Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Cooking with Wine

It is too damn hot to cook. The heat index is currently hovering around temperatures usually reserved for spacecraft reentry and foundries where a young Irish kid looking to walk on to the football team at Notre Dame works while going to community college.  In short, I don't want to cook. I don't want to turn on the oven or the stove. If I could subsist solely on snowballs and cold beer I would.

But this article beckons, which is why this week the title should read Not Cooking with Wine. This week, Mad Max sent over a 2009 Highway 12 Carneros Chardonnay made by Michael Sebastiani. The accompanying notes say, "This '09 Nueva is every bit what you've come to love about the modern style lush Chardonnay, with a touch more minerality. The balanced acidity makes it fresh and crisp, while letting the buttery finish shine complete with a new Stelvin closure."

What I took out of that description was acidity, crisp, fresh, and butter and that Stelvin sounds like the last name/nickname of your roommate in college. That triggered a craving for a version of the Wedge salad made with heirloom tomatoes, romaine, and homemade blue cheese dressing. Bacon would have made the salad complete, but that would have required cooking. Still, it was one of the best things I've never cooked in my kitchen.

Blue Cheese, Tomatoes, and Romaine

Hold stalks of romaine horizontal in front of you. Cut it across the rib in one inch sections. Wash, dry, and pop in the freezer for a spell.

For the tomatoes, this time of year places like Whole Foods and the like start stocking this multi-colored orbs of tomato goodness. They have exotic names like Brandywine, Green Zebra, and Bob Marley Spliff. Ok, I made that last one up, Caddyshack fans. Pick out a few, that are soft and ready to burst. Take them home, core them, then slice into fat rounds (along lines of latitude, not longitude). Season with salt and pepper.

Dressing couldn't be simpler. Your silver ware set has two sizes of spoons, right? You know the larger one? Use that as measuring stick. Take one heaping spoon of sour cream and blend it with three heaps of mayo. To this add about 12 cranks of black pepper, a tablespoon of white wine vinegar, a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce, and a pinch of salt. Stir to combine. Now break in a wedge of blue cheese roughly equivalent in size to the door stopper at your elementary school. I like the dressing to be chunky. Stir and let the flavors come together for about an hour.

Place slices of tomato on a plate, top with blue cheese. Toss romaine in a touch of olive oil, then stack on plate and top with more blue cheese. More cracked black pepper is always welcome.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Say It Ain't So, Picolo

Yesterday, Peter pondered what had we lost and gained post-Katrina. Unfortunately today's post is not as uplifting. On Sunday twitterumors leaked that The Bistro at the Maison de Ville had closed for good. The restaurant's website and voicemail says the restaurant is "closed for vacation and renovation." Chef/Owner Greg Picolo responded to a request for a comment with, "We are closed 4 vacation til mid sept. When we will asses reopening possibilities.  will keep u posted. thx.' (sic)

Reopening possibilities? That doesn't sound good. Should the Bistro not reopen this is a sad loss for a variety of reasons. First, the Bistro had been for most of its history a wonderful training camp for some of New Orleans best known chefs. People like Susan Spicer, Daniel Bonnot and more had cooked and earned their chops from that tiny kitchen. There is a sense that dining there is like dining nowhere else in the world.

For years, Greg Picolo has operated the restaurant with his unique take on French Bistro classics. One could spend a mighty fine afternoon hiding in the red leathered banquettes surrounded by mirrors and dark woods, drinking ice cold martinis, and spreading pate over hot, crusty loaves of French bread. Throw in some wines and well, the place had a way of making New Orleans seem like the greatest kept secret in the world. The Bistro, as everyone called it, was a remarkable spot because it combined the devoted patronage of a tony club with the "everyone is welcome" recruitment drive of a cult.

The Bistro also gave birth to the Krewe of Cork. Back when Patrick van Hoorebeck spent his time as the maitre' d of the restaurant, a group of regulars got the itch after a hearty wine soaked meal to parade around the quarter. Eleven years later the Krewe of Cork is a thriving Mardi Gras tradition and just another example of the influence of restaurants on this city.

Here's to hoping it comes back right soon. But if not, if The Bistro has indeed closed, it is time to find a new spot for Friday lunches.

PS The photo above is the only remaining evidence, besides a credit card, receipt of a lunch on the Friday before Christmas in 2010. If you look really closely you can see Bloggle yelling at someone, anyone, everyone.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Six Years Later

A few weeks ago we shared a few pints with Todd Price in preparation for the food panel at Rising Tide. Our discussion mostly focused on post-Katrina life - which restaurants came back first, why food was instrumental in the recovery, what new restaurants and food purveyors were birthed after the storm, etc. But then someone stopped and asked, "Well, we know what is here now that wasn't here before Katrina. What about the places that were lost and never came back?"

To be honest, we had a tough time remembering.

There was Barrow's, home of the best fried catfish in Orleans parish. Gerard Crozier abandoned his relatively new Chateaubriand, which was the best steakhouse in the city. Christian's probably was the best overall and is the most missed restaurant to be lost because of Katrina. La Cuisine was off our radar because neither of us had begun to collect social security before August 29, 2005. You probably already know about the well documented plight of Gabrielle. Mandich and La Riviera never returned. Neither did Cobalt. There were certainly others that we are forgetting to mention.

Last year during the lead up to the 5 year anniversary of the levee failure, we counted down the Top 20 Post-Katrina additions to the New Orleans food and drink scene. In light of our retrospective review of what was lost, the next question is obvious:

Is the New Orleans culinary scene better now than it was before August 29, 2005?

In our opinion, yes. Katrina brought both devastation and opportunity to the New Orleans dining community. Looking back six years later, our recovery shows that the chefs and restaurateurs endured through the former, which allowed them to seize the latter. Granted, several of the city's top restaurants - Stella, August, Gautreau's - were there before and are still here after the storm. But think about the young chefs who have made their mark at places like Patois, Coquette, Domenica, and Rue 127. And then there are the more established chefs who expanded their reach - Adolfo Garcia, Susan Spicer, and Donald Link to name a few.

We will never forget our favorite restaurants of the past. But six years of perspective shows us that the state of the New Orleans restaurant scene is strong and perhaps better than ever.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Rising Tide

Tomorrow will be the last football free Saturday until January. (It's about damn time.) Beginning in one week, your Saturday will likely be overtaken by listening to Kirk Herbstreit talk about Ohio State winning the BCS, consuming massive quantities of bourbon from a plastic flask, and deciphering how Les Miles used "want" as both a verb and a noun in the same sentence during his halftime interview with Erin Andrews.

So how do you spend your final Saturday devoid of the pigskin? Why, by attending an intellectually stimulating conference on post-Katrina New Orleans, of course.

Or you could just listen to Todd Price, Chris DeBarr, Adolfo Garcia, Alex Del Castillo, and Rene rant and ramble on for an hour about the current food culture of New Orleans.

You can catch this cast of characters live and in living color at Rising Tide VI, "an annual gathering for all who wish to learn more and do more to assist New Orleans' recovery. It's for everyone who loves New Orleans and is working to bring a better future to all its residents." Blackened Out is honored that we were asked to participate in and contribute to such a noble cause.* For more on the history of Rising Tide, click here.

The event kicks off tonight with a party at Tracey's and then continues tomorrow with a day long of speakers and panel discussions at Xavier's University Center. Tickets are $30 and can be purchased online.

Have a great weekend.

*I will be unable to attend due to an Outlook calendar malfunction.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

New Kids on the Bagel

We all have routines. One of my favorite routines occurs on Saturday and Sunday morning. The hounds, Penelope pictured above, are walked around parks - City on Saturdays, Audubon on Sundays. Afterwards, there is coffee and paper reading time blocked out. I am told by people all the time, "This is what happens when you don't have kids." Guilty as charged.

Well, last weekend the routine got a new wrinkle in the form of the bright, cheery, and delicious Artz Bagelz. The location of which requires a bit of explanation. You know the Design Within Reach Store on Magazine, where the prices are mainly Out of Reach? Ok if you are looking at the front of the building, go to your left, walk up Ninth Street about half a block and you will run into Artz.

Inside you will find a decor that is filled with childlike evocations of the bagel with frosted lamp shades and colorful circles on the wall. You place your order at the counter and wait for name to be called. First time we went, it was an Uptown for Lindsay which came with lox, cream cheese, tomato and capers on a regular bagel. I got the Asiago with a garlic herb schmear. Next day, Lindsay got a salt with veggie while I remained true to my first bagel love.

Admittedly my exposure to the bagel community is fairly limited to Lenders and the always cold, dry wheels served at CLEs and other hotel functions. These bagels have a hard crust which gives way easily to pressure and a soft, chewy interior. They are pretty amazing from where I sit. One thing, Artz could do better is improve their coffee service and add some papers. They do that, and I'll be looking for a new park near Artz to walk the hounds in no time.

Artz Bagels - Birdie
3138 Magazine St.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


Rene: Pale gold in color. Get some crisp apple flavors at first glance. Don't get the bread aromas that mark a blanc de blancs, could be a blanc de noirs, which is not my preference in Champagnes. Very fine bubbles, but a little too sweet for me. Although I generally like a touch of sweetness in white wines, I like champagnes to be very bone dry. The sweetness needs something brassy to play against. Which brings to mind the lamb sliders from Three Muses with tomato chutney and herbed goat cheese. The feta fries from there also would do just fine as well.

Peter: Yeasty bouquet. Flavor profile is very dry. I would not call this a refreshing Champagne. I know that I have played this card before, but this would make for a great kir royale, the creme de cassis adding a welcome sweetener. A simple cold appetizer would do well - the crabmeat maison at Galatoire's or the the Plateau de Fruits de Mer at Luke.

Joe the Wine Guy: Most Champagnes are house blends, meaning different vintages are blended to create a house's signature style. Every now and then, when there is an exceptional year, the Champagne houses declare a vintage year - and bottle a champagne with grapes specifically from that vintage. Such is the case with this 2002 Veuve Clicquot which is made up of 60% Pinot Noir, 7% Pinot Meunier, and 33% Chardonnay. The nose is open, pure, and complex, with a mineral flavor and flowery notes of Acacia, yellow fleshed fruit and pastries (brioche, marzipan). These give way to delicately spiced aromas, followed by elegant notes of licorice and high-bred teas. On the palate, the wine has fruity and floral notes, mineral and spice tones, and menthol and toast flavors. Try it with bass tartare, poached turbot served on fresh pasta, or cappuccino of Bresse chicken with candied fruits. Keen devotees will enjoy it as an aperitif for very special occasions. You can find it at Ralph's on the Park and Martin Wine Cellar, where it retails for $79.99.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


Michael Stoltzfus came to New Orleans from Maryland to work at John Besh's August. Not long after,  he and then girlfriend now fiancee, Lillian Hubbard opened Coquette on the corner of Washington and Magazine in December of 2008. Within a few months they had Four Beans from the Times Pic and the restaurant was well on its way to joining the roster of restaurants one has to eat at in New Orleans. In December, Stoltzfus will open his second eatery, Sweet Olive in The Saint Hotel. Let's put twentyish questions on the clock and get to know Michael Stoltzfus.

I was about to go to college and my mom opened a bakery. She said, "why don't you work here for a few weeks before school starts?" I never left for college. Started cooking breakfast and lunch in the back of the bakery. Got an Alain Ducasse book and just taught myself from there.

While I was working at my mom's in the morning, I was spending nights working at a fine dining restaurant in Chestertown, Maryland. Then I went to work at Julia's, probably the best restaurant at that time in Maryland. At Julia's I worked every position in restaurant- waiter, cook, manager- save bartender. After that, I went to work at August. Stayed there for a year and a half before this opportunity fell in our laps.

Losing all my money (laughs). Actually the thing I was most afraid of was not being able to cook. When you work for someone else, there is always a way to do things. Their vision, their recipe are what you use. I was afraid that I wasn't going to be able to cook food that was any good. When we opened, we had no idea what was going on with national economy. Luckily, Louisiana was pretty recession proof at that time. We were steady for the first five months, and then Brett Anderson reviewed us, and we took off from there. We had no idea he had been in, no idea we were on anyone's radar, and then the Times Picayune called to do a photo shoot for a review. We were shocked.

My approach to food has changed a lot. When we first opened, I was trying to emulate the cooking of the people I had learned from and so there was a heavy Besh presence to my food. In a way this was detrimental to my growth as a chef. A few years ago, something switched and my cooks and I started focusing our menu on what we would like to eat. How would we like to eat this ingredient. My cooks create more than I do now and in the last year we really started to focus on local products and purveyors. I'd say right now we get 80% of our produce locally and hopefully with Sweet Olive we will get that number to 100%.

I've become much more laid back recently. My biggest kitchen pet peeve is probably watching a cook turn a burner on high and try to cook something. The only time a burner should ever be on high in a kitchen is when you are trying to boil water. One of the most important aspects to cooking is controlling your heat and you can't do that on high. Also, I need a really clean kitchen. But all chefs are like that.

I love making bread. Making bread everyday for the restaurant can be monotonous, but there is nothing more rewarding than baking bread. What is funny is that at my mom's bakery, I never baked anything. Now I bake 60-70 loaves a day. Pulling a loaf of bread out of the oven is super rewarding. It is just flour, water, and yeast, but what comes out is so much more.

Hardest part of opening the restaurant was that neither Lillian nor I had any business background whatsoever. We had no idea of what we were getting ourselves into. I learned I was halfway decent at business things.

The French Laundry Cookbook- It is sort of the template of most cooks for the last 10 years or so, but I really love that book. Bread Baker's Apprentice. The Gift of Southern Cooking by Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock's. And I really like the NOMA cookbook, because it is so different and revolutionary. His emphasis on foraging and cooking ingredients I've never heard of is so different, it is really cool.

These days my favorite kitchen tool is my Sharpie. But always the knife. I use an 8 inch Misono chef's knife for just about everything.

Had a cook on maybe his third day. Right before service on a busy Friday night there was a huge stock pot on a table by the dishwasher's station. The leg of the table gave out and the cook rushed over to save the stock. 15 gallons of near boiling hot stock went everywhere including all over him. That was a pretty gruesome thing to see.

The food at Sweet Olive is going to be updated versions of New Orleans and Southern food classics. We are going to take a similar approach there that we do at Coquette and have a good time with the food. I've been obsessed with collard greens lately. One idea has us cooking whole leaf collards sous vide, then treating it like a grape leaf and wrapping it around boudin. We are also going to do bar food for the bar, a really great Continental breakfast, and maybe a tiki bar themed rooftop bar. We've got 3-4 months to put together the menu; when we opened Coquette we did not have that luxury.

I get really nervous cooking for people, especially chefs. Cooks all have different approaches to foods, so I am always nervous when I serve a chef he is thinking, "This is not what I would have done." I'd probably just want to cook for friends and family mostly. I love when people come in and I can cook on the fly, just make new things with the ingredients we have in our kitchen. If I spend weeks on a new menu, it is invariably crap. But if I just throw something together it is always great. Desperation plays a critical role in this kitchen.

When not in my restaurant, I like to eat. I eat out a lot. When we first opened, we ate out whenever we could, in order to scope out the competition. But now we do it because we love to eat.

Most memorable meal was at Babbo. We had gone to New York to eat. One night we ate at Corton, Paul Liebrandt's restaurant. While the food was good, it was nothing special. You could tell that a lot of time had been put into each dish, but it was just lacking. Plus it was a very expensive meal. The next night we went to Babbo and did the pasta tasting for like $60. Everything was so simple, but so well done. The sommelier waited on us and halfway through switched pairings to grappa, there was rock music in the background, just a great meal.

Mike Gulotta of August, probably. He taught me how to make food taste good and how to run a kitchen.

Truffle oil, but thankfully that is going away anyway. I can't stand the stuff and will never use it here. That is disgusting stuff. And of course, I wish restaurants would get away from commodity meats and the like. I am not preachy about it, don't plaster farms all over the menu, but that is really important to me. As cooks we have a duty to our customers to give them healthy food- not just for their bodies but for the environment also.

Right now, I am really being influenced by Spanish and Vietnamese flavors and cooking. One of my cook's is from Miami and so he has a huge love of Spanish cooking. Another one of my cooks is absolutely obsessed with all things Vietnamese. Eventually I'd like to have a really casual spot that just serves awesome food without worrying about plating or dining rooms. I cook to make people happy and casual food does that better than anything else.

Usually the last thing I want to do when I get home is cook. Lillian is an excellent cook, so usually she has something ready. If not, I like to grill. The other day picked up some boudin stuffed quail from Butcher and threw those on the grill. If nothing to grill, Lillian hasn't cooked anything, and nothing in fridge, I just eat almonds.

La Boca is my favorite restaurant in the city. There is absolutely no pretension there. I love that they can serve me an appetizer that is just a piece of sausage and an entree that is just a piece of meat. Lillian is an occasional vegan, but even she loves La Boca. Adolfo thinks I am stalking him because I go to a lot of his restaurants and he is always there. Nine Roses, we go here pretty much every Sunday night in the winter. Horinoya is the only good sushi I've found in the city and their service is incredible. And Butcher, that place is an anomaly. Every time I go in there, it gets better and better. I love Butcher.

On a deserted island, I would need sparkling water. I go through 3 liters of the stuff a day. Something to dip ranch into, along with ranch dressing. Marconna almonds and crispy pig ear. We fry it up to order at the restaurant, and there is always a few bits for me to snack on. I figure I eat pig ear all night. Probably not healthy but hey it is good.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Dueling Bloggers: The Past, Present, & Future of Fine Dining

Photo courtesy of Listverse.
Peter - I think fine dining is slowly losing ground and will never catch back up. Gone are the days when people were willing to pay higher prices for "luxuries" like white table cloths and a dedicated bus boy to refill your water glass after every sip. No one wants to pay $160 for a bottle of California cabernet to pair with a ribeye when they can find the same bottle for $50 on Vinfolio, pickup the same cut of beef from Rare Cuts and throw it on the Big Green Egg at home. Granted, diners will always be willing to pay for food which they lack the tools and culinary skills to cook for themselves. But as every chef authors a cookbook and hosts his or her own TV show, Joe Q. Foodie learns a little bit more about cooking and loses a little more interest in dining out.

Rene - This is one of those paradoxes that are really enigmas wrapped in puzzles. As people get more knowledgeable about food, their desire to eat out and experience more types of foods increases. They pick up the New York Times and read about a chef in Brooklyn or a restaurant in Salinas, California and say, "Man I want to check that out." As far as I know the French Laundry or Daniel still have full reservation sheets night in, night out. While the proof is certainly out there that casual dining has supplanted fine dining in terms of sheer numbers of restaurants, if the economy picks back up, I think we will see a return of special event/fine dining. It is like that commercial for New York Life; "There will always be weddings, always be births..." When people want to celebrate milestones, a casual place with linoleum on the floors and the chef's meatloaf will not fit the mood.

Peter - I agree that things are cyclical and things will pickup as soon as the Dow does. But I also think that there is going to be a polarization of the dining scene. Consider that a high number of food fanatics are young people who make decent money but their incomes are not high enough to afford a regular meal at Stella! or Gautreau's, so instead they gravitate toward spots like Boucherie and Green Goddess and Cowbell where you can enjoy higher level cuisine in a lower level environment. Now, common wisdom will tell you that eventually these young people will grow up, have children, and hopefully make more money. But they will also have less time. So what I foresee is that large group of people then shifting away from spreading there minimal amount of dollars across a greater number of meals, to a higher amount of dollars across a lower number of meals.

Rene - According to Scott Boswell the more he makes Stella! a fine dining destination (by removing seats to serve less people, increasing cooks, upping the crystal budgets, etc...) the more revenue it brings in to the restaurant. Everyone right now is zigging towards casual, so those who are zagging stand out. People still will occasionally crave an indulgent or at least attentive evening out. About your young people, the question is when people do have the time to go out to eat what is the occasion. For instance, if you are taking a client or business contact out to dinner. Are you going to go to a Cowbell or an Herbsaint? Get a babysitter one night a month, are you going to waste that on pizza or spend that time on a pampering meal? Look I think it is great that I can go to a chef run, casual restaurant and have solid food. But a few weeks ago, Lindsay and I went to Domenica, had a great meal, some apps, a bottle of wine, a dessert. Bill with tax and tip came to $200. That is a little steep for "casual."

Peter - Special occasions will always mandate stepping up your game, but how many of those occasions occur every year? As for the proliferation of casual, chef-run restaurants, I think those are economic considerations rather than a signal of a shifting dynamic. Butcher and Tru Burger and Ancora are just a piece of the respective empires of Link, Burgau, and Garcia.  Those chefs did not need to open those restaurants to survive. But they certainly enjoy the supplemental income that those restaurants provide, and expansion allows for new opportunities for young chefs without a waterfall of responsibility. Plus, I think people will always enjoy and be able to afford a burger, pizza, or pulled pork sandwich.

Rene - Of course, economically it makes sense to downshift for those chefs in this economy. First of all, it is a way to reward members of their companies by installing them as chef-partners or managers. Second of all, they help support the motherships, which as a general rule lose money. It is a well-unkept secret that el Bulli lost money. If we ever get out of this malaise, the non-restaurant group affiliated casual restaurants may find it hard to get by as people look for dining to be special again. I have nothing with casual spots, but I find that I want something more from dining than the majority of new restaurants are opening can give me. I want a tablecoth every now and then. I want a waitstaff whose wardrobe isnt't designed by American Apparel. I want a plate of food that I can't make at home. I want more from restaurants. I want fine dining to start trending again. 

Friday, August 19, 2011

Champagne Brunch

That is a blackberry and ricotta pancake with powdered sugar and honey. And below is a bottle of Champagne.

And that is all. Have a good weekend.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Short Order Reviews: Jefferson Parish Edition

In today's short order reviews, we head into Jefferson Parish to see what's cooking on the other side of the 17th Street Canal.

Caretta's - Everytime I walk into this place, I just feel like part of the herd being pushed toward the food trough. But to be honest, the food is not horrendous. Cheese enchiladas are entirely serviceable; I prefer the red sauce instead of the verde version. The accompanying grilled flank steak surprisingly resembled beef more so than shoe leather. White queso is thin in consistency and flavor. The rice is fair enough, but the beans too runny in consistency. Plain and simple, there are about 50 other Mexican places that I would opt for instead. But what The Folk Singer wants, she gets.

Caretta's Grill - Bogie
2320 Veterans Blvd.
(504) 837-6696
Lunch & Dinner Tue-Sat

Mr. Gyro's - Before the proliferation of Lebanese restaurants in the city, Mr. Gyros was one of the few choices for its namesake dish. The building has minimal creature comforts or ambience; the most exciting part of the service is the flaming kasseri cheese on the bar and the accompanying "Opa!" shouted by the server. Grape leaves - short, stubby, and dense with rice and ground beef - were the best dish we tried but even those were nothing special. Thin pucks of falafel were hard on the outside, dry and brittle on the inside. Grecian Pizza uses soft, thick pita as the base with tomato sauce, gyro meat, peppers, onions, and melted mozzarella. I have no idea why I ordered that. The taste is what you would expect, but that's not to say that the flavors came together well. Nothing that a few spoonfuls of tzaziki can't fix though.

Mr. Gyros - Bogie
3620 N. Causeway Blvd.
(504) 833-9228
Lunch & Dinner Mon-Sat

Harbor Seafood - I have heard and read about lots of high praise for this neighborhood café whose fame is built upon fresh seafood borrowed from the attached Fisherman's Cove market next door.  The small, narrow dining room is no frills. Seafood gumbo has a thick, tan base that has the consistency of a stew. It’s loaded with baby shrimp and a handful of oysters perfectly poached. Different, but good. Onion rings are tall and coated with a simple batter which cracks and sometimes falls off with each crunchy bite. The specials menu boasts all of the fresh fish of the day, all of which you can order fried, blackened, or grilled. Cobia was a thin, fresh filet that was disappointingly small. Plate included rice topped with shrimp étouffée (not very flavorful) and corn on the cob straight from a spicy seafood boil.

Everything tasted fresh, but I still left feeling that the food fell below my expectations. The Folk Singer says that my palate has become "too sophisticated" to appreciate neighborhood restaurants like this. But I love Sammy’s on Elysian Fields, so what gives?

Harbor Seafood - Par
3203 Williams Blvd.
(504) 443-6454
Lunch & Dinner 7 Days

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Cooking with Wine

Can't stop cooking pork. Won't stop cooking pork. This week's mashup with Mad Max paired simple smoked ribs with the knockout good 2009 Headbanger Zinfandel made by Paul Hoffman. Hoffman, that guy above standing next to the con artist formerly known as Bloggle, makes a variety of wines that are approachable, affordable quaffers. This deep, dark, and delicious zin has lots of juicy acidity. Aromas of fresh baked berry pie, rose petals, and cinnamon give way to cherry cola, cedar, and cocoa.  It sells for under $20 (a steal since you asked me) and you can find it at Mondo, Brigtsen's, Ruffino, Theo's, and Whole Foods.

Zinfandel naturally sets off an alarm for pasta all' Amatriciana. That rich, smoky, bacony, spicy sauce that is marinara's hotter cousin that you got to second base with on that one summer night. Or at least that you told your friends you did. But we are trying to cut back on carbs on the home front so the next most logical thing was barbecue ribs. Not only did it work, it did what wine and food pairings are supposed to do, namely compliment each other. The spice and smoke from the ribs was matched by the heft and acidity of the wine. Coincidentally, in that photo Hoffman is holding a bottle of said wine. #1 wine related commentator Meghan ought to be stoked.

Headbanging Baby Back Ribs

1 Rack of Baby Back Ribs
Rub of your choice but the one I make has lots of spicy, smoked Hungarian paprika, dried lemon peel, salt, brown sugar, oregano, cayenne, garlic and onion powder.

Remove the insane in the membrane from the back of the baby backs. Sprinkle rub liberally over both sides of ribs and massage it into the meat. Let sit at room temperature for an hour or so. Meanwhile get a smoker or charcoal grill ready. I like to smoke at 250 degrees for about two hours. You can use whatever wood you like, but I find pecan to be the proverbial bomb, as the kids used to say.

After two hours, place rack on foil, douse with apple juice or even apple cider vinegar, and wrap in foil. Back on the grill for another hour. If you have some of that bbq sauce from last week's rambling post, use it. But you won't need much.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

American Ethnic

I can't explain why, but last Friday before settling in to watch the Saints game, tacos were on my mind. Mind you, I am not talking about the tacos of Post Katrina New Orleans. Not the hodgepodge of delicious tongue, chewy tripe, and gelatinous cheek folded into two corn tortillas and topped with a sprinkle of onions and cilantro served out of a trailer on Claiborne Ave. But old school, ground beef mixed with taco seasoning and served in a hard shell with sour cream, shredded cheese of dubious dairy authenticity, and ribbons of lettuce.

Where do these cravings come from? I peed on a stick, not pregnant, so it must be something else. Could it be a deep rooted connection to simpler, less adventurous version of ethnic foods. Face it, often the first introduction to another country's cuisine is in the form of something that does not really resemble their cuisine. Chinese- egg rolls, egg drop soup, boneless fried chicken; Mexican - tacos and quesadillas so overloaded with melting cheese they could give Paula Deen cause for concern; Italian- Big floppy pizzas and meatballs the size of your head. These foods are not generally the foods of any country, much less theirs. Rather they are American interpretations of ethnic dishes, which on their own can be very good.

Take for example this simple story. The immigrant waves into America (first Irish, then Central and Southern Europe, Chinese, South Asian, Latin American) have usually included a high percentage of poor people. When those people arrived and found an enclave of countrymen, they set about to preparing the dishes they were used to cooking back home. Looking around, they found meat, vegetables, dairy, and other products which may have been special event foods at home, abundant, available, and affordable. Coupled with wages they were receiving, rather than working the fields, they began adapting their cooking to reflect the bounty of America.

Now in an odd twist of fate, the "authentic" foods of their country's cuisines - the pig trotters, sheep intestines, calf brains, and wild weeds - are all the rage. But are we missing something? The cuisines that were recreated and reinvented by immigrants in America have value. Not only that but I bet an anthropologist could write a thesis about how one can track immigrant culture assimilation into the broader context of American culture by the mainstream adoption, and adaptation, of its food by other Americans.

American Ethnic food express a specific cultural tradition. A more American version of their country's traditions, but an expression nonetheless. Really at the end of the day culture is nothing more than an expression, a declaration of this is who we are, and this is what we are about. I distinctly remember a conversation with a chef in New Orleans when I asked him what he was most proud about. His answer was not the awards he has won or the restaurants he has opened. "The day I became an American Citizen," he said.

Aren't those an American Ethnic a generalized way of an immigrant culture saying, "We are American Citizens?"

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Heat Is On

Look, I understand that we live in a man-made concrete jungle in the middle of a swamp, but the heat lately has just been ridiculous. I appreciate this morning's gift of a taste of fall, but unfortunately I realize that the previews start at least a month or two before the premiere.

I was at the farmers market on Saturday morning for a total of 15 seconds before my shirt looked like it had been sprayed down with a gardening hose. You take one step outside of your air conditioned comfort zone, and it's like your entire body is instantaneously covered in one of those hot towels that the server hands you when you sit down at a sushi restaurant. Living downtown and having the luxury of walking to work has been transformed to a game of cat and mouse between finding the shadiest route and timing your departure so as to avoid having to wait for the crosswalk signal.

The Folk Singer has resigned to driving to work. We live three blocks from her office.

This August has almost sucked all of the enjoyment out of eating. I was craving a po-boy over the weekend, but knocking out a hot sausage po-boy from Parkway I had to take an ice bath for 3 hours just to get my core body temperature back down to 98.6. Firing up the grill outside is like paying russian roulette unless you have grilling tongs which stretch from your kitchen window out to the old Weber. Turning the oven on just seems completely counter intuitive considering that your primary goal is to keep your house as cool as possible. It's too bad that braised dishes are out of the question because you could cook osso buco simply by throwing a few veal shanks, tomato, and wine in a dutch oven and leaving it on the front porch while you are at work.

But all hope is not lost for culinary delight in the land of the 110 heat index. Here is a list of my favorite foods that help stave off the summer:

  • Cold Soups - Gazpacho is the most well known (and rumor has it that Coquette's version is one of the best in town). At last week's Tuesday market at Tulane Square, I had an amazingly refreshing and flavorful vichychoisse served up by La Divina under the Green Plate Special tent. On the menu this week is a chilled cucumber soup with housemade creme fraiche and dill that sounds equally delightful.
  • Pate, Cheese, & Olives - And wine of course, and maybe a loaf of bread. St. James Cheese Company is an obvious choice, but don't forget about the affettati misti at Domenica or the long list of offerings at the Delachaise.  Or stop by Butcher and build your own.
  • Sushi - I won't open that can of worms again by telling you where to go, but let's just say that I have ejoyed a few strong meals at Horinoya over the past few weeks.
  • Cold Crabmeat & Shrimp - Nothing wrong with a generous portion of shrimp remoulade or crabmeat maison over mixed greens with maybe a few slices of avocado or hearts of palm. I'm partial to the chilled roasted beets topped with crabmeat in a horseradish emulsion at La Petite Grocery.
Or you copy my dinner from last night by skipping dinner and knocking out a pint of mascarpone and lemon zest ice cream from the Creole Creamery.

What are your favorite foods that help beat the heat?

Friday, August 12, 2011

Weekend Roundup

Tonight we get our first on the field look at the Black & Gold, but even if pre-season NFL football doesn't make your weekend fun list, there are still plenty of ways to fill up your calendar.

Tonight from 5:00 till 6:00, Le Meritage will host its free "Summer of Wine Forum" where Sommelier Kevin Durand leads an educational and interactive tasting of wines. This week's theme: Off the Wall Whites.

Tomorrow the French Quarter fun continues with the 10th Annual Dirty Linen Night when the galleries and shops along Royal Street open up their doors for both shopping and general revelry. When the clock strikes 10:00, head on over to the official Dirty Linen Night After Party at the Royal House, where you can taste the official Dirty Linen Night martini, the competition for which was judged by Rene, the arbiter of all things dirty.

Finally, on Sunday, Swirl Wine Bar & Market and A Mano partner up to present "Un Assigio di Campagnia", a walk around tasting featuring 15 different bubblies, whites, reds and roses paired with dishes from the Campagna region in Southern Italy. All wines can be special ordered at the end of the event at a discounted price. The price is $50 all inclusive and prepayment is required to book your spot. Call 504-0635 for reservations.

Have a good weekend.

Thursday, August 11, 2011


Considering the impact that Emeril Lagasse has had on the New Orleans dining scene, Blackened Out has directed an impressively low amount of attention to the food at his three restaurants in the city. And by "an impressively low amount" I mean "none."

Have we locals shunned one of our homegrown talents simply because it's become vogue to hate on TV stars who "aren't real chefs"? Nevermind that Emeril started at the bottom, built his empire from nothing, and was one of the forerunners of the Food Network before pinky rings ruled the world. (For more discussion on this topic, read this.) But I hardly ever hear anyone recommend - much less talk about - any of Emeril's restaurants. And I spend a lot of time talking with people about restaurants.

The rub on NOLA has always been that it's training ground for the next generation of Emeril employees. As the story goes, the multi-level, atriumesque restaurant on St. Louis Street is where new recipes are tested and where cooks and managers make their bones. But every dish and every general manager has to start somewhere, so why not here?

The focus of the downstairs dining room is the wood burning oven, from which comes the above pictured duck confit and fried egg pizza, whose soft, bready crust has the texture of naan. The same dough is used to bake pocket bread drizzled with garlic oil and showered with grated parm. The most well known starter at NOLA is Miss Hay's stuffed chicken wings, and rightfully so. A trio of chicken wings are deboned, stuffed with ground ground pork and green onions, and then deep fried. Legend has it that when Miss Hay makes her yearly pilgrimage back to Vietnam, the restaurant is without wings for 4 weeks.

An interesting addition to the regular menu this summer is the "On the Road" daily specials, which feature ingredients from local purveyors. Two weeks ago, the salad course was a tangle arugula scattered with a dice of roasted beets from Covey Rise Farms and nubs of goat cheese from Belle Ecorce in St. Martinville. In the appetizer round, soft, pillow-like gnocchi were matched with a sautee of crawfish tails and woodsy mushrooms that was unfortunately too greasy.

Entree choices include enough bells and whistles to excite (maybe one too many on each dish) but are not so far out of reach as to alienate picky eaters. Hickory-roasted duck pulled easily off the bone, but the caveman pork chop had been left on the grill for about 45 seconds too long. The accompanying brown sugar glazed sweet potatoes were the standout component of the latter dish; a shining beacon of hope in the face of mashed sweet potatoes which bring back haunting memories of the sugar buster days. A filet mignon (above) looks and sounds impressive with a pile of melting Maytag blue cheese and crown of fried shallots, but the quality of the beef itself was disappointing. I would have opted instead for the ribeye with patatas bravas and chimichurri, but what The Folk Singer wants The Folk Singer gets.

My favorite seat in the restaurant is at the food bar in front of the wood burning oven, where one can watch the loaves of pocket bread rise before your very eyes. This station also produces my favorite entree - the garlic crusted drum served atop a mixture of brabant potatoes and haricot verts in a pool of lemony sauce rouge. There is one problem with sitting at the food bar though: You are forced to watch the chef heap ungodly amounts of compound butter atop each filet of fish that goes in the oven. Now in my defense, I did not notice this cooking method until after I had placed my order. But once I did, it was like I could watch myself getting fatter in the reflection of the mountain of butter melting away with each flicker of the flame. But my God does that fish taste good.

In order to avoid a coronary, I passed up dessert on my last meal here. But I have had success with warm ooey gooey cake (which is chocolate), drunken monkey ice cream, and peanut butter cheesecake. On the other hand, a pecan pie with the shape and consistency of a cylindrical brownie was overcooked and dry around the edges.

Granted, the food at NOLA is neither avant garde nor as well executed as some of the other restaurants in the city at this price point. The waiters may not be brushed up on the wine list (which, by the way, is extensive and has a few hidden values if you look long enough), but each one has always been wearing a smile and keeps my bread plate full with jalapeno cornbread and onion focaccia. Like the waitstaff, the crowd tends to the younger side, which makes for a livelier dining room.

Call me crazy, I actually like the place.

NOLA Restaurant - Par/Birdie
534 St. Louis Street
Dinner 7 Days; Lunch: Thur-Sun

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


Peter: Stuck your nose in the glass and you smell a fruit bomb ready to explode. The flavor is much softer on the palate. This is a very drinkable red wine, hardly any spice. Would go great with the veal cheeks and gnocchi on the lunch menu at Lilette. That is if I drank during lunch - which I don't.

Rene: There is a deep, woodsy aroma on the nose like breathing in a pine forest. I get a lot of spice at first and then red fruits, cherries, raspberries, and the like. This would be near perfect with the fat ribeye at Mr. John's alongside the potatoes au gratin, which as the best classic steakhouse in town could use a little bit better of a wine list.

Joe the Wine Guy: The Terrazas Cheval des Andes is a collaboration among the winemakers from Pierre Lurton, Cheval Blanc, Chateau d'Yquem, Roberto de la Mota, and Terrazas de Los Andes. The wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, and Petit Verdot and is deep black cherry in color. First aromas are of dried apricots and flowers, warm tobacco scents, red berries macerated in brandy, cherry stones and house made jam, together with cedar-wood, bay leaves, and chocolate. On the palate, the wine is warm and nuanced, with fresh minerals, black currant, spices, and almond. Sweet tannins mingle with a long and elegant finish. Available by special request at Martin Wine Cellar and Wine Seller, this wine retails for $79.99 a bottle.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

BBQ Caponata

Lindsay went up to Baton Rouge on Sunday. As is often the case when left alone at home, I spent most of the day puttering around the kitchen. First task was to bake French batards from Peter Reinhart's bread book I picked up last week. Overall, a success but with after some fine tuning and practice it may be time to open Most Valuable Bakery.

Around two o'clock in the afternoon the urge to barbecue took over or more accurately something to dip into barbecue sauce. Ribs soon were on the grill and the makings of a hybrid tomato/vinegar sauce on the stove. After an hour of simmering on the stove, I strained the mixture- chock full of bits of tomato, Anaheim peppers, onion, and garlic, and noticed that what remained in the strainer looked eerily similar to caponata. Caponata, for those unfamiliar, is an eggplant relish basically, meant to be eaten cold smeared on top of bread. It is usually salty, acidic, slightly bitter and just a touch of sweetness, making it the perfect appetizer.

Curiosity getting the better of me, I stuck a spoon into the mixture and took a bite. Delicious. The tomatoes, onions, and peppers had become almost jam like (in fact that is basically what happened) while the acid from the vinegar helped counteract the sweetness. I added a touch of bacon and Worcestershire Sauce which helped bring the smoky flavors so welcome in barbecue into the sauce and relish. And the barbecue sauce wasn't half bad either.

BBQ Caponata and Sauce

1 small can of whole tomatoes, crushed with stem ends removed, and juice preserved
1/4 cup of red wine vinegar
1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar
1 yellow onion, minced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 Serrano pepper, stemmed, seeded, and chopped
3 tablespoons of ketchup
1 tablespoon of whole grain mustard
1 strip of bacon cut into a medium dice
1 teaspoon red chili flake
3 teaspoons honey
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon of Worcestershire Sauce

In a sauce pan, add the bacon and render on medium low heat. Once crispy, add in the onion, Serrano, and garlic and cook until soft and just starting to color. Then add in the ketchup and mustard and let it cook until sticky. Now add in the tomatoes and their juice, vinegars, the chili flake, the honey, brown sugar, and Worcestershire. Bring to a simmer and cook uncovered for 45 minutes. Taste, adjust seasoning. Probably needs a bit of salt.

Strain through a fine mesh strainer. In the bowl under the strainer you have barbecue sauce. In the strainer you have caponata. Find some Ritz Crackers, a cold beer, and enjoy.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Baby, Its Hot Outside

In honor of Mr. Armstrong's birthday this week and Satchmo Fest this weekend, here is our review of Hansen's Sno-Bliz in this month's offBEAT Magazine.

Did we really just embed a video, successfully? This calls for a celebration. Simple question, leave your answer in comment. What is either your favorite Hansen's flavor or the most unique combination of flavors you have ever tried. Enjoy the heat and the humidity this weekend, folks.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Club 209 Martini

Let's start with an off color joke shall we?

Why didn't Stalin drink Gin?

It made him mean.

Gin and champagne are two of the more falsely accused alcohols in the ethanol world. "Man, I don't drink champagne, gives me a headache" or "Gin makes me do stupid stuff" are constant refrains. Notice I didn't include tequila. Tequila is a criminal, and whether or not it is guilty of any particular crime, it is guilty of something.

Gin's best expression is in the martini. I'll grant you an afternoon of gin and tonics is no slouch either, but really a martini just feels better. Plus, rarely if ever is there a pair of gin soaked olives at the bottom of a gin and tonic. If there is, it is time to find a new bartender. My liquor cabinet at home has around four or five gins at any one time, each having there own purpose. Hendrix comes out when there is cucumber in the house, Seagram's for gin buckets in the fall, and so on and so forth. But suddenly a sultry, domestic gin walked in the door and she seems to be taking over. Her name even evokes the code riddled world of James Bond, No. 209 Gin.

Distilled in San Francisco, I first ran into No. 209 at Tales of the Cocktail. There were a few bottles in the media room and I grabbed one or fifteen. I went home and poured the gin into a glass and immediately sensed this was unlike any other gin I'd tried. Intensely floral and spicy, but not sweet, the gin also has some background citrus flavors. Hence, you can see why it is just as good with tonic and lime as with vermouth and olives.

So far I've been mixing four parts gin to one part dry vermouth. It's worked for me, I bet it would work for you.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Cooking With Wine

My favorite eating season is always the next one. In fall, all I can think of is icy, cold nights with big bowls of wine braised beef, platters of raw oysters, and gumbos studded with andouille. In the dead of winter, I crave green fava beans tossed in mint, chili, and salty cheese sitting alongside crusty lamb chops. Springtime brings on urges to grill corn and toss it with plump Creole tomatoes, slivers of jalapeno, shallot, and lime juice to go with crusty skirt steaks coated in garlic. And now that summer is here, naturally all I want to eat is bowls of crimson colored chili, cornbread, and platters of pork.

Which is how I found myself roasting a pork tenderloin coated in rosemary, garlic, and lemon zest on what was an otherwise scorching summer day. Also, into the oven went a fluffy, filling spoonbread straight out the Frank Stitt playbook. Wishful thinking, I guess.

Of course, Mad Max's selection made this brief journey to fall even more enjoyable. Bob Foley has been handcrafting wines in Napa long enough to be able to do whatever he wants. In his 2008 "The Griffin" he combines a few traditional California grapes, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, with some less well known varietals, Petite Syrah and Charbono. The result is a wine with fruity berries and well-rounded spice which retails for $29.99. You can find it at August, NOLA, Le Meritage, Delechaise, Bouche, Martin's Wine Cellar, Acquistapace, Wine Country Bistro, and Calandro's. Note: the next morning, I was reminded it is still summer with the red wine foggies.

Roasted Pork Loin and Spoonbread

In a mortar and pestle, food processor, or blender combine, 3 cloves of garlic, a good three fingers pinch of fresh rosemary, a pinch of dried oregano, 3 pinches salt, the zest of one lemon, and peppercorns. Drizzle in a quarter cup of olive oil and blend until smooth. Rub this all over your pork loin and let it sit for about an hour or more. You can tie it up or not.

Heat a cast iron skillet to just smoking and then sear the loin on all sides. Then place in a 350 degree oven until cooked to your desired doneness. I like my pork to be blushing like Bloggle at a red head convention. Allow meat to rest, the slice into quarter inch medallions. There should be some good juices in the pan. Adding say a touch of coarse mustard and some stock would be a good idea. Pour that jus on top.

For the spoonbread. Buy this cookbook. Seriously don't make me tell you again. You need to own that cookbook.

Here is to the quick arrival of fall, football, and the longing for winter.