Wednesday, November 30, 2011


Rene: Loads of vibrant fruit, raspberries, blackberries and the like, on the palate. All I really get is fruit; this has to be a California Cab. The wine is very soft in general. I have a bad habit of wanting to drink lush, opulent, likely expensive wines with simple food. It is not any disrespect to either the wine or the food, just an affirmation that the pairing of food and wine doesn't always need to be fancy. Normally a wine like this would have a suggested pairing of thick steak, mushroom sauce or hollandaise, and a fat stack of potato gratin. But you can get a similar pairing without breaking the bank twice. Earlier in the day, I tasted the roast beef po-boy from Grand Isle. With its succulent braised meat, gravy, streak of mayo (not much different from a hollandaise, in theory at least), crusty bread, and few fresh vegetables (cherry tomatoes, sliced jalapenos, etc...), I can't think of a better match for this wine.

Peter: Juicy. I taste the grape first and foremost. Not much acid; I would guess this a merlot. Some wines drink best with food, but this wine would do well on its own. But maybe just a little something to nibble on. Thinking a cheese plate from St. James, or a simple tomme de chevre rolled in ash.

Joe the Wine Guy: This wine is 70 years old. OK, not really. The 2006 Beaulieu Vineyard Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon commemorates 70th vintage of this wine. In 1936 Latour made the first California private reserve. This wine marries refined elegance with opulent intensity and robust character. It woos the senses with heady aromas of blackberry bramble, ripe cassis, mocha and spice. Dark, concentrated fruit picks up across the palate, joined by Rutherford notes of black licorice, loam, and coffee. Formidable body is balanced by firm tannins that span the mid palate and linger with cocoa through the smooth finish. This wine retails for $99.00 and you can find it at Morton's of Chicago and Bacchus Fine Wines.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Homage to Catalonia

 A typical building in the Eixample, which is Catalan for "Acid Based Architecture"

The meal at Cinc Sentits was not one I was particularly excited about. Don't get me wrong days before, even weeks before the meal, after reading Doc Sconz's review of Chef Jordi Atral 's exciting new spot in the Eixample, I couldn't wait to eat there. But when the day arrived, Lindsay and I were sort of beat. Most of this was due to two dinners the night before. One at the "you are here because everyone comes here" Cal Pep; the second at Origens which was an excellent suggestion from Ian McNulty. After the second meal (and one or two more glasses of wine than was necessary), we wandered lost in the rain for an hour trying to find the apartment. Needless to say, the next morning came way too early.

First a quick walk through the Eixample, filled with its grotesque, whimsical buildings and shops that Lindsay says you can't find anywhere else. Funny these shops we seem to find wherever we go. Men, be warned there is a Zara (not the grocery store) and an H&M in nearly every European city. Don't buy the line, "But you can't find these stores just anywhere." Two o clock rolled around and going to lunch felt almost like a burden, rather than a treat.

But then we walked into the dark, cocoon that is the dining room of Cinc Sentits. We were seated and a special house cava poured while we waited for the first round of courses. First up was a selection of "Tapas"- a bowl of marcona almonds with pimenton salt, a honey and sobrassada baton, and house marinated olives. A nice beginning, for sure.

The next tapas was the most perfect bite of food imaginable. A shot glass was set in front of us and we were instructed to drink the contents in one shot, as if there was any other way to take Shotzzz. The first sensation to hit your lips was a room temperature cava sabayon, then chilled thick, luscious cream, then a layer of warmed maple syrup, and finally a few chunks of sea salt. It was simply a perfect marriage of temperatures, textures, and flavors.

Throughout Catalonia, we encountered pa amb tomaquet - a Catalan specialty of tomato and garlic rubbed toast. We found most of them to be soggy. The sort of dish you had to grow up experiencing as an afternoon snack to really appreciate. But this version, threw that recipe out with the bathwater.  Out came toasted peasant bread topped with a shockingly cold, sweet, and tart dollop of tomato sorbet. Laced on top was a garlic air. A bite sent a rush to your brain first with the garlic air and then the ice cold of the sorbet.

Next came foie gras served with pastry crust, a layer of cocoa powder, chives and glazed leeks, which highlighted the sweet aspects of duck liver. There was a small tin filled with a smoked sardine with romesco sauce, roasted eggplant and onion and another sorbet- this time a fiery red pepper. The smoked sardine had a surprisingly lightness about it, which pushed the other flavors to the forefront.

"Peix Bullit" is a traditional dish similar to a paella with a touch of bouillabaise thrown in for good measure. Here it was served in two courses: first the fish sauced with saffron aioli and then the dry rice which stuck and crisped in the bottom of the pan. If there is anything better than crisped rice, just undercooked from being burned and infused with fish stock, I haven't found it. But I will keep looking. Next up, Pyrenees beef filet with truffled potato gratin and a truffled glaze, finished with grilled onion. The truffle flavor as you can imagine stuck to the pores of the food and gave everything an earthy, seductive flavor. Now, Iberian suckling pig cooked for twelve hours sous vide with blood sausage under the skin, and pearls of apple glazed with hazelnut liquor. Besides the shot at the beginning of the meal, this was my favorite. Tender meat, rich blood sausage and then a shingle of shatteringly crisp skin. The hazelnut apples brought a sweetness which was most welcome.

A selection of cheeses followed served with an almond cube, honey jelly, and bitter orange marmalade. Raspberry sorbet with pistachio cake and vanilla bean ice cream was a delicious prelude to the finale. If we lacked the cultural touchstone to appreciate the tomato bread, we understood the brilliance that is chocolate, bread, sea salt, and olive oil immediately. Here, the olive oil had been turned into ice cream, the chocolate a warm, firm pudding, the bread shattered and crisped, and salty macadamia nuts at the bottom.

There were wines with each course. The wine service got a little too bogged down in the specifics for me. For example, the wines served with the pig and beef course were poured at the beginning of the meal. We were severely warned not to drink them until the course for them arrived, but to "sniff, swirl, and imagine the flavors which are coming." Or the two wines poured with the rock fish course, where we had to eat the fish first followed by the aioli, and the first wine. Then we could try the rice with the second wine. Only then were we free to drink and taste as we pleased. A little much, but they are going for more Michelin stars and such is the game they have to play. The wines however were very good especially a 2008 Teixar, D.O. Montsant (with the pig) and a Grantxa Masia Pairal Can Carreras, D.O. Emporda which was stunning with the chocolate course (pictured below).

Aside from the slight seriousness, the meal at Cinc Senits proceeded flawlessly from a service and food standpoint. A meal that we found very hard to categorize, but immensely pleasureable. But now it was time for a nap.

Monday, November 28, 2011

A Word of Appreciation

Even though Thanksgiving has come and gone and the only signs of Thursday's turkey can be found in today's gumbo, I feel that a few people were left off of my annual list of things to be thankful for.

Yesterday, I spent most of my waking hours at Gleason Gras, the first annual event to raise awareness for ALS and to support the family trust created to assist former New Orleans Saint Steve Gleason. Despite the cold, wet, windy weather, the entire day was a resounding success by all measures. There were personal appearances by Sean Peyton and Drew Brees. Music by Kristen Diable, Papa Grows Funk, and Better Than Ezra. And a heart felt and hilarious speech by the guest of honor.

But perhaps the day's best performance was by Cochon's Stephen Stryjewski, who stood all alone at the Cochon food booth for no less than 4 hours straight and served hundreds of cochon de lait po-boys to a never ending line of hungry hordes. No cashier or assistant cook. Just a man, a plan, and this pig:

We New Orleanians are extremely spoiled when it comes to food, and fundraising events are not granted an exception to our high standards. Common knowledge is that an enticing list of participating restaurants is the best way to increase attendance for any event, no matter what the cause.

What we often overlook is the fact that at many of these events, the restaurants donate the food with no strings attached.  When you consider not only the food cost but also the labor which restaurants undertake to participate at these events, the time, dollars, and cents add up significantly. Yet, seemingly every weekend, you can find the city's best chefs around town serving seafood gumbo, croque monsieurs, and roasted lamb sandwiches at fundraisers all over the area. Whether it be Justin Devillier from La Petite Grocery, who sold so many blue crab beignets yesterday at Gleason Gras that he dispatched someone to the restaurant after he ran out of supplies early in the afternoon, or Alon Shaya cooking up sausages on his Big Green Egg on Royal Street during the Party for the Troops.

While riding in the car on Saturday, I caught a brief segment of Tim McNally's "The Wine Show" in which he and a caller were discussing just how selfless many of our restaurateurs can be when it comes to donating to a worthy cause. Tim said: "Nowhere else in the nation will you find a head chef, on a Friday night during one of the biggest seasons of the year, serving free boudin to over 1500 people."

Just another reason to be thankful for living in New Orleans.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


Rene: First whiff of the wine smells like cinnamon and a humidor. On the palate, this wine is heavy but flighty, jumping from spicy flavors to the almost overwhelming taste of cherries. This is a very smooth wine that would be perfect in front on a fireplace after a long meal. Unfortunately, it rarely gets cold in enough in New Orleans for a fireplace. This wine wants grilled lamb, but something with more bite than simple lamb chops. How about the grilled lamb ribs from Patois. That'll do.

Peter: This wine is rich but not overly tannic, with a slight burn down the back of the throat (Ed. Note: Say to yourself, "That's what she said"). The first flavor profile that comes to mind is cocoa. Thinking red meat (shocker, I know). Had a few veal and beef cheek dishes lately, thinking of the one from Sylvain that is the dinner menu.

Joe the Wine Guy: With great structure, depth, and concentration, the 2006 Three Palms Vineyard Merlot from Sterling Vineyards is intense with ripe black cherry aromas and expansive flavors. On the palate you get mineral, mocha, spices, rose and toasty oak. You can find it at the Renaissance Arts Hotel and Mandina's; this wine retails for around $30.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Homage to Catalonia

The Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria is a lively assemblage of food and people. There are other markets scattered around the city, but the most famous is The Boqueria. It sits a half black off the world famous (read here: best to be avoided) La Rambla. The stalls in the Boqueria are piled high with any food product you could imagine. Over there is a stall specializing in jamon iberico and hanging from its rafters are joints of rosy pig leg crowned by a black foot. Look here at a large collection of wild mushrooms stacked a foot high. There around the corner is seemingly every creature from the sea displayed on rocks of ice. There are eggs, sheep intestines, fruits, dried beans, candy, nuts, sausages as thick as your forearm and ones skinnier than your finger. Food is the star and it is everywhere.

In the Boqueria, there are two main snack bars: El Quim de la Boqueria and Pinotxo. Our first stop was the latter. Maybe fifteen seats lne the bar which and are snatched up as soon as they become available. A few tables are outside of the bar, but just like Camellia Grill, you go to Pinotxo to watch the show. Behind the bar four waiters work, serving beer, pouring cava, and shouting orders to the three cooks. All of this is accomplished in a space the size of a walk-on closet. It is chaotic and delicious.

First up, a glass of cava made especially for Pinotxo. This echoed a refrain we heard the day before at Sant Pau and would hear many, many times over. Then came a plate of creamy garbanzo beans lightly sauteed in garlic and olive oil and sweetened by golden raisins. So simple and so perfect. With the cava and a few chunks of bread, it makes for a very nice light lunch.

Of course, light lunch is fine and well for ladies who just finished a round of aerobics, but that was not us. We moved on to a plate of croquetas. Lightly fried rolls of pork and potato or potato and cod or whatever anyone else could imagine. The potato croquetas were nap inducing and salty, a perfect foil for the cava. We paid the modest bill and pressed onward.

The next stop was at El Quim. Where as Pinotxo had been a rectangular bar, El Quim is a rocking square of food service. We waited around twenty minutes for a stool, all the while watching the diners gobble up slabs of foie gras, squid, and shrimp hot of the plancha. We settled in and ordered some San Miguel cervesas and looked over the extensive menu. While I would hesitate to call any of the food in Spain as light, the menu at El Quim was filled with the hearty, heavy fair that can sustain a laborer for a day's worth of wages. We passed over the braised oxtail and settled instead on a plate of tripe, fried eggs topped with chipirons-tiny squid and a red wine sauce, and a vegetable. Don't worry the asparagus were wrapped in pork. 

The eggs were perfect, their golden yolk mixing with the rich wine sauce and salty punch of the squid. The tripe was a bit heavy handed, as tripe tends to be. The sauce was a gelatinous rust colored liquid in which the tripe rested. At this point, we were quite ready for something green. Thank goodness we had ordered a plate of tender asparagus graced by a sherry vinegar vinaigrette. The bacon wrapping wasn't a bad idea either.  

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Incredible Edible Egg

One of my best friends from college always told me that there is but one principle to live one's life by:

"If one is good, then two MUST be better."

In regard to food, many chefs have tried to uncover all-encompassing augmentation which will improve almost any dish. Unfortunately for them, I have never come across a sushi roll which benefits from being deep fried in tempura batter, a dip in a chocolate waterfall cannot mask the texture of less-than-fresh fruit or dry pound cake, and a heavy shower of creole seasoning or Tabasco only overpowers a flavorless pieces of meat.

But if you add a fried egg to just about anything, you have increased the odds of me ordering that dish by about 50%.  And I must not be the only one easily persuaded by the temptation of a rich, flowing yolk because lately chefs have been supplementing all kinds of dishes with a fried egg. Perhaps it's the inner stoner in all of us that craves some combination of breakfast with just about any other food, but no matter whether I am completely sauced or stone cold sober, the phrase "add a fried egg" is as strong a call for me as the song of the sirens.

Below are four of my favorite dishes in the city which feature an addition of a gratuitous egg*:
  • Bayou Banh Mi Special (Geaux Plates) - Owners Henry Pulitzer and Andrew Gomila take their version of the Vietnamese po-boy to another level by adding a fried egg to the combination of lemongrass grilled chicken and boudin.
  • Tutto Carne Pizza (Domenica) - The staff favorite features four house cured meats - fennel sausage, bacon, salami, and cotechino - plus a fresh egg cracked in the center of the pie.
  • Breakfast Burger - I remember when the waiter used to have to check with the kitchen before he let you order your burger topped with a fried egg, but now everyone's doing it. Capdeville, The Company Burger, Cowbell, and Tru Burger all feature a fried egg as an optional add-on to your burger.
  • Pork Lovers Rice Plate (Tan Dinh) - How do you improve on a plate full of chargrilled pork, pork pate meatballs, pork chop, and shredded pork? Top the whole shebang with a couple of fried eggs, of course.
Did I miss out on any eggscellent dishes?  Let's hear about them in the comments.

*There, of course, other dishes in which the egg yolk plays an integral (if not) essential role.  The spaghetti with guanciale and deep fried poached egg at Herbsaint and Green, Eggs, & Ham at Vizard's are two which immediately come to mind. But here I am focusing on those dishes which are great on their own but taste even better with a gilding of the golden lilly.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Lunch at The Irish House

When the announcement was made that Matt Murphy was leaving the Ritz Carlton, my immediate thought was: "So... are they going to rename the M Bistro?" (Considering that the hotel named it after him and all.) My next mental note was, "This guy definitely has too much ambition to fade into mediocrity. It will be interesting to see where he turns up next."

Turns out that next is the corner of St. Charles and MLK where the two story former home of Taqueros/Coyoacan/Stop 9 has undergone an extensive renovation to be reborn as The Irish House. Where once there was a cavernous, unadorned dining room there is now a refined yet welcoming space with Irish knickknacks of all sort covering the walls and dark woods with contrasting with large windows from which sunshine pours in. It's a great place to have lunch or a few pints and a bite after work (or stretch the former into the latter).

On my three visits thus far to The Irish House, each time the food and servce improved from the previous occassion. On the first visit, our server was very green but always smiling, which helped forgive the fact that we waited 45 minutes for our food from the time of ordering. Growing pains are to be expected, but it's tough to convince yourself to return for lunch when the majority of your time away from the office will be spent waiting on the food. On that day the Murphinator Po-Boy (below) came calling - cold roast beef topped with french fries and Crystal onion rings and served with a side of gravy. The long, thick cut fries and thin onion rings were the highlights of the sandwich, and the roast beef was above average quality. But the sandwich did not exactly come together. Had the roast beef been served hot, the po-boy would have been much improved. The side of coleslaw tomato salad tasted like a typical version with no discernible tomato component as advertised.

Such an experience does not exactly leave one with a desire to return, but (almost) everyone deserves a second chance. And The Irish House capitalized on those subsequent opportunities. Service exponentially improved, with our courses coming out at a brisk pace. The kitchen's execution was much more sharp - or perhaps I ordered better.

Chef Matt’s work with potatoes reinforces the stereotype that the Irish know best how to use them. Bacon and cheese croquettes (above) are crunchy fried balls of mashed potato topped with chive sour cream and a placed in a sweet onion marmalade that would be delicious spread on pieces of the complimentary house soda bread. Coarse and crumbly boudin is fried in a light batter and placed atop colcannon, a mash up of potato and softened cabbage, and then finished with a smoky tomato sauce. The Friday special of fish and chips brings long filets of cod in a tempura-like batter that is reminiscent of Houston’s chicken tenders (and I consider that a good thing). Fries are long, thick cut, not crispy but still worth ordering. Shepherd’s pie is a flawless rendition – a bottom layer of well seasoned ground beef with a few diced carrots and a green peas, those wonderful mashed potatoes in the middle, and a thin layer of cheese melted over the crock.

Although I have only been for lunch, The Irish House is a multi-faceted venture. The kitchen serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner beginning at 7am and ending at 10pm. While the downstairs dining room is reserved for seated service and bar patrons, apparently the upstairs area is a bit more lively with soccer matches early Saturday morning and live Irish music during the evening on Monday, Friday, and Saturday. And yes, Guinness and Harp are poured during all of the above.

The Irish House - Birdie
1432 St. Charles Ave.
(504) 595-6755
Kitchen open daily 7am till 10pm

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Cooking With Wine

In the last few years, Brussels sprouts have emerged as one of the favorite vegetables in our house. Sometimes we roast them with bacon, garlic, and salt, other times we blanch them before slicing them in half and slowly caramelizing in brown butter and finishing it with shallot and lemon. For the last few weeks, Lindsay has been raving about the shaved Brussels sprouts salad at Sylvain and asking me to make something like that.

When Mad Max dropped off a substantial white wine with notes of lemon, green apple, citrus, and grapefruit my mind immediately went to trying a version of shaved Brussels sprout salad. The 2009 Ribolla Adriatico from Bastianich Wines has a firm minerality and a lot of acid, with just a touch of sweetness at the end. That made me want to incorporate some spice and sesame oil to take the dish in an Asian direction. You can find the wine on the list at Green Goddess, Bacchanal, and Whole Foods, where it retails for under $20.

Shaved Brussels Sprouts Slaw with Poached Chicken

The chicken is optional. But if you want to add it, it works best in salads when poached. Bring 6 cups of water up to a simmer, add some cloves, salt, bay leaf, and a half cup of white wine. Add the chicken and simmer for 25 minutes or so.

A mandoline is one way to slice the sprouts into thin rounds. But be careful and it helps to listen to this song while doing it. A food processor with a slicing blade is a much better option. Once your sprouts are shaved, place them in a deep bowl. Thinly slice the radicchio and add this to the Brussels sprouts. Toast about a palmful of slivered almonds until light brown. Add this to the above, along with salt and pepper.

Finely dice the green chili and some garlic (if you have ginger, by all means use it). Place this in a second bowl. To this add some soy sauce, the juice of one lemon, a tablespoon of rice wine vinegar, and a teaspoon of honey (you need the sweetness to counteract the bitterness of the raw radicchio and Brussels sprouts). Whisk. While whisking stream in a about tablespoon of sesame oil, then finish the dressing with olive oil. Taste. Adjust seasoning.

Pour dressing over the Brussels sprouts and radicchio top with poached chicken and mix to combine. Let sit for a few minutes before diving in. Chopsticks or forks are acceptable.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Thanksgiving is Coming

This Thanksgiving you will gather around the table with those you love, break bread, carve turkey, and crave a nap afterward. There will hopefully be mounds of white whipped potatoes gilded by dark mahogany gravy. You will slice tender, moist turkey and dab it with tart cranberry sauce, dragging it through a field of bacon braised green beans. Perhaps later in the day you will pile a dollop of whipped cream on top of a gooey pecan pie. Of course there will be a midnight raid on the fridge to compose a pistolette of oyster dressing and leftover turkey.

All of this will be undertaken surrounded by friends and family. There will be goblets of red wine and squat rocks glasses filled with small batch bourbon. If we are really lucky, the Cowboys will blow a winnable game. 

But for many people, Thanksgiving is just another day of going hungry. Estimates from Second Harvest Food Bank define 1 in 8 Louisianians as struggling with hunger. Almost 75% of people serviced by the Greater New Orleans and Acadiana Second Harvest Food Bank are food insecure. What that means is they don't always know where their next meal is coming from. 

We talk nearly everyday about food. The subtext of all of that is that both Peter and I are incredibly blessed to know that our next meal is only a few hours away. Let's face it, as great as Thanksgiving is, you usually end up with plenty of leftovers. Those leftovers either get turned into indulgent snacks or thrown out later in the weekend. An uncle of mine always says after Thanksgiving, "Every year we try and cook less food, and somehow each year we end up with more leftovers."

If that sounds like something uttered in your household, I want you to encourage you to take one dish off of your Thanksgiving menu. Whatever you would have cooked, donate a like amount of food or cash to your local food bank. This is not a major sacrifice. You know those candied sweet potatoes are more hassle than they are worth or that the only reason you always make green peas is because you have always made green peas. It is a simple gesture. Plus, it likely will save you from doing an extra set of dishes and get you on the couch quicker to witness the Cowboys collapse. 

This year I am not going to make Corn Goodness. A few ears of corn, some red peppers, a jalapeno, shallot, and garlic is about $10 bucks worth of groceries. While we won't miss it too much at our table, it may make a huge difference in someone else's day. And isn't that the true meaning of a holiday as special as Thanksgiving?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Pizza Consegna & Domenica Deliver

It was a long, fun-filled weekend for the hard partying folks at Blackened Out Dry Cleaners and Plumbing Supplies. We took full advantage of the Carnivale du Vin festivities, beginning with Boudin & Beer on Friday night followed by the gala and wine auction which started on Saturday evening and went into the early hours of Sunday morning.  More on those events in the coming days.

Needless to say, by the time the Saints game kicked off yesterday, The Folk Singer and I were resigned to spending the entire day on the couch - and it's not only because someone drove his car into the parking garage gate at our apartment building and disabled the only vehicle entry/exit point so that we had no way to get our car out. It's days like those that we are thankful for the lazy man's best friend: pizza delivery. And the CBD area has added two new options in recent weeks.

Pizza Consegna is the in-house pizza delivery service from the newly renovated Hyatt Regency Hotel. During a tour of the hotel the week before its grand opening, The Folk Singer and I were given a sneak peek of the kitchen facilities where these Neapolitan pies are made, and I must say that the stone ovens peaked piqued our interest and gave us the impression that this is no standard pizza that rolls off the conveyor belt. The proof is in the pie though, and I can say that Pizza Consegna is one of the few the delivery pizzas whose crust was still crispy upon arrival, and that fact alone makes this pie appealing. The look and flavor remind me of those late night slices that I used to get from the Dough Bowl next door to the Boot - plenty of cheese and no shortage of grease. The most intriguing aspect of the Pizza Consegna experience is how the delivery box breaks down. The top is perforated so that it tears into 4 plates for serving, and the bottom folds into a leftover box short enough to slide into the fridge. And considering that the pies only come in one 18" size (at an affordable price of $10.95), you can expect leftovers.

Adding another delivery option to residents and workers in the CBD, Domenica has recently started to offer bike delivery of their pizzas during lunch and dinner everyday of the week. Chef Alon Shaya said that Domenica's monstrous oven has a capacity much greater than what was being used, and thus adding a delivery option will only increase opportunities for Domenica's fans without detracting from the quality of the pies or speed of service in the dining room. Now if we could only convince him to throw in a whole roasted cauliflower into that to-go box...

Friday, November 11, 2011

Winner, Winner Boudin Dinner

Wow. You folks sure know how to turn a Boudin Haiku Contest into a Boudin Haiku Contest. While we enjoyed all of the entries, like cream some rose to the top. Just a reminder tickets are still available for Boudin and Beer presented By Abita Beer. In addition to pork and beer, there will also be wine from Presqu'ile Winery. We just hope there is enough boudin, beer, and wine for you after we get done with our raid. See you there. PS In case we don't see you time to point out Robert Peyton, look for the creepy guy, wearing a turtleneck, and a million watt scowl.

Honorable Mention

Carnivorous treat
Delectable temptation
How much shall I eat?

Third Runner Up

Boudin, Beer, Boudin
I want to stuff my face with
Boudin, Beer, Boudin

Second Runner Up

Blair (who gets all e.e. cummings up in this piece)
out of gas and cash
boudin or fuel at station?
need pork, walking home

Runner Up

Here piggy, piggy
You taste like heaven to me
Boudin afterlife

Winner Winner Boudin Dinner

Crack (Perhaps channeling William Blake's The Tyger)
Transcendant food bite
Your rice and liver shine bright
Beer will pair just right

Congrats Crack, please contact us at your earliest convenience. Thanks to all who competed.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Short Order Reviews

In today's Short Order Reviews we check out a Frenchmen Street spot that might as well be in Anywhere, USA, a French Quarter favorite that fell short of expectation, and a Mid-City mainstay stuck in mediocrity. An uplifting Thursday post to get you ready for the weekend.

Marigny Brasserie - It's bizarre to me that a restaurant on Frenchman Street - the most bohemian, eclectic, funky street in New Orleans - could have such an uninspired menu. The list of gumbo, jambalaya, fried seafood platters, and po-boys reads like a greatest hits of the New Orleans dining lexicon. Maybe one or two of the ten appetizer choices is not dropped into the deep fryer. Note to self - piling olive salad on top of a head of fried calamari does not hide its chewiness. Pasta dishes were bland, thin, and under seasoned. Burger was of typical quality for your neighborhood bar, which is to say disappointing. The lone worthwhile dish on the table was the macaroni and cheese, whose rubbery layer of melted cheddar gave way to a creamy, cheesy penne underneath. Your best choice on the menu it is; reason for returning it certainly is not. The front bar room is comfortable and unique enough, but the red upholstered booths and generic wood tables and chairs in the main dining room could fool any diner into thinking that he is in the restaurant of the Hampton Inn in Plano, TX or Hoover, AL. The cocktail list is interesting enough, and there was a 2 for 1 special on canned beers leftover from the Halloween festivities. Unfortunately, cheap beer could not save the day. Bogey.

Muriel's - With The Folk Singer's mom in town, we decided on brunch at Muriel's so that she could hear hear the jazz trio and so that I could figure out if there was more to Muriel's than just shrimp and goat cheese crepes. The building is one of the French Quarter’s best dining locations, with the inner atrium and long, comfortable bar hidden in the rear. Unfortunately, the food leaves much to be desired. Shrimp and goat cheese crepes were great as always, but it was slow roll downhill from there. Special soup of duck and jalapeno had a tan roux, plenty of shredded duck, but not enough spice. Alligator hash was dry and could have used an extra helping of hollandaise. Eggs Sardou sat in a pool of thin, buttery sauce with spinach as a lesser spin on the classic. Vegetable plate was a haphazard mélange of pickled cauliflower, roasted tomato, and deliciously fried oyster mushrooms. (Don’t ask me why TFS ordered that.) With such a nice atmosphere, I can't help but think that if the food improved then locals would easily supplant tourists as the primary clientele. Oh, and one another issue: Since when is pecan crusted puppy drum considered the staple of a “classic New Orleans brunch”? Bogey.

Fellini's - The restaurant was surprisingly empty for a Saturday night, but that’s probably because of the 2:30pm LSU kickoff against Auburn and the Jesuit vs. Brother Martin game around the corner at Tad Gormley. The cool fall weather beckons a table on the patio out front. Started with the hummus, which is a small portion but a sufficient starter with the soft, thick pita. I prefer the smoked tomato dip though. Lamb roll is prepared and then baked so that thin thin lavash cracks and crumbles with each bite. The lamb was tough and dry, and the tzaziki was buried toward opposite ends, which was unfortunate because the lamb could have used the moisture. Accompanying pasta salad was a healthy alternative to fries but nothing more than filler for the plate. Fellini's is honest about what it is - an affordable restaurant that offers a menu of healthier alternatives to pizza, po-boys, and burgers. Bogey/Par.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Boudin and Beer Giveaway

As we mentioned last week, Emeril Lagasse brings his traveling trope of toques into town this weekend for his Carnivale du Vin charity event. While the main event - a black tie Gala, Dinner, and Wine Auction - is out of our price range, there is a more accessible and casual event Friday night called Boudin & Beer. We are fairly certain you can figure out what the event entails. The other day, Alon Shaya refused to reveal what sort of goodies he had in store for Boudin & Beer. You should take this to mean, Boudin & Beer will be one of the best grazing events of the eating season. Plus, all the Abita you can drink.

In honor of someone else figuring out the unbeatable combination of pork, beer, and music is one hell of a good way to raise money, we are giving away two (2) tickets to the event. Also, if you go to Boudin & Beer we will gladly point out Robert Peyton to you, so you know who to avoid. We bantered about a few contest ideas. First, we thought, "Why not do boudin trivia?" But the only trivia questions we could come up with all had the same answers: pork liver, rice, beer. Then we thought about doing one of those cute Twitter hashtag things like adding "with boudin" to the end of a movie title. We nixed that idea after we figured out the best answer was going to be "Riding in Cars With Boys With Boudin."

So we decided to challenge your tenth grade English self. In order to win the two tickets to Boudin & Beer, we want your best Boudin Haiku. You remember those, right? 3 lines of poetry; the first and third with 5 syllables and the second with 7. You can leave your haikus in the comments, tweet them to us, or send them by email. The best one wins. Enjoy.

Delicious photos courtesy of renee b. aka Peanut.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Homage to Catalonia

The journey to the greatest place on earth is easier than you might imagine. You start your journey in Barcelona by finding the red bricked Arc de Triomph. As you walk up the Passeig de Lluis Companys which hugs the Arc, passing old men bickering, bitching, and cajoling one another over intense games of boules, look for the Metro station. Buy a round trip ticket for the Rodalies 1 train. It will take you out of the city on a north east ramble through beach towns shuttered for winter. Sit on the left hand (neutral ground side) for an ever changing slideshow of why the people who lived on the shores of the Mediterranean developed civilization.

You get off the train at the St. Pol de Mar stop. The town of St. Pol de Mar is built steeply into the surrounding hills. Take a walk around, snap a photo or two of the terraced gardens which have a commanding view of Homer's sea, and wander aimlessly. Build your appetite. You still have some eating to do before your journey is complete.

You will be able to pick out the building that houses Carme Ruscalleda's Restaurant Sant Pau from a safe distance. The exterior is bright yellow with royal blue trimming. Outside waiters in dark Nehru jackets and pressed pants survey the street. It is not out of boredom. Anyone walking down Calle Nou at 1:30 on a Wednesday afternoon in the fall, is here to dine at Sant Pau. Consider them advanced scouts.

You enter a modern atrium and as if on command a maitre d' will ask you to follow him. You do. And this is when you get the first glimmer of the prize at your journey's end- your Valhalla. A garden, a level below where you sit, looks out passed an iron gate and onto the wide stretches of the Mediterranean. But careful, the temptation is to look ahead. Avoid it and focus on your task ahead: lunch.

Settle in with a glass of cava. Of course, you could order a la carte, but I will let Lindsay explain it better, "We didn't travel all this way to eat one or two dishes. We are getting the tasting menu, right?"

Here comes a starter broth. It sounds incredibly simple when explained. Just peppers, onion, garlic, olive oil, and water, a traditional dish of Menorca. It is bright orange, the color of the setting sun. You take a sip. It is not so simple. Complex with flavors alternating between the slight sweet spiciness of the peppers to the grassy overtures of the olive oil. Water has never tasted so great.

Next up is a collection of four small appetizers. You learn that Ruscalleda will be in Harvard in November teaching classes on the Maillard reaction which takes place when sugars meet heat. Therefore, all of the treats follow the Maroon color theme of that scientific occurrence. There are crispy noodles with single sweet prawn, miga,s a traditional breakfast dish of fried bread crumbs, with grapes and raisins, spiced almond candies enveloped in a tissue paper wrapper, and this stunner, a golden orb of liquefied garlic sitting atop a puck of biscuity pastry spiked with pine nuts.

Every chef of any renown has a dish they are rightfully famous for, a dish people travel across the globe to eat. At Sant Pau that dish is the Gastronomic Mondrian, Ruscalleda's take on the confluence of the great rivers of art and food. The dish is presented to you like so.

A second or so later, another waiter will remove the box to reveal a dish which sounds basic enough - salt cod brandada with orange, green, and yellow peppers and black olives. Only the peppers and olives have been turned into thick coats of oil paint to contrast the white canvas of cod. The creamy cod is punctuated with hidden slivers almond which provide a textural contrast. This dish is simply outstanding and worth your journey alone, but press on.

There is a dish of squid inspired by the Ruscalleda's trips to Japan. In a bowl sits white as copy paper balls of ground squid surrounded by mushrooms, bamboo shoots, and nose tingling herbs. A dashi broth poured tableside will marry harmoniously the disparate elements. Next comes the vegetable portion of this odyssey. A ravioli filled with juiced carrot, daikon, eggplant, and zucchini (and probably a fair amount of butter or oil) is wrapped with delicate strips of the same, then topped with a crown of Joselito jamon. "Even the vegetables come with ham...I think I love Spain," Lindsay said.

There are wines with each of these courses, sublime whites (and one red) all from within sixty miles or so of the restaurant. They arrive with precision often thirty seconds or so before the back waiter brings forth your next course. Which your next course happens to be a langoustine and dewlap (the floppy part of a pig's neck), Jurvert sauce, and beetroot vinaigrette. Jurvert sauce is a sort of precursor to pesto or salsa verde. Basil, nut, and garlic sauces are hallmarks of many Med based cuisines, each cuisine claiming they invented it first. "We invented it first," adds the captain. A touch of caviar adds a sharp, salty punch.

Next up is a rectangle of seabass roasted in fig leaves and unfurled tableside before being sauced with chayote puree, figs, smoked salt, and poached mirliton. The fish is firm. Its interior just beginning to cook. Its flesh is fragrant and the chayote and figs add crisp sweetness.

You will have the option between two meat courses. We made it easy and got one of each. The pig trotter was a gelatinous and heavy handed terrine, perhaps better as a light lunch with a crisp salad than the eighth course in a marathon. Luckily Lindsay ordered that one. I got the duck from Challans, the peppery, rich beef wrapped around a fried squash blossom stuffed with cubes of apple. The maple syrup reduction will make this dish one of your most impressive accomplishments on this odyssey. It tastes of fall, holidays, crisp nights and is delicious.

There will be a cheese course with five offerings and five contrasting flavors to distract you from your goal. The most intriguing is a Bleu de Vercors-Sassenage paired with a coffee marzipan, the best a Bauma with pumpkin, lettuce, and mustard. The cheese course comes with a handy guide for your reference. 

After that, will come a palate cleansing sorbet of raspberry and rosewater. Keep pressing, you are almost there. Now your first dessert, a sweet sorbet of pineapple on top of a creamy tocinillo and surrounded by raspberry puree. The flowers are edible and will give you the strength to continue.

The world is a small place. How do I know this? Smart people say so; but also, because of this dish. On the coast of Catalunya comes a dessert inspired by the greatest liquor made in Kentucky and maybe the world. The dish is just called Bourbon. Each of the elements the thin cookie, the creamy ice cream, and the dense cake are based on the flavors of a good Bourbon. There is pepper, vanilla, chocolate and coffee. Into the trapdoor, the waiter pours a shot of Bourbon and elevates the dish to the magical. You will savor this dessert wishing each bite could be repeated over and over again.

At this point in your journey, the captain will ask you if you would like to have your final snacks outside in the garden, "Perhaps with a coffee, espresso, or a digestif?" You will of course say yes. If you are truly committed, go with the Fernet Branca. She will lead you through the dining room seemingly floating through time, space, and lunch out the door, down the stairs, and into the garden. There, under the canopy of three white maple trees, is a platter of treats from the confectionery (the mushroom and chocolate macarons a delight) awaits.

Grab a comfortable, cushioned seat, enjoy your drink, and watch the kitchen at work through the large plate glass windows. At your back is the sound of the Mediterranean colliding with the occasional whistle and rumble of a passing train. Congratulations, your journey is complete.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Felipe's Taqueria

Chips, salsa, tacos, burritos and margaritas. This simple recipe of success is a proven winner for creating a profitable restaurant in almost any city in America. Even though Italian food may be the #1 cuisine of choice worldwide, I would venture to say that Mexican cuisine, at least in the United States, appeals most to both consumer and restaurateur. The low food cost of beans, rice, and tortilla chips allows restaurants to pass along those low prices to diners (who are also rewarded with large portions), and the festive connotation encourages consumption of mas cervezas y margaritas, which pushes up the check average. Everybody wins.

Except for one thing - the food almost always disappoints. For some reason, restaurants believe (and consumers accept) that just because the food is cheap it's OK that it doesn't taste very good.

Thankfully, Felipe's does not subscribe to that school of thought.

Upon entering Felipe's the uninitiated would think that this is your typical run-of-the-mill burrito shop, until you notice a woman hand-sorting black beans behind the counter or a pair of prep cooks dicing onions and chopping cilantro. Don't let the cafeteria style service fool you, Felipe's serves better food than 95% of the full service Mexican restaurants in the city and at half the price. I might venture to say that there are very few places in the city where 2 people can eat this well for under $20. With the French Quarter location just a 15 minute walk or 5 minute drive from our apartment, The Folk Singer and I have come to appreciate the budget-conscious menu as often as 3 or 4 times per month.

The menu lists 8 different protein selections, all of which are stuffed in various tortilla delivery systems. Some of the protein choices deserve more attention than others. I find the fish and shrimp (both fried) to be suitable only for vegetarians and the carnitas inconsistently dry. Instead I go for the spicy ground chorizo, succulent al pastor marinated in pineapple, and chicken tinga stewed in spicy chipotle sauce.

My vessel of choice is the quesadilla (pictured above), griddled until the tortilla blisters and the Monterrey jack cheese melts, then filled with toppings of your choice, before folded on opposite sides into a thin, crispy rectangular package. This $5 (taxes included) lunch may not be a foot long, but it has miles of flavor. Tacos are double wrapped in corn tortillas warmed on the griddle. Sliced Monterrey jack is either melted on top of warm tortilla chips in the salamander for nachos or steamed inside of a pliable tortilla for burritos. Not exactly how they do it in Puebla or Mexico City, but who are we to judge.

Toppings range from a simple scattering of cilantro and onions to a colorful salsa bar at your disposal. Guacamole is made in house and is more of a smooth dip as opposed to a chunky avocado salad. Black beans and pinto beans are available in either whole or refried form. As a four year resident of Texas, I consider myself an authority on queso, and I can say that Felipe's comes closest to my favorite versions served in Austin.

In my personal experience, the French Quarter location serves better food than the one in Broadmoor, but I could be biased because of proximity to both home and office. Undoubtedly though, the French Quarter has a much better and more spacious bar area, which is sectioned off enough from the serving line that it has its own crowd of regulars who come for the cheap beers and well-mixed margaritas. You can't beat $2.50 draft Dos Equis on Thursday.

The post-Katrina explosion of Hispanic eateries had us all rejoicing both for an influx of more authentic Mexican, Latin, and Central American food and for the corresponding death knell of the faux cuisine which stood in its place before the storm. Last time I checked though, I was the only gringo standing in line at Ideal Market while Pancho's parking lot is full every night. While Felipe's does not pretend to be the definitive word in authentic Mexican cuisine, its food just goes to show that cheap can still be delicious.

Felipe's Taqueria - Birdie

French Quarter
301 N. Peters Street
(504) 267-4406
Open at 11am daily. Sun-Tues till 12am; Wed-Thur till 1am; Fri-Sat till 3am.

6215 S. Miro Street
(504) 309-2776
Open at 11am daily. Sun-Wed till 10pm; Thu-Sat till 11pm.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Velvet Cacti Review

Photo by renee b. photography.
In this month's offBEAT Magazine, Peter and I recount two very different experiences at Velvet Cactus. Peter found the fare and experience less than ideal, while I had a rather enjoyable lunch. You can read about our experiences here.  The different dining diaries we compiled on our trips to Velvet Cactus reveal a very interesting point. With almost every review we have ever written someone has agreed completely or disagreed completely.

Restaurant criticism, like any criticism, is a very subjective task. When Brett Anderson reviews a restaurant, the comments bear this point out. You are guaranteed to find someone who hates the restaurant, a strongly held belief that Anderson short changed the restaurant because it isn't owned by one of his chef cronies, someone is certain Brett must have paid under the table, a commentator knows Brett is a secretive vegan,  and finally, a guy named DynAM90icXXX who wants to sell you a gold backed penis enhancer. 

In many ways, restaurants in New Orleans create allegiances not unlike politics. You may not be able to understand why your friend likes Restaurant X, and she thinks you are crazy for liking Restaurant Y. We all make judgments on each and every meal we eat, be it at home or in a restaurant. This is just something human's do. Most likely it is an evolutionary holdover from days when people routinely died from food borne pathogens or poisons. Picture Neolithic man warning his fellow hunter and gatherer to "Stay away from the fruit of the tree at the base of the mountain, it was so bad it killed Ack Tshuntai."

So today's discussion question is "What is the most polarizing restaurant in New Orleans?" Is there a restaurant that you can not abide? Or one that you can't understand why other people don't love? If so, tell us about it in the comments. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Homage to Catalonia

Writing about food is just bragging. Ohh, sure it can be fun to read, but in the end the writer is always saying, "Check out what I did that you didn't." Now, there is a saying in that state to our west which holds that if you've done it, it ain't bragging. So pardon me for the next few weeks, as I assail you with bragging boasts and prideful posts of what may go down in history as the greatest week in eating ever undertaken.

Lindsay and I arrive in Barcelona on a Tuesday under a sky bluer than a Bob Saget joke. After putting our bags down in an apartment in the Sant Pere district of the city, we set off on foot to get the lay of the land and eat lunch. After finding an old church and checking out the beach, we located Can Ramonet and set out to do some serious snacking. It was also at this time we learned, that no one eats lunch in Barcelona before two p.m. 

In the time it took to take a few sips of Estrella, out came our first round of nibbles. Boquerones, anchovies, tomato bread, and pimenton de padron (counter-clockwise from bottom left). As for the tomato bread, save one dish later in the trip, we never really got it. I chalk this up to not having that dish as a cultural milestone. Pan amb tomaquet is one of those dishes Catalonians grow up eating, as a snack prepared by mom after school, or a way to stave off hunger until after Sunday Mass. Without that cultural touchstone, for us, it was a soggy and bland.

The boquerones were tart and taut, their firm meat graced by little more than vinegar, garlic, parsley, and a touch of paprika. The anchovies were another matter. I simply could not get them down. Maybe it was the overnight flight, or the stress of travel, or serious concerns over the rampant devaluation of the Euro and its inability to respond to China, but I just couldn't eat those anchovies on that day.  "More for me," said Lindsay.

Not to worry as I moved onto the devouring of those green jewels. They were mostly just on the spicy side of a typical green pepper. But in that bunch were one or two that really packed a wallop. Another round of beers settled on the table before my eye caught a big bowl of wild mushrooms on the restaurant't display. Those were sauteed in a bath of olive oil and garlic before being showered with parsley. They were woodsy and deep with hints of herbs. After a glass of sherry, it was time for a well-deserved nap.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Making Boudin

Otto von Bismarck is oft misquoted with perhaps one of the most untrue statements of all time. (If you are scoring at home, that means he did not say something false.) The great German statesmen reportedly said, "Laws are like sausages- it is best not to watch either being made." While the theory behind this statement is that both are messy processes, a recent attempt at making boudin revealed that such a process is in fact a beautiful way to spend the afternoon.

The quest to make boudin at home began as a way to get geeked up for Boudin & Beer. This event, in conjunction with Emeril Lagasse's Carnivale du Vin will turn The Foundry into a Bastille of Boudin on November 11th. 27 Chefs will ply their interpretations of this most holy marriage of pork and rice all savored next to beer from Abita. We will be there with open stomachs and inappropriate innuendos

Back to the boudin. It began as most forays into cooking new things with well-placed emails to Cochon Butcher and Rare Cuts. The latter would supply me with 30 pounds of frozen pork liver. The former with enough sausage casings to circle a portly child 450 times (approximate). The pork liver defrosted, I carved away two massive livers from the bulk of organ meat sitting in the fridge. A pig's liver, if you have never seen it, is tremendously large. Three main flanks are joined by some connective tissue, it has a deep maroon color, and is shiny as a new coin. Also, it makes you wonder what the hell your liver could possibly look like.

I used as my guide through boudin the recipes encapsulated in Donald Link's Real Cajun and Emeril's Real and Rustic. Like Girl Talk, I mashed them up into a recipe of my liking which looked like this: for every two pounds of pork liver, I added 5 pounds of pork shoulder and 6 cups of rice, along with seasonings. Where Emeril called for green peppers, I subbed in Link's instruction to use jalapenos. The cubed liver, pork shoulder, onions, cayenne, jalapenos, green onions, salt, and pepper went into a large pot. I covered the mix with water and allowed it to simmer for about two hours, all the while skimming the foam that rose to the top.

While that simmered, we rinsed the sausage casing free of the salt they came packed in and dried them. My attempts at threading them onto the sausage stuffing attachment resulting in screaming and tearing of the thin membrane. Eventually, Lindsay had to step in and save the day. (I am setting up Bloggle for a sexually inappropriate joke here).

We ground the meat, liver, and seasoning mixture once through a wide dye on the meat grinder. Then we combined this mixture with the rice and a few too many scoops of the liquid the mixture had cooked in. While I liked the flavor of the boudin - it was rich, livery, hearty, and had a mean streak of spice - it came out a little too soft in the casing. This may also be because I didn't remove the dye when we stuffed it into the casing. Or I added to much boudin stock to the mixture. Or we drank too much beer. But irregardless, as they say in Boudin;s homeland, that is a lesson learned the hard, but delicious way. I'd rather make boudin any day of the week, than even pretend to care about politics.