Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Short Order Reviews

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 30, 2012


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

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

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

Roasted Bone Marrow with Parsley Salad 

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 29, 2012

"Blow Your Mind with Sausage"

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Porchetta James

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 22, 2012

OffBeat Eats

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Central Grocery: Is It Worth It?

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

My Favorite Restaurant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coquette- Eagle
2800 Magazine St.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Maurepas Foods

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All photos by renee b. photography.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Syrah and Lamb

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

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

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

Lambsbury Steak with wilted kale and yogurt sauce

For the burgers
1 pound ground lamb
Salt and Pepper

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

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

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

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

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

To assemble

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