Tuesday, May 31, 2011


Well, that was an interesting weekend.

Hopefully you had a great weekend filled with frivolity, relaxation, and remembrances of the veterans who make three day weekends possible. Our weekend mainly revolved around NOWFE, watching the Pope get grounded by Mary Magdalene, and a trip to La Boca that ended up rolling into a three hour wine fueled discussion on education reform. Or maybe it was Mario Kart.

Couple of weeks ago, prior to a Dorignac's shopping run, Lindsay and I ducked into Cyrus Restaurant for a quick bite to eat. This is always advisable before making groceries lest you come home with a strange assortment of hunger induced miscellany. We expected nothing more than basic Mediterranean melting pot cuisine. Instead we found a restaurant worth your time and marked by fresh ingredients, bold flavors, and exquisite technique. But don't take our word for it. Actually do.

Cyrus Restaurant - Birdie
612 Veterans Memorial Blvd.
Lunch: Tues-Sun 11am-3pm
Dinner: Tues-Thur 5:30pm-9pm; Fri-Sat till 10pm

Friday, May 27, 2011


Those seeking a little outdoor entertainment this Memorial Day weekend need look no further than the banks of Bayou St. John, where beginning tonight the Greek Festival will be celebrated for the 38th year in a row. The celebration kicks off with the Olympic Run/Walk, which provides the perfect calorie-burning excuse to indulge in the Greek community's homemade delicacies after the race. While many Greek Festers opt for the gyro and feta fries, I am partial to the traditional Greek dinner featuring stuffed grape leaves, meatballs in a tomato sauce, baked pasta, and buttery delightful triangles of phyllo dough filled with feta. It's a meal that even Odysseus would make a detour for on his journey back to Ithaca.

With the Greek Fest, Cochon 555, and NOWFE filling up the calendar this weekend, it's a good thing we have Monday off to recover.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Short Order Reviews

Rene - Going to Banana Blossom for Thai before my nephew's kindergarten graduation proved to be a good decision. Also, led me to conclusion that car only knows how to get to Asian restaurants on the West Bank. Anyway, started off with an ice cold Singha beer, an order of roti with a creamy and spicy dip, and some dumplings that could have been just a touch thinner and better crafted. Then some green curry with shrimp for Linsay and Chang Mai noodles for me. My noodles had too much sauce and not enough heat to satisfy my desire to cry and break into a sweat. But Lindsay's curry was very good with the shrimp still plump and the fragrant broth making each bite interesting.

Banana Blossom - Par/Birdie. 2112 Belle Chase Hwy 392-7530

Peter - Geisha Sushi Bistro. Decided to take a leap of faith with this new sushi spot across the street from Pinkberry on Tchoup. The high energy music gives the feel of a low rent Rock-n-Sake. The $15 [insert special roll whose name I don't recall] topped with salmon and spicy mayo was the smallest high dollar sushi roll I have ever seen, completely lacking in both length and girth. (That’s what she said.) The standard rolls were cheap but equally lacking in size. The fish was of average quality. Service was slow (only one sushi chef on duty), and all of the staff had a general attitude of not wanting to be there.

Geisha Sushi Bistro - Bogey. 111 Tchoupitoulas. 522-8850.

Rene - We all know how much I love wine bars, so imagine my surprise when I did not hate Oak. Headed there last Thursday to meet up with Villain. Lindsay and I got their first and settled into a bottle of Scholium Project Naucratis with its petrol (in a good way) and flower grip. A few small plates here and there. A dense gnocchi with grapes and crisp sliver of Serrano ham cuddled next to a quenelle of mascarpone. The de rigeour charcuterie plate was done fairly well with a spicy chorizo, creamy duck rillette and paper thin capicola. Also good were the gulf shrimp tacos and a pork papusa dish. Another bottle of Naucratis and then a bottle of Pinot from Moises. And what is this? A bill over $200...in a bar...without shots? Just call yourself a restaurant already. But the girls really liked the interior and it was a nice evening. It is a good spot for the Brooks Brothers set who aren't quite ready to go home from work or are just starting their night out.

Oak - Par. On Oak Street (it will look closed whenever you walk by it.)

Peter - Sandro's Trattoria. The restaurant just screams Metry to me. The strip mall locale, deli display case acting as a waiter's station, and the hard tile floor that you would find in most homes built in the 1980s on the north side of Vets. But the people are as nice as can be in that "welcome to my home in the suburbs" kind of way.

Meals begin with a complimentary soft Italian bread served with warm olive oil drizzled above and pooled below, plus a generous shower of parmesan on top. Long wedges of fried eggplant are served with a smooth but not to sweet tomato sauce. Oysters are baked in a bath of garlic, cheese, and artichoke hearts; these were delicious. Veal parmesan is a respectable homemade version, but the veal picatta was an all around failure with a rubbery texture and lemon caper butter lacking that citrusy-salty pop. Avoid the fettucini alfredo drowning in an overly rich sauce and opt instead for angel hair tossed in salsa rosa (fancy way of saying red gravy). Pork osso buco is the best dish on the menu - the shank served falling-off-the-bone tender in a sauce of white wine, onion, mushroom, and a just a touch of tomato for color. Flan (that's what the waiter called it) was a huge serving with an ideal creamy texture and rich caramel exterior.

Sandro's Trattoria - Par. 6601 Veterans. 888-7784.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


NOWFE is almost in full swing so what better time to start drinking wine than right now.

Rene: Wow. Just a nicely balanced red wine. Dark fruit, tannins that won't give me a headache tomorrow, and a long finish. Give me something substantial. Something medium rare. Preferably the hanger steak with red wine and marrow reduction at Restaurant Patois. With a side of fries. I'd be happy with that.

Peter: A little spicy. A wine with spice always puts me in the mood for Spanish fare. Thinking of a bowl of lamb meatballs with mint from Restaurant Madrid, which works out perfectly because I can bring my own wine. Or how about a trip to Barcelona Tapas for a double order of patatas bravas with the fiery sauces.

Joe the Wine Guy: That is a 2007 Uppercut Cabernet Sauvignon straight to the jaw. 85% Cabernet Sauvignon with the remainder being Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot. This cabernet has aromas of dark fruit, espresso, violet, and spice while smooth blackberry, black cherry, and cocoa coat the palate. Small nuances of caramel and toffee are there as well, the result of new oak barrels. This wine goes best with meat-grilled ribeye or braised short ribs. A bottle of Uppercut will set you back about $19 in the store and you can find it on wine lists at Bouche, Ste. Marie, Mike's on the Avenue, and Byblos.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Someone's in the Kitchen with Rhonda

Ronda Ruckman joined the Link Restaurant Group in August of 2010 as Executive Pastry Chef for all four restaurants in the Link empire, with a fifth on the way (Cochon Lafayette). A native of New Orleans, Ruckman is turning out elegant, seasonal desserts, while still always innovating; See Exhibit A: The Butcher Mini King Cakes which swept across the city like a summer afternoon thunderstorm. Recently Ruckman was kind enough to sit down for an interview. So let's put 20ish questions on the clock and get to know the chef whose chocolate chip cookies are the best in the world. Recipes later in week.

Was at LSU, quit college for a semester and started cooking at a tea room inside Fireside Antiques in Baton Rouge. Washed dishes, salads, made sandwiches, that kind of stuff. Then saw an ad for an entry level prep and pantry position at Juban's.

Wanted to stay in desserts and hoped to work with Norman Love, who at that time was cooking at a Ritz-Carlton in Florida. So I picked up the phone and called him. I got to talk to him because employees of the Ritz are not allowed to screen calls. Frankly, I got lucky. The day I called they had an opening in pastry. So I moved to Florida. Later, I  went to Los Angeles and was sous chef for Donald Russell at the Four Seasons. Left the Four Seasons, to open a retail bakery in Florida called Dough Monkey. Eventually, moved that business to Dallas.

When the economy tanked, Dough Monkey fell with it. We closed Dough Monkey in 2008. I was looking for an executive pastry chef gig. Ended up working at a country club. One day I was looking on a headhunter site and, again pure luck, crazy luck, there popped an ad for executive pastry chef position with Link Restaurant Group. I had always been a fan of Chef Link so it was a thrilling opportunity to cook for him at the try out.

I start with a restaurant. For instance, Herbsaint is the fine dining restaurant. So there I can work with a more complicated flavor profile. At Cochon, I want my desserts to have a comfort factor, a good combination of something warm like blueberry cobbler and something cold like ice cream. At Calcasieu, we often use desserts that mirror Cochon's desserts, but we also field plenty of special requests.

Not sure about food allergies. Never really had any personally nor any limitations. So if someone has an allergy, I always want to accommodate them immediately. Something deeper is going on though, if someone doesn't want to try something.

Often times we create by improvising. Say we run out of a specific ingredient, we sub something else and discover a new dessert. For instance, I have a dough recipe that calls for honey. Recently we ran out of honey and subbed in molasses, which in turn pushed the dough into a much more interesting flavor direction. Or I play with ratios, I'll sub out cream or sugar in a vanilla recipe and replace it with blackberry puree. And see what happens.

Cupcakes. However, before I offend anyone, know that my dislike of the cupcake trend is because I prefer a wedge of cake. Better proportions, better to eat, cake cooks better. A piece of cake is just better than a cupcake. May take cupcakes off the menu at Butcher

Chef and I have talked extensively about that. I understand where both Chef Link and Chef Stephen are coming from. I feel comfortable with flavors of this region. We follow seasonality and tend to rotate at least one dessert per restaurant per month. Soon peaches will get in and I will start working with them. You can go elegant with peaches or simple. I like that. But sometimes, I just want an ice cream sandwich.

Both a science and a skill. You miss a detail in baking and it will be wrong.

When I first started cooking, I went to Charlie Trotter's and had sweetbreads for the first time. That bite of food showed me what food can be. Then, first time I went to Cochon when it had been open about a year, I had the deep fried boudin and it just blew me away. That bite took me right back to my childhood.

Chocolate pudding cake. It is just so versatile and delicious. The rich, warm and moist cake lends itself to all sorts of things. First, we paired it with a cafe au lait ice cream. Now we use a salted caramel sauce and cashew ice cream. I love to make that dessert. I love to eat that dessert. I am a chocolate freak and that dessert uses Patrick Chocolate, which I think is the best chocolate in the world.

You want daily examples? (laughs) There are always ideas that don't work, but I tend not to dwell on them. I get mad and cut my losses. Recently, I tried to make a sausage cheese in brioche King Cake with Steen's glaze. When Stephen tried it, he just got this quizzical look on his face that said it all. I just could never get that idea to come together.

I like making pralines. If I am making pralines, it means everyone else is working on other things. And that they are working correctly. We have a solid system in place and when it is humming along, I can devote time to that pot of pralines. That is where I like to be in the kitchen.

Small offset spatula. I use it for everything from transporting things to icing cakes. There is a cake tester I really like. I also have an enormous chocolate knife that I love to use. It is huge. Wow, I can't believe I have favorite kitchen tools.

Real Cajun and the CIA Pastry book. The CIA book is the best for reference whenever I need a simple ratio. I go on the internet a lot as well. Cooks Illustrated's website is one of my favorites. I have a lot of cookbooks at home. My husband reminded me of this when we moved here.

Didn't have a favorite after school snack. I was a skinny kid, but have always enjoyed making cookies. They are easy for me to whip out. I make a snickerdoodle with this leatherwood honey from Tasmania. They are pretty amazing. But I am running low on the honey so I hoard it.

Snickers. I know they aren't good, but I love those things. Also, I am pregnant so I find myself craving those Drumstick Ice Cream Cones all the time. I am going to find a way to make that a real dessert.

Good flavor; not subtle and certainly not sweet. I want a dessert to be on the bold side. First and foremost, chocolate desserts need to taste like chocolate. Too often chocolate desserts are too sweet. If the flavor is there, I then want to see was it done correctly. In a creme brulee, is the custard cooked correctly? Flavor and technique make a great dessert.

If home cook really wants to pursue baking, try it more than once. Ovens vary. Learn to bake by sight and touch.

The key to the chocolate chip cookies is to melt the butter before creaming it with the sugar. But the real secret to any great cookie is the baking time. Trial runs are important. Cook the cookie, just until it is golden on the edges. Allow it to rest. Those chocolate chip cookies are also good with pecans. 

We eat at Butcher a lot (laughs). But I love small places with unexpected good food. Avenue Pub has a pleasantly nice cheeseburger. Parasol's is really tearing it up right now. The chef in there is from Mamou and he is learning to cook with confidence, his roast beef is exceptional and his gumbo is really good. Very good burgers as well. I am in love with the roast beef po-boy from Parkway. La Divina is always my gelato and espresso fix, when I could drink coffee. Man, I need to get out more.

Monday, May 23, 2011


The New Orleans Wine & Food Experience kicks off tomorrow night with the Ella Brennan Award Dinner & Auction honoring Chef Paul Prudhomme, but that's just the beginning of a five day stretch of dinners, tastings, and seminars. For the uninitiated, deciding which NOWFE events to attend can be an overwhelming decision. Fortunately, a few days ago our friend Todd Price gave his own run down on how to budget your time, money, and propensity for hangovers during NOWFE.

As Todd astutely pointed out, NOWFE is one of those cases where (no matter what your tolerance level) attending every event is simply not possible. So what to choose? Well, if you are dumb enough to forego Todd's advice in favor of our own, then may God have mercy on your soul and continue reading at your own peril:
  • Vitners' Dinners (Wednesday) - We have had very good luck at the NOWFE winemaker dinners, both at Vizard's and La Cote Brasserie. The costs have risen markedly in the past 2 years, but even at $125, that is still a great value for a multi-course dinner with wine pairings. Think about how much you spent on your last 4 course meal with a bottle of wine. Plus the input of the winery representative is not to be underappreciated; this is a great way to make acquaintances before visting wine country. Now, to be honest, if you have not yet booked your table yet for a Vintner's Dinner, then you're probably too late in the game. But cancellations do happen, so get your name on a waiting list just in case.
  • Vinola (Thursday) - If I didn't work for a living and could take off a Thursday afternoon for a 3 hour wine tasting without the partners at my firm seriously questioning my value as an employee, I would have booked my tickets to Vinola a long time ago. This exclusive tasting offers the breadth of the Grand Tastings but in a more intimate setting. The only problem is that the $150 ticket may cost you $1500 in wine purchases later down the line if you like what you taste.
  • Royal Street Stroll (Thursday) - It's likely that many of you received the Living Social email in your inbox offering half-off tickets to this year's Royal Street Stroll, and kudos to those who pulled the trigger early before that deal sold out. I don't know if this year's stroll will be even more crowded than usual, but one thing for certain is that King Patrick and his Krewe of Cork will be having a grand old time.
  • Seminars (Friday & Saturday) - By far the most underutilized events at NOWFE, these hour long sessions can be quite educational if you are willing to spend the money. Two years ago The Pope raved about how the folks at Riedel taught him how the size/shape of wine glasses can noticeable affect a taste profile. What more do you need beside the La Papa seal of approval?
  • Grand Tastings (Friday & Saturday) - Ask yourself these questions: Do I mind eating and drinking stand up, occassionaly having to wait in line for a glass of wine, and grazing on small portions rather than being served at a sit-down dinner? None of the above bother me, which is why I enjoy the Grand Tasting. But some people may find better value by spending a little bit more for the formality of a Vinter's Dinner.
  • Cochon 555 (Saturday) - Unrelated to NOWFE but being promoted in conjunction with, Cochon 555 is a pork and wine lover's dream. The premise: 5 Chefs, 5 Pigs, 5 Winemakers. Attendees are treated to a whole hog cooking competition by the participating chefs, and then they get to taste the results along with other pork dishes and pours from the five representing wineries. Can you say... porkgasm?
Tickets to all NOWFE events (except for the vintner dinners) and to Cochon 555 can be purchased online. You can thank us later for taking care of your Memoral Day weekend plans.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Weekend Roundup

After a brief respite last weekend from the festival calendar, the action picks up again with Bayou Boogaloo running this evening through Sunday along the banks of Bayou St. John.  The festival includes everything from a bicycle pub crawl, a zillion rubber duckies, and a weekend full of free music. And if those are not enticing enough, the strong to quite strong list of food vendors should make this a no-brainer addition to your calendar.

For those seeking a more refined evening affair, tonight the Shops at Canal Place plays host to Sippin' in Seersucker, an evening of Southern art, food, cocktails, and music to benefit the Ogden Museum of Southern Art. The event includes an open bar, light hors d'oeuvres, and a stellar list of raffle items. At $35, you definitely get your money's worth, just make sure to keep your significant other away from Saks (or Coach in Rene's case).

Have a great weekend.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Geaux Plates

It's 11:30pm on a Friday. This supposed after-work drink (singular) has morphed into a much longer session than expected, and The Pope keeps talking about the Gold Mine. You haven't eaten since lunch, and your stomach is screaming for pork products stuffed inside a Vietnamese baguette. Where do you turn...

A few weeks ago the local food truck scene expanded by one with the premiere of Geaux Plates, the purple and gold truck making new waves with Uptown bar hoppers. Proprietors Henry Pulitzer and Andrew Gomila have transformed the former Taqueria Chilangos taco truck into a mobile purveyor of local favorites ranging from jambalaya to their own version of a banh mi.

The short menu consists of 6 items, all prices at $7 or under. My favorite is the Bayon Banh Mi (pictured above) which pairs lemongrass grilled chicken and boudin with all of the typical dressings of the classic Vietnamese sandwich. It's like lovin' on Dong Phuong bread, with bonus points to the kitchen for using chicken thighs, which are much more flavorful than breasts. The Cochon de Lait PoBoy has succulent shreds of root beer braised pork plus crunchy mirliton and red onion slaw and pickled chiles for heat. And though the Fancy Ass Grilled Cheese was probably created with the most inebriated of patrons in mind, even the stone-cold sober can appreciate the molten mixture of melted gruyere, red onion marmalade, and grilled portabellos between buttery sliced bread.

Fork-worthy dishes are jambalaya and the Breaux Bridge Breakfast (boudin cake topped with a fried egg), but for some reason using utensils to eat while standing outside a bar never really worked for me. Instead, I recommend requesting a fried egg ON TOP of the Bayou Banh Mi or Cochon de Lait, because nothing takes a sandwich to whole other level like the addition of the gratuitous fried egg and it's rich flowing yolk.

Geaux Plates usually operates Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, moving back and forth between Rendezvous and the Bridge Lounge. You can track them down via Twitter, or just follow my trail of banh mi crumbs.

Geaux Plates - Birdie

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


Peter: Good juice. Easy drinking, with not a lot of tannins. Want to take this to the East, via the West Bank so thinking the Korean style short ribs from Tan Dinh.

Rene: This wine has a deep rich flavor with a strong but not overbearing background of tannins. I get loads of cherry flavor and the richness makes me want something dark, salty, and...why am I thinking chocolate. For that, the Grilled Cheese Sandwich with dark chocolate ganache and triple creme cheese at Stella! will hit the mark. And shoot, why not?

Joe the Wine Guy: The Lost Grape returns! This wine is a 2009 Lapostolle Casa Carmenere, the Casa designation denoting exceptional quality grapes from the Rapel Valley in Chile. The wine is mostly all Carmenere (85%) with a small amount of Merlot from Apalta to bring red fruit flavors in harmony with the spiciness of the Carmenere grape. The nose starts out with black and red fruit mixed with some spiciness and white chocolate aromas. On the palate, great acidity blends with juicy red fresh fruit. This wine is perfect with pastas, pork, and grilled red meat. It retails for $15 and you can find it at The Wine Seller, Oak, and Jackson.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

This is Beautiful, what is this, Velvet?

Some store bought pork, getting all velvety with its bad self. 

15-20 years ago bastardized Chinese held the title as the dominant Asian cuisine in America. Now, that title has most likely passed to Japanese, with Thai, Vietnamese, and Indian (hey, that is Sub-Asian) making a strong push. In short, the fried meat in gloppy, sugary sauce that many restaurants pass off as "Authentic Cantonese Cuisine" just doesn't pass muster any longer. But hold off on throwing that baby out the window with the bath water, Mr. Al "Carnival Time" Johnson because we are about ready to dress that boring stir fry in a layer of velour.

Most often meats such as poultry, pork, and beef in Chinese stir fry dishes get a quick marinade in a corn starch, rice wine, and soy sauce slurry. This technique has an awesome name - Velveting. Velveting does two things. First, it tenderizes and protects the meat from over cooking. Secondly, it adds flavor to what can otherwise be boring cuts of meat. For instance, this recipe calls for those thin pork chops you see in the grocery store. You know the ones. They are anorexic and awful, normally. Here, they become silken, tender, and delicious. And as a bonus, you end up with a luxurious sauce. I am still working on sourcing rabbit to make a version of this dish called, Velveteen Rabbit.

Velvet Pork with Green Beans in Chili Garlic Sauce

Pork chops, 4 thin cut jobs
Corn Starch
Rice Wine
Soy Sauce
Green Beans, 1/2 pound, each bean cut in half, blanch first before stir frying
Onion, small, chopped
Garlic, 3 cloves, minced
Sambal or Chili Garlic Sauce, as much as you can handle
Rice wine vinegar, few splashes
Canola Oil

Cut your pork into thin strips. Once this is done, and your beans are blanched, shocked, and drained, mix your velveting marinade. The basic formula looks like this. About 1 teaspoon of corn starch, few splashes of soy sauce, and 1 teaspoon of rice wine. You don't need a lot. To this add, a pinch of sugar and a pinch of salt. Note: At this point you can add garlic, red pepper flake, old copies of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Editions, or whatever else you want. Whisk to combine, and then toss the pork in the marinade; let stand for 5 minutes or so.

Heat your wok until smoking. Then, add in some canola oil. Once hot (about 30 seconds) add in your pork and cook for about 3-4 minutes. Remove pork from wok. Then add in your green beans, garlic, and onion and stir fry for one minute. Add pork back to wok, stir in your sambal and a few dashes of rice wine vinegar. It may need a touch of water to loosen it up. Cook on high heat for another minute or until all the pork is coated in sauce. Serve over white rice.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Guilty Pleasures

From all of the pomp and circumstance here at Blackened Out Abstractors and Hunting Lodge, you readers may get the impressions that all of our meals consist of luxurious fare such as guanciale from hand-fed Mangalista pigs, risotto covered with an avalanche of truffles flown over from Alba, and wines made from grapes crushed by Robert Peyton. But in reality, even though we love veggies from the Hollygrover market and organic beef raised by Justin Pitts, sometimes a guy just wants to eat a big bowl of velveeta shells and cheese.

We all have our own guilty pleasures when it comes to foods that we would might other be embarrassed to admit our undying love for if it were not for the fact that they taste so damn good. Take, for example, Exhibit A above. If a person's choice of birthday cake speaks volumes of his or her personal taste, then what does it say about me when The Folk Singer knows that all I want is a cookie cake covered with enough frosting to keep an entire class of kindergartners on a Charlie Sheenesque sugar high for 3 days straight. (Winning.) Sweets are a hot target for guilty pleasures, and even professionals will admit that they easily succumb to their temptations. I once asked a well known pasty chef if he ever got tired of preparing and eating macaroons and valrhona chocolates, and after glancing around to make sure that no one else was listening he said: "I keep a box of Little Debbie Swiss Rolls in the back of the fridge at all times."

But guilty pleasures of the savory variety are not to be overlooked. Anthony Bourdain often jokes about his love for mac and cheese from KFC, and how he dons a hooded sweatshirt in Colonel Sanders' kitchen in order to protect his identity. While no respecting New Orleanian would ever forsake Popeye's for the secret blend of 11 herbs and spices, I will admit that I have made a run for the border on countless late night adventures for Mexican Pizzas and Double Decker Taco Supremes. Though in recent times, the allure of Krystal Burger has sucked us in during a few walks home from the Quarter.

So bad, yet they taste so good. Let us know about your own guilty pleasures in today's comments. There will be no judging.

Thursday, May 12, 2011


Photo courtesy of Jennifer Hur
If I were a tourist strolling through the Quarter near dusk, stumbling upon a place like Sylvain might seem like divine intervention. Faced with a rather non-descript facade, a stroll through the long and narrow entryway opens into a small, central courtyard that is a perfect setting to share a bottle of wine and appreciate the dichotomy of how you're in the middle of all of the action of the city and yet so far from it at the same time. When the weather is too hot (which seems fast approaching), the interior dining room with tightly packed, candle-lit tables can be equally charming, especially when facing the window so as to watch the street from air-conditioned comfort.

Some say the setting is too perfect - a faux historical replica or a day late and dollar short version of the East Coast hipster trend. Those people are probably smarter than me, a person too dumb to realize what is and is not authentic, but I like the setting all the same.

The food, on the other hand, while enjoyable for the most part, seems generic. Don't get me wrong, quite a few of these dishes fell right into my wheelhouse. Roasted beet bruschetta had sweet, firm chopped beets and a thin smear of goat cheese aboard crusty, crunchy bread; one $10 order consists of a pair, so budget accordingly when sharing. Braised beef cheeks ($20) are sizable hunks of beef that hold intact until the slightest pressure of a fork breaks the beef into lipsmacking hunks. Garlic sausage is coarsley ground, and the room temperature fingerling potato salad formed a nice base with hot and crunchy cabbage on top; my only desire being that the grain mustard reduction packed a larger punch.

All of the above are good eats, but doesn't the menu read like the greatest hits from the last 5 years? It's as if someone devised a menu formula of what worked everywhere else in the restaurant scene around the country and then relocated it all in a historic New Orleans setting. And for the most part, even though I enjoyed each dish, after finishing I usually found myself thinking: "That was good, but I like the [insert similar dish] at [insert other restaurant] better."

But perhaps I am too cynical. If good is good, does it matter that it's unoriginal?

There were a few dishes that I would avoid on my next visit. The shaved brussels sprouts and apple salad was too much crunch and not enough of anything else. The Chick-Syl-vain had a perfectly fried chicken breast with dill pickles - a better replication of Chick-Fil-A, but too monotone for my tastebuds. The resident burger expert in my office (who is a tough critic as he openly admits that MVB falls short of his expectations) said that Sylvain's version has beef ground too fine and lacking flavor. I would have to agree with him - about the latter not the former.

For all of the copycat critique, Sylvain (along with previous ventures like Green Goddess) has broken the mold by offering a French Quarter option that should have been available long ago. It involves a Thursday evening after a long day at work, the welcome seclusion of the courtyard, a couple of cans of Blonde Bombshell or a bottle of prosecco, an order of fries, and a plate of pickled vegetables (cukes, mirliton, and beets). That is one dining experience that Sylvain can claim all its own.

Sylvain - Par/Birdie
625 Chartres Street
(504) 265-8123
Mon-Thur 5:30-11:00
Fri-Sat 11:30-2:30; 5:30-12:00
Sun 10:30-2:30 (Brunch); 5:30-10:00

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


Peter: I taste a classic California Chardonnay - buttered popcorn wrapped in new oak. This wine needs something with some pepper, maybe BBQ shrimp from Pascal's Manale. Actually, I think the seafood pan roast from Manale's would be better. Or oysters Rockefeller from Galatoire's.
Rene: This is a heavy white wine with just a little bit of citrus back there. For heavy whites like this, I always think of spaghetti in a cream sauce. My favorite of those dishes, which actually shouldn't have any cream in it, is spaghetti carbonara. They do a pretty great version of that A Mano. Or you know what this wouldn't be bad with, crawfish Monica. But Jazz Fest is over.

Joe the Wine Guy: The 2009 Newton Chardonnay is "blend" of chardonnay grapes sourced exclusively from Napa (42%) and Sonoma (58%) valley plots. White nectarine, vanilla spice, baked apple, and caramel are the predominant aromas. On the palate, there is ripe melon and fresh pineapple which persist through a velvety mouthfeel and a lingering citrus finish. Serve it with baked halibut, roasted chicken, or pecan pie. It retails for $20 and you can find it at Hotel Monteleone, Monkey Hill, Wine Seller, and Byblos.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A Statement of Position(s)

"I wish you would crush a restaurant and write a really nasty review." - half of you.

"I like that Blackened Out only focuses on the positive, yall don't write about crappy restaurants." -the other half of you.

As you can see, much like the nerdy brunette in a college anthropology class, you are sending mixed signals. While occasionally, Peter or I have veered into restaurant criticism that borders on the mean, in general we like to write about what we like (and think you will like) rather than what would just be a waste of your money. This is not to say we only look through rose colored lenses, but in general if we like a restaurant, dish, cocktail, etc... we want to tell you about it.

Complicating this is Twitter. A tool which has boosted our readership to about 5 people a day. This number does not include those entrapped in penal colonies; we are a big hit with those in solitary confinement. The problem with Twitter is that when a restaurant isn't up to snuff, it is incredibly tempting to broadcast it out into that great auditorium where no one is listening.

After a particularly slow, disjointed, and sloppy lunch at Capdeville yesterday, the Twitter finger was itching. But what is the point? Half of you probably aren't on Twitter and the other half were downloading some song by a band I've never heard of. It also isn't very fair to a restaurant to offer immediate criticism to the world, before informing the server or manager of one's displeasure. This website is a much more adequate forum to discuss objective criticism of a restaurant than Twitter.  Expanding on the general rule: we will Tweet about the places we like.

Also, you may have noticed I no longer include photos with restaurant pieces. This is on purpose for two reasons. First, as you are well aware my photos are evocative of the cinematography in a low grade smut movie one would find in the back reaches of the adult room at Major Video. Secondly, I hate taking photos in a restaurant as it feels like I am watching one of those movies. I didn't start this blog to take photos of food; I wanted to write about food. You will just have to use your imagination. Unless you can convince Lindsay to do all the heavy lifting.

Editor's note: We aren't getting rid of photos. Peter will still take pictures, and Rene will try to take photos of food he cooks at home, just Rene isn't going to endeavor to take photos of food in restaurants.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Dueling Bloggers: Reservations

Back by popular demand, Dueling Bloggers returns after an extended hiatus. Next up for debate: reservations versus walk-in only.

Peter - Perhaps I am comfortably numb from a lifetime of waiting in line for breakfast at Camellia Grill or for a sno-ball at Hansen's, but I just don't have any issue with restaurants that don't take reservations. There's something about the wait that helps build anticipation, and as long as the food delivers, then the overall experience is that much better. And if the food is not worth wait, then I just won't go back.

Rene -You probably expect me to disagree with you on this and I can't say I do 100%. Certain places don't need reservations. Hanson's, downstairs at Galatoire's, a burger restaurant that is only open 4 hours a week (tongue in cheek), those types of establishments don't need a book. But you know who does? New restaurants who don't have their feet under them and want to have a No Reservations policy in order to build hype. Talk about setting yourself up for disaster. Waits compounded with the sometimes rocky starts of new restaurants can turn the next hot restaurant into a sinking ship in no time.

Peter - New York Times restaurant critic Sam Sifton is obviously prejudicial toward restaurants that don't take reservations. I can't tell you how many times I have read through a seemingly glowing review from him, only to reach the last paragraph where he delivers a one liner about how waiting for a table sucks before stamping a single star. Just read his review of The John Dory Oyster Bar ("All this greatness comes at a cost, which is the time and dignity lost waiting for a table") or in last week's review of Colonie, which he said "with all its strengths, would do well to embrace that realization and with it a truth John Cheever milled for years in his short stories set in Shady Hill: After Daddy’s off the train, he does not want to wait for dinner." If you don't like waiting for a table with the rest of us shlubs, that's fine. But you knew that going in, so why cry about it later?

Rene - Who talks like that? Sam Sifton is more obtuse than a dusty black tinted window on a stagecoach hiding a Texas Ranger during a Midwest thunderstorm. A few years ago, there was an article on how Italian restaurants in New York City knew to have extensive offerings of Soave (an Italian white wine) in order to better find their restaurant in Frank Bruni's good graces. It seems the Soave of Bruni has been replaced by the No Reservations bait for Sifton. If he hates waiting so much, why go? But there is probably something more sinister working here and that is in a down economy a restaurant may not want to pay the money to hire a theater major with a minor in painting to man the phones for 8 hours a day. Plus, add in the puzzling blend of timing reservations, jugging regulars and newcomers, making sure tables are available for walk-ins, etc..., and not taking reservations is just easier for a new restaurant. Hey, it works for Mondo.

Peter - You know what's worse than no reservations? Waiting to be seated when you have a reservation. We all know that nightly service is fluid, and you never know if the 6-top showing up 10 minutes late for it's 6:00 table will somehow snowball into an even longer delay later in the night. The no reservation system is the greatest form of local democracy since Dollar Bill was convicted and Nagin's term ended. If one person waits, then everyone waits... or pays someone to stand in line for them.

Rene - Peter, as the preeminent authority on Seinfeld's impact on pop culture, I can't believe you missed an opportunity to quote Jerry, although he was talking about rental cars and not restaurants. Here is the other reason not taking reservations is important for a restaurants bottom line: the bar. So you and The Folk Singer walk into a restaurant and they tell you, "It'll be a 20 minute wait." What do you do? Why you go into the bar and order a round of drinks. Boosting the bar sales helps the bottom line, helping the bottom line means know instead of hiring that reservationist they can start having a bar bites menu for you to snack on while you wait. Not taking reservations is genius, really.

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Good Times Keep Rolling

Photo by Caitlyn Ridenour courtesy of OffBeat Magazine

The weekend is finally here, though we expect a few of you started your weekends early with an afternoon at the Fair Grounds yesterday. The city will be popping over the next 3 days with music, food, and visitors who love our music and food. Plus with the Kentucky Derby tomorrow, the mint juleps will be flowing.

Many will find themselves on Frenchman Street at some point this weekend, and if they're hungry and lucky enough to find an open table, Three Muses is the spot. This hybrid jazz club, restaurant, and cocktail bar was the subject of our Dining Out column in last month's issue of OffBeat Magazine. Go for the food, go for the drinks, and go to keep the music playing all night long.

Remember: Everywhere else in the world, it's just another Mother Day's weekend.

No disrespect though, Mom.

Thursday, May 5, 2011


In the last 5 years the Warehouse District restaurant scene has grown in leaps and bounds in terms of breadth and depth. Whether you're craving cochon de lait, raw oysters, barbecue, sushi, spaghetti alla carbonara, or shepherd's pie - it's all there within 3 block radius. And with the opening of Tomasito's, you can add a Tex-Mex enchilada to that list.

Owner Tommy Andrade has expanded his business across Tchoupitoulas from his eponymous restaurant and wine bar by opening a restaurant where mass quantities of chips, salsa, and margaritas are consumed by those who don't mind spending more than places like Superior Grill. The interior's dark woods and tile floor replicates an upscale hacienda, but the courtyard and covered patio out back have the most desirable tables, at least while the weather cooperates. Service outside can be painstakingly slow, even when the restaurant is empty, but as long as your margarita pitcher is filled, you probably won't mind.

Meals begin with complimentary chips and salsa. If dining with a group, chances are that you will order the Gringo Duo ($13), which includes a large bowl of respectable queso and guacamole loaded with so much lime that it almost tastes effervescent on the tongue. The margaritas are delicious but expensive, with the highest grades running over $40 per pitcher. The house version is $15, but as The Folk Singer said, "I am OK with paying more to avoid the guaranteed hangover."

The menu includes tacos, burritos, enchiladas, and fajitas in different iterations using steak, chicken, and shrimp. Fish tacos are fried nuggets in a tortilla slathered with so much chipotle crema that the heat overpowered everything else on the plate. Steak fajitas were grilled inconsistently so that some pieces were still cold in the middle and others overcooked crisp. Either way, the beef was not very flavorful. The accompanying tortillas were obviously pulled from a cellophane bag and the rice was low grade, but the beans were acceptable.

The enchiladas though are another story. I am a sucker for cheese enchiladas, and Tomasito's are well executed if not a little different. The tortillas are folded over instead of rolled and cooked dry without a sauce, the slightly crispy exterior leading me to believe that they were cooked in a skillet. I asked for the classic red sauce instead of the cheese sauce (cheese on top of cheese?), which was deeper in flavor than most - closer to a mole sauce. The verde enchiladas (pictured) are filled with shredded dark meat chicken and melted cheese and then topped with a vibrant sauce made from tomatillos.

The new standard bearer of Tex-Mex cuisine, Tomasito's is not. A nice place to sit outside and sip a margarita on Cinco de Mayo? Absolutely, just remember to order the enchiladas if you get hungry.

Tomasito's - Par
755 Tchoupitoulas
(504) 527-0942
Dinner Mon-Sat

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


Peter: Some good spice but can still taste the grape. High in alcohol though, which is a shame. How about some braised short ribs from Sylvain or the ridiculously good lasagna from Domenica.

Rene: Powerful oak on the nose, smells like the inside of a barn. Lot of heat in the back of the throat from the alcohol. Don't get very much fruit, just woodsy spice. But wine could stand up to something heavy which makes me want Ian Schnobelein's ravioli with veal cheeks, but since that doesn't seem to be on his menu anymore the rigatoni with oxtail ragout, broccoli, and ricotta at Iris would be a good substitute.

Joe the Wine Guy:  That wine is 2006 Domaine Chandon "La Riviere" Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. It has enticing aromas of cocoa powder, red plum, black cherry, and cedar which are a prelude to flavors of black cherry, dried cranberry, cocoa, and cardamom. It finishes with vanilla bean notes which would be perfect with roast rack of lamb with a fig reduction, or maybe a black truffle risotto, or even with a dessert like Black Forest cake. You can find it at Galatoire's and The Wine Seller and it retails for $45.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Weekend Round Up

Weekends really begin on Thursdays or at least they should. Especially weekends which combine NBA Playoffs, Jazz Fest, and the last gasps of Spring.

Thursday Night: Quick bite to eat at the Butcher before watching The Ugly Kardashian's husband, some guy who climbs into stands and hits fans, The-Rapist for $200, Alex, and David Stern's officials bounce the Hornets from the playoffs. Thankfully the greatest chocolate chip cookie in the world has been restored to its original recipe. After that pre-dessert, we had the always good pancetta mac n cheese, smoky and bitter buckboard bacon melt, and a special baked oyster with fontina, pancetta, and mushrooms. A word about that last dish, beware chargrilled oysters and oysters Rockefeller, there is a new sheriff in town. Look I realize we write about the Butcher a lot and you are tired of hearing about it. However, the fact remains there is no better spot in town for a quick bite to eat.

Friday Night: Checked out the new (but not really) bistro menu at Vizard's. About a year ago, Kevin Vizard revamped the menu so that there are no longer categories like appetizers, salads, and entrees. Instead each dish is a plate neither large nor small. Sort of confusing, yes, but you will get the hang of it, and end up ordering too much food. We started with a greens, egg, and ham salad which arrived with a paneed poached egg, underdressed greens, and crispy lardons. The dressing also could have used some more vinegar. Next up was a beautiful plate of ruby red tuna tartar awash in an Asian dressing and set within a ring of verdant green avocado slices. Next came a pork loin and shrimp dish with a fair amount of heat, some scallops, and finally a course of lamb chops. Finally, a cup of candy bar ice cream and the black and blue cake. The former had bits of candy - Snickers, Milky Way, etc...-studded throughout rich chocolate ice cream, while the latter is an old standby of Vizard's combining the sweetness of chocolate with the punch of blue cheese. Vizard's - Par/Birdie.

Sunday - Lunch at Cyrus Restaurant before hitting up Dorignac's. Delicious, revelatory Persian food served with a crisp flatbread that is somewhere between a pizza crust and a thick cracker. But to read more about Cyrus, you will have to read next month's OffBEAT Magazine.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Chalk One Up for the Good Guys

Yesterday was a great day for America and for the war on terror. I expect that I am not the only person whose internal monologue chanted "USA! USA!" when news of Bin Laden's death came across the wire last night.

On September 11, 2001, I remember rolling out of bed around 9:00am and realizing that I had slept through my 8:00-9:30 Tuesday/Thursday class. After I scrambled to get dressed with the hope of avoiding going 0-2 in attendance at my morning classes, I ran into my next door neighbor as he headed to the trash chute. "Can you believe this shit?" he asked. "Huh?" I mumbled. "These terrorist attacks. It's crazy." I went back inside, turned on the TV, and wrote off the rest of the day.

With the more recent devastation of Hurricane Katrina, we New Orleanians sometimes forget the enormous impact that 9/11 had on our local way of life. Sure, we easily recognize the longer lines at the airport and rising prices at the pump that the rest of the country and the world were experiencing. But ask any restaurateur, and they will tell you that the tourism industry - one of New Orleans' largest employers and generators of tax revenue - was brought to its knees in the months after September 11, 2001. The good times were most certainly not rolling.

I often listen to people more intelligent than me say that the greatest tragedy in the war on terror is the loss of our prized American freedoms. But for those of who lost friends and loved ones on 9/11 and the resulting military campaign, even greater grief may be found in those unfulfilled memories that never were. As Brett Anderson so eloquently wrote back in 2001, we must not let loss and despair hold back our daily lives and celebrations. Because if we do, then the terrorists have succeeded.

Yesterday was a great day for America. It took nearly 10 years, but revenge is a dish best served cold.