Friday, January 29, 2010

Brunch at Fuel

Saturday morning. You wake up in a hazy state of mind, throw on a pair of jeans, ask yourself whether it was really necessary to order that third bottle of wine at dinner last night, and then wonder where your next meal is coming from. Grands biscuits just aren't going to cut it, and the thought of going out for something as simple as bacon and eggs seems futile. Showering requires too much effort, so Brennan's and the like are out. Where can you go?

Welcome to Fuel Cafe, a quaint Magazine Street coffee house whose brunch menu reaches beyond the standard fare.

Case in point, Fuel Benedict: jalapeno corn cake topped with slow roasted pork, poached eggs, and chipotle hollandaise. From my Twitter research, I believe this dish is a holdover from the tenure of Chef James Leeming, who left Fuel last October to open Coulis.

Here is what I love about this dish. (1) The jalapeno corn cake is a marked improvement from Holland rusks or English muffins in terms of flavor and texture. (2) An overly generous ladle of hollandaise flows over the cakes. (3) Slow roasted pork >>> Canadian bacon.

Fuel has taken a page from Elizabeth's playbook by serving praline bacon. Unlike the sticky syrup-like coating at most other restaurants, Fuel's version covers the strips with a layer of crushed pralines so thick that the result is more akin to a bacon candy bar.

Fuel also offers daily specials which are announced via Twitter. On a visit back in November, I had a hearty vegetarian Moroccan soup of chick peas in a tomato base with a dollop of yogurt. Delicious.

But truthfully, your best choice at Fuel isn't even made in house. Once upon a time, Chef Maribeth was in the kitchen at Fuel cranking out hand pies on a daily basis. She left the kitchen at the beginning of the year and is now out on her own, but her pies are still available at Fuel. It's all in the ethereal crust.*

In the past year there have been quite a few changes in the back of the house at Fuel, but for the most part the menu has remained constant. Sweet potato pancakes, shrimp and grits, and the aforementioned Fuel Benedict are still dished out on Saturday and Sunday till 3:00pm.

Fuel Cafe - Birdie

*Though we had been told otherwise, Chef Maribeth is not providing baked goods for Fuel. However, her hand pies are available on direct order from her new venture, Betty's Bake Shop. We apologize for our mistake due to misinformation. Lookout for more on these hand pies in the coming weeks, including a full report on whether it's true that Chef MB sold her soul to the devil in exchange for the recipe for a pie crust that good.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Krewe of Cork

Face it on Friday, February 5th you are not getting any work done. Ohhh sure, it may very well be your intention to get into the office, finish that summary of the Gomez case, work through lunch and then head home around four to start roasting a pig for Sunday.

But you and I both know what will really happen. You will get talked into going to a Pre-Saints Super Bowl Party on Thursday night where you will put to the test the Liquor before beer theory of international politics. You will wake up hungover on Friday, stumble into work at 10, realize no one is around but people talking about the Saints, you'll go to lunch at 11 and not go back.

Listen, I am not judging. I think that is awesome. But let me put a good idea out there. Join the Krewe of Cork. The Krewe parades on Friday Feb. 5th. The festivities begin with a lunch at the Court of Two Sisters, where wine is served. Then a walk around the quarter dressed in costumes, where more wine is consumed than the Pope's house on Thanksgiving, finally after the parade there is the King and Queen's Party, where yep more wine is served.

The Krewe of Cork has over 400 members, but none is more animated and excited about the parade than Patrick Van Hoorebeck. He describes the parade as a celebration of life's pleasures: champagne, white wine, and red wine. This year's Grand Marshall is Clovis Tattinger. If that name sounds familiar, it is because his family owns the Champagne Tattinger house. "Over the years," Van Hoorebeck explains, "I have lobbied Clovis to participate in the parade and for the Tenth anniversary he has agreed."

The best thing about the Krewe of Cork? You don't need to be a blue blood or a debutante's husband to join. Anyone can join, so why don't you? Membership includes all parade day events (lunch, parade, some beads, wine, after party, hotel lobby, round about four you gotta clear the lobby) and is $275. Plus, the Krewe of Cork sponsors monthly lunches where even more wine is served and a parade during the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience.

Lindsay and I will be parading this year and if any of you readers (ok reader) would like to join us, shoot us an email. We would love to put together a fun group of people who are looking forward to blowing off the greatest Friday of all time. The rumor is that ole Bobby Peyton and the Summertime Blues will be wearing nothing more than a single cork, strategically placed. However, Mr. Thomas will not be there this year due to a scheduling conflict.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Farewell to Meat - Rare Cuts

Henry Albert and John Lalla
Partners, Rare Cuts

The Meat: A Mixed Grill - Rib Eyes, Lamb Chops, Spinalis, and Filet

Thirty years or so ago, the wine world was revolutionized by the growth of consumer friendly wine stores. Free wine tastings, knowledgeable but unfussy staff, and educational classes gave novice wine drinkers an incredible outlet for a growing fascination. Rare Cuts mission is to emulate the success of places like Martin's Wine Cellar but by selling meat, not wine.

John Lalla is a 3rd generation butcher (his grandfather began NATCO in 1925). Henry Albert is a self-described "steak nut" who takes a yearly trip with college roommates to visit steakhouses around the country. Together these two have collaborated to produce Rare Cuts. For years NATCO has sold to restaurants, hotels, and other institutions, but Rare Cuts is a return to the butcher shop that Lalla's grandfather started in the French Quarter.

Henry and John buy beef only from what they consider the best ranchers in the country (i.e., Harris Ranch and Brandt Beef), select cuts only to their specifications from Black Angus steers, age the beef in house, and hand-cut it to exact portions. As Lalla explains: "People spend $50,000 on a kitchen and they never use it. Or they do, and they wonder why the recipe for Emeril's Porterhouse they got off the internet didn't taste like the one they ate at Delmonico's. And I tell them, 'It is because you aren't starting with the same ingredients.'"

The meat at Rare Cuts is aged specifically by cut. What is aging? Well there are two types. The first is wet aging, in which the meat is wrapped in cellophane, vacuum sealed, and allowed to rest in its own juices. The second method and more common is dry aging, whereby a whole cut of meat, say a slab of rib eye, ages uncovered in a temperature and humidity controlled room for a period of days (for a rib eye it is 20 days). With dry aging, the outside of the meat gets a dark bark (shown below) which is trimmed off to reveal a tender, rose-colored interior. During the aging process the meat's own enzymes begin to break down and tenderize the beef while moisture evaporates. The result is a denser, firmer piece of beef.

The difference in taste is discernible. Dry aged beef has an oaky, spicy flavor, but the tenderness is the same as wet aging. After aging the beef is then cut into portions. "We sell our meat by the cut, not by the pound. We do this because we know that a 6 oz filet is 6 oz, not 7 or 5. That way when you cook it at home, you will learn that 3 minutes on each side is sufficient for medium rare," says Albert.

Another hallmark of the quality of meat at Rare Cuts is the amount of fat running through it. "My dad called fat 'the other white meat.' And it is true, that is where the flavor comes from," says Lalla.

Rare Cuts is located at 1600 West Causeway Approach in Mandeville, and they are opening in River Ridge in approximately two weeks, with more locations planned in the coming year. If you like meat and love cooking at home, you need to visit Rare Cuts the next time you get a hankering for a steak. It is not only their knowledge and enthusiasm for prime meat that makes Rare Cuts a better option, but also their respect for the ranchers, animals, and butchers who produce the meat. "If someone tells me they are going to marinate these steaks in Italian dressing, Tabasco, and Dale's, I cringe and suggest they use a different cut then the wet aged, prime filet. All a good piece of meat needs is salt, pepper, and heat," Albert instructs.

Frenched lamb chops. The fat on this lamb was incredibly soft and sweet. If pork, duck, and lamb fat were in a dance off, pork would be Ronnie from Jersey Shore, duck would be a break dancer, and lamb a ballerina.

Three different cuts from the dry aged rib eye. The two on the left are excellent examples of a rib eye with "star fat"- the white anchor of fat in the middle of the cut. The one on the right is a rib eye cut from the end with less fat.

Before cooking the meat is sprinkled generously with salt and pepper and then left to sit for a few minutes.

Then the meat is placed on a smoking hot grill. While Rare Cuts has a kitchen inside, they can't help but love to fire up their outdoor grill. The smell of grilled meat wafts throughout the parking lot and remainder of the strip mall, making them everyone's favorite neighbor.

An up close shot of the grilled spinalis. What's a spinalis? Why it's a cut that goes to 11. The spinalis, often called the "end cap," is the cap on the rib eye (the crescent shape of meat encircling the Star Fat). It has tenderness and a sturdy shape, but more importantly loads of flavor.

Red wine is a natural choice for marbled steaks, but on this Saturday morning we drank Bloody Marys and talked about the Saints. During our chat, John told me he had his butchers send over some specially cut Rib Eyes to Drew Brees's house in the shape of a Fleur de Lis, "My butchers weren't happy with me. They'd been cutting meat for 23 years, and this was a pain in the ass. But don't tell anyone about that, or everyone will be asking for them."


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Cake Fit For Kings

Since the start of the new year, I have probably eaten 47 slices of king cake. I know, I know - high cholesterol, diabetes, cardiac arrest, yada yada yada - but I can't help myself. At least 3 times per week, sometimes twice in a single day, someone shows up at the office with a king cake. That's on top of the king cakes which are omnipresent at every birthday, wedding shower, funeral, and bris that I get invited to. How can a guy say no to a piece of king cake in celebration of circumcision?

But even though I have eaten an alarming number of slices of king cake, I honestly have not sampled the spectrum of species from that many different bakeries. Perhaps king cakes are similar to snowballs in that location plays a major role? Case in point, the above classic king cake from McKenzie's, now sold by Tastee Donuts, covered in purple, green, and gold granulated sugar While this is the king cake of my youth and always my first one of the season, it just never tastes as good as I remember.

At the opposite end from the McKenzie's classic, we have this shimmering specimen from Sucre, who started baking king cakes for the first time this year. The glaze on this cake is so stunning that you might be hesitant with your knife, but then you would be missing what's inside...

... and that would be an extremely light pastry filled with a thin layer of whipped cream cheese. I usually despise filled king cakes (too gloppy), but the minimal smear of cream cheese in this one is in perfect balance with the paper thin layers of pastry. This is probably the best king cake that I have eaten so far this year.

I'm still a sucker for Manny Randazzo's, which is better than Randazzo's Camellia City in my opinion. Haydel's makes a good king cake, but the combination of icing and granulated sugar throws me off; I prefer one or the other but not both. Antoine's is always welcome as an afternoon snack.

I still have quite a few king cakes on my list to try: Hi-Do Bakery on the wild wild Westbank, the not-so-sweet goat cheese and apple king cake from New Orleans Cake Cafe, the true classic galette des rois from La Boulangerie. So many cakes, so few inches to spare in the waistband of my suit pants. A little help, dear readers, if you wouldn't mind.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Black & Gold in the Super Bowl

After 43 years, we all deserve a day off to celebrate. I bet this woman is already packing her bags.

Friday, January 22, 2010


Warning: This post is inspired by the greatest motivational speech of all time. * It obviously has everything to do with New Orleans food. This may be the last coherent entry on this domain until at least after Mardi Gras.

On Sunday, as you well know, the Saints will stand for all that is right and just in this world and try to halt the advance of the nefarious Viking clan of the North. For centuries the Normans, Franks, Gauls, and Anglo-Saxons attempted to appease the Viking hordes with offers of dense bread and honeyed mead. They offered to repair their sails or give them thirty virgins. Anything so long as Eric the Red would leave their precious fields and homes alone.

And how did the Vikings respond to such appeasement? Not well. They ransacked and pillaged towns and woman like mutant combination of Gary Busey and OJ Simpson. They burned homes and topped trees with skulls as a reminder that they would not listen to reason. But perhaps the Vikings most horrific and far reaching legacy is they took a boat to America before Columbus and left a Runestone in a Minnesota field. With this Runestone as it's bedrock, the Minnesota Vikings, a most vile and sacrilegious team, sprung forth and ever since have been a scourge and plague.

The Vikings have spewed hatred, despair, and the foul stench of dried monkfish all across this great land. Their mascot reminds one of a person you don't want to sit next to on a plane. Once masters of Northern Europe, the Vikings have been reduced to a traveling credit card collection agency. If it wasn't for the Bengals, their uniforms would be offensive to most mammals.

The Viking leades is a simple country boy whose name defies pronunciation. Ohhh, I am sure you have heard all about him. Why ESPN has become lobbying hard for the legalization of gay marriage so they can marry him. In fact, he is so cool that if you are friends with him, he will invite you to a huge a field to play football, and then throw you a pass so you land in the only puddle of mud on the field. WHAT A GUY!

Twice before the Black and Gold have seen their Super Bowl dreams die at the hands of the Viqueens (not including the horrible Daunte Culpepper 2-point conversion). Well, those who don't learn from history are bound to have it repeated on them. Which is why on Sunday evening, the only canonized team in the NFL will do what generations of pansy footed, lets play nice, tea sipping, cowards couldn't do. We will look the Vikings square in the eye, spit back in their face, and kick em in the junk.

Once again, these interlopers have set sail with designs on robbing our most precious gem: a Saints Super Bowl. Are you just going to stand there and let them waltz in here with their flowing golden locks, Hagar the Horrible humor, thorned helmets, and walk out with a date with Miami? Or are you going to man up, get out there, and do something about it?

Well, are ya, punk?

Sunday's game is for your Paw Paw or your Aunt Judy who isn't really related to you. Sunday is for all the Who Dats with season tickets in the sky. It is for fans that went to games with bags on their heads, but still went to games. Ever notice the dearth of fans at a Detroit or St. Louis game? Those fans don't have faith; we always had faith. And for a long while, that is all we had. We have more than faith though; we have knowledge that one day the Saints will go marching in and when they do we will be in that number. It is not a matter of if, it is a matter of when.

And when just burst in the door.

* If you want this post to make sense, my advice to you is to begin drinking...heavily.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Baru Bistro

Have you ever sat down in a restaurant and before even looking at the menu, say to yourself, "I like this place"? I had that precise reaction on my first visit to Baru Bistro back in May 2008. It's such a charming place - the building is a converted corner grocery with big windows looking out onto Magazine, diners bring their own wine, tables either line the sidewalks outside or tightly fit in the small dining room, the lighting is low, candles are everywhere, and the kitchen is so tiny you wonder how more than 2 people can stand in there let alone cook. All of these factors can easily cloud your judgment when it comes to the food, and I honestly can barely remember what I ate on that first visit. But almost 2 years later, I returned for my second visit to Baru and found that the ambience is still the same, the corkage fee is still $8, and the food should not be forgotten.

Truthfully, however, my second meal almost did not make it past the ordering stage. After being seated, our table of four told that the kitchen was serving a shortened menu because it was the night before Christmas Eve, a fact which the hostess had neglected to mention when we called 20 minutes earlier to see if they were open. Thankfully, The Folk Singer and Petite Sweet Brandi convinced Big Brutal Dave and I to stay for what ended up being a great meal. Just goes to show that were it not for the women in our lives, who knows what we would be missing out on.

As I said, the Latin-American menu was pared down to just 10 items. We began with the guacabello, a simple but remarkably delicious combination of grilled, chopped portobellos mixed with chunks of fresh avocado. The heat from the mushrooms melts the avocado and mixes with olive oil and lime juice to create a richness of flavor usually only found in dishes which incorporate copious amounts of butter or pork fat. Piled high on three toasted slices of bread, this is just a fantastic way to start your meal, especially for $8.

The regular menu at Baru is heavy on seafood, which was also the case on the abbreviated menu. While the flavors are unmistakably Latin, the kitchen has incorporated the bounty of our local waters as the base for most of the dishes. So you will find drum in the ceviche, gulf shrimp sauteed with garlic, and Louisiana oysters fried in cornmeal and topped with ailoli, caramelized onions, and a touch of chili sauce for heat. These big, meaty oysters were fried no less perfectly than the ones on the oyster loaf at Casamento's down the street.

But the unanimous winner for best dish of the night was actually not a dish at all: mofongo. Fried plantains are mashed to the consistency of oyster dressing and then mixed with crunchy bits of fried pork. I am a believer, so much so that we requested a side order because the serving underneath the sauteed shrimp was just not enough.

Baru Bistro - Birdie

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Farewell to Meat - NOLA Brewing Co.

Welcome to Part II of our series on saying "sayonara" to meat. In this week's entry, we take a trip inside our local microbrewery with the easiest name to remember. And yes, meat will be involved.

The coolest job you've ever had has nothing on working at NOLA Brewing Co. The vibe inside the warehouse-turned-brewery is relaxed and humorous, and more often than not employees find themselves sitting around a large wooden table and telling stories after working long hours brewing some damn fine beers. But the best part of working at NOLA? All, the free samples you can drink, otherwise known as "taste testing."

And if that is not enough, you can bring your dog to work.

There are actually two canines that regularly roam the NOLA warehouse on Tchoupitoulas, but one is much more photogenic than the other. Say hello to Hops, a three-legged bulldog... whose owner is a brewer. Are you thinking what we are? Double entendre!

While our musings may create the impression that NOLA is all fun and games, the Blonde or Brown in your glass doesn't just magically appear. The brewing and fermentation process behind the NOLA beers is a complicated formula of time, temperature, water, hops, and malts. And cleaning... lots and lots of cleaning. Thankfully for you and me, the team behind NOLA is comprised of passionate beer makers with wide ranging levels of experience, each contributing in his or her own way to the end product we all enjoy.

As a token of our gratitude (and as an excuse to tour the brewery), your faithful bloggers offered to throw the NOLA team an afternoon cookout this past Sunday. Upon advice of owner Kirk Coco, we brought along a standard Weber kettle grill, only to be trumped by this custom built keg grill owned by brewmaster Peter Caddoo. We're pretty sure that Kirk intentionally set us up for embarrassment, but we're OK with it.

The grill was fashioned from a keg of Dixie and proudly bears its hometown origin.

On the menu were both skirt and hanger steaks, courtesy of Cochon Butcher. All these cuts needed were an aggressive seasoning of kosher salt, but Rene whipped up a parsley chimichurri for an added touch of flavor. Skirt steak, one of the most overlooked cuts of beef, benefits from a quick walk across super hot coals, creating a nice crust while the inside stays moist and juicy. Hanger steaks are difficult to find outside restaurant menus but taste almost as good coming off your backyard grill as they do at La Boca.

While waiting for the coals to catch fire, an intrepid Bostonian transplant jogged by. Curiosity caught the best of her, and she wandered inside the gate for a closer look. After she informed the NOLA Brew crew that she was training for this thing called a marathon, they cajoled her into having a few beers as part of her rehydration regimen. Chalk up one more loyal customer.

(Pictured from left to right: Beer Wench, Mike "Indy " Grap, Brewmaster Peter Caddo, Vice President Dylan Lintern, Brewer Melanie Knepp, and President Kirk Coco)

Pay no attention to the man with the large chef's knife, but he thinks you should drink his NOLA Brown with your next steak. The Hopitoulas IPA ain't a bad choice either. While NOLA's beers are usually enjoyed straight from the tap at your favorite restaurant, you can now pick up NOLA draft packs at your local grocer. These cardboard boxes hold a case of beer and will stay fresh long after you pour your first pint.

People sometimes say that the best tasting steaks are the ones they cook at home. I have never really subscribed to that theory. But I will say that a steak cooked on a keg grill in a brewery on a Sunday afternoon after a Saints playoff win is a damn good steak. Especially when you have all the beer in the world to wash it down with.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Hogs for the Cause

Remember last year how I aggravated many of you with weekly missives extolling the virtues of pork eating by the Mississippi River? Well since that was such a hit, it is time to bother you some more.

Hogs for the Cause is back and better than ever. This year we invade the Fly on Saturday, March 6th, and in addition to roasting a whole pig on a spit and smoking a few butts, Becker and I are proud to introduce the Louisiana High on the Hog Pork Cook-Off. So if you love cooking the pig as much as us, enter your favorite pork dish. Winner will receive not only prizes, fame, and notoriety, but also an enormous bronzed pig trophy.

The entry fee is $50 per team and participants are encouraged to sign up early. Not only will the results be based on each team's dish, but also whichever team raises the most money will receive points towards becoming the Louisiana High on the Hog Champion. The competition is not limited to just barbecue or whole hog - literally any dish with pork as the star can be entered. For more info visit the Hog's website.

We also have t-shirts and koozies for sale, which make wonderful gifts. As you may remember, last year our cause was Ben Sarrat, Jr. Little Ben is still fighting DIPG, a rare form of childhood brain cancer. We were so moved and touched by Ben's story that we decided to keep our focus on DIPG and have established a DIPG Cancer Fund which we will use to fund cancer research and treatment options for those children facing this rare disease. With your help this year, we hope to raise $20,000. You can learn more about Ben and DIPG by checking out his blog.

Sign up your team, donate, or get involved today. No matter what,' we hope to see you on March 6th from sun up to sun down at the Fly. And don't worry, we are aware that Eric Clapton is slated to appear at the Baby Dome that night. If he gets finished with his acoustic set of Derek and the Dominoes songs early enough, we will let him go sound check.

Get involved today.

Monday, January 18, 2010


Before Cochon took over the world, Herbsaint was Donald Link's one and only. While most of us have become enamored with everything pork, this bistro on St. Charles has continued to crank out a stellar menu of French and creole classics accented with Southern inspiration.

You can find flatbreads at quite a few upscale restaurants in the city nowadays. The current version at Herbsaint begins with a base of garlic butter, then a scattering of shrimp and thin slices of zucchini, and a final sprinkle of grated provolone.

While Butcher is the charcuterie capitol of the Link empire now, the process originally began here. There are still a few holdovers which usually show up as specials, like this open faced pastrami with gruyere and shredded cabbage. In my opinion, this one was better than the similar sandwich found on Tchoupitoulas. I would have preferred if the accompanying french fries were cooked a bit longer, but there is no denying the deliciousness of the pimenton aioli.

The lunch menu includes a few sandwiches, one of which is this roast duck on ciabatta with aioli and pickled banana peppers. You may initially be disappointed at the inclusion of slaw instead of french fries as a side, but the tender yet crunchy juliennes of cucumber coated in a sweetened vinegar dressing provides a welcome contrast in texture and flavor.
Herbsaint: Dance with the one that brought ya.
Herbsaint - Birdie

Friday, January 15, 2010

Let's Get Serious

This weekend's epic matchup between our beloved and noble Saints and the overhyped Cardinals requires the utmost confidence and support from us. Allow me to digress for a moment. Many of us go to bars and occasionally decide to play pool. Most of us aren't all that great at pool, but after 3-4 drinks we reach what is known as the "Zone." This also applies to bowling.

Before you know it, you are winning games handily, careening shots off the bumpers like a guy named Fats, and winning drinks from your opponents. But then boom, your game goes to shit. You scratch, or worse wiff, on the break. Things are starting to get blurry and the next thing you know you wake up in the backseat of a Ford Explorer with a phone number written on the back of a sticker that says Kiss me I'm Irish.

If you are going to the Dome, or cheering at home, you need to be in the Zone. We can't have you black out and doing the Macarena after every Saints touchdown, you can't stick your hand in the urinal to try and grab a cigarette, and please don't pass out in your seat.

So how are you going to get in the Zone? Why by drinking responsibly. Since that isn't going to happen, you might as well drink something that is smooth and refreshing. Such a monumental game requires a drink that makes the God's Happy.

The Rum Bucket (a cousin of the Gin Bucket)

1 Handle of Captain Morgan's Spiced White Rum
1 2 Liter of Sprite
1 Gallon of Orange Juice
3 Cut Oranges (and only three, cut into threes)
2 Turkey basters
Bag of ice

Place ice in 6 gallon bucket and remainder of ingredients, stir. Use turkey basters to squirt in your mouth. Or if you so desire, drink by the glass. Warning: Drinking by the glass is not recommended for amateurs.

If you are staying at home, might I suggest something to keep you busy before the game. How about you braise something. If you do, you can name your dish Drew Braised ___.

As for what I'll be eating, Valium. Straight, no chaser.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Tan Dinh Style Oysters

Well, the first swing at the 2010 Challenge completely fell on its face.

Tan Dinh's chicken wings have a lot going on. There is the crunch of the crust, the garlic infused butter, the juice of the chicken, and the acidic pop of the lime, salt, and black pepper sauce. The combination of flavors works so well on poultry, that I wondered how it would do on other foods. I needed something crispy, and immediately fried oysters came to mind.

The results however looked and tasted more like failure than success. First off, the 50-50 blend of all-purpose flour and cornmeal did not create the thick crust the oysters needed. The oysters were soaked in buttermilk for a few hours prior to dusting them in the mixture, but alas, still not a thick enough crust to block the sauce from invading. Secondly, using coarse ground corn meal proved to be a huge mistake. The hope was to create a thick, crunchy crust, but the grind on the cornmeal just made it seem like you were eating pebbles.

To make the sauce, I juiced four limes, mixed in some salt and pepper. To this, I added some clarified butter that had simmered with crushed garlic to make a butter sauce. It didn't really work - the sauce separated, and despite being cut with sugar, the limes were too acidic.

After frying the oysters, the drizzle of sauce over them caused the oysters to become a soggy flabby mess. Next time, instead of a loose sauce, perhaps a thick lime and garlic aioli would work.

Back to the cutting board. So armchair cooks, what would you have done?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Farewell to Meat - Stella!

Carnival has arrived and with it another Blackened Out Feature. As Carnival traditionally was a time to bid adieu to meat, every week we will profile one of our own and ask them a simple question, "What would be your last bite of meat before Lent?". Peter and Rene will team up to interview, photograph, and write each story. We hope you enjoy it. And now, for the first installment of Farewell to Meat.

Scott Boswell
Chef/Owner- Restaurant Stella!, Stanley, and Scott Boswell Enterprises

The Meat: Kabayaki-Glazed Prime Beef Tenderloin with Seared Japanese Yam, Steamed Baby Vegetables, Wilted Baby Bok Choy, and Sweet Soy-Sake Butter

"Fire one beef."

"Pick up one steak."

Only moments before the kitchen inside Stella! had been quietly humming along, preparing the day's prep work for a Sunday night service. One cook peeled potatoes, another sauteed mushrooms, a third checked on tiny Earl Grey macaroons, all focused on their task. Then Chef Scott Boswell placed an order and like a flick of a switch, the kitchen transformed into an operating room.

On his left, a sous chef placed a sauce pan filled with kabayaki beurre blanc to which Boswell dropped a rare, 7 oz. prime beef tenderloin filet. On his right a sake poached, seared Japanese yam. In front of him, were a set of chopsticks and a tray of roasted winter vegetables. With the precision of a surgeon, Boswell poured the beurre blanc into the bottom of a cauliflower shaped plate, stacked the vegetables, plated the meat, placed the yam, and topped it with a sprig of tempura battered tanno.

"Meat and potatoes," Chef Boswell remarked with a sly grin.

The process began hours before in the kitchen. First a whole prime beef tenderloin is butchered and portioned into 7 oz. increments - 7 being Chef Boswell's favorite number.

Then the beef is seasoned with salt and pepper and left to rest for 10-12 minutes. Then over to the sautee station where the beef is seared in clarified butter set on a thermonuclear range. After a few turns, whole butter is spooned into the pan and used to baste the meat in order to give it color. The milk solids also import a rich, well-rounded flavor to the beef.

After the beef is browned (but nowhere near cooked), the filet is dropped into an ice chest filled with liquid nitrogen to stop the cooking process. After a minute or so of bubbles raging like a jacuzzi on full blast, the filet is put in a plastic pouch and placed in a pressurized chamber for vacuum sealing.

From this point, the individually wrapped filets can be stored in the deep freeze for an extended period of time. Then once an order is placed, the wrapped filet is dropped in one of four immersion circulators set to varying degrees depending on desired level of doneness. This process, known as sous vide, slowly raises the internal temperature of the beef to that of the water.

This technique is not just a parlor trick. As Boswell explains, "The filet comprises 40-50% of our entree sales. The grill cook gets slammed and is always running around with steaks in the oven, on the range, poking, prodding, testing for doneness. If a steak gets sent back overcooked, that can really affect not only the flow of the kitchen, but also the bottom line. This allows to serve a perfectly cooked steak every time."

But there is one more wrinkle to this dish. Once the sous vide process is complete, the steak is thrown into a deep fryer for just a few seconds to give it that "mongolian beef crust." The filet is then coated in the kabayaki beurre blanc. Kabayaki sauce, a traditional Japanese accoutrement to eel, begins its life as a large vat of carrots, onions, soy, sake and sugar. The mixture reduces until a syrup like consistency. The kabayaki then gets added to a class French beurre blanc. After its warm butter bath, the steak is sliced in half, sprinkled with a touch of coarse salt, and plated.

The resulting dish makes us doubt the motives of vegans even more. The sprinkle of salt on the final plating, sweetness and acid from the kabayaki beurre blanc, and slight bitterness from the vegetables all unite to tantalize each taste bud. The yam's texture and taste is similar in some ways to a polenta cake. It is easy to see why, even among returning customers, this dish is a favorite. That goes for Chef Boswell's wife Tanya as well, who always requests extra sauce with her delivery order.

If Chef Boswell were eating this dish he would start with the truffled gnocchi with Iberico ham and end the meal with a trio of creme brulees. His sommelier, John Mitchell, suggests pairing this filet with either an '05 Joseph Phelps Cabernet Sauvignon or a Domaine Gallet Cote Rotie. But served with a fruit forward Chianti in the kitchen was not a bad choice either.

As for Mardi Gras, Chef Boswell will be hard at work at Stanley which, for the first time this year, will be open on Fat Tuesday. His Lenten resolution, as always, is to abstain from alcohol. It's going to be tough eating this steak without a nice glass of wine, but Lent is always about sacrifice, now isn't it?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Cheesesteak Tuesdays

I have never been to Philadelphia, so I'm no expert when it comes to the cheesesteak. I also happen to think that Cheez Whiz is only suitable for feeding ignorant children and hazing incoming associates. (Or are those groups one in the same?) But when it comes to food, I am usually quick to throw caution to the wind and at least try whatever is recommended by people "in the know." So after the HVAC Princess and her Philly transplant boyfriend continually raved about the Tuesday cheesesteak special at Stein's, I had to go.

The foundation of this sandwich is a hoagie roll so soft you would think the bread is mistakenly undercooked. (The HVAC Princess tells me that owner Dan Stein flies his bread in direct from the City of Brotherly Love.) The beef, which is labeled as "Pat's Style" in homage to the self-proclaimed "King of Steaks" in Philly, is sliced with the uniformity of a deck of cards and the thickness of a nickel. The traditional table top griddle creates overcooked bits of crispy goodness on the beef, but the tender cuts still easily tear between your front teeth as you bite down.

The choice of toppings is yours. Peppers, onions, and mushrooms all get the same treatment as the steak, and pizza sauce is even available for the non-traditionalists. As for cheese, Stein's offers the aforementioned Cheez Whiz as well as sliced provolone. Can't choose which? Get both, which is exactly what I did.

You might expect such a sandwich to cost a pretty penny, but you'd be wrong (again). $5 for a small and $7 for a large. The size of the bread is the same for both, but the amount of meat nearly doubles on the large. It's a great sandwich, one which I had not yet found in the city until I went to Stein's. What's also nice is that you can enjoy this Philly classic while revelling in the fact that your team is still playing football this upcoming weekend.

Stein's Philly Cheesesteak - Eagle

Lastly, a general note about Stein's. The layout of the deli leaves little room for seating. There is a lone deuce sandwiched between the pickup counter and beer chiller. In the front there are two communal tables with 8 seats each, plus 6 or so counter style seats along the front window and side wall. Two picnic tables outside on Magazine are the best spots when the weather is nice. In other words, seating is cramped, especially on Tuesdays when the cheesesteak draws a lot of people in. I don't mind, but if you have a problem with sharing space with others, this might not be the deli for you. Of course, you could always wait and take a late lunch, but then you run the risk of the cheesesteaks selling out by then - which happens often.

Monday, January 11, 2010

An Evening With Anthony Bourdain

Last Thursday I was one of the many who heard Anthony Bourdain speak at the Mahalia Jackson Theater. We scored 4 seats on Row E in the orchestra, from where The Folk Singer took this picture. The Pope and the Battle House Honey completed my foursome.

Though there was no intermission, the event was effectually divided into two parts: (1) Bourdain's "speech" and (2) a Q&A session with the audience. After a brief introduction by someone whose name I don't recall, Bourdain appeared from behind the curtain - Abita Amber in hand - and just started talking. His delivery seemed shoot-from-the-hip, but he occasionally glanced at his notes on the podium. The Q&A session consisted mostly of individuals ingratiating themselves over "hitchhiking through Bolivia" and other culinary or worldy lifetime milestones.

While it was a different experience than when I met him, I very much enjoyed the event. He delivered several memorable quotes, some of which I have reproduced below for your reading pleasure. I left the show early to catch the 2nd half of the BCS Championship Game, so if you were there and remember anything worthwhile that I may have missed, please feel free to add them in the comments.
  • On Sandra Lee - The most frightening moment of my life? Meeting Sandra Lee. I'm standing there talking to someone, and I feel this cold hand on my lower back and hear, 'You've been a bad boy.' It didn't help that her boyfriend Andrew Cuomo, the New York State Attorney General, was standing right behind her.... Do yourself a favor and google 'Sandra Lee Kwanzaa Cake.' Ron Jeremy has never done such a thing in his life.

  • On Guy Fieri - Take the douche glasses off the back of your neck.

  • On Ina Garten - I like Ina.... I don't want to spend the weekend at Ina's house, but, man, can she roast a chicken.

  • On Andrew Zimmern - We have a lot in common. For example, he was a junkie; I was a junkie.

  • On Iron Chef America - You have these great chefs making this great f*cking food and then who's judging? Criss Angel: Mind Douche.

  • On Judging Top Chef - After eating scallops in butterscotch sauce, I said: 'This tastes like I've been felching Mrs. Butterworth'.... Tom Colicchio keeps it totally honest.... It sometimes takes 3 hours to judge the final round.... Underneath the table there are shaker size glasses of gin and tonics, and the weed is pretty good there too.

  • On Cooking At Home - I look to cook pasta. Spaghetti pormodoro.

  • On Nutmeg - Written permission should be required before any cook is allowed to use it.

  • On His Personality - I've been talking shit since I was a kid.

  • On His Wife's Italian Heritage - The only thing that Italians hate more than Americans is Italians from the next village over.

  • On Eating While Traveling - You can't plan the perfect meal. It just happens. And it's never going to happen if you don't accept the fact that things are going to wrong sometimes.

  • On 'No Reservations' - I am destroying paradise by visiting it.

  • In Response to a Request for Support of the Edible Schoolyard - I don't know if I want my children spending all of their time in the garden. I think they should be learning engineering and world domination.

  • On What He Ate That Day - Someone put two Hubig's pies in my room. I had the choice between apple and sweet potato. [He chose poorly.]

  • On What He Would Be Eating That Night - I'm calling in an order to Verti Marte.

  • On Filming Food TV - We're not like everybody else. We show up early. We eat. We're drinking the local hooch. And by the time we start shooting, we're all friends. I tell them, 'Look, we're not alcoholic's. We're television f*cking professionals.'

Friday, January 8, 2010

2010 Challenge Unveiled

As you very well know, although Peter pretty much bombed his AP Restaurant Exam last year, the experience provided him with an invaluable opportunity to explore restaurants he normally would have never considered. Luckily for us, somebody cheated on the AP Exam, so we get to take it again. Thus in 2010, the challenge bestows itself upon me. Now, prepare to be let down as we unveil Rene's 2010 Dining Challenge.

For Christmas I got this book.

So in 2010, I am going to cook my way through Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and then record my successes and failures on this here web log! It will be a blast, and with any luck we can get a movie out of it.

What? Ohh. Well, never mind.

First, let me tell you what will not happen. Nothing will be given up. As a devout, lapsed Catholic, breaking promises to abstain only happens approximately three days after the truck parades roll. So unfortunately this will not be the year I become a Ovo-Lacto Raw Food Vegan. As you may have guessed, the picture of health, I ain't. So despite the awesome suggestion, eating bacon at every meal will not go down.

Not drinking the same wine twice was the best choice, but Peter vetoed that one saying, "I almost ran out of Vietnamese places, no way you will exhaust the world's wines." He then fell into a chargrilled pork dream and took off for the West Bank.

My days of bathing in sinks have long since expired, so that option is gone. Someone else suggested, privately, that I go under cover and work the line at a Donald Link restaurant. While it is a great idea, unfortunately this pesky, unjust thing called a "restraining order" prevents me from doing so.

As you have noticed, Peter and I have both begun writing more and more on the things that really interest us. Eating out remains a favorite past time of mine, but my interest in cooking has grown stronger and more enthusiastically. In an attempt to Ronnie Lamarque the situation, I have decided to use restaurant meals as an opportunity to try and cook something similar at home.

When dining out, I will photograph and/or describe a restaurant dish and the resulting food that comes out of my kitchen. While exact replication of a dish is not the goal, a meal/snack/sandwich inspired by, based on, or related to the dish will emerge, hopefully. The blog welcomes your suggestions throughout the year on where to eat and what to eat. And if you think you had a better idea for how to turn a roast beef po-boy into a soup, let us know.

A caveat before we begin, based on the lesson Peter learned the hard way. If I run to Between the Bread to grab a sandwich, that will not count, but could. All other meals eaten in a restaurant must be turned into a home dish.

Let the let down begin!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Bacon Needs a Breather, Fried Foie Gras to the Rescue

Bacon is everywhere. Bacon jams, jellies, hoecakes, ice creams, donuts, and pizzas crowd the aisles of the food world. You can't swing a cat in this town without running into bacon. Trust me, we tried. Bacon is good, but it is also a little too everywhere right now.

Although not everywhere yet, foie gras offers many of the same delights as bacon with an added panache of exclusivity. Consider it bacon that went to an Ivy League school, joined a frat, and got hazed. You may think foie gras is elitist or cruel or what have you. And you would be wrong, but you already knew that.

Foie gras is the liver of a goose, or more commonly duck, fattened to an obscenely large degree. It comes in a big lobe and is delicious simply sauteed in a smoking hot pan and eaten with toasted bread. Because of its fat content, which hovers around the William Howard Taft level (a timely analogy, I know), it often needs to be counteracted with either something sweet or acidic. But really all you need is a really nice glass of Sauternes.

Bacon is still great and I should know, I eat 2 pounds of it every week. But give this recipe a whirl. It isn't terribly difficult, and if you have ever fried anything before it will seem like old hat. Just be certain you slice the foie thick enough so you get that soft outer layer, the molten second layer, and the firm interior. An inch and a half is optimal.

Fried Foie Gras, Arugula Salad, Strawberry Preserves

Serves two

Instead of buying a whole lobe of foie, get a thick 3 inch cut of a foie gras torchon from Butcher. Slice this into two pucks. Then coat the pucks in flour, egg, and panko, in that order. Fry the panko crusted foie in a thin layer of canola oil. After about one minute, carefully flip the cake over and cook just until brown on the other side.

Remove from heat and pat dry on a paper cloth. Meanwhile, combine a tablespoon of strawberry preserves with 4 shakes of red wine vinegar. Whisk in some olive oil. Add salt, pepper, and taste. Toss vinaigrette with some arugula. Arrange prettier than below, and serve with Oriel Ondine Sauternes. Watch as women or men or animals flock.

When you bite into the puck, you get the crispy, crack of splintery crust, then the just melting fat of the foie starts to come through. A bite of salad, sip of wine, and you are ready for more.

Foie Gras, it is not just for breakfast anymore.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Le Foret

The "trendy" national restaurant model these days serves house-made meatloaf or sausage balls in small plates portions and sells PBR by the can for $2. There is no dress code, so if you walk in wearing LL Bean Duck boots and a fanny pack over a bright pink leotard... sweet. Your waiter is the cook and also the butcher, presentation minimal, the room shellacked in wood paneling adorned with deer heads, and your chair will not have a back. The whole experience is meant to make you feel like a pauper dining in a hunting lodge with Truman Capote. The concept works and produces great results when done correctly.

The people behind Le Foret did not get that memo. This restaurant is a return to formal meals that mean something. Soup is poured tableside, you have a captain and two to three waiters per table, the room's white and cream tones are literally gilded, and your tush rests comfortable on a padded, backed chair. The whole experience makes you feel like a prince dining in Versailles with Winston Churchill. If the old adage rings true, "When others zig, you zag," Le Foret will be the best restaurant in New Orleans in no time.

Before our story begins, let's back up. Le Foret opened a few months ago at 129 Camp, after an extensive renovation of a building that had been abandoned for thirty (yes, 30) years. The chef is Jimmy Corwell, a Certified Master Chef. There are only sixty chefs in America with the title, and Chef Corwell is the only one in Louisiana. (For more info on what becoming a CMC entails read Michael Ruhlman's Soul of a Chef.)

Lindsay and I went last week at the tail end of the first decade of the 21st Century. And without a doubt, it was the best meal we had in New Orleans in 2009. In fact, Lindsay liked it so much she went back the next day. There are no pictures as it was night time. But let me say this. The food, setting, and service is all meticulous and strives for a perfection seen only at Michelin 3 Star Restaurants and one or two other spots in New Orleans.

As soon as we sat down in the chandelier ornamented, candlelit room, we were greeted with two fluffy black truffle and Parmesan gougeres. The airy gougeres evaporated on your tongue leaving a pleasant sensation of warmth and truffle. As we perused our menus and sipped cocktails, we decided to go with the Chef's tasting menu which had five courses for $60. That works out to $12 per course for those playing at home, which coincidentally is about what most "trendy, small plate" places charge.

Then the first amuse bouche- cauliflower semifreddo with jumbo lump crabmeat and caviar. This dish proved two things. First, the kitchen has the technical skills to compete. The semifreddo had the consistency of a thick pudding with the subtle sweetness of the crabmeat and the icy cold saltiness of the caviar providing both textural and flavorful counterpoints. Second, the food is not overly fussy. There was nothing more on the stark white plate, then a small disk of cauliflower, a chunk of crab and a spoon of caviar. Simplicity, refined.

Next up, another amuse. This time a beautifully arranged trio of teases. First, up was a veloute of sweet onion and Anjou pear. The sensation of sipping the veloute was not unlike taking a deep sip of a rich and satisfying cup of tea. Only the flavors were more floral and sweet. Then a rabbit rillette with a rabbit shaped sesame cracker. Finally a petite dice of shrimp set in a creamy dressing and placed on top of a cucumber.

Our first course was a Butternut squash puree with foie gras mousse, mushrooms, and a bacon chip. The soup was poured from a silver decanter tableside and was smoother than Drew Brees in the pocket. Rather than load the puree up with butter or cream, the chef used the foie gras mousse to add richness and mouth feel to the soup. As the mousse slowly blended with the soup, the two disparate elements combined to create one harmonious dish. Pure genius.

The second course was a tuna cassoulet. The weather on this night was cold and rainy, so seeing cassoulet I was very ready for something warming and filing. But that was not the direction the dish went. And this is where the meal went into overdrive for me.

At the bottom of a large bowl, were some perfectly cooked white beans and haricot vert. On top of this was a puck of tuna encased in a crunchy wrapping of pancetta and garlic puree. The outside of the tuna had a uniform ring of sear as if it was a visitor with just one toe in your door. Although not heavy, the dish managed to be deeply satisfying. Just a delicious dish which showed that the cooking had not only precision, but soul as well.

Next was an herb and shallot crusted noisette of venison set awash in a thick demi-glace. While we both had some silver streaks of fat running through our meat which were tough, the cooking of the venison was spot on medium rare. On top of the venison was an intricate design of pureed and fried onions thickened with some potatoes. The garnish provided a crust to the soft, juicy meat.

But it was the cheese course that stole our hearts. A salad dressed simply with lemon and olive oil sat next to mousse of Roquefort cheese which sat on top of a beet sauce. However, upon second look the beet sauce was not a sauce at all. Rather it was a slice of beet cut so thin it appeared to be liquid. The Roquefort was the perfect anchor on a dish of tastes, its creamy pungency highlighting the earthy, sweetness of the beet and the tart salad.

Finally a souffle with Valrhona chocolate sauce, then mignardises of French Macaroons and ginger jellies. Again, all of it impeccably prepared. Washed all of it down with a 2004 Chateau La Nerthe, and you know how I feel about that wine. Good wine list, but even better is an expansive, glass enclosed wine cellar which climbs the height of the first floor. When a bottle of wine is ordered, a member of the staff scurries up a library ladder and pulls down the selection.

A really great meal, be it in a bbq shack or a high end temple of gastronome, always has a few telltale signs. The first, is what happens to conversation at the table? As we ate at Le Foret, all the end of the year concerns, questions, and comments fell to the wayside. All we did was talk about the food we had eaten, were eating, or would eat. Not only was the kitchen focused, but we were as well. We are still talking about that meal, a week later.

Secondly, are there any little touches to make it an exceptional meal? Here, the soft butter and house baked brioche which was refreshed after each course, a rabbit shaped cracker, and the beet masquerading as a sauce all provided those little touches. As we left, we noticed our car had already been pulled to the front and the hostess stood at the ready with a package for both Lindsay and me. Inside, we found a Madeleine and were instructed by the hostess to enjoy it with coffee the next day.

Finally, did the cooking have emotion/soul/feeling? Sometimes despite a high-end restaurant's best intention, the experience seems sterile and manufactured. This was not the case at Le Foret. The food had that undefinable "soul" quality. Whether you are a $7 hot plate lunch or an indulgent dining experience, you can tell when a place truly cares. Le Foret cares. It was a great meal.

Le Foret will not be for everyone but you should give it a try. The service and cooking is highly polished, refined, and contagious if you like being spoiled. It is an expensive meal. Is it worth it? Absolutely, I am already planning on going back.

Le Foret - Birdie, dangerously close to Eagle.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Bo Kho: The Other Vietnamese Soup

Happy Tuesday in New Orleans. If you didn't think that the Saints' #1 seed in the playoffs was a sign of hell freezing over, then let me introduce today's weather forecast:

High: 45°
Low: 28°

But there's good news:
  1. It's always 68° in the Dome.
  2. A steaming bowl of bo kho awaits you at Pho Tau Bay.
The menu description of this surprisingly familiar soup reads: "Vietnamese style spicy beef stew." That is no lie. The huge cubes of chuck roast and tall chunks of softened carrot are identical impostors of the staples in my Mom's beef stew. The broth though is like nothing other. The most offbeat ingredient is annatto, which gives the broth a reddish hue and also adds a bit of heat. After the first spoonful, I felt like a heroin addict who just couldn't get enough. The soup comes with your choice of vermicelli, glass noodles, or a loaf of warm banh mi for dipping.

If that doesn't uncurl your toes and defrost your ears, then you may as well hibernate till Mardi Gras because we can't help you. I may never slurp another spoonful of pho again. The price for this culinary heater: $7.

Which leaves you just enough money leftover for a char-grilled pork banh mi. Make someone else pay the bridge toll.
Pho Tau Bay - Birdie

Monday, January 4, 2010

Lunch at eat

After a promising brunch at eat, I returned with Blondie to try out the lunch menu. While I would not say that I left disappointed, I was not exactly wowed either.

We started with the crawfish boullettes - a quintet of golf ball sized cornbread fritters studded with tails. The more interesting aspect of the dish was the remoulade, which was unlike any other I have had. There was no identifiable mayo, and the consistency was that of a chutney. The flavor though had a nice acidity which cut the richness of the boullettes.

The fried green tomatoes were atypical as well, with a batter as light as tempura in texture but the flavor of biscuit dough. The three thick slices, however, did not justify the $8 price tag.

The special of the day was a buffalo oyster sandwich. Fried oysters tossed in buffalo wing sauce and placed between two thin slices of buttered french bread. Very rich, and the sandwich would have benefited from a smear of blue cheese dressing but none was provided. But like the fried green tomatoes before it, the price ($12) was not justified by the sandwich (which contained 6 oysters). The accompanying side of smothered greens were sad as well - obviously straight from the freezer and quite bland.
In summation, I would say that eat does a much better job at brunch, when the BYOB factor plays a much stronger role. Of course, you could always bring a bottle of wine to lunch, but the firm frowns upon drinking during the day.
Lunch at eat - Bogey