Thursday, September 30, 2010

Weekend Breakfast at Cake Cafe

Before his cakes and pastries were spotlighted in the New York Times, Steve Himelfarb was just a man who wandered the city trying to sell slices of cake. I remember nearly a decade ago when I moonlighted at a Decatur Street daiquiris shop, where a successful afternoon was marked by a $5 bill in the tip jar and an appearance by the "Cake Man."

Today, Himelfarb and I have both progressed into other pursuits without leaving our old ones far behind. I have moved from one bar and into another, and Himelfarb's business now has a permanent home in the Marigny at Cake Cafe, where the breakfast fare draws as much interest as the chocolate and red velvet cakes.

While the long line to order and crowded dining room may deter you from waiting, a little patience will be rewarded as the food comes forth from the kitchen at a speedy pace and a table usually turns while enjoying your first cup of coffee. Outside, trios of tables line the building along both the Spain and Chartres streets sides, and these are likely to be highly coveted now that the weather has begun to turn. Inside, the tables are packed tightly together such that getting to your seat resembles a maze or game of Frogger. The dining room is usually a buzz with chatter from patrons, and you get the sense that every diner is living a carefree life, at least for the duration of that particular meal.

You are advised to take advantage of the freshly baked bagels and breads. Breakfast sandwich (top) comes with eggs and your choice of bacon or sausage on ciabatta, bagel or croissant.; I would recommend upgrading your choice of cheese to a generous smear of fresh goat cheese.

Yellow corn grits are finely ground and cooked into a smooth and creamy texture. The “Healthy Grits” ($8.50) is a generous serving of grits topped with roasted eggplant, mushrooms, and red peppers, plus a scoop of goat cheese. Add two eggs cooked your way for $2, and witness the magic of a flowing egg yolk.The accompanying biscuit is heavy but soft on the interior and crusty on the outside. After eating my first I only wanted another, but The Folk Singer gave me the evil eye when I suggested ordering a dozen to go.

Maybe 2 or 3 items on the menu pass the double digit threshold, even though the simple, well done fare tastes more expensive than that. Fruit pastries are portable breakfast for those who need to eat and run, and sandwiches are also available for those looking for more lunch during brunch. And of course, don't forget a cupcake for dessert.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Dueling Bloggers: Cash Only Restaurants

There has been a heated debate going on at Blackened Out Media headquarters over the issue of restaurants that only accept cash. We decided to tackle the issue Hannity & Colmes style with a point/counterpoint format. (Above, an explanation of the cash only policy at La Pupuseria Macarena.)

Rene: If any menu item on your menu is over $8, you have no business being a cash only restaurant. Now listen, many restaurants and food purveyors will tell you they are cash only to keep their prices down. The theory is if they don't have to pay the credit card companies 3-5% a month for the right to take credit cards, they can pass the savings on to you. But when was the last time you walked into a cash only restaurant and said, "Hey this po-boy shop's prices are 3-5% lower than the one that is cash only." If you are a snowball stand, bakery, or coffee shop, I'm fine with you being cash only. Otherwise, the 21st century is paging you, please take cards.

Peter: You are beginning to sound like the Dean. Case in point, this quote from his restaurant review of Ciro's Cote Sud on July 7, 2010: "The cash-or-check payment policy is an absurd inconvenience to enforce upon customers, and causes one to order less food and wine than one otherwise might. (How much cash is in your pocket right now?)" Saving that 3-5% may not be manifested in lower prices on the menu, but it is certainly recognized as a value to the customer in some other manner. How do you know? Because if Restaurant A consistently charged 3-5% more for the same exact food as Restaurant B next door, all other things being equal, which would you go to and which would be closed down in a matter of months? Let consumer preference determine if cash only is a make or break point of contention for diners. Last time I checked, Mandina's and Casamento's were not hurting for customers.

Rene: The use of debit cards and credit cards as a cash substitute has roughly skyrocketed since last time I checked. I don't carry cash. Mostly it is because it makes your hands smell like a trailer park in Piscataway. But also, when does anyone give me cash? Paychecks are directly deposited and bill payments automatically scheduled, making the necessity of going to a bank or writing a check obsolete as the rhythm method of birth control. You can buy gas without even have to interact with a human being. The only drugs I buy are purchased with a Health Savings Account card. Our currency system is more plastic than a bored housewife on Bravo. I use cash primarily for two purposes: cab rides home and purchasing a Sunday newspaper. Suspicion says many of you are the same way. There is only one reason why restaurants don't take cards and it is to avoid or hide revenue from the Internal Revenue Service.

Peter: Since when did carrying cash become an inconvenience? I will wager (in cash, of course) that every full service, cash-only restaurant in the city also has an ATM on premises. Your next argument might be, "Well, some people carry only a credit card and not a debit card." As the son of a man who has spent his entire career collecting overdue debt for credit card companies, I can tell you one thing: If you don't have a checking account, then you sure don't need a credit card either. Remember not too long ago when the Dow dropped below 7000? A lot of that had to do with banks lending money to people for houses that they could not afford. Same goes for people trying to use credit cards for their Chicken a la Grande at Mosca's.

Rene: Here though is what really irks me. Last week Peter and I went to Tracey's, the new old Parasol's. They accept cash only because of the "fees". Their prices are right on the borderline of this being acceptable. I was directed towards an ATM in the corner. Where guess what, it charged me $2.50 fee to withdraw money. Add that to my bank's $2 non-bank ATM fee, and you are looking at almost $5 in fees to purchase an $8 po-boy. Just so we are clear, Tracey's (and other places) don't want to pay the credit card companies a fee, but they are perfectly fine with me having to pay the fee. What makes this even more sickening, is that the restaurant often gets a fee from the operator of the ATM for allowing it to be in his restaurant. Talk about not having cake but getting to eat it anyway. Or something like that.

Peter: You know what really aggravates me? When service slows down because my waiter has to run 4 different credit cards for one check, and I am talking about other tables as well as my own table. Nothing is worse than when the bill hits the table and four different people pull out credit cards to pay; the facial expression on the server tells it all. I think that "no separate checks" should be added under the Louisiana Revised Statutes. The problem is even worse when you talk about restaurants where you order at the counter.

Rene: Here is the real kicker. So I am standing in front of the ATM at Tracey's, waiting, waiting, typing, waiting, agreeing to a loan shark style fee, and waiting some more. After five minutes of "Processing ", the machine tells me it is "Unable to Complete the Transaction at this Time". Luckily, Peter carries cash and bought me lunch. Unluckily, the machine forgot to tell my bank that it had no money to give me, so my account was charged $24.50 and received $0 of that. The negotiations with the bank for the refund of that amount have gone less than successful. And that is why we got this rant. Conclusion: if you are a restaurant that refuses to take cards and has an on site ATM that charges a fee, you sir are a hypocrite. Lose the fee at the ATM and I will wholeheartedly agree with your stance. But you charge me a fee to play by your rules, I won't stand for it. Consider this the rallying cry of the A.Tea M. Party.

Peter: Look, I'm not hear to argue about the fees charged either by ATMs themselves or by banks to use ATMs. I am simply a voice for the group of people who carry cash, don't mind paying in cash, and feel that we deserve some kind of break from the 3-5% fee that we are not responsible for. So here is my solution. On occasion I find myself driving from Atlanta to the Blue Ridge mountains to visit my aunt and uncle in their summer home in Cashiers, North Carolina. Upon entering South Carolina, I immediately start noticing that gas station billboards have two prices posted for the same grade of unleaded: one price for cash customers and one price for credit/debit customers. The sign might read: "$2.41-Cash and $2.45-Credit/Debit." I think that this is ingenious and can only dream that restaurants will employ the same price structure so that everyone pays for exactly what costs they are incurring. But it will never happen, because the same people who complain about a restaurant only accepting cash will be the same people who complain about a discount for cash customers.

So what say you about cash only restaurants? We want to hear your opinions in the comments.

And to make sure that you are not caught with an empty money clip the next time the check hits the table, here is a list of New Orleans restaurants that only accept cash. Unless noted, their ATMs charge a fee. Did we forget one? Let us know in the comments:

Adolfo's, Bacchanal, Barcelona Tapas (no ATM fee), Bennachin, Cafe du Monde, Casamento's, Ciro's Cote Sud, Creole Creamery, Tracey's, La Pupuseria Macarena, Liuzza's on Bienville, Mandina's, Mosca's, Riccobono's Panola Street Cafe, Surrey's, Taqueria D.F., Willie Mae's Scotch House and Ye Olde College Inn (ATM fee taken off check). .

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

First Look: Three Muses

Three Muses is Frenchmen Street's newest neighbor that (as the website puts it) "brings together pro­fes­sion­als in culi­nary, hos­pi­tal­ity, and music to cre­ate a chic, unique envi­ron­ment com­mit­ted to qual­ity and verve."

Right about now you are probably thinking, "This sounds like a place where everyone will be wearing a fedora except me." Trust me, don't be put off by the perceived hipster description. Three Muses draws an eclectic crowd ranging from tourists to residents of the Marigny and spans the age bracket from young Turks to retirees (and maybe even a few kids running around).

As you enter the building, a stage is perched up on the left with sun shining through the windows looking out onto Frenchmen, and a long bar runs along the left wall. Standard height tables occupy the front portion of the restaurant, but I prefer the hightop tables along the right wall, as patrons at the lower tables at times looked like they were dining on Poydras Street after a Saints victory. Menus are stocked at each table, but both food and drink orders are placed at the bar. Bartenders keep track of your tab by table number, which is also how runners know where to deliver orders from the kitchen.

Chef Dan Esses is the culinary muse in the kitchen, and while he is perhaps best known for his handmade pastas and sauce, the menu is all over the place (in a good way). We tasted 9 different dishes on our first and only visit, many of which are not listed on the current online menu. As such, it seems that the menu is still in a state of flux, but if my experience is any indication, the food will consistently impress diners.

Immediately after ordering we were served a table amuse of popcorn drizzled with what tasted like a curry flavored yogurt. Marinated olives are a very large serving for $4, but the overwhelming majority are the tiny ones as opposed to large, softer flesh olives (which are my preference). I missed the crustacean component of the lobster eggrolls (pictured), but they were still tasty with a crispy wonton shell and plenty of crunchy veggies.

Shrimp in a cup is quintet a tempura fried shrimp each placed in a single lettuce leaf and napped with a creamy pineapple sauce. The light batter of the shrimp matched perfectly with the overall dish by not weighing down or overpowering the other components, and the flavors were crispy and vibrant. Lamb sliders are a duo of medium rare burgers on a soft baked roll with goat cheese and tomato chutney with a little spice. Who doesn't love a good burger?

We sampled two pasta dishes. The crab and artichoke ravioli had a delicious filling but I would rather the pasta be boiled rather than baked/fried; the pesto cream sauce was freaking delicious. The day's special (pictured) was braised rabbit reduced to shreds in a thin but flavorful broth and placed atop Esses’ pappardelle, with a lagniappe of roasted rabbit loin. Just an excellent dish from top to bottom.

Approximately one third of the menu is devoted to vegetarian dishes. Chinese broccoli is woodsy and dressed with a thin garlic and sesame dressing. Favorite dish of the night was thickly cut grilled bread topped with plenty of roasted eggplant, dollops of housemade ricotta, and a drizzle of olive oil. If not for an underestimation of the ricotta’s salt component transferring to the eggplant, this was an almost flawless dish and one that I would still recommend. My only question is why does the $6 small order come with 2 bruschetta and the $10 large order come with 3? I’m not a doctor, but that math does not look right.

Dessert was labeled as a “banana marscapone streudel,” but the pastry reminded me more of a cannoli in a pool of buttery rum sauce and was paired with a scoop of Mexican chocolate ice cream. This was rich but not heavy, and overall a phenomenal dessert.

Three Muses really is a unique and fun dining experience, with food to match the ambience. The music is an important component of the restaurant, but the volume is not so loud that it prohibits conversation. Ordering at the bar can be a moderate hassle when the crowds are thick and every bar stool is taken, but the staff does an excellent job running food to the correct tables and picking up empty plates in an efficient manner. Not sure how many dishes to order? Not a problem because you are free to order as many or as few as you like at any pace you like. When you’re done, you can either pay at the bar or someone may bring you the check.

We will definitely be returning.

Monday, September 27, 2010

First Look: Feast

There have been a rash of new restaurant openings in the Big Sleaze the last few months. This week we will take a "First Look" at some of them kind of like how the Saints are taking a fourth look at John Carney. 

Feast hails from Europe by way of Houston. The cuisine of Feast focuses on rustic European fare, or as chef/owner James Silk told me, "This is peasant food." The Houston location has received praise from real food writers like Allison Cook, Frank Bruni, and Bon Appetit. Over the spring the owners decided to open a branch in New Orleans in order to take advantage of our citizens' collective desire to eat well and explore different cuisines. Feast eschews meat from factory farms (their pork and beef comes from Mr. Justin Pitts), work with local farms, etc...

OK, enough with all that. You are here for the food. The menu reads like an historical account of what people ate in Europe before industrialization made food a commodity. But this is not some anachronistic theme or concept restaurant. The food is built to please, fortify, and comfort. Which, at its most basic level, is the precise function of eating.

We headed there Friday evening with the Bubs. One benefit of checking out Feast right now is there is no liquor license and thus no corkage. Score. To start, we had the Coquille St. Jacques, pork rillettes, snails and gruel, and bone marrow with parsley salad. Coquille St. Jacques is a dish no one does anymore, which is a shame. The plate arrives with a few scallops in the shell topped by a brandy, mushroom, cheese and cream sauce. The resulting taste is savory, sweet, unctuous, and delicious.

Rillettes are pretty standard, perhaps a bit looser than normal. On top of charred bread with a sprinkling of sea salt, they are the perfect appetite pique. The snails and gruel serves snails in a tomato stew on top of gruel, which is the confluence of oatmeal and grits. Snails and gruel is interesting for a number of reasons. First, it is a rare day when snails aren't served bathed in garlic, butter, and herbs. Second, the gruel has a sweet note and rib sticking qualities which really showcases how at one time a few snails and a bowl of gruel would have filled a person up. The bone marrow and parsley salad was just the opposite of Garrett Hartley: reliable, on point, and worth it.

Now, for mains. Lindsay got a bouillabaisse which was slightly hard to eat. The large shrimp were difficult to peel without making a mess. And yes, the point of bouillabaisse is to make a mess. The Bubs went with two lamb dishes: braised lamb's tongue and the braised lamb shank. Both were good, but the lamb shank was better. Furthermore, the lamb shank will be even better once the cold weather arrives. I had the pork belly, which was delicious. A long plank of crispy skin topped tender belly sat next to a potato cake and a pile of red cabbage and apples. Just a classic mix of flavors, textures, and cooking skills.

Desserts almost stole the show. The honey and rosemary ice cream had a great balance of sweetness with the piney flavor of the rosemary. The chocolate molten cake was as good as it sounds. But the real star was the sticky toffee pudding, a spongy, dark, nutty, fruity specialty of the British. Just a great way to end a meal.

It is early in Feast's tenure in New Orleans, but I think Lindsay summed it up best when the next morning she said, "I loved it. No one else in New Orleans is serving food like this. Can we go back tonight?"

Friday, September 24, 2010

2010 Challenge: Kissing Cousins

We are well approaching the end of this year's Challenge. You are likely bored to tears with what appears to be nothing more than an exercise in how to take Asian flavors and apply them to American food. Unlike the Saints Super Bowl celebration, soon this will all be over.

But hey look for today's installment we are comparing a often beloved and poorly done Mexican dish with a beloved and often poorly done Italian dish. Whoopeeee! Or is it Andeleeee! Or should I just bid myself Ciao?

Lunch at the always good Taqueria D.F. A torta with beef cheeks, three tacos (they were out of tripe), and a big Mexican Coke. Our interest in Latin American food now piqued, Lindsay and I hustle over to a book store and sit down with about 15 cookbooks. We left with Seven Fires by Francis Mallman and Mexico: One Plate at a Time by Rick Bayless.

The next day we made the enchiladas from Rick's book. Fairly straightforward recipe. You begin by roasting some chiles in a pan, until they blister, well like a blister. Then you puree them with a can of whole tomatoes. You add this to some sauteed onions, add chicken stock, and let it reduce. Stir in some crema and you are done. Then you take some cooked and shredded chicken, roll it in softened corn tortillas into cigars, arrange in a baking dish, top with the sauce and cheese and bake. Delicious. Especially with a little grilled corn salad studded with jalapenos and tomatoes, spiked with lime juice, and cilantro.

What does this sound like? To me, it sounds like a kissing cousin of lasagna. The following weekend, I made lasagna. From scratch. And the results were just as good.


You can use lasagna sheets or make your ow using Batali's pasta dough recipe.

For the filling I went new old School. I had a pork steak (a cross cut of what would be the ham) and cubed it. Then I sauteed this in oil until crusty, removed it, and added in an onion and some garlic. Then to this I added 2 tablespoons of tomato paste and a whole bottle of zesty red wine (a Spanish blend was what I used, but a Chianti would be nice). Add the pork back in and let it all simmer until the pork is tender. Let it cool to room temperature.

Now this is where it gets slightly tricky. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Grease a baking dish. Add the pasta sheets one or two at a time to the water and cook for about 30 seconds. You really just want to slightly soften the pasta. Remove from water with a pair of tongs, drain and layer on bottom of pan. You need enough to cover the bottom of your dish. Then add a layer of the ragu and a sprinkling of good melting cheese (here scamorza). Repeat. Repeat again. You can top the dish with either any leftover sauce you may have or you can fat kid up with a mornay sauce. Then cover, bake at 350 for about 45 minutes. Remove cover and bake for another 20 minutes. Let rest for another 20 and serve.

So are enchiladas and lasagna related? You be the family court judge.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Short Order Reviews

Back again, with some quick reviews of places we have been eating. As you can tell Rene has been in something of a slump, so if you can suggest a place to cure his grumpiness, please do.

Peter - When I wrote about sushi for our "Fish Friday" series during Lent, a number of commenters recommended Mikimoto as worthy of inclusion in the list of New Orleans' top sushi bars. I finally had my first meal there a few weeks back, and here are my first impressions.

In a restaurant with no more than a dozen tables, we counted no less than 7 servers and 5 chefs shuffling in and out of the open kitchen. As such, service is attentive and the kitchen moves quickly. Spicy tuna salad (recommended by an anonymous commenter) was simple and delicious: thinly sliced cucumbers mixed with avocado and chunks of fresh tuna, dressed with ponzu and plenty of sriracha. Dynamite Roll had a layer of wasabi potent enough to singe the nostrils with every bite. Jalapeno Madness Roll (pictured) was almost too hot to eat - an entire jalapeno stuffed with tempura fried salmon and cream cheese, topped with crabstick and drizzled with spicy mayo and eel sauce. In short, this place can bring the heat and everything tasted fresh, but further investigation is necessary before I can crown Mikimoto as one of the best in the city. Mikimoto - Par/Birdie.

Rene - The restaurant that is Jackson was formerly a restaurant named Jackson that served slightly ambitious food at ridiculous prices. We went once and enjoyed it. The new Jackson is a restaurant that is serving slightly ambitious food at ridiculous prices. We went last weekend and did not enjoy it.

Lindsay ordered a tuna steak salad. The waitress cautioned her "That it might be served pretty rare." For $18, what arrived was a piece of tuna the size of a deck of cards. One side had been cooked to medium while the other side barely kissed the flame. In the middle was a strip of pink the width of a single playing card. The seasoning on the tuna was heavy on the cumin and spice and completely overwhelmed what may have at one point been a nice piece of fish. The greens were wilted and slimy; the promise of jicama slaw arrived as a tiny ornament on top of the fish.

I ordered the bernaise burger. Couple problems here as well. First the patty, while cooked to medium as per request, had a gritty texture from the charring. It was as if the burger had been cooked in a bed of coals rather than on top. The bun, a brioche job, disintegrated almost immediately. The bernaise while housemade (could hear it being whisked in kitchen) got lost under a blanket of sweet, caramelized onions. There were fries that came with it, most of them stayed on the plate. I rarely leave fries on the plate.

The melted cheese appetizer with andouille, green onions, and chiles was a hearty, spicy companion to conversation. While good, it was just Cajun spiced queso and maybe not worth a $7 price tag. To be fair, the waitress did mention it was the first day of a new menu, so perhaps after practice things will even out. All told this was a lunch that cost in excess of $50 (with one Guinness served in a can). At that price point, they can do better than that. And you can, too. Jackson - Bogey.

Peter - It's one of life's few guarantees: If The Folk Singer and I are making an airport run, at some point we are stopping at Taqueria Sanchez on Williams. All meals start with a complimentary bowl of chips and mild red salsa, but you are advised to supplement these precursors with a bowl of freshly made guacamole. Tacos, which are served with a small bowl of smooth, fiery green salsa, vary on their deliciousness depending on their fillings. Desebrada is dry, shredded beef, but the barbacoa is meltingly juicy and flavorful. Lengua is cooked in a tomato sauce instead of on the griddle, which results in a much more tender tongue.

Prices have increased across the board this unpretentious taco shack, and the overall value has slipped lately. On several visits the kitchen has been completely out of our favorites (desebrada on one visit, pork and cheese pupusas on the next). The bread to meat ratio in the tortas are now sadly tilted toward the former. Still, I can't imagine a taking a trip to MSY without a stop here. Taqueria Sanchez - Par.

Rene - Hogs for the Cause will be here before you know it. To that end, Becker and I went out to City Park last Friday to diagram the site with some music industry people. On the way there we stopped at Cafe Navarre, in the former location of Weaver's. We went halfsies on a roast beef po-boy and a Cuban. While the roast beef was good, the Cuban I really enjoyed. In place of sliced roast pork, which has a tendency to be dry, Cafe Navarre used a shredded, moist pork (likely butt). Mustard, pickles, ham, and Swiss rounded out the sandwich. If this place was in my neighborhood, there would be issues. Cafe Navarre - Birdie.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Cocktail on the Back Deck

The weather is improving. Notice, I did not say something stupid like "this weather rocks" or "hello fall!!!!!!" Each day the evening heat relents around 5:30, whereas just a month ago 5:30 felt like hottest part of the day. What does this mean? You can start venturing outdoors to enjoy a drink.

Research by science geeks tells us that our taste buds are in a constant state of evolution. For instance, that chicken parmesan you loved from Russell's Marina Grill ten years ago, may not taste as good today. Or olives may now be one of life's great pleasures, whereas just a few years back you hated them.

I first had Campari in the late spring of 2005. Some friends and I were in Venice doing what all young Americans do in Europe: hopping from one bar to another. Hell, Hemingway made a fortune and wrote some pretty good books perfecting that model. We had just crossed a canal, but not the Grand one, and happened upon a bar carved out of the side of the building with a lively scene. We popped in and were promptly handed what the bartender called a "Venetian": Campari, white wine, and a twist of citrus. I thought it was wretched at the time, bitter like a teenager who sketches all day and as abrasive as sandpaper.

Fast forward five years and although I cant explain why Campari is firmly in my drinking rotation. I love it with fresh squeezed orange juice or with a slice of lemon and a jolt of club soda. I can recall when it happened, which helps explain why. While interviewing Patrick Van Hoorebeck at Domenica for an article, he ordered up two "Camparis, as zey would have in Venice" to go along with the assortment of meats, cheeses, and olives on the table.

A bite of salty cheese, a piece of mortadella, and a sip of something refreshingly bitter and it was at that moment, Campari made sense.

The classic Campari cocktail is the Negroni. I mess around with a lot of things, but if a drink withstands the Depression, Fascism, World War II, the Summer of Love, Pet Rocks, and New Kids on the Block, I leave it alone. This is the perfect drink before a big meal or in place of one.

1 oz Campari
1 oz Dry Gin
1 oz Martini & Rossi vermouth rouge (alternatively called at times sweet vermouth)

Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with crushed ice. Shake vigorously, and strain into a chilled glass. Garnish with an orange peel.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

BBQ Tuesdays: Squeal

After a long hiatus, BBQ Tuesdays is back again as we survey New Orleans' bastions to smoky, beefy, porky goodness. Up this week, the big red building on Oak Street.

When it comes to barbeque, I am a purist. Perhaps it's on accord of my college days in the Texas hill country, but to me barbeque is first and foremost about the meat. Sides, sauce, and surroundings are a distant second.

But that's not to say that a self-proclaimed barbeque restaurant which falls short on my benchmark is a "bad" restaurant overall. After multiple visits throughout this year, I can justifiably say that Squeal is a restaurant that I would happily return to for a meal, but I probably would not order traditional barbeque.

On my first visit back in January, I was determined to stick to the basics but was quickly sidetracked by what the waiter called an "experimental appetizer" called a pulled pork cake, which was mixed with cream cheese, deep fried, topped with pico de gallo, and zig-zagged with southwest sour cream. The rest, as some of you know, is food television history. Unfortunately, the traditional barbeque was less impressive. Chicken was juicy but lacked any noticeable smoke flavor, and the pulled pork was missing the delectable coating which comes from the melted collagen. I vowed to return for the highly touted nachos, ribs, and collard greens, the latter of which the waiter described as "sweet... like eating baby."

That is a direct quote.

My next visits were more of the same. St. Louis style ribs were tender but the flesh was disappointingly dry. Collard greens were a little sweet but also deliciously studded with plenty of pork fat, but the minuscule serving size left me wanting (a lot) more. In fact, save for the mountain of hot and crispy hand cut fries, the uniform $2.95 price for a la carte sides is a shade too high considering the size of the serving dish. On the other hand, entree portions are substantial and priced at a value.

Tacos are a relatively recent addition to the menu. The “DBLT” version were light on the duck, heavy on the crisp dice of bacon, and overall not worth the $9 price tag. I would opt instead for the nachos, whose thick cut tortilla chips held up well and stayed crunchy underneath the layers of pulled pork, black beans, and melted cheese. A pitcher of beer, order of nachos, and double side of collard greens, and I would quickly forget about the fact that I came here in search of brisket, cole slaw, and the like.

And there's nothing wrong with that. The hits certainly outnumber the misses at Squeal, and you can assemble an enjoyable meal from the food that the kitchen executes well. It's just not a standout BBQ joint.

Squeal - Par

Monday, September 20, 2010

Lookie What I Found

On Saturday night I was sitting at the Hermes Bar, just minding my own business with a Hendricks and tonic. While surveying the numerous bottles behind the bar, my gaze was halted upon noticing this plain white bottle.

"Y'all still have Ojen?" I asked the bartender.

He turned his back to the bar as if to double check his mental inventory: "Yeah, we have a few bottles left... I think about four or five."

At that moment we had to leave for dinner elsewhere, but not before I made a silent promise to myself to return for a night cap.

Ojen is not something that I became familiar with until a few years back, when an elder Rex member poured me a glass from his private stock and gave me a brief history on the anise flavored liquor. ("This is what we drink at Mardi Gras," was the extent of the lesson.) Occasionally I would order an Ojen cocktail when dining with The Pope because he requires a Grand Marnier after every meal and I enjoy Ojen as a digestif.

However it was not until last summer, when the extinction of Ojen was imminent, did I take a strong interest in acquiring a bottle of my own. But unfortunately by then, it was too late.

On my trip to Spain and Portugal that summer, I was determined that I would find some long forgotten about stash of Ojen buried deep in the back of some tiny, non-descript liquor store in a small corner of Madrid. I even had hope that our tastings at Taylor Fladgate and Sandeman's in Oporto would prove beneficial in my search, as these port houses also exported sherry from the Jerez region. I must have stopped in every liquor store that we walked past in all of Iberia, but no bottle of Ojen was to be found.

Which is why I was surprised when I saw the trademark "White Label" perched upon the shelf at the Hermes Bar. When we did return after dinner and gave my order, the bartender disappeared for 10 minutes and then returned with a bucket of freshly shaved ice which was pure as the driven snow. He scooped the fluffy mass into a rocks glass, tilted the bottle for a hefty pour, added a single dash of bitters and a few drops of water, and gently shook the concoction to combine.

We can't all be Mardi Gras royalty, but we can still drink as if we were... at least for a little while longer.

Friday, September 17, 2010

2010 Challenge: Winging It

For millions of Americans their sole sustenance comes in the form of wings served by large breasted women with a side of beer. It really is a shame as these wings are often puny and dry, but hey the view ain't half bad. A few weeks ago, I wrote about Larburgers, the burger craze that is sweeping no man's land. During that same meal at Siamese Thai, I made the foolish decision to order Basil Chicken Thai hot (above). My mouth burned for approximately forty-five minutes before Lindsay stopped laughing uncontrollably.

So here, you suffer for a bit. Finding large breasted women in tight shorts to serve them to you is all on you.

Grilled Thai Chicken Wings

Get yourself some chicken wings. Place them in a shallow pan and salt them. Now pepper them; now sprinkle hot Hungarian Paprika over them. Toss, set in fridge for 2-3 hours.

While your coals heat up, in a large bowl add a tablespoon of Thai Red Curry Paste. It is sold in a small jar and available in most grocery stores. To this add, a half stick of room temperature butter, and a few shakes of your favorite hot sauce. I used Rooster sauce to keep it in the Asian family of networks. Mix all of this up to create something between a solid and a liquid.

Grill your chicken wings over a low but substantial flame, until done. Then toss in the butter mixture, sprinkle with green onions and serve. Dibs on the drumettes.

Thursday, September 16, 2010


I'm gonna let you in on a little secret. Never, ever ask me for a recommendation on where to eat. The problem with asking me is I want to send to eat food I'm craving. The number one question we field is "Where should I go for Saturday lunch, something more than a po boy but not Antoine's?" My answer to that question is usually "uhhhhh, well, Butcher? Maybe Boucherie, but are they open? Hmmmm, don't know."

Ask Lindsay instead. Lindsay's answer to that oft asked question is Martinique Bistro. And it is a very good one at that. The restaurant is named after the French Caribbean Island, which in turn is named after the Spanish expression for "What Martini?"

Martinique Bistro is located in that peculiar stretch of Magazine between State and Nashville where parking is hard to find . The restaurant boasts the best outdoor seating in the city, Bayona is a close second. Behind a wall of stone and ivory is a smattering of tables warmed by the sun and heaters in the winter/spring and cooled by shade in the summer. On our last visit, the rain forced us to dine in the charming, French bistro motif laced interior.

Only problem was there was a large birthday party dining in there. They were dressed in funny golf pants, slugged shots of Jagermeister, spoke loudly, and laughed louder. Nothing wrong with that, but when Martinique is filled, expect a Galatoire's sound level. Once the bread hits the table, the noise silences. Is there any better cure for what ails you than the marriage of warm bread and cold, salted butter?

Besides cocktails, of course. The Southern Styled Iced Tea takes the best of Tea Flavored Vodka and mixes it with what makes an Arnold Palmer such a refreshing summer drink. This may also be one reason John Daly has had such a hard time. Originally, I ordered the St. Rose, a St. Germaine hit to a rose champagne from of all places, New Mexico. But, for some reason the Peche en Louisiane kept my attention. The audible into the vibrant taste Lillet Blanc, soda, bitters, and peaches was one of the top 10 decisions of that day. The best? Purchasing a Member's Only jacket for 12 bucks.

To start we both got soups. I went with the menu standby of corn, red pepper and chorizo which was slightly disappointing. Not because it was a bad soup, but because the sweet corn flavor dominated. Lost in the shuffle was the heat from the red pepper or the savory, spiced pork flavor of chorizo. Lindsay's soup however kicked some serious sass. The curried butternut squash had just the right mix of roasted and pureed squash and its accompanying sweetness and back of throat heat from toasted curry spices.

The egg may be the most versatile and delicious food. Since we were technically eating brunch, I went for an egg overload. What you see here is eggs two ways, poached and bernaised, served with seared flat iron steak and duck fat roasted potatoes. There are some pieces of bread thrown in there for good measure just to make me love the dish even more. The bernaise was pitch perfect, not thick, gloppy nor boring, and punched up with tarragon and a good touch of vinegar. This is one of the better plates of food I've had this year.

Lindsay ordered a relative of the salade nicoise (pictured at top). Pog-diameter sized (how is that for a blast from the past) scallops seared, sent out with haricots verts, egg, potatoes, tomatoes and an olive based vinaigrette. She enjoyed it, but claimed the scallops were a little salty. The eggs were overcooked. Lesson here: always order your eggs bernaised.

Martinique is a delightful place to have a lunch when you aren't in the mood for the sandwich arts. But don't take my word for it, take Lindsay's.

Martinique Bistro- Birdie.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Winesday: "There was Corkage, Jerry! Major Corkage"

"Corkage" is a fancy term for bringing your own bottle of wine into a restaurant. You may often hear the term "corkage fee." This refers to the amount a restaurant charges you wither per bottle or a lump sum to bring in your own wines and have them poured for you. Opinions on the issue of corkage fee are as varied as the wines they are subject to, but here is a generalized rough outline of the debate.

From the Restaurant Side

A restaurant, like any business, has to make money in order to continue to operate. After subtracting food costs, labor costs, rent, insurance, and other expenses, a typical restaurant's profit margin is around 5%.

Restaurants depend on wine and other beverage sales to help boost the bottom line. Ordering a bottle of wine is roughly the equivalent of adding an extra person to your table without the expense of cooking for that person. The more wine sold, the more revenue added.

Restaurants know this. They also know most people enjoy drinking wine or a cocktail or beer or iced tea with lunch or dinner. To maximize the jolt to the bottom line, they typically mark up alcohol by as much as 400% wholesale (iced tea is around 1000% - the lesson, as always, is drink up). So a bottle of wine they purchase from Republic for $8 is $32 on their list. That same wine may be $16 in a shop.

Restaurants have a vested interest, as they should, in having you order wine from their list. They know their food, the chefs seasonings, and the provenance of the wines on their list. A restaurant, if it is any good, puts time and effort into selecting wines to match their food. If you bring in a wine that doesn't mesh with their food, you may leave with a bad opinion of the restaurant.

The Diner Side

I've heard one or both of the above arguments from industry folks as to why they discourage, albeit lightly, customers bringing in their own wines. And for a while, I sort of believed it or at least their argument discouraged me from bringing wine to restaurants. But lately, I've gotten frisky and started bringing wine to restaurants for special occasions. Because I've spent considerable amounts of money acquiring wines, I want to drink them with great food. What's more, sometimes I want to do so without having to cook the dishes myself.

Discussing food, restaurants, and the vinification techniques of Spanish winemakers is the new "water cooler" talk. As our awareness of food and wine grows, it is important for restaurateurs to recognize that it is in fact a good thing when Joe Diner wants to bring in a very special bottle of wine. It is an affirmative statement by the diner that he trusts your chef, your wait staff, and your restaurant with his best wines.

Secondly, the markup on wines leads to a law of diminishing returns. Now, say we are just popping out for a few pizzas. There I don't mind paying $30 for a bottle of wine that may only be $15 in the store because the overall cost of the meal is much less. But what about when you dine big with apps in the high teens and entrees in enjoying their thirty-somethings? Paying $150 for a $70 bottle of wine just doesn't seem to be a good value on the expense to pleasure ratio.

Please note that typically the more expensive the wine, the lower the markup. And that not all fine dining experiences gouge you on wine prices. In fact, we ate at Stella! recently and noticed the wine list runs the gamut from very affordable bottles in the $30 range to a wallet busting $20,000 3L of Chateau Lafite-Rothschild. The latter has the Pope's name all over it.

So where are you on the corkage debate? My view is this, sometimes it is preferable to bring a great bottle of wine to a really good restaurant. But your opinion may and should differ. In the end, corkage will always be an interesting debate with varying viewpoints. With that in mind, here is a personal corkage policy - mostly pirated from elsewhere - that I try and follow.

1) Don't do it often. A Friday lunch at Mandina's, doesn't need that bottle of wine you got on closeout from Martin's. Just pay the tariff.

2) Call ahead. Always call the restaurant to make sure a) they allow outside wine b) what special conditions they have in regards to their corkage policy. If you don't like their answer to b), it is not their fault. Either suck it up or go elsewhere.

3) Never bring a bottle that is on the restaurant's list.

4) If you bring something like Yellow Tail into a restaurant, don't be surprised if you get kicked in the balls. Note: if the restaurant doesn't have a liquor license, feel free to bring something inexpensive. Again if it is Yellow Tail, you will get kicked in the balls.

5) Make sure the carpet matches the drapes. Have a great Napa cult cab that you bought on your honeymoon and are dying to taste again? Don't take it to a sushi restaurant.

6) Offer a taste to the waiter, sommelier, manager, etc... Just that simple gesture goes a long way. Also, you may find that any corkage fee will disappear if you order another bottle of wine or a cocktail/after dinner drink.

7) Don't be an asshole.

That wine in the upper right? A killer bottle of white burgundy that Lindsay and I brought to Meson 923 the other week. Opened with notes of crushed nuts and pastry cream (translation: tasted like wedding cake at first), then evolved into a stone fruit bonanza (translation: it was very good). The dishes the wine was able to dance with included a shrimp, ham, and melon appetizer, grilled quail with Jamaican sauce and chow chow, duck with corn and sweet potatoes, and scallops with asparagus.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Lunch at Rambla

Before a few weeks ago, it had been quite a long time since my last meal at Rambla. The menu has somewhat evolved since the restaurant opened in October 2008. Tapas still comprise the majority of the menu, but the addition of bocadillos and sliders have made the restaurant (at least in my opinion) much more conducive to lunchtime dining.

Bocadillos are what would best be described as Spain's own version of the po-boy. Rambla offers four different versions, the best of which may be the simplest: layers of thinly sliced serrano ham topped with melted manchego and sweet onion jam (pictured right). Burgers can be a bit dry from the inclusion of ground pork, which also gives the patty an almost pale gray color. Word of advice: If the chorizo burger is offered as a special, make sure it ends up on your table.

As for the sliders, some may say their inclusion on the menu indicates some form of "selling out" to the mainstream. Maybe it is, but I'll leave judgment on that issue to the commenters and instead focus on taste. The chile braised pork shoulder came highly touted by the staff, and while the spicy shreds delivered the heat, the stale buns unfortunately detracted the great flavor of the pork. Too bad because $8 is a great deal for 2 sliders and a pile of thin and crispy french fries.

Even though burgers and sandwiches are now more the focus during lunch, tapas are still available for those wishing to sample a few different items. If you are looking for a light lunch (or even a few items to share among a group), the Tapas Trio (pictured top) offers a daily selection of tapas plus a salad for $14. Keep your fingers crossed one of those three is a pair of medjool dates stuffed with Marcona almonds and blue cheese, wrapped in bacon, and pan fried. I think that Rene said it best in our review of Rambla in OffBeat: "The stuffed dates combine in one bite the holy trinity of flavors: salty, sweet, and bacon."

One final note. Although the food is lunch-worthy, service is often not up to speed for those diners on a time crunch. My latest lunch was 80 minutes from entry to exit, though I have a feeling that a large group caught the kitchen off guard.

Lunch at Rambla - Par

PS - I don't know about you, but last night's episode of No Reservations had me on the verge of booking plane tickets for a return trip to Madrid. Since the cheapest flight leaving this week was over $1000, I am settling for the special wine dinner at Rio Mar on Thursday. I suggest you do the same. 9 dishes, 6 wines, and a whole lot of talk about Spain will make for what Chef Adolfo Garcia calls the "Spanish Wine Dinner of the Year." For menu details and information about our host, Spanish food, wine, and travel enthusiast Gerry Dawes, click here. Call 525-3474 to book your seats.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Emeril Gives Back to the Kids

Seated (from left to right): Leah Chase, Joel Dondis, and Poppy Tooker. Standing: the three finalists in the "A Dish Makes a Difference" recipe contest and Chef Emeril Lagasse.

A lot of people have a lot of strong opinions about Emeril, whether based on his cooking acumen, television persona, quality of his restaurants, or post-Katrina quotes on the state of the city. (For evidence of those opinions, see the comments to Rene's defense of Emeril posted earlier this year.) Regardless of one's personal views on the man or his work, one cannot deny the enormous influence Emeril has had on chefs of a younger generation from both his media presence and his charitable works, both of which were on display last Friday at the final awards of the "A Dish to Make a Difference" recipe contest.

The contest was held in conjunction with NOCCA's Culinary Arts summer program which, with the help of sponsors such as the Emeril Lagasse Foundation, offers young people an opportunity to enhance their cooking skills. This year the students were challenged to create an original recipe based on Creole traditions, and the dish voted best would be featured on Emeril's menu. But Emeril had a surprise up his sleeve when he announced that all three finalists' dishes, which were judged by Leah Chase, Joel Dondis, and Poppy Tooker, were deemed winners and thus would be served as specials at Emeril's for the entire month of October. In addition to the individual recognition, Emeril decided to kick in another $100k to fund the development of a four year culinary program at NOCCA. By the way, that is in addition to the $400k that he has already given to the program.

While money is both greatly appreciated and necessary to establish and perpetuate such programs, we both agreed that Emeril's true legacy can be found in the downright zeal of the students. Someone in the crowd poignantly commented on the level of sophistication of the dishes: "Why are the kids so advanced? Because they are part of a generation who grew up watching the Food Network." This in fact was the Emeril generation, who before our eyes had grown from throwing salt and pepper around the kitchen while screaming, "Bam!" to now cooking creole rabbit with roasted butternut squash and spicy corn cakes.

After the ceremony we had a chance to talk with two of the finalists while recording the newest segment of Table Talk with Lorin Gaudin. When asked if they watched cooking shows, both responded with excitement and rattled off their favorite TV food personalities as if they were modern day comic book heroes.

And maybe they are? But my question is this: How many kids actually grew up to be Superman compared to the number that will eventually find a career in the culinary arts? Imitation is the highest form of flattery.

Friday, September 10, 2010

2010 Challenge: Damn Fine Sangria

Football season is back. Les Miles is making a stupid decision, the Saints are still undefeated in 2010, and the lights from Tad Gormley burn bright into Friday night. Which can only mean one thing: it is time to get serious about group drinking.

With punches, pitchers of Bloody Mary's, and buckets of gin at the ready, fall is the time for people to gather around a tailgate or television, sip something potent, and curse at Les Miles. Repeated visits to Barcelona Tapas have made it clear Xavier Laurentino makes a mean Sangria. With this in the back of my mind, I set out to make some Sangria. The Sangria turned out great, it even quelled my anger at the Mad Hatter for a brief nanosecond. Who am I kidding, that is a lie.

That's a DAMN Fine, Sangria

You are going to need some fruits, some 7Up, something in or related to the brandy family, and a wine.

Here is what I did. Now "traditionally", Sangria is made with Spanish red wine. But "traditionally" LSU is a well-coached NCAA football powerhouse. Since we aren't really respecting that anymore in Baton Moulin Rouge, what is the harm in monkeying around with Sangria? I used a high acid, crisp French white wine made of Ugni Blanc, the grape for Cognac. As you remember learning in third grade, all Cognacs are brandies but not all brandies are Cognacs.

For the next act of this booze opera, I went with Grand Marnier. Why? It is what was in the cabinet and the bracing, orange hued elixir went well with the 7up and fruits. About those fruits, apple (peeled, cored, and diced), peach (diced), orange (cut into small wedges), and mango (peeled and diced). All the different textures and flavors of the fruit give you at the end of your sangria an alcoholic fruit salad. Which is important should there be screaming children around.

Pitch your fruit into your vessel of choice. A pitcher or football helmet will work. To this add the entire bottle of wine and 1/2 cup of the Grand Marnier (or brandy) and a tablespoon of sugar. Stir to combine, place in fridge, and let this marinate for an hour or so. The longer it sits the more the fruit soaks up the booze and leeches out its fruit flavor.

To serve, pour into a glass, and top with a generous pour of 7up. Or you can just dump about half of the 2 liter (so .5 of a 2 liter) into the pitcher and let it all cool together. But I like adding the 7Up on top. It gives the drink a jolt of fizziness which helps to enhance the refreshing qualities of Sangria.

Feel free to mess around with this recipe, or offer corrections. The point is at some point between now and Thanksgiving, you will find yourself staring down a nearly depleted bar at a tailgate or house party. Behind you throngs of football fans are dying for a cold refreshing drink. There is only a few seconds left to make a decision. You will look around see a magnum of Yellow Tail, some hard alcohol, a few wayward limes and orange peels, and margarita mix. What do you do? Making a drink just for yourself would be like motioning to your QB to snapping the ball with one second left and spike it.

Instead, I suggest you do more with Les.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Who Dat

Before your eyes is $7.29 worth of World Champion flavored frozen yogurt. The mythical "Who Dat" flavor has been featured at Pure Yogurt Culture on Hampson since it opened in late April. After sampling almost the entire spectrum of flavors at Pure along with a number of different combinations of toppings from the self service bar, I have concluded that my favorite frozen yogurt treat is the simplest: a gigantic cup of Who Dat with no toppings at all.

Just call me low maintenance.

But exactly what ingredient(s) make(s) up this lavendar colored Who Dat flavor is a mystery to everyone but Pure Yogurt Culture owner Herbert Leyton. Whenever I swing by for a cup and Herbert is there, an inquisition usually ensues:

Peter: Is it grape?
Herbert: No.
Peter: Blueberry?
Herbert: No.
Peter: Mixed berry?
Herbert: No.
Peter: Muscadine?
Herbert: No.
Peter: Shockey juice?
Herbert: No.
Peter: Dome foam?
Herbert: Hahaha... no.

Perhaps, much like the list of intangibles that make up a World Champion football team, the Who Dat flavor is undefinable. But no matter what the ingredients, the end result tastes like success.

Repeat Dat 2010.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

2010 Challenge: Tartine

While checking out Tartine for our offBEAT piece, I kept coming back to the black eye pea salad served alongside the namesake quasi-sandwiches. The salad was earthy yes, but also had some zing to it. The goal was to recreate that salad by blanching some peas, combining them with a racy dressing, a dice of jalapeno and some roasted red pepper. In order to replicate the dish, the peas needed to be al dente to provide a certain substance to the salad.

But things went awry. While the peas simmered, I decided to clean my car. What? It had been about 18 months since the last time that happened. By the time that wrapped up, the peas had overcooked and were rapidly turning to mush. No worries, I know an Eagle scout.

Tea Brined Pork Smoked Pork Chop with Summer Squash Salad and Black Eye Pea Hummus

Pork Chop

Look here. Except instead of grilling, I smoked the pork chop and then seared it on a cast iron skillet, Southern sous vide style. On top of the pork chop is a little relish of roasted red pepper and shallot. Besides salt and pepper, a dash of red wine vinegar finishes it.

Squash Salad

Thinly slice one yellow squash, one zucchini, and one shallot. Over this pour a health dose of red wine vinegar, 5 cranks of black pepper, dried oregano, and a pinch of salt. Stir to combine. Right before serving, add goat cheese (I had a honeyed in the house, use whatever you like).

Black Eye Pea Hummus

In a large pot, combine one package of black eye peas (Camellia Brand) with a quartered onion, two or three smashed garlic cloves, a bay leaf, salt and pepper. Bring this to a low boil, and let cook until the water is murky and the beans are tender.

In a food processor or mixing bowl fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the beans (remove the bay, onion, and garlic), a 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid (or chicken stock or water) and the juice of half a lemon. On a low setting mix and blend the beans into a paste. If it looks dry add more water. Once you have a good paste, with the motor running, drizzle in a quarter cup of sesame oil or olive oil. Taste, adjust for seasonings (will likely need more salt).

And while we got your attention, check out this week's Table Talk with Lorin Gaudin. We are talking about Rare Cuts, Fat Hen, Horinoya, Vom Fass, and more.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Spanish Wine Dinner of the Year

Calling all wineauxs,

If you have ever traveled through Spain, are planning a future trip to Spain, or simply cannot afford a trip to Spain and are looking for the next best alternative, then make your reservations for an extraordinary wine dinner at Rio Mar on Thursday September 16th at 7:00pm.

We at Blackened Out have been working with fellow blog character Spaniard to organize the first of what will hopefully be a recurring series of wine dinners at some of our favorite local restaurants. Hosting the first dinner will be none other than Gerry Dawes, the award-winning writer and travel guide on Spanish gastronomy, wine and culture. Affectionately known as "Mr Spain", Gerry has over 30 years experience wandering the back roads, discovering fantastic little known wineries and exploring Spanish cuisine from inconspicuous tapas bars to the work of Ferran Adria at El Bulli. Gerry has been awarded numerous accolades for his work, including Spain's prestigious Premio Nacional de Gastronomía (National Gastronomy Award) in 2003. In short, he's kind of a big deal in the Spanish food and wine world.

Gerry has worked diligently with his favorite importers and local distributors selecting 6 different wines for the dinner, which will include vintages and varietals not often seen on local menus. While Gerry has focused on filling the glasses, Chefs Adolfo and Miles have designed a special 9 course menu to match the wines. The menu will feature many specialties from the Galician region, including delicacies such as sweetbreads and stuffed squid. Before dinner and in between courses, Gerry will offer tasting notes on the wine and entertain diners with tales of his visits to the various wineries and regions throughout Spain.

The cost of the dinner is $125 inclusive of food, wines, tax and tip. Reservations are necessary and seating is limited to 60 people. Call 525-3474 to reserve your seat today, as this dinner is sure to sell out quickly. To read an interview with Gerry about the upcoming dinner, check out this article by Todd Price.


White Wines: Godellos
A Coroa
Casal Novo
Castelo do Papa
Red Wines: Mencias
Casal Novo
Peza do Rei
D. Ventura Viña Cañeiro
Food served family style in waves
Pulpo a la feira Parillada de mariscos
(seasonal fish, mussels, shrimp, clams and hopefully razor clams)
Empanada Gallega
Sardinas Asadas
Chocos Rellenos
Other Dishes
Cecina Estilo Leon de Aqui
Caldo Gallego
Lacon con Grelos
Mollejas con Pimientos
Xarrete de Ternera con Papas
- Menu is subject to change -

Friday, September 3, 2010

Everybody's Working for the Weekend

We are both recovering from the Hogs for the Cause 90210 bonanza last night, so today's post will be short and sweet. Plus, with a three day weekend staring us all in the face, chances are that your minds are already on the beach, at the Flora-Bama, in Atlanta cheering on the Tigers, or simply on the couch relaxing in peace. We don't want to disturb you.

Thanks to the support of our readers, Blackened Out once again made this year's Best of New Orleans list, placing 3rd in the category of "Best Local Blog." Even though we dropped down a notch after placing 2nd last year, we are still proud to play 3rd fiddle to Lorin Gaudin and (But is a newspaper really a blog?) And not only did we place in a category, but the Gambit writers also gave us a shout out in their list of 10 local blogs to read, making a special note of our "sassy opinions and mouthwatering photos." You can see the full list by clicking here, and going to Page 20. Special nod of wassup to, NOLA Notes.

And speaking of Lorin Gaudin, we have teamed up with this year's best local blogger to record an internet radio show called Table Talk, where we discuss (you guessed it) New Orleans restaurants and food. You can listen to last week's show on, and lookout for another show in the coming days. If you have any suggestions for topics for us to discuss, shoot us an email at blackenedout at gmail dot com or leave them in the comments.

Have a great Labor Day Weekend.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Surrey's Uptown

Did you know that Surrey's has taken over the former location of Fuel Cafe next door to Les Bon Temps on Magazine? Me neither, that is until this past Sunday when The Folk Singer and I attempted to brunch at the original Surrey's in the Garden District, only to be deterred by the prospect of a 30 minute wait. "Do you know about our other locations?" the host asked. Well I didn't then, but I'm glad that I do now.

The building and dining room are largely unchanged from Fuel's tenure - a small indoor dining room which seats about 25, a side porch with a few deuces, and two large tables outside in front that will be the envy of all diners come October. This location is still relatively unknown such that a wait for a table is likely to be much shorter than at the original. But even with every table full, the food comes forth quickly from the kitchen. Oh, and it's cash only.

The menu is nearly identical to that of the original Surrey's in the Garden District. You want bagels and lox? They got 'em. Pain perdu? Yep. Biscuits are dense but soft, and a pair of them covered with thick sausage gravy makes for a hearty breakfast for just $6. If you are in a Latin American mood, look no further than the Costa Rican breakfast (above). Rice and eggs are covered with a layer of melted cheese and topped with pico de gallo and avocado. My only qualm is the $2.00 supplement for adding black beans, which are a necessity and should come standard with the dish. If you want to inject a little Cajun flair, take The Folk Singer's suggestion of adding a pair of boudin patties, which have a crispy coating from the griddle.

In college in Austin, Sunday brunch at Maudie's was a ritual among my friends. We would drain huge cups of water and bottles of Dos Equis while scarfing down bowl after bowl of queso and waiting for our orders to arrive. The house specialty was migas - a Tex-Mex scramble of eggs, cheese, onion, bell pepper, tomato and tortilla chips. No restaurant has ever duplicated Maudie's version, but Surrey's comes damn close. The key is adding the tortilla chips at the last minute so that they stay crunchy. Throw in some spicy chorizo for the $2 upcharge, place a hefty spoonful in a corn tortilla, roll it up, and kiss your hangover goodbye.

Surrey's Uptown - Birdie

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Third Place

The urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg greatly influenced city planning by releasing and defining his theory of Third Place. In short, Oldenburg believes that Third Places are the anchor of our communities. A place separate from home and work where people gather to discuss ideas. The hallmarks of a Third Place include the fact that entrance is free or inexpensive; food and drink, while not essential, are availablet; the place is highly accessible: the location is proximate for many (walking distance); the spot attracts involves regulars – those who habitually congregate there; it is welcoming and comfortable; and both new friends and old should be found there. (Credit Wikipedia.)

No restaurant better defines this notion of Third Place than the Peach Pit. Owner Nat Bussichio (below, at right) spent years working in every type of restaurant imaginable before purchasing the Peach Pit from former owners Craig and Lucinda White in 1987. "Ohh yeah, you name it, I worked there. Biker joints, stripper haunts, hamburger dumps, hot dog meccas, Spago, diners...I spent the better part of 4 years French dipping anything I could get my hands on," Bussichio explains.

But it was the charm of the Peach Pit which kept Bussichio dreaming for years. "I'd drive past the Pit almost every evening on the way home from Sunset Strip. And just slow down and stare. I told myself, 'One day, Nat. One day.'"

According to property records obtained from the Beverly Hills conveyance office, Craig and Lucinda White purchased what was once Changs Chinese Laundry [sic] in 1936 and opened the Peach Pit shortly thereafter. For years, it was the see and be seen diner, noted both for its proximity to the wealth of Beverly Hills but also for the pictures of stars that lined the wall.

One of those stars, Marilyn Monroe, even helped design the restaurant's famous burger. "The Megaburger was just a double patty, American cheese job before Ms. Monroe added Swiss," Bussichio recalls.

"At least that is what they say," Bussichio says while winking "Of course, this was long before she got mixed up with those Kennedy boys and the Mob."

The Peach Pit Megaburger has inspired everything from song to TV shows. But it is at its purest form a delicious burger using two all-beef patties ("hand-formed," Bussichio adds), one slice of Swiss, one slice of American, tomatoes, lettuce, and Bermuda onions. The Bermuda onions are optional but as Bussichio says, "You'd have to be a fool not to add them."

Besides that Megaburger, the Peach Pit offers an impressive array of classic diner foods. The cheese fries are more than enough for the table, with jalapeno poppers and a few milkshakes rounding out a great meal. But the real star of the Peach Pit is Bussichio. You will find him on most days equally ready to dispense advice or just listen. Be it to 45 year old executives or 45 year old actors playing teenagers in a television drama.

A few years ago, the Pit got into some financial trouble. But just when it seemed the joint would close, a long time customer, Dylan McKay (above, center), loaned the place $50,000 to keep it grilling. "My dad blew up in a car. Left me some money. I figure what the hell? Can't take it with me, right? The Old Man sure couldn't." McKay says. (Editor's Note: An investigation into the cause of Jack McKay's death is still pending. As of press time, no body has ever been found.)

In the last few years, the Peach Pit branched out to include an after hours music club and a juice bar. It will enter the New Orleans market for a limited engagement tomorrow night, 9/02/10, taking over the upstairs at Lucy's on Tchoupitoulas. The occasion is to kickoff Hogs for the Cause 2011. There is no cost to enter and the party runs from 5 p.m. til 10. You are encouraged to attend in your best 90's gear and drink, as a portion of beer and drinks sold will benefit Hogs for the Cause.

See you there. You wouldn't want to piss off Oldenburg, would you?