Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Welcome to New Eauxrleens

Welcome to the Big Easy, City That Care Forgot, Bayou Country, Cajun Hurricane Alley.

The citizens of this evolving plot of land are secretly happy you are here because you aren't an Atlanta fan. If Atlanta was coming to town, no amount of media patronizing could save Herr Roger from meeting Ronnie and Vinnie's pet alligator in a swamp just off Bourbon Street with a bunch of hams strapped to his pasty, dictatorial thighs. All of which would occur, while the natives spoke in a horrible Cajun/Southern drawl as a hurricane approached the coast in January. "Awww mon cher, pass the sweet tea!"

Helpful tip for our out of town media friends, if any sentence you write between now and Monday morning contains any words above, throw it out and start over. New Orleans is an intricately spun quilt of peoples, cultures, religions, and weirdness. I've spent nearly my whole life here and still know absolutely nothing about Mardi Gras Indians or crabbing. So don't worry if you can't quite grasp the nuances of a town which is still defining itself, much less reinventing itself. Write about the game. Which features, surprisingly, two teams which did not have their head coach, GM, interim coach, and players suspended by an overlord following a hastily thrown together witch hunt that gave the residents of Salem pause. New Orleans can write its own story.

But here are some places to eat and drink. You'll notice I've only included spots in the general "downtown" area. This is for two reasons. First, you probably don't have a car or you shouldn't have a car. Everything you need to get to is walkable. Second, if you stay downtown, that means I have a half-decent shot at grabbing a table or finding a spot at the bar at other places around town.

One other tip, you will undoubtedly face long waits, reservations, and crowded spots. To avoid this adjust your eating schedule to a Spanish frame of mind. Breakfast around 10:30 or 11, lunch after 1:30, a snack around 4:00, and diner after 10:00. To accomplish this, start with this itinerary. If you need a pair of tickets, I  direct you here.

You probably have meetings and hangovers. Coffee will get you out of bed. Merchant in the CBD will do and they also have a few light items on offer. Of course there is always Cafe du Monde, but feel free to go there for any meal. Look, skip breakfast or steal a few pastries from the conference room. There are better meals to devote your caloric budget towards. If you absolutely, positively need breakfast Stanley or Camellia Grill would be excellent choices in that your eggs can come with a side of Bloody Mary.

Late Lunch:
Here is where you should be eating your largest meal of the day. Looks like the weather will be nice, so I'd suggest grabbing a seat on the patio of Herbsaint after 2:00 pm. For one thing, you will have a front row seat to watch the street cars rumble on down the way. A few bottles of burgundy, rose, grower champagne, or maybe a half-dozen Hemingway daiquiris will set you straight. For food, an order of french fries, the gumbo, maybe a salad if you are feeling healthy, and the spaghetti with fried poached egg and guanciale. Don't miss desserts.

This would also be a good idea if you have a few hours to kill to sneak into Galatoire's. I'm sure you have heard about it and how hard of a table it is to snag. But if you go around say 2:30, I'd wager your party could get seated rather quickly. By then the first wave of lunch dinners will have moved on, leaving you with ample real estate. Cocktails, pommes souffle, turtle soup, maybe a piece of fish and you are set. Ask for Bryant Sylvester.

Snack Time:
Head to Domenica where from 3-6 p.m. all pizzas, wines, well cocktails, and beers are half off. Pro tip: add a fried egg to the tutto carne pizza. You could also check out Killer Po Boys in the back of Erin Rose on Conti about a half block off Bourbon. Here, in a tiny space in the back of the bar, new takes on the po boy are crafted. Grab one and a Guinness. You would also do yourself a favor by grabbing a dozen oysters for an afternoon snack. Felix's, Acme, and Bourbon House have them, so does Luke. Luke might be easier to get into, then the others but like comedy, with oysters, timing is everything. MiLa, in the Renaissance Pere Marquette, has an exceptional bar menu, but ask them very nicely to bring you out an order of sweetbreads with truffled grits. Trust me on this.

Later Dinner:
Three Muses on Frenchmen Street. This is an exceptionally good locale to eat food, drink, and listen to live music. The Korean tinged items are some of my favorites, but any of the pastas should be ordered if the opportunity presents itself. La Boca serves late as well. If you are famished, a pisco sour, provoleta, and hanger steak medium rare would be the perfect anecdote. There is also the bar at Emeril's, which if you are looking to celebrity stalk should be a good place to do so. Check out Root also.

Lord knows we have places to drink, but I'll try to make this quick. The Chart Room in the French Quarter is a fantastic hole in the wall filled with sketchy characters and dubious morals. I love the place. Patrick's Bar Vin is a refined place to have a drink if say you needed to interview someone or be interviewed by someone a half-block off Bourbon. Molly's at the Market, Pereistroika at Pravda, and Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop are wonderful places to drink in anonymity. The Polo Lounge at the Windsor Court and Carousel Bar are fantastic places to drink in style.

Finally, I'm going to let you in on a secret. At some point, you will be overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by the corporate foolishness, by endless buffets and branded drinks, by Clean Zones, and minding you Ps and Qs. When this happens, find Chuck's Damn Near 24 Hour Bar. Go in, grab a drink of dubious quality, plug some dollars into the city's best jukebox, play some pool, and recover. If you see a few haggard service industry workers bitching about you over beers, buy them a few shots. They deserve it.

Enjoy your time here, we are all glad you are here. Except you, Goodell, you can go to hell in an alligator skin handbasket.

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Gravy

If you are an ardent fan of Blackened Out Catfishing Corporation, then you probably know that we took the reigns of the Dining Out column in OffBeat Magazine back in September 2008. (Bonus points for anyone who remembers what restaurant we wrote about. Hint: onion rings.) What you should also know is that same in the same issue that kicked off our print media career, our OffBeat cohort Elsa Hahne began authoring The Gravy, a monthly series which marries New Orleans' two greatest loves: food and music.

Now, based on her monthly series, Elsa is set to publish The Gravy - In the Kitchen with New Orleans Musicians. In this full-color hardcover book, forty-four New Orleans musicians invite you into their kitchens to share their stories and recipes - from John Boutté's Glorious Oyster Pie to Creole Squash a la Big Al Carson. The introduction is written by none other Mac Rebbenack Jr. (better known as Dr. John) who gushes over the pleasure he derives from cracking open squirrel heads to feast on their brains.

Elsa has been working on this project for almost five years now, doing everything from interviews to photography, layout and design. For the last final push to publication, she needs a little help to cover some of the rather enormous printing cost, which at present is coming out of her own pocket. And so Elsa has turned to Kickstarter to help raise the funds to get The Gravy to print.

At the present time, Elsa is just about $1,400 short of her goal of $6,500. We implore our dear readers to contribute to this amazing project. If The Gravy turns a profit, Elsa has promised to pay the grant money she has received from Threadhead Cultural Foundation forward to the New Orleans Musicians' Clinic, which remains the only source of medical care for many local musicians without health insurance.

The Kickstarter campaign ends in 3 days. Let's make it happen.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Super Bowl Sleepers: Sammy's

Blogger's Note - In the days surrounding the Super Bowl, finding an open table in New Orleans will be as difficult as setting up an in person encounter with Manti Te'o's girlfriend. As restaurants prepare for a deluge of high dollar diners, here at Blackened Out Concierge Services, we have been racking our brains for recommendations for our out of town guests who would like to enjoy a taste of the best that New Orleans has to offer but without the 2 hour wait or a bank account busting price tag. And with that goal in mind, we present to you our Super Bowl Sleepers.

The roast beef po-boy from Sammy's Food Service & Deli.
Even though many visitors to the Big Easy correlate New Orleans' culinary scene with Hank Williams' praises of jambalaya, crawfish pie, and file' gumbo, the po-boy is probably the most recognized dish of our fair city. Furthermore, the po-boy cuts across all socioeconomic boundaries and is enjoyed by both blue bloods from the School of Design, refinery workers in Chalmette, and everyone in between. In my opinion, the po-boy best represents New Orleans culinary connection among the past, present, and future, and whenever TFS and I host first time visitors to the city, we almost always take them out to experience a po-boy lunch.

Often duplicated but never replicated, if the po-boy is New Orleans' iconic sandwich, then the roast beef version probably best represents perfection on a loaf of Leidenheimer. So the question then becomes: Where to recommend for a roast beef po-boy during the busiest weeks of the year?

Forget about Parkway Bakery. The lines will be out the door, and truthfully the roast beef just is simply not worth it. I feel the same way about Domilise's. On a recent visit Tracy's roast beef was surprisingly better than I remembered, but I still prefer the reworked roast beef at Parasol's (which I admittedly have not tried in almost 2 years).

But for a top notch roast beef po-boy without all of the fuss, my #1 recommendation is still Sammy's on Elysian Fields. Yes, getting there will require a short cab ride, but Sammy's is most absolutely worth the trip. Sammy's is the quintessential neighborhood New Orleans joint, where the menu and staff epitomize a home cooking mentality that is passed down from generations like a family gumbo recipe. The roast beef po-boy is excellent - composed of thinly sliced/shredded beef soaking in a gravy just thick enough to moisten the bread without compromising overall structural integrity.

The Ray-Ray po-boy at Sammy's.
As a lagniappe, Sammy's fries seafood and chicken as well as any other place in town, especially the chicken wings. And for those of you with a Super Bowl sized appetite, look no further than the Ray-Ray - a juicy, fried chicken breast that somehow remains crunchy under an inch-thick pile of thinly sliced grilled ham and Swiss cheese.

Your guests will most certainly be impressed.

Sammy's Food Service & Deli - Birdie
3000 Elysian Fields Ave
(504) 947-0675
Mon-Thur: 7am-5pm; Fri: 7am-7pm; Sat: 7am-4pm
Closed Sundays

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A Quick Drink: Beer and Pizza

I can hear the beer nerds now. "Beer and pizza? That's the best you could do for an article on the greatness of beer and food pairings?" They will scream that beer is much more than just a foil for pizza and much more than just something to chug while watching the ball game. Beer is sophistication. Beer is how humankind survived when there was not an adequate water supply.  They would suggest trying an ultra hopped, smoked barley, green tea and raspberry infused lambic with a sauteed duck breast with kim chi Brussels sprouts.

In a way they would be correct.

But no pairing in the arena of food and beverage can beat beer and pizza, not even milk and chocolate chip cookies. A crisp yet chewy dough's faint yeastiness, the acidic vibrancy of marinara, the salty, creaminess of cheese, herbs, and myriad toppings are just tailored man for a quality beer. With pizza, I like a beer with more than a touch of hoppiness and a decent heft, but with enough bubbles to help scrub your mouth to prepare it for the next bite. Pale Ales and their sub genre, India Pale Ales offer this in spades. The immense hops of pale ales and IPAs bring both a welcome acidity and bitterness. Whereas sometimes sauvignon blanc is described as a squirt of lemon, an IPA to me is like biting into the rind of a lemon that has been cross bred with a pinecone, in a pleasant way. They are just heavy enough to remind you to take it easy without weighing you down. This is key in a pizza eating marathon. Some I have particularly enjoyed as of late are the Green Flash Brewing Co. West Coast IPA, the Southern Star Pine Belt Ale, and NOLA Brewing Co. Hopitoulas.

Grab some beers from the store, invite over the neighbors and friends and throw a pizza party. Its better than making your own kim chi Brussels sprouts.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Great Steak Out

For Christmas I received a Baking Steel, a simple but outstanding kitchen tool that has revolutionized my thoughts on pizza and bread making. The Baking Steel is a 1/8th inch piece of steel that mimics a pizza kitchen's deck oven.  You place the steel in a 550 degree oven for thirty minutes, then flip your broiler on high for ten minutes. Slide the pizzas in, maybe turn them once, keep the broiler on, and in five minutes you have a pizza worthy of an Instagram.

Which is a very long winded way to segue into steaks. Now steaks are a great gambit for a restaurant. Steak, filet especially, is a default order for many restaurant goers, which means higher prices. Plus a good piece of beef needs little more than salt and pepper, meaning there is very little prep involved. On the flip side this creates a popular refrain of, "I don't eat steak in a restaurant because I can do better at home." How to cook the steak at home is a source of endless debate on message boards such as Tigerdroppings and...well that one in particular.

While the above is not necessarily true, a good steakhouse is using a much more powerful stove, oven, or broiler than you are. Commercial steakhouse broilers hover in the 1400 degree and above stratosphere, a temperature you just can't replicate at home. Whether or not this is the ideal temperature to cook steaks is a debate for another day. Restaurants can often get better beef than you or I. A cook who cooks one hundred steaks a day will have a better feel for his grill and the meat, and on and on.

So until recently the jury has been out on whether home cooking a steak is always better than a restaurant steak. That is until I applied the technique of the pizza steel to the steak arts. In lieu of using the pizza steel, I used a cast iron grill pan. Pop it in the oven for thirty minutes at 550 degrees, than switch the broiler on high for another ten. The steak is surrounded by high heat and the grill pan allows you get a fantastic crust.

Medium rare skirt steak with a mint and lime tapenade. Nice tapenade.

You season your cut of meat as you so desire. The pictures in this post are of a skirt steak which got a quick sprinkle of light brown sugar, salt, and pepper. After letting the seasoning sit on the meat for thirty minutes, blot the meat dry on both sides with a paper towel. Onto the hot grill pan. Close oven door. Wait. Wait. Flip the meat. Close oven door. Wait. Wait. Take out when cooked to desired doneness. Let rest for at least half the time you cooked it for. Below is a rare piece just begging for some coarse sea salt.

Obviously the thicker your cut the longer you want to cook it. Now this technique does require you to learn to test the doneness of meat by touch. If you are on the internet and have read this far, I bet you could figure it out on your own. Steakhouses you are now officially on blast. Except for you La Boca. And you Mr. John's. Can't replicate what you do. Yet.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A Quick Drink: White Burgundy

There are three main areas of Burgundy which produce white wine. From north to south they are: Chablis, Cote de Beaune, and Maconnais. Each of those areas can be further divided by village or vineyard. That is a chore you can study on your own time. There are also wines simply labeled Bourgogne, which for one reason or another can't be classified by region, village, or vineyard. The French hold grudges and luckily for you this means there is the opportunity to grab some great wines at a low price.

Burgundy is the land of the negociant. A negociant buys grapes from growers and turns it into wine. So a good way to find which wines you like from Burgundy is to start by figuring out which negociants you like. Their names are on the label making it easy for you to remember.

Chablis: The wines of Chablis are generally high in acid and perfect with raw or lightly cooked seafood. Think of Chablis as still Champagne; it isn't a perfect analogy but it will get you there. The wines of Chablis go particularly well with most of the crabmeat, crawfish, shrimp dishes in the New Orleans culinary canon. In a crowded room, if you note that it is steely, lemon kissed, or that it is like drinking seashells, people will probably think you are goober who knows a lot about wine.

Cote de Beaune: According to some, birth order is everything. Usually the middle child suffers from a lack of attention and does crazy things like drop out of college and follow String Cheese Incident. But here, in Burgundy, the middle child is thriving. In fact the wines from the Cote de Beaune give the region its gravitas. Read here: there are some shockingly expensive wines that hedge fund managers covet. Of course, there are plenty of fantastic options for those of us balling on a budget. Look for the name Mersault or Puligny-Montrachet on the label. Suggesting that this wine would be perfect with lobster with tarragon cream sauce or veal tenderloin with mushrooms should make people wonder if you are in the 1%.

Maconnais: The further south you go in many countries, the warmer and friendlier the people become. The food is generally better, also. The wines of Maconais are good wines to sip at the end of the day while you cook dinner. If you are getting married or throwing a party, pick a wine from Maconnais as your white. People will thank you. These wines are unfussy, simple pleasures which get along with a wide range of foods. There is no better co-pilot for roast chicken than a Macon-Villages. Best of all, these wines are generally affordable enough to make opening a second bottle a no-brainer.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Good Gracious

Soppresata and coppa (left) and rosemary-crusted roast beef (right) from Gracious Bakery + Cafe.
If someone asked me what is the most boring lunch imaginable, my answer would be the turkey sandwich. Whether it's a $5 foot long or a brown bag version from home, the turkey sandwich lunch makes a statement, usually something like: "I am consuming this food purely for caloric intake. Much like the man in the desert who drinks his own urine in order to stay alive, this turkey sandwich is simply the fuel necessary to keep me productive at my desk for the rest of the day. Taste is the least of my concerns, and the inexpensive cost is further proof of my priorities. I would have preferred ham, except that I am trying to watch my girlish figure."

But after picking up lunch at Gracious Bakery + Café a few days ago, my view on the turkey sandwich has begun to change. How so? Start construction with fresh ciabatta baked in house. Next, moist turkey breast cut oh so thin such that it straddles the line between shredded and sliced. Then add fontina (triple stacked), baby spinach leaves and a slather of housemade mostarda which brings a touch of fruity sweetness, a little heat, some acid and just overall deliciousness.

It's easy to get me excited about pork cheeks, oxtails, salted caramel, and grand cru burgundy. Knocking my socks off with a turkey sandwich? Now that is a Herculean task worth writing about.

Megan Forman - former pastry chef at Bayona and most recently the right hand to Tariq Hanna at Sucre - opened Gracious with her husband Jay (of New Orleans Magazine fame) in early September. Located in the ground floor of the new headquarters of Woodward Design + Build on South Jeff Davis, Gracious combines three of France's most endeared eateries in one location: boulangerié, patisserié, and café. So whether you are in search of simple croissant to start your morning, a light lunch around noon, or something to satisfy your sweet tooth, Gracious is a one stop shop for all three.

Before I discovered the turkey sandwich, I would have happily returned for Gracious' twist on the muffuletta, which features coppa, soppresata, and provolone with arugula on ciabatta smeared with green onion relish. (Hint: it's better than a muffuletta.) Pecan-cheddar spread will give better cheddar a run for its money, especially when it's matched with smoked ham, apple slices, and pepper jelly inside a crackly baguette. I had high hopes for the rosemary-crusted roast beef, but it was cooked a little too long for my liking, and the horseradish cream cheese could have been applied doubly so. Make sure to check the display case for the pretzel croissants - yeah, I had never seen one before either - filled with ham and sharp mustard.

All sandwiches are served with your choice of chips or mixed green salad tossed (which is key) in a simple balsamic vinaigrette or creamy herb dressing. I usually opt for the salad so that I don't feel guilty ordering dessert, which is a must. It's hard to pass up the peanut butter milk chocolate opera cake with its thin alternative layers of my two favorite sweet flavors, but the chocolate brownie brioche also beckons. To make matters more difficult, Gracious bakes its own king cakes filled with a core of chocolate and topped with a light white glaze.

So many delicious pastries to explore, so little time to do so before Lent. And only a quick drive down Earhart from the CBD.

Gracious Bakery + Café - Birdie
1000 South Jefferson Davis Parkway
(504) 301-3709
Mon – Fri: 6:30am – 3pm
Sat: 8am – 2pm

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

A Quick Drink: Champagne Cocktail

Welcome the newest soon to be abandoned Blackened Out Series: A Quick Drink. A Quick Drink will be a brief glance at a cocktail, bottle of wine, or pint of beer. No pretentious tasting notes, immersion circulator fueled infusions , or overly flowery descriptions of hops that sound like descriptions of potent marijuana. Just booze, served up neatly. 

The three biggest improvements in American dining in the last ten years have involved roast chicken, hamburgers, and cocktails. Cocktails, perhaps more than anything, have benefited from increased attention to sourcing and improved techniques from bartenders. A well-curated list of house made cocktails employing elderberry shrub and house made nocello is so standard it must be given out with a liquor license. All of that is well and fine but sometimes you need to pour drinks in a hurry and you aren't going to shrub your own elderberry. Scoff not wine nerds, cocktail connoisseurs are just following in your well-trodden foot steps. Beer geeks, you aren't far behind to the path to ubiquity and a touch of over saturation.

The Champagne Cocktail is a fantastic flourish and can be prepared with stuff you probably have around the house. I've taken a couple liberties with this drink. First, don't use Champagne. If you are buying real deal Champagne, don't use it in a cocktail unless you want to be painted as a ne'er-do-well or worse, a charlatan. A fifteen dollar Cava Brut, St. Hillaire, prosecco, or Californian sparkling will do.

Second, ditch the champagne flute. I know it is pretty and traditional, but you don't get enough juice to balance out the sweetness of the sugar cube. And while you can probably get five ounces in a champagne flute, it will more than likely spill out of the glass. Use a large wine glass instead. Thirdly, ditch the traditional lemon twist. Use a orange bitters in its place, which delivers the citrus punch without the fussiness and sadomasochism of twisting and bending a lemon peel.

Champagne Cocktail

1 sugar cube, I like the brown demerara  kind
2 dashes of Peychaud's Bitters
2 dashes of orange bitters
5 oz sparkling wine

Place sugar cube in bottom of wine glass, add bitters. Pour sparkling wine in glass. Serve immediately; the sugar will continue to dissolve as you sip the sunset hued elixir.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Blackened Out's Christmas Vacation: Lost in New York

Rockefeller Center.
What The Folk Singer wants, The Folk Singer gets (within reason). As such, with a simple request to visit New York to see all of the Christmas lights, we were off to the Big Apple on the weekend after Thanksgiving, smack dab in the middle of perhaps the busiest time of the year. What follows is a brief synopsis of our 56 hour trip.

We touched down at Laguardia just before noon on Friday afternoon, dropped our bags off in the East Village, and walked over to Ippudo for lunch. Ramen is the name of the game at this sleek "Japanese brasserie," a dish which has not yet gained traction in our fare city. The standard lunch set starts with a simple salad of field greens tossed in soy dressing and a mini bowl of rice topped with morsels of fried chicken. I had the weekly special ramen of Szechuan style spicy pork in an intense broth spiced up with black sesame sauce, ground pork, and shrimp paste. I think that TFS found the winner though with the classic ramen, a less adulterated version with broth that was a drinkable elixir.

Fortified against the cold, we made our way to Rockefeller Center to witness a marriage proposal on the skating rink (complete with Bon Jovi anthem) and snapped the above picture of the iconic Christmas tree, a replica of which TFS felt compelled to recreate in our living room. Yada yada yada, The New York Public Library, something about Carrie Bradshaw, and then it was time for happy hour.

We navigated the subway system toward the Ace Hotel, where we ducked into the John Dory Oyster Bar. The hostess sat us at two stools along the window looking out onto Broadway and West 29th. At 4:45 only a handful of other tables were occupied, By 5:15 there was not an open seat in the dining room and people were lined up three deep at the bar. The happy hour special is a half dozen oysters and a glass of cava or pint of stout for $15. I ordered a full dozen of the salty, plump downright beautiful bivalves from Mermaid Cove, and TFS downed the cava. It's why our marriage works. We made a pass through the hotel lobby and The Breslin (April Bloomfield's other restaurant in the Ace) and marveled at the number of hipsters playing on their Macs and investment bankers debating the size of their Christmas bonuses while imbibing $30 glasses of scotch. It was a great scene that's definitely worth experiencing.

Later that night on our stroll back to home base, we passed a crowd of at least 30 people gathered on the sidewalk outside Caracas Arepa Bar. We decided that it must be worth waiting for, so we put our name on the list and walked around the corner for a few beers and glasses of wine to help pass the 45 minute wait. We returned just in time to hear our name called and were shoehorned into the table immediately next to the front window in the dining room, which is more tightly quartered than a submarine. We each ordered an arepa - mine stuffed with thick disks of spicy chorizo and her's filled with roasted pork shoulder. What stood out the most was the sublime texture of the Venezuelan corn cakes - somewhere between a pupusa and a corn muffin. Excellent.

Following dinner we stumbled in to the Big Gay Ice Cream Shop for the most decadent ice cream cone I have ever tasted. Behold the Salty Pimp: vanilla soft serve stuffed and streaked on the sides with dulce de leche, dipped in chocolate, and sprinkled with sea salt. Unreal.
Shrimp and pork buns from Momofuku Noodle Bar.
We slept in on Saturday morning and felt even more guilty for squandering our time after the Parisian Princess sent a text message saying that she had just finished her 8 mile run through Central Park and would be available to meet us for lunch after a quick shower. We headed out on foot through the Village toward Washington Square to see if we could score a walk-in table at Babbo. Dining at Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich's flagship restaurant had become a mission for us ever since our attempts at a reservation were thwarted by Hurricane Sandy beating down on Manhattan exactly one month before our trip, which happened to be the precise time when Babbo opens its reservation book. By the time that they started answering the phones again after the storm, our only option was an 11:15 p.m. reservation. We decided to gamble on a lunch walk-in instead.

As we strolled down 5th Avenue, TFS reminisced about the Carnival du Vin Patron Party a few years back when she and Rene's better half caught Mario's eye and then spent a significant portion of the evening trying to force feed him red wine (which he defended against by proclaiming that that he only drinks white wine). As we chuckled at the stroll down memory lane, all of a sudden a familiar looking rotund gentlemen with a red pony tail exited an apartment building and crossed our path. Given the 38° temperature, it seemed odd that he chose shorts and crocs as the proper wardrobe for riding his vespa, which he promptly cranked up and then drove off on with his son clinging to his waist. Very strange.

A few minutes later we arrived at Babbo and were told that it would be no problem to seat our party of 3 for lunch. We waited for the Parisian Princess over pre-lunch cocktails and admired the handsome first floor dining room while a Coltrane track played in the background. Armed with the knowledge that neither TFS nor PP would be interested in a tasting menu, my order had already been pre-determined. To start a towering pile of arugula dressed with shaved parm and balsamic and served with a half dozen sweet morsels of roasted butternut squash. I ask myself, "How can something so simple be so good?" TFS had the same questions after she polished off her plate of thinly sliced prosciutto and fresh figs.

She followed with gnocchi al telefono, which I have to say was the best combination of pasta, tomato, and cheese that I had ever tasted. PP's grilled octopus transported me back to a tiny tapas bar in San Sebastian where I first learned to appreciate how tender this sea creature could be if cooked properly. As appealing as those few bites were, my attention remained tightly focused on the beef cheek ravioli, a dish which defies science when you consider how its possible to pack such a rich flavor inside a tiny pasta pouch.

Over the olive oil cake for dessert, we discussed the best plan of attack to score a dinner reservation for our return trip in the spring.

After lunch we decided that the best way to revive our hunger was a long walk to the Meatpacking District. We checked out the High Line, but Terroir was closed and no one could be seen having sex in front of the windows at the Standard, so it was kind of a bust. Then we headed over to Eataly to make sure that we maximized our quota of Mario for the trip. The scene can only be described as pandemonium. Picture the concourses at the Superdome during halftime, except that everyone is gorging themselves on pizza, pasta and wine instead of nachos, hot dogs, and beer. Things were a little more relaxed at Corkbuzz, where we met a few friends for a drink. Then pre-theatre fondue and half-priced bottles of Burgundy at the Bourgeois Pig.

According to TFS, an evening at the theatre is an absolute requirement for any visit to NYC. For this trip, she convinced me that spending 5x more on tickets to The Book of Mormon would be worth it. She was right. The show was hilarious. Unless, of course, any of you readers is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, in which case the show is extremely offensive and irreverent. Actually, those adjectives apply no matter what your religion or lack thereof.

I had pizza on the brain after the show, so we hailed a cab and headed to Motorino for an excellent Neopolitan pie topped with spicy soppresatta, chili flakes, and slivers of garlic. PP met up with us for the walk home, which happened to take us right in front of Momofuku Noodle Bar. This was obviously a sign sent down from above by Joseph Smith and/or Brigham Young, so how could we resist?

I'll be honest, both the ramen and the nugget potatoes were underwhelming, which was a surprise. But the steamed flour buns were out of this world good, and that goes for both the pork belly and the fried shrimp cake. It took every ounce of will power in my body to stop myself from attempting to pilfer a thigh from the fried chicken dinner delivered to the table next to us. Unfortunately, that dish must be ordered in advance. I may or may not have told TFS that I would pay for that table's entire meal if they gave me a southern style leg and a Korean style thigh, which prompted her to immediately ask for the check. Next time.

Sunday was a blur. A satisfactory brunch at Burger & Barrel. A trip to Bloomingdale's a/k/a the ninth circle of hell. More walking. Dinner at Hasaki because TFS wanted sushi and it was one of the few places that was open. A cab ride to the airport and a flight home.

I am tired just writing about it. But I am also now very hungry....

Thursday, January 3, 2013

How 'Bout 'Dem Oysters

Photo by renee b. photography.
The morning chill over the past two days has announced the arrival of winter - at least until we wake up next week and find that the temperatures are back up into the 70s. While the drop in mercury may entice some locals to warm themselves up with a hot toddy, here at Blackened Out Pilates Studio & Pawn Shop, winter brings with it a craving for ice cold raw oysters, which are at their best this time of year.

In this month's issue of OffBeat Magazine, we profile the oyster bar at Pascal's Manale, an aspect of the restaurant which deserves as much (or perhaps more) attention than Manale's famous barbeque shrimp. While many patrons use the oyster bar at Manale's as a prelude to their dinner, we are of the opinion that two dozen raw and a couple of beers make for the perfect Manale's dining experience.

So take a pass on the bib and settle down to one of the best hidden oyster bars in the city. Cocktail sauce is optional.

Oyster Bar at Manale's - Birdie
1838 Napoleon
(504) 895-4877

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Let the Resolutions Begin

Thai Chicken Wrap from City Greens.
It's a new year, and with that comes resolutions in all forms. I will be more efficient at the office.  I will exercise at least 5 days per week. No more afternoon outings to Cochon Butcher for chocolate chip cookies. I will omit pork fat from at least one meal per day. I will not complain when The Folk Singer monopolizes the living room TV to catch up on seven DVRed episodes of Glee and Gossip Girl.

It's been approximately 34 hours since my resolutions began, and I am still going strong. Sure, I was sleeping for 16 of those 34 hours, but give me some credit. Last year I only made it to 7:14pm on New Year's Day, when I violated the pork fat resolution after a breakfast of guanciale and eggs followed by bacon braised brussels sprouts for dinner.

Even though we all know in the back of our minds that new year's resolutions have a life span about as long as Lindsay Lohan's stints with sobriety, making a change for the better, no matter how short lived, is a step in the right direction. Thanks to City Greens, starting off the new year with a healthy lunch has never tasted so delicious. After a brief stint popping up on Sunday nights in the former location of Vizard's on Magazine Street, City Greens made the big move to the basement of 909 Poydras, where the salad specialist immediately earned a strong following with CBD office workers in search of a tasty lunch option which would not do much damage to their waistlines.

All of the raw ingredients are of impeccable quality, and the menu adjusts to the season. Don't be surprised to see mango omitted from the Thai Chicken Wrap when fresh supplies are tough to come by. Most of City Greens' greens - bibb, arugula, etc. - come from a hydroponic farm located just north of Seaside, Florida that is owned by City Greens' co-owner Ben Kazenmaier and his dad. Much of the other produce is sourced from Covey Rise Farms on the Northshore.

The menu lists 8 salads offered year round, a few seasonal salads, and 5 wraps. From the regular menu, my go to choices include the Thai Chicken Wrap (basil, cilantro, cucumbers, peanuts for crunch and sweet and silky peanut sauce) and the Greek salad - Boston bibb, cucumbers, Kalamata olives, roasted red peppers, shaved onion, and feta tossed in a yogurt ranch. The chicken pesto wrap has peppery arugula, chunks of grilled chicken breast, chopped tomato, whole cloves of roasted garlic whose potency outmatches their sweetness, and parm tossed in a rich walnut pesto dressing. I recommend foregoing the croutons, which provide a nice crunch but also unnecessary richness.

The specials of the day though have always been tough to beat. One day in October there was a wrap of juicy chunks of roasted turkey, diced sweet potato roasted till barely fork tender, shaved onion for sharpness and heat, with a backbone of sunflower sprouts and mixed greens all tossed in a lemon garlic dressing that brought everything together with the perfect hint of acid. Another more recent special was curry chicken w/ roasted red pepper, sweet onion, pickled Hawaiian hearts of palm, boondi (fried chickpea flour for added crunch), and bibb.

First timers may get overwhelmed with number of options available to create your own salad or wrap, so I suggest to stick to ordering off the menu at first. Besides, designing your own salad can quickly run up the bill when overloading on the number of ingredients. I'm glad that they started offering "medium" as a quantity of choice for your dressing, in addition to "light" and "heavy." Don’t forget to check the display case for discounted pre-made salads and wraps which are ready for grab and go.

I can almost guarantee that City Greens will be the only business more crowded today than your gym. But instead of your trainer yelling at you to finish those last few reps, City Greens offers a much more positive motivational trainer. That would be Big D, the best wrapper in the city. The man always has a great attitude and will be sure to wish you a happy new year and good luck in fulfilling your resolutions.

City Greens - Birdie
909 Poydras Street
(504) 533-0004
Mon-Fri Breakfast & Lunch