Friday, July 22, 2011

Bon Voyage

Ahhh, late July. A time of such sweet indulgences: snowballs, late night house rolling excursions to Robert Peyton's house, and swimming with beer. These rites of summer also include perhaps your favorite. That is right, Blackened Out is going on vacation for the next 8-10 days ish. During this time, we will both recharge our batteries and focus on our other hobbies. For Rene, that means it is time to get serious about betting on Little League Baseball. Peter, on the other hand, will spend his time updating his collection of 18th century pottery.

Ohh don't worry we are coming back better than ever. Ok, probably pretty much the same. We leave you with a few nods towards our work in Offbeat. Here is Rene's story on home cocktail bars and the people who craft them. This month we also took a look at Twelve Mile Limit, a great cocktail focused bar that thankfully leaves the pretension out to sea. 

Finally, we want to congratulate our trivia contest winner Code Name: McGlone, who narrowly edged out a win over Kyle Gordon in the Black LS with the Navigation. The difference between the two came down to Code Name: McGlone successfully naming Mr. John's as the location of the bar in the photo. Ohh, and the original bar that was in the Absinthe Room is now just a few meters away in Tony Morans. Check it out, it is a gorgeous bar.

Well, that is it for us. The Texas Regional is about to start and there is pottery to restore. See ya soon. We love you. In a totally not creepy way. Well, maybe a little creepy. But good creepy. 

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Dieter and Gone To Heaven

Dieter Cronje, a native of Cape Town, South Africa, is the winemaker at Presqu'ile a winery in the Santa Maria Valley in California's Central Coast. Presqu'ile has an interesting connection to New Orleans having been founded by the Murphy Family after their summer home on the Gulf Coast (also called Presqu'ile) was destroyed in Hurricane Katrina. Dieter took some time out of living the idyllic winemaker life (said with sarcasm) to chat. Let's put 20 ish questions on the clock. All photos courtesy of Presqu'ile (pronounced Press Keel).

My dad was a man of the law in South Africa during Apartheid. In order to endure all of that, one had to drink a lot, I suppose. So I began drinking wine with him. At 18, I went to University, where I figured out one could actually get a degree in making wine. My dad recommended I get a degree in enology.

A 1997 Dujac Clos de la Roche. It was drank at a party for a winemaker I was working for. He brought it out and popped the cork. It was then I knew I wanted to make Pinot Noir.

I worked at Kanu Vineyards for a while. Then headed off to France for a couple weeks, just working in a winery here and there for a day or so and moving on. Did a lot of double vintages during that time, where I would work September to October in the Northern Hemisphere and then January to May in South Africa.

I was working at a winery that Matt's (Murphy) parents were invested in. Matt was working there also to kind of figure out if wine was something he and his family wanted to pursue more. I started work there on August 1, 2006 and Matt and I instantly became very good friends. Which when you are working long hours in the fields, you either become good friend with someone or you hate them. We became friends. So when his family went forward with Presqu'ile, Matt asked me to be the winemaker. I said yes. You know we used to surf, play golf, and stuff, all the time. Now we are too busy for that (laughs).

With my Pinots I am looking for a more balanced, nuanced wine rather than something large and alcoholic. My wines aren't overwhelmed by new oak, we only use wild yeast and this helps keep our alcohol levels low. What I am really trying to do is capture each vintage for what it is. I want to highlight the differences between a vintage because that is the way it is supposed to be, rather than each vintage being manipulated to taste the same.

All of wine making is pretty tough stuff (laughs). Definitely the cleaning. People dont realize how much of our day is spent cleaning. We work during harvest up to 20 hours a day, with 15 of those dedicated to scrubbing tanks, cleaning drains, having insects from the vines climbing up your pants, getting really is hard work.

The Santa Maria Valley is in between two transverse mountain ranges. This means when the morning marine layer front comes in it smacks up against this mountain range and just sits there until around lunch. This allows our grapes to to stay cooler, get less sun, and hang longer. Plus the soil here isn't very rich, which is good for grapes because you want the vines to have to fight to make grapes.

First, a new winery needs to be able to make quality wine. And we got that down. Next, the hardest thing is the fight to get our name out there. There are millions of labels of wine and we've got to get ours in front of the customer. To this end, Matt is on the road 200 days a year, just getting people to taste the wines. But once they do, we got them.

With our Sauvignon Blanc, raw oysters. No better pairing than that. With the Chardonnay, I like pastas, chicken. But because of the weight of the chardonnay you can use a heavier sauce on the pasta, something with cream. With the Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir, a bone in ribeye with mushrooms and a reduced balsamic glaze. With the Presqu'ile Vineyards Pinot Noir, duck confit. I love duck.

Wine and War. A great book about wine during the Second World War and the struggle by the French to keep the good stuff from being shipped to Hitler. Billionaire's Vinegar is another good book about the sale of a fake bottle of wine to a wealthy collector who thought he was getting a bottle owned by Thomas Jefferson. And then on a technical level, I really like Principles and Practices of Winemaking.

I am not a fan of high alcohol wines, for two reasons. One the high alcohol itself. Second, in order to her that high alcohol level, the wine starts to lack in acidity and it moves from its natural state. Hard core yeasts must be added, sugar, etc... I am not a fan of that at all.

I wish more wineries would use more native fermentation, getting the yeast off their fields instead of generic yeast. I also wish people would use less oak. Look, oak is the most generic, universal flavor in wine. You and I can order a barrel of oak from the same cooper and give our two different wines the same flavor. Using less oak allows the varietal to shine through. Also, the amount of animal products used in winemaking would shock most vegetarians-egg whites, gelatins, fish scales in many white wines. If the government makes us put "Contains Sulfites" on our labels, it should make wineries list animal products as well.

Have to say when Matt and Amanda got married in Denver. We opened a lot of great bottles of wine. Including a rather young, but still incredible bottle of Domaine de la Romanee Conti Romanee-Conti. It was a very special wine and a special moment. As they were getting married and we were all about ready to start the winery.

Dream case? That is tough. Start with Champagne- a (1) 96 Dom Perignon Rose and an (2) 85 Krug. Then, I would need a bottle of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, so let's go with (3) 2010 Spy Glass. A bottle of (4) Mulderbosch from South Africa, a great white wine. Kanu, a (5) wooded Chenin Blanc from a good year. A wine from (6) Au Bon Climat, one of the ones names after his daughters, but I can't pick just one because I know him. So either Knox or Isabelle. A bottle of that (7) 97 Dujac. (8) DRC Romanee-Conti 2002. A bottle of (9) Gaja Costa Russi. A bottle of (10) Didier Dagueneau's last vintage of Sauvignon Blanc which was 2008. Now some sweet wines. (11) Kracher rates numbers his wines from #1-#14, with #14 being the sweetest. I'd take #14. Finally a bottle of (12) vin de Constance, Napoleon's favorite wine.

Serve your wine at the right temperature. You are drinking your whites too cold and your reds to warm. And store wines properly.

I really appreciate that wineries are trying to utilize biodynamic practices or organic farming. But all that stops at the edge of your vines. If the guy next to you is spraying pesticides, that is going to get into your wine. And sometimes doing things organically can create a bigger carbon footprint, because say, instead of using tractor once a day you are using it 3 times a day. The issue of biodynamic and organic needs to be studied more and researched more before it is accepted whole cloth.

My family. My mom, my dad, and my brother. They all live in South Africa, so I rarely see them. If giving the opportunity, I'd like to drink a bottle of my wine with them.

Favorite chore is definitely tasting! When we blend the wine, we taste each barrel, then blend them up. But my favorite time at the winery is a very specific moment. It comes after harvest when all the grapes are in the tank. I climb up on top the ladder to punch down the cap, and hopefully see bubbles. When I see those bubbles it means we are now making wine, as opposed to just growing grapes. That moment always makes me smile.

Ice cold beer. There is a winemakers saying, "It takes a lot of beer to make good wine." And that is the truth.

I don't really pay attention to what people write about how wine tastes. But one thing I can't stand is the personification of wine. Say when someone compares this wine to a "shy women in the back of a room." Or that wine to an "aggressive women at the end of a bar late at night." Wine is not a person. It makes the writer sound like they are referring to themselves in the third person.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


Rene: A very smooth, well balanced white wine similar to a white burgundy, but different. I get some very slight oak, which makes the wine seem heavier in the mouth. I get a touch of stone fruit- apricots mainly. Nothing overbearing though. Something makes me want veal with mushrooms. Maybe veal marsala or alfredo from a place like Vincent's. Or the porcini crusted veal tenderloin at Stella! could work very well here.

Peter: The first two words that come to mind are straw and spice. Flat on the tongue. Not overly oaky, but it tastes of high alcohol. Need a dish with substance to hold up as a pairing. A nice roasted chicken would do - Mondo does a good one. Or a filet of sauteed snapper, skin on, from Cafe Atchafalaya.

Joe the Wine Guy: What you have here is a 2006 Newton Unfiltered Chardonnay. In the glass, the wine has an inviting dark straw hue and then opens with rich creme caramel, butterscotch, and fresh vanilla bean aromas later revealing baked apple and nutty characters. Flavors of white peach and caramel with a touch of honey lead to a lingering creamy finish. Lobster bisque would be perfect or poached fish or even pasta with a cream sauce. This wine is available at Antoine's and Ruth's Chris and retails for $49.99.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

BYOB at Baru

The arcane liquor laws of Orleans Parish may be frustrating to both present and potential restaurant owners, but the usual benefactors of this red tape (beside competing restaurants)are we consumers. I'm not certain if there is a more enticing incentive than BYOB with a nominal corkage fee, and I'll wager that places like Baru would not be nearly as popular if the standard beer and wine markup were part of the dining equation.

BYOB notwithstanding, the kitchen at Baru is worthy of praise, though the significant span between the high and low points on the menu and recent inconsistency in some of my favorite dishes have been cause for concern. The restaurant touts itself as a purveyor of Colombian cuisine, which most New Orleanians have zero experience with, however there are enough recognizable dishes on the menu that only a small sense of adventure is required.

The most popular offerings come from the ubiquitous tapas section, which still remains a siren song for Tulane and Loyola students, Uptown women young and old, and the foodie-lawyers sitting next to them. The Guacabello (top) is de riguer to begin a meal, but the shift from grilled bread to a fried spinach tortilla as the vessel of choice is a mistake in my opinion. Plus, on my last visit, the mixture of chopped, grilled portabellos mixed with chunks of avocado had not been seasoned near enough and failed to come together as a homogenized mixture. Sad.

Perhaps the second (if not equally as) popular dish is the mazorca (above) - a mixture of hot grilled corn, fresh farmer's cheese, "pink sauce", and potato sticks that for all I know could come straight from a can. It's delicious. Keeping with the starch theme, we almost always a side of mofongo, the mixture of fried and smashed plantain and crunchy pork skin that accompanies a few of the main dishes. Those in search of something more familiar might opt for the pork filled tamals, but the inclusions of raisins, carrot, and almonds make these versions anything but ordinary. Unfortunately, the flavors were collectively bland.

Seafood is a specialty of the house, and I have had differing levels of success across the board. The most successful dish is the house ceviche, whose acidic elixir had a thicker consistency than most, almost like a cold curry. The flavors were bright and rich at the same time, and the shrimp and fish were perfectly firm in texture. Cornmeal crusted oysters topped with aioli caramelized onions, and spicy chili sauce have been executed consistently well. Why anyone would order crabcakes at a restaurant like Baru is lost on me, so take my word for it that these are not very good.

Meat lovers will like opt for the mixed grill (right) of flank steak, chicken, and chorizo served with a chimichurri. If memory serves me correctly, the menu last week read that this dish is now served on skewers.

If BYOB were not enough of an economic incentive, the budget conscious diner can also take solace in Baru's low prices. Tapas range in price from $4 for the mazorca to $12 for the tuna tartare, with most others falling in the $8 to $10 range. Entrees are in the low $20s, but to be honest I rarely make it to that side of the menu. And why would I considering that two people can share 6 small plates, enjoy a bottle of wine, and have an overall nice meal for under $70 including tip?

Baru Bistro & Tapas - Par/Birdie
3700 Magazine Street
Lunch Mon-Sat; Dinner Nightly

Monday, July 18, 2011

Get the Focaccia Outta Here

I've recently started messing around with baking bread. So far this is nothing serious. No need to call in Intervention or even to bar me from the baking aisle at the local groceries. Right now it is just a curiosity. Just a passing acquaintance, a diversion. Where this affair goes is anyone's guess. 

It began, as most of these things do, with a thumb through a cookbook. There in David Tanis' excellent The Heart of the Artichoke was a recipe for An Honest Loaf. The recipe looked simple enough and I had a packet of yeast left over from last time we made pizzas. So gave it the ye old college try. After a day of the dough, yeast, and water working its magic, what emerged from the oven was one of the single best pieces of bread I've ever eaten.

Next step was a focaccia, which was even easier. It basically looks like this. You combine a half cup of water with a tablespoon of dry yeast and three tablespoons of all purpose flour. Let it bubble for a few moments. Then 3 cups of flour, another cup of water, some salt, and olive oil. Stir. Then briefly knead. Cover with plastic wrap and park in fridge over night. 

Next day form it into a sheet pan, let it rise at room temp for about an hour, and then bake at around 400 degrees for a half hour. I topped this one with rosemary and some olives, but you can use just about whatever you have lying around. I even used whole wheat in the dough, which is crazy because why the hell did I have a sack of whole wheat flour in the house? The result was a chewy bread that was perfect on its own or as a dip holder.

There is another batch brewing in the fridge right now. This time I'm thinking of some roasted garlic and confited tomatoes with some pickled Italian chilis. Or maybe just a few shavings of pecorino and lemon zest. Or bacon, anchovies, and caramelized onions...

Friday, July 15, 2011

Tales of the Cocktail Plus Trivia

Next week, cocktails will be the toast of the town (You kidding me, of course the pun was intended). The explosive growth of Tales of the Cocktail has been quite remarkable as each year whatever slight hiccups from the year before have been scrubbed clean with bartender's friend. In fact, Tales of the Cocktail is solidly in my top 3 favorite times of the year in New Orleans.

Every summer as a sign of our largess to our faithful readers we like to give something away before going on vacation for a few weeks. We usually wrap this up in a contest. Said contest's results are usually subject to much scrutiny and cries of foul play. This year we are returning to an old favorite: trivia. This year the winner (whoever gets most correct or if tie coin flip) of our trivia contest will receive two VIP tickets to Meet the Craft Distillers. Email your responses to blackenedout; we use gmail or leave in comments section. Here we go:

1) Above is a photo of a bar. Which bar is it?

2) The original bar that stood inside the Absinthe Room (now called the Old Absinthe House Bar) is now located where?

3) What according to H.L. Mencken is the only American invention to rival the Sonnet?

4) Name the cocktail: Gin, lemon juice, maraschino, and creme de violette.

5) Omitting what ingredient changes a Salty Dog into a Greyhound?

6) Define the term: Straight Up, Neat, and On the Rocks

7) Just what the hell is Mezcal?

8) What came first the Rum Runner or the Bootlegger?

9) What is the name of the bar that Brian Flanagan opens?

10) Which New Orleans bar invented the Flaming Dr. Pepper?

Bonus Question courtesy of Cheryl Charming, bartender at The Bombay Club

After dying at sea, how was Admiral Nelson's body preserved for the long boat ride back to England?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Le 14 Julliet

Yesterday, the French were our sworn enemy on the pitch. But today, in the face of the US moving onto the World Cup Final, we celebrate our fallen adversary's national holiday. If not for Abby Wambach, we might have to pass on the Bastille Day festivities this year.

New Orleans has always embraced our French heritage, and what better way to pay tribute to the founders of our city than to eat and drink as if you were transported to a quaint restaurant in the Marais, on the docks of Brittany, at a bouchon in Lyon, or on the coast of Provence.

Whether you are inclined for a bubbling plate of escargots or a simple crepe, there is a range of delicious possibilities to satisfy your Gallic hunger. Cafe Degas, Crepe Nanou, and La Provence all come to mind, but if I were dining out today, my first choice would be Chateau du Lac, that underrated bistro on Metairie Road. Sirloin sandwich for the win.

Or you could opt for a replication of what was one of my favorite meals during my summer in France - an impromptu picnic in the Jardin de Luxembourg after a walk through one of the local markets. No reservations required.  All you need is a few wedges of cheese from St. James, a baguette from La Boulangerie or Maple Street Patisserie, maybe a pint or two of olives, a bottle of burgundy, and a couple of dixie cups.

Viva La France.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Cooking With Wine

A bottle of rose has done more good to cure the effects of summertime heat than any other invention, short of air conditioning. Not only is rose a great internal a/c, but it gets along exceedingly well with traditional New Orleans foods. In fact, I'll wager that pound for pound, rose, but specifically rose champagne, is the number one match for a wide variety of New Orleans foods, generally.

Mad Max's latest offering is a pink wine from the affordable line of Bastianich Wines. The 2010 Rosato is made up of 100% Refosco, which is a red wine grape which traditionally makes for a very spicy wine. Here, the flavor is softer and more apt to stand up to the hot sun of an early summer evening. This Italian version of rose, had me wishing for a plate of antipasti and a view of the water. What came out of that was what I'd consider an Italian's take on Chicken Paillard. You can find the wine at Galatoire's, Swirl, Bacchanal, and Cork & Bottle where it retails for around $14 a bottle.

Chicken Paillard-Italian Style

Begin with a chicken breast per person. Pound it out until it is half an inch thick. Season both sides with salt and pepper. Meanwhile, slice a red onion or shallot into half moons and toss with the juice of one lemon, the zest of said lemon, and a 1/4 cup of olive oil. Pour this over the chicken breasts, toss to coat, and let it sit while you make the relish. 

Traditionally, chicken paillard is topped with romaine, a few shreds of Parmesan, thin sliced shallots, and maybe a tomato or two. What I wanted to do with this dish, is bring in the classic Italian antipasti flavors in a "topping" form.

Begin with a good selection of olives- I like the dry, wrinkly black ones, big meaty green ones, and some Kalamata. Pit each olive. To this add some thin sliced red onion, thin slices of pickled, Italian hot peppers, some oregano, and a big, plump tomato coarsely chopped. A splash of red wine vinegar will help bring it all together. 

Grill your chicken over a medium heat. Six minutes per side should be sufficient. Top with the relish mixture, a few slivers of salty, Italian cheese (I had Pecorino in the house), and a few leaves of basil. Simply perfect, the food and wine give air conditioning a run for its money. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

First Look: High Hat

Stop me if you have heard this one. It is late in the week, but not quite the weekend. Maybe payday fell on a Thursday or maybe you just don't feel like cooking. Your wife or husband or boyfriend or roommate looks at you and says, "Let's just go grab a bite to eat. Nothing fancy."

Sure you say. "Where do you want to go?"

Now the decision making process begins. Perhaps you are in the mood for Vietnamese, but you also know that your dining companion had it yesterday. Maybe someone wants Mexican but you both agree there isn't very good Mexican in town unless you go to Taqueria D.F. and you want to sit down and have a beer with dinner. Eventually you settle on a spot where you will not spend a fortune, the beer is cold, and the menu has something for everyone. I am not saying High Hat is my de facto spot for this dining scenario, but it could be real soon.

First reason why is that High Hat, a new venture between Chip Apperson and Adolfo Garcia, is incredibly close to our house on the booming Freret St. If I owned a bike, I could walk there. Secondly, the place is no frills. Paper napkins, no tablecloths, a long bar, tile floors, and a few old signs make up the decor of the restaurant. Third, and most importantly, the food is really good.

As High Hat focuses on the food of the Mississippi Delta, we started with an order of tamales. Each tamale was as thick as two fat cigars. The corn meal had just turned from molten to barely solid, like grits left out on the breakfast table. Inside the wrapping sat sultry chunks of pork. A spicy, well-oiled dipping sauce helped add moisture and another level of flavor. "Let's order another plate," Lindsay asked.

Lindsay would be a vegetarian if bacon could be included. Luckily for her, High Hat has a vegetable plate which makes that dream a possibility. A chunk of cornbread sat at twelve o'clock high on her plate. At three was a bowl of okra and tomatoes, with a good dose of hard spice. The flavor of that okra made us calendar a return date for late fall. At six o'clock sat another bowl - this one filled with perfectly tender, black eyed peas which could give your momma's red beans a run for their money.

Finally from the eight to 11 o clock spot sat some big pods of green beans tossed in a dressing akin to a vinaigrette and crowned with bacon. Dragging cornbread through the slurry of black pepper and bacon jus left behind on the plate after the beans were polished off, elevated what was otherwise a rather dry and coarse piece of cornbread.

Fried chicken may never be the new black, bacon focused food cart but I still love it. The way its crust can tell so much about the technique of the cook. How the juicy interior can show proper seasoning or a lack of care. As fried chicken goes, High Hat's version is a solid A minus. I liked that they cut the breast into two pieces. Which makes it fry better and also increases the surface area of crust to meat. A word about that crust, it is coarser and more rustic than versions you may be used to, but no less good. There seems to be a heavy reliance on cornmeal in the batter and this results in a more textured finished crust. The meat was well-seasoned from all the way to the bone but tended to get a little dry in spots.

Sides were the pimento cheese mac and cheese and an order of finely chopped, pork spiked, and smoky mustard greens. The mac was a bit dry, but the red pepper flavor of the pimento shined. It is hard to imagine anyone making mustard greens much better than High Hat's version. I think we have a new answer to that age old question, at least in our house.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Trip Report: A Desert Oasis of Burgers & Fries

The Slider Trio at Burger Bar.  All photos courtesy of Renee B. Photography.
Two weeks ago The Folk Singer and I ventured out to Las Vegas for a well-timed work conference. In between titillating continuing legal education classes and night time networking events, we were able to squeeze in a few research and development excursions for MVB, and we brought along Willy Wonka, our resident burger aficionado, as our neutral taste tester. Considering the high likelihood that most of our readers will at one point find themselves wandering the Strip in search of burgers and fries, here is a quick report on two of Sin City's most popular choices.

Nutella Shake at Burger Bar.
After a nice dinner at Fleur on my previous trip to Las Vegas, I decided that Chef Hubert Keller's cooking warranted a second tasting, this time at his wildly popular Burger Bar, also located in Mandalay Bay. Apparently we were not the only patriots craving a ground beef version of Americana, as upon arrival we saw a crowd of 50 people gathered outside the restaurant, which equated to a 25 minute wait for our table.

The menu boasts quite a number of choices - 4 burgers (angus, organic, kobe, and buffalo), 5 buns, 30+ toppings, and 4 types of fries. Out of respect to The Pope's mantra of "go big or go home," I ordered the kobe version, and I must say that it was delicious, as it should have been for $17. The angus, on the other hand, was not nearly as flavorful.

The buns were a step above grocery store styrofoam but nowhere close to freshly baked. French fries were frozen, but I was a huge fan of the 6 different dipping sauces available. Onion rings and zucchini fries could have easily been replicated off the menu at T.G.I. McFunsters.

The high point of the meal was hands down the Nutella milkshake topped with dark chocolate whipped cream. Other than the Moorea Beach Club, this shake is probably the only reason that I would make the treak out to Mandalay Bay again.

Burger Bar Las Vegas - Par

Many a West Coaster has succumbed to the strong call of this siren. As someone who had never before experienced the pleasure of a Double-Double, most of my prior knowledge concerning In-N-Out Burger came from watching The Big Lebowski. (If Donny says that those are good burgers, that's all the validation that I need.) I have heard friends rave about In-N-Out for years, but with each instance of praise I thought to myself: "How good can a fast food burger really be?"

The answer: Very good. Yes, it is fast food. But to lump these burgers into the same category as McDonald's is a crime against humanity.

All of the ingredients tasted fresh, and the burgers stand tall with thickly sliced onion, tomato, and a heap of lettuce. The burgers themselves were thin, greasy goodness, and I especially liked how the cheese melted over, in between, and around the two patties. I had done some research beforehand, so I ordered my burger "Animal Style" - with mustard fried into the burger, the usual dressings, plus grilled onions, and extra spread (like thousand island dressing). I highly recommend.

The fries, in my opinion, were average, but TFS said that I was being a food snob. (Likely.) Regardless, the menu boasts fresh-cut fries, for which In-N-Out deserves unending praise.

The place was a circus during our time there, with customers lined up 10 deep at every one of the 5 registers, and everyone jockeying for seats inside the restaurants lest they be relegated to the 110 degree heat at the tables outside. But the food came forth fast, every employee was smiling and chatting us up, and we left vowing to return.

In-N-Out Burger - Birdie

Friday, July 8, 2011

Beasts and Brass with a Shot of Fernet Branca

As this blog alluded to yesterday, Sunday's Beasts and Brass event is going to be a good time. But don't take our word for it. "It is going to be a good time," says Robert Peyton.

Here is the skinny. Starting Sunday at 5 is the Patron Party where for $85 (presale) or $100 (at door, you can enjoy music, food and drinks from over 30 New Orleans restaurants, live auctions, and those good times referenced above. Just look at the restaurants serving at the Patron Party:

Boucherie & The Cue Crawl, La Petite Grocery, Three Muses, Iris, Patois, Crescent Pie & Sausage Co., Martinique Bistro, Lilette, Dante's Kitchen, St. James Cheese Co., Satsuma, Le Foret, Cafe Rani, Brightsen's, Charlie's Seafood, Link Restaurant Group, Joel's Catering, Cure, Dante's Kitchen, The Green Goddess, Melissa's Fine Pastries, Zea, August, Luke, Domenica, Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group, River Shack Tavern, Oak Crest Mansion, Kajun Kettle Foods, Tracey's, Pal's Lounge.

At 9 pm, the ticket price drops to $20, the bar turns to cash, and the party keeps going until til.  More information here. The Blackened Out Twins are going which means there is a 90% chance of someone getting deported. Also, if you want to volunteer, the organizers are looking for people to help out. If so, shoot an email to Justin Devillier whose email is his first name at la petite grocery.

To take you off into a meditative and charitable state, here is a cocktail recipe courtesy of James Denio of Boucherie.

Good Medicine

1.5 oz Frenet-Branca
1.5 oz Cocchi Vermouth di Torino
1.5 oz Orange Pekoe Tea (iced) 
Dram of simple syrup ( barely a nip, just a hair) 
1 mint leaf

Served up in Collins glass. The drink is highly aromatic, and better served as a digestif rather then an aperitif because as it's name suggests, it does wonders on the belly after a good meal. Before-hand it can be a bit much on the palate, although personally I'd take it either way.

Instead of a cocktail glass which I believe is best used for drinks that employ citrus oils (from zesting) to create almost a tickling of the nose when you go in for that first sip, we're using a Collins, or tall water glass.  Here the aromatics can take over the olfactories well before the elixir hits the lips. The drink is equal parts all ingredients save the simple syrup (being just a pinch).  It's shaken and served up, taking just under half the glass's capacity, and leaving a good column for the aroma to travel.

Unlike other mixed drinks whose aggregate spirits the consumer may not enjoy on their own, yet blended create a flavor profile easily enjoyed, this drink may necessitate that the consumer likes Frenet-Branca to begin with, which is not to say the Frenet overpowers the cocktail, yet it is a uniquely potent element. The Cocchi vermouth adds a hint of chocolate, and the iced orange pekoe tea rounds out the otherwise heavily botanical ingredients. We spear a fresh mint leaf with a small cocktail straw and set it in the center of the cocktail, resting it upon the foam like a sail, it floats upon the head of the drink created by vigorous shaking before it's strained.

Both The Cocchi Vermouth di Torino, and Frenet-Branca are Italian spirits, and the drink was created to accompany what was to be our June menu of Italian influenced dishes put on hiatus due to Nathanial's attack on on the 22nd of May.  That menu is now taking shape here in July, with Nathanial coming in a few hours each day and changing the dishes one at a time rather then all at once as we've seen here at Boucherie in the past.  I'm excited to see what he pulls out of that brain of his.  It's good to have our boy back.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Beast Speaks

For the last few years, Nathaniel Zimet has cooked great food out of both a big purple truck and now a quaint purple hued restaurant on Jeannette St. In May, Zimet was shot outside of his house and his recovery is still ongoing. This Sunday over 30 restaurants, some brass bands, and more will gather to raise money to help Zimet cover his medical bills at Beasts and Brass. Let's put 20ish questions on the clock and speak with the chef known as The Beast.

Professional cooking is not a family trait, necessarily, but I come from a family who can cook. I've worked in kitchens my whole life. I always wanted to own a restaurant so it seemed to me working in kitchens was the best way to get into owning a restaurant.

Dropped out of college to attend culinary school. Started at Le Cordon Bleu in London and finished up in Sydney. Moved back home to North Carolina and started cooking at probably what is the best restaurant there, the Fearrington House. Everyone in that kitchen was British and it was a tightly run brigade. Then went to work with Shane Ingram of Four Square restaurant. Shane is my mentor. It was there that I developed my palate. Then I came to New Orleans, following a girl. 

Last restaurant I worked at before the purple truck, was Iris which I helped open. The most challenging aspect of going into the truck, wasn't so much having to do everything by myself, but the rogue nature of it. For instance to wash dishes, I originally had to rent an RV spot. Then it was a friend's driveway. Eventually, I wound up with a place in Gentilly where I turned a greenhouse into a dish pit. I installed a plastic pot sink, ran hot and cold water hoses...It was all pretty rogue, but the level of cooking always stayed the same.

I think about dishes a lot as I recover. We change the menu every month at Boucherie. Obviously since I was shot at the end of May, the May menu ran through June. We are currently switching out the menu. When I create, I am such a think about it, do it person  Right now my strength isn't 100%, which makes it tough to create. I'll go into the restaurant, but only be able to work for a few hours and then go home exhausted. Not being able to execute my ideas halts that process.

The July menu at Boucherie is going to have Summer Italian theme. One dish is going to be a warm polenta terrine where the polenta is surrounded by housemade Italian sausage, peppers, onions, and mozzarella pulled in house. This will be served with a salad of Creole tomatoes, mozzarella, and pesto. I am always trying to force a technique on my cooks in order to teach the technique to them. So with this menu, they are learning about making sausages, pulling mozzarella. 

James (Denio) has an interesting persepctive through all of this because I am so stuck in my own world. When I am able to eliminate the pain, I'm still very much stuck. It makes it very difficult for me to comprehend anything beyond me, right now. James has to work so much harder at Boucherie plus coordinate all these benefits and on top of all of that deal with the fact that his best friend got fucking shot. In a lot of ways, things are a lot easier on me than James. But he and the whole staff have excelled throughout this ordeal.

I couldn't be more proud of my kitchen staff. I've had many people call me and say, "I went to Boucherie tonight and it was awesome." This isn't an ego thing, but practically every chef in the city has called and offered to come in and work. And we've been able to tell them "Thanks, but we got it." I am just so proud of the way they have rallied around and come together to execute.

There is an impressive clique of us young chefs. This new crew, we all came up around the same time and pretty much all worked in at least one kitchen together. And now we all have our own restaurants and they are great. Chefs like Aaron Burgau, Justin Devillier, Dan Esses, we are all doing our own thing. Dan likes to tease me and say he taught me everything I know because I worked for him at the Bank Cafe.

I miss work a lot. Coming in here and only being able to work for a couple hours a day just isn't my style. Put it this way, if a stagiaire came in and worked like I am, I'd send his ass home. That is a very tough thing to deal with because cooking is the only thing I know how to do. I can't handle not doing it. My hands have been idle for what feels like forever. Also, I think one reason I was able to survive the shooting and go through this recovery is because I had begun doing Cross-Fit about five and a half months ago. I was in shape, losing weight, and really enjoying exercising. So I am looking forward to exercising again.

Knife. I have many, many knives. 3 weeks ago I got my new knives in. These are the first knives, I have ever had made especially for me. Guy named Alex Blue out of Seattle made them for me. They are true Damascus steel and have 412 layers of steel in each knife. Other knives, I use a lot, are made by Murray Carter in Oregon. Those are the thinnest, badest knives. I'm still getting used to the new ones though. I got my first knife at age 8. I became a chef in order to play with knives legitimately (laughs).

I did a soup once, more like a broth. The broth was kind of like pho, but not pho. I think on the menu I called it a kaffir lime fumet. I served it with a pork jowl dumpling. It was awesome but I couldn't sell it to save my life. Eventually ended up adding coconut milk and renaming it and then it sold. Fume just proved to hard to sell.

Picking a few cookbooks is tough because we change the menu a lot so I end up buying a lot of cookbooks. But two I really love are the Morimoto cookbook and Charcuterie. The Morimoto one, people say, "Ohh he is an Iron Chef, that is cool." But no, you read this guy's techniques and are in shock. It forever surprises me and impresses me. Charcuterie is a great book, very entry level, but an amazing resource for my cooks and I. 

Cooks going for the "Wow" factor. Strangely enough, because I'm so into it, cooks doing whole hog or nose to tail are some of the worst offenders. Sometimes people do whole hog or molecular stuff just to be extreme. When cooks do something hoping you say "Wow, look at that" instead of "Wow this tastes great" they are really forgetting about the act of eating. 

Most memorable meal was at Arzak in San Sebastien. That was the most badass meal ever because it was molecular gastronomy with bones. Things were fabulous but everything tasted fabulous also. I just love the way the Basque people rever their geography. At Mugaritz, I had a composed salad of 57 vegetables, 50 of which had been plucked off the mountain. They just care and are so proud about their land.

Dirtiness. Sloppy cooks, sloppy cuts, I don't deal with. When a stagiare comes in, I'll ask them to cut me some mirepoix. If not perfect, I tell them that I don't think we will match up well. Meticulous knife work is absolutely critical. Sloppy cooks make sloppy dishes.

Besides an alarm clock (laughs). My drive, I am always pumped and have a lot of energy. My mom had a friend who used to come stay with us over the summer. And she would always leave him lists of things to do. I remember being little and thinking that it must be awful to never be able to sit still. But now, I see that I am the same way.

Wine is traditionally the easiest to eat with. I love beer and sake as well. There are very few libations I won't drink. Last year we did a dinner with Don Julio tequila where each course had to be pared with a glass of straight tequila. It was difficult but I think we crushed it. In general though, wine with my food. This is because unlike beer, wine rarely offends. Sometimes beer and a dish can be polar opposites and wine has that wonderful quality of getting along with food.

I don't know why people call me The Beast. My cooks and I tend to work a lot and very hard. So maybe it comes from that. Or we have a roast beef sandwich on the menu called the Beast. So when they make a comment about the Beast in the kitchen, I never know if they are talking about me or the sandwich (laughs).

Pizza Delicious is awesome. Mike Friedmann. I love that kid to death. He worked for me for four months before I paid him. When he told me he wanted to cook, I sat him down and said everyone wants to be a chef. But you got to think about why you are doing it. You have to get to point of being exhausted and still wanna work. When people ask me if they can stage, I tell them they can't just agree to do it for one day, have to sign up for two. 

This is not a fun job, I work more hours than anyone I know. I am saddened by the things I have lost because of my lifestyle. Brittany, the girl I followed down here, and I aren't together anymore but she has been helping me recover. But cooking is what I want to do. Last week, my mentor came in town. Partly because I'd been shot and also because he had never been to my restaurant. So we went to eat at Boucherie, him, Brittany, and Mike. And that was a very cool thing to eat with my mentor and a kid who considers me his mentor.

Perfect day of eating in New Orleans would begin with eggs at my house cooked by me. Than a po-boy and some sushi. I refuse to name names (laughs). 

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


Rene - This wine needs to settler down a bit before consumption. Intense fruit and alcohol leaps out of the glass. Spice and wood aromas dominate on the nose, but on the palate it is rich and smooth with dark fruit flavors like plum and cherry. High alcohol and oak means this requires a dish with heft. How about the braised pork cheek with grit cake at Cochon or a plate of red beans from Willie Mae's.

Peter - Not much fruit in the bouquet of this wine, but your nostrils open up with every inhale. Take a sip and there it is - a good sense of heft in the mouth with a scaled-back sour cherry flavor. The finish is not necessarily spicy, but there is definitely a mild burn going down. This puppy would pair well with Commander's Veal Tchoupitoulas with the green peppercorn demi.

Joe the Wine Guy - The 2008 Pinot Meunier from Domaine Chandon has rich, vibrant aromas of lavender, plum, and white pepper escaping from the glass. Luscious flavors of cherries, red plums and strawberries are immediately evident while inherent earthiness and brown spice characteristics develop in the finish. This medium-bodies and flavorful wine is a great match for grilled meats including veal and pork. This wine retails for $29.99 and is available at Galatoire's and GW Fins.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Ideal Market

Welcome to what has become one of my favorite eating places in the city. There are no tables, chairs, fine china, or stemware. In fact, there really is no menu - you just order with your eyes, and in most cases you're not sure exactly what you're getting. But when you open that styrofoam container or unwrap the tin foil pouch, you realize that whatever it is, it tastes freaking delicious.

Located just a few blocks down Broad Street from Orleans Parish Criminal Court is Ideal Market, a Latin American grocery store whose secret treasure lies tucked away in the back left corner of the store. Underneath the sneeze guard at this small cafeteria style service station are hotel pans full of tamales, carne asada, empanadas, and fried fish. As you stand in line listening to the customers ahead of you, panic might start to ensue once you realize that no one is speaking English. Just calm down and be thankful that the point and nod method translates across all languages.

On my first visit I watched a more experienced customer before me negotiate his order and noticed what appeared to be beans and eggs underneath an oversized, pillowy tortilla. The woman behind the counter then reached for a lunch lady like serving scoop which she plunged into a plastic container of what I could only presume was crema and then opened the quesadilla and poured it in. The same method was used on a bucket of queso fresco. She then folded the tortilla back up, wrapped it in tin foil, and wrote $2.99 on the outside with a black marker. I was confident in my ordering abilities when she motioned me forward, but within moments I reverted back to wagging my finger and shaking my head. Fortunately I was successful. The first bite took me back to Austin, Texas circa 2001 and the Taco Cabana breakfast tacos that were a Saturday morning ritual. My new hangover breakfast staple is improved with a spoonful of the spicy avocado/verde sauce which is available for $2.99 per pint.

Eventhough it is easily overcome, the language barrier can still be frustrating. Next to the service station is a large grill where whole butterflied chickens and sausages of unknown origin sizzle away; I have yet to see another customer order any of these items nor have I figured it out how to do so myself. On another visit I saw a steaming pot of tamales on the back stove but my attempt procuring a pair was thwarted with a simple “No.” But sometimes unanswered prayers workout out for the best, as I ended up with a heavy container of barbacoa ($4.99) that made for heaven inside a freshly pressed corn tortilla. Yes, they make fresh tortillas. Stewed pork (above) was meltingly tender and flavorful in a sauce of onions and cumin, the drippings seep into the overload of white rice below, which I supplemented with spoonfuls of firm black beans. A ton of food for $7.99.

Most of the stewed meats are cooked down with the bones, which makes for a better final dish but also requires hesitation when digging in. Even the tamales are stuffed with chunks chicken on the bone, plus other hidden surprises - one bite might yield a huge chunk of yucca, while the other is chock full of chickpeas.

When you're done at the back counter, don't forget to pick up dessert on your way out. Next to the check out station are two self-service display cases full of pastries. Choosing one is a crapshoot, and it seems that too often I end up with something filled with sweetened cream cheese (not my preference). But once you open the display case door and the intoxicating aroma of fresh baked goods hits your nasal passages, you just start grabbing with reckless abandon.

Ideal Market - Birdie
250 South Broad Street
Open 7 days - Morning till Night