Friday, April 30, 2010

The New Orleans Po-Boy

Late one night I was flipping through channels when something caught my eye and caused me to stop on the New Orleans City Council Public Access channel. Standing behind the podium was a crowd of people in Parkway Bakery hats emblazoned with the slogan "The New Orleans Po-Boy." In the center, stood Justin Kennedy, hand on the microphone, tearing up as he accepted an award on behalf of the Parkway Bakery. He said, "I remember after Katrina... it was just me and Jay... no city, no police, no nothing. And it's hard work, we're out there serving sometimes 1000 people a day."

I think that Stacy Head put it best: "This is what New Orleans is about."

So this weekend before you sneak into the Fair Grounds through a hole in the fence, you may want to fortify yourself with a po-boy from Parkway, which we reviewed in this month's issue of OffBeat Magazine. May we recommend the hot sausage with roast beef gravy dressed, 3 beers, and a brownie? Well, maybe that might not be the best idea as squeezing through that hole is harder than it was in high school. The Rueban (sic) is served on rye toast instead of French bread, so that "light lunch" might be the better way to go.

Just think of how many more $5 luke warm Miller Lites you can drink with the ticket money you saved.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The American Sector

A plate of pork cheeks with a sauce of black eyed peas sits on top of crumbled cornbread at John Besh's latest venture, The American Sector in the World War II museum.

Initial Impressions

Peter: Lots of natural light with the walls of windows on both ends of the dining room. High ceilings and well-spaced tables allow for easy conversation even when the dining room is slammed.

But what is with the low chairs? I feel like I am eating in a grade school cafeteria - just call me Billy Madison. Also, much like Billy longing for a snack pack, there were no complimentary pickles on my visit.

Rene: A bright, open space, The American Sector calls to mind a well-designed aircraft hanger. Lining the walls, photos of Louis Armstrong, Bob Hope, and Generals from yesteryear oversee a line of tables, an indoor patio area, and a horseshoe shaped bar. Behind the bar is a gentlemen adorned with a handlebar mustache and tight sleeves, predating the Forties by about 35 years.

As a history major in college, I am enamored with most things World War II. In fact, I once broke up with a girl because she didn't know what century WWII was in... among other things. That is right, century; the punishment fit the crime. So from the outset I am predisposed to like the joint because it is in the WWII museum. While I have never eaten anything besides a pre-packed lunch for a field trip in a museum before, this looks promising. The house made pickles (below) quell your hunger as you peruse your menu.


Peter: Rabbit pâté; onion rings; slow cooked beef tongue on sourdough (below); sample bites of the Sloppy Joe and Vietnamese po-boy.

Rene: Fried chicken gizzards with mustard sauce; chicken wings; meatloaf with mushroom gravy, mashed potatoes, and green beans; and pork cheeks with black eye peas and crumbled corn bread.


Peter: The rabbit pâté is served in a flat can from the era and with saltines. A thin protective layer of fat protects a relatively smooth spread with shreds of rabbit meat immersed throughout. I taste a pronounced flavor of cognac or brandy, perhaps. The onion rings are coated in a thick, donut-esque batter which you can sink your teeth in. Served in a towering stack, these rings are different, if not excellent.

The slow-cooked tongue reminded me of chipped beef on toast. The meat was tender but needed more salt, and I think this would have been better served over mashed potatoes or mac and cheese instead of in sandwich form. Banh mi had a strange sweetness to it. Sloppy Joe was very good - tender shreds of beef in a nice tomato sauce. Thick-cut housemade potato chips were addictive.

But there were two overarching descriptions for all of the food: heavy and messy. The food lacked the polish I (perhaps erroneously) expected from a Besh restaurant, but I guess it fits the WWII era stick-to-your-ribs type of food which the menu is supposed to be emulating. Still, the food was a little too soft for me and difficult to eat, a situation which was exasperated by the low chairs and wooden butcher blocks that the sandwiches are served on.

Rene: Some dishes you just want a whole bucket of to snack on with some ice cold beer. Case in point: the gizzards. Wow. The crackly batter is seasoned judiciously to showcase the sublime gizzards. The mustard sauce provides a nice punch back against the richness of the main attraction. Ditto on the chicken wings. Its nearly impossible to find a well-made wing in this town. Too often the damn things are doused in some sort of hazardous substance and sent out flabby or dry. Not here, the chicken wings were succulent, crunchy and coated in a sauce more resembling a reduced pepper jelly than poor man's version of hot sauce beurre blanc.

The meatloaf could have entered and won a meatloaf contest. A sturdy top and bottom surrounded a tender interior studded with brunoised bits of carrots, celery, and onion. The contrasting sauces - the bright, spicy tomato based topping and creamy, earthy gravy- got along very well together. The potatoes were smoother than a cot on a Navy vessel, where the overcooked green beans would have been at home as well.

The pork cheeks came to the table with theatrics. One server drops a bowl filled with chunks of cornbread and those delicate cheeks. Then a second server comes by and pours over the whole dish a steaming serving of black eyed peas cooked with a solid dose of bacon. If the circus seems a little silly (and it is), the creamy, porky, corny goodness washes away that feeling. But we should have ordered lighter as we were stuffed at this point.


Peter: Our server was cheerful and helpful without being overly caught up in the theme. The staff on the whole is quite young, which makes me wonder if the American Sector is training ground in the Besh empire. Even if that is the case, the service is more than satisfactory.

Rene: The vibe is kitschy with servers dressed in period costume - think polka dotted dresses and starched white shirts with black bow ties rather than jump pants and bomber jackets. For the veteran heroes who dine here, it must be quite enjoyable. The servers do a pretty good job of moving courses in and courses out, but there are some struggles when the place gets busy.

Closing Thoughts

Peter: I wanted to like this place from the second I walked in the door. The ambiance and decor are unique and engaging, and the attraction of the museum is a great addition to the city in terms of both educational value and entertainment. But the food was disappointing, perhaps because of my own flawed expectations. After reading Rene's thoughts, I want to go back and order from the main course offerings.

Rene: The busy times seem to be right after the show in the Victory Theater or Stage Door Canteen lets out. So plan your visit accordingly. The Besh Group has given New Orleans another concept restaurant which works where it is. And if you find yourself in the World War II museum (as you should), a meal here sure beats a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in a brown bag by a long shot.


Peter: Bogey/Par.

Rene: Par/Birdie.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Your Call - Churros Cafe

This week's Your Call comes from my co-worker who constantly raves about the Cuban sandwich at Churros Cafe in Metairie. Located just a few blocks off Vets near Clearview, Churros is not exactly on my radar. But a trip to John's Tuxedos around the block gave me two opportunities to try it out - once for the pickup and once for the return.

All of the pressed sandwiches at Churros start with New Orleans style French bread, which compresses into a thin, dense layer surrounded by a crunchy (but not greasy) crust. The Cuban is filled with slices of ham, roasted pork, and swiss, then dressed with mustard and pickles. Two kinds of pork - What's not to love?

Because all of the pressed sandwiches are under $7, I decided to sample the "Special Spanish sausage" version as well. (I can't remember the Spanish name and lost my paper copy of the menu, but I am 99% certain that it was not chorizo). This version was less impressive, with the amount of Swiss cheese overwhelming the sausage by a ratio of at least 7 to 1.

On my return visit, I branched out beyond the pressed sandwiches. I started with a thin, crispy crusted empanada filled with ground beef. I was touted on the Wednesday special of ropa vieja. The shredded beef was slow cooked in a tomato sauce and served with white rice, black bean soup, and a salad of iceberg and a few slices of tomato with Italian dressing. Though the beef and beans were delicious, the $10 plate left me still hungry, as the serving of ropa vieja was barely 3oz.

Though the ambiance screamed suburban USA, the majority of the patrons were speaking Spanish. Furthering the notion that Churros is a little piece of Havana in Metairie, the central table has a sign which says “Reserved for Cuban Mafia.” While the food was good overall, my patronage is limited by location. I doubt I will return to Churros unless I need to rent another $130 tuxedo. (Don't even get me started on that racket.) But if/when I am in the area, it will be tough to decide between the Cuban or ropa vieja sandwich.

Churros Cafe - Par

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

2010 Challenge: Boucherie Grilled Caesar Salad

Conception rates in New Orleans have never been higher. This is due in large part to the Krispy Kreme bread pudding at Boucherie. It really is not anything special - just bread pudding made with doughnuts. But as they say in Algebra. the sum is greater than its parts.

Another standout on the menu, the Caesar salad, tweaks the classic with the addition of grilled romaine. Again nothing intrinsically special here. No nitrogen powered foams or reductions of foie gras cotton candy. The smoky, crusty bits of romaine serve double duty as both a conduit for a well-made dressing and a quasi-crouton.

Grilled Caesar Salad

For the Dressing:

In a large bowl, combine a chopped clove of garlic with a generous pinch of salt and anchovies if you swing that way, baby. Using the back of your fork, press down on the garlic and anchovies until you form a paste. Shake in a few drops of Worcestershire sauce and crack some black pepper. Add the juice of one lemon and an egg yolk. Mix to combine. Then whisk in a solid half cup of olive oil. Now add in some Parm to your taste.

For the Salad:

A head of romaine per person is a good rule of thumb, although one per two people will work if this is a starter course. Take a whole head of romaine and cut it down the middle (from north to south). Drizzle some olive oil, salt, and pepper over romaine. Grill for a minute or so per side.

Chop off the core and throw it away. Then cut east west into one inch segments. In a bowl add lettuce, dressing to taste (less is more), some croutons, and more anchovies if you like. Finally grate some more parm and crack some pepper.

Monday, April 26, 2010

In Search of Monday Lunch: Yo Mama's

The best burger in New Orleans is at Yo Mama's. And that ain't no joke.

Across the street from the St. Peter's entrance to Pat' O's sits a bar with Neil Young on the jukebox and a burger to rival any in the country. But don't take my word for it. Dr. Dre and Dieter were in town recently to run in some race. Post-race we went to Yo Mama's where Dieter said with a mouthful of burger and vodka, "This is the best fu$king burger I've ever had."

The interior of Yo Mama's is the color of bar. No frills, just some booths, stools, and cold beer. You order from a list of ten or so options. Those options range from plain to a bizarre Russian offering (with sour cream and caviar). Your best bet is the standard cheeseburger.

Ground meat should be handled as carefully and little as a rattlesnake. Mushing, mixing, pattying can cause beef to become tough. For best results, in the words of Mr. Miyagi, "Just leave it the hell alone." At Yo Mama's, I often wonder if anyone even touches the beef before it hits the grill. The exterior of the burger is charred and crusty, but the interior is soft and fluffy. This to me is what sets their burger apart from others.

Great fat ratio in the meat leads to a juicy burger. When you finish the burger you want to drag the few remaining bits of bun, lettuce, or onion through the mayo, burger juice dressing on the plate. Do it.

Plus, it comes with a baked potato instead of the mass-produced fries. Stuffed to the max with cheese, butter, real bacon, sour cream and chives, this makes cheese fries seem childish. And if there is anything better than making other food feel childish on a Monday, I haven't found it. This is your burger, its Yo Mama's.

Yo Mama's - Eagle. You are damn right.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Jazz Fest Food

When it comes to Jazz Fest, there are two kinds of people: those that go for the bands and those that go for the food. Place us in the latter category. Every festival goer has his/her favorite foods (mine meat pies for me, cochon de lait po-boy for Peter), and chefs are no different. This article in the Jazz Fest Bible put out by offBEAT Magazine, gives you a chef's eye view to eating right on da grounds.

The food at Jazz Fest is so extensive and diverse that one would need to attend everyday in order to try it all. But if you had to pick just a few things to eat at the Fair Grounds, what would they be? Is crawfish bread really worth waiting in line for? What's the most underrated food available? Is there anything wrong with just drinking Miller Lite all day and baking in the sun? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Whatever you are eating this weekend, remember to bring your pancho because it looks like it's going to be a wet one.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

La Petite Grocery

One of the ideas we have had here is to create a Family Tree of New Orleans chefs. It would trace the lineage of chefs through those they trained under and whom they in turn trained.

Justin Devillier, chef at La Petite Grocery, would present quite the challenge. Not because of figuring out who he trained under, but deigning where he is going. His cuisine mixes locally driven ingredients with haute Cajun techniques against a backdrop of refined, bistro cuisine. Devillier - along with Mark Falgoust, Sue Zemanick, and Nathaniel Zimet - is part of the new vanguard of chefs pushing our cuisine forward by adding to the Creole canon new ethnic flavors. Where you can find crab beignets sharing the menu with Asian, Mexican, Middle Eastern flavors on duck, crab, shrimp, and the rest of the lot.

The kitchen does things with boudin which should only take place behind closed doors. While the fried boudin balls at Cochon get all the press, the ones here are addictive. They are smaller and pack a greater wallop of liver. Eat them up before your friend comes back from the bathroom. Chilled roasted beets and pickled red onion serve as a base for blue crab (or crawfish tails now in season) dressed with a palate perking horseradish emulsion. The steak tartare here also deserves your attention. The meat is cubed into a fine dice and sent out with a quail egg, traditional garnishes, and a sauce which marries mustard and red wine in such a good fashion it should be the official sauce of Dijon.

Short ribs have been around the block more times than Larry King, but at LPG they are cooked in an intense root beer based broth which ties the beverage of the Gulf Coast to the flavorings of Vietnamese pho - star anise, cloves, and other hard spices. A thick, warming sauce coats the beef with rib sticking qualities. Potato croquettes dot the plate, their crunchy exterior and creamy inside mixing the best qualities of the french fry and mashed potato into one bite.

The pork shank, a special on a cold night in February, would have made a caveman happy. The huge, cylinder of meat coiled around the bone on top of greens braised with slivers of garlic and loads of pork. (Might we suggest LPG start selling the pot likker by the gallon?) Same goes for the creamy stoned ground grits available with local shrimp at lunch or just as a side dish at any time of day. This is comfort food at it's core, but damn is it good.

Where the kitchen falters is where it tries to wrangle in national trends. Duck breast on a recent visit arrived a little too rare. This trend needs to stop. We understand it is hip, but so was New Kids on the Block at one point. Duck develops its sensual, deep flavor when it is cooked past medium, and if done properly it does not dry out. But undercooked duck is stringy and unpleasant. That criticism aside, go boldly in the direction of your dreams, Chef.

The wine list shows good range bouncing from the hearty, earthy reds from Chateauneuf-duPape, to the lemony freshness of the affordable Ferrari-Carano Fume blanc. You can blow the budget on the big Napa Cabs on the list, but there are values and options for all. Of course there is the nearly required list of specialty cocktails, but their Sazerac is the best choice.

Justin's wife, Mia, recently joined the team to lead the front of the house (née of Lilette). As a result, we have noticed what has always been good service begin to rise to the level of greatness. Case in point: on the cold, draft eve of the pork shank the suggestion to steer away from a glass of white wine and to a Sazerac turned out to be just what was needed. "They are a team. They needed one another," said Joel Dondis, owner, recently.

La Petite Grocery has a rising star in the kitchen, whose experiences, training, and background begets a new approach to bistro cuisine in New Orleans. The building is well-adorned, the bar handsome, the service smart. So what are you waiting for?

The Rankings

Food - Birdie. The kitchen needs to drop any allegiance to national trends and keep pushing forth in developing their unique style. Devillier's best dishes are the ones that sound simplest: braised greens, slow simmered meats, etc...

Wine/Bar/Service - Birdie. A wine list this thorough in what is a small, neighborhood spot requires serious purchasing power. Which La Petite Grocery has in spades with Joel Dondis behind it. But instead of just throwing a dart at the priciest wines in the portfolio, they have chosen smart options which pair well with Devillier's cooking at any price point.

Overall - Birdie. La Petite Grocery fits a perfect niche for what they are doing. They are steps above the neighborhood spot in terms of cooking, service, and price; yet affordable and accessible enough for a pop in every few weeks. Be it for dinner, lunch, or a glass of wine and some snacks.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Your Call: Pizza Delicious

In college, whenever we drove from tiny Lexington to big city Charlottesville, we always tried to make a stop at Crozet Pizza. The legend went like this. The old hippie who ran it got his start cooking pizzas at Grateful Dead/Jefferson Airplane/Janis Joplin shows. One day his VW van got stuck in Crozet, Virginia, and so he decided to sell pizzas until he could fix his van. He has been there ever since.

His pizzas were very good. But in order to make sure you got one, you would have to call a day ahead and ask him to reserve you 2 or 3 doughs for your crew. Needless to say, we often forgot that step. However, when we remembered, the hassle was well worth it. Great crust, exquisite sauce, and careful use of toppings were hallmarks of a Crozet pizza.

Last week a reader emailed and asked us why we hadn't checked out Pizza Delicious yet. He then went on to explain the almost mythical ordering process of Pizza Delicious, which goes like this. Pizza Delicious is only open on Sunday nights. They are not a restaurant. They will deliver if you live in the Bywater. Otherwise, you pick it up.

On Saturday afternoon they release via the www, how many doughs they will have and what pizzas they are offering for Sunday. You call after 5 p.m., place your order, they give you a time, and an address. You show up. Your order is waiting.

Underneath all of this is the heightened excitement of dealing with what may or may not be an IRS, kosher organization. Because I hate taxes, I already loved this concept. And the pizza delivers. Thin, chewy crust (although it could have used another 2 minutes or so to get blistery), a spicy, fresh sauce, dollops of creamy mozzarella, and torn basil marked the Margherita as a winner. Also, scattered across the pie, freshly grated parm provided crunch and salt.

Now, the downside is this. We trucked this bad boy all the way from the Bywater to Broadmoor and by the time we got home, the pizza had lost some punch. But the garlic knots on the ride home did help with the pain. So next time (or for you, the first time), just eat it on the roof of your car.

Pizza Delicious - a fitting name.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

2010 Challenge: "Bun" at Home or Why Vietnamese Food is Better Than 30 Minute Meals

Last week, Peter and I had lunch with P and R. At one point P asked us, "Why do you guys always write about Vietnamese?"

The question stopped us dead in our tracks. It was obvious from P's tone, that this young lass had never beheld the glories of chargrilled pork or slurped pho. We quickly decided against leaving the lunch and spent the next five minutes uttering non-nonsensical, onomatopoeic phrases like "It's crunchy, fresh, vegetabley things, beer food, juicy pork, just good."

We eat a lot. Most of it is not what you would call healthy, so as a detox we spoil ourselves with the freshness of Vietnamese flavors. For me, bun - the cold, noodle dish of veggies, chargrilled meats, and nuoc mam - from Nine Roses is what I crave. But a spring roll with pink shrimp, crisp mint, and bright basil also does in a pinch.Why not combine the two? It worked, but like most junkies on a detox, it just made me crave the real thing.

Vietnamese Shrimp and Fava Bean Salad

To start, go to the Crescent City Farmer's Market. Get some fava beans and shrimp. Find a friend. One of you needs to remove the favas from the pod, the other needs to devein the shrimp. Once the favas are removed, blanch them for about 2 minutes. Then toss directly into an ice bath. Once they cool, the bean should pop right out of the bitter, light green skin encapsulating it. This is labor intensive, but worth it.

Meanwhile, julienne a carrot and an onion. In a large bowl, combine a tablespoon of salt, a tablespoon of sugar, a 1/4 cup of rice wine vinegar, red pepper flakes, and crushed bay leaf. Add to this the carrot and half of the onion, let this chill out. You are basically quickly pickling the veggies. (That last sentence has a host of loose definitions.)

Fry the remaining onion until crispy and brown but not burned. Set aside. Julienne a head of romaine, but save one or two leafs to serve as wraps. The dressing you want to be evocative of nuoc mam. Combine a few dashes of fish sauce (don't have it? use soy or Worcestershire) with salt, pepper, and 1 tablespoon of rice wine vinegar. Whisk in your olive oil (3 tablespoons is the preferred ratio). Add in some torn mint.

Season shrimp with salt and pepper and grill for about two minutes per side. To assemble, toss romaine in dressing. Place saved leaf on plate and then pile on the lettuce. Drizzle some lemon over the fava beans and a sprinkle of olive oil, place next to lettuce. Top romaine with pickled veggies, crispy onions, shrimp and fava beans.

This is not a thirty minute meal by any stretch of the imagination. But then again the concept of restricting your cooking repertoire to thirty minute meals is a lot like letting a pretty girl know that you only intend to have sex with her for 2 minutes tops. But if you have nothing to do on a Saturday and you can't make it to the West Bank, this will do.

Monday, April 19, 2010

In Search of Monday Lunch: Capdeville

Blogger's Note - Last week we received a piece of fan mail from a reader who explained his weekly struggle in finding a place to eat lunch on Monday with his coworkers. We empathize with his plight and find it likely that many of you often find yourselves in a similar situation. As men for others, your friends at Blackened Out attempt to tackle this problem with our new series: "In Search of Monday Lunch."

Capdeville is the latest project (and first foray into food service) for the Lifestyle Revolution Group. The name derives from the location - sitting in the middle of the one block side street running from Camp to Magazine just behind the US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Incidentally, the street was named after a former mayor of New Orleans. For you legal historians out there, the restaurant is actually located in the space which used to be McGlinchey Stafford's cafeteria.

Capdeville is labeled as "an American interpretation of a British social house." What this connotes to me is a place where one would be as comfortable having a bite for lunch as he would downing a pint after work, and having done both, I can attest to the accuracy of the description. Even if a few lunch beers are not on your Monday agenda, Capdeville is still a good place for a bite. The menu stretches beyond typical pub grub with some innovative originals, like fried red beans and rice. These savory calas have a crunchy exterior coating stuffed with creamy red beans, while the truffled mac and cheese is in the style of carbonara and fortified with edamame

But after 3 visits, the burgers have clearly distinguished themselves as the best choices on the menu, with each component of the utmost quality. The burgers are so good that Willy Wonka, my office's resident gourmand de ground beef, has dubbed it one of the city's best. The foundation is a beef patty which is moist and flavorful without being greasy, and the soft onion roll is a noticeable improvement from the typical styrofoam bun. The namesake Capdeville Burger (pictured above) tastes almost as good as it looks. An orthodox au poivre sauce, gruyere cheese and roasted aioli provide richness; bibb lettuce and thin strands of crispy fried onions give the burger a nice crunch. The Manchego La Mancha has a nice fruitiness from green tomato jam and proves that almost any dish improves with the addition of a gratuitous fried egg.

French fries are taken to new heights with variations from Spain (manchego and chorizo) to Canada (mozzarella curd and au poire sauce), but unfortunately the former are a bit too dry and the latter too soggy. Still, there is no denying the deliciousness of Capdeville's long, thin, crispy, handcut fries - especially with a side of roasted garlic aioli for dipping.

Not a bad way to start the week off on a full stomach.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Brunch at Martinique

Highs this weekend are creeping up into the 80s, which likely signals a fast approaching conclusion to outdoor dining season. If you are looking to capitalize while you can, look no further than Martinique, whose courtyard is ideal for dining in sunny, cool weather.

The food is simple (not spectacular), and portions are small. You get the feeling that the menu was designed specifically for Uptown ladies who are watching their figure. With that in mind, 2 courses are recommended, but there are times when 3 might be necessary. A single link of duck sausage with celeriac remoulade (nice refreshing crunch) is a nice way to start. Pistachios are ground to near dust and used as a coating for a puck of fresh goat cheese, which is paired alongside mixed greens and dressed with a thick, syrupy balsamic and pomegranate molasses vinaigrette. The croque madame is a sourdough sandwich of grilled ham and gruyere with a fried egg on top and a pool of mornay sauce underneath. Smoked salmon club was good but much too small for $12.

I could have included pictures of the food, but if you've seen one croque madame then you've seen them all. No matter. I could have done nothing but drink Lillet L'Oranges and been satisfied with my "meal." If a refreshing cocktail, cool breeze, and sunshine are your motivation, then you have found the right place.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


A plate of pan roasted halibut with tangerine hollandaise and spring vegetables gets a final dusting of spice from Chef Allison Vines-Rushing of MiLa.

A grit. As a single speck of coarsely ground corn meal, it draws little attraction or attention. But when cooked gently with friends - salt, some cream, a pat of butter - they become human. When a cook folds bits of black truffle into those grits, they become feminine. And when that heaping pile of grits is topped with crispy sweetbreads and a sherry bacon jus, you are staring at the sexiest dish in this hemisphere.

Such a dish is one of the many standouts at MiLa, a powerhouse of a restaurant in the Pere Marquette Renaissance Arts Hotel. The beauty in this dish, and what we have learned is representative of the cooking at MiLa, is how the dish seems so simple, yet so complex. Chefs Slade Rushing and Allison Vines-Rushing have assembled a well-tuned machine of cooks who seem to instinctively know how to not let technique ruin a pristine ingredient.

The craftsmanship of the kitchen crew highlights the ingredients without overshadowing them - much like a loud rock band deciding to play an acoustic first set. Take, for example, a ravioli at a recent dinner held in conjunction with the Crescent City Farmer's Market. First, they juiced kale, reduced it, and added it to fresh pasta dough. Then they stuffed the inside of the plumpy green ravioli with tender, but toothsome, greens. Under the ravioli, dijon punched up the sweetness of a beet puree. On top, a scattering of fried mushrooms marinated to infuse them with the smokiness of bacon. Earthy, rich, umami, soulful, etc... are all words one could use to describe it. But here is something simpler: delicious.

Lettuces most often find themselves relegated to salad bars, burgers, and e. coli outbreaks. But at MiLa, bitter greens and sweet lettuces are braised and pureed into a thick, satisfying soup. The bottom of the bowl holds a little treasure trove of truffles, while a poached egg serves as a raft for a chapeau of crouton. This is not the springy, grassy flavor of lettuces, but a hearty, sturdy undertone of an ingredient which endured through the winter. The assembly of the soup brought forth the image of a field in spring - truffle culled from the earth, the green grass, white cloud of egg, and peeking out from behind the cloud a single burst of bright orange yolk. Artistry, yes; but food first.

On the lunch menu the butter poached chicken deserves your attention. The chicken, plump and juicy, cradles little baby fingerling potatoes. A slight patina of red wine demi glace fortified with bacon added the deep flavors that braising brings to a dish, without sacrificing the juiciness of a well-cooked breast of chicken.

The kitchen here delights in taking a classic Southern or New Orleans dish and reworking it, with new ingredients and techniques. The example oft quoted is their Oysters Rockefeller Deconstructed. But that is not the best example, as we find the licorice root to be too emotional and attention grabbing in what should be a dish highlighting oysters.

But on an early visit, a tian of crab called to mind a variety of dishes from the New Orleans shellfish repertoire, while remaining entirely unique. Petite dice of tomato served as a base and acid component for the sweet jumbo lump tossed in a light sauce. The result was both comforting and challenging.

Shrimp remoulade from MiLa.

Desserts have always been a strong course at MiLa. The desserts bear the watermark of Slade, while Allison usually works the hot or savory side of the line. Slade's desserts call into focus most clearly the vision of the restaurant, "Tastes inspired by a Southern childhood." There are peanut butter and chocolate confections, root beer floats, and strawberry shortcakes all gussied up, without being fussed up.

Service at MiLa struggled in the beginning but has significantly improved with a steady cadre of well-tuned waiters and waitresses. They dress to fit the role of this hip eatery. Brown button downs, designer jeans, and hip sneakers. That can guide your wardrobe choice as well.

As you first enter the restaurant a wall of glass enclosed wine welcomes you. The wine list offers an attractive program where everyday promises 30 wines for $30 by the bottle. That special helps lower the check average if you are dining on a budget, as food costs come in on the higher end of the spectrum. But fear not, as you can experience MiLa at lunch for around $20 for 3 courses.

But what you are paying for is locally sourced, impeccable ingredients and very fine cooking. When MiLa first opened, while we loved the food, it seemed to be a restaurant looking for its identity. And in the same vein, as diners we were trying to figure out what kind of restaurant it was. Is it a hotel restaurant catering to New York hipsters? A place to grab a bite to eat while the wedding you were invited to finishes up next door? French cuisine with a Southern bend? What?

Luckily, for both parties, the question has been answered. MiLa has established itself as a player in the ultra competitive, New Orleans fine dining field. Look around at the number of chefs, highly regarded around the country and world, who practice their craft right here. The competition is fierce to be the best fine dining restaurant in New Orleans. While we don't know if MiLa owns the crown, it certainly belongs in the title round.

The Rankings

Food - Eagle. This kitchen can cook in a highly technical manner without messing up what nature intended. Don't miss - Sweetbreads, truffle grits, sherry bacon jus; BBQ lobster; Scallops; Duck; Whatever dessert makes you remember childhood.

Bar/Wine/Service - Birdie/Par. Great cocktails (Chris McMillan tends bar in the hotel's lobby) and affordable, broad wine list make the bar at MiLa a good place to have a quick bite and a glass of something nice. While service has improved steadily, at these price points and with this beautiful food it could be a bit more attentive. But maybe that is not the vibe they are going for.

Overall - Birdie. Ranking fine dining restaurants is going to be very hard, but MiLa delivers where it counts: with the food and booze. We consider this restaurant to be worth both your time and more importantly your money.

Full Disclosure: We were invited to attend last week's vegetarian dinner. We went and brought the women in our lives. We paid for their meals, but ours were on the house. We tasted the food on their plates, and it was no different.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Independent Champagne & Sparkling Wine Invitational

Champagne and sparking wine are likely the most misunderstood of all libations. Contrary to popular belief, your choices of bubbly range far beyond either a bottle of Cristal or "a bunch of Mumms." This weekend the inaugural Independent Champagne and Sparkling Wine Festival offers myriad of tastings, dinners, and seminars which will explore these effervescent wines.

The formula is similar to those of the New Orleans Wine & Food Experience and Tales of the Cocktail. Attendees pick and choose from a dizzying array of events throughout the weekend, with different ticket packages offering a wealth of opportunities to clink a few glasses with friends.

Friday night presents the ICSWI Winemaker Dinners. At 7:00pm sharp, 7 of the city's chefs will offer a multi-course menu paired with bubbly the whole way through. The cost for these dinners is $100 per person across the board. Galatoire's and Bayona are already sold out, but seats are still available at Calcasieu, Gautreau's, Herbsaint, Meson 923, and the Monteleone Hotel, which will serve a family style dinner prepared by Poppy Tooker and Chef Chuck Subra of La Cote Brasserie, all washed down with Ruinart (The Pope's favorite champagne house).

If afternoon cocktails are more your style, than the Grand Tastings offer you that opportunity at the Convention Center on Friday and Saturday where over 100 selections from some of the world’s most sought after sparkling wines will be showcased. These selections, served by national leading sommeliers, are produced in the grower and independent spirit ranging from the superb high-end cuvées of the Grande Marques to the terroir driven jewels of the small producers. Grand tasting food samples will be offered by Chefs Jehangir Mehta of Graffiti (NYC), Chuck Subra of La Cote Brasserie, Tenney Flynn of GW Fins, and Mark Quitney of the New Orleans Marriott.

Tickets to all events can be purchased online. As Rene said yesterday, New Orleans has had many reasons to celebrate with champagne thus far this year. But, truthfully, when did we ever need a legitimate reason to uncork a bottle of happiness?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Grill Room and Grower Champagnes

Editor''s Note: The last 4 months in New Orleans have given many of us ample opportunities to drink champagne. From New Year's Eve to the Saints winning the Super Bowl (that still sounds awesome!) to a new mayor, great weather, and the continued dominance of gravity, you name it, we have celebrated it. This weekend the International Champagne and Sparkling Wine Invitational will bring Champagnistas from around the globe to New Orleans to celebrate the glories of bubbly. So for the next two days, let's live the high life.

Sara Kavanaugh, left duh, and Chef Drew Dzejak inside the beautiful cave of wines at the Windsor Court's Grill Room.

In the inner confines of The Grill Room at The Windsor Court Hotel, there is a small stairway which leads to a heavy door. Open the door and a blast of cool air greets you as welcoming as a snowball in August. In this lair, one could plan an invasion of a neighboring country or store 600 different labels and over 5,000 bottles of some of the world's best wines.

Luckily for Mississippi, The Grill Room chooses to do the latter. Sara Kavanaugh, the caretaker of these wines, is a sommelier with a personality that makes Jerry Lee Lewis look introverted. Raised in Shreveport, she left for the big lights of LSU, but soon found her way to Charleston for culinary school. After a few years of cooking, she made the transition to the front of the house. A wine program in Europe, a stint at the famous Charleston Grill, and now she is here. Drew Dzejak also worked at the Charleston Grill prior to he and Ms. Kavanaugh moving to New Orleans at the end of 2008.

In today's culinary world, every young chef seems to experiment more than cook. Not Mr. Dzejak. His food shows a reverence and respect for not messing with what nature, taste, or tradition has established. You wont find bacon dangling from a miso swing, or expressions of tangerine air and marshmallow sky, but instead a carefully arranged trio of ripe cheeses or perhaps a savory boudin dressed up just enough to make it match the elegant surroundings. When asked if he made the boudin in house, Mr. Dzejak responded, the only way I imagine he knows how, honestly, "No. Why would I? The people I get it from make it better than I could ever do."

Together Kavanaugh and Dzejak have labored with a judicious mixture of fun and elegance to return The Grill Room to one of the top tables in a town of top tables. On Thursday night, as a sort of unofficial invocation to the ICSWI, The Grill Room will host Kevin Pike of Michael Skurnik wines for a Grower Champagne focused dinner. Kavanaugh describes Grower Champagnes matter of factly, "These are champagnes which a winemaker grows, makes, manages, and maintains their own champagne. It is the difference between buying a carrot at the supermarket and growing a carrot yourself."

Grower Champagnes carry price tags similar to the big house label champagnes, but with more integrity, refined flavors, and finesse. To showcase these beautiful wines, Dzejak spent hours researching what foods best showcased champagnes. He came to a well-reasoned conclusion: the classics are classics for a reason. His menu for Thursday night reads, not surprisingly, like a Who's Who of perfect accompaniments to bubbles.

There will be oysters, smoked salmon, and caviar to start, then a prosciutto wrapped halibut with spring peas. Followed up by, butter poached lobster, parmesan gnocchi, and a broth of truffle and champagne. For the final savory course, Dzejak chose veal tenderloin ("a light meat which won't outshine the wine") with fava beans, mushrooms, a splash of olive oil, and little else. For dessert, an almond cake bedecked with the jewels of Ponchatoula.

Because Kavanaugh has worked with Dzejak for years, pairing her wines with his food has become second nature. "I have a good grasp of what Drew's dish will taste like - be it something sweet, or something acidic. And I take that background into my pairings in the restaurant on a nightly basis."

"So, you see, most wine that people want to drink comes in a bottle. Not a box."

For Kavanaugh the weight, mouthfeel, and texture of champagnes makes pairing them with food unique. The smaller the bubbles, she explains, the more effervescent, clean, and crisp the wine will be and the better it will pair with explosive flavors. For the oysters, salmon, and halibut, Ms. Kavanaugh will pour blanc de blanc champagnes. Blanc de blanc means the champagne is made exclusively from Chardonnay grapes. Such champagnes when made correctly taste light, crisp, and lemony.

The lobster and veal dishes will highlight the earthier and fruitier qualities of blanc de noirs champagnes. These wines, continuing our French lesson, are champagnes which take traditional red wine grapes (like Pinot Noir) and turn them into a "white" champagne. There are also Rose Champagnes, which are not made from grapes, but roses.

Putting on dinners such as Thursday's Grower Champagne fete give both the chef and the sommelier an opportunity to cook food they would not normally cook and pour wines which too often are relegated to museum pieces. Oftentimes the dinner evolves into a feast more resembling a fun party than a formal dinner, which is a plus in my book.

The dinner is $135 a head and reservations are still available by calling 522-1994. Full menu here

Monday, April 12, 2010

Eat Well

Life ain't easy for a banh mi addict working in the CBD. Picture this: just another typical Monday morning, sitting at your desk, regretting that 7th Abita Amber at French Quarter Fest yesterday, when the clock strikes noon and you are all of a sudden overcome with an insatiable craving for mini loaves of french bread stuffed with assorted pork products. You at first contemplate a 25 minute drive to pickup Dong Phuong but then realize it would be near impossible to avoid getting sriracha on your tie while crossing the Industrial Canal. Pho Tau Bay and Tan Dinh on the Westbank are out because you forgot your toll tag at home. The cravings are only getting stronger

What do you do?

Answer: Hop in your car, drive down Canal Street to Broad and stop at the Eat-Well food store. "Wait, are you talking about that place on the corner? Where if I'm stopped at that red light I always make sure that my doors are locked?" Yes, yes I am; and no, the neighborhood is not that bad.

While Eat Well does offer the requisite tall-boys, 40ozs., and pork rinds which are to be expected in your typical corner store, it also has a deli in the back which serves a variety of sandwiches, steam table fare, and a decent banh mi. Heaping piles of honey chicken and yaka mein are dished out from behind the counter, while pairs of housemade springrolls lie on top of the counter just waiting to be snatched up as impulse purchases.

The banh mi is only offered in one evolution - a trifecta of sliced roasted pork, sweet and sticky "barbequed" (though more like stir-fried) pork, and gelatinous pork loaf (a cousin to head cheese). All three are stuffed on a roll from Hi-Do Bakery along with shredded carrot and a few slices of cucumber, wrapped in butcher paper, and paired with a drink of your choice for $4.99.

While it's not the best banh mi in the city, it will most certainly hold you over until your next score.

Friday, April 9, 2010

French Quarter Fest

French Quarter Fest is unquestionably my favorite event of the year:

  1. No ticket to buy
  2. The last few days of cool weather provide the perfect setting
  3. Stages are spread out, which results in well dispersed crowds
  4. Great music, but not main stream acts
  5. Terrific food

If your weekend is relatively free, I highly recommend volunteering for a shift. The Folk Singer had a great time last year; and if that's not reason enough, think about this: Volunteers are who help keep the festival free of charge and the beer flowing rapidly. Speaking of, The Nun will be working one of the Abita booths as always, and she has promised free beer to anyone with an "I heart Blackened Out" tattoo.

So enjoy the weekend, folks. Nothing to look forward to but 3 days of sunshine, grilled chicken livers, and SoCo Mango Mamas.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Nanou Nanou

Tucked away on Robert St. is a portal into Paris. Crepe Nanou has been serving the fare of the Parisian Bistro for two decades, and while not everything you eat will have you wanting to reread Hemingway's A Moveable Feast, much of it is very good.

Pastis, here Pernod, is a strong opening to any meal. Pour into the glass a few drops of ice cold water and watch the liquor become a cloud of sunshine. The French drink pastis to revive themselves after a long day in the sun. If you like it though, you need no excuses.

The menu tows the line with a limited collection of starters with nothing extraneous: a few light salads, one or two soups, pâté and cheese plates. The pâté plate had some stunning examples of the craft of charcuterie, but the hardened, greasy saucisson and bland olives need to be replaced. For a restaurant a baguette's throw away from St. James Cheese Co., they can do better than this.

Lindsay ordered a butternut squash soup with shrimp. Often times a restaurant's butternut squash soup is a Robo Coupe, whipped concoction that seems more fitting to be served at dessert. Not at Nanou, which features a light shrimp stock holding chunks of butternut squash and nice, firm shrimp.

Chances are you come here for the crepes, but save that for the final course. Instead direct your attention to the sweetbreads entree where golf ball sized morsels of tender, rich glands marry particularly well with a caper beurre blanc. A tart, crisp salad of julienned vegetables tossed in a mild dressing provides palate cleaning contrast. The dish also comes with brabant potatoes. The menu uses that term quite liberally, and the dish would be better with a more conservative version of those spuds. Alex Chilton's favorite roast chicken is not the best example of that dish, but bearnaise can do wonders to an overcooked bird.

The desserts section of the menu is where crepes can show their strength. The Crepe Marrons brings forth a heaping spoonful of chestnut cream and a scoop of coffee ice cream on top of a crepe doused in flaming rum. It sends spoons into a feeding frenzy. The burning question, though, is why Nutella is absent from the choice of fillings.

Service at Crepe Nanou bears more than a passing resemblance to the relaxed attention present in Parisian bistros. Rather than fuss over you, the service staff is content to let you enjoy your meal in peace and quiet. A nice selection of European beers and wines round out what will be at worse a pleasant evening out. At its best though, Crepe Nanou is a vacation.

Crepe Nanou - Par for food, Birdie for ambiance, Par overall.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Your Call

We do a lot of self-scouting at the International Offices of Blackened Out Media, L.L.C., and one thing we have noticed is that we tend to talk about some of the same places over and over again. We aim to be an informative and entertaining source for everything which New Orleans offers to eat and drink, and the last thing we want to become is a predictable form of communication. There is a lot of great food out there in this region, but some of it just isn't on our radar.

And that is where you come in. With over 1000 independently owned restaurants in the area and only 2 of us on the Blackened Out payroll (er, Tax Evasion/Ponzi scheme), we are relying on you to inform of us of all the great places that we are missing out in. Be it a po-boy joint you love, a sushi bar you crave, a neighborhood grocery store, or just a bar with a great jukebox. Leave a comment below (you can remain Anon if you like), shoot us an email, or touch us via Twitter.

Please make sure to include your favorite dishes on the menu as well as any tips on dining at your recommendation. Nothing is off limits, wines, restaurants, cooking techniques, bars, products, etc... We will try to make it to every recommendation that is made, and every Wednesday we will write about where we have been based on your suggestions.

And Donnie Boy, we don't need to go to, nor does anyone want to read about, P&G.

Help us, help you. It is your call.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

La Boca at Home

This blog has waxed poetically about La Boca (and Adolfo Garcia's other joints) enough that we could be paid spokesmodels for the perfectly cooked steaks, punchy chimichurri, succulent sweetbreads, and crispy fries flowing out of the kitchen. Not to mention the gnocchi, pisco sours, and Malbecs. Provoleta hides from us when either Peter or I approach. But alas our contract with Ford Modeling only places us in ads for flip flops and mittens.

The hanger steak at La Boca showcases the simplistic joy of a well-cooked bite of meat. The asparagus is not half bad either, you know for a vegetable. You can make a similar meal at home with just a few simple ingredients and steps.

Asparagus. Get 'em fresh, bend them in half til they snap, and discard the lower portion. Blanche them in salted water for 3 minutes. Plop in an ice bath. Once chilled, drain and dry off. Set aside.

Make a chimichurri. Into a blender, food processor, or if you are a glutton for punishment mortar and pestle, combine one whole bunch of cilantro tops, a half bunch of parsley, two garlic cloves, half of a jalapeno (with seed and ribs removed), 3 tablespoons of red wine vinegar, salt, and a 9 second glug of olive oil. Blend until smooth. Let this relax for an hour or so in the fridge.

You need to cook the hanger on a grill because you want to develop a crusty, charred exterior. When you break that outer crust, the bright red interior of the meat will scream to be eaten. So get your fire going. Meanwhile, remove the hangers from the fridge at least thirty minutes prior to cooking. Heavily season them with salt and pepper. Just let them hang out.

Grill the hangers for around 6 minutes per side for medium rare. Remove from heat and allow meat to rest. Now, place the drained and dried asparagus onto the grill for about 1 minute per side, just to get some purty grill marks. At this stage, I also like to place a half of lemon on the grill. The heat will caramelize the sugar in the lemon. When the asparagus is finished, squeeze the lemon over it and toss. Grilled lemon squirted onto on just about anything is delicious, well save a wound or cut.

The light was dark and the meat did not rest long enough, but it still turned out to be one hell of a good meal.

And it couldn't be easier. Hanger's are an inexpensive cut (about $9 a pound at Butcher). This whole steak dinner for two came in at around a $24 investment, including a bottle of Domaine Cantarelles Cabernet/Syrah Blend. So you don't have to break the bank to satisfy the Boca. Try it and let us know how it goes. And if you can make fries at home like they can at La Boca, keep it to yourself.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Worldly Cuisine

The Lord has risen, and thus we begin counting down the days to French Quarter Festival. When you are enjoying the "locals' Jazz Fest" this weekend and decide to sit down for table service, keep in mind The Green Goddess on Exchange Alley, where a tall, slender flute filled with strawberry mimosa awaits you.

In this month's issue of OffBeat, we review this tiny restaurant making big waves with food not often seen before its opening last summer. Where else in the city can you start with a crudites array of asparagus, curry spiced cauliflower, and duck fat potatoes...

... and finish with a bacon sundae?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Diners, Drive-Ins, and Identity Theft

Authorities with the New Orleans Police Department have confirmed that Robert "The Dread Pirate" Peyton, a 41 year old self-styled "foodie blogger," has become a person of interest in conjunction with a plot to steal the identity of one Guy Fieri (pronounced "Fee Etti).

Mr. Fieri, seen right, is a Food Network personality of the highest order. He has 4 or 5 immensely popular television shows on the network including his most famous, Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, a series which follows Mr. Fieri on an exploration of deep taste across the country.

Mr. Peyton, who writes for the equally popular, has also made a career out of traveling to restaurants, eating food, and asking questions such as: "Whats the dealio on this dish, yo?" and "You got a license for this hot rod of haute cuisine?"

Sgt. Marlin Defillo, a spokesman for the NOPD, confirmed that the investigation into Mr. Peyton's identity theft scheme unraveled very quickly. "We first got reports of a middle-aged man with spiky blonde hair and pinky rings asking cooks how he could get a ride on the 'Flavor Town Express.' At first we were excited that a place like P&G could be profiled on the Food Network. But then we discovered it was an impostor."

Mr. Peyton speaking through his attorney, himself, issued this very carefully worded statement, "Listen, no matter what anyone says I am the Commissioner of Major League Cooking, the Mayor of Flavor Town, Ambassador to the Isle of, Captain Kirk of the USS Epicurious, Conductor of the Taste Bud Railway, Chief Architect of the Building formerly known as the I.M. Delicious Museum of Modern food , and all other titles granted to me by me which connote authority on my palate alone."

Another trademark of Mr. Fieri that Mr. Peyton has copied is the extensive use of hair gel, jewelry, and 60's style bowling shirts. Sandra Lee, speaking for Mr. Fieri, discussed his unique wardrobe thusly, "After carefully screening thousands of Americans who enjoy my cooking shows, we felt it was important to give Guy an edgy look. Something to make you think of that skateboarding/surfing meth salesman you slept with after one too many Cosmoritas at Senor Charlie's in Cancun. Well, without, the awful rash that develops."

Mr. Peyton, shown here in a picture taken last week, vows he will continue to showcase the best examples of truffle oil doused, banh mi flavored pizzas that "rock around the proverbial house while making sure that there ain't no slouches leaving on this gravy train to Awesomeville" (in falsetto).

He then added his signature line, "That's off the chain like a dog feeling no pain riding a train across the rainless plains of central Spain, ya heard me?"