Thursday, September 27, 2012

Mother's: Is It Worth It?

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Last Rites of Summer

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

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

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

The Last Rites of Summer

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

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

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

Monday, September 24, 2012

"Dog and a Beer"

Not so long ago New Orleans hot dog fans had but three options to satisfy their cravings for meat in tube form. The first was a stop at a Lucky Dog cart, those venerable red and yellow pushcarts which the US Supreme Court once proclaimed "had themselves become part of the distinctive character and charm that distinguishes the Vieux Carre." But getting down and dirty with a Lucky Dog on Bourbon Street usually required a certain (read: high) level of inebriation. The second option was the split and charcoal grilled hot dogs from Bud's Broiler, served on a hamburger bun with plenty of hickory smoked sauce and onions. The third was a trip to the Superdome for a Saints game, but I'm not even going to go there this morning.

In the post-K world a few restaurants have added a high quality hot dog to their menus (most notably Cochon Butcher). But the hamburger renaissance relegated the humble hot dog to obscurity, that is until early last year when a new hot dog specialist opened up it's doors on Freret Street.

Dat Dog debuted in a hole-in-a-wall storefront which supplanted Green Goddess as the smallest restaurant space in the city. It quickly became apparent that the customer response far exceeded the spatial constraints, so proprietors Constantine Georges and Skip Murray decided to purchase the former gas station property directly across the street and develop it into an expansive wiener wonderland.

The new location feels like a contemporary, more nuanced, hipster version of the Max, with loud music and a retro renovation. The indoor seating area is sparse, but with the advent of fall the garage doors are rolled up and the entire restaurant converts into an indoor/outdoor space, which is great for families with screaming children and college kids screaming at their school's football team playing the 2:30 kickoff game on CBS.

The menu boasts such an overwhelming number of sausages and toppings that formulating an order can cause an anxiety attack. Beef or pork?  Kielbasa or brat? Do I want dill or sweet relish? Creole or yellow mustard? Wasabi? Guacamole? Crawfish etouffee? WTF?

Take a deep breath. In situations such as these, we always advocate for keeping it simple. Mustard? Yellow. Chili? Why not. Cheese? Maybe. Onions? Definitely. Order at the counter, have your cash ready, grab your drink, and wait for your name to be called for delivery.

All of the dogs and sausages are griddled to order. The traditional weiners are made from either beef or pork, and I found the former to have a sharper flavor and more pop than the soft, rich pork frank. The basic bratwurst was excellent, with a casing that snapped with each bite. Much attention has been paid to the buns, which are excellent. The thick, soft, slightly sweet sourdough buns are steamed and toasted to order. My one complaint is that kitchen's creativity in squirting mustard in a zig zag across the top of the bun, which is great for aesthetics but impractical for a food designed for eating with your hands.

Dat Dog serves two kinds of french fries. Pommes frites, named after Poppy Tooker, are fresh cut and fried crisp to withstand the weight of meaty chili. You can also get frozen "seasoned" fries (a la Popeye's and Rally's), which I have soft spot for, especially when they are covered with melted cheese and dipped in ranch dressing.

There is no better place for a dog and a beer.

Dat Dog - Birdie
5030 Freret Street
(504) 899-6883
Mon-Sat: 11am-10pm; Sun 11am - 8pm
Cash Only

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Making of a Restaurateur

Grilled sweetbreads at La Boca. Whipped lardo bruschetta at a Mano. Pizza Napoletano from Ancora. Spicy seared catfish and braised greens at the High Hat Cafe.

What do they have in common? Adolfo Garcia.

In the cover story of this month's OffBeat Magazine, Rene tells the story of the New Orleans born chef who now finds himself at the helm of a budding restaurant empire. Follow along as Chef Adolfo describes his lifelong journey, from the childhood memory of a roadside fish stand which served as the inspiration of Rio Mar to the recent sale of his interest in Rio Mar. There are tales of serving up sopapillas at Pancho's, narrowly avoiding law school, and service industry infidelity.

You know about the food. Now learn more about the man.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Photo Travel Log 2012: Arzak

Editor's Note - This is our best attempt at helping Saints fans cope with an 0-2 start to the season. Instead of dwelling on our receivers' dropped balls and the defense's ineptitude, let's sit down for lunch at one of the most renowned restaurants in the world.

After three nights in Madrid, we picked up a rental car from the Atocha train station and headed north to San Sebastian. The drive through northern Spain was a mix of industrial centers, farmland, and snow-capped mountains. We made two stops along the way for wine tasting purposes, and I will write more about those at a later date.

If you ever watched more than an hour of the Travel Channel or the Food Network, then you know that San Sebastian is considered one of the best eating cities in the world, with more Michelin stars per square mile than anywhere else. There are three three-star Michelin restaurants in the area: Akelare, Arzak, and Mugaritz. Deciding which one to visit involved many hours of research (the fun kind). We were honestly leaning toward Akelare before we realized that they are closed for the entire month of February. Then we considered not even going to a three star because there were so many tapas bars to visit in only 2 days. In the end, my ego would not be denied.

Lunch at Arzak was like no other meal that I had ever experienced. Juan Mari Arzak and his daughter Elena  are serving food which transcends any concept that you have of eating. Each dish has been so meticulously crafted not only for precise texture and flavor, but also in terms of visual effect. The result is a multi-sensory experience which forces a diner to reconcile what your tongue tastes, what your eyes see, and what your brain knows (or thinks it knows). The kitchen is as innovative as the NFL replacement referees are incompetent.

I wish that I could recall more details from our meal, but the menu descriptions were minimal, and I had decided that this once in a lifetime experience warranted a hiatus from note taking. Thankfully, a picture is worth a thousand words.

Oysters with citrus.

"Cromlech" with onion, coffee, and tea.

These prehistoric standing stones were balloons of egg anchored with seared foie gras and dusted with onion, coffee, and tea. We were instructed to invert the balloons with our hands and then eat it "like an ice cream cone."

"Fufu" balls and fish of the day.

Hemp's mustard and lobster. Best savory dish of the meal.

Slow poached "dusted" egg with mussel.

TFS was not a fan of this dish at all, and it just so happened that right when our plates were being cleared, Juan Mari Arzak came over and noticed that her plate was basically untouched. He asked our serving captain to serve as translator to inquire why she did not like the dish. TFS apologetically stated that it was simply asked a texture thing. Both Juan Marie and the captain asked if she wanted them to serve something instead - foie gras, vegetables, anything. She said, "No, it's fine. Please tell him it's not a you thing; it's a me thing."

"Most embarrassing moment of my life," she whispered to me after they left the table. I remember thinking that our wedding caterer better watch out. If she can tell Juan Mari Arzak that she don't like his food, then she will have no problem telling anyone else.

Sole curd with wine bread.

Beef with vegetable screens.

Soup and chocolate "between vineyards."

Basil sorbet in strawberry sauce with  warm chocolate spheres whose thin skin exploded in luscious liquid cocoa. Best dessert dish of the meal (and there were five of them).


No, the white powdery substance on the mirrored serving stray was not Colombia's finest. But I am sure that if TFS had asked Juan Marie Arzak to swap a few lines of llello for that mussel and egg dish, he probably would have.

Perhaps the most cherished memory from our meal at Arzak is one that we brought home with us. Near the end of the meal and long after we had ordered a bottle of 1998 Imperial Rioja Gran Reserva to drink with our lunch, we noticed that a handful of other tables were all drinking the same bottle of wine with an Arzak label. I asked our serving captain what was the back story on the wine, and he explained that a while back the restaurant commissioned La Rioja Alta to produce a special crianza under the Arzak label.

"Well, I wish we would have known that sooner," we both said. Since we were already in the midst of enjoying our digestifs and were completely satiated from the 10 course meal, we decided against ordering a bottle of the house (literally) wine. Instead, we decided to bring one bottle home with us, and that lone bottle of 2004 Arzak Crianza sits in our wine chiller as a memento of an incredible meal.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Hittin' the High Hat

High Hat Delta tamales.
The neighborhood restaurant has undergone a partial transformation over the past 7 years. While the stalwarts like Mandina's, Liuzza's, and Mr. Ed's have chugged along with the same menus that they have been serving for 30 years, a new crop of  neighborhood restaurants has shunned the conventional wisdom that everyday eatery is required to serve familiar, everyday food.

High Hat evokes the feel of a meat and three diner which could be found in any small town stretching from Yazoo City, Mississippi to Walhalla, South Carolina. The tile floor and baby blue counter tops hearken the 50s era, and the staff's casual convivial demeanor (led by co-owner Chip Apperson, who is often working the floor) fits the decor. On occasion the retro atmosphere can feel aged compared to the high energy at Ancora next door, which tends toward a younger crowd. But the appearance of David Chang, Wylie Dufresne, and Eric Ripert last November earned High Hat the hipster-food-nerd seal of approval, which can almost never be lost.

Pimento cheese.
The menu seems simple and straightforward enough. High Hat is where the cooking of the Mississippi Delta intersects with New Orleans most famous dishes, where pimento cheese and fried catfish share table space with chicken gumbo ya-ya and BBQ shrimp. But upon deeper examination, you soon realize that something more is going on here.

What can you tell about a restaurant from the pickles they serve? In High Hat's case, quite a lot. There are thinly sliced cucumbers, cured in a bread and butter style whose sweetness is counteracted with a serious jolt of heat. Whole okra retain remarkable crispness, as do the thick slices of green tomato. That the kitchen pays so much attention to a meal component as mundane as the pickle - and that this results in a pickle worthy of an entire paragraph in this write up - is an indication that High Hat is not your mama's neighborhood restaurant.

The whole lot of pickles is served in an $8 appetizer medley along with pimento cheese whose texture reminds me of Southern cheese straw without the flour. Deviled ham is a spreadable pork product which weirds me out for some strange reason, especially considering how much I love deviled eggs (High Hat's included). Pulled pork filled tamales are light in texture and slightly spicy in flavor and served with an oily, slightly sweet dipping sauce made of pork drippings. Don't overlook the supersized boudin cake served with stone ground mustard and, of course, more pickles.

Most come for the fried catfish, and the thinly coated cornmeal crusted fillets - whose size falls directly in between the "thick" and "thin" categories - are probably the best available this side of Pass Manchac. In my opinion, the enhanced flavor from leaving the fish on the bone did not outweigh the difficulty of eating the whole fried catfish because of lack of space to work with both in the serving baskets and on High Hat's smallish 4 top tables. The fried fish baskets are completed with stringy cole slaw (an afterthought), hush puppies (which fill their role), and fresh cut fries (which are elevated to ambrosia when covered with pimento cheese and blasted through the salamander).

Spicy seared gulf fish with shrimp and potato hash.
Fresh Gulf fish ($15.50) seared on the flat top was cooked perfectly but did not live up to its "spicy" modifier - a problem quickly solved with a few dashes of hot sauce and spicy vinegar. The accompanying shrimp and potato hash was simple but good, with both elements having a firm, slightly crisp texture. On past visits the fish was plated atop rich, creamy grits which are worthy as an a la carte selection, as are the braised greens tinged with vinegar for a nice sour note. For carnivores, the slow roasted pork makes for a meal either as a massive hunk on a plate or shredded debris style in a po-boy.

On the specials board is where the kitchen reaches beyond the familiar confines of the menu. You may see seasonal salads combining strawberries and radish in the spring or watermelon, crabmeat, and horseradish in the summer. Or a rotating list of pies such as key lime or a salty peanut with a brownie bottom. But the best special in the house is served in a glass.

One of the bartenders at High Hat makes the most delicious tonic. According to Chef Jared Ralls, who keeps a stash of the tonic behind the bar at La Boca, the tonic is made the old fashioned way from the bark of the cinchona tree, which gives this tonic its purplish pink hue. Mixed with a generous pour of Hendrick's, this is the best gin and tonic that I have ever tasted, and it pairs extremely well with pimento cheese fries.

High Hat Cafe - Birdie
4500 Freret Street
(504) 754-1336
Open Daily 11am - 9pm, Fri & Sat till 10pm.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

A Saltier Dog

No, not Gus.

But here is a question for you. Cocktails come in all sorts of flavors. There are sweet bombs, sour ones, and bitter cordials. But there are very few cocktails that are salty. A salted rim on a Margarita does not a salty cocktail make. A dirty martini may fit the bill, but I prefer an olive that tastes like gin to gin that tastes like olives. Maybe salty cocktails are few and far between because the traditional accompaniment to pre-dinner drinking was salty snacks like peanuts, popcorn, pretzels, or olives. A salty drink and salty bar snacks would probably cause hyper hypertension. Still what would happen if you made a drink itself salty?

Now, the Salty Dog and the Greyhound share the same attributes. Namely, both drinks take vodka and add grapefruit juice. The Salty Dog adds a rim of salt. I wondered what would happen if you took that salted rim and incorporated it into the drink? I remembered a margarita at Jose Andres' Jaleo that used a salt air to add a subtle salinity to the drink. Making an air is too pretentious for a home bar, even for me. Instead I married the flavors of a Salty Dog with the technique of a Pisco Sour or Gin Fizz. To tone down the flavors of the drink, I used Cathead Honeysuckle Vodka.

Serve it with something sweet like the gaze of a basset hound.

A Saltier Dog

3 oz Honeysuckle Vodka
2 oz Fresh squeezed grapefruit juice
1 egg white
A pinch of salt

Combine all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker, cover, and shake for ten seconds. Add ice, cover, and shake again for another fifteen seconds. Strain into a chilled glass; a coupe works well.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Parkway Bakery: Is It Worth It?

Like any European cathedral of note, Parkway Bakery & Tavern is always undergoing renovations. Isaac blew through recently and bent portions of the sign on the Hagan St. side but left much of the building in tact. If you are from out of town, make sure you stand in line to order at the counter before fighting for a place to sit and waiting on your name to be called.

As Parkway is often crowded, grabbing a seat at the bar is the quicker, more civil way to eat. The bar is cozy, and has all the traditional trappings of a New Orleans corner bar. There is a poster of Tulane Stadium, a chalkboard of specials, and bric-a-brac no one can quit identify. A cross segment of civilization sits at the bar debating weighty topics such as sports and local based conspiracies.

I don't really care what kind of po boy you order, but you should order a beer to wash it down. Either a traditional root based one, or a more adult grain based varietal. The grain beer selection is better than your average po boy shop and showcases more than a few craft beers in cans.

On our most recent visit, we ordered a three po boys: roast beef, meatball, and patty hot sausage. Oysters are only available on Monday; and I've never been a huge fan of the batter on their fried shrimp, which I find too coarse. Of the three, the hot sausage was the standout carrying a fiery, crusty coaster of juicy sausage adorned with the trappings of a well-made po boy. Whether or not you believe in religion, their is something magical about the confluence of cold mayo, a pickle, and spicy, warm pork that can convince you there is a god.

Whoever is supplying them with meatballs is running a con. They were rubbery, industrial, and twice as large as they needed to be. Roast beef was stringy, bland, and dry. The dryness would appear to be impossible based on the fact that the moisture from the gravy had soaked through the bread. This is a neat party trick and perhaps it makes the sandwich more Naturally N'Awlins or some other T-shirt ready slogan. However, both the meatball and roast beef cease being a po boy and become a puddle of disintegrating bread, meaty detritus, and clumps of shredded lettuce. It quickly becomes impossible to get a bite incorporating all of the various elements of the po boy. The effect is a po boy deconstructed.

I want a po boy I can eat with my hands; not one that requires a fork.

Parkway Bakery & Tavern: Is It Worth It? Nope.
Closed Tuesdays
538 Hagan Ave.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Vizard's Goes to Hevin

The vine covered wall at Vizard's.
Last week Vizard's posted the following on its Facebook page:

"Vizard's would like to thank all its facebook fans and all its wonderful customers through the years! Unfortunately, we will not be reopening after Hurricane Isaac. You all have been extremely good to us and we appreciate your love and support! Chef Kevin has decided to do a casual style restaurant in the same location.... featuring Soups, Salads and Hot Plate Specials! Open Monday-Friday 11am-7pm. We look forward to hopefully seeing you soon!"

And so ends another chapter in the nomadic life of Chef Kevin Vizard, albeit a chapter which had a strong 4 year run but faded toward the end. When Chef Kevin moved from the Garden District Hotel to this former architect office on Magazine Street in early 2008, his fans followed along and tables were hard to come by. Perhaps the best meal which your faithful bloggers enjoyed at Vizard's was at the 2008 State Dinner, and I can still remember the taste of the veal tournedos and sweetbreads course that night. The innovative twists on classic bistro fare - cassoulet salad, veal hanger, the always reliable "Green, Egg, and Ham" salad, and the black and blue cake - offered both a sense of comfort and experimentation.

Somewhere along the way (perhaps in response to the small plates craze sweeping the nation), Vizard's revamped its menu so that there were no longer categories like appetizers, salads, and entrees. Instead each dish was a plate neither large nor small. I had no personal experience with that downsized/upsized menu, but reports from the street were less than favorable. Truth be told, it had been more than three years before I dined at Vizard's last November, and all systems seemed to be back to normal.

And that's to say that the food was excellent. We started with fresh demi-loaves of french bread smeared with rich full fat golden butter sprinkled with coarse sea salt. Then an old Vizard's standby, the Crabmeat Nelson: a thin cylinder of fried eggplant filled with sauteed crimini mushrooms and an overload of lump crabmeat and then finished with béarnaise. Seared duck breast, meaty scallops, and sockeye salmon gilded with a tart lemon beurre noisette. The dish of the night: "Pork and Beans," a delicious pun of medium rare slices of juicy tenderloin arranged across a foundation of firm blackeye peas enhanced with diced tasso and andouille, with a Tabasco butter finishing a smoky, rich, and spicy dish worthy of a ribbon at Hogs for the Cause. The closing sentence from my notes on that meal read: "I don’t know why I never think to come here, but after this meal it’s safe to say that I will be returning more often."

I lied. My next (and final) meal at Vizard's was at the end of July, and the undertones of that dining experience were prescient in hindsight. The menu was utterly uninspired and left much to be desired. Gone was the innovation, and left in it's place was a list of tired classics. Don't get me wrong, tuna and avocado is a classic combination which I thoroughly enjoy (and did so again on this night with the citrus soy vinaigrette) but it's also the lowest common denominator for any sushi joint in the city. My entree consisted of two overcooked fillets of grilled redfish, a pile of satisfyingly sour bacon braised greens, and a wedge of dry, coarse, crumbly cornbread. The wine list could have been duplicated via a trip to your neighborhood Rouse's, but that has always been a consistent weakness. Needless to say, we did not set an Outlook reminder to make our next dinner reservation.

Now it seems that the reservation books at Vizard's are permanently closed. But as has become Chef Kevin's custom, the end of one chapter is quickly followed by the beginning of a new one. And per Facebook, that new chapter starts today:

"On Monday September 10th Vizard's will become HEVIN as in 'A lil' taste of' and a play on his name. It will be a Casual Style Eatery serving Soups, Salads & Hot Homestyle Specials. OPEN Mon-Fri 11am-7pm. Chef has lots of great ideas and loves to do this style of food. It will also be home to his 'PO-NINI' which is not a panini and not a poboy. He will be streaming in all music that speaks of heaven as in 'stairway to' 'knock,knock,knockin on Heavens door' and any others you can think of... (just kidding) But next time someone asks 'where can we get a quick bite?' Your answer can be 'How bout HEVIN!' See ya'll soon!"

Thursday, September 6, 2012


Fried squash blossoms.
About 3 years ago I started keeping a running journal of my dining notes. On my home computer I have a desktop folder filled with Word documents for individual restaurants that contain my notes from every meal eaten. It's a tedious exercise, but one that forces me to write down my thoughts almost immediately instead of relying on memory to write a blog post days (or weeks or months) later.

Whenever I open a restaurant's Word doc, it's always interesting to see how far down that I need to scroll to make the newest entry. Some restaurants have notes from only one previous meal, while others - such as Cochon Butcher or Felipe's - are filled with reflections from 20 or more visits.

But the restaurant with the most entries by far is Domenica. I counted 36 entries the other day, and I would estimate that I left off another dozen or so. Our repeat business is a reflection of a number of factors: (1) the convenience of living 3 blocks away; (2) the convenience of working 4 blocks away; (3) The Folk Singer's school girl crush on Chef Alon Shaya; and (4) the fact that Domenica is simply our favorite restaurant in the city. It's no surprise that after a 3 day evacuation for Hurricane Isaac, Domenica was our first stop upon returning home.

Prosciutto pizza.
Our devotion to Domenica is easily understood considering the breadth of the menu and excellence of execution throughout. It all starts with a complimentary basket of thick sliced focaccia swiped through pools of olive oil spiked with chilis. If I am feeling especially over indulgent, I'll ask for a basket of torta frita - airy, flaky pillows of dough fried in pork fat - which remind me of the sopapillas from Pancho's, except 100x better. Salumi and cheese boards with accoutrements of satsuma/jalapeno marmalade and picked fennel are optimal for large parties, and you should always make sure to include taleggio on your list of choices.

Rarely does a full service Italian restaurant put such an emphasis on perfect pizza. Chef Alon first mixed the pizza starter dough in 2008, more than a year before the restaurant opened. Like a fine wine, the dough has improved with each passing year. Often times we forget that pizza is just as much about the crust as the toppings and sauce, but the fresh, bubbly pies pulled from the oven at Domenica might be the best bread in the city. As for toppings, my favorite is the Bolzano, with chunks of roasted pork, some fatty, some lean, and fennel, bacon, and sweet onions. Basil pesto with goat cheese and heirloom tomatoes is a close second.

Stracci with oxtails and fried chicken livers.
I have tried every pasta course on the menu, but I always come back to the stracci with oxtails and fried chicken livers. The rags of pasta are incredibly thin and incorporate perfectly with the shreds of oxtail cooked down with tomato. To be honest, the dish is great even without the fried chicken livers, but I gladly devour the rich, crunchy morsels covered in a shower of grated parm and a squeeze of lemon which cuts through their richness. Tagliatelle with rabbit is an excellent choice, as is the garganelli with white bolognese and peas. And the kitchen is constantly rotating new dishes in and out, such as sea urchin with spaghetti, an inspiration from Chef's recent trip through Barcelona back in April. Smash the fat, salty orbs of uni with the olive oil and chili flakes in the bottom of the bowl, then toss to coat the pasta. Luxuriously delicious.

Fried kale.
Admittedly, I rarely venture outside the pizza and pasta categories, save for branching out for an order of wood roasted goat in colder months. But I always find room for an order flash fried kale, crisp and rich but balanced with acidic bite of tart lemon, richness of grated parm, and sweetness of heirloom tomato. Perfect as a side dish, but worthy of anchoring a meal despite what Mitchell Pritchett says.

As much as I love Domenica and TFS loves Alon Shaya, I make no representation that there is not room for improvement. Lunch service has always been slow, although speed has picked up over the last few months. Still, I've found that dining at the bar is your only chance at keeping the lunch hour to under 60 minutes. And I always feel that the prices in the anti-pasti section are about 15% too high. $18 for a head of roasted cauliflower? The same price for a portion of burrata? $14 for three fried squash blossoms?

But despite what can be a long lunch wait, I am still quick to jump at the opportunity for lunch at Domenica for a porchetta panino built upon a foundation of the freshly baked focaccia and filled with warm juicy, thick slices of roasted pork, barely melting provolone, rapini for greenery, and garlic mayo. The roasted cauliflower, toasty golden brown with a knife protruding out from the top like the sword in the stone, usually finds a place at our table along with a plate of whipped goat feta sprinkled with chiles. And the fried squash blossoms are still better than their counterparts at Mario Batali's Otto Enoteca.

Is it any wonder why I love this place?

Domenica - Birdie/Eagle
123 Baronne Street
(504) 648-6020
Open Daily 11am - 11pm

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Emeril's: Is It Worth It?

New Orleans is restaurant obsessed with the very old and the very new, but we aren't too keen on the newly old or the older new restaurant. This is a shame because one of the city's best restaurants does not get nearly the local love that it should. Ask yourself this, when was the last time you went to Emeril's? Ok, now when was the last time you had a beyond lackluster, expensive meal at one of the city's grand dames or new gastrotapas spots?

Emeril's turned twenty-two years old this year and is showing no signs of being a lazy, jobless college graduate. Prices have remained a downright bargain by fine dining standards with appetizers hovering around ten dollars and entrees in the high twenties. The front of the house's youthful exuberance syncs with the menu's mix of classic dishes and new favorites. The smart staff has your best interest in mind, which is an attitude other restaurants should note. Witness a downsell (!) on a bottle of wine, "That one is not drinking very well right now. I'd go with the Radio-Coteau Alberigi, plus it is a better value."

Our first course was the only one with a slight bummer. A mussel dish's description of an Asian ingredient infused broth was bland. Too bad, as the plump mussels were perfectly cooked and a shot of heat would have been most welcome. On the other hand, Shrimp Louis was as spectacular an excuse to eat lettuce as any reason in the city. Halfway between a remoulade and a salad, the dressing had an undercurrent of truffle which tied together the chopped egg and asparagus. The petite dice of bacon were a left-hook of flavor from a welterweight, elevating the dish to a heft rarely seen in the salad kingdom. 

Next up a pasta course that would have inspired the ancients into song. Thick, double-helixed strands of tender pasta draped in a white bolognese made with lamb, veal, and pancetta and topped with a shaving of truffle. This dish will haunt your dreams making you wish for one more bite of the silken sauce. 

The kitchen shows a deft hand with scallops. Marked with a sturdy crust and a sweet interior, this must be what would happen if the sea decided to churn butter. Coarse ground rice grits hold a palette of flavors. Chunks of shrimp, mushrooms, and watercress bring a sophistication to the Low Country's most famous export. The braised veal breast is hearty and smoky. The kind of dish you want to eat before retiring in front of a fire to drink bourbon. To keep the dish light enough to do so, a mango chow chow cuts through the richness.

Dessert was a wedge of peanut butter and chocolate gilded with caramel and sitting atop an Oreo crust. Throughout the meal, service remained sharp with a fleet of waiters, captains, and backwaiters moving briskly through the dining room. The handsome dining room is a spot to see and be seen as plaintiff's attorneys mingle with publishers. There are young families and couples celebrating an anniversary with a Jeroboam of Champagne. Laughter peels through the room like the end of school bell. "We haven't had a meal this good this year in New Orleans in a long time," Lindsay mentioned on the way out.

Truth be told we didn't want to leave.

Emeril's: Is It Worth It? Absolutely.
800 Tchoupitoulas St.
(504) 528-9393
Lunch M-F; Dinner nightly. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012


Photo by renee b. photography.
Last week we all endured a frightening episode of deja vu when Hurricane Isaac stalled over the city on the seventh anniversary of the landfall of Hurricane Katrina. Fortunately, the reinforced levee system operated as expected, and the city was spared any major flood damage. Unfortunately, Entergy turned in a 2005 FEMA-like performance when it came to the task of restoring power. But those of us who were without air condition for a few days should consider ourselves lucky in light of the loss felt by our neighbors in La Place, Plaquemines Parish, and the like.

When a storm approaches and we're either riding it out at home or evacuating to higher ground, New Orleanians often pass the time talking about the simple pleasures which we cannot wait to enjoy once life returns to normalcy. A ride on the streetcar down St. Charles. A jog around Audubon Park. A loaf of seeded Italian po-boy bread filled with roast beef debris.

In the September issue of OffBeat Magazine, we review R&O's, a bucktown staple where generations of families have come for a taste of our indigenous Creole-Italian cuisine. R&O's has always been a restaurant which caters to every taste. Fried shrimp? Yeah, they got that. Craving a po-boy? No problem. Grandma wants spaghetti and meatballs? Consider it done. Child will only eat pizza? Let him have it, along with the complimentary entertainment which comes from peeking through the kitchen window and watching the dough fly through the air.

No cotton candy foie gras. No sous vide tenderloin of Colorado lamb. No specialty cocktail menu. Just a place where locals come to get a good meal at a fair price. A simple pleasure certainly worth returning home for.

R&O's - Par
216 Old Hammond Hwy
(504) 831-1248