Friday, September 30, 2011

New Orleans on Tap

If there is ever an acceptable time for LSU to have an 11:00am home game, it might as well be tomorrow.

About the same time that the Tigers will be finishing up with Kentucky, this year's New Orleans on Tap will be kicking off at the big lake in City Park. This 5 hour fiasco features food, live music, and over 200 beers for you to sample. Most of our local breweries will be pouring, including Tin Roof Brewing, whose co-owner was/is the smartest man in my law school class. Be on the lookout for a Blackened Out & Tin Roof collaboration at some point in the near future...

All of this fun in the name of supporting of the Louisiana SPCA. So if you're like me in that you would do anything in order to avoid having to watch another one of those gut wrenching Sarah McLachlan animal cruelty commercials, then get out to City Park and drink some beer on Saturday.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

A Vintnerview with Michelle Gueydan



Michelle Gueydan left New Orleans after high school for college in New York. After college she worked for then gubernatorial candidate Mark Warner and then a job as a private event manager eased her into the wine world. She returned to New Orleans where she is in an integral member in three wine related businesses. At Swirl, she is a "wino" helping customers choose a wine to take home. As the principal in VinoSolutions she outsources sommelier expertise to restaurants and home collectors to organize and build their wine holdings. Recently, Gueydan partnered with Brian Dias to start NOLAWineSpeak, a wine education company. Twentyish questions on the clock....

I was in college in upstate New York. Had done most my partying in high school so when I got to college found partying sort of boring and focused more on studying. Close to college was the Finger Lakes region which makes a lot of wines, so one day I just volunteered to help pull leaves at a vineyard. It was there I first learned wine could be art and not just pink stuff that got you drunk.

I had been working for a few years as the event planner for a guy who owned a real estate asset management company. My boss also did a lot of philanthropic work with Quincy Jones so we were always planning dinners of some sort. Or we were flying to a dinner and talking about wine while reading food and wine magazines. So originally pairing was something of a foray into an unknown world, but I still knew very little about wine. After a series of events on the Mediterranean, I hadn't slept in a week. I was sitting on a yacht and the steward came over and asked if I'd like a glass of wine. I said sure, whatever you have. She brought a white wine that was so perfumey and unctuous that I asked what is this. She said Chardonnay and I didn't believe her. From then on, wine became a side passion and then an obsession.

Well, that bottle of Meursault on the yacht. But I don't remember the producer or vintage or anything like that. The other bottle I chase and will never catch again was a 1905 Chateau La Tour. I was in Colorado helping my boss organize his cellar before leaving to start a job in a tasting room in Alexe Corton when I got a call that the French government would not allow an American girl such a prestigious job. So I was pretty despondent and my boss cheered me up by asking, "What should we open?" I told him the 1905 La Tour was leaking a bit. So he pulled down that bottle, a 1929 Mouton, a 1950 Haut Brion, and a 1961 Petrus. Of all those bottles, the 1905 was far and away the best with the fruit still prominent after over 100 years.

I never thought I wanted to come back to New Orleans. All of my family here has died, so there was nothing to come back to, until Katrina. And then I felt a really strong urge to come home. At the time, I was the sommelier at the Inn at Little Washington. Came down here and got a job with John Besh as sommelier at August. In general the position of sommelier in New Orleans is not as supported as a free standing position in a restaurant as in other cities. In other cities, if you are the sommelier on the floor, it is your job to help guests select wine and manage the wine list of the restaurant. As a sommelier in New Orleans you are expected to be a manager as well. So I've had this idea of a sommelier education program to make more sommeliers truly sommeliers in New Orleans. But it was just an idea until I met Brian. The goal is to see be progressing with our wine thought in New Orleans. And that is what we want to do with NOLAWineSpeak.

I can't stand formulated wine descriptions. The one I hate the most is gooseberry. I didn't have the slightest clue what a gooseberry tasted like when I started learning about Sauvignon Blanc as tasting of gooseberry. I still dont know what a gooseberry tastes like. But people use that term as if everyone is eating gooseberries all the time. Other thing I hate is wine descriptors that are awful images but used in a positive context like "wet dog" or "barnyard". Who wants to drink a wet dog?

Best way to ease the tension with customers who are apprehensive about wine is just to start a conversation with the guest. Find out what they are interested in, what they are in the mood for, what do they normally prefer to drink. Sometimes people ask me what I like to drink and I tell them it depends on the day.

Rose. Across the board there is no wine better suited for New Orleans cuisine. A dry rose, with good fruit, good weight, and good acidity is nearly perfect match for the spiciness of our food. Always enjoyed rose, but I really started liking them with food when I moved back to New Orleans.

I hate the single palate based point systems which dominate the wine world. There is value in ratings that are group efforts but just go to off a single palate? I don't like that. I went to Bourdeaux to barrel taste the '05s. We were tasting 200 wines a day and there were a lot of us. But every winery was waiting for the scores of Robert Parker before prices could be set. You could sense the stress in the room and in all of the producers while awaiting Parker's judgment.

If I made a wine, it would be an eclectic, off the beaten path varietal that would challenge me to make it into a single varietal bottling. Turning something that is usually just blended with other grapes into its own wine that is what I love and it would be a limited bottling all hand sold.

Windows on the World. Extremely Pale Rose. A great book for the intro level person is The Wine Bible. Karen MacNeil does a very good job of adding fun tidbits and making wine an interesting read. All that said, I prefer to read magazines and newsletters like Decanter and Food and Wine for wine info. Mostly because wine is always changing and books are sometimes outdated by the time the fifth chapter is written.

I like that people are more adventuresome with their palates. Nowadays, people are open to try other varieties other than Chardonnay and Cabernet. On a winemaking level the focus on sustainability and artisinal approaches are things I really like.

To enhance enjoyment at home, try new things but try them with food to make the daily task of having dinner a grander experience. Really try and think about how the flavor profiles of wine and food could work together.

Yes, but I have been pretty fortunate in that I've normally been offered a taste and not have to think, "Man, I wish I could drink that." But I found that while at August, visitors, New Yorkers specifically, thought their expertise outshined that of any local sommelier. So they would often not offer me a sip.

Vietnamese - Riesling. Tex-Mex- Tequila, my second favorite thing to drink. American Chinese - An Austrian Gruner Veltliner. Crawfish Boil - Rose.

I've pretty much drank through most of my collection I had built up. Former employer called and said he had been diagnosed with cancer and wanted to know what the most expensive bottles in his cellar were because he was going to drink them, chemo be damned. So I thought, why am I holding all these wines that one day I may never be able to drink? I had First Growth Bourdeaux and Italian wines that I drank. I still have some 1982 Margaux, Lafitte, Mouton, older Pahlmeyer. But what do I drink? My heart is in Burgundy, my pocketbook in Spain. I drink Tempranillo and Albarino. Also, drink a lot of boxed wine. James Moises is releasing a boxed Oregon Pinot (at right) that is pretty amazing in my book. Higher quality boxed wine with no chance of spoiling is on the rise.

Boucherie. Nathaniel (Zimet) and James (Denio) have managed to build a wine list that presents wines off the beaten path at an affordable price point that don't intimidate. And then of course, Commander Dan at Commander's Palace. From a revered wine list stand point, Commander's Palace best in town. From a consumer's point of view, Boucherie.

Boucherie, Cowbell, Herbsaint, and Coquette. Ohh and can I add Patois, I can't just pick four restaurants?

Hall and Oates - Chardonnay. Not because it is cheesy, but because it is a wine that was really popular back in the day. Mozart- German Gerwurtztriminer. Dr. Dre- Australian Shiraz.

Most memorable food and wine experience was at 2941 Restaurant in Virginia. The wine was a Madeira. The dish a soup sort of similar to our version of turtle soup but not quite the same. Madeira was new to me and the combination of it with the food created a third flavor, different than either the soup or the wine  which enhanced both the soup and the wine. Just a great pairing.

Desert Island wines? That is tough. 1905 Latour. 1990 E. Guigal La Landonne. Aged Vouvray-Huet would be first choice, but it doesn't matter. I just love aged Vouvray and we need more of it. Sake Daiginjo. Meursault, nothing specific because I like to many producers.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Cooking With Wine


The term Indian Summer is thrown around a lot right now. Near as I can tell it is the last few days of September when the days feel like summer and the nights fall. Well here in New Orleans, it is still just hot, but there are rumors of fall in the air. Sunday afternoon was one of those perfect Indian Summer days and it was time to grill. But this time in lieu of beef, pork, or chicken, we opted to grill shrimp.

Mad Max had provided the perfect wine for grilled shrimp. As the man himself says,"The 2008 Pinot Blanc from cult winemaker, Robert Foley, is vinified with total focus on the fruit characteristics of the Pinot Blanc grape - effusive peach and gardenia blossom notes in the bouquet, a broad and fresh mouth feel with a lingering fruity finish. The wine was vinified entirely in stainless steel to preserve the freshness of fruit, no oak barrels, no malolactic fermentation." You can find it at Carte des Vins, Rib Room, Stella!, Herbsaint, NOLA, and Coquette. This wine retails for around $25 and is best drank out of a mason jar to complete the summertime ensemble.

Good enough for good times I say. The recipe we used came out of Mario Batali's excellent Italian Grill cookbook. It is really more of a technique than a recipe as he uses it throughout the book to add a crunchy, charred crust to proteins. As you will see below, a bread crumb sort of pesto kicks ass on the grill. Batali also calls for a piastra- a  flat metal sheet over a roaring fire- in this recipe. Not having one and channeling inner MacGyver, I just flipped over a cast iron skillet and used its flat underside.

Shrimp Spiedini alla Romagnola


First combine 1 bunch of Italian parsley, 1 bunch basil, 2 cups fresh bread crumbs, a hefty pinch of salt, black pepper, and 1/4 cup of olive oil. I added a little bit of lemon zest because yellow and green look good together. You blend all of that into a paste in a food processor, blender, or mortar and pestle, if you aren't into that whole brevity thing. Toss two pounds of peeled and deveined shrimp into this paste and coat well.

Now thread the shrimp onto some rosemary sprigs that you have removed the leaves from and soaked in water. Or you could use bamboo skewers. Or if you are afraid of pokey things, just place them directly on grill. After skewering all the shrimp, leave in the fridge for about 30 minutes while you get your fire cranking.


 Take a cast iron pan (or piastra if you fancy), flip it over and place it over the hottest part of the grill. Let it get hot, brush on some olive oil, and then place the skewers on the makeshift piastra. Cook 2 minutes per side. Serve with a salad- here I did a grilled Caesar. The shrimp come out the perfect love child between grilled shrimp and fried shrimp, with little clumps of charred bread and a zip of "pesto". It is the perfect dish for an Indian Summer's Eve....Wait, that didn't come out right.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Trip Report: There is No Arizona

Last week I traveled to Scottsdale for a conference, and The Folk Singer came along to make certain that the pool was well tended to while I sat through meetings and presentations. It was the first trip out Southwest for both of us, and I would say that we were both surprised how comfortable 105 degree temperatures can be when there is zero humidity. After the conference ended each day we joined our new acquaintances at a few of Scottsdale's finest eateries, and overall I'd say that we were pleased with each of our meals and with the city overall. My only suggestion would be to open up the architectural color scheme outside of tan/brown/etc.

Also, what's up with all of the gluten free options?

The Mission came highly recommended on both the interweb and by the hotel staff. This place was hopping on a Wednesday night in September, a notoriously slow time for the region. Cadres of both young and old crowded around candle lit tables filled with margaritas of varying colors, and the crowd forced us to dine on the back patio, which was a welcome 75 degrees after the sun went down. We began with a bowl of guacamole prepared tableside and to our desired heat specifications. Main courses included tacos filled with crispy fried fingers of mahi mahi topped with crema tinged with chopped olives and a remarkably tender and flavorful chimichurri marinated hanger steak. The disappointment of the night was surprisingly the dish that had been the most touted. Pineapple glazed pork shoulder was awfully dry, like chewing a spare rib that had been left on the grill for 6 days such that it was reduced to dehydrated shreds. To make matters worse, the $32 "serving for two" (the only option) could not have been more than 7oz. of pork. But that let down notwithstanding, our entire table agreed that we would return if given the choice.

We explored other eateries Scottsdale, most of them in the Old Town area. We had lunch at The Herb Box, a split level establishment with a gourmet market on the bottom and full service restaurant on the top, that specialized in salads, wraps, dips, etc. Short rib tacos for me; brussel sprout and pancetta flatbread for TFS; both of us were pleased. The valets at the resort tipped us off to Frank & Lupe's, a locals' favorite haunt for no frills Mexican fare. This might have been our favorite meal of the trip. We sat on the outdoor patio sipping frothy and perfectly balanced margaritas and dined on poblano cream chicken enchiladas, tamales covered in New Mexican chiles, and sopapillas.


After the conference ended on Friday, we made the drive up to Sedona to check out the red rocks and taste a few wines. Turns out that we arrived 1 day too early for the Sedona Winefest, but we were still able to taste at a small shop in town and visit Page Spring Cellars on our way back to Scottsdale. Speaking in generalities, I would say that the Rhone varietals of Arizona fall short of their California neighbors, but that could be a personal matter of taste. We did, however, find an interesting bottle of sparkling with a pronounced vanilla aroma and flavor that should make for an interesting ice cream float in the near future.


Our dining schedule built up in anticipation until we made it to Pizzeria Bianco, which was our final meal before flying home. Proprietor Chris Bianco has earned a James Beard award and unending praise for his wood-fired Sicilian pies. After reading about the notoriously long lines during peak hours, we decided to arrive before the 11:00am opening time for lunch, and we waited under the canopy out front with about a half dozen other folks until the hostess raised the window shades.

The former machinist shop has lofty ceilings, brick walls, and is dominated by the large cistern oven which takes up nearly 1/4 of the restaurant. There are only 42 seats. The menu is equally minimalist - 3 salads and 6 pies with add ons available. The waiter suggested that we split a salad and pizza, but I told him that we came to play, so we ordered 2 pies: (1) the intentionally simplistic Margherita pizza, to which we added glistening slices of prosciutto draped over the top, and (2) the Rosa, a white pie featuring crushed pistachios that John T. Edge has called "the best pizza he ever ate."

This was very, very good pizza. The dough was so fresh that your taste buds left no doubt that you were eating first and foremost bread. The base of the pizza stayed horizontal under the toppings, but it was more pliable than crispy; the crust, on the other hand, had a hollow crunch like a log collapsing in a fireplace. The Margherita was probably the best specimen that I have ever experienced, and that assessment is notwithstanding the prosciutto, which TFS pilfered off of most of my slices. The parmigiano reggiano and crushed pistachios gave the Rosa a rich and nutty (maybe too much) taste, but the thinly sliced red onions helped bring a little sharpness and sweetness to the party.

But was this the best pizza I ever ate?  I don't know. The pizza style was very similar to Ancora, except that Pizzeria Bianco does not have that charcoal taste that I think sometimes overpower the pies at Ancora. Domenica's pizza is not as "rustic" as Pizzeria Bianco (for lack of a better term), but that does not make Alon's pies any less good. I love Pizza Delicious too, but Mike & Greg's pies are in a different genre.

I guess that my overall assessment is that the young guns of New Orleans pizza are ready to play with the big boys.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Spanish Fly

Lindsay and I will soon cram ourselves into an aluminum tube, hurtle through the atmosphere, and land in the financially unstable land of Spain. We are basing our operations out of Barcelona, where we have been led to believe the streets are lined with boquerones. I've combed through books, volumes of internet message boards, and the annotated collection Miguel de Cervantes. With 10 semesters of Spanish under my belt, I know how to find the bathroom and beer. So should be good on that front.

We generally travel to eat. Ohhh sure, I'll meander through a church or take a glance at a painting or two. Museums interest us, but I always find that I spend less time in each successive room. But easily we spend the most amount of time wandering through markets, saddling up to a bar to slurp oysters, or tearing off chunks of bread and hunks  of cheese. Call us small minded by eating my way through a different culture is the best way to learn about people. Well, besides asking them.

This is where I turn to you, dear readers and denizens of this corner of the information superhighway. Please let me know where we should eat, drink, and eat and drink. Thanks and Peter comes back tomorrow. If your suggestion is a good one, I'll bring you back a limited edition T Shirt that says, "I read Blackened Out and all I got was this crappy T Shirt."

Friday, September 23, 2011

Bangkok Thai

Friday afternoons are a tricky business in New Orleans. You either work through lunch so you can leave a touch early or maybe you just blow off the whole afternoon. Not me though, but maybe you do. Last Friday, Lindsay had skipped lunch for some reason or another and I had to run an errand after work. All of this added up to at 5:45 both of us deciding to just go grab a quick bite to eat before going home.

While driving around town, we went through the usual litany of "Where do you want to go?" before settling on Bangkok Thai. It had been a while since we ate there and I convinced Lindsay to go by reminding her they don't hold back with the heat. We should have kept driving.

The problem with bad meals is sometimes you see it from a mile away, but you still can't stop the collision course with bad meals. We walked into Bangkok right before 6 and were the only diners in the joint. Sign #1. There was no beer, the establishment having lost its liquor license. Sign #2. The menu was four pages too long. Sign #3. Yet we still placed our order and hoped we had been wrong.

First came finger size twigs of shrimp "marinated in house special spices", wrapped in thin sheets of crunch, and deep fried. These would have been a hit on an airplane. The other appetizer would test our patience at being polite. Crispy, fried tofu, which despite the name, was not. We only ordered it to see what Bloggle disowned the pig for. Obviously, it was not this dish. Flaccid, cubes of splintering tofu with less flavor than a couch cushion came with two dipping sauces: a sweet one and a peanut sauce. The peanut sauce was not half bad, comparatively. The sweet one would have made a hummingbird hyper.

Lindsay ordered a vegetable red curry which came out with the color and aroma of a wet golden retriever. I've had fresher vegetables at a McDonalds. My entree arrived a few moments later adorned with grey shingles of chicken topped with a gritty peanut sauce. Thank God I asked for it spicy. The broccoli ringing the plate was limp and soggy, yet still cold in the middle of the stalk. That broccoli was disproving Einstein's Theory of Relativity before my very eyes.

This is obviously a restaurant that is both trying to do too much but doing not nearly enough. I am sure they can cook, but they don't seem to want to do that. With its location and accessibility to the youth of Loyola and Tulane, now tuned into food more than a decade ago, Bangkok Thai should be cooking the food they cook for themselves. The authentic foods that one reads about in breathless expressions - spicy, fragrant, steaming, etc... Or at the very least competent versions of the Thai cuisine classics. They should not be frying pre-made snacks from a factory and pouring ready to eat sauces over flavorless proteins.

We quickly paid the check, which even though the meal was regrettable, was tame. On the way home, we developed a new rule: never again.

Bangkok Thai - Double Bogey
Don't worry, you don't need the address.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Muffin Man


Every Saturday morning, I have a standing meeting with Robert Banck, whom I nicknamed "The Muffin Man" before I ever learned what was written on his driver's license. The Muffin Man is like Red in Shawshank or the reincarnate of the Special Man from the old Frankie and Johnny's commercials. In short, he's the guy who's got the goods, from orange cranberry muffins (my favorite) to lemon squares, pecan squares, and granola.

Photo by renee b. photography.
 
The Muffin Man is actually only one part of an entire Muffin Family behind Windfield Farm Bakery. After a year of enjoying their muffins, scones, cookies, breads, and lemon squares, I finally gathered up the courage to speak to the Muffin Man and learn about the history and operations of Windfield Farm, which is the subject of my article in this month's food issue of OffBeat Magazine.

I was not surprised to learn that behind the Muffin Man was a Muffin Woman (isn't there always?), Robert's wife Suzie, who was the impetus of everything delicious coming from their farm in Franklinton. The story only gets better from there, in my opinion.

Here is a little anecdote about the Muffin Man that was too long to be included in the article but that I thought was worth sharing.

Last year on the Saturday before Halloween, The Muffin Man became a celebrity when his stand was used as a set for a Vera Bradley photoshoot, complete with obnoxious European photographer, stand-in 40ish blonde-haired muffin woman, flawless-looking 18 year old model, a dozen set attendees, and a ton of expensive set equipment.

It was almost noon by the time that I made it to the market that day, because The Folk Singer and I had run the Jazz Half Marathon that morning. We walked straight from the finish line on Tchoupitoulas to the market, hoping to find a sweet reward. Now, the photoshoot was taking place on one side of the booth, while it was business as usual for the Muffin Man on the other side. I was rather aloof and delirious at the time and tried to hand my money to the stand-in muffin woman to pay for my two brownies. (They were was out of muffins.)

Unbeknownst to me, I was now in the camera shot, and apparently someone did not think that I was Vera Bradley material. Some PA stepped in and said, "Excuse me, we're in the middle of a photo shoot over here, so if you could just scoot over to the side, I would appreciate it."

I turned to the Muffin Man and said, "I don't think she ran 13.1 miles just to get this brownie."

He laughed and said, "Don't feel too bad. They had to bring in her (pointing to stand-in muffin woman) because I wasn't pretty enough either."

He handed me the two brownies, which The Folk Singer and I devoured in about 3.5 seconds. And had my legs not been ready to crumble beneath me, I probably would have run another 13.1 miles for the chance at a third brownie.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Winesday

Peter: OK, I'll admit that I knew exactly what this wine was just by looking at the red neck of the bottle. This is the best bottle of wine that I have tasted in two trips to the Napa Valley. Plain and simple - this is the easiest drinking cabernet on the market. Dark in color but smooth going down. This wine is made for food or for sitting in front of the TV on a Tuesday night watching Sons of Anarchy. Thinking the beef carpaccio and arugula salad from the Italian Barrel.

Rene: Deep, fruit filled noise but floral as well - violets. The taste is that of stewed dark fruits - blackberries, say. A soft wine in the mouth, though with velvety tannins. The words elegant and Stifler's mom comes to mind, which leads my mind to one of the dishes at Stella! Perhaps the duck five ways or the Kabayaki glazed beef tenderloin.

Joe the Wine Guy: 2006 Hewitt Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford has intense layers of dark fruit, bittersweet chocolate, black licorice, clove spice, mineral and cedar. This is one of Napa's most voluptuous cabernets. The palate is packed with black cherry, plum and blackberry character. Then malted cocoa powder tannins enhances the wine's plush, opulent texture. The elegant, fruit-imbued finish lingers with espresso, toffee, and nutmeg. Pair this with rich, robust meals, like seared beef tenderloin with shitake mushroom sauce. You can find it at Speckled T's and Royal Palm, and it retails for around $80.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Talking with Talbot

Jeffrey Talbot grew up in Venton, Louisiana, just outside of Lake Charles. From there, he worked in high end  kitchens in Florida, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Europe and California. But he left all that behind a few years ago to focus on a side job that became a passion: pizza. Quiet and monkish, Talbot is well-versed in the profanity laced patois of the kitchen. Let's put twentyish questions on the clock and get to know the pizza monk who tends the oven at Ancora. All photos courtesy of the new staff photog here, Renee "Peanut" Bienvenu.

Cooking is the only thing I can do. After high school I moved to Florida for a few months where my cousin was running a restaurant. Worked there for a few months and then went to Philadelphia to work with Tony Clark.

I worked for John Besh at Artesia, then he sent me to Europe for a year and three months. Came back and opened August. Always had in my mind that I wanted to work in three star Michelin type places. So left for California, where I worked at Cyrus. While I was at Cyrus, we started a bread program. That is when I began my starter, which is now six year's old. Was there for three months and became sous chef.

I kind of fell out of love with cooking. My mom had had a few strokes and so I moved back home and built a pizza oven in the backyard.

The pizza obsession is one of those things that my family didn't really understand. I first ate really great pizza when I was out in California and it was done perfectly. That pizza was an emotional experience. I wanted to take the craft I had learned in great restaurants and put that style of food into pizza. In a way you become more creative by limiting what it is you are doing.

I love making bread. We do three things here: cured meats, bread, and pizza. To me pizza is bread. But the actual bread we do here is pretty fun to make. Bread making is a very meditative process that requires focus to get the shape and texture we want. We don't use any commercial yeast. On some days there is high humidity, so you have to account for that. Other days, lower humidity. Sourdough is a whole different ballgame than using commercial yeast.

I don't know if I have a least favorite kitchen task. As a cook you take the good with the bad. What I hated doing five years ago, I love now. I even like cleaning, who the fuck likes to clean?

We cooks talk about memorable meals all the time. I have two. Cooks are always poor. I've been married for nine years now and my wife and I always make it a point to go and have one really nice meal a year. One year we went to The French Laundry and had the private dining room all to ourselves. I remember the maitre'd came in and said, "the other people who were to join you, have canceled. You have the room all night." That meal was great because we were treated so specially. Other meal was at Manresa. We ordered the entire tasting menu and the entire a la carte menu. We were there for five and a half hours and did twenty-one courses. It was fucking insane. Ohh, and we did all the wine pairings as well. At one point, my wife said, "Fuck, we are still on white wine. We have a long way to go." I think Manresa is serving the best food of any restaurant in America.



I like cooking for my family the most. As a cook we are constantly trying to justify our craft to our families. We arent ought saving the world, we aren't curing cancer, we just cook food for people to eat. So there is still that drive to make your family very proud of what you do. And cooking for them let's us do that. I'd love to cook for Douglas Keane. I have a tremendous amount of respect for him because I worked for him for so long.

I remember the first time I saw an ingredient you find on candy bars in a high end restaurant kitchen. Soy leciethen was the ingredient. I hate that high end restaurants are using that shit and charging people a fortune for that. You aren't a chef if you can't make great plates from food that grows in the dirt, swims in the ocean, or grazes in the fields plus a little salt and pepper. Technique is what great cooking is built on. I want a potato to taste like a fucking potato. Cryovacs and immersion circulators in my mind are no different than microwaves.

Fucking texting. I hate people texting in my kitchen. When you show up to work, work. Text when you get home.

What we do here is so simple. We don't get any produce delivered. We go to the market and what we find there is what we cook with. So you won't see anymore Creoles soon and we aren't going to serve Cauliflower in summer. That forces us to be creative.

Within three months, we had moved to New Orleans, had a baby, and opened a restaurant. We put up the lights, finished the floor, built this space. So there is an emotional attachment to this restaurant fueled by those hardships. After we opened, we discovered people have a preconceived notion of what pizza is supposed to be. We fight that everyday.

I put my hands on every single pizza that a customer eats. If they don't like it, it means they don't like what I did. And that is humbling.

Wood, sea salt, and Double O flour are my essential kitchen tools. Most of what we do, that is all we need to do it. All of our breads are just flour, sea salt, and water. Those are the most important ingredients.

After a long day, I like to eat cheese and bread and drink beer. I really love St. James which is one of my favorite places to go. Even coming from Bay Area, where there is a cheese shop on nearly every corner, St. James stands out.  It is the best cheese shop I've ever been in. I love everything about it, especially the smell.

The biggest influence in my career was traveling in Europe. Not neccessarily working in the kitchens, because all high end kitchens are pretty much the same. But being able to drive an hour and eat at a place like Auberge du Lac which has had 3 Michelin stars for like 50 years.

From My Grandmother's Kitchen. Marco Pierre White's White Heat is very motivational, but I have never cooked anything out of it. I just love the way he talks about food in that book. Flavors of Tuscanny. I read that book cover to cover. No chefs buy cookbooks for the recipes. You buy it to put you in a frame of mind. So when you are wanting to "Be Italian" or "Be Rustic" you read a book that takes you there and shows you the thought process of how to prepare food in that manner.

Probably the cooking of Northern Italy is my favorite Italian cuisine. The further north you go in Italy, the more it falls in line with the cuisines that surround it. As you go south, even into Tuscanny, you start finding poor man's food where they aren't relying on eggs and butter as much.

No shit, I ended up in New Orleans because of a Mano. We went there like five times before even partnered with Adolfo. I just love what they do there. Then of course, we are eagerly awaiting the reopening of Casamentos. And I love Hansen's, before we opened I went there everyday. My favorite flavor is The Thai Trifecta - ginger, limeade and cream of coconut.

I'd start with the cured meat plate definitely, the affetati misti. My favorite pizza here is the marinara. Two years go I loved the margerita, but now I see less as more. When you start putting too much stuff on pizza, it suffers. Our marinara is just dough, wild oregano, shaved garlic and the best possible tomatoes we can find. That is it. For dessert, I'd have the daily sweetbread. Again, simplicity it is just sourdough with dried fruits, nuts, marscapone cheese, and honey.

Never liquor with pizza. Beer or wine. Beer with some things, wine with others. But as I get older, I find myself drinking more beer.

I used to work on a fishing boat so I would be bringing fishing shit with me to a deserted island. If I wasn't doing pizza, I'd be cooking fish. I'd bring some seeds so I could grow stuff I needed to cook. Something to take salt out of the water which would also leave me with a huge supply of sea salt. Pepper. And I'd bring my knives. Be pretty set with all of that. Ohh, can I add something unfucking practical like ice cream just because?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Jambalaya

Bad Bart's Black Jambalaya
Jambalaya is one of those iconic local dishes that is at the top of every tourist's list of foods to try when visiting New Orleans. After watching Bourdain's journey to Acadiana a few weeks ago, even I have been overcome with a craving for those one pot dishes that our neighbors to the west do oh so well. But while I have little difficulty recommending where to find a good roast beef po-boy, cub of gumbo, or a dozen oysters on the half shell, I'll be damned if I don't draw a blank nearly every time someone asks me where they can get a worthwhile plate of jambalaya in New Orleans.

When confronted with such an inquiry from an out of town guest, many people would probably say, "You know, jambalaya is one of the dishes that we always make at home, so I never to think to look for it, much less order it, at a restaurant. Plus jambalaya is a cajun dish, and New Orleans is all about creole." While I accept that most locals prefer their jambalaya homemade and that the dish is not indigenous to Southeast Louisiana, I refuse to believe that there is not a respectable restaurant version to be found in the city.

One of the best that I have tasted in recent times is Bad Bart's Black Jambalaya from Crescent Pie & Sausage Co. This jambalaya gets its brown color not from tomato but from the aromatic spices and black eyes peas, whose inclusion I had never before seen. This is not a sticky jambalaya (which I also enjoy); the short grain rice retains their individuality. There is a decent - but not disproportionately large - amount of chicken, pork and sausage, all thin slices as opposed to massive hunks. The black eyed peas sometimes cannot be seen, but their texture is noticeable in the rice in that the starch from the beans seems to envelope each grain of rice, adding meatiness without heft. The flavor is neither overpoweringly spicy nor do you immediately reach for a bottle of Crystal after the first bite.

I happen to have sampled some more of Bad Bart's Black yesterday before the game at the Crescent Pie and NOLA Brewing tailgate at the corner of Girod and Loyola. This bowl (pictured above) was not as dark in color and the flavors not as bold as usual, but it was still delicious.

So while we are on the subject, where else can one find a great bowl of jambalaya? K-Paul's is an obvious choice, but I can't say that I have had tried Chef Paul's version in more than 10 years. Is the Jambalaya Supreme at Coop's Place worth waiting in line for?  (Ian McNulty seemed to think so, back in 2003.) Does the jambalaya meat pie at Cochon count?

Let us know about your favorite jambalaya in today's comments.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Breakfast Goes Green


Eco Cafe prides itself as the greenest restaurant in the city, staying loyal to their ecological principles from the reclaimed products used in the renovation of the building to the cage-free eggs that are whipped into omelettes. "Hormone-free," "grass fed," and "organic" are all enticing characterizations in print, but the proof is on the plate.

The menu is reminiscent of the original Surrey's with it's extensive list of freshly squeezed juices and American breakfast classics mixed in with Latin flair. The juicer makes good use of ginger, herbs and other aromatics to create refreshing concoctions that are surely to perk up your morning without a caffeine jolt.

The food reads better than it actually tastes, but I would still recommend the restaurant for those looking for a wholesome way to start their Sunday morning. Geaux Grits (above) topped with fried eggs, crumbled bacon, and cheddar cheese, is one of those satisfying dishes which after finishing you think to yourself, "I could have made this at home, but I don't mind paying $8." Plantains make multiple appearances on the menu as grilled inch-thick rounds topped with sour cream. While I appreciate the kitchen's concern for my cholesterol, I much prefer a crunchy fried exterior to contrast with the soft flesh.

The house signature Chicken & Waffle Sandwich ($12) is a tower of fried chicken breast tenders between thick Belgian waffles. While the waffles were dry and lacked a desired crispness, the fried chicken was crisp on the outside, moist on the inside, and well seasoned. Solution: douse liberally with maple syrup. Huevos Rancheros ($9) is a nice choice but could use a little more punching up in terms of seasoning. The chili con carne omelet may be the best dish on the menu.

What the food may lack in terms of execution, the setting makes up for in terms of ambience. Large windows open up the wood floored dining room with plenty of natural light. Tall ceilings and well-spaced tables give both early and late morning risers plenty of room to stretch out and relax, which is the opposite case for most affordable restaurants who specialize in breakfast. And with the weather seeming to cool off with every turn of the daily calendar, the three tables outside have become highly coveted.

Eco Cafe (Breakfast/Brunch) - Par
3903 Canal St.
(504) 482-1225
Mon, Wed-Fri: 7:30am-2:30pm
Sat-Sun: 8:00am - 2:45pm
Closed Tuesday Starting 10/4/11

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Working for the Weekend

When the Saints or Tigers play on a Thursday night, the weekend starts one day earlier in my book. So in honor of LSU's game tonight in Starkvegas, we are presenting the Weekend Roundup 24 hours ahead of schedule.

Friday
  • Martini Madness - Friends of City Park hosts this 8th annual martinipalooza at the Pavilion of Two Sisters and the Botanical Gardens. The evening features an array of martinis and eats from area restaurants with all proceeds dedicated to landscaping the area around the newly constructed Arbor Room at Popp Fountain.  Tickets are $50 and can be purchased online.
  • Scales & Ales - The Aquarium is not just for self serve sushi anymore. Sample wine and beer from more than 20 bars and cuisine from local restaurants. General admission tickets are $35 and can be purchased here.
  • SoFAB - Join the Southern Food and Beverage Museum for its 4th Annual Gala, which this year will also be kicking off the third annual SoFAB Symposium, Hungry in the South. Specialty cocktails and wine will be poured by Glazer's and food will be provided by Bayona, Parkway Bakery, Broussard's, the American Sector, and more. Tickets for this 2 hour feast are $65 and should be purchased in advance.


Saturday

  • SoFAB Symposium: Hungry in the South - The title of SoFAB's third annual symposium is inspired by the USDA’s 2009 Food Insecurity Report which found that hunger is most prevalent in the southern United States. Interpreting and expanding this theme will be presenters of all stripes - academics, policy-makers, chefs , writers and food historians - who will present a broad range of panels about the history of eating in the South. Besides the keynote and panels, the symposium includes the annual Contemporary Issues in Food presentation, tastings and food demonstrations, and much more.
Sunday
  • Stand Up & Get Crunk - Need we say more?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Cooking With Wine


As soon as my grubby little paw grabbed the bottle of Curveball Spinning White Mad Max had stashed into his box of treats, I knew precisely what dish I wanted to make: Spaghetti Carbonara. Carbonara is one of the world's most perfect dishes, combining eggs, pork, cheese, pepper, and starch into an elegant sauce. Fact: carbonara is the only pasta dish in the world which can double as breakfast.

The composition of the Spinning White is an interesting one. At 85% Sauvignon Blanc and 15% Gewurztraminer there is a nice acidic kick but also this white plays very nicely with spicy foods. This wine is also made by Paul Hoffman. You can find it for under $20 at Cork & Bottle, Mondo, and Rum House.

A fattier chardonnay might be many peoples first choice with a dish like carbonara. I prefer something that can handle spice a bit better, which this wine can. The reason is that black pepper can lose a lot of its spicy and aromatic characters when you cook it above a certain temperature or cook it for long periods of time. With carbonara, you aren't doing much more than warming than pepper, so be prepared for a simple battery to your sinuses, if you make it correctly.

Note: The beauty of carbonara lies in its simplicity. Do not try to muck this up with North African Wild Hyssop or Guatemalan Coffee reductions. And if you do, please don't write in about it.

Spaghetti Carbonara


Like roast chicken, I almost never make carbonara the same way twice. One time I might use fettucine, another time one egg and one extra yolk, the third time I mix the bacon into the sauce first, etc... But always, the same 5 ingredients: pasta, eggs, cheese, pork, and black pepper. Normally, I substitute bacon and Parmesan for the traditional guanciale and Pecorino Romano and you can too.

Cut bacon strips into quarter inch rectangles. Fry until crisp then place on a paper napkin lined plate to drain. One package spaghetti, boil in heavily salted water. As you can see, you do not need a doctorate in culinary arts for this dish.


While, pasta is boiling crack an egg into a deep bowl. Grate roughly a half cup of Parmesan over the egg. Whisk. Now take a pepper mill and crank it twenty times. Whisk again. Few more cranks and you should be ready to go.


Once cooked, drain the pasta but reserve a smidge of the starchy, salted water. Add the pasta and the water into the bowl and mix rapidly. The warm pasta will melt the cheese, warm the eggs, and awaken the pepper, essentially playing the role of the Uniter. Once combined, mount on plates and top with bacon, more cheese, and a crack or two of pepper.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Maestro

Patrick van Hoorebeck recently opened Patrick's Bar Vin in the St. Louis Hotel. A native of Belgium, The Maestro as he is known in certain circles, has lived in New Orleans for the last twenty-five years. As the king for life (redundant, yes but in Carnival speak) of the Krewe of Cork he has found a way to combine business and pleasure at his new bar. Let's put twentyish questions on the clock and get to know The Maestro.

Photo courtesy of Judi Bottoni.
While in Belgium I was working as a beer salesman for a brewery which had a beer called Vieux Temps (Old Times). I sold a lot of that beer so the men at the brewery called me Patia Vieux Temps, which translates as Pat Old Times. I had not seen my father in twenty years. He was living in Lafayette, I flew to New Orleans in June 1986. He picked me up at the airport and took me to Bourbon Street. I walked onto Bourbon St. and saw a sign for Pat O's and thought, "How cool is that?" So my father and I went into the bar and had a Hurricane. At the time I asked my father, "How long till the day there is a bar in the Quarter with my name on it?" He told me, "I don't think I'll live long enough." He was right.

My name full name is Patrick Philippe Daniel August van Hoorebeck, my sister's name is Evelyn. Our father loved Irish whiskey and ran a bar called the Old Irish Inn in Brussels. I ask him one day why we, proud Belgians, had Irish names and he told me that "Before he met our mother, he fell in love with an Irish girl."

We wanted to open the bar on St. Patrick's Day, but completion of the bar was delayed because of the wine bins. We ordered them in November from a company in California and they told us they would be here in three months. Six months later they arrived and we opened on Belgian Independence Day.

Joe Yaeger, who owns the hotel, asked me what I wanted to do. I told him there was no true wine bar in the French Quarter. There is the New Orleans Grapevine, but that has evolved into a restaurant. So, Mr. Joe bought this hotel and this spot had a liquor license already. So we sat down and had a talk and this bar was uncorked.

Like any bar owner, I want to make this a successful business. But also, I want to create a libation emporium, a spot where every drinker can find his vice.

With wine, people in United States drink better products, know more about wine, and educate their palates better now then they did when I first got here. But wine is still a trend in America. I can see in next ten years wine consumption going up and hard alcohol staying same or dropping a bit.

I've been drinking since I was very young. When my father had a restaurant in Brussels, he would take me to go see his wine distributor. The guy who owned the place, to entertain me while they tasted wine, would hand me a cigar box filled with labels and a book of wines. I would sit there and whenever I matched the wine in the book to a label, he would give me a franc to buy candy with. So I learned to become familiar with names and labels. When we would go to restaurants on Monday nights, I would always get a sip of whatever my dad was drinking.

The wine I chased, and caught eventually, was a very special wine. In 1964 after my parents had divorced, I was a skinny, feeble kid. Maybe I was depressed or mad or something, but we didn't have those terms when I was a kid. So, in 1964 my father takes me Switzerland when I am ten years old to place me in boarding school. We spend the night in the Grand Hotel de Montrieux and had dinner. At that dinner he ordered a 1954 Chateau Haut Brion. We drink it and he tells me (begins to tear up), "Patrick, you are going to boarding school tomorrow. But tonight we will drink this wine from the year of your birth. My wish is that someday you will drink this same wine at another time in your life." I did that two years ago in Las Vegas and it cost me a pretty penny (laughs).

With this wine list, I had to keep in mind that I had a budget which is not something I'd had to worry about before. But I did not want the list to become pretentious. I also filled the list with wines from people whose relationships and support I cherish, the wines of previous Grand Marshals of the Krewe of Cork, and wines from how do you say The Good Old School Club (Editor's Note: he means Good Ole Boys Club). You know the expression politically correct? Sometimes you have to be wine correct.

Next month we are going to start a Reserve Wine List. That list will have wines from the private collections of 2-3 men in town whose wines I will sell on a consignment basis. So that will be the high end, while on the low end I'll always have what we call the vin de patron - a wine the owner drinks which is at $20 a bottle. Right now that is a red from the Languedoc, that I drink myself and only $20 a bottle. That is amazing.

Running a bar in the French Quarter has caused us to invent a term. You know that movie Wedding Crashers? Well, there are Bar Crashers in the French Quarter - guys who stumble in at 11 pm, just because they see a light, who can't see much else and they just want another beer. They are very drunk and probably do not even know where they are.

Keeping it fun is intentional. Wine can get very serious if people let it. All of our signature cocktails feature wine or wine based liquors as the main ingredient. Things like Lillet. With our cocktails we like to keep simply simple. Let me say this, I have a lot of respect for modern cocktails and mixologists. But when I go into a bar with a good buzz and it takes them 15 minutes to get me a drink, I get aggravated. Do not waste a good buzz.

Put it this way, you are going out to dinner with your wife or girlfriend. And first you say, "let's get a drink." So you go somewhere and want an aperitif, which you know comes from the Latin word "to open." You want a drink to stimulate your palate, open you up. They already make drinks for this like Campari, Vermouth. There is no need to order an elaborate drink that costs you $32 for two drinks. Just order two sherries or Camparis at $6 a piece.

I am a white burgundy guy. When on a budget, I will tolerate Macon-Villages. Pouilly-Fuisse will be deja vu. I like to be drinking Meursault-Chassigny and Puligny-Montrachet. If I win the lotto, Batard-Montrachet.

I do not like the markup in the wine business. But it is what it is. But I don't like it. My father would say, whatever you buy wine for, sell it for double. But big business believes everything has to have a margin of 350% to be profitable. It rips people off and I dont like it.

New World wines have a friendliness to them that Old World wines do not. Wine is like a woman. Any woman can put a smile on your face, but the question is is that a real smile.

The French are bored with wine. Look, you have this young generation. They see wine everyday, their grandfather drinks wine, their mother drinks wine, wine is everywhere. Wine is boring to them. Over ten years ago, I went to France with a girlfriend who only drank martinis. I brought a shaker with me and would go to the bar and find out if they had vodka. If you asked for a martini, they would ask White or Red (he points to bar where two bottles of Martini vermouth sit). No one in France had heard of Grey Goose. Now, Grey Goose is a symbol of French pride and everyone drinks it. The French aren't drinking as much wine as before because of a generational shift and boredom, that is all.

Best advice to people who are beginning to build wine collections is to be patient. Before you go to a store, get on winery mailing lists of wines you like. And most of all, when you go into a restaurant, always order a wine you don't know anything about. Like driving a car. You may love Mercedes Benz's, but there is nothing wrong with test driving a Jaguar now and then.

Romanee-Conti and Cheval Blanc, to start. Some Chateauneuf-du-Pape, of course, Hermitage, Chateau Haut Brion, Margaux, and Batard-Montrachet. Richebourg, Champagne, California Cab, Sauternes, and Vintage Port, that would be a nice case of wine.

At end of day, I want a big glass of beer. Everywhere you go in the wine world, every wine maker say, "It takes a lot of beer to make good wine." And it is true.

Living in the French Quarter is living as a Bohemian. If the French Quarter did not exist, I would be back in Brussels. I went back to Belgium many years ago, and my friends asked me why I stayed in America. They would tease me and say, "Tell us, come on, you stay in America because you fell in love with a woman." I would say back to them, "No, I fell in love with the French Quarter."

Monday, September 12, 2011

WTF?

I hit the tipping point (pun intended) at lunch on Thursday at Mahony's.

A 7 person work party traveled in 2 different cars to lunch, and I was with the first group of 3 to arrive. As we placed our order at the counter, the remainder of our squad walked in. The girl working the register asked if we were all together, to which we replied yes, thinking that she would just put every order under one name even though we were paying separately.

Then she layed the smack down like Tyron Mathieu on an unsuspecting Northwestern State wide receiver coming across the middle.

"OK, we have a 15% gratuity charge for parties of 6 or more."

Say what?

I struggled to hold back from unleashing a list of sarcastic inquiries as to exactly what service would be performed to warrant this added charge. But I have experience as the low man on the totem pole who often unjustly receives the lion's share of customer complaints, most of which are based on managerial decisions over which the victim of the tirade exercises no control. So I bit my tongue, took a picture of the receipt, enjoyed the onion rings as always, toughed it out through a terribly dry cochon de lait po-boy, and walked out the door feeling that the time had come to take a stand.

In my humble opinion, yelling out my name when my order is ready and then carrying my po-boy from the counter to my table does not constitute "service". Don't get me wrong - all of the employees were smiling, courteous, and performed their duties well. But at no time did anyone walk over to our table and offer to refill our drinks, fetch extra napkins, or ask if we were enjoying our food.

I understand that large parties have the tendency to linger and occupy coveted table space for longer periods of time than a deuce or 4 top would. But Thursday lunch at Mahony's is not the courtyard at Bayona on a beautiful Friday afternoon in spring or the dining room at Stella on Valentine's Day. I understand that volume is the name of the game and that the faster the tables turn, the more money a restaurateur makes. Had gratuity not been automatically added, I probably would have dropped a dollar or two in the tip jar. I do the same when I go to Felipe's, The Store, Creole Creamery, and the like. But at all of the aforementioned, it is my option to do so.

But we are still talking about a po-boy shop that bills itself as "a tribute/throw-back to the old neighborhood Po-Boy shops of New Orleans". I wonder if Clarence & Lefty's had a similar policy?

Friday, September 9, 2011

New Orleans Seafood Festival

Tough loss last night. Let's rememeber that the Pack is probably the best team that we will play all season. Moving on.

Today marks the beginning of the New Orleans Seafood Festival, which this year has been extended to 3 days of food, music, arts, crafts, and chef demonstrations to benefit the Louisiana Hospitality Foundation.  The setting is Lafayette Square, of course, which should make for a perfect setting considering the cooler weather that started this week.

Here is a list of the participating restaurants and their offerings:
  • Acme Oyster House - Shrimp Po-boys, Oyster Po-boys
  • Remoulade - Shrimp Cajun Eggrolls; Crawfish Pie; Meat Pies, Fried Fruit Pies
  • Café Giovanni - Voodoo Shrimp, Chicken & Sausage Gumbo, Strawberries and Sweet Cream
  • Drago's - Charbroiled Oysters, Bread Pudding
  • Galatoire's - Shrimp Remoulade, Fried Shrimp BLT Po-boy
  • Saltwater Grill - Cochon de lait Po-boy, Crabcake Salad with Remoulade, Crawfish & Spinach Boat
  • Mr. B's Bistro - Seafood Stew in Puff Pastry; Creole Gazpacho with Louisiana Lump Crabmeat
  • 7 on Fulton - Seafood Gumbo, Seafood Sausage Po-boy
  • Pigeon Caterers - Shrimp Creole & Rice, Crabcakes or Crawfish Cakes with Remoulade Sauce
  • Luke - Chile Crunch Shrimp & Spicy Pork Belly Po-boy with Pickled Hahnville Cabbage
  • Serrano's Salsa Company - Grilled Fish Tacos, Crab Cake Sliders, Passion Burger Sliders
  • Mr. Mudbug/King - Creole Shrimp and Crab Penne Pasta, Red Beans & Rice
  • Royal House - Zydedo Stick, Gator Sliders
  • Ninja Restaurant - Soft Shell Crab Po-boy, Catfish Po-boy
  • Grand Isle Restaurant - Spicy Shrimp, Crab Fritters
  • TJ Gourmet - Crawfish Bread, Crawfish Sausage Kabob, Mango Sorbet

Thursday, September 8, 2011

What Dat You Drinking

Sorry WNBA, but football is back and no one cares about your sport again. That's right food fans, the Saints of New Orleans open the NFL Season on the road on the Frozen Margarita Tundra owned by the Packers of Green Bay. The excitement in households across America is palpable as people wake up, rub the sleep from their eyes, and come to the realization that there is an NFL game on tonight and they don't have to watch Real Housewives of Minneapolis. Productivity will drop to near historic lows as offices switch their focus to more important things like whether or not to call their fantasy football team We Must Protect This Winehouse.

So to help you help yourself, we enlisted the help of some alcohol pros, Joe Briand and Jeremy Labadie of Carte des Vins and TheBeerBuddha.com respectively to tell us what you need to be sipping on tonight. Notice we left cocktails off? That is because you only need to know the name Dark n Stormy, great drink and if you use your imagination it is Black and Gold.  Even if you hate football, I have a feeling after the President's jobs speech we are all going to need a drink.

Beer Buddha LOCAL, LOCAL, LOCAL!!!!


Covington Brewhouse Ponchartrain Pilsner- This refreshing,  german style pilsner is an easy drinking local brew with a nice malty profile and subtle hint of hops.  Available:  Steins Deli, Cork & Bottle, Rouses.


Tin Roof Perfect Ten Amber -  This canned offering from Tin Roof has an nice aggressive maltiness which is perfectly balanced with a grassy hop bitterness.  Available:  Steins Deli, Cork & Bottle


NOLA Brewing Hopitoulas Draft Pack- For those that want a little bite in your brew this IPA is for you!  Hopitoulas has an amazing piney, hop bitterness with hints of grapefruit but is balanced well with a nice, subtle caramel maltiness.  Available:  Cork & Bottle, Rouses, Whole Foods
Joe Briand




Terriero Prosecco $15 – Pronounced Pro-Sack-O on game days.  I never ice down champagne until the game is over but I’ll drink a nice crisp clean Prosecco all game long.  Prosecco is great for fried and fatty game day foods and can cut through the fat of Nachos or anything else “cheesy.”

Etrna Flor Montsant Blanco 2009 $18- This Spanish white is 70% Grenache Blanc and 30% Macabeo.  I recommend this because it is a white with a bit of weight (from the Grenache blanc) as well as great minerality.  I like versatile wines like this because they appeal to both the Chardonnay set as well as the wine geek set.  Great with chicken, pork and can stand up to some spice as well.

I think Cotes du Rhone might be one of the great game day wines.  It is affordable, usually drinks well above its pay grade and has the weight big Cab drinkers like and the soft roundness that Grenache from the Rhone valley delivers in bunches.  If you prefer the bigger more fruit forward style search out a 2007 and if you’re looking for a little more refinement search out one of the newly released 2009s.  I’m recommending 2 different Cotes du Rhones today.

Undrafted rookie budget: Vidal-Fleury Cotes du Rhone 2007 $10


Long Term extension Contract- Saint-Damien Cotes du Rhone “La Bouveau” 2009 $15

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Tale of the Tape

The other week Peter and I debated the merits of fine dining vs. casual dining. One of the points made was that casual dining is no longer casually priced. As an example, I mentioned that a recent casual meal at Domenica set us back $200.Chefs keep opening casual spots because they tell us, "This is what the public wants in these tough times" or "I just want to serve food without all the BS". These are noble goals, but are we as consumers getting hosed on value?

For comparison sake, let's compare and contrast the two meals using the Warren Buffet definition of value v. price wherein, "Price is what you pay, value is what you get." Both meals were very good to excellent from a food perspective. Both Domenica and Restaurant August are headed by talented, young chefs, Alon Shaya and Michael Gulotta, respectively. This comparison only uses the experiences to compare the cost to find out which meal had a better value.

Opening Impressions

Domenica - Placemats double as menus, hard surfaces predominant, and room is loud in a good and festive way, bottle of water placed on table.

August - Cloth bound menus, although one seam of my menu was nearly split, tablecloths, noise level moderate, bottle of Cava to start.

Food

Domenica - Starters included the always delicious octopus carpaccio ($12) with its thin coins of briny tenderness offset by shards of fennel and citrus. Also had the crema fritta ($14), an Italian mornay sauce essentially, that is cooled to a consistency harder than a pudding but softer than a solid, then fried. The braised goat ($28) came out in a cauldron studded with baby vegetables and was delicious and filling. The other entree on the table was a simple pizza, the tutto carne ($13) loaded with fennel sausage, bacon, salami, and Cotechino cheese. Dessert was the always reliable frittole ($8).

August - After placing order, the first course to arrive was an amuse bouche, cubes of pork belly with a spicy glaze (gratis). Next up was a shared first course baby beets ($17) split into quarters sitting atop pristine jumbo lump crab, all accented by baby greens and a tart vinaigrette. Then a bowl of ramen with a pork and shrimp broth ($14) and a tortelli with chanterelles and bone marrow ($16). Entrees were next and included an overcooked duck breast ($37, the only dud of the night) and the pork three ways ($36), the pork tenderloin wrapped in crispy dough, being one of the best things I've eaten in 2010. No dessert, but mignardises of chocolates, pralines, and other candies.

Wine

Domenica - Asked the waitress for a recommendation of something different and she suggested an Italian pinot noir ($65). Unfortunately, the wine lacked acid or structure to stand up to the gutsy cooking. Blame myself though, pinot is a French grape. The glass of limoncello at the end, however was perfect.

August - Juve Y Camps Cava ($45) to start, which was lovely with all of the starters. And then the sommelier suggested an '08 Hautes Cotes de Baune ($90) to round out the meal. I'd order both wines again, but if pressed two bottles of the Cava.

Service

Domenica - The service fits the restaurant. It is unpretentious and driven to make you happy. Any hiccups are readily fixed. Of all the Besh satellites, this is the most complete.

August - Despite the frayed menu (yes, it is stupid to dwell on, but so simple) service was flawless. The courses were timed perfectly and anyone on the floor could answer any question with ease and grace.

Final Cost with tax and tip

Domenica - $200

August - $325

Value winner? August, hands down. Now listen, I spend a lot of money on restaurants. Money that could certainly be put to better use elsewhere. I know that spending this much money on food goes against the teachings of at least three major religions and two political theories. But dining out is a hobby. Given the option, I'd forgo one and half meals at Domenica for one at Restaurant August. Your values, may and will differ. What is your definition of value in a meal?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Quinoa Caprese


The Folk Singer goes gaga over the combination of tomato, fresh mozzarella, basil, and balsamic vinegar. So much so that she was forced to improvise beyond the traditional caprese salad to avoid the impending mutiny that I had been threatening after the sixth consecutive week of red, white, and green.

Folk lore has it that South Louisiana natives eat more rice than any other regional people save for those in the Far East. At the CBD branch of Blackened Out, we do our part by utitilizing the rice cooker we purchased from Hong Kong market a year ago. (More on this incredible appliance at a later date; let's just say that it was the best $20 we ever spent.) But man cannot live on rice alone, so we were glad to discover that the rice cooker does a bang up job with quinoa, an often overlooked grain which adds a nice diversity to our limited culinary repertoire.

Quinoa Caprese
  • Ingredients
    • Quinoa (1 cup)
    • Fresh Mozzarella (1/2 lb)
    • Grape or Cherry Tomatoes (1 pint)
    • Basil (1 bunch)
    • Balsamic Vinegar (1/2 cup)
  • Directions
    • Rinse quinoa in a strainer for 15 minutes.
    • Place quinoa in rice cooker with a shade less than 2 cups of water.
      • If using stovetop, bring water to a boil, add quinoa, cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes.
    • Remove quinoa from cooking vessel and fluff with a fork, then set aside to cool.
    • Place balsamic vinegar in a saucepan on medium and reduce by half. Cool after reducing.
    • Cut tomatoes in half (or quarter if tomatoes are larger) and cut mozzarella in a similar size.
    • Chop basil.
    • After all ingredients have cooled, throw them in a bowl and stir to combine.
Grill steak and serve quinoa salad on the side.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Happy Labor Day Weekend

Labor Day is here. Can you believe it? Seems like just yesterday we were complaining about the August heat. Labor Day, as you well know, was begun in 1932 to honor and celebrate moms who give birth. Because it traditionally marks the end of Summer, Labor Day is a wonderful time to fire up the grill, burn stuff, and shoot pyrotechnics into the air. Also, if you have been dating a gal you met at The Sands Beach Club who goes to college back East, it is time to break up.

To get you excited for Labor Day festivities, here is a photo of what happens when you park a 4 pound brisket on a Big Green Egg for 6 hours at 250 degrees.


Happy Labor Day to you and the woman who gave birth to you.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Banana Blossom

Thai usually runs a distant 4th behind Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese as the most popular Far East cuisine in the New Orleans area. But in our September review for OffBeat, we profile a restaurant which has the potential to propel Bourbon Noodles to the prominence that it deserves.

The surprisingly short journey down Belle Chasse Hwy leads to a non-descript strip mall with a sign that only announces "THAI". You will not find the stars of "Most Eligible Dallas" hanging out in Banana Blossom. The location and ambience do not provide a conducive setting for your standard Friday dinner date with three women. (Then again, your faithful bloggers are not the formative authority on that subject.)

But the food is excellent and affordable. Start with the roti, a griddled flatbread served with a thin red curry sauce for dippping, and the fried baby back ribs dunked in the accompanying vinegary chili sauce. You can rationalize your previous courses by finishing with the mixed veggie and tofu Bourbon Noodle, the texture of which is so light and delicate that it reminds me of the stracci pasta at Domenica. Vegetarianism never tasted so good.

Banana Blossom - Birdie
2112 Belle Chasse Hwy, Suite 10
(504) 392-7530
Lunch & Dinner: Mon-Sat