Thursday, June 28, 2012

Commanders Palace Jazz Brunch: Is It Worth It?

I approached Jazz Brunch with a fair amount of apprehension. Not being a fan of either brunch or roving musicians in restaurants, this seemed to be a poor choice. But a well-made daiquiri and a non-obtrusive jazz trio eased anyway concerns of not being able to judge this meal properly. Sunday Jazz Brunch (they also offer it on Saturday) at Commanders Palace is an institution attended by the both the well-heeled and the well-traveled. Its reservation on this Classics list was secure before the phone lines were even opened. It just took us a while to find a Sunday worthy of the experience. A Sunday that began with a Christening (and hence putting on a suit) called for a fancy brunch.

The garlic bread is as good as you have heard. It is simply outstanding that a place serving this many people can do something this perfect so often. Our appetizers arrived shortly thereafter placed on the table by a team of well-coordinated servers. Turtle soup, a Classic's Classic, is rich and well-made, a jaunt through two hundred plus years of cross-culinary pollination. But few dishes best represent the pure link to the French in the Creole canon better than the oyster and absinthe dome. Under the flaky chapeau is a briny, herbal broth studded with plump oysters. This soup is a quick jaunt to South of France to slurp oysters under the sun and sip licorice flavored liquor. By far, this is the second best domed experience in the city.

Had the meal ended there, a conclusion recommending this experience would have been easy to give. As it was the meal continued, and the assessment became more complicated. First, a service snafu developed. The wine list at Commanders Palace has the breadth and depth of a well-rounded liberal arts grad. Hidden in plain sight was a grand cru Patrick Piuze Chablis which practically begged to be ordered. It came to the table at a perfect cool temperature. First sips showcased the delicious mineral driven citrus zest that was a fantastic match with the above oyster dish. My attention diverted, the bottle was removed from the table and plunged into an ice bath. Ok no big deal, a few cold moments wont kill the wine. Surely, once someone notices the empty glass, they will refill it and I can tell them to leave the bottle out again. But time passed. Waiters, servers, bussers, managers, passed the table with eyes diverted. Eventually as my glass sat empty for long enough, Lindsay, sensing my anxiety, retrieved the bottle from the icy depths. Gone were the complex flavors and subtlety, instead it was just another too cold bottle of white wine. A bummer anytime, but a real stinker with these markups.

A veal flank came to the table riding a carriage of creole cream cheese spiked grits and crowned with sauteed leaks, asparagus, and fried leeks. I could have done without the fried leeks which were stringy and unnecessary. The veal never made it to a hay diet and neither should the diner. The meat was well-seasoned and tender, supple and a perfect midday bite of meat. For the other entree, a plate of pecan crusted fish with spiced pecans, prosecco poached crabmeat, and crushed corn sauce, Madame Chanel would suggest taking off one thing before leaving the pass. It could have been the crabmeat which was grey and stringy instead of pearl colored marbles. Or maybe remove the spiced pecans, which were both an awkward texture and flavor. But leave the corn sauce which was silky, sweet, and delicious.

Lindsay has been craving biscuits since I made an off hand comment a few weeks ago about wanting to make some. These biscuits had more in common with the yeast rolls of a school cafeteria than the flaky buttery biscuits that inspire cravings. The interior was doughy and dense and the crust dry. We should have ordered more garlic bread or more of the pastry from the oyster and absinthe dome.

The bread pudding souffle topped tableside with spoonfuls of warm whiskey sauce is still a wonderful dessert. The portion size keeps it from becoming boring. A souffle is an incredible combination of cooking and chemistry when done properly. This one is done to perfection. Less good was a dry rum cake with an ice cream whose icy temperature obscured its flavor. We quizzed ourselves on the flavor, eventually learning it was pecan. Fooled us, the smart money at the table was on tamarind.

So far this was the toughest challenge to date. On one hand, as far as brunches go, it was still better than anything else in town and food prices are fairly reasonable. On the other, after adding in booze and wine, this was an expensive meal. An expensive meal that missed the mark more often than hitting it. Maybe I got a little too worked up about the wine mishap. Hey, I enjoyed the jazz.

Commanders Palace Jazz Brunch: Is It Worth It? Feel free to skip.
Saturday and Sunday

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

How to Make a Bitter Drink

Keith in Lakeview writes: "Just what the hell are bitters? And why do I want them in my drink?"

Peychaud's and Angostura are the most familiar versions of bitters, but others exist. Flavors such as grapefruit, absinthe, and fennel seed have been turned into bitters by adventurous young bucks in bars from Boise to Baltimore. Bitters, like most ancient liquors, began their path to the bar as a medicine. Consider bitters the seasoned salt of the twenty first century. An elemental way to add a personalized touch to drinks, but which all share a common taste bud tickling effect.   

Barks, roots, spices, citrus peels, etc... are soaked in heavily proofed booze. Through magic, alchemy, time, heat, or witchcraft, the booze takes on the flavors of the infusion. Bitters help to sharpen the flavors of a cocktail, playing against the sweetness of the liquor or mixing agent. But I also find that bitters can help take the edge off a cocktail made with all booze like a pickle on a hamburger. 

Personally, rum and bitters are a match made in heaven. For a great lesson in why, you may want to pick up Wayne Curtis' excellent book And a Bottle of Rum. The spiciness of Angostura bitters are a natural companion for the richness of rum. Mount Gay, a few splashes of Angostura bitters, and a squeeze of lime makes a fantastic summer cocktail. But the powers of bitters can elevate even the workman Bacardi Gold. In fact, for a rum punch, I prefer Bacardi Gold over any other rum. 

Pineapple Rum Punch

3 ounces Bacardi Gold
5 cubes of pineapple
2 ounces lime juice
1 ounce simple syrup
3 ounces water
3 dashes of Angostura Bitters

Combine above ingredients in a cocktail glass. Add crushed ice and shake for a good thirty seconds. You want the pineapple and ice to break down slightly. This will add more sweetness and acidity to the drink (pineapple) and the melting ice will help mellow the drink while still providing the punch of three ounces of rum. Pour into vessel of choice. Top with more ice if necessary.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Zagat Restaurant Survey Contest

Here at Blackened Out Cupcakery and Chiropractic Clinic, we try to seize every opportunity we have to promote our local restaurants on a national level. So instead of doing something destructive to our dining scene (such as firing a James Beard award winning restaurant critic), we have decided to lend a helping hand to our friends at Zagat, who seek the assistance of our dear readers.

Zagat's New Orleans Restaurant Blog Contest is a way for you, the savy New Orleans local, to author restaurant reviews and provide your own personal input in the Zagat guide, which hopefully results in a more accurate representation of the restaurant industry in New Orleans. And as an added incentive to complete the survey, each time you vote for a restaurant it will be counted as an entry to win a $100 gift card from Whole Foods.

The prize will be awarded to the Blackened Out reader who writes the most witty, creative and informative review (judged by Zagat). Ergo, it is important that you fill out the "review" field, even though it's technically optional. The survey (and this contest) are live now through June 29th, so start voting as soon as the creative juices start flowing. Additionally, those readers who vote for 10 or more restaurants will be eligible to receive a free copy of the 2013 Zagat New Orleans guide when it's published next year (provided that you submit an address with your surveys).  And as a final lagniappe, The Pope has offered to double the prize if the winning entry successfully incorporates the phrase "loving in your mouth" in the review.

Good luck.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Ye Olde College Inn: Is It Worth It?

Most of the places in this series are serving the same style and quality of food they have served since forever, be it roast beef po-boys or blackened fish. Times and tastes change. The average American has a higher food IQ in 2012, than in 1970. A restaurant opening today is required to not only have a board of house made charcuterie but also s forager and in-house pickler. How then can a restaurant stay both classic and current?

A good example of how to accomplish both can be found at Ye Olde College Inn. Part of their success is due to their proximity and relations with Rock and Bowl, which provide a steady stream of visitors with disposable income to both properties. Whereas some restaurants might take this to mail it in, Ye Olde College Inn has ratcheted up its food offerings in recent years. Credit for that belongs to the Blancher family who have turned surrounding properties into farms and to Chef Bradley McGehee, who arrived over a year ago.

The premises are dominated by dark woods and exposed beams. The religious icons scattered about may be a little strange to those of you not schooled by the Archdiocese.It seems sharing a block with the Archbishop creates the same design aesthetic as a sports bar near the Dome being filled with Saints memorabilia. Start your meal with an Old Fashioned, possibly the best in the city and served in a large, heavy glass and just enough ice to cool it down without drowning out the flavors.

Follow that up with a bowl of rustic seafood gumbo which relies on a fragrant seafood stock to carry forth plump shrimp. Whereas the greatness of Louisiana shrimp were on full display in the gumbo, they hide, to their detriment, behind an overly assertive remoulade and thin discs of fried green tomatoes. Two pucks of boudin encased in a crispy shell, gilded with pepper jelly vinaigrette and a red pepper sauce, get a welcome dose of saucy richness from the running yolk of a poached egg. Breakfast dressed up for supper.

The benefits of having your own farm showed up on the next course. A medley of corn, sweeter than a sleeping infant, peas, and cherry tomatoes was a delicious way to eat your vegetables. The whipped potatoes were smooth and luxurious. Of the two gravies, the classic was a much better flavor with the mushroom demi glace giving off a burned taste. The hamburger steak itself was a shade dense and chewy, a risk with ground grass-fed beef, outweighed by its deep, mineral taste.

Dessert was a chocolate peanut butter pie which we devoured in less than two minutes. Had Peter been dining with us, we would have had to order a second one. Chocolate and peanut butter silk pie is an absolute dinosaur of a dish and has been around since the ancient times of the Seventies (if not the Prehistoric era of the Sixties). Yet it is a classic for a reason because it is the world's best pie.

The foods on offer at Ye Olde College Inn should be familiar to anyone who has spent time in the hallowed halls of the Law Firm of Mandina, Liuzza, et al. But the raw ingredients are better, the cooking more careful, and the products well sourced. Ye Olde College Inn also does the little things better than other spots in its genre. For example, right when you are ready to ask for a second beer the waitress is ready to take your order or she may convince you to order dessert without upselling you. All of this melds into a classic restaurant which is no longer a dinosaur, but has evolved into a vibrant well run "modern" restaurant without sacrificing its soul.

If you are looking for a classic New Orleans neighborhood spot, I don't think you can do much better than Ye Olde College Inn.

Ye Olde College Inn: Is It Worth It? Absolutely.
3000 South Carrollton Ave.
Tues. - Sat. 4-11 pm

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Short Order Reviews

Bistreaux - After striking out with my first dozen choices for lunch for a party of 12 on a rainy Saturday, the casual dining option at the Maison Dupuy was the winner by default, in part because I had enjoyed a solid special event lunch at Le Meritage a few months before. But while Le Meritage aims high with lofty aspirations, Bistreaux seems to be a utilitarian option for hotel guests, with a menu that includes beef carpaccio, spaghetti and meatballs, red beans and rice, pizza, steak frites, and bangers and mash. Truffle french fries were an adequate delivery system for much needed grease and nothing more. The cochon de lait sandwich was as dry as the Mojave desert, and burgers had both the texture and appearance of hockey pucks. A glimmer of hope arrived in the fried oysters - plump, crunchy, golden brown globes - but by that time the ship had already sailed. - Bogey.

Manhattan Omelette at Camellia Grill.
Camellia Grill - Surprisingly, this may be the best kept breakfast secret in the Quarter. While the crowds hover outside Stanley for up to an hour before being seated, the staff at Camellia Grill are burning and turning every 30 minutes. The Manhattan omelette is the cure for everything that ails you – chunks of corned beef, swiss cheese, onions, and french fries folded in a creamy base with a browned exterior. Throw some cheese on the fries, of course. Even though you can now find better burgers around town with a blue blood pedigree, I am still a sucker for the classic diner version served here. The waiters still execute their duties with a sense of flair and congeniality which has always been a trademark of the original location in the Riverbend, except that the waiters in the French Quarter score extra bonus points for their ability to offer a hair of the dog along with your pecan waffle. - Par/Birdie.

Origami - Sushi was an inevitable addition to the Freret Street dining scene, and here it appears in an impressive renovation of the former location of Friar Tuck’s on Freret Street. (Not to be confused with the original location of Friar Tucks at the corner of Carrollton and Canal - RIP.) The interior is sleek with plenty of light colored woods and white chairs, counters, and table tops. We grabbed two seats at the sushi bar and immediately recognized one of the chefs from a past sushi life, and after opening the menu and reading through the list, I had to do a double take of my surroundings to make sure that I was not in Little Tokyo or Kyoto. The menu at Origami features a combination of the greatest hits from both, including the FEMA Roll from Little Tokyo and the Sara Roll from Kyoto, plus all of the standard fare. The execution of all of the sushi was adequate, and the fish was of reasonable freshness. There are a few twists and turns here and there, such as whole crab stick and teriyaki tempura in the Crunchy Roll and 100% tuna in the Dynamite Roll. Prices are neither significantly higher nor lower than anywhere else. Perhaps the most appealing feature of the restaurant is the refined, "grown up" atmosphere in contrast to the cozy/cramped style of Kyoto and high volume of the hibachi sideshow at Little Tokyo on Carrollton. - Par.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Brigade Coffee Co.

Nothing captures the culinary zeitgeist more than a pop-up coffee truck. Add on that this purveyor is typically found in the parking lot of a burger restaurant and Brigade Coffee Co. is due a t-shirt soon. The first thing the owners of Brigade Coffee had to do was find a Citroen truck for them to trick out into a caffeine lovers paradise. They found one, in Belgium and had the truck shipped over. The only thing that could make this story better is if the truck was fabricated in Brooklyn by a guy in flannel who is an amateur shitake historian. 

For the last few weekends, Brigade Coffee has pulled in and popped up at the parking lot of Adam Biderman's Company Burger. Kudos to Biderman for using his parking lot and restaurant as an incubator for various pop-ups from tiki to latte. The flaps of the truck open to reveal a coffee grinder, espresso machine, and all the trappings of your corner coffee klatch. The Brigade Coffee group is, according to Twitter, finalizing a regular morning location. So stay tuned.

New Orleans has had a long history with coffee, but the amount of solid coffee shops in the city are embarrassingly low. The coffee and chicory at Morning Call and Cafe du Monde are delicious, but an acquired taste. Velvet and Il Posto serve impeccable cups of joe, but that is about the end of the list. But there is hope on the horizon, the coffee at Brigade is a vast improvement over the field of Starbucks and CC's in town. An iced latte on a recent visit was cool and sweet with just the lightest jolt of bitterness. The zeitgeist is rewarding.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Cold Soup

Yellow Tomato Gazpacho from Borgne.
In my experience, cold soup is a polarizing dish. The proponents, which includes myself, consider cold soup a refreshing, flavorful beginning to a meal and one of the best culinary creations designed to beat the sweltering heat of a New Orleans summer. On the other side of the aisle are those who hold steadfast to the conventional wisdom that soup by nature is eaten to raise the body temperature of the consumer, not cool it down. Legend has it that the deep seeded animosity between the two sides sparked the origin of the feud between the Hatfields and McCoys.

Cold soup season usually begins before Memorial Day when the daily highs begin to consistently break 90°, but I did not sample my first cold soup of the year until late last week. Borgne has recently revamped its menu to feature a few summer specialties, one of which is a yellow tomato gazpacho. While some traditional red versions of this cold tomato soup have a bracing acidity which can cause an instantaneous ulcer upon contact with your stomach, this golden version was mellowed with cucumber and spiced with yellow bell pepper, which gave the soup a nice overall balance in flavor. The finishing touches of compressed melon and ham chips delivered sweet, salt and crunch. Delicious to the last spoonful.

Gazpacho is certainly the most popular way to abate the summer heat with a spoon, but it's not the only way.  Vichychoisse is a rich, creamy, cool potato and leek soup usually found on the menus of the city's oldest creole restaurants. Chilled cucumber soups had been in vogue over the years, but I have never tasted one worth ordering again. I have only eaten ajoblanco on one occasion at an unknown restaurant in Madrid three years ago, but a faithful reader has informed us that Lola's on Esplanade serves this southern Spanish staple made from crushed almonds and garlic.

What say you? Cold soup: yay or nay?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Il Posto

Il Posto: An Uptown oasis. Photo by renee b. photography.
In the age of 24/7 Facebook updates, permanent connection to the office by mobile device, and the constant flow of information via 140 characters on Twitter, rarely do we allow ourselves to enjoy a few moments of off-the-grid peace and quiet. Sometimes in life, you need to stop, sit back, and smell the basil pesto.

Tucked away on a quiet corner of Uptown, Il Posto is a refuge from life as we know it. Time passes slowly in this tiny cafe, whose quaintness contributes to its charm. Patrons line up in the narrow space along the counter lined with panini presses (a defense attorney's nightmare), where the kitchen staff transforms bread, meat, and cheese into perhaps the most delicious sandwiches in town. For more on Il Posto, check out our full review in this month's Dining Out article in OffBeat Magazine.

May your weekend be filled with plenty of free time.

Il Posto
4607 Dryades Street
(504) 895-2620
Tues-Fri: 7am - 9pm
Sat: 8am - 9pm
Sun: 8am - 3pm

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Domilise's: Is It Worth It?

The Manning brothers are huge fans of Domilise's, but don't hold that against the bar on the corner of Annunciation and Bellecastle. And make no mistake, Domilise's is a bar. A wood paneled, acoustic tile ceilinged corner bar with a cast of characters and photographs of famous people you have never heard of lining the wall. Although this bar serves cold beer and a mixed drink or two, the main item the bartenders serve are po-boys.

Clockwise from left, roast beef, fried shrimp, hot smoked sausage from Domilise's.

Walk into Domilise's and grab a numba (spelling correct). Soon a bartender will call your numba and you will spit out your order with a rapid fire intensity not seen since Fifty Cent night at the Boot. We chose three: roast beef, hot smoked sausage, and fried shrimp. All dressed for success. After enough time to finish one draft beer, the po-boys are ready.

The workmanlike roast beef is sliced rather thickly with a heavy, sticky gravy. The hot smoked sausage quickly becomes a mess with Creole mustard obfuscating the deliciousness of pork sausage. If you are a patty hot sausage fan, this po-boy will be unrecognizable in taste and texture. Feel free to skip both of these sandwiches.

Skip them because the fried shrimp po-boy at Domilise's is a thing of beauty. In fact, thus far on this yearly challenge, this dish held the greatest surprise. Some shrimp po-boys are so overstuffed you end up as Lindsay says, "Just eating the shrimp and leaving the bread." The ratio of shrimp to bread is just right at Domilise's, allowing you to enjoy a po-boy in its natural state. The shrimp are on the small size, but are well fried in a crispy coating. The shrimp carry with them their inherent briny, sweetness as well as that concoction of ketchup and hot sauce. (Ed. note: Ketchup and hot sauce is the not so secret best sauce for onion rings). This is a damn fine po-boy.

Domilese's gets a bad rap. People from outside the Isle of Denial claim it is overpriced and terrible. Shoot, half the people from the Isle of Denial claim the old New Orleans standby, "Is not what it used to be." But throw all that conventional wisdom away, sidle up to this bar, and chug a couple po-boys.

Domilese's: Is It Worth It? Surprisingly, yes.
5240 Annunciation St.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

B.T.G.: Rosé Edition

The selections of wines being poured at B.T.G.: Rosé Edition.
In the "Speaking Out" column of the July issue of Food & Wine, Eric Ripert and Anthony Bourdain offered their perspectives on current food trends. With regard to pop-up restaurants, Bourdain said:

"Pop-ups are a good thing. But what I like most are restaurants with visiting chef programs. I love it when I hear a chef say, 'We have a guest chef coming in and doing a menu for a couple of days.' I think that's great. Coupled with a sort of theatrical booking concept - 'Now appearing Laurent Gras, with Laurent's menu: buy your tickets in advance' - I think that's really exciting."

Maitake mushrooms and grits.
Whether B.T.G. qualifies as a guest chef event or a pop-up restaurant/wine bar is a matter of semantics, in my opinion, as the concept embodies characteristics of both. While The Company Burger chef/proprietor Adam Biderman presumably has a heavy hand in designing the menu for B.T.G., he gets by with a little help from his friends and former co-workers from the Link Restaurant Group. Joe Briand handles the wine, while Ryan Prewitt is running expo. And although no "theatrical booking concept" is involved, the excitement in the air at B.T.G. is as thick as our fair city's summer time humidity. Once inside you get the sense that you are part of something special, but you're not sure just exactly what that is. The feeling made me nostalgic for the MVB glory days.

While B.T.G. bills itself as a pop-up wine bar, I can say with conviction that the majority of patrons are more interested in the food. Regardless, those who appreciate a well contrived list of interesting wines at affordable price points - even those who shun rosé as a trend which jumped the shark back in the summer of 2009 - would have been smitten with Joe Briand's selections. All total there were 11 wines to select from (compared with a food menu of just 6), all available by the bottle or the glass. Their origins ranged from well known rosé regions like Provence to less prominent selections from Germany, Austria, and even Lebanon. Hefty by the glass pours ranged from $5-$7 and the bottle list topped out at $35, with most priced at $30.

Brown butter sweetbreads.
The brief menu was comprised of dishes whose only common denominator was seasonality. A panzanella salad ($8) featured the season's first creole tomatoes whose bright red color evidenced unbelievable freshness. Buttery crunchy croutons were softened ever so slightly by the natural juices from the tomatoes, and garlic and charred onion brought a little spice and heat that complemented the herbaciousness of the basil and sweetness of balsamic vinegar. The earthiness of sauteed maitake mushrooms, better known as "Hen of the Woods", was offset by a squeeze of lemon and the richness of grated parm, with thick, rich grits providing the backbone of the dish ($10).

I am a sweetbread fanatic, and over the years I have deduced that the best preparations highlight the richness of these glands without causing overkill. La Boca's grilled sweetbreads are the apotheosis of this method. B.T.G.'s brown butter sweatbreads ($12), lightly crusted with flour and seared on the griddle, are a close second. What made the dish was the corn and squash sautee underneath, which brought crunch and contrast. The presence of The American Slider ($3) - a miniature version of the namesake Company Burger adorned simply with griddled onions and melting American cheese - was a nice bridge to the true identity of the restaurant. Krystal ain't got nothing on these babies.

We arrived at 7:00 just when service began. By the time we left just before 8:00, the line at the counter was 15 people deep and inside table space was at a premium. The speakers played an eclectic mix of tunes ranging from Dr. Dre to Stone Temple Pilots and Michael Jackson. The vibe had edge and pretentiousness acceptable only when backed up by great wine and food. Mission accomplished.

B.T.G. - Birdie/Eagle
4600 Freret Street
Tuesday nights

Thursday, June 7, 2012


It's a classic New Orleans love story. Boy comes to Tulane for college. Boy meets girl, and they fall in love. Boy returns home to work at the family liquor store, which he eventually transforms into a multi-million dollar beverage distribution and real estate business. Boy then starts opening restaurants and builds one of the more successful restaurant groups in the Southeast. Boy decides to open a restaurant in New Orleans, the city which he and girl hold so near and dear to their hearts. Boy buys the old Dixie Machine building in the Warehouse District and plans to renovate it into a 300 seat high-end steakhouse.

Except that is where the story takes an unexpected turn. While planning the renovation of the Dixie Machine building, Jerry Greenbaum discovered the empty space in the St. James Hotel which Cuvee had just vacated. He figured that this would be a great location to get things rolling while waiting on the renovation on Tchoupitoulas, but all signs point to him staying for good.

The touting points for Chophouse read like the table of contents from a "How to Build the Best Steakhouse" textbook:
  • Serve 100% prime beef (including filets) cut to your exact specifications and aged a minimum of 4 weeks.
  • Cook steaks "Pittsburgh style" in 1700° broiler.
  • Use only shrimp sized U-10 (or larger) and jumbo lump crabmeat.
  • Bake fresh bread daily.
  • Pour big Bordeauxs and Napa cabs.
Sounds good, right? Yeah, except that most steakhouses around the country follow that exact same formula, and therefore there is little to distinguish a steakhouse in New Orleans from one in Houston, Richmond, or Des Moines. And we all know that most savy locals wince at the words "chain restaurant."

The menu has tell-tale signs of a large scale restaurant operation. It starts with an enormous seafood platter filled with jumbo shrimp and lumps of crabmeat so large you would think they were holdovers from Major League Baseball's steroid era. I'd lay a good price that none of the seafood was pulled from local waters, but its provenance did not detract from the deliciousness of enormous shrimp (these had to be at least U-8s) baked underneath garlic butter and breadcrumbs. Surprisingly, the demitasse cups of creamy crab bisque may have been the best choice on the platter. Carpaccio of tenderloin is draped over every square millimeter of the plate and zigzagged with aioli and scattered with capers; an excellent choice for those who wish to consume beef both as their appetizer and entree. Only two salads are on offer: the chopped house with crumbles of blue cheese or the classic Caesar, adorned tableside with anchovy filets (a nice touch). Despite the assurance that the bread is baked in house, the dry crumb begs for a longer pass through the oven before service.

The steaks are very good but not the best examples of prime beef that I have tasted. On my first visit, several of the filets at our table were terribly overcooked, though the kitchen was attempting to serve 25 diners contemporaneously so I gave the grill chef a mulligan on that day. He redeemed himself a month or so later when the waiter delivered a perfect Pittsburgh style center cut ribeye charred with a dark outer crust protecting a warm rosy pink center. Value is often elusive on a steakhouse menu, except when the kitchen recycles the trimmings from the more expensive cuts. Here, the 16oz. chopped steak ($19) embodies that principle. The massive oval shaped hunk of coarse ground beef topped with a mess of sweet sauteed onions augmented with a little bacon for unnecessary but welcomed richness was perhaps the best burger that I have eaten all year. Sea bass, local redfish, broiled or fried lobster tails, and an entree-sized portion of the baked shrimp are the only non-beef main course offerings.

In the side department, the thick-cut cake batter onion rings were a standout compared to the lackluster performance of the rest. Creamed spinach has an uncooked flour aftertaste. On one visit, the cubed hash brown potatoes were oily and dry, which made me wonder if these were perhaps the night's leftovers for the last table seated. Unfortunately, confirmation occured on the next visit with the same result and stale flavor of the long french fry wedges. The NY cheese cake imported from the Carnegie Deli may have been the least impressive dessert I have been served all year; just a dry, lonely slice on the plate. Much better was the $25 gargantuan slice of chocolate cake covered with chocolate chips, which was easily large enough to divide among a table of four.

The dining room has gone undergone minimal renovation since Cuvee left, which is a complement to Mr. Greenbaum. Brick walls, tall ceilings with exposed beams, and windows on both sides of the room make for one of the best restaurant spaces in the city, in my opinion. Service is attentive, professional, but unpretentious. Our waiter with thick-rimmed glasses had a dry wit which is always welcome at my table. Originality, of course, is appreciated in this city.

Chophouse - Par
322 Magazine Street
(504) 522-7902
Sun-Thur: 5pm - 10pm
Fri-Sat: 5pm - 11pm

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

One Beachin Trip

"Whatever ails you the cure is the same: saltwater. Be it sweat, tears, or the sea." - Anon. 

Of those three options, the last has always been my choice. Summers have always been a time of rejuvenation marked with a trip, visit, or move to the beach. The ocean is the great sauna of the soul, a distraction from current or approaching realities. At age seven, those frothy shores provided an opportunity to splash in the waves, dive for seashells, and construct sand based cities. By age twelve, the beach was a place to hone body surfing lest an opportunity to go pro in such a sport presented itself all the while delaying the onset of becoming a teenager.

There was a summer before the dawn of the Age of Terrorism spent among the piney beaches of Sea Island supervising the Turnipseed boys and the daughters of Coca-Cola. The summer after that spent pirating from a base in Tortola ferrying dive tanks and bags of ice in a rigid inflatables, slaloming around the British Virgin Islands. At night, I honed a taste for good Caribbean rum and chasing women. It should be easy to figure out which one I was better at (hint: there are eight rums in my liquor cabinet and one wife in my house). Another summer was spent living on Ono Island and deep frying Captain's Platters. 3 oysters, 3 shrimp, a crabcake, some clams, and amberjack, battered, fried, and served with toast, fries, and tartar, chased with a visit to the Flora-Bama. Another summer brought me to the beaches of Southern France and Northeast Spain, where the water was as icy as a martini.

This time we headed to the beach for a trip before the impending responsibility of parenthood. The natural target meant we were going to the Gulf Coast. That white diamond and emerald bracelet of land and sea stretching from the USS Alabama to Florida's elbow. Hoping on I-10 and heading east fills me with the same excitement as falling asleep at age six on Christmas Eve. Eventually we decide to pull off Eisenhower's folly and head for the less traveled road. This gives us the opportunity to pass by the Red Bar (below) in Grayton Beach.

I do not believe in time travel, but I do believe in place travel. And this spot has managed to transport an English pub located in the Ste. Germaine or Latin Quarter to a beach in Florida. The servers are French or Belgian, the beer cold, and the food spectacular. Crusty fish and chips are perked up with a liberal dousing of malt vinegar. A plump and juicy chicken sandwich from this spot was the single best thing I have eaten this year. That is no idle boast.

We stayed in a carriage house in Rosemary Beach, perfect for just the two of us. We dropped our bags and soon we were walking along the beach and preparing for an invasion into the water. After a quick swim and a drink or two, it was off to the Cowgirl  Kitchen for a delicious sausage dip and thin crust pizza. The rest of the trip was mainly devoted to sitting on the beach, eating Pringles and thick slices of Creole tomatoes, soaking in the water, and doing less than nothing. But we did manage a trip to Seaside to check out Barefoot BBQ. The BBQ was dry, but the macaroni and cheese was fantastic. Avoid George's in Alys Beach. The care and cooking don't nearly justify the prices.

A few days later, we woke up at six a.m. and were the first on the beach. One last trip into the water. One last sink of the toes into the sand. One last opportunity to listen to the waves break a few yards out. You ready to go, I asked. "Not really...but I guess we have to," said Lindsay.

On the way home we took the longest route possible. Not willing to jump on the interstate and get home in a hurry. We passed cheesy beach shops peddling t-shirts, boogie boards, and shovels, condominiums with their parking lots full of RVs, and two tiki carving markets within one thousand yards of each other on Hwy. 98. At the second one I found a deal, a tiki carved from a palm tree; another souvenir, a lasting memory from a visit to the place where the land meets ocean.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Rocky and Carlos: Is It Worth It?

Rocky & Carlos' made the classic list fairly quickly. Lindsay and I were all set for a visit, but the joint caught fire in February. Whenever people asked me what spots were on the list, Rocky & Carlos elicited the strongest replies. "Ohhh, I love that place!" or chants of overrated promptly followed. The divide was about fifty fifty, with either side firmly convinced they were right. Fact is, they are both right.

We postponed our visit until this past weekend when the opportunity presented itself to drive down to Chalmette. The line snaked through the tables lined with families, baseball teams, old high school sweethearts, and more than one pregnant lady with a craving for the Rocky & Carlos macaroni and cheese. After a twenty minute wait, we had made our way to the counter. Lindsay went and snagged a table in the bar area, and left me to choose from about twelve options running the familiar neighborhood course: po boys, hamburger steak, fried shrimp, and breaded veal.

The onion rings had tremendous potential like a seventh round draft pick out of Hofstra. Unlike our beloved Colston, they failed to live up to this potential. The pros: thinly sliced with a thinner batter. The cons: under-seasoned and flabby.  But catch these onion rings on a good day and you will have no reason to complain.

Rocky & Carlos wins major points in my book for continuing to call lettuce topped with olive salad by its proper Christian name. Here, you see the last remaining, wild Wop Salad. If I were a betting man, I'd wager the dressing is Kraft Zesty Italian, but the olives are salty and the celery brings some nice crunch.

Soon the long awaited and much coveted (by some) long noodle macaroni and cheese arrived sharing a plate with a beyond lackluster plank of veal parmesan. This jury is still out on the goodness of the Rocky & Carlos macaroni and cheese. On one hand, it has pasta, cheese, and butter, so it can't be bad. On the other, it was missing salt and the red sauce on top didn't bring much other flavor to the party.

The bread for the roast beef po boy was too soft by half and the fillings left a lot to be desired.  I realize now that I can't really recommend any of the food at Rocky & Carlos, or at least, anything we tried on this last visit. But, the waitress who takes your order will deliver your food quickly and with just the right amount of sass or flirtation. The prices are fair, allowing you to get out on the cheap.  The food is cafeteria style, held for hours on steam tables the size of Cadillacs, and lackluster. If you have been weened on the farmer's market inspired menus of the late Aughts, this place is like viewing  the displayed fossils of a prehistoric beast in a museum.

However, Rocky & Carlos is important for that very reason. This restaurant is a culinary time capsule and a touchstone for the community of St. Bernard. The kitchen's failings are largely the result of the sheer volume that the restaurant does. So let's settle the debate on whether Rocky and Carlos is worth it right here and now. Get in the car, drive down St. Claude, pull into the parking lot, find a seat at the bar, order a drink, and watch the people who love Rocky & Carlos have a great meal.

Rocky & Carlos: Is It Worth It? For a visit, yes.

Rocky & Carlos
613 W. St. Bernard Hwy.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Start the R'evolution

John Folse's recipe for Creole Turtle Soup etched on a mirror at Restaurant R'evolution.
On Friday evening the Folk Singer and I attended the Grand Open House of Restaurant R'evolution, a restaurant which unites the native Louisiana culinary traditions practiced by Chef John Folse with the contemporary fine dining techniques of Chicago transplant Rick Tramonto. The collaboration of the two chefs was announced almost two years ago, and the anticipation building since then has not been seen since the first time Ana Steele crossed the threshold of Christian Grey's apartment. During the ribbon cutting ceremony held within the interior courtyard of the Royal Sonesta, the list of speakers included Mayor Landrieu, Lieutenant Governor Jay Dardenne, and Archbishop Gregory Aymond, who delivered the invocation. Pomp and circumstance were abound, and when the doors finally swung open, we attendees finally received a first hand look at what we had all been waiting for.

Unfortunately, I did not taste one morsel of food from the kitchen, nor was I able to tour the state of the art kitchen, which I have heard is quite impressive. The lines for both were too long. Instead, I spent most of my time touring the dining rooms (which are exquisitely decorated) and sipping rum punch in the bar.

R'evolution aims to offer "modern, imaginative reinterpretations of classic Cajun and Creole cuisine" built on the culinary history of the seven nations that contributed to Louisiana's unique flavor. (By the way, those seven nations are the Native Americans, French, Spanish, German, English, Africans, and Italians.) Rene and I received an advance copy of the menu a few months ago, and while the offerings include familiar fare such as shrimp (stir fried with chiles) and (dried shrimp) grits, (death by) gumbo, and shrimp remoulade (carpaccio style), any sense of "ordinary" likely ends with the name of the dish. See also, the $200 black caviar tasting and the $21,000 bottle of 1982 Mouton-Rothschild.

But speculation is just that. From what I saw on Friday night, the build out alone is worth visiting for. I look forward to my first meal there.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Summer Guest Blog Seri(es)

The lazy days of summer are here, which means we are turning Fridays over to readers to regale us with tales of travel, adventure, food, and whatever else they want to talk about. Up first, is reader Most Valuable Schaumburger who just got back from Key West, which like the West Bank, you actually travel East to reach. If you have a tale or yarn you would like to share, let us know. Or else you will have literally nothing to read on Fridays in the Summer on the internets. Take it away, MVS.

Key West is loaded with jokester chickens, apparently.

It’s that time of year: summer vacation is upon us. For us, the question of where to go hits a little earlier in the year than it does for most due to our early May wedding anniversary. Where is a New Orleanian to go when they want to get away from tourists, heavy drinking, drag queens, and shotgun houses… hmmm, Key West? Well, at least our destination got us away from the daily grind; and Duval Street, despite its similarities to Bourbon, certainly feels a million times cleaner than the Quarter (even the Quarter under Landrieu’s reign). Actually, when we started discussing the Lower Keys, and Key West in particular as a destination, it was amazing how many Yats are Keys regulars. Once we were in the Keys it wasy easy to see why; many of the things that make New Orleans such an interesting place to live are readily available in the Keys. The music, bar scene, architecture, history, debauchery, and Creole-influenced food would be equivalent to dropping Frenchman Street into the ocean 150 miles south of Miami and 90 miles north of Cuba and surrounding it by a couple square miles of beautiful garden district-type homes. And the similarities didn’t end there. Despite Key West’s miniscule population and geographic isolation from Southern Louisiana, a large percentage of Keys locals had either lived in or often visited the Crescent City. It would appear that these two locations appeal to the same crowd. Our approach to eating our way through our week in Key West was to literally consume as much great local fare as my board shorts would allow, washing it down with stops at many of the island’s local watering holes. We began planning our trip to Key West almost 6 months ago. Flights, rental car, cottage. Check, check, check. Food – now that was going to take some serious thought. We got input from so many people who had either been once or visit on a regular basis. It was usually just a barrage of random restaurants that we just HAD to hit. It took some time to sort through and we attacked the 2 by 4 mile island with an empty stomach. We had our list of recommendations in hand, but we were also smart enough to get some local input (which, not surprisingly, led us to some of our best meals during our stay.) Here are the highlights:

As is often the case here in NOLA, our breakfasts in the Keys consisted of a late awakening closely followed by the hunt for strong coffee. In this category, we recommend heading to the Conch and Cuban Café, an open air café where a lovely woman with a heavy Cuban accent will serve you strong Cuban coffee with steamed milk. If you do feel like grabbing a bite, she has a traditional menu and also serves pressed Cuban sandwiches during breakfast hours.

On the day or days you feel like having a full breakfast (or brunch in most cases), our choice would be Blue Heaven. Everyone will tell you to go to this place. And it’s good, really good. But since everyone tells you to go, everyone goes. So be prepared to wait, especially for breakfast. But the eggs benedicts and made-from-scratch pancakes could easily be worth it. Enjoy “Breakfast with the Roosters” in the outdoor seating area. Unsanitary, you say? Well then Key West isn’t for you. Did we mention that chickens outnumber full-time residents on the island?

Much as New Orleans proudly refers to itself as the Crescent City, Key West is The Conch Republic. Despite the moniker, Conch is not an omnipresent menu item. We made a concerted effort to search out some places for conch fritters (similar to a hush puppy, but studded with chunks of the aquatic mollusk). As luck would have it, some of the best fritters on the island can be had at B.O.'s Fish Wagon. This wonderful dive is conveniently located next to what would quickly become our favorite to recommend for a drink or two (or many.) Fritters at this shack were well seasoned, but weren’t the most loaded with conch. The dipping sauce, however, was divine. Other heavy hitters for fritters: a food cart in Mallory Square where the fritters were definitely loaded with conch and The Conch Shack – probably the best overall fritters we had on our trip.

Duval Street is like a mix of Bourbon and Magazine. It’s the main thoroughfare for everything touristy (trinket shops, bars, and chain restaurants). At some point, you’ll give in to the urge to buy a Hemingway shirt and hit a touristy bar. When you do, stop in to Sloppy Joe's. Yes, it’s cliché. But it will also be the best Sloppy Joe you’ve ever had. Hands down. When you’re finding yourself nursing a hangover at 11 am, grab one, along with a huge handful of napkins and a Magic Hat #9 on draft. You will not be disappointed.

At the other end of Duval you’ll find Nine One Five, which despite its two James Beard Invitations (2007 & 2009) is the only place mentioned in this article that we would not recommend. Our expensive dinner was markedly disappointing, and later in our trip local knowledge confirmed that a new chef has made the Beard Awards a thing of the past. Our disappointing visit to 915 nearly turned us off to the upscale Key West dining scene all together, but luckily we spied a spot on our block with heavy local patronage and decided to book a reservation at Seven Fish for our last night in the islands. We’d recommend reservations: despite being tucked a couple blocks off Duval and relatively absent from the guide books, this place seemed to consistently pack in the locals. Probably the best meal of the trip, this upscale dinner spot could easily compete with NOLA’s heavy hitters. We started out with the Tropical Shrimp Salsa, which was an explosion of flavor. It was served with Tostito’s Hint of Lime chips, but don’t judge. They were the perfect accompaniment to the sweetness of the salsa and we couldn’t imagine anything being a better match.

For our entrée choices, we had the scallops served over mashed potatoes and spinach and the fish of the day, grouper with a spicy etouffee-like sauce with plenty of onions and peppers. The scallops were delightfully crusted with a rich and buttery texture inside. And the grouper was the freshest piece of fish we’ve tasted other than the times we’ve gone fishing ourselves and practically went straight from the boat to the kitchen. Overall, our experience at Seven Fish was amazing. The service was incredible, the décor was simple, and food was the star of the show.

Other places we recommend (and will certainly be repeat customers at on our next trip to the southernmost point):

Better Than Sex – That was not a typo. It’s the name of a dark and romantic dessert restaurant where you can cap off the night or make it a whole meal. We started the experience with two of their special “rimmed” drinks (above). As if cocktail hour wasn’t sweet enough, we chose the Kinky Key Lime (hey – “when in Rome,”) dessert and were not disappointed. The mile-high mousse was amazing, and the flaky crust and sprinkle of pistachios balanced out the key lime flavor so well. Pass on the caramel sauce – it’s not necessary. The whole experience is rather entertaining. The staff is sexy, seductive, and sends you off with a satisfied palate and a challenge to prove their motto incorrect.

Smokin Tuna – We accidentally stumbled into this place after being detoured for a road block on Duval. We were impressed by the delicious smoked tuna dip and great live music; it was obviously more of a locals’ bar as it was slightly off the beaten path. We tried smoked tuna dip at a number of places, but this place probably wins. The underlying smokiness wasn’t overly powerful – it was just enough.

Schooner Wharf – Previously mentioned as being our favorite watering hole on the island (possibly due to the 7 am happy hour specials), this place also serves up some tasty food. Try the breakfast, or stop in late-night and get the Caribbean-seasoned Schooner Wings. These truly were the most well-seasoned, crispy yet juicy wings we’ve ever had. The buffalo sauce was not even required for these to be well-enjoyed. Everything you know about this traditional bar food will be forever changed…

Garbos Grill – Awesome food truck. Awesome. Across from Peppers of Key West (a rather unique hot sauce store), we were pointed in its direction when we asked the sales clerk where his favorite place to eat on the island was. We split the fish quesadilla – a delicious combination of flaky white fish, sharp cheese, and sweet mango all pressed into a crispy tortilla sandwich.

El Meson de Pepe – For a traditional Cuban sandwich (above), this is where you go. But heads up: they tacked on 18% gratuity automatically. For a table for 2. At lunch! We can only wonder how many people don’t notice this at the end of their meal and tip additional. But either way, the sandwich was awesome.

So that’s it, our culinary tour of Key West. It goes without saying that we managed to find time to snorkel, swim, watch the sunset, etc. We even had a celebrity-sighting. All were pretty cool experiences. But to really experience the place, we feel you have to meet the people and eat their food. As such, we consider this trip to be a huge success.