Friday, October 30, 2009

Moving Day

"Closing Time-you don't have to go home but you can't stay here"
-Some band from the 90s currently auditioning for "Where Are They Now"

It's a bittersweet day here at the old Blackened Out International Money Launderers and Quality Assurance Consulting home office. We are busy packing up this old blog for our move over the weekend to the new and improved Blackened Out. Don't click it yet or you could break it. Stop touching it, La Papa, it's brand new. Ohh, come on! You just got your fingerprints all over the place, Donnie Boy. Damn it, go wait in the car BBD!

Anywho, today's blog post is another trivia round, so here goes. Winner receives a copy of Donald Link's Real Cajun autographed by non other than Joe, Peter's mechanic. And to the last winner, it's in the mail. (Blame Peter.)

Leave your answers in the comment box or email them to us.

1) How many times has Peter written about Asian food? (Price is Right rules in effect)

2) Name all locations for every Official Blackened Out State Dinner.

3) In what area of the world do"truffles grow on foie gras trees"?

4) What was the first restaurant we reviewed for offBeat Magazine?

5) Who is the Old Green Lady?

6) What is on a Fat Kid Special?

7) Where did Rene and Peter screen test for the Food Network?

8) What is this a picture of?
9) What is in a Satsuma Wrestler?

10) What is your favorite Blackened Out Post?

As always, first in time wins. Please note: the blog's publish times and comment times are two hours behind Central Time.

See you at the new home, Monday.


Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Mano

For roughly a thousand years New Orleans has been the home to a wonderfully unique brand of Italian cooking, known as Creole-Italian. But in recent years, a few restaurants (like the Italian Barrel) have opened which present a more Italian-Italian dining experiences. Much like Chinese restaurants, which often cook the cuisine of a particular region, these restaurants focus on regional Italian cooking. The newest of the bunch is A Mano.

A Mano is the latest venture of Adolfo Garcia and Nick Bazan, following in the footsteps of the incredibly good Rio Mar and La Boca. Josh Smith is the chef-partner who is charged with producing regional Italian specialties. It is important to note that the average Italian would have little idea what Italian food is. He would know the food of his region, or even sub-region, and of course that would be the only authentic Italian food. Even the food from a village away would likely be scoffed at by him.

When we dined last Friday, the place was packed with the Fooderatti- including Dread Pirate Robert and Lorin Gaudin. Try as he might, Dread Pirate was unable to spoil our dinner. But he did step on my camera with what he called his "Special Shoes"-3-inch, zebra and turquoise Manolo Blahniks-hence there are no pictures.

The Italian language has all sorts of quirks and interesting phrases which are most readily apparent in their depictions of food. Fans of the old Molto Mario program on Food Network will remember how he always took a moment to explain the phraseology of a dish. The menu at A Mano is reflective of this Italian tradition. Take, for example, the Supli al Telefono. The name translates as telephone wires and as you take a bite of the caciocavallo cheese filled rice fritters, you see why. Thin lines of tangy cheese stretch from your mouth to the savory rice ball as if connecting two distant towns.

Or try Mozzarella in a Carriage (Mozzarella in Carozza con Salsa d'Acciughe) which is nothing more than a well-tailored grilled cheese covered in anchovy caper sauce. But the taste makes the regular grilled cheese look like a scemo.

Dishes like the Trippa alla Fiorentina show this kitchen will cook and serve anything authentic. The tender slowly braised tripe comes set in a delicious and piquant tomato sauce. Utterly delicious, just wish there would have been more bread to sop up the juices. The appetizers run from $5-$8 and you could put a nice tasting menu together with a few of them and some pastas (which range from $8-$12).

The pastas feature the lesser-known stars of the pasta marquee. There is Orrechiette Pugliese ("little ears in the style of Puglia") with broccoli rabe, dried tomatoes, sausage and ricotta salata. But the wild boar ragu simply blew our heads off. The meat was tender and delicious while just hinting at the rough and tumble structure of wild boar.

As far as entrees, we only sampled the Petto d'Anatra con Fichi e Marsala, but the duck breast was cold and the figs seemed lost against the sweet wine sauce. But hey, its early in A Mano's development.

A cheese plate comparing three sheep's milk cheeses and a bottle 2007 Guidobono Barbera d'Alba ($30) rounded out a very good first showing from A Mano. With A Mano, Garcia and Bazan have once again shown that the cuisines of the world can stand tall in New Orleans on its own merits. The hard part for you? Deciding which restaurant-La Boca, Rio Mar, or A Mano-to dine at. In bocca al lupo!

Withholding official judgment, but that night's dinner was a birdie.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Risotto Carbonara

"Success has a thousand fathers, but failure is an orphan."
-Mickey Mouse

If Mickey Mouse is correct, then this dish has three fathers. The first padre is the spaghetti with guanciale and a fried poached egg from Herbsaint. The second father is the milk white, shrimp and pea risotto from Stella! Finally, the third pops comes from the pages of a recent Bon Appetit which had a cartoon depiction of how David Chang, a New York super chef, created one of his famous dishes: soft poached egg with caviar, onion soubisse, and purple sweet potato vinegar.

Eggs have recently become an obsession. The flavor, texture, and substance of an egg can be changed easily and drastically. The egg is as comfortable at breakfast time as she is at dinner. It truly is incredible.

So the mind started to race. I wanted to create a dish that would resemble those inspirations that I had tasted, while using a new technique. I had some risotto in the pantry and some fresh chicken stock, so went in that direction. It could have just as easily taken me to ordering take-out. Carbonara is classically, raw egg, some bacon, maybe a little cream, some parsley, black pepper, and loads of cheese tossed with hot pasta. Needless to say, carbonara makes other applications of bacon and eggs seem juvenile.

Risotto is a wonderful dish to cook. The rhythmic stirring, careful watching, and adjustment of liquid to rice should feel like second nature to anyone who has ever turned flour, oil, trinity, and stock into gumbo. Soft boiling an egg is pretty simple. A rolling boil, place egg in water, and cook. I did mine for about six minutes. Then toss in an ice bath and peel.

Risotto, some crisp bacon, a heavy dose of the King of Cheeses, a touch of cream, the egg, and some parsley. I also added a touch of truffle salt to the end of the dish because too much of a good thing is never enough. When cooked perfectly the yolk spills out, it mingles with the risotto for a moment before deciding to join the party. Then you get the pungent aroma of truffle, the comfort of the cream, a slight nuttiness from Parma, the bite of black pepper, a crunch of bacon, and the soulfulness of the pudding-like risotto. Serve it with a white burgundy to take it to the extreme.

Try it or you will become an orphan.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The (Not-So) Green Goddess

Allow me to dispel a nasty rumor:

Fact: The chefs at The Green Goddess pay as much attention to vegetables as they do to meat and seafood.
Fiction: The Green Goddess is a vegetarian restaurant.

On multiple occasions I have told people about The Green Goddess only to watch them roll their eyes and say, "Yeah, but, isn't that a vegetarian restaurant?" No, it's not. Trust me - there is enough pork, beef, and fowl on the menu to satisfy even the most voracious carnivore. Back in May we had the chance to sample Chef Chris DeBarr's dinner menu at this funky little spot on Exchange Alley. Then last week Rene and I joined BB Gunner and The Gambler to pay off a Bar Exam wager over Paul Artigues' lunch spread.

This was one of Chef Paul's daily specials - an heirloom tomato stuffed with enough boudin to form a prominent muffin top which is then inverted and given a nice crust on the griddle. Ingenious and delicious.

Here we have the Cuban Luau Sandwich of salame, pulled pork, manchego, banana peppers, and roasted pineapple on pressed ciabatta. They also serve a faux cuban made with collard greens, but I think that I'll stick with my perfect record when it comes to choosing between pork and vegetables.

Where else but in Louisiana would "Bangers & Mash" consist of duck sausage and sweet potatoes sweetened with cane syrup? If that doesn't scream fall, then I don't know what does.

I thought that this was the best dish on the tables, but that's probably because I ordered it. Bacon & Bison Meatloaf Sandwich with (more) bacon, arugula, tomatoes, creole mustard, and garlic aioli. I like mine served warm, but you can have it cold if you'd like.

We also had the house version of crudites, which I love because it includes enough vegetables to offset the guilt I feel from devouring the French duck fat "home fries." Those are not to be missed.

The Green Goddess is a sleeper when it comes to lunch - kind of like Steve Smith in this year's fantasy draft. (No, the other Steve Smith.) Prices are a bit higher than what you might usually pay for lunch, but this minor splurge is worth it for food of this caliber. The space sits only 10 or 12 inside, but when the weather is nice there is no better place to dine than at the outside tables on Exchange Alley.

The Green Goddess - Birdie

Monday, October 26, 2009

You Better Reconcile

Want your dining dollars to go further than the bottom line? Why not stop in for lunch at Cafe Reconcile this week and support a program which helps young people learn to help themselves. Founded by the late, great Rev. Harry Thompson, S.J., Reconcile offers a path of hope for those less fortunate than most of us. It's a Jesuit thing that we like to call "men for others."

The food is good and cheap, but our waitress let us in on a few inside tips as to what's best. The staff is only allowed to eat the fried menu items on Fridays, and she said that's a good thing because otherwise she would eat nothing but the fried catfish everyday. That sold me, and she was right because that cooked to order filet made a great po-boy. You can't go wrong with red beans on Monday, and the baked chicken with 2 sides is a steal at $7. I'm partial to the mac and cheese made with spaghetti.
The bananas foster bread pudding though is excellent no matter how you look at it.
Cafe Reconcile - Par for food; Double Eagle for good will

Friday, October 23, 2009

Kitchen Essentials

Time and time again, you will find yourself reaching for this piece of genius. Its limits are unknown to modern man and technology. No, it is not the iPhone, it is a Royal Blue Le Creuset Dutch Oven. You will use this piece of cookery at least once a week; that is a guarantee. However, feel free to choose a different color.

It is perfect for Red Beans. Saute some tasso or ham, a little trinity, garlic, add the beans, some water, place the lid half on and walk away. It will bubble and toil on the stove while you do the stuff you need to do. Same results with gumbos, but a different process.

ASIDE: While I heartily agree and love the tradition of Red Beans on Monday, I think we can all agree that most of us work on Monday. You do, we know you do, cause you read us on Monday, not on the weekends. Thus, it is likely you aren't doing the wash on Monday. Red Beans (and gumbos, braises, roasts, etc...) are always better the next day. Therefore, by the power invested in me by the great state of the Internet, I hereby declare that from henceforth Red Beans shall be made on Sunday and eaten on Monday.

A dutch oven was a multi-tasker before Steve Jobs invented the word. It can fry, it can roast, it can braise, it can make soups, it can bake bread, hell I think it even changed my oil last week. The secret is that a dutch oven, especially a cast-iron one, retains and distributes heat remarkably well. So there are no hot spots on the pan which means no uneven cooking which means you can go home and kiss the prom queen.

I tried to think of something a dutch oven couldn't do. Steak, it cant cook a steak. But then, it got me thinking. One of the best ways to cook steak is to sear it on the stove, while spooning hot butter on it, then sticking it in the oven to finish cooking through. So what if I got the pot smoking hot, seared off a thick cut filet on both sides, then shut the heat down, put the lid on and let the meat continue to cook in the "oven." Hmmmmmm....

Thursday, October 22, 2009


June 15, 2007: A group of law school friends and I arrive in Munich via overnight train from Paris. It just so happened that our trip coincided with what was purportedly "Munich's 100th Birthday" - though research has since disproved this fact. Anyway, that Saturday a festival was held in Marienplatz where rows and rows of picnic tables were set up, sausages were grilled, and many a beer was drunk from glass beer steins. The weather was beautiful, the beer was cold, and we were collectively introduced to the radler (a delicious combination of pilsner and lemon-lime soda). It was glorious.

Fast forward to last weekend when Rene, Lindsay, and I attended what could be the final Oktoberfest celebration held at the Deutsches Haus. The weather was a bit cooler than it was that June weekend in Munich, but the spirit of the celebration was much the same. Every man, woman, and child (and there were quite a few of the latter) seemed happy to be inside the Deutsches Haus celebrating for no reason at all, which may be the best reason. No radlers were available, but there was still plenty of beer, including this delicious Spaten.
The food was much better than that of the Hofbräuhaus. Sausages were a plenty, with the bratwurst being the obvious crowd favorite. Dinners include a main dish (stuffed cabbage above), your choice of sausage (there is a brat hiding back there), and 2 sides (potato pancake and sauerkraut). The food in the main dining room is served cafeteria style, so it may not be as hot as you would probably like it. But there's still no doubt that everything, save the sausages, are homemade.

Here is a plate of beef roulade, knockwurst, warm potato salad, and red cabbage. If you asked me what the best choices were, I'd say stick to the sausages, though the schnitzel would be great if you can get a fresh one from the fryer. (All photos courtesy of Mary Magdalene's fancy camera which I conned her into loaning to me.)

This weekend marks what could be the end of an era. Chances are that the Deutsches Haus will be gone by next October. As a tribute to the many men and woman who volunteer their time and make Oktoberfest possible, why not send out the grande dame on Galvez with a bang.

Like you even needed a reason to do the chicken dance.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Bangkok Thai

When I lived in St. Louis, the weather was brutal. Although you could check the statistics, from October 12th, 2007 until April 21st, 2008, the temperature never got above freezing, the sun refused to shine, and four feet of snow blanketed the city. I was ill equipped to deal with the rigors of what people call winter. For instance, a dust pan doubled as an ice scraper. But I did have one ace in the hole. And that was The King and I Thai. On bitter cold evenings, an order of Tom Yum soup and basil chicken would temporarily stave of freezing to death.

One time, feeling bold and cold, I asked for the Tom Yum "Thai Hot." The next thing I remember tears, sweat, and capsaicin were mingling all over my flush faced. But I couldn't stop shoveling this narcotic into my mouth. When it was all over, the flood of endorphins would have made an addict smile. For the first time in months, I was warm.

Bangkok Thai, near Cooter Browns, is the first Thai restaurant in New Orleans, that I have found, that is truly willing to go to Thai hot land.* We headed there Sunday evening after watching the Saints dominate the Giants. The weather was cool and I told them to bring the red curry-Thai hot. An order of some crunchy rolls filled with pork, crunchy vegetables and glass noodles was a welcome precursor.

When the curry arrived, the aroma wafting up had that peculiar blend of fragrances attributable to curry. There is the pungent basil- a combination of marijuana, grass, and anise mingling with the faint sweet scent of coconut cream and the fiery peppers.

A good curry needs two types of heat. There is the heat that touches the lip and tip of your tongue. It's role is that of a trickster. You think, "Ohhh hey this is manageable." Then, ten seconds later the real heat scratches at the back of your throat flaming up from the belly like some prehistoric dragon. Sweat should ensue followed by feelings of eminent death.

The sticky white rice on the table, invariably less than you need, which you contemplated pouring the curry over, now becomes the control. It stays there, unadorned, to cleanse and give your palate pause during the ensuing attack.

Spicy food is the variety of life. But Thai hot curry is a whole 'nother level of heat. Be careful with this stuff. Like all endorphin releasing substances, it only gets harder to replicate the original buzz.

Bangkok Thai- For Thai hot curry, birdie

* Note: I am not including Thai restaurants on the North Shore which in the popular parlance of our time do "bring the heat".

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


"The food was good, but nothing exciting."

I have found myself saying this a lot lately when talking about a restaurant, and my guess is that I'm not the only one. It's understandable though. Compared with meals full of guanciale and goat cheese croquettes and steaming bowls of pho, a plate of veal parmesan or red beans and rice isn't as enticing as it once was. But don't fall into the trap of believing that just because a restaurant is old (and its menu unchanged) makes it unworthy of your dining dollars. A meal does not have to be life changing to be good.

Mandina's is the perfect example to illustrate my point. In our April review in offBeat, we harped on how even though the food is the antithesis of innovative, Mandina's should still be celebrated for its persistence. For over 75 years the Mid-City stalwart has served as a reliable restaurant where patrons still flock for good (not great) food. And there is nothing wrong with that.

"I know what I like, and I like what I know." This is what I say to myself when I walk into Mandina's.

I like a gigantic tower of crisp onion rings to start.

I like the turtle soup even though there is not a speck of turtle meat in the cup.

And I like huge plates of spaghetti and meatballs covered in the New Orleans style red gravy that we natives grew up on.

A few weeks back I was eating dinner at Mandina's on a Thursday night with The Pope and the Battle House Honey, and there was a table of 2 middle-aged female tourists sitting next to us. I could just tell that they had been so proud of themselves for finding this locals-only place, yet they were not wowed by their food in anyway. I wanted to pull up a chair and try to explain why their meal felt so short of their expectations, but my tablemates held me back. So much for the better though. Consistency cannot be defined in only one meal.

Mandina's - Par

Monday, October 19, 2009


In response to this past weekend's uber successful Blues and BBQ Festival, we have decided to take a poll as to who in the city best harnesses the power of smoke. While I have yet to try them all, it's going to be difficult to supplant my favorite thus far.

Even though it's hard to imagine a plate of ribs or pulled pork without a side of potato salad or baked beans, in our opinion BBQ is all about the meat. Otherwise, I would probably vote Ugly Dog as my top choice because their cole slaw is out of this world. The alleged recipe can be found here.

By the way, The Pope votes for Boucherie.

Friday, October 16, 2009

A Blogger in the Fat Hen House

Last Saturday The Folk Singer and I stopped at Fat Hen Grill for breakfast on our way to Baton Rouge. Then Tuesday night while perusing I came upon this article, and before I scrolled down to confirm the answer, I thought to myself, "Wow, that woman looks a lot like the manager who served us on Saturday morning." You've heard the rest of the alleged story, but in the name of unbiased journalism, we'll just stick to the food.

TFS had the Classic Eggs Benedict, all of the parts of which were done well save the most important one. The hollandaise was much too thin in consistency, which took away from the perfectly poached eggs and thin slices of ham underneath (an improvement over canadian bacon in my opinion).

I desperately wanted to order chili cheese fries to cure my post Bar Exam results hangover, but TFS quickly vetoed that idea. Instead we went with the "Barnyard Fries" topped with grilled onions and special sauce that tasted exactly like the dipping sauce for an onion mumm. Frozen french fries and chain restaurant style sauce, and I loved every bit of it. I'm not sorry. Next time I'll ask them to add cheese.

The "Womlette." I filed this in the category of "things that are good in theory but are flawed in reality." (See also, Communism.) I love waffles; I love omelettes; why not cook them together? Well, for one the waffle loses its crispness during the time that the eggs are cooked on top. Second, when this bad boy comes out of the oven/salamander, it needs about 15 minutes to cool off before you can dive in without scorching your mouth. Third, I couldn't quite connect with the idea of pouring syrup over vegetables, like the cherry tomatoes in my Cajun Womlette (which also included andouille, green onions, and jack cheese). Though I think that syrup would go better if the Womlette only had meats and/or cheese, like the Royal American.
All in all, not a total failure but significantly short of a success nonetheless. If I'm ever out out looking for breakfast in Kenner again, I wouldn't hesitate to return and try the standard breakfast fare, which I imagine the Fat Hen does quite well.
I paid with cash. (Ba-dum-ching.)
Fat Hen Grill - Par.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Kitchen Essentials

Editor's Note: We are rolling out another feature here at the Internationally Acclaimed, Number Two Local Blog called Kitchen Essentials. As Rene's interests have shifted more to home cooking, we realize there are a lot of you out there with absolutely no idea what the heck your kitchen needs or how to blanch a vegetable. So here goes something...

Before we get started some background/ranting. Cruising through a couple's wedding registry is a particularly enjoyable pleasure. A vast majority of the kitchen gear on a couple's registry is either a) pointless b) redundant. Take for example, the Margaritaville Frozen Drink Maker. This machine is a fondue pot of desperation. If you buy one, you get a free bottle of Axe Body Spray and an Affliction shirt (rape charges sold separately). The only thing that piece of crap is useful for is buying Jimmy Buffet another beach house. You own this already, but it is called a blender and it doesn't play "Fins". So let's make this disappear faster than Jessica Simpson's career.

I once saw a registry with not one, not two, but three food processors of all different sizes and horsepower. Here is a hint, if you want a food processor, buy one and only one. Just make sure it is the biggest, baddest son of a bitch on the block. And how many times are you going to use the Avocado pit extractor or the Mango Slicer?

While we are at it, Williams-Sonoma is Orvis for fat people. Sure, its great to shop there, to wander around looking at the Ferrari's of espresso machines, but really its a lot of overpriced, average gear. If you really want to stock your kitchen head to a Restaurant Supply store. Don't worry you need not wear a chef's jacket or memorize a secret code. Most places have showrooms that are open to the public. Try Caire or Loubat in Mid-City. The stuff they sell is durable, affordable, it works, and is damn sexy.

Essential Number One: Knives and Cutting Board

The first thing you need in your kitchen is a few good, sharp knives and a solid wood cutting board. Since food isn't Emo, it won't cut itself. Therefore unless you are reheating Sandra Lee's Pinto Beans with Teriyaki Sliders, you are going to need to cut something to cook a meal. Let's start with the knives.

If you can only buy one knife, make it a good all purpose chef's knife. For this I use a 7 inch, Henckels Santoku knife for everyday cutting, chopping, and street fighting. It is not the world's greatest knife, but I like it and that is all that matters. Don't skimp on your everyday knife. You will use this knife more than the internet. Spend the money; keep it sharp with a honing stone and professional sharpening every 6 months. Go to a store, try them out, get the one that feels most comfortable. Using it everyday will make you a better cook and the next time you use that dull knife at Aunt Edna's you will understand why a good knife is the first step to better cooking.
You also want a paring knife (far right), a carving knife (second from left), and a knife with a serrated edge (bet you can figure it out on your own). Again, spending the money the first time will save you money in the long run.

A cutting board may be the most overlooked thing in the entire kitchen. It should be wood. It should be solid. It does not need to be pretty. It should not be made out of glass. It should make other people feel insecure about their cutting boards. And it should be big. How do you know how big it needs to be? If you can't fit a Thanksgiving turkey on it comfortably, put it back on the shelf, tis not big enough.

This cutting board has a moat around it, which is particularly useful should the Moors invade. Incidentally it was made by Richard the Snark, a waiter at the Old Green Lady. If you ask him nicely, he will not make you one.

Next week - you need pots.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


A few weeks back I accompanied a cast of blog characters for dinner at Boucherie. I mistakenly left my camera at home, but with the low lighting inside none of my pictures would have turned out anyway. As always, if you need photographic confirmation, you know where to go. Still, I wanted to write about it because the food was great and the value was even better. Here is a list of what was on the table:
  • Fries with Garlic Butter and Parmesan - Fresh cut, rich with cheese, not overwhelmed with butter, and just an incredible deal for $4. We had 2 orders.
  • Boudin Balls with Garlic Aioli - 3 to an order. A very crisp coating, and a different flavor profile with the aioli, which I highly recommend as a dip for the fries.
  • Blackened Shrimp with Grit Cake - Perhaps the only "miss" of the night because the blackening seasoning was just too heavy handed.
  • Black & Blue Salad - Thinly sliced carpaccio with an assertive blue cheese dressing.
  • Smoked Beef Brisket - The cut was extremely tender with a nice layer of fat on the outside which provided extra flavor and prevented the beef from drying out.
  • Pulled Pork Cake with Potato Confit and Purple Cabbage Slaw - Delectable shreds of pig, fork tender potatoes, and a nice crunch from the slaw.
  • Pan Seared Duck Breast - Cooked a shade on the rare side, but The Pope claimed this the winner of the night.
  • Thai Chili Chocolate Chess Pie - Rich, with a little heat that just barely creeped up the back of your throat.
  • Krispy Kreme Bread Pudding - So good that words escape me.

But the best part - $5 corkage (per bottle). There were 6 of us at the table, and by my count we had 2 orders of fries, 2 orders of boudin balls, 5 appetizers, 6 entrees, 3 desserts, 3 corkage fees, and 1 holy water. Grand Total - $210 before tip. Hell of a deal.

The space is small, so you may feel a little cramped if you are a large party, depending on where you are seated. There are 2 deuces on the porch outside which would be a nice setting when the weather cools off (if that ever happens). Service on our visit was relaxed, but someone was always available to pour wine or clear plates. Reservations - no matter what night of the week - are highly recommended.

Boucherie - Birdie

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A Lot to Love

Editor's Note: This article was supposed to run last year in offBEAT but we got bumped for better stories. And with Voodoo Fest and scores of outdoor dining opportunities and sporting events, we figured we would run it here. Cause no point in wasting an article.

It takes a devoted person to lead the nomadic life of following a band across the country. Waking up in Wichita and falling asleep in a tent in Toledo, fixing a flat tire in Falstaff and scoring a miracle in Minneapolis. But imagine doing so, yet rarely seeing the band you are following.

“Nope, haven’t been inside a concert venue in a long time. Got work to do while my customers enjoy the show,” said a van driving, propane pizza oven working, vendor known only as Nevada Pizza.

Over Halloween weekend 2008, Widespread Panic played twice to a packed house at the UNO Lakefront Arena. Each night, culinary delights awaited the concert goers in a tent city, quasi-black market Xanadu, right outside the gates of the arena. Trinkets, t-shirts, vices, and victuals greeted the exuberant and eager crowd. This “lot scene” forms a staple part of the concert experience. Providing an opportunity to engage in trade, buy and sell tickets, and purchase sustenance, it is the modern day descendant of the medieval marketplace. Ideas, insights, and gossip are spread as easily as ranch dressing onto a warmed pita.

The most popular items were the very simple, but immensely enjoyable, grilled cheeses. Two slices of white bread with some Kraft cheese cooked on a flattop with perhaps, if you were lucky, an herbed butter spread. Another vendor offered wraps filled with grilled chicken, veggies, peppers, yogurt sauce, hot sauce, cheese, lettuce, and tomatoes-a veritable kitchen sink kebab.

Still another mainstay item was pizza. Some vendors offered it on French bread, while others rolled their own elastic, climate-dependent dough. For food served out of a hatchback, the vendors have enormous pride in their ingredients and finished products. Nevada’s Pizza’s eponymous offering had cheese which stretched from the crust, as good mozzarella is want to do. Such commitment and pride connects the parking lot cook to the restaurant chef.

Other vendors touted the superiority of their wares with cries of “Don’t panic, its all organic” and “Made with love.” Channeling the New Orleans Second Line tradition of Yat-ka-mein, one lot cook offered a Chinese stir fry that was a mixture of rice, vegetables, and chicken with a heavy dose of soy sauce and srirachi.

And, of course, there was an ample selection of microbrews which likely aren’t legally imported into Louisiana through normal distributor channels. The bottles are taller, the names more cryptic, and the hops usually overwhelming for any locale other than the cool, misty climate of the Pacific Northwest. But hey, this is the freest market economy around town.

Traveling around the country offers a unique set of challenges to lot vendors. Finding supplies, repairing equipment, sourcing ingredients, and dealing with local authorities being the most cited versions of problems encountered. Not surprisingly, the vendors I spoke to enjoy the challenges of the road and making it to another city on time. “It makes it fun to hightail it to the next stop in time to get what I need, do my prep, get set up for the next night,” explained a pita purveyor.

And there was a great sense of enviable camaraderie amongst the traveling salesmen and their regulars. To a casual fan, thoughts of giving it all up, following the band around, and surviving by selling Rice-Krispie treats seems like a good idea for a fleeting moment. It was not uncommon to overhear vendors and their customers reminiscing about memorable Phish runs or ice storms in Iowa. “It was so cold, your beard froze into a ball of ice. That was when I decided to only go on the road during the summer. The rest of the year I run a car stereo and accessories store,” said Nevada Pizza.

Of course not every vendor was as open to a guy asking a bunch of questions. Suspicious of narcs, cops, and really anyone lurking around, one vendor told me not to take pictures of her or ask her any questions. Her reasoning was simple, “I don’t like to be documented.”

Another great place to sample some lot style vending is before, during, and after a traditional New Orleans Second Line. Recently, while traveling down Claiborne Avenue, a New Generation Social Ad and Pleasure Club’s Second Line broke out in front of my car. On one corner a white truck had been turned into a mobile version of the corner bar selling ice cold Budweisers, Hennesey and Cokes, and a few non-alcoholic drinks to the dancing observers. Since the Second Line occurred during the universal mid-afternoon snack time, a dark skinned woman trailed behind the parading tubas selling miniature versions of sweet potato and pecan pie. But by far the most industrious vendor had to be an elderly man on a motorized scooter towing a wheeled cooler full of Heinekens.

What is it that makes these individualists trek around the country to provide a post-show snack to likely intoxicated patrons? It’s no different than why really good restaurants and dedicated chefs do what they do. The look of satisfaction on a customers face as he bites into a hand-crafted pizza after a long night, that universal exchange between a cook and an eater, that says, “thanks, this is just what I needed.”

Perhaps Nevada Pizza summed it up best, when I asked him why he did this, “Man, I don’t do this to make a living, but it sure has made my life."

Monday, October 12, 2009

Little Tokyo Two Step

People are always claiming that one location of a restaurant is better than another. (This happens all the time with Drago's.) Sometime this preference bears specifically on ambience or geographic location, but personnel probably plays the biggest role, especially in the back of the house. In Kitchen Confidential Bourdain explained how the goal of a line cook is to perfectly reproduce a dish in the exact same way every time a customer orders it. So even though like ingredients may be arriving through the delivery door, what eventually ends up on the table could differ widely depending on whose doing the cooking in between.

Little Tokyo on Causeway was where I had my first ever sushi experience, but the Mid-City location has been my default choice for raw fish since it opened. I'm not exactly sure whether the two restaurants source their fish from the same place, especially because the Carrollton location makes special note that it flies fish in weekly from the Tsukiji Market in Tokyo.

This is the "Six Brothers Sushi" from Little Tokyo on Causeway. Fresh tuna and salmon curled around a bit of snowcrab, rolled in rice paper, and topped with a heaping spoonful of colorful masago. Perfect for the carb conscious looking for something more than sashimi.

Here we have the "Japanese Style Chips and Dip" from Little Tokyo on Carrollton. The dip part is just a mound of the mixture which comes in the Dynamite Roll - chopped tuna and salmon (perhaps a little whitefish) mixed with sriracha and the tiniest bit of mayo. The chips are fried yuca sprinkled with salt and drizzled with ponzu sauce. I absolutely loved this. It's $13, but this is a hefty amount of fish.

My preference? Mid-City. First, this location is extremely clean - a factor which carries more weight with me when it comes to eating raw fish. But most importantly I find that Mid-City has a wider selection of fish and a more creative menu (with dishes like the above chips and dip). What say you?

Little Tokyo Causeway - Par
Little Tokyo Carrollton - Birdie

Friday, October 9, 2009

Hot Boudin!

Cold Coush Coush!* Come on, Tigers, Push Push Push!

Big game in Baton Rouge this weekend. Pickup some boudin from Cochon Butcher to help fuel your fervor for the Tigers.

* I thought that coush coush was served hot?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Jacque Imo's Better Half

In case you have not seen it in print, check out our review of Crabby Jack's in this month's issue of OffBeat and get yourself down to Jefferson Hwy for the duck debris-style po-boy. Don't let your eyes fool your stomach - the 8 inch is plenty big of enough.

The fried shrimp were excellent but caused a minor debate with our editor. Which size fried shrimp are better on a po-boy: popcorn or jumbo?

Finally, the roast beef po-boy may not be deep fried, but it's every bit as delicious as the one served by it's sister spot on Oak Street.

Our only knock against Crabby Jack's is that the fries and onion rings were not very good. But honestly, that doesn't really bother me. Don't get me wrong - I love french fries and appreciate the top notch specimens from places like Luke and La Boca. But here's the thing: I don't need to be eating french fries. (I don't "need" to be eating a duck po-boy either, but that's not the point.) If skipping out on average or sub-par french fries makes it a little more tolerable for me to eat that slab of foie gras somewhere down the line, then I am all for that tradeoff. Same goes for a place like Crabby Jack's. I'll forego the french fries without a second thought because the po-boys more than make up for it.

Now if only the Maple Leaf was next door...

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Green Goddess Endeavors to Save the Lighthouse

We received this press release recently and wanted to pass along the information. First, if you haven't been to The Green Goddess yet, you need to get over there soon. The weather is cooling off, and it's a delight to sit outside on a Sunday evening and enjoy the sounds of the French Quarter turning from commercial to residential. Plus, the food is out of sight. Finally, any time someone wants to entice us into philanthropy with a drink special, we figure out a way to give them a shout out.

The Green Goddess “Save Our Lighthouse” Party

Hello to all our Internet friends. We want to remind you that we are having a party on this Wednesday evening to benefit Save Our Lake in their efforts to repair the historic Lake Pontchartrain Lighthouse. The party starts Wed. night, from 6-9 pm, with fun food, cocktails, music, speakers from Save Our Lake (which is professionally known as The Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation); basically, we’re hosting a big environmental party with Save Our Lake this Wed. night, Oct. 7th in Exchange Alley. You are cordially invited to attend!

Our neighbors at The Pelican Club are joining The Green Goddess in throwing this party, so there will be ample space to get drinks, great food from either restaurant, and the opportunity to buy $2 or $5 raffle tickets to get some cool prizes, including gift certificates, booze, and a few unusual artisanal ingredients.

We also have partnered with Tru Organic Spirits, a California distillery with a terrific environmental program, to raise money the rest of October by featuring Tru liquors in a few cocktails at The Green Goddess, and donating $1 per cocktail to Save Our Lake’s lighthouse repairs. Thus far, we’ve raised over $150 for these critical repairs, and we hope by hosting this big party on this Wed. night, along with all the rest of the month including Halloween festivities, that we can raise a bunch more money for Save Our Lake. Additionally, Tru Organic Spirits and their local distributor, Uncorked Wines, are donating $2 per bottle of Tru Organic Vodka (in 3 flavors, regular, lemon, and vanilla – all painstakingly handcrafted) and the Tru Organic Gin (a cool, infused gin with a unique flavor profile) for each bottle sold in the greater New Orleans market to Save Our Lake.

I hope you’ll be able to pop in for a visit to either The Green Goddess or Pelican Club on this Wednesday night, Oct 7 from 6-9 pm, as we celebrate with Save Our Lake for a sustainable, beautiful environmental legacy here in New Orleans and all of South Louisiana. We’re making it easy to be green: just enjoy a libation, buy a raffle ticket, and enjoy dinner this Wednesday, and keep enjoying our handcrafted cocktails all the way through Halloween.

Thanks for your attention,
Chef Chris DeBarr

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Best Deal in Town

We get a lot of fan mail. (OK, one piece.) Even more than fan mail, we get a lot of questions which sound like this, "Yo, idiots, what's the best value/deal/place where I can donate plasma in the city?"

Well, that is a tricky question. How do you define "value"? Does it have to be cheap? What's your expense account? Where are you? Now you can see why we don't get many questions.

In one of his farewell articles for the NY Times, restaurant critic Frank Bruni touched on this issue which I will paraphrase here: Any restaurant can serve you a $3.99 piece of beef and call it a steak dinner. However that is not true value because you are getting (crap) what you paid for (nothing).

A good value should make you feel like you are getting much more than you paid for. Which is why I hereby anoint Restaurant August's $20.09 Friday everyday lunch special as the best deal or value in town.

For $20.09 you get an amuse, an appetizer, an entree, and dessert. Throw in a glass of wine or two, King George's tithe and tip, and you are looking at a $40 meal. Now I can hear you groaning. "$40 for lunch. What do you take us for, White House staffers?" No. But let's say you usually eat a crappy footlong combo meal everyday. Cut that out for a week and treat yourself.

I have been all up in this menu. I like the playfulness of the tomato mozzarella salad, where tomato puree is stuffed inside balls of mozzarella, but I find the process makes the cheese a little tough. The enormous hunk of pate with accompaniments is almost enough for a meal. And sometimes the truffled gnocchi with blue crab lurks on the menu. The herbed goat cheese dumplings with lacquered duck and matsutake mushroom broth (poured over the dish from a French press) are sublime - a mixture of freshness, salt, earthiness, and meaty duck.

For desserts there is always a chocolate offering and usually a cheese course. Selecting either would not be a bad option.

But the real reason this is a great value is that you are getting the professionalism and service of a 5 star/5 bean/5 whatever restaurant at bargain prices. You will leave feeling coddled, cared for, and truly spoiled. It may just be enough to make you want to go back to the office.

Restaurant August Lunch - Eagle.

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Downtown Deli Diagnosis - Part 2: The Store

Blogger's Note - Welcome to Part 2 of our in-depth survey of the CBD sandwich shops. Here's a link to Part 1 in case you missed it.

Often after a weekend replete with booze and rich food, I like to start off the week with a salad as a small step in the name of good health. When that time comes, I almost always head over to The Store. I despise boring, bland iceberg lettuce, which is usually the default greenery at most lunch counters where salads take a backseat to the rest of the menu. Not at The Store, where spring mix or arugula serve as the base for everything from Shrimp Nicoise (above) to the classic Chopped Cobb (below). And it's not just the lettuce. Everything, from the avocado and tomatoes to the roast turkey breast and boiled shrimp are high quality ingredients.

The hits keep on coming when it comes to sandwiches at The Store. I'm one of those "it's just a sandwich" people who usually doesn't see the point in paying $8 for a simple sandwich that I can easily make for myself at home, so I appreciate when a deli serves me something other than Boar's Head turkey on wheat. Pulled pork, basil-marinated mozzarella, caramelized onion spread - all ingredients not found in my fridge but readily available at The Store. I also appreciate a good potato salad, and their green onion version is a fine example.

Just like most other downtown sandwich shops, The Store runs daily specials (I've only had Wednesday's pulled pork hash over baked macaroni - it's very good) as well as an everyday special of shrimp and grits. The line is usually long, but this is still a place where you can be in and out in less than 40 minutes, which leaves just enough time to stop and chat with the numerous acquaintances whom you will inevitably run into. There are so many lawyers in this place during lunch that owner BJ Laws should start hosting CLEs. The food alone would be worth the registration price.

The Store - Birdie

Friday, October 2, 2009

Eggs Boudinict

At home meat meets flame quite often. Lindsay makes routine trips to the western portion of this fair state, and she is kind enough to always carry an ice chest in her car. She stops at Best Stop, Bergeron's, or some other meat market and fills it with boudin, sausages, meat pies, etc... Then recently I received a test sample of boudin from Sunset Farm Foods in Georgia. They asked me to try it (I did) and give them some feedback (I did).

So the other Saturday I was craving eggs Benedict. Two problems: 1) I don't really enjoy English muffins, and 2) I had no Canadian bacon. But a few months ago at a press event, Chef Brian Landry of Galatoire's created a version which used hogshead cheese for the pork quotient.

So remove the boudin from the casings, form it into a patty, and cook them in a non-stick pan until crusty on the outside. Eggs Benedict needs poached eggs and hollandaise, so lets make 'em.

To poach an egg: In a pot with at least a two inch side, bring water to a simmer and then add a tablespoon of vinegar. Drop egg into water, cook for 2-3 minutes, remove with slotted spoon and pat dry.

To make hollandaise: Melt a half stick of butter in the microwave or in a pot. In a metal or glass bowl whisk one egg yolk with the juice of half a lemon, add salt, pepper, and some cayenne. Set this bowl over a simmering pot of water - "Hey the one you used to poach an egg would work." Continue whisking as you stream in the melted butter. It will set and you have made hollandaise.

This is one hell of a brunch. You break the egg yolk which combines with the hollandaise and saturates the boudin. The boudin is crunchy on the outside while remaining soft and flavorful on the inside. Plus a good boudin has all the spice and flavor the dish needs. It is all the textural elements of a classic Eggs Benedict in a more local way. Serve it with a cup of chicory spiked with a shot of Catdaddy or with a mimosa.

Or you could make two patties and place a fried egg in between them and call it an Egg McBoudinwich. I'll be here all weekend folks.

And hey, if you are going to the Saints game this weekend, Ben Sarrat, Jr., will be the honorary captain for the Saints. So cheer loud for him.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Rum House

Plenty of hype surrounding the opening of this Caribbean taqueria on Magazine Street. The Folk Singer and co-owner Michael Buchert have a mutual friend, so TFS has had this place on our radar long before it opened in June. We finally made it on the night of the LSU-Vandy game, which worked out well because they have a big screen projector which spans near across an entire wall.

We each ordered the Taco Trifecta, which includes a side of your choice for $10. TFS chose coconut rice, and I had black beans - both of which were average. There are 6 taco filling options on the menu, and we tried 5 of them.

  • Jerk Chicken - Perfectly cooked but absolutely flavorless. Not even a hint of jerk seasoning in the end product, so perhaps a longer marinating time is in order.
  • Brisket - Very good, though the chimichurri was lost on me.
  • Ribs - This was the best one that I tried. Tender shreds of meat in a spicy creole tomato BBQ sauce.
  • Calypso Beef - TFS gobbled this up before I had a chance to taste it, but she thought it the best on her plate.
  • Fish - Fine and dandy, but the jalapeno coleslaw on top was delicious.

We also sampled a few of the starters:

  • Chips and Salsa - Made with roasted tomatoes instead of fresh, which is fine by me because I like both. I wish that they were complimentary, but I'd say still worth the $4.
  • Queso Blanco - Good but not earth shattering.
  • Jamaican Patties - Beef was dry, pastry dough was heavy, and they needed some kind of sauce. Both TFS and I agreed that these should be passed on in the future.

So the food was just OK overall. While we were there, I just kept thinking how I would rather eat tacos at one of the numerous authentic Mexican taquerias around town, plus the food would be better and cost 20% less. Look for more on that topic from Rene later this week.

But you know what? Even though the food is nothing special, I would still recommend The Rum House. Why? Because it's a fun place. This is a perfect example of how atmosphere can overpower mediocre food. Everyone in that place, including myself, was having a good time. The tables are nicely spaced out, they can easily handle parties of 10 or 12, projection screen to watch the games, the room is loud, the ceilings are high, plenty of windows, Magazine Street, sangria, chelada, decent food at a fair price... what's not to like?

The Rum House
Food - Par
Overall Experience - Birdie