Friday, April 29, 2011

The Gospel According to OffBeat

Jazz Fest 2011 officially kicks off today, and as the throngs pass through the entrance gate, the most seasoned veterans will be sure to grab a copy of the Jazz Fest Bible, which is as quintessential to Jazz Fest as sunscreen and a contraband bottle of vodka to spike your mango freeze. In addition to the low down all of artists, stage schedules, and editors' picks, you can read Rene's little diddy on how the Jazz Fest seafood vendors are still going strong one year after the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

And if for some reason you're still hungry after you leave the Fair Grounds, those willing to brave the crowds can swing by Cafe Degas, which coincidentally is the subject of our Dining Out column in this month's issue of OffBeat. With weather like it is today, a seat in the open air dining room may be worth the wait.

Have a great weekend.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Crawfish Pie, Ella?

Let's face it, there are only about three ways you eat crawfish: boiled on newspaper, etoufee'd, and as a cream sauce over crepes. Now look there is nothing wrong with any of the above. But for all the talk about how crawfish crazy people in South Louisiana get during the Spring, we sure get uncreative with how to cook this delicious crustacean.

But one need not stray too far from conventional ingredients to get an utterly delicious crawfish dish. Rice, andouille, crawfish, these are all things that "grow" together, so why not use them in a paella. Originally I wanted to make an andouille, crawfish and fava bean paella, but somehow I ended up walking 6.2 miles thru New Orleans on a steamy Saturday morning and missed the Farmer's Market. So asparagus and peas were called in for relief, and performed quite admirably.

Andouille, Crawfish, Asparagus, and Pea Paella
Adapted from a Jose Andres recipe or two, Serves 6

Andouille, used 3 links of Richards cut into 1/4 inch rounds
Crawfish tails, 2 cups or thereabouts from yesterday's boil
Arborio Rice (easier to find than Bomba), 2 cups
Chicken Stock, 5-6 Cups
Soffrito*, 1/2 cup
White wine, 1 cup
Peas, 1 cup
Asparagus, 1 of those rubberbanded stalk packs, cut into 1" segments
Saffron, pinch
Bay leaf
Olive Oil
Garlic clove, 1 finely minced

First blanch your asparagus and peas in heavily salted water until cooked. Now shock them in ice water. Drain and set aside.

Heat a paella pan over high heat. Don't have a paella pan, bet you could use a cast iron skillet. Add olive oil to coat bottom of pan. Saute your andouille rounds until brown on each side. Then add 1/2 cup of the soffrito mixture. And cook for two minutes or so. Then add, cup of wine and reduce by half. Note bassets will not leave the pan's side at this point.

Now, add in your garlic, 5 cups of the stock, and the saffron. Bring to a boil and add in the rice, stirring for 5 minutes fairly constantly. The rice should start floating barely, if it doesn't add another half cup of stock. Reduce heat to a simmer. Sprinkle the crawfish on top and walk away. Don't touch the paella, don't poke it, don't stir it. Just let it be.

Once most of the liquid has been absorbed by the rice, sprinkle the peas and asparagus on top. Let cook for another 5 minutes (all liquid should be absorbed), remove from heat, and let sit for about 5 minutes. Now enjoy. Perhaps soon that familiar refrain will read Jambalaya, Crawfish Paella, File Gumbo.

*Soffrito is basically a cousin of Creole Sauce. Take 4 Spanish onions and chop them finely. Slowly cook them until they caramelize. Cut 8 tomatoes in half and grate the inside into a bowl. Toss the skins in garbage. After the onions have slowly cooked for about an episode of The Wire, add one diced jalapeno and the juice from the tomatoes. Cook for another 30 minutes, let cool.  Keeps well, very good on eggs.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


Rene: Bright, fresh wine which tastes like biting into a melon with a little bit of citrus as well. This wine could go with a lot of dishes, but ceviche from a place like Rio Mar, a Soft Shell Crab Po Boy from The Galley, or the Shredded Pork Szechuan Style from Jung's Golden Dragon would all be contenders. 
Peter: Not my favorite wine, but I'm sure it has its place. Pretty dry. Not much fizz or effervescence on the tongue. Thinking a dish with lots of spice to compliment. Panang Curry with duck from Sukho Thai or maybe deep fat fried hogshead cheese from Cochon.

Joe the Wine Guy: 2009 San Telmo Torrontes from the Mendoza appellation in Argentina. This wine begins with delightful floral and orange peel notes which gives way to crisp orange, grapefruit and tropical fruit flavors and just a touch of jasmine. Pair this wine with lighter fare like smoked trout appetizers, seafood salads, and grilled white fish or chicken breasts. You can find this wine at Byblos, Tomasitos, and Dorignac's, where it retails for $10.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Hungry Thursday


Holy Thursday in New Orleans proved to be a day for serious eating. First stop was Dooky Chase's for gumbo z'herbes and fried chicken. Now you probably know the story. You eat gumbo z'herbes on Holy Thursday to fortify yourself for the days of fasting ahead. you use an odd number of greens for good luck/letting you know how many new friends you will make, eating the gumbo means you don't have to go to church on Good Friday. You know, basic Catholic stuff. For another take on Holy Thursday, check out NOLAnotes.

The gumbo is very peppery and pungent, not mind you, spicy. The greens melt into the stock both thickening and flavoring the soup. I could have eaten bowls of this gumbo. Scratch that, I should have eaten bowls of this gumbo. Plus, a 2 piece order of fried chicken hit the spot. The crust on the chicken at Dooky's is some of the finest in town: firm, well-seasoned, and liable to shatter all over your shirt. But this batch of chicken was a little dry and under seasoned in the meat portion. Let's chalk it up to it being their busiest day of the year.

Our fried chicken appetites whet, Lindsay and I headed around the corner to Willie Mae's Scotch House for a bowl of black pepper laced red beans and rice and some more fried chicken.

The fried chicken at Willie Mae's is noticeably different than other genres around town. First off the coating is a bit more luxurious more resembling the wet batter you find on Mandarin chicken. The coating has more heft to it and tends not to crackle and splinter like old paint. The interior of Willie Mae's chicken is very juicy and well-seasoned to the bone.


If I could design the perfect piece of fried chicken it would have the crust from Dooky's and the interior of Willie Mae's. But until they merge, I am content to keep eating both.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Jazz Fest Grub

Jazz Fest has finally arrived and with it our annual cravings for those festival treats we usually only enjoy on the infield of the Fairgrounds with a lukewarm Miller Lite to wash it all down. Rene has opined before on how the setting vastly improves our opinion of the food at Jazz Fest, but we both agree that there are certain dishes which cannot be passed up. With so many options to choose from, you could eat all day long and still leave wanting to try more. Here are a couple of my favorites.

I must admit that the chicken fricasse never crossed my radar until a few years back, but now the Bennachin booth in Congo Square is one of my first stops upon arrival.  The combo plate with jama-jama and plantains is a feast that can last you through the entire day if necessary.

When the cochon de lait po-boy from Walker's (a/k/a Love at First Bite) is freshly made, there may be no better sandwich on the planet. However, last year those crazy kids over at St. James Cheese Company taught me a trick that takes this Jazz Fest staple to another universe - adding Fatty's Cracklins ON TOP of the cochon de lait po-boy. This must be what heaven tastes like.

Throw in a crawfish sack and softshell crab po-boy, and I'm almost ready for my mango freeze for dessert.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Secrets of Boiling Great Crawfish

Good Friday is probably the most popular day of the year in South Louisiana to fire up the burners for a crawfish boil. And for as many sacks of mudbugs tossed in the pot, I imagine that there is an equal number of seasoning methods used - from simple recipes consisting primarily of liquid crab boil to elaborate concoctions that resemble the work of Ferran Adria.

So what's the secret to great tasting crawfish? The long and short of it is: I don't know. It is probably just as truthful to say that there are many secrets as it is to say that there are no secrets.

Last week I had the honor and good fortune to serve as a judge for the annual crawfish boil fundraiser for The Drew Rodrigue Foundation, along with two other individuals who happen to know a hell lot more about food than I do - Aaron Burgau of Patois and Justin LeBlanc of Southern Yacht Club. We ate our way through 26 teams' worth of crawfish, and surprisingly we could taste the differences in flavor in each batch all the way through the end. Though we were not privy to each team's seasoning method, I did take away a few tips which I thought would be helpful to share.
  1. Unlike making mashed potatoes and garlic bread, butter should be used in moderation in your crawfish boil. A few batches that we tasted were basically poached in liquid gold, which sounds good but the spice is then relegated to the background.
  2. The southwest Louisiana method of seasoning the outside of the crawfish is acceptable but not as an exclusive method. Boiling your crawfish in what amounts to seawater imparts no flavor to the fat and tail meat, no matter how many shakes of Tony Chachere's your pour on after the fact.
  3. Lemon is your friend. The acid really brings out the flavors in your boil and can help offset some of the heat from the cayenne.
  4. In my most humble of opinions, I implore you to please leave the pineapple out of your crawfish pot.
There was also a lagniappe category judged separately from crawfish, and we saw some interesting additions to the typical potatoes, corn, and sausage. This discussion though is another topic for another blog post, but suffice it to say that there may be no better lagniappe than the turkey neck.

As for the winning team, the judges unanimously agreed that theirs was head and shoulders above all others. Interestingly enough, after the final decision had been made, we learned that the winner employed a homemade spice blend dusted over the crawfish just before serving. That secret reminded me of Brett Anderson's recent article on the Cajun Claws, and I immediately started formulating a plan for a Saturday afternoon trip to Abbeville.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


Peter: This wine takes me back to my first visit to Napa Valley with The Pope. So smooth and drinkable; the only acid I'm getting is probably a holdover from the 15lbs of crawfish that I ate yesterday. To steal a trademark saying from La Papa, "This wine tastes like eating grapes." I just want something simple and delicious. Thinking about the crusty double-cut pork chop from Rue 127.

Rene: Simple, luscious, and fruity but not overly so. Very well balanced wine. Could drink this all day and night. Dark purple, rich wine with a wee bit of spice in the back. Certainly not overrun with tannins. While a steak seems like a natural fit, for some reason I keep thinking Italian. Specifically the pasta alla amatriciana from a Mano. Also, something crazy in the back of my head says it would be perfect with a roast beef po-boy from Parkway.

Joe the Wine Guy: What you are drinking there is a 2005 Newton Unfiltered Merlot that begins with notes of sage and juniper berries. Then red and black cherry aromas accented by appealing earthy flavors give way to fine-grained tannins with compliments of cocoa powder, spice, and anise on the finish. Retails for $52 and you can find it at Besh Steakhouse, Le Foret, Gattuso's, and Elio's.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Tale of One Great Meal

About Coquette, I said almost a year and a half ago it had "Some growing up to do if it wants to run with the big boys."

Well, Coquette has grown up. A lot, in fact. Not only is Coquette running with the big boys, in some ways it is setting the pace. Take for instance the fact that Chef Michael Stoltzfus has melded the higher end cooking of places like Restaurant August (where he trained under John Besh) with the farmer's market driven menu of the new American Bistro.

A shining example of this is his salad of market vegetables which arrived last Friday studded with cubes of kohlrabi, spears of baby carrots, tender peas, cherry tomatoes and more on a taut pool of yogurt. No more, very little less. The flavors of the salad changed with each bite leading the diner on a treasure hunt through the garden. It was simple. It was elegant. It was the best salad I've ever eaten.

Another salad played on the classic combination of ham and eggs. But here it was big leaves of Bibb lettuce topped with a soft poached egg and crispy fried strips of pig ear. If Stoltzfus sold those pig ear strips by the can, he'd put Bac Os out of business.

Most restaurants in town have a version of shrimp in a spicy sauce (see remoulade, BBQ shrimp, "BBQ Shrimp" at Stella!). At Coquette, briny shrimp coated in tempura and fried to the color of a California girl's hair get tossed in a sambal vinaigrette to become a most welcome change of pace and a good way to start your meal. Or maybe you choose a clean white bowl, the bottom painted with shaved asparagus, crabmeat, and candied orange. A waiter will come by and pour a puree of pearly white aspargus puree. Their is a lusciousness, a flirting between ocean and plant, the two never really uniting, but having a good spring fling.

There is a homemade pasta dish, here echoing not just traditional New Orleans food, but also that of Stoltzfus's childhood home of Maryland. Thus, you get a golden brown fried softshell crab sitting on top of chitarra pasta in a brown butter sauce with peas. Breaking into the crab sends out a tidal wave of crab and fat which mingles and coats the pasta. This is great eating.

Scallops are de rigueur in fine dining now and Coquette has a good version of those as well. On this night, they came over a parmesan sauce with strips of fried chicken skin. Good if a tad oversalted. "Rene you are nitpicking," Lindsay says. As always, Lindsay was right.

But then came the star of the show. A smoked pork shank removed from the bone and tossed in a rich dark stock and studded with morel mushrooms. Beneath it sat a raviolo filled with cream cheese and an egg yolk. There was also a cigar of pork bone filled with aromatic and fatty marrow. You do the math.

Pre-dessert here came ice cream sandwiches made with a cinnamon macaroon and stuffed with ice cream flavored by horchata that refreshing Mexican quencher. This was followed up with a goat cheese mousse served with barely macerated Ponchatoula strawberries and a brittle, which I thought was a very clever alternative to creme brulee. Fried dough of any kind is Lindsay's krytonite and Coquette has beignets with a chocolate dipping sauce and salted caramel. That is never a bad way to end a meal.

There was of course cocktails, wines, and impeccable service. But like good lingerie, it is better to leave a little to be desired. Get yourself to Coquette. The next great New Orleans restaurant is really hitting its stride.

Coquette - Birdie/Eagle
2800 Magazine Street
(504) 265-0421

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Perfect Steak

Who hasn't said or heard this lie, "I don't get steaks in restaurants because I can cook them just as good at home."

And for a large part this is true. The key to any good steak is simplicity- salt, pepper, and heat. Little more is needed. You shouldn't need a battalion of cooks, enormous ranges, or insurance to cook a good steak. But nNo matter how often you throw steaks on the grill or frying pan, small differences in the cut, quality of the meat, and temperature of the fire can cause your steaks to be slightly under or over cooked.

I've searched the world over (ok really just a few backyards) to figure out how to cook steaks perfectly at home. And I finally found it. The key is to treat steaks like barbecue-low and slow. The French have a word for this, it is sous vide. Sorry took Spanish, you have to translate yourself.

Take a deep breath, slow down there Master of the grill, keeper of the flame. Sure I am an idiot, but this is not the conclusive proof you were looking for. Let me set the scene. Last week was my dad's birthday and all he wanted to do was grill some steaks, drink wine, and sit in the backyard. With age, comes wisdom. I had been wanting to grill a thick porterhouse in the style of a bistecca alla fiorentina for some time, so what the heck.

Called Henry at Rare Cuts last week and asked for a porterhouse at least two inches thick. When I show up on Sunday he has a nearly three inch, 56 ounce chunk of man food waiting. "Hey you want to borrow the immersion circulator," Henry asks.

"Hell yes," I say.

Basically here is how it works. You vacuum seal meat, vegetables, eggs, etc... and place it into a waterbath which holds a constant temperature. After a while whatever is in the bag is the same temperature as the water, but it can never go over. Since this steak was so thick, cooking it on a grill would have resulted in a burned exterior with a cool interior. No bueno. Steak got some salt and pepper before getting shrinkwrapped, I got a machine to borrow for the night, and I was out the door.

Plugged in the machine, filled it with water, set the temperature to 130 degrees, placed the steak in the water and went outside to start the grill and drink some wine. After an hour at 130, removed the steak, set it on top of some blazing hot coals, and charred the outside. Pulled meat off the flame and let it rest. When I sliced through the exterior crust it crackled like a log tumbling through a fireplace grate. Inside was the rosiest cut of meat I've ever cooked with just a thin line of well done meat just below the surface.

Because the salt and pepper had stewed with the meat for an extended period of time, the meat had an incredible depth of flavor. A little salad of arugula and Parmesan dressed with lemon juice and extra virgin olive completed the ensemble.

Pretty certain I am going to be ordering one of these machines right quick. A perfect home cooked steak is the best reason I can find for not going out to dinner.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Champagne Sunday

Hat tip to The Folk Singer for finding this gem on Kate Middleton For The Win.
OMG! The Royal Wedding is only 2 weeks away! We at Blackened Out will admit that we were a little disappointed that we didn't receive an invitation to Will and Kate's nuptials, but we'll get over it... eventually. Instead we have decided to take off from work on April 29th so that we can devote our whole day to this momentous occassion, beginning with The Today Show coverage kicking off at 3:00am CST. The Pope will be sweating his wager on Austalia as the destination for the royal honeymoon. We even commissioned Tariq Hanna to create a replica of the royal wedding cake.
If Kate were in New Orleans this weekend, chances are she would be enjoying a few glasses of bubbly on Sunday at Bubble Q. This fundraiser for the New Orleans Jazz Institute will be held from 4-7pm at the sculpture garden in the New Orleans Museum of Art. Hosts for the event are Dr. Corey Hebert and Irvin Mayfield. The bubbly will be provided by Glazer's, and the BBQ will be served by American Sector, Galatoire's, and Squeal among others.

There will be a silent auction and of course live jazz from The Brass-a-Holics and NOJI's Saturday Music School. Advance tickets to the event are $40 per person or two for $70 and can be purchased online here. Tickets at the gate are $50 per person.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Madame, It is Time for Your Closeup

We try to cover a lot of ground. Recently Peter and I noticed we don't really review some of the places that have been around longer than the internet. The Grand Dames have always been some of New Orleans' most press worthy restaurants. We are talking of course about the Super Six: Antoine's, Galatoire's, Brennan's, Arnaud's, Broussard's, and Commander's Palace. It's time to put these restaurants under the microscope.


New Orleans sometimes forces you to make promises you won't keep. Swing into a place like Three Muses or Blue Nile and you walk out vowing to learn to play the trumpet. Walk through the French Quarter on a quiet Spring day, and soon you will find yourself crunching numbers to figure out if an apartment in the French Quarter is doable. Which is how on Saturday afternoon, Lindsay ended up saying, "We really should get dressed up and go to dinner at places like Galatoire's more often. You know, for a change of pace."

What a great idea. I can only recall one other time eating at Galatoire's for dinner. Lunch sure, but lunch at Galatoire's is a cocktail party with food. Dinner? What is dinner at Galatoire's like?

The French Quarter was pulsing last Saturday evening. As French Quarter Fest wound down and a band of educators were turned loose for the evening, the Quarter seemed to expand to hold the mass of humanity filling it. A quick walk from the lot and soon we had entered that tile and wood clad vestibule where so many have waited for so few tables. In a few minutes, a table in the way back near the clock was ready.

The martini at Galatoire's is a stunning example of why no one should really drink these things. They are just too goddamn good to be good for you. A thin, glacial sheet of gin rested on top of the martini. Pressing one's lips to the glass takes your breath away. Then, you get that delightful blend of smooth gin and punchy vermouth. A big bowl of olives, lemon rinds, and onions gives you the opportunity to have either a snack or a martini bar. Remember martinis are like boobs and toy trains - they are meant for little kids, but only dad gets to play with them.

Souffle potatoes and fried eggplant come next with bernaise and powdered sugar with hot sauce, irrespectively. Sometimes they are both perfect, oftentimes one is better than the other. On this visit, the eggplant was crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, whereas the potatoes were flaccid. Win goes to the eggplant.

Then came a visit from Dr. Brobson Lutz, decked out in what can only be called an ensemble of tapestry- a patterned red sportscoat and red bowling shoes. Segue: Brobson needs, more than chickens, or zoo cobras, a Twitter account. Then came something unordered from the kitchen, a bubbling, casserole studded with big, garlicky snails. The snails are fine and well, but the real star of most cooked mollusk dishes is the sauce. A crust of bread dragged through the parsley sauce is the perfect bite of food. Lutz says, "Hey, you know they get those from a can," in a drawl so long it wraps halfway around the block.

Since all snails come from a can one is left wondering what Lutz means by this, but he leaves to finish his white wine, salad, and soup. Next up is a cup of turtle soup as we figure we wont be able to eat soup for another 7 months or so. The soup is thicker, spicier, and better than I remember.

Now, comes the most troubling part of eating at Galatoire's, ordering an entree. In all honesty, one is usually full or drunk by the time the entrees come around. Plus, the appetizers have always been better. But with 3/4 of a bottle of Tattinger Champagne left, this seems like as good of a time as any to try the fried chicken. For around $18 bucks, you get a three piece order of mahogany colored bird.

The crust is the best part of any fried chicken, and this is some of the best crust anywhere. But the inside meat lacked a depth of flavoring and one piece was a little bit rare near the bone. With the fried chicken we asked for just a simple green salad with their garlicky, pungent dressing. This turned out to be a perfect food match like peanut butter and jelly.

People who either love or hate Galatoire's always describe the food as "simple and basic", but sometimes simple and basic works. As we sat their, eating fried chicken with our hands, I hoped this would be a New Orleans promise we'd keep.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


Peter: White wine, well balanced. Neither too sweet nor too dry. Not going to guess the grape. Would go well with a classic shrimp remoulade from Arnaud's or turtle soup from Mandinas.

Rene: Green tinted, lip smacking wine with tropical fruit flavors and high acidity. This wine is a a picnic wine-which to me is exactly what I want to be drinking all summer long. I'd swing by Big Fisherman for some boiled shrimp or crawfish, convince a friend to get some oysters, and grab a sandwich with prosciutto, pesto, and melting mozzarella from a place like Tartine. I'd head to the Fly, open the wine, take off my shoes, graze, and watch the river move past.

Joe the Wine Guy: 2010 Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc, a shining example of a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Ripe peach, passionfruit, mango, juicy citrus, fennel and pastis greet you. The palate is rich and succulent with a zest citrus and apple-sherbet acidity that leads to a crisp finish. You can find it at Le Foret, Galatoire's, Muriels, The Ritz-Carlton, and International House Hotel. It retails for $25.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Moises at the Mansion

Vintage Orleans Presents
Moises at the Mansion
Saturday, April 16th at 7:00 pm

Who:               Winemaker James Moises and Chef Gason Yen Nelson
Where:            Sully Mansion (2631 Prytania Street)
Date:               Saturday, April 16th
Time:               7:00pm
Cost:                $65 per person (inclusive)

When he’s not busy tending to his patients in the ER and teaching emergency medicine to the future doctors of tomorrow, New Orleans native Dr. James Moises indulges in his other passion: making fine wine. Over the past few years James’ little hobby has exploded into his own wine label and distribution company representing a host of other winemakers from the Willamette Valley. Luckily for us, James sends nearly 100% of his Moises Wines to the New Orleans area.

And what better way to spend a Saturday evening than drinking a few wines with the man who actually owns the winery? On Saturday April 16th, Vintage Orleans presents “Moises at the Mansion”, a five course wine tasting at Sully Mansion, located in the heart of the Garden District. James will be on hand to talk about each of the wines, while Ben Lazich from The Wine Seller will be pouring a selection of Oregon’s finest wines from the Krewe du Bizou portfolio.

And as we all know that fine wine tastes better with great food, we have enlisted professional talent (in more ways than one) to prepare the menu. Chef Gason Yen Nelson has cooked around town for years, but his current gig as personal chef to Saints running back Reggie Bush has the whole city relying on him for a reason to stand up and shout every Sunday in the fall.

The format is a walk around tasting with food and wines served in waves. There will be a small jazz band for a litle background music and ample seating spread throughout the mansion grounds. Start with a glass of sparking wine, take a walk around the mansion, and enjoy a crab and avocado bruschetta. Listen to a little music while enjoying a glass of pinot gris and a mushroom and gouda tart. Things can only get better from there. And if you like what you taste, Ben from The Wine Seller will be taking orders for all of the wines poured at the event.

Tickets to the tasting are $65 inclusive of food, wine, tax, and tip. Attire is casual. Reservations are required, and admission is limited. For more information and to purchase tickets, email

First Course
Capitello NV Brut Sparkling
Crab, Avocado, & Lime Bruschetta

Second Course
2008 Capitello Pinot Gris
Mushroom & Smoked Gouda Tart

Third Course
2006 Andrew Rich Coup d’Etat
Smoked Duck Breast with Kumquat Chutney

Fourth Course
2008 Wahle Vineyards Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
Rosemary & Dijon Rubbed Lamb Kebabs

Fifth Course
2006 Moises Vineyard Holmes Hill Pinot Noir
Chocolate & Peanut Butter Cheesecake

Email to purchase your ticket today. To hear more about upcoming events hosted by Vintage Orleans, follow us on Twitter @VintageOrleans.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Roast Beef Po-Boy

If the po-boy is New Orleans' iconic sandwich, then the roast beef version probably best represents perfection on a loaf of Leidenheimer. But what defines a great roast beef po-boy? Last week I was overhwhelmed with an inexplicable craving for roast beef, to the point where I knocked out 3 po-boys in 5 days (with a Friday in Lent included in that time frame). From this recent stretch run as well as years of painstaking research, a few common denominators have emerged as representative of the city's truly great specimens of roast beef.

Gravy Quantity - This should be blatantly obvious, but dry roast beef is a cardinal sin. When the sandwich sticks to the roof of your mouth, that's not a good thing. On the other end of the spectrum, a roast beef po-boy should not be so gravy-laden that it falls apart before taking the first bite. I have a friend who measures the deliciousness of a roast beef po-boy by the number of napkins required for consumption. Perfection lies somewhere in the middle.

Gravy Quality - A roast beef po-boy is not some bastardized version of a french dip (though vice versa may be true). Au jus is reserved for lesser culinary conquests like prime rib. Nor should roast beef taste of canned beef gravy or broth thickened with Kitchen Bouqet. We're looking for a gravy built from a foundation of beef drippings cooked down and thickened to concentrate the flavor.

The Beef - In my opinion, there is no correct answer to this question. I like debris style roast beef such as Parkway.  I like sliced roast beef such as Sammy's. I like chopped roast beef like R&O's. And I like all hybrid versions in between. What's most important is that the roast beef tastes like roast beef. Augmentations such as garlic or pot roast vegetables in the style of Mahoney's, while not traditional, are acceptable.

Composition - If there is one small step which can tansform a good roast beef po-boy to a great roast beef po-boy, it is toasting the bread. Hot and crunchy french bread provides a solid foundation for piling on the beef and is an added level of protection from gravy breaching the sandwich like floodwaters pushing through the 17th Street Canal. But do not toast the bread with all of the fixings; we want crunchy and cool lettuce, tomato, and pickles.

And thus it was written.

Currently, my favorite roast beef po-boy is from Parasol's. No, I didn't mean Tracey's. The subject of much controversy at the end of last summer, Parasol's stock has actually risen in my book due to a strong to quite strong performance by a roast beef po-boy composed of debris-style beef, thick gravy, toasted bread and a lagniappe of garlic butter and heavy dash of parsley flakes across the top layer of bread (pictured above). It's like eating your favorite roast beef on garlic bread.

Tell us about your favorite roast beef po-boy in the comments.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Crawfishing for a Good Cause

It is approximately April, and somehow we have neglected to mention crawfish once this spring. Let's not get into a debate about how to boil crawfish as we will be here all day. I am going to throw this out there though, bringing a huge pot of water to boil, throwing in crawfish for 5 minutes, and then killing the heat is incredibly inefficient. Be on the lookout next week for another way to do it.

Now on to more pertinent matters. Crawfish boils in South Louisiana are much more than just opportunities to drink beer and watch heat interact with water. Crawfish boils are an opportunity to get together with family, friends, and friends who feel like family to conversate, catch up, tell jokes, in short to behave like civilized human beings. As simple as they may be, crawfish boils are an important cultural touchstone, one that unlike potholes and corrupt government happens to be delicious.

Which is why you should clear some time next Saturday to head to the corner of Carrollton and Banks to help support the The Drew Rodrigue Foundation. There on the Avenue of Champions from 12-5, they will host their second annual crawfish boil cook off. The foundation does a great job raising money and having fun. Two things which go just about perfectly with crawfish. Info below and we hope to see you there.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


Peter: Really smooth. Tastes like a basic table wine or house red that you would be served at a small restaurant in Europe. Not a lot of tannins, but high alcohol content makes it linger around for a while. Thinking the lamb loin from Bistro Daisy.

Rene: Woodsy and spicy, I dont get a lot of fruit. Mellow wine not syrupy as some pinots can be. Acidity is present which I like in Burgundies or Oregon Pinots. This begs for something with mushrooms or a dark stock. Recently had a seafood gumbo at 5 Fifty 5 in the Marriott which would satisfy the latter. For the former, the blue corn crepes with huitlacoche, wild mushrooms, and brandy from Green Goddess would do the trick.

Joe the Wine Guy: The wine is a 2008 Acacia Pinot Noir sourced from the Los Carneros American Viticultural Area. The 2008 vintage was not ideal, but the orientation of the Acacia vineyards protected the grapes from the frost. The wine opens with ripe plum, raspberry and blackberry aromas. On the palate, the fruitiness gives way to nuttiness from the oak aging. Fine tannins structure the wine, while bright acidity nicely balances the bright, raspberry finish. Drink it with grilled salmon or chicken, roasted pork, veal or lamb, and mushroom dishes. Available at Ruth's Chris, Bombay Club, K-Paul's, and Dorignacs. Retail price is $22.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Sushi for Sendai

Can you remember the exact moment sushi became the hottest food in America? I don't. But I do know it happened while I was in college. From August 2000 until June 2004, I lived in the remote town of Lexington, Virginia (population: really small). There were two "nice" restaurants, seven Italian pizza shops/delis*, and a host of fast food outlets. Sushi would likely have been outlawed by some governing body in Virginia, as nearly everything else is.

At some point, while sleepy Lexington snoozed, sushi took over America. A first date in 2005 would just as likely have included California rolls, nagiri, and sake bombs as it had once featured dinner and a shabby chic pizza parlor (see Rom Coms). When I moved to Baton Moulin Rouge in the fall of 2004, sushi was as omnipresent as purple and gold paraphernalia. Well it is pretty safe to say, unlike slap bracelets, sushi isn't going anywhere.

If you subscribe to the internet, you are well aware that Japan is dealing with catastrophe right now. The earthquakes, tsunamis, and aftershocks have reminded many of us of the fragility of human life. If you have half a decent bone in your body, you are probably wondering, "I wish I could help."

David Glaser, Noelle Cantarano and Andy Kutcher (the latter from FSC-Interactive) have put together an opportunity for you to both eat sushi and help the Red Cross relief efforts in Japan. Sushi for Sendai will occur every Wednesday in April as local restaurants will donate a portion of their proceeds to the Red Cross. You have to do little more than eat. A full listing of the participating restaurants is here.

So eat sushi and help out. Or else it is cheesesteak pizzas for you.

*The story is because Lexington sat at the cross roads of two major interstates it was the de facto center for drug trafficking on the East Coast. Thus, all of the organized crime families in America had outposts in Lexington, VA. They all also opened up restaurants serving pizza by the slice and cheesesteaks to launder money. The stuff you believe in college (see also "Go to law can do anything with a law degree").

Monday, April 4, 2011

French Quarter Fest

Photo courtesy of Margot Landen
French Quarter Fest is only a few days away, which means there is still time to sign up as a volunteer for what continues to be a fantastic free showcase of Louisiana artists. The festival lineup looks good as always, and with the added Locals Lagniappe Day on Thursday, organizers have offered a welcome gesture to the locals who feel that their little secret has gone mainstream.

Just as there is an art to "doing Mardi Gras," the popularity of French Quarter Fest has necessitated a plan of attack. Luckily, our friends He Said and She Said, themselves residents of the Vieux Carre, have put their neighborhhood knowledge to good use by authoring their French Quarter Fest Better guides to traveling, eating, and listening your way through this 4 day festival.

Speaking of food, check out this month's OffBeat Magazine for my little writeup on Muriel's, whose crawfish and goat cheese crepes have caused a bottleneck around Jackson Square since 2002.

Whether it's grilled chicken livers, a hot sausage po-boy, or pork and shrimp springrolls, if you're like us then French Quarter Fest is as much about the food as it is about the music. There is so much to eat and only one stomach to fill, so let us know if there are any great dishes out there that we are missing. I just need to make sure to save room for Flour Power for dessert.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Isle of Denial Renamed Isle of Denial

After another step back for vibrant, mixed-use neighborhoods, the New Orleans City Council issued an edict renaming the Isle of Denial the Isle of Denial. "No longer will this area be known as the sliver of land unaffected by Katrina, but from here on out this portion of the city of New Orleans shall be called the 'Isle of Denial' in recognition of its refusal to grant anyone anything, unless it is supported by Mormons, football players, or people who used to be on the City Council," Arnie Fielkow announced in front of a captive, blue-haired audience.

The announcement came on the heels of another decision by the city council to fulfill its mission to serve as neighborhood watchmen and not actually govern the city. Yesterday at the New Orleans City Council, approximately 15-20 Uptowners implored the City Council to refuse the request of It the right to do It.

"I inherited this house from my grandmother in 1956. We are two blocks from Audubon Park and I am forced to pay property taxes of at least $200 a year. Back in '56 we had cafes, grocery stores, dry cleaners, you name it - all within a comfortable walking distance. Why you could stop in at Vagueich Bakery and Mr. Vagueich would always give you a bite of something sweet. The Patricks owned a nice respectable bar on the corner. We stopped all that from continuing. And now you want to put It here? No. Please, I implore you keep our neighborhood isolated from all commerce," said Myra Puddington.

While opposition to It was fierce, opinions differed as to what It was precisely. "Ohhh It is definitely a municipal airport capable of handling 568 flights a day. This is what Teddy Sabir told me, and I believe him," explained Kevin Nimby.

"No. It is a huge public mally thing that will sell discounted Pilates gear. I don't think anyone in New Orleans would want one of those next door," reflected Patricia Markson.

Markson continued at the hearing, asking the Council "Have you ever seen the people who 'do pilates'. They are white, wealthy, and drive nice cars. Most of them are college educated and almost all of them are WOMEN!!!! Not here. NOT NOW. NOT HERE. NOT NOW..." her voice trailing off into the cacophony of neighbors echoing her cry.

Councilwoman Susan Guidry offered consolations to the persons requesting It and said, "While I would love to see It in my district, the fact is this city has never supported ventures like It, and nowhere in the Master Plan is It mentioned. Plus the doors to It won't even be located on the corner of the building and I am told the windows in the 120 year old building are not compliant with post 2005 storm window standards. I am sorry, my hands really are tied."

Other members of the City Council rushed to request that It open in their districts. "Please come just 5 blocks away where It will be more than welcome in District B," said Stacy Head. When questioned Head along with other members of the council claimed never to have heard of the concept of what's good for the goose, is good for the gander.

A representative from the Landrieu administration, Mikal Herman offered this, "It will never be approved. For instance, some friends and I are opening an It just a few blocks away. There It can work, but here, It ain't gonna fly."

The City Council voted to deny It the permit. Only then was it revealed that It was actually just a request by residents of New Orleans East and Lakeview to enter abandoned neighboring properties to mow the grass and tidy the property for free. The request to deny was upheld.

"Thank God this city council stopped It, " exclaimed Markson, "but they really need to do something about all these blighted properties in town. I visited an in-law in Lakeview the other day and thought I was in the Wild West."