Friday, October 29, 2010

A Drink in the Office

Recently I received a promotion at real job and was declared the Tsar of Morale. Now, in addition to other duties, it is up to me to make sure people enjoy coming to work. The easiest way to do this, is to occasionally send out a cryptic email on a Friday alerting everyone of a mandatory meeting at 3:30 that afternoon. People show up and instead of powerpoints, insurance forms, or pink slips, there is a bar and some salty snacks. Try it at your office.

I am sure this drink has other more illustrious names and a lineage as well-documented as the Windsor family, but faced with the not well-stocked bar of an office I created this drink. Also, need to commend NolaNotes who turned out to be the MacGyver of the office. She concocted simple syrup out of little more than hot water from the coffee machine, sugar, and sheer will.

Consider morale boosted.

The Milling

2 oz. Sazerac Rye Whiskey
A tablespoon of simple syrup
5 dashes of Peychaud bitters

Combine above in a glass (plastic cups work well), toss between another glass (as if you were mixing a drink at a tailgate), top with a splash of club soda. When I remade it at home, I classed it up with a lemon twist. If you want to do this in the office, save the lemon from your lunchtime Iced Tea.

Thursday, October 28, 2010


Long story short, Blackened Out has stuck one toe in the restaurant business.

As happens sometimes, a conversation turns into an idea. A few months ago, Rene and Joel Dondis had a conversation about how New Orleans was lacking a real burger restaurant. They recognized that yes, places like Port o Call, Yo Mamas, The Beachcorner, and Oscars serve good burgers, but they do so inside the confines of a bar. Other places serve gourmet burgers with a steep price tag. But no one in the city was serving a freshly ground burger with hand cut fries at an affordable price.

But Joel is busy with Sucre and other business ventures and well, neither Peter nor Rene have taken your advice and not quit our day jobs. Two things sparked the idea to rent out Slim Goodies. One was Ludobites, a roving pop up restaurant in Los Angeles (which is a city in America). The other was Pizza Delicious, which you should know all about. Slim Goodies is not open at nights and so that seemed like a logical choice.

Plus opening a restaurant this way allowed us to save on overhead, start-up costs, and other economic terms which sound ominous. Joel recruited his chef from his catering operation, Evan Benson, Larkin Selman, and Hardie McDonald. A few vigorous rounds of burger tasting later and two Sundays ago we flung the doors wide open.

The menu is simple. Burgers, Cheeseburgers, Fries, and Gelato Shakes. Each week we come up with a specialty burger. Last week, it was a burger topped with Pulled Pork, Cole Slaw, and BBQ Sauce. This week it is the What about B.O.B. Burger, a burger with Bacon, caramelized Onions, and Blue cheese. The husky burger (shown at right) is a double patty. So far this burger has proven to be only for the bold, noble, and strong and this broad.

At the end of the day, this is mostly a way to have fun and offer a great burger to New Orleans. We hope it takes off and we can have our own restaurant with regular hours. For now, we are open every Sunday night at 5 pm. And we serve until the burgers run out or we get tired or whichever comes first. However, this week in lieu of being open on Sunday, we are opening Saturday night at 5 pm.

We here at Blackened Out Media, Ponzi Scheme, and Burger Slinging World Headquarters realize this may effect our credibility, if we had any, with you. Also, we know we open ourselves up to inevitable, "those guys complain about service in this restaurant, that place couldn't serve a convict with a lawsuit" arguments.

Ohh, well. Bring it.

3322 Magazine
Twitter handle @MVBurger
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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

First Look: Eiffel Society

Full disclosure: Last Thursday night, we were invited to check out Eiffel Society as a guest of Jen Bond of the Bond PR Firm. Eiffel Society is a client of Bond PR. Also, Jennifer Bond handles PR for Hogs for the Cause. We did not pay for the meal.

Every time either we try and describe an interior, the interior designers who read this site pounce. Now granted, they are right. We don't know Mid-Century Modern from Renaissance Gothic, and we are pretty certain Minimalist is the philosophy practiced by the Germans in The Big Lebowski. All that being said, the design scheme of Eiffel Society is certainly artsy.

Coming in from the streets, you walk up the long graceful ramp soaring above the garden planted with herbs, sweet potatoes, and all other manners of edible plants. Stepping inside, to your right is a bar built out of wood that resembles either the Nina or Pinta, but not the Santa Maria. On your left are two octagonal silos, their exteriors covered with mirrors. Step inside one, and mirrors surround you, while lights above brighten and dim. It would make for a perfect midnight rendezvous between a narcissist and himself. Inside the other silo, a bank of video monitors allows you to spy on the person in the other silo from a variety of camera angles. It would make the perfect midnight hideout for a voyeur.

Anchoring the room is a long table called the King's Table, which is carved from a single piece of wood. In another corner is a what looks like a giant bean bag chair made of wood. You can sit on it if you like. I did not because I am a klutz and would have broken it somehow. There is usually nightly entertainment be it a singer, jazz band, or a fashion show.

Eiffel Society combines the talents of Chef Ian Schnoebelen and Alan Walters, the Shakespeare of Cocktails, both of Iris with a group of nightclub impresarios (whether they are or not, we don't know; just always wanted to use that term) made up of Jeff Gapultos, Remi De Matteo and Brandon Brown, alums of the Lifestyle Revolution Group. The goal is to blend the experience of a supper club with the vibe of an art gallery.

Enough with the background, let's talk about the food and cocktails. First, the latter. Long before anyone read this blog, Walters's cocktail creations have fascinated us. A fond experience at Iris with a parsely julep always sticks out. At Eiffel Society, he is given free reign over the bar with a long list of cocktails and then a weekly special cocktail list.Campari features prominently, as it should cause it rocks the Casbah. There is a sophisticated take on the Cuba Libre served in a champagne glass with a hit of bubbly and a large mint leaf. But if you are driving, there are beers and wines by the glass, including the Charles Smith's Kung Fu Girl, which is perfect with Schnoebelen's Asian accented cuisine.

About that food. Like 95% of all new restaurants, the menu focuses on customized, small plate dining experiences. We started with an order of french fries which were very good. Shaved with parmesan, they are served with a sunburst yellow aioli and ketchup. A french fry done right is a marvelous thing. These fries are done very right.

Schnoebelen's menu features a lot of pork served with crispy things and bright vegetables, and the Chef treated our favorite animal well. The tostones present a sort of open faced wanton: crisp, paper thin plaintains topped with juicy pork, pickled onions, and a few scatterings of salted ricotta. The lumpias are in many ways just an egg roll, but the robust flavors of the filling (here again, pork) were lost between the crackly wrapper and the citrus accented and sweet sauce.

The kitchen sent out an unordered roasted eggplant bruschetta which was very tasty, if a tad difficult to eat with hands.  If you use a knife and fork and eat politely, you likely will not have this problem. The crust on the pizza needs to be reworked as it arrived soft and pliable, and though the toppings are always changing, Peter hopes they rotate out the garlic sauce sooner rather than later. But maybe we are all just spoiled pizzawise now that Sherriff Pizza Delicious strode into town on his white horse and started cracking fools on the skull.

The duck confit leg with pork belly, however, is one of those dishes that just make you happy. A crispy skinned duck leg sprawls over a succulent piece of pork belly like a supermodel on a chaise lounge in an ad for designer jeans. Tying both elements together was a fig barbecue sauce which cut through the fattiness of the pork and the richness of the duck.

To finish, a tartlette filled with cream and ringed by segments of satsuma. The food at Eiffel Society surprised us. Not because of how good it was, as Schnoebelen's cooking has always been good, but because the small plates were substantial. Given the decor and art, we expected tiny portions and plates filled with squiggly lines of gastric connecting a pea and a tower of quivering roasted beet. But being wrong has its advantages.

Will you like Eiffel Society? We don't know. But we do know that we did, and you will only find out if you go. It is a different dining experience than you may be accustom to, in a setting that is very eclectic, but it may be just what you are looking for when faced with the age old question of "What to do tonight?"

Eiffel Society
2040 St. Charles Ave.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


Mahony's was the subject of our first Dining Out article in OffBeat, way back in September 2008. Chef Ben Wicks took his years of experience in fine dining and applied those techniques and loyalty to fine ingredient  to this poor man's staple. Two years later, this tribute to the New Orleans neighborhood po-boy shop is still creating waves with diners by making everything from scratch and taking its sweet time to do so.

No visit to Mahony's is complete without an order of onion rings, which are thinly shaved, crisp, and arrive sprinkled with coare salt. I'm ready to proclaim that these are better than the ones at Charlie's Steakhouse. The small order is an overflowing basket big enough to be shared among a table of 4 people, and you are advised to request that the rings be served immediately so that you have something to snack on while you wait for your po-boys.

And wait you will. The most common complaint that I hear about Mahony's is that the kitchen moves painstakingly slow. When it's crowded - which is usually the case every Saturday during lunch - a 30 minute wait from ordering to eating is not uncommon. I have heard/read multiple reports of 45 minute waits and surly service but have never personally experienced either of those. So why does it take Mahony's 3 or 4 times longer to do what others around town can do in 10 minutes? Well, the party line is that they "make everything from scratch" and that takes time. "Cooked-to-order" is an attribute that we should applaud, but the wait can be frustrating when its unexpected. Regardless, if you're in a rush, this is probably not the spot for you.

The list of po-boys includes both the "Usual Suspects" and "Signature Specialties." Meatball Parmesan has slices of fresh mozzarella and a rustic tomato sauce that was a bit underseasoned for my tastes, but what the sandwich really needed was to be blasted in the oven so as to melt the cheese. Fried green tomatoes are thickly cut, crispy fried in cornmeal, and paired with large, perfectly grilled shrimp and a remoulade sauce which is all the dressing that is needed. At $10.25 for the 6" size, this is an expensive po-boy that proudly includes "fresh Louisiana shrimp right off the boat."

The classic roast beef may be the best. Cooked “pot roast” style with plenty of mire poix, the beef falls apart to shreds and chunks that bathe in thick gravy which tastes like it came from ya mama's slow cooker (but better).. Roast turkey is year-round Thanksgiving leftovers, and Chisesi's ham are sweetened with a root beer glaze. If you're in search of something a little more unconventional, look no further than the fried chicken livers and cole slaw combination, which is rich, delicious, and obviously not recommended for the health conscious. But who counts calories when eating po-boys?

True, the wait is longer and prices are higher than what we are accustom to when it comes to po-boys. But at least you know where your food is coming from. It's written on the sign and can be tasted in the food.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Long Weekend and an Interesting Question

As if LSU's lackluster offensive performance against Auburn on Saturday wasn't enough losing for one weekend, the Saints decided to further the disappointment with an even worse effort against the Browns yesterday. Needless to say that morale will be noticeably low in the office this morning. Thankfully, a delicious vanilla shake helped soothe my suffering last night, but I'll have to wait till next weekend to satisfy my burger craving. More on that though later in the week.

But before we let you soldier on through your case of the Mondays, I'm interested to hear our readers thoughts on an often encountered service snafu. Sitting at Gott Gourmet Cafe on Saturday, I overheard this conversation between a waitress and the Kim Kardashian look-a-like seated at the table next to us:

Kim: Excuse me, I don't think is what I ordered.
Waitress: Oh, it isn't?
Kim: No, I had the vegetarian burrito with egg whites.
Waitress: (Checking her notepad) Yeah, you did. My apologies. I'll have the kitchen make that right up for you.

I thought both parties handled this unfortunate (but not uncommon) situation with professionalism and class. The waitress realized and acknowledged that either or the kitchen had made a mistake, and Kim understood that mistakes can happen. And so, Kim waited for her healthy option while her companion ate his omelette and french toast, lest his correct order be spoiled by getting cold.

And she waited. And waited. And waited some more. Finally, probably 15 minutes later, the waitress brought Kim her correct order. Of course, her companion had already finished his meal. The waitress, realizing that the mistake was not atoned for fast enough, graciously said that she would take the tardy delivered dish off the bill.

Here's my question: What do you do if you're the person whose order was screwed up? In my experience, such a situation disturbs the flow of a meal, for everyone at the table. Of course, every diner deserves to be given exactly what they ordered, but are there sometimes when you should just suck it up so that the other people at the table don't have to awkwardly wait for you to start eating, eat while you are waiting, or wait at the end of the meal while you eat. (Channeling my inner Abbott and Costello.)  In the grand scheme of dining, such a service woe is but a hiccup in my opinion. But pace is an important part of a meal, is it not? I guess it all depends on how quickly the mistake is reconciled.

Your thoughts?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Last Call at the Deutsches Haus

This time, it's for real.

Seriously, I'm not kidding. Quoted from the website: "[T]he current location of the Deutsches Haus will be permanently closed at midnight on Saturday October 24th the last night of Oktoberfest 2010." And look, it's even noted on this year's commemorative glass.

The organizers of Oktoberfest have made this year's the best one yet, with the party now spilling out onto the street. The standing tables allow for easy eating for more festival goers, though the food lines are as long as ever. Thankfully, the beer still tastes the same, which is to say its cold, refreshing, and makes the perfect way to pass the time on a cool autumn night.

Standing on Galvez Street last weekend, a friend joked about whether this really is the end of the Haus: "Yep, last year I was here for the final Oktoberfest, and I plan on being here next year for the same thing."

I wouldn't take the chance if I were you.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Hogs for the Cause in the Year 2011

"There was once a dream that was Hogs. You could only whisper it. Anything more than a whisper and it would vanish... it was so fragile. And I fear that it will not survive the winter." -- adapted from Marcus Aurelius in Gladiator.

Are you ready to cook? Hogs for the Cause  (@Hogs4theCause) is coming back bigger, stronger, and tougher like Marky Mark after he ditched the Funky Bunch. Set your sun dials, calendars, clocks forward, and Facebook alerts for March 25th and 26, 2011 as Hogs turns City Park into City Pork. We have a new design scheme and website, thanks to the dames at Thinka and Mitchell at Acoustic Web Design. So if you like cool, looking pretty things and websites, connect the dots.

For our third year, we want you to compete for the title of the Ben Sarrat, Jr. High on the Hog Pork Grand Champion. The competition is open to anyone: amateur cook, professional chef, or backyard, beer drinking BBQer. We have the following categories for you to compete in: (1) Ribs, (2) Pork Butt/Shoulder, (3) Whole Hog, and (4) Porkpourri. To be crowned Grand Champion, your squad must compete in three of those four categories. Also, we will have a fundraising champion and best booth competition. More info is available at the Hogs website. Sign up your squad today as the number of teams is limited to 75 and we are well on our way.

And here is the best part, we are adding live music this year. So far The Gourds and The Radiators are booked and will most likely melt your face off, requiring reconstructive plastic surgery on a scale not seen since Face/Off with Nic Cage and John Travolta. Don't worry, physicians will be standing by.

Ok, let's get serious. Hogs was started by Becker Hall and I on a lark. Originally we wanted to just roast a pig and drink beer on the Fly. Then we met Lil Ben and things changed. This charity has grown, and both Becker and I have been overwhelmed by your support. Our goal is to make Hogs for the Cause the premier pork-fueled, pediatric brain cancer charity in the world. While we recognize that research funding is an important part, we want to focus on families and helping them with the resulting financial burdens when their child is diagnosed with a terrible disease. We want to focus on the small things, so the family can worry about the big thing.

And we need your help to do so. If you, or anyone you know, would like to get involved, become a sponsor, or just find out more information, please do not hesitate to contact us. And don't worry there will be a fourth and fifth annual Hogs for the Cause, turns out the Mayan Calendar is off.

Tomorrow back to regularly scheduled programming.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Change is Constant at Boucherie

When Boucherie took over the former location of Iris in late 2008, this tiny restaurant begotten from a purple food truck quickly became the hottest table in town. Sure, the popularity could be explained partly by the nuance, but what really created buzz was that food of this caliber had never before been served at such affordable prices. Plus, the restaurant had no corkage fee in the beginning, which enabled lushes to ingratiate themselves without the standard markup.

But eventually, the novelty wears off, and a restaurant's true mettle shows, right? Well, two years later, Boucherie is still a tough table to score. How does Chef Nathaniel Zimet do it? First, his food is consistently delicious across the board, and he has till managed to keep the prices laughably low. But in order to keep patrons on their toes and avoid falling into a lull in the kitchen, Boucherie has employed a theme that has served them well: constant change.

About every month, Boucherie rolls out a new menu - sometimes influenced by a particular ethnic cuisine, often times based on what local products are seasonably available. So, for example, my dinner in July had a distinct Indian flair, with offerings such as Grillled Paneer in yellow curry and Curry Leaf Marinated Duck Breast over creamy lentils and sauced with a cooling cucumber and mint raita (pictured above). Usually the main component of a dish remains the same but is injected with new flavors. Hence, in September, that same duck breast is cooked in an adobo sauce and served with fried plantains and black bean rice.

Even though Chef Zimet is continually updating the menu, there are a few dishes that have always remained on the menu, lest their ardent fans riot if they were rotated out. Remember: Change is good. But if ain't broke, don't fix it. So you can always start a meal at Boucherie with long, thin, cripsy french fries dressed with a shower of grated parmesan and crunchy coated boudin balls dipped in aioli. Likewise for the pulled pork cake with purple cabbage cole slaw (left), which benefits from several dashes of the spicy vinegar which adorn the brown butcher paper covered tables. The St. Louis Style Ribs and Wagyu Brisket? Not going anywhere either.

When talking about one of New Orleans' grande dames restaurants whose food has noticeably slipped over the past few years, Rene has proposed a solution for its return to glory: "What if you bring one of these really strong rising chefs and tell him: 'Look, you need to keep this 50% of the menu the same because that is what our patrons know and love to come here for. The rest of the menu, do whatever you want.'"

The kitchen at Boucherie uses a similar theory: They are committed to those dishes that they know their customers cannot live without, but the rest of the menu allows for constant creativity. I'm just glad to know that I can always get a slice of Krispy Kreme bread pudding for dessert.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

2010 Challenge: Photos of Bones Favre Wishes He'd Sent Instead

Sorry, there is no way to avoid making a joke about Brett Favre's inability to once again come up big when it matters, in this case when you are talking about bone marrow. Color me juvenile. On my first visit to Feast, I sampled their roasted bone marrow, which is the meat-butter of the food world and superior to the myriad variations of foie gras popping up in every restaurant like dandelions in an abandoned lot. Bone marrow is like Nicky Hilton: less celubutante, more substance, and humbler than her older sister, Paris. Shoot, here we are again talking about X rated things. Moving on...

Sheltered by the sturdy bone of the animal from which it came, marrow remains soft and unctuous no matter how you cook it. I like it roasted the beast, when you can poke it out of the bone and spread it onto a well-toasted piece of bread. A few sprinkles of fleur de sel, a scoop of something bright (parlsley salad, some shallots tossed in red wine vinegar, a double rainbow, etc...), and you are on your way to a very good start.

Favre Marrow

First, get the marrow bones. Mine came from Rare Cuts, but any butcher worth their salt should be able to source some bones for you. These are beef bones, specifically from the leg bones of a cow, which as you may already know is an animal. So if you are a vegetarian, use a leek instead. Fill a large pot (one you would use for pasta) with cold, salted water. Into this place your bones. Place pot on the stove, and bring to a light boil, then lower to simmer and cook for twenty minutes. Crank your oven to 400 degrees.

Get a crusty loaf of sourdough, slice it, and toast. To make a parsley salad, combine parsley with a few sliced shallots, a few shakes of red wine vinegar, and toss. I was out of parsley and lazy, so I just tossed sliced shallots in red wine.

Remove bones from water and place on a sturdy pan roasting pan or a cast iron skillet. Into the oven for another twenty minutes. Then turn on broiler and cook for another 10. Serve immediately with a good, deep red wine. A Cote du Rhone does well.

Monday, October 18, 2010

A Whole Lotta Burrata

Tomato and burrata salad from Herbsaint.

Trends are everywhere around us, especially in the food world. Whether it's a distributor pushing a particular wine, bartenders wearing fedoras, or short ribs showing up on nearly every menu, the food and beverage industry is not exempt from the "herd mentality" which our high school disciplinarian so often preached against.

Right now, burrata cheese is all the rage around town. According to Wikipedia, burrata is basically a thick skinned, hollowed ball of mozzarella that is filled with scraps of mozzarella curd and topped with heavy cream. It's a fresh cheese that is usually eaten within days (or hours) of being made. When you cut open a ball of burrata, the interior flows out in a silky, creamy, buttery rich white lava. The texture is soft with only hint of the chewiness of its cousin mozzarella. The flavor is, in a word, delicious.

Traditionally, burrata "season" is in the summer months, but a few local chefs have decided that this cheese is worthy of being served into the fall. No complaints from me. At Domenica, Chef Alon Shaya incorporates burrata into a panzanella salad with sweet tomatoes, peppery arugula, and toasted bread. Chef Donald Link serves this fresh cheese as a small plate with tomatoes at Cochon Butcher and as an appetizer with roasted eggplant and peppers at Herbsaint. Uptown at the newly opened Bouligny Tavern, burrata is featured on bruschetta sprinkled with fleur de sel, a grind of cracked pepper, and drizzled with truffle oil.

Anywhere else around town that I missed? Who else loves burrata?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Crescent City Blues and BBQ Festival

This Saturday and Sunday at Lafayette Square. Nothing but sunshine, live music, and all the Abita beer you can drink at the Crescent City Blues and BBQ Festival. And of course, plenty of food, including both BBQ and other grilled meats for you to sample from.

But if you're anything like me, there is only one festival food which you crave above all others:

Cochon de Lait Po-Boy from Love at First Bite, a/k/a Walker's Southern Style BBQ. Awww, yeah.

Have a great weekend.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Dueling Bloggers: Service

Peter: When dining at a restaurant, the food is the end all be all for me. If the food sucks, then I don't care if Brooklyn Decker is spoon feeding me while I drink from Waterford crystal. That being said, I do believe that average food can be elevated in the mind of the diner if the service is superb. I have dined at two 3 star Michelin restaurants: Restaurant Bocuse in Collonges, France and The French Laundry in Yountville. The high level of service was a major, integral factor in those dining experiences. I will never forget when the captain rolled out the cheese cart at Restaurant Bocuse or the grandious presentation of the white Alba truffles in a jewel box at TFL. The food at each restaurant was superb, but would the Oysters and Pearls or Scallop of Foie Gras tasted as exquisite had they been served without all of the bells and whistles? Probably not.

Rene: If service didn't matter all restaurants would serve food out of a window carved out of an abandoned building. There would be no waiters, food would be served on paper plates, and the wine would gush out of a hose into a slightly cleaned Anti-Freeze canister. About 20 months ago, Tim and Nina Zagat were in town to release their eponymous guide. During the presentation, Mr. Zagat mentioned that the number one comment or criticism from respondents across the board, be it a Stella! or Liuzza's, concerns service. A restaurant is a complete package in my book, there needs to be a level of service that matches the food and ambiance. When all of those things are in harmony, a restaurant can truly shine.

Peter: Where I take issue is how Michelin and other notable restaurant raters only reward their highest ratings to fine dining establishments. It' unfair to rate all restaurants by a singular scale, especially if you take into account service. Po-boy shops should be rated against other po-boy shops, while Antoine's, Arnaud's, and Galatoire's should be lumped together with their peers. If expectations are adequately disclosed to prospective diners, I don't see why 9 Roses, Parkway Bakery, and La Boca can all earn the same number of stars/beans/smiley faces in their respective categories.

Rene: Well then it is a good thing we invented the Blackened Out Rating System, which adapts golf scoring to restaurants. Great segue for a plug, Peter! I'll tell you what I have a problem with: the homogenization of restaurant service on the fine dining side. Michelin, the New York Times, and other guides are looking for a specific set of criteria when awarding the big beans. Who makes the China? What is the staff to guest ratio? Is the Captain conversant in the winemaking techniques of Chile? Does unobtrusive, yet pleasing violin music whisper in your ear? Mario Batali has said before, "The three stars make sure rich people can eat the same food in the same setting anywhere in the world."

Personally, I enjoy variances in service and ambiance from the familiar, hustle and bustle of Galatoire's, the scholarly sophistication of Stella!, the calm professionalism of Herbsaint, and yes, even the raucous "Let's take a shot" of Jacque-Imo's. Again a restaurant to me is like a beautiful women. She should resemble other dames but have a style, grace, and substance that sets her apart from all the rest.

Peter: What the question boils down to is a diner's expectation of value. If you are paying a lot of money for a meal, then you expect and deserve a certain level of sophistication in service. But I don't need white table cloths and plush leather chairs. Give me excellent food, and the surroundings and service fall out of focus unless either is markedly terrible. Snark and/or arrogance will never be tolerated, but if the kitchen puts out an exquisite seared duck breast then I don't care if I had to ask twice for my water glass to be filled. Table settings are even further down the line as determining factors in my level of satisfaction. And I don't think that I am the only one who feels this way. Just look at the Le Fooding movement and food truck phenomenon. In today's dining world, pomp and circumstance are no longer as important as what's on the plate... or wrapped in white butcher paper...or plastic serving basket.

Rene: I've been reading a lot lately. A lot on Thomas Keller, by the way do you still have all those Ruhlman books I lent you? Anyway in one telling passage of Soul of a Chef, Ruhlman asks Keller where his drive for perfection comes from. Keller relates how every morning he had to clean his bathroom to his mother's exacting standards. Eventually, you get to a point he says, where you carry that over into everything. You do everything in the best possible manner as that is the only way to ensure a result that will even approach perfection. So to answer your point, I find it hard to believe that a restaurant whose front of the house staff can't execute the basics could sear a duck breast perfectly. Which would be on medium-low heat for about twenty-five minutes, skin side down, skin scored and seasoned 12 hours prior, then flip to flesh side for a few moments. Now of course, anything is possible, but I like restaurants to pay attention to details. If the kitchen is going to the trouble and expense to source ingredients and cook them with soul, waiters need to know that and show pride and ownership in the meal they set in front of a diner. The hallmark of a great dining experience is whether or not the server, be it a Diner Darling or High End Hank makes you feel welcome and well taken care of. End of story.

What say you readers?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

El Gato Negro

After my one and only previous meal at El Gato Negro, I left the restaurant without much of a reason to return. But if Ray Nagin has taught us anything, it's that everyone deserves a second chance. (Wait... that doesn't sound right...) Besides, according to the First Lady of Blackened Out, Lindsay, I didn't "order right" on my first visit.

So I went back a second time, and a third. Each meal a bit better than the previous one, but neither elevating my opinion of the restaurant to a higher level on the Blackened Out rating scale.

Fajitas (above) are served with a melange of multi-colored peppers, tomato, onion, mushrooms, garlic, and whole green onions dressed with a flavorful marinade and grilled on the flat top. Thin, long, wide cuts of filet mignon are served in large portions with rice, beans, sour cream, guacamole, and pico de gallo. At around $19, the portion is large enough to split two ways and is probably the best value on the menu.

Enchiladas are stuffed with a fair amount of chopped chicken or shrimp and covered with a heavy hand of cheese, but the sweet oregano salsa served on the side just isn't my bag. Same goes for the tomatillo and habanero salsas included in the sampler, and the gloppy and greasy consistency of the queso fundido is (to put it lightly) unappetizing.

My favorite item on the menu is the chorizo taco, whose flour tortilla can barely be wrapped around the overflowing amount of spicy ground pork. But here is my main grind against El Gato Negro. I can handle $3.75 per taco, especially because the ingredients are fresh and the portion size ample. But $1.25 each to add guacamole or sour cream to one taco? If you want salsa, it's an extra $0.75 per taco. With all of the nickel and diming, one taco with all of the above fixings will run you $7.00 altogether.

No doubt that the margaritas are excellent, but you pay for it: $11.75 for a top shelf version. The house orange and lime concoction is superb in simplicity, but other offbeat flavors are worth sampling, such as refreshing and herbacious combination of pineapple, cilantro, and lime. The only issue is that the chunks of fresh fruit proved to be a problem when sipping through a straw.

I know, my complaints may seem contradictory. Fresh ingredients cost more, and it's not surprising for the restaurant to pass the premium along to the customer. But $1.25 for a dollop of sour cream on a single taco? $9.75 for the guacamole appetizer? This is the French Quarter, but still.

El Gato Negro - Par

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

2010 Challenge: Plebe Food

In my building there is a little lady who taunts me on days I forget to bring or to eat lunch. She has a convenience stall that sells among other things, Chili Cheese Fritos ("CCF"). CCF might as well be my culinary kryptonite. If I was ever interrogated and the torturer had a bag of CCF and a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup, forget it, I am confessing.

What is it about plebe food? We all have one or two foods we are secretly ashamed to admit we love. Lindsay has been known to be a huge fan of Corn Nuts, which are disgusting. What is your plebe food? Mine are definitely CCF. Reese's don't count as those kick ass. Last Thursday, CCF called my name loud and clear at about 2 p.m. That evening, the greatest compressed corn food of sorts, became a bowl of Red Chili. But I had to find a way to class it up, just a bit.

Frito Inspired Red Chili Recipe

This is so simple, a recipe would complicate it. This is a basic template for chili making. Feel free to add whatever the hell you want, but not corn nuts. Those are nasty.

For meat, I usually use a combination of ground beef and "stewing meat". Sear this in a heavy pot coated with a sheen of oil and season meat with salt and pepper. When browned, remove from pot. Into pot, add one onion chopped, one diced jalapeno and some garlic. Cook on medium heat, just until things are smelling great. Then add a tablespoon of chili powder or so and let the fragrance bloom. Then add a healthy tablespoon of tomato paste and stir. Deglaze pan with a bottle of beer. Then add a can of tomatoes (28 0z) and their juices, crushing the tomatoes with the back of spoon. Add the meat back. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Taste, adjust seasoning. Cook uncovered for about an hour and half or until liquid has reduced by half and the meat is tender.

To serve in the bottom of a bowl place Fritos (Scoops, trust me). Then ladle in some chili, top with  grated white cheddar. Serve with Champagne. Life is all about balance, the simple and the elegant, the Fritos and the Champagne. There is good eating and drinking found in the plebe world.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Wine, Beer, & Cheese at Swirl

What a better way to ease into the work week than with a glass of wine, a pint of beer, and a few wedges of cheese. Tomorrow night, Swirl Wine Bar & Market is hosting a special event where you can sample all of the above (a few times over).

Those fans of Flight of the Conchords will find much to love, as the tasting features libations from a family of New Zealanders. On the menu are four beers from Moa, which are a bit atypical in that brewmaster Josh Scott ferments his beers in the bottle (just like champagne). Rounding out the tasting list are two wines from Allan Scott Family Winemakers, headed up by Josh's father.

But man cannot live on wine and beer alone. Thankfully, St. James Cheese Co. owner Richard Sutton will be at Swirl talking about the 6 different cheeses that he selected to pair with each wine and beer. Think of it as a St. James Cheese School field trip.

This is a seated tasting and is limited to 20 participants. Reservation and prepayment are required, call 504.304.0635. Cost is $20 per person.

To learn more about this tasting as well as other food and wine events around town, check out the Blackened Out on the Town calendar to your left.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Talking Cookbooks

I had a friend in college whose vice was vices. You name it, gambling, drinking, drugs, reality tv, he was addicted to it. He has since cleaned up and turned into a fine man. Point is, we all have vices. Food and wine are two of the most addictive and expensive vices on the planet. And certainly both Peter and I battle with these diseases all the time.

But my most intense and burning vice is buying cookbooks. It doesn't even have to be a good cookbook. I own scores of Low Carb, No Fat, No Fun cookbooks whose spines have never been cracked. There are cookbooks from restaurants, I'll never visit; chef's who will never cook for me. There is even a cookbook for cooking with kids. We don't have kids.

Cookbooks can be divided into two main categories: 1) those you can cook from and 2) those that inspire or show you possibilities. The two categories are not mutually exclusive, but by way of illustration any of Ina Garten's amazing books would fall into the first, while A Day at El Bulli falls into the later.

Every few weeks, Lindsay and I will get the urge to head to a bookstore, plop down in the cookbook section, and just start pulling books from the shelf like an addict searching for a fix at a methadone clinic. Our cookbook collection spans two areas of our house. Downstairs in a nook just pass the kitchen is four shelves of cookbooks we thumb through at least once a month. The books in this book nook number about 65 and are comprised of both Category 1s and 2s. Upstairs on two bookshelves that used to house history or law books are the books that have fallen out of rotation like last season's fashions. This is where many of the low carb, healthy cooking options live.

Most Saturday mornings begin with a walk around City Park. This is followed by a cup of coffee on the back deck, WWOZ (pledge drive going on now) on the old vacuum tube radio, and a gaggle of cookbooks. A week's menu is set and off we go. Rarely do I follow a recipe's instructions from start to finish with the rigidity of a recruit in the Marines. Here are six great cookbooks that are both a 1 and a 2 and that generally their recipes are followed. This is by no means exhaustive, just what I find myself reaching for time and time again.

1) Frank Stitt's Southern Table - A few years ago at a party, a few chefs from town were talking about cookbooks. Finally, the tone hushed and one of them reverentially said to me, "Do you have Stitt's Southern Table?" "I do not." "Go home and buy it, it is the best New Southern cookbook."

He was right. Stitt blends his youth in Alabama, and the traditions therein, with the sensibilities of the cuisines of Europe. So you will find pork seared and topped with a pecan and mint pesto or hearty bean stews equally adept at combating the Mistral as the North Wind off Lake Pontchartrain.

2) Donald Link's Real Cajun - How much more can I say about this cookbook. Trust me, if you don't own this, you are either a fool or dead.

3) Loukie Werle's Italian Country Cooking - In this book Loukie Werle captures what makes Italian cooking so special: simple reliance on the best ingredients, unfussed with and a minimal amount of steps. Her white bean soup with olive oil is one of the first things we cook when the weather turns cool.

4) David Watluck's Staff Meals - Sadly Chanterelle closed this past summer, but for over 30 years it was one of New York's favorite restaurants. Luckily for you, this cookbook details what Watluck and his staff served to each other at staff meal. This cookbook spans the cuisines of the culinary world; you will find Hungarian dishes, Asian comfort foods, American classics like hamburgers, and even a roast chicken recipe.

5) Gordon Ramsay's Healthy Appetite - I know, I know, he is a mean guy. But occasionally we like to eat healthy. And this book is one of the few that is neither preachy, scolding, nor devoid of flavor. There is a summer asparagus salad with shaved fennel, poached egg, and pancetta that is one of the best salad recipes I've ever run across.

6) Susan Spicer's Crescent City Cooking - See #2.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

I Have Seen the Light

Do you ever find yourself in a situation where you know you're out of your element, yet instead of shirking into defensive mode you are overcome with excitement?

One Thursday night The Folk Singer and I walked into Horinoya on Poydras, and you could have shot a cannon through the dining room without hitting anyone. Literally, there was no person in the restaurant other than the employees. Most people would have turned around, but for some reason we stayed.

After taking our places at the sushi bar, I excused myself to the restroom to wash up. While walking to the rear of the restaurant, the sound of voices kept getting louder and then I noticed more than a dozen pairs of shoes lined up outside the private dining room. Apparently, we were not the only ones in the restaurant.

I felt like I had stumbled upon some underground Japanese businessmen's dining club. No intellgible English was being spoken, and all I saw were bottles upon bottles of sake on the table. "Who are these people and what are they doing here?" When I returned to the bar, I realized that all 3 chefs were furiously at work, constructing dishes which I had never seen before. It was at this point that I decided that tonight would be the night: Omakase. I had heard about the chef's "feed me" option from many reputable diners, but never before had I taken the plunge. The time had come.

"Omakase?," I said, indicating that I wanted to eat whatever the chefs were serving to the private party in the back. A few awakward moments of silence passed before I quickly followed up with a price inquiry. Chef Komei Horimoto shrugged his shoulders and said, “Depends on how much you eat.” Fair enough for me. “Do you eat everything?” he asked. Does it look like I eat everything? He chuckled and we were off.

First course, Ankimo - a cylindrical tower of steamed monkfish liver with thinly sliced cucumber rounds, green onions, spiced grated ginger, and ponzu sauce. I think that Lorin Gaudin put it best: "If sea urchin is the 'foie gras of the sea', then ankimo is the 'foie gras torchon of the sea.'" The monkfish liver was served cool, and its texture was a bit softer than pate de foie gras but with the same richness. And you know how much I love foie gras.

Next, Sugaki - oysters on the half shell in a similar sauce as the monkfish liver (pictured above). The sweetness of the ponzu matched unbelievable well with the ice cold oysters. Third, a trio of sashimi: giant clam, tuna, and live octopus which had arrived that same day from Japan. The clam was tough and chewy, the tuna super fresh, and the octopus sublime. Flavored with a spicy and slightly acidic "yuzu seasoning,” the octopus (left) was delicate and tender.

More on that "yuzu seasoning." Last week I returned to Horinoya for a quick bite and inquired further about this spice. Chef Horimoto revealed that it is simply a combination of dried chili pepper flakes and yuzu juice. But the flavor tastes much more complex. The heat from the chili pepper and the acid from the yuzu causes the fish to dance on the tongue, with an almost effervescent quality. It's unlike anything I had tasted before, and I am now a "yuzu seasoning" addict.

Back to the meal. The fourth course was a sampler of 4 pieces of nigiri sushi, my favorite of which was the fresh scallop spiked with yet more yuzu seasoning. At this point, the waiter asked if I wanted more, and I was having too much fun to stop. The fifth course was a salad of chopped fresh seaweed, cucumber, and steamed octopus which was tougher than I had hoped. After the sixth course of egg cake and spicy tuna roll, I had to tap out full and happy.

While waiting for our check, The Folk Singer and I estimated the cost of my meal. We both agreed that $75 was both an accurate and fair price for 6 courses. On the check, the omakase for 1 was $50.

I'm a believer.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Dueling Bloggers: Customer Customization

Thanks for all the comments on last week's debate. While we aren't positive (our historian is checking), rumor is it was the first meaningful discussion on the internet that did not detour into a mudslinging, nasty name calling affair. You guys and broads brought up insightful, intelligent points that we hadn't even thought about and greatly contributed to the discussion. So congrats, dear readers. We made history. The issue of cash vs. credit cards has no correct, definitive answer, much like which Olsen sister is hottest. Now onto another topic, diners who customize their orders.

Rene: The worst person in the world to eat with is Legend. Doesn't really matter where you go: high-end temple of gastronomy, cozy bistro, or fast food chain, he will customize his order to fit what he wants. For example, "I want the steak, but the potatoes from the fish, the sauce from the chicken, and the dessert from the place across the street." I can't stand this. At most restaurants, a diner should only be able to customize their order when asked. For instance, you may answer "medium rare" when asked, "How would you like your steak cooked?" Or you may tell the waitress how you like your eggs cooked. Eating with a picky, customizing orderer makes me want to crawl under the table. Just order the dish as it is on the menu. And remember, dressing on the side is about as cool as a bag of Robert Peytons. No matter what anyone says, you are going to eat the whole damn mini-tub of ranch anyway.

Peter: Remember when I wrote that story about the Old Broads from Broad Street? You know, that cadre of waitresses who migrated from the original Ruth's to the new restaurant in the Harrah's Hotel? (No? Well, I couldn't the link online, so apparently that article doesn't exist.) Anyway, when I asked those girls what it was like to work for Ruth Fertel, they all echoed the same memory: "Ms. Ruth's philosophy was always: "Give the customer whatever they want.'" Some restaurants pretend as if it takes an act of Congress to get the kitchen to swap rice for potatoes with your fish. If Connie at Ruth's could hand crush peppermint candies to make The Pope's beloved peppermint ice cream (which had been taken off the menu much to the dismay of the 11 year old Ponitff), then I should be able to get bernaise instead of demi glace with my lambchops.

Rene: A restaurant, a good one at least, is a highly tuned machine. Any little change in cooking, plating, or ingredients can throw a kitchen out of sync. Which means your meal could suffer. To increase your odds of pleasurable dining, decrease your special requests. Recently I heard of a story in which a group went into a recently opened New Orleans restaurant and asked for a "tasting of curry." Note: This was not an Indian restaurant. Now, I will concede that if you have dietary restrictions or are a practicing Bloggletarian*, then you may request kindly that the kitchen do something special. But the carte blanche approach smacks of Veruca Salt , "I want this Mexican restaurant to make me German food with candy corn topping and snozzberry ice cream, Daddy." I'll let you customize, but only when absolutely necessary. Also, you have to remember the most important rule, "Dont be an asshole."

Peter: I have to agree, but only to a certain extent. I'll go back to my argument above re: it's not that f*cking hard for a cook to switch out sauces and side dishes, provided that the different ingredient is offered elsewhere on the menu. Funny story about that though. Christmas 2006. My entire family travels across the pond to visit my sister, who was spending her junior year in Paris. Dining out in a foreign country is difficult enough with the requisite language barrier, but my father's healthy eating habits made it even worse. Everywhere we ate, he desperately tried to customize his order by supplementing vegetables. My sister - at the time the only one of us who spoke any French worth a damn - refused to help my Dad, using the classical excuse, "They don't let you substitute like that in France." Pops was always polite and smiled when he said in this most awkward Frenglish accent, "Les vegetables?" The rest of us would cringe at this exercise in futility, and the waiter would just smile and look confused. Looking back, I have to thank my Dad for showing me exactly what NOT to do when dining out abroad, because when I returned that summer I felt like an old pro when it came to European restaurants.

Rene: You want customization? Been brainwashed to have it your way by Madison Avenue hucksters with catchwords, buzzphrases, and you are special dreams? Cook at home. There you can make a tahini and falafel gyro or delight in eggs benedict hold the Canadian bacon, add avocado. When I eat at restaurants, I want to taste the chef's food. I want an idea of how he cooks, how she thinks, or what her training is. This doesn't mean you have to agree with the chef's decision to place foie gras on top of a fried chicken, stuffed biscuit, but you should try it that way before disagreeing with it. When you customize at a restaurant it is like telling a girl, "I think you would be pretty if you lost 10 pounds." Finally, people love to say, "I love this or that restaurant because it feels like dining at someone's house." Well, most dinner parties I go to (read here: once - haven't been invited back), I have never had a say in the menu.

Peter: I agree with you - diners need to be more adventurous and trusting of chefs when it comes to uncommon combination of ingredients, flavors, and textures. But what if someone walks into restaurant, with a wallet full of cash (or credit) and willing to spend it, but they don't like beets? Does Donald Link allow a diner to order the braised pork rib without them? You're right, for the most part, chefs design a dish such that each ingredient serves a specific role in the overall composition. But, again, it's their money. Why shouldn't a restaurant give the customer without they, as long as it's within reason?

* Your friend and ours, Bloggle, has become a vegan or something like that. If you need him, he can be found playing in the drum circle at Panic Nolaween and trying to sell you a vegan burrito.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Technical Difficulties

Our software is not cooperating today, and our IT Department is still hungover from fist pumping outside Allegro's after the Saints game on Sunday.

We'll hopefully be back tomorrow. Try not to miss us too much.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Hillbilly BBQ

Once again offBEAT Magazine allowed us to review a restaurant. Fall means bourbon, football, and smoking meats. Which is why we chose to review Hillbilly BBQ. Hillbilly is the creation of a man from Paducah, Kentucky. Kentucky is where most bourbons are made. Although it is often said Bourbon must come from Bourbon, Kentucky, that is not true. In short, a booze can be called bourbon if it is made in America with a minimum of 51% corn aged in charred oak barrels and bottled at no less than 80 proof. So there is your history/booze lesson of the day.

Ohhh and just so you know, Les Miles is an idiot. Each week it is more and more apparent that originally he wasn't allowed to go to school with the regular kids. Then his mom invited the school superintendent over for dinner, sent little Les out to play, and she changed Les's scores.

Friday, October 1, 2010

2010 Challenge: What are Ya, Chicken?

A chicken, properly trussed and keyed into the safe word, "Oklahoma"

Chicken, specifically roasted, has been on the brain for months. It all started back in March with Kevin Vizards's juicy, crisp poulet with shoestring potatoes. Then while reading Jeffrey Steingarten chronicle in painstaking detail his attempts at mastering roast chicken the envie heightened. Finally, Thanksgiving is coming, which means you have to practice roasting before the big day. Consider it Turkey Training Camp.

Now normally in the Louapre household, roast chicken is Lindsay's domain. She makes hands down the greatest contribution to the cookery scientific community with her butter rubbed roast chicken. Always perfectly moist, with a crisp skin, and well-seasoned meat, I have tried many times to best her, yet always fall short.

This last time, I followed a general outline from Thomas Keller's ad hoc cookbook. I got a beautiful 3 and a quarter pound bird from Coq Au Coin Farms chicken, trimmed the back fat (save this), and removed the wishbone with a few deft cuts from a pairing knife and a couple yanks. To get a papery, crackly crust Keller advises setting the chicken in the fridge overnight, uncovered to let it dry out. I can say without a doubt this produced an incredibly crisp skin. Which let's face it is 90% of the reason why you roast a chicken. The other 10%? The smell that it fills your house.

About an hour before you want to cook the bird, remove it from fridge, and season generously with salt and pepper. Stuff cavity with thyme and garlic then truss the chicken like a Senator at a bondage club. Let it sit at room temperature. Chop some aromatic vegetables, toss them in salt, pepper, and oil, and place in a pan, preferably a cast-iron skillet. Then make a nest and roast the bird at a high temp until cooked through.

Results? Best skin but less than ideal juiciness on the breast. I likely overcooked the bird because I cooked to time and not to temp. The lesson, once again, is Lindsay is in charge of roast chicken.