Thursday, March 31, 2011

Fête Française

As we all know, springtime in New Orleans is full of outdoor festivals, but this Saturday is one of my favorites that flies under the radar. Each year Ecole Bilingue de la Nouvelle-Orléans hosts Fête Française, which proudly honors New Orleans’ connection to French food, arts and culture. This year's theme is "April in Paris" - perhaps the only other city in the world where I would rather be living right now.

Last year's Fête Française was my first, and I was thoroughly impressed to say the least.  The food rivals some of the best festival eats around, and the chefs themselves were out there doing the dirty work. Justin Devillier was grilling oysters outside La Petite Grocery; Donald Link was turning out magical croque monsieurs that were worthy of being included in Rene's ham sandwich writeup; and I had my first introduction with Taceaux Loceaux. Tipsy French exchange teachers were serving up moules frites, and there were Nutella crepes for dessert.

Beside the food, there is Kronenbourg on draft, champagne cocktails, live music, crafts, and a silent auction featuring magnums of wine, a week long stay at a chalet in the French countryside, and much more.

Fête Française. It may not be Paris in April, but it's certainly the next best thing.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Tariq Hanna is More Than Just a Pretty Face

Dessert Professionals Magazine recently named Tariq Hanna of Sucre a top toque in the pastry arts. We here at Blackened Out have gotten to know Tariq over the years and congratulate him on this huge accomplishment. Not only is it a great reward for him, but it also signifies a huge step for mankind. For if Dessert Professionals Magazine can find it in their hearts to award such a title on a man who drinks the High Life, there is hope for all awards show to start recognizing the true geniuses.

This is your year, Bieber!

In honor of Tariq's coronation, which will take place on June 6th at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City, let's discuss desserts. Desserts always cause a huge dividing line among serious diners. Are they worthy of consideration, or should you order more appetizers? Is a cheese plate a dessert or an appetizer? What about specialty after dinner drinks?

Here is a good hard and fast rule: If it is listed on a menu that you are handed after you finish your main course, it counts as a dessert. Hence, the calories don't count. Congratulations, Chef, you deserve it.

Winesday will return next Wednesday.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Courtyard Grill

The hummus and chicken shawarma craze may be long past its crest, but many New Orleanians still go gaga over grape leaves and gyros. Even though I include myself in that crowd, on my jaunt through Europe a few years back I developed an even stronger affinity for the gyro's Turkish cousin: the kebab. No matter where I traveled, the omnipresent Doner kebab always seemed to be there.

While most of the kebab shops I frequented in Europe were of the street food genre, the kebabs from Courtyard Grill are touted as members of a higher pedigree, though still sold at bargain prices. Boasting of organic meats, house baked bread, and hand stacked rotisserrie towers, though the menu at Courtyard Grill reads similar to the vast array of Middle Eastern restaurants around town, the kitchen does things a little differently.

All meals at the Courtyard Grill begin with a complimentary basket of the house baked bread and a small tasting of agili, a condiment with which I had no prior experience. Though advertised as "spicy" on the menu and a veritable doppleganger for fiery harissa, the agili is actually a mild, almost fruity mixture of diced tomato, bell pepper, garlic, herbs, and olive oil. Matched with the house baked bread that is akin to a taller, more airy pizza crust, it's a simple but interesting introduction to a meal. If dining with a crowd, the appetizer platter is the way to start – your choice of 4 of the cold dishes to share for $15.95. What comes forth is ample portions of creamy/chunky babaganush, mild chachik yogurt sauce, large blocks of feta and walnuts, meat stuffed grape leaves, and whichever else you choose.

Sandwiches are either wrapped in thin lavash or in conventional form on the house baked bread. The Adana Wrap is a spicy blend of ground beef and lamb with loads of red pepper, almost like a merguez, served with marinated onions, purple cabbage slaw, chachik, and steamed rice for $9. The Doner (pictured) is served on the house baked bread with all of the above accompaniments, save the rice, for a whopping $8.

Platters are substantial and can easily split between two people who share an appetizer. The Doner Durum is an interesting twist on the classic. The thin, crispy slices of lamb and beef are rolled pinwheel-style in a thin tortilla like dough, cut, placed upright and ladled over with a mild tomato butter sauce. I expected more spice and assertiveness from the sauce, but the dish still worked well.

The "courtyard" aspect is a side deck with an overhang that is a nice setting for dining outdoors. Newcomers are usually confused where to go upon arrival, which is understandable. The door closest to the street leads directly into the kitchen and is used for takeout service and for the waitresses to expedite orders for those dining in. The door set further back leads to the hostess stand and interior dining room. The restaurant recently secured its liquor license, so now you can enjoy a cold beer or glass of wine with your kebab.

Courtyard Grill - Birdie
4430 Magazine Street
(504) 875-4164
Lunch and Dinner Wed-Sun; Closed Tuesday

Monday, March 28, 2011

It Was a Looooong Weekend

After a record setting day for pounds of pork consumed in an 11 hour time frame, we are in recovery mode here at Blackened Out Media, Massage Parlor, and Marriage Licensing, LLC. Rene, Becker, and the rest of the team behind Hogs would like to thank everyone who came out to City Pork to support the Cause.

We apologize for putting the blog on the back burner for the last few days, but tomorrow we promise to resume our regular scheduled ramblings.  Until then, if anyone knows where to find black market Four Loko, please contact The Pope.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Day Has Come

The porcine gods have blessed us all with beautiful weather for Hogs 2011.  If lovin' pork, beer, and live music is wrong, then we don't want to be right.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Lunch at K-Paul's

Back in February 2009, K-Paul's began "deli-style" lunch service on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. The premise is simple: the same classic cajun cooking served by K-Paul's at dinner, but in a more casual setting with faster service and at lower prices. Sounds like a winner, right?

Well, not only is lunch service at K-Paul's a winner, it might be the best lunch secret in the Quarter. On a recent visit, I was surprised how few tables were occupied. Our group walked right up to the bar to place our order and were served our food in less than 15 minutes.

The lunch service at K-Paul's works like this:
  1. Order at the bar, where you also pay and grab your drink.
  2. Take a seat anywhere you like in the dining room.
  3. Napkins, condiments, and plastic silverware are on a centrally located table.
  4. Food runners will call your name and then walk the food over to your table.

Each week K-Paul's posts a different lunch menu, on which no dish crosses the $14 threshold. The list usually includes gumbo, a soup special, a few salads, three or four po-boys and the same number of plate lunches. Seafood is prominently featured in many dishes, from the fried shrimp and oyster po-boys to the shrimp corn maque choux and seafood stuffed mirliton. But there is usually one or two down home classics to choose from, such as jambalaya, butter beans, or chicken and waffles.

I particularly enjoyed the fried flounder (above) - an enormous, khaki-crusted fillet fried to perfection. The accompanying cornbread dressing was moist and flavorful, but I missed the alleged shrimp and crabmeat component. But that was no flaw that the rich, roux-thickened gouda and bacon sauce could not ameliorate. And (as if I needed it) each sandwich and plate lunch comes with your one choice of several sides, which includes thinly shaved onion strings fried in a light batter that tasted like funnel cake.

Needless to say, it's tough to go back to the grind after a lunch like this. But thankfully you will finish with enough time to take a slow stroll through the French Quarter... and maybe just one round at the Napoleon House.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Peter: Good mineral quality. Not an oaky, rich buttery Chardonnay (which I am not a fan of). Taste more European than New World. Not overly acidic.Very easy drinking. Would be nice with a cheese plate at St. James or a very simply pan-sauteed piece of fish at Galatoire's.

Rene: Bright, crisp citrusy with a little bit of effervescence and a nice full finish. Makes me immediately want seafood. Specifically oysters, but not raw oysters. Fried oysters with an herbsaint cream sauce come to mind but maybe too heavy. Cochon has a wood fired oyster with chili butter that would be a good balance to this wine. Also, bun with chargrilled pork and eggrolls from 9 Roses as this wine could get along nicely with spicy Asian food.

Joe the Wine Guy: Wine is a 2009 Chateau de Sancerre made from 100% Sauvignon Blanc. The vineyard's soil is almost entirely limestone and clay contributing much minerality. The intense nose of the wine bursts with flowers (orange flower, vine blossom) and minerals. On the palate it is soft and rich with blood orange and yellow peach. You can find this wine at Tujagues Galatoire's, Commander's Palace, International House, and Dorignacs. It retails for $26 a bottle.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Week in Preview

At Blackened Out we are happy to promote any and all dinners, tastings, and other events that help further New Orleans as one of the premier fun-loving, food-centric cities in the country. This week, the Big Easy is bursting at the seems with myriad of opportunities to taste a bit of controversy, praise all things pork, and enjoy some of America's best roadside eats, plus a whole lot more.

Your faithful bloggers have a personal stake in two events this week - the Encore of Gabrielle in Purgatory on Thursday night and Hogs for the Cause on Saturday. We hope to meet and greet many of our readers at both of those events. But in any case, whether you are a cheese lover headed to St. James or a wineaux looking forward to Once Upon a Vine, this week we encourage everyone to get out there and taste what New Orleans has to offer. Remember that everywhere else in the world, it's just another week in March.

  • Wine Sense - Cork & Bottle's wine tasting series continues with a tour of Southern Italy led by Italian wine specialist Antonio Molesini.
  • Cakebread Cellars Dinner (SOLD OUT!) - Chef Michael Farrell creates a multi-course dinner paired with wines from one of The Pope's favorite California producers.
  • St. James Cheese School - Our favorite cheese mongers are teaming up with New Orleans winemaker James Moises for a cheese tasting featuring his Oregon pinots.
  • Gabrielle in Purgatory - Encore! - A second chance to taste crowd favorites from the Sonniers' beloved Mid-City restaurant
  • An Edible Evening - The Edible Schoolyard New Orleansand FirstLine Schools present the Second Annual "An Edible Evening" garden party under the stars.
  • Abita Beer Dinner at Coquette - Chef Michael Stolzfus cooks up a special 5 course menu served with a different Abita beer to complement each dish.
  • St James Cheese School - Another opportunity to taste the wines of James Moises and a selection of cheeses to match.
  • Taste of the Town - The Louisiana Restaurant Association holds its annual culinary event at Lafreniere Park.
  • Oysters, Cocktails 'n Cracklins - The New Orleans Roadfood Festival kicks off with this cocktail party at the Southern Food & Beverage Museum.
  • Hogs for the Cause - The Gulf South's premier pig cookoff explodes onto City Pork with plenty of live music and the crowning of the High on the Hog Grand Champion.
  • New Orleans Roadfood Street Festival - Six blocks of Royal Street are overtaken with vendors cooking up some of America's best roadside grub, plus the world's longest oyster po-boy will be built.
  • Taste at the Lake - The Lakeview Civic Association hosts this inaugural celebration of food, wine, and neighborhoos strength.
  • Once Upon a Vine - Martin Wine Cellar takes over the Pavilion of the Two Sisters for a tasting featuring over 150 wines and a grazing buffet from Martin's catering kitchen.
  • New Orleans Roadfood Street Festival - The good times continue on Royal Street with a whole other day of roadside specialties and the beignet contest between the New Orleans Police and Fire Departments.

Monday, March 21, 2011


A few months ago, the Parisian Princess forwarded me this article on the 35 best pork dishes in New York. Seeing as the Gulf South's premier porkapalooza will be held this Saturday, I thought that today would be the best day as ever to take stock of some of my favorite pork dishes served in New Orleans restaurants.

Often times we incorrectly connote "best" with "over the top."  Restaurant A's well executed braised pork cheeks can be just as satisfying as Restaurant B's pork tenderloin stuffed with head cheese and topped with cracklins. Bigger is not always necessarily better.

Three weeks ago at Rue 127, I had a juicy double cut pork chop that made me a believer once again in the power of simplicity. Still, I can't deny that I am enamoured with a dish that features pork in multiple iterations, such as the above rice plate from Tan Dinh - pork chop, chargrilled pork, pork meatballs, and the gratuitous fried egg. (Note this dish is not on the menu and was created on the spot as a necessary form of hangover relief.) And the first time we met Chef Mark Falgoust from Grand Isle, he blew us away with his, a sampler of so many different cuts of pork that the only thing missing was the oink.

Perhaps I'm just a sucker for overindulgence?  The jury is still out on that one.  But in the mean time, if you ever sit down for lunch at Herbsaint and the waiter tells you about the off the menu special sandwich of a paneed pork cutlet topped shaved ham, please order it without hesitation.

What are your favorite pork dishes around town?

Friday, March 18, 2011

In Defense of Brunch

When Rene issued his edict on why brunch is for suckers, many of you readers echoed in agreement. But there are two sides to the coin as they say, and in 2 weeks a couple of New Yorkers are coming down South to host a home chef cooking competition that they hope will help garner support for team brunch.

What: The New Orleans Brunch Experiment
When: Sunday April 3rd from Noon till 4:30pm
Where: Howlin' Wolf
Judges: John Burns (Publisher, Edible New Orleans), Allison Vines-Rushing (MiLa), Poppy Tooker, and Dale Curry (New Orleans Magazine)
Tickets: $20 in advance, $25 on the day of the event. To purchase, go here.

Brroklyn Brewery is bringing the Food Experiments, a highly successful series of amateur cookoffs launched in Brooklyn, on a multi-city tour.

Cookoff pros Nick Suarez and Theo Peck are excited to present the New Orleans Brunch Experiment, an amateur cookoff involving New Orleans’ finest home chefs. Dishes will range from savory to sweet and will feature our favorite meal of the week – Brunch! You may never look at brunch the same after attending the Food Experiments. Anyone can compete! Anyone can attend! And anyone can win! Sharpen your knives America, this is a call to all home chefs looking to be named the next cookoff king or queen of New Orleans.

The winner will not only receive cash and achieve culinary glory, but will be flown to Brooklyn, NY to compete in the National cookoff title, the super-bowl of cookoffs held at Brooklyn Brewery. You, along with our professional judging panel choose the winners!

Do you have what it takes to win? Are you experimented…

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Luck of the Irish

What can we say about St. Patrick's Day that Michael Scott has not already said? "It is the closest that the Irish will ever get to Christmas."

In my youth, St. Patrick's Day was a drunken revelry of green beer, green jello shots, crawfish, and... more green beer. Unfortunately, now that responsibility has caught up with me, I usually only celebrate St. Patrick's Day vicariously through my office secretary who takes off every March 17th. The highlight of my day is watching the Mobile Leprechaun video, which never gets old. "Who else see the leprechaun say yeah!"

The phenomenon that is the Mobile Leprechaun is just one example of how the luck of the Irish engulfs anyone and everyone on March 17th. In New Orleans, St. Patrick's Day is marked by hordes of green clad revelers descending upon the Irish Channel to drink green beer, be merry, and of course eat roast beef po-boys. In light of the Great Roast Beef Schism of August 2010, this year's St. Patrick's Day celebration will be a tale of two parties - one hosted by the new again, old again Tracey's and the other by the revitalized Parasol's. Check out this week's Gambit for Ian McNulty's writeup on the two rivals of roast beef.

Lastly, in the spirit of St. Patrick's Day, here is a lucky bit of news for those whose pot of gold is filled with slow roasted duck in an orange cherry sauce.
Photo by Sabree Hill,

The first Gabrielle in Purgatory dinner was such a success that we asked Chefs Greg and Mary Sonnier if they wouldn't mind cooking for us again, and they kindly obliged. Vintage Orleans presents "Gabrielle in Purgatory - Encore!" at The Uptowner on Thursday March 24th at 7:00pm. The five course menu will resurrect several of Gabrielle's signature dishes, and each course will be paired with wines to match.

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


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

First Course
Oysters Gabbie
A Pair of Oysters on the Half Shell Baked
With Chef Greg's Signature Artichoke Topping
Paired with 2009 Duckhorn Sauvignon Blanc

Second Course
Mixed Sausage Kabob
Rabbit & Andouille Sausages with Honey-Lavendar Mustard Sauce
Paired with 2007 E. Guigal Cotes du Rhone Rouge

Third Course
Petit BBQ Shrimp Pie
Mashed Sweet Potatoes in a Tart Shell, Topped with BBQ Shrimp
Paired with 2009 Pine Ridge Sauvignon Blanc-Viognier

Fourth Course
Slow Roasted Duck
Roasted Red Peppers, Mushrooms, & Orange Sherry Sauce
Over Shoestring Fried Potatoes
Paired with 2008 Ercavio Tempranillo Roble

Fresh Banana Layer Cake

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

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


Writing about wine is a really easy way to either put people to sleep or make people convinced you are trying to make them feel stupid. Wine is a very ordinary thing. Or more accurately, wine should be an everyday occurrence, spoken about in plain English (if spoken about at all). But too often wine discussion becomes a battle of the snoots with people saying things like "The wine begins with a jaunt through a field of frostbitten arugula and ends with a box of Louboutins on Easter Sunday."

Really? What the hell does that taste like. And more importantly, why would you ever want to drink that?

The Pope knows people. This happens when you are elected by the College of Cardinals. So a few weeks ago, we met one of the Pope's "Wine Guys." Discussions about wine began and the following idea was hatched. The idea is simple, if you remove pretense and preconceptions can someone write about wine without sounding like an asshole?

Last week, Joe the Wine Guy dropped off a case of wine for us. The labels and any other identifying marks were either removed or covered up from the twelve different bottles in the box. Once a week, Peter and I get together, and open the wine. We take a few sips and without consulting each other write down our most basic thoughts. We aren't trying to guess the vintage or the grape or whether the winemaker used new oak or whether it was bottled under a new moon. Nope, we just want our gut reaction to the wine.

Wine is made to go with food. So we also want to know, what kinds of food would this be good with. So, we both write down the name of a restaurant and a dish at the restaurant. Again just collecting our stream of consciousness.

At the end of article, Joe the Wine Guy gives us his notes on what the wine really is and where you can find it. By the way, we don't know his thoughts until after we have tasted and written down our own.

That is it. The point isn't to get it right. It is just to keep it simple, stupid. Ohh and drink some wine; that is the real point.

Peter: Not surprisingly, this red wine tastes fruity - grapes, blackberries, blueberries. Not tannic enough for a steak, but maybe game birds. Roasted simply where the wine could act as the fruit sauce. Cafe Atchafalaya's Boudin Stuffed Quail or Cafe Minh's Lacquered Duck come to mind.

Rene: A red wine. Not heavy, but coats the mouth well. Fresh, blackberry flavor with cedarwood flavor at the end. Light tannins, good acidity, palate cleansing. Would want to drink this with something braised. For that, I go to the root beer braised short ribs at La Petite Grocery.

Joe the Wine Guy:  This week's wine is a 2008 Termes from Bodega Numanthia, a wine made from the Tempranillo grape. This selection features intense fruity aromas such as raspberry and cherry along with flowering ones like violets. When you taste it, you first get an explosion of fruit then you get spices, tobacco, raspberries, and blackberries. The wine is aged in French oak Bordeaux style barrels for 16 months. You can find it at The Wine Seller, Galatoire's, French Market Bistro, and Elios. Retail price is $29.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Ham Sandwich

The simplest things in life are the best. To wit, sitting outside on a Spring day listening to music, drinking beer and eating pork would be the ideal way to spend March 26th. If only there was a way to do so. Hint: there is.

Back to more pertinent matters. Let's dissect the ham sandwich. First off, this may be the number one sandwich worldwide. Think of the variations: banh mi, ham and cheese po-boy, prosciutto and mozzarella panini, the Cuban Cuban, the guy from The State who had Ham Sandwiches for feet, etc... Point being, ham owns the title to the sandwich throne, as it should.

The ham sandwich is also the only sandwich which is just as good hot as it is cold. And name for me another sandwich which tastes like lobster stuffed filet mignon topped with foie gras when out on the open water? Another plus about the ham sandwich is that it got a 5 in AP Calculus.

The lesson here as always is pork makes everything better. And you suck at math, but you knew that. So what makes a good ham sandwich? Well, for me there are three criteria.

1) Ham. Duh. Good, quality ham. Chisesi fills this role around here. But there ain't nothing wrong with a good quality prosciutto de Parma or jamon Iberico every now and then. Just avoid ham that comes in a large rectangle, and you will be fine.

2) Dairy. I like cheese on my ham sandwich. Specifically, something that melts fairly well. In a pinch, I'll take a thick slather of cold, salted butter. If absolutely stranded on a desert island, a generous shave of Parmesan will do.

3) Pickle. This may be the most important element. Ham is a salty beast and it needs the subtle combination of acidity, salt, and sweet that a pickle brings. Now it need not be a dill pickle per se. For instance, I bought a jar of these pickled sport peppers a few months ago and have since become addicted to them. I de-stem them, remove the seeds and finely chop them. Then sprinkle this all over the sandwich. A ham and cheese sandwich without the pickle is a complete disaster.

Mayo, mustard, bread, etc... those all matter sure, but not enough to be taken serious enough to waste an article on. If I had to pick one ham sandwich for all of eternity to eat, I'd take a Cuban please with a a ham and cheddar on Bunny bread in the middle.

What is your favorite ham sandwich?

Monday, March 14, 2011

You Say Tagalongs. I Say Peanut Butter Patties.

As if we New Orleanians don't already have enough temptations luring us away from our post-carnival cleanse. Just like clockwork, those green sashed sirens of the sweet tooth began delivering boxes of Samoas and Do-si-dos last week. Quite honestly, the time couldn't come soon enough. Those first 5 days of Lent were rough.

Did you know that the Girl Scout Cookies website has a freaking countdown clock for when deliveries begin in your zip code? Such is the result of the cult following of an army of cute little girls who create waves of mass hysteria every spring. No one can resist a box of Girl Scout Cookies, except maybe the Keebler elves, who forego out of pure spite.

In honor of the Girl Scout Cookies season, Blackened Out is taking a poll of our readers' favorite Girl Scout Cookies. If you've ever eaten an entire package of Thin Mints straight from the freezer, then you are allowed to vote twice.

Who knows? Maybe the winning cookie will be featured in an upcoming MVB special shake of the week...

Friday, March 11, 2011

Write Your Family's Recipes Down

Short on cash every year at the Holidays? End up passing out gift cards for hugs, car washes, and dog sitting? Don't worry you arent alone. But why not do something better this year. This Christmas, yes it will be here before you know it, give your family a cookbook containing all of the recipes so treasured and revered in your neck of the foods.

How the hell do you do this? Well you start by signing up and going to the Southern Food and Beverage Museum's Personal Cookbook Writing Workshop. This Saturday from 2-4 p.m. Natalie Root and Liz Williams will lead a discussion of how to create a personal cookbook for families, reunions, gifts, and more. The class will focus on styles of layout and photographs, as well as writing recipes, different forms of publication, adding personal touches, and organizing. Get your tickets here.

Tickets are $30 for non-members, and $25 for members. Trust me it is a gift that everyone will love.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

L O L A, Lola

"So you, like, eat out for a living? That is awesome! Where do I get a job like that?"

First off, no. This is not a living. It is a hobby. A hobby with a shady IRS loophole, but a hobby. And the problem with any hobby is that eventually it can take over your life. When this little venture started three years ago, neither Peter nor I thought a) it would last b) anyone would read c) some of you would actually enjoy reading what we wrote.

Writing about dining out is still a fun and creative experience, but lately the process of going out to eat has started to feel well, a little bit like work. Which to my ears is a horrific four letter word. The chore to dissect, remember, categorize, and rank every dish at every restaurant becomes overwhelming. That is if we can even find a place to eat.  Such a chore goes like this, "Let's go grab a bite to eat," Lindsay will ask.

"Ok, where to?"

"How about this place?"

"No, went there for lunch the other day."

"Ohhh, there is that other place"

"Yeah, but Peter has it queued up for next week."

"We haven't been to there in a while."

"Chef gave two weeks notice and I heard the place is on C.O.D. from suppliers, can't be a good sign."

Sometimes you just want a simple meal, with good food, nice conversation, and something cold and boozy to drink. Which is pretty much how we found ourselves enjoying a restorative meal in Lola's cramped and lively dining room last Friday night. 

Choosing Lola's is odd because Spanish cuisine scares the Carpaccio out of me. It is not that the food of Spain isn't glorious in its own right, it is that too often it is poorly imitated. Take, for instance, tapas. Tapas is the worst mistranslation of a foreign dining trend to infect America since fondue gave birth to swinger parties. Tapas is a snack in Spain, and it is a great idea. You go to a bar, grab a drink, and munch a savory bite of something delicious. They are inexpensive and designed to induce you to drink more. But, mostly tapas is not your meal. You go out to dinner after tapasing (note: made that word up).

What is tapas on the shores of Gentilly? It is a "small plate" costing anywhere from $8-12 a pop. They can't be shared though as advertised because the dish for your party of four only came with three dates stuffed with a thumbprint of blue cheese. Maybe the chef "studied a Ferran Adria book" and your ham comes with a liquid nitrogen powered pickle gun. Perhaps there is a tortilla which this cook has translatad as "dense omelet." Or maybe the chef is a minimalist who is focused on purity of Spanish flavors. For you there is a bowl of Marcona almonds (for $8), which translates as "Free at the bar up the street."

Delve into the entrees at most oxymoronic themed "Spanish Tapas" restaurants and you get either half-witted ideas or Franco inspired executions. Rabbit in the Style of La Mancha, or some other such cute moniker, brings you a stew of shriveled and dried rabbit adorned with olives and a can of tomato puree. Am I speaking in generalities? Unfortunately, only barely. Spanish food in America is too often a very poor forgery of a beautiful cuisine.

However the cooking at Lola's stands out for being the most authentically Spanish in New Orleans. It is bold, brash, and at times brilliant in its simplicity. For instance, a paella in New Orleans that didn't make me wish for jambalaya. Lola has three paellas to choose from, we chose meat. Plump pieces of chicken, moist from both their own juices and the broth, and rings of sausage poked out from the sepia hued landscape of short grain rice and vibrant green peas. The rice was firm, but yielded easily, and was fortified with the mellow flavor of saffron and more than a touch of garlic. Had the trademark soccarat been on the bottom layer of rice, this could have been the best rice dish in the city.

Before the exercise in paella, came a thin, sunset orange, garlic soup which competed with the feathery, garlic aioli for the bread's attention. There was a calamari steak, cooked until the white of the squid was just set and served alongside a fiery Romesco sauce.Both dishes had Lindsay and I constantly sharing a plate meant for one between two.

Each bite of food could have been quibbled over. Was there too much salt in the soup? Was the garlic in the aioli too astringent? But not that night. We just ate, sipped white sangria, and took it all in. "You know what," Lindsay asked as I paid the modest check, "that was a great meal."

Lola's -Birdie
3312 Esplanade Avenue
New Orleans, LA 70119-3132
(504) 488-6946

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Mardi Gras Hangover

It was a long, crowded, rainy Mardi Gras this year, and we here at Blackened Out Media Group and Acupuncture Clinic are in need of a Charlie Sheenesque recovery program. Some of you might call this a (moral) hangover. We call it winning.

After an extended binge like this, we are reminded of those epic morning-after struggles of the past, none more impressive than The Pope's 25 hour luggage-free Vegas adventure earlier this year. We would love to go into details, but the above picture about sums it up.

A week ago today, Rene opined on Twitter: "If at this time in a week, you aren't ready for Lent, you did not do Mardi Gras correctly."

Well, Ash Wednesday is here. Finally.

Monday, March 7, 2011

MVB at St. James for Lundi Gras Lunch

What do you get when you take this...

... and throw in this...

... on the day before Mardi Gras?

No, it's not a recipe for Charlie Sheen's next binge. (Or maybe it is?) It's the annual Lundi Gras Cookout at St. James Cheese Company, this year featuring MVB.

For lunch today MVB will be pop-up in the courtyard at St. James, where we will be serving our standard menu of burgers, fries, and shakes, with the added bonus of topping your burger with one of 4 cheeses from St. James' catalog. And for those not in the mood for a burger, St. James will be serving its regular menu of salads, sandwiches, and cheese boards. The best of both worlds.

The Lundi Gras Cookout gets going at 11:30 and lasts till 3:00. The parades may not start rolling till 5:15 tonight, but that's no reason to wait to start your Lundi Gras.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Vendredi Gras

Since we all start calling days of the week by their French nomenclature this time of year, let's further the concept and take another look at a Parisian restaurant. No, this time, it will not be my hazy recollection of a long lunch providing a backdrop of some halfass opinion. Instead this week, take a look at how a professional criticizes a much recommended, but quite awful restaurant.

Everyone has had an experience in a restaurant like this. You go to a city, hell you live in New Orleans, and someone tells you to, "Go to (name of restaurant) for a real old school, (name of city where restaurant is) experience." You go, have an awful meal, leave a few hundred dollars poorer and feeling like you were just paddled by a school marm with a wart. The only thing more certain in the restaurant world other than overpriced wine, is that some restaurants make it solely on reputation and rich people who don't know any better.

Hopefully this won't happen to you anytime soon. Enjoy Mardi Gras. We will see you soon.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

P Raid Eatin 'n Drinkin

The good thing about eating and drinking oneself into a coma over the next 5 days is that you work it all off. Walking to the neutral ground (hint: only acceptable side to be on, unless you have children) while toting three coolers, a tent built for Denali, and four pop up chairs burns 1700 calories an hour. Toss in waving, screaming, the occasionally game of flip cup, and late night dance parties to Prince and Professor Longhair mashups and you aren't looking at a party; you are staring down an exercise regiment.

Which means you need to keep that athletic body well-fueled. Popeyes is the de facto parade cuisine, but the sheer volume of sodium pumped into that stuff will leave you bloated and swollen like a duck in southwest France. Will I eat Popeyes between now and Ash Wednesday? Of course. Will I regret it? Yes.

Now, let's say you are lucky enough to have a friend on the parade route and said friend has extended the bathroom pass to you and yours. Bring food. Bring beer. Bring toilet paper. Bring ice. Clean up after yourself. On the first of those marching orders, why not set some time aside soon to make a pot of red beans? You know how to do this. Red beans are always better after a day or so in the fridge, they pack and travel easy, plus you can reheat them while you make rice, which you can fit in your back pocket.

The cardinal rule in toting food to someone else's house is this. You have no idea what kind of crappy knives, dull spices, and rusty cookware you may encounter. So do the cooking ahead of time and eliminate your degree of difficulty. This is not the time to try out a recipe from The French Laundry Cookbook or use that liquid nitrogen you jacked from your dermatologist friend. Keep It Simple, Stupid. When in doubt, just bring a few bags of chips, some dips, and one of those veggie trays people use for Bloody Marys.

Now the important part: your booze. This is when you want to call on your old friends Bud and Miller. I know, I know, you are mature now and drink beers with names longer than the Queen of Rex's train. But not now, Jack. Why? Well, for one these beers are justifiably more expensive and Mardi Gras is a sharing environment. The goal is everyone brings enough beer for them and ten friends. That way no one runs out of beer, but if you do someone has extras. It will be very hard to part with that etched bottle of beer from a San Diego made micro brew that three other people have heard of (and only the same number will enjoy) when Slow Kevin asks for a beer. At the very least, you will resent the money you wasted.

Point two is this, the number one goal at Mardi Gras is to act like you have been here before. Rolling up to Bacchus with a six pack of Samuel Smith's Dopplebock Oatmeal Cherry Bourbon Barrel Aged Porter 2005 Edition, is going to immediately brand you as someone who is here to see chicks show their tits. Way to go. Hope that craft beer was worth it, Mr. Mature. If you just have to drink something nice, bite the bullet, be a man, and bring a keg of it. Then you will look like a pro.

Other stuff - vodka, rum, and bourbon - are all great options for screwdrivers, rum 'n cokes, and bourbon and ginger ales, respectively. Note, if you make a drink with a tincture of apple brandy bitters, we all reserve the right to sell you a ticket to the Mardi Gras. If you want to drink wine, keep it to yourself and keep it in a cup. No one will think you are sophisticated with a bottle of Yellow Tail sticking out the back pocket of your Dockers. Trust me, I know. Cheap sparkling wine however is not only acceptable, but encouraged.

Mardi Gras, or "Carnival" for you nerds out there, is a time of great merriment, frivolity, and hangovers. Drink and eat while you still can, because come Wednesday, it is time to get straight with the Lord.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Sammy's Deli

In the March issue of OffBeat Magazine, we take a look at Sammy's Food Service & Deli, a neighborhood joint on Elysian Fields that serves up some of the best renditions of down home cooking to be found within the city limits. If you're craving po-boys, fried chicken and seafood and are looking for one restaurant that does them all well, then Sammy's is your place. Check out our full review by clicking here.

You know what is a sign of really good fried chicken? When after you've eaten your way through three different po-boys, a seafood platter, mustard greens, macaroni and cheese, and cornbread dressing, and then your teeth crunch into that fourth and final chicken wing on your plate, you sit back and watch the steam waft up and away from the juicy flesh. Yeah, that is damn good fried chicken.

Parkway and Parasol's may receive all of the press for their roast beef po-boys, but Sammy's own version undoubtedly deserves to be included among the best. This roast beef is sliced and dressed with enough gravy to barely avoid falling apart. Plus, besides being delicious, the roast beef is quite photogenic.

And for you gluttons looking to go out with one last hurrah before Lent, look no further than the Ray-Ray, which features crunchy Southern fried chicken breast topped with grilled ham and melted Swiss. We may have a new po-boy contender for the title of Fat Kid Special.

Sammy's Food Service & Deli - Birdie
3000 Elysian Fields Ave
(504) 947-0675
Mon-Thur: 7am-5pm; Fri: 7am-7pm; Sat: 7am-4pm

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Hogs is Coming

It is March, which means that it's time to put away your overcoats and parade ladders and break out your trailerable outdoor cookers for Hogs for the Cause 2011. Tickets on sale now for the obscene low price of $10. Pork, music, and beer - what more could you ask for? World Peace, really that is what you want? Loser.

March also means that it's time for another installment of things to make with pork. Starting with this: spinach, a pork tenderloin, a red pepper, and parsnips.

First thing first, make a marinade by combining a 1/4 cup of Worcestershire sauce, a few dashes of hot sauce, some salt, and a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar.

Take your pork tenderloin and slice it into 2 inch or so medallions. Pour the marinade over the medallions and rub in. Leave it be for as long as you got. I had two hours; the pork could have gone longer.

Peel and slice your parsnips. Toss them in olive oil, salt and pepper, and roast in a 375 degree oven, tossing a few times, until they're crusty but still soft. Remove from oven and puree with cream and butter. Keep warm, before serving, taste, adjust seasoning. There, you just made parsnip puree. The sweet, almost cinnamon flavor of parsnips is very surprising and welcome in this dish.

Heat a cast iron pan over medium high heat until little wisps of smoke start escaping. Meanwhile, remove the pork medallions from the marinade and dry thoroughly. Coat the bottom of your cast iron pan with canola oil, wait til it shimmers and add the pork. Cook for about 5 minutes per side until a nice crust forms on each, then place in a 375 degree oven for 5 more minutes. Remove from heat and allow meat to rest.

Finely dice your red pepper and a shallot, then add this to a saute pan set on medium heat with a good glug of olive oil. Saute for 4 minutes or so, add salt and pepper, and then the spinach. Once the spinach starts wilting, toss to combine, and splash on about 2 tablespoons of vinegar (champagne or red wine is best here). Taste adjust seasoning.

Serve immediately.