Tuesday, November 30, 2010

2010 Challenge: Cracklin Crusted Mac n Cheese

This post needs nothing else - the title says it all. But here is the back story.

"The best mac 'n cheese in the city is at Cochon Butcher. This is not open for debate," Lindsay said the other week.

I am inclined to agree with her. The Butcher mac 'n cheese is rich and decadent, slightly soupy and thick with cheese. Often times the dish is enhanced like a Bravo housewife with pancetta or country ham. But what really sets it apart is the topping. You see each sphere of goodness is encrusted with finely ground bread crumbs, herbs, and a good amount of butter. So after it bakes, you get this crackly, vibrant crust and then the silky texture of the mac 'n cheese. It is like pasta creme brulee.

Last week, real job had me in Baton Moulin Rouge. I needed andouille and tasso for a variety of Thanksgiving related projects. Luckily on the ride home the car miraculously found itself parked outside of Bailey's Andouille in LaPlace. I had forgotten to eat lunch and there was a bag of cracklins on the counter. While riding back to New Orleans on Airline Highway with an open bag of rapidly depleting cracklins, an angel from heaven descended.

"Yes, that would be a good idea. Grind the cracklins with some bread crumbs to create a crust for mac 'n cheese. But no, I do not have any cash for a donation to your religion as my High Holy Day is this week," I told the Angel.

Cracklin Crusted Mac 'n Cheese

Look, you have a recipe for mac 'n cheese. Shoot, pressed for time? Just use the stuff in the blue box. To make the crust combine a half cup of cracklins with a half cup of day old bread (or jarred bread crumbs). Place into mortar and pestle or food processor and beat or pulse into a fine paste. I added a teaspoon of dried oregano and one garlic clove to this mix. Heat your oven to 350 degrees or thereabouts. Place mac 'n cheese in dish, cover with bread crumb mixture, top with butter or drizzle with olive oil, and bake for about 25 minutes. Then turn on broiler and cook for another 3 minutes or until the mixture is a mahogany and you can hear the mac n cheese bubbling. Allow to cool briefly, then serve.

One note of caution. If you are not familiar with cracklins, they can have some hard bits. So expect a crunch every now and then.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Adios Taqueros

With all of the Thanksgiving hustle and bustle last week, the announced closing of Taqueros probably did not garner much attention.  But considering the number of diners (or lack thereof) at Taqueros in the last few months, I don't know if anything short of a front page posting on nola.com would have caused a reaction from the dining public.

The Folk Singer and I stopped in for our first and only meal at Taqueros on a Friday night in October.  We were the only people in the cavernous restaurant from 6:30 till 7:30, when two other tables filled up.  Our dinner was below average from start to finish, save for one shining moment.  We began with stale tostadas served with guacamole laced with so much lime juice that it had obviously been used both as a preservative and a means of resurrecting avocados that had been hibernating in the refrigerator far too long. Tacos filled with dry shredded pork were the lowlights of the entree round.  The highlight of the meal was the pipian sauce ladled atop chile rellenos stuffed with shrimp and cheese. When deciding what to order, the waitress had advocated this homely sauce made of pumpkin seeds and jalapeno. She did not steer us wrong, as the smooth light green sauce had both depth of flavor and vibrancy.

Restaurants come and restaurants go.  After taking a number of runs at keeping Taqueros opened, it looks like Chef Peters has finally threw in the towel.  My question is this: Why?  Admittedly, I never ate at the first iteration of Taqueros in Kenner, but I have never heard anything but great things about the food there.  So did Chef Peters bite off more than he could handle with the huge space on St. Charles Avenue? Did he lose focus as to what his diners enjoyed about the restaurant (like the free salsa bar mentioned in the comments to one of the above linked stories)? Did the food never reach the excellence of its Kenner roots?

Or are people simply not willing to pay top dollar for Mexican food?  Has the proliferation of the taco truck made it near impossible to serve chicken mole for $24? 

Friday, November 26, 2010

Recovery Mode

Photo courtesy of ChowHound.
We hope that everyone had a gloriously gluttonous Day 1 of Blackened Out High Holy Days.  In the future, Thanksgiving 2010 will always be remembered as the year that Saints fans were most thankful for Malcolm Jenkins. Someone get that man a leftover drumstick.

Let's hope that LSU and the Mad Hatter can keep the good times rolling on Saturday.  Good luck with your Turkey Day hangover, and we will see you all on Monday.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving is Coming: Side Swiped

We are a day away from the Third Annual Blackened Out High Holy Days. For the next two days, eating and drinking will take precedence over all other things including breathing and blinking. Tomorrow is of course Thanksgiving. A day in the Blackened Out cult where you are forgiven for all of your sins for the year so long as you stuff your gullet with food, drink too much, and pass out watching football. This is our religion. You are free to join.

Friday is a day for also overindulging. Usually we head to the Old Green Lady with Legend and the Pope. However, that was canceled this year because Legend is getting married. So instead of upholding tradition, he and Megorita will be wearing jeans and a white button down while standing under a moss strewn oak tree with a photographer telling them to "Look natural." We wish them well. Instead we will make turkey gumbo.

Sides are important. Case in point, the "Meat and Three" restaurants which dot the South like waitresses in a diner. Sure the meat is important, but so too is the option to choose three homey side dishes like macaroni and cheese, collard greens, mashed potatoes, or butter beans. That is where the real magic lies.

Here is a rough outline of two dishes I am cooking this year. And as promised, the recipe for the world's greatest mashed potatoes (as so called by people in my office). Now listen, today when you are at the store by yourself these three things, no matter what 1) at least 2 pounds of unsalted butter (leave this out overnight to soften), a bunch of lemons, and a box of Kosher salt. I don't care if you just bought that stuff, get more. Thanksgiving needs those three things in abundance, you can never have too much.

Cornbread, Andouille, and Kale Dressing

I have no idea how this will turn out, but ever since making the duck and kale gumbo a few weeks back, this idea has intrigued me. Making cornbread tonight. Tomorrow, I''ll simmer the kale in water with a good amount of onion, red pepper, garlic, and a large smoked ham hock. Ill strain and reserve the broth. Then I will saute some andouille with the trinity (minus green peppers, add jalapeno). To this I'll add the kale and let it cool. Then, fold in the cornbread that has been broken into small chunks. Cover the whole thing with the reserved broth. When it cools, add in an egg or two, and place in a greased baking dish. Once turkey is done, pop it in the oven for 45 minutes or so. Could be a disaster, could be brilliant.

Roasted Sprouts of Brussels

Trim outer leaves of brussel sprouts. Blanch in heavily salted water then dunk in ice bath. Drain and dry. Toss in some olive oil, garlic, shallot, salt, pepper, and lemon juice. Place in baking dish and roast for about 35 minutes until nicely browned. If you can roast them under the turkey, even better.

Mashed Potatoes

This isn't rocket science. It is much more important than that. Growing up Lindsay's mom only made real mashed potatoes on Thanksgiving, as a result on Thanksgiving Lindsay becomes a real picky eater. As in, the only thing she will eat is a huge plate of mashed potatoes with gravy. If the mashed potatoes do not meet her approval, things get ugly in a hurry.

First, go to Bed Bath and Lineneny Things and get yourself a ricer. Not a food mill, a ricer. A food mill is too rough with the potatoes. This creates an attractive environment for starch to mingle, imbibe a few cocktails, and create gummy mashed potatoes. You want to coddle these potatoes, make them feel special, lull them into a false sense of security and then ram a bunch of butter down their throats.

You want to use Yukon Golds here; five pounds is a good start (recipe is easily doubled or tripled, but never quadrupled). Get a large stock pot (or a pot you would use to cook pasta in) and fill it halfway or so with cold water and at least a 1/4 cup of salt. Peel the potatoes and place directly into the pot. Bring to a boil, then a rapid simmer, until you can pierce the potatoes easily with a knife. Drain through a colander and cover with a towel (this allows potatoes to steam and cool slightly). Meanwhile, in a large pot melt 2 pounds of unsalted butter. Yes, 2 pounds. To this add, a few good cracks of pepper, a couple dashes of hot sauce, and a pinch of salt.

Keep the heat on low, you do not want to brown the butter. Now, rice the potatoes a few at a time into the pot. Once all the potatoes are riced, gently fold the potatoes. Listen up. You have gone to all this trouble to make sure the potatoes are not starchy. Be gentle, fold and stir as if you were trying not to wake a baby. Once all the butter and potatoes have been incorporated, taste. It likely needs more salt, if so add it. If not serve immediately.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving or if you are a member of the Blackened Out Faith, a Gluttonous High Holy Days to you and your belly.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Dueling Bloggers: Tipping

Photo courtesy of the New England Wedding Blog.

Peter: I'll be honest - I have no concrete notion of what is proper tipping etiquette.  Some people (maybe most?) calculate gratuity based on the pre-tax total. I have always based gratuity on the bottom line total including tax, and I don't know exactly why other than because that's how my Dad always did it. I usually tip 18% unless I am constantly trying to get the waiter's attention away from his iPhone to refill my water glass or futily searching for him while he is on a smoke break, in which case the tip gets knocked down to 15%. For higher end restaurants, I usually bump it up to 20%.

Rene: Daddy Warbucks and his pocketfuls of greenbacks over here. You probably spend a good amount of time tipping everyone and anyone who looks your way. Two things, first I usually tip on the pre-tax dollars. Real misers tip on the pre-tax and pre-drinks amount, but that seems a little cheap to me. Also, I try not to judge tipping by the location or style of a restaurant. Consider the humble breakfast waitress. She gets up at 4 a.m., refills coffee near endlessly, makes sure your eggs are scrambled softly, fetches you an extra biscuit, and snags the Sports page for you. All of that work and the bill is $12. I was always told and try to follow (when I do eat breakfast out) to tip breakfast waiters and waitresses over 30%. Maybe I am just more considerate and appreciative than you, Warbucks.

Peter: Here is an interesting question emailed to us by a faithful Blackened Out reader named Kelly: Is it customary to tip on take out? I always tip on takeout, but usually only to the tune of a few dollars. My rationale is this: If the bartender handles take out orders, and the bartender makes a living on tips, then throw him a couple of bucks. Here is another question for you, oh King of Corkage: When you bring a bottle of wine to a restaurant, do you calculate gratuity solely on the corkage fee or do you calculate based on the value of the wine that you brought in?

Rene: I do tip on take out, but usually only by adding a dollar and rounding up to the next whole dollar. So let's say the bill is $27.39, I would tip $1.61. This is stupid and it doesn't really make sense. No one is actually serving me anything, consider it a guilty conscience. Also, I must add that the growing proliferation of restaurants that take credit cards and print a receipt with a gratuity line has created an almost Pavlovian reaction to tipping. Listen up, dry cleaners, Walgreens, liquor stores, if there is a gratuity line, 9 times out of 10 you can trick me into leaving a tip.

As for corkage, I usually just add a base line amount to the regular tip based on how the wine service went. For instance, when we dined at Meson 923. The wine, a White Burgundy, was constantly taken from the table and placed in a wine bucket across the room chilling it and destroying the almond cream and mushroom aromas. Now despite my repeated requests to stop doing that, I may have been able to let it slide. If, and this is a HUGE if, I didn't have to get up and traipse across the room to retrieve said wine each time our glasses were empty. For that wine "service" I added $5 to the tip. For anything approaching competent service I'd probably do 20% of the cost of the wine to me added to regular tip.

Peter: If it takes forever to get your food, do you discount the server's gratuity even if the problem is most likely attributable to the back of the house? What about if the restaurant is understaffed (through no fault of the server), and therefore the server is spread too thin?  The service industry is a tough way to make a living, and the front of the house gets the brunt of the complaints because they are the ones dealing face to face with the customers. The back of the house gets paid the same no matter if the food is good or bad. Such is not the case with servers, but I try not to punish a waiter for problems outside of his control.  The only service issue which has the potential too drastically discount gratuity is if I am waiting an extended period of time to either get my check or run my credit card.

Rene: This brings up a very interesting argument. As we have talked about before, in Europe and elsewhere service is included in the price of the meal. In America, is tipping a way of passing the cost of service from the restaurant owner to the consumer? I say yes. But that this is not a bad thing. The number one thing we hear from friends and reader (they are pretty much mutually exclusive) is service complaints. If prices were higher and service was included, people would complain that they are paying for a service that doesn't please them. This way the patron decides the value of the server's wages. However, it should be the role of management and the kitchen to ensure the waitstaff is in the best possible position to make the most amount of money. When that happens, regardless of the restaurant, everyone wins.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Totally Sauced

Picture courtesy of The Sriracha Cookbook Blog.

The above graphic describes my dining phase circa Fall 2008. Sriracha was going on everything - scrambled eggs, pizza, red beans and rice - you name the food, there was likely a squirt of the red stuff going on it. And I swear that back then, everything tasted better with a little rooster sauce. Sriracha became an unhealthy obsession that eventually had to be broken, but once I quit sriracha, no sooner later did I find myself liberally applying Tiger Sauce or Valentina or Pepperdoux to everything from grilled chicken thighs to plain white rice.

I guess you could label me "a sauce guy", but really aren't we all? When was the last time you reheated some leftovers without instinctively grabbing for the jar of your favorite condiment? Whether it's extra hollandaise on your eggs benedict or a side of Larkin sauce to dip your fries in at MVB, at some point the steak becomes but a mere vehicle for the sizzle. And it's not just spicy sauces that I'm talking about. Think about all of the chicken tenders that you dunked into honey mustard or the eggrolls dipped in sweet-n-sour. In college, when grilled ham and cheese was served for lunch at my fraternity house, the cook made sure to provide plenty of ranch dressing for dipping. Matter of fact, Texans love ranch dressing on just about everything.

What are some of your go-to sauces that you can?  Do you like pepper jelly on your pork chops and your pancakes? Or do you have hankering for Caesar dressing on both your salads and your shrimp? The only stipulation is that the sauce must be readily usable either our of the bottle or from the jar.

For a little inspiration, how about a flashback to one of the best Super Bowl commercials of all time:

Friday, November 19, 2010

Weekend Breakfast at Huevos

It's going to be another beautiful weekend in New Orleans, and with the mercury rapidly dropping this may be one of your last opportunities of the season to enjoy one of life's great pleasures: breakfast outdoors. While a courtyard in the French Quarter or Garden District may be a quintessential New Orleans setting, the sidewalk on Banks Street is probably my #1 choice for a no frills, roll-out-of-your-bed-and-throw-on-a-pair-of-jeans kind of breakfast, with great food to boot.

What makes breakfast at Huevos special is that the kitchen utilizes the meats and sausage that Chef Bart Bell makes at Crescent Pie & Sausage next door. As such, carnivorous concoctions make regular appearances as daily specials. Take the Brisket Hash ($10.50), where chopped brisket, cubed potatoes, caramelized peppers and onions form a base for poached eggs and a drizzle of spicy aioli. The everyday menu features The Blue Jay Special (aka the “Huevorito”), which is the best $5 breakfast in town. A large tortilla stuffed with eggs, cheese, and spicy housemade chorizo, paired with a mug of Try Me Mills coffee. There is even a newly added Veggie Blue Jay Special for this who choose not to start their day with red pepper laden pork sausage. (Such a choice is incomprehensible to us, but we respect your decision.)
The Breakfast Sandwich has thick cut bacon and eggs on a crusty ciabatta roll. The accompanying hashbrowns are addictive with their crispiness from the flat top grill and sweetness from sautéed red onions. The namesake Huevos con Tamal is a trifecta of tamales stuffed with shredded pork, covered with a smoky, smooth tomato sauce, and crowned with two poached eggs and fresh pico de gallo.

As I have said many times before, weekend breakfast should involve great food without the pomp and circumstance. Huevos fits that description to a T. The menu is short, but there is enough variety to please a crowd. In my many visits, the only recurring hiccup that I have encountered is slightly overpoached eggs, though not to the egregious level of some other breakfast specialists around town. Even taking this into account, for my money, Huevos is one of the best breakfasts around.

Huevos - Birdie/Eagle

4408 Banks Street
(504) 482-6264
Open everyday from 7am till 2pm

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Thanksgiving is Coming: Turkey v. Sides

There have been many debates in America's history. Federalists vs. Anti-Federalists, Lincoln v. Douglass, Nixon v. Kennedy, Plaid v. Polyester, Heavy Metal Hair Bands v. Soft Rock*, Dan v. Dave, Coke v. Pepsi,  and Bieber v. Devil. But nothing incites such fiery rhetoric and mud slinging as whether or not Thanksgiving is all about the bird or all about the sides.

In America, when the Senate is deadlocked the Vice President gets to vote. America is deadlocked as to whether or not turkey or sides rule. I am the Vice President of this blog, so therefore I vote for Turkey. I love the Thanksgiving Turkey. Even if it is slightly dry, most often overcooked and above all a hassle, the turkey connects us to the agrarian hunter gatherer roots of our grandparents who had to shop for a turkey in such exotic sounding lands as Piggly Wiggly or Woodrow's Poultry Farm. My sister, Alexis, specifically looks forward to Thanksgiving because she loves "waking up to the smell of a turkey in the oven." Alexis doesn't cook so I have no idea where she wakes up on Thanksgiving morning.

Which brings me to my second point about turkey. Don't overthink this. I tell you this because I overthink how to cook the turkey every single year. This year, the methods I've explored include confitting the leg, sous viding the breast, pan frying the thighs, shish kabobing the gizzards, and using the skin to line a handbag.

Slight tangent-I've done some scholarly work in regards to frying the whole shebang and all I can say is this: it has no redeeming qualities that outweigh the hassle. The meat often comes out stringy and overcooked, the flavor is always bland unless you hit one of those pockets of injection driven salt water, and then you have 5 gallons of peanut oil to dispose of. Stop frying turkeys, please. I have nothing against the tradition of gathering around a roaring cauldron of heat and drinking beer while something cooks, just stating that frying a turkey is not the bees knees. It is a very long, expensive process to do something very simple, which is cook a bird.

Around Wednesday of next week, I will vacillate between making a brine, using a dry brine, or just leaving the turkey uncovered in the fridge (which will dry out the skin, the best part of any bird). I will begin making a brine and then realize the 6 gallon bucket I have is filled with dirt from a planting attempt gone wrong last April. This will lead to screaming, cursing, and hopefully drinking. Ahh, the Holidays are here.

Then there is the mess of how do you keep a 6 gallon bucket cold overnight. After weighing the option to just use one of those injectors, a disgusting, terrible invention that just creates pockets of over salted meat, I will likely consult the intranets and say a Novena to the Pilgrims. Finally, Lindsay will take over and say, "You know I roast the chickens in this house. I'm just gonna do it and it treat it like a large chicken."

She will make a butter spiked with chopped herbs, lemon zest, salt, pepper, and other accouterments. She will rub this butter under the skin and cook it til it "looks done". The turkey will be incredible. So far Lindsay is the only reason I can justify going to law school.

There will be a boudin stuffed turkey breast roulade a la Donald Link that will get seared on the grill before slowly smoking. I bet you $100 dollars we will forget about this bird. Halfway through the meal someone will wonder why the backyard is on fire. This will lead to screaming, cursing, and more drinking. As you can see, I do not follow my own advice.

Gravy. This is where I am glad I didn't brine a turkey. You see when you brine the turkey you are left with pan drippings that are too salty to use for anything other than attracting deer. But with Lindsay's turkey the pan will be studded with little burnt bits of carrot and onion, charred chunks of skin, and a sheen of butter. Remove most of the fat, then place this on the stove. Crank the stove, add some butter to the pan and touch of flour. Make a quick roux (about 5 minutes). Then pour in a healthy glass or two of white wine and scrape all this bits off the bottom of the pan. To this whisk in some hot stock. If you forgot to make stock last weekend, commence screaming, cursing, and drinking.

Pour into one of those gooseneck containers and hope no one cares at this point. If you did other things correctly, no one will. Next week, sides.

*Soft rock definitely wins. Why because Hall and Oates endures, while Ratt has slipped into the ether. Speaking of Hall and Oates, take a look at this video. That right there is nothing short of a profile of a duo who thinks at a specific moment in time, they can do no wrong. So let's pretend to be there when they conceived this video.

Daryl Hall- "Let's just sit there and look like assholes. I'll dress like the love child between Siegfried, Ziggy Stardust, and Tina Turner."

John Oates- "Cool. I have this tuxedo, some chick at the show last night ripped the sleeves off, but I still have the jacket with penguin hands."

Hall - "If we can just get some people to walk around us, like a girl, the short roadie in a devil costume, we'll fill in the rest with droopy eyes, stern looks, and throwing pieces of paper in the air. For Chrissakes, we are Hall and Oates we don't need to do much more than smoke cigarettes and be awesome."

Oates - "Pass the cocaine."

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Wine Dinner at a Mano, Beajolais Nouveau, and a SAVvy Affair

Tonight, a Mano is hosting a wine dinner with winemaker Giorgio Rivetti of the famed La Spinetta winery of Piedmont The paired dinner, featuring classic and modern Piemontese dishes prepared by Chef Joshua Smith, begins at 7:00pm and costs $95 per person excluding tax & tip. The menu is as follows:

Reception - Grilled octopus, potato, and caperberry spiedino
Paired with: 2009 Vermentino Toscana

Antipasti - Due Crostini: Truffled toast points with Piemontese beef crudo; Grilled polenta with porcini mushroom ragu and Castelmagno cheese
Paired with: 2004 Barbera d'Alba "Gallina" & 2007 PIN Monferrato Rosso

Primo - Risotto al Vin Cotto with veal marrow butter
Paired with: 2006 Barbaresco "Bordini" & 2006 Barbaresco "Starderi"

Secondo - Brasato al Nebbiolo: Nebbiolo-braised Piemontese beef
Paired with: 2005 Barolo "Campe"

Dolce - Gianduia torte with hazelnut torrone
Paired with: 2003 Moscato Passito Oro

* * *

From Italy, we hop on over to France for the Beaujolais Nouveau Festival held at the JW Marriott on Friday night. I attended this event last year when it was held at Donald Link's Calcasieu, and I must say that everyone had a grand time. The celebration features plenty of fine French food from restaurants such as Chateau du Lac, Dominique's, La Boulangerie and many more. A wide array of libations will be poured, including of course plenty of Beaujolais, both Nouveau and Villages. The event lasts from 7 to 10, and tickets are $50 and can be purchased here.

* * *

On Friday night from 7:00-10:00, the Young Friends of St. Andrew's Village will host their annual fundraiser at the Republic. The event features live music by Harvey Jesus Fire and a silent auction, and the price of admission includes an open bar and tons of food from local restaurants, including turtle soup from Bon Ton Cafe, Byblos, Cafe Adelaide, The Court of Two Sisters, Jacque Imo's (shrimp and alligator sausage cheesecake), and Maple Street Patisserie. Tickets are $65, and can be purchased online by clicking here.

For a little background, St. Andrew’s Village will be a faith-based community where adults with developmental disabilities and non-disabled individuals can live, work, and socialize throughout their lifelong journey.  A number of friends of Blackened Out are heavily involved in organizing this event, and even though our offer of a "New Orleans Pork Tour with Peter and Rene" was rejected as an auction item, we still encourage you to attend this wonderful event for a great cause.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

He Does It Again

Chef Mark Falgoust of Grand Isle owns Po-Boy Fest. His Shrimp Caminada took down Best in Show last year, and he avoided the sophomore slump by earning two awards this year: Best Specialty Seafood with his Smoked Fish Po-Boy and Best in Pork with his Boucherie Po-Boy (pictured). Chef Mark told us that he spent the last two weeks curing meats for this cornucopia of pork, which mimicked the perennial favorite banh mi that were noticeably absent from this year's festival. The Boucherie Po-Boy featured pork pate, bologna, head cheese, and baked ham (all made in house) with cucumber, pickled red onion, and cracklins drizzled with Steen's cane syrup.

That's pork 5 ways on one sandwich. It's a porkapalooza between bread. The Pork Bomb.com Po-Boy. If ever there were a worthy adversary to the pig, it is Mark Falgoust. Cracklins and cane syrup should replace popcorn at the movie theatre. Someone get Adolfo on the phone.

Now, we might as well address the elephant in the room - or perhaps, more appropriately, the 40,000 people in the street. I love eating po-boys, drinking beer on a fall Sunday afternoon, and leisurely strolling down Oak Street. Unfortunately, it's kind of tough to do all those things at Po-Boy Fest. At times it felt as if Oak Street had transformed itself into the Superdome walkways during halftime, with people slowly moving in a continuous herd which at any second could suck in those innocently standing on the fringe. I think that the line for GW Fins' Fried Lobster Po-Boy was as long as every wait for the Plaza level women's restrooms... combined.

But to be honest, I don't know if Palmer Park would have been any better. This year's Po-Boy Fest took up over 7 blocks of Oak Street plus many of the side streets. That is a lot of area, probably more than the empty green space at the corner of Carrollton and Claiborne. And I tend to side with the merchants of Oak Street who lay claim to starting the festival and its original purpose of drawing attention to their businesses via the Main Street Program. But then again, there are people who go to Po-Boy Fest but never eat a po-boy because the lines are 30 minutes long and half the vendors are sold out by 5:00. I was shocked at the number of people there at 11:30 this year.

Perhaps it's time to make Po-Boy Fest a two day affair with the goal of spreading out the crowds. Plus, the vendors would probably sell more po-boys and the resident businesses more merchandise.

Does anyone else out there have a solution? How was your experience at this year's Po-Boy Fest?

Monday, November 15, 2010

What You Can Get Us For Christmas: Part 1

Fact: The best thing about writing on this website is no one can ever say, "Love your writing, use it to wipe my ass/potty train my terriers/send enemies dead fish."

Fact: If you read our work, there is a ninety percent chance you like food and booze based on the search terms that bring you to our corner of the Information SuperHighway. There is a ten percent chance you are a huge fan of Lavar Burton.

Fact: You owe us some gifts. 

Now granted, the gift giving holidays are a ways off. But each week till Baby Jesus arrives and sees his shadow meaning we have six more weeks of football, we will give you tips for gifts to get your favorite bloggers. Who knows maybe you can even give it to someone you actually like.

You know what would be awesome this year for Christmas? Instead of giving me a Barry Manilow Croons the Classics CD and a pair of Argyle socks, if you dropped off a dry aged hunk of beef with my name on it. Here is how you do it. Go to Rare Cuts and purchase a "primal." A primal is just a non-portioned cut of steak (i.e. an entire tenderloin). Then Rare Cuts ages it for however long I want (tenderloin 30 days, rib eye 35+, Strip 40+). After that time elapses, they cut it up into individual steaks or roasts. They call you on the phone and you deliver it to my house. Leave it outside though or the hounds will eat it.

Now, the benefit to this is that normally you pay more per pound for dry aged beef. This is because the butcher loses part of the meat to the noble rot, so therefore it charges more on the meat he can use. But if you go through Rare Cuts they charge you the rate pre Dry Aging. While the prices aren't cheap, they will make us realize how much you appreciate us, which is the entire reason behind the season. Even better, get together a group of your blog reading friends and go in on a primal together. Then you split the cost up and each of you can give us  3-4 steaks.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Saints Bye Week Makes for a Big Weekend

There is no such thing as an "off weekend" in the fall in New Orleans. The Saints bye week has left the door open for a number events to fill in the calendar, so strap on your boots for a busy weekend of eating and drinking.

On Saturday, the Broad Street Brewhaha will take place on the roof of the old Schwegmann's at 300 N Broad Street. The event will feature pick me ups from Coffee Roasters of New Orleans and beers by Abita, NOLA Brewing, Lazy Magnolia, Heiner Brau, and Bayou Teche. (Look out next year for Tin Roof to be added to the list.) Admission is free, and a $10 sample card guarantees you 10 3-ounce pours of the beers of your choice.

Sidenote: We wish we were going to the Carnivale de Vin Gala on Saturday night, but Santa did not deliver us the $1000 tickets as early Christmas presents. But if anyone wants to buy us Auction Item #16 entitled "A Few Bites of the Big Apple", we would quickly get over missing the gala. Moving on.

The premiere event of the weekend is the 4th Annual Po-Boy Festival, which will takse place along a seven block stretch of Oak Street beginning at Carrollton. The festival starts at 11:00am, and I advise you to arrive early as the crowds can get quite thick later in the afternoon. The map of po-boy purveyors can be found here, and from experience I can tell you that the booths farther from Carrollton are more likely to have shorter lines. (By the way, we are terribly disappointed that Dong Phuong is not on the list this year.) Finally, as you may recall, we served as "celebrity judges" for last year's Po-Boy Contest, but apparently our star has faded because we will not be on the panel this year. It was a good run.

Also on Sunday, La Boca will be hosting Asado Night at Rio Mar. The all you can eat meat feast features beef, lamb, pork, chicken, morcilla, and chorizo plus other La Boca favorites like provoleta and empandas. The cost is $50 per person and seating is limited, so call 525-8205 ASAP to make a reservation.

Last but not least, MVB will once again be open for business on Sunday night at Slim Goodies beginning at 5:00pm. With this week's recent shout out in the press, the MVB team is gearing up for what will hopefully be another successful burger weekend. One final note, the above linked article mistakenly listed this week's special as last week's. Just to clarify, this week's special is the "South of the Burger" - burger, blackbean and chipotle puree, guacamole, tomatillo crema, queso fresco, and grilled red onion. On The Pope's scale of deliciousness, we think it qualifies as "Lovin' in Your Mouth."

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Mondo Mia

Growing up in Lakeview, we always strived to support our neighborhood businesses, especially the restaurants. But for some reason, no restaurant could ever seem to succeed in the end-cap location at 900 Harrison Avenue. Barataria, Lago, even some place simply called "900" - nothing ever seemed to catch on.

And then Susan Spicer opened Mondo.

Spicer, a Lakeview resident herself, has created a neighborhood restaurant that appeals to the younger demographic of 70124. Instead of the bountiful plates of fried seafood and red gravy laden dishes which made Landry's a neighborhood favorite for over 20 years, Mondo offers a sophisticated but unpretentious selection of both familiar favorites and eclectic fare, all at affordable prices.

The restaurant seems to be always busy, no matter what night of the week. Reservations are only taken for larger parties, so be prepared for upwards of a 30 minute wait for a table. The bar is also usually crowded with regulars, and the five high-top tables are often used for hostess seating. If you are in a rush, plan to dine after 8:00 during the week or 8:30 on the weekend. If time is on your side, order a bottle of wine and relax at the outdoor tables.

Though the menu prices are affordable, portion sizes are reduced accordingly. Dinner at Mondo is definitely a two-course meal. I would advise forgoing the fried hominy with chile and lime, which tasted like high class corn nuts. The wood oven roasted artichoke heart is cooked to a perfect al dente but had not been stripped of enough of its outer leaves; the buttery bread crumb topping was offset by a surprisingly sweet lemon aioli. The trio of dips ($7) - olive tapenade (average), taramosalta (overpowering), and white bean and garlic puree (best) - required more crostini, which were happily delivered by the waitress.

Another starter option is to share a pizza, whose chewy crust may not be en vogue with the crispy thin pies so popular today, but it's still good eating in my opinion. Think of it freshly baked bread topped with fine ingredients.

Pork is your best bet across the board. The Thai shrimp and pork meatballs are akin to the pork meatballs at 9 Roses except smaller in size and in number. $5.50 is a fair price for an order of three, but don't expect to share. Carnitas gorditas have spongy masa tortillas folded around shredded pork. The roasted pork shoulder ($15) is meltingly tender, and the beans and rice shore up a modest cut; unfortunately, the single thin, crunchy slice of plantain was nothing but a garnish that I wanted more of. Fish is served broiled or sauteed and topped with your choice of meuniere, amandine, or muddy waters (pictured). A half roast chicken and burger are available for those in search of refined comfort food.

At first glance, the menu seems too chaotic, but that's probably what Chef Spicer was going for. Her slogan at Bayona: "Our restaurant gives you New Orleans. Our menu gives you the world." At Mondo, the menu offerings may not be in harmony with one another, but most work well individually. It's the neighborhood restaurant for the next generation.

Mondo - Par/Birdie

900 Harrison Avenue
(504) 224-2633

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Thanksgiving is Coming

At some point two weeks from tomorrow, you will stare down a long table strewn with platters of food, napkins colored like the fallen leaves of New England, and glasses rimmed with lipstick stains. Stories are told and laughter peels off like the bells of an Italian hill town's church. The game will hum in the background with Joe Buck's near ceaseless stupidity and Troy Aikman's affirmations of that stupidity. You may push back from the table and take the scene all in. One big happy family, "Man we should do this more often," you'll say.

You are drunk. Day-drunk to be precise. The kind of drunk that feels like the first time you drank beer in a shelter in front of the levee on Lake Pontchartrain when you kissed a girl in a Dominican skirt. Your face is flushed, voices sound like the teacher from Charlie Brown, and you could use a nap. Do not make any promises to anyone from this moment on. It is best to tell the tales you know, offer to do the dishes, and then take a nap. 

You aren't used to having three cocktails, a bottle of champagne, and three quarts of red wine before 3 p.m. on a Thursday. Do not be surprised that your body is trying to tell you to relax. Now, to get this point requires a careful calibration of skill and planning.

You can't get ugly early here. So my suggestion is after your second cocktail, stop drinking the hard stuff until after you have eaten. You should ease into wine like an old man into a hot bath. Now here is where you ask, "What is the perfect wine for Thanksgiving?"

There is no such thing. On your table this year you will likely have turkey, dressing, oyster dressing, corn, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, that creepy Jello mold thing, green beans, bread, soups, sickeningly sweet ham, canned soup someone tries to pass off as homemade, Tofurky (the weird aunt) and one of those centerpieces that no one can figure out where it lives the rest of the year. That is roughly every member of the food group. (No, I did not forget pork. Bacon is in the green beans.) You have a enough textures to decorate Versace's bed, and each of the flavors on your taste buds will be called into active service. There is no wine that will go perfectly with everything, except maybe Champagne.

The good news is there are no wines that don't work. On the white side, I like Rieslings. Without getting dorky, Riesling comes in a variety of styles from dry to sweet. You may say, "Sweet wines. That is gross." Tell yourself that next time you pound four slabs of ribs with sweet tea (a true abomination) or chase a slice of pizza with a Coke. Sweetness is very welcome, but more importantly the acidity in a Riesling makes it an excellent match for foods of all sorts. Also, this juice is generally low in alcohol and has never been introduced to oak on a formal basis, which  makes it a perfect wine for a marathon drinking session.

On the red side of the road, choose a simple Beaujolais-Villages. Now, notice I did not say Beaujolais-Noveau, which comes in brightly painted bottles filled with what is presumably wine. The benefit to these wines is that they are simple and bouncy. Now, that last term may sound "elitist" but all it really means is that they get along really with a variety of foods. Beaujolais-Villages does especially well with spicy foods, which as you know is how we tend to like our foods down here. The Gamay grape is also very low in tannins which means you can drink a lot of this stuff without slipping into a headache.

Both Riesling and Beaujolais-Villages are affordable and easy to find. Affordable is big, because you are going to need a lot of wine. Buying a case gets you a 10% discount at any reputable wine merchant, so buy in bulk. So head on in to your friendly wine merchant and ask a few questions, they may even pull a few corks. Do it this weekend.  

Now whatever wines you choose to serve with the meal, let me suggest one last thing. You may have wines sitting at home that are being reserved for a special occasion. Thanksgiving is a special occasion. Encourage everyone coming to your house to bring something nice. After dinner when the pots are scrubbed and the dishwasher filled, open the good stuff, light a fire, put on some Sinatra or Louis Armstrong, sit around and enjoy the moment. This is what wine pairs with best.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

2010 Challenge: Kanno Gumbo

Gumbo has been on the brain. Why shouldn't it be? The temperature is down right frigid and that North wind is already howling across the lake. Last week we woke up to brisk weather and before we had even made it out of the house, Lindsay asked, "Can you make gumbo this weekend?"

Why yes, yes I can. But first we swung by Kanno where we ran into among other plebians, Dread Pirate Robert. It is really cute how the proprietor, Hide, sets out a "Reserved" sign on the corner of the bar for him. Color us impressed with his clout. First course was a dark, fragrant bowl of soft shell crab miso soup. The color and flavor of the soup had more in common with gumbo than the austere soups most often showcased by Japanese restaurants. It was heady and rich with a high level of spice. Just what we needed to get over the draft that the Pirate brought in with him.

Couple this experience with an ongoing Twitter conversation with Chef Mary Sonnier about gumbos and, in particular, her husband's duck and kale gumbo. Shoot we just had to make a roux and do something with it. 

Heat Seeking Duck and Kale Gumbo

Begin with a whole duck that you have washed and dried thoroughly. Take a paring knife and prick the skin all over - just the tip, just for a second. This will help the fat render out, resulting in a cleaner stock, and bonus DUCK FAT. My advice to you is to begin salting this duck...heavily. Little pepper as well. Then into a roasting pan or cast iron skillet and a 400 degree oven for 45 minutes. Drop temp to 350 for another 15 minutes. You may or may not want to baste this bird with the rendered fat.

Take duck out of oven, let cool, and pull meat from carcass. Reserve the skin and use as a snack. Strain the fat from the roasting pan into a bowl and use for anything you want. Place carcass into a stock pot with some mire poix, white wine, 4 whole peppercorns, 2 bay leafs, and the stems from the kale that you cut and washed while the bird roasted. Cover with cold water. Simmer this for about 3 hours, skimming fat and foam as it rises from surface. Strain, place stock into a clean pot, and keep warm.

Make a roux (equal parts flour and fat, use all purpose and canola for gumbo). I want it to be the color of an old mahogany bookshelf in your grandfather's office so pull up a stool and relax. After the roux is made, add to it the Trinity, finely diced. Saute for about 10 minutes. Then add at least a half tablespoon of cayenne, 4 garlic cloves (minced), a sprig of green onion (chopped), salt, and pepper. Throwing in a bay leaf here would also not be a bad idea. Stir this around and breathe in the aroma of success. Now whisk in your hot stock. I like to start with a small amount. This helps meld the roux and stock together. I used about 6 cups of stock, it made plenty. Bring this to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Toss in your duck meat and the kale. Let cook for about 15 minutes more or all day.

Taste, adjust seasoning and serve with white rice, sliced green onions, parsley, hot sauce, and most importantly, cold beer.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Man Who Eats Grass

In case you were blackened out for the last 48 hours, LSU slayed the dragon on Saturday. In all likelihood, college football will have a new champion this year. Jordan Jefferson played the best game of his life. And the Tigers have charged back into the hunt for a BCS bowl bid.

In more exciting news, Les Miles eats grass.

"I've got a little tradition that humbles me as a man, that let's me know I'm part of the field," Miles said. "It's going to be all over the internet. You know what? You should have seen some games before this. I know one thing: The grass in Tiger Stadium tastes best."

What else do you expect from a man who uses the word "want" as both a verb and a noun in the same sentence?

Hundreds of blog post could (and have been) written about the Mad Hatter's status as the most paradoxical figure in college football - and that wide net includes the Ole Miss Rebel Black Bear, whatever that is. Miles thrills and frustrates the Tiger faithful with every gutsy play call and mismanaged game ending drive. Those who have followed Rene's tweets during an LSU game know exactly what I'm talking about. But when the camera caught Les chewing on a few blades of Death Valley chronic, our coach surprised us yet again, this time with his quirky dietary ritual.

But really, how bizarre is it for Miles to undertake this humbling tradition? Many New Orleanians (this one included) still only eat red beans and rice on Mondays even though we don't spend the entire day washing clothes. I've never know anyone to strike it rich from eating black eyed peas on New Year's Day, nor has my exacta percentage improved after a corned beef po-boy at the Fairgrounds.

What are some other odd eating traditions, whether they be your own or those widely accepted by some segment of the population? One of my favorites is that my Dad always begins a meal at Galatoire's with a Dixie beer, and he doesn't really know why. In the words of Coach Miles, "He has a want for this particular beverage, and there are lessons that need to have been learned, and shared pasts and histories are common knowledge."

Makes sense, right?

Friday, November 5, 2010

Hey Weekend, You are Looking Good

It's the freaking weekend. You likely have big plans tonight. But let's say you don't 'cause you are a loser. Or you and your special friend want to stay at home and play Scrabble. First off, good call. Second, if the game gets too heated and you need a break, Chef Tariq Hanna is on TBS's Dinner and a Movie. The movie this week is Talladega Nights, and as Tariq is a confessed "Amateur Motor Sports Freakazoid", he will likely spice up the evening with anecdotes about cam shafts and being clutch.

Now onto our junk. This month we reviewed Bouligny Tavern in offBEAT Magazine. Our overall thoughts are this: Bouligny is a really cool space, the food more than passes muster, and the cocktails kick arse. Bouligny Tavern fits a nice need. One it is a great place for a quick drink and snack before heading somewhere else. Two, it is a good spot to have a light meal with a few drinks. Three, it is one of the most well-designed spaces in the city. We really like the place. So you can stop here. If you keep reading, know the rest of this incoherent rambling rant is directed at pretty much every wine bar in the city, and is not particular to Bouligny Tavern. Sorry they had to be the catalyst.

Numerous wine centric bars have opened in the city over the last few years, but especially recently. What do all of these have in common? OVERPRICED wines by the glass. Look, I get it. You want to have a cool bar with interesting wines by the glass. Part of your business model, I assume, is attracting sophisticated diners and winers.

Well, guess what? That segment of the population is often more knowledgeable about wine prices. So when you have a glass of wine on your list for $9 they know immediately that the same bottle of wine costs $12 at Elio's. So the precise people you want to attract, you have immediately ticked off. We know you bought that bottle for $5-6 bottles wholesale. We know you have overhead. But listen, if you charged $5 a glass, I will order two glasses instead of one. Shoot, put the bottle at $22 and I'll just order the whole damn thing. A bar is a volume based business, seize that volume.

Secondly, in Louisiana we drink a lot of beer, there is nothign wrong with this. I assume part of your goal is to introduce the largely beer drinking public of Louisiana to some wines you really like. Well, if a beer is $4 and a glass of wine is $9 it doesn't take a math minor long to figure out: "For the price of one glass of wine, I can get two beers and tip the waitress." Now you are just another bar where half the orders are for longnecks, twenty-five percent for cocktails, and the rest wine and shotzzzzz. Congrats, drop the wine from your marquee, you are a bar.

Finally, a great wine bar should change people's attitudes about the role wine can play in a happy lifestyle. Wine is not an extravagance, it is not for special occasions, and it is not solely at home in a fancy restaurant with a sommelier calling the shots. Wine is a simple luxury that people should enjoy daily for the health benefits and structure it brings to society. By charging a premium on participating in this basic enjoyment of life in cultures around the globe, you have not changed anyone's attitude about wine. So for the guy who thinks wine is "elitist, snobby, and fussy", you have just affirmed that stereotype for him. Good wine and affordable wine are not mutually exclusive.

Someone open a wine bar that has wines by the glass that are not outrageous examples of highway robbery. Don't make me get off my high horse.

End Rant.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Santa Fe Redux

When word was announced that Santa Fe was reopening in the former location of Gabrielle, no person in the City of New Orleans was more excited than... my father. Growing up we hardly ever dined out as a family, but my parents would often go out to eat on Saturday night with friends. The kids stayed home and ate whatever was in the freezer, and my parents would go to Lola's or Mr. Ed's or (if my Dad got his way) Santa Fe. He would order the same dish every time: seafood enchiladas. When they returned home from dinner, I would ask how the food was, and my Dad would always say: "It was awesome."

The primary purpose of those dinners was to get away from us kids, so I never got to go. I did dine at Santa Fe on my own before the storm, but the primary purpose of those dinners was to drink margaritas.

When Santa Fe reopened in April 2009, I went twice within the first 2 months. Both meals were marked by average food and awful service, namely an hour plus span between appetizer and entree. The waitstaff was apologetic enough, but the manager offered a sarcastic retort (read, she was a huge b*tch) when I informed her of the delay in the back of the house: "Yeah, we're running at 48 minutes on entrees right now. Looks like yours is at an hour, which is about standard."

Umm, wrong answer.

Needless to say, I was not itching to return. Turns out it would be nearly 18 months before I gave Santa Fe a third try. This was a different dining experience than my first two visits, with much improved service and a newly built overhang which makes outdoor seating even more pleasant. I wonder if the management structure has changed, considering that a recent Gambit article profiles Lale Ergun and Carlos Lourenco as co-owners as of August 2009. (In April 2009, all of the media coverage specified Alan Gilbert as the mastermind behind the reopening.)

Our meal began with an excellent rendition of guacamole with the texture of creamy, lumpy, chunky, bumpy avocado salad. Santa Fe has always been well known for its margaritas, which are deliciously potent but expensive ($9 for a 12oz. top shelf version). The house salsa is more sweet than spicy, yet still tastes fresh. The chips are straight from a bag.

When I told an acquaintance of my first 2 sub-par visits to Santa Fe, he gave me the classic "You ordered wrong" defense and advised that "It's all about the Chicken Maximillian." So here it came, a tender and juicy chicken breast folded over a melting mixture of cheese and chorizo. My only qualm was that the chicken needed to be seasoned a bit more aggressively. On the other hand, the medley of sauteed squash, peppers, and onions was cooked and seasoned with an expert hand, though rice pilaf next door was of the cheap "converted" variety with an awful texture.

Filet mignon tacos had an abundance of beef, but the charred flavor overwhelmed the dish to a fault. I would have appreciated the inclusion of rice and beans, even if the price would have jumped up from the menu listing of $15.

Overall, this third visit was much improved from the previous two, but the lust for Santa Fe is not a trait that I inherited from my father. This version of Southwest/Latin fare is, for the most part, well executed, but different from the no frills Mexican that I have grown so fond of. Still, those fans of the old Santa Fe will likely taste bits of nostalgia in the resurrection.

Santa Fe - Par

3201 Esplanade Avenue
(504) 948-0077

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Thanksgiving is Coming

Don't look now but Thanksgiving is right around the corner. Look, I know you are probably just getting over waking up next to Darth Vader on Monday morning, but let's focus. And taking out your frustrations with Christmas/Chanukah/Kwanzaa/New Years Eve on Thanksgiving is very childish and immature.

Thanksgiving celebrates why we live in America in the first place. First off nothing says prepare for the coming winter like an enormous feast. Second, it is the only holiday centered around a nap. Third, there are football games. However, we do have to detract points for those games always involving Donnie Boy Riguez's Lions. But bonus points as this year the Saints play. Fourthly, Thanksgiving is the only holiday that gives you the next day off as well. Finally, Thanksgiving has the coolest theme song.

The most important part of insuring a successful Thanksgiving is not properly cooking the turkey (which is nearly impossible), but making sure you have a well-stocked bar. How else are you going to put up with relatives from the other side of the political universe than you? Plus it helps everyone loosen up to make fun of Jerry Jones and that guy over there.

Good rule of thumb is to make sure you bar has one of each: bourbon or rye, scotch, gin, and rum. I'd choose handles because unlike fish and houseguests, liquor still smells great after three days. If anyone asks for vodka, hand them gin. They won't know the difference anyway. Now you can jazz up your bar with other stuff. Bitters, rare elixirs from far away lands, and liquors which make men do bad things. But if you go down this route, you are only guaranteeing someone will say, "What? You don't have any Dubonnet?"  or "You mean to tell me you ran out of Orgeat. You know that is the only way I can drink rum."

Soda, water, and tonic would be good to have. Those cherries in formaldehyde are absolutely necessary. A few segments of lemon, orange, and lime go a long way in easing the feud between Aunt Berthel and Uncle Joey. If someone in your family is bringing kids, make sure to have plenty of Champagne in the house as it goes very well with orange juice. Two birds, one stone.

By the way, go to the liquor store this weekend. I know, I know, you don't have time. But you know when you really don't have time to go to the liquor store? The Wednesday before Thanksgiving. In between picking your sister up at the airport, swinging by Honey Baked Ham, and watching your nephew play an oppressive, buckled shoe wearing Pilgrim at the St. Stephen of the Sanctimonious Thanksgiving Theatrical, the last thing you want to do is wade into Cuban Liquor. Because I guarantee you there will be Teetotaler Terry asking the sales staff what is difference between wine and beer. Go now. Trust me.

Your bar is where the party either goes very right or horribly wrong. Remember prior planning prevents poor performance. Now here, is a drink to use up all the Champagne the kids won't finish.We will cover wine another day. We will cover it all because Thanksgiving is coming.

The Fancy Manhattan

To measure, use the Louapre family standard unit of measurement: your God given hands. In a rocks glass, measure out three fingers of decent bourbon or rye. (Somewhere a mixologist/bar chef with a handlebar mustache and Edith Piaf lyrics tattooed on his stomach, cries.) Buffalo Trace or Sazerac Rye is preferable but Old Grandad will do. Remember you want your relatives eventually to leave so don't break out the good stuff.

Now pour this bourbon into a shaker that you have filled with some crushed ice. To this add, 1/2 an ounce of sweet vermouth and a few dashes of bitters. Angostura are called for in the real recipe, but don't fuss too much. These are relatives; not people you are trying to impress.  Shake and strain into the rocks glass which you have either added ice to or not. Your call. Top with a nice glug of Champagne and a cherry.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

First Look: Dominique's on Magazine

Things have been busy on the front. Between real job (lawyering), fake job (blog), other fake job (Hogs for the Cause),  fake real job (offBEAT gig), and real fake job (MVB), I have been as busy as a beehive of activity. Last week Lindsay asked to be taken to dinner, "Someplace new, where you won't know anyone who wants to talk to you." I am not sure, but that may have been a well-placed backhanded compliment.

As you know, restaurants have been opening around New Orleans faster than a speeding Superman. Rue 127 has opened in the old Arabesque space. Both Peter and I went to high school with the chef, Ray Gruezke, so that took Rue 127 out. Haven't been to Oak yet, but was not in the mood for a wine bar scene. Dominique's fit the bill to a T. A new restaurant but run by accomplished restaurant operators, here Dominique Macquet and Maurico Andrade (nee of Emeril's), with a menu that just sounds delicious.

First off the room is well-decorated in whites, creams, and light colored woods. The building, like most along Magazine, is a converted double shot gun. In the center of the room, two old support beams (could be fireplaces) are painted white and adorned with tiny, twinkling tea lights. Plus there is a long booth anchoring one end of the room. Lindsay got to sit in the booth and look out at the room. I sat in the chair and looked at her. We both had great views.

We decided to put together a tasting menu and each picked three appetizers. To begin, Lindsay got the lobster and celery root salad. The lobster exuded the taste of the deep, cold ocean which sets good seafood apart from average, while the celery root provided crunch and carried the basil aioli. A great way to eat lobster if you must. My first course was the pork belly, which benefits nicely from a fennel cure. It is served in a perfect cube on top of a circle of watermelon and with a little bit of demi glace encircling the plate. You pop the whole thing in your mouth, and the result is a cacophony of flavors that all work together in perfect harmony. There is the fattiness of the pork, the anise flavor of the cure, and then a subtle note of sweetness and acid from the watermelon.

Next up, royal red shrimp ceviche and the fried chicken with macaroni and cheese. The fried chicken is a three step process. First, the chicken is poached in duck fat (score). Then it is coated in flour and breadcrumbs and fried gently. Finally, it is roasted. This last step helps to wick away any grease often associated with fried chicken. The waittress pointed this out to us and said, "It is actually a very light tasting fried chicken to keep that figure in check." Obviously she was trying to flatter me. The chicken is served with a little puck of macaroni and cheese whose crusty exterior hid a molten flow of pasta, cream, and cheese. An outstanding dish, in my opinion.

The shrimp ceviche packed a serious acidic punch while the whiskers of habanero brought the heat. What was remarkable is that although there were some strong flavors in this dish, the briny taste of the shrimp was not lost.

Next, tartare. The cool chunks of finely chopped wagyu coated in a slick dressing spiked with a noticeable amount of ginger took this dish in an Asian direction. But a note, is Wagyu necessary here? One of the joys of eating Wagyu, Kobe, etc... is that at a certain temperature the fat softens just a bit into a luxurious indulgence. Not sure that happens with tartare. Regardless, a good take on a bistro classic. Lastly on the savory side came the sweetbreads with chimichurri and pommes puree. I like sweetbreads to be plump and firm, not thin and wispy. Unfortunately these were the latter. The potatoes were magical though.

Desserts were a platter of cheese from St. James Cheese Co., particularly enjoyable was the barnyardy Tomme de Bourdeuax, and a selection of sorbets. The sorbets were a tad icy and syrupy. Good wines as well. With a wine list that is laid out in a simple fashion based on style of wines (Bubbly, Classy Broads, From the Earth, etc...) and priced on the lower end. We had the 2007 Bonny Doon Le Cigare Blanc "Beeswax Vineyard" and the 2007 Jean Louis Tribouley 'Les Bacs' from Languedoc-Roussillon.

Overall, we really enjoyed our night at Dominique's. It fit the bill perfectly for a date night. Great food, lively ambiance, intimate setting, and just the right vibe. Check it out, but don't take my word for it. At the conclusion of the meal, they brought out a shaft of sugar cane adorned with a vibrant blue green tuft of cotton candy. "I'd come back just for this,"" said Lindsay.

Address: 4729 Magazine, New Orleans, Louisiana 70115

Monday, November 1, 2010

Sorry, We're Closed

Orleans Parish Civil District Court and the 24th JDC in Jefferson are both closed today in honor of All Saints Day. In my world, closings such as these are those little surprises that creep up on you at the worst possible moment, similar to needing a cashier's check on Columbus Day or a letter postmarked on Veterans Day (FYI, November 11th).

Sometimes unconventional restaurant closings can pull the sneak attack as well. How often have you had a roast beef craving only Parkway Bakery can satisfy, just to turn the corner on Hagan Avenue and realize that it's Tuesday? The disappointment is nothing short of being a Cowboys fan this year.

To save you from dining dismay, your friends at Blackened Out have compiled a list of restaurants that are closed on odd days. Sunday and Monday closings have been excluded, as those are most common, but we can amend the list if you readers deem it useful. Lastly, we are not perfect, so let us know in the comments what odd closings that we have forgotten about.
  • 9 Roses - Closed all day Wednesday
  • Betsy's Pancake House - Closed all day Saturday
  • Bistro at Maison de Ville - Closed all day Tuesday and Wednesday
  • Bon Ton Cafe - Closed Saturday and Sunday
  • Cafe Degas - Closed all day Tuesday
  • Casablanca - Closed all day Saturday
  • Casamento's - Closed all day Sunday and Monday; also Tuesday and Wednesday nights
  • Crescent Pie & Sausage Co. - Closed all day Tuesday
  • Domilise's - Closed all day Thursday
  • Green Goddess - Closed for Tuesday lunch; also Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday nights
  • Iris - Closed all day Tuesday
  • Kosher Cajun New York Deli - Closed all day Saturday
  • Moon Wok - Closed all day Wednesday
  • Oak Street Cafe - Closed all day Tuesday
  • Parkway Bakery - Closed all day Tuesday
  • Pho Tau Bay - Closed all day Thursday
  • R&O - Closed Tuesday night
  • Tan Dinh - Closed all day Tuesday
  • Venezia - Closed all day Monday and Tuesday
One final note. In planning his culinary itinerary for an upcoming trip to Paris, Rene discovered that Pierre Gagnaire, one of his top choices for a blowout dinner, is closed on (of all days) Saturday. I guess if the food is that good, diners don't complain about working around a chef's preferred schedule.