Monday, January 31, 2011

Super Bowl of Cheese

On this Sunday, the most exhaulted victory will not be won on the field at JerryWorld but instead on countertops and coffee tables around the city. The menus for Super Bowl parties run the gamut from pizza and chicken wings to charbroiled oysters and gumbo. But when it comes to cheese and crackers, a deep divide exists as to what local cult favorite you should serve.

We're here to answer that question once and for all. Allow me to introduce the two cheeses that will battle it out for Super Bowl Sunday glory.

Better Cheddar
  • Made By -  Langenstein's
  • Ingredients - White Cheddar Cheese, Mayo, Walnuts & Seasonings
  • Cost - $8.99/lb
  • Texture - The cheese is ground, which produces a dense but still creamy spread. Nuts are more noticeable than in its competitor.
  • Overall - Classic and delicious.

Thunder Cheese
  • Made By - Canseco's
  • Ingredients - None listed, but upon further examination we see white and cheddar cheese, presumably mayo, nuts, and green onions
  • Cost - $6.99/lb
  • Texture - The cheese is finely shredded, so the spread is lighter than Better Cheddar and easily scooped with chips or crackers. The ratio of mayo to cheese also seems to be higher.
  • Overall - New kid on the block makes you think that it may be time for a change.
And the Winner is...

You tell us. We didn't put up the poll in the lefthand corner for nothing.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Weekend Roundup

With the NFL taking a breather before the Super Bowl, this weekend is flush with events for music lovers, beer nerds, and chocoholics, plus an opportunity for you to enjoy a fine meal and support an admirable non-profit organization at the same time. Here's the rundown.

Tonight, OffBeat Magazine hosts this year's Best of the Beat Awards Party at Generations Hall. The talent on stage includes the likes of Deacon John, Ivan Neville's Dumpstaphunk, and more. Besides all of the music, the price of admission also includes an impressive spread from local restaurants, including Besh Steakhouse, Martinique Bistro, and The Joint. Tickets are $29 in advance and $39 at the door.

On Saturday, Dan Stein is celebrating his own version of Festivus with the 3rd Annual Beer Day. All day long, Stein's Deli will be pouring free samples of its beers for sale and marking down all purchases of beer by 10%. Additionally, homebrewing expert Derek Lintern will be brewing up a few batches of a Belgian-style double and oak vanilla stout.

And there will be no resting on Sunday with a full day's worth of fun:
  • Starting at 1:00 at The Avenue Pub, Aaron Hyde of Brewstock will be teaching a free class on homebrewing basics.
  • Local public television station WYES will be hosting its Chocolate Sunday celebration at Harrah's Theatre. This event features over 50 local chocolatiers, bakeries, and restaurants doling out samples of all things chocolate. The 2 hour event begins at 3:00, but VIP ticketholders gain access at 2:00. Ticket are available online and range in price from $30 to $50.
  • On Sunday night, Chef Adolfo Garcia and Rio Mar are hosting "Mixing Up Some Magic", a special dinner to benefit Liberty's Kitchen, a non-profit dedicated to transforming the life of at-risk youth through life skills taught in a culinary setting. The 3 course menu featuring Gulf seafood sausage, herb roated lamb shoulder, and roasted pear cake costs $75 per person inclusive of wine, tax, and tip. Reservations must be made online.
And, of course, if you have a hankering for a hamburger when Sunday night rolls around, you know where to go.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

First Look: Mimi's

Granted, Mimi's in River Ridge is not a new restaurant, but they have recently brought in Chef Pete Vazquez to run the kitchen. Vazquez's menus showcase a rustic, gutsy style of cooking that touches the cuisines of the Mediterranean and Southern Asia as guideposts. This is adventuresome eating, with rewards for those who make the journey.

Before we went last week (Lindsay went for lunch a few weeks ago), I spoke with Todd Price who wrote a wonderful piece on Vazquez a few weeks back. Price is also an expert in martial arts, syntax, and the consolidation of power by Pope Julius II over Italian City-States. But I wasn't interested in those things. I wanted to know what dishes would best reflect Vasquez's cooking. The answer was simple, "Go with the most non-mainstream item. That is where Pete's heart can be found."

Shortly after seating the waiter brought by a popcorn sweetbread on top of a truffled aioli. Nothing about this dish could have been improved. The sweetbreads were tender, the coating crisp and greaseless, and the aioli thick and rich.

The perfection of fried food continued with the calamari with three dipping sauces. Now, normally calamari are served in ringlets which must be precisely fried or else they become tough and rubbery. These calamari were served in long thin strips, cut from the steak of the squid. The interior of the calamari fingers was fluffy in texture and dynamite in flavor. Of the three dipping sauces, the salsa verde provided the best contrast with its herbaceous vinegar notes marrying with the sweet, salty calamari. The bagna cauda and the aioli did not interest nearly as much. The leaves of fried sage were a very welcome touch, adding a woody forest flavor to this seafood staple.

Escargot so often gets lumped in with a pound of melted butter, some parsley, and heaps of garlic. Now there is nothing wrong with that, but there isn't much special about it either. For his escargot dish, Vazquez cooks the snails in a fragrant broth of tomatoes studded with bacon. He then wraps this mixture around a thin sheet of pasta that has been infused with fresh green herbs for a sort of free form ravioli. It is delicious and like traditional escargot leaves you with a great sauce to mop up with bread.

Salads have become the step-child of dining. I want a cold, crisp lettuce, a well-made dressing, and a few other additions to make it interesting. I don't want it to be big, just a few bites as a refresher between courses. The Caesar at Mimi's wasn't bad, but it wasn't good either. The greens were lukewarm and flaccid and the dressing veered more towards a thousand island than a Caesar. Maybe this is why I stopped ordering salads.

Lindsay ordered by far the best course of the night, a housemade pasta tossed in olive oil, chili pepper, and herbs topped with a housemade boudin noir. The richness of the pork blood fueled sausage played lead baritone with the chili and herbal notes providing a solid percussion line... what the hell am I talking about? Just feast your eyes on this.

Now is where I am reminded of Price's sage advice. I ordered the Tre Carne, a selection of three meats for those of you not fluid in Italian. The meatball on the left of the plate sat on top a polenta cake and was covered in a marinara sauce too salty for me. The meatball however, was pure glory - soft, flavorful, and rich without being dense. I imagine the meatball was slowly convinced into its form and then coddled into a warm bath to poach for several hours. Such would be the only way to get a meatball that tender.

The Italian sausage sitting on a bed of peppers was fine enough, but I wished there would have been a more pronounced anise flavor in the sausage. The ragu with polenta cake was a complete disaster starring an overly reduced sauce, way too much sauce, and a gloppy, flavorless polenta. But that meatball more than made up for all of those misgivings.

Dessert came and was a stunning example of a creme brulee with a glassy top and thick custard. Only problem was we were sold on it being a satsuma flavored creme brulee and try as we might, could not find any evidence of that sweet, Louisiana treasure in this dessert.

A few mignardises, the chocolate truffles were decadent, the toffee less so, a bottle of wine, and we left very happy and eager to return. But next time, I am listening to Price and sticking with the obscure, the offbeat, the exciting. I suggest you do the same.

10160 Jefferson Hwy.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Beef Stew (Bo Kho)

When the weather turns a bit chilly like it is today, my stomach and soul immediately begin to crave a hot, comforting bowl of beef stew. Last year, Cochon Butcher stole my heart on multiple occasions with its version of tender, bite size morsels of beef and potato in a rich, smooth stock with just a hint of red wine in the background.

Unfortunately, I have not once seen Butcher offer its beef stew as a special during this winter season. WTF?!?!

Vietnamese restaurants serve their own version of beef stew, and it's called bo kho. While bo kho includes both beef and carrots just like your momma uses, the beef stock and tomato base is augmented with Vietnamese spices like clove, anise, and ginger. The starch component of bo kho comes in the form of either noodles in the bottom of the bowl or a couple of toasted loaves of banh mi to be dunked into the stew. The finest exemplar of bo kho that I have tasted comes from Tan Dinh, which uses multiple curries to create an intoxicating and delicious gravy. I used to be high on Pho Tau Bay's version, but I was served a tepid and watered down bowl on my last visit.

Unfortunately, the stew meat in Tan Dinh's bo kho is frustratingly tough and served in large chunks which cannot be pulled or bitten off into more manageable pieces. If the gravy was not so delicious, I wouldn't bother. Your best solution is to not be shy and take advantage of the fork and knife graciously brought out by your server.

I have requested a substitution of duck for beef in the past, but the waitress shot me down. One augmentation I have been allowed though is to add beef tendon to the stew, which may have been the greatest idea since Al Gore invented the internet.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Paris Dispatches: New Year's Eve

Maybe I am a pessimist, but New Year's Eve is always a let down. In fact, I may have given you very clear instructions a few months ago about why you should avoid restaurants at all costs on December 31st. Obviously, I should listen to myself.

To start, it was New Year's Eve in Paris, which we were incredibly fortunate to experience. That day Lindsay and I wondered throughout the Left Bank. We purchased a few books from Shakespeare & Co. We ate ice cold oysters that tasted as if you got saltwater in your nose at the beach when a wave crashed over you. Those oysters were simply fantastic, especially with a bottle of Muscadet, salted butter, and mignonette sauce.  We stopped at Le Baron Rouge for more oysters and white wine before stocking up on supplies to make beef bourguignon on New Year's Day.

It was a day that makes you want to move to Paris immediately.

Then we went to dinner. La Ferme Saint-Simon was recommended to Lindsay's mother by the apartment rental agency as a "charming bistro where one can eat some wonderful French food and sip wine within a stone's throw of the Eiffel Tour."

Let's start with the amuse. What arrived was a cocktail glass with a beige colored mousse of chicken liver the texture and temperature of which resembled a cold pudding served to inmates. On top of this sat a piece of chocolate, which when you bit into it gushed forth more of the chicken liver. At this point the champagne had just started to re-kick in so we all figured, "Let's just keep quiet for now."

Then came an insult to heavy eating ducks and truffle hunters everywhere. This terrine of foie gras with a truffled center caused an audible gasp at the table. The foie had not been emulsified properly and was chewy. The large sphere of foie had the effect of dominating some bites, while being absent in the majority of them. The small scoop of apricot jelly did not go nearly far enough to soothe the fattiness and richness of the foie gras. This was overkill.

What came out next was even more baffling. It looked like a prawn had transformed into a spaceship and was hurtling Klingons towards a gate in the Fifth Element. Don't believe me? Look for yourself.

That is allegedly a prawn stuffed with seafood and scallops on top of a carpaccio of scallops with a cinnamon tuile. Trying to use a knife and fork to dissect this creature proved useless. "OK, how do you eat this thing?" asked Lindsay's brother. We all took different tacts. Lindsay upended the Prawnlenuim Falcon and focused on the scallop carpaccio. I tried to remove the stuffing, which smelled like old socks, and focus on the sweet meat of the prawn. Lindsay's brother just ate the tuile. Her dad mostly attacked it like it was a mess of unruly weeds. Lindsay's mom had the best approach and just ignored it and drank more Champagne.

At this point, I was reminded of reading Virgil in Latin III and his epic line, "Someday you will look back and laugh at all of this."

Then came a dessert so heinous and offensive, it is amazing the French haven't striked over it. A green dome surrounded by pastel colored macaroons, a spun sugar crown fit for an alien princess, a globe of olive colored ice cream and a smear baby shit green. But trust me on this, it tasted much worse than it looked. If the flavor inspiration for the dish was rotting seaweed on the beach at low tide, the chef hit it out of the park.

After dinner we wandered over to the Eiffel Tour expecting at least fireworks. We found instead crowds, cheap bottles of sugary sparkling wine, and a father-son team of bagpipers. All in all it was a New Year's Eve none of us could ever forget. And isn't that the point?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Tracey's: Same Old Taste in a Bright New Setting

In New Orleans, we tend to champion longevity and frown upon change. However, there are times when circumstances beyond our control leave us no choice but to adjust and to adapt. Time has taught us that change can be a good thing as long as we don't leave behind those values which are most important to us. Though we may have gone kicking and screaming, the end result sometimes leave us better off than we were before.

Case in point, Tracey's. Remember back in August when everyone was lamenting the plight of Jeff Carreras after his beloved Parasol's was sold from underneath him? Instead of wallowing in self pity, Jeff recognized that what made Parasol's was the food and the staff, so scooped up both, found a better location just a few blocks away, and opened up an improved version of his former po-boy shop. Let that be a lesson to us all in accepting and triumphing over adversity.

In terms of ambience, Parasol's and Tracey's could not be more different. Where Parasol's was simply a dark, old neighborhood bar, Tracey's is roomy and bright with plenty of natural light. The loft ceilings and double doors that open out onto Magazine Street make this a great place to enjoy nice weather like today's, and the numerous flat screens along the walls elevate the bar to one of the city's best places to catch a game.

While the surroundings may have changed, the food tastes exactly the same as it did at Parasol's. The signature roast beef is the same shreds and chunks of beef in a thick gravy. I have always been a Parkway loyalist when it comes to roast beef, but I still enjoy digging into one of these from time to time. Fried shrimp are average in size, but the crustaceans sometimes shed their outer coating. Po-boys are still served as a one-size-fits-all. A bag of Zapp's is still your best choice of side dish, and you better order two bags because the wait can sometimes stretch longer than you think.

One Saturday afternoon while we were lunching at a table outside on the sidewalk, a man walked by and huffed in disgust at the 20 person line forming inside. "Where did all of these people come from?" was his rhetorical question to us. After a few moments of contemplation, he smilingly resolved to wait his turn, took his place in line, and said, "Well, I guess it's better than waiting in line at Parasol's."

Tracey's - Par/Birdie
2604 Magazine Street
7 days per week

Friday, January 21, 2011

Mad Libs Valentine's Contest

Valentine's Day is coming up, which means every food blog in America is going to give you seductive recipes, aphrodisiac appetizers, and ideas for dining out. Not us. We want to craft the most amazing Valentine's Day guide of all time and we need your help. To accomplish this, we are going to play a game of Mad Libs.

The rules are simple: Either leave your answers in the comments or email them to us. We pick the top 6 Valentine's Mad Lib stories, and you vote on your favorite. The top 3 stories win prizes from Sucre's Valentine's Day Selections.

1st Place - An I Love You Gift Box filled with a Medium For the Love of Chocolate Collection, a Large Box of Sweetheart Macaroons, Handmade Vanilla Marshmallows, and a Rose Petal & Pistachio Bar.

2nd Place - Sweetheart Macaroons and a Heart Shaped Box of Chocolates

3rd PlaceFor the Love of Chocolate Box

Why Mad Libs?

True story. The Blackened Out twins met in 8th grade English class at Jesuit High School. Mr. Powers used Mad Libs to presumably make sure everyone understood the difference between a gerund, noun, and adverb. Being that we were all 13 and 14 years old, these exercises usually devolved into sentences that read thusly "The fat, bloated pumpkin farted across the frozen turd." Now that you know where our humor resides, let's play.

Here they are:
1) Noun, Proper
2) Noun, Plural
3) Adjective
4) Noun
5) Action Verb
6) Noun, Plural
7) Name of Book
8) Adjective
9) Place
10) Noun
11) Verb
12) Noun
13) Adjective
14) Noun, Plural
15) Adverb
16) Adjective
17) Adjective
18) Noun
19) Noun
20) Proper Noun

You have two weeks to submit your responses. Voting will begin on February 7th with the winners announced on the 11th.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Country Style Boneless Pork Ribs

Hey, guess what is coming up soon?

Nope, not Mardi Gras. And the Super Bowl has been canceled. But you there in the back, you are correct. Hogs for the Cause, the premier porkcentric cancer fighting charity is back and bigger than ever on March 26th at City Pork. Sign up your team today, you can win the adoration of millions.

To prep yourself for Hogs, how about two months worth of pork related recipes? You got it.

Braised Country Style Pork Ribs in Tomatillo Sauce

You probably see these in the supermarket all the time. Sometimes they are called country style ribs, other times boneless ribs. Fact is they are made out of pork and they are flipping delicious when braised in a sultry blend of chiles and tomatillos.

I want you to roast some peppers and tomatillos under a broiler until their skins darken and blister. I use one jalapeno and two serranos. Make sure to husk and rinse the tomatillos. Once you can handle the peppers, remove the stems, skin, and seeds. Toss the fruit of the peppers into a blender with the tomatillos, a tablespoon of chopped white onion (you will use the rest of the chopped onion in a moment), and a garlic clove. Add in a bit of water or stock to get the blender going. Puree until smooth. (I learned this trick from Skip Bayless's brother's incredible Mexico: One Plate at a Time.) Add the juice of one lime and stir.

I want you take that pack of boneless pork ribs and cut them into cubes. Now season them with salt and pepper. In a cast iron skillet or dutch oven, heat a 5 second glug of canola oil. When shimmering, add the cubes (do this in batches). Brown well on each side and remove. Do the next batch until all pork has been seared. Drain any excess fat. Add the remainder of your onion and saute for five minutes, scraping up all that delicious fond from the bottom of your pot.

Pour the green chile puree mixture into the pan, add a cup of stock, and return the pork to the pan. Stir to combine and then place, covered*, in a 275 degree oven for about 2 hours. Serve over yellow rice with a crisp green salad.

*When I braise things, I like to use a piece of parchment paper to cover over the food, a technique outlined in The French Laundry Cookbook. Many ways to do this, but the easiest is probably just to cut out a piece of parchment slightly smaller than the circumference of your pot. Then cut out a small section in the middle of this circle. Place over food.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


The Pope has steered me wrong many times in life. Starting back in pre-K, he would use his stature as one of the "big kids" to get his way on the playground, usually at the expense of the rest of us. In high school, he would encourage me to wait till the last possible moment to leave a party in order to make it home in time for curfew, and then when it became clear that I had waited too long, he would say: "Dude, you're going to be late already. Why not just stay out all night?" We won't even delve into the college years.

Yet, for some strange reason, I often blindly follow The Pope's guidance still to this day. For example, for the past few years, The Pope has been recommending that we try Fausto's for affordable Italian fare. The Folk Singer and I finally made it to Fausto's last week, and I all I can say is that The Pope has kept his losing streak alive.

Fausto's is an old school, neighborhood Italian restaurant specializing in red gravy and classic Sicilian dishes. If the Italian murals on the wall didn't give this trait away, then just listen to the woman at the next table say to her daughter: "Put ya napkin on ya lap. Ya don't wanna get tomatuh gravy on ya shirt." Many of the diners are obviously regulars, the duration of their patronage is evident by their age and their level of devotion by how they interact with the wait staff. Friendly service is definitely Fausto's greatest attribute.

Meals begin with complimentary breadsticks plucked straight from the freezer, baked in the oven till soft, and covered in a heavy shower of parmesan. These reminded me of the cafeteria in my freshman year dorm. Most entrees are served with a side of angel hair pasta topped (not tossed like the menu says) with marinara tasting not much more than canned crushed tomatoes with a little added sweetness.

Veal Parmesan was a thin cutlet with a rubbery texture. Chicken Sorrentino was one of those dishes where you take the first bite and think, "Wow. This is awful." The description reads as: "Chicken breast with layers of eggplant and mozzarella, flamed with marsala and mushrooms." OK, I like all of those things. Unfortunately, the chicken was tough and eggplant component indiscernible. The marsala was thick, brown, and sweet enough to act as a convincing stand-in for a bad version of teriyaki from that Chinese place in the Lakeside Mall food court. I have never seen The Folk Singer use a salt shaker so vigorously, but that was her only viable option to salvage the dish.

With the kitchen going 0-4 through the first 2 courses, we almost ordered dessert to give Fausto's one last chance. But as soon as we saw the sauce-covered, thin slices of bread pudding delivered to the next table, we decided that enough was enough.

The Folk Singer declared this her worst meal in New Orleans, and she couldn't remember even having a "worst meal" before this. I can't say that I disagree with her. It's tough to bestow a double bogey upon a restaurant after only one visit, but I don't think that we will be returning to Fausto's anytime soon.

Fausto's Bistro - Bogey/Double Bogey
530 Veterans Blvd.
Lunch Mon-Thur. Dinner Mon-Sat.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Paris Dispatches: Chez Michel

Montmartre is a disgusting place. The most prized attraction of this hilled area of Paris is Sacre Coeur. The white walled basilica has a commanding view of all of Paris - a commanding view, that is, if it is not overcast and gray. Plus you have to walk up a considerable amount of steps to enjoy the view, and leading up to those steps are streets filled with 5 Euro sandwiches, t-shirts, souvenirs, and hucksters. As you get closer to the church, dark skinned emigres from Africa, ask, "My friend, let me show you something." They then quickly try to braid a friendship bracelet on your wrist.

It is enough to make anyone from New Orleans feel right at home.

Following this excursion, we walked down streets lined with shops selling fabrics of every shade in huge spools. This turned into streets lined with shops selling dresses, colorful tuxedos, and hats. Then a turn down a small street brought us to Chez Michel. Chez Michel may have been our best meal in Paris.

Cozy and inviting, the interior of Chez Michel was nautical in theme with wood paneling and sturdy wood posts. At one point the chef brought out a balsa wood bucket filled with blue green lobsters to show off to a tableful of eager diners. The cuisine at Chez Michel was rustic and marked at this time of year by wild game and truffles. Not that there is anything wrong with that.

To start the waiter brought out a bowl of cold snails, sharp mustard, and warm bread. I think you can piece together what you do with all three of those. This was a great way to start a meal.

We ordered half our meal off the black chalkboard, guessing and using google to roughly translate what the menu items were. I started with an on the menu item of little biscuits topped with St. Malo cheese and a salad. (What? I was trying to eat healthy.) Lindsay began with a very simple sounding tartine de pate de campagne foie gras. What arrived was an 8 inch loaf of crusted bread smeared with foie gras and gilded by black truffles. A side salad just seemed like a dare.

For my main, a tender shoulder of veal braised in a milk and tarragon sauce with baby leaks, carrots, and mushrooms. Utterly amazing, the milkiness of the veal and the milk had blended into a harmonious bite. The punchy tarragon and vegetables provided a connection back to the roots of good cooking.

Lindsay got more adventurous and was equally rewarded with her braised pheasant, buckshot included, in a rustic stew strewn with carrots and laced with brandy. At one point Lindsay picked up a portion of the pheasant and asked me, "What do you think this is?" I responded the leg with confidence. Until Linsdsay noticed her hand was clasping the beak of the bird. The rich gaminess of the pheasant went especially well with the bottle of Morgon on the table.

The meal wrapped up with two equally impressive dishes. One was a cheese platter, which arrived at the table as a large piece of slate festooned with six globes of different Normandy cheeses, some raisin studded bread, and a bowl of honey. I was instructed to take as much cheese as I liked, which is a bit like telling a child he can take as much candy as he wants. The dessert on the table was a masterful chocolate and coffee cake with a texture more resembling a pudding than a cake. It was light, but dense in chocolate flavor, if that makes any sense. 

The whole meal had a dreamy quality to it. After the disappointment of Montmartre, our expectations were naturally diminished. Then we sat down in the tiny corner front bistro on the Rue Belzunce and we let Paris come to us in a succession of refined rustic cuisine and red wine. It was enough to make anyone feel at home.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Day of Rest

We hope that everyone is enjoying their MLK holiday. For the rest of the you who (like us) are back at work today, at least you can take solace in the fact that the Falcons lost over the weekend.

Last night was another busy and successful night for MVB, and we thank everyone who braved the long line - hopefully the burger was worth the wait. To those of you who were turned away because we sold out, we apologize and hope that you come again. Next week we will be preparing more specials and more burgers so that hopefully no man or woman will be denied their Sunday fix.

We'll be back tomorrow with our regularly scheduled program.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Restaurant Madrid

In this month's issue of OffBeat, we take a look at Restaurant Madrid. Located in a building that once housed one of the many mini-marts that would sell us beer during high school, Madrid offers a taste of Spain from the idyllic comforts of Lakeview. Our assessment of Madrid is much in line with our general opinion on Spanish food in New Orleans - for best results, stick with the tapas/appetizers. A thick, custardy torta, a bowl of lamb meatballs fragrant with mint, and a BYO bottle of Vina Tondonia makes for a nice meal at Madrid. Check out our full review by clicking here.

We usually like to include a picture with our OffBeat articles, but the low lighting at Restaurant Madrid does not present the most opportune setting for food photography. So instead we offer you a picture from Peter's summer excursion with The Pope to the City of Madrid back in 2009.* That's La Papa there on the left in Plaza Mayor. His identity has been protected by a plate of jamon, which was omnipresent at the table during their Iberian adventure.
And as you can see from the photo, The Pope has not matured much since our days in high school when we had no choice but to buy beer from the mini-mart.

* To read more about their musings in Madrid, Porto, Lagos, and Lisbon, click here.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Turkey Meatloaf

Lindsay L. from New Orleans writes, "I don't mind your blog, but seriously all of your recipes are designed to make people fat. Mashed potatoes, braised bacon, peanut butter covered Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. Can't you post something healthy for once?"

Thank you, Lindsay, for such a timely email. At the beginning of every year, many people make promises to eat better, exercise more, and lose weight. I call those people quitters, but Madison Ave. calls them Resolution Makers. Hell, a healthy meal every now and then never killed anyone and Hitler was a vegetarian who never drank. There is an important lesson buried in there somewhere.

One of my favorite healthy sounding meals is Turkey Meatloaf. Cook the vegetables before mixing with the ground turkey. This does two things. First, it helps add flavor. Second, and more importantly it helps add moisture to what can be a dry dish. I make no promises that this is actually healthy as I don't really know what that means. But it is in a healthier direction than typical meatloaf.

This is a picture of onion rings, which are decidedly not healthy. But more healthy than a whole fried onion. 

Turkey Meatloaf

Here is a general guidepost. Dice one onion, two carrots, and two stalks of celery, along with one zucchini and some white mushrooms. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add olive oil and saute the vegetables until just softening. Insert salt and pepper here. Add in a teaspoon of chopped garlic. Lower the heat. Deglaze with a half cup of white wine (or lemon juice if you gave up booze). Let wine evaporate.

Add in a teaspoon or so of your favorite poultry herbs, fresh please. I like thyme and tarragon, but rosemary is good. Now add a cup of chicken stock. Again let the stock evaporate. Allow the vegetable mixture to cool. When cool add to one of those boxes of ground turkey meat. Mix in one egg and a half cup of bread crumbs. More salt and pepper, maybe a little cayenne, here. Mix by hand and form into a loaf and bake at 350 degrees for about an hour.

You can top with ketchup if you like, but I found ketchup cut with balsamic or Rooster sauce makes for a more pleasing topping.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Italian Barrel

Early last year, The Folk Singer and I checked out the Italian Barrel with the purpose of gathering material for the next Dining Out column in OffBeat. Though we were instantly charmed by the tiny brick-walled dining room and left satisfied with our food, when deciding whether to move forward with the article all I could think about was that the high prices simply did not justify the experience, which was ultimately the reason why Rene and I decided to scrap the Italian Barrel article for another restaurant.

But after two more recent visits, I think that I have come to accept the Italian Barrel for what it is by recognizing that chef-owner Samantha Castagnetti is completely focused on procuring the finest ingredients and letting those speak for themselves. The prices are still too high in my opinion, but with a few ordering tips, one is able to extract the best of what the Italian Barrel has to offer without breaking the bank.

The "Lady of Verona", as Castagnetti is known, believes that the only ingredients worthy of her native cuisine are those produced in her native land. So she flies in all of the oils, vinegars, pastas (both dried and fresh), meats, and cheeses she needs, and then concocts all of the sauces in her kitchen. According to the waitress, perishables are flown in almost daily, and the limited amount of on premises storage is used primarily for the cheeses.

The restaurant itself is intimate to say the least, with the 6 candlelit tables in the dining room seating a grand total of 22 diners. The handful of chairs at the bar are usually occupied by friends of the staff or neighborhood regulars, while a few tables outside on Barracks Street make for pleasant outdoor dining on the relatively quiet section of the Quarter which loses its vibrancy after the neighboring French Market closes down at dusk. Even the tables themselves seem shrunk to fit, with a party of 3 seemingly involved in a constant game of tetris to figure out how to arrange all of their glasses and plates to fit.

As alluded to above, prices at the Italian Barrel are expensive, with salads in the low to mid teens, modest-sized pasta courses a few dollars more, and carnivorous dishes in the $30s. Even the desserts raise an eyebrow at $12. Given the high quality of and importation premium on the ingredients, the level of sticker shock should probably register lower on the richter scale, but dinner at the Italian Barrel is no less than a $40 check average for a modest meal before wine. But it's how you spend that $40 that can greatly affect your level of satisfaction with your meal.

Peroni is available on draft, and the all Italian wine list has a fair number of bottles under $50. Start with the half cheese plate ($18), which features five large wedges of formaggio with varying degrees of texture, strength of flavor, and animals of origin. Accompanying this array are a trio ramekins of truffle honey, chestnut oil, and sweet/sour onion marmalade. This spread was so generous that TFS and I ended up taking over half of it home with us, so the half size is still plenty large enough for a table of 4.

Your meal should primarily consist of what I like to call the "Olive Garden Special": a salad or cold appetizer and a pasta course, but neither of them never-ending. I highly recommend the bresaola ($14), which is a dozen paper thin slices of air dried beef topped with a mess of arugula, a heavy shower of shaved parm, and a simple drizzle of olive oil. An often run special is a combination peppery arugula, silky slices of prosciutto de parma, and tiny bocconcini of mozzarella dressed yet again simply with oil and vinegar.

Pasta courses are reduced in size, but the richness of flavors is magnanimous. Fusilli is tossed in a cream sauce of peas, shallots, and smoky bits of speck. Pumpkin stuffed ravioli are bathed in a puddle of butter and sage. Unfortunately, the texture of the fire roasted ravioli was not up to the level of its brethren, and the sauced lacked zeal. On the opposite end of the spectrum was a special of perfectly toothsome tagliatelle in a richly decadent truffled cream sauce. But make sure to inquire as to price before you order, lest you suffer from the same surprise when we learned this luxurious dish carried a $29 price tag, almost double that of the rest of the pastas. It was still worth every penny though.

Of the short list of meat specialties on the menu, the only one I have sampled is the osso buco. An average sized veal shank arrives at your table with a demitasse spoon stuck into the marrow like the American flag planted on the moon. The veal was quite tender, but the swimming pool of polenta underneath - and the veal to a lesser degree - lacked seasoning. At a whopping $38, your money is best utilized on other choices on the menu.

Tiramisu is, of course, on the menu, and this version is strong on espresso flavor and light on sweetness. The house specialty dessert is a "chocolate salami" - a cylindrical flourless cake studded with crunchy bits of biscotti standing in as the peppercorns. The texture is that of a gritty fudge or an overly dense brownie, and the flavor is excellent.

The Italian Barrel is not a destination for an overkill of Italian fare commonly known as the "feed me" experience. But if you are one who enjoys a simple meal - bottle of wine, hunk of cheese, slices of ham, and a plate of pasta - featuring the finest ingredients that Italy has to offer, then you have come to the right place.

Italian Barrel - Birdie
430 Barracks Street
(504) 569-0198
Lunch and Dinner 7 days a week

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Paris Dispatches: Chocolate Roses

 A mind-altering display of chocolates at Patrick Roger. OK, not really mind-altering, but if you stare at it long enough a sailboat appears.

An overnight flight to Europe is not an awful way to spend Christmas. Face it, by noon at Christmas you are over the holiday, ready to kill Uncle Edgar, and wondering when you have to start making resolutions. Which is why Lindsay and I decided to spend Christmas in flight. The flight from Houston to Paris was about what you'd expect: soggy beef teriyaki, ice cold rolls, a tv monitor that didn't work, and neither enough booze nor sleep. Note: now airlines are charging for drinks on international flights; this is more troubling than charging you for bringing luggage.

When we arrived in Paris, she was blanketed by a cover of white snow. We stowed our bags in the apartment and headed out to begin rounding up provisions. Wine, cheese, bread, lettuce (don't worry it was not actually eaten), and pastries procured, we ate and then set off for Notre Dame, which is a church of significant importance due to it's underachieving football team.

Sightseeing done with, it was time to get back to snacking. First stop, was Patrick Roger to pick up some chocolates. While New Orleans may have in some Toolesian fantasy world po-boy shops on every corner, in Paris boutiques filled with pastries, breads, candies, and macaroons abound. The shops each have their own personality - from the whimsical forestry of Patrick Roger, the vintage, chocolate colored wonderland of Georges Larnicol, and the jewelery of Dabauve and Gallais, the shops express the vision of the chocolatier.

We sampled a variety of Roger's chocolate bars and truffles. The best being praline, lemon thyme, and lime chocolates. It being near Christmas time, Roger adorned.his shop with symbols of the season. There were Christmas trees dusted with snowy, powdered sugar, reindeer with exaggerated candied features, and a chocolate Santa Claus who resembled the bowling bowl from A Christmas Story.

A few more saunters through the 7th and we found ourselves near Da Rosa. Part wine shop, part dry goods store, part tapas restaurant, Da Rosa may be the single best place to snack in all of the world. It had been nearly twenty minutes since I last ate, so we started off quickly with some Salamanque vertes olives. As Lindsay will tell you, I can get very cranky if not fed timely. Also, when eating in any group setting, I tend to hoard the food. I blame it on being the baby of the family. Back to the olives - they were delicious with a big, meaty texture. I could have eaten these olives all day with a few glasses of sherry, but alas we had more work to do and were drinking rioja.

Then an arrangement of pink fleshed, white striped jamon iberico bellota unico crafted to resemble a rose. Made from 100% goodness of the black footed pig who spent his last few months munching on acorns, reading Shakespeare, and picking up hot chicks at barns. These pigs are spoiled. Just look at the striations of fat! The jamon itself could have been sliced just a bit thinner to really bring out the translucent and shimmering qualities of the ham. 

Also on the table was an order of toasted bread rubbed down with tomato that was a fine display of simple things done very well. While others at the table did not love the pate of pork and duck, I thought it was hearty and sultry like an overweight flamenco dancer.

Lastly, we rounded things out with a torchon of foie gras with quince jelly. Before we go any further, a word of caution. There is such thing as too much foie gras and truffles. We discovered this in Paris, but as this was our first foie dish in the city, we really enjoyed it, especially slathered across bread and sprinkled with sea salt. By the end of the trip, Lindsay began to openly hate foie. I think they have made up now, though.

So if you are keeping score at home, that was a full-day of eating with a brief smattering of sight-seeing. The rest of the trip would roll out in a similar fashion. But we are off to a good start, and everything was good enough to make that cross-ocean flight seem a distant memory like your last dental appointment.

Monday, January 10, 2011

We're Talking Salt and Pepper

These piggy salt and pepper shakers were won in my family's Dirty Santa game this past Christmas. Best. Gift. Ever.

More and more, I have been noticing that the new "statement" for a restaurant to make is omitting salt and pepper shakers from the table. The service tagline may go something like: "Our chef thinks that everything comes out of the kitchen already with the optimal amount of seasoning."

Fair enough, but what if the chef and I have differing opinions on what amount of seasoning is "optimal"?  Admittedly, I am a salt and pepper fiend. There was once a time when I would instinctively reach for ebony and ivory as soon as my plate hit the table and start vigorously shaking before even tasting my food. I probably would have registered as threat level orange by the National High Blood Pressure Education Program, but in recent times I have learned to curb my addiction.

The first instance I recall sitting down at a restaurant and noticing that there were no salt and pepper shakers was at The French Laundry. Instead of panicking, I said to myself: "It's Thomas freaking Keller, and he is watching the kitchen on a webcam right now. If he thinks the food is seasoned correctly, then that's fine by me."

But not every chef is Thomas Keller. I have started making a note of whether a restaurant leaves salt and pepper off the table by default, and let me tell you that list grows longer everyday. I understand that a chef believes that he knows his food better than anyone else, and henceforth his seasoning is the correct seasoning. But I also know that many cooks tend to underseason a dish because too much salt cannot be subsequently removed and any additional salt needed can be applied at the table.

So why make me go through the added effort of asking for the salt and pepper? Or is this more of a table decor issue? Salt is one of the few essential cooking elements, and while more is not necessarily always better, nothing brings out the flavor in foods like salt does.

Even in chocolate milk...

Friday, January 7, 2011

Shameless Shilling Alert

If studying the success of Al Copeland and Joe Francis taught us anything, it is that no one is going to promote you if you don't do it yourself. Don King didn't make all that money by keeping his mouth shut. Consider this a shameless shill for us. WE NEED YOUR VOTES!

There are many things we aren't fond of here at the Blackened Out Thrift Store, Notarial Archives and Seafaring Insurance Company. One thing we don't like is the color teal. Two others are hunger and losing. As you may have seen, we are currently embroiled in a vicious battle with other local food bloggers in the Langenstein's Blog Wars. Now, there have been many great wars: The Punic, 1812, World, and Brandy/Monica come to mind. But name us a more intense brand of warfare than 4 bloggers submitting recipes?

Peter has sharpened his bow staff and Rene's grenade launcher is locked and loaded like Bloggle the day before he went all vegan.We aren't saying we have ever cut a snitch. But we would. So vote for us. Save the world, stop hunger, and just vote Blackened Out. Don't forget, we have your IP addresses, we know where you live, and we will hunt you down like cattle, and we will gut you.

In all seriousness. Go to the website and vote for your favorite blogger. Since Robert Peyton is not participating, that would have to be us by default right?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Cold Hunger of the Flu

A particularly nasty and juvenile flu has overtaken me. The counter tops at home are strewn with syrupy medicines the color of rubies and emeralds. A pile of Kleenex grows on the coffee table resembling either an artistic rendering of either the Sphinx or an Air Traffic Control Tower. I have alerted Peter that if I do not survive he can have my law school loans.

Of course because it is a cold, I am eating like a refugee who has stumbled upon a grocery store in the middle of Darfur. There are many similarities between the hangover hunger and the cold hunger. For instance, just now, I ate a bowl of fried rice topped with vanilla ice cream. Trust me, it made sense at the time.

Of course soup is always what people tell you to eat when you have a cold. Or better yet they tell you this, "Someone needs to make you some chicken noodle soup."

Has anyone in history actually gotten homemade chicken noodle soup when they are sick? Such a statement is just an affectation - no one really wants to make a sick person soup. See also their next statement, "Don't breath on me."

So since no one will make you soup when you are sick, you have two options: either crack open that red and white can of soup which may have been left over from the previous tenants or make your own soup. Neither of those options will make you feel better. So scratch soup.

If you really want to fix the cold, you need a Hot Toddy. Now, there is a formal definition for this word; we can all debate what that is at the next meeting of Who Gives a Shit Anonymous. I use the term very broadly to mean a drink you fix when fighting a cold. When I lived in the arctic tundra (St. Louis), a spare bottle of brandy, some Grand Marnier, a simple syrup, and orange juice helped me battle what is known as a winter of catching colds and flus. So here it is.

The Flu Fighters

1 oz Brandy
1 oz Grand Marnier
1 Tablespoon Simple Syrup ("Just a spoonful sugar helps the medicine go down, the medicine go down...")
Orange juice, to taste

Combine the first three ingredients in a rocks glass. Stir. Top with orange juice. Chase with a mug of Thera-Flu.

It may not make you feel better, but at least you will fall asleep.

What foods or drinks do you crave when sick? Most original, wins a free copy of this cold.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Bistro at Maison de Ville

Reading and listening to Rene's Parisian adventures conjured up memories of my own family trip to Paris in Christmas 2006. One of the highlights of that trip was our Christmas day meal. After attending noon Mass at Notre Dame, we crossed the Seine onto Île Saint-Louis and happened upon a quaint restaurant whose name I cannot recall. I remember our waiter was a soft-spoken portly fellow who showed incredible patience with my Dad attempting to substitute vegetables instead of potatoes with his entree. I remember the interior had vaulted ceilings, dark woods, and stained glass. I remember that I had house-cured salmon to start and an excellent roasted chicken for my main dish.

But most of all, I remember how incredibly small the kitchen was. The two women occupying that space had barely enough room to stand side-by-side, and their movements seemed to be choreographed into a well timed complementary dance. If one zigged, the other had no choice but to zag.

I had never seen a kitchen of such size until a few years later when I walked into The Bistro at Maison de Ville for the first time. The galley style kitchen is actually one of several attributes which evoke memories of meals in a bistro in the Marais in Paris or a classical bouchon in Lyon. The small, narrow, low-ceilinged dining room is another. Nestled next door to (of all places) the renovated Tropical Isle, ducking into this rather unassuming door on Toulouse transports me to a warm, comforting place where the moment is defined by the food, your friends at the table, and nothing else.

"The Bistro", as it is affectionately known, is well known as the launching pad for Susan Spicer. For many years maître d’ ran Patrick Van Hoorebeek, the King of Cork, ran the dining room. Chef Greg Picolo has been at the helm (and aft) of the kitchen for quite a while now, and the menu reflects his affinity for classical French fare with Creole influences.

Lunch and dinner at The Bistro are almost two completely different animals, with the mid-day menu not nearly as inspiring as its evening counterpart. Lunch at The Bistro should always begin with Chef Greg's pate provencal, whose consistency The Folk Singer describes as "chocolate butter." Pate is good in and of itself, but as you can see above, pate topped with seared foie gras is so much f*cking better. Your best choice for a main course at lunch is the salad of house smoked salmon rillette (which is not really a rillette), frisee, poached eggs, toffika caviar, and creamy caper dressing. This is just an outstanding dish, with the richness of the egg yolk, saltiness from the capers, and crackly pops of the caviar. Moules frites, croque monsieur, a burger, and fried chicken round out the rest of the lunch entrees, all solid overall but not star worthy.

For some reason the pate is not offered on the dinner menu, but often a complimentary ramekin of olive tapenade will found its way to your table. At night, the aforementioned salmon rillette salad is offered with one poached egg as a starter course. Dinner at The Bistro should include duck, and Chef Greg prepares le canard in a number of ways. The deconstructed cassoulet (pictured) is quite the standout, with confit of leg and thigh, garlic sausage, wild rice, and cannellini beans. However, the current duck offering probably was the best duck dish I have ever tasted: Roasted breast of duck, seared foie gras, and grilled peaches. The juicy duck breast was excellent all by its lonesome, but the combination of the breast with the rich foie gras and the sweetness of the grilled peach was a match made in heaven. Even the accompanying creamy risotto had tiny nibbles of duck confit dispersed throughout.

The menu always offers a daily appetizer and entree special, and I have had excellent luck with these in the past. A huge filet of drum is pan sauteed and served with a wonderfully acidic and spicy beure blanc spiked with caviar and wasabi. There is, of course, a filet whose tenderness is beyond reproach, but at $39 for 8oz. I would recommend looking elsewhere. Same goes for the paneed pork tenderloin "Ya Mom and Dem."

I have only made it to the dessert course at The Bistro on two occasions. I can't recall much about the praline torte other than I had written down that it was "awesome." I will never forget the chocolate sundae though - a simple, fantastic dessert with homemade whipped cream and rich chocolate.
Every time I walk into The Bistro and sit down, my first reaction is always "There is just something about this place that I love."  Really, the question should be: What's not to love?
The Bistro at Maison de Ville - Birdie/Eagle
733 Rue Toulouse
Lunch Thur, Fri, Mon
Dinner Thur - Mon

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Paris Dispatches: Robuchon

Paris, France- It is 10 a.m. on December 27th. The sun has just risen over the rooftop of the Place des Vosges. It is cold. It is overcast. We have a date with L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon for lunch. Lindsay is eating an omelet for breakfast, but I can only nibble on a few tears of hot baguette slathered with salty, cool butter.

I hustle Lindsay along through the early morning rituals. She needs to take a shower. After that, there is hair to straighten, outfits to choose and discard, temperature checks, selection of the final outfit, and then covering it all up with a big thick coat, gloves, and a scarf. We are out of the apartment at 11:15, shattering all previous land-speed records.

The goal is to walk from the apartment to L'Atelier near the Rue du Bac in the 7th Arrondissement. It is a good walk. The air, though cold, is dry, and we pass by the shops on Rue Rivoli, the Louvre, and in the distance the spires of Notre Dame. We get off off track and walk a little further than we intended. This builds character and more importantly, appetite. Halfway there, we realize we forgot the camera.

Ohh come on, like you expected good photos anyway.

At a little after noon, we enter a black and red sanctum with approximately 40 seats wrapping around a completely open kitchen. The design and service of the scheme reflects Japanese sushi or Spanish tapas  rather than a classic French restaurant. This is on purpose and works incredibly well.

A glass of Champagne arrives as we look over the menu. But we have come all this way and picking two or three dishes just would be about as sensible as reading Playboy just for the articles. We are here to eat. To eat well and beautifully. We ask for the tasting menu.

First course is an amuse bouche of Jerusalem Artichokes pureed into a chilled soup incredibly fine and smooth in texture. On top of the cream colored soup is a sprinkle of Espelette powder. The potage managed to taste hearty due to the sturdy flavor of the Jerusalem Artichokes (which are neither Jerusalem nor Artichokes, discuss).

Next course was a scallop carpaccio, sliced to the width of a dime and topped with a citrus vinaigrette and fines herbs. Crowning the dish were dollops of sea urchin roe. Just a stunning dish, with the clarity of the scallop shining through and the richness of the bright orange urchin roe providing a nice contrast. Nothing bold, nothing out of place, no two ingredients fighting for the lead role. This would prove to be a theme.

Now came Lindsay's favorite dish of the lunch. A slice of potato was boiled just until done, then topped with a piece of smoked eel, a fine spoonful of caviar, and a horseradish cream. Due to a slight mistranslation, we originally thought the fish was smoked salmon. So imagine our surprise when the sublime, smoked but still moist fish turned out to be eel.

The real star here was the caviar. Tons of chefs place caviar on top of dishes in an attempt to give it an air of luxury. Most of the caviar employed in the dolloping and gilding is banal stuff - dry, chewy, and gross. This caviar popped into a rush of salty harmony with the smoky fish and pungent horseradish cream. This dish was so good, halfway thru I asked it if it was on birth control.

Here is the reason foie gras gets all the press. A half inch thick - as big around as the filet mignon peddled by many restaurants - seared crispy on both sides, and the interior just beginning to turn molten. It was plated very simply, with a few white beans underneath, an apple chip on top, and a ring of demi glace. Believe in the power of man to turn a fattened duck's liver into something surreal.

Next up an ode to the egg. Now, I try not to get all philosophical but this dish seemed to be an impressionist cook painting a field in spring. Let me explain. At the bottom of a martini glass was a bright, tart, and green parsley puree (grass), then a layer of soft poached egg and silken whites (sun), surrounded it all was a white cream (clouds) studded with mushrooms (dirt). It was freaking fantastic.

All of the above were accompanied by a bottle of Raveneau Premier Cru Chablis. I really liked it, but it is best to let Lindsay explain, "Normally, you pick these white wines and my reaction is 'whatever', but I really liked that wine." After this course we stayed in Burgundy, but went to Gevrey-Chambertin for a barnyard, modest fruit masterpiece. 

If the last dish was an impressionist painting of a spring field, the next one was a cleverly put together puzzle of the cuisines of the Mediterranean. A square of rouget (a Mediterranean fish) was topped with some "aromatics"- olives, tomato, eggplant, then a pistachio oil. As someone who is not a fan of fish, in general, I found this plate of food remarkably interesting. There was a slight hint of heat (from more of the Espelette powder), a savoriness from the aromatics, and then in the center of it all, but not lost, a well-cooked piece of fish.

There was only one choice presented to us: lamb chops, beef cheeks, or quail. We chose one beef cheek and one quail. The beef cheek was pure luxury. A moat of deep purple reduced braising liquid surrounded a fortress of braised beef, still juicy and well-seasoned. Little nuggets of bacon and pearl onions spaced at equal intervals brought the dish back to it's routes: beef bourguignon.

Now, part of the reason we ordered the quail was because it came with an order of Robuchon's world famous pomme puree. That is French for "ridiculously good mashed potatoes." Here they came topped with a few slices of black truffle. Talk about gilding a lily. The quail was stuffed with a foie gras mixture, grilled and sauced very lightly. But those potatoes. Holy Christmas carols. We asked for a small side of them and they brought us a serving in a small casserole dish. We ate the buttery, rich, and silken potatoes with the sauce from my dish and Lindsay's. But they were best standing on their own.

(Robuchon's secret is he uses half the amount butter per pound as potatoes. The cook in charge of making them, then furiously whips the puree before service. So discard everything I said about making mashed potatoes.)

A palate cleanser of sorts arrived next. A cream of "exotic fruits" - think Kiwi, passionfruit, etc. - sat on top of a granita of rum. This was all fine and well, but it just set the stage for the knockout blow.

A simple apple tart, in essence with caramel ice cream. Perfectly flaky crust filled with the deep, rich taste of stewed apples and then a delicious, rich caramel ice cream. Then a Fernet Branca (to ease the digestion), and we were out the door.

This meal didn't change our lives. We didn't walk out the door and feel like we won the lottery. We didn't uncover any essential truths of man's struggle against nature. None of that. What made it so great was that we looked forward to it, we hyped it for months, and it exceeded our expectations. But it did not exceed our expectations by giving us mind binding riddles of guess the ingredient or flavor's fighting to the death, rather it did so with subtlety and grace. All of the flavors were demur, which isn't to say dumbed or watered down but rather acoustic, elegant, and natural. On the way out, the hostess asked us how we enjoyed our meal, and the only thing I could ask was where I could find a cigarette.

It was that good.

Monday, January 3, 2011

The 2011 Challenge

Two years ago, we initiated what has become dubbed "The Challenge" as a way to motivate ourselves to expand our culinary horizons. In 2009, I attempted (and failed) to avoid eating in the same restaurant for 365 days. Last year, Rene spent his time recreating restaurant dishes at home. While we may have not reached our end goals in our respective challenges, we learned a lot along the way. Hopefully you readers did as well.

And with the dawn of a new year, it is once again time to throw down the gauntlet. We received a number of suggestions for this year's challenge. Eating dessert after every meal sounded like a delicious recipe... for diabetes. Vietnamese weekdays would have won out except that I can not afford to pay the Crescent City Connection toll so often. And unfortunately, The Folk Singer put the kibosh on "Awful Offal Humpdays" because she said there was no way that she was eating tripe, sweetbreads, or tongue for dinner once a week.

In the end, I decided to dovetail off of a suggestion from a reader who thought it would be fun if every week I had to eat at a local restaurant that I have never been to before. Given the lag time between dining at a restaurant and writing about the experience, I knew that such a challenge would not be feasible as written. Plus, Rene and I try to cover as much ground as we can individually, and there are quite a few spots that he has written about but I have yet to visit, such as Le Foret, Dominique's, and Rue 127. Still, the goal behind this suggestion is to push your faithful bloggers to cast a wider net over the local dining scene, an expansion that many other readers have encouraged us to undertake.

So without further ado, the 2011 Challenge is stated henceforth:

Once a week, every week, I will write about at least one local eatery that has never before been written about on Blackened Out. This includes write ups by Rene and myself. Basically, if the restaurant does not have a label (a full list of which is located on the left midway down the page), then it's fair game to be included in the challenge list.

BONUS: The first 15 qualifying restaurants listed in the comments of today's post MUST be included in The Challenge. Only one restaurant per commenter. Changing IP addresses in order to submit multiple entries is grounds for disqualification. No purchase is necessary. Void in Alaska, Hawaii and wherever else prohibited.

The 2011 Challenge. In the words of Barney Stinson, it's going to be LEGEN... wait for it... DARY.