Friday, July 30, 2010

We LIve To Eat: The Final Before The Finals

This is our last week of preliminaries. So vote away. Tune in next week as we find out what happens when people stop being polite, and start eating real. Cliffhangers! Shocking twists! Secret liaisons! We've got it all on Reality Blogging. This week a Joyce inspired sojurn, Donnie Boy revisits his juvenile delinquency, Cap'n P goes all over town, Double Chin recounts a real weekend (bonus points for a cheesesteak at Galatoire's a la Fletch), and The Dreamer goes on a date. We know 5 entries is a lot. but its Friday, you have reached the end of the internet. So what else are you gonna do this afternoon? Top 2 advance.

Alan Williams

"Portrait of the Eater as a Young Man"

The most splendid thing about New Orleans is the city’s propensity for serendipity. No perfect day of eating could ever be planned. That said, I have taken great joy in imagining this spontaneous day of gallivanting around town, eating and drinking as I choose.

Prelude 8 AM Before the alarm goes off, wake up to warm morning light dappling the walls through the banana leaves outside my bedroom window. Step out of bed, stretch, and walk to the window. For a few seconds, take in the skyline, the Crescent City Connection, and the kids drifting down the street towards Jackson Ave. Crack the window up a bit, stick my hand outside and realize that it is still a bit cool. All of the sudden, I am motivated to get out there before the late April heat comes. Throw on clothes, stumble out the door and on to the bike.

Stop #1 9:00 AM After an energetic ride, chain the bike up at Magazine and Cadiz. Stroll into La Boulangerie for the best cup of regular Community Coffee in the city. I don’t know how they do it, but I don’t care. Settle down with a delicious, buttery and crisp Almond croissant and a Times-Picayune and the read bits of the story about Louisiana being both the happiest and laziest state in the country. WWNO plays classical softly in the background.

Stop #2 10:00 AM Leisurely coffee and pastry ends with an equally leisurely bike ride, ostensibly back to the homestead. Magazine is the preferred route, hoping to see some good looking people standing outside of Slim Goody’s and the like. Right before I turn onto Jackson Ave, spot my friend and his girlfriend (of course I took her out a couple times a couple years back, It’s that kind of town), both proudly decked out in tank tops and shades for the first time this year, sitting at the picnic table outside Stein’s Deli. Roll to a stop for a brief chat. Of course, the brief chat lingers on. Decide that a single pastry is not a proper breakfast, and notice that the line inside has yet to extend around the restaurant. Stand in line, listen to the caller from Wisconsin on Click and Clack. When it is my turn, I say what’s up to Andre, ask him if his arm is healing up right, and order a garlic bagel and lox, “fully dressed” with the best cream cheese in the city, julienned onions, tomatoes and capers. Back at the picnic table, being a third-wheel is working out wonderfully when I discover that my friend couldn’t resist an early morning Rueben and is willing to share a bite. The lady’s breakfast sandwich is one of the best in town too, and we all pass the baskets around until there is nothing left but paper and plastic.

Stop #3 11:30 AM Unsurprisingly, my friends share the vibe on this fine Saturday morning, and are also on their bikes doing nothing but looking for a good time. Well fed for the time being, we decide to slowly ride up the most underrated stretch of tree-lined boulevard in the city. The banter keeps us busy until we get to St. Charles, when we see the bewitching red sign of Igor’s. At this point, my friends are given no option---bloody mary's are a must. We lock up, stroll inside and chat up the eclectic crowd while the bartender serves up some extra spicy zing zang bloodies. WWOZ floods the bar with Cuban music. The bloodys go quick so we get another round in go-cups and head back outside. We decide to take the streetcar uptown, maybe to Audubon, so we can continue to bag rays and enjoy the city. We don’t think to consider whether or not go-cups are allowed on the streetcar, and when it arrives the driver doesn’t think to bring it up either.

Stop #4 12:00 PM Just about Bordeaux Street someone starts yelling my name from outside. I look through the window and see my friend Matthew in his new Toyota. Very close in high school, but over the last seven or eight years we have drifted into different crowds. Then I see his mom lean forward from the passenger side and wave like only 60-year-old mother figures do. She is visiting from out of town, and they yell that they are driving over to The Galley on Metairie Road for crawfish. My expression of jealousy leads them to motion for me to come along and catch up while they peel tails. My friends ‘the couple’ bid me adieu and I pull the wire and jump off at the next stop. Next thing I know I am on the patio in Old Metairie with the infamous soft-shell crab po-boy in front of me, listening to TIX FM play Roy Orbison and Sam Cooke . This crisp baby blue crab is succulent and the French bread is perfection. The crawfish are for the table and my buddy and his mom and I tell stories and jokes over at least a couple rounds of Abita beers.

Stop #5 2:30 PM Later on, the old friend drops me off back at St. Charles and Jackson Ave. I wave goodbye and after the street car rumbles past I hear the distinct sound of brass band music. I look down the way, and sure enough, there is every hallmark of a big parade. It is second line season after all. I keep the bike locked and bee line toward Simon Bolivar. As the music gets louder, the crowd gets thicker, and I start to get thirsty. It’s not another minute before I spot a man standing on his pickup truck, beer selection lined out for me to peruse. I give the gentleman five dollars for two Heinekens out of the cooler, but he is looking for a bigger sale. He pulls back the tin foil on a tray of BBQ chicken, and convinces me that I have just got to try some of his special recipe. I buckle and drop another two dollars on a drumstick. It is sweet and thick and I make a mess as I keep moving, weaving through the crowd, watching club strut, and washing it all down with my Heineken. I don’t know the band but when the medley weaves through ‘sexual healing’ everyone starts singing.

Stop #6 4 PM I’m danced out, pretty sweaty and have a solid buzz. I ran into some people I sorta-know, but didn’t end up sticking around. I call my friend who lives nearby on Carondelet and Melponmene and see if I can come cool down, rehydrate, and chill for a bit. He doesn’t pick up, but I head towards where he stays anyway. I finally get affirmative word back via text message as I am slogging up his steps. When he lets me in we head upstairs where he has some co-workers who just moved to town in the living room. They are drinking daiquiris from the shop down the street, and I know better than to ask for more than a sip of some of the flavor called “midnight speedball”. There is some home-made fried okra on the table and I can’t stop picking at it. After an hour or so listening to Earl King songs and swapping background stories and giving recommendations, my friend the gourmand decides that oysters are a must.

Stop #7 5:30 PM My friend the foodie proposes Acme in the Quarter, but I protest---I am absolutely loyal to Pascal Manale’s. I borrow some clean clothes and we take the crew of newcomers out to one of the finest barrooms in the city. We get tokens for a couple dozen raw oysters. The newbie’s have sazeracs and I have my dry gin martini on the rocks while we listen to the same Dixieland they always have playing. We strike it up with the shucker, who has forearms the size of my thighs and a son in the LSU marching band. I slurp down the huge gulf oysters with my personally-perfected cocktail sauce—heavy on the horseradish. By the time the old-folk dinner crowd starts to trickle in, I am not sure if I am more intoxicated by the oysters or the gin.

Stop #8 7 PM My friend waited until I was good and lubricated before telling me that he had reservations at Cochon. They already had a five top so squeezing one more in wouldn’t be a problem. Fortunately, someone was on top enough to appoint a designated driver, so we all piled in a Jeep Cherokee with Florida plates and headed down to the Warehouse District. Since I was the tag-along, I was relegated to the trunk, which was fine by me, Soul Sister blasting from the speakers in the back. At Cochon we end up with more small plates than we have people, so I sample the crawfish pie, the artichoke stuffed crab and a salad with black eyed peas. For my entrée, I have the most tender pork belly fathomable. It pairs very well with the bottle of Beaujolais the newbie with a well-developed palette had ordered. We close dinner with lemon-buttermilk pie, but we drag out our time at the table with some small-batch whiskeys that are as good as I have ever tasted. I get a cup of coffee to ensure that the food coma doesn’t come on too strong.

Stop #9 10 PM Text messages have trickled in throughout the three-hour dinner, and it appears that overlapping social circles are all converging downtown. The one girl I want to see in particular is at Bar Tonique with her friend from college. I take a cab from Cochon to N. Rampart Street and settle in at the dark quiet bar next to the two lovely ladies. I order a Harpoon IPA and awkwardly explain why I am wearing someone else’s clothes.

Stop #10 11 PM The girls keep me busy until I hear that Kermit is at Vaughan’s unannounced. I’m convinced. I drag the girls with me into the Bywater and we meet our friends outside on Lesseps St. Kermit hasn’t started playing yet, but there are white beans and rice on the picnic table inside. As I get a small sampler, I see the bartender that I used to know from the coffee shop so I buy three beers and leave a ten dollar tip. I sit on the curb outside and savor the creamy white beans while my friends chain smoke and we all wait for Kermit to Play. The horns pipe up soon enough and its all aboard.

Stop #11 1 AM Kermit’s set ends, we are well fueled and want to keep going. Mod Dance Night at the Saturn bar to work off the calories. No food to be hand, but more cheap beer and 50’s rhythm and blues than I could shake my leg at.

Stop #12 4 AM We are sweat-soaked, starved, and six strong. We pile into a cab headed directly for Clover Grill. The line cook dances to Lady GaGa while our burgers cook and our humor turns juvenile. The burger is thin, juicy, and just what I needed. The fries are better than McDonald’s. I wash it all down with some sweet tea, and leave the last of my cash on the counter. I share a cab back uptown, my friend picks up the tab. We hug it out and head for bed.

Epilogue 5 AM I lie in bed replaying the sights, sounds and flavors of the day-- only seconds before sleep--when I remember the praline by jean on my desk. I grope for the plastic covered desert, claw open the wrapping, and take two sweet bites of the delicacy before laying back down, chewing excessively, and swallowing with more satisfaction than I thought possible.

Donnie Boy Riguez

To start the day, I am digging Ruby Slipper right now. They are making an incredible breakfast in Mid City, part of the revival of quality early morning eateries in that area. Sample anything on the menu and what you’ll find are fresh ingredients crafted specifically on each plate. Cochon de lait on top of a homemade biscuit smothered with the goodness of a poached egg is the recipe for success on the way to the Superdome.

This is what I call the old white man segment. Two different entities, two different parts of town, exact same ideals. Both of these gentlemen have retired and their places are closed for business, but I would trade anything to eat at them just one last time. First, I would go for an early lunch at Uglesich’s. This family run establishment in the not so best part of town did traditional classics the right way. Fried green tomatoes were always steaming hot yet firm upon delivery to your table. The seafood dishes were so fresh that the fish may have been literally swimming in nearby marshes earlier that morning. One always received a freshly shucked oyster with their meal, which was opened in front of your eyes while ordering. My fondest memory of Uglesich’s stems from a visit when the seafood was being delivered. The softshell crabs were still alive; their air bubbles were still coming from their limited respiratory system while they were awaiting a dredging and a dip into some piping hot oil. If you’re amazed by fresh lobster, fresh crabs awaiting their untimely demise will always force you to change your order.

Second, I would have to go with, in my opinion, the greatest po boy shop in town. I know this will be met with much chagrin, but hear me out. I lived in Lakeview on the lower side of the I-610 and tracks. We didn’t go to Lovecchio’s, Charlie’s or Landry’s. We went to old man Weaver, who made sno balls with a well worn Rolex dangling from his wrist. Mr. Weaver exemplified all there will ever be needed to know concerning the small family business in this town. Mr. Weaver came to work relatively early to start cooking his roast beef, which was the finest in the city. His gravy was that of legends. But he didn’t stop there. Mr. Weaver would buy an entire bone-in ham and slice it himself. This would encompass the protein in the best grilled ham and cheese po boy I’ve ever tasted. Bliss could be found with his hamburger po boy. Mr. Weaver would grind up the leftover ham parts after the butchering and would add to his ground beef. What ensued was the finest tasting hamburger one could eat. The grilled onions contained a sweet flavor that contrasted fabulously with other such excesses as bacon and cheese. Other significant traits include usually scoring the best bread from the bakery and a flat top that charred burgers and ham alike. What Mr. Weaver didn’t do that could cause a rift was his lack of attention to seafood. But Mr. Weaver, a butcher at heart, knew what his specialties were and lived (Rolex-style) well.

Dinner in this town is entirely too variable. One knows with breakfast you’re going to do either a brunch or one of the diner-type institutions. Lunch is something between French bread unless you’ve got money to burn. One who has followed the path I’ve laid out may not want to sit down at Stella for dinner following 2800 calories before darkness sets in. Personally, if I were able to hit Weaver’s for 6:00, I’d be set for the rest of the night. I can also assure you I’d be drinking Heineken Light for the length of the evening as well.

Cap'n P

Breakfast: Start the morning off at Riccobono's Panola Street Cafe with the huevos rancheros and a side of grits. This should get me started off on the right foot. Enough food to prepare me for a big day of eating, but not too much to fill me up or make me tired.

Lunch: Head downtown for an afternoon in the quarter. Since I'm parking at the Royal Orleans (with full intent to leave the car there overnight), I stop in to the Rib Room for the City's best cut of prime rib...the Adam cut, cooked medium rare. The atmosphere is perfect because they've sat me at a window table overlooking the street performers on Royal Street. The best prime rib also happens to be an awesome deal, as it is served with a salad and a baked potato. I opt for the bleu cheese dressing on the house salad, and butter and sour cream on the potato. Then there's the kicker...the incredibly fresh and potent horseradish that is sure to clear even the most congested sinus'. On the way out the door I snag a complimentary praline to get my sugar fix as I head out into the quarter for some afternoon drinks.

Afternoon: After bouncing from a few of the regular watering holes I figure that it may be best to settle down in a decently air conditioned spot. I am not really hungry after such a big lunch, but it never hurts to add a little substance here and there while drinking. I make a pit stop at the Hermes Bar in Antoine's for a drink and some souffle potatoes. This is the perfect snack as it quenches my taste buds, but definitely doesn't fill me up. The side of hollandaise sauce that I request on the side to dip the potatoes in makes it that much better.

Dinner: Back uptown to one of the most consistent restaurants in New Orleans, Clancy's. Not only is this place amazing on a slow night, they may churn out the best food in the city on super busy nights (Christmas Eve, New Years Eve, etc). At Clancy's it's the usual for me, baked brie over fried oysters as an appetizer followed by the Lamb Chops. While I am tempted to get the Lemon Ice Box Pie for desert, I refrain so that I can make my final destination of the day....

Dessert: A quick drive down Magazine from Clancy's to Sucre for chocolate covered macaroons and coffee. Now that I've got my coffee in me I make one final trek down the street to Tipitinas for some live music.

4th Meal: Since it's not far from Tip's, and I know I need some food to ease the following day's hangover, I decide to make one final stop before heading home. Cheese fries and one more unnecessary drink at F&Ms with the coeds. Once I have only eaten about half of the mound of cheese and fries, I realize that I no longer have any business being out in public, so I quickly pick up my dignity and head for home...

Double Chin

Ok, so instead of writing about the eating and drinking that I would do in my dreams, I'll tell you about the eating extravaganza that my wife and I actually did accomplish a few weekends ago for our one year anniversary….

So we decided to stay down in the French Quarter for the weekend and pretend to be tourists in our home town, minus wearing fanny packs and Mardi Gras beads in June. We started out our triple chin gaining mission on Friday with lunch at Galatoire’s…arrived at 11:30 and had some old fashions and beers, followed by some more, while snacking on a few soufflé potatoes, oysters en brochette and shrimp remolaude. After that warm up we went with lamb chops, filet, béarnaise sauce, mushrooms bordelaise and potatoes au gratin, paired with some nice bottles of cabernet.

As the day went on and we began to befriend/annoy the unfortunate patrons around us, it became apparent that this was not going to be a lunch, but more of a lunch/afternoon snack/dinner marathon. After table hopping and drinking café brulot for a few hours, we decided to test the kitchen and do some unique dinner orders…I went with a ribeye po-boy covered in melted cheddar cheese, onions and bacon, which was phenomenal. My wife went with a grilled cheese topped with caramelized onions and said it was the best grilled cheese of her life.

After polishing off a bottle of champagne after this and unsuccessfully attempting to score free season tickets from the President of the Hornets sitting next to us, I realized that I might have to take out a second mortgage if we didn’t get out of there soon. After bidding goodbye to our very patient waiter, John, we stumbled out the door around 8:30. Not a bad way to spend nine hours on a Friday.

Saturday morning we walked over to Stanley! and my wife went with pancakes while I attempted to devour the Breaux Bridge Benedict, which was a fantastic gut grenade. After walking around for a while, we went to El Gato Negro for lunch and got that awesomely thick queso with chorizo and jalapeno, followed by some filet and fish tacos. Needing a nap after what we had just put into our bodies over the past 24 hours, we retreated back to our lodging for a few hours and then got spruced up for dinner at Antoine’s. We started at the Hermes Bar for a few pops and then headed into dinner, where we were conveniently seated next to a table with that girl from that horrible attempt at creating a movie, Groundhog’s Day. Apparently, her name is Andie Macdowell. Anypoop, we went with the oysters three ways, some crabmeat au gratin, soufflé potatoes, filet with marchand de vin sauce, trout meuniere and some dessert. All excellent. Following some street dancing and singing with some local “musicians” we retired for the night.

Sunday morning started with a walk over to Café Du Monde for some coffee and beignets, followed by Mass at St. Louis Cathedral and then brunch at Mr. B’s. We stuffed ourselves with several milk punches, followed by gumbo ya ya, duck spring rolls, barbequed shrimp and eggs benedict. After several hours of napping, we attempted to venture out for one final meal, as I had planned for a grand finale at Stella, but we literally couldn’t get our bodies to physically carry our stomachs out of our room. So we threw in the towel, ordered a pizza and ate it on the balcony, watching the amazing world of the French Quarter go by down on the street in state of total fat bliss. Perfect weekend.

The Dreamer

I picked Natalie up just before 8:00, surprised to see that she’d started without me.

“Beignets?”, I asked. If the white paper bag with its top rolled down hadn’t given her away, the dusting of powdered sugar on her black and gold tank top would have.

“You’re late. I was hungry.” She had a point. I’d barely slept, tossing and turning from some mixture of excitement and F&M’s cheese fries consumed hours after the churchgoing types had gone to bed. She looked at me sideways: “You gonna make it?”

It was a fair question.

The walk to Slim Goodies was short but challenging, made tolerable only by the sweet fuel of the last beignet. After the expected delay and the agonizing walk past the kitchen, we sat on a pair of crooked metal chairs on the equally crooked patio.

“I’ll have the Contractor Combo… over easy, double meat please, and coffee.” Eggs, grits, sausage and bacon, hashbrowns, pancakes.… when in doubt, order two of everything.

“And for you… Ms. Portman?” Eat your heart out.

“I’ll have the fruit parfait.” The sideways glare was mine this time – Veganism is akin to Satanism where I am from.

Our food arrived mercifully quickly. While Natalie picked at her fruit, I pierced the yolks on my eggs and watched a stream of yellowy goodness drench the hashbrowns underneath, unconcerned with the leaves that had fallen into my plate. With each bite I could feel life returning to my veins and, after twenty minutes, I’d nearly cleaned my plate. Never one to overindulge, I politely pushed the toast to the far side of my plate and, with a satisfied grin, declared myself full.

“Where to?” Natalie asked.

“I was thinking 'Drew's' for lunch.”

“'Drew's'? Never heard of it. Lead the way.”

We left sluggishly. As with all good fantasies though, this one delivered; as we hit the street, Drago Cvittanovich himself arrived with a dozen charbroiled oysters fresh off the trailered grill, a gift for my celebrity friend. She accepted politely, bid him farewell, and presumptuously pushed the tray into my hands. “You'll help me with these I presume?” I obliged six times before we took another step.

We sauntered down Magazine at festival pace toward “Drew's”; the buttery garlic circulated through my veins. A right on Calhoun, a few more charbroileds, and we were there. Brittany answered the door.

“Drew's in the back. You're right on time... the first sack's just coming out.”

We made our way to the backyard, where Drew stood proudly over a table billowing steam and spice. He threw me an Amber (I caught it) and we dug in.

Eating crawfish is like surviving as a wolf pup: those who can peel, suck and eat quickly survive. Those who don't better like potatoes and Zapp's. I held my own. Natalie got by on fixin's (and, revealing the first chink in her Vegan Coat of Armor, the occasional spice filled head).

Drew follows Big Fisherman's recipe for crawfish: each sack gets one cup of Chinese pepper, one cup of brown sugar, and two cups of salt. Mix it with potatoes, corn, garlic, sausage, and anything else on sale at Rouse's. Boil, soak for an hour, and serve hot.

The burn in our mouths as we sucked, peeled, pulled, ate and repeated increased magnificently and exponentially with each bite. Those seeking a moment of respite through the potatoes, corn and sausage (Rouse's original with green onion) found none.

When there were none left to be had, we moved to a small patch of grass near the pool. A handful of Abitas later, and a nap was inevitable.

After quick goodbyes and a colorful cab ride, we arrived at Port of Call just as the sun began to dive through the oaks on the neutral ground. After a quick round of Port of Call Hide & Seek, we found “the list” and confirmed what the scores of people outside had made apparent: “Hour and a half… maybe.”

Perfect.

We took our first round of monsoons outside and, courtesy and warnings be damned, headed straight for the steps of the house next door. We sat, awkwardly splaying our legs to conceal that the words “DO NOT SIT ON THE STAIRS” had been painted underneath us and began sipping our drinks through double-barreled straws. The time passed quickly as we talked and drank, always on alert for the click of Mean Old Lady Esplanade's door that meant trouble for those not quick on their feet.

As we neared the bottom of our cups (The First Rule of POC is: You do not have two monsoon's before you eat. The Second Rule of POC is...), “the list” walked outside and yelled my name. Choirs of angels sang as we split the crowd of jealousy waiting at the bar and made our way to our table.

No need for a menu, ma'am. “Cheeseburger, medium rare, everything but mushrooms on the potato.” The Soup Nazi would've been proud.

I glanced across at Natalie and cringed in anticipation, then: “Cheeseburger, rare, and you're damn right I want my mushrooms.” My heart leapt as my jaw dropped open, and Natalie explained: “You can't come to Port o' Call and not eat a cheeseburger.”

Minutes later our food arrived. The animalistic joy of watching an attractive woman chew on uncooked beef as a trail of juice and blood runs down her chin overwhelms me. As the soggy bun in my hands melted away, I devoured the half pound of beef and quarter-inch slice of onion that had become the vessel for the cheese, tomato and pickle in between. Emboldened by the scene in front of me, I drained my second monsoon and turned my attention to the potato. A flurry of fists and elbows left nothing but a defeated ball of foil in the middle of the plate.

As we departed for Frenchman to burn off the day, I stole a moment to reminisce on the day past and gave thanks for having come up in a town that knew that great food was always better when shared with great company.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Checking In

We just can't stay away!

Tomorrow is the last day to get your entry in for the We Live to Eat Contest. You have chosen three finalists already (Stephen Agans, McLovin, and Seersucker and Sazeracs), a fourth is on the way (looks like it will be Wild Bert), and one grouping left to publish. We still have a spot left for tomorrow's face-off. If you haven't submitted your entry yet, do it today. Remember you can win prizes and make friends.

The Final CountRound is going to be sick. Inspired by the foolishness that has become Top Chef, we are going to throw a wrinkle to the competitors. We have rented a house in Mid City and are going to supply them with booze, a bicycle, and bus fare before sending them off on a Scavenger Hunt around the city. Then Peter is going to stare at one of them for a real long time and utter his catchphrase, "Thank you, that will be all," dismissing the contestant to a lifetime of "Hey aren't you that guy from that blog contest?" Get ready finalists.

Summer heat got you wilting like Brett Favre at the end of a meaningful game? Then we have just the cure for you. Read all about Meltdown Popsicles in this month's collector's edition of offBEAT Magazine. Why is it a collector's edition? Like the ending to the Soprano's, it is all there right in front of your eyes.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Blogcation

Each summer in major cities across Europe, residents flee the heat of their concrete jungles and retreat to cooler climates along the coast or in the mountains. The practice is so prevalent that some restaurants shut down entirely for the stretch of late July to August. Sure, not everyone takes a 6 week vacation every year, but pity the poor souls who toil through their regular routine while everyone else is lounging on the beach in Lagos or hiking in the mountains of Interlaken.

Across the pond in the good ol' U.S. of A., those poor souls we speak of are ... well ... us. The Big Easy doesn't shut down simply because you start sweating through your shirt on the walk from your front door to your car. That's what God made seersucker for. Instead of shirking our normal routine, we do things like create our own version of running with the bulls, offer prix fixe dinner deals to encourage people to eat out more, and throw a 4 day international cocktail binge.

But even your faithful bloggers need a break every now and then. It's for the best, trust us. You've probably noticed that our lame attempts at humor have failed more often than usual. It's called burnout, people. A week or two off allows us to recharge our creative batteries and deliver a better product for you readers.

But the We Live to Eat Contest continues on through this week. This Friday will be the last preliminary round of voting, so get in your entries before it's too late. Also, don't forget to vote for the winner in Part IV. After that, we move into the FINAL ROUND.

Try not to miss us too much.

Friday, July 23, 2010

We Live to Eat Fridays: Things are Getting Weird

Some more entries from our dear readers. Just one more week of the first round, so get your entry in stat!. This week we drink some dackrees, hit up Chinese across the lake, and visit someplace called Pumptown. We Live to Eat, do you?

Wild Bert

We begin this epic culinary quest on a holiday weekend. The Sunday before a holiday on Monday holiday ensures that you’ll have adequate time to recuperate from the simultaneously daunting and pleasurable day that lies ahead. You begin early, though unlike those pesky birds, it’s not worms you crave. You crave…pecan waffles. You race to Camellia Grill to beat the teeming University crowd and partake of those crisp, golden waffles with a side of hot syrup and melted butter. But wait, there are a few other food groups (namely bacon and cheese) still demanding recognition. You silence them by ordering a Chef’s Special Omelette and a cherry-chocolate freeze.

You emerge from Camellia sated but sober. Thankfully, New Orleans Original Daiqiuris has just opened, so you grab a go-cup of 190 octane and hop on the streetcar (be sure to shield that daq from the prying eyes of the operator). After an interminable but pleasant ride, you reach the end of the line. You look down and realize you are wearing seersucker, which calls for nothing less than a proper Brennan’s brunch. As soon as you lay eyes upon the pepto pink restaurant, your appetite is revived. You begin with a Brandy Milk Punch at the bar while Billie preps your table. No need for a menu, you order the turtle soup, Eggs Hussarde, and the Bananas Foster…“diet be damned”. No slouch in the beverage department, you also sample the greatest hits from their “Eye Opener” drink menu: a Creole Bloody Mary, a Mr. Funk, and a Sazerac. Perhaps some strong coffee with your flaming dessert will keep you balanced.

As you stumble out into the searing heat of the afternoon, calliope blaring, you realize that only one thing can save you from the midday nap that is calling your name…a Meltdown popsicle. One lemon basil refresher later, and you are rejuvenated like Captain Planet after a nap in the sun.

Feeling like your seersucker has magnets in the pockets, you and your cohorts find yourselves drawn to the Old Absinthe House. Alternating between absinthe frappes and Ramos Gin Fizzes, you realize that you will undoubtedly hurt tomorrow but continue binging into the evening with abandon. Overcome by the indulgences of the day, you select a dinner destination based on their dedication to simplicity and preservation of the essence of the sea, G.W. Fins.

Piping hot biscuits arrive at your table, and you order a Fins French 75 to cleanse your palate. Lobster dumplings and the fried softshell are a must, followed by Chilean sea bass that melts in your mouth. Since you are footing this extravagant bill, you insist that your companions perform the New Orleans Dinner Dance so that you also get to sample the seared sashimi-grade Yellowfin Tuna and the perfectly plump scallops, all of which are accompanied by a crisp Albarino. Molten chocolate cake caps off the evening with a food coma.

Undaunted, you summon the last bit of strength you have left and head to Gold Mine to dance off the colossal calorie intake of the day. A few Flaming Dr. Peppers later, and that stranger dancing/convulsing like Elaine from Seinfeld starts to look enticing. You clearly need some starch to soak up that alcohol before Coyote Ugly ends up in your bed, so you head to Coop’s Place for some rabbit and sausage jambalaya…and a tall glass of water.

McCall

The day would begin promptly at 6:00a.m. Why? Because that’s what time Pumpkin head wakes up…no matter what. We’d spend the early morning on the back patio listening to the birds chirping, Pumpkin head with his morning bottle and me with my big cup of PJ’s Windsor Court blend brewed from the comfort of my home by my trusty Krups coffee maker.

When a more reasonable hour has arrived, Pumpkin head and I would wake up Billy and off to The Broken Egg we would go. A wait for a table is inevitable, but it is of no consequence to us. The Broken Egg has opened its front porch bar - two Bloody Marys for Billy and me. After the short wait we’d start our breakfast with a plate of the warm brie served with apples and walnuts along side toasted bread. Maybe we’d get an order of biscuits too; it all depends on the mood. I’d order the Hey Ricky omelet – chorizo sausage with onions and avocados served with a side of sour cream. (Chorizo makes everything better.) I’d make sure Billy ordered the Lakeshore scramble, just so that I could get a bite too.

Today seems like a good day for the river. So, pumpkin head gets dropped off at the grandparents and mom and dad head off to meet some friends. On our way we stop off for some ice cold Abita Ambers for the boat ride. And for lunch, we can’t decide so we make a run by Bear’s and Bosco’s. At Bear’s I order a French fry po-boy and make sure they add plenty of their debris gravy. Billy opts for the fried oyster po-boy, dressed, of course. Then at Bosco’s it’s a muffaletta served warm.

After a little while on the boat we make it to Friend’s. We decide to dock in Madisonville and get a couple of drinks at the bar. Before we leave, we get the “Gynormous Mountain Brownie.” Is there anything particularly inventive about this dessert? Anything particularly unique? Nope. But when it’s 101 degrees outside the sight of a foot tall mound of creamy vanilla ice cream served atop layer after layer of chocolately gooey brownie more than makes up for its lackluster performance in the individuality category. It’s good. Period.

It’s getting late so the crew turns in. The grandparents have offered to keep Pumpkin head over night so mom and dad can have a much needed evening alone. So, where to go? There are so many options. Should we take a drive out to Lacombe and enjoy the provincial offerings of Besh at La Provence? Or maybe take a drive out near the lakefront and enjoy an old classic at Nuvolari’s? Or maybe we should head north of I-12 and indulge in the brie and crab soup at Dakota’s? Hmmm, nope…it’s an old stand by instead – Trey Yuen.

We get there and after we are served a couple glasses of wine, we ask for the specials. The Wong’s have a fantastic ability to take uniquely Louisiana items and make them into delicious, traditional Chinese dishes. In that vein, we decide on the Tong Cho Soft Shell Crab (honestly, I’d probably eat shoestrings if they were prepared properly and served with Tong Cho sauce!) But, one dish isn’t enough. So we also order the combination fried rice. At most Chinese restaurants, fried rice is a filler - a pathetic excuse for a side dish. But at Trey Yuen, it’s a meal alone. Rounding out our table is an order of steak kew and, just so that we can entertain our inner child, spicing flaming chicken, flambéed tableside. As dinner is winding down, Tommy Wong makes his rounds through the dining room making sure every patron had an enjoyable meal. We thank him and are off on our merry way.

On the way home, we stop at Martin’s for a glass of wine to sip on before we call it a day. A bottle of Baus Family Cabernet Sauvignon should do the trick. Then it’s off to bed to start all over again tomorrow.

Grace Under Pressure

Alarm: Bonnie Tyler's "I Need A Hero." Deflate the esurient trollop I ended up with, again, the previous night and pack her near no sharp objects. Get out of bed, aka "Pumptown" and get the day started.

Breakfast: It would have to be somewhere fast because I'm fat…like real fat and the only thing bigger than my girth is my impatience level. Therefore, I'd jump, if I could, in my car (just after kicking over my neighbors bike with those illustrious streamers) and drive, really fast, down Magazine. Stop at Surreys and yell at all the hipsters in line that they are nothing but Jedis and that Conor Oberst is overrated. Fearing I may take a Vans shoe to the back of my SUV or god forbid an attempted hug, I screech out and head to Wendys. I love New Orleans but this town has no clue how to make a proper Southern breakfast. I settle for the Biscuits and Gravy and a chicken biscuit. Turn the speakers loud and jam out to Joe Esposito's "You're the best around"

Mid Morning Snack: The affirming music is only fleeting and don’t let the self-deprecating humor fool you. I'm fat and food makes me feel good. Time for a snack. However, all I need is a little teaser. I'd head to Bud's and get a #2 and a #9. Get in my mouth Hickory Sauce. I'd bathe in you if you weren't so acidic and fear you'd prompt an ashen hue to my killer base tan. Feeling better about myself, our dystopian country and even the existence of the Counting Crows, I crank Mark Safan's "Win in the End" and wonder where Stiles from Teen Wolf is right now.

Lunch: Even though my metabolism is as fast as dial-up internet, I'm starving. I contemplate eating my finger, which would probably be the better diet plan but decide my cannibalistic, emetic urges can wait another day. Today it's about the Cajun Burger at Fat Harry's. The cook asks me if I want cheese fries with that. I'm pretty damn certain that I don’t suffer from body dysmorphic disorder and that my general stature implies I want cheese fries with that.

Pre Dinner Snack: It's Saturday night and as the turbos on the West Coast say, "I wanna RAGE!" I settle for a less caloric intensive meal: Addies..to the dome!

Dinner: My heart is racing like an Architecture in Helsinki song. Feeling skinny, feeling sexy. The dial-up has instantly turned to DSL and I'm ready to drink and eat…a lot. Head to Rocky's for Pizza. It's a Large Wild Tchoupitoulas for me. This pizza or "Za" as the denizens at Surreys would proclaim makes you want to get on your knees and beg for buttermilk. Time for bars and female rejection.

"Fourthmeal" or Sixthmeal for me: Irate that the Taco Bell on Claiborne did not return post-Katrina, I head to its location, Orleans Seafood, anyway. Hit the drive thru and order 3 Chalupas, a Gordita, a Mexican Pizza, Nachos Bell Grande and a diet Pepsi. Once my order is roundly rejected ( a decent nickname for myself actually…) I head to St. Charles Tavern. After promising the waitress I am not driving this time, I order a bacon & cheese omelet and one of their filthy hurricanes. Upon plate punishment, I pay the bill, shake my keys at the waitress and bolt to my car to unpack my girlfriend and escape to Pumptown.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Blackened Out Bar

New Orleans is a city of bars. There are your corner bars, neighborhood bars, gay bars, music bars, tourist bars, stripper bars, dive bars, martini bars, hooker bars, private bars, and sketchy bars. It's hard to swing a cat in this town without hitting a bar that has at least one redeeming quality. Unless you are swinging a cat in front of Brother's Three. (We kid.)

With Tales of the Cocktail in full swing, it got us thinking about how we would design the perfect New Orleans bar. Put on your lab coat, Dr. Frankenstein, it's time to create a monster.

Atmosphere

The bar has to be amenable to opening early when it needs to or just never closing. Mid City Yacht Club has no problem throwing open its doors at 7 a.m. for a World Cup match between two teams whose countries you need an atlas to find. And Johnny White's has never closed. We will take one of each, please.

We like drinking ensconced in wood paneling, old books, and preferably some authentic crap on the wall. Now, we don't mean Applebees inspired decor, but more along the lines of someone once walked in with a street sign and traded it for a beer. If you have ever been to the Smoking Dog in Lyon, you know the look. But here, Finn McCool's has all of what we love, so give us the interior of Finn's.

We are going to need a jukebox. The best jukebox in the whole town, hands down, is at Chuck's Damn Near 24 Hour Bar on Gravier St. across from the Lucky Dog hangar. Bonus: the interior of Chuck's is so dark even Powder could hide in there. Plus, there are always a few service industry types getting off work and gambling with a guy in a suit. Intrigue, dark mystery, and illegal activities. Check, check, and double check.

Give us the characters who hang out at bars like Harry's Corner Bar and Ye Olde College Inn. Augment that with the pretty coeds from Fat Harry's and Fump & Manny's, minus the douchebags. Maybe toss in some Saints fans who are shooting tequila at the Alibi with Bobby Hebert after Hap's Point After. That ought to do for a cast.

Occasionally it would be good to have some live music. But nothing that starts before 11 p.m. Why that late? To allow everyone to get good and drunk before attempting to dance. A little dash of either Vaughn's or Bon Temps will be fine. (Editor's Note: This same rule should apply to weddings. You go to a wedding, walk in and the band is playing. By the time the liquid courage builds to hit the dance floor, the band is saying "We got one more song for you, a little tune called Shout.")

Games of skill and chance should be located in a back room to allow for those drinkers with gambling problems to scratch both itches. For that we'd take the darts and pool table from Bruno's and the shuffleboard table from SuperBruno's. Photo hunt and the football watching setup from The Rusty Nail gets thrown in the mix as well.

Bartenders

A good bartender is the cornerstone of a great bar. For the morning and lunch shift, give us Chris McMillan. As you fight off the cobwebs and struggle through your first drink, he can tell you all about the history of whatever you are drinking. Think of it as a drinking man's answer to laying on the couch and watching the History Channel while recovering from one too many.

Then in the early afternoon we'd bring in Kirk Estopinal from Cure. When Cure isn't busy and you give Kirk the chance to learn what you like and don't like, the cocktails he creates make drinking seem much more significant. Around dinner time, let's bring in Chris Hannah from Arnaud's. His pre-prandial cocktails may be the best damn thing about Arnaud's.

Now it is after dinner and time to cut up. We need a bartender with equal parts memory and forgetfulness. Memory so that when he sees you approach the bar, he has your drink ready before you ask for it. Forgetfulness so the next morning he doesn't judge or remind you of what happened. Cue Sean Thibodeaux of Clever.

Drinks

Beer, we need beer. As the late great Thornton Melon once said, "Bring a pitcher of beer every seven minutes until someone passes out and then bring one every ten minutes, ok? Alright." We want half of the beer list from The Avenue Pub. Just enough interesting and delicious beers to satisfy the beer aficionados. Then give us a couple coolers of cold, domestic swill for late night and celebrating the next Saints Super Bowl Championship. We'll get those beers from Henry's.

You don't drink wine in a bar, unless you love wearing black mock turtlenecks and iPads. But if we had to have wine due to some arcane liquor law or a request from a hot chick, we'd get some guzzable Pinot Grigio or a wine named something like Sexy Cocktail dress. I bet Mrs. Mae's has it.

For hard booze give us a jigger of the Carousel Bar, a half ounce of the upstairs bar at Galatoire's (for Brandy Milk Punches), and a few dashes of the Columns. Pour it over the Bourbon, Scotch, and Whisky collection from d.b.a.

Shake, strain, and serve in a tall, cold glass.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A View From Behind The Bar

Over the last eight decades, America has gone on quite the ride: the Depression, World War II, the outdoor grilling, luau themed fifties, hippies, women's lib, disco, the cocaine fueled 80s, martini bars, and craft beer. Brian Rea has been lucky enough to witness some of the most exciting events in American history from behind the bar. Rea, 83, will deliver what promises to be a hilarious look at Bartending in the Dark Ages (50's, 60's, and 70's) at this year's Tales of the Cocktail from 10:30-Noon on Saturday. This will be his third time presenting at Tales, "They have no standards, these people. They keep inviting me back," Rea cautions.

As the seminar is rather early for a cocktail party, Rea will greet the attendees with a Ruddy Mary, the gin lover's answer to a Bloody Mary. Rea began bartending in the Fifties, a time when bartenders were second class citizens and few customers ordered anything but the classics. Rea explains, "Manhattans, Aviations, Between the Sheets, Martinis, Scotch. That is what people ordered. The booze was higher proof plus they drank more in bars then in their homes."

Most domestic images of the fifties and sixties center on a housewife raising 2.5 kids then fixing her husband a perfect martini at 5 p.m. Dinner follows at 6 p.m. This idyllic myth continues to perpetuate on shows like Mad Men, a show which Rea consulted on. "That was utter media bullshit," Rea demystifies, "but they got the cocktails right."

Bartending in New York lacked the celebrity cache today's mixologists and bar chefs enjoy. The oldest bartender in the place was in charge of training. Read here: the guy who couldn't find a better job. No one went to bartending school. Bartending was, and still is, backbreaking work. Beer still came in wooden barrels, ice had to be chipped from large whole blocks, no television to distract patrons, no air condition, and perhaps most saddening for Rea, "No broads either working or in the bar."

Wearing a white coat and making next to nothing but constantly observing the operational side of the bar business allowed Rea to work in some of the best New York bars before moving to Los Angeles in the early sixties. In the sixties the whole bar business changed with the debut of the Pill. Suddenly women wanted to burn bras, wear miniskirts, and drink with the men. Cocktails became more elaborate affairs with more descriptive names like Pink Squirrels, Black Cods, and Golden Cadillacs. "And everyone was smoking dope. We had pot, broads. I made Harvey Wallbangers up the Wazoo," Rea says.

Soon Rea found himself working for Host International running airport bars around the world. In 1972, noticing the uniqueness of New Orleans' "drink anywhere" culture, Rea placed a golf cart loaded with hooch in Armstrong International and staffed it with pretty girls in hot pants and go-go boots. The crew listened to air traffic control on a headset. When the girls got the word that Flight 654 or the non-stop from Cleveland was delayed, they drove the cart to the corresponding gate and the party began.

Rea is a man full of opinions and wit. His favorite cities to drink in? "Cities with good public transportation: New York, Chicago, Boston. New Orleans is good, cause no one seems to care about laws. West of the Mississippi, save San Francisco, there ain't one city worth a damn to drink in. The automobile culture killed the drinking culture."

Martini bars? "Bullshit. A creme brulee martini? Get out of town."

His last drink on earth? "A Sidecar. But a real one made with Cognac, not Brandy. And Cointreau, not sweet and sour mix, or Calvados like one asshole tried to serve me. A Sidecar is a beautiful drink when done correctly."

The new age of bartending? "Whatever happened to real bartending? Look the customer is not there to window shop. They want a drink and they want it now. They are more impressed with themselves than they should be. It should not take me four and half minutes to get a God damn drink."

Rea has a host of other anecdotes and stories about his time watching people drink, but it would be best if you heard it from him the horse's mouth on Saturday at Tales.

Sidecar - credit Harry's Bar in Paris

1.5 ounces of VS Cognac
3/4 ounce of Cointreau
3/4 ounce of lemon juice

Shake with ice and strain into a well chilled cocktail glass with a sugared rim. Garnish with an orange or lemon peel.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

BBQ Tuesdays: Bywater BBQ

When you hear the words "Bywater" and "barbeque," most people immediately think of Thursday nights at Vaughn's or pulled pork at The Joint on Poland Avenue. But those two words grace the signage of a third purveyor, Bywater Deli & BBQ, whose most popular menu option is probably... pizza? That's what I've been told.

Patrons at Bywater BBQ tend toward residents of the neighborhood and the adjoining Marigny, but the relaxed, bohemian atmosphere makes everyone feel at home. Tables are crammed close together inside, but the outdoor patio is where you want to dine as long as you can brave the heat. A trip to the unisex bathroom includes a chronological exhibit of former display signs. I just thought that was a clever and functional way to recycle.

While the menu runs the gamut from pizza to fried seafood and everything in between, this particular trip was official Blackened Out BBQ Business. So we ordered the 4 meat platter, which for $18.95 allowed us to sample each carnivorous choice on the menu, along with our choice of 2 sides and a couple of pieces of jalapeno cornbread. Plenty enough to split between 2 people.

The brisket, ribs, pulled pork, and chicken may all have been cooked “low and slow,” but the meats had no discernible smoke flavor. I wouldn’t be surprised if you told me that the kitchen uses an oven-to-grill method. Not that there’s anything wrong with that; it’s just not “real” barbeque. Ribs, pulled pork, and brisket were all tender, but the chicken was a little dry. All were served blanketed with the house special BBQ sauce, which is an almost identical replication of Bud’s Broiler’s hickory smoked sauce. I love it on my #4, and it did a nice job on the meats here. Sides are average: baked macaroni is a cheesy blend; potato salad has a nice chunky/creamy texture but not much flavor; and cole slaw has a sweet, mayo-based dressing. Best part of the meal: jalapeno cornbread with its light, crumby texture and vinegar-laced heat.

True BBQ? No. Terrible meal? Not exactly. Still craving top notch smoked meats? Absolutely.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Summer WineSense

Historically, this time of year marks the throes of the summertime doldrums in New Orleans. Time seems to almost stop when the calendar flips to July. Football season is still several weeks away; the temperature just keeps on rising; and the only sign of tourism is an army of 30,000 Lutheran kids with highlighter green backpacks marching down Convention Center Boulevard.

Such may have been the case years ago, but nowadays the summer special events heat up during this "down time." Week long extravaganzas like Tales of the Cocktail, citywide promotions like the Coolinary Menus, and soirees such as White Linen Night now dominate the Blackened Out on the Town calendar. In addition to these major events, numerous restaurants and specialty shops are offering their own summer events.

This summer, Cork & Bottle owner Jon Smith continues his "Summer WineSense Seminars," which he has offered since 2003. These relaxed, sit down tastings offer attendees an opportunity to taste through 8 wines and learn a bit about their history, method, and commonality with each other and their origins. Each class offers an inexpensive and non-threatening way to sample wines found outside the mainstream. Plus, this week's class starts the "Under the Radar" portion of WineSense, where $60 gets you 4 tastings of lesser known wines from the world's great wine producing regions.

Not a bad way to unwind after work on a Wednesday.

Friday, July 16, 2010

We Live To Eat Fridays: The Third Time is Charming

This week, check out a local boy cheffing it up in a Florida restaurant and his ideal dinetinerary, an exercise and caffeine fueled day, and a entree that hits all the spots. Send in yours today to blackenedout at gmail. Listen, the poll is about as reliable as BP is (was?), but just vote. In a few days, it tallies it all. Or just keep coming back.

Carl Schaubhut, Executive Chef at Restaurant Fire! (née of New Orleans)

Brunch and Breakfast: Only in New Orleans was there a need to push back breakfast a bit in order to accommodate late sleepers after a previous night of debauchery. Brunch is also a way to sneak some heavier dishes into what most straightforward breakfast menus cannot provide. So we have a city where brunch is an occasion so special, we only do it once a week. Molly's at the Market's Guinness infused Bloody Mary is the way to get you back in the game and off to a killer brunch, where Commander's Palace does it better than anyone. Go no further than the starters and you will be content: turtle soup au sherry, shrimp and tasso henican, and eggs sardou are all delicious classics that satisfy every before noon craving one could have. Any of their cocktails are delicious as well. If you want a more straightforward breakfast and have a bit of a sweet tooth, you could take down at least a half-dozen Tastee "McKenzie" Buttermilk Drops and an ice cold chocolate milk for a bit of delicious nostalgia.

Lunch: I would go po' boy shop hopping for lunch and first grab a fried oyster po' boy at Domilise's, where Uptown locals will advise you to add horseradish, Swiss cheese, and roast beef gravy to adorn the crispy oysters. Panneed rabbit with creole mustard cream at Crabby Jack's would be a nice follow-up. Then the roast beef from Parasol's is a sandwich that has brought together generations in the Crescent City. For an afternoon snack, I'm going to need to belly up for a bit after all that "po-boy shop hoppin'" so I would pull up a stool at Cochon Butcher and ask Bill "the Butcher" Briand to hook me up with a bayou beer (moonshine and Abita Root Beer) and a charcuterie plate of whatever they got working that week at the shop. Give me some toast points and some pickled goodies and i'm all set.

Dinner: Bayona is, to put it simply, outstanding. The sign of a great restaurant is when you recommend it to someone else and you do not have to steer them through the menu, but rather you can say, "Everything on the menu is good!" The lamb loin with goat cheese and zinfandel sauce is one of my early and most vivid food memories, as are the sweetbreads. I love how she continues to innovate the menu to keep it fresh and seasonal, but also stays true to her classic "signature" dishes. Susan Spicer is the matriarch of contemporary New Orleans cuisine. After a day like that, give me a nice glass of port, a cigar, and a little jazz at Dos Jefes, and I can crawl home from there.

The Do-Gooder

My ideal food day is not so much a "what would you do if you could do anything" sort of day. Rather, it is a day that is something like my "everyday life" here in New Orleans and, in a way, is pretty near my dream food day!

9am - Large iced coffee @ Rue de la Course on Carrollton Ave.

930am - Bike down Magazine and pass Slim Goodies - look at the wait line and say "wha?!" - keep riding...

10am - Head back to Carrollton for Camellia's - check out line...wha?! Keep riding...

1030am - Head to Whole Foods for large iced coffee.

11am - Sit outside Whole Foods and wonder where all these people are from...

1115am - Bike loop around Audubon Park - check out the egrets and ducks - do some push ups - wonder if anyone is serving up muscovy duck po-boys in town.

1145am - Large iced coffee at Starbucks on Maple St. - listen in on conversations, snag used newspaper - hit the road.

1200pm - Super Sprout salad at Whole Foods, Kombucha to drink - pat self on back for being a healthy live-food eater!

1230pm - Bike home to check on dogs. So cute!

1pm - Toss bike in car and head to Cane's Chicken for a Caniac meal...convince the cashier to give me a free lemonade to mix with iced tea.

130pm - Daiquiri Den on Airline in Metairie.

145pm - Whilst sipping daiquiri - order freshly made sushi from nice lady at Rouse's...grab bag of Zapp's Creole Tomato Tabasco tato chips for the road!!!

200pm - Head to Northshore - Stop at Abita Brewery for a tour and tasting. Bike Tammany Trace to Lake Pontchartrain...Eat Zapp's chips and soak up the sun (or rain - who cares?) and enjoy the view.

345pm - Get back to car and head home.

445pm - Get home and walk to Daquiri stand at corner of Carrollton and St. Charles. Admire the bartender's bedazzled shirt.

455pm - Walk up levee - squeeze though hole in fence and sit at the river's edge - watch Tugs and Bars roll by.

530pm - Fro-yo at Pure - a bit of "Who Dat" and Tart with toasted coconut. The tart is tart - no whimps!

600pm - Track down Tacaeaux Loceaux - Carnitas anything.
620pm - Streetcar downtown.

715pm - Cochon - meet up with friends for drinks and dinner - eat a bunch of homemade pickled anythings and each order something different and eat off each other's plates and whoop it up. Get out before the dull atmosphere contaminates the spirit.

815pm - Taxi home - weeeee!

945pm - Pitcher o' Abita Amber at Cooter Brown's.

1015pm - Walk over to Oak St.

1025pm - Run into friends at Jacques-Imo's - sit down and eat!

1115pm - Look at line into Maple Leaf - find out what the cover is - say, "oh, no - wha?!"

1200am - Cooter Brown's

100am - Camellia's cheese burger...mocha freeze.

130am - Head home and set auto timer on coffee maker...quick Ramen snack.

138am - Sleeeeep.

Seersucker and Sazeracs

The menu for my perfect day of eating would be based largely on the season. Being as I must pick an arbitrary date, why not make it a day like today, in early July?

"It's above 90 degrees before sunrise."
I would begin my early July day of excessive gastronomic pleasure before dawn with a FROZEN Cafe Au Lait from Cafe Du Monde. This would tide me over until I could drag my wife up St. Charles to Camelia Grill before the breakfast crowd arrives. We would split a pecan waffle covered in butter and Steen's and an omelet.

"It gets hungry out early in these parts."
Having had such an early breakfast, I would be ready for that Port of Call cheeseburger by 11 a.m., and I would be there ready. Nevertheless, hunger is no reason to dispense with formalities, thus before being seated, I would be having my requisite Neptune's Monsoon (or maybe a Windjammer).

"The leftovers are just as good around here."
Around 1 p.m. I'd head over to the fridge and pull out that leftover quarter of a Central Grocery Muffuletta that's been properly marrying for a day or two now, and enjoy it with one of my last stashed away Abita Strawberry Lagers.

"It's Five O'Clock Somewhere...and after 11 a.m. here"
After downing that last sip of "strawbita," I would head over to the Swizzle Stick bar for an afternoon cocktail with some friends. Specifically that cocktail would be an Adelaide Swizzle to wash away the summer heat.

"The hardest decision I would have to make is made for me; Galatoire's is closed for the first week of July."
Come 6 p.m. you would find me sitting in the Hermes Bar at Antoine's in a Seersucker suit, finishing off a Sazerac as my reservation time approaches. After being seated I would immediately ensure that Paul (my waiter) understands my intentions to have my Sazerac refreshed and have some souffléd potatoes brought out. We would order the appetizer sampler of Crabmeat Ravigote, Shrimp Remoulade, and Oyster Foch. After that comes a cup of Creole Gumbo. Upon consultation with Paul, I will order as my entree either the Pompano Pontchartrain or Trout Meuniere. I will have a side of Brabant Potatoes. Against my wife's recommendation, I would order the most other worldly caramel custard I've ever had. Oh yeah, Cafe Brulot.

"But Why's the Rum Gone"
Since we're in the quarter, let's have some Hurricane's at Pat O's in the courtyard.

"Now Let's suspend disbelief for a moment and pretend that there is still room for food in my stomach and It's yet to reach 10:20 p.m."
Why not stop by Brocato's for a mini Cannoli?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Short Order Review: Brigtsen's and Dine Out Tonight

Frank Brigtsen can cook. Brigtsen's cooking is not the refined technicality of Le Foret or the whimiscal creationism of Stella! You won't find any dishes celebrating the simplicity of a fig or crowned with a micro green emulsion. Brigtsen's cooking is a textbook example of what was haute cuisine fifteen years ago. I had originally held that against him and as a result never visited until two weeks ago. Boy, was that a mistake.

What I found was that the food coming out of his kitchen is some of the best in New Orleans. Brigtsen's cooking reaffirmed that dining out is supposed to be fun, enjoyable, and above all else, an experience. Where other restaurants may dial back the flavor or remove a component, Brigtsen adds to a dish.

Witness his shrimp remoulade with its perfectly poached shrimp resting on top of spice laden cold corn relish. A creamy and well-seasoned guacamole ties the the two elements together. And just to gild the lily, 5 deviled eggs ring the plate. A chef in a newer restaurant would have chopped that dish into 4 or more separate "tapas." At Brigtsen's it all gets served together and with a splendid result.

This is lusty, full on cooking with nothing held back. His sweetbreads, rich as they are, join forces with a leek and potato cake before being crowned with mushrooms. The accompanying sauce zings with enough acidity and complexity to make you hoard the plate. Or try the veal with its crisp crust loaded with spices and (more importantly) salt. It is served alongside grits laced with fontina cheese and an osso bucco sauce. I can't wait to come back here on a cold January night and eat heartily.

The tuna dish is a journey through the Caribbean, of which New Orleans is the crown jewel. Tuna pulled from the Gulf of Mexico is blackened in a nod to Brigtsen's mentor Paul Prudhomme and gets just rewards with a smoked corn sauce, red bean salsa, and fiery, pepper laced sour cream. It's cooking like this that makes sushi look lazy.

When you walk into the Brigtsen's cottage in the Riverbend, you immediately sense that you are dining at a friend's house. That friend removed all the furniture and crammed tables into every nook and cranny while employing every cook and nanny in the household to serve as staff. Drinks and wine arrive quickly; as do the fresh loaves of french bread. Service is relaxed but maybe a little informal given the price points. For instance, both with our appetizers and entrees, Lindsay's dish arrived about five minutes prior to mine. But with food this good, a bottle of Robert Foley Charbono, and a vibe this comforting, who cares?

Preliminary Assessment Only

Brigtsen's-Birdie on the Fine Dining 18th.

Dining Out For Life, Tonight

It's Thursday. For us, its pay day (for real jobs not this fake ass non-paying gig). You don't feel like cooking, do you? Besides no reason to make the temperature inside your house match that of the exterior. So go eat out tonight and support the NO/Aids Task Force. All you have to do is dine at one of the over 60 restaurants participating, and they will donate 25% of your check to the NO/Aids Task Force. For more info and a list of participating restaurants check out their website.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Your Call - Tarka

A few weeks back when I wrote about a less than stellar dinner at Taj Mahal, a commenter suggested we head out to Tarka to satisfy our curry craving. Relying upon the recommendation of this Decayed Gentlewoman, The Folk Singer and I ventured out to this purveyor of Indian & Pakistani cuisine on Williams Boulevard.

My prior experience with Pakistani cuisine was nonexistent, and because we set out on this adventure specifically seeking out samosas and the like, we did not sample much of the Pakistani offerings on the menu. But if you trust the opinion of Ian McNulty (as we usually do), then perhaps you are better off thinking outside the tandoori box.

Instead, we stuck to what we knew best and ordered several our favorite Indian dishes. The meal starts with two complimentary chutneys: tamarind and a mint version which surprisingly had quite a bit of heat. Naan had a nice firm crust on the outside, but the samosas missed the mark with an unfortunately doughy pastry. We asked for raita with our appetizers, but the waitress said that they were out. Hmmm, OK. We improvised with a dish of plain yogurt augmented by the spicy mint chutney, which created a suitable stand in.

Our entrees were rather disappointing as well. Palak (a/k/a Saag) Paneer had a wonderfully light texture, but the chef must have forgotten to salt the spinach while cooking. The opposite was the case with the Lamb Boti, whose tandoori cooked morsels were dry and tasted like they had been covered in garlic salt. The Folk Singer's Chicken Makhni had a tomato-butter cream sauce which had broken into a bland base covered in a sheen of ghee. In short, where we expected flavorful sauces and spices, they just were not there.

So, not a good first impression made by Tarka. We will certainly give it another shot, probably on the weekend when the Pakistani beef specials are available. If I am ever in the area during lunch, I'll probably stop in at the buffet in order to sample a wider spectrum of the menu.

But for now at least, the search continues...

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

2010 Challenge: Picklin' Dixie

Chefs, cooks, and butchers across America have learned again the beautiful craft of charcurterie. The rediscovery of charcuterie has also birthed a renaissance in the fine art of pickling, relishing, and jamming. Terrines, pates, and rillettes fly out of the country's best kitchens, accompanied by little casseroles of mustard, sour cornichons, fruited jellies, and, of course, pickles. The acidity or sweetness, salty or sour flavor of the accompaniments harmoniously contrasts the richness of the charcuterie.

In the last few months alone, I've eaten pate de campagne at August served with no less than six accouterments. Cochon's spicy pork ribs would not be as satisfying were it not for the crunch and tang of the watermelon rind pickles. At La Petite Grocery the housemade boudin and pickles are a wonderful way to ease into a long lunch. Shoot, even the slimy, pale green po-boy pickles have a place in our cuisine.

Plus, if you choose to make pickles at home, the possibilities of pickle pun-filled commentary is an at an all time low.

Pickling

Don't worry about pickling. This is not difficult, and there is very little chance of screwing it up. You are doing little more than placing produce in an acidic and salty soak for three months in a fridge. I'm pretty certain you can handle that.

I followed the instructions in Ruhlman and Polcyn's Charcuterie. It calls for you to combine white wine vinegar, water, salt, peppercorns, pickling spice (make it yourself or buy), and dill seeds. Boil this mixture for three minutes, pour it over whatever you want to pickle, and let it sit in the fridge for 3 weeks.

You can pickle most about anything, but I started with some pickling cucumbers and watermelon rind. Into a mason jar goes your soon-to-be pickle of choice, a few sprigs of dill, and the liquid. I chose to cut up the rind and the cucumbers into little disks and cubes, but do whatever you like.

Will it work? Check back in three weeks.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Return to Wine Country

In today's edition of "Places I'd Rather Be Right Now," we visit the grapevine-lined valleys of northern California. Two weeks ago The Pope once again played cruise director for a group of his oenophile friends, visiting wineries along St. Helena Highway, the Silverado Trail, Sonoma Highway, and beyond. Due to time constraints at my real job, The Folk Singer and I flew in late, causing us to miss out on the Napa leg of the trip which included dinner at Robert Mondavi and a much-hyped tasting at Quintessa. But we were excited to experience Sonoma County, an area which none of us had visited before.

Dinner on the first night was at Mosaic, which came highly recommended by New Orleans' #1 wino, Tim McNally. Located in Forestville, a rural town west of Sonoma proper, from the outside Mosaic looks like it could be a simple roadhouse restaurant. Inside though is a most inviting space and farm to fork menu featuring specials like this spread of wild mushroom and warm brie.

On our first night we stayed on the grounds at Korbel. While I will admit that the champagne is not my first choice for drinking, I will say that the history of the winery is absolutely fascinating. Francis Korbel was a political prisoner in Prague, and his grandmother busted him out of jail by hiding him underneath her skirt. He and his brothers then fled to America, starting out as cigar box makers, then moving to the Russian River valley to farm various crops, before one of the brothers decided that growing grapes was a good idea. 138 years later and after its purchase by Adolf Heck, Korbel is still a 100% family owned winery.

Bruce Cohn, owner of B.R. Cohn Winery, is a classic car enthusiast who keeps a number of his favorite hot rods on the property. Bruce is also the manager of a little band called the Doobie Brothers. He made his first million in the music industry, bought an estate in Sonoma, and began selling his grapes to wineries. But after his Olive Hill vineyard received designation and won awards for those other winemakers, Bruce decided, "F*ck it. I can do this," and started making wine himself.

After our first night at Korbel, we moved closer to Sonoma Plaza, where the girl and the fig is located. We loved the place - the guys for the food and relaxed atmosphere; the girls because some guy named Kiptyn from "The Bachelorette" was eating dinner there too. We started with a tower of local cheeses and charcuterie from Mano Formate, their in-house charcuterie shop. Everything was top notch, from the cocktails to my plat du jour featuring lamb sausage patties over goat cheese polenta.

The next day we had a tour, tasting, and lunch at Sonoma Cutrer. What I found most interesting about their process is that Sonoma Cutrer now making two different chardonnays: a rich and buttery California style and a crisp, classical French style. The latter, labeled as Les Pierres, was my favorite white wine of the trip. Other notable facts: (1) For the last 20 years Sonoma Cutrer has been working exclusively with two cooper families to make their barrels, and (2) the winery has two picturesque croquet courses on the front lawn.

Favorite overall wine tasted on the trip? Hands down, no question, 2005 Jordan Cabernet. Founder Tom Jordan is a petrochemical geologist by trade and was one of the first Americans to be granted permission to work in India and Malaysia, where he subsequently discovered the largest land-based oil deposit in the history of the world. (Yes, you read that right). In the late 1960s he was one signature away from buying Chateau Margaux, one of the oldest and finest Bordeaux houses in France, but the deal fell through when his agent disclosed that he was an American. So instead, Mr. Jordan sent topographists to France to study the terroir of the fine Bordeaux houses and told them to find an equivalent region in California. He ended up in the Alexander Valley, where his son John now oversees the operation.

In my opinion, what sets Jordan's wine apart from other California cabernets is an absence of the defining "new oak" flavor, which is a result of much shorter barrel-aging process (max 10 months at Jordan as opposed to 2 years for some others). Our host Isabelle told us how last year they conducted a vertical tasting of every vintage - from 1972 all the way to 2005. She said that the '99 stood out as one of the best, so I bought 2 bottles. One day down the line, I'll let you know if she was telling the truth.

One hiccup at Jordan: I don't know the name of the man in that picture, but I know that it is NOT Paul Prudhomme.

For our final dinner of the trip, we drove to Redd in Yountville. I'm running out of words at this point, so I'll just say that the menu was progressive without looking like they were trying to hard, and the food was phenomenal.

Upon recommendation of Big Brutal Dave, whose cousin cooks at another restaurant in the valley, we tried a grease the palm trick which would have been one of hell of an embarrassment had it failed. Let's just say that you get quite the number of stares when you walk into a fine dining restaurant armed with a 12 pack of beer when everyone else is bringing in magnums of Harlan. The bribe actually worked though, and our table was treated to a complimentary stack of sticky/sweet chicken wings and a prosciutto and parmesan pizza.

The food that we actually paid for was excellent as well. The table favorite was this yellowfin tartare with crispy fried rice. Not to toot my own horn, but I thought that my duck confit dish was better. Not only did the duck pull apart in meltingly tender shreds, but it was accompanied by foie gras meatballs.

Foie gras. Meatballs.

Finally, we closed out the trip with breakfast at Boon Fly Cafe, just as we had on the first trip. Green eggs and ham never looked or tasted so good.

Friday, July 9, 2010

We Live To Eat Friday: Part II

The entries keep rolling in, so send yours along. This week we get a bite at Crabby Jack's, a one two combo of Cochon and Boucherie, and this weird, cryptic day. Vote away, pals. And hey, if you are in a voting mood, how 'bout voting us the #1 Blog in New Orleans?

The Turpenator

My ideal feasting day in New Orleans:
Breakfast - Manhattan Omelet at Camellia Grill (a/k/a the "Crack Omelet").

Lunch - Po-boys at Crabby Jack's.

Snack/Cocktail: Beers at Avenue Pub along with guacamole and chips from the restaurant within it, J'anita's.

Dinner: Any of the shredded meat delights at Cochon.

Brother O'Mara


I'd head out as early as possible to Huveos on Banks to get myself a plate of their huevos con tamal. Nothing beats pork tamales and eggs for breakfast, and their coffee's decent. However, even though they have a few sweets in the case there I'd have to go over to Angelo Brocato on Carrollton to get something truly tasty. No gelato, still too early in the morning, but something from their pastry case (like a prussian, mmmmm) and some espresso to wash it down would be fantastic.

For lunch, as soon as I would be able to eat again that is, I'd head down to Domilise's on Annunciation. There's a lot to be said in the debate about the best fried shrimp po-boy, but for my money nobody does it better than they. Obviously I'd have to have a Barq's to go along with it, because I think God cries if you eat a fried shrimp po-boy without drinking a Barq's.

After all this I think I'd have to go lie down for a while, but I would make certain to get up in time to make it over to Cure by 5PM, right as they opened. If I have time before my dinner reservations, I'd order a Ramos Gin Fizz, something soft to sit and sip for a minute. If things are rushed, I'd grab a Nervous Light of Sunday, the perfect palate-opening drink, a delightful combination of gin, grapefruit, and magic.

Dinner would have to be at Cochon, because their ham hock haunts my dreams. I find it almost impossible to visit and not order that incredible mass of soft succulent pigflesh. It doesn't appear on the table instantly, though, so the boucherie plate would have to hold me over until that ham hock graces me with its presence. The flavors are rich and slightly smoky and wonderfully complex, so depending on my mood I'd either get something from the southern Rhone or some fuller-bodied Pinot Noir to accompany it.

As if I hadn't put enough miles on my car already, I'd head out for a late-night dessert at Boucherie just off Carrollton. I know Cochon has some killer desserts but one thing they don't have is Krispy Kreme bread pudding, and that's what I'd be craving. I'd have to drive slowly, though, to make sure my stomach had time to deal with all that dinner.

To finalize the night I would honestly head home and pour a shot or two of Amaro on ice and sit and sip that while I waited for my body to stop hating me for all the abuse.

And Finally, a Rambling Entry from McLovin

5am snack: F&M's - The cheese fries and enough booze to kill a horse.

7am: Slim Goodies - I forget what it's called, but it's something like the Mexican Slammer.

Lunch: Radosta's - I usually get their catfish poboy.

Dinner: Crepe Nanou (if I'm paying) / Clancy's (if someone else is) - Crepe Nanou: mussels and/or the spinach and crabmeat crepe (i think those are the two most cliche things on the menu). I haven't been to Clancy's since before my brother-in-law became a part of the family so I'm not sure what I'd get. LOL...haha.

PS - My mom thought she was so cool that you wrote about Meauxbar and she saw you there!

PPS - I get free drinks at a bar up at school because the bartender actually thinks I'm McLovin... haha.

EDIT: Blogger Polls are down and working about as well as government. So for now, just leave your vote in the comments or come back later.