiful scenery in the country. The people were some of the most hospitable that I have encountered in all of my travels - we New Orleanians could most certainly use a lesson or two from the Napa Valley residents on how to make tourists feel welcome. And the food was fantastic.

We dined at The French Laundry on our first night in town - thinking that we would be in the best shape since we would not be coming in after a long day of tastings. (Plus that was the first day which we could get a reservation and we were not willing to endure another 45 minute session of hitting the redial button.) We quickly learned that people in-the-know refer to the The French Laundry as "The Laundry" - sort of like how locals used to say "Chris's" as opposed to "Ruth's Chris." Apparently it's the cool thing to do.

I waited till the second course to garner up the courage to ask if pictures were prohibited, so I missed the two amuse bouches and the first course, "Oysters and Pearls," which is one of the mainstays on TFL's constantly changing menu. The second amuse was the salmon ice cream cone - finely chopped smoked salmon placed atop a cracker like cone filled with red onion creme fraiche - and I could have eaten 100 of those.

We had 9 courses plus the two amuses, and some pictures came out better than the others. Here are my favorites:

There were two butters on the table: one salted and one unsalted (or sweet cream). One of the butters - and I can't remember which - is made specifically for Thomas Keller by a dairy farmer in Vermont. The salted butter in the silver ramekin was so amazing that The Pope ate it straight off the knife. No, I am not joking.

This was one of the choices for the fish course: Crispy Madara Cod Milt with Green Yuzu. I don't think that anyone knew that they were ordering deep fried cod sperm, and that's probably a good thing because they would have likely been turned off and missed out on the incredibly light and flavorful texture of the dish.

This was the finest piece of beef that I have ever put in my mouth. The cut, called a "calotte," is actually the cap of the ribeye. The knife sliced through the meat with only the slightest pressure. The accompanying purple cabbage and brisket dumpling with horseradish creme fraiche bursted with flavor.

I almost forgot: a surprise awaited us inside the menus when we arrived. A $150 white truffle supplemental course. Your choice of handmade pasta or risotto covered in shaved white truffles. The course included much pomp and circumstance - with the truffles arriving in a jewelry box and then shaved directly onto the plate. Unfortunately, none of us could justify adding 60% to the bill for one course. But we still got this picture.

At the end of the meal, each of the ladies were sent home with this box of mignardises (handmade chocolates) and a package of the best shortbread cookies which I have ever tasted - The Folk Singer believes in sharing.

This was just a snapshot of our 3.5 hour meal at "The Laundry." There were many other courses, and The Folk Singer had an entire different meal because she ordered the Tasting of Vegetables. And, of course, a few bottles of wine. Surprisingly though, TFL does not serve liquor. We discovered this fact after The Pope attempted to order a pre-dinner cocktail, and I thought that there was a significant chance that he might have called off the entire meal because there would be no Grand Marnier (aka "holy water") as a digestif. But he sucked it up and was a team player.

TFL is great, but it is quite a long production which you need to be mentally and physically prepared for. The meal hits everyone one of your senses and tastebuds, and quite honestly is rather exhausting. It's a meal which I had never experienced before. The attention to detail is something which (at least in my experience) is not found in many restaurants. And the raw ingredients are beyond reproach.

Finest meal of my life? Absolutely. Would I do it again? Probably not - I would like to try Bouchon on my next trip. But am I glad that we went? Without a doubt.