Monday, February 28, 2011

Mr. John's

As many of you already know, the etymology of "carnival" roughly translates as "farewell to meat." This comes as no surprise to most locals, whose study in linguisitics is simplified by the customary knowledge that when Lent rolls around, we turn our taste buds toward boiled crawfish and fried shrimp instead of roast beef po-boys and muffulettas. Last year, in honor of the carnival season, we authored a series of blog entries which asked locals the question: "What would be your last bite of meat before Lent?"

This year, we fell victim to laziness, and therefore the "Farewell to Meat" series is on hiatus until 2012. But I could not let the Carnival season pass by without scribbling a few words about steak.

Several of my co-workers have been singing the praises of Mr. John's Steakhouse for quite a while, proclaiming that I must visit taste what they proclaimed to be the best steak in New Orleans. After my lone visit two weeks ago, I can't say that Mr. John's serves the #1 steak in the city, but it's Italian side of the menu deserved equal if not more recognition.

The restaurant is masculine, but in an old school Italian manner. The wall in the entryway is covered with framed and signed photographs, while the main dining room is dark and loud with sound echoing off the black and white tiled floor. The service is young, male, and professional. The wine list is surprisingly affordable for a steakhouse, with plenty of bottles under $60.

Meals begin with a basket of light, crisp, and buttery toasts of french bread. Do not forego the eggplant parmesan ($9), which is presented as a cube of thinly sliced paneed eggplant stacked intermittently with layers of mozzarella cheese and covered in a smooth marinara enriched with cream. When Lent rolls around, my default Friday dinner may be 10 orders of the dish. The house salad ($9) is a nice mix of greens, grape tomatoes, roasted red peppers, and shaved parmesan tossed with a red wine vinaigrette, with the only missing ingredient being a sprinkle of salt. The opposite was true though with the French onion soup, whose scalding hot base had been salted to an overkill.

The waiter touted the prime New York strip ($37) as the house specialty, and I took his advice even though I prefer the tenderness of a ribeye. The massive slab of beef arrived on a plate so sizzling hot that I could have used a bib to protect against the melting butter splattering off the plate. I can't deny the tastiness of the beef or the precise execution of the warm-pink, medium-rare center. But the strip is just not my cut of beef.

The Folk Singer out did me again with her Veal Alyssa ($26). whose duo of baby veal cutlets were pounded so thin that only the slight pressure from a fork was necessary to cut individual bites. The white wine, lemon, caper, and butter sauce draped over the veal was lipsmacking delicious, and the small tangle of fettucini was lightly tossed in a minimalist alfredo sauce that consisted of not much more than butter and parmesan with a slight touch of cream.

Midway through the meal, The Folk Singer passed me her plate for a taste, and I promptly polished off every last morsel of veal and drop of sauce. It was not until our way home that she said, "You know I just realized that I wasn't finished with my dinner when I handed you my plate. But you didn't seem too concerned with whether or not I wanted any more."

"Sorry," I said. "Do you want to go back tomorrow night? I'm craving that eggplant parmesan."

Mr. John's Steakhouse - Birdie/Eagle
2111 St. Charles Avenue
(504) 679-7697
Dinner Tues-Sat; Lunch Fridays

Friday, February 25, 2011

Mailing it in...

We're taking a breather from the blog today, but don't worry we will be back on Monday with more incessant ramblings.

In the mean time, it looks to be a beautiful day to play hooky and take in the Krewe of Cork parade in the French Quarter. Have a great weekend.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Paris Wrap Up

It has been just about two months since we got back from Paris. It should come as no surprise that we are ready to return. Telling people about the trip calls forth memories and longings to sell it all and take up the romantic life on an ex-pat. This of course will not happen. Instead we will wait patiently to return.

Paris in winter is not the Paris of your dreams. There are no idyllic outdoor cafes to sit in; no lazy afternoons stretching into twilight; no sipping rose and listening to Edith Piaf. Not once did we see an old man with an accordion and a monkey. Not once. Nothing is in bloom. The trees are barren skeletons, their spiny branches blending in with the cold, gray sky. No red balloon traipses over the tree tops ready to carry you off into happiness.

I'd be willing to go Paris every winter for the rest of my life.

I don't need to tell you about the charm Paris has. Other writers who get paid to write have stated all that needs to be said about Paris. Paris is like a joke: if it needs to be explain it to you, you won't get it. True to form, they aren't the nicest people in the first. A smile, a polite, if unpronounced bonjour, goes a very long way in bridging the gap. Don't forget the French helped us defeat the British. They like us, they really do.

Middle of the trip, we boarded the TGV bound for Epernay. After arriving in Epernay, we headed southeast towards Oger. Workers were pruning the vines which stood out in marked contrast from the cotton white, snow covered ground. We turned into small development. Where in America the space between homes would have been filled with manicured lawns, ferns, and rosebushes, here every available inch of soil sprouted grand cru chardonnay. France wins.

The car backed down an incline driveway and out popped Bruno the proprietor of Vauversin Champagne. Before Bruno took over his father ran the business. And his father before that, and so on and so back as far as the 1600s. He led us into his garage and down a flight of stairs into his basement. In the basement, the father and son team, ferment, bottle, riddle, age, and cork all of the Champagne which bears their label. We then went upstairs, where it was time to pop corks. We sipped thru their brut, brut reserve, and a 2004 millesime before purchasing a few bottles of this and a few of that.

Through the entire exchange very little English was spoken by the Vauversins and very little French by us. Somehow we communicated just fine.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The King Cake Chronicles: NKOTB

In last week's episode of the King Cake Chronicles, we tasted our way through the first family of king cakes, the Randazzos. This week we head to the opposite end of the spectrum, taking a looksee at a few of the king cake bakers who have debuted this year.

Cochon Butcher

Pastry Chef Rhonda Rhuckman has taken the traditional king cake to new levels with her miniature editions available for pickup at Cochon Butcher. The soft brioche dough has a variety of fillings, including praline, strawberries and cream, and a chocolatey combination of sour cream, devil's food crumbs, and chocolate chips. Bonus points for the porcine replacement of the traditional baby.


Fans of Pizza Delicious have already tasted the work of Christine, dough stretcher extraordinaire, but this Mardi Gras season she has taken her talents solo with her own king cake business, known as Regicide. The first time I ordered one of Christine's king cakes, I went against her recommendation and requested that she omit her standard sweet cream cheese filling. The result was an excellent brioche dough that came out too dry. Mea culpa.

Luckily, I was not deterred by my own idiocy, and so I sampled a slice of the "O How Nice Apple & Spice" version a week later at PD. The difference was remarkable. The thin layer of cream cheese swirled throughout the dough helps keep the cake moist and light without overpowering the flavor of the dough, and the apple filling was minimal but perfectly proportioned.

Lessons for the day: Trust the baker, and never mess with perfection.

Maple Street Patisserie

In Ziggy Cichowski's native Poland, his countrymen celebrate Paczki Day as the feast before the Lenten fast begins. But Ziggy's unfamiliarity with Mardi Gras has proved not be a rampart for creating a king cake which reminds of a much improved version of a much exalted classic. The top of the cake is a braid with peaks and valleys covered in a snowstorm of granulated purple, green, and gold sugar and a decorative drizzle of white icing. The yeasty, almost donut-like flavor reminds me of the old school McKenzie's king cake, but 100x better.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Get Busy Living...

Last week, Ian McNulty, superstar author, rugby aficionado, and sole remaining friend of the wine guy known as Bloggle, wrote a terrific piece in The Gambit about how trends in the restaurant and food world were gaining a foothold in New Orleans cuisine. The article probes a serious question which I believe to be, "Is New Orleans cuisine amenable to change?"

My answer is yes. Painting in broad strokes here, but the concept of "Creole Cuisine" is rooted in the fundamental principle that people move here. They bring with them ideas of food and cooking. They look around New Orleans and say, "How can we do that here." That is the truest definition of Creole cooking.

I cook red beans pretty regularly, but on Sundays, not Mondays. Sundays are when I do wash as like normal Americans, I work on Monday. Because beans are better the next day, I cook them on Sunday and eat them on Monday. Tradition and practice must adapt occasionally or else we all end up looking like this:

Let's take this a step further shall we and put it into hypothetical practice. In general Antoine's created or refined the concept of the American restaurant. For years, Antoine's innovated, explored, and created. Rightly so, they were rewarded with throngs of business, private rooms, a wine cellar as deep as the Mariana Trench, and accolades from Presidents and Popes.

Then they stopped doing what made them famous. Antoine's settled into a parody of itself. A play in which patrons watched understudies perform the leading roles. (It was once told to me by a member of the family which owns Antoine's, "We dont have a chef. We have cooks.") In the meantime, Prudhomme, Chase, Emeril, Spicer, Brigtsen, and now, Link, Besh, and Garcia have passed up Antoine's in terms of the full dining experience. You want to take a client to dinner, you aren't going to Antoine's anymore.

Look, I love going to Antoine's once or twice a year, but how many times can we all pretend the fish isn't dry, or the steak flabby, or that she just isn't that great anymore. Antoine's has become an old beauty queen. One can still see she is gorgeous, but her makeup is smudged and her dress sticks to her slip.

So what to do? Well, the amazing Jimmy Corwell just parted ways with Le Foret. His cooking skill and talent is a very welcome addition to the New Orleans dining scene. He assembled a very sharp, trained team of cooks at Le Foret who eventually will open their own restaurants (assuming Eddie Sapir doesn't get in their way).

Hire Jimmy Corwell. Leave the current kitchen staff there; they can handle the traditional menu and those large banquets. Give Corwell and whatever crew he can find, one room and one menu. Let him create the next Oysters Rockefeller. Let guests once again feel like they are eating in the greatest restaurant in the world. A juxtaposition of the old and the new. You want Oysters Foch? You got it. A puree of butternut squash topped with a foie gras mousse and truffles? Of course. You have a waitstaff any 3 star Michelin restaurant would pay to have. You added a bar. Take it one step further.

You wo'nt lose your street cred, Antoine's. You will attract younger diners who - let's face it - you need to get a hold of right now before you are a distant memory. Imagine the press, the excitement, the waiting lists. Set the bar again, Antoines. Make your food matter as much as the rest of it. And keep a talented chef in New Orleans. This isn't about trends or traditions. It isn't personal; it is business.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Week in Preview

This week is loaded with special events for food and wine lovers. So open up your Outlook calendar because we have a lot of planning to do.

  • Barolo Wine Dinner (SOLD OUT) - Herbsaint presents a special dinner featuring the Barolo wines of Podere Rocche Dei Manzoni & Gianfranco Bovio.
  • Riverbend Tapas Crawl - The restaurants of the Riverbend invite you to their monthly ambulatory feast.
  • Winemaker Meet & Greet - Swirl hosts winemaker Andrew Rich, who will be pouring out samples of his Willamette Valley wines.
  • Cigar & Beer Pairing - The Avenue Pub invites cigar lovers to enjoy a smoke along with their extensive beer selection in 6 different pairing suggestions.
  • Bushmills Whiskey Dinner - Master of whiskey James McCartney hosts a 5 course dinner paired with whiskeys from the famed distillery.
  • Gabrielle in Purgatory (WAITING LIST ONLY) - Vintage Orleans is hosting a dinner featuring menu favorites from Gabrielle, gone for now but not forgotten.
  • Andrew Rich Wine Dinner - The Oregon winemaker teams up with Vega Tapas Cafe for a 5 course dinner paired with his hand crafted wines.
  • Krewe of Cork - King Patrick van Hoorebeek and his merry group of winos will be parading through the French Quarter on Friday afternoon, celebrating all things great that come in a wine glass.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Playing Hooky (Sung to the Tune of Makin Whoopee)

Growing up, perfect attendance in school always seemed like such a noble goal. But it wasn't till college that I realized skipping afternoon classes was much more enjoyable. This practice was honed and perfected such that by the time my third year of law school came around, I had it down to a science. Here was the science.

Many people will tell you stupidly to schedule classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays and have no classes MWF. This is stupid for two reasons a) Classes on Tues. and Thurs. are usually 1.5 hours b) Who wants to be in class all day anyday. Instead you do this. Schedule all your classes for MWF and go religiously the first 6 weeks (in fall too hot, in winter too cold to enjoy outside). Then start taking off every Friday. Now you have the gift of no classes on Friday, without the burden of being in class all day Thursday.

This works in the real world as well, especially in New Orleans where playing hooky on Friday afternoons is a sign of a good worker. When the weather is this perfect, if you aren't playing hooky you are unemployed. And I apologize for that. So today I want you to tell your boss at 11:45 "I am taking prospective client/client/Jamiroquai to lunch. Ehhh, wish I didn't have to do this. He/She is so boring."

Now you are clear for the afternoon. Getting lunch is a good idea. But really you want to spend this gorgeous day holed up in a cool, dark bar. Why? Well if someone calls looking for you, you need to be ready to go back to the office. Do not leave campus; stay within "Yeah boss, I'm on my way back to the office" striking distance.

And avoid places where you can sit outside and drink. Why? Jesus, do I have to explain everything to you.

Couple of options for you. Let's say you are getting reimbursed for this meeting. Hit up the tony Sazerac Bar in the Roosevelt Hotel. The decor is dark enough and the vibe clubby, which helps keep lookie loos away. I like a Ramos Gin Fizz in this bar because that is what her most famous patron enjoyed. You do not want to piss off the ghost of Bobby Hebert.

Next door to the Roosevelt, is the unaffiliated but fortuitously named, Roosevelt Hotel Bar. Chef Chris Cody has just taken over the reigns and is turning out some impressive bar food. Ask for the off-menu Cody Special, a meatgasmic blend of all things holy: pork, cheese, and supermodels in bathing suits. The cocktail list has a wealth of treasures, I particularly liked a bourbon and soda concoction spiked with ginger and threaded with rosemary. The Roosevelt Hotel Bar is completely off-the-radar of most folks. Good for hiding and making new friends you will never see again.

If you really want to do this day right, find Chuck's Damn Near 24-Hour Bar and walk into the darkness. Sunlight is outlawed inside of Chuck's, but the jukebox may just be the best in the city. Win/Win if you ask me. The last time I was at Chuck's some rube kept buying everyone Tic Tac shots, which are as horribly delicious as they sound. The maids and porters from area hotels shooting pool at 2 p.m. give this place more character development than 9 seasons of Friends.

Going to Chuck's? Cancel whatever plans you made for later tonight. If you play hooky, right, they either won't or shouldn't come to fruition.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A Camellia in the Quarter

Remember when the new owners of Camellia Grill announced their plans to open satellite locations in Destin and Baton Rouge? I for one recall an overwhelming sense of fear that the expansion would result in the loss of the "Naturally N'Awlins" feel to one of our beloved local institutions. But those two particular locations the Baton Rouge iteration never came to fruition [and the Destin location has since closed]. Instead, a Camellia Grill blossomed in the French Quarter.

This past Sunday was my first visit to the new outpost of NOLA's favorite diner, and I must say that had the windows been blocked from the view onto Chartres, you could have fooled me into thinking that we were under the oaks next to the streetcar line. The waiters banter back and forth with both the cooks and customers, though Sleepy was nowhere to be found. Even the path to the restroom is a winding one, though instead of passing through the back kitchen on Carrollton Avenue, you wander through a centuries old courtyard.

Many of us have our standard orders at Camellia Grill, whether that be a cheeseburger, omelet, or waffle. (Or depending on how much you imbibed the night before - cheeseburger, omelet, AND waffle.) Likewise for me, I've had trouble deviating from the same order since the days when I used to slip $20 to the bouncer at The Boot for a wristband.

The Manhattan Omelet - corned beef, onions, swiss cheese, and french fries. It may not look like the work of Julia Child, but trust me: This is the breakfast which has laid many a hangover to rest. And this particular omelet served last weekend was one of the best that I've eaten from Camellia Grill in quite some time. Underneath that tan exterior was a light/fluffy/creamy matrix of melted cheese, salty nibbles of corned beef, and crispy fries. It was like Sunday morning after 50 Cent Night all over again.

Camellia Grill (French Quarter) - Par/Birdie
540 Chartres Street
Sun-Thurs 7am-1am; Fri & Sat till 3am.
those two particular satellite locations
those two particular satellite locations

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

An Italian Groove

If Vietnamese was all the rage with the under 30 Bywater set in 2010, then Italian is going to be the It cuisine in 2011. Well, that is if the last month of where I've been eating is any indication. It all started when Peter and I dined at Mario Batali's Otto restaurant in Las Vegas. Verdict: that guy and his cooks know what they are doing. Carbonara pizza was stunning. I find myself continuously reaching for Marcella Hazan cookbooks and dreaming of prosciutto and prosecco laced afternoons.

Last Friday, lunch at Herbsaint. Began with a few samples of menu items chef de cuisine Ryan Prewitt has been developing. First was a mortadella puree with mustard seeds and pickled red onions. Simply dynamite. Then a large cornmeal blini topped with smoked mackerel tossed in a hazelnut dressing and thin slices of kumquat. While I am not the hugest fan of smoked fish, this was a delight: soft and fragrant with the kumquats and hazelnut dressing taking the dish in a Venetian/Orient trading direction.

Then, the dark rust colored chicken and sausage gumbo and a Tuscan bean soup. The chicken and sausage gumbo at Herbsaint is the best in the city. Smoky, rich, and thick without being gloppy, this version achieves a level of perfection few gumbos ever reach. Next a salad of fresh lettuces with city ham, Ryal's cheddar, and a buttermilk dressing. The city ham got lost in the shuffle and were chewy, but the slivers of Ryal's cheddar were creamy and delicious. Now granted, there was nothing Italian about the salad or the gumbo. However, the simple presentation and selection of good local ingredients is Italian in spirit. Finished it off with the always amazing and over the top spaghetti with fried egg and guanciale. Again, not sure if this Italian, but like Sinatra it should be.

Next Tuesday, Herbsaint is hosting a Barolo dinner with Hopper's Wine and Spirits. The menu is solid, the wines rare, and the company will be great as I have heard Robert Peyton will not be in attendance.

Dinner two weeks ago at a Mano. We dined as we are becoming accustomed to - order a selection of appetizers or starters to dance around the menu. The usually reliable and excellent tripe fell just short of its mark, the tripe slightly overcooked and turning to mush. The bruschetta di 'nduja was marvelous though with its deep porky flavor and perk of spiciness. Braesola with arugula is a dish best enjoyed on a summer night, but it is not bad on a cold Thursday either. The ricotta fritters were dense and boring; they need to bring back the Supli al Telefono.

Spaghetti carbonara and buccattini alla'amatriciana rounded out the meal. The former suffered from a bit too much salt but was still a glorious example of why pork and eggs are totes BFF. The latter could have been spicier for more taste, but the impeccable pasta did nothing to distract me from the Italian Groove.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Gabrielle in Purgatory

The plight of Mary and Greg Sonnier has been well documented in the press, on this blog, and throughout message boards across the web. Since August 2005, the Sonniers have been chefs without a home for their beloved Gabrielle Restaurant. Months after the flood waters of Katrina devastated their Mid-City location, the Sonniers purchased The Uptowner, a building at 438 Henry Clay where they hoped to re-open Gabrielle. Unfortunately, unbeknowst to the Sonniers, discrepancies in the city permitting process would require a zoning change to operate a restaurant in this location. After numerous hearings in the front of the City Planning Commission and opposition from neighbors, two weeks ago the New Orleans City Council denied the Sonniers' request for a zoning change. The Sonniers have reluctantly admitted that the fight for Gabrielle may be over for good.

But the ultimate fate of Gabrielle has not yet been decided. In essence, Gabrielle is in a state of purgatory. While we all await final judgment of this beloved restaurant, a lucky few will have the opportunity to taste just exactly what all the fuss is about.

Vintage Orleans is proud to present "Gabrielle in Purgatory" at The Uptowner on Thursday February 24th at 7:00pm. The five course menu will resurrect several of Gabrielle's signature dishes, and each course will be paired with wines to match.

The cost of the dinner is $85 per person inclusive of food, wines, tax, and tip. Seating is limited, and reservations are required. Email to reserve your seat today, as this dinner is sure to sell out quickly.


What: Wine Dinner featuring the Best of Gabrielle
Where: The Uptowner, 438 Henry Clay Ave.
Date: Thursday February 24th
Time: 7:00pm
Cost: $85 per person (inclusive of wines, tax, and tip)

First Course
Oysters Gabbie
A Pair of Oysters on the Half Shell Baked
With Chef Greg's Signature Artichoke Topping

Second Course
Mixed Sausage Kabob
Rabbit & Andouille Sausages with Honey-Lavendar Mustard Sauce

Third Course
Petit BBQ Shrimp Pie
Mashed Sweet Potatoes in a Tart Shell, Topped with BBQ Shrimp

Fourth Course
Slow Roasted Duck
Roasted Red Peppers, Mushrooms, & Orange Sherry Sauce
Over Shoestring Fried Potatoes

Ponchatoula Strawberry Shortcake
With Fresh Whipped Cream

We hope to see you at this dinner to relive Gabrielle. Gone for now but not forgotten.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The King Cake Chronicles: The Randazzos

Nothing says "I love you" like a family dynasty begotten from sugar-covered and cinnamon-flavored braided dough.

In New Orleans the name "Randazzo" is synonymous with king cake. It all started out in Da Parish (as all good things do) in 1965 when brothers Lawrence, Tony, and Manuel Randazzo opened Randazzo's HiLan Bakery in Chalmette. But did you know that there is not 1, not 2, not 3, but 4 (that I know of) present day king cake bakeries with roots grounded in the Randazzo family tree?

Truthfully, to me "Randazzo's" has always delineated Manny Randazzo's, whose Fat City storefront is marked by long lines during the carnival season. But in the interest of true journalism, I decided to sample each of the Randazzo family king cakes to determine if one deserves the title of king among king cakes.

First, a few general notes. All of the Randazzo king cakes are similar both in flavor and in appearance, so I decided to include only one representative photo (from Manny's). The dough is akin to a large, braided cinnamon roll. I happen to be a fan of the thick, sugary white icing which is a trademark of the Randazzo family, but I am respectful of those who are not. Lastly, call me a purist but I prefer my king cakes plain. Gloppy, overpowering cream cheese filling is an instant turnoff. (Though some filled king cakes are welcome in my book, and we'll discuss those on another day).

So without further ado, here are the contestants:

  • Manny Randazzo's - Founded in 1992, Manny Jr. is probably the most well known (and thus most popular) of the Randazzo bakeries. Available only by pickup at the N. Hullen Street location or by mail order, this soft king cake can be easily spotted by it's trademark purple, green, and gold colored sprinkles.
  • Nonna Randazzo's - Hailing from Covington by way of Katrina evacuation, Nonna's is run by Joel Randazzo Forjet (daughter of Lawrence Randazzo) and her husband Felix Forjet, himself a veteran of the HiLan Bakery. Available for pickup in the store or at Canseco's Supermarket, Nonna's king cake has a darker crust and firmer interior than Manny's, though it's by no means dry. Curiously enough though, instead of elongated Mardi Gras sprinkles, Nonna's uses red and blue colored non-pareils.
  • Randazzo's Camellia City Bakery - Honestly, I don't know if I could tell the difference between Camellia City and Manny's in a blind taste test. The Camellia City king cake in my office kitchen last week looked and tasted exactly like Manny's. That's to say it was delicious. Available for pick-up in store or various other locations.
  • King Cakes by Dianne - Interesting enough, "Dianne R" chooses not to trade on the family name. Her king cake is probably the most distinctive among the group, with granulated sugar adding a layer of color on top of the white icing. you can pick-up one of Diane's king cakes at several spots around town.
And the royalty among the Randazzo king cakes? It's still Manny's for me, but who in the hell cares what I think? Let us know your opinion in the comments and in today's poll.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Lovertime and the Living's Easy

Congratulations to Caroline "Can't Fight the" Stivers for taking home first place in the 2011 Valentine's Day Mad Libs Mad Dash for Cash Equivalents in the form of Chocolates and Other Sweets. And kudos  to our second place finisher Joe "Burg Burg Juice" Briand who took us on a magical journey to the Jersey Shore to find true love. We had a tie for third place between Kevin Allman and Talamo which means we need to look at head to head.

Allman starts out real strong with "horned up amuse bouches" and a nod to Fat Harry's. The juxtaposition of battery and vibrate however caused many a single women to exclaim, "Men! Who needs em?" Which lost him crucial votes in the apathy portion of our readers. He ends well with a great remark concerning the last Mrs. Al Copeland.

Talamo played to Rene's vanity and it worked. (Although the entry which included Rene's cousin Emile receives major big ups.) Fiery buttocks is always funny no matter who you are. The phrase a stanky bouquet of pool balls might have won it for Talamo if not for the obvious secretive reference to the Simpsons ("The Box Factory"). Giving a Grammy to Buzz Aldrin saved Talamo's entry from a fiery re-entry (get it?) after the horrendous hilarious pillows line. 

And the Third Place winner is: Kevin Talamo because a mash up of your two entries would have been amazing. Because of the tie, Kevin will receive the gift certificate and he will send the chocolates to Talamo. This seems fair to these King Solomons.

Thanks again everybody for playing and to Sucre for sponsoring such silly sweetness (get it? Damn we are on). If you won kindly email us today, so we can tell you how to claim your prize which you need to do this weekend. Peter is running some sort of running thing on Sunday.  Rene once read about a guy named Pheidippides and what happened to him when he ran.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Da Fair Grounds

Dear Male Readers,

Please brace yourself for this shocking revelation: Football season is... gulp... over.

We have entered this dreaded spring and summer doldrums when no longer is there an excuse to lay around the couch all day Saturday listening to Lou Holtz's incessant blatherings on how Notre Dame is finally going to turn it around this season. No more Sunday fun days consisting of hours upon hours of listening to "Stand Up and Get Crunk" and following Rene's Saints gameday emotional highs and lows on Twitter. The only pig skin that you will be seeing for the foreseeable future is on the table at Cochon.

So what's a guy to do with all of this free time?  Wouldn't it be great if there was a special place where one can spend an entire afternoon drinking beer, analyzing data like Beyer speed figures and the effect of equine bowel movements on velocity, and engaging in 90 second episodes of pari-mutuel wagering.

Welcome to the Fair Grounds, one of the most underutilized forms of entertainment in New Orleans. On a typical day, the racetrack is home to more characters than Sesame Street and Bourbon Street combined. Well-heeled women in fancy hats, "experts" pouring over their daily racing forms, and the local riff-raff betting every 10 cent superfecta possible except for the one that actually hits. No betting strategy is frowned upon, whether it be the young girl who picks her horses by name or the long shot specialist who whole-heartedly believes that the #4 horse in the 6th is due for a good run, even though that gelding is one race away from the glue factory.

But the hottest tip at the Fair Grounds is found at the concession stand, where the corned beef po-boy has been a consistent winner for a number of years. The thick-sliced corned beef is tender and has the perfect amount of fattiness. The slices are piled high on french bread which just begs to be slathered with at least 4 packets of Gulden's spicy brown mustard. And at the $7.50 price tag, you will have enough change to order the bread pudding for dessert, making for a daily double that always pays out big.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Rant: Brunch is for Suckers

I am not the first person to disparage brunch, nor will I be the last. But let's face it, brunch sucks.

First off, if your Saturday night is at all successful, then you are waking up with a hangover. Maybe you can add to this hangover the slow realization that after the third bourbon drink you convinced yourself that a cigarette was exactly what you need. Couple that with the 8 shots of Jagermeister and your palate is shot like J.R.

But someone says, "Hey let's go eat brunch." Let me translate that, "Some asshole says let's get duped into paying too much for eggs with stuff on top." So you head out into the harsh of day, driving some god forsaken distance, the whole while your stomach rolling around like a club kid on ecstasy. When you get to the brunch spot there is an interminable line, hope for lukewarm coffee and pray for a waitress whose last table didn't stiff her on the check. Face it at this point. the 8th shot of Jagermeister was a better idea.

OK, so maybe you aren't hungover on Sundays. Maybe you are a responsible adult whose typical Sunday includes things like children and church services, and brunch is how you celebrate the simple pleasures of the Lord's day. That is wonderful, just know you will be surrounded by people who are not like you. And you will hear their conversations recapping debauchery. For instance, had you been sitting next to us at Bouchon in Vegas two weekends ago, you would have heard (ooops, what happens in Vegas....)

Don't get me wrong, restaurants (at least the business manager) love brunch. $6 for a glass of crappy sparkling wine and Tropicana? Mimosa me some money.

$8 for a Bloody Mary? Have two.

$14 for two poached eggs with some bacon underneath, a ladle of hollandaise, and half of an English Muffin? Are you kidding me, this is like robbing a children's candy bank!

Now an omelet is a beautiful thing. Thick and rich with just a hint of crispness, stuffed with molten cheese, and maybe a little bit of chili on top; that is good eating. Poached eggs with creamy sauce is deliciousness incarnate. A thick cup of coffee with cream and a wee dram sounds perfect.

But you won't order something that simple. Instead you will get deterred by the appetizers or some special omelet involving crabmeat. Case in point, Lindsay last Sunday at Elizabeth's.* I lobbied her to get the Redneck Eggs (fried green tomatoes with poached eggs). "No", she said, "I want a bunch of the appetizers instead."

So here came boudin balls, fried chicken livers, and a fried grit cake topped with tasso gravy. The boudin balls were spicy and crisp but the harsh mustard sauce unsettled the stomach. The fried chicken livers were a disaster: muddy, mealy, and soggy. The grit cake sat in the stomach like last night's regrets, but the tasso gravy was tasty. Of course since a hangover was involved, after a few bites she was tired of eating. "I ordered very poorly," Lindsay remarked.

Just avoid brunch. The waiters don't want to be there and neither do the cooks. Do the right thing and just eat at home. Or order the simplest thing on the menu. And Jazz Brunch? What psychopath came up with that idea?

Note: I am not holding this against Elizabeth's. I refuse to judge places on a meal I hate. Sorry you had to be the whipping gal.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Irene's: Worth the Wait?

When is a reservation not really a reservation? When it's made at Irene's.

Notorious for its long wait and beloved for its charming interior, Irene's is perhaps the most popular secret in the French Quarter. While reservations can be had, most diners endure an extended pre-dinner cocktail hour in the makeshift piano bar before being ushered to a table in one of the dimly lit, cramped dining rooms for a dinner of Creole-Italian favorites.

And while many complain about the wait, we all must admit that dinner at Irene's would not be the same without it.

In my opinion, Irene's is one of many New Orleans restaurants where the experience outshines the food. You enter on St. Philip Street and walk through the end of the two dining rooms to the maitre'd station and waiting room, whose walls are lined with framed media accolades. Find yourself a candlelit table, order a martini, and settle in while you listen to the piano and for your name to be called.

When you eventually make into the dining room, the server will likely present you with an order of bruschetta "compliments of Irene." If this course were not gratis, I would point out that the bread was soggy from sitting out underneath a fresh slice of oven-warmed tomato. Plus, why be the buzzkill at a table where everyone was enjoying themselves enough not to notice the food?

The bruschetta is an example of the quality of the food as a whole - everyone's favorite dishes executed in an average manner. The menu is a hybrid of Creole fare and Italian standbys, with affordable prices in the high teens. Softshell crab and oysters are crowd favorites, the latter of which are baked till a brown crust of Romano cheese protects a dice of bacon flavoring the plump bivalve underneath. These Oysters Irene are an absolute bargain at $8.95 for a half dozen and the best choice on the menu.

Entrees run the gamut from fish amandine to roasted duck to mussels with linguine in a thin sauce. The canneloni is stuffed with veal, spinach, ricotta, and terribly undercooked eggplant which brought the whole dish down. The house tomato sauce is smooth and just barely sweetened. There is also a deliciously tender ribeye (bistecca fiorentina) served with not more than a spoonful of potato gratin.

Even if you choose to forego dessert, you may be brought one anyway. And thank your lucky stars if it's the tiramisu, which is light in texture but dynamite in flavor.

There are restaurants which, despite serving middle-of-the-road food, remain popular simply because they execute the intangibles well enough to create an enjoyable dining experience. While the food may not represent the pinnacle of Creole-Italian cuisine, Irene's almost always succeeds in sending its patrons out the door in a better mood than they were when they entered.

The difficult part is convincing diners to wait long enough to get to that point.

Irene's - Par
539 St. Philip
Dinner Mon-Sat

Monday, February 7, 2011

Time to Vote, Citizens of the Internets

First off you, you weirdos really like the book Everyone Poops. One out of every three entries, used that as the book. What is wrong with you people?

Chiding out of the way. Vote on your left. We will announce the winner on Friday. Top three win fame, prizes, and prizes of fame

Kevin Allman

Valentine's Day occurs on the Fourteenth of February celebrating the feast day of Susan Spicer. Each year Sazeracs express their horned-up amuse bouches to one another by attacking chocolates, roses, and demiglaces. Rachel Ray’s 30-Minute Meal-a-Day details how two passionate lovers met on Valentine's Day while walking in Fat Harry's. If you are a battery, on Valentine's vibrate your pounce or wife an appalling bouquet of grillades and grits. If you are a girl, on Valentines it is seductively cool to wear lots of fierce pickled okra. There you have it the Blackened Out skewer to the last Mrs. Al Copeland.

Caroline Stivers

Valentine's Day occurs on the Fourteenth of February celebrating the feast day of Walter Matthau. Each year hot dogs express their sublime tar to one another by skedaddling chocolates, roses, and anteaters. Infinite Jest details how two revolting lovers met on Valentine's Day while walking in Bhutan. If you are a monk on Valentine's embrace your doughnut or wife an exquisite bouquet of pecans. If you are a girl, on Valentines it is eagerly illicit to wear lots of tawdry video poker. There you have it the Blackened Out unicorn to Octomom.


Valentine's Day occurs on the Fourteenth of February celebrating the feast day of Rene. Each year cocktails express their fiery buttocks to one another by baking chocolates, roses, and teeth. The Sound and the Fury details how two clueless lovers met on Valentine's Day while walking in the Box Factory. If you are an earring, on Valentine's is your butternut squash or wife a stanky bouquet of pool balls? If you are a girl, on Valentines it is lustfully weakened to wear lots of hilarious pillows. There you have it the Blackened Out Grammy to Buzz Aldrin.

Valentine's Day occurs on the Fourteenth of February celebrating the feast day of The Situation. Each year grenades express their smooth Vineyards to one another by backflipping chocolates, roses, and food blogs. Of Mice and Men details how two enormous lovers met on Valentine's Day while walking in Taj Mahal. If you are Air Jordans, on Valentine's clap your bacon or wife a salty bouquet of magazines. If you are a girl, on Valentines it is cryptically expensive to wear lots of dump trucks. There you have it the Blackened Out Twitter to Lady Diana.


Valentine's Day occurs on the Fourteenth of February celebrating the feast day of Justin Bieber. Each year stamps express their spectacular pens to one another by spelunking chocolates, roses, and coffee beans. A Shore Thing details how two jittery lovers met on Valentine's Day while walking in the back of a Volkswagen. If you are a ring, on Valentine's entice your scissors or wife an enthusiastic bouquet of t-shirts. If you are a girl, on Valentines it is authoritatively long to wear lots of arrogant soap. There you have it the Blackened Out bacon to Esplanade Mall.
Matt Wolfe

Valentine's Day occurs on the Fourteenth of February celebrating the feast day of Count Dracula. Each year bees express their sleepy soap to one another by drilling chocolates, roses, and mousetraps. Cat in the Hat details how two fast lovers met on Valentine's Day while walking in Charlie Sheen’s Porn Room. If you are a tree, on Valentine's haunt your golfball or wife a fuzzy bouquet of mummies. If you are a girl, on Valentines it is drunkenly pretty to wear lots of contagious earwax. There you have it the Blackened Out plastic wrap to Buddy D.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner (Seriously)

"A few months ago we could have never dreamed that we would be standing on the podium accepting the Robert Peyton Trophy trophy for winning the 2010 Blog Wars Contest Sponsored by Langenstein's but here we stand. We have to first give kudos to our competition, all of whom deserve to be standing here more than us. We want to thank Simon Cowell, our creative director; Tony Burch, our stylist; James Cameron, our Producer; and most importantly you, the fans...(CUE Instrumental Music)"

In all seriousness, we are very excited about our victory, because we really like the prize. Taking care of the less fortunate has been drilled into our heads since we were old enough to drive (Thanks, Jesuit) The opportunity for our dish to be used to help raise money for Second Harvest Food Bank of New Orleans is easily the greatest thing this blog has ever accomplished. So thank you to all that voted and thanks to Langenstein's for a great opportunity.

Now the story and quick recap of the recipe. Now listen we have left out something very important in this recipe, after you go to Langenstein's and buy the meal (available starting Monday), email us and we will fill in the rest.

Rene has a tagine in his baterie de cuisine, which is a North African braising dish essentially. As you know, braising is the easiest way to really seem like you know how to cook. The idea for the dish was based off a simple Italian dish of braised chicken with olives and rosemary. But doing an Italian dish in a North African cooking vessel was a little too United Nationsy for us. We wanted something that paid tribute to North Africa without requiring you to run to an International Food Market in Kenner.*

Chicken Thighs with Preserved Lemon, Rosemary, Olives, and Onion
It is a basic braise and you do not need a tagine. You sear off the chicken thighs (bone-in preferable) which you have seasoned before hand with salt and pepper. Remove them once brown. Then add in some sliced onions, some garlic cloves (lightly smashed), some olives (de pit and lightly smash), a 1/4 cup of preserved lemon (cubed), a tablespoon of fresh rosemary (chopped). Let all this get comfortable, then deglaze with a cup of white wine and a cup of chicken stock. Bring to a boil, add chicken thigs back in, reduce heat to low, and cook covered for a 45 minutes. Remove cover and cook for another 30 minutes letting the sauce tighten up. Serve over couscous, which is a pasta that needs sauce to make it palatable.
*Please note: In no way are we claiming this dish to be representative at all of North African cuisine which we know almost as much about as space travel.

Can't get enough of us? Who can? Well you can listen to us this afternoon with the charming Chef Mary Sonnier on her Chef Show on WRBH. We will be on the air, as they say, at 2:30. You can listen via the airwaves on 88.3 or online.

Finally get your Valentine's Mad Libs in ASAP. Top 6 entries go up on Monday.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Rattle Rattle, Here Come the Cattle*

We've said it before, but upscale food in a downscale setting has taken over the world like an unstoppable rebel force. Whether it's Le Fooding in France or food trucks in Los Angeles, both chefs and diners are focusing less on white table cloths and more on what's on the plate.

Cowbell is probably my favorite example of this genre in the city. The decor in the renovated gas station is funky and eclectic, but without trying too hard. There are no table cloths, staff uniforms, or Riedel stemware. In effect, the restaurant has created a "scene" without trying to create a "scene". It's truly organic.

The food is pretty kick ass, too. A short menu filled with American comfort dishes like clam chowder, grilled cheese, and apple pie, plus a little Latin flair. None of the dishes are overly complicated, and most are substantial servings for the low prices.

Macaroni and cheese. In a futile attempt at distinquishment, chefs are adding everything from lobster, pancetta, edamame, and heroin to improve a dish that needs no pizzazz if done well. Cowbell's version of mac and cheese ($5) is a lesson in "less is more." Creamy but not soupy, rich like a fondue, with a bit of crunch from a breadcrumb gratin. It is excellent. One my first visit the pasta was macaroni; on the second trofie, which in my opinion worked even better.

Though when the kitchen does improvise on a classic, the result is usually successful. Take the grilled cheese sandwich filled with shreds of BBQ duck tinged with just a hint of espresso. Paired with a mug of chowder or soup of the day (potato and celery on this occasion), this works as either a starter to share or a light lunch.

Though the name implies beef, Cowbell offers a number of seafood options. Fish tacos ($14.95) are a standard menu item, with the kitchen whatever fresh fish is available. Though the grilled fillets were underseasoned on one visit, the accompanying cilantro lime crema, chayote slaw of peppers, and avocado salsa brought all the flavor necessary. The shrimp quesadilla appetizer was smallish in size for $8.95, so I would stick with a different starter.

Black beans and rice are just an example of the Latin undertones on the menu, but they are not to be dismissed as a simple side dish. Black beans are creamy but firm, and the arroz verde is a short grain rice with lots of flavor. Where's the beef? How about a skirt steak, cooked a perfect (and I do mean perfect) medium rare, with a tomato and mango salsa. Plus, a repeat performance of those black beans with inch thick rounds of fried plantain. This might be the best $17 steak dinner in the city. I have yet to try the burger, but Willy Wonka did on my first visit and we both agreed that the pattty was undercooked.

There are two options for dessert. The first is an individual apple pie baked in puff pastry, which was light and crispy on the first visit but soft and depressed on the second. The Chocolate City is a flourless cake made with a bourbon brown butter ganache that packs a punch. Both are a steal at $5.00.

The kicthen closes early - 8:00 on  weekdays and 9:00 on weekends. The dining room includes three 6-top tables, so don't be surprised if you are asked to share with another party. BYOB for now, though that could change in the next coming days.

Cowbell - Birdie

8801 Oak Street
Lunch and Dinner Tues-Sat

* Phi Muuuuuuu

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

It's Been Such a Long Time

In this month's issue of OffBeat Magazine, we profile Kanno, one of our favorite sushi spots that we have not written about in quite some time. While Kanno serves everyone's favorite crunchy, dynamite, and spicy tuna selections, the best eating comes from either those specials scribbled across the chalkboard signs or the yet-to-be-created dishes forming inside Chef Hide Suzuki's head.

So instead of a salad iceberg tossed with the typical carrot and ginger dressing, you are presented with a plate of fresh spinach leaves topped with tuna, salmon, and roe drizzled with a balsamic vinaigrette. Sweet fruits like pear and kiwi are paired expertly in savory selections. Such is the curious dichotomy in Chef Hide's creations.

As for those selections on the chalkboards, these usually feature the freshest fish that Chef Hide could find. So you may dine on delicacies such as abalone sashimi or smoked salmon neck (above).  Now that is good eating.

Kanno - Birdie

3205 Edenborn Ave
Dinner Tues-Sat

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Luke Has Seen Better Days

We try as a general principle here at Blackened Out Metal Fabrication and Casting Agency to avoid writing about restaurants we just don't find to be up to par (pun obviously intended). While we are both getting better at writing critical reviews that don't just sound like "this was awesome," bashing a restaurant is not really what we are into 'round these parts.

But sometimes you have to scold. And right now, Luke is the most under performing restaurant in the city. Perhaps, he is in his adolescent stage. A period marked by apathy, rebelliousness, and confusion about who he really is. If so, please hurry and grow up.

When it opened in the Spring of 2007, Luke was an exciting return to good old fashioned German and French focused lunches that blanketed the CBD. Luke had some opening glitches, service most notoriously. However, the restaurant stabilized and became my favorite place in the city to eat lunch. Luke was also a treat if you had missed lunch. On such days, I'd wander over there around 4pm for a dozen cold oysters and a cocktail or beer before heading home.

The last few visits at Luke (two in 2011 alone) have been dumbfounding. On one, I was served a bowl of tepid chicken stock with an ice cold matzoh ball. By the second bite, the soup was cooling off rapidly than Brody Jenner's career. Admittedly, when this was brought to the staff's attention, it was remedied. Lucky for us, this would be the first of many hiccups.

Take, for example, the fried oyster salad on one visit. The oysters, saggy and wilted, had none of the vibrancy or crunch that makes them a salty stand-in for a crouton. Either the dressing or the lettuce was gritty. Doesn't matter which one, as it didn't matter to the kitchen either.

I vaguely remember a chicken breast that was tough, stringy, and devoid of any flavor. It too sat under a salad marked by limp, unwashed greens and flavorless dressing. A stale crouton (it is possible) made it clear that no one could be asleep at the wheel because no one was even at the wheel. But maybe, I thought, it was just a bad day.

On another recent visit, I decided to go back to a basic favorite: the Cochon de Lait pressed sandwich. To describe how bad this was we need to take a slight tangent. For some reason, growing up we always had these 2 inch slices of French bread in the freezer. I'd come home from school, take out three or four, throw them in the microwave, and lather them up with butter. High class, of course. The flavor of those little cradles of butter always tasted of the deep, cold of the freezer. I know that means nothing to you, but frozen bread which is rapidly defrosted has a specific taste.

Like Proust's madeleine, one bite of the bread at Luke immediately took me back to fifth grade after school snacks. This is New Orleans. There is a devoted bakery portion of the Besh Empire. Such a shortcut should not happen here. However, maybe the tastebuds have deceived me and the bread was not in fact frozen and rapidly defrosted. If so, it may be time to hire a new baker, Chef Besh.

The rest of the sandwich was equally disastrous. The pork was dry, brittle, and bland where it should have been moist, supple, and flavorful. But the real showcase that someone just doesn't give a damn anymore was the caramelized onions which were all piled on precisely 1 inch of the 8 inch long sandwich. There was one bite full of onions; the rest of the sandwich, nothing. I felt bad for the pig.

Service woes have returned. To wit, Luke serves Cokes in cute little glass bottles. I have no problem with this affectation, but realize one of the benefits is that it makes free refills impossible. Well, when a waiter knocks over a full bottle and spills its contents on the table, replacing the bottle at no cost is the correct move. Ignoring the situation is not.

Prices at the bar have crept up to the unjustifiable realm, especially the beer which, despite being made across the lake, is priced as if it is made across the pond. And I am still mad they got rid of the Thursday lamb shoulder pasta dish.

Step up your game, Luke.

Bogey, and you are really close to Double Bogey

333 St. Charles Ave.