Thursday, June 30, 2011

More Fun with Garden Herbs

Remember yesterday when we had a serious discussion about what to do with all that basil? Well, it is far more likely that if you have planted mint anytime in the last 5 years, you still have sprigs of mint popping up all over your yard. So go gather it up and let's get to work.

Tales of the Cocktail is about a month away according to this astrological chart next to me desk. This time of year a young man's thoughts naturally turn to ice cold drinks sipped pool side as one whiles away the days til school starts again. Alas, hark the herald angels sing that tune no more. Face it, once you stop getting summers off, summer is just a hotter version of winter. But you can still find time to drink those frosty beverages you plowed through when you were twenty years old. But let's try and class it up a bit, shall we?

For this drink, I wanted to combine the classic Daiquiri (rum, sugar water, lime) with the minty refreshment of a mint julep. To do this, begin by making a simple syrup. One cup water, one cup sugar, simmered until all the sugar is dissolved. To this, add about two handfuls of mint, which you have slightly bruised by rubbing between your hands. Your hands should now smell better than your first kiss. Let the mint steep for an hour or so, then strain into a bowl. Take the minty sugar syrup and freeze in a ice cream maker or just place into the freezer. Pretty soon you have a slightly frozen mint packed flavor bomb.

Into a cocktail shaker add one teaspoon of the mint sorbet, the juice of one lime, and 2 ounces of rum. I had dark rum, so that is what I used, but white rum would probably be better. Shake, strain into a chilled coupe. Now, see you don't need ice because the sorbet is freezing cold, literally. The result is something akin to a frozen daiquiri without having to wear Ed Hardy shirts.

You could easily drop this mint sorbet into a glass and cover with bourbon. Some people would call that a mint julep, but the Pope calls it dessert.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Cooking With Wine

We live in a nation of laws, rules, dicta, and things you are supposed to do. Most of them, should not be followed. But one thing you should never turn down is an opportunity to sample wines and give your ideas and opinions on them. Which is why you find yourself reading something different on this Wednesday. So from now on every other week, in lieu of Winesday, we will look at wines through the lens of cooking at home. 

I often find myself shopping for wines and using the expression, "Give me a nice Tuesday night wine." The wine should be something interesting that won't break the bank, that I can open while I cook, enjoy it while we eat, and finish it on the couch. Welcome to Cooking With Wine.

Mad Max is supplying us with some wines and his first offering is a 2009 Pinot Grigio from TuTu. The winemaker is Rob Lawson who strives to produce a bright clean Pinot Grigio loaded with ripe stone fruit flavors, think apricot and nectarine, not strawberries following the Grateful Dead in a VW bus. You can find it at Houstons, Red Fish Grill, W.I.N.O., Calandro's in Baton Rouge, Cork & Bottle, and Royal Palm.

Pinot Grigio is a wine I always associate with Italian fare, but seeing as how this wine is made in Caliifornia, I thought about doing some cross-cultural cooking with a touch of farm freshness (California) and something spicy (Italian). When I tasted the wine, it had some weight in the finish, meaning it tended to stick around, which made it fodder for something substantial. Here is the result.

Grilled Italian Sausages and Creole Tomato Salad

Grill sausages. Don't overcook them. See that was simple.

It is likely either you or someone you know has a heap of basil that is threatening to take over their yard. What I want you to do is take about 2 big handfuls of basil and blanch them in soft salted water for about thirty seconds. Then drop it into an ice bath. Once cold, drain and squeeze all the water out of it. You should have a ball of green cold leaves. Cut about half of them into a blender. Pour in a cup of olive oil and blend for a minute. After a minute, cut the rest of the leaves into the blender and blend for about two minutes more. Let this mixture "steep" overnight then strain thru a coffee filter set over a fine mesh strainer. This will take a while, so go read War and Peace.

Slice creole tomatoes, season with salt and pepper, drizzle on basil oil, and top with lumps of soft goat cheese. With the fattiness and spice of the Italian sausages, and the juiciness and sweetness of the tomatoes, the acidity and mineral of this Pinot Grigio perfectly cleaned the palate, without getting in the way. Mad Max says he likes it with fresh summer pastas, spicy Asian cuisine, crisp salads, or just to avoid your in-laws while you twirl in bliss.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Short Order Reviews

It is lonely at Blackened Out Physical Therapy and Grease Trap Removal service. Peter is in New York, or maybe it is Paris, or Ancient Rome or it could be Mandalay Bay. I didn't really pay attention. So while he is gone, I'm using this as an opportunity to put my feet up, drink milk out of the carton, and watch kung fu movies. Also, give you some short order reviews.

The Theatres at Canal Place/Gusto - I don't often see movies, but when I do I prefer it to be enjoyed with wine. Last Thursday we went to see "Midnight in Paris" which as far as time travel movies go, was pretty awful. But the scenery, some of the comedic bits, and the theme was interesting. The food and wine however was much better. An artichoke salad with tender, slightly marinated hearts of youthful artichokes sat on top of field greens with a light vinaigrette and was devoured immediately. Then a sampler snack platter arrived. Tzatziki, humus, marinated feta, smoky, sweet, and sour vegetables, olives, and an assortment of crispy breads provided an assortment of flavor options all with a slight backbone of salt. Which of course made drinking two bottles of Cotes du Rhone all but inevitable. Two complaints: one this menu needs a rose; secondly, it has been almost a week, and the $99 pending charge still has not gone away from running a tab. This wouldn't be a big deal if the signed for charge had not already gone through. Theatres/Gusto- Eagle for watching movies, Bogie for extortion. 

Taj Mahal - It is official. Ethnic food, specifically from the area of the world known generally as "Asiatic" is what the Boss and I crave when hungover hunger strikes. Such was the case the day after the trip to the movies. First up, a round of samosas and aloo tikka. The former being the Indian take on the Cajun meat pie (or vice versa) and stuffed with potatoes and peas. Crisp, hot, and flaky, these are perfect with a cold Kingfisher beer. Sindhi aloo tikka was a new dish for us, soft patties of potato topped with chickpeas in a fragrant and subtly spicy sauce and drizzle of yogurt. We fought over the last bit on the plate. Chicken vindaloo and an order of Saag Paneer and we were stuffed, spiced, and out the door. Taj Mahal - Par/Birdie.

J'anita's. Last time we reviewed J'Anitas, it was located in The Avenue Pub and we nearly incited a riot. (If riots can be measured by a few emails and facebook insults.) On this second round, the reality of the goodness of the food coming from Craig And Kimmie Giesecke's kitchen far exceeded the hype. First, came a dish of lamb and grits. Tender, marinated lamb chops sat atop a rich, creamy layer of cheesy grits. Comfort and elegance personified, but can't help but think that stewed lamb would be a better fit. But that is a minor complaint, for what is a majorly good dish. Then the Swamp Reuben with pulled pork, brisket, cole slaw and barbecue sauce arrived and quickly put all other barbecue sandwiches to bed. Delicious, smoky, and rare for a sandwich, just as good the next day. We also had the Not Quite Cuban, which subs chimichurri for mustard and puts a garlic and herbal note on the classic sandwich. With the Cuban, there were no leftovers. Add on a comfortable bar with a good selection of beers, and I'm very glad they moved into my neighborhood. J'Anita's/Rendon Inn - Birdie.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Ye Olde College Innterview

A statue of Saint stands guard over the garden which supplies Ye Olde College Inn. Crop yields are also helped by Archbishop Gregory Aymond's weekly meals. Two months ago Brad McGehee took over as Executive Chef of the historic kitchen. A native of the Bay Area (Francisco, not Louis), he originally came to New Orleans just for a quick internship. Several years later, he finds himself with a kitchen and a garden all his own. Let's put 20 ish questions on the clock.

I was always surrounded by good food through my family. I come from a family who really enjoys good wine and good food. Plus, I had a southern grandmother who always cooked classic southern food.

I've been in the restaurant industry since I was 14 years old, but before culinary school always in the front of the house. Graduated from the Culinary Academy of San Francisco in 2003 and came to New Orleans originally only for a 6 month internship at Commander's Palace under Tory McPhail. Been here ever since. Also, trained under Tom Wolfe at Wolfe's on the Lake, Peristyle, and Wolfe's in the Warehouse. Then went to work at the Ritz-Carlton under Matt Murphy.

It is fun to balance my style of food with the food that traditionally has been served at Ye Olde College Inn. I am a big advocate of using farm fresh food. The farm across the street certainly sparked my interest when they pitched the job to me. I am not going to take the veal chop off the menu, but I may serve it with some radishes or squash from across the street.

So far been pretty well-received by the regulars and they tell me to "keep it up." Really the specials are where I am able to show my creativity. And most importantly I am starting to get a pulse on what people want changed.

Getting new tools in the kitchen. Adding simple things like a blender or chinois in order to create better sauces. Or how to butterfly the shrimp in a certain way so they cook better. I am a big believer that it is doing the little things correctly which make a great meal.

Did a dish last night called Fig St. Farm Flatbread. Basic flatbread that I top with whatever is fresh from my walk through the garden that morning. For instance, recently has been flatbread topped with basil pesto, cherry tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and some spicy shrimp. Sold 120 in three days as an app.

Nothing tackier than dollies and clouding on buffets. But hotels are doing it again. Wish they'd stop. It is really cheesy.

Anything fresh, especially vegetables. I find myself centering a dish on the vegetable rather than the protein now.

My slotted spoon. I use it for everything. It is an oversized slotted spoon that I always have at my station. I use it to finish plates at the pass, be it adding crabmeat or some other garnish.

I really like cooking for people who challenge me. We have a regular guy who is a real foodie. He came in the other night with some folks from Georgia. I went out and chatted with them and mentioned I had some great peaches from Chilton County, Alabama and that I heard they were the best peaches. So the people walk by to the guy's house and bring back Georgia peaches. So I cooked two dishes, one with Chilton peaches, one with Georgia peaches. Georgia won.

All of the above. If the customer wants to drink wine, we can do a refined dish. If they want beer, we can cook to that. It is whatever the occasion calls for.

Taqueria D.F. on Claiborne. I really like getting the green plate special from the Farmer's Market, and Ziggy's pastries from Maple St. Patisserie. I enjoy eating simple, casual food.

New Orleans can be frustrating for a young chef because it is such a small town. Tough coming in as an outsider. Everyone always asks me where I went to school, but they really want to know is where I went to high school. (Editor's note: McGehee married a local girl. She went to Dominican)

Joy of Cooking, Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, The French Laundry Cookbook, On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee.

As a young kid, we used to always go out to eat for holidays. I remember distinctly one time going to a brunch at a big hotel in San Francisco and being struck by food as entertainment. There was a guy flipping omelets, all the carved fruits, people everywhere. That was my first wow moment with food.

Gumbo, then the flatbread pizza, then finish up the meal with the Crawfish Delacroix which is baked redfish topped with crawfish etoufee and served with rice.

I am very anal when it comes to cleanliness in the kitchen. Comes from working under chefs who drilled that into me. Kitchen has to be clean.

Spend time with my family. The Blanchers, who own this place, are big family people and understand that people need time off. I had off for Father's Day off last Sunday, my first as a dad. That was the first holiday I've had off in 6 years.

Shrimp tacos. Grill shrimp, place in corn tortilla with some cilantro, diced red onion and chipotle mixed with sour cream. Squirt of lime. That's it.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Weekend Roundup

This weekend you can satisfy your sweet tooth, get a lesson on Southern hospitality, and drink like a Francophile, all from the comfort of your own hometown.

Sucre's Tariq Hanna was named one of the Top 10 Pastry Chefs in America by Dessert Professional magazine, and this weekend he is giving New Orleans a taste of one of the desserts he showcased when he received his award in NYC. Today from 4-7pm at the Magazine Street store and on Saturday from 12-3pm at the Lakeside store, Tariq will be giving away samples of his dessert “Lipstick on a Pig” (double dark chocolate bread pudding, feuilletine, peanut butter mousse, whipped strawberry blossom). Tariq claims that inspiration for the name came to him after watching Rene hold court at Hogs for the Cause, but we're pretty certain that he had the revelation during a magical moment at a Rush concert.

Saturday afternoon the Southern Food and Beverage Museum welcomes Martha Foose, cookbook author, James Beard award winner, and lady of Southern charm. The inspiration behind the Delta Foose Fries at MVB and object of Rene's crush will be signing copies of her cookbook A Southerly Course: Recipes and Stories from Close to Home and demonstrating her quick and easy fudge recipe. The event is free and open to the public.

Lastly, on Saturday night from 6:00 till 9:00 the Louisiana Chapter of The French American Chamber of Commerce will be hosting their annual French Summer Wine Festival at the Shops at Canal Place. The event will feature an "everything French" auction, over 20 French wines and champagnes plus selections from local winemaker James Moises, and food from La Cote Brasserie, Cafe Degas, Chateau du Lac and more. Advance tickets are $55 and $65 at the door.

Thursday, June 23, 2011


"Our restaurant gives you New Orleans. Our menu gives you the world."

Long before Chris DeBarr introduced far out foods like huitlacoche and uthappam at The Green Goddess, fans of Chef Susan Spicer had eaten around the world more times than Jules Verne.  At a time when stalwarts of creole cuisine are fearful of pho and barbacoa tacos surpassing gumbo and po-boys in terms of popularity, no one seems to acknowledge that Chef Spicer has been successfully integrating foreign cuisines into the local repetoire for over 20 years.

Bayona (pronounced "BYE-own-uh") reflects a lifetime devotion to great food from both near and far. Paris, Acadiana, Alsace, the Mid-East, and the Far East are all represented on the menu, which is divided into two sections: "Bayona Signatures" on the left and the nightly specials on the right. In an era where bistros have cut the number of appetizer and entree selections down to 7 or fewer, Bayona usually offers double digit choices in both categories.

But before you make it to your table, you first need to get in the door. Reservations at Bayona have been tough to come by in the past few months, even on Monday nights. Walk-ins are for the most part non-existent, and I counted no less than 10 parties who were turned away while we sat in the lounge for 5 minutes waiting for our table on a Thursday night.

It's tough to veer away from beginning a meal with the garlic soup or goat cheese crouton whose foundation is softened by a madeira cream sauce and earthy mushrooms which can make you swear off the slimy steakhouse versions forever. But I always tell myself, "I can order those any time I come here." So instead I opt for specials like lengua pupusas with a flaky exterior that had the texture and taste of grandma's pie crust made with lard (which is to say that it was delicious). The dish was completed with an earthy mole and wedges of tomatillo whose tartness cut the richness of the rest of the dish.

But even though I can order the sweetbreads any time I come to Bayona, I'll be damned if they don't make an appearance at some point on my table. For every time that La Boca persuades me that grilling sweetbreads is the best way to go, Bayona's classic version sways me back the other way with its lemon caper butter, slices of carrot, and diced beets. Rabbit is a mainstay on the nightly special menu. On my last visit it was a roulade stuffed with chorizo and paired with a deboned frog leg that was chicken fried perfection, with vinegary collard greens and thick-cut sweet potatoes with a sticky-sweet molasses glaze completing the dish. Steaks are always available as a special, but the standard cut of red meat is a crusty lamb loin served with a winy zinfandel sauce.

Usually by the time that dessert rolls around, I am struggling to overcome my satiation. But that hasn't stopped me from sampling a rich chocolate torte with caramel or black forest cake layered with vanilla and a spike of kirsch. I've tried both lemon and almond versions of the semifreddo, and while the texture of both were initially brittle, they melted away into creaminess just from the heat of the tongue.

During my last 3 visits, there has only been one disappointment in service and one on the menu. If I am spending $70 on a bottle of wine, I don't think it's asking much for it to be served at the proper temperature. Not one bottle of red wine that I ordered came out of temperature controlled storage. The lone culinary misstep was a "shaved" squash salad sliced much too thick and tasting overwhelmingly bitter flavor. Donald Link executes a much more successful version of this dish at Cochon, leaving you to wonder if the student has surpassed the teacher?

Not likely.

Bayona - Birdie, after missing a putt for Eagle by two feet
430 Dauphine Street
(504) 525-4455
Lunch: Wed-Sat
Dinner: Mon-Sat

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


Rene - Pale yellow/gold in glass. On the nose I get some lemon with cold cream. Fatty in mouth with a mineral viscosity and trace of spice. I think this wine do well with something substantial like the Veal Alyssa at Mr. John's. Or perhaps the Oysters Rock at The Bombay Club where they serve a fried oyster on a bed of absinthe laced cream spinach. But I'd be equally happy drinking this on its own.

Peter - This wine is a walking contradiction. The color is faintly yellow, so you expect muted flavors and crispness. The nose has a sweetness like fresh melon. Then you taste and the sugar is very mellow, with a good bit of tang/spice on the end. This go well with the pan sauteed drum with smoked tomato beurre blanc that was on my lunch table at Lilette yesterday.

Joe the Wine Guy - The 2010 Rutherford Sauvignon Blanc from Provenance reveals lively aromas reminiscent of lemon custard, Key lime, orange blossom and kiwi. Hints of lemongrass and mineral - the signatures of this grape varietal - add complexity. The mouth-coating flavors pick up apple cobbler and nutmeg notes before culminating in a long, tangy finished that is lightly nuanced with sweet oak spice. This wine's vibrant, balanced acidity makes it a delicious apertif or compliment to lighter entrees. Retails for $24.99 and poured at Mike's on the Avenue and Mr. B's.

Winesday Redux - Coincidentally, Provenance Winery holds a special place in the hearts of Blackened Out fans because that is where Peter, The Pope, and their merry band of wineauxs stayed during their first trip to Napa. To read more about that viticultural adventure, click here.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Summer Reading Happened So Fast

Fact: Summertime is the busiest and most active season for travel (Source: The Internet).

Hopefully you have a trip, vacation or travel planned in the next few months to relax and rejuvenate your soul. And of course prepare you for another football season filled with coaches eating grass while starting a quarterback that only plays well in B tier Bowl Games. But I digress.

Now wait you might be saying, trips, vacations, and travel, isn't that the same thing? No. They are each different and require a different book to maximize the experience. So without bidding you further adieu, here is the Blackened Out Guide to Leaving Where You Live and Reading Gooder.

A Trip-  Trips have a specific purpose and oftentimes they are not how you would choose to use your frequent flyer miles. Out of town weddings, visiting relatives, or going to a doll convention are examples of trips. For this, you want a book that allows you to get absorbed into someone else's more fanciful life. For that, Anthony Bourdain's Medium Raw is a perfect fit. This collection of essays explores food, but perhaps more subtly the changes Bourdain has gone through since becoming a star. Throughout the book I noticed a tinge of regret, that maybe what Bourdain wishes he would have become one of the chefs he has spoken so effusively of over the last 10 years. His piece of Justo the fish butcher at Le Bernardin is worth the price of admission alone. Plus, it is in hardback which means your Aunt will probably think you are really smart.

The Vacation- From the early Latin word for "chill out", a vacation is somewhere you go to get away from it all. Key distinction about a vacation is that the location hardly matters. For instance, you can take a beach vacation in Florida, Biloxi, St. Maarten, the Eastern Shore, Malibu, Hawaii, or Dubai and it will be almost exactly the same. There is lounging in the sun, maybe a round of golf for the sporting types, a fishing excursion for those who are into torture, and the drinking of copious amounts of cold, alcoholic beverages. Same goes for things like skiing, bird watching, and spelunking. For a vacation, I like to read historical crap, something with a story arch, but not anything with dragons or vampires. This way when you return from your vacation, you aren't totally braindead and can add something to your Monday night trivia team. Thus, read The Food of a Younger Land by Mark Kurlansky. First, the backstory, during the Great Depression, the government hired a bunch of writers to chronicle what people were eating in America. The manuscripts were due in December 1941. Cue World War II, and the manuscripts sat untouched for over 60 years, before Mr. Kurlansky unearthed them and published the series.

Travel - Travel is the most intense of all wanderings. It is when you put yourself in an unfamiliar land and immerse yourself in the culture of others. It can be frustrating, it can be rewarding, and it should be challenging. No all inclusive or guided tours here. You blaze your own trail, eat native foods, and drink wine you can't pronounce. You need a book that echoes that adventure. Which is why you should read Jacques Pepin's incredible book The Apprentice. In this book, Pepin chronicles a lifetime spent cooking and learning how to cook. Consider it a front row seat for why food matters in America again.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Power of Information: Part I

Rene has already made an announcement to the Twitterati, but those who live in more than 140 characters are probably not aware that Blackened Out has planned a dual wave invasion of Spain. Last week The Folk Singer and I pulled the trigger on a fire sale on flights to Madrid in early spring, and the next day Rene decided that an autumn jaunt to Barcelona was too good of a deal to pass up.

I hope that you like funny references to jamón, because you are bound to be reading quite a few of them in the coming months.

Even though my second Iberian adventure is far off from the horizon, I have already started researching hotels, train schedules, and of course places to eat. This exercise has spurred me to finally write a blog post that has been in the hopper for quite a while now. The basic premise is:

Where does your foodie information come from?

It's truly remarkable how many resources we have at our fingertips. Mainstream print media, food television, blogs, internet forums, and social media offer a wide range of information from a myriad of individual perspectives. Simply log into your Facebook account, brag on your wall about you are leaving for Morocco in 15 days, and you're bound to get replies from a friend who knows someone whose sister lived in Tangier for a semester and can give you the scoop on where to find the best roasted goat in town.

Information wasn't so easy to come by a decade or so ago. Before Al Gore invented the internet, our resources were limited to close friends and travel agents. Venturing into the unknown back then required more reliance on good luck and a sense of direction. There's something to be said for flying blind though, and I'll touch more on that in Part II next week.

Back to the question at hand. What sources do you trust when it comes to food and travel? I am partial to professional critics and writers - Sam Sifton at the NY Times, Ruth Reichl, David Lebovitz when it comes to all things Parisian, and even our own Brett Anderson and Ian McNulty. I trust those people who have been in the game for a while but also still keep a fresh perspective and an open mind.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, I find amateur perspectives to be of great value. Chowhound used to be a daily stop on my stroll through the world wide web, and even though I am an infrequent user now, I still check out the forums before leaving on a trip. The same goes for individual blogs. It's amazing where Google can take you by simply typing in "Madrid food blogs".

But the internet is a great big place, and I'm sure that there are many more untapped resources out there. In today's comments, let us know where you go for your food information, both local and abroad. Next week, we'll take a look at how trustworthy that information truly is and the potential perils of information overload.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

New Crush

I have a new crush in the world of cooking. And she is a older woman from the Mississippi Delta. I've only met her once but in between her offering me booze and giving me tips on pimento cheese, I fell in love. I am talking of course about Martha Foose. Her two cookbooks, Screen Doors and Sweet Tea and A Southerly Course, are simple, intelligent cookbooks that should be on everyone's shelf.

I particularly like the stories that accompany each recipe. Rather than just focusing on herself, these stories share a part of her culture and a sense of place from where the recipe developed or as is most often the case was passed down. You will read about people with names like Redbone or learn how to socially wait for the mailman. The recipes themselves range from the easy, yet sublime Bacon Crackers (ingredients: bacon and crackers) to homey cornbread, deviled eggs, roast duck, and of course that pimento cheese.

Recently, I used her basic deviled egg recipe and sexed it up with the addition of bacon marmalade, a bacon chip, and a thin slice of jalapeno. Although Ms. Foose wasn't there to comment on the dish, I have a feeling my love may have been reciprocated.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


Peter - Put my nose in the glass and get this chocolate aroma. But then take a sip and the wine tastes surprisingly juicy with a little smoke. Seems remarkably smooth at first, but then about halfway through the glass I start noticing some spice on the end. It's delicious all the way around. A perfect pairing would be the andouillette in mustard sauce that I had at L'Amphitryon in Lyon back in 2007, but the cost of airfare will force me to settle for the choucroute maison from Luke. (Give me 2 lbs of pork products and take me straight to heaven.) Or I could finish my meal at Cowbell by pairing a glass with a slice of their Chocolate City.

Rene - Best to let this bottle sit and open up. On the nose, I smell cedar, a cigar box or humidor. Taste red fruit and licorice with almost a sherry-like dryness. High in alcohol but not harsh and long finish of spice. Would like to have this wine over the course of two dishes at MiLa. First the sweetbreads with truffled grits and bacon sherry jus would pair nicely with the woodsy and spice flavors. Then the braised veal cheeks would get along quite well with the juicier flavors of the wine after it has opened up.

Joe the Wine Guy - Here we have the Orogeny 2007 Green Valley Pinot Noir. This wine displays crystalline and red fruit character from grapes grown within Sonoma County's Russian River Valley. The texture is opulent, with a firm, integrated tannin structure at 14.4% alcohol. Hints of toffee from barrell aging heighten the nose and linger on the fruit-imbued finish. Enjoy this pinot noir's lush flavors with a broad range of entrees, including beef tenderloin, roast lamb or poultry, grilled pork or salmon, and especially pasta or risotto dishes laden with wild mushrooms. This wine retails for $39 and is poured at Emeril's Delmonico and Le Foret.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


After graduating high school in New Orleans, Joe Briand enrolled at Loyola and began working in restaurants. Eventually he found his way to Herbsaint where he climbed up the ranks to general manager and wine buyer for the Link Restaurant Group. Last fall he left the Link Restaurant Group to begin working as Manager/Wine Buyer for Hopper's Carte des Vins. The new wine shop, which should open shortly, is located on Magazine St. across the street from Whole Foods. 20 ish questions on the clock.

I was working at Vaquero's with a friend when we decided to go work at this new Susan Spicer restaurant called Herbsaint. While working at Vaquero's we would get really excited if we sold $400 of margaritas in a shift. When I got to Herbsaint all of a sudden I was selling $1200 of wine a night. So there was a financial draw first into wine. But the initial group of waiters and managers at Herbsaint was very strong wine wise and we would do blind tastings on Sunday afternoons.

The wines that changed everything for me were two bottles of Burgundy. Both came from vineyards less than 2 miles apart. One was a Chambolle-Musigny that had a perfume of what I then imagined the winemaker's sexy, French wife would have smelled like. The other had that dirty, in a good way, musty, barnyard funk, it was a '96 Nuits St. George. I was fascinated that two wines from same varietal and same area could be so different.

Leaving the Link Restaurant Group was the toughest decision I ever had to make. I have a wife and son, with another on the way, and I just needed to be able to spend more time with them. Donald tried to change my responsibilites and job to keep me on and we are still very close. In the end after 10 years of working in restaurant business, I knew the demands of the job and how you really have to throw your whole self into the job. It was like a divorce, but a friendly divorce (laughs).

The misconception is that Hopper's is a wine shop filled only with high end bottles. In fact, 40% of the bottles are under $20. At Carte des Vins, I want to offer people the most bang for the buck. The core of our offerings will come from the Old World, sort of like the wine list at Herbsaint. I really like the fact that I can sell a Rhone wine for $15. A wine that was made over there with care and dedication, bottled, and shipped, and it is great for only $15 bucks. That is amazing. I'll try to turn people on to wines they haven't tried previously.

It is important for the casual wine drinker to find a retailer they trust and develop a relationship. It is easy to do. Walk into a retailer, introduce yourself, and ask them to put together a mix case of wines for you at such and such price a bottle. I dont understand why people are afraid to ask questions when it comes to wine. In every other merchant transaction, the customer has no problems asking questions. Look, when I go to wine tastings, I am constantly asking questions. Customers should do the same.

I'll tell one story about the foolishness of wine tasting notes. I was at a tasting once of German wines. And the person leading the tasting had some initials behind their name. German wines are incredibly confusing. The names on the labels, the styles, the language. I love German wines but they still confuse me. A wine buyer from a restaurant asked a question and in the question he mentioned he "got an herbal note." So the person leading the tasting says, "Yes, I get a lot of blackberry leaf." I spit my wine out and started howling laughing. Seriously, who the fuck has ever eaten a blackberry leaf? Nor remembered it how it tasted to compare it to a wine.

I don't like that kind of talk. I tend to describe wines very basically. Is there red fruit? black fruit? What is the weight like in the mouth. Heavy tannins or light? I've never had a gooseberry and I don't know anyone who has, but there it is apparently inside of every bottle of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. I don't talk like that because the average wine drinker drinks the wine and gets discouraged because they don't taste "blackberry leaf."

After Katrina, my wife and I rebuilt a double. She got the bathroom and big walk-in closet and I got a wine cellar with a cork floor. In there, I'd say 60% is red and white Burgundy. I have a good chunk of Rhone wines, some Italian, some Germans, of course a few cases of Champagne. 2 cases of Sauterne, about the same of port. I hold some cases for some friends. All in all, I have about 400-500 bottles, but the capacity to keep around 1200.

One section of my cellar I like to call the "You don't have to ask me if you can open this wine." It is about 10 cases of everyday wines. And this is where the other wines from around the world are represented. Some great Spanish whites, these Greek white wines I really like, basic burgundies.

We eat out a lot, so I do pay attention to wine lists. Some that really impress me are Commander's Palace and Stella! The Windsor Court has really made some great strides. Sarah (Kavanaugh) has a very enviable wines by the glass program. And then of course Galatoire's.

When food is too spicy, it makes pairing wines incredibly difficult. And so being that much of New Orleans food is spicy, that can sometimes cause a problem. But in general, the food of New Orleans is based on the cuisines of the Old World where they have been drinking wine for thousands of years. I find that Rhone wines go very well with Cajun food. The wines of Southwest France also, which has similar use of one pot cooking and heavy use of sausages.

Seafood gumbo, I'd pair a pinot gris from Luxemburg because it has weight, fruit, and is not too sweet. With trout almondine, it has to be white burgundy. For grilllades and grits, a Vacqueryas or Gigondas, something from the Rhone valley, but lighter. Bread pudding is so sweet that I would want to pair it with something with a good bit of acid and lesser sweetness. So maybe a muscat based wine from the Languedoc or an Icewine.

Most people drink their whites too cold and their reds too warm. Stick that red in the fridge for 30 minutes before you open it and let it sit for 10 before you drink it. Take your whites out of the fridge 30 minutes before you want to drink it. You will notice a much better wine drinking experience. Also, remember you don't have to spend a lot of money to drink aged wines. Buy a case of simple Bourgogne
or Bourgogne Blanc at $15 a bottle or so, and just sit on it for 2-3 years. Wines like that really benefit from just a few years of aging. If you can commit to leaving stuff alone for a few years, you will always have a ready supply of fantastic wine to drink. One last tip, buy white wines in winter and reds in summer. It will sort of force you not to touch them for a while, and you can get better deals because merchants are looking to last seasons whites or reds from their inventory.

We typically figure out what we are cooking first, than we pull the wine. The other day I got some fresh speckled trout from a friend. So came home, made a courtbouillon, and opened a Sancerre that had a good bit of richness.

I love rose. And sure it is cool and trendy to be into rose, but I love them. They are good with food, but they are also good without food. So in summer I drink a lot of roses. I also like mineral driven crisp whites, wines from the Jura region of France, and the perhaps the best summer wine, basic Chablis.

Windows on the World by Kevin Zraly. The Wine Atlas by Robinson and Johnson. Adventures on the Wine Route by Kermit Lynch.

I'd like to see wineries stop reacting to market first rather than paying attention to their location second. 15 years ago Syrah was planted all over California, now you can't give it away. Look, France has had 1,000 years on us to figure out what grows best where. No reason California can't figure that out also. And I am completely over the "Super" thing. the other day someone tried to sell me a Super Sicilian. Look just because you add Cabernet, it doesn't make it super.

I'd like to see more blends from California or at least more transparency in the labeling as to what grapes are actually in that wine. I've drank far too many California Pinot Noirs that have Syrah in them. Italy had a huge scandal a few years ago with some unscrupulous vintners. Look, there are vintners in the Languedoc who choose to label as a vin de pays rather than AOC because the non-AOC wines just does better on their lands. There is nothing wrong with that. Grow, bottle, and sell what grows best where you are.

A restaurant is incredibly expensive to operate. If people knew how slim the margins are they wouldn't complain about the mark up on wine. And look, that cocktail you are drinking instead of wine? That is marked up much more than the wine. I tell people this all the time, when you go to a restaurant, order wines you like and know rather than taking a flyer. If you gamble and lose, that markup hurts a lot more.

After tasting wine all day, most of the time I just want a nice, cold beer.

One case of wine with money no object? Fine, but they all get to be magnums. First, I'd get one of those bottles of Veuve-Clicquot from the 1800's they just found at the bottom of the ocean. Then 1 each of the Grand Crus from Domaine de la Romanee Conti, let's say Romanee Conti, La Tache, and Romanee-St.-Vivant. A Raveneau Grand Cru Chablis from a really great year. One bottle of First Growth Bourdeaux pre-phylloxera. A German dessert wine selection from Crocker like a Trockenbeerenauslese. A '98 Beaucastel made from 100% Roussanne. An old bottle of Saumur-Champigny from Domaine Clos Rougeard. A bottle of '51 Y'Quem. My wife's favorite champagne is 96 Demiere Ansiot, so would need a bottle of that. Finally, a Musigny from Comte de Voguey from 1978, my birth year.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Fried Shrimp Po-Boy

Fried shrimp po-boy from Tracey's.
If the roast beef po-boy is the most infamous sandwich in the city, the fried shrimp version may be the most popular, especially with tourists trepidatious of dripping debris on their clothes. What better way to taste the bounty of our local waters than fried golden brown and stuffed between two halves of french bread? (To answer my own question, how about two halves of pan bread a la Casamento's?)

Let's break down what makes a top notch fried shrimp po-boy.

Shrimp Size - Bigger is always better, right? I'm not sure if that's necessarily true when it comes to fried shrimp. At one extreme are those who say that jumbo shrimp are preferred because they deliver a higher ratio of crustacean to coating. But it's tough to really "pile on" U-10s, and there's nothing more disappointing than finding only 6 shrimp in your po-boy, as large as they may be. On the other hand, popcorn shrimp were designed for over stuffed po-boys, and some purveyors (like Crabby Jack's) load up their loaves to the point more shrimp spill onto the butcher paper than stay between the bread. Of course, I like my shrimp sized medium.

The shrimp runeth over at Crabby Jack's.
Shrimp Coating - I like flour on shrimp and corn meal on fish. A thin coating is preferable to a thick batter and crunch is key. Bland is bad; if the coating on fried shrimp is not seasoned with enough salt and pepper, you may as well be eating paper mache. Additional spices - namely cayenne and lemon - are acceptable as long as they are not overpowering. But you know what I notice most about fried shrimp? Where the batter sticks to the shrimp.

Dressed - In my opinion, pickles are the most important dressing on a fried shrimp po-boy. You need that acid to cut through the fried goodness. Now, I go 2 ways when it comes to dressing. Option #1: "The Standard" - lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, and mayo. Option #2: "The Purest" - buttered bread, pickles, and hot sauce. If I'm feeling wild and crazy, I may even opt for remoulade or tartar sauce. (Blasphemy!)

What are the criteria for your perfect fried shrimp po-boy and who serves the best one in town? We're all ears in the comments.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Weekend Roundup

All day Saturday and Sunday, the French Quarter plays host to Vieux To Do, which rolls three free festivals into one great weekend. The Old U.S. Mint will be the site of both the Lousiana Seafood Festival and the Cajun-Zyeco Music Festival, while just around the corner the Farmers Market will be celebrating the Creole Tomato Festival. Delicious food and great music - what more else do you need?

On Saturday starting at 2:00pm, the ordinary men with extraordinary moves will be stomping through Mid-City for the second performance of the 610 Stompers Ball Crawl, stopping for libations at various bars along the way. For $35, you can join in on the fun without growing a mustache.

Thursday, June 9, 2011


A tea cake at Velvet Espresso Bar holds all of the joy of cake in a fraction of the size.

There are certain things I am willing to let other people do for me because they can do it better. Examples include oil changes, haircuts, flight, and making coffee. Coffee has just never really been something I really saw the use in fussing over. It is early in the morning, you are tired and grouchy, someone hands you coffee and then your day begins.

Places like Starbuck's, CC's, and PJ's have built empires based on the fact that they can make a cup of coffee better or at least more conveniently than you. I like that about America. Velvet Espresso Bar on Magazine across from Whole Foods has started out pretty strong in this vein..Tucked into an space no bigger than a dorm room, Velvet prides itself on sourcing the best coffee from around the world. Here you can find coffee beans from exotic locales with cartoonish names like Tanzania or offerings from roasters such as Stumptown, who appear to be the coffee roasting equivalent of Domaine Romanee-Conti  Read here: I googled it.

The espresso machine and the grinder were not getting along when we visited, so we instead we opted for a siphon with beans from Guatemala, which I used to enjoy fresh when I picked beans there, fresh coffee right off the trees, I mean. A siphon basically works like this. Some water is poured into a small container and heated to boiling. When it boils pressure or science or something forces it into a second vessel which has the ground beans placed into. After some stirring and a few minutes, a cold, wet rag is placed around the bottom vessel. The temperature lowered, the coffee drains through a filter and into the original vessel. It is then poured into your cup. In college, people did this all the time, but not with coffee.

This was a very good cup coffee. Rounding out the experience were a selection of tea cakes. Miniature cupcakes really, but with interesting fillings like peanut butter, orange, and strawberry. There are worse ways to start your day than a piece of cake a fine cup of coffee.

Velvet Espresso Bar- Birdie
5637 Magazine St.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


Peter - Ah, bubbles. Effervescent refreshment just in time for summer. This glass of bubbly is well balanced - not too sweet or too dry. Would make for a delicious kir royale. While I know that sparkling wines are more versatile than we realize, I am partial to a glass at either the beginning or the end of a meal. For the alpha, a trip to Boucherie for their long, thin french fries drizzled with garlic butter and sprinkled with parmesan. For the omega, the strawberry shortcake from Commander's Palace.

Rene: This wine is pale golden in color in the glass. On the tongue, it is creamy with a touch of honeyed sweetness and a sharp streak of acidity. Maybe a little bit of peach flavor, but nothing overt. The sweetness and bubbles make it perfect for something spicy and salty. Wine with bubbles happens to be my favorite wine to drink with food. Why? Because you can pair it  with food just as you would a cold beer. For that, the Kon Po chicken from Jung's Golden Dragon, studded with those raisined hot peppers or maybe the hot beef soup from Korea House would do. Then again the red beans and rice with hot sausage and a side of fried chicken from Dooky Chase's would be perfect with this wine.

Joe the Wine Guy: Glad to see yall enjoy the finer things in life like this 2009 Stellina di Notte Prosecco. This affordable sparkling wine opens with delicate aromas of citrus, pear, melon, lemon and almonds. Those flavors are catapulted on the palate by the elegant bubbles. The wine's body is light, with a lovely balance between crisp acidity and a hint of sweetness and minerals.  This wine retails for $15 and you can find it at Dorignac's, Oak, and Ste. Marie.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

All Alon the Watchtower

Chef Alon Shaya heads up the kitchen at Domenica in the Roosevelt Hotel. He is also an actor who has received critical acclaim for his role in Treme as the dans le merde grill cook. A native of Israel, Alon spent a year in Italy before opening Domenica with his partner Chef John Besh. 20ish questions on the clock.

I was really young when I got into cooking. My mom worked two jobs, so I became in charge of cooking for the family in 1st grade. Always looked at cooking as do my part to help the family.

After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, I went to work for Jean Louis Palladin in Las Vegas. Spent three years out there working in a variety of restaurants inside the Rio Hotel. Then worked in an Italian place in St. Louis where Octavio (Manilla) worked. Then, came to New Orleans and worked at Besh Steakhouse.

The idea for a John and I to do an Italian place came about before Katrina. I had always cooked Italian food and it was my dream to open an Italian restaurant. John also had passion as he had visited often while training in Europe. So, Katrina hits and all that, took us a few years to get Besh Steakhouse back on track. Then time came for me to go to Italy and so off I went for a year. Knowing we would open Domenica when I came back. Originally we wanted to do a real family focused place with spaghetti and meatballs and the like, but then when Roosevelt had an opening we refined the idea.

First stop in Italy, was in Bergamo. Marc Vetri flew to Italy with me and took me to the family in Bergamo that he had worked with. Bergamo lives very much in the past and culinararily they never really had much of an identity and borrowed from many other regions. Then after a few months I went to Parma, where I worked from 6 am til 3 learning how to make salamis and then from 3 til midnight in the family's restaurant. I stayed in Parma for 7 months and that family became my second family. Then I went to Bussetto for a few months.

On my days off I would explore restaurants, or other villages or towns, or we would all just gather and eat. Sunday's were the time when family and food came together, and I wanted my restaurant to have a similar vibe. What is so interesting about Italy is that in many things like style, architecture, technology they are fashion forward. But in cooking, they are all about preserving the past. For instance, you will go into someone's modern kitchen and they make lasagna bolognese. In some ways the interior of Domenica reflects that.

Anolini filled with nutmeg, Parmagianno Reggiano, and mortadella is a textbook dish from Parma. The Bolzano pizza represents my time spent in the Alto Adige, where you get lots of smoked meats, specifically pork. That pizza has roasted pork shoulder, fennel, bacon and fontina cheese. The panna cotta on our menu is the recipe from a panna cotta I had in the Piedmote which was just the best panna cotta I'd ever had. The culatello is from Bussetto.

The anolini is traditionally served in broth in Parma. When we did that here people did not like it, they found it very underwhelming. So now we serve those anolini with tomato sauce and people love them. Another example is there is a Venetian dish of fish in a sour sauce with pickeld veggies. I love it, but I think I was the only person. So we try to stick to simpler, which I find always translates to be best.

Peaches are coming in soon as well as blueberries. So thinking of putting those peaches on a pizza with gorgonzola cheese. Watermelon and goat cheese salad will soon go back on the menu. And in summer we start pickling things. There will be fried artichokes and asparagus, prosciutto with melon. We try and take a micro-seasonal approach to cooking here. That is how the Italians cook as well.

My culinary approach is not to do much inventing. I pull from my time in Italy where regions have had the same dishes for centuries. These dishes never change and are unique to each region. Our menu is based off of first what is seasonal and then doing the best you can with that ingredient. I like taking those old dishes from Italy and introducing them to New Orleans. For instance, octopus carpaccio is a snack on the beaches south of Liguria. Or the passover meals. I love doing those meals. In fact, many of our guests for those meals were Catholic priests who wanted to eat these foods they had studied in the Old Testament.

I don't like not having as much time to spend with my girlfriend. She is awesome, graduated from Tulane a few years ago and is originally from Georgia. She spends time with her family back in Georgia and being a head chef means many times I can't go with her because it is NOWFE or Mardi Gras or Easter or whatever.

My favorite part of being a chef is mentoring young cooks or disadvantaged people jobs that lead to careers in the food world. Angel, one of our cooks, came from Cafe Reconcile and she has become such an integral part of our team that I can't imagine our kitchen without her.

I really like making pizzas. Working with with the wood burning oven (at right) and the dough is more akin to dealing with people than cooking. The dough is alive and each day it needs to be treated differently.

The wood burning oven is my favorite kitchen tool. You can do everything in there from breads, sardines, roast goat, spinach and ricotta crespelle, you name it, I would like to cook it in that oven.

The Encyclopedia of Italian Cooking which is 1,000 pages long and all in Italian has references to every Italian dish. Marc Vetri's cookbook, il Viaggio. Salumi, another 1,000 page behemoth that I use all the time for salumi making. And then my mom sends me all these Jews in Italy books which chronicle the food of Jews in Italy. Reading those always makes me fall back in love with being Israeli.

I'd love to cook and eat with Mario Batali for obvious reasons. Marc Vetri who has been a big influence on me. Jean Louis Palladin, who although he is dead, first saw me as a poor fish cook and I 'd love to show him what I've accomplished. And Watch Chupal, a Thai chef from Vegas I worked with. I haven't cooked for him in at least a decade and I'd like to do so again.

I don't like crazy fusion. Cooks are bastardizing culture when they combine traditions. That and the trend of trying too hard. They just end up screwing it up.

Parma. I spent so much time in Parma that I am really drawn to that regions' style of cooking. Parma swears it is the best region in Italy. The people never get tired of prosciutto or Parmagianno cheese. I love the fact that these people live off of these ingredients. You know here in America, you have success with a restaurant and everyone asks, "What is your next restaurant?" In Parma, and Italy on the whole, a family has one restaurant, and everyone works there, they aren't opening any more restaurants. I plan on Domenica being a restaurant I have for the rest of my life.

I love Vietnamese food. I go all over. Dong Phuong for the pork pastries and banh mi. Ba mien for squid. 9 Roses for the BBQ grills. Kim Son for fish. Tan Dinh for shrimp in house sauce with pickled veg and rice.

No. Uh oh. No music in my kitchen.

Love that I don't feel like this is a job. This is my livelihood. Making people happy through food. It is a good calling to have.

No, never worked in the front of the house. But have always had a strong connection with customer experience. I never want to lose touch with their experience because their experience influences what happens in the kitchen. The back of the house works so hard, I need to insure that translates to a great experience in the front of the house.

After work, I love going home, hanging out with girlfriend and dog, having a glass of wine. In general, during my time off I don't go out on the town, I much prefer to spend time with the people I love.

Monday, June 6, 2011

A Taste of Summer

Seasonality. It's a fancy way of saying "cook what is fresh." The best chefs and home cooks realize that food tastes best when cooked and served when nature tells us that it's time.  Right now, along with sweltering heat and humidity, summer in New Orleans brings us delicious things like blueberries, softshell crabs, creole tomatoes, and more.

If you have been following this blog for more than a week, then you know that Rene handles all of the recipe writing in the Blackened Out kitchen. My dining prowess has long surpassed my cooking skills. But if you hand me a minimal number of impeccable ingredients, it's amazing what I can do.

It helps the only "cooking" required for this recipe is a few slices of a sharp knife.

Caprese Salad
  • Ingredients
    • Creole Tomatoes
      • These came from the garden of the father-in-law of one of the secretaries at my office. Access to home grown creole tomatoes is one of the best job perks in the legal world.
    • Fresh Mozzarella
    • Thai Basil
    • Salt & Pepper
    • Olive Oil & Balsamic Vinegar
  • Directions
    • Slice, chop, sprinkle, and drizzle.
    • Try not to screw anything up
It's going to be a long, hot summer. We might as well take advantage of everything the season brings us.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Blue Dot Special

Doughnuts were standard Saturday morning fair growing up. While most of you exalt the rather dry and commissary style doughnuts of McKenzie's, we opted instead for Ross's Donuts at the end of Metairie Road. Besides being an incredible baker, Ross also had a bit of a stutter and liked to tell jokes. The result was a run for doughnuts could easily eat up your entire morning.

Recently, Blue Dot Donuts opened on Canal St. which just so happens to be well-positioned as a detour following an early Saturday morning walk around City Park with The Hounds. The Hounds are fans of the glazed ones, but only with a cup of coffee and the Saturday cartoons. What a bunch of weird dogs.

While the regular doughnuts at Blue Dot are nothing to sneeze at, it is the special flavors that really grab my attention. Peanut butter and jelly just so happens to be one of the all time greatest flavor combinations known to man. And here it is, a jelly filled doughnut with a topping of creamy peanut butter, some chopped peanuts and then a wedge of strawberry. It is as the French would say, "Pretty bad ass."

Lindsay is very partial to cake doughnuts. We have been searching for a chocolate cake doughnut throughout the the Gulf South for the last three plus years to no avail. While we did not find the elusive Black Pearl at Blue Dot, she did find a very good selection of flavored cake doughnuts like the strawberry, blueberry, cake with strawberry icing, and a chocolate and coconut one. The strawberry cake was her favorite, and I must say she has impeccable taste.

Finally, because what good is a meal without dessert, we had a red velvet cupcake. I've never really understood the appeal of red velvet cake as it really just seems like a conduit for cream cheese frosting. But this doughnut was moist and a damn fine conduit at that.

Blue Dot - Birdie
4301 Canal St.

Thursday, June 2, 2011


Restaurants like Matt & Naddie's, Dante's Kitchen, and Dick & Jenny's have gained a strong reputation by filling a niche between the larger factions of gourmet bistros and neighborhood joints. The premise is simple - serve dishes just a few ticks lower in sophistication than the former but at prices a few steps above the latter. This winning formula has boded well for the aforementioned eateries, and the same can be said for Atchafalaya, whose menu execution falls squarely in between those two genres. Which is to say, right where it should be.

Atchafalaya has been quite the hot ticket lately, to the point where walk-ins are rarely accepted during dinner or the uberly popular weekend brunch service. (We actually walked out one recent Sunday after calling 10 minutes ahead and giving our name for an available table, then waiting for 30 minutes while others were seated before us.) Even if your table is reserved, be prepared to wait in the small bar area where a group of musicians (a pianist, maybe a trumpeter or a bassist) play slow soft tunes. A wooden, hollow jigsaw puzzle creates a faux wall which separates the bar from the main dining room, and I have yet to dine with a person who did not say, “I love that little fake wall thing.”

The list of small plates includes my favorite dish in the house: the veal cheek meat pies. A thin, crunchy exterior protects a succulently shredded, almost creamy, interior. I could eat a dozen of these and have no regrets about missing anything else on the menu. Fried green tomatoes ($12) are sauced with remoulade and topped with an avalanche of crabmeat. Nothing wrong with that. The standard cheese plate is porked up with the hogshead variety. Well played. Roasted beet carpaccio ($9) was a vegetarian delight on the first take, underwhelming on the second.

Pastas dishes consistently fell short of expectations. Free-form Crab Ravioli ($14) had thin sheets cooked far short of al dente and a beurre blanc that was a little weak/bland. Pasta Atchafalaya ($18) has perfectly cooked crawfish and shrimp tangled among fettucini, but the sauce was thin and watery.

For entrees the Boudin-stuffed Quail ($20) is difficult to pass up, with a crispy jock-strap of bacon surrounding a partially deboned quail filled with creamy boudin. The accompanying collards had an excellent vinegary flavor. Shrimp & Grits ($23) are served head-on in a spicy, buttery sauce. Stuffed Flounder ($23) was topped with a heavy shower of crispy breadcrumbs and a scatter of crawfish tails that acted as the “stuffing.” An interesting update to a dish which can be overwhelmed with heavily moistened bread crumbs, but the jury is still out on which version is preferred.  A daily special of pan seared snapper was slightly overcooked, but the crawfish dirty rice accompanying the latter was made with a short grain variety that created the right amount of stickiness that I just love.

For dessert, most tables gravitate toward the moist red velvet cake with a restrained application of cream cheese frosting (and for good reason). But don't overlook the peanut butter fudge brownie ice cream, whose flavor profile conjured images of a frozen jar of JIF which fell into a Duncan Hines mixing bowl. I loved every spoonful.

Owner Anthony Tocco (of the Circle Bar and Snake & Jake's fame) is running the show and is a friendly host. In fact, the staff on the whole is quite knowledgeable, from the bartender suggesting a newly received Italian selection as an alternative to our Godello, to the server pointing us to the freshest seafood available that night. The beverage program is very strong - the wine list has both depth and diversity in terms of price and grape varietals, and the self-service Bloody Mary bar makes waiting for a brunch table infinitely more tolerable.

Atchafalaya - Par/Birdie
901 Louisiava Avenue
(504) 891-9626
Dinner - 7 Nights
Lunch - Tues-Fri
Brunch - Sat & Sun

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


Peter: This wine is intense. Dark color. Strong tannins. Drinking this wine tastes like staring into the abyss, but in a good way. If I had to guess the grape, I would say Petite Sirah. This would go deliciously well with a bittersweet chocolate dessert. Maybe the chocolate decadence cake from Cafe Degas (courtesy of Maurice's) or the molten chocolate cake from Chateau du Lac.

Rene: Big structure to this wine, it cascades from cherry to spice and then a meaty finish. I don't even want to go out to dinner with this wine. No instead, I want a cold January night, some friends, a roaring fire, some leather chairs, a big wheel of blue cheese, some spiced pecans, and hours of conversation. To do so, we would need more than one bottle. There will of course be a hangover in the morning, but it is a price we should all be willing to pay.

Joe the Wine Guy: 2004 Rosenblum Cellars Santa Barbara County Syrah is what you have in your glass. This offering is sourced grapes grown in the warm days and cool evenings of Santa Barbara County. The enticing opaque purple color and room-filling aromas of blackberries, smoke, plum, licorice, and cracked black pepper give way to a lush palate loaded with dark berries, roasted herbs, and black currants. This wine is perfect with roasted meats, pasta in red sauces, and ripe cheeses. It retails for $15 and can be found at Leblanc's and Tsunami.