Wednesday, September 30, 2009

State of the Eating: Mexican in New Orleans, Part I

Recently this blog solicited your comments. We wanted to know where you could get authentic Mexican in this city. You obliged, and we have eaten. So here now is a review of Mexican eateries around the 504. This list is by no means exhaustive, just a few spots I have been able to sample so far.

This taco outpost holds the richness of the earth in a converted truck. I love this place. There are few frills, no 21 year old wanna-be-celebutante wearing a big sombrero and sucking down sugary margaritas as she talks to some guy in an Ed Hardy shirt while updating her facebook status on her iPhone. There is no sign stating that McSuperiors put the Fun in queso FUNdido. You cant order fried ice cream. It is just tacos and tortas done perfectly, some Mexican sodas, and a view of one of New Orleans best streets. The only embellishment is two sauces. A green one and a red one. Try them both, srat star.

The tripe tacos are just amazing. I could try to describe them to you but sometimes only Shakespeare's words will suffice: "Tripe tacos you complete me!"

You can choose from steak, a succulent stewed beef, chicken, carnitas, grilled pork, and I am sure many more. The food's quality is not matched by its prices. A plate of 3 tacos will set you back about $5. Take that Taco Bell. The tortas are not bad either. Grilled fluffy bread are stuffed with your choice of meat, dressed, and slathered with some melted cheese. Its enough to make your roast beef po-boy jealous.

Less good was El Rinconcito and Fiesta Latina. The former is really a cantina which it seems is Mexican for bar food. The salsa was good and the pollo frito delivered a bird more closely aligned with confit than with fried food. The loud Central American Pop Tunes didn't make things much better and everyone drinks Bud Light, not that there is anything wrong with that. Fiesta Latina seemed to be the Sysco of the Mexican food scene. Boring food with bright yellow government cheese covering or stuffed in most dishes.

Now Taco San Miguel in Fat City, that place is solid. Delicious tongue tacos, a multi-hued salsa bar, and some very honest cooking. I also loved the chicharonnes with their snappy texture and creamy interior these pork skins were a welcome addition to any of the offerings.

Another place we have enjoyed so far is Le Guadelepeno on Broad near Criminal Court. The only hiccup was the cold chicken enchiladas. But then again it was 10:30 in the morning on a Sunday. I am sure the cooks were still thinking breakfast.

The tacos were well made. The tortillas at Le Guadelepeno were exceptionally tender, but still retained a solid structure. But the papusas were phenomenal. Little pockets of soft corn dough stuffed with pork and cheese, griddled and sent out with a fiery sauce and some pickled cabbage. We got them as our apps, I wish it would have been my main.

The search still continues, but so far the State of Mexican Food in New Orleans is strong. Where else do I need to go?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Oink, Oink

How much do I love pork? Let me count the ways...

"GLT" - Guanciale, lettuce, and tomato. This was on the special board at Butcher a few weeks ago, but hopefully it will become a standard choice if the demand is there. And demand you should. Don't be afraid of pork jowl. Try it once, and you will never look at bacon the same way again.

The pork tongue tacos (2 to an order) are a new addition to the bar food menu at Butcher. The richness of the tongue is cut by the acid of the pickled onions, while the cilantro brings a welcome breath of freshness.

You've seen it before, but it's worth another look. True, the hot dog is 90% beef and only 10% pork belly, but who's counting? Mustard, chili, slaw. kraut, or pimento cheese. You could have whatever you like (yeah).

I guess that you could keep up the porcine theme and finish your meal with the bacon studded pralines, but then you would miss out on this chocolate cupcake stuffed with vanilla pudding and topped with cream cheese frosting. Eat your heart out, Bee Sweet.
Cochon Butcher - Double Eagle.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Downtown Deli Diagnosis - Part 1: Welty's

Blogger's Note: Here is a diagram of my thought process on Monday morning:

Monday --> Start of the work week --> What's for lunch today? --> It's Monday, so I have a lot of work to do and need somewhere quick near my office --> My office is downtown --> "When you're alone and life is making you lonely, you can always go... downtown" --> Seinfeld is still the greatest sitcom of all time

When you're working downtown and need a quick lunch, you usually duck into the corner sandwich shop. But which ones are worth waiting in line for? Welcome to the Downtown Deli Diagnosis, the new Monday series on Blackened Out aimed at you captains of the cubicle. Over the next month or so, we'll start off the week with a review of one of the more popular CBD lunch spots, and at the end we'll take a vote on who's the best. Feel free to play along by commenting on your likes and dislikes of each week's feature. First up...

When you eat lunch at Welty's, one thing is for certain: you will not leave hungry. Just look at the stack of corned beef on that reuben. Ham, turkey, roast beef - they are all piled high on your choice of bread and served with a pile of kettle chips. Tina Welty works the register in the front while her husband Donald runs the kitchen right behind her. It's a family affair - the kind of place where the woman takes your order and says, "Thank you, baby."

Feel like a muffuletta? No problem. Only want 1/2 muffuletta? Sorry, you can only get a whole, and it'll cost you a hefty $9 for a sandwich that can feed 4 people. Or try the New Orleans AK with your choice of 4 meats and 4 cheeses on toasted muffuletta bread.

The menu only has 6 or so sandwiches and even fewer salads, but the daily specials usually look and sound like the best choices. Every day there is a special salad, sandwich, and entree, and you can even check them out online before you go. One day it might be the above 12" bratwurst, the next maybe a plate of fettuccine alfredo topped with paneed chicken.

Other idiosyncrasies include a delicious creole potato salad and a lagniappe bar where you can dress your sandwich your way with a wide range of toppings. (I know, it seems inconsequential, but I appreciate the no hassle opportunity to get extra pickles, honey mustard, and horseradish mayo without feeling guilty about slowing down service.) The german chocolate brownies in the display case look heavenly, but I only reward myself with those if I run 6 miles in the morning. I'll be sure to report back if and when that ever happens.

Welty's Deli - Par

Friday, September 25, 2009

Blackened Out Needs Your Help!

Readers, you have stuck with us through thick and thin. You have watched us grow - more of the former than the later. And we love you, in a totally creepy way. Your comments have been always appreciated. The leads on Mexican restaurants have proved invaluable. And you have even helped Peter with his Asian fetish.

And so now we turn to you. Again this "blog" was started as a joke. We never thought it would last or lead to random interviews with real food journalists. Following a furious round of multiple intense boardroom meetings between Peter and I (read here: GChat, once), a decision has been made to start moving away from a blogspot and into the big time on the world wide web.

Here is the problem: Peter and I know how to find porn on the internet and that is about it. So anyone with internet hacking skills, web making skills, graphic design skills, nunchaku skills, or just skills, please contact us. Since we don't make much money on this, cash money would be limited, but available.

However, in this time of economic crisis we firmly believe the barter system is due for a comeback. So we are prepared to offer the following perks in exchange for services. Lunch or dinner for you and a guest on us. Having a party? How about we cook for you. Want a free subscription to Appetites, hell we will even introduce you to the scoundrel behind that site. A trip to Bud's Broiler on Clearview at 2 am with the Pope to scarf down arterial damaging cuisine? Well you may have to sign a waiver or something, but sure.

We literally know nothing about webpaging. So any help is appreciated. You make the offer, we will tell everyone how cool you are via this here spot on the internet, and everyone wins. Well, everyone except the Eagles, they suck. Help us, please.

Great line up next week - Rene's wrap up of Mexican eateries in the area, Peter interviews James Beard after running into him at a Big Lebowski costume party, and we end the week with a whimper.


Thursday, September 24, 2009


When in doubt, order pizza. When too lazy to cook and too exhausted to go out, order pizza. When hungover and can't leave the couch, order pizza. When ____, order pizza.

For the above reasons and many others, pizza too often gets a bad rap as "garbage food." But eventhough NOLA may not have the same pizza tradtion as New York and Chicago, we still have several local pie shops that put out a pretty good slice.

The two above came from the ovens at Slice Pizzeria on St. Charles. Both the pepperoni on the left and the "white pie" on the right had a crispy crust and a restrained amount of cheese (which happen to be my personal preference). But the best part is that you are looking at a $6 lunch. If you like to cut your carbs with a little vegetation, Slice is running their COOLinary lunch special through the end of the month - any small salad, a slice with 2 toppings of your choice, and a scoop of Brocato's gelato for $9.99.

With football season in full swing, we are eating more pizza now than at any other time of the year. In today's poll, tell us what is your favorite place to grab a slice. As always, if your preferred pizzeria is absent from the ballot (or if you are like Rene and prefer to bake your own), please enlighten us in the comments.

Slice Pizzeria - Par

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Mecca in Manchac

Some restaurants are worth driving for. I'm not really sure if Middendorf's fits into the 30 mile category, but it's definitely worth the 15 minute detour on the drive between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. The above shot is of the annex building, which is where The Folk Singer and I ate late last month. But as Brett Anderson alerted us a few weeks ago, the original building has since then reopened for business.

The thin fried catfish is a must try, and you can order it in combination with shrimp, oysters, frog legs, stuffed crab, or all of the above. The portions are enormous, and to-go boxes are de rigueur. Personally, I think that eating reheated fried seafood tastes as good as the styrofoam container it came in, so I would suggest splitting the seafood platter with a friend (or foe).

The thin catfish is almost like eating potato chips, though the breaded exterior does not overwhelm the flesh of the fish as you might expect. A squeeze of lemon and a dash of Crystal is all you need. I wish that I could say that the french fries, cole slaw, and potato salad were as good as the seafood, but I would be lying.

As long as at least one person is ordering the thin fried catfish, such that you can steal a piece or two of theirs, then you should strongly considered ordering your seafood broiled. I had the broiled whole flounder, which was served skin on to help protect the flesh from drying out. Catfish and shrimp also come off the grill basted with lemon butter.
We had banana bread pudding with rum sauce for dessert, but I hear that the white chocolate pecan pie or banana split is the best way to go.
Middendorf's - Birdie

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


The buzz around town is that John Besh opened a new restaurant in the Roosevelt Hotel called Domenica. And that is partially correct. A more accurate statement would be that Alon Shaya has a new restaurant in the Roosevelt called Domenica. This is not to take anything away from Chef Besh, but Domenica is Shaya's restaurant. And although it needs some improvement, in a few months I suspect this will be one of the top restaurants in New Orleans.

Domenica is Chef Shaya's place because you see the general concern in his face as he walks over to your table to ask how your meal is going. When you tell him the pea risotto was salty, he says, "That is something I will fix." Alternatively, when you tell him how marvelous and stunning the octopus carpaccio is, he responds, "We love that dish, and we are glad you did too." Notice the difference?
The menu is such that appetizers and pastas can be ordered either in half-size or full size. This allows you to try a bunch of options without stuffing yourself or draining your wallet. With a large, and ever increasing selection of house cured meats, this also would not be a bad spot to pop in for a cocktail and a plate of prosciutto before heading out. The watermelon basil bellini was impeccable with the herbacious basil, sweet watermelon, and bubbles of prosecco creating the profile of the classic aperitif in a modern drink.

That octopus dish is worth the trip alone. Thin disks of octopus, each one like an ancient mosaic coin of purple, brown, and white, are topped with a light and refreshing salad of thinly sliced fennel and juicy segments of orange. Upon taking a bite, you are immediately transferred to a beach in the Mediterranean. Breathe deeply. There is the salty, oceanic air. You sip on a pastis while smelling the citrus groves. It is a beautiful dish.

Other admirable starters include the delicately fried squash blossoms stuffed with goat cheese and the aforementioned house cured meats. The bresaola comes fanned on the plate and crowned by a nest of arugula and Parmesan - a dish which can be shared and enjoyed by the entire table.

Another favorite was the stracci pasta. Triangles of spinach pasta are tossed with slow cooked oxtail ragu and topped by a few nuggets of fried chicken livers. You expect the dish to be heavy and cumbersome, but a barely imperceptible hint of acid washes across the palate. "That is a shaving of lemon zest," says Shaya. The lemon lightens the dish, creating a harmonious bite of savory, rich, salty, and sour.

The gnocchi, no bigger than a thumb, pack a wallop of flavor in the density of a cloud. The anolini pasta are more like nonpareils stuffed with mushroom, topped with pecorino, and a delight to snack on, but maybe too much cheese on top. The fazzoletti pasta could have been a tad thinner, but there was no denying that the rich burrata cheese added an amazing depth of flavor. The salty risotto is likely the result of combining peas blanched in salted water and adding rendered pancetta on top, but the concept is there.

Some of the other pastas were a little salty as well. Often when a restaurant cooks a lot of pastas, throughout the night the pasta water evaporates leaving a saltier solution than would be desirable. By properly monitoring the pot, and refilling with water, this can be avoided. These are the hiccups which will hopefully be fixed with time.

The menu also has a selection of pizzas and mains. Those pizzas can suffer when the place gets busy. The center came out slightly undercooked and soggy on a busy Friday night. Management told me people are sending back pizzas that are crunchy, blistered, bubbly, and black in spots because they are "burned." Personally, pizzas like that are a delight. On a busy night, redoing 20-30 pizzas would destroy the kitchen, so they anticipate a problem and adjust. So if it's busy, mention to your waiter that you will wait for the pizza to be cooked properly. The best of the pizzas is the Calabrese with capers, olives, and spicy salami strewn across the crust.

The wine list at Domenica is broken down by region, with a handy map on each page pinpointing the exact location of the region. The prices are reasonable enough to allow one to casually order a bottle or two with dinner, while there is just enough variety and depth to keep a wine geek occupied. Order the tart, vibrant Bastianich Sauvignon Blanc for your apps and pastas. The 2007 Marcani Dolcetto D'Alba is a great match with the pizzas.

For the sweet portion of your meal, go for the ricotta and fig fritters with the muscadine sabayon. So delicate, so flavorful, and exotic, yet so similar to those beignets from 'round the corner. One order can feed a squad of five comfortably. With a glass of nocello, limoncello, or grappa, your evening is complete.

Some have often said the interior is smart, handsome, and stylish. Considering as how my interior decorator skills tend towards posters of John Belushi, zebra print chairs, and a coffee table to put my feet on, I will defer to others.

On the two separate occasions we went, we have enjoyed good service, at times great food, and had a lovely time. Will you have the same experience? I hope so. Domenica is not perfect, likely never will be. But it is getting close to being Shaya's perfect restaurant.

Domenica - Too early for an official ranking, but second visit was in the birdie range.

Monday, September 21, 2009

My Walk With Bourdain

“You at the Rio Mar party? Is that tonight? Bourdain is there.”

Rewind: Thursday night Rio Mar had a “kegger, Basque-style” where Chef Adolfo tapped a cask of txakoli and planned on pouring the whole thing. I made reservations to go with a large group, but they all backed out and so I canceled too. Instead, I wound up with Triple B and two others at Sukho Thai, where I received the above text message from Rene.

Upon reading this message, I immediately called for the check and headed for Rio Mar. Triple B decided to tag along too. When we arrived, there were far fewer people than I expected, and the cask of txakoli was long gone. “Is Bourdain here?” I asked. “Yep. He’s in the main dining room,” replied a waiter. “Really cool guy. Go get a picture.”

I waited next to the greeting stand while Triple B powdered her nose in anticipation of her glamour shot, but next thing you know Anthony was strolling past me on his way out. I stopped him, said hello, and asked for a picture, to which he graciously obliged. Triple B was right behind me and snapped one of her own.

So now what? We walked outside to contemplate our next move, and Anthony said goodbye to his companions and made his way down Julia toward the river. “We should have asked him if he wanted to get a drink,” I said. On our walk back to the car, we noticed Anthony standing on the corner waiting for a cab. This was one of those moments. I wish I could say that I played it cool instead of acting like a 1980s Aerosmith groupie reincarnate, but we were basically stumbling over ourselves to catch him before he left. I sent Triple B in first because as a member of the light-haired female tribe, she is much more convincing than I.

“Do you want to go get a drink with us?” she asked.

“No, I am exhausted,” Anthony smilingly replied. “I’ve been on this corner for 5 minutes and already 3 people have stopped and said, ‘Hey, you gotta go to this bar.’ Plus I have a flight to Prague in the morning.... How do you catch a cab around here? When the light is on, that means there is already somebody in there?”

“Yeah. I’ll call you a cab,” I offered.

“I’m staying at the W next to the casino,” he said, " but I have no idea where I am."

“Well, that’s right there,” I pointed. “We’ll walk you over.”

So we walked. And talked. Anthony told us that he was in town to meet with writers for “the coolest f*cking thing on television,” but he was tight-lipped on the details. We told him how great it was for him to film an episode here back in 2007. I asked him what he thought about the food at Domilise's, to which he responded, “You know, you can probably get a better tasting po-boy elsewhere, but that place has history. It's been open for a long time, and it was perfect for our show. It’s the neighborhood and the people which makes that place great.”

He asked if I had ever been to Prague, and I told him yes. “How’s the food?” he asked. “Eh,” was my reply. “That’s what everyone else has told me,” he said. We talked about his daughter and how she loved olives and sardines and everything salty, and how when he gets back to New York his wife is going to handover the reigns for a while because she has been on solo duty for long enough.

But mostly we talked about New Orleans and what a special place it is. He asked if we had grown up here and told us how great it was that we stayed. “Every time I come here, it’s like a big hug,” he said. "The chef and cooking culture here… it’s like coming home. Nowhere else in the world is like it. I just feel this warm embrace whenever I am here.” Triple B and I told him why we thought NOLA is such a special place, but I’m embarrassed to say that Anthony probably said it best: “People come to New Orleans, and they either get it right away or they don’t. They either say, ‘OK, this is why this is an amazing place.’ Or they just never will.” I offered to take him to the Westbank for Vietnamese for lunch, but I’ll have to wait for another time. “In a perfect world, I would stay here for a week and eat at all of these places that everyone keeps telling me about. It would be two o’clock in the morning, and I’d be scarfing down Verti Marte.”

I wish that I could tell you that this story ended with Anthony, Triple B, and I downing Flaming Dr. Peppers at the Goldmine followed by a 4:00am feast on an All That Jazz. But I cannot tell a lie. When we got to the W, Triple B and I offered to buy Anthony a scotch, but he politely declined and thanked us for our hospitality. And then he was gone.

I’ve met Paul Bocuse. I’ve eaten at The French Laundry. Maybe I’ll make it to the Fat Duck one day. But my walk with Anthony was pretty special. I doubt it was as good for him as it was for me, but that’s not the point. And if you don’t get why, then you never will.

Please note that the camera adds 20 pounds (but apparently not for professionals like Anthony).

Friday, September 18, 2009

Chefs vs. "City"

Tonight is the premiere of the "Chefs vs. City" New Orleans episode. Last month we eluded to potential spoilers procured from our source at The Creole Creamery, but who knows if those segments even made the final cut. The "City" will be represented tonight by Alfred Singleton and Stephanie Bernard. I wish them good luck and hope they bring home a victory for The Big Easy. I am very, truly, honestly happy for them.

But I am also extremely bitter. Why? Because I'm a sore loser. See, Rene and I auditioned for this show back in early March. We missed the open casting call, but fortunately the casting agency allowed us to advance to the on-video auditions the next day. We were so excited and truly believed that this could be our big break. I have never had goose bumps like I did on the drive that Sunday to Spudley's Super Spuds...

WHAT?!?! Yeah, you read that right. The auditions were at Spudley's Super Spuds. I didn't even know that place served food. I always thought that the catchy radio commercials were just additional cover for whatever money laundering scheme was being run out of that blue Quonset hut, farmhouse looking thing on the I-10 service road. My presumptions were confirmed when we walked inside, which consisted of an ordering counter, no apparent kitchen, and a video poker machine. Auditions were taped in the hay loft... er... I mean "second floor."

Honestly, we were nervous and easily could have blown the interview. All I remember is Rene blabbering about how Legend got drunk one night, and then next thing you know we were writing this blog. I also may have slightly embellished Rene's culinary resume to make the casting people believe that we had professional cooking experience, so if they checked our resumes then we were in trouble. In sum, we could have shot ourselves in the foot (multiple times). It also probably didn't help that I was in mid-recovery from a severe stomach virus caused by a bad batch of lamb vindaloo, but I will spare you those details.

But that is not the point. My beef is with this whole "Chefs vs. City" concept. OK, the Food Network team is comprised of chefs (and very good ones at that). But the "City" team almost always consists of ... two chefs! Alfred and Stephanie both come from the kitchen at Dickie Brennan's Steakhouse. Shouldn't the show then be "Chefs vs. Chefs"? We should have known that something was up that day at Spudley's when Bob Iacovone walked into the House of Smurf. Rene said to me, "Hey Bob, you were on freaking Iron Chef. Give the rest of us a chance." It also didn't help our chances that Bob's casting partner was a 6ft blonde who was slightly more attractive than us schlobs.

So what was it? Did the Food Network gods not think that Rene and I could shuck oysters or go crabbing? Or were we too intimidating? Did the casting director watch 15 seconds of our video before stopping and saying, "We can't take these young 'uns. It wouldn't be fair. They look like they eat 8 scoops of ice cream as a warm-up."

I guess we'll see at 9pm tonight.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Spicy Stuff

We natives of Louisiana have a reputation for a disposition to spicy food, and bottles of Tabasco on restaurant tables are as customary as salt and pepper shakers. I like to spice up my food just as much as the coonass sitting next to me, but lately I have been tantalizing my taste buds with a wider range of hot sauces. In fact, I would say that on average I probably use more sriracha than traditional Louisiana hot sauces. I like it with sushi, pizza, and even (gasp) red beans and rice.

But I have not forsaken our homegrown sauces all together. I still douse my fried shrimp po-boys with plenty of Crystal and hit a few drops of Pepperdoux (a gift from a friend) on a pork tenderloin. But I am just as likely to use sambal in my pho or piri piri (a recent discovery in Portugal) on my roasted chicken.

Variety really is the spice of life. So what's your favorite hot sauce?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey

Sometimes I wonder if Jewish and Italian people get along with each other. Then I think, "Well, if the Fernando and the Shaggy Joe can live together harmoniously on the menu at Stein's, then anything is possible." After all, sandwiches are much more difficult to please than people...

I don't know if anyone in the city makes a better Reuben than Stein's. Just look at it: thin slices of hot corned beef, melted swiss, crisp sauerkraut, and russian dressing smeared on both slices of toasted rye. The perfect example of how the deliciousness of the whole sandwich can be greater than the sum of its parts. Sure, it will set you back $11, but the inch-thick stack of corned beef justifies the price in my opinion.

The chicken salad is chunky, not shredded, with a nice crunch from diced celery and just barely enough mayo to combine. But I am not going to lie, my chicken salad was an afterthought compared to The Folk Singer's Reuben.
We also had a potato knish and a side of potato salad, but neither was very impressive. Next time I am going for the chopped liver. Stein's is a great place for Sunday brunch/lunch if you are searching for something outside the typical eggs benedict realm. In fact, the last time TFS and I showed up at Stein's at high noon on a Sunday, there were 15 people in line ahead of us. Obviously, we are not the only ones who think that the food is worth waiting for.
Stein's Deli - Birdie

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Royal China

There is a lot of talk these days about "real authentic (insert cuisine of choice here) food". To me that is like saying a person has fake breasts. Let me go on record here, there is no such thing as fake breasts. Food is food, and if it tastes good who cares if it accurately reflects the specific sub-genre of food known as Cantonese? There is such a thing as authentic American-Chinese food and you can find it at Royal China.

A few weeks ago, craving a straight up old school, MSG throbbing Chinese meal, Lindsay and I headed over to Royal China on Vets to eat pork fried rice, pot stickers, Kung Pao chicken, and Shanghai Noodles. We even sampled something new for us: paper shrimp. The paper shrimp was wrapped in a delicate little package which flaked like a croissant when you bit into it. Inside the pungency of basil contrasted with the plump shrimp. Delicious.
The chicken in the Kung Pao was cooked perfectly. Juicy, tender and soft-we almost thought it was undercooked compared to the often deep fried, battered nuggets at other Chinese restaurants. The sauce could have been spicier, but had I never discovered Thai food, the spice level would have been bold. The pork fried rice was just how it should be, slightly nutty, perfectly greasy and studded with red tinged cubes of pork and strips of fried egg.

The surprise may have been the Shanghai noodles. Thin, glassy noodles tossed in a fragrant and flavorful brown sauce with big shrimp anchoring the dish. And even better two nights later after a long bout of Trivial Pursuit and her good friend Old Fashioneds, the noodles were perfect heated up with some butter, Rooster Sauce, and soy.

For an old school, first time eating Chinese food meal and some more authentic dishes, Royal China does what it seeks to do very well. Sure it may not be "real" Chinese food, but it certainly is real good. What is your favorite Americanized Chinese spot in town?

Royal China- Birdie.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Kim Anh

It's no secret that I love Vietnamese. My penchant was no more evident than the morning after returning from 9 days in Iberia, when I awoke at 5:00am jet lagged and with a serious craving for banh mi. Had The Challenge not still been in effect, I would have immediately driven to Dong Phuong and engorged on their bakery's first batch of the day. But alas, one must do his best to finish what he starts.

Instead, I decided to wait to eat until a more respectable hour (10:00am), which is coincidentally the opening time for Kim Anh's Noodle House on Jefferson Hwy. I still can't explain exactly why I went searching for banh mi at a restaurant with the words "noodle house" in the name, but it made perfect sense at the time. Of course there was no banh mi to be found on the menu, but worse things have happened in this world.

The menu at Kim Anh's is very short - consisting mostly of soups or bowls of either egg or vermicelli noodles with your choice of meats. I started with the standard order of springrolls with shrimp and roasted pork, which were smaller than their contemporaries around town. The peanut sauce was not very good - lacking the richness which comes from knowing that you are eating a sauce with 5,000 calories per tablespoon.

But springrolls are not the end all be all for evaluating a Vietnamese restaurant. Pho typically isn't either, and in Kim Anh's case I hope that remains true for when I return and try something else.

Don't get me wrong: the full-flavored broth is top-notch, and the price is a bargain at $8. But here's my beef: there is not enough (beef, that is). Kim Anh has three choices of pho - beef, chicken, and pork meatball - or a combination of all of the above, which is what I had. Those limited protein selections are probably sufficient for most people. But when I order pho, I am looking for those strange cuts of beef that I oh so love. So where's the rare brisket? The tripe? The tendon?

Perhaps this is a personal disappointment which can only come from someone who enjoys eating cow stomach. Either way, in the future I'll likely be going elsewhere for my pho cravings, even though I must say again that the broth at Kim Anh is delicious. On my next visit I'll have to try the bun with chargrilled pork - my other litmus test for a Vietnamese restaurant. Until then, I'll hold off on marking Kim Anh's scorecard.

Kim Anh's Noodle House - Mulligan.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Top Chef Vegas

Top Chef Season Whatever has begun again without a chef or cook from New Orleans. But hey two people from Atlanta made it and Atlanta is the New York of the South. After 4 weeks, two things are abundantly clear. First, the casting agency found 6 people who could cook, and then stopped doing their job. Second, Ashley will go extremely far in this competition by following Lisa from Season 4's lead.

The Brothers Volt, Jen Ripert, Mike from Juhsey, and the Baconator are the only people who should win. The rest of them as a whole have been mostly disappointing. You mean to tell me in a nation where cooks are being laid off at record pace, the casting agency hired by Magical Elves could only find 6-7 chefs who could really win this thing? Was there no one better than Eve? Shoot, I bet Petro from P&G on Baronne could have gone farther than Lip Ring Girl.

The first contestant to go, whose name is irrelevant, looked like a cast off on Miami Ink. Listen, I understand chefs and cooks come from a different world than normal people. But if you were eating a restaurant and that lady walked out with ear lobes you could drive the Madden Bus through and a Tyson worthy tattoo job, don't you think that might turn off your dining experience. It was difficult to watch and I imagine for the judges even worse to experience her cooking.

Ashley, who is the embodiment of a Killers song, will go very far in this competition despite any skill. Look for her to do just enough that someone else does worse than she does. Plus, she will continue to provide meaningful societal statements in a format where it is completely uncalled for. Ashley, had you seen Top Chef before? In one season the chefs were required to cook a wedding feast for a groom and groom. Did the straight chefs air their political viewpoints and whine like you did? Instead we will be subjected to more weeks of look at this f*cking hipster cook, hurried frenzy, and dishes that apparently don't suck enough.

So early predictions look like this:

Ashley - makes it to finals, loses when she really should have won, but only because the judges this year take into account entirety of the season - in a radical departure from last season.*

Jen Ripert - Here will be the downfall of Jen. She keeps winning quickfires. Eventually that means she will have to be the captain for restaurant wars. Unfortunately for her, Eli acting as maitre'd will do something stupid like serve the red wine in a water glass. Jen will take the blame leading to Padma asking her to "Please pack your knives and go."

Eli - Hangs around and hangs around. See also Carlos from Season 1 or Ilan from Season 2.

The Baconator - Has a real shot at winning this thing. But I sense he falters when asked to cook a chardonnay and cigarette amuse for Kim from The Real Housewives of Atlanta.

Ash - Gone in at least the next 3 episodes.

Brothers Volt - Each gets kicked off after old sibling rivalry over Mario 3 is reignited which leads to punches thrown.

Mattin - Just too young and inexperienced to make it the whole way.

Mike from Juhsey - This guy has a shot to be an under the radar competitor in the finals. But bravado eventually costs him the title when he decides to try his hand at cheesemaking in episode 8.

Ron - I like this guy to go far, but ultimately he does not seem to have the speed and refinement of the elites which seems to be what the judges want in a winner this season. Ron is like a monster truck racing in NASCAR.

Winner is either Jen, the Baconator, or a Volt Brother.

* Go re-watch the Season 4 Finale. Lisa freaking killed it, Blais choked, and Stephanie finished second if you listen to the judges comments.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Swine Flu Soup

Lindsay, and her porcine attractive immune system, contracted this damn Swine Flu about 3 weeks ago. Or it could just be allergies, we are not sure. Either way she wanted soup. Her first choice was Matzoh Ball Soup. Problem, I am not of the tribe of Israel, and neither is she.

I did have some chicken left over from a chicken we roasted the night before along with some stock, so some form of chicken soup was possible. And I had boudin balls. Well, if Jewish people could eat pork, they would obviously substitute boudin balls for matzoh balls.

Kosher Cajun Chicken Soup for the Swine Flu

Sweat one onion, carrots, and celery (all roughly chopped) in some oil. When cold or flu symptoms strike, a spicy dish always helps clear things up. In furtherance of this goal, I added one re-hydrated Pasilla Chile that I had sliced, some red pepper flakes, and some garlic. Let this dance around the pot, then add salt and pepper, stock, and shredded chicken. Bring to a light boil, reduce to a simmer, and let cook for 10-15 minutes.

Meanshile fry up boudin balls until golden brown. Ladle soup into the bowl and top with boudin ball. Here is what happens. When you break open the crust of the boudin ball, its contents spill into the soup. The rice, flecks of pork liver, and green onions immediately thicken the soup. One spoonful will deliver broth and the crunch of breading, while the next has a piece of chicken, the fiery pasilla chile, and the seasoned rice.
Who needs a vaccination program, when you have soup?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

"I've Never Met a Cheese that I Didn't Like"

The Parisian Princess uttered those words when presented with a 7 course cheese tasting at Fromagerie 31 on Rue de Seine in La Ville-Lumière. I, on the other hand, have in fact crossed paths with a cheese or two which I could live without, but those are few and far between. Often there is no better meatless meal than a hunk of cheese, a plate of olives, and a loaf of crusty bread. And when I need to satisfy my fromage fix, there is only one place I go: St. James Cheese Company.

If I had to choose my profession based solely on what I would eat for lunch, then I would be a ploughman. The toil would be worth this mid-day meal of cheese (cheddar, stilton, and goat), pate, and bread. Throw a little chutney in there plus a green salad and bread to round it out, and you have one of my favorite no frills meals.

But if you are more of a sandwich guy or gal, St. James has you covered as well. Here we have the "Mozzarella" with salami and pesto on grilled ciabatta. At St. James there is no question which ingredient is the star of each sandwich, which is why you order the "Beecher's Cheddar" or "Smokey Blue" as opposed to the "Turkey" or "Roast Beef."
And one final bit of news: After an August hiatus, St. James is once again open for Sunday brunch.
St. James Cheese Co. - Eagle

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


Lebanese (or perhaps more appropriately "Mediterranean") cuisine was my original ethnic food fetish. Long before I discovered sushi or banh mi, I was scarfing down falafel and dolma on weekly trips to Mona's on Banks Street. Back then we ate at Mona's and only Mona's - my little brother refused to go anywhere else for gyro. Today I don't eat much Lebanese because The Folk Singer is not much of a fan of the cuisine in general. However, a few weeks back I was all by lonesome and thus able to stop in at Byblos on Metairie Road for lunch.

Perhaps my frame of reference is skewed because of my long established loyalty to Mona's, but to me the "standard" dishes at Byblos are different from what I am accustomed to. Seeing as I have never been to the Mideast, I can't really say whether one restaurant's food is more authentic than the other. All I can do is describe the flavors as best I can, and let you decide which you prefer.

But before we get to the food, a quick word about the ambiance and prices. Byblos is probably the "nicest" Lebanese restaurant in the city, with white table cloths and a sleek interior design at every location. With this in mind, it's not surprising to hear that the prices are a tad higher than you would expect.

Hummus and baba ghanoush may be the mainstream favorites, but labneh was always been my go-to dip at any Lebanese restaurant. Most are tangy with the predominant flavor of yogurt; but Byblos', on the other hand, had more of the flavor and texture of cream cheese. It was not exactly sweet, but definitely lacking the sour twang that I was looking for.

What does one do when he cannot decide between chicken and beef? Get the combination plate, of course. Both shawarmas were abundant with flavor from an assertive marinade, but they differed in texture. The chicken was quite tender, while the beef was pleasantly chewy. Neither had a crusty exterior like the thinly sliced gyro meat you may be used to. In fact, gyro is not offered at Byblos at all.
The combination plate comes with your choice of 2 of the following: hummus, baba ghanoush, tabbouleh, or rice. (I noticed that it says differently in the online menu, so maybe this is a recent change.) While I appreciate the right to choose, I surprisingly found myself missing the feta cheese salad which is customary almost everywhere else. Regardless, both the hummus and baba ghanoush that I had were some of the better local examples of those dips.

Byblos - Par.

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Portuguese Nightmare

Blogger's Note - Welcome to the 2009 Labor Day Lagniappe edition of Blackened Out. In order to help ease back into tomorrow's work grind, here's a quick pictorial roundup of my trip to Madrid and Portugal.

3 boys. 9 days. 4 cities.

I could say so much more about my trip to the Iberian Peninsula, but some travel stories are best kept with those who experienced them. Needless to say, I had quite an adventure with The Pope and The Portuguese Nightmare - and that pseudonym alone should sufficiently convey what our typical night on the town was like. We struggled through language barriers (The Pope knows exactly one word in Portuguese: "cerveza") and made a few friends (TPN decided one night in Lagos to introduce the locals to Flaming Dr. Peppers, only to discover that the only flammable liquor available was absinthe - that made for an interesting night). But we made it back alive, and so now I am here to tell about it. Well... some of it.

If I had to sum up our dining experiences in one word, it would be "pork." The ham over there has the flavor of finely aged cheese, and costs even more (around 160euro per kilo). The Pope loved it so much that he attempted to smuggle a whole leg back through customs, only to be stopped by security when they noticed a hoof protruding out the top of his carry-on luggage. But ham was not the only specimens of pork that we enjoyed. The above hunks of roast suckling pig came from Restaurante Botin, listed in The Guiness Book of World Records as the oldest restaurant in the world. Honestly, words cannot describe how good it was.

After Madrid, we flew over to Porto, home of the world's greatest port wineries. The Pope had arranged for us private tastings at Taylor Fladgate and Sandeman, where we sampled approximately 20 different ports. We also dined at Cafeina, which is apparently one of the most popular restaurants in Porto today. The food was amazing, but unfortunately the pictures did not turn out as well. All you really need to know is that I ordered a second entree for dessert (garlic roasted prawns) and left feeling no remorse for my gluttony.

After Porto we traveled south by train to Lagos in the Algarve region. The town was more spoiled with tourists than I had envisioned, but one look at the Mediterranean beaches and you can see why. The food was less than stellar.

Lisbon was our final stop in Portugal, and I must say that it was my least favorite city to visit, even though it had the best food. After Porto and Lagos, the cosmopolitan nature of the capitol city was a bit overwhelming. Still, I would go back without thinking twice. If you ever find yourself in Lisbon, I suggest visiting the bustling nightlife on Rua da Italia, a cobblestone street lined with cafes and bars where everyone stands in the street and parties till the late hours of the night. Sound familiar? Also, you need to go to Restaurante Bojardim for the absolute best roast chicken in the world.

Finally, we returned to Madrid for one last night before returning to the real world. The last meal before boarding the plane: churros and melted chocolate at Chocolateria San Gines. A fine ending to an amazing trip.
Welcome back to work.

Friday, September 4, 2009

And So It Begins...

Someone told me college football begins this weekend (actually last night). Furthermore a team known as the Louisiana State University Fighting Tigers will be playing the Huskies of Washington this Saturday in Seattle. Before we begin, if it is offensive for an NCAA team to be named after an Indian tribe, why do they let a high profile team mock fat children?
Washington's mascot is poised and ready to do battle with a sports team represented by a ferocious, man-eating tiger.

Let me tell you a story about Seattle and Football. September 2003, due to some well-placed connections and just general dumb luck, I am asked to travel with the New Orleans Saints (on the team plane) to Seattle for the season opener. Of course I accepted, and no it did not suck.

The night before the game, the team takes out all the ridealongs to a nice dinner, gratis. We get to the restaurant, a seafood-chops place on the Sound, 45 strong. All males, with big appetites, affinities for booze, and a Master P style credit card.

Now, lets say you own this restaurant or are the waiters assigned. Are you a) Jazzed b) Wondering if there will be enough food and booze in the place c) Incredibly gracious to God Almighty. The answer, shockingly, was none of the above.

From the moment we walk in, you would have thought we each had two Aaron Brooks heads. Service was slow, food was poorly cooked, and getting a drink was harder than king crab fishing. At some point, someone (might have been Councilman-at-Large Arnie Fielkow) got up, and delivered a speech thanking the city of Seattle for wonderful hospitality and wishing for a great game tomorrow. Hear Ye, Cheers, and Bravo's all around. Had this been in Galatoire's, not an eyelash would have batted.

Unfortunately, we soon realized we were not in Nahlins no more. Within 5 minutes, the bill had been delivered, and the proprietress was ushering out of the place saying, "your behavior is inappropriate, GET OUT NOW BEFORE I CALL THE COPS, Scram, Skidaddle." We left the restaurant, vowing to never return. And I haven't but mostly because I haven't been to Seattle again.

So if you are an LSU fan and in Seattle this weekend, kick their ass, and make a lot of noise. Its called payback, Seattle, and its a bitch. You thought Saints fans were obnoxious, alcoholic show offs? You aint seen nothing yet.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Elvis Is in the House

Kanno: You either love it or consider it average. Some argue that only a regular/insider holds the key to Chef Hide's perceived special service lockbox, and so an unknown customer at Kanno can only have an average sushi experience. I'll admit that Chef Hide (affectionately known as Elvis) treats his favorite customers exceptionally well. But here's the thing: anyone can become a "regular" at Kanno, even on your first visit. All it takes is an open mind and a smile.

The Folk Singer had never been to Kanno, and I myself have only been twice before, so we decided to take the Fat City sushi plunge a few weeks ago. The food was rich if not excellent, and the service was even better. I'll admit that I was skeptical walking in the door - wondering whether our experience would even come close to what superstars like the Dread Pirate get. But we did not leave disappointed. Here are a few tips and recommendations for getting the best out of Kanno.
  1. Sit at the Sushi Bar - This allows you to establish a rapport with the chef and expedites service. Hide and his wife Lin were the consummate hosts on our visit - offering up complimentary tastes of sake and free pours of ice cold Sapporo to everyone who was eating at the bar.
  2. Speak Up - Ask Hide what looks good today and tell him what you like. Tuna, salmon, mackerel, or giant clam. Spicy or sweet sauces. White, brown, or no rice at all. I don't think that I heard the man deny any special request.
  3. Order from the Specials - There are boards both over the sushi bar and on the wall in the main dining room. We ordered exclusively from the specials, and I don't think that I'll go back to the regular menu again. The softshell crab miso soup was loaded with onions, and the Lobster Dynamite Roll was rich with a wasabi-mayo sauce. But the hands down winner was the panko fried garlic softshell crab topped with a sauce that had me licking the plate.
  4. Go on Saturday Night - Kanno is closed on Sunday and Monday, so on Saturday night Hide is liberal with offering little tastes of the week's specials.
  5. Smile - This was the most fun I have had eating sushi since I discovered sake bombing back in '01. Hide and Lin are hilarious and quick to tell stories or just shoot the breeze. Both truly enjoy their work - an attitude which is contagious with their diners.

Kanno - Birdie

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

I Scream, You Scream

Lakeview has been adding new eateries with fervor over the past few months. Recent openings in the 70124 dining scene have fulfilled three key groups in the Blackened Out Food Pyramid: buttermilk drops, po-boys, and now ice cream thanks to the opening of the second location of The Creole Creamery on Vicksburg. I appreciate the strategic placing of TCC directly across from St. Dominic's church - perfect for an afternoon Mass filled with repentance followed by a sinful reward of a double scoop of salted caramel (above). I am not sure there is a better flavor on this planet.

In other news, while waiting out an early afternoon rain storm inside TCC a few weeks back, The Folk Singer and I chatted up the counter girl, who offered some keen insight into the churnings behind The Creole Creamery. She said that after TCC was featured on Diners, Drive Ins and Dives last year, they were slammed with people embarking on a Guy Fieri culinary tour of NOLA. "Well, we just came from Joey K's, and so now we want a Sky Scraper," they would say. Some of the wannabes even spiked their hair and wore pinky rings. But I guess since The Pope started sporting 7 jeans, we have no room to judge.

Another little tidbit she let us in on is that TCC will be featured on this month's New Orleans episode of Chefs vs. City, which is the same show that Rene and I auditioned for back in March. Like Rob on Swingers, we were still optimistic because we had not heard an "official no" yet, but for now it seems that the dream has died. Oh well.

Our source tells us that the Chefs vs. City competition included a Tchoupitoulas Challenge, which is sort of like an ice cream eating Olympics, except that in this case one team got to pick their flavors first so the other was stuck eating Avocado & Cream, Beet Generation, Wasabi-Pistachio, etc. All I know is that had Blackened Out been competing, we would have destroyed 8 scoops of Steen's Molasses Oatmeal Cookie and Poblano Lime and THEN finished the other team's Tchoupitoulas just for sh*ts and giggles. But I guess Rene and I don't have what it takes like Brian Boitano does, so we will just have to stick with our day jobs for now.

At this time TCC in Lakeview unfortunately does not have the Tchoupitoulas because the positioning of the bathrooms is... shall we say... less than ideal for those valiant warriors who come up short on the challenge. But we were offered a few tips in case we ever decide to take the plunge:
  1. Plain favored ice creams are preferred because they are easiest on the stomach.
  2. Same goes for fruit toppings and syrups because they have less sugar than the chocolate or caramel alternatives.
  3. Her most valuable piece of advice though was this: "Some people ask for the Tchoupitoulas and then get gummy worms as one of their toppings. I'm like, 'Dude, there is no way you are finishing this thing if you get gummy worms. They are like the kiss of death.' But they never listen to me."
But rumor has it that the Tchoupitoulas might be soon coming to 70124. Apparently there is a Lakeview resident who has put in many a request with TCC to bring the Tchoupitoulas to Vicksburg Street. This particular individual is one of TCC's best customers - frequently sending his wife to fetch a double scoop of Bananas Foster while he lays on the couch and watches football.

But until then, we will have to settle for the Peanut Butter Fudge Sundae. Life sure is rough on the lakefront.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Muchas Tapas

In light of my recent journey through Madrid and Portugal, it's rather fitting that we reviewed Vega for this month's issue of offBeat. I have plenty of stories to tell and meals to write about from that trip, but I understand that some of you become rather jaded when reading about our adventures through foreign countries. Instead, look out for a special Labor Day edition post on Monday with a few tales from my travels on the Iberian Peninsula.

In the meantime, click on the above link to checkout our review of a tapas bar quite a bit closer to home. As is usually the case with our stories in offBeat, none of our photos were "press worthy." Still, a picture (even a not-so-great one) is worth a thousand words.

The coriander crusted seared tuna could be a lesson in the serendipitous combination of rare tuna and avocado, as long as you get a fresh piece of fish. For best results, order on any day other than Sunday.

Tempura fried frog legs with tomato ailoi. The batter was crisp, light, and greasless, while the aioli provided a nice cooling background.

The Vega Dog of chorizo, grilled onions, and mustard aioli all wrapped inside a cornmeal pancake. Great idea, but it was difficult to eat in a hot dog like manner and the flavor of the chorizo could have been a bit better.

But as I am sure you are well aware, not all sausages are created equal. This special of duck sausage over polenta was the probably the best dish on one particular visit. Smooth texture, rich flavor, with a great spice level.