Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Restaurant August: Is It Worth It?

Restaurant August is the youngest member of the Classic set. Compared to most of the places examined this year, August is a wee lad. The reason it deserved scrutiny is because no other chef/brand in New Orleans history, save maybe Emeril Lagasse, has expanded faster and farther than John Besh. Prudhomme's spice line and a Commander's outpost or two have certainly taken New Orleans' brands to distant lands, but Besh after Katrina was seemingly anywhere a microphone or camera was. TV shows, eight new restaurants, cookbooks, and a foundation followed. All of this took place in a roasting pan of rapidly expanding food media, Twitpics, and Instagrams, making Besh one of the most recognizable New Orleans chefs.

August's location across the street from The Windsor Court gives it access to well-heeled visitors with expense accounts and sophisticated tastes. The cuisine at August has always reminded me, in a good way, of watching the Great Chefs of the World series on PBS. Elegant, multi-component dishes which appear incredibly simple, yet impossible to recreate at home. Take for instance the amuse bouche which sets in front of a diner a hallowed out egg shell brimming with fish fumet, a truffled sabayon, a dollop of caviar, and a baton of brioche sticking out like flag planted on a newly discovered island.

Each time this amuse is delivered by one of the sharp backwaiters, I sigh and utter to myself, "this again." But by the time I am done scooping out the luscious thick mixture of pungent truffle and fish made solid, I consider ordering a half dozen of these. That and a bottle of Champagne from the well-studied list would make one hell of an indulgent list.

But alas, duty calls. The daily lunch menu (hurry only thirteen more days that it will be available for $20.12) offers a selection of three dishes each in one of three courses. I went the economical route; Lindsay decided she wanted to order off the regular menu, which can get pricey. My first course was a simple salad of pear, mizuna, blue cheese, and walnuts. The pears had been sliced thin and cooked, the heat coaxing out a rich sweetness which was a natural pairing for the sharp bite of blue cheese.

The second most famous dish in the Besh cannon is a bowl of gently ridged gnocchi united with crabmeat, truffle, and parmesan. The real value in this dish is the free drag of bread through the deeply flavored sauce. Again, you could make a whole meal out of a double order of this, but this time go with a white burgundy.

Porchetta, that rustic Italian roadside staple, receives a shower, shave, and Saville Row clothing allowance. The kitchen at august crusts the well-seasoned meat in panko and places it on a saddle of sturdy grits framed with tender sprouts and halved cherry tomatoes. Shrimp and grits removes the grits in favor of risotto and surrounds the dish with a rich shellfish stock, thin, floppy disks of gourd, and a pleasant spice.

I wish more attention was devoted to the wine by the glass program, but fine dining's number one rule is to make money on the extremities. A glass of rose which should have been bright and lively was dusty and flat, but one probably shouldn't be drinking at lunch. Desserts under the studied stewardship of Kelly Fields have veered into territory approaching avant garde in New Orleans. Witness a study in devil's food cake, which cast the flavors of chocolate into a galaxy of cherry asteroids, pistachio space debris, and coconut moons orbiting dense planets of decadent brownies and a sun of cocoa pudding.

I am not sure how much time Besh spends in his kitchen at August. But whether it is one hundred hours a week or one hundred minutes a year, his brigade is well-tuned and focused. The faux Besh signature on each page of the menu (and website) needs to be retired; its like wearing a high school letter jacket as a freshmen in college. The front of the house service is polished, professional, and well-timed. I can't help but think that a maitre d' would tie the room together like Lebowski's rug. But we are here to talk about the food, and the food at this newish classic is fantastic and faultless. At twenty bucks for lunch, it is the best deal in town.

Restaurant August: Is It Worth It? Absolutely.
301 Tchoupitoulas

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Programing Note

At the Fourth Annual Blackened Out Media, L.L.C. Retreat and Trust Fall Exercise Summit, Peter and I discussed the future of Ye Ole Blog. In February, this area of the world wide web will turn five, which means we need to figure out soon whether it is going to a public school or private school. Furthermore, the blog just started playing soccer and we finally got the damn thing potty trained.

Quite simply, we needed to figure out how to go forward surrounded by heightened responsibilities. A best practices if you will for a business that has never turned a profit. But one thing we think we have gained is your trust. We don't take ads and we don't have an agenda. We simply enjoy sharing our dining experiences with strangers on the internet. And that trust (if we have it, which is a big if) is perhaps the most important aspect of our interaction.

As you may know, as Hogs for the Cause has grown, my involvement with local chefs and restaurants has increased. Geographically, I live four doors down and around the corner from the chefs of two of my favorite restaurants. Through one event or introduction or another, I have gotten too chummy with the people we critique. While being unbiased and honest has never been a problem here, Peter and I are concerned about how the appearance of impropriety could erode the trust our readers have in our reviews. In light of these issues, we have reached a decision that once I finish out the 2012 Challenge (which will bleed into 2013), I will cease reviewing restaurants for Blackened Out.

Peter will take full over full responsibility for reviewing restaurants which has sort of been the heading regardless. Our goal is to release more "professional" reviews based on a minimum of two visits, rather than reactionary restaurant writing. Reviews will be published once a week on Thursday. Occasionally, one lengthy review may be replaced by a collection of Short Order Reviews. Peter will not take on a challenge in 2013 and instead narrow his energies solely on restaurant reviewing. Finally, we will continue to use our golf style ranking system.

In the past few years, my focus has shifted towards writing about restaurants and chefs, wine and spirits, and home cooking. These types of articles will continue two or three times a week. I have grand plans of reviving the interview series from two summers past, as well as other restaurant focused writing which isn't based around a review. We'll see what happens and we hope you will continue reading.


Monday, December 10, 2012

Changes at Le Meritage

When Brett Anderson awarded four beans to Le Meritage in his October 2009 review, Chef Michael Farrell probably thought that his fine dining establishment in the Maison Dupuy would be one of the few hotel restaurants that bucked the downward trend. The immediate response from local diners was correspondingly positive; it seems that I could not go a week without someone relating a glowing review about a recent dinner there. But as time passed, every time that I heard someone mention Le Meritage it was usually in this context: "Yeah, Le Meritage is a good idea, unless we can find a table somewhere better in the Quarter." Fast forward a little more than three years, and Chef Farrell is now due to depart from the restaurant for an extended "sabbatical" in the Cayman Islands.
Clockwise from top left: lamb t-bone with sweet potato; duck two ways and sweetbread salad frisee; fall beet risotto; braised beef short rib with gremolata.
I have dined at Le Meritage exactly twice since Chef Farrell took over in the kitchen. The first was in October 2011 when the restaurant opened for a FQ business meeting and subsequently set a new bar for the quality of food at a work luncheon. We started with a napoleon of beet red cubes of tuna tartare topped with  a layer of crunchy and sweet corn hiding beneath a silky smooth (maybe too smooth) guacamole. The entrée was a juicy and crispy-skinned airline chicken (boneless breast with drumette still attached) served alongside lemon laced quinoa and braised bitter greens which retained a nice texture. A deliciously rich, smooth, and barely sweetened dark chocolate pot de creme finished the meal.

Of course, my first full dining experience at Le Meritage was just a month before the chef announced his departure. The restaurant was surprisingly empty for theatre week at Mahalia Jackson a few blocks away. For the first hour of our meal, the only other person in the dining room was the John Mayer doppelganger working his solo set and serenading us with Ray LaMontagne’s "Trouble," which I forced The Folk Singer to dance to at our reception. It was a magical night -  the wedding, that is.

Dinner at Le Meritage was a good time as well. In terms of ambience, the restaurant has touches of both universal and French Quarter elegance. Diners sit in wide club chairs at unadorned, dark wood tables while gazing out windows on opposite sides of the dining room looking out upon Burgundy and the courtyard of the hotel. A twisting path of track lighting winds around the dimly lit dining room.

The menu is organized by wine pairing, with wine flights matched with a group of courses based on the flavor profiles of both. In addition, all wines are available by the half and full pour, and each dish is offered in both appetizer and entrée portions. I started with miniature medallions of sautéed sweetbreads on a pile of frisée salad dressed with ponzu, a curious twist on the classic citrus sauce usually served with the glands, which in this case were a bit more chewy than desired. Duck two ways brought thin slices of duck breast and nubs of seared foie gras matched with a fig compote; the classic combination of duck and sweet sauce, which I sometimes feel is about as dated as the Hans and Franz radio spots from French Riviera Spa. A lamb t-bone was grilled to a fatty, succulent rosy red and paired with a terribly boring wedge of roasted sweet potato. For dessert, an individual key lime goat cheese cake tasted stale and from the box, and a dome of chocolate hazelnut mousse topped a dense (if a bit dry) brownie/cookie base. The best part of the meal was the fantastic $82 premier cru burgundy which I was afraid had a "1" missing from the price on the menu, until I received the bill and thankfully breathed a sign of relief.

As we waited for the valet to bring around the car, I began mentally writing up a review in my head:

"Generic fine dining setting in the Quarter. Obvious emphasis on wine. Everything on the menu you have seen before, with a few twists here and there. A few missteps, and no dish really grabbed your attention. All in all, I would definitely go back again ... if I couldn't find a better table somewhere else."

Le Meritage
1001 Toulouse
(504) 522-8800
Tues-Sat 6-10pm

Friday, December 7, 2012

Huevos Brunch

Huevos Benedict.
A long, long time ago, before there was Crescent Pie & Sausage and Pizzicare, Bart Bell and Jeff Baron's first joint venture was Huevos. The breakfast specialist actually served as a Plan B strategy for the duo after Hurricane Gustav caused the collapse of the TV/VCR repair shop that they were renovating for Crescent Pie & Sausage. Featuring a creative menu that benefited from a judicious use of Bart Bell's charcuterie, Huevos was a hit from opening day, and rightfully so. But after a long renovation, Crescent Pie & Sausage eventually opened its doors and garnered the full attention of the two chefs. Then came Pizzicare and more responsibility. Eventually, it was decided that Huevos would close its doors and make way for a retail market.

But like Lazarus, Huevos has risen from the dead, popping up every Sunday for brunch inside Crescent Pie & Sausage. The menu remains much the same, except for one important addition: booze, a necessity at any proper New Orleans brunch. Try the house bloody mary - a concoction of Cathead Vodka, Zing Zang, and  a splash of Lazy Magnolia's Jefferson Stout.

On some days your meal may start with an amuse bouche of bite-sized beignets covered in powdered sugar. For those with a bigger sweet tooth, check out the angel food cake french toast or the chocolate and caramel covered turtle pancakes, an often recurring special. An incarnation of the Blue Jay Special, a/k/a the "Huevorito" is still on offer, but the best chorizo-filled dish on the menu is the Huevos Benedict. Triangular folded crepes filled with pimento cheese form the perfect landing pad for spicy pork sausage patties which are topped with poached eggs and then finished with a drizzle of red pepper sauce, a sprinkle of jalapeno-spiked pico de gallo, and a scoop of guacamole on the side. It's a hell of a way to start your Sunday, save for the fact that the entire plate is a bit small in terms of portion size for a hungry eater, so don't forget to add a side of black beans or potatoes.

Although the kitchen can run into trouble with consistency (over-poached eggs and a failure to season all components of a dish), the return of Huevos is a much appreciated addition to the Mid-City brunch scene. And with a 3:15 kickoff for the Saints-Giants game, Huevos fits right into this week's Sunday schedule.

Huevos - Par/Birdie
4400 Banks Street
(504) 482-2426
Sunday Only: 9am - 2pm

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Bo Kho

For a few days last week, the weather was chilly enough to warrant making a big batch of beef stew. While there is nothing wrong with the traditional Irish beef stew or Beef Burgundy, something had me in an Asian mood. This is a basic braise, but with the subtraction of a few traditional ingredients and the addition of a couple Southeast Asian flavors. After the initial braise, strain the sauce and remove the meat. Then cover the meat with the sauce and cool overnight. The next day add in the blanched carrots and turnips and reheat.

This is the perfect dish to make halfway on a Sunday and then finish off on Monday night. Serve it with warm French bread to soak up the pungent, rich sauce.

My Bo Kho

1 pound beef stew meat
3 carrots, peeled and diced
2 stalks of celery
1 stalk of lemongrass, diced
3 cloves of garlic
1 turnip, peeled and diced
1 leek, diced
1 tablespoon of minced ginger
1 tablespoon of red curry paste
4 cups chicken stock
Vegetable oil
Fish sauce
Juice of one lime
Bouquet garni - bay, coriander, allspice, and clove. I put them in one of those metal mesh loose tea holders - easier than tying or trying to fish out.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Pat dry your beef. Season with salt and pepper. In a Dutch oven, heat three tablespoons of vegetable oil until just smoking. Sear the meat in batches. Add in handful of the carrots (reserve the rest for the next day), the leeks, celery, lemongrass, ginger, and garlic. Stir to combine and let sweat for about five minutes or until soft. Add in curry paste and cook for another three minutes. Then deglaze with a quarter cup of vermouth. Once the vermouth has evaporated, add in the stock, lime juice, the seared meat, a good few dashes of fish sauce, and the bouquet garni. Bring to a boil. Cover and pop in the oven for 2 hours.

Remove the meat and place in a bowl. Strain the sauce into the bowl, cool, and refrigerate for at least six hours but preferably overnight. When ready to serve, blanch the reserved carrots and turnips in salted, boiling water until al dente. In a separate sauce pan, rewarm the braised meat and its sauce, and add in the carrots and turnips.

Serve in warm bowls with plenty of French bread and a crisp beer.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Galatoire's: Is It Worth It?

Editor's Note: This one gets a little weird. I struggled with whether or not to recommend it, but not because of the food (which recent visit showed marked improvement). Rather because the experience far exceeds the food. Which is why there is a dissertation in place of a standard review. Refunds gladly given. Buckle Up. 

Few things are misunderstood in the American dining landscape more than "tapas." Just the name is confusing enough to allow restaurateurs to fool an unsuspecting public. Tapas has come to mean smaller portions served at three-quarters the price of a normal plate. It's a great con if you can get in on it. Next time you split a hamburger or only serve your friends three small shrimp, call it tapas and people will swoon towards you like Hemingway to booze.

I am no authority on tapas, but my idea of tapas is that of a free form experience built mainly around drinking and socializing, and lastly eating. The food component is mostly small snacks delivered here and there, quick bites of something salty or sweet, or savory or bitter. Eaten alone, with strangers, or in the company of friends, tapas describes a style of dining more than the dishes served. Tapas are ordered at a set pace - yours. You choose when to switch from sherry to beer or anchovies to foie gras. There may be a menu, but more than likely you pay it no attention. The bartender or waiter guides you as you order. After a few bites, you move on to a different topic of conversation, drink, or food.

By my definition, Galatoire's, that French-Creole bastion, may provide one of the best examples of a tapas dining experience in America. Now, once you are done guffawing, consider this. First, the line between Spanish and French influence in New Orleans is blurrier than your vision after three Hurricanes. The French Quarter is really Spanish. The Civil Code is either French or Spanish, no one really knows for sure. The Saints were originally called Los Santos, and on and on.

Secondly, Jean Galatoire, the founder of Bourbon Street's classiest address, arrived in America by way of Pardies, French. Pardies, a  French town just outside of Pau, is as the crow flies about 156 kilometers from San Sebastian. San Sebastian is likely one of the birthplaces or at least an ardent follower of tapas. The area of Southwest France and Northeast Spain has an independent streak wider that a country mile. Neither area really believes itself to be Spanish or French, but its own unique culture. Sound familiar, New Orleans?

Galatoire's is not the high-end Louis XIV to Careme to Escoffier fancy French dining of reservations made months in advance. Galatoire's is not the place you go to sit in a hushed room while golden trimmed waiters deliver silver domed dishes while reciting French poetry. This is a place with more in common to a cafe or bar, where a cast of characters filters throughout the day to make noisy conversation over a Pernod, a newspaper, and a few bites of something simple.

Now this is not to say the food at Galatoire's is by any means Spanish. Pommes souffle, bernaise, marchand de vin are as French as striking government workers. The trout, pompano, crabmeat, oysters Rockefeller, lamb chops, and thick steaks are the food of a culture blessed with abundance. The menu - there is one - has shortened its official offerings, but a waiter will still deliver to your table just about anything he thinks you should have.

Rather, it is the style of dining at Galatoire's that is uniquely Spanish. This is a meal best undertaken surrounded by the company of four to six friends. Preferably, ones you don't see often enough. Skip the first rush towards lunch. It requires you to get out there entirely too early. Instead head for the second wave around 1:30 or 2:00 pm.

Your first round or two of drinks should be cocktails, something refreshing. A martini, Pimm's cup, or Bloody Mary will do. After two drinks, your table should be ready. The garlic bread, which now arrives along with the regular foot long of Leidenheimer, is a significant and worthwhile upgrade. Crusted with butter and the tinge of garlic, they are perfect with a glass of Champagne, should you be in the mood to celebrate.

Souffle potatoes are hit or miss. At times they arrive plump and airy, greaseless and the color of ancient papyrus. But there is likely one, two, or more on the plate which are soggy, dark brown, and deflated. Same goes for the fried eggplant. Finish the Champagne with the Galatoire's Goute, the classiest seafood platter in town.  A delicious mound of piquant shrimp remoulade shares top billing with a scoop of pearly crabmeat maison and oysters en brochette. That final offering suffers the same fate as the other fried items. It will either be fantastic or disappointing. All of the food up till now has been served to the table, which encourages sharing, passing and more conversation which leads to more drinks.

After a few more rounds of drinks and idle chatter, move on to Oysters Rockefeller and turtle soup. Time wise, you should be about two hours in to your meal or maybe thirty minutes. Time passes both slowly and fast in Galatoire's. Fish with crabmeat has been a perennial strong point at Galatoire's. Egg dishes and steaks are the sleepers. Steaks are particularly well-done, crusty on the exterior, soft on the inside, draped in your sauce of choice. For me, that often means a few bottles of deep, dark Napa cab. On a recent visit, the Pope upstaged us all with a filet topped with foie gras.

Skip dessert, which has always been a weak point. If you really want a dessert, beg for a hot fudge sundae or ask politely for a Grand Marnier, neat. Contrary to popular belief, Galatoire's is not some restaurant designed only for the elite, rather it is a simple neighborhood cafe serving drinks, bites of food, and a place to socialize. All be it in coat after five and all day Sunday.

Galatoire's is tapas. In the same way it took a Russian composer (Prokofiev) to translate the story of an Englishman (Shakespeare) about Italian lovers (Romeo and Juliet) into music, so it took a Frenchmen in New Orleans to fully execute the genius of Spanish tapas in America. And he accomplished this 112 years ago.

Galatoire's: Is It Worth It? Yes, but not if you are looking for a traditional 3 course meal in an hour.
209 Bourbon St.
(504) 525-2021

Monday, December 3, 2012

Keife & Co.

99 bottles of booze on the wall at Keife & Co. Photo by renee b. photography.
Though the weather outside is far from frightful, Christmas is just around the corner.  And we all know that the most important part of Chri$tma$ is, of course, presents - receiving more so than giving.  Having spent this past weekend in NYC (more on that trip soon), I can attest to the fact that the holiday shopping season is in full swing.  I once thought that my 13 years of Catholic schooling taught me all that I need to know about hell, and then I stepped foot inside Bloomingdale's on 59th and Lexington during December.

Instead of stuffing stockings this year with iTunes gift cards and lip gloss, why not fill them with bottles of single malt scotch and maybe a wedge of aged gorgonzola?  In this month's issue of OffBeat Magazine, we profile Keife & Co., downtown's newest purveyor of fine wines and spirits. Keife & Co. offers the most enjoyable shopping experience of the season, and owners John Keife and Jim Yonkus are happy to assist you in finding the perfect libation for the holiday season, whether it be a fine single barrel bourbon for your boss or a few bottles of burgundy for the neighborhood gathering.

The holidays are about spending time with family and friends. In such a case, booze is a necessity not a luxury. It's time to stock up.

Keife & Co.
801 Howard Ave.
(504) 523-7272
Tues-Sat 10am-8pm

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Beat the Dirty Birds

As if we needed another reason to hate the Falcons, apparently a few Atlanta airport workers decided to throw eggs at the Saints team bus.

It's game day. Do your job.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Willie Mae's Scotch House: Is It Worth It?

A sleeper on the Willie Mae's menu, a country style fried pork chop.

A place like Willie Mae's Scotch House is tailor made to be a complete bust. Featured on more travel shows than voodoo, Willie Mae's was rebuilt by a cadre of chefs following the federal flood. With such an influx of attention and cameras, one could understand if they began hawking seasoned flours and stovetop chicken fryers on HSN. What's more, Willie Mae Seaton has long since turned the place over  to her granddaughter. It would be very easy for Willie Mae's to cash in on its fifteen minutes, follow the lead of other "World Famous" New Orleans restaurants, and begin buying stamps at a discount rate.

No way in hell that has happened or will happen at Willie Mae's.

This restaurant is so charming I thought it was going to take Lindsay home. The servers have a warmth and personality that will steer you away from say a regular fried pork chop to the country style pork chop, which has a more coarse coating, but a juicier interior. Perhaps it is the fact that your seat may be under a grotto filled with well-wishes from Jesus, but there is something both holy and homey about the food served here.

Red beans are costume de rigueur at the carnival clubs that are New Orleans' neighborhood restaurants. To be clear, the ones at Willie Mae's are an excellent example of the Creole standby. However, pass them up as a side to your fried chicken or pork chop for a plate of the butter beans. They are smoky, rich, and silken like a a bootlegger's smoking jacket. Skip the cornbread and macaroni and cheese; order more beans.

The fried chicken at Willie Mae's could perhaps be the best in the world. The crust is a shade below mahogany and shatters just slightly less than a Christmas ornament dropped on the ground. Break the seal of the crust, and a waft of sultry, fragrant steam floods out as if you had opened the door to a sauna filled with Victoria's Secret models. The interior, juicy and salty, is worthy of an interview with James Lipton. One of the great experiences in this mortal coil is to run a palmful of fried chicken crust through the last bits of butter beans on your plate. A standard order comes with three pieces, you might as well order two.

If you go early, you will deal with crowds, lines, and a long wait for chicken. Go around one and you will waltz right into one of New Orleans' best restaurants.

Willie Mae's Scotch House: Is It Worth It? Absolutely.
2401 St. Ann St
(504) 822-9503
Open daily.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Verti Marte: Is It Worth It?

An All That Jazz at Verti Marte

Just about any internet message board that remotely references the French Quarter will include a suggestion to "Hit up Verti Marte for the best po-boys in town." This desire to feed an intoxicated stomach filled to the brim with red tinged punch or ectoplasm hued Hand Grenades is as old as drinking itself. The Italians have a tradition of midnight pasta, the British fish and chips, the French, a pack of cigarettes. The French Quarter's late night sponge food of choice is an All That Jazz at Verti Marte.

Like Rocky and Carlos, Verti Marte has bounced back from a kitchen closing fire. The deli has been spruced up. Well wishers marked up the plywood which covered the doors during the remodel with good tidings, and these get well soon placards now hang on the wall. Order at the back counter, pay up front. Cash only. ATM in the corner.

A stunning array of food is on offer at Verti Marte. Po Boys, sandwiches, rib lunch plates, stuffed this, baked that, sides, salads, chips, macaroni and cheese, and beer. An All That Jazz, a Royal Feast, macaroni and cheese, and two waters. How a place like Verti Marte does not sell non-diet Barq's Root Beer is a mystery to me.

The macaroni and cheese uses thin strands of linguine in place of the typical elbow macaroni. I can't say this makes a better macaroni and cheese. Rather than clinging to the bechamel, the thin strands of pasta slip through the sauce. The result is a puddle of watery queso at the bottom of a Styrofoam container.

All That Jazz is a cacophony of flavors, textures, and temperatures. Grilled ham, shrimp, turkey share a loaf with two types of cheese, mushrooms, tomatoes, and Wow sauce. The po boy manages to taste like nothing and everything at the same time barely achieving some sort of Buddhist enlightened state. Reaching nirvana may be a laudable goal, but not for a po boy. At the end of the day, an All That Jazz, just is not all that.

The Royal Feast is just a disappointing sandwich to try and eat sober. Again here comes a trifecta of grilled lunch meats, more melted cheese, canned slices of black olives, grilled onions, and more Wow sauce. A few bites in and the saltiness of all the components will make you wish you were drunk.

Shows how much the internet knows.

Verti Marte: Is It Worth It? If drunk, perhaps. If not, no.
1201 Royal Street

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Thanksgiving Checklist

You may or may not know this, but a week from now the single greatest American holiday will be upon us. Thanksgiving, that celebration of the Pilgrims seeing their shadow and getting six more weeks of winter, is as American as threatening to leave if your presidential candidate loses. Now some of you will use Holy Thursday as an opportunity to eat out. That is certainly your Second Amendment right, and if so, you can stop reading.

For the rest of you, this is a strategic gameplan to help make America's birthday as enjoyable as possible.

  1. You are going to be rushed. There is just no way around this. You will wake up with the best intentions, but then the oven acts up or cousin Larry shows up an hour early, and suddenly you are scrambling. Solution: You have all weekend to do those little prep jobs that are tedious but necessary. Making green beans? Blanch them, drain, and pop in the fridge. Need stock for stuffing, gravy, Bloody Bulls (you do)? You have all weekend to let bones simmer on the stove. Cranking pepper can put a strain on your arm, so pound peppercorns out while the Saints pound the Raiduhs. 
  2. Do most of your grocery shopping this weekend. I have no idea what is on your list other than my kiss, but most likely you are going to need a lot of butter, an extra box of Kosher salt, a few bottles of white wine both for drinking and cooking, kitchen twine, cream, bags of potatoes, parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme, a Simon and Garfunkel Box set. You get the idea. Get it now. By Tuesday, all those once a year buys will be tough to find.
  3. That "really, super cute" Thanksgiving themed cocktail you found on the world wide web, is a world wide horrible idea. Set a bar, get some ice, and let grandma serve herself into oblivion. You need a bottle of bourbon, vodka, rum, and scotch, per person. To be safe. Get some mixers this weekend as well - orange juice, tonic, club soda, lemons and limes. 
  4. There is a dish you think you have to make because everyone loves it. They don't. They are being nice.
  5. If you are planning on frying your turkey, I feel real sorry for your guests. Instead, follow this recipe.  Frying a turkey is just a bad idea. Injecting your turkey is an even worse idea. Injecting than frying is what people do who cheer for the Falcons. Fact, a golden, roasted turkey was the original model for the Mona Lisa. Look it up if you don't believe me. 
  6. Desserts you will spend far too much time worrying about; same goes for appetizers. Better Cheddar and a bowl of vanilla ice cream with a slice of pie is sufficient. 
Follow these rules and you will enjoy a Thanksgiving worthy of launching 400 plus years of tradition. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A Rant: Treme Sucks

I gave Treme a shot for its first two seasons. This was mainly because I failed to believe, or wanted to believe, that the same group behind The Wire could be this awful at telling one of the easiest and most compelling stories of the young 21st Century. Early on Treme focused on telling the culinary side of the Katrina epic. Most importantly, telling it correctly. They even brought in Anthony Bourdain, to consult in order to make the restaurant and kitchen scenes authentic.

Unfortunately and infuriatingly, they got the post-Katrina culinary story as wrong as a well done steak. I stopped watching after episode 1 of Season 3 and here is why.

According to Treme, Janette Desautel owned a popular Uptown-ish restaurant prior to Katrina. After Katrina, her restaurant was able to re-open quickly and she soon had dining rooms full of New Orleans locals and world-class chefs. Then boom, she runs out of money and has to close.


If a restaurant was able to open fairly quickly after Katrina and you were a good enough chef to attract Colicchio and Chefs, you would not have ever closed due to lack of money. End of discussion. First of all, you would have been booked solid. Any no shows would promptly be replaced by people waiting in the bar. The citizenry of New Orleans took to open restaurants like a moth to flame. Mostly, this can be attributed to many people not having kitchens at home, so dining out became the default option.

Secondly, people were going out to chat with neighbors, learn about insurance hangups, socialize and drink. Guess what is one of the leading revenue and profit drivers of a restaurant? Ding, Ding, Ding, booze. So a restaurant may have been only able to serve meatloaf or chicken salad, but they would have sold say $50 of cocktails or wine per table. Expenses would have been lower as labor costs were limited by the simple unavailability of it. While Janette may not have been able to buy a Porsche, she would have been able to keep the lights on and the doors open.

Thirdly, the logical thing for chefs in New Orleans was to expand after Katrina. In all reality, Desautel would have had a second restaurant under construction and plans for a charcuterie line within one year after Katrina. Did anyone on Treme's much vaunted writing staff even pick up the phone and talk with a New Orleans chef?

After losing her restaurant, Desautel then exiles herself to New York. She throws a drink at Alan Richman, works for David Chang, and eventually feels the tug back to New Orleans. Make no mistake what the implication is here. It is not that she wanted to leave New Orleans; or start over. That happened and still happens with chefs, lawyers, plumbers, teachers, you name it. What Treme implies, with a heavy hand, is that Janette had to go to New York to be a better chef and businesswomen. That a chef in New Orleans just isn't skilled enough to be successful at running a "real" restaurant.

You see, she was just a hayseed. Just a Cajun-Creole girl who gosh darn it could cook well enough for New Orleans before Katrina, but not after. The Richman drink throwing scene was completely undone, by proving his point throughout the rest of Treme: that New Orleans isn't a good town for chefs or food. According to Treme, in order to be legitimized, Desautel needed the blessing of the New York Chef Mafia. She needed to learn about hydrocolloids or cooking with pork fat under the tutelage of the chefs Treme's writers think are important. This is such utter horseshit.

New York is an excellent restaurant town, to be sure. And there is always something to learn from others, but spare us the protective custodian of helpless New Orleans angle. We didn't need your blessing, and we certainly did not need you dumping the lower half of Williamsburg into the Bywater like a trash barge looking for a port.

You got the story wrong. You got it horribly wrong. Why don't you just shift it and put Desautels in a food truck slinging free range goat ramen in the parking lot of a Brooklyn haberdasher. Worse you already explored this exact "New York as the gateway to New Orleans" story with Delmond Lambreaux. On top of being incorrect, it is redundant. Your story of New Orleans' culinary reemergence after Katrina is about New York, not about anything that happened down here.

Before you jump down the comment throat and say, "Lighten up, its TV," that isn't the point. Reality TV is staged, sitcoms and dramas are written, Treme attempted to be some adaptation of what happened in New Orleans. The restaurant industry in New Orleans doesn't get enough credit for what it did after Katrina. It offered refuge, sustenance, and socialization when they could have tucked and ran or hid behind their aprons. Instead of heading to New York or Atlanta or Houston, the chefs, cooks, waiters, and bartenders of New Orleans returned and rebuilt. For that they deserve our gratitude and an honest assessment of their story. Treme failed to do so.

Monday, November 12, 2012

And It Tastes Just Like Cherry Cola

Photo by renee b. photography.
We apologize that you will now have The Kinks' hit song stuck in your head for the rest of day.

After the Blackened Out twins each traveled separately to Spain over the previous 12 months, we have both had a hankering for jamon and other delicacies from Iberia. And so for this month's Dining Out column in OffBeat Magazine, we review Lola's, one of the forerunners of Spanish cuisine in the city.

Lola's has always been well known for its paella, the one pot rice dish which often serves as the introduction to Spanish cuisine for most newbies. And while the fervor for Spanish food has been driven by tapas and Michelin rated restaurants such as Arzak and Carme Ruscalleda's Sant Pau, Lola's has stuck to the nation's most recognizable dishes.  Seven days a week, cast iron paella pans fill nearly every table inside Lola's dining room on Esplanade, where diners sip sangria as if they were seated outside Las Ramblas in Barcelona or Paseo Maritimo in Valencia. Angel Miranda would have it no other way.

3312 Esplanade
(504) 488-6946
Sun-Thur 5:30-9:30
Fri-Sat 5:30-10:30

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Game On at Manning's

Rumors of the first family of football opening a sports bar in New Orleans had been swirling around the city long before Manning's opened on the Fulton Streetscape earlier this year. The concept seemed like such a no-brainer that it's a wonder why it took so long to come to fruition. After several false starts in construction and one ejection from the back of the house, the 210 seat man cave has finally settled into a groove and earns the spot as the default answer to one of the most common questions that I get from out of towners staying in the French Quarter:

"Where is a good place to go to watch the ___________ game?"

Cochon de lait fries and sweet potato skins from Manning's.
The restaurant is huge, with tons of tables and multiples TVs in view of every seat in the house. Pictures and memorabilia of Archie, Peyton, and Eli cover the walls, and even Cooper makes an appearance here and there. The prime seating inside is in "The End Zone" - a special section of leather reclining chairs tiered in stadium-style seating in front of a 13 x 7 foot flat screen. An expansive courtyard (complete with its own projection screen) beckons on cool fall afternoons.

Even though Manning's labels itself as a "restaurant", most would consider it first and foremost a place for game watching. But as we all know from our own gameday parties, the activity on the field is only half the entertainment. In order to show special emphasis on the food, Manning's brought in Anthony Spizale, a chef who has had more relationships with restaurants over the past few years than Heidi Montag has had surgical procedures. Chef Spizale's menu (which largely remains in place today) was curiously heavy on knife and fork fare, which seemed out of place for a sports bar. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy grilled fish meuniere with seasonal vegetables every now and then, but not while I am yelling at Les Miles for calling a fake field goal pass behind the line of scrimmage on 4th and 12 from our opponent's 30 yard line.

Duck "Wings" glazed with pepper jelly from Manning's.
A few months ago, Jared Tees took over the kitchen and introduced a special gameday menu of shared appetizers which makes for a better fit with the overall concept. The highlights include cochon de lait frites, which proves that the combination of pork, french fries, and cheese curds is a fool proof recipe for deliciousness. The reconfigured sweet potato skins with goat cheese and bacon marmalade were stellar as well and worthy of a second round.

Unfortunately, several of the dishes fail to reach the end zone. Cheddar and Abita beer bisque was surprisingly thin, and the accompanying bacon popcorn terribly stale. Duck "wings" covered in a sticky sweet pepper jelly glaze would have better with a classic buffalo wing approach, and the Archie burger was thin, dry and flavorless. Looking back, the food reminds me a lot of a Mike Leach coached football team - lots of razzle dazzle which puts points on the scoreboard but weak fundamentals can cost them the game.

But while Manning's may not earn top honors as a restaurant, it excels as a sports bar, albeit a refined one. The beer is served ice cold and at a reasonable price. The servers are happy to accommodate most requests for turning the channel to a particular game, which is great news for those of you who have action on the Central Michigan vs. Eastern Michigan game. And even on busy weekends, a table is usually easy to come by after a minimal wait.

Manning's - Birdie for Atmosphere; Par for Food
519 Fulton Street
(504) 593-8118
Sun-Thur 11am-10pm; Fri-Sat 11am-11pm

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Bon Ton Cafe: Is It Worth It?

The interior of the Bon Ton Cafe should be required viewing for any would-be restaurateur. The exposed brick, tight spaces, and general coziness of the space fill the restaurant with warmth and bonhomie. The wait staff is all female and don white nurses uniforms with black petticoat aprons. A wall of wine anchors the back, and the tables are just close enough to allow eavesdropping. Nothing in the design of the restaurant is utilized to distract, rather the elements are used to wrap you in a bear hug of hospitality.

This is also a restaurant of another era. Of a time of sweeter liquor drinks as evidenced by the Rum Ramsey, which is a rum fueled cousin of a whiskey sour. It was too sweet for my tastes, but the Sazerac brought forth a stout glass filled with a pale red textbook version of the drink that perhaps launched it all.

Entrees are served with a house salad and your choice of side. On the table is both bread and crackers, a restaurant version of belt and suspenders. The salad gets points for including blanched carrots and spicy radishes, but the dressing was both too vinegary and applied with too heavy of a hand. The fried catfish bits which show up with a vat of Alzina's Sauce - a mayo based concoction - are crisp and greaseless and a good excuse to order a cold beer.

An over salted crawfish etouffee could be a kitchen mistake or a chronic problem. But it doesn't really matter because you should be coming here for the crabmeat au gratin. A cauldron of pearly white crabmeat floats in a spoonable bechamel. Across the top of this delicacy of brackish waters is a carpet of melted American cheese. Now you may snicker at the use of American cheese in post-Foodie Revolution America, but if Adam Biderman can use it with fantastic results at Company Burger, why not here?

Crabmeat au gratin at Bon Ton Cafe is a fantastic dish, but the rest of the menu is in desperate need of attention.

Bon Ton Cafe: Is It Worth It? For the crabmeat au gratin, yes. The rest is skippable.
401 Magazine St.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Monday Night Countdown

Fact: If the Saints beat the Eagles tonight, we are only one loss behind Seattle for the final wild card spot.

Do you believe?

But before you stand up and get crunk in the Dome, you likely want to sit down and get stuffed at the dinner table.  In my younger years, a Monday night game meant fighting off hunger until just before the 8:00pm kickoff, when I made a stop by the nachos booth (extra jalapenos, please). The end of the first quarter usually called for a chicken-on-a-stick, then a Dome dog at halftime, followed by a DoveBar for dessert.

Today, I usually do most of my eating before I take my seat in the Dome. While the food options on this end of Poydras have greatly expanded since the Dome patrol days, my pre-game meal loyalties lie almost entirely with the Besh family of restaurants.

Domenica, Luke, and Borgne all run happy hour specials everyday from 3:00-6:00, and for Sunday and Monday night Saints games these deals are impossible to beat:

  • Domenica - Half off pizzas, beers, specialty cocktails, and wines by the glass.
  • Luke - $0.50 oysters and half off drink specials.
  • Borgne - $1 pulled pork empanadas, $1 catfish buns, $0.50 crabmeat croquetas, and half off draft beers, well drinks, and wines by the glass.

Who Dat?

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Short Order Reviews

Short Order Reviews is back this week with an unfortunate ride on a one way train to Bogey Town.

Mr. B's - A break between depositions at One Canal Place necessitated a relatively speedy lunch in the Quarter, and unfortunately my dining companion vetoed Felipe's as an option. The Green Goddess was also closed for business, so we ended up at Mr. B's, which was surprisingly packed for Monday lunch service. The two course lunch menu seems like a great idea, but red beans and rice and grilled salmon as entrée choices were uninteresting to me, especially considering the quality of product put out at lunch by the likes of MiLa and August at a similar price. Instead I went with the burger, allegedly made from tenderloin, which probably would have made a difference had it not been cooked to death. Along side the burger was an order of soft, greasy fries. I paid the most attention to the hot and airy loaves of crisp french bread, which would have been more satisfying had the butter not been frozen solid and impossible to spread. My one visit every three years re-affirmed why this place is not on my regular rotation. Bogey.

Lilly's Cafe - A trip to Juan's in the Garden District was detoured by a suggestion to walk across the street to try out Lilly's, one of several Vietnamese restaurants recently opened Uptown. The tall ceilings and white tile floor give the space the feel of a nail salon, though the pressed ceiling is an interesting and surprising design feature. Lilly’s Rolls are the house specialty – shrimp, "pork ham" (?), mint, avocado, and sliced strawberries wrapped with vermicelli noodles in rice paper. The classic shrimp and pork spring rolls were serviceable enough, but the peanut sauce was thin and bland. Egg rolls filled with ground pork were a mushy mess. Long, razor thin shavings of cucumber, daikon, and lettuce formed the base of the vermicelli bowl, which was topped with slices of bland, dry pork that were remiss of the chargrilled, caramelized pork candy flavor that I associate with this dish. Before passing judgment I promised myself to return for the banh mi, but the outlook is not much better than Obama's chance of winning Louisiana's electoral votes. Bogey/Mulligan.

Prime Grille - This past Sunday we went in search of brunch in the Bywater. The Folk Singer was unwilling to act as a guinea pig to test if Elizabeth's had gotten it's act together, so we ended up at Prime Grille, which took over the former location of Bywater BBQ about 2 months ago. Had I bothered to inspect the brunch menu posted outside the front door, I would have saved us from one of the worst meals in the city that we can remember.  The quaint dining room is actually well designed, save for the bar which extends about 3 inches toward the diner and requires a constant slouch over to ferry food from plate to mouth. The menu though was flat and uninspiring, and the execution was even worse. Scotch eggs win the award for food that is most inexplicably still served in a restaurant. A dry fried chicken breast sat atop an even drier biscuit covered in "chicken gravy" that was a euphemism for chicken pot pie filling (complete with frozen peas, carrots, and green beans). I felt that I had been transported back in time to that fateful Friday morning at the fraternity house when our chef served up a slop fest of "King Ranch" for lunch because he got too stoned at the Panic show the night before. TFS did not fare much better with eggs benedict comprised of soft english muffins, institutional Canadian bacon, and a tepid hollandaise. Fighting among the staff was audible in the dining room when the expediter complained to the waiter that none of his tickets had a table number, which explained how the phantom veggie omelet went missing from Table 2. I think that you get the picture. Double Bogey.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012


This is All Hollow's Eve Eve which means across the internet people are searching Google, Pinterbook and Facerest for interesting and spooky party food ideas. There will be multiple culinary sins committed in this undertaking. Food coloring altered olives serve as eyeballs in a formaldehyde hued martini. Mini-carrots painted with chipotle ketchup become severed fingers. Canned tuna fish is used to scare children and any adult with sense. You get the idea.  These gags are simple and fun, but largely taste like a recipe you got from a stranger on the internet.

Wanna spook your guests and also serve them something delicious? How about you run down to Cleaver & Co. on Baronne and pick up a sack of cow femurs. Ask them to slice them lengthwise, roast them in a hot oven, serve with toasty bread, and a simple vinegar laced salad. Not only is this about the easiest recipe in the world, it will also separate the good from the bad at your party.

That yellowish, buttery substance? That is the marrow and it is the best tasting part of the cow. 

Roasted Bone Marrow with Parsley Salad 

Some femurs split in half (allow one length per person)
Sea Salt
Sherry or red wine vinegar
Crusty bread (a baguette from Maple St. Patisserie will do the trick)

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees. Slice bread on angle. Toast. Remove from oven.

Place bones, cut side up (that is the interior of the bone) in a roasting pan. Park in oven for 20-25 minutes. You are looking for all the red and pink coloring to vanish from the bone. You cant really overcook this, but you can undercook. And you do not want to undercook marrow.

Meanwhile, combine a half cup of parsley, a thinly sliced shallot and a few shakes of vinegar in a bowl and toss.

Remove bones, use a bread knife or the baguette slices to remove the marrow from the bones. Spread on toast. Top with the parsley salad and a sprinkle of salt. Pairs perfectly with 45-52 Reeses Peanut Butter Cups.

Monday, October 29, 2012

"Blow Your Mind with Sausage"

Top photo by Cheryl Geber. Bottom photo by renee b. photography.
Anticipation is at an all time high this week in preparation for an annual fall classic. After months of preparation, fifty of the most talented craftsmen will ply their trade for thousands to experience. Blood will be shed. Bones will be broken. And with the first cold snap descending upon South Louisiana, you can literally feel the excitement in the air.

Plus, LSU plays Alabama on Saturday night in Death Valley.

Last year the inaugural Boudin & Beer exploded onto the culinary calendar as the prelude to Carnivale du Vin, the top dollar wine auction and gala benefiting the Emeril Lagasse Foundation. But as detailed in our write up in the November issue of OffBeat Magazine, Boudin & Beer has quickly involved into its own feature event. Co-chairs Emeril Lagasse, Mario Batali, and Donald Link have had no trouble convincing their chef friends to join in on the greatest pork liver party that the Warehouse District has ever seen. As Rene puts it, "If a bomb goes off on Tchoupitoulas on Friday night, American cooking will be set back 100 years."

Tickets to Boudin & Beer are available for purchase online through Thursday. The $85 price of admission entitles you to 4 hours of all you can eat sausage, and you can expect a wide arrange of boudin interpretations ranging from the classic boudin noir to original creations stuffed with alligator and ostrich. Abita will be pouring nearly every beer in its portfolio, plus there will be wines from Au Bon Climat and bourbon from Buffalo Trace. Louisiana's own Feufollet, the Red Stick Ramblers, and the St. Claude Serenaders will share the stage with feature performer Drake White, whom we will give a free pass as an Alabama native for this one night only.

Boudin, beer, bourbon and Batali. What more can you ask for? It's one of our favorite events of the year, and we hope to see you there.

Boudin & Beer
Friday November 2nd
The Foundry
333 St. Joseph Street

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Porchetta James

With the weather cooler and a new baby keeping us close to home, my kitchen has gotten plenty of attention. Afternoons are spent simmering stock, making hearty soups, or on a recent weekend rolling a boned out pork butt in two pounds of skin on pork belly, tying it, and roasting it.

The basic recipe comes from the kitchen of a Mano and if you have a few moments this holiday season, you might find this the perfect replacement to a prime rib or turkey. I served this on a Sunday for a lazy brunch with a salad of shaved brussel sprouts and a poached egg. Imagine an Italian version of salade lyonnaise, that is a pretty sexy image.


2 pound skin on pork belly (Check with Bill Ryals at the Crescent City Farmer's Market)
3 pounds of pork butt, boned and butterflied
The zest of 2 Satsumas
2 tablespoons of fennel seed
2 tablespoons of chili flake
2 tablespoons of kosher salt
1 tablespoon of black pepper
1 head of roasted garlic
Baking Powder

Toast the fennel. In a mortar and pestle, add the toasted fennel seed and crush. Add this to the chili flake, salt, and satsuma zest. Mix to combine.

Lay on a clean surface, your pork belly skin side down. On the flesh side, spread a layer of your spice rub and rub in to the meat. Lay your pork butt on top of the pork belly and season it with a layer of the spice mixture.

Down the center of the pork butt, lay as many cloves of roasted garlic as you like. Tightly roll up the pork belly and butt and truss. Some of the butt will peek out the ends of the porchetta. Feel free to trim it up or leave it. Your call. Now take a tablespoon of baking powder and mix this with an additional tablespoon of kosher salt. Sprinkle this over the skin of the pork belly, it will help it crisp.

Now park this beautiful roll of deliciousness in the fridge overnight, covered. Remove the pork from the oven for about an hour before tossing into a preheated 375 degree oven for four hours. After four hours, remove from the oven, and crank it to broil. Let the pork rest for 15 minutes or so. Add back to the oven and watch carefully for the skin to puff and crisp.

Slice into rounds and place on top of the salad of your choice. Add a poached egg and let bacon and eggs become immortal.

Monday, October 22, 2012

OffBeat Eats

The Company Burger.
After an LSU victory over Johnny Football on Saturday and a hard fought Saints win in Tampa on Sunday, we have every reason to be all smiles at the office today, which is a rare occasion for a Monday. Still, it's tough to make the transition from two days of full of football bliss and beautiful weather to a week of TPS reports and breathing in recycled air from within the friendly confines of your cubicle.

Experience has taught me that easiest way to warm up to the work week is an escape during Monday lunch. Sure, it's easy to stay inside munching on carrot sticks and a turkey sandwich because you need to "make up" for the 17 beers and 9 breakfast tacos you shoveled down your gullet during pregame festivities on Saturday morning for the inexcusable 11:00am kickoff. Or you could keep the good times rolling with a double burger covered in melted in American cheese on a squishy brioche bun with thinly sliced red onions and bread and butter pickles.

In this month's issue of OffBeat Magazine, we review The Company Burger, the local burger specialist which has risen above the burger fray to establish itself as the preeminent purveyor of ground beef in patty form. Don't forget to grab a side of chipotle or basil mayo for fry dipping.

The Company Burger - Birdie
4600 Freret Street
Sun-Mon & Wed-Sat 11am-3pm, 5pm-10pm. Closed Tuesdays.
(504) 267-0320

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Central Grocery: Is It Worth It?

According to yarn, Central Grocery created the muffuletta as a way to feed truck and carriage drivers who made late night/early morning deliveries to the French Market. Now, in my fertile imagination, that means the muffuletta is a sandwich which actually improves with age. Allow a tangent or two to explain.

In the barbecue world, the most talked about mark of a good pitmaster is the "smoke ring." The smoke ring is a band of pink hued meat that sits right below the crust. A good smoke ring, which results from a chemical reaction, is a sign that the meat was held at a steady, low temperature for hours and hours. Now, the muffulettas at Central are pre-prepared, both for convenience and taste. They sit around at room temperature waiting to be ordered. What this does is cause a chemical reaction (or hydrodynamic, science not my Fortier) and helps develop what I call the Oil Slick.
    You see the greenish hued bread that starts above the olive salad and ends halfway up the top of the bun? That is the Oil Slick and in my opinion, it is what helps distinguishes a good muffaletta from a great one. You want the oil slick for how it softens the top half of the bread. The Oil Slick foreshadows to your taste buds that their is a rich, flavorful blend of god's greatest gifts inside. Circling back, imagine you are an early 20th century delivery driver. Would you attempt to eat a sandwich in the bumpy, crowded streets of the French Quarter. Or would you wait a few moments until you hit the wide open roads of say, Metairie, to indulge?  

Centeal Grocery is located smack dab in the middle of Decatur. It is surrounded by a conflagration of hot sauce shops, t-shirt shops, and Mardi Gras mask shops. Push back the weathered double doors and head left. The line forms naturally around a display holding tins of sardines, jars of olives, and cellophane bags of dried pasta. A half muffuletta and a beer will set you back about thirteen dollars. Have a seat at one of the counter stools and you can have lunch with Bob Hope and his wife or the cast from the Sopranos. Eavesdrop on the whispers of curious tourists. "What is a moof you letta?" is the call from Bev from Columbia, SC on a recent visit.    "Capicola, salami, ham, provolone, swiss, olive salad on a sesame seed bun," is this counterman's response.  

The muffuletta itself is a great muffuletta. The cheese layer in the middle of the sandwich helps create a buffer between the salty, spicy pig parts. One could eat the olive salad by the spoonful. In fact you can because Central Grocery sells jars of olive salad at a brisk pace.  But nothing sets this sandwich apart from other muffulettas quite like its Oil Slick.   Central Grgocery: Is It Worth It? Yes. 923 Decatur St. 523-1620

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

My Favorite Restaurant

How many times have you been asked, "What is your favorite restaurant in New Orleans?" For me, it is a query I receive at least once a week. I am hesitant to ever declare any restaurant my favorite. Too many healthy differences exist between cuisines, styles of cooking, and restaurants to have a favorite. But if I did pick a favorite a restaurant it would look at lot like this.

My favorite restaurant would be Uptown, preferably on a busy corner. The building would have an interesting history, maybe it would be the site of a few failed restaurants. There would be a long bar anchoring half of the room and pressed tin ceilings. The bar would have the requisite knowledge to make fantastic classic cocktails, as well as the innovative spirit to stay on top of trends. A barrel aged martini would be a good example of the expertise of the bar, turning the robust floral notes of genever into cinnamon and spice and everything nice.

Something to snack on from the kitchen might come out while enjoying a cocktail. On a recent visit it would be cracklins as light and airy as children's whispers, the size of half footballs, and painted with honey and hot sauce. Bar food, gentrified and made delicious. 

The kitchen would showcase originality without quirkiness. Perhaps on one visit, the upstairs would be turned into a lascivious den of fried chicken. The crust of the chicken would crack under pressure sending chicken skin shrapnel tumbling down your chin. The meat would be brined and seasoned through. Tart pickled shrimp, mashed potatoes, cole slaw, and collards would provide all the comforts of home executed much better. Stealing the show that summer evening would be a simple salad of watermelon tossed with scallions and sea beans. No award exists by a major sparkling water company for this type of cooking, but there should be.

My favorite restaurant would also know how to do more than just craft house made charcuterie. They would take blood sausage and pair it with caramelized onion broth and a confetti of apple and cheddar turning each bite into a fall symphony. At times the kitchen would seem to be daring you try a dish, so there would be a lamb heart appetizer. Take the challenge and you are rewarded with thin, tender grilled segments of lamb on steroids adorned with crispy, bright pickled vegetables.

Still the kitchen keeps pushing you, so there may be a pasta course which makes no sense on paper. Brussel sprouts, fried chicken, cavatelli, and butternut squash sounds like a post-Thanksgiving midnight fridge raid, it tastes even better. Scallops ride on the wings of the god smoked pork, the pork coaxing out the sweet, meatiness of an oceangoing vessel. Pork loin is sliced and served as it should be with a rosy interior and cracker crisp crust. Set atop grits punctuated with fresh kernels of corn this is about as good as eating gets.

My favorite restaurant would realize dessert is just as important. So there would be apple fritters that put beignets to shame. There would be a chocolate tart as dark as midnight. Blueberries and Vacherin become a ballet orchestrated by a small scoop of lemon sorbet. All of this would be overseen by a smart, young staff which knows the menu, but also understand how to let a night out develop on its own.

I don't have a favorite restaurant, but if I did it would look an awfully lot like Coquette.

Coquette- Eagle
2800 Magazine St.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Maurepas Foods

"I give up. I surrender. The hipsters have won." -- Anthony Bourdain

The proliferation of new restaurants in the Bywater has been an unstoppable rebel force like the never ending "Call Me Maybe" video parodies. From Filipino pop-ups to eateries paying homage to the pirate history of New Orleans, the hipster haven has seen more restaurant growth than any other New Orleans neighborhood. And none of them have been more lauded than Maurepas Foods.

Don't believe me? Ask the New York Times. Or check out this video from............. wait for it................ American Hipster!

Chef and owner Michael Doyle has created the flagship neighborhood restaurant for the stretch of city between the Press Street railroad tracks and the Industrial Canal. The renovated corner building features vaulted ceilings lined with what looks like an elegant hardwood floor laid with thin planks and a stairway leads to a small second level enclosed by a Warhol graphic of an unknown mustachioed gentleman. Both the diners and the servers are comprised of what any Treme fanatic would consider the indigenous inhabitants of the Bywater - young, bohemian, donning fedoras and/or sporting ink. Outsiders such as myself probably wonder if this scene is indicative of "true" New Orleans or post-Katrina New England transplant New Orleans.

The menu is heavy on small plates categorized as "Vegetables, Starch, and Grain" - reading like a list of the freshest produce offered by your favorite Crescent City Farmer's Market vendor. At times these plates arrive as if they had been simply pulled from the ground, washed, cut, and artfully presented on the plate. Freshness is the modus operadi at Maurepas, but at times the minimalist approach taste of shortcomings.  Squashes are quartered lengthwise, lightly grilled, and dressed with shiso oil (a Japanese herb belonging to the mint family; yes, I had to look it up) and scattered with plump blueberries and green peppercorns which could neither be found nor tasted. Snap beans are tossed in a charred tomato puree which barely coated their crunchy skin and adorned with two slivers of tofu in an imaginary shrimp crust.
Tempura and roasted sweet potatoes with maitake mushrooms.
Bold flavors those are not, but you have to appreciate Doyle's faith in his purveyors, whose product is fleeting on Maurepas' menu due to a strict adherence to seasonality. A bit more manipulation leads to better results. Market greens, potatoes and pork are swimming in sweet and sour pot likker worth drinking, and the sweet potatoes are simply divine. Thick tempura fried slices are topped with even sweeter roasted julienne pieces and then dressed with thin, wide marinated maitake mushrooms. Umami at its finest, hopefully returning soon to the menu.
Chicken leg quarter with market greens, grits, and slow-poached egg.
The meat and fish section is a tad more consistent in its offerings. Spicy pimenton sausage and grilled squid is sandwiched between thick, soft house baked focaccia slathered with romesco and aioli with added mustard greens for crunch. The combination is as much unconventional as it is delicious, and the accompanying salad of bitter greens seasoned simply with salt and a spritz of oil helped balance the richness of the sandwich. Chicken leg quarter was cooked to juicy perfection and paired grits acting as a landing pad for a slow-poached egg. My only complaint was the jus pooled on the plate was a bit overkill in a dish which looked overly wet.

Goat tacos ($8) imitate Mexico’s favorite street food but with bolder flavor and a dryer cut of meat stuffed in corn tortillas and welcoming the vibrant chimichurri and pickled green tomatoes. A rotating "meat plate" special may feature discs of silky lamb roulade served atop a ginger snap wafer and long, wide ribbons of pickled cucumber. On another night, you may be offered a slow cooked Filipino short rib lacquered with adobo and soy and place atop rice pilaf with the added crunch of pecans.

Mint chocolate ice cream cookie sandwiches.
If you ever heed one piece of advice from us about a restaurant, it should be to save room for dessert at Maurepas, specifically the best ice cream cookie sandwich in town. Freshly churned mint chocolate ice cream sits between chocolate wafer cookies which easily break between your teeth without squishing out the sides. The chocolate snack cake is a high class ding dong (use that one at your next firm function) filled with creme fraiche whose sour twang highlights the depth of the chocolate. Pecan pie served with a scoop of sweet potato and root beer ice cream is a trio of flavors which taste like they belonged together all along. Drink selections include a list of original cocktails and a creative selection of wines all offered by the glass, carafe, and bottle.

The staff at Maurepas could not be more welcoming, careful to explain the menu without a trace of arrogance and willing to admit ignorance when they themselves may not have sampled a certain dish. In a city where neighborhood restaurants are often classified by their offering of veal parmesan or trout meuniere, Maurepas is one of several forerunners in a new era which should be applauded for the quality of food served in a comfortable space at affordable prices. While the originality of the menu can be intimidating to some, it's best to squeeze into your skinny jeans and dive right in.

Maurepas Foods - Birdie
3200 Burgundy Street
(504) 267-0072
Thur - Tues: 11am - Midnight

All photos by renee b. photography.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Syrah and Lamb

Dark red fruits, hard herbs, smoke, pepper, and bacon. No, this does not describe the newest fragrance from the people who brought you Sex Panther, but rather the aromas and flavors of Syrah. I love Syrah. If I had my druthers and the bank account of a star NFL quarterback, I would pretty much only drink wines from the Rhone Valley (with maybe just a bit of Burgundy and Champagne thrown in for good measure). Alas, every man bears a cross and mine is law school loans which keep my druthers in the drawer.

The good news is the wine market is quite overloaded with Syrah. Syrah is planted all over the Rhone Valley and other parts of France (the bottle in photo above is from an area in southwest France). In the Northern Rhone, Hermitage and Cote-Rotie generally let Syrah stand on its own, although occasionally it is mixed with Viognier, a white wine grape which tends to add a softer, floral edge to the wine. The further south you travel down the Rhone, Syrah gets blended with a variety of grapes giving it more herbal flavors, reaching its pinnacle in the world class wines from Chateauneuf-du-Pape. In Australia, they call it Shiraz because a colony of prisoners always does thing strangely. In California, they call Syrah ""Pinot Noir" and sell it as such. 

More importantly, Syrah is a perfect match for grilled, juicy meats. Roasted lamb in particular is a fantastic excuse to open a bottle of Syrah. I will concede that roasting a leg of lamb is an ambitious project for a weeknight dinner. But you know how to make burgers right? If you answered yes, this recipe should be right in your wheelhouse. The juicy lamb sits on a bed of peppery kale and is topped with an herb fueled yogurt sauce. It just may make you crave a leg of lamb and more bottles of Syrah.

Lambsbury Steak with wilted kale and yogurt sauce

For the burgers
1 pound ground lamb
Salt and Pepper

Carefully form lamb into patties. Season with salt and pepper on both sides. Cook on a grill or in a cast iron skillet. Either way use medium-high heat. 3-4 minutes per side.

For the Kale
4 cups kale
1 shallot, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
Sherry vinegar
Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper

Heat a saute pan and add olive oil. When oil shimmers, add garlic and shallot and cook for one minute. Add kale and toss to combine. Add salt, pepper, and a few dashes of sherry vinegar. Once kale has wilted (about 2 minutes) turn off heat. Taste adjust seasoning if necessary.

For the yogurt sauce
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
1/4 cup of watercress, chopped
4 radishes, minced
1/4 cup of mint, chopped
1 tablespoon of sherry vinegar

Combine all of the above in a bowl, stir to combine.

To assemble

Kale on the bottom of the plate. Add lamb burger. Top with yogurt sauce. A few diced tomatoes aren't a bad idea.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Mother's: Is It Worth It?

Each day a line snakes out of the side door of Mother's. It stretches halfway down the block oftentimes blocking the entrance to a parking lot. Conventioneers line up outside, their necks weighted down by lanyards festooned with name tags like some sort of corporate Mardi Gras bead. Once inside another line begins anew, taking you through the restaurant its walls lined with photos of whats her faces and has beens. The line is daunting, a commitment one may not want to undertake within the space-time continuum of a workday.

But go early enough and there is no line. The tourists have not yet finished their Haunted History tour and the salesman from Dubuque are still learning about the opportunity profit of the new SLA-1089 floor sweeper. Yesterday, I zipped in with Betty Crocker before the maddening crowds. In no time, we had ordered and were seated. After a few moments of catching up, out came two po boys, one loaded with grilled shrimp, the other the world famous, by Mother's own admission, Ferdi Special. Along for the ride was a cup of well- seasoned gumbo chunky with sausage and chicken and thickened with file.

The Ferdi combines ham and roast beef, debris, gravy, and dresses it for success. The bottom half of the bread sits in a shallow pool of jus providing a contrast to the crusty top half. The thickly sliced ham and distressed roast beef are united by the pickle and sharp mustard. Cabbage, in lieu of lettuce, is used to provide textural crunch, reminding us all that cabbage should be put on more po boys. Despite all of its fame, notoriety, lines, and television appearances, the Ferdi Special remains a damn fine po boy.

I expected not to like Mother's. It has gotten a rap, deservedly or not, from locals as a place to shy away from. We whisper to our visiting friends, "Listen avoid Mother's for a real po boy, go to _____." But if I was staying in the Hotel Zone and happened to grab lunch at Mother's, I would be fairly impressed with my meal. Maybe that is why there is always a line.

Mother's: Is It Worth It? Yes.
401 Poydras St.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Last Rites of Summer

A few days ago summer ended according to the Mayan weather.com app on my desktop calendar. Of course, living in the Capital of the Caribbean means fall hasn't really decided to show up and unpack. Rather we get a few days in which the disco days of the seventies roll in and suck up the hot, moist air. But by the next day, the temperatures return again to the time of M.C. Hammer and Girbaud jeans. But trust the desktop calendar, the worst of summer's heat is behind us.

Last weekend marked the first time since before Goodell ruined football that I was able to braise a fat streaked hunk of pork while simultaneously reducing chicken stock and making chili. Now granted, I had to run the AC on about 55 degrees in order to keep the house somewhat temperate, but still. Braised meat!

All that cooking required something refreshing that could cultivate nostalgia for long, hot summer days worthy of a Kenny Chesney song. With the basil plant on its last leg and tomatoes long ago flying south for winter, the last few leaves needed a noble send off. And does it get more nobler than smashing them with a muddler, adding a clear white spirit, topping with lemonade, and a splash of sparkling wine? I think not. Goodbye, summer. See ya next February.

The Last Rites of Summer

2 oz clear white distillate (you pick, rum, vodka, or gin will do)
3 oz Lemonade (I like the Volcano brand, which isn't overly sweet)
6-8 Basil Leaves
1 oz Prosecco

Place basil leaves in the bottom of a glass and muddle, or bring the wood Saints fans. To this add the vodka and lemonade. Add ice and then top with the Prosecco. Enjoy.

PS: Fat Harry's is working towards a Thanksgiving opening, but it may be early December. We will keep you posted with any more updates we get.