Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Da Incredible, Edible Egg

An egg is proof that animals and their embryos were meant to be eaten. Fact: did you know that the pleats in a chef's toque (50) signifies that the person wearing the toque knows how to cook an egg 50 ways? You can thank me later for this useless trivia.

Back to the star. Cooking with eggs requires nothing more than a heat source and an idea. One of my favorite ways to cook them is en cocotte. Which is French for "in the bathtub with a bottle of wine". It is a very simple way of cooking. Butter the inside of a ramekin, maybe sprinkle in some bread crumbs, crack an egg in the ramekin (do not whisk, just leave it be), top with some cream, and bake at high temperature for little more than10 minutes.

This simple presentation lends itself to thousands of variations (use left over red gravy and top with parmesan, ham and bechamel, etc...). For this version, the explosion of flavors from Huevos serve as the guidepost. But all of them, when cooked properly, turn out firm whites with gooey yolks that are perfect for scooping up with some toasted bread. Or serve it alongside a nice salad for a different midweek lunch.

Eggs en Cocotte with Green Tomato Salsa and Mozzarella

Preheat an oven to 400 degrees.

Butter the inside of a ramekin. Crack an egg and place inside ramekin. On top of the egg carefully spoon a layer of your favorite green salsa. Then place on top some torn fresh mozzarella. Finally sprinkle some oregano on top and a healthy pour of olive oil.

Bake at 400 degrees for around 12 minutes. Digging in with your fork, you get this delicious, herbaceous cheese layer, then the spicy salsa, and finally a perfectly cooked runny egg.

Enjoy. And we will see you around the bend. Have a good Easter.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


In my office, choosing where to eat lunch is akin to passing healthcare reform. Factions are split between cost, time, substance, and just when you think an agreement has been reached, there is always someone lying in wait to organize a filibuster. Thankfully, one choice we can all agree on is Juan's Flying Burrito. While the proliferation of authentic taquerias around town have pushed Tex-Mex further back in my mental list of preferred cuisines, Juan's is never far from my mind. The menu is unique enough to differentiate it from the typical place cranking out never ending combinations of meat, tortillas, and sauce which all manage to taste the same.

Chips and salsa are not free at Juan's, so we usually start with an order of Beans, Rice, and Chips - a heaping bowl of black beans and rice topped with melted cheese, red salsa, sour cream, and jalapenos. Although the chips are straight from a bag, it's still a great value at $4.

Although most people choose the familiar chicken/steak/taco/burrito route, I usually tend toward the specialties. The Pork 'n Slaw tacos is a former special which has evolved into a menu staple. Shredded pork in a light tomato sauce are filled in taco shells and topped with crunchy cabbage slaw. I once witnessed Willy Wonka eat a half dozen of these.

The quesadillas are huge and range from the simple (my preference) to the extravagant. The latter is best represented in the Bacon Azul filled with ground beef, bacon, crumbles of blue cheese, grilled onions, mushrooms, and more cheese. Too rich for my blood.

The most offbeat choice on the menu is likely my favorite. The Chicken Juaha Roll is filled with cold almond chicken salad, fresh spinach, a little cream cheese, avocado, salsa, and jack cheese. All of this is rolled inside a spinach tortilla cut sushi style, and then sprinkled with parmesan. Best of all, this concoction is classified as a salad on the menu, which appeases my healthy conscience.

The ambience at both the Mid-City and Uptown locations is alternative to say the least. While the children running amok on Carrollton creates a "McDonald's Playland gone wrong" atmosphere, Magazine Street is seemingly more refined with it's long, narrow dining room and wooden booths and chairs. Visible ink and piercings appear to be a requirement for employment at both locations, but for some reason I wouldn't have it any other way. Lastly, while I am partial to the Mid-City location because it's closer to home, I must say that in my experience the original location on Magazine Street serves consistently better food.

Juan's Mid-City - Par
Juan's Uptown - Birdie

Monday, March 29, 2010


Around this time every year, the cooks of the Deep South begin closing their kitchens for the summer. The majority of your cooking should take place over the slowly burning coals of your grill until the cold returns in October. You can use your kitchen to cut veggies, make a salad, or slice fruit, but other than that, abandon the oven.

As you grill, smoke, and 'cue this summer, keep in mind that no matter what anyone says, good barbecue sauce makes anything taste better. Uncle Lee Bird's Cajun Zing Sauce is great barbecue sauce, so do the math. What you will really like about the sauce is the heat from it blasts away the initial sweetness. So you get that heat creeping up the back of your throat thing, which is much preferable to say strep creeping up the back of your throat.

I've had this sauce on pork butt (made by Lee and Nikki Mouton) at Hogs for the Cause. The way the sweetness and heat played off the smoky, fatty meat and pungent blue cheese slaw was enough to make me a convert.

But then I tried it on a half chicken that I had marinated in yogurt, roasted in a smoking oven, and then placed on the grill. The resulting chicken had incredible tenderness, a skin that felt shellacked, and a juicy interior.

The sauce works equally well on burgers, but I would be careful to make sure you only baste it on at the last minute, or else the sugars in the sauce can cause it to burn quickly.

This is good sauce made right here and well-tuned to the New Orleans palate. Find it here, and let us know what you use it on.

Perfect Barbecue Chicken

For this recipe I borrow from the Indian tandoori tradition by marinating chicken in yogurt before blasting it in a super hot oven. Then place it over indirect heat on the grill and baste on some sauce. Cover and let the smoke do the work.

I have a simple Weber grill, so to smoke things I place the coals on one side of the grill and the food on the other. The vent hole on the lid goes over the food side and remains open. This causes air to move in a current (or something like that).

Take one chicken cut up. Rinse and pat dry. In a large bowl combine 2 cups of plain Greek style yogurt, a hefty pinch of salt, pepper, and paprika, and 4 minced garlic cloves. Stir to combine. Taste, adjust seasoning. It should be very aggressive. Into the bowl, add your chicken pieces and toss. Place in fridge and allow to marinate for 2-24 hours.

Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees. Remove chicken from marinade bowl and place in a roasting pan. Do not remove the marinade. Place in oven and roast for 45 minutes. After roasting, place chicken on grill, baste with Zing Sauce, place cover on grill, and come back in fifteen minutes. Serve with cold beer (or if Mary Magdalene isn't around, rosé).

Friday, March 26, 2010

Fish Fridays - Mark Falgoust

Often in life true talent finds you instead of the other way around. Back in January, we were invited by the folks at Grand Isle to sample some new dishes which they were experimenting with. While little of what we tasted has found a permanent home on the menu (and therefore why we didn't write about it here), we were blown away by several of the creations of Chef Mark Falgoust.

We attempted to secure his services for our "Farewell to Meat" series, but Mark was a little busy at the time with his impending nuptials as well as other chefly duties (like figuring out how to cater his own wedding reception). While his "Pork" will have to wait till next year's Carnival for unveiling, his turtle sauce piquant was ripe and ready for Fish Fridays.

"The secret to the sauce is equal parts red sauce and brown sauce," says Mark. His red sauce recipe is akin to Tony Mandina's, while his brown sauce is a derivative of the massive quantities of stock made in the kitchen every week. Together these two simmer with trinity, chilis, and turtle meat.

Upon presentation, a strong aroma of lemon wafts from the plate to your nose, and the heat from the chilis linger on the tongue after each bite. In our opinion, this thick stew could rival seafood gumbo as your potage of choice on Lenten Fridays.

While his love for charcuterie and the rustic foods of South Louisiana are an homage to his roots, Mark's training and experience - his resume includes stints at Peristyle, Herbsaint, Cochon, and Craft in NYC - expands his culinary range into more "refined" cuisine as well. A perfect example is the ad hoc oyster salad which he created just a few hours before we arrived in the kitchen.

The dish begins with an assortment of chopped, grilled vegetables - fennel, zucchini, and mushrooms - and a julienne of roasted red pepper. These are tossed in a salsa verde composed of mint, Vietnamese chilis, garlic, and parsley ground by mortar and pestle. The oysters were brined for 45 minutes in a mixture of salt, sugar, and sriracha. (Did we mention that Mark loves chilis?) After a quick drain, he smokes the oysters over low heat until they just begin to plump up. After the oysters cool, they tossed in simple cornmeal batter and dropped in the deep fryer.

Place vegetables on a plate along with a drizzle of salsa verde and a pool of tarragon aioli, stack oysters, another touch of aioli, and marvel. I cannot put into words how delicious this was and can only hope that one day we will all be able to order it off the menu at Grand Isle.

Bon appetit.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Mall Food

There are few things in life which I loathe more than going to the mall. Circling the parking lot for an open space... avoiding eye contact with Rosetta Stone salesmen... spending money.... Unless you're either a teenage girl or a masochist, then I don't know why you would feel differently. But we all need "stuff" at some point in our lives, and even though I strive fervently to spend my shopping dollars in Orleans Parish, I have found myself at Causeway and Vets on quite a few Saturdays of late.

As an incentive for agreeing to carry her bags around Lakeside, The Folk Singer usually promises me lunch as a reward, and even though I will not hesitate to profess my unequivocal love for cookie cake from Great American Cookie Company - no, I am not joking - the food court at Lakeside just doesn't cut it for me. Thankfully, just across Severn in Fat City, awaits a dizzying array of meats just begging to be rolled into fresh tortillas, topped with salsa, and gobbled down with glee.

The ambience at Taco San Miguel is not what you would expect from an "authentic" taqueria. Beside the Spanish echoing from the TV and stereo, the shiny aluminum high-top tables and chairs outside and drive-thru window might fool you into unconsciously ordering an hamburguesa. That might not be a bad choice, but allow me to offer a few suggestions for those of you looking for something a little different.

Nachos San Miguel (above) are phenomenal. What sets these apart are the two types and textures of cheese - both melted Chihuahua cheese and tiny crumbles of queso fresco. The queso flameado is served in a cast iron pan bubbling with cheese and either chorizo (too greasy) or pico de gallo (much better).

For those penny pinchers, Taco San Miguel offers free chips and salsa bar, where a quartet of salsas are lined up like colors of the rainbow. For my tastes, the "Hot" version is overwhelming with the flavor of roasted tomatoes. The medium verde is my favorite, but the two mild versions (chipotle and basic red chili) are also welcome at my table. The bar also includes fresh jalapenos, lime wedges, cilantro and chopped onions for topping your...

Sopes? This corn pita topped with your choice of meat, lettuce, tomato, queso fresco, sour cream, and guacamole is a steal at $2.50. Think of it as an inside-out pupusa. For those longing for homemade tortillas, the Tres Tacos plate comes with 3 tacos + black beans and rice. You get your option of corn or flour tortillas and lettuce/tomato or cilantro/onions.

But what's most impressive about Taco San Miguel is the extensive list of meat choices, a/k/a "carne al gusto." Choose from shreds of slow cooked barbacoa, flabby and flavorful chicharrones, or fruity slices of cactus. The tripe was entirely too chewy, but the lengua (tongue) was spot on. Grilled chicken, pork, and beef are available with a combination of marinades and sauces.

Viva el Ciudad Gordo!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Adventures in Breakfasting

My idea of a great breakfast is a double cheeseburger from Camellia Grill. My disdain, however, for the early morning meal withers slowly. We eat more breakfast now; mostly at home, but occasionally on a Saturday or Sunday morning we venture out into the dining pasture before lunch.

Oak St. Cafe sits on the corner of Dublin and Oak St. (but you likely knew that). The interior is busy, noisy, and full of people-like breakfast in bedlam. The walls lined with pictures and memorabilia fail to contain the people spilling out into the street. The tables crammed in nooks and the piano player in a cranny round out the space. A big display case stocked with doughnuts and other pleasures of the baking world cries out in vain. You wait in line, order, grab an open table, and wait for your name to be called.

A long wait as it turned out. If you are recovering from one too many, this may not be the best bet for your first stop. But the Vietnamese Iced Coffee and an opportunity to take in the scene made it more than enjoyable. The coffee needed to be about three degrees stronger to really do battle with the sweet, syrupy condensed milk though.

If you are going to make Huevos Rancheros, they need to be bold. Season the eggs, the salsa, the beans, and the sauce aggressively with both salt and acid. Serve it piping hot. These Huevos did not comply with the rules of the game. By no means a terrible version of the dish, but certainly not the Platonic ideal.

Lindsay's Mexican Scramble had many of the components of the Huevos Rancheros in a less formal environment. Chorizo, peppers, and onions get wrapped in an egg who doesn't know if he wants to be scrambled or omeleted. The beans and salsa provide alternating contrasts and flavors with each bite. The salsa brings a peppery acidity, while the beans bring a depth of flavor and creaminess.

Oak St. Cafe is a very lovely little breakfast and lunch spot. Everyone seems to know one another and enjoy the scene. Bring a newspaper, linger just long enough for those waiting for a table to question your motivations. It is the weekend, you got all day. If nothing else the music, jumpy versions of Dave Brubeck and the like sounding from the up-right piano, will put you in a great mood. Oak St. Cafe is not fussy, it is not perfect, but it is breakfast.

Oak St. Cafe - Par.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Perfect Lunch

A well-timed, relaxing Saturday lunch is one of life's great pleasures. There is no office to get back to and no phone calls to return. Nothing but the prospect of a nap or maybe a little work in the yard lays before you. Unfortunately, many restaurants need the extra time during Saturday to prepare for their busiest night, so many places close for Saturday lunch.

But not St. James. Don't head to St. James at noon for lunch, wait til one o'clock or later. The crowds will be smaller and you can guarantee a seat on the small porch (which is preferable to the larger but sun-blocked patio). While your food is prepared, you may want to start with a beer.

The name says it all. An aggressive, gripping ale that will make you grow hair on the back of your neck. If you still need a night light and a teddy bear to fall asleep, order something else.

The sandwich artists at St. James construct masterpieces worthy of hanging at NOMA. Unfortunately, bread has been in a Tiger Woods self-imposed exile from our diets since Mardi Gras. But once Lent ends, the Smoky Blue and Mozzarella better prepare to be destroyed.

No worries, the Parmesan Reggiano Salad makes a sandwich look like a chump hiding behind his mother's apron. Thin slices of salami, tender marinated artichokes, buttery black olives, and pine nuts hold down mixed lettuces with authority. The sprinkling of salty Parmesan neither distracts nor gets lost in the shuffle. Caution: the last bite of this salad may cause a fight to break out at your table.

Standing with the charcuterie board stood a freshly sliced baguette from La Boulangerie calling out for attention. We ignored it. Instead using fingers and forks to direct the the capicola, braesola, prosciutto, rillettes, salami, cornichons, and sharp cheese into our mouths. The rillettes had a strong, but pleasant, flavor of cloves and allspice. The braesola, covered in a crust of black pepper, made an impressive foil for the sharp mustard. By the end of the meal, only the bread remained.

St. James is not the cheapest lunch in town. Two beers (one extra large), a salad, and the charcuterie plate will set you back about $40. It is however, my definition, of a perfect lunch.

St. James Cheese Co. - Eagle

Monday, March 22, 2010

Empire State of Mind

Places I Have Been - Paris, London, Lyon, Munich, Geneva, Interlaken, Brussels, Nice, Cinque Terre, Barcelona, Prague, Madrid, Porto, Lisbon, Lagos, Restaurant Bocuse, Napa, The French Laundry, Saints NFC Championship Victory

Place I Had Not Been Before This Month - New York

After 3 years in Charleston and 1 in Paris, the Parisian Princess decided to undertake a Masters Degree in Art Business from Sotheby's in New York. (Didn't know that Sotheby's had a school? Me neither.) Anyway, after looking at a bunch of paintings, writing a few papers, and traveling to Munich and Miami on field trips,* it was time for PP to graduate and that was reason enough for me to take my first bite of the Big Apple. While I was only there for 3 days, I managed to squeeze in a good bit of eating.

Balthazar - I knew that I would be starving when my flight landed at 10:00pm on Thursday night, so I had already made a 11:00pm reservation at Balthazar. Yes, a reservation was necessary as there was a 10 minute wait for a table when we walked in. Steak frites was average, with the beef a bit tougher than I expected. Cool place; OK food.

John's Pizzeria of Bleecker Street - New York style pizza was a must try for me, and we chose John's upon suggestion of Bloggle. He did not steer us wrong. Thin, crackly, smoky crust; a bit greasy but not too much; and a restrained hand with both cheese and sauce.

Ino Cafe & Wine Bar - Another recommendation from Bloggle - he later regretted not charging us as a consultant - in the Village. Nothing but a 15' x 25' dining room with a bar and seating for 16 people, all Italian wine list, and a tiny kitchen serving paninis and bruschetta. We loved this place, and the food made us realize just how good simple-but-done-well can be. Our selections were pesto, summer squash, caponata with goat cheese, and diced artichoke with pecorino.

Casa Mono - Mario Batali's Spanish restaurant had been chosen our "big meal" of the trip, and we went all out. The restaurant is dark (hence, no pictures), tables are squeezed in wherever there is room, and the open kitchen has only a 4 man line turning out some amazing food. The seared foie gras was the best I have ever eaten. Pork croquetas were stacked in alternating layers with slices of green tomato, whose acidity were welcome to the dish. Pan fried sweetbreads had a rich and creamy texture. Patatas bravas were roasted fingerling potatoes covered in a spicy tomato confit with loads of caramelized onions; non-traditional, but delicious.

Golden Unicorn - This 4-story castle of dim sum was our last supper of the trip. The place was insane. You wait on the ground floor for your number to be called over the loud speaker and then take the elevator to one of the three dining room levels. Once the doors open you are immediately hit with a cacophony of clinking tea cups and jovial chatter. You sit at communal tables of 10 as rolling carts full of different foods are wheeled by.

Dumplings of every size, shape, and filling. Steamed buns filled with pork, sauteed chicken feet (nothing but skin, bones, and hype in my opinion), clams, and a bunch of things I ate but could never deduce what they were.

Not a bad first trip.

*In all seriousness, the Sotheby's graduate program is no joke, and PP worked very hard. She graduated with distinction, and I am very proud of her.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Fish Fridays - Rio Mar

In the nineties, the Warehouse District dining scene was like America before European nations discovered it. If Emeril Lagasse was the Christopher Columbus of the movement to the Warehouse District, Adolfo Garcia must surely be Francisco Pizarro - the swashbuckling, conquistador who has established highly successful restaurants of differing scope throughout the area. Of course, as far as we know, there has been less blood shed with Garcia's conquest than with Pizarro's.

Garcia, 48, had cooked in restaurants in New Orleans and New York for years while waiting for his chance to cook his food on his terms in New Orleans. "I was cooking in New York, and I would come back every six months to take the pulse of the restaurant scene. People like Emeril, Susan (Spicer), and Donald (Link), they paved the way for restaurants to open which were different than traditional New Orleans restaurants," says Garcia.

In 2000, the time was right and Garcia and Nick Bazan opened Rio Mar. "Everyone told us we were crazy. They said, 'You are going to do Spanish seafood? Where?'"

Since opening, Rio Mar has attracted diners with their take on Spanish and Latin American, maritime focused cuisine. "We have a bacalao dish on the menu, and Europeans and Hispanics come in and order it because for them it is a traditional dish. But just last week, a group from Pennsylvania wanted to try it," Garcia says describing the popularity of the classic which was at first a tongue-in-cheek offering on Rio Mar's menu.

The dish is named Bacalao a la Abuelita Lula, after Garcia's grandmother. Garcia explains, "My mother, God bless her, made bacalao every Friday in lent, really always in Lent. It wasn't very good, she used ketchup. But when I saw how my grandmother cooked it, I saw how great it can be."

That bacalao starts with filets of cod which have been salted and left to dry. The cod arrives at Rio Mar with a crusty, white exterior. After three days of soaking in water (the water is changed daily), the cod is then cooked in an aromatic mixture of soffrito, tomatoes, raisins, and sherry vinegar. The bacalao is sent to the table crowned with parsley, olive oil and salted marcona almonds, a true "olfactory overload" describes Miles Prescott, sous chef at Rio Mar.

The sweet and sour sauce smelling dish, with a strong presence of cod, arrives at the table bubbling and perfuming everything around it. The taste is vaguely reminiscent of early forays into Asian dining, sweet and sour pork, duck sauce, and the like, but with a similarity to Creole sauce due to the tomato. Wash it down with an effervescent glass of txakoli.

When Garcia speaks, he does so with authority; be he talking about authentic Mexican cuisine, food costs, or discussing the effects of the Unification of Catholic Kings on Catalonian cuisine. "That sweet/sour flavor profile you find all over the Mediterranean-from Venice to Sicily, Corsica to Sardinia. At one time, many of those lands were under the control of the kingdom of Catalonia. This was before Spain unified, kicked out the Moors, and started burning heretics at the stake. You know, the Inquisition wasn't such a great time for Spain," he says.

Ceviche, another area of culinary expertise close to Garcia's heart, receives great respect from his kitchen staff. "Many places are serving 'ceviche,' but we really serve ceviche," Garcia explains.

Rio Mar's appeal lies not in its location or cuisine, but in its soul as a wonderful place to enjoy seafood prepared in different ways. So if you are looking to keep faithful, while tasting something different, head to Rio Mar this evening. Consider it Lenten American cuisine.

Panamanian Ceviche

Take 3 medium size drum filets (about 2 pounds total) and remove the blood line by cutting on either side of the line. Discard. Slice long, thin strips down the length of the filet and then cut strips into a small dice.

Dice a red onion. Take two habaneros, remove the seeds and stems, and finely dice. Combine the fish, habaneros, and red onion in a bowl. Cover with fresh squeezed lime juice, about a half cup, (you can use bottled lime juice, it's ok; Garcia does) and a good amount of salt.

Garcia believes the salt is key. "The acid in the lime juice will eat up most of the salt, so you need a lot in there." He used 2 big pinches of salt. Allow mixture to marinate for at least three hours.

Serve with corn chips, popcorn, or (Garcia's favorite) ice cold beer.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Crawfish, Spice, and Things Not Very Nice

"Boiled crawfish. I have to have it. Some place like Sammy's in Baton Rouge. They have the best crawfish I've ever eaten. And hurry up." Was the message from Lindsay last week. So we set out to Bucktown to find it. While we technically found boiled crawfish, our envie was not satisfied.

Deanie's Seafood in Bucktown has been around long enough for one to forget about it. As a kid, we used to always drive past it on Good Friday and marvel at the lines. What seemed to be thousands of people were gathered in the shell parking lot, sucking down cold beers and smoking cigarettes as they waited for their table or ice chest full of crawfish. But I can't ever remember actually eating there.

We sat down and were promptly given some boiled potatoes and butter. Damn you , Lenten promises. Then some beers arrived in a big, broad schooner frosting at the edge.

So far so good. Then the real food came. First a seafood gumbo which was very tasty, but the bits of crab had been boiled into oblivion. What once had perhaps been plump crabmeat, now looked like tiny filaments afloat on a brown bayou. Good stock though, with a sturdy shrimp flavored backbone.

The shrimp remoulade arrived as you see it below. Salads and cold seafood appetizers with a dressing should always be tossed in the kitchen. I have no problem with dipping shrimp into a plastic tub of remoulade sauce (which was very good and mustardy), but if you could do it for me that would be a lot better. This way I am not left with half a tub of remoulade and no shrimp to dip in it.

Admittedly, crawfish have yet to reach their peak. Right now, small, tough buggers predominate. But cooking tiny crawfish for the same length of time as their big brothers makes them mushy and disgusting. The effect resembles braising more than boiling. The spice level on the crawfish had some admirable qualities, but the salt quotient did not.

So where do you eat crawfish in New Orleans? The Boss wants to know.

Deanies - Bogey.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


The Folk Singer and I have been in a bistro mood as of late. Sometimes there is nothing better than simple but refined French fare. Cafe Degas, one of the longest running French bistros in the city, is my standby. Something about the cramped seating, candlelit tables, and open-air dining room just relaxes the mind and body. The food is quite good as well.

Starters are limited to the classics: patés, cheese, mussels, boudin noir, and escargot. We usually start with a combination paté and cheese board which offers two selections of each for $18. The onion soup (above) is also a popular choice while the weather is still cool. The daily specials placed inside the menu cover can surprise as well. On one visit a purse of phyllo dough surrounding duck confit and goat cheese was phenomenal; the sweetness of a raspberry vinaigrette giving the light pastry an almost baklava quality.

With such a short list of entrees (only 4 on the regular menu), it's a wonder why I always have so much difficulty deciding what to order. The parmesan crusted veal usually wins out. The dish is so simple: thinly pounded veal medallions encrusted in bread crumbs and parmesan with a simple yet superb lemon and caper beurre blanc.

The Australian rack of lamb (The Pope's favorite) is a trifecta and a deuce of succulent, rosy-fleshed lamb served with baby carrots and hush puppies. The hanger steak is a bit chewy and better enjoyed elsewhere, but the long, thin fresh cut french fries are worthy of sharing among the table.

The desserts are handwritten with marker on a whiteboard - a European (albeit modernized) touch which I have waxed about before. Some desserts are made in house while others admitted come straight from Maurice's. The chocolate decadence cake is one of the latter, but the Grand Marnier syrup drizzled on top was a nice added bit of jazz.

As we exited the empty dining room on a recent Sunday night, we passed the owners sipping wine in the bar. They bid us au revoir with a smile, and as the door closed behind us I said to The Folk Singer, "How much fun do you think they have running that restaurant?"

Perhaps almost as much as we have eating there.

Cafe Degas - Birdie

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Gelato a Mario Batali

You likely have an ice cream maker. Or someone you know really well has one that they never use. Find it and make some ice cream, gelato, or sorbet this weekend. The process really could not be any easier.

I've been fooling around with ice cream recipes for a few years now. But last weekend I used Mario Batali's Gelato base recipe and the results far exceeded any other attempt. Ponchatoula strawberries have arrived with a vengeance, so I started out making strawberry ice cream. To do this I hulled and chopped a pint of strawberries, mixed in a tablespoon of sugar, and a splash of Grand Marnier. Let this macerate for about 30 minutes.

First, you bring 3 cups of whole milk, 1 cup of cream, a 1/2 cup of sugar and whatever flavor you wish to use up (vanilla, chocolate, Skittles, etc...) to a bare simmer. Mashing the strawberries with the back of your spoon will help intensify the flavor.

While the mixture gently warms, whisk together 14 egg yolks (save the whites for omelets) with a 1/2 cup of sugar. The yolks will go from bright yellow to a subdued pastel yellow.

As the berries steep, they give off an amazing aroma. The Peanut Butter Fudge Sundae from Creole Creamery is my default order and I have always wanted to make a peanut butter and jelly ice cream. So I added in a heaping spoon of peanut butter to the cream mix. This turned out to make peanut butter ice cream with a bare whisper of strawberry. Still good, but Lindsay had this to say, "That was a stupid idea."

Once your yolks are whipped and the cream mixture is warmed, ladle about one third of the cream into the yolks, whisking all the while. This will temper the yolks. Then add the tempered yolks into the pot with the remainder of the cream. Continue whisking and cook on a very low heat for about 7 minutes and watch as the gelato base thickens. Strain thoroughly into a clean stainless steel bowl and chill rapidly (an ice bath in your sink works well).

Then freeze according to your ice cream maker's directions.

The delicious end result, even if I didn't reach the exact taste I was going for, was a thick smooth gelato with amazing depth of flavor. Next weekend straight strawberry will be made. Those cookies in the picture, those are Tagalongs. As far as I am concerned, one can never have enough peanut butter.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Kingsley House Beard Event

Kingsley Beard sounds like a character in a Wes Anderson movie but in reality it is cool kids' shorthand for the party going on at the Kingsley House this Sunday, March 21st. The Oscars are like the James Beard Awards for film, and the James Beard Foundation will announce the finalists for their awards on Monday March 22nd in New Orleans. This is only the second year that the nominees will be announced outside of New York City. New Orleans chefs, unlike on Top Chef, are well represented every year at the Beard's, and this year is no exception. Adolfo Garcia, Josh Smith, Scott Boswell, John Harris, the Solazzos, and others are in the running.

So needless to say there will be an atmosphere of excitement in the air. Plus, Peter and I will be there. The former should add to the excitement, while the latter will most certainly smother it. Here are the hip deets: Sunday 3-7 at the Kingsley House. Tickets are $100 for non-members of the James Beard Foundation and you can purchase tickets here.

Music and booze will flow like the Mississippi, no doubt. Chef stalking, too. Most importantly for the purposes of this blog, there will be food and lots of it. Check out this list of chefs who will be providing scrumptious edibles as you try and avoid me.

Mark Quitney – 5 Fifty 5
Andrea Apuzzo – Andrea’s
Haley Bittermann – Bacco
Susan Spicer – Bayona
Darin Nesbit – Bourbon House/Palace Café & Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse
Frank Brigtsen – Brigtsen’s, Charles Seafood
Holly Goetting – Charley G’s Seafood
Tory McPhail – Commander’s Palace
Emmanuel Loubier – Dante’s Kitchen
David Slater/Chris Wilson – Emeril’s
Greg & Mary Sonnier – Gabrielle at the Uptowner
Brian Landry – Galatoire’s
Donald Link – Herbsaint/Cochon/Butcher
Jacques Leonardi – Jacque Imo’s
Chuck Subra – La Cote Brasserie
Michael Farrell – Le Meritage
Justin Devillier – Le Petite Grocery
Michelle McRaney – Mr. B’s Bistro
Matt Murphy – M Bistro
Kristen Essig – Nola Bean
Richard Hughes – Pelican Club
John Besh – Restaurant August
Adolfo Garcia – Rio Mar, La Boca & A Mano
Scott Boswell – Stella, Stanley
Tariq Hanna – Sucre

Friday, March 12, 2010

Fish Fridays - What to Drink

"Do you ever drink beer or real liquor?" Mary Magdalene asked, "'cause writing about wine is for pansies."

"Yes. I love beer and hooch."

"Ok. If you were going to have a cocktail what would it be?"

"Well, if it is cold maybe a sazerac, but if it is..."

"Ha. I knew it, you are a pansy. A sazerac, you believe that Cathy? That's not a real drink," Mary informed me.

Mary may have a point. Writing about beer or snorting vodka (an experience you only need to do once) makes the act and writer seem pretentious because (1) everyone knows how beer tastes and (2) if you need a recipe for a screwdriver that is pathetic.

In South Louisiana, boiled seafood is tailor made for beer. The spicy, fatty deposits of meat in crawfish, shrimp, and crab just make beer happy and vice versa. One of my favorite beers for this is just plain old Bud Light or Miller Lite. Low alcohol and cheap means that you can drink about a gallon of it before and after the cops show up.

Now if you want to go a little bit higher end, you should try the Southern Star Bombshell Blonde. First off, I love blondes. Secondly, this beer comes from Texas where they know a thing or two about craft beers and blondes. Also, the beer comes in a can and is unfiltered. So you get this yeasty, refreshing beer with a creamy body that is never skunky. Cork & Bottle has it for sale in a convenient six pack form.

Of course picking up a draft pack of NOLA Blonde, Brown, or (my favorite) Hopitoulas would make you the guest of honor at any crawfish boil.

Finally if you want to drink "a real drink" as per Mary Magdalene, pour yourself some gin into a tall glass with ice, top it with an orange twist, and enjoy.

What do you like to drink with seafood?

Thursday, March 11, 2010


Even after three visits to Domenica, I still feel that I have much to explore on the menu. Once you look past the decor (the style of which contrasts with the rustic cooking) and the uniforms of the wait staff (which The Folk Singer classifies as "hideous"), there is an excellent restaurant worth visiting again and again.

You begin your meal with a selection of salumi and cheeses, which in terms of quantity are the most expensive items on the menu. Bresaola was not as salty as expected (a good thing), and paper thin slices of lardo melt away just by the heat of your tongue. Each plate is accompanied by a sextet of accoutrement including eggplant caponata, olives, and the best of all...

Mortadella mousse which you then spread on the torta fritta. These "savory beignets" are rich, flaky, and light as a feather. On my second visit, I skipped the meats and cheeses in favor of only a basket of torta fritta and a generous scoop of mortadella mousse. Both are that good.

Pizzas are like none other seen in New Orleans before. The crust reminds me of the pizzas I indulged in all over Europe - thin, crispy, and crackly. The prosciutto pizza is baked with only a scattering of fresh tomatoes and mozzarella, then covered with an abundance of sliced prosciutto and a generous handful of peppery arugula.

Pastas are served in both small and large plate form. Some are so rich - like the spinach gnocchi with ricotta and brown butter - that the reduced portion is more than ample.

The thin "rags" of stracci have an incredible al dente texture and serve as a base for shreds of oxtail and fried chicken livers whose richness is cut with a pronounced squeeze of lemon which your nose easily detects. The tagliatelle became one with the rabbit ragu (think "pasta and sauce" instead of "pasta with sauce") to create a hearty but not heavy dish.

Prices are much lower than you would expect from a John Besh restaurant nestled in the opulent Roosevelt Hotel. Just another surprise from a restaurant which keeps giving you reasons to keep coming back for more.

Domenica - Eagle

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Pork and Fruit

Pork and apples, pork and pineapple, pork and melon, pork and coconut... you name the fruit, chances are it goes very well with pork. And seriously who doesn't get along with pork? A few days ago, the pork belly and melon dish from Lilette knocked me barefoot.

Pork and fruit work well together because pork has amazing ninja like skills when it comes to absorbing and retaining salt. With pork chops, you should always brine them for a few hours before cooking (wet or dry, they both work). The pork will gain an added juiciness and the seasoning will penetrate through the meat.

Rub some pork down with a mixture of paprika, salt, some brown sugar, and pepper. For proportions, use about double what you would use. Place pork back in the fridge and allow to sit for a few hours or overnight.

While the meat rests, chop up some pineapple, cilantro, cucumber or zucchini, and shallot. Combing in a bowl and toss with salt, pepper, a tablespoon of soy, 2 tablespoons of rice wine vinegar, and a 5 second pour of olive oil (or peanut oil would be good). Allow flavors to come together for as long as you got.

I was using some thick boneless pork loin chops, so I butterflied them and pounded them into a thin circle. Then quickly seared them off in a hot pan. Spoon salsa on plate, top with pork cutlet, then add more salsa on top.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Goodbye Winter

The slow change from one season to another is one of my favorite times of the year, especially the change from late winter to early spring. The increased daylight and warmer temperatures rev up your excitement for spring, while at night the temperatures make you miss winter and her cozy soups. You can still eat heartily but also begin grilling and eating outside.

After a winter of cold and rain, we finally had the chance to sit on the back deck with the sun pelting our faces. Strawberries have returned to the market and with them the Abita Strawberry Lager. Drinking a few of those did not dampen the mood at all. The beer is less sweet this year and quenches better than in the past.

For a lunch a simple salad of tomatoes, mozzarella, fruity olive oil, and basil. The hot house tomatoes were not quite at their peak, still tough in spots and acidic. Fresh mozzarella has a saltiness that makes it a natural fit for daytime beer drinking. And basil, well it almost made me want to cut the grass. (Almost.)

While we sat outside, a broth bubbled away on the stove to be used in braised beef shank soup from Frank Stitt's cookbook. All afternoon the potion gently plodded along, with the meat slowly separating from the marrow-filled shanks. When the broth was done, we spooned out the marrow, topped it with this pink Himalayan salt that ended up in our kitchen somehow, and snacked on the rich treat.

A medley of hearty winter veggies - parsnips, turnips, carrots - and some aromatics added a jolt of texture and flavor. After simmering, the soup was ladled into bowls and topped with a heaping tablespoon of pesto with a touch of truffle oil. The verdant pesto turned the dark purple soup a beautiful olive green. And with that first bite of soup, we bid goodbye to winter and hello to spring.

Caprese Salad

Slice tomatoes in thick slices. Sprinkle with salt and allow tomatoes to sit for ten minutes. Meanwhile roll up some basil leaves and cut them into thin strips. Place tomatoes on plate and crack some pepper over them. Tear off chunks of mozzarella and place on each tomato slice. Scatter basil, splash on some red wine vinegar, and drizzle with a good olive oil.

Beef Shank and Vegetable Soup

Season beef shanks with salt and pepper. Sear them off. Add to the pot some onion, carrot, celery, turnips and parsnips. Add 2 quarts of chicken stock and simmer for 3 hours. Strain out broth and reserve shank meat. Heat a knob of butter in a soup pot. Add to this some diced onions, celery, parsnips, turnips, and leek. Sweat. Then add broth, some red wine, and meat. Allow to simmer for 45 minutes.

Make a pesto by combining some basil, salt, pepper, lemon zest, toasted pine nuts, parm, and olive oil. Combine to a rough consistency. Then drizzle in a touch of truffle oil. Ladle soup into bowl and top with pesto.