Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A Quick Drink: German Lager

Sometimes you just want a beer that tastes like beer. Of course, each beer drinker has their own expectations and biases about what beer should taste like. I enjoy a beer that makes me remember my first sip of beer. Maybe you were eight or ten, but at some point, you took a sip of beer when someone's back was turned. Your face promptly contorted into something resembling Jim Carrey's funny days. That will always mean, to me at least, a beer that sort of tastes like Dixie. Albeit, now I want a better version of that.

Lagers. That is what I reach for. These beers are fermented at colder temperatures resulting in a crisper, more refreshing beer than its richer cousin, ales. The Germans are really good at a few things: dismantling Barcelona with efficiency and ruthlessness, invading (but not conquering) other countries, engineering, turtlenecks, and brewing beer. Ayinger is my German lager of choice. This one here is called Jahrhundert Bier which means (pardon my German) "A beer perfect for after cutting one's grass."

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Mr. B's Bistro: Is It Worth It?

I'd love to link to the Mr. B's website, but it still has an automatic loud musical interlude attached to it. Turn it off on one page and go to another page and boom it shows up again. If you watch tv, you are familiar with the song. Never a good sign. Note to restaurants: I am going to your website for roughly the same reason one goes to your restaurant. Loud, abrasive music in either location is not welcome, no matter how much you paid for the jingle.

Onto the food. The bread is good. Warm and crisp and served with lots of cold butter. Come in here, soak up the handsome scene, drink a few martinis and eat two loaves of bread and you may have a pretty good meal. Venture farther than that and you are on your own.

For example the gumbo ya-ya, a longtime staple, leaves plenty to be desired in the diner's mind. For one thing, the broth was bitter perhaps owing to the extremely dark roux. The mini coasters of sausage were mealy and wet. They fell apart at the slightest urging into a crumbling mess. Duck springrolls, had the opposite effect, as their filling was dry and chalky. The just barely cooked wanton wrapper was reminiscent of a wet cigarette. The sweet ginger-garlic dipping sauce that came along for the ride was sugar coma inducing and a mess of muddled flavors. But the big slab of radicchio saved the dish, by giving us a five minute conversation of what it was possibly doing on the plate.

Entrees arrived after a long pause. The paneed veal was tough and led us to wonder if the first time it had been introduced to milk was when it met the overcooked, soggy pasta coated in an insipid alfredo sauce. Perhaps so, but it was not a great first impression for the two.

I've become a big fan of barbecue shrimp, but these had me revoking my fan club membership. The dish works best with Louisiana shrimp that are in the 10-12 count range or smaller. A key element of the dish, in my opinion, is the sweet, briny flavor of smaller shrimp helps offset the heat of the sauce. The shrimp at Mr. B's were too big which leads to them being overcooked. Hence, they become tough to peel. The sauce had a little too much Worcestershire flavor and not enough heat. One is left with an abundant supply of sauce, but the bread served on the side is flabby. Ask for another order of the good bread and plow through. You are almost finished.

Mr. B's Bistro: Is It Worth It? No.
201 Royal St.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Bugs & Brew for Drew

This Saturday April 20th, the Drew Rodrigue Foundation will host the 4th Annual Bugs & Brew for Drew Crawfish Cook-Off and Beer Festival in the River City Plaza at Mardi Gras World. More than 50 teams from around the city will be boiling up there best crawfish and lagniappe with their eyes on the first place trophy in each category, and local breweries will be on hand offering libations to quench the thirst of all those in attendance. The event also offers live music, entertainment for the kids, and a raffle full of prizes.

Drew Rodrigue was a fellow graduate of the Jesuit class of 2000, and a young man who embodied a fervent joie de vivre attitude until he lost his 7 year battle with cancer in August 2009. Drew never gave anything less than 110% in whatever endeavor he undertook - whether that be on the football field during high school, in the chapter room at the Alabama DKE house, in the Superdome cheering on the Saints, or in the treatment center at MD Anderson. The Drew Rodrigue Foundation aims to further Drew's legacy with its mission to change the lives of individuals who have stared their adversities in the face and have bravely decided to suit up and march onto the playing field of life and show others that giving up is not an option.

Proceeds from Bugs & Brew go toward furthering the mission of The Drew Rodrigue Foundation. In its first year, Bugs &; Brew helped the DRF raise $50,000 to establish a research grant with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society targeted towards Advanced Hodgkin's disease. In 2011, the DRF raised money towards the creation of the Drew Rodrigue Memorial Equipment Fund for Abbeville High School, where Drew volunteered as an assistant coach. Last year, the DRF established the Forty-Nine Society, which helps lift the spirits of those individuals fighting terminal disease. This year, proceeds from Bugs & Brew are set to go toward a new wing in the MD Anderson Cancer Center that is designed to provide entertainment  for young patients in the form of a media center.

Admission to Bugs & Brew is FREE. Crawfish, lagniappe, and beers are available for purchase a la carte, but the best bang for your buck is with the Cajun Pass, which is $60 for all you can eat and drink. The event includes a local craft brew exposition featuring selections from Abita, Nola Brewing, Tin Roof, Parish Brewing Co., Bayou Teche, Covington Brewhouse, and Chafunkta Brewing Co. The live music kicks off at 11:00am on Saturday with a performance by the Stone Rabbits, followed by Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes, Honey Island Swamp Band, and Papa Grows Funk closing down the stage.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Arnaud's: Is It Worth It?

All men have bias. One of mine, was a firmly held belief that Arnaud's was a has been, or maybe yet, a never was. A few years ago two group dinners in quick succession cemented in my skull that this old dame was getting by on purely the tourist, debutante, and Carnival trade. This is the worst combination of patrons to rely on for a restaurant recommendation. To wit, a dish of chicken pontalba arrived sans brabant potatoes. On other visit, creme brulee took a downmarket turn by substituting a ramekin of whipped cream for luscious custard. The response from the servers on both occasions, "Yeah, that's how that dish is served traditionally."

I was predisposed to develop a negative opinion on this restaurant.

But then a pitch perfect Sazerac arrived, cold and bracing under a faint whiff of anise. The first one dispatched, a second one arrived with little more than eye contact and desire. The handsome dining room soon took over with its glass and wood evoking, and at the same time establishing, this as a potential great place to spend a few hours eating and drinking. Certainly better, than say, prison.

Then a plate of souffle potatoes which brought to life an M.C. Escher drawing. Tucked into the folds of a starched napkin stood crisp, airy potatoes as fine as any served by its more famous relatives. They were hot and greaseless and a marvel of culinary architecture. It is as if the slices of potato trigger a natural defense mechanism and puff up to scare of prey. Do not worry, they are no match for a hungry appetite.

Less good was the much vaunted shrimp Arnaud, which suffered from a surprising blandness. A few more scoops of mustard or horseradish or a jolt of lemon were sorely needed. Baked oysters were inconsistent with a handful cold under their various topping or suffering from muddled flavors. The soups deserve your attention, especially a comforting and spicy rendition of turtle soup and a smoky, herbal gumbo z'herbes which gives Ms. Leah Chase's version considerable competition.

Pompano, veal, trout, steaks, etc... fill out the entrees with solid execution and minimal fuss. Sweetbreads are plump and crispy by technique and salty and rich by design with a meuniere sauce and capers. The traditions of French Creole classics are strictly adhered to with mostly superior results.

This isn't to say Arnaud's escapes criticisms. For one thing, the wine list is stuck in pre-Neanderthal days. Whoever is buying wine needs to look around and realize there are wine drinkers who a) cant afford a blockbuster Bordeaux or b) aren't content to drink a grocery store white burgundy at restaurant prices. Service, based largely on its proximity to the tourist trade, tends to treat anyone as a visitor. It would be better to reverse this and treat as everyone as a local.

We skipped dessert opting instead for the comfort of an after dinner drink at the French 75 Bar. There among an ambiance of dirty jokes and cigar smoke, Chris Hannah runs probably the finest restaurant bar in the world. If you find a better one, please let me know.

Taken as a whole, Arnaud's is an absolutely delightful place to be proven wrong.

Arnaud's: Is It Worth It? Yes.
813 Rue Bienville

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

A Quick Drink: Brandy

Of all the boozes, brandy appears to be the most uppercrust and pretentious of them all. Brandy even requires its own glass, the snifter, which sounds like an accessory to powdered tobacco rather than a vessel of inebriation. Brandy has such an exclusive air that even scotch drinkers call her twee. Brandy even has a masters level called Cognac, which requires a smoking jacket, manor house, and a chauffeur to even buy a bottle.

All snobbery aside, brandy is a vastly misunderstood alcohol. Let's start with what it is. Brandy is a spirit, normally distilled from wine. Other spirits like gin and vodka are generally distilled from grain. Brandies can also be made from fruits like pears, oranges, or apples, but technically these are called eaux-de-vie. A few years ago, I received a gift of three bottles of French eau-de-vie: Kirsch, pear, and plum. The few months after that are a blur. Use extreme caution.  

Not surprisingly, brandy production is most common in areas that produce wine. From left to right above, pisco from Peru, Spanish gran reserva brandy, and commodity brandy. The Christian Brothers brandy isn't for sipping, but does very well as an instrument to deglaze pans and for the occasional milk punch or Alexander. Use pisco in a classic pisco sour made with whatever citrus is available, currently that means grapefruits. Spanish gran reserva brandy works very well with a large chunk of dark chocolate.

A couple hundred words on brandy and not once did I mention this song? Its good to be back after my Hogs hiatus, but give me a few days to get warmed up.