Tuesday, August 31, 2010

OffBeat Eats

The September issue of OffBeat Magazine is now available, and because it's "The Food Issue" there is a triple dose of Blackened Out articles for you to enjoy.
We hope you enjoy.

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Post-Katrina Top 20: #5 - #1

Today, we unveil the Top 5 additions to the New Orleans Dining and Drinking Scene Post-Katrina. We knew this was a cliche idea. However, going through the exercise provided us with an opportunity not only to examine the New Orleans restaurant scene in toto but also to look with special favor upon what came after the storm. Those restaurateurs, bartenders, and shopkeepers who chose New Orleans to hang their shingles or branch out, despite the odds.

First off, we realize many great restaurants struggled to return to New Orleans. They found their cooks, bussers, and waiters all over the country and brought them back. They dealt with insurance adjusters and new regulations. They reopened with skeletal crews and out of whack balance sheets. To them we owe a lot. For if they don't come back, these places don't exist. So a big round of applause to all the restaurants in New Orleans that reopened after Katrina.

We also know there are many great places that didn't make the list. Places like Il Posto, which Rene refuses to write about because he doesn't want to fight crowds on Saturday morning trips for a cappuccino and a California bagel. Places like Meson 923 which have returned to New Orleans a prodigal chef in Chris Lynch. Places like Mondo and Coquette which are putting good food in great neighborhoods and watching the lines form. And restaurants, stores, and bars that have yet to be conceived, developed and opened.

Cue the Chairman of the Board, "The Best is Yet to Come."

#5: The Sun Rarely Sets on The Besh Empire - In the days after Katrina, John Besh and his trusted cooks Blake LeMarie and Alon Shaya used the Katrina trinity (propane tanks, flatboats, and ice chests) to serve loads of hungry refugees and recovery workers. Nearly five years later, Chef Besh was once again at the forefront, this time in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. In between those times, he did little more than open 3 new restaurants and continue the legacy of a 4th. Not a bad stretch, if you ask us.

But it's not so much the quantity as the quality and diversity of the Besh family of post-K restaurants which warrants high praise. When Cobalt failed to reopen after the breach, Besh seized the opportunity to reinvent the first floor of the Masonic Temple into an Alsatian brasserie, complete with pulley and belt-driven fans which were a trademark at Kolb's. Enter Lüke, now the most popular restaurant for a business lunch in the CBD.

The dichotomy of forward thinking paired with a nod to the past was exemplified in two of Besh's post-K acquisitions. When his former mentor Chris Kerageaorgiou was in search of someone to pass the torch to at La Provence, Besh took over the reigns and revived its farm-to-fork history by growing vegetables and raising livestock on the grounds, while continuing the tradition of rustic French cuisine in a country house setting. Similarly, at The American Sector, Besh honors the greatest generation by serving World War II era food using contemporary ingredients and techniques.

And if three is good, four must be better. New Orleans has always had its own distinctive Creole-Italian cuisine, known for smooth, sweet red sauces and an unconventional bordelaise comprised of olive oil and garlic. But with the opening of Domenica, Chef John Besh and Alon Shaya ushered in a new era of Italian dining in the city. House cured salumi and wood-fired pizzas share menu space along with exquisitely made pastas, with no "red gravy" to be found.

#4: Sucre - Tariq Hanna, chef of Sucre, said it better than we ever could. When asked about why people like sweets he responded, "You only eat sweets for two reasons: because you are seeking comfort or soothing guilt."

No matter where you were when Katrina hit, or how you have lived your life since then, those descriptions fit. When Sucre opened it set off an only in New Orleans brawl between supporters of Sucre and supporters of La Divina Gelateria. The Jets and Sharks, Bloods and Crypts, and Hatields and McCoys look like catfights compared to the Blue Bloods and Hipsters.

Sucre has distinguished itself in our eyes. There are airy, pastel colored macaroons, petit fours with layers of raspberry, chocolate, and more chocolate, milkshakes spiked with Bailey's, espressos, truffles with sea salt, and of course cakes resembling whichever team the Saints are destroying that week.

Joel Dondis always had a sweet tooth. But it was while living and working in Germany, he first decided to one day own a pastry shop. He found going to the bakery down the street provided relief from long hours and low pay as a cook. Dondis and Hanna teamed up to open Sucre in April of 2007. Since then the childhood inspired, sweet shop on Magazine has expanded to include a pastry factory near Broadmoor, where the cakes, truffles, ice creams, and baked goods are made by a dedicated staff. A staff that includes many graduates of the Culinary Institute of America. The word is out among the nation's up and coming pastry chefs. If you want to be somebody, you need to work at Sucre.

Soon a location will open in Lakeside Mall with an espresso machine called the Slayer. "This is going to revolutionize the coffee drinking experience in New Orleans," Dondis explains. "You will be able to choose your blend, grind size, water temperature, pressure, all of it."

To steal from Rick Pitino, "McKenzie's isn't walking through that door."

But that's OK. We got Sucre now.

#3: St. James Cheese Co. - "People said we were insane to open a cheese shop in New Orleans," Danielle Sutton says. "We are glad to prove them wrong."

Prior to Katrina, Richard Sutton worked as a cheesemonger in London. He and his wife, Tulane alums (we hear it is a college), returned to New Orleans with the idea to open a quiet, little cheese shop uptown. When they opened in November of 2006, the plan was to only have one or two sandwiches and to build a small niche as a supplier of fine cheeses. That plan soon changed once the public got a taste of their sandwich creations.

In winter crowds clamor for the raclette and croque monsieur. And last summer, the removal of the BLT with Serrano ham replacing bacon caused an uproar. "We had customers call and ask if the BLT was on the menu. When we would say no, they would hang up on us," Danielle recounts.

But still, the staff at St. James focuses on delivering the best cheeses and charcuterie from around the world. To witness, walk in to St. James on a Thursday around noon. The line will snake from the register down the display cases filled with people drooling over the selections. Richard, or one of his able staffmembers, will come over to and ask you what you want. "What is new," you ask.

Their eyes light up like a kid on Easter Sunday who spies a basket of candy on the mantle. "Have you tried the new aged gouda? Or the Ste. Marcelin? A delicious Triple Creme is in, layered with truffles, try it. What about this blue from Humboldt?"

And off they go dispensing samples of cheese, pates, and cured meats, while taking an order for a Mozzarella sandwich, and uncorking a bottle of rose. Recently, St. James added an online presence via a partnership with Taigan.com, the high-end, luxury online shopping center (backed by First Street resident Julia Reed). Previously they only accepted phone orders for out of town shipments. Which is a great gift to give a sister, should you have one living in say DC or New York.

St. James is also a great spot for dinner. Let us explain. You know those Fridays, when there is no food in the house and you don't really feel like going out to dinner? Swing by St. James, pick out three or four cheese, a pate, some slices of Jamon Serrano (or Iberico if you got that cash money), and a baguette. Take it home and lay it out on the biggest cutting board you have. Open a bottle of wine, put your feet up, and graze the night away.

With Andy Scurlock manning the charcuterie and turning out impressive truffle-studded pates and English meat pies, the future of St. James is bright. But it is the last four years that are special for Richard and Danielle. As Danielle explains, "We love the feeling that we have become a neighborhood spot in a city of great neighborhood spots. Our customers have become our friends, they go to Italy or France and bring us back treats. That really means a lot to us."

When the Sutton's came to New Orleans, they did not know what to expect but what they found has warmed their hearts. "New Orleans has been so supportive and welcoming to us. Even dealing with City Hall was enjoyable," Danielle says.

If that isn't a sign, New Orleans is back. We don't know what is.

#2: Cochon/Cochon Butcher - Chef Donald Link said it best during his segment on No Reservations: "You respect somebody for staying here. Staying here after the storm and raising your family here is making a statement."

Not only did Chef Link stay in New Orleans to raise his family, he and partner Stephen Stryjewski also moved forward with their plans to open Cochon, the porcine mecca on Tchoupitoulas Street. Beside introducing New Orleanians to the wonders of rustic Acadiana cooking, the media frenzy surrounding Cochon sent an important message to the rest of the nation: New Orleans and its food culture still matter and are worth saving. While some members of the press were kicking us while we were down, restaurateurs like Link were too busy raising the city up to even bother with the naysayers.

But all of the press and accolades were no reason for Link to rest on his laurels. In early 2009 the Link Restaurant Group launched Cochon Butcher, the forerunner of the salumi movement that has swept both the local and national dining scenes. Many people don't realize that before ABC Restaurant in NYC began curing its speck in house, the coonasses of Cajun country had about a 250 year head start on them. Butcher has brought those time tasted crafts to the Big Easy, which in turn launched this artisan movement onto the national level.

#1: La Boca - The worst kept secret in New Orleans is that it is a wonderful place to get a steak. For years Ruth Fertel's halfway eponymous restaurants showed the world how to cook and serve a steak. Ruth's Chris Corporate Office left the city with the flood waters, pissing a lot of people off. Into this vacuum stepped La Boca, which has established itself as the city's best steakhouse.

Nick Bazan and Adolfo Garcia came up with the idea of La Boca prior to Katrina. Originally they wanted a 150 seat restaurant devoted to all things Argentinian meat. But the federal flood caused them to change their plans. Luckily, Taqueria Corona never returned and they got a good deal on a 47 seat restaurant. They also had to focus the menu to what ingredients they could get reliably day in and day out. As chef/partner Jared Ralls puts it, "Adolfo and I always talk about keeping dishes simple and singularly focused. By lessening the stuff on the plate, we can increase our chances for success."

La Boca opened on June 1, 2006, which as you are well aware is the first day of hurricane season. "It was a way of saying 'Screw it, we aren't going anywhere.' We had faith in New Orleans, faith it would come back, faith people would get what we were trying to do from a culinary standpoint," Ralls recounts.

It took about two years for the restaurant to really catch on with both locals and tourists. "Business was always good, but then all of a sudden at the beginning of 2008, we just exploded," Ralls says. The success has not stopped La Boca from doing a Service Industry Night every Thursday, when you can spy some of the city's best chefs digging into steaks and slugging red wine long after the customers have gone home.

La Boca has all the classic grill marks of a steakhouse, with subtle nods to more contemporary dining. The interior of La Boca is like eating inside a large brick fireplace, with red masonry, wood timbers, and a warm glow from the kitchen. In other steakhouses the walls are lined with pictures of sports stars from year's past shaking hands with the owner. Here, are Boca Junior soccer jerseys and paraphernalia from Argentina.

Rather than beat you over the head with bottles you can't afford, the wine list at La Boca offers an all Argentine selection of toned, lean whites and muscular, lusty reds. Affordability is the main link. Hell, there even is a surly maitre d', albeit one wearing a Marilyn Monroe tie, Scarface suspenders, and saddle oxfords.

The vibe of La Boca has nothing on the food. Gooey provoleta smeared over those rolls and lacquered with chimichurri make the grilled cheese seem juvenile. The plump, tender sweetbreads, grilled whole and served with just a squeeze of lemon, have no equal in the city. The gnocchi is like eating a potato that just made love to butter and cream. Even the heart of palm salad makes a compelling argument to eat more veggies.

Then we come to the main event, the steaks. Sourced from places with cool names like Snake River and Painted Hills, this is not the place to order a filet (although the bone-in job is pretty good). Go with the hanger, the skirt, the skirt with skin, or the flank. All of the steaks, save the bottom sirloin flap, get only a sprinkling of salt and pepper before hitting the grill. This absence of fussing around means you taste the beef in all of it's glory. The three chimichurris are the colors on your palette wheel. Paint as you will.

Don't forget an order of the fries, or the mashed potatoes, or the corn pudding or the asparagus. Go ahead and linger for a while. If it is a nice March or October evening, the windows to Fulton St. will be open wide. Sit, swirl, and sip that Malbec. It should be loosening up about now, as should your mood. Stick around long enough and the Red Eye will open. Go ahead and go, we won't judge. Lord knows we've all been there once before and soon enough, will be again.

We chose La Boca as our favorite Post Katrina addition to the New Orleans food scene for a few reasons. First, we love steak and feel it is the best steakhouse in the city. Secondly, although La Boca is a few years old, there is still a feeling of excitement every time we go. One of us will go and text the other, "Heading to La Boca." Instantly a wave of jealousy spreads over the other Blackened Out twin.

Third, the Warehouse District has become the post-Katrina center of dining in the city. The sheer volume of excellent restaurants within a 6 block walk keeps each operator on top of their game. And in this area, there is no better place we like to eat than La Boca.

Finally, we all lost nouns in Katrina - places, things, and people. Whatever it is Katrina took from you, what you really lost was the memory of the noun. Your kids walking down the stairs on Christmas morning, the picture of you and your cousin in Destin, or the restaurant where your husband proposed. Restaurants in New Orleans have always been more than places to get a meal. They are links to the past. Memory place card holders which evoke not only good food but also great times. Maybe it was eating at Ruth's after either your First Communion or high school graduation. Maybe you never went but always wanted to go to Christian's. Restaurants matter here almost as much as the World Champion Saints.

But what Katrina didn't take was our ability to dine out. To eat well with friends or perfect strangers. To create memories which will live on past the latest fad in cooking or the bonds of any friendship. La Boca has become our favorite new place to create lasting memories. The restaurant has accomplished this by borrowing from the past while being truly original. By extension, La Boca feels like it has always been a part of New Orleans. For that, it gets our nod as the best addition to the New Orleans food scene Post-Katrina. Here's wishing it stays a treasure of New Orleans forever.

Friday, August 27, 2010

2010 Challenge: Thai These Burgers on for Size

Craving spicy food on the way back from the airport the other day, Lindsay and I checked out Siamese Thai Cafe on Veterans. The larb, a salad made up of ground pork, red onion, thai basil, scallion, cilantro, lime juice and fish sauce hit the table soon after we sat down and we furiously gobbled it up. The result, much greater than the sum of its parts, is a sour, pungent blend of flavors and textures.

My mind, as most fat kids do, immediately went to hamburgers. Originally I wanted to combine the non-pork ingredients with ground beef and make a burger infused with the flavors of Siam. Figuring that worcestershire sauce is merely a descendant from fish sauce, subbing the latter for the former would not be that big a deal. But Lindsay, who is still a little mad about the peanut butter and strawberry gelato fiasco of 2010, put her foot down. "Absolutely not. Sounds disgusting and I won't eat it. Why don't you just make a relishy thing and place it on top a burger," she suggested. The term suggested is very kind.

This won't be the first time I listen to her.

Larburgers

Make a burger. It should look like this on the grill. Note: Non-cheese larburgers are the way to go.

While your fire heats up, in a small bowl combine the juice of one lime, a pinch of red pepper flakes, a teaspoon of fish sauce, and a touch of sugar. Stir to combine. To this, add some thinly sliced shallot, scallion, chopped cilantro, and torn Thai basil. Let this sit awhile and visit.

Now, for a little added kick make a sriracha mayo. This is simple, take a tablespoon (or more or less) of sriracha and add it to two tablespoons of mayonnaise. Stir to combine. Look at you, fusion master, a real restaurant would charge you an extra $1 for that step.

Assembly is simple. Mayo on bottom bun, burger, spoon over the larb relish, and enjoy. Whole wheat buns make it healthy, but you made it delicious.

The larb relish takes this burger to a whole 'nother level. You get the spice from the mayo, then the juice and bite of the burger. Up next, the unmistakable muskiness of fish sauce which contrasts nicely with the rich beef flavor. Then the cut of the lime juice and the herbs.

I always find that my favorite dishes are those that make me say in my head one of three things: a) this would be good on a burger b) this would be great on pizza or c) this would be awesome on ice cream. The moment I tried the larb at Siamese Thai, I couldn't stop thinking how well the flavors and textures of larb would compliment burgers. Call me a simpleton, but great food really comes down to that.

Try this refreshingly new and interesting take on a backyard classic and let me know how it goes.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Yokohama Sushi

Sometimes average food with friendly service is a more enjoyable experience than if you're dining on Grade A foie gras served by a bunch of assh*les.

Yokohama is located in the Wyndham Garden Inn at the corner of Baronne and Common, a location more known for abandoned office buildings than dining options. The clientele tends toward office workers during lunch and basically no one at dinner except the lone hotel guest in search for a convenient meal. While the restaurant is usually busy during the lunch rush, Yokohama is still under the radar enough so that there is rarely a wait for a table, and the service is efficient enough such that a 60 minute lunch is doable.

Yokohama was opened this past November by the brother of the owner of a sushi bar on the Westbank - could be Cafe Zen or Tennou Sushi, I can't remember. Though I can't speak for the entire menu, the sushi at Yokohama is good (not great) and served in sizable portions at relatively inexpensive prices. The Emperor Roll Special ($13) starts with miso soup and house salad with ginger dressing, followed by full orders of spicy salmon, spicy tuna, and yellowtail rolls. If you need some more razzle dazzle, the M&M Roll (above) is stuffed with shrimp tempura and snowcrab, topped with tuna and avocado, and dressed with eel sauce.

But the most telling characteristic of Yokohama is the friendly service. Ming, who tends the sushi bar almost every day, always has a welcoming smile and a suggestion for what to order. After my first visit when he learned that I like the spicy stuff, Ming recommended the Yokohama Special Salad for my next visit, which I gladly took him up on. The combination of sliced raw fish, lettuce, cucumber, and seaweed dressed with ponzu and sriracha was light, refreshing and right up my alley.

The meal usually ends with the requisite slices of fresh orange, but some diners are offered a complimentary tempura fried banana made to look like a yellow caterpillar with cherry eyes. All part of the service with a smile, at Yokohama.

Yokohama Sushi - Par

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Volt

Volt. Just the name alone calls to mind superheroes and great expectations. As if Thor from Adventures in Babysitting will miraculously appear carrying a tray of canapes loaded with caviar, creme fraiche and lobster. But no. It is just a well-disciplined, highly technical chef named Bryan Voltaggio. You likely remember Bryan as the runner up in last season's Top Chef, where the only person he lost to was his younger brother. I bet Thanksgiving at the Voltaggio house is a lot of fun.

The sleek interior of the inside of Volt is even more striking when you consider it is locale, a red bricked, former dental office on the main drag of downtown Frederick, Md. Las Vegas, New York, or Los Angeles this is is not. But the food at Volt would be top notch in any town in America. While Lindsay and I did not get the chance to eat dinner and completely devour his menu, we stopped in for a round of drinks and some bar snacks. A Manhattan for Lindsay and a Negroni for myself, both excellent, started things on a strong note. I especially liked the boozy local cherry (read here: not Maraschino) at the bottom of Lindsay's.

While watching the bartender mix our cocktails, we couldn't help but stare at Chef Voltaggio. Not in person, mind you, but on the large flat screen tv over the bar which had a direct feed into the kitchen. There, Chef Voltaggio and his crew prepped for the evening's dinner service while serving lunch as well. Must see TV for sure. This again, is another invention of Thomas Keller, who has used closed-circuit TVs in his French Laundry and per se to better monitor his kitchens when he isn't there.

This is a ravioli stuffed with local goat cheese on a puree of carrot with maitake mushrooms and a spiced air. The flavor of this dish evoked fall - hearty foods, root vegetables, pumpkin spices. The ravioli were thin and just barely contained the tart goat cheese.

This was Lindsay's bar snack; a rice paper roll stuffed with juicy tuna tartare, a dollop of caviar, a cardamon air, and a sesame lavash (Persian for cracker looking thing). Very well executed with each miniscule cube of tuna bathed in a delicate, slightly citrus tinted sauce. Good eating, for sure.

If you ever find yourself in downtown Frederick, Md., you owe it to yourself to stop into Volt and get a jolt of fine dining. Cause let's face it, if Bryan Voltaggio had been on this season, Angelo would have conspired to throw him off weeks ago.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A Celebration of Louisiana Culture

What are you doing tomorrow night? Sitting at home in your underwear eating Cheetos while reclining on a dirty bean bag, again? Why not get yourself gussied up to celebrate Louisiana's undeniable influence on world culture at the Louisiana Cultural Economy Foundation's LA Fête Cultural 2010: A Celebration of Culture. Face it, Top Chef is a disgrace now and Real World New Orleans makes the previous one look intelligent. So go out on the town this Wednesday.

From the Press Release:
WHAT: The Louisiana Cultural Economy Foundation (LCEF) presents the LA Fête Cultural 2010 “A Celebration of Culture,” that will support its mission to address the challenges cultural workers face daily and the increasing challenges resulting from the oil spill. This exciting, two-part evening features world-class dining and entertainment, and honors those who make Louisiana rich in culture.

The night begins with a Patron Party with live entertainment by “The Shannon Powell Trio,” the jazz band which includes David Torkanowsky & Roland Guerin with special guest Carol Fran. Celebrity guests Michael Cerveris (from Fox’s “Fringe”) and Faith Ford will also be in attendance. A live and silent auction will take place while guests enjoy renowned cuisine from area restaurants.

The event transitions into a headline concert emceed by enthusiastic “Sex & the City” star Mario Cantone and features Louisiana entertainers including Tab Benoit’s Swampland Jam (Cyril Neville, Anders Osborne, Jumpin’ Johnny Sansone and Big Chief Monk Boudreaux), Terrance Simien & the Zydeco Experience, Big Sam's Funky Nation and The Stooges Brass Band with Big Chief Little Charles Taylor.

WHEN: Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Patron Party 6:00 p.m.-7:30 p.m. in the CAC Atrium & Galleries
Concert 7:30 p.m.-11:00 p.m. in the CAC Warehouse

WHERE: Contemporary Arts Center
900 Camp St., New Orleans

HOW: To purchase tickets for the event please visit the LCEF Web site at www.culturaleconomy.org or call the CAC box office at (504) 528-3800. Tickets are:
• $150 for one all access (Patron Party and Concert) ticket
• $35 in advance for one (Concert) ticket
• $50 at the door for one (Concert) ticket

The Louisiana Cultural Economy Foundation (LCEF) was established as a 501(c)(3) organization directly responding to the devastation of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and to an unprecedented scattering of our cultural workers. Today, LCEF’s Economic Opportunity Fund grant program and Healthcare Initiative supports the economic health and quality of life of the state’s entire creative workforce.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Post-Katrina Top 20: #10 - #6

We have cracked the Top 10 in our survey of the best new food and beverage improvements in post-K New Orleans. If you missed #20 through #11, you can find them here.

#10: Patois - If success were measured by TV face time, Patois would be the highest rated restaurant in the Michelin guide. But before every character on Treme was vying for a table at Desautel's, owners Leon & Pierre Touzet and Chef Aaron Burgau won the affection of diners with this local dialect of French cuisine. Like so many restaurants these days, the menu at Patois is subject to the seasons. Pheasant, duck, and rabbit are mainstays treated with different interpretations, while the popularity of the grilled lamb ribs have assured that dish will remain the same for a long, long time. Patois has also expanded locals' options for a casual yet refined brunch, when the offerings reach far beyond eggs benedict, such as the egg, pork belly, and fried green tomato sandwich.

#9: Rare Cuts - Ordering a steak at a restaurant seems an exercise in futility. Most steaks require little more than salt, pepper, and high heat to turn out an impeccable product. Saying, "Filet, medium-rare" doesn't give us an opportunity to really grade the kitchen. But we still love meat which is why we can't get enough of the thick, dry aged rib eyes from Rare Cuts. Look, you returned from Katrina. Rebuilt your house. Installed a chef's dream kitchen with granite counter tops, Sub Zero appliances, and a Viking range that would make Thomas Keller weep. Let Rare Cuts help you put that kitchen to good use. Choice and Prime steaks, lamb, pork, chicken, foie gras, and more abound at this meatporium. Three locations, Mandeville, River Ridge, and Uptown (Nashville and Magazine) mean you are never a far drive from a great cut of meat.

#8: Green Goddess - From a carnivore's dream to a whimsical place where vegetarians and omnivores can coexist in harmony. Inside a tiny space on Exchange Alley, Chefs Chris DeBarr and Paul Artigues draw from both local influences and their own worldly travels. From India to England and Vietnam to Acadiana, the menu knows no boundaries. And with an original cocktail menu, extensive wine list, and full cheese tasting to boot, The Green Goddess rivals nearly any fine dining experience in the city.

#7: Le Foret - Chances are, given the uncertain state of the economy, you have cut back your dining budget. Maybe you are cooking at home more, roasting your own chickens and pureeing potatoes. So dining at another "casual" dining spot featuring comfort food does not seem to be a good use of that shrinking dining budget. Enter Le Foret, the newest member of the pantheon of top fine dining in New Orleans (other members, Stella! Herbsaint, and August). Remember when you were a kid and your parents would go out to dinner? It seemed magical, special. They would get dressed up, eat at fancy sounding places, and come home giggling. A night on the town means something again as Le Foret recaptures the celebratory, magical element of dining out. At Le Foret you will dine on foie gras souffles floating in a glass smooth puree of butternut squash. Or a plate of escargot topped by a crown of puff pastry. The chef's tasting is the best bet in order to allow you to experience the full panoply of Certified Master Chef Jimmy Corwell's talents. Plus, when you leave the hostess will slip you a little cellophane package filled with a Madeleine. It is enough to make you giggle all the way home.

#6: Boucherie - White table cloths and $30 entrees be damned, Chef Nathaniel Zimet took his mobile Que Crawl concept to brick-and-mortar when he took over the former location of Iris on Jeannette Street. After originally focusing primarily on smoked meats, the menu at Boucherie has since expanded into far East flavors like curry leaf marinated duck breats and grilled yoghurt marinated paneer in curry. But Zimet's long time fans need not fret, because classics like parmesan and garlic butter fries, the pulled pork cake, and Krispy Kreme bread pudding still stand strong on the menu.

Friday, August 20, 2010

And the Winner Is...

The polls have officially closed, and barring a hanging chad fiasco, you readers have voted Seersucker and Sazeracs as the winner of the We Live to Eat Contest. His winning entry just goes to show that the depth of our local restaurant scene extends well beyond the Orleans parish limits.

Here are the full prize results of the finals:
  • 1st Place: Seersucker and Sazeracs - $100 gift certificate to Commander's Palace and $75 gift certificate to Drago's.
  • 2nd Place: McLovin - $100 gift certificate to Mr. B's and a $25 gift certificate to Drago's.
  • 3rd Place: Double Chin - $75 gift certificate to Ruth's Chris.
  • 4th Place: Wild Bert
  • 5th Place: Stephen Agans
  • 6th Place: Cap'n P

Thanks to all who submitted contest entries and everyone who voted for their favorites. We hope that the We Live to Eat Campaign has inspired you to go out and take advantage of one of the many restaurants around town. Without local support, there is no way that New Orleans would be a renowned dining destination which attracts food enthusiasts and tourists from all over the world. Keep that in mind when you are deciding what to do for dinner tonight.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Rio Mar

Long before La Boca revolutionized the New Orleans steakhouse and A Mano began curing salumi in house, Chef Adolfo Garcia had his one and only: Rio Mar. Labeled as "a seafood destination," Garcia's flagship is perhaps best known for serving Spanish fare adapted to the bounties of our local waters, as well as ceviches native to Garcia's homeland of Panama. While the majority of the menu does feature seafood, carnivorous offerings such as grilled hanger steak and blood sausage fill out a menu of a restaurant to which there is much more than what meets the eye.

Rio Mar is truly a tale of two restaurants, depending on what time of day you dine. During lunch they offer a strictly tapas menu that lists upwards of 30 items which diners check off on a sheet of paper, similar to ordering at a sushi bar. Favorites include the aforementioned blood sausage (morcilla) with its rich, beef flavor and cake-like texture, the fruity and slightly acidic piquillo peppers, crispy patatas bravas topped with a mild aioli which you simply cannot get enough of, and the small pressed sandwiches called bocadillos. If dining with a large group, the $25 "Feed Me" option is a no brainer with its never ending parade of courses, which range from the excellent (bacalaitos - light and airy cod fritters) to the average (shrimp al ajillo sauteed in garlic).

There is some menu crossover between day and night - like the tuna empanada served with a garlicky sweet romesco sauce - but for the most part, the dinner menu is broken down into conventional appetizer, salad, and entree sections. In the summer heat, the best way to start your meal is with an order of refreshingly acidic ceviche. Meat lovers can then progress to the Latino-style roast pork or the sliced hanger steak served over fried yuca and dressed with chimichurri. Of the four Calasparra rice dishes, I enjoy most the one featuring littleneck mussels and chorizo. But if you (a) came here for seafood or (b) simply want to eat the second best dish on the menu, then look no further than the pan-roasted Louisiana black drum. Cooked till perfection when the flesh of the fish flakes away from the slightest pressure of a fork, this filet is served atop fried eggplant rounds and crunchy green beans with a deliciously smoky cumin-honey vinaigrette drizzled over the entire plate. This dish gives trout amandine a run for its money as the best fish dish in town.

So if the drum is the second best dish, the obvious question is: ¿Cuál es el número uno? The answer: A simple plate of ham. The ultimate indulgence at Rio Mar is 5 thin slices of jamon Iberico, an off the menu specialty which is usually available everyday. You can almost taste the acorns which those noble pigs feed on. Best $20 you will ever spend.

The Rankings

Food - Birdie. Chef Adolfo and his team headed by Chef Miles Prescott at night and his longtime tapas chef during the day know their food inside and out. Tapas at lunch are simple yet delicious, while dinner is a full blown array of Spanish flair and flavors augmented by local ingredients. The menu is full of dishes which are either only served at Rio Mar or only worth ordering at Rio Mar. There is no replication.

Bar/Wine/Service - Birdie. The entire floor staff is friendly and very well versed in the food and wine. Service is swift unless overwhelmed by an unexpected lunch rush on any other day but Friday. The wine list offers a number of Spanish selections at affordable prices; my only suggestion is that the vino tinto spend a bit more time in the chiller. The bar is an underutilized aspect of the restaurant and is perfect for sharing a few Estrellas or a bottle of txakolina amongst friends; if only the full tapas menu was available at night.

Overall - Birdie. Rio Mar is still the best Spanish restaurant in town, with a well executed menu which is diverse enough to warrant extensive exploration both at lunch and dinner.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Parasol's... er... I mean... Tracey's?

Unless you have been completely blackened out for the last 24 hours, you probably already heard that Parasol's, the crown jewel of the Irish Channel, is being sold to new owners and that the current operator is setting up his own shop. From what we can gather from other's reports, the split is the result of a classic case of an operator's right of first refusal plus an apparent oral contract to sell which the parties failed to memoralize either in writing or with earnest money and thus the obligation was nullified via lesion beyond moiety.

But what about the roast beef? And the signed picture of Admiral Thad Allen which was prominently displayed to the left of the ordering window? And all of those people who are smoking cigarettes and drinking Guiness in the bar at 11:30am on a Tuesday? The answer is simply: I don't know, but I am quite jealous of those aforementioned bar flies and want to know (a) what they do for a living and (b) where that job was on career day.

If history is any indicator, sometimes divorces work out best for both parties. (See La Petite Grocery and the Schultes; Tommy's and Irene's.) But it is nearly impossible to replicate atmosphere, especially when it is based on 58 years of history. Will Tracey's have the raffish qualities of Parasol's dining room - the low ceilings, school cafeteria chairs, and dim lighting? Will customers order their sandwich at the kitchen window and then make their way to the bar to pay separately for their Barq's in the bottle and bag of Zapp's? Will the bar flies follow to Magazine Street?

Then again, does any of the above matter? Isn't it all about the roast beef? The one-size only, 8 inch po-boy filled with a hybrid of sliced and shredded beef in a thickened gravy. Jeff Carreras has been running that kitchen for a decade, which means that he can cook that same roast beef in his sleep. Why should we expect anything different at Tracey's? On the other hand, we know nothing of the po-boy skills of the alleged new owners who hail from Florida.

Truth be told, I have always been a Parkway guy, but I respect Parasol's and indulge in their po-boys about once a year, most recently two months ago to the day. But even though I may not be a regular, I take comfort in knowing that I can always pull up to 3rd & Constance when in need of a dose of "only in New Orleans." As the future has yet to be written, we don't know the fate of Parasol's or Tracey's. But I do know one thing for certain:

You are seriously craving a roast beef po-boy right now, aren't you?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Is Baking a Science?

The most overused cliche in the American food writing world may just be the simplest: Baking is a science. Every blogger, writer, cookbook author and Twitteratti uses that term as some sort of merit badge. What they really mean is, "Look you may be able to cook a side of beef with horseradish crust, stir a roux to mahogany completion, and simmer stock from hand hewn veal bones, but do not try to bake. For baking is science and you are no Thomas Dolby Edison."

First off, everything is science. Here are some other examples of science: breathing, pouring milk, answering an email, cutting the lawn, exercising (an evil science), and watching TV. Be careful, calling your mom on the phone is science! How dare you try and hang that picture yourself; you failed AP Physics.

Cooking is scientific. Just to put an average American dinner on the table (fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and green beans) culls together thousands of scientific reactions and processes. First, you should brine and flour your chicken (this is chemistry and microcellular biology). Then you need to fry it (thermodynamics). Now make perfectly smooth and rich mashed potatoes (rocket science). Finally, properly blanch your green beans (mastery of chlorophyll and botany).

Now, I will grant you that the underlying chemical reactions which occur when one combines flour, yeast, water, and a leavening agent are, in fact, scientifically proven. But again, similar processes happen in regular cooking. Baking is simply cooking with a degree of difficulty. So if you can cook, you can bake.

Last week using the Twittersphere, I stated that baking is not science. The culinary dames who patrol that area of the interwebs immediately responded with differing viewpoints. And to be fair, their responses are quite compelling. Some such as Chef Mary Sonnier responded that chefs are hesitant bakers, thus showing deference to the pastry chefs. Lindsay from Scoop Adventures responded that baking requires precise measurements. Most people ignored me. Lorin Gaudin just punched me in the face and slashed my tires. The last two are unremarkable occurrences.

But here is the simplest reason why baking can not be science: Science denotes an absolute exactness. Either the sun will rise at 6:23 am or it doesn't. Either the introduction of this chemical will cause the solution to crystallize or not. Wearing my lucky Saints shirt causes them to win. Science, you see, is exact.

Recipes for baking, however, are not. A simple look through my cookbook collection reveals 10 different recipes for pizza dough. Up to 7 different for brioche. Countless variations on cornbread litter the pages of any respectable southern cooking, and many less savory ones. Having multiple recipes disproves the exactness. Let's agree to this: Following a specific recipe for bread may require exactness, but baking as a sub-class of cooking does not.

I also remain unconvinced that there can ever be a precise measurement of anything. Certainly, this debate could enter a more philosophical context. Although my Delorian is broken, I am positive if we went back in time to the creation of bread, measuring cups were not around. Watch a cake maker carefully measure a batter, gently place it in a calibrated oven, and then use a toothpick to test if it is done.

Earlier this summer, I made pizza dough based on a general formula from Tariq Hanna of Sucre. In his matter of fact way, Hanna told me to "Combine 1 packet of yeast, 2 cups of water, half your flour. Let it sit in fridge overnight. There you have mad a sponge. Next day, knead in the remainder of your dough. Simple as that, works like a charm." SCIENCE!!!!

I had planned to use 7 cups of flour. Because I am careless and forgetful, I used four heaping cups the first day, another four the second day, and likely another cup while kneading the dough. Did it fail? No, it was delicious.

Writers such as Jeffrey Steingarten have spent hours and vast sums to figure out how delicacies like Pizza Bianco in Rome is made. Reading these accounts you will notice the bakers are always portrayed as these monkish, cultish figures. Bakers work with flour, water, and yeast on a daily basis. They adjust their proportions based on the weather, humidity, and mood. To them baking is not a science but a calling, a lifelong pursuit to create the perfect baguette or buttery, yet crusty croissant. Some of these figures, such as Jim Lahey, have persuaded an entire generation that yeast and kneading are practically unnecessary to creating great bread.

Baking has less in common with science than it does with religion. As in religion, there are some rules set in stone that you really shouldn't violate. Don't kill or always sift your flour, for example. But the rest of it is plain good advice. You can choose to be a fundamentalist and follow every rule with dogmatic conviction. If the recipe calls for 3 cups of water and seven hours of kneading, by all means follow it. Or you can be a lax Catholic, follow some directions, maybe ignore others, but generally figure it out as you go.

The point is don't be afraid to try your hand at baking. You don't need special skills to begin making hearty breads, crackly pizza crusts, and rich cornbreads. Like betting on Pascal's side of the Wager, even if you don't follow the directions exactly, sometimes the reward is just as sweet.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Post-Katrina Top 20: #15 - #11

We start off this week with the continuation of our countdown of the Top 20 new and improved food and beverage accomplishments in post-Katrina New Orleans. If you missed #20-#16, click here.

#15: Stein's Deli - Sometimes things just make sense. Dan Stein realized New Orleans did not need another po boy shop. What it did need was a New York/Philadelphia/Jewish Delicatessen with an amazing beer selection and an attitude to match. In February 2007, Stein and partner Andre Moreau found a sliver of space on Magazine and crammed it to the rafters with fine meats, stinky cheeses, beer, hard cider, and other hard to find food items. But the true genius is in their sandwiches. Philly cheesesteaks, Reuben's, Chicago beefs, Fernandos, and Kellys have made this place a regular in our rotation. Plus, it is a great place to tell Mike Vick jokes.

#14: MiLa - While Mississippi and Louisiana were fighting over recovery dollars, Chefs Slade Rushing and Allison Vines-Rushing were marrying the cuisines of their respective home states in what's still the best and most over-looked hotel restaurant in the city. If we could only eat one dish before we die, then we choose MiLa's pan-roasted sweetbreads over truffled grits with bacon jus. The $20 lunch special is the value of the decade, well besides that Tiger Woods stock we bought last August.

#13: Mahony's Po-Boy Shop - After he simply could not rid himself of the memory of a few bogey po-boy experiences, Chef Ben Wicks decided to open up his own place in homage to the po-boy shops which he grew up with. At Mahony's, the kitchen cooks everything from scratch and does well by both the classics (like pot-roast style roast beef and fried oysters) to the avant garde (like fried chicken livers with cole slaw). Throw in the sensational shaved onion rings and an cold draft Abita root beer, and you have shining beacon of hope for the continuation of the po-boy tradition.

#12: Bistro Daisy - When Chef Anton Schulte left La Petite Grocery, his fans wondered (a) where he would end up next and (b) if he could replicate that soft and magical touch elsewhere. The Chef and his wife Diane went two-for-two when they opened their own bistro inside this old shotgun on Magazine Street. Now the name "Daisy" will always be synonymous with both their daughter and the artful salad of fresh mozzarella and roasted yellow peppers. The crawfish and mascarpone ravioli garners most of the well-deserved praise, but the lamb strip and parmesan risotto should not be overlooked either.

#11: NOLA Brew - After dealing with the hassles of insurance adjusters, contractors, and bureaucrats, Kirk Coco and Peter Caddo knew that what New Orleans really needed was a drink. So they set up a brewery in a warehouse on Tchoupitoulas and started brewing beer. Sound crazy? Well, maybe it is. But there is no denying the goodness of their NOLA Brown with a roast beef po-boy or the Seventh Street Wheat with a bowl of Vietnamese chargrilled pork. With the exile of Dixie, New Orleans once again has a beer to call their own.

Friday, August 13, 2010

We Live to Eat Finals

After weeks of grueling competition, voting machine problems, and scandals, the 2010 We Live To Eat Contest comes down to this. You, ladies and gentlemen of the jury hold the fate of New Orleans in your hand. For it is your votes that will decide who gains fame, notoriety, and some pretty sweet gift certificates. As always vote with your heart. Today, Wild Bert enjoys a Pimmuffuletta, McLovin invites us to "rage" with him, Stephen Agans lives it up golden style, Double chin doubles his fun, Seersucker and Sazeracs cruises the highways and byways, and Capn P plunders Magazine St.

Wild Bert (Only Sandwiches)

You are awoken by sunlight streaming in through the only gap in the curtains…so much for sleeping in after last night’s bender. Your rumbling stomach motivates you out of bed. After ten minutes and a cold shower, you’re ravenous. Driving past a McDonald’s, you are tempted to duck in for a McRib and sate the childish beast inside, but you have bigger plans for the day. You head to the Ruby Slipper and try their classic breakfast sandwich on for size. Juicy Creole country sausage links, eggs poached to perfection, and cheddar, Swiss, and provolone top this morning gem. The best sourdough bread you’ve had since San Fran caps this baby off. A few taps of Tabasco, a mimosa, and you’re off…egg yolk dripping down your chin.

You receive a frantic call from The Beggar asking for a ride home from the East. Not one to pry about others’ after hours activities, you head over, no questions asked, with the understanding that a trip to Dong Phuong will be the payment for transit. You pick her up, sporting God knows whose T-shirt from Newman ’09 (is that even legal?), and head to “The Dong”. Inundated with the aroma of French bread fresh from the oven, your banh mi awaits. Crisp, pickled vegetables perfectly complement the hot, chewy bread, the smooth, unctuous pâté and other delicious pig parts. You wash it all down with a mango boba tea, which, unfortunately for The Beggar, cannot wash away the shame of yet another bad decision.

Since your dining companion was too cheap to buy her own pistolette full of blessed Vietnamese pork, you realize you still have “room for one more”. Capitalizing on your current location, you head to Walker’s for a cochon de lait poboy. Wanda greets you with a smile and a sandwich overflowing with creamy slaw and slow-cooked pig…thank you for your sacrifice, “Porky”.

After dropping off your companion for a desperately needed shower, you decide to head to the Quarter and abandon sobriety. A stop at Napoleon House provides the familiarity of ancient surroundings, a surly bartender, and a refreshing Pimm’s Cup. Not one to upset the herd, you order a ¼ muffuletta to ensure that you retain your comfortable spot at the bar. The cool, clean flavors of your expertly made cocktail effortlessly balance with the rich, melted cheeses, briny olive salad, and abundant cross section of Italian meats.

A few (or ten) cold Abitas at The Chart Room later, and you’re back off the wagon. You’re too late for the PB&J Duck at Bayona and as tempting as that Luke Burger is, you opt for a classic New Orleans indulgence…the Ferdi’s Special. Filled with all of the greatest hits: house-baked ham, tender roast beef, and delicious bits of debris; each one graces this epic feast of a sandwich.

You know that tomorrow, you’ll pay, but you’ll also want to do it all over again. Maybe a late night Fat Kid Special will help you reconsider…

McLovin (Friday in Lent)

When I’m home for spring break, Fridays in Lent are always fun because I get to eat all of the seafood that is not as abundant way up in Killadelphia. Since I am repenting for disorderly conduct on Mardi Gras and my abstinence from alcohol is not enough, I start the day off at St. Francis Xavier where I partake of the Body and Blood of Christ (no longer wine).

Then I mozy on over to Camellia Grill to meet a friend that used to walk there and went to school with me at Stuart Hall. Since the key to eating during lent is to pack all you can in one meal (isn’t there a no eating between meals ban?) I order one of their huge omelets with cheese, green onions, and mushrooms along with French fries and a Vanilla freeze because I’m the weird kid who likes Vanilla more than Chocolate.

Then another friend comes over bearing gifts: a billion pounds of boiled crawfish from Deanie's. While he relives our highschool Lenten Fridays of eating crawfish and stealing our parents’ beer, I drink a nice Abita Root Beer because man cannot live on Abita Amber alone. After eating enough crawfish, corn, and red potatoes to feed a third world country, he leaves and I catch up on all the trashy daytime television that I don’t have time to watch up at school.

After a few hours of watching the real housewives of whatever city is currently playing, I have to go run all the errands that I have to do while still in town. Overheated and thirsty, I stop in at Plum Street for an afternoon pick-me up. I get an Ice Cream snowball. I figure it’s not breaking the no eating between meals rule because it’s not really food, just pure deliciousness on ice.

Then the rest of the afternoon is spent deciding where I will force my parents take me to dinner. It is the age-old question: with limited time in town, do I go to an old favorite or one of the new restaurants everyone raves about? I decide upon Brennan’s where I partake of their turtle soup (turtle is a sea creature and here is a place where you can be sure they don’t substitute other things), shrimp Sardou, and Crepes Fitzgerald. Fully satisfied, I head home and fall into a deep sleep.

Sleeping beauty is awakened three hours later by friends who want to rage. Feeling like Mary Magdalene must have felt after meeting Jesus, I pass and check off another day on the countdown to Easter.

P.S. My friend just was like "do yall read this blog blackenedout? I read it every morning". She was excited when she found out I knew you and wants you to rage with us tonight.

Stephen Agans (Can't Leave the Quarter)

My friends from Oakland, aka the Hipster and the Amazon Queen, were visiting from Oakland, so we had a lot of eating to do. First stop...

Crescent D’Or
The line into the patisserie winds out the door, and as we slowly shuffle towards the register we eye the gorgeous fruit tarts. The Queen needs the mocha torte and she lucks out and gets it lovingly placed in a bag next to the sausage and almond pastries while I grab the coffees to go. Hoping I got everyone’s order correct, We get back, wake up the Hipster and shove the coffee into his face. Smiling and happy, he grabs his cup of joe and we all devour our breakfast. Perfect flaky layers upon layers dissolve on in our mouths as the coffee slowly kicks in. The almond paste is just perfect, not too sweet or cloying while the pastry provides just the right amount of decadence for the morning. After reminiscing about the glory days of school, we start talking about lunch pretty soon, and we all decide that we are in need of...

Coop's
It is already getting crowded and we scarcely secure some bar stools while we glance up at the wall- I promise myself to NOT get the same pasta dish, the Rosa, that I always get while the other two talk about who is going to get the steak and the jambalaya. I summon enough willpower to get the opelusus, chuck full of green beans and chicken in a gorgeous cream sauce while the Hipster dives into the rabbit filled rice in front if him. While we devour our food, The Queen gracefully dines on her steak, just the right shade of pink and drenched in a lovely sauce. One of our school friends showed up and wonders out loud if its too early or too late for a bloody mary. The Hipster and I, swigging from our Abita Abbey Ale, assure her that as long as it have the green beans anytime is the right time. As we polish off our beers, we decide to kill the afternoon with some rock band until...

Irene's
I get a text message from my girlfriend. She is already sipping on some white wine at Irene’s. We, on the other had, are still playing rock band. As we frantically dress and I try to explain why exactly we are late, the girlfriend laughs and says I owe her at least one air guitar. We arrive and find her in the corner casually sipping on a sauv blanc. We order some grappa all around and before the escargot and crab gratin come out, all creamy and perfect over their crusty bread. Then my bouillabaisse came out, with saffron and hunks of snapper while duck, veal and shrimp were being passed around the table. We could not pass up the mocha cake and some coffee, and then we amble outward, ready to have a few drinks in the sweltering heat.

Double Chin (All Ethnic)

The true beauty about being assigned to eat Mexican, Italian, Vietnamese, Japanese and Chinese foods in one day is twofold: First, I’m fat. Second, if I were to come up with an ideal day of eating on my own, these cuisines would each be part of the plan. One of the best things about New Orleans is that you can dine all around the globe, without ever leaving the confines of Orleans Parish.

Breakfast: To begin my gluttonous dream day of stomach stuffing, I’d start with a little breakfast at Taqueria Corona. “But T.C. isn’t open for breakfast you tourist!”, you might say. Guess what? This is my fantasy eating day and I can pretend like it’s open early in the a.m. if I want. Deal with it. It’s only fair to send my system into utter shock by starting with a big bowl of queso fundido and some cebollitas, followed by chorizo and ribeye tacos, before finishing with perhaps their best dish; the beef Mexican pizza. I strongly considered contacting Doc Brown to see if the Back to the Future DeLorean time machine was available to take me back to the uptown Cucos, circa 1992, but we probably couldn’t her get up to 88 mph on Carrollton Avenue.

Lunch: Raw Fish!!! I am absolutely obsessed with sushi. I’d eat the stuff everyday if I could afford it and if my internal mercury level wasn’t already approaching toxic heights. Since New Orleans is blessed with 123,456,789 great sushi bars, I can’t bring myself to choose only one place on this day of days. Instead, I’ll do what I do almost every Sunday…take out sushi. However, this time I’ll be ordering my favorite rolls from three of my preferred spots. The order looks a little something like this:
  1. Sushi Brothers: Crunchy Dynamite Roll, Metairie Roll, Fema Roll (add cream cheese), Black/Gold Roll.
  2. Kyoto: Sushi Taco Salad (extra points for combining two foreign cuisines into one dish), Sara Roll, Funky Margarita Roll, Crunchy Roll.
  3. Mikimoto: Spicy Salmon Roll, Mango Roll, Salmon Twist Roll.
FYI, I have actually done this fat man move before, as evidenced in the picture below. Don’t judge me.

Afternoon Snack: A quick trip to Nola east leads me to Dong Phuong Oriental Bakery, where some of the most authentic Vietnamese treats can be found. This “snack” includes pork/shrimp eggrolls, Pho with assorted beef and finally, chargrilled pork Banh Mi for the ride back.

Dinner: A garlic/olive oil party at Vincent’s. I’d start with lots of breadsticks dumped in a tub of garlic/green onion butter, corn/crab bisque in a bread bowl, fried artichokes with crabmeat/shrimp and then finish with veal parmesan, angel hair bordelaise, lots of vino and a quick heart attack.

After being resuscitated, I’d head home and raid the fridge for leftover Five Happiness Kung Pao Chicken from the night before.

Think I can’t eat all of this in one day? They didn’t call me “Wings by the Pound Browne” during my competitive eating stint in ’06 for nothing.

Seersuckers and Sazeracs (Can't Enter Orleans Parish)

"O'Dark Thirty"
Where am I? Clearly I am not safely tucked in, under the covers in my warm bed just off of St. Charles Avenue. I'm cold, and my face feels like it has been pressed against my keyboard. I must have fallen asleep working late in my office on Causeway. I stumble out and down to the corner to Morning Call. I order some beignets, but no coffee. Morning Call makes the better beignets, but I choose to grab a Frozen Cafe Au Lait from Cafe Du Monde on Vets. I'm running early for an "appointment," so I kill time by stopping at Tastee on Clearview and getting a McKenzie's Buttermilk Drop.

"Is Thin Fried the opposite of Deep Fried?"
I find myself underneath I-55 at the turnaround in Ruddock, LA. It isn't even light out yet. I'm handing him a wad of cash, and in return I am getting an overly nondescript brown paper bag. Nothing I've ever done has felt more like a drug deal. It is an overly nondescript brown paper bag full of fresh quail and trout filets. While I'm out here, I swing by for a very early lunch at Middendorf's. I plan on having the "thick" catfish, because the thin fried catfish are just too thin, and the "thick" here is still thinner than the catfish at most other places. This is my plan, but whole stuffed flounder tempts to derail my plan. I get both. I leave with leftovers.

"Operation Delicious Drop"
My parents know I am bringing this quail over to there house. (I'm having my mom make Gumbo out of it), so they call and ask me to pick up lunch. I offer them leftover flounder and catfish, but they want po-boys. I stop by Shortstop and order a king sized roast beef, dressed for everyone to split. It is dripping with gravy and delicious. I leave my parents with these massive amounts of food as I head out to find a drink.

"It's Beer O'Clock, and I'm Buying"
I find that although I have been at Lagers only a short while, I've had enough Abita to drown an elephant. I've mostly been sticking to Jockamo and S.O.S., but I think I squeezed a Turbodog or something in there. I leave this fine establishment when my ride arrives, and off to dinner we go.

"Is it Charlie's or Charles?"
It is Charlie's by the way. The sign read "Charles" as a Typo, but those old neon signs weren't cheap, so they went with it. I frequented charlie's Seafood on Jefferson Highway often before the storm, but since Frank [Brigsten] took over, I've been a regular. And because I am a regular I need not even order; my regular waitress knows that I have a craving for the un-fried seafood platter. mmmmm... Baked Oysters. mmmm... Stuffed crab. But most of all, I love that Grilled Black Drum, covered in shrimp, crabmeat, and butter. Lots of Butter.

"Home is Where the Heart is"
I may have chosen to live my adult life as a resident of the City of New Orleans, but I grew up in the River Ridge/Harrahan area, there is nothing that makes one feel more at home than those comforts of one's childhood. That is why I choose to end the evening with a Nectar snoball from Ro-Bears (also on jeff Highway) and a bowl of my mom's gumbo. Good Night.

Capn P (Must Eat on Magazine Only)

Outside of the French Quarter, there’s no area that is more unique than Magazine Street. A quick six mile stretch of mainly locally owned shops, restaurants, galleries and homes; Magazine exemplifies the New Orleans spirit.

I start my day pondering what direction I want to go for breakfast, super greasy food at Slim Goodies that may put me back in bed, or slightly lighter fare with equally delicious options at Surreys. I do a quick drive by and much to my dismay there are lines outside of both. Since this is my dream day I refuse to wait at either and head over to the brand spanking new Surrey’s uptown location (formerly Fuel Coffee House) next to Le Bon Temps. Fortunately since it is so new, there is no line and we sit right down. I cannot make up my mind on just one item, so I decide to try two. The boudin breakfast sandwich on a homemade biscuit with a fried egg on top screams out at me, as does the bananas foster french toast. The boudin breakfast sandwich is perfect. Two patties of boudin cooked crispy on the outside but nice and tender on the inside, covered with a big sunny side up egg, on a delicious fluffy homemade biscuit that reminds me of the Popeye’s buttermilk biscuits…but better. It’s accompanied by a side of grits, to which I add cheese. The bananas foster French toast is equally as amazing. Actual french bread stuffed with bananas and cream cheese, topped with a bananas foster rum sauce. Initially I planned to eat only pieces of both, but I end of devouring both servings.

After breakfast I stroll down Magazine to work the food through my system. I pass on the many great poboy shops for lunch, because I am looking for something a little lighter. I end up at Stein’s Deli on the uptown corner of Jackson…one of the few true NYC delis in NOLA, and in my eyes the best. I go with the classic Reuben on rye. After perusing the local papers they call my name and I’m greeted with a monster corned beef sandwich topped with Russian dressing, fresh sauerkraut, and a heap of melted swiss cheese. This sandwich is accompanied by a bottled Barqs and a side of Zapps salt and vinegar chips.

Lunch was light and leaves me with plenty of room to support the many Magazine watering holes. After an afternoon of drinking on the Bulldog patio I take a half mile stroll to Lilette, arguably one of NOLAs best restaurants. The atmosphere is perfect, and a hefty scotch gets me ready to eat. First course is grilled beets with goat cheese and walnuts. Followed up with the summer special, creamy chilled sweet corn broth soup with crabmeat and avocado. My entrée is the signature hangar steak with bordelaise, and homemade fries on the side…paired nicely with a glass of Bichot, Bourgogne. Dinner is a home run!

My post dinner routine leads me back to the Sucre block, but this time I opt for the lighter gelato shop next door. The best part of La Divina gelateria, aside from the gelato, is the friendly staff. They encourage that I try every flavor and I decide on a small serving of the pineapple mint sorbet. This light but flavorful serving cleanses the palate, and provides me with enough sugar to fuel my next trip to the bars...

It’s days like this that I sit back and think, there’s no better city in the world. There’s no place like NOLA.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Liuzza's

Thank you RBPoBoy for providing the perfect segue into today's post. I love the onion rings at Liuzza's. The batter is not as crumbly as it once was, but still the ratio of fried goodness to sweet onion is well-portioned. Whenever I go to Liuzza's, which truth be told hasn't been as often as it once was, a schooner of Abita Amber and an order of onion rings is ordered as soon as possible.

Just look at that light golden shell. It shatters like bone china on marble when you sink your teeth into the firm, lord of the onion rings. How can one improve on this manna from Mid City? Make your own dipping sauce by combining the hot sauce on the table (which brand varies) with some ketchup. Swirl the onion through the mixture before depositing it in your mouth. Hey, it was good enough for Tony Soprano's last meal.

The rest of the meal unfolded like this. Decent hamburger steak that was a little tough, mashed potatoes that were likely frozen at one point, but a very excellent gravy. I should not have ventured from the Fat Kid Special. And if you know what that means without clicking the link, thank you for reading for this long.

Lindsay went with the eggplant parmesan. The sauce had an overly herbaceous vibe to it, as if someone in the kitchen was trying really hard to cover up Prego's name. Lindsay summed up her meal as this, "Should have stopped at the onion rings.

Liuzza's will always hold a special place in my hear,t as I have probably eaten there more than any other restaurant in New Orleans. But if you just came here for a schooner of beer and an order of onion rings (and maybe a Fat Kid Special), I'd say you would have a pretty awesome meal. Anything else and may luck be with you.

Liuzza's - Par

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Onion Rings

The recipe is so simple: Onions + Batter. But what emerges from the deep fryer is a dish infinitely more delicious than the sum of its parts. I'm talking about onion rings, those golden hoops of goodness which lately I can't seem to get enough of. Although my affinity for onion rings is strong, it is nothing but a crush compared to The Pope's certifiable obsession. I remember one particular midnight meal at Camellia Grill a decade or so ago. After waiting 30 minutes for a seat at the counter, The Pope refused to order and stormed out after Sleepy told him that onion rings were no longer on the menu. That, my friends, is a man who sticks to his principles.

Onion rings come in all forms: thinly sliced or huge loops; dusted in a little flour or coated in a thick batter; spiced up with cayenne or simply sprinkled with salt. My absolute favorite are the huge baskets of shaved onions served at Mahony's, which are incredibly light and greaseless. The shoestrings served at Charlie's Steakhouse have withstood the test of time, as have the crunchy coated rings at Mandina's. Though the coating is thicker than I am accustom to, I am also a fan of the puffy rings served in a stack at The American Sector.

So many onion rings, yet my craving still has not been satisfied. Let's hear about some of your favorites in the comments.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

2010 Challenge: Red Beans and Ricely Yours

"Red beans and rice...but it ain't even Monday."

Restaurant red beans often get a very bad rap. This is mostly because each of our taste buds are geared to a hyper specific version of this local favorite. Growing up, Augie took care of my two sisters and I. She came to the house two or three times a week to do laundry, cook dinner, and teach me that touching an iron is a bad idea. No red beans could ever compare to hers. They were studded with cubes of ham that had evolved into tender morsels of flavor and seasoned with little more than dehydrated onion, salt, pepper, and dried parsley.

The red beans at Freret Street Po-Boys are the best restaurant beans I've found. While they did not utilize the cubes of ham that made Augie's seem like a stew, Freret Street's red beans well-seasoned and delicious. Reducing a red bean recipe to words does no good because you already have a red bean recipe or flavor profile in your head. But after years of messing around with red bean recipes, here is mine. It will likely change next week.

Note: While it is traditional to cook and eat red beans on a Monday (traditional washing day), you probably work on Monday. Which means, you don't have time to cook red beans on Monday. But I bet on Sunday you sit around in your boxers watching I Love Money reruns and doing laundry. Plus, it is a poorly kept secret that red beans get better on the second day. So do this, cook your beans on Sunday. Eat them on Monday. Tradition adapts in order to survive.

Red Beans, Green Beans, and Rice

For the Beans

Tasso, Richards, 1 package, diced
Smoked Pork Jowl, 3 slices, diced
Smoked Ham Hocks, 2
Onion, 1, diced
Celery, 6 stalks, diced
Garlic, 6 cloves, minced
Parsley, 3 tablespoons, chopped (plus another 2-3 tablespoons for garnish)
Red Beans, Camelia, soaked overnight or one hour in hot water
Salt
Pepper
Cayenne
Hot Sauce
Bay Leaf

In a large, heavy bottomed pot, slowly bring the tasso and and pork jowl up to temperature. This will make your house smell like a pocine sauna. A good thing, for sure. Once some of the fat has rendered out of the pork jowl and a nice crust has developed on the tasso, add in your seasonings-the onion, celery, garlic, and parsley. Notice, I dont use green peppers.; I don't think they add much to the discussion.

Let this cook for about 10 minutes. Then toss in those two smoked ham hocks. Now add your presoaked beans. Add in salt, pepper, cayenne, and hot sauce to taste. Two bay leaves as well; no more, no less. Cover with water, bring to a boil, and allow to simmer until done. For me this is 8-10 half hour episodes of network TV.

Now, here is the interesting thing. You probably read that and said "Pork Jowl"? Consider it bacon's manlier cousin. The jowl melts into your liquid, thickening the sauce so that you dont have to go in there and mush half the beans. Plus, it adds this deep layer of essence of pork. Which coincidentally, would make for one hell of a perfume.

Green Beans

Green Beans, 2 fistfuls, trimmed
Rice Wine Vinegar, teaspoon
Sesame Oil, 2 tablespoons
Garlic, 1 clove, minced
Salt
Red Pepper Flakes
Pepper

Blanch the beans in heavily salted water until al dente. Meanwhile combine the salt, pepper, garlic, andd red pepper flake with the rice wine vinegar in a bowl. Using the tines of a fork, mix and then stream in the sesame oil. Remove beans from water and toss in dressing.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Post-Katrina Top 20: #20 - #16

No one will argue that the game was forever changed on August 29, 2005. As we approach the five year anniversary of that fateful day, no small number of scribes will dare to put paper to pen and describe post-Katrina existence. Over the next month you will read hundreds (if not thousands) of articles on the recovery of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. Most will be well-written pieces focusing on how far we have come, how much further we have to go, what is better, what is worse, and what ain't dere no more.

We could wax on poetically about the casualties of the storm, but we have never been known to cry in our beers. An equally emotional tale could be written about the restaurateurs who rebuilt and persisted through the recovery, but that's a whole other task to which we will leave for the professionals. Instead, we want to focus on the enormous growth of the New Orleans restaurant and beverage scene over the last 5 years. So each Monday over the next four weeks, we will be counting down our favorite additions and improvements to the New Orleans food and drink scene since Katrina. Better than before? You tell us.

#20: Cure - Our first brush with Cure posed some... ahem... challenges. It occurred about one month after the amber-hued apothecary opened. After waiting at the bar for fifteen minutes, Peter tried to order a vodka tonic and was told, "We don't serve that here." What he got instead was a sweet drink topped by a cute umbrella. But both Cure and our experiences there have changed for the better. The converted firehouse now dispenses one of the city's best cocktail experience. Neil Bodenheimer consistently pushes his staff, led by Kirk Estopinal, to develop new cocktails incorporating long forgotten elixirs. Plus, the bartenders at Cure have gotten over their original celebrity cache and now focus their energies on just getting you a drink. All this makes Cure one of the most delightful places in the city to grab a cocktail.

#19: Stanley - While the concept was born pre-Katrina, Chef Scott Boswell first opened his upscale diner only out of necessity when renovations to sister restaurant Stella! were derailed by the levee failures. After a year-long run in an adjacent space on Decatur, closing down for the reopening of Stella!, and moving to a prominent location on Jackson Square, Stanley is now one of the most popular breakfast spots in the French Quarter, where the Breaux Bridge Benedict has diners craving boudin first thing in the morning.

#18: Huevos and Crescent Pie & Sausage Co. - Disaster beget a second restaurant for Bart Bell and Jeff Baron as well, when the building which was originally supposed to house Crescent Pie & Sausage Co. collapsed during Hurricane Gustav. In serious need of cash flow, the duo began serving breakfast next door at Huevos while the new home of Crescent Pie was being constructed next door. Patrons still flock to Huevos for tamales and chorizo in the morning; but when the sun goes down, the shift focuses to the offbeat pizzas and flaky crusted handpies at the quirky restaurant on the corner.

#17: The Meteoric Rise of Tales of the Cocktail - Tales of the Cocktail began before Katrina, but perhaps no festival better showcases why people love coming to New Orleans. People travel to the Big Easy to have a good time, explore, and drink. Tales does all of this and more. Led by the charming Ann Tuennerman, her husband Paul, and a team of Angels, everyone from cocktail geeks to beach bums, industry vets to molecular mixologists can find a seminar, tasting or party to their liking. Just the sheer volume of people, brands, and PR gurus who show up to pitch the latest rum or new cordial make Tales an indispensable item on any cocktail aficionado's calendar. As one brand rep told us, "If your product isn't at Tales, you lose an entire year of revenue, recipes, and respect." Plus, any festival that can draw almost twenty thousand people to New Orleans in the middle of July deserves a hearty cheers from us.


#16 Food from South of the Border - Every cloud has a silver tequila lining. The Mexican and Central American food scene in New Orleans has never been greater, and it started with the humble taco truck. Originally these Mexican meals-on-wheels catered specifically to the growing number of laborers who flocked to the city for recovery work, but soon people of every creed and color could be seen standing in line for affordable lunches of barbacoa and carnitas. Several vendors have capitalized on their success by moving into permanent spaces, but others like Taqueria D.F. continue on as modern day chuck wagons. With newbies like Taceaux Loceaux catering to late night crowds around town, the taco truck looks to be a delicious fad which will be sticking around for the foreseeable future. The scene has further grown as places like Restaurante Telemar, Taqueria Guerrero, and Pupuseria La Macarena have set up shop all over town showing that the food of Central and South America is as varied and interesting as the countries themselves. We look forward to watching these cuisines establish a permanent foothold in the New Orleans scene.