Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Worth the Hype

Last Sunday, Lindsay and I spent the day doing that crap you have to do sometimes. A doorknob needed fixing, the house cleaning, groceries making, and the yard tending. Most of that could be done inside and therefore avoiding the oppressive heat of summertime. But no one ever takes advice, especially their own, which is how I found myself digging a hole in the backyard to plant an olive tree at 1:15 in the afternoon. (GENCO Olive Oil Co, here we come.) Within no time the sun had reduced my flesh to a wobbly, sweaty mess and I was cursing and throwing things. My vision temporarily blurred as the nexus of the sun's energy had somehow focused itself on a 5' by 5' square in my backyard.

"Hey, it's really hot out here," Lindsay said.


"And we didn't eat any lunch. You know you get cranky if you haven't eaten."

"I do not get cranky. It's just this god damn shovel won't work."

"I got an idea. Let's go try Hansen's, then you can come back and mess with that hole some more."

That's what she said. Literally. You have seen pictures of Hansen's here and on other websites. Or maybe you have driven by or are a long time customer, so you know the building is a solid, Masonic temple of culinary mastery. We got to Hansen's by 1:30 and stood in line.

Luckily, in front of us was a know-it-all who wanted to impress his out of town guests by going over the rules of Hansen's. And rules about life. "You can't get more than one flavor on your first visit, Felix. Secondly, Ashley is working the ice machine, so don't make me look like an idiot. Thirdly, you see this scab? It's from John Howard, that punk in middle school. He is probably in prison now. He put a cigarette out on my thumb in seventh grade... My favorite flavor? Cream of chocolate. But I hear chocolate mint is new, so that is gonna be my new favorite."

Now you know the rules of Hansen's. Our orders were straightforward - satsuma hot rod and a cream of coconut hot rod. A hot rod denotes that the sno-ball has been stuffed with vanilla ice cream. Lindsay claimed her coconut confection supreme. While I found it very good, I preferred the tart/cream combo of mine.

But no matter, as it would seem impossible for a bad flavor to exist at Hansen's. The syrup is key. At other stands in town, the syrup makes your bones rattle and sugar levels spike. At Hansen's the syrup loads in flavor and punch without being syrupy. The shaved ice has a consistency that more resembles actual snow than snow itself. The prices are higher than your neighborhood stand and the wait longer, but there is absolutely no better sno-ball in the city than Hansen's. Shoot, there may be no better dining experience in the city than Hansen's on a hot day.

Hansen's - Eagle.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Summer Reading List

I hope at some point this summer you find yourself with nothing to do but read. And not because you need to or have to, but because you have nothing better to do. So be it a hot, Sunday afternoon when all you can do is lay down on the couch and suck in cold air, or a Tuesday at the beach, here are some books you may want to read. Note, not all the books I loved, but maybe you will. If you disagree with my assessments, that is the whole point.

Far Flung and Well Fed is an archive of R.W. Apple's (nickname Johnny) best writing on his favorite topic: eating. In short, informative articles he relates to you the methodology behind Uglesich's or where to find the best dumplings in Shanghai. Of course, once you read Apple's writings on say truffles, reading the rest of the books on this list may seem unnecessary.

Do you like cheese, punk rock, and the politics of anti-Reaganism? If you do, then you will love the Cheesemonger: A Life on the Edge by Gordon Edgar. The book chronicles Edgar's rise from a nihilist, protesting San Francisco punk aficionado to the head cheesemonger of the Rainbow Cooperative in San Francisco. To be honest, reading more than half of the book proved challenging. The over reliance on a literary device known as "too cool for school" drove me away. But there are some redeeming qualities, such as his near encyclopedic knowledge of the world's best cheeses.

If you are new to wine or old to wine, you have to read Adventures on the Wine Route by Kermit Lynch. The author has thrived as a retailer, importer, merchant, negociant, and winemaker by focusing on the winemakers who actually give a shit about making good, honest wine at affordable prices. Besides, if you (like me) have ever wanted to know the difference between Burgundy, Bourdeaux, Premier Cru, and Rose, this is your book to gain knowledge of French wine without signing up for a snooty, pretentious class.

The food intelligentsia always points towards M.F.K. Fisher for the truest expression of writing about the joys of food. In As They Were, flowery essays detail an idyllic time in the writer's life. From growing up in California to eating trout bleu in years between wars, Fisher recounts how her kitchen in Provence behaved. Is this short review boring you? Good, because the book bored me.

I am halfway through Jeffrey Steingarten's two books, The Man Who Ate Everything and It Must Have Been Something I Ate, which means I have finished precisely none. You may know Steingarten as the really snooty, condescending judge on Iron Chef, particularly the one who gives Bobby Flay shit. But in both books he comes off as only slightly less abrasive. However, he is funny and all his stories are well-researched and well-written. His stories trod a similar path to those written by Apple - short, informative chapters telling you everything you need to know about salt or where to eat in Paris. Plus, Steingarten takes every opportunity to lambaste the diet freaks, salt control boards, anti-fat crusaders, and no fun eating task forces which have plagued, and continue to plague, this country.

Jay Rayner is a judge on Top Chef Masters, which incidentally is proving itself the better, more athletic, charming, smarter, pretty younger sister to Top Chef. Rayner is also the food critic for the London Observer, which I am told is a newspaper and not a voyeur club. The Man Who Ate the World: In Search of the Perfect Dinner chronicles traveling around the world to Moscow, Dubai, Las Vegas, Tokyo, New York, and Paris in search of the perfect meal at the world's best restaurants. This book rocks. Very few of us will ever have the chance to eat in even one of these restaurants, yet throughout the book Rayner manages to come off as humble and ever thankful for the opportunities he has. He relies a little too much on the hooker and cocaine jokes, but in general he does a very noble job of chronicling the malaise of eating out all the time.

What are you reading this summer?

Monday, June 28, 2010

Abita SOS

For over twenty years, Abita has been the beer of choice for Louisiana's celebrations. Crawfish boils and LSU football games are just two of the events bettered by an ice cold Abita. In the wake of the BP fustercluck, Abita has established a fund to provide assistance in this most troubling time. Working in conjunction with the Louisiana Seafood Marketing Board, the fund will divert resources to bolster and eventually revitalize Louisiana's coastline and all who make their living plying those waters for shrimp, crabs, and oysters.

But even better for you, a major source of the fund's revenue will come from sales of a new beer. As the press release explains and this Police song sings:

Abita SOS, A Charitable Pilsner

The centerpiece of the fundraising effort is a new charitable beer created by Abita. The brew, called SOS – A Charitable Pilsner, will generate 75¢ for every bottle sold. In addition, related retail merchandise (hat, tee shirt, lapel pin, decal and car magnet) will be sold and 100% of the net proceeds will also go to the SOS Fund.

“Abita SOS is a message in a bottle. It is a distress signal we’re sending out all across the 41 states where Abita is sold. It is going to raise awareness and money,” says David Blossman, President of Abita.

The 22-ounce brew bears hand drawn iconic images of all the aspects that make the Gulf of Mexico so unique. Illustrations like those of pelicans, fish, shrimp and fishing boats are arranged in the pattern of the timeless distress symbol: S-O-S. Marsh grass and a symbolic pair of white “shrimp boots” also are highlighted in the beautiful design.

Abita began brewing SOS several weeks ago and now ages in holding tanks as it finishes the brewing process. It is expected to hit the markets in mid July. The beer is an unfiltered Weizen Pils made with Pilsner and Wheat malts. It is hopped and dry hopped with Sterling and German Perle hops. It has a brilliant gold color, a sweet malt flavor and a pleasant bitterness and aroma. The brew is 7% alcohol by volume.

Abita SOS merchandise is available for purchase immediately at a special website created for the fund, Online donations can also be made directly to the fund.

Thank you Abita for making great beer and giving back.

Friday, June 25, 2010

2010 We Live To Eat Contest

Last summer, we turned the blog over to you guys on Thursdays with astonishing results for a contest. Guess what? This summer we are doing it again. But this year, every Friday will be your time to get your shine on. And we have real prizes to replace last year's crummy prizes: a gently used Invincible DVD, an annotated compendium to Windows 95, and lunch with Legend.

A few months ago the Greater New Orleans Chapter of the Louisiana Restaurant Association launched the We Live To Eat Campaign. The WLTE Campaign highlights the incredible bounty of delicious restaurants in the Greater New Orleans Area. One of the best things we have found about writing this blog is that everyone in New Orleans is a food expert. We love talking about where we have eaten, what we are eating, and where we are going to be eating. No one could ever accuse New Orleans of being a city of Debbie Downers. Now more than ever, the restaurants of our home town need our cheerleading and support.

So here is how the contest works. You get to tell us your most ideal day of dining in the Greater New Orleans Area. Where would you go for breakfast, what do you do for lunch, what do you eat for a snack, and where do you eat dinner. Money is no object, and there are no geographical limitations besides that the restaurants must be in the Greater New Orleans Area. Afternoon snack at Cafe du Monde followed by a cocktail at Napoleon House and dinner at Mosca's? Sounds perfect to us. Chart out your day and email us your submissions at BlackenedOut at Gmail Dot Com (or click "Contact Us" on the task bar).

Not from around here but love to visit? You can play too; we are sure you have your eating itinerary lined up before you book your flight. Nervous about using your name? Come up with an alias. Each Friday we will post your entries and allow our readers to vote on each week's winner. After six weeks, the top 6 entries will be up for consideration for the 2010 We Live To Eat Award where, once again, you the readers will vote on your favorite dining itinerary.

Here are the prizes for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Place:

1st Place - $100 gift certificate to Commander's Palace and $75 gift certificate to Drago's.

2nd Place - $100 gift certificate to Mr. B's and a $25 gift certificate to Drago's.

3rd Place - $75 gift certificate to Ruth's Chris.

Plus a whole slew of hats and t-shirts. Much better than a Windows manual.

People the world over consider New Orleans a dining destination. This mantle is not just because we have Galatoire's, Antoine's, and August. It is also because we have mom and pop po-boy shops, charming bistros, and neighborhood joints. So give us your best shot at designing the perfect day of dining.

We can't wait to hear from you.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

3 Roses Shy of a Dozen

Eating Vietnamese food is messy work. After a good feasting, the table is littered with plates, bowls with tiny lagoons of dipping sauce, sheets of lettuce, tufts of herbs, shards of crumbs, glasses, and napkins galore. Your shirt is likely covered in specks of sauce flung from a noodle as it wiggled its way toward your mouth. This is elbows on the table, slurping, beer drinking cuisine. And no one in town does it better than Nine Roses.

Everything at Nine Roses is first rate. Two words of caution though: (1) It is closed on Wednesdays, and (2) it does not have banh mi. If it is your first experience with Vietnamese order the bun. We would force you to get it with chargrilled pork and egg rolls, but you already knew that. The pork's dark, sweet and crusty outside hides an interior of juiciness and salt. If the perfect bite of food existed, we feel it would be comprised of noodles, nuoc mam, chargrilled pork, the crust of an eggroll, and a slice of cucumber.

The quail is another stand out dish. Four or five quail arrived, their skins bronzed like Pauly D from fragrant, exotic rubbed in spices and dry roasting. Next to them sit elastic pillows of smooth, steamed dough. You pry open the dough, stuff it with quail meat and crisp accoutrements, fold it over and bite. Soft dough, rich quail, fresh herbs; it's enough to make a Glee worthy chorus sing out in your mouth.

You would also do well to focus on the dishes which we call "roll it yourself." Tennis ball sized pork meatballs get wrapped inside sheets of romaine and dunked in fish sauce flecked with chili flake (above). It is as close to healthy as pork is ever gonna be. Or try ground shrimp wrapped around a shaft of sugar cane and then grilled to impart a smoky and sweet edge (below). To assemble, first dip rice paper in hot water to moisten. Toss on some mint, a few bean sprouts, and roll. (Come on, college wasn't that long ago, you can do this.) Then drag it through the salty, sweet and deep flavor of peanut sauce.

Of course there is the Number 9 on the menu, which is Number 1 in our hearts. Citrus marinated raw beef crown a nest of sliced onions and thin disks of lemon. You don't so much eat this dish as you inhale the aromas and feel the textures. If you love Vietnamese food, this is the payoff. The way they coax such big, intoxicating flavors out of seemingly simple ingredients. Onions, beef, lemon, and herbs - in America that becomes a hamburger with caramelized onions and lemonade. The result in Vietnam is a light, fragrant dish which may just encourage you to go for a run.

The menu lists other offbeat selections, such as tender morsels of goat swimming in a sea of yellow curry and slices of onion. Chinese brocoli is a heaping pile of leafy greens attached to thick, woodsy stems all sauteed in lip-smacking oyster sauce. These are dishes which only the adventurous diners usually order, but anyone willing to take a chance will likely enjoy.

Most of our shirts at home tell the tale of our love affair with Vietnamese cuisine. But the stains we love the most come from Nine Roses. Maybe that sounds weird, but we say it is strong indication of why Nine Roses is the best Vietnamese in the town.

The Rankings

Food - Eagle. Consistently the best. Nine Roses does the little things right which makes a best difference. The pork is sliced in thicker than normal chunks, which allows a nice crust to develop while preserving a tender interior. The veggies are always fresh enough to make noise when you bite into them.

Bar/Wine/Service - Birdie. You don't drink wine here. You drink beer, tea, or soda chanh. The latter is a teeth chattering excursion extolling lemonade's finer virtues. Service does a very good job of bridging the gap between the large menu and what you want to eat. Plus, if you have a question as to how to eat what you order, just ask. Then watch as nimble fingers make easy work.

Overall - Eagle. We sum up our endorsement of Nine Roses with a cinematic aside. In Field of Dreams, there is a wonderful scene in which Terrance Mann describes America's love affair with baseball thusly, "The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it's a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh... people will come Ray. People will most definitely come." (Spine tingling audio here).

Well, we have eaten Vietnamese all over the city, and the one constant has been Nine Roses. People will come. People should most definitely go.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Gott Lunch?

After a popular debut in October 2008, Gott Gourmet Cafe has quietly moved into its sophomore year as the casual eatery that everyone seems to like but no one is talking about. The cafe on the corner of Magazine and 8th has an interesting menu filled with things like ancho-honey slaw, blue corn flour crusted oysters, and chipotle cream cheese. Very Bobby Flayish, in my opinion.

Most hunger stricken diners zero in on the St. Patty's Day Massacre immediately. This "classic Reuben with a twist" has corned beef, swiss, horseradish cheddar, french fries, slaw, 1000 island and creole mustard on pumpernickel. Lots of flavors going on there, perhaps a bit too many, but I can't say that I dislike the sandwich. The fries are handcut (A for effort), but whether incorporated in the sandwich or served on the side, my order never comes out hot and crispy (C for execution).

The cochon de lait cuban is not a bad choice, with juicy shreds of braised pork matched with Dr. Pepper glazed ham. My only suggestion is to ask the kitchen to put the slaw on the side, as it is an unnecessary addition which can make things messy. If you want to feel good about ordering healthy but don't necessarily care about the calorie count of your dish, look no further than the Gott Salad. Greens and seasonal berries (blueberries right now) serve as the foundation for panko crusted fried brie and candied pecans. The Chicago style hot dog is the city's only worthwhile replica of that Windy City icon.

Gott Gourmet Cafe - Par

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

2010 Challenge: Herbsaint's 2nd Best Dish

No visit to Herbsaint is complete for me without two very important orders. The spaghetti with guanciale and fried poached egg is one. The other is a very simple salad of iceberg lettuce, radishes, and either blue cheese or buttermilk dressing. The former makes sense because it is the greatest marriage of chicken, pig, and pasta in the Western Hemisphere. The latter though requires more explanation.

The beauty in Herbsaint's cooking is the subtle understanding of the complex mathematical theorem of addition by subtraction. Notice in the salad, the absence of candied walnuts or segments of ginger marinated orange, no 100 year old balsamic nor micro greens. Nope. None of that. Lettuce, dressing, and radishes; nothing extraneous and all perfectly done. The dressing is tart, smooth, and creamy. The radishes punch up the lettuce with their spicy flavor and earthy crunch.

Summertime in New Orleans really means salad time. The less cooking you can do the better.

Iceberg salad with Blue Cheese Dressing and Radishes

Trim the root and stem of each radish and dice into small cubes as best you can. Salt, toss, and set aside.

For the dressing, 1/2 cup of sour cream, 1/2 cup of mayonnaise, juice of one lemon, and as many squirts of Worcestershire sauce as you like in your Bloody Mary. Mix to combine, add salt and pepper to taste. Into this mix, fold in gently a wedge of blue cheese about the size of your palm, that you have broken into small chunks. Let the dressing sit for a few minutes, while you wash and dry the iceberg.

Now, just toss the radishes, lettuce, and dressing. If you have bacon, add it. Go ahead, gild that lily, baby.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Open on Sunday

For many, Sunday dinner is the one meal where families take the time to gather together. The notion connotes images of mom stirring a pot of bubbling red gravy in the kitchen, the boys watching the final round of the US Open in the den, and the dog patiently waiting for a fortuitous drop from the table.

But what about when you just don't feel like cooking? If your weekends runeth over with weddings, baseball games, and (gasp) work, who's to blame you for wanting to stay away from the stove and the sink on Sunday evening? While judging at Po-Boy Fest this past year, I had the honor of sitting next to Mrs. Klara Cvitanovich, owner of Drago's. Mrs. Klara told me that nearly every Sunday her family gathers together for dinner, but they let Vincent's or Venezia do the cooking.

One problem: A lot of restaurants are closed on Sunday. I can't tell you how many times I've said, "Oh, let's go to _______ for dinner," only to check the website and realize the restaurant is closed.

So, I have been gathering together a list of our preferred restaurants which are open on Sunday. I focused primarily on places where dressing up is not required, as The Folk Singer would rather stir risotto for hours on end than pick out something nice to wear for Sunday dinner. I have found this list to be a great reference but am always looking to add more and branch out. If you and have suggestions, then we would love to hear about them in the comments.

Open on Sunday
Bacchanal, Cafe Degas, Crescent Pie & Sausage Co., Domenica, Little Tokyo, Mandina's, Pizza Delicious, R&O's, Venezia, Vincent's (Uptown), Zea.

Friday, June 18, 2010

At the Market Plus a Picture of Lindsay

On Saturday mornings, the Crescent City Farmer's Market transforms the W B Reily & Companies' Magazine Street warehouse into a scene straight out of the annotated works of Peter Mayle. Vendors sell everything from fresh flowers, herbs, and honey to chickens, shrimp, and just picked vegetables. Vivid colors of purple, yellow, red, and green overflow from ice chests and bins pile high with products. Right now, creoles, blueberries, squashes of all types, and more are just ripe for the eating.

At the market, you can overhear chef talk and culinary gossip. But if you want to partake in this, get there early. By 9:30a.m., the chefs or their sous chefs have departed for a busy day of prep. Another benefit of eavesdropping is that you can figure out how to cook the wonderful ingredients the vendors sell. Cause let's face it, when was the last time you were able to look at a cucuzza squash and do anything besides make lewd comments?

Many of the vendors sell prepared foods as well. We always have to grab one or two of Isabel's Tamales. Sometimes Paul's pesto, especially his early spring, spicy cilantro based blends find their way into our baskets. But recently we discovered these little sweet potato pies, which despite the spelling were not made by Dan Quayle.

No, they came from the weathered hands of the good folks from the B&B Farms/Indian Spring Cooperative. The biscuity, tender crust enveloped the sweet potato filling to create one hell of a good mid-morning snack. Plus look how good it made Lindsay's thumb look.

Get ye to the market.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Short Order Reviews

Instead of giving you one long review to sort through this Thursday, how about a bunch of short reviews of places where we have been eating? What you don't like that idea? Well, than go take a long walk off a short bridge.

What better way to start off than with breakfast, though I would choose somewhere other than the Peppermill, which is where The Folk Singer and I stopped in one early Sunday morning on the way home from the airport. The interior is dated to the 70s – wall mural in the center, pale yellows, low lighting – the place just has a worn out feel (and not in a good way). Tired is the more appropriate term. An omelet was heavy and dense instead of light and fluffy, the biscuit was dry, and the hollandaise was an orange, gritty mess. Even the excellence of the Belgian waffle - crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside, and served with warm maple syrup - could not resurrect this meal. The Peppermill: Bogey - Peter.

Craving old school Italian a few weeks ago, Lindsay and I headed to Vincent's. This is the place you go when you want to dip enough breadsticks to plug a leaking oil well into garlicky, green onion specked butter and sip lusty red wine while listening to Sinatra at the Sands. The house dressing can best be described as olive salad put through a finer dice, but it works equally well on thick slices of tomato and mozzarella as it does on thin slices of carpaccio. Try the veal parmesan. As the Turk says, "It's the best in the city." For old school Italian, I give it a Birdie - Rene

Let's stay in the land of the Azurris. Nor-Joe's, the Italian delicatessen/grocer/trading post in Old Metry (the "OM" to locals), puts out the city's finest muffaletta. You can have it cold or hot, your choice. While the razor tongued ladies make your sandwich, roam the aisles. You know how you go to Whole Foods for a piece of pork and walk out $78 poorer carrying a pint of flax seed oil and some organic tofu? Shopping in Nor-Joe's is a Mediterranean version of that phenomenon. Your basket will soon hold marcona almonds, sherry vinegar, peppery olive oil, a chunk of Parmigiano Reggiano, a wedge of Pecorino Romano, a bottle of grappa, and salted cod. Enjoy the sandwich on the deck with an ice cold Moretti. Just a word of caution, be nice and polite to the ladies who work there. If you are not as soon as you leave they will talk about you behind your back. And you will deserve all the vitriol they can muster. For muffalettas and grocery shopping, I give it an Birdie/Eagle - Rene

During my last year in Baton Rouge, TFS and I became obsessed with Bay Leaf, an Indian restaurant off Sherwood Forest, and we have been trying to find something in Nola on par with their curries ever since. After one look, Taj Mahal does not seem to make the cut. The meal started off on the wrong foot: no air condition in the dining room and the kitchen was completely out of lamb. Most meats on the tandoori platter were dry, the mint and tamarind sauces were weak, and the raita tasted watered down. On the positive side, the mixed bread basket had several types of naan stuffed with potato, cheese, and onions - all delicious. With so many entrees on the menu, it's too early to pass judgment. But I am looking for marked improvement from Taj Mahal on the next visit. - Peter

What do you do when you have time to kill? We go eat Vietnamese. Last Saturday before braving a 4 year old's birthday party, we gave Pho Tau Bay a chance to assuage the pains of a few too many. Ehhh. The flavors were muted, the chargrilled pork sliced to thin, the banh mi skimpy, and the pho broth milky. But the tendon in their pho is some of the best in town. Pho Tau Bay: Par - Rene

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Tequila on a Choo Choo and Dining out for Cats & Dogs

During one Sunday morning recap after a rather rowdy bachelor party, Rene described Legend's Saturday night temperament as "a nightmare trainwreck on acid." Most of us never come close to such an experience (nor particularly desire to do so). However, if there exists a safe and enjoyable way to come close to that edge, then it's probably on the Patrón Tequila Epicurean Express. And yes, tequila will be involved.

This week the Patrón Tequila Epicurean Express rolls into Union Terminal to help raise money for the St. Bernard Project, which the helps people of St. Bernard Parish get back on their feet, back in their houses, and back to work following Katrina, and more recently, the oil spill. On Thursday from 6-9 pm, $50 gets you entry to a cocktail party aboard the train with hors d'oeuvres prepared by Chef Justin Devillier of La Petite Grocery and Aaron Burgau of Patois, plus Patrón cocktails prepared by a local mixologist. For the high rollers willing to shell out the $250 price tag, a five course dinner will be served aboard the train on Saturday night for a maximum of 25 people. Chefs preparing the dinner are Tory McPhail of Commander's Palace, Chris Lusk of Café Adelaide, and Nathan Gresham of Galatoire's Baton Rouge. Each course will be paired with Patrón cocktails prepared by Steven Wilshire of Bar Tonique. Tickets to both events can be purchased online.

Also this Thursday is the Louisiana SPCA's first annual "Pause for Dinner." During regular dinner hours, participating restaurants will donate 20% of their proceeds to the Louisiana SPCA. In addition, The George Rodrigue Foundation for the Arts (GRFA) is offering a new Blue Dog print at each restaurant for silent auction. The silkscreen print, titled The Three Amigos, is not available to the general public, and is only available to non-profit organizations for fundraising purposes. Even though I am currently regretting my offer to dogsit for a golden retriever puppy, I am still a lifelong dog lover who greatly appreciates the support which these restaurants have pledged toward the LASPCA. If you were looking for an excuse to avoid doing the dishes on Thursday night, well then you just found one.

Participating Restaurants - Bistro Daisy, Broussard's, Cafe Amelie, Cafe Degas, Cafe Rani, EAT, Gott Gourmet, Kyoto, La Peniche, La Petite Grocery, Mark Twain's Pizza, Martinique, Meauxbar, Mona Lisa, Pinkberry, Santa Fe, Semolina, Tomatillo's, Vega Tapas, Zoe Restaurant.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

2010 Challenge: Pizza Delicious

Pizza. Maybe you get bored with it, but I can't. Everything about pizza seems tailor made for obsession. The way it fits in your hand, how it is equally good late at night as it is early in the morning, how it gets along with nearly everyone, and how it never gets mad if you don't call. But mostly because it combines flavors, textures, and smells in a most perfect bite.

Lindsay and I had another run-in with Pizza Delicious a few weeks ago, this time with their homage to the Beatles white album: spinach, ricotta, mozzarella, olive oil and these candy sweet red tomatoes. Instead of trucking back to Broadmoor, we just brought some beers and devoured the pizza on the truck of our car. With the sounds of a neighborhood ping pong game in the background and the evening's river breeze, the meal rivaled anything in Christendom.

First, you gotta make or buy dough. This time I went with a two day process to craft the dough. On the first day, combine half your flour (here 3 3/4 cups), yeast or starter, 2 cups of water, and a generous tablespoon of salt. Mix this until it is a paste, cover it and stick it in the fridge overnight. The next morning you add the remainder of your flour (another 3 3/4 cups) and knead until you get a nice, dense dough. Set it aside to rise. This will give you a lot of dough, so be prepared for pizzas for days, just like this one filled with everything we could find from the fridge at the end of the week.

Our main focus that weekend was to make calzones. A calzone is not technically a pizza, but it is not far off. Translated from the original middle English into Latin it means, "pizza that has been folded over to a neat package which one should keep in ye old pocket." Now if you poke a little hole in the crust, it becomes a stromboli. If you fill it with chocolate and cinnamon, you become an idiot.

Eventually, the unglazed ceramic tile which doubled as a pizza stone in my oven cracked. A trip back to Home Depot failed to produce another as the check out girl had never rang up just one tile. 20 minutes later, I gave up relishing the opportunity to allow necessity to give birth to another child named invention. Take a baking sheet and turn it upside down. On top of this, place a silpat - a silicon coated, non-stick invention up there with the wheel of Parm. Pop this in your oven and crank the thing to as high as she'll go. When ready to bake, just place the calzone or pizza directly on the silpat. Because the sheet is inverted, there is no lip to catch your pizza peel.

The calzones were no slouches either. We plied the countertop thick with mozzarella, pepperoncinis, mushrooms, olives, and pungent herbs like basil and oregano, then set to stuffing like grandma on Thanksgiving. Fold it over, crimp the ends, rub some egg wash on top, and sprinkle some salt on the crust. Be careful, this mother will shoot piping hot molten cheese if you don't let it cool. It is a risk we willingly take.

Monday, June 14, 2010

In Search of Monday Lunch: Cochon Butcher

Last weekend was a busy one here at Blackened Out, so we are starting this week off with a quick word about one of our favorites. Sometimes less is more, and Cochon Butcher is certainly proof of this minimalist theory.

Just a few high top tables and stools to eat on, bottles of hot sauce and jars of pickles lined up on the shelves, and a display case filled with about a dozen pigs worth of charcuterie. Plus, Butcher serves some of the best sandwiches around: meltingly tender BBQ pork with cool and crunchy cole slaw (above), house smoked pastrami on rye, and the only roast beef in the city worth eating without gravy. In addition to the regular favorites, those crazy kids behind the counter are always thinking up something special everyday: "GLT" of guanciale, lettuce, and tomato; a banh mi made with head cheese; or an Italian style sausage and peppers.

It's so difficult to choose which one is best, that we must put it to a vote.

And a little known secret about Butcher is that they bake some might fine desserts. Cookies and brownies are always available, but treats like cupcakes stuffed with pudding and mini chocolate bundt cakes make occasional appearances.

Is it noon yet?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Johnnie Walker Scotch Dinner and Crawfish Boil Cookoff

Way back before Fox, MSNBC, unions, and the internet told people who to vote for, candidates for political office used the subtle power of massive feasts to win votes. Texas politicians were known for lavish multi-day barbecues. In the Northeast, political bosses used giant steak feeds with copious amounts of Scotch to endear themselves to voters. This sounds like a much better idea than robo-calls, tv ads, and debates. Listen my love isn't for sale, but my vote can be had for a good plate of red beans. That is a joke, sort of.

On Wednesday June 16th, Mortons will host a Johnnie Walker Scotch Dinner with a portion of the proceeds going to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. About two months ago, I was invited to a similar dinner at Morton's with Peter Mondavi of Charles Krug Winery (above) and ate delicious food in the presence wonderful company and Robert Peyton. Morton's is one of the secret gems of New Orleans as dining there feels like eating in a really cool treehouse. But instead of bugs, branches, and Kool-Aid, you are surrounded by beef, potatoes, and wine. Here is the menu and some more details.

Wednesday, June 16
6:30pm Reception
7pm Dinner

$125 per guest
Inclusive of tax and gratuity

For further information, please contact Kim Trouard at 504.566.0221 or

First Course
Miniature Crab Cakes
Johnnie Walker Red

Second Course
Tomato, Fresh Mozzarella and Basil Salad
Johnnie Walker Green

Third Course
Single Cut Filet Mignon, Bearnaise Sauce
Served with Twice Baked Potato and Sauteed Garlic Green Beans
Johnnie Walker Black

Fourth Course
Upside-Down Apple-Pie, Vanilla Ice Cream
Johnnie Walker Gold

Johnnie Walker Blue

And folks don't forget about the Drew Rodrigue Foundation's Crawfish Boil Cook Off at Jesuit High School, this Saturday from 2-6. $20, plus $2 beers for all the crawfish you can eat. Sounds like a good way to celebrate the US kicking the "arse" out of those limey wankers from Britain. Remember: British people have bad teeth, terrible food, and they pollute the Gulf. That is not a joke.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


Word association for "Casablanca" might point some of you toward this:

However, I'm thinking more like this:

But I applaud your taste in sitcoms.

Casablanca serves up Moroccan and Middle Eastern fare in its strip mall location just across from Lakeside on Severn. The menu is entirely Kosher, and if the rabbinical seal of approval is not convincing enough, then take note that:

  1. The restaurant is closed on Saturdays,
  2. You will see more than your fair share of yamulkes in the dining room, and
  3. There is a sink to be specifically used for Netilat yadayim La'Pat. (Thank you, wikipedia.)

I could continue on about how the menu proclaims a "minimum gratuity" of 15% for lunch and 18% for dinner, but (a) I don't believe in perpetuating stereotypes, (b) the waitstaff has never said anything to me about the policy, and (c) my checks never included any minimum charges for gratuity.

On to more important things, like the food. The menu lists the Mediterranean standards like hummus, falafel, and shawarma, all done well but priced higher than we have grown accustom to. The flavors and textures are recognizable but different. For example, hummus and baba ganoush are whipped to a mayo-like consistency, and the house dressing tastes and looks like French dressing mixed with honey mustard.

The best choices on the menu are under the "Exotic Entrees" heading. Here you will find a mix of charbroiled meats along with the classics like moussaka and spinach pie. The Mediterranean Combo delivers a monstrous grape leaf stuffed almost entirely with meat, a surprisingly light slab of spinach pie, and a generous portion of slightly-sweetened moussaka. The Couscous Plate (top) is cooked in a tagine with lots of softened vegetables - carrot, zucchini, cabbage, onions - and chunks of lamb. Hearty, but not enough meat to justify $21 price tag. Same goes for the tender morsels of chicken in the Chicken Marrakech ($20, immediately above).

But I guarantee that what you will most remember about the meal is the Moroccan rice. Cooked with finely ground onions, saffron, cinnamon, and turmeric, the aroma is absolutely intoxicating and the taste is just as good. I could eat this stuff morning, noon, and night. If you go to Casablanca and order french fries, then you have just made one of the biggest mistakes of your life.

The Rankings

Food - Par/Birdie. I like the standard hummus, shawarma, etc. at other places for lower prices, but the house specialties are unique and delicious. I can't say enough good things about the rice.

Wine/Bar/Service - Par. The menu lists only kosher wine and a few domestic beers. The waitstaff is very friendly but usually short-handed.

Overall - Par/Birdie. Chances are that if you come here for lunch, you are going to leave feeling that you did not get your money's worth. But there is no denying the excellence of the entrees, whose higher prices are more justifiable at dinner. Go in with that mindset and be rewarded.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


Last week, Peter and I were invited by the fine folks at Dickie Brennan's Bourbon House to serve as judges for a blind wine and oyster pairing contest. The winner between both the public tasters and the judges? An Anne Amie Vineyards Cuvee A Amrita with a slight fizz and some lively citrus flavors. Peter picked that one, whereas I liked the minerality of the Muscadet. Proving once again that wine is solely a matter of personal taste. Well, unless you are the Dread Pirate Robert whose favorite wine for oysters is Mad Dog 20/20's Rappin Raspberry.

Poppy Tooker also served as an esteemed member of the judiciary that day. And she had some huge news to share. Beginning tonight at 6:30, Poppy debuts her new radio show "Louisiana Eats" on NPR (WWNO 89.9 FM), which will also replay on Saturday at noon. The half-hour weekly show will cover the Louisiana food scene. Check it out, radio heads.

Bloggle has become a very good friend but we can't help but be excited for the release of his first foray into wine making with 2008 C&B Selections "There's No Place Like Home" Syrah. Bloggle and winemaker, Paul Hoffman, (pictured below) created a Syrah that balances the power and finesse of the Rhone with the fruit of Sonoma. Inspired by Macy Gray, Bloggle has been wandering around town wearing a dress that says "My Wine Drops on June 10th" for about a week.

We had an opportunity to taste the wine last night, and Hoffman and Bloggle (which sounds like a trippy, acoustic college rock duo) have hit it out of the park. Dark in the glass, with a savory aroma of smoky bacon and pepper, the wine finishes smooth and cool coming in at just under 15% alcohol. The price is $24.99 a bottle; $20 a bottle when you buy a case or more. Head over to Cork & Bottle tomorrow afternoon and pick you up a bottle of wine or two. And while you are there, give Bloggle a hug or a kick in the groin. Your choice.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

2010 Challenge: Z Grille

For years Southerners have used soft drinks to add a jolt of sugar and flavor to everything from cakes and pies to ribs and whiskey. Usually the Southern classic, Coca Cola, gets the nod. Which is why seeing Dr. Pepper braised ribs set off some alarms. Dr. Pepper boasts of having 23 flavors, complex for sure. Cooking a piece of meat in a liquid so flavorful is not all that different from using wine.

But I didn't have anything tough or braiseworthy in the house. I did however have a pork tenderloin. So, I figured some medallions of pork seared and then coated in a reduced sauce made with Dr. Pepper would be pretty interesting and it was. Save for the fact that the pork tenderloin was "teriyaki" flavored. Grocery shopping after a long weekend leads to mistakes, remember that kids.

Pork Tenderloin with Sauce "au Poivre" and Braised Endive

Braised Endive (adapted from Tom Colicchio's Craft of Cooking)

In a large skillet, saute mirepoix in olive oil until just soft. Add to this some endive in which you have removed any discolored outer leaves. Then add in a 1/2 cup of white wine, 1/4 cup of white wine vinegar, some herbs (bay and thyme good choices), salt and pepper. Cover with water and bring to simmer. Braise for about an hour, or until tender through.

Sauce au "Poivre" (get it?)

In a small sauce pan, combine one can of Dr. Pepper and 1 cup of chicken stock. Allow this to reduce to a thick sauce on low heat. Will take about an hour. If you want, as I should have, whisk in some butter right before plating.


Slice the tenderloin into medallions about an inch thick. Season with salt and pepper and let sit for a few minutes. Meanwhile heat a cast iron skillet or other thick bottom pan until whisps of smoke leave its surface. Tablespoon of lipid just to coat the pan (butter works best). Sear the tenderloins on both sides, continuously basting with the butter. Lower heat and cook to desired doneness.

To finish, place food on plate and top meat with au poivre sauce. A malbec went very well with this dish. The meal would have been better had I not accidentally picked up a Teriyaki flavored loin, but with a few adjustments, say grilling it whole and basting with sauce, this could end up in the rotation.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Is this Russia, Danny?

An Orange Mojito from Z Grille in St. Petersburg. Wicked good.

When one thinks of Florida, Destin, Miami, and Key West certainly come to mind. St. Petersburg likely does not. St. Petersburg sits south of Tampa on the tip of a peninsula which juts out into the crystalline waters of the Gulf of Mexico. To borrow fromJFK, St. Petersburg has the charms of the South, with the location of Florida. Legend lives there, and he promised us a long weekend of sailing around the area, working on base tans, and abstaining from alcoholic beverages.

We started Thursday afternoon riding through the neighborhoods just steps off the downtown area to go find groceries and liquor (Promise broken). Here, large homes built long ago, hug the gentle rolling lagoons and waterways leading to the bay. That night, dinner at Ceviche, where halfway decent tapas compete with a Moroccan decor and thumping house music. Large ceramic pitchers of sangria and caipirinhas hold down the table with an impressive jolt of alcohol.

The next morning we headed for Longboat Key in our rented boat for the weekend, a thirty-five foot Catalina named Comfortably Numb. Obviously the owner is a fan of morphine. Since the wind was slack, not much sailing occurred. (Second promise broken.) The ride to Longboat, fueled by rum drinks, cold beer, and a few brief tugs at the end of the fishing line, shook out the remaining cobwebs from the previous night.

Before dingying to the beach, we had lunch. Some sandwiches on white bread; it might as well have been filet mignon. What is it about eating outside (particularly if on the water) that makes the food taste so good? The next morning we headed back to St. Petersburg so Legend and Megorita could go to a wedding and we could hit up a Hall and Oates concert.

By far our favorite meal in on the trip took place at Z Grille, home of James Beard nominated chef, Zack Gross. The kitchen slings out bacon and pork fueled dishes inspired by California cuisine. West Coast food never had it so good. Take for example the wok spicy jumbo shrimp lettuce wraps. These little cups held tender and succulent shrimp awash in a fiery sambal butter with a little jicama to provide crunch and sweet.

Z Grille's quesadillas stuff chipotle glazed pork and Gouda cheese into big floppy tortillas and serve them alongside a dynamite barbecue sauce. Smoky, creamy, spicy, porky - if it tastes good, it is in this quesadilla. Well, besides foie gras. They left that out, which is probably for the best.

The deviled eggs were angelic. Here that Hank! Each day, Z Grille has a special deviled egg to go along with their California deviled eggs. The California version was the best with avocado, bacon, and jalapeno blending with the rich yolk into a stunning bite. The barbecue and chive crab were also very good. If Peter had been here, he would have eaten 300 deviled eggs again like he did at the SOFAB opening.

But for me the real star was the Dr. Pepper Fried Ribs. Yes, you read that correctly. All of it. While I didn't ask how they do it (was on vacation, people), I am pretty certain the ribs were braised in Dr. Pepper until tender. Then cooled in the braising liquid, fried, and then coated with some of the reduced liquid. Next to the ribs sat a pile of cabbage and under that a puddle of pepper jelly sauce. A platter of them would have been ideal, but destroyed this beach body.

Then the next morning a cruising sail to Egmont Key, an abandoned military base with beautiful beaches. Bases were worked on, but resulted in mostly weird tans and peeling. (All promises broken.) Dinner Sunday night was at Fish Tales, a place where you go for the atmosphere and buckets of ice cold Presidente beer. Which is all you really need with good friends and a vacation winding down.

Stay tuned tomorrow to see how the idea of those ribs turned into a Wednesday night meal. Is the anticipation killing you? I thought so.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Go East, Young Man

In this month's issue of OffBeat magazine, we review Dong Phuong: Baker of Bread, Bastion Banh Mi, and Palace of Pork. If traveling to the beach this weekend, the detour down Chef Highway for springrolls and meat-filled pastries will ensure for a pleasant drive all the way to the panhandle. For the rest of us, the journey out East is worthwhile for no other reason than to satisfy a craving.

But beware the banh xeo, the crepe whose deliciousness is only matched by its difficulty in consumption. If the other diners are looking and laughing at you while you eat, then you're probably doing it right.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Grocery

Hidden behind the oaks on St. Charles, The Grocery has been pressing and turning out delicious po-boys and sandwiches since before ya Mama 'n 'dem had to remodel. Open only for lunch, during the school year the Grocery is oft filled with high school girls who have either figured out how to sneak off campus or have some liberal lunch attendance policy. In the summer, the crowds die down but just a bit, as the location is an easy drive from the CBD for a sandwich, bag of Zapp's, and a cold drink.

Procedure at The Grocery can be a little confusing, so allow us to walk you through:
  1. Peruse the menu written on chalkboards hung high above the partition separating the kitchen from the dining room.
  2. Place your order at the counter and give your name.
  3. Grab your choice of beverage from the cooler and bag of chips from the rack.
  4. Wait for your name to be called. If a seat is available, take it.
  5. When your name is called, pickup your food at the counter and pay your tab.

The menu lists numerous po-boys and pressed sandwiches, most filled with deli-style meats. Save for fried seafood, the usual list of po-boys is all here, with a more than respectable roast beef and gravy. The Grocery will even press a po-boy, but somehow this just doesn't seem right on certain sandwiches. Ham and cheese, yes. The melted cheese creates an adhesive layer to lock in all the ingredients. But on roast beef this method causes the unsloppiness of the noble Leidenheimer bread.

But there is no better pressed sandwich then The Cuban (immediately above), which is localized with a generous slathering of creole mustard. On the other hand, the Milan Special fails at disproving the theory that a roast beef sandwich is worth eating either without gravy or on wheat bread. If you are venturing outside of the hot, crusty confines of french bread, then look no further than the Reuben.

Potato salad is a cold, creamier version of mashed potatoes, and the cole slaw does nothing more than round out the meal. Instead, choose from the wide range of Zapp's lined up on the chip rack. Desserts are limited to chewy brownies and red velvet cupcakes, both made by Cake Cafe. You will also notice the music in The Grocery has a much more edgy ring to it. Maybe that is how he gets the kids and keeps the adults.

The Rankings

Food - Par. The pressed sandwiches are the heavy draw at The Grocery, and the kitchen succeeds in delivering a crunchy exterior without the slight bit of greasiness. Po-boys ranks a few notches below the specialists around town. The specialty sandwiches are well executed, but you could probably replicate most at home with a bit of time and a panini press.

Wine/Bar/Service - Par. The guy taking your order has an upbeat and witty demeanor which initiates back-and-forth banter with the customers. The dining room has enough seating for about 25, and that can cause patrons to become territorial and a bit agitated during the lunch rush. Although the dining room has no bar, there is something rewardingly libertarian about pulling your own cold beer from the fridge.

Overall - Par. The Grocery will probably not create memories or satisfy a major craving, but it will deliver a good sandwich at a solid value.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

One Hot Potato Chip

Ron Zappe, founder of the "Little Chippery in Gramercy," died Tuesday while undergoing treatment for throat cancer. He was 67. In my opinion, his company belongs up there with Tabasco and Hubig's Pies as a food immediately recognizable with Southeast Louisiana.

They cut the potatos thicker... they don't wash the chips after cutting... it's the peanut oil they use... the kettle fryer retains more heat which makes for a crunchier chip.... For nearly a quarter century, scholars have debated the reasons why Zapp's are so damn good - usually while eating roast beef po-boys and drinking Barq's out of the bottle. Perhaps, the answer was laid right before them all along, as nothing pairs better with a po-boy than a bag of Cajun Crawtators.

Long before Bud Light started selling black and gold beer cans, Zapp's "Who Dat?" chips were the ultimate sign of fandamonium at a Saints party. I remember a near riot outside the Dome over a Zapp's post-game giveaway during the Ironhead Craig Hayward era. Over a decade before Maker's Mark used commemorative purple and gold wax, you weren't a true LSU fan unless you served Tiger Tators at your tailgate. No other company embraced Louisiana football more than Zapp's, and the fans thanked them for it tenfold.

On July 1st, Zapp's will celebrate it's silver anniversary, albeit without its founding father. We should all remember to rip open a bag of Zapp's in his honor and be thankful for an oil man gone bust who took a chance and created one hell of a potato chip.

Now, if I could only find a big bag of Caribbean Crunch...

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Week in Preview

Hopefully everyone had a nice, relaxing Memorial Day weekend because summertime unofficially kicks off this week with a calendar full of events that you will not want to miss out on. If you like cold oysters and colder beer, then you have a busy schedule ahead of you.
  • Tre Biccheri Dinner - Swirl hosts its annual Italian wine dinner on Wednesday night at A Mano.
  • Wine & Oyster Pairing Competition - Thursday evening at Bourbon House, where your favorite bloggers will serve as judges. (Drinks on Rene after the event.)
  • Southern Brews Dinner - On Thursday night, Donald Link's Calcasieu prepares a 6 course dinner paired with your favorite regional beers.
  • WYES Private Beer Sampling - $50 gets you an exclusive look inside the NOLA Brewery on Friday night.
  • New Orleans Oyster Festival - All day Saturday and Sunday on Decatur Street, come taste and celebrate the bounty of the Gulf.
  • WYES International Beer Tasting - Chug, chug, chug your way through over 200 beers on Saturday night at the Lakefront Arena
  • Benefit for Kensie Orr - On Saturday night at The Republic, come show your support for a little one in need.

As always, dates, times, and more details can be found on the Blackened Out on the Town calendar.