Friday, February 26, 2010

Fish Fridays - Scallops

Let's keep the pressure on the mollusks. But this week, let's talk scallops. No sure, scallops aren't really from around these parts, but that doesn't mean some restaurants in New Orleans can't use them.

One of the number one thing we get asked is how can you cook scallops at home. The easy answer is you cant. This is because restaurants that serve the scallops you want to emulate are using day boat scallops or diver scallops. Day boat scallops are those which are usually harvested on boats which return to shore each night. The scallops are then rushed off to fish markets around the world. The scallops you are likely buying from the grocery store come from scallop factory boats. These boats dip the scallops in a chemical substance to keep them fresh and milky white for transport. That chemical inhibits caramelizing, and so you tend to overcook your scallops waiting on the color.

So either leave it to the pros or go diving in cold, Atlantic waters. But if you want good scallops in New Orleans, might we suggest the following:

Iris - Hands down, the meatiest, sweetest scallops in the city. The scallops arrive looking like albino filet mignons. Usually, Chef Ian swabs them down with a crisp, grapefruit butter.

Gautreau's - Peter and I have a huge crush on Sue Zemanick's refined take on motherly cuisine. Something about the way she creates such a crisp crust on her scallops makes us feel warm and safe. Then when she serves it with a bacon and corn relish, it is enough to make us want to take her on a date. But we are too nervous.

MiLa - We have talked before about the lunch menu at MiLa before, and on that prix fixe, occasionally, is a puree of squash or pumpkin with a petite dice of scallop that heightens the sweetness of scallops to a whole 'nother level. If you go for lunch (and you should), and this soup is on the menu, get it.

Where are your favorite places to enjoy the scallop?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Oysters at the Bar

Unbeknownst to most locals, La Cote Brasserie has perhaps the best happy hour in the city. Everyday from 5:00 to 7:00, the bar at La Cote serves raw oysters for only $7/dozen.

"But, Peter, we need something to wash down those oysters with." Thankfully, the powers at be are one step ahead of you, folks. How do $2 Abitas sound? I thought so. And this happy hour price covers the entire spectrum of Abita beers, from Amber to Golden to... (drum roll please)... Strawberry Harvest Lager, which was just released on Monday.

But as JC said, "Man shall not live by raw shellfish alone." La Cote also offers an abbreviated bar menu which include housemade pate and alligator beignets (pictured above).

So the next time you are looking for a place to have a few drinks before the Hornets game, or when Lucy's is so crowded that you can't even get a drink, head on over to the bar at La Cote. It's one of the most underutilized bars in the Warehouse District; but with prices like that, locals should take note.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


Restaurants operate on razor thin margins. The costs of a restaurant include, just as an illustrative list: rent, labor, insurance, supplies, food, inventory, china, glassware, equipment, telephone lines, websites, marketing personnel, and one of those open/close signs. These costs are not reflected in your food, really, but in the price you pay for booze. Restaurants have to do this, otherwise your scallop entree would be closer to $65 a plate instead of $25.

OK, so in general if a restaurant can buy a bottle of wine for $12 from their wholesaler, it will list the bottle on their wine list for between $36-$48. You can buy this wine at your local wine store for $18. The markup does not seem justified. And maybe it is not.

But that got the old noggin going. Living in New Orleans, roughly 40% of the property is not assessed taxes. That means if 100 dollars in property tax is needed, that amount will attach itself to only 60% of the property. Therefore, as a property owner in New Orleans who is neither a church nor governmental agency, I pay more than my fair share of the taxes.

When I go to eat, 9 times out of 1o we order booze. This means that I, and likely you, are paying for more of the restaurants overhead than a couple that drinks iced tea or worse water. So how do we fix this?

Well, there are two proposals. First, raise food prices and lower wine prices. That won't happen, so on to number two. What if 40 or so restaurants in town decided to cut their wine prices in half for one night only (you can exclude bottles over say $200, as we call those "The Papal Selections"). And not on some night like Tuesday, when people do not dine out. But on a marquee Friday or Saturday night. Wine, if you choose to drink it at a restaurant, should not be an indulgence or cost shifting burden.

Then, take a look at the numbers. My guess is that people who don't normally order wine would, and those that do would order more. Listen, economists I ain't, but even making 200% profit on wine and alcohol sales is doing pretty good. And if you sell two bottles of wine rather than one, you have made the same revenue over your cost. But the diner is happier, your inventory is moving, and likely your staff gets a bigger tip.

This article is fraught with missteps and assumptions, granted. But what are your thoughts?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Steak and....Peas?

We are reducing our carb footprint at the Louapre house, so I've been jonesing for some thin crispy fries or a po-boy or some pasta with olive oil and garlic. Because of the intense love between a baked potato and steak, I was thus craving a steak. As an answer to my prayers, Lindsay brought home some salmon (for her) and a thick dry aged rib eye (for me).

Some lemony peas with pine nuts was the perfect side to both mains. The sweetness of the peas and acidity of the dressing cut through the fattiness of both the salmon and the rib eye. Which just proves we can all get along with the right introductions.

To cook the salmon, I heated some soy, rice wine vinegar, garlic, scallions (some ginger would have been dynamite as well), chili paste and lemon juice over low heat until it had evaporated by half. The resulting mixture was then strained and yielded a few tablespoons of soy syrup. The salmon went into a 500 degree oven, skin side down on a baking dish with just a little salt. After 10 minutes, remove salmon, and paint the the soy syrup over top of salmon and return to the oven for another five minutes. Remove from oven and place foil over the fish and allow it to rest for 15 minutes.

For the steak, let it sit out at room temperature for about thirty minutes with a good sprinkling of Kosher salt and pepper rubbed into it. Then get your cast iron pan hotter than a two dollar pistol. Add to the pan a knob of butter the size of a golf ball. Add steak to pan. Do not touch steak for at least 3 minutes. Meanwhile use a spoon and continually baste the top of the steak with the rapidly browning butter. You can even throw say a few thyme sprigs in there. They will cackle, hiss, and spit when the hit the butter. I highly recommend you do this.

After three minutes flip the steak and continue basting. Lather, rinse and repeat two more times (so flip steak total of four times, cook for 12). Then remove from pan and let rest, under foil for at least 6 minutes.

For the peas, blanch fresh peas (or frozen) in heavily salted water. When done (taste a raw pea, taste them after 2 minutes, you will know when they are done), shock the peas in an ice water bath. While the peas cool, combine a teaspoon of salt and black pepper with the juice of half a lemon. Into this mixture whisk about 1/4 cup of olive oil. I added some fresh parsley cause I had it, but if you had mint that would be better. Then add drained peas to the dressing and allow to sit for a bit.

Toast pine nuts in a frying pan over low heat. Toss the nuts into the peas, spoon on a plate and shave some fresh Parmigianno Reggiano on top.

This meal inspired by all the wonderful steaks eaten during the Farewell to Meat Series. Thanks to everyone who contributed.

Monday, February 22, 2010

By Da Track

When someone asks, "You wanna go to Liuzza's for lunch?", I always answer that question with a question of my own: "On Bienville or By the Track?" No matter what the response though, I usually say yes.

Liuzza's By the Track is best known for four specialties: Gumbo, BBQ Shrimp Po-Boy, Garlic Oyster Po-Boy, and the Breathtaking Beef. On a recent lunch with Rene and Big Brutal Dave, we ordered all of the above.
  1. Gumbo - With a foundation handed down from owner Billy Gruber's mother, plus a few influences from Paul Prudhomme, this creole version includes oysters, shrimp, chicken, and andouille (but not okra). For an interesting read on the history and method behind this gumbo, check out this interview of Mr. Gruber by Amy Evans of the Southern Foodway Alliance.
  2. BBQ Shrimp Po-Boy - Hands down the best dish on the table. A hollowed-out pistolette is overflowing with shrimp swimming in a sauce comprised of "all the butter in the world and half the black pepper."
  3. Garlic Oyster Po-Boy - The crunchy fried oysters slathered in garlic butter were tasty but few in number.
  4. Breathtaking Beef - Dry roast beef and horseradish mayo which lacked a potent punch made for a disappointing bogey.

If the specials board advertises fried eggplant, these light and crisp batons dusted with powdered sugar are an excellent way to start a meal. The cramped tables and no frills service are indicative of the dive bar ambience, as is the cadre of regulars usually perched at the bar. If the ponies are running (like they will be today), it's best to place the daily double before the lunch rush and then check the tote board on your way back to work.

Liuzza's By the Track - Par

Friday, February 19, 2010

Fish Fridays - Sushi Survey

A while back, Rene and I had lunch with a fellow food writer visiting from NYC. While discussing the various cuisines of New Orleans, The Big Apple remarked: "I usually steer away from sushi when I am down here. I would rather spend my time eating things like oysters and softshell crabs in New Orleans, and save the fresh salmon and tuna for when I visit the Northwest."

I understand that when people visit New Orleans, they are looking for oysters rockefeller, barbeque shrimp, and other dishes which our city is well known for. I'll admit that when I have visitors, I take them to eat po-boys and gumbo as opposed to burritos and burgers. But to dismiss an entire genre of food based on regional stereotypes would amount to missing out on a lot of good eats.

I love sushi and firmly believe that New Orleans has quite a few sushi bars worth dining in during Lent. When I'm looking to avoid weighing myself down with fried seafood and peeling crawfish while wearing suit just isn't an option, I usually turn to raw fish. In this inaugural edition of Fish Fridays, here is my ranking of the 10 sushi bars that I have visited over the last year.
  1. Kanno - After your first meal prepared by Chef Hide and his wife Lin, you will never again hesitate to make the journey to Fat City. I'm partial to the Lobster Dynamite Roll and Hot Garlic Softshell Crab, but Hide has never steered me wrong with any of his impromptu creations.
  2. Kyoto - While the quality of the rice has varied on recent visits, I still believe that Kyoto serves some of the best sushi in town. Best bets: Poke Salad and the Shrimp Sara Roll.
  3. Sushi Bros - Quality fish, sizable portions, and fast service all at an affordable price. The 4 Roll Lunch Special, complete with soup and salad, will run you $11. If you're into more complicated rolls, I recommend the FEMA Roll (pictured top).
  4. Sake Cafe (Uptown) - Extensive menu of special rolls with unique preparations and a dizzying array of sauces.
  5. Little Tokyo (Mid-City) - According to the menu, fish is flown in weekly from the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo. If the Japanese style "fish and chips" is available, order it as a starter.
  6. Shogun - The first sushi bar in the area. Try the Steve Roll of barbeque eel and avocado.
  7. Ninja - Some of the nicest staff in the business. Don't miss the Cajun Tuna Tataki.
  8. Rock-n-Sake - At night this place resembles the Jersey Shore, but during Friday lunch the crowd is more my style. Order the Calamari Crunch Roll, but be prepared to battle on the dance floor.
  9. Wasabi - The original location on Frenchman is better than the new one in West End.
  10. Hana - Big fan of the complimentary noodle salad and the large portions (see the salmon box above), but unfortunately I find the fish lacks in quality behind the others.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Besh to San Antonio and Reflections on New Orleans

Remember a few years ago when every Who Dat in town spent countless evenings lying awake wondering if the Saints would move to San Antonio? Those certainly were scary times, but luckily we avoided them. Well, except for BC who moved to San Antonio in the hopes the Saints would follow.

But soon, Luke, the kick-ass New Orleans brasserie on St. Charles will open in San Antonio. Hat tip to the aforementioned BC for not only this tip, but also for an excited yet blurry photo of the locale taken from his office window. The fries await you, dear sir.

What an interesting time in New Orleans. Five years ago, some asked if New Orleans would survive or if it would be inundated and overrun by the franchise, Disney World, corporate megaliths. It seems that not only has New Orleans thrived, but we are turning our local spots into the national chains. Sucre, Stanley, Luke, Camellia Grill, and more are expanding and invading parts unknown.

We just elected a new mayor, who if he shows up to work three times a week will be an upgrade from what we have had for the past 8 years. This year's Mardi Gras was big, loud, and boisterous with crowds filling up every inch of ground from Tchoupitoulas to the Marigny. A more telling sign that Mardi Gras is back at full strength is evidenced by people already discussing going out of town next year to avoid the crowds.

And of course, something cosmic happened to every person who has ever had a 504 area code two Sundays past. The Saints winning the Super Bowl was the shower, shave, cup of coffee, Tylenol, and greasy burger after what had been a very long night out. In the middle of the Saints victory parade, a question: What is New Orleans becoming?

As this blog has belabored time and time again, Creole is an ever evolving term, constantly bringing in new and varied ethnicities and techniques. And so too is New Orleans. Ever shifting, ever evolving, for good and bad. Standing in Lafayette square there shook the continuous tolling of the bells from St. Patrick's Catholic Church peeling out in jubilation. Meanwhile, a Spanish speaking father hoisted his two young children on top of a Port-o-Let so they could catch a glimpse of a quarterback from Austin, TX as he rode by on a Mardi Gras float. Over it all the thunderous boom of the St. Aug marching band blasted out a song by a Hip Hop group from Atlanta.

I'm not sure where New Orleans is headed, but I am going along for the ride. And so too, are you.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Season of Sacrifice

The binge has finally ended.... Or has it?

As we last discussed on Friday, it's been a non-stop party around here since Christmas. But why fool ourselves into thinking that the good times have stopped rolling simply because some of us are supposed to abstain from eating the flesh of hooved animals for the next few Fridays?

After the resounding success of our "Farewell to Meat" series during Carnival, we have decided to embrace our Catholic upbringing with a new series this Lenten season: "Fish Fridays." From boiled crawfish and raw oysters to turtle soup and trout amandine, we will explore the bounty of our local waters through our favorite seafood dishes. So when Friday rolls around and you are trying to decide how to avoid going vegan for the day, look no further than here.

Finally, we wish everyone good luck with your respective Lenten sacrifices. As is my custom, I will be making a run at a self-imposed prohibition on deep fried foods, pizza, and sweets for the next 46 days. (Hopefully though, this year I will avoid counteracting my attempt at health and wellness with late night overindulgences of peanut butter and honey.) Rumor has it that Bloggle, a/k/a NOLAWineGuy, is giving up Twitter, but I'll believe that when I see it.

As for The Pope, well... he gave up on giving up stuff a long, long time ago.

Monday, February 15, 2010

In Defense of Emeril

Not because he needs it, but because the vitriol spewed at him by these elitist, East coast shoemakers needs to stop. First some background. The other evening while watching another painfully boring, self-important and faux psychological No Reservations some little precocious junior Neurologist on the Hudson Valley show perks up, "My dad hates Emeril."

Her dad is Michael Pardus a chef instructor at the world renowned Culinary Institute of America. No doubt Chef Pardus is a very good teacher and I am sure the man can cook. But you know what they say about why people teach.

Now Emeril did not go to the CIA, he went to Johnson & Wales. One suspects some of the jealousy fueled hatred directed towards Emeril by the Ruhlmans, Parduses and others is little more than Harvard grads mocking Thornton Melon's success. If so, grow up jerks.

In the early 90's, Emeril Lagasse took a corner warehouse in an abandoned part of town and turned it into a global empire. He also went on an unknown and struggling television network and turned it into the media force (for good and bad) that is now the Food Network. Sure, some people found the catchphrases slightly annoying, but the fact is Emeril did more to get people excited about cooking, eating, and restaurants than any other chef in history.

Emeril out Juliaed, Julia. And sorry but Emeril did not give rise to the Rachel Ray's, Sandra Lee's etc... on the Food Network. A series of market studies, advertiser driven shows, and focus groups gave us 30 Minutes From Can to Table. Essence of Emeril is also one of the best cooking shows on television. On Essence, Emeril is much calmer, more instructive, and delivers much more than just a final dish.

Bourdain's entire career would have festered out in a French-american version of TGI McFunsters had Emeril not come on the scene in the early 90's. Who would he have railed against? He bounced, by his own admission, from one dead end cooking job to another as culinary superstars rose around him in New York City. It is time to move away from the morose, introspective bullshit. You are boring everyone.

To be fair, Ruhlman addresses some of the celebrity-chef backlash in The Reach of a Chef. However, ever notice no one ever says, "I hate Emeril because the food in his restaurants sucks"? It is because the food by and large is excellent. Granted, I've had some average meals at NOLA where it always seems to be spring training, but at Emeril's and Delmonico's, I've experienced nothing but fantastic food and service.

Besides his professional success, the man has always been at the forefront of philanthropic activities both in New Orleans and across the country. People will argue he didn't react to Katrina fast enough. And maybe so, but those days after Katrina were very confusing and we all seem to have forgiven the Mr. Benson.

End Rant.

See you Wednesday. We are going to see the Mardi Gras.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Go Big or Go Home

Today marks the beginning of the end of the most gluttonous and debaucherous seven week stretch that most of us have ever lived through. And hasn't it been glorious?

If you are looking for a way to go out with a bang, look no further than the trifecta of filet mignon, foie gras, and bearnaise. This specimen came from Galatoire's, but any restaurant is likely more than willing to create this concoction if the kitchen is stocked accordingly.

Too much too soon, you say? Nonsense. If there is one characteristic which native New Orleanians are known for, it's stamina. So don't hold back this weekend, because the last time I checked, Lent doesn't start till Wednesday.

Finish strong.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Camellia Grill

Camellia Grill, that much loved institution on Carrollton, turns out one of the better burgers in the city. The quarter inch thick patties certainly benefit immensely from their stay on the decades old griddle and its coating of bacon grease. Always order a cheeseburger dressed with grilled onions. Sometimes add bacon, but only when your diet isn't very demanding.

And here is a tip - the magic time to go before the morning rush. If you go after 9:30 you are doomed to wait, but earlier the hungover college kids and sleepy headed uptowners have yet to emerge from their cocoons. The last time we were in there, Lindsay got all excited by the "mac n' cheese bites" and had to have them. They were not good; just fried disks of imitation dairy. But after that brush with mediocrity, we had hankering for the real deal mac and cheese.

So I combed through some cookbooks and coddled this creation together. What you will like is that the richness of the sauce is tempered by the heat of the cayenne and mustard. Adding some hot sauce (especially Valentina) when you mix the pasta and the mornay (more on this latter) will only make this dish better.

If you want to learn how to make three quick cooking techniques, mac and cheese is a good tutor. A roux becomes a bechamel which begets a mornay. To begin, warm a quart of milk over low heat.

In a heavy bottomed pot, melt one stick of butter. When melted but not brown, add 1/4 cup of flour. This is the roux. Keep the heat low and stir for about two minutes. Then pour the warmed milk into the blond roux and whisk. When fully mixed (this is now called a bechamel), add a good pinch of salt, 8 grinds of black pepper, a teaspoon of cayenne, and a teaspoon of ground mustard. Stir and then add in 2 cups of shredded cheese, about one handful at a time.

Aside: Ok, you have gone to all this trouble, do not use some pre-shredded garbage that came in a plastic pouch with a resealable zipper that always breaks. Get some nice white or yellow cheddar, maybe some fontina, some provolone, shoot even blue cheese will work. A combination of cheeses is a winner as well.

Once the sauce thickens and cheese has fully melted (this is now a mornay sauce), add in one package of cooked pasta of your choice. Something small, like elbow macaroni (classic), shells (elitist), or bowties (whimsical?). Stir some more and pour into a buttered casserole dish or individual ramekins. Top with breadcrumbs, more cheese if you want, and some small chunks of butter.

Bake at 375 degrees until bubbly and brown. Can also be made ahead of time, then just bake off when ready.

Perfect for those who think diets are for quitters and Donnie Boy Riguez. Ooops, sorry to be redundant.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Farewell to Meat - Lorin Gaudin

Lorin Gaudin: Media Personality, Celebutante and International Raconteur
The Cut: Entrana con fina la Piel, from La Boca

In the New Orleans culinary underground, Lorin Gaudin knows where the bodies are hidden. She has been active in the New Orleans food scene for years and as a result has a finely tuned ear for New Orleans food gossip. She will probably kill us for saying this, but she has photos of Robert Peyton wearing little more than his trademark sweater vest, Docker's No Wrinkle Slacks, and a scowl.

This is not to say that she is a ginnywoman, but rather that she is well tuned into the stories and motivations of chefs and restaurants. You can check out Lorin on WDSU TV on Thursday afternoons and on WBOK 1230 am on Fridays from 2-3 where she dishes out platefuls of restaurant and food news.

So when we needed a final candidate for the Farewell to Meat series, we naturally turned to her. Lorin graciously agreed, and here is her take on what would be the perfect Mardi Gras dinner.

1) Where are you eating? La Boca

2) What cut of meat? Skirt steak with the skin on.

3) How cooked? The way it comes - juicy and cooked-through.

4) What else are you eating with it? Golf salad and those incredible garlicky fries with the green chimichurri.

5) What are you drinking with it? Whatever fabulous Argentinian wine Adolfo Garcia suggests.

6) What are you giving up for Lent? Bread. I figure Lent dovetails nicely with Passover when Jews give up eating anything leavened. Oh, did I mention I'm Jewish?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Ooh, Dreeeeaaaam Burger

Considering that most of my time these days is spent at the office, I am lucky enough to have co-workers who enjoy a fine meal almost as much as I do. One of these characters is Willy Wonka, a confessed chocoholic and self-proclaimed arbiter of overall good taste.

While Willy has dined in some of the nation's finest restaurants, he has an innate weakness for the simplest of foods: the hamburger. If there is a burger on the menu, chances are that he is ordering it. Kobe burger at Cafe Minh? Been there. Peanut butter burger at Yo Mama's? Done that. I think that Willy has eaten more hamburgers in the past 6 months than I have in the last 6 years. But of all the burgers in the city, one has stood above all others...

The Dream Burger at Elizabeth's in the Bywater has been christened by Willy as "the best in the city." As a lowly Oompa Loompa, I rarely question Willy's judgment (even if I disagree), but it's hard to argue with his assessment in this case. First, the beef is superb. Moist and flavorful with a heavy dosage of fat, it's tempting to order the basic burger with nothing but a light smear of mayo. But why go plain when you can have praline bacon? The criss-cross of sugary sweet pork belly may be unorthodox, but it works. Lastly, a sauce of blue cheese flows over the sides of the patty. Ask for extra napkins.

$10 gets you the Dream Burger and your choice of side, of which I would recommend the sweet potato and grit fries. Don't forget to save room for ooey gooey cake for dessert.

Friday, February 5, 2010

"These Are Strange and Beautiful Days"

Foreword: Food is the second to last thing on anyone's mind today. Work is obviously pulling up the rear. This also applies to blogging. Win or lose on Sunday, chances are we will not be posting on Monday morning. (You know how tired you are after a full weekend of standing up and getting crunk.) Seeing as we have a parade to attend on Tuesday, we will see you then.

I remember getting trounced by the Vikings in the '87 playoff game. I remember when I knew the entire cha-ching commercial. I remember Morten hitting that 60 yarder at the end of the first half of the '91 wild card game against Atlanta and thinking, "There is no way we lose this game." I remember losing to the Eagles at home in the playoffs the next year. I remember the Dome Patrol. I remember losing a lot in the mid to late 90s. I remember when we drafted Ricky and Ditka wore dreadlocks. I remember when Hakim dropped the ball. I remember sitting in Tiger Stadium and losing to the Dolphins, Bears, Bucs, and Panthers. I remember when Gleason blocked the punt. I remember the 12th man in the huddle and when Hartley hit the fleur de lis.

I could wax on about what it means for the Saints to finally make it to the Super Bowl, but you read enough of our gibberish already. Instead, I give to you a collection of stories written about the Saints in recent weeks. So if you want to really know what it means to be a Saints fan, ask the bank VP in Biloxi or the Metairie girl who will run the game ball onto the field in Miami. If you want to know what Drew Brees means to New Orleans, read what Peter King has to say. Whether its cancelling school or continuing trials, we will do whatever it takes to minimize "distractions" from the game. Don't forget to pay tribute to those who unfortunately never made it to see this day and don't let anyone tell you that "Who Dat?" belongs to anyone other than the fans. Our apologies to the Manning family, even though Peyton is a great guy and a great New Orleanian, on Sunday he is the enemy. So get ready Miami, the Who Dat nation is coming in full force, and we are not settling for anything less than a miracle.

Yesterday's failures are what makes today's successes so sweet. These are strange and beautiful days in New Orleans. Let's enjoy them while we can.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Restaurante Telemar

If you went to high school in New Orleans around the turn of the millennium, then you may remember a notorious party thrown by the Norton family at an abandoned warehouse on Earhart. Or you may remember that same warehouse a few years later becoming Daiquiri Island as the de facto spot to drink when you were under 21. Now that warehouse/daiquiri spot is Restaurante Telemar, a cramped, loud Honduran place turning out impeccable, flavorful cuisine.

Instead of chips and salsa, your meal begins with a Honduran nacho dish. Crispy house made tortillas fried golden are topped with creamy beans, tomatoes, some peppers, and a salty and delicious cheese (chihuahua, likely but there was something that may have been lost in translation).

They are perfect with cold beer - in this case, Port Royal from Honduras. No Coronas on this menu, thank God. Port Royal, a German style pilsner, has a refreshing, crisp taste which is perfect for this type of food. Latin American food is generally a beer cuisine (see also, Vietnamese), and that is just fine by me.

Lindsay got the chicken with plantains, which was out-of-the-park good. Tender, juicy, well-seasoned chicken, fried to a crisp, sat atop some plantains and was ringed by a crunchy, cabbage based slaw. Getting a crunchy piece of chicken skin with some tart slaw and then the sweet plantain, all in one bite was like winning the Lotto.

The tongue in red sauce took our taste buds on an entirely different fantastic voyage. The tongue had been braised in a cousin of a tomato based Creole sauce. Chunks of red, yellow, orange, and green peppers, some onion, and tomato stewed with spices added an addictive flavor to the tongue stew. The rice, slaw and big hunk of cheese did not hurt either.

What we loved about this food was how flavorful and soulful each dish was. The preparations showcased what is best about different home cooking techniques from various cultures. The dishes that take a lot of time to make (i.e., tongue) or are just really simple (fried chicken with plantains) are always the best representations of a nation's cuisine. And Telemar is representing. Now, if I could just wash it down with a Jungle Juice.

Restaurante Telemar - Birdie.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Farewell to Meat - Chip Flanagan

Chip Flanagan
Executive Chef, Ralph's on the Park
The Meat: Wagyu Rib Eye with cauliflower puree and grilled scallions

Chef Chip Flanagan has cooked in kitchens in New Orleans for years (plus a stint on St. Croix) and brings a unique "the cuisines of the world are my inspiration" point of view to Ralph's on the Park. His dishes present recognizable New Orleans foods in new light. For example, the Cajun Scotch Egg wraps boudin around a poached egg. Or the Oyster's Rockefeller Reprise in which a deliciously rich spinach custard is topped with plump, fried oysters that are then crowned by bacon studded bread crumbs.

When Flanagan first took over the reins at Ralph's, these ideas seemed out of place with management and ownership. Flanagan recalls sitting in a meeting and finally saying, "Listen, whenever there is change, we are going to lose people, but my food can bring more people in than we lose." That candidness and the ability to take risks has helped put Ralph's back on our map.

And the perfect example of this is the Japanese Wagyu on the menu. Wagyu beef comes from cows in Japan who spend their whole life living much like the Pope: they are fed alcohol, massaged, and kept happy. This results in a meat with more marble than Versace's Miami villa.

The Wagyu is $12 an ounce, but a 3 ounce order is sufficient for the most tender, soft, and pleasing meat in town. To cook, Chef Flanagan cuts a rectangular portion from the rib eye, seasons it with salt and pepper, and cooks it with no oil in a blue steel pan over high heat. The meat only cooks for around forty-five seconds per side resulting in rare to medium rare doneness. But trust us, you don't want to go further than this.

After cooking the meat rests before being sliced for final plating.

An up close view.

See those beautiful streaks of soft, white fat running through the meat? It tastes like Hartley's field goal felt.

To round out his meattidunal Mardi Gras supper, Flanagan would go with the lamb spare ribs with Worcestershire and satsuma glaze, and the City Park Salad. For dessert, he suggests either the Creme Brulee or trio of chocolates. And what to drink with all of this?

"Brandy. Just cuz."

For Lent, Flanagan isn't giving up anything so much as he will vow to exercise more. But don't expect him to stop tasting the Wagyu. "Giving up eating this meat would be too great a burden."

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Behind This Door...

... is another world far, far away from the Uptown street on which it lies. No sign, no valet, no uncovered windows to peak through. Unless you're a Newman mom picking up your son from football practice, you're not going to find Gautreau's if you are not actively searching for it. Instead, you are likely to just drive on by, unaware of the fantastic food being served inside of this old pharmacy.

On the whole, the dining room is most often described as a "jewel box." The main dining room on the ground floor holds less than 100 seats, but the mirrored columns and tall ceilings contrive more space than is actually there. Trompe-l'œil creates curtains from beige tinged walls. You walk through the dining room to reach the bar in the back, whose lively atmosphere usually resonates off the pressed tin ceilings.

While the dining room is full of illusion, deception is undeniably absent from the menu. Descriptions of dishes read relatively straightforward, but what comes forth from the kitchen can only be described as "excellence in simplicity." Same goes for the number of dishes on the menu, which is short yet nothing seems to be missing. One would think it would be easy to choose from a list of 5 appetizers and 7 entrees, but that was hardly my experience.

In the appetizer section, crisp pork belly is augmented by a ying and yang duo of sweet roasted peaches and tart pickled onions. You can find crabmeat and gnocchi on a number of menus around town, but Gautreau's version is lighter than others while still retaining its richness in a sauce of parmesan cream, English peas, and chanterelle mushrooms. Meaty scallops are delicious in their own right, but that show was stolen by the bacon and corn relish on top and spicy beurre blanc underneath.

In the entree section, a peppery saute of chorizo and clams served as a base for a crisp filet of fresh snapper, the spicy renderings of the chorizo flavored each bite of swiss chard next door. The Folk Singer is no vegetarian, but the pergoies stuffed with wild mushrooms brought her one step closer to conversion. We were too full for dessert.

Gautreau's is a special place - from the hidden location and unique interior down to the amazing cuisine. Crossing the threshold of the doorway is akin to entering your own private club, but yet you wonder how everyone else knew to come here? People seem to find great food no matter what the location. As Rene says, "Here's to hoping it stays a secret."

Gautreau's - Eagle

Monday, February 1, 2010

Taqueria D.F.

If you're headed to the Super Bowl with a Spanish vocabulary solely consisting of "Bienvenido a Miami," you're in trouble. But instead of spending all of that money on Rosetta Stone, might we make a suggestion?

For lunch today, take an off-campus field trip down South Claiborne to Taqueria D.F., where a complimentary language lesson is always served with lunch. In this month's issue of OffBeat Magazine, we review this taco truck which serves some of the best lengua, barbacoa, and tripa this side of Mexico City. Yes, we understand that Cuban food is more prominent in the home of Super Bowl XLIV, but you need to start at the bottom and work your way up. Have you seen Scarface?

Just a 12 minute drive from the CBD, the D.F. dishes out tacos at a $1.50 per pop, cheap enough to allow you to sample the entire smorgasbord of delicious meats available. Now that's a working lunch that's both easy on the wallet and filling for your stomach. The $5 footlong crew at the office will be begging you to take them along next time.

As for how to say "Who Dat?" en Espanol, you're on your own for that one.

Taqueria D.F. - Birdie