Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Rue Is On Fire

I have a friend whose identity I will not divulge other than to say that his name rhymes with "Hintage Fourleens."  Anyway, this friend recently asked me for a restaurant recommendation, and I suggested Rue 127. "Yeah, I have always heard good things about that place," he said, "but I can't get past the tag line of a 'New American Bistro.' What does that even mean? It just sounds generic to me."

Putting aside the fact that this is the same guy whose own ignorance prevented him from eating at The Green Goddess until I convinced him that it was not a vegetarian restaurant, my friend had a valid point. I struggled to define exactly what this cottage on Carrollton is all about. They serve steamed mussels and onion soup gratinée, but it's not really French. There's gumbo on the menu, but this is not a place to come for trout meuniere and shrimp remoulade. And you are as likely to order Italian staples such as creamy risotto and house made pastas as you are to dine on an augmented version of Cajun coush coush.

Spring Vegetable Salad.
The coziness of Rue 127 reminds me of the defunct Bistro at Maison de Ville. In the brightly lit dining room, mirrors cover the walls to give the illusion of a room larger than its 30 or so seats. The large window to the kitchen attributes to the intimacy of the room, whose volume increases exponentially when the room fills up, which is almost every night. The front bar room can hold another half dozen or so, and the handful of outdoor tables on Carrollton are nice for a pre-prandial cocktail when the weather permits.

Seasonal ingredients drive the selection of salads. A few weeks ago, I started with an excellent spring salad featuring fava beans, beefsteak tomatoes, frisee, and thin, wide, ribbons of squash all drizzled with a lemon vinaigrette. The careful attention to weave the contrasting textures and flavors of the vegetables was very Kelleresque, as was the coarse salt sprinkled across the top of the ramekin of butter included with bread service. I have never tasted the mussels appetizer, but I have had the pleasure of the parmesan dusted pommes frites (ask for a cone a la carte), which are crispy, creamy and addictive. Creamy seafood risotto was thick enough to serve on a plate (in a good way), and the stock had a nice background flavor of the sea. Gumbo has a dark, thin roux and is served with a scoop of horseradish potato salad. The only disappointment in the starter category has been the pasta carbonara. The thin spaghetti was housemade but must have been dried for storage, because the texture was on the crunchy side of al dente. Smoky lardon added plenty of richness and salt, but the slow poached egg yolk never really came together with the cheese for a sauce.

Double Cut Pork Chop.
The list of entrees covers all of our carnal cravings. Hands down, the best choice is the double cut pork chop, which is a lesson in how perfection can be attained by a simple but well executed dish. The chop must have been brined for multiple days/weeks/months to allow for such a juicy, pink, flavorful flesh underneath a fatty, chargrilled exterior. The roasted corn coush coush underneath was a buttery mixture of fine grits and fresh corn, and the crispy fried onions brought a nice texture contrast to the overall dish.

Not to be overshadowed was a ribeye glistening with richness in a way that it appeared almost lacquered in beef fat. No starches served alongside, but instead a much better accompaniment of roasted bone marrow scooped with a demitasse spoon and slathered on grilled bread. Puppy drum was cooked perfectly and placed in a sweet and sour orange and grapefruit broth that was addicting; the poblano pepper aspect was lost on me, and the sauce was so good that I didn’t even try the mussels. Lamb loin had an intense, gamey flavor, while a crock of mac and cheese was homely and straight forward.

Sticky Toffee Pudding.
Desserts have been good from top to bottom. The sticky toffee pudding is so rich that you easily forgot the unappetizing menu description of "date cake." A shallow, individual-sized pecan pie had a thick, crunchy crown and a slowly melting scoop of bourbon ice cream. The infamous deep fried cupcakes were a gimmick that everyone at the table was wowed by except for me. Devil's food cupcakes topped with peanut butter frosting are covered in a thin, crackly batter, deep fried, and served with vanilla anglaise and hazelnut chocolate dipping sauces. These were excellent, don't get me wrong; but I think they would have been just as good had they missed the fryer.

Chef-Owner Ray Gruezke has put together a front of the house staff which is both very young and eager to please, though not very polished, which fits the location and the vibe of the restaurant. A peak peek through the large window to the kitchen reveals an equally youthful back of the house. The wine list is heavy on California selections but contains enough interesting bottles at a low price point, and the bar offers an impressive array of original cocktails. Prices are about 20% lower than those of most other restaurants serving food of this caliber.

To answer my friend's original question, I can't exactly describe what a "New American Bistro" is. But if you are concerned more with what's on the plate than with the words on a website, you will soon discover that "New American Bistro" - at least in the case of Rue 127 - is synonymous with delicious.

Rue 127 - Birdie
127 N. Carrollton Ave.
(504) 483-1571
Lunch: Tue-Fri: 11:30am -2:00pm
Dinner: Mon-Sat: 5:00pm - 10:00pm

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Presto Pesto

Pesto is the sunscreen of summer dining. You should always have it around and use it liberally. Pesto, like all Mediterranean foodstuffs, was either invented by the Italians, Spanish, French, Greeks, North Africans, or Asians by way of trade routes. You may choose to believe whichever story you choose. Pungent, salty, lemony, pesto has a deep flavor that is unmistakable. While the fragrance of pesto is intoxicating, its color is a jungle of greens.

Pesto, culinary and linguistically speaking, is just a paste, a combination of ingredients smashed into something greater than the sum of its parts. Prior to the invention of the food processor, pesto was a laborious task, most likely assigned to a mother-in-law to keep her out of one's hair. Give granny a mortar, pestle, and a glass of wine and let her go to work. With a food processor, making delicious pesto is something you should be doing every week. Possible uses:

  • Toss with warm pasta
  • Slather over skin on chicken thighs and grill
  • Ciabatta, prosciutto, mozzarella, and pesto paninis 
  • Spoon over fried eggs or inside a creamy omelet
  • Combine the last two for Eggs Benedicto - poached eggs, pesto, grilled ciabatta, and prosciutto
  • Marinade for shrimp
  • A spread on sandwiches
  • Tomato, mozzarella, and pesto 
  • Pizza sauce
  • Sunscreen
Traditionally, pesto combines basil, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, lemon, garlic, and olive oil. But that is just a starting point, try cilantro, peanuts, lime, shallots, and red chili for an Asian twist. Use pecans. Hell, just use your goddamn imagination. 

My Basic Pesto

2 handfuls of basil, leaves only (if technical, about 3 cups tightly packed)
1/4 cup of pine nuts, toasted
1 cup of freshly grated Parmesan
1 clove garlic, smashed
Juice and zest of one lemon
Olive oil
Salt and Pepper, to taste

Place the basil, pine nuts, Parmesan, lemon juice, and lemon zest in a food processor. Pulse about 5 times. Then with machine running, drizzle in olive oil to your desired texture. For me this is generally a half cup of olive oil. Taste. Add salt and pepper if needed. 

Will keep in fridge for a few days, but it is usually gone by then. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Short Order Reviews

We're starting off the shortened 4 day work week with a quick list of Short Order Reviews which revisit a few places which have fallen off our radar as of late.

Grand Isle - After hearing about all of the charcuterie that Chef Mark Falgoust is curing in house (but refraining to partake of those specialties on a Friday during Lent), we decided to bring The Folk Singer's parents here on a Sunday night so that they could eat fried seafood and I could indulge in pork. Gargantuan fried oysters filled a few po-boys around the table, but I focused my attention on the ham and white cheddar melt placed in front of me. Mother's may claim to have the world's best baked ham, but this may be the real deal Holyfield. Each thin slice of ham is surrounded by a crunchy, sweetened, black crust, stacked high and covered in melted white cheddar and caramelized onions on a brioche bun. The sandwich, while expensive at $13, was executed flawlessly. Terrible french fries though. - Par/Birdie.

Courtyard Grill - With 5 tables filled in the front courtyard a few weeks ago, this is the most crowded that I have seen this quiet Magazine eatery. The shaded deck is a nice setting on a day when the mercury stays below 85, but those days are probably behind us. Hummus was standard but good; the house baked bread is a vast improvement over the standard pita served elsewhere. TFS had the Yogurt Chicken Kabob, which was off-putting texturally with its soggy bread buried beneath chunks of grilled chicken covered in yogurt and the house specialty tomato butter sauce. I fared better with the spicy Lamb Adana wrap in crispy lavash. Lebanese tea was syrupy sweet in a non-refreshing way. I don't know how this place stays open, but it is still a great option for a cheap lunch. - Par.

Poke Salad at Kyoto.
Kyoto - A 20 minute wait lets you know that this is one of the few Uptown restaurants open for dinner on Monday nights. We started with the Poke Salad, which was the best execution that I have had here in a long time. An almagamation of seaweed, squid, avocado, thin half moons of cucumber and chunks of tuna mixed with a sweet and hot chili dressing, the salad has so much going on yet comes together so well. This night once again confirmed my belief that the Sara Roll, filled with spicy shrimp and avocado and then topped with a crunchy/spicy sriracha crown, is my favorite roll in town. The Dynamite Roll was disappointing with only tuna and no salmon, and while the fish was served at the right temp, the rice was much too cold. At $35 inclusive for 3 rolls and a Poke Salad, this was a surprisingly cheap dinner date, but of course neither of us were drinking. - Par/Birdie.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Hello, Weekend

Yes, I realize that today is only Thursday. But with the long Memorial Day weekend on the horizon, we are all preoccupied with the upcoming three day weekend full of booze, beaches, and goatburgers.

The sun sets over the New Orleans Greek Festival.
You read that right. Goatburgers are a new addition to the menu at the New Orleans Greek Fest, which runs Friday evening and all day Saturday and Sunday.  Save for Friday evening when the grounds surrounding the Holy Trinity Cathedral swell with sweaty runners who wait patiently for their free beers after finishing the 5K, Greek Fest is a nice treat for those who enjoy outdoor festivals but loathe large crowds. Most of the food is prepared by the church community, and you can taste the love in the spinach stuffed spanakopita and spit-roatsed lamb sold by the pound. And with plenty of cold beer and ouzo to wash eveything down, the atmosphere is laid back and relaxed on the banks of Bayou St. John.

Have a great weekend.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Memphis in May

A typical competitor booth at Memphis in May. 

By 6:03 am last Friday our group was airborne for the forty minute jaunt north. Within minutes of touching down, we were in a taxi heading towards Memphis' Tom Lee Park to witness the greatest spectator sport in the world. Along the banks of the Mississippi, teams from all over the globe arrive to build elaborate set-ups, smoke copious amounts of meat, and drink all of the alcohol. Eventually a team would be crowned, but by that point few cared.

 The Beeve was waiting for us with specific instructions on where to find his team, "Head down the hill, take a left by the really can't miss us."

The cast of characters on the Ubon's BBQ team is a Canterbury Tales of the Mississippi. Mr. Garry Roark is the Godfather of BBQ having been on the circuit for years. He is joined by his daughter Leslie, "The BBQ Princess", Beeve, One Legged Reggie, Double F, Beeve's daughters, and a host of others. Occasionally, they are joined by a BBQ group out of New York City named Jubon's, that the Ubon's crew has mentored for years. The Jubon's t-shirts sport a pig wearing a yarmulke with the expression "At least the salt is Kosher." Perhaps the most important member of the Ubon's team is the above Bloody Mary. Vodka, Zing Zang, the Ubon's rub and barbecue sauce, pickle juice, and a pickle spear. You can't find a better Bloody Mary. Go ahead and try.

Ubon's has other specialties for which they are known. The other drink they are known for is The Ubon's Special which is a strange sounding, but dangerously delicious blend of pineapple juice, Jim Beam, and Sprite. Someone had another name for it, "A whole bunch of fuckedupedness in a glass." Apt.

Garry Roark, left, trims picnic shoulder with the percision of a stone mason, while Beeve, far right, is tasked with removing fat.

Having sampled two or three of both Ubon's beverages these before 10 am, it was time to eat something lest things get out of hand. Enter the Perfect Sandwich: smoked rib eye, horseradish mayo, creole mustard, and onion. I only managed to eat five of them, but there is always next year.

Soon Beeve took us on a walkabout introducing us to more legends of the Memphis Barbecue Network. At each stop, Beeve engaged in some good old fashioned mental warfare, which usually just involved taking their beer. Teams begin arriving in Memphis on the Sunday before the competition. They load in double decker skyscrapers of scaffolding, oak bars, swimming pools, televisions, and even an EKG machine. A city is born within a city and it is a city of dreams.

At one point a plywood box, Gatorade jug, and PVC piping delivered the first acceptable frozen margarita in history. Explain to me this margarita machine, I asked one guy, "Well we use a disposal to grind the ice. But the ice in Memphis is real hard, and it tore up our first disposal. So Steve had to go to Home Depot yesterday and get a new one."

Fatback Collective team members prepare to carve an open fire roasted whole lamb.

Soon we made our way to The Fatback Collective and their merry band of meatfits. Fatback Collective is an amalgamation of chefs from across the South who enjoy nothing more than eating, cooking, and drinking, rinsing, and repeating. When we first walked upon them, Ryan Prewitt stood on a table over a half-splayed mangalitsa with an ax and hammer in his hand. He may as well have been Thor. The snow white fat on the mangalitsas melted upon contact with the heat of your hand. Soon two of these pigs, were buried in a blanket of 200 degree smoke for 24 hours, while a third was rigged up on block and tackle and angled over a smoldering fire.

Thompson described the Kentucky Derby as "decadent and depraved." One can only imagine the prose which he could have developed for Memphis in May. Later shots of Buffalo Trace made the rounds. Then crawfish the size of baby lobsters trucked up from Southwest Louisiana by a Link or two. Their fatty, glistening tales surrounding in powerful seasoning. Eventually jello shots arrived via a moving van. And the party went into the night.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Drago's: Is It Worth It?

Shrimp and grits at Drago's

Until a meal at Drago's last week, I never had any reason to feud with grits. Grits are a staple of southern cooking, an exclamation point on meals from Charleston to Texas. When done correctly, the grits take on an amorphous shape, able to float between liquid and solid form, soaking up juices or just a receptacle for an oozing pat of butter. Great grits, to paraphrase Vinny Gambini are "magic grits."

The grits at Drago's were a disaster. With the texture of wet sand, they mounded above the shrimp in Drago's take on the southern dish sweeping the nation faster than kudzu. We were eating with my mom, but luckily she put her motherly instincts aside and didn't force me to finish my plate. Normally, you could throw away the starch component of a dish. When grits are one of the two main components of a dish and they arrive dry and unappetizing, someone in the kitchen has never had a proper bowl of girts. The shrimp surrounding the gritsaster benefited from being close to tasso, but otherwise the dish lacked any punch.

Before we go on, let me say something nice lest I not be able to say anything at all. The fleur de lis shrimp, plump fried shrimp coated in a fiery sauce with chopped peanuts, were immensely enjoyable. Perhaps a plate of those with a beer would be a good way to watch a ballgame. But you don't come to Drago's for fleur de lis shrimp or shrimp and grits, you come here for the chargrilled oysters. A dish which Drago's is credited with inventing. But much like bbq shrimp at Manale's, Drago's sure hasn't perfected their greatest hit.

Below the crust of garlic butter and parmesan, there lies an oyster which depending on the time of year will either be flavorful or not. At this time of year, the latter is more likely.* Without the salinity of a plump oyster, the topping is better placed on bread than a milky oyster. The way in which the oysters are opened is perhaps a bit too rough resulting in shell fragments worthy of awarding the oyster a Purple Heart.

A plank of drum arrived bland despite being covered in all manners of things. Lindsay described the crabmeat and shrimp dressing which sat next to it as "interesting."  This was an improvement upon a plate of oysters en brochette served with a sweetened Jack Daniels sauce that managed to disprove the twin theories of southern cooking that bacon and bourbon make everything taste better. There were salads of basic salad bar quantity. These were included in the price of the entrees, which depending on your satisfaction with your meal are either very high or just high. Everybody has an off night or maybe it still holds true that eating oysters in summer is a bad idea.

I'll end on another good note. The beer is very cold and the service couldn't be nicer.

Drago's: Is It Worth It? Nope.
Fat City and Downtown Locations

*Tangent: The idea that anyone would host an Oyster Festival in New Orleans in June is a goddamn disgrace. Oysters couldn't be less appetizing than right now through the end of a summer. There is a reason why Casamento's is closed. Please move this festival to a cold weather month.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Pots Are Boiling

Nearly every local has faced this conundrum: A large group of friends come in town and are staying in the Quarter. They all want to go out for heaping platters of boiled seafood, but the options are limited to non-existent in the downtown area. What do you do?

A few weeks ago Rene wrote about the Crab Trap II, an excellent suggestion for your seafood seeking out of town guests. But Frenier is a 30 mile drive away, which would make for an expensive cab ride. However, if instead of heading west on I-10, you decide to drive east to the Westbank, just a 10 minute ride away is a Harvey hideaway where the pots are always at a rolling boil.

Perino's Boiling Pot, located below the elevated Westbank Expressway a few blocks past the Manhattan exit, is a no frills seafood joint where locals feel at home and tourists can act like locals. The family behind Perino's operates both a restaurant and seafood market, a business model which generates a lot of turnover for inventory and ensures freshness for its customers. Customers who are not carrying out bags of boiled shrimp and crawfish are seated at long formica tables covered plastic trays full of the same.

Before you get elbows deep in crawfish fat, crab claws, and shrimp heads, Perino's offers a short list of starters that are worth sacrificing precious stomach real estate for. The stuffed artichoke is an almost forgotten art that is thankfully still practiced at Perino's with expert precision.  Here, the most delcious flower on earth is in full blossom with every crevice overflowing with lemon and herb stuffing. Oysters are on the half shell are priced cheap and served ice cold. Spicy crawfish boudin is sold by the link and oozes from its casing.

Then come the platters of boiled seafood ferried to the table by smiling, no-nonsense waitresses and rested atop a metal stand with an empty tray for remnants strategically placed underneath. The crawfish are medium in size and easily peelable, with a restrained level of spice which may be dissappointing to some but appreciated by others who believe that pain is not a necessarily prerequisite to crawfish pleasure. On my most recent visit, the boiled shrimp were terribly overcooked, resulting in withered shells which struggled to pull away from the tough flesh underneath. Corn and potatoes are sold separately, but the bland flavor of both relegate them to obscurity.

While some of the offerings at Perino's may lack the enthusiasm found out your best friend's crawfish boil where the seasoning level increases with every round of beers, this Harvey hangout displays most of the congeniality and affordability of a local favorite that most out of town guests will be happy to experience. And sometimes, that's all that you're looking for.

3754 Westbank Expressway
(504) 340-5560
Sun-Thur: 11am-10pm; Fri-Sat: 11am-11pm

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Summertime and the Eating's Easy

Newsflash! It is too damn hot to do any real indoor cooking. Put away the casserole dishes, dutch ovens, and roasting pans, and pull out your salad spinner, grill, and smoker. Right now the Crescent City Farmer's Market is awash in delicious things you should be eating. A visit last weekend turned up two pounds of U-12 shrimp, a pound of squid, blueberries, Creole tomatoes, and a pint of peaches fragrant enough to use as cologne.

Like any red blooded American, my grill in the summertime is used more than graphic violence in a Tarantino film. High heat, low and slow, shoot, I've even been known to grill a vegetable on the damn thing. Take that, terrorists! In summer it is time to switch from meats bathed in luxurious stocks to meats kissed with squeezes of lemon or lime and a splash of good olive oil. Try grilling citrus before squeezing it over shrimp or a rack of ribs, smoked and seasoned with nothing more than salt and pepper.

And about those shrimp, they are perfect right now. Plump and fat, they ooze with briny goodness. You can prepare shrimp any way you like; but if you go this whole summer without making a Mason jar full of pickled shrimp, your subscription to the internet will be revoked. The technique is simple. Quickly boil shrimp in highly seasoned water, toss with a vinaigrette, and let sit. You can add, capers, or mint, or olive salad, or anything your little heart desires. This is the perfect dish to bring to your friend's lake or beach house. Pick up a gallon of daiquiris, some French bread, and a case of beer and your yearly invite will continue.

Fluffy omelets, their centers just on the cooked side of Carbonara, work their way into the dinner repertoire. The best omelet technique in the world is right here. Practice it a few times and serve with a green salad with a garlicky dressing.  Break out a bottle of Sancerre or Rose. And count the days til fall.

For dessert, keep it simple, stupid. Bowls of peaches, blackerries, and blueberries need very little to showcase their brilliance. But baked shortbread sliced in half and a dollop of homemade whipped cream (with a splash of Southern Comfort) is one way to make summer fruits the star.

What are your summer go to meals?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

An Easy Staple

Ever heard this whine? "You can't find good Tex-Mex in New Orleans because there are no good tortillas here. When I lived in Austin, we used to buy tortillas from an Airstream down the corner made by a guy who had a tattoo of a tortilla on his arm." Lesson: no Airstream, no Tex-Mex.

The staples of most world cuisines are easy to make. In fact, the basic cooking of most cuisines is simple to accomplish but, may take a lifetime to master. Staples had to be easy out of necessity. An 18th century Chinese farmer didn't have a world class kitchen nor did a Mexican mother own a microwave. This is not to trivialize the importance of rice, bread, and maize, but just to say with a minimum amount of practice you can make much better corn tortillas than you can buy from any Airstream. 

Do you own a non-stick pan? A griddle you use to make pancakes for your kids? Or a cast iron pan? Have some ziploc bags? Indoor plumbing or access to potable water? Good then you are all set. You don't really need a tortilla press. All you will really need is a bag of masa harina. They sell it in grocery stores.

In a large bowl, combine 1 3/4 cups of masa harina with about a cup of water. Depending on the day, you may need more or less of either ingredient. You want a dough that is soft and looks like cookie dough. All of this is the extent of the recipe in Rick Bayless' Mexico: One Plate at a Time.

Take a gallon Ziploc bag and cut it down the sides and across the bottom. Once you have your dough, pull of a section that is about the size of a squash ball. Place dough in between two sheets of Ziploc and press down with the bottom of a heavy pot.

You can use a rolling pin (with dough still in between the plastic) if you want to make the tortilla thinner, but this is optional. It should have a vaguely circular shape. The more you practice, the better they get.

Carefully peel off one layer of plastic and drape the tortilla over the palm of your hand, then pull off second sheet of plastic. Heat a cast iron pan, pancake pan, sheet of steel, or a comal (below, about $8 at Ideal Market) over moderate heat. Ever seen a plan land? The back wheels land first followed by the front wheels. You want the side of the tortilla closest to you touching down first. Then sweep your hand out and gently place down the side of the tortilla furthest from you.

Cook for about 45 seconds on the first side. Flip it over (use your hands, pretty boy). And cook for another minute or so. You should see the tortilla puffing up a bit like a wimp with four beers in him. Once done, pull it off and keep it warm in a low oven, a plastic tortilla holder lined with a towel, or just wrap in a towel. Stuff them with anything you can fathom, melting Cotija cheese, juicy steak, or grilled veggies. Or all three. The tortilla can also be used as dessert. Take a warm tortilla, spread creamy peanut butter and a strawberry jam, fold into the palm of your hand, and enjoy. Begin searching for a tortilla tattoo.

Monday, May 14, 2012


Next week the New Orleans Wine & Food Experience celebrates it's 20th anniversary of eating and drinking for a good cause. Those of you who are NOWFE experts have likely already reserved your tables for the wine dinners on Wednesday and decided whether you will attend one of the Grand Tastings on Friday night or Saturday afternoon.

In last year's piece for NOWFE, I wrote a very vanilla post with a brief synopsis of each event on the calendar. Such blog posts are helpful for the uninitiated and assists in promoting an event which generates a lot of business for the local hospitality industry at a time when they are making one final push before the dog days of summer. However, after my experience at NOWFE 2011, I decided to embrace the spirit behind this year's challenge and ask myself the simple question:

NOWFE: Is It Worth It?

Let's break it down event by event:
  • Wine Dinners - Are They Worth It? - It depends. We had great luck in 2009 when Medlock Ames poured at Vizard's but were disappointed last year with the food at Arnaud's, although the wines from Far Niente and Nickel & Nickel were impressive. That's the inherent Catch 22 with many of the NOWFE wine dinners - often times the most interesting wines are paired with restaurants whose food falls below expectations. My best advice is not to short change yourself in either category. If you can't find a menu which peaks the interest of both your thirst and your hunger, then spend your money elsewhere.
  • Vinola - Is It Worth It? - I have never been, so I honestly have no idea. Spending $150 to drink wine for 2 hours on a Thursday afternoon seems quite decadent, but the wines are supposedly expensive and the lineup of chefs and restaurants is definitely impressive. The Pope went last year and said that it was a blast, but of course he did not pay for his ticket. If I had the afternoon off from work and had not already committed to some other NOWFE event for this year, I would probably just to see if it lives up to the hype.
  • Royal Street Stroll - Is It Worth It?  - In a word, no. Last year, Royal Street Stroll was a certified clusterf*ck, and the rain was not entirely to blame. There are too many attendees, the lines to refill your wine glass are too long, and the food was non-existent. Someone had to say it.
  • Seminars - Are They Worth It? - Again, I have limited experience with this category, but this component of NOWFE seems to be the most educational and therefore the most appealing for true wine geeks.
  • Grand Tastings - Are They Worth It? - The Grand Tastings mimic the Royal Street Stroll in that they both involve long lines and lots of people. But the Grand Tastings traditionally offer both food and wine of better quality and more abundance. Now, most of the wines are poured are main stream, where as the wine dinners and Vinola feature more single vineyard varietals and reserve selections. But in terms of bang for your buck, it's tough to beat the Grand Tastings.
What say you? Is NOWFE worth it?

Thursday, May 10, 2012


In the present era of classically-trained chefs opening gourmet burger stands and casual eateries where the sausage is made in house from Mangalista pigs and the salad greens are grown on inner-city hydroponic farms, the neighborhood restaurant has fallen off the radar. In the immediate months after Katrina, the re-opening of the long-running family friendly eatery was met with fervor from those in search of a return to normalcy. But their popularity has waned to the point that most of those intent on surviving have been forced to embrace change and rejuvenation.

Stuffed mushrooms from Katie's in Mid-City.
Katie's has always been looked upon as an inferior sibling to Mandina's, the apotheosis of New Orleans neighborhood cuisine located just 2 blocks away. But after the storm, the two restaurants took decidedly different paths for rebuilding. While Mandina's went back to it's tried and true menu of Creole-Italian, po-boys, an old fashions, Katie's held onto the past but also innovated with the addition of pizzas, Sunday brunch, and a few original dishes which caught the attention of one infamous, blonde, spiky-haired, pinky-ringed food TV host.

But don't hold that against them.

Odds are good that your table will start with an order of chargrilled oysters, which were overcooked to major shrinkage on my first visit, but on the third they were near perfect - just barely heated underneath a buttery breadcrumb and parmesan topping. The crunchy onion rings of medium thickness are preferred over the fried eggplace sticks and  french fries overly seasoned with Cajun spice. Chicken and andouille gumbo has a charcoal colored roux a good level of spice, but the best soup on my three visits was a special that had a rich and creamy base of brie cheese with crabmeat and roasted portabello mushrooms.

Every item on the gargantuan fried seafood platter had different batters, an attention to detail often not practiced. Crawfish were blonde and flavorless, shrimp were Saints gold, the small oysters a dark brown, and a huge filet of moist fish fell somewhere in the middle of the color wheel. The tartar and cocktails sauces were strange enough to remember, the former being very sweet with pickles and the latter tasting as if it was made with oyster liquor. The much touted CNN Blackberry and Jalapeno Ribs are tender from slow cooking (not smoking) and coated in a sticky sweet sauce. Pass.

The Boudreaux Pizza.
The pizzas are unconventional and far from the authentic Roman and Neopolitan styles that we all have accepted as the apex of pizza nirvana. The crust has a slightly sweetened taste and is not too thick or too thin, somewhat chewy and usually yields under an overload of ingredients. The cheese is a strange mixture of mozzarella and provel, a St. Louis processed blend which Rene still has nightmares over. But if Hogs for the Cause has taught us all anything, it's the power of pork. Witness the Boudreaux: a garlic cream base topped with shreds of succulent cochon de lait, whole cloves of sweet roasted garlic, wilted leaves of fresh spinach and red onion. I have tasted a few other pizzas at Katie's, and they are fine (especially the Terranova featuring sausage made at the Faubourg St. John grocery store). But none come even close to comparing to the Boudreaux.

And you can taste the Boudreaux (and all of the pizzas) for $10 every Thursday, when Katie's packs them in for the weekly pizza special. The restaurant does not take reservations, so don't be surprised if you find yourself waiting in the small bar area or outside on the patio furniture where you can still here the cacophony from the dining room. It's the sound of the reliable neighborhood restaurant, and at Katie's it's as loud as ever.

Katie's - Par
3701 Iberville Street
(504) 488-6582
Sun: 9am - 3pm; Mon-Wed: 11am - 3pm; Thur-Sat: 11am - 10pm

All photos by The Folk Singer.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Summer Reading List

I love cookbooks and there is nothing wrong with that. The cookbook shelves in the kitchen have long since been filled. Now cookbooks reside on almost every flat surface stacked high. Those that aren't in the regular rotation are sent upstairs to a temporarily permanent exile. While the recipes are the payoff, the stories, techniques, and flavor pairings are where a cookbook's value can be judged. If you are looking for a new cookbook to shake things up, the following books should be on your queue.

Speakeasy: The Employees Only Guide to Classic Cocktails Reimagined by Jason Kosmas and Dushan Zaric. In short, I like making a cocktail after work. Making a cocktail requires a certain amount of ritual and a gathering of ingredients and tools. The transition from disparate elements of gin, ice, Campari, and vermouth into a stunning drink mirrors the transition from work to play. What I like most about Speakeasy is that it assumes the reader has a desire to make a drink beyond a vodka tonic, but it doesn't put you immediately into the AP Cocktail class. The authors walk you through their cocktails, whether classics or their own inventions, with a bit of story of the cocktail's development. Tasting notes are included, but ignore those. A cocktail is meant to be enjoyed, not commented on like a bottle of wine. Trust me on this: try the Sangria recipe.

The Food52 Cookbook by Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs. Food52 is an online community of the highest order on the internet. A place where people who like to cook come together to discuss how to do so. The book compiles the best recipes submitted to the site with easy to follow directions and suggestions for substitutions. Each recipe is based on a weekly theme i.e. Your Best Sweet Potato Recipe or Your Best Chicken with Mustard. My wife is a big fan of the book, especially when I make her lemony cream cheese pancakes with blueberries in less time than it takes to boil water.

Momofuku by David Chang and Peter Meehan. Beneath the bravado, the cursing, the familiar refrain of pork, pork, pork, and the accolades, the ethos behind Momofuku is what is so interesting. That ethos is based on bringing to the forefront the simmering culture of Asian immigrants. Sure there are sanitized Chinese and mayo soaked sushi in every city of note, but Chang takes you into the heart of the Asian cook through the eyes of an American. Soft boiled eggs, bacon, noodles or rice, and salty and spicy condiments are the pathway to delicious dishes. While some of the recipes are rather involved (the Bo Ssam alone requires a week of work), the results are worth it.

Tapas: A Taste of Spain in America by Jose Andres and Richard Wolffe. Spanish food is as diverse as Italian or French with culinary touchstones spanning the noble pig to briny seafood. Yet too often the cuisine of Spain is distilled down to the least common denominator in overpriced tapas restaurants. If you want a glimpse at real Spanish food, this book is for you. Approachable techniques and ingredients are divided into chapters, such as Rice or Tomatoes. Then you are given a handful of recipes, but more importantly ideas for how to bring the flavor of Spain into your kitchen.

Spend this weekend cooking, it is about to become too hot to do so. With the advent of Creole tomatoes in the market, you would do well to make a big batch of Andres' Gazpacho this weekend, wash it down with Sangria from Speakeasy. Then try your hand at making a batch of ginger scallion sauce to pour over a big bowl of white rice with a fried egg. You can pick the recipe to make out of Food52 on your own.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Food Nerd TV

The local nominees for Best Chef: South in the 2012 James Bear Foundation Awards.
Tonight, in a ceremony which has been often described as the "Oscars of the food world," the James Beard Foundation will hand out awards to the nation's best chefs and restaurants. Among the nominees are a handful of locals, and we wish them all good luck.

In the category of Outstanding Chef, Donald Link has been nominated with other industry heavyweights such as David Chang, Gary Danko, and Paul Kahan. I'd say that Chef Link deserves the award based solely on the spaghetti with guanciale and fried poached egg at Herbsaint, but no one asked my opinion. For the fourth year in a row, Chef Sue Zemanick from Gautreau's is nominated for Rising Star Chef of the Year, an honor bestowed upon chefs 30 years of age and under. Chef Sue is aged out of this category after this year, so let's hope that she brings home the prize.

But the most watched contest of the evening will likely be in the category of Best Chef: South, where 4 of the 5 nominees hail from New Orleans. Justin Devillier of La Petite Grocery, John Harris of Lilette and Bouligny Tavern, Tory McPhail of Commander's Palace, and Alon Shaya of Domenica have all been nominated for the award, along with some guy from Birmingham. And no disrespect to Chris Hastings and the Hot and Hot Fish Club, but losing this one tonight would be more disappointing than Union Rags' performance at the Derby on Saturday.

In today's poll in the top left hand corner, you can cast your vote for the New Orleans chef most deserving of the award for Best Chef: South. At the time of publishing, Vegas has Alon Shaya listed as the 5 to 2 favorite. You can catch the awards live today at 5:00CST on streaming video.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Final Weekend of the Fest

BBQ Shrimp Po-Boy from Liuzza's by the Track.
The mercury is rapidly rising and soon hundreds of thousands will once again flood the Fair Grounds for the final four days of the Fest. Kudos to all of the parrot heads out there who are playing hooky today. Those of us stuck in our cubicles are jealous with envy.

No matter how much you indulge in the bounty of festival eats, chances are that you will be ravenous when you exit the gates. The next question then becomes, "Where's dinner?"  Although there are several restaurants in close proximity to the Fest, the odds of you scoring a table at one of them this weekend are less than Jonathan Vilma's chances at overturning his suspension on appeal. The outdoor dining areas at Cafe Degas, Nona Mia, and Santa Fe will likely be full with revelers rehydrating and refueling. And in case you didn't take Rene's advice last week about grabbing a bloody mary on your way into the Fest, lightning could strike with an opportunity for a roast beef po-boy at Liuzza's by the Track, which is the subject of our Eats Review in this month's issue of OffBeat Magazine.

If you venture out just beyond the immediate vicinity of the Fair Grounds, the odds of a you finding an open table dramatically increase. To wit, I have 2 suggestions, both of which are a short streetcar ride or an ambitious walk up Carrollton Avenue. Toups' Meatery is a new venture by Isaac Toups, whose most prominent position was chef at Cuvee. I stopped by there for lunch last week and started with a spicy pork and poblano sausage and finished with an excellent confit chicken thigh atop firm white beans. More on Toups' in the coming weeks. My second suggestion is Taqueria Guerrero Mexico, which is almost a 2 mile hike from Esplanade but worth the journey for a ginormous torta filled with barbacoa.

Have a great weekend and don't forget the sunscreen.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Have Five Daiquiris?

Trust me on this. Today's post was going to be epic showcasing a list of unofficial Jazz Fest cocktails I made last Saturday on those hallowed grounds. But then Wayne Curtis had to go and write about making cocktails for a Bruce Springsteen flyover. Anything you would have read here would have paled in comparison.

Instead we cycle back to a rum cocktail which has sneaked its way into my rotation. I can't say this is an upsetting development. The daiquiri, when made correctly, is the apotheosis of Caribbean drinking. There is sugar, rum, and limes, all necessary ingredients if you wish to avoid scurvy or an afternoon conference call. And as the expression goes, when Ron Jeremy gives you rum, you make daiquiris.  

This daiquiri came about when I found myself with a sizable amount of lemongrass (a story for another day). A lemongrass simple syrup seemed to make sense. The suggestion of a daiquiri made with that simple syrup from Neal Bodenheimer made even more sense. Many tests later here is the proportion for what I consider a damn fine daiquiri. The drink is bright and fresh with a stripper dust finish. I have been drinking these for about two weeks now. Not continuously, of course. 

Ron's Asian Fetish Daiquiri

1 cup sugar, 1 cup water into a sauce pan over very low heat. Stir until all the sugar is combined. Add two stalks of beaten (it releases the oils) and chopped lemongrass. Let steep for twenty minutes. Strain.

4 oz Ron de Jeremy (any dark rum will do)
2 oz lemongrass simple syrup
1 oz fresh squeezed lime juice (about one lime)

Combine the above in a mixing glass over ice. Shake for thirty seconds and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Or put it on the rocks, Captain Schettino. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Hansen's Sno-Bliz: Is It Worth It?

Last week while walking down Poydras at 9:30 in the morning, summer arrived. Up until that moment, a couple block walk through the CBD still held the the joys of a waltz through spring in New Orleans. But there about two blocks into the walk as beads of sweat began soaking through my shirt, I knew the fun had come to an end. Once summer arrives in New Orleans, it tends to stick around for a while like a house guest or fish. There is seemingly no relief in sight to days with temperatures that are higher than octane levels in gasoline. Thank heavens for the Hansen family.

For 73 years, the Hansen family has served one thing and one thing only: the sno ball. A shaved delight of frozen bliss with flavors ranging from the tart and crisp to sweet and creamy. There is an oft told story that there are only two restaurants in America that have 29/30 ratings for food from Zagat: The French Laundry and Hansen's. And while the product they serve casts the shadow on the wall of Plato's cave, the experience is what makes Hansen's such a wonderful spot.

Depending on what time you go, there will either be a short line or a long line. A long line is anything that goes past the door. A short line is anything less. Short lines are as rare as finishing a dozen raw at Casamento's with a sno ball from Hansen's. Follow the weathered yellowed line on the fruit punch colored floor directing traffic as you gaze around the room and its collection of yellowed newspaper clippings, senatorial proclamations, and photos of the Hansen's thru the years.

Your order probably says more about you than your driver's license. Personally, I go for a Hot Rod - stuffed with ice cream - and a tart flavor. Satsuma, orangeade, strawberry, lemonade, or some combination thereof are the go to flavorings. Extrapolate your own psychoanalytical theory on how much that order rules. Lindsay usually proclaims she is going to get something different on the ride over, but without fail here comes her cream of coconut. Even when on our last visit, they forgot to put ice cream in the Hot Rod and the staff of kids seemed ready to go home, the result was still a delicious way to cool down.

"One of these days, I am going to try something different," Lindsay will say as we leave.

Until then, it is good to know some things never change.

Hansen's: Sno-Bliz: Is It Worth It? Definitely.
Tuesday - Sunday 1pm - 7pm.
4801 Tchoupitoulas St.