Tuesday, October 18, 2016.
Cane and Table.
Mary Ann left at four in the morning for another visit to Jude, Jude’s wife Suzanne, and their son Jackson in their home in Los Angeles. When the payoff is time spent with our nearly one-year-old grandson, getting up very early is no big deal to her. She does not say when she will be back.
When MA is gone, I go to restaurants she doesn’t like. (She has veto power.) I have a limitless number of these to check. Right now, I am working up a story for Inside New Orleans Magazine about the sub-neighborhood near the French Market. MA doesn’t like that part of the Quarter.
Even by New Orleans standards, this is a very old part of town, largely because the nearby Ursuline convent built quite a few buildings in the area that have remained largely intact since the 1700s. In recent decades–the 1970s and 1980s particularly–many of these became restaurants. But that was followed by attrition. With the exception of Tujague’s, just about all the major, trendsetting restaurants along Chartres and Decatur between Dumaine and Ursulines have gone away.
But now they’re coming back, with as much or more distinction than they had the first time around. What was Stella! is now Angeline’s. What was Maximo’s is now Trinity. Café Sbisa came and went several times since its brilliant resurrection in the mid-1970s. Once again its well-known menu is in action, looking great.
Meanwhile, Irene’s Cuisine is as popular and delicious as ever. Coop’s is jammed, usually with a line outside, for its easy-going, inexpensive Creole and Cajun eats.
Having visited Angeline and Trinity once each (and learning that I will have to revisit both, because of the richness of the offerings), I have set my assignment to try all the other good ones.
Today, the choice is Cane & Table, a restaurant whose door I have not darkened, even though it’s been open for years. It made quite a splash then, largely by referencing its advanced bar capabilities in creating memorable cocktails to go with its food. That was the hottest story in town at the time. I have a way of avoiding hot topics, and wait until everyone is rational.
Or maybe my problem is that Cane & Table occupies the former G&E Courtyard Grill, the superb new-Italian restaurant of the 1990s operated by brothers Michael and Mark Uddo. The Uddos left over a dispute about the rent. They went their separate ways doing good things, but never up to the level of the G&E. (Michael is currently the chef at Café B.)
I remember the G&E being a striking, comfortable little restaurant with a big courtyard and an open wood-burning grill. Since they left, several restaurant moved in and out. If there were any restorations or renovations along the way, they eluded my notice. The current condition of the courtyard is. . . well, I’ll call it sub-optimal. The front room with its vaunted bar was full when I arrived, and I was offered the courtyard. I took it, because I remember how it used to be. But it isn’t that way anymore. It’s dark back there. Fortunately, I had with me the light I use to take photos, which allowed me to read the menu. And the tables and chairs were very uncomfortable. The area needs, at the very least, a paint job.
I had my heart up for the food, recalling what others have said about it. The menu’s strong section seemed to be the small plates–a typical condition where cocktails are central. I started with crab fritters and an aioli. I brought my light to bear on the fritters to see if I could visually detect the crabmeat, because I couldn’t do it with the gustatory sense.
Now came sea scallops as part of a salad. Three medium-size, seared scallops were underneath an enormous pile of spaghetti squash, crunch and overabundant. But this next thing sounded good: venison boudin, with coconut rice. Didn’t taste like boudin or venison. The jury is still out on the rice.
Dessert perked me up. Five calas, with a sweet sauce for dunking. This was very good, even though I saw no rice–usually a defining ingredient in this century-old, authentic Creole confection. But the calas were delightful anyhow.
I like two other things about Cane & Table. The name is terrific. And the service staff was likeable and efficient. My brain supplied me with a trivial note: the floor in the middle of the two service areas is made of the same stone that covers One Shell Square. I think it came from there, in fact–surplus stone bought and turned sideways.
One more thing: the front door needs a renovation, too. I stood in front of it and couldn’t see it to enter.
Cane & Table. French Quarter: 1113 Decatur St. 504-810-0276.
The Palace Cafe began serving this when it first opened, and it’s still a specialty there. Like many early dishes at the restaurant, it’s a slightly downscale version of a successful dish at Commander’s Palace, which started this whole fish-and-pecans thing. The idea is so good that it’s spread to many restaurants and home kitchens. The flavor match with catfish is marvelous. The sauce makes it even better, but it’s good even without it.
- 8 catfish fillets, 2-5 oz. each
- 2 cups pecan pieces
- 3/4 cups bread crumbs
- 1 Tbs. Creole seasoning
- 1 cup flour
- 3 eggs
- 2 Tbs. milk
- 3 Tbs. butter
- Sauce (optional):
- 2 cups beef stock
- 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
- Juice of 1/2 lemon
- Dash Tabasco
- 1 Tbs. heavy cream
- 1 Tbs. butter, softened
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
1. In a food processor or blender, combine bread crumbs and pecans until ground to the texture of coffee.
2. Trim all the fat off the catfish fillet. Wash and pat dry.
3. Combine the Creole seasoning and the flour and dredge the catfish through that mixture.
4. Beat the eggs with the milk and pass the catfish through this egg wash.
5. Dredge through the mixture of pecans and bread crumbs.
6. Heat the butter in a skillet until bubbling. Saute the catfish for about two minutes on one side, until lightly browned. Turn over and place the entire skillet into a preheated 450-degree oven for five minutes. Spoon sauce over and serve.
7. To make the sauce, combine the beef stock, Worcestershire, lemon juice, and Tabasco in a skillet. Reduce until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Lower heat and add the cream. Reduce a little more, then whisk in the butter.
Seafood Pepperpot Soup @ Rum House
Pepperpot, a specialty of the Caribbean and most particularly Jamaica, used to be so common in America that Campbell’s even canned it. The version they serve at the Rum House is just about the only one left. And don’t recall what you may have had under that name. This is different, with a French bouillabaisse sort of touch. Mussels, mahi-mahi, shrimp, scallops and squid make up the generous protein part of the recipe. They also make it with more pepper than is classic, but none of us have much of a problem with that, right?
Rum House. Uptown: 3128 Magazine. 504-941-7560.
This is among the 500 best dishes in New Orleans area restaurants. Click here for a list of the other 499.
October 24, 2016
Days Until. . .
We hear that it’s National Bologna Day. Bologna isn’t the very lowest form of cold cuts–that condemnation belongs to luncheon loaf–but it’s pretty bad. It’s sort of like the inside of a pork-and-beef hot dog on a large scale. The city of Bologna in Italy knows nothing of it, and should sue. I found a recipe for a baloney sandwich called the Bourbon Street Special at the Oscar Meyer web site. It’s like a muffuletta made by someone who’s never eaten one.
Our Favorite Bistros
Today in 2010, Rue 127 opened, just off the key corner of Canal and Carrollton. It took over a tiny restaurant that had been an excellent, engaging, but little-known Middle Eastern restaurant, renovated the place handsomely, and opened with all of its 33 seats. The chef and owner was Ray Gruezke, who came from the kitchen of Le Foret after a shakeup in that still-new restaurant. Ray has expanded the restaurant a little, but it’s about as big as it will ever be (unless they move or add a story.) The food has always been classy and delicious. Chef Ray is also preparing to open a barbecue restaurant.
Bologna Creek, Oregon is in the mountainous, lightly-populated northeast corner of the state, 215 miles east-southest of Portland. It flows into the John Day River, a tributary of the Columbia. Two forks of the creek rise in Bologna Basin, then join to flow through Bologna Canyon between the 4000-foot peaks of Negro Knob and Thorn Spring Butte. Bologna Creek brings down enough alluvial matter to block the flow of the John Day enough to back it up a bit. In a wet year it chinook salmon swim up the creek. Giving the cattle ranchers in the area a respite from all that bologna. Another alternative is the Day Creek Lodge, a mile away up the John Day from the Bologna Confluence.
garbure, French, n.–A thick, wintertime soup made with potatoes, beans, cabbage, root vegetables of the season, and herbs. After all that cooks down enough to become thick enough to hold a spoon upright, an assortment of confits of birds, sausages, and ham goes in, with enough fat to enrich the soup greatly. Garbure is popular in southwestern France, especially in the town of Bearn. It probably has origins in the Basque culture in that area. Two traditions attend the making and eating of garbure. One involves the order in which the vegetables are added, so that they all become cooked simultaneously. The other is saving a sip of wine until all the solids in the soup have been consumed, and then adding it to the broth. This is supposed to have a salutary effect on the foie.
Deft Dining Rule #477
Beware of any restaurant menu that mentions emulsions more than twice. It means the chef is more caught up in his technique than in making you happy.
The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:
If your hollandaise breaks, add a tablespoon of warm water and see if it re-emulsifies. If not, start over again with just one egg yolk, whisking over gentle heat until it gets thick, then whisk in the broken sauce a little at a time.
Music To Eat Sashimi By
Today in 1975, John Lennon released an album of his greatest hits. It was called Shaved Fish. Yoko Ono really needs to open a sushi bar with that name.
Annals Of Candy
Good and Plenty was introduced today in 1894. It’s the oldest branded candy in America, and is still going strong under the Hershey umbrella. A single Good and Plenty is a little tube of licorice inside a thick candy shell.
Food In Music
Today in 1929 (which, incidentally, was the day the stock market crashed and triggered the Great Depression), Rudy Vallee began broadcasting his radio show, sponsored by Fleischmann’s Yeast. Vallee was a heartthrob for his looks and his singing. He had the boyish charm that makes girls swoon. Why that should translate into sales of yeast is hard to figure, but he did help Fleischmann’s become the dominant brand of yeast in America–a position it still holds. Rudy Vallee’s expiration date was July 3, 1986.
Hippolyte Mège Mouriés, a major food chemist in the dawn of that science, was born in France today in 1817. In 1869, he won the prize offered by Emperor Louis Napoleon III to create an acceptable butter substitute: margarine. He used more or less the same process by which fat can be made into soap. He came up with many other ideas, including a process that greatly reduced the amount of wheat needed to make bread, and a method of canning meat.
Nathaniel Wyeth was born today in 1911. He invented polyethylene terephthalate, a plastic that can be made into thin-walled bottles strong enough to hold carbonated beverages under pressure. As in two-liter bottles of Big Shot pineapple drink.
George Crumb, a composer who won a Pulitzer Prize, was born on this date in–again! 1929! Black Monday! Here’s another odd coincidence: Crumb was from West Virginia, and today is the day its citizens voted to form a new state, at the outset of the Civil War in 1861. . . Motown Records founder Berry Gordy received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame today in 1996. . . Santo Farina, who played steel guitar with his brother Johnny on the classic 1950s tune Sleepwalk, was born today in 1937. It was the last instrumental to hit Number One for five years. . . Jose Serrano, U.S. Congressman from New York, was born today in 1943. . . Lazar Weiner, who composed dozens of Yiddish songs, was born today in 1897. . . . Tila Tequila, Singapore-born, Vietnamese-heritage, American model, was born today in 1981. . . Professional golfer Ian Baker-Finch teed off his life today in 1960.
Words To Eat By
“My favorite sandwich is peanut butter, baloney, cheddar cheese, lettuce, and mayonnaise on toasted bread with catsup on the side.”–Hubert H. Humphrey.
No wonder we didn’t elect him President.
Words To Drink By
“And Noah he often said to his wife when he sat down to dine,
‘I don’t care where the water goes if it doesn’t get into the wine.'”
—G.K. Chesterton, British writer of the 1800s.
How Waiters View Customers #89-3485-3
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Saturday, October 15, 2016.
Ox Lot 9 For Dinner. Brilliant Idea In My Sleep.
Yesterday, I awoke at five in the morning with what would prove to be a brilliant idea for getting my lawn tractor back to work. It occured to me in the dream that if I install a new, screw-down valve stem on the wheel with the flat tire, the washers and rubber seals on the stem might hold enough air for me to trim a big chunk of the Cool Water Ranch’s two acres of grass.
That worked! All that remained was to take the tractor down from the prop we put under it so I could rotate the wheel. ML’s fiance Dave had lifted it up atop a stack of boards. But I don’t have Dave’s 25-year-old strength, he doesn’t have my bad ankle, and he’s in Washington, D.C. I manage to lower the old unit by knocking away one support board at a time.
All that was left was to turn the starter key. The mower started instantly! I drove onto the prairie and cut all the cuttable grass. I love it when plans break through all the puzzles and disasters and begin to function normally.
The lawn was hot and dry, in some spots kicking up clouds of dust. It took me a little over two hours to run through all of it. I clean up and take a nap, then meet for dinner with Mary Ann and our friends the Swifts.
For the first movement of this massacree, I must explain that our daughter Mary Leigh has a cottage industry in making reservations for us and others by way of Open Table. She gets points for doing that, and accumulates enough credits that she can dine out with big discounts, or even for free. Sometimes MA calls ML to make an Open Table reservation for a restaurant we will enter only a minute or two later. Does this qualify as gaming the system?
I am the first to arrive at Ox Lot 9 in the Southern Hotel, where MA asked me to meet her. It turns out that this was just a gathering, after which we’d cross the street to have dinner at Del Porto. But by the time everybody is in the same place, I have a cocktail order in the works, and discussed the specials with the waiter. Who tells me that he used to work on one of the six radio stations associated with mine. (Only 500 people live here, as this comes closer to proving.)
Doug and Karen Swift have been friends since Jude’s two years at Jesuit, where their son also matriculated. Since then we have watched our sons as they move through the same stages of life, but we have many other matters of mutual interest. I always look forward to dining with them.
The dinner is good, too. I put in an order for Ox Lot 9’s charcuterie board while still waiting for the others to show up, then add some cheese to it at MA’s request. Most of the cured meats are on the peppery, salty side. It recalls other dinners here that began with the charcuterie, which we all agree is something less than what you could get from a first-class deli. I continue to believe that the time chefs spend on showing off with their smoking and curing capabilities would be better spent on almost anything else. The only counter-examples I can think of are Toups Eatery, Dominica, and Delmonico.
With that board out of the way, we have only good eats. The menu seems more extensive and more appealing than in previous visits. We seem to be in a seafood mood. Karen has the most interesting dish–a tropical lobster tail. The spiny lobsters from the Caribbean have been absent from New Orleans menus for many years. All we get are Maine lobsters, perceived as intrinsically better. I would agree with that stance, but the things you can do with the langouste branch of the family are interesting and different.
Doug had the grilled pompano, which we are told was speared, not taken in nets or hooks and lines. It is the best dish at our table.
Mary Ann, whose diet book says to eat all the red meat she can, has a very generous and very good filet mignon with fresh-cut ponnes frites on the side. I’m looking at the pork chop, but decide on the mussels. Third time I’ve had an entree of mussels in two weeks. These, like the others, are not as plump as I would hope for. Must be the season.
Every time I find myself in the very cool Southern Hotel, I think of how much fun it would be to gather some of the NPAS singers and a pianist and perform some of our growing repertoire in the hotel’s lobby bar. If I knew anything about music, I’d organize it myself. When MA reads this, she will roll her eyes and think, “If only he knew how to organize anything!” And she would be right about that.
Ox Lot 9. Covington: 428 E Boston St. 985-400-5663.
Sunday, October 16, 2016.
Overeating At Crabby’s Shack.
At St. Jane’s, our usual choir leader and keyboard lady is on vacation with her fellow musician and husband. The substitute organist is the same as last week’s, and she has us singing mostly songs we’ve never seen before, let alone rehearsed. I must be learning how to sight-read, because I don’t find this score impossibly difficult.
The temp organist tells me at the end that I have a nice voice, and that I should take the classes for other singing gigs in the parish. Classes? I didn’t know they had classes.
Mary Ann goes kayaking in the morning, and she is very hungry by noon. We cross town to Crabby’s Shack in Madisonville. She orders fried artichoke hearts and a fried oyster salad. I have a roast beef poor boy and, as it has been here in past samplings, there is too much gravy. That’s probably because the sliced beef sits in the warm gravy all day. The taste is good, but it’s difficult to eat without knife and fork.
When the temperature drops from 90 to a mere 85 (can this really be October?), I take my familiar walk around the Cool Water Ranch for the first time in about a month. The cruise was the culprit. I’d better get back on that good habit before I start getting fat again.
A cause of distress in my life lately is that I have too much work on my plate. I could spend a whole day organizing the hundreds of photographs I’ve taken for the newsletter. But a day might not do it. I will lose the time one way or another: when I start looking for a shot, it takes much too long to find it.
Crabby’s Seafood Shack. Madisonville: 305 Covington. 985-845-2348.
Fettuccine With Crabmeat And A Soft Shell Crab
This kind of dish was extremely popular in the 1980s at the gourmet bistros around town. It is profligate in its use of crabmeat, which is why we probably don’t see it as often as we once did. What makes this recipe neat is that you serve it, if you like, topped with a small fried soft-shell crab. If you leave out the soft-shell, use a whole pound of crabmeat.
The cool weather the rest of this week is the beginning of the end for this year’s crabmeat and soft-shell crabs. So now is the perfect time for this only-in-New Orleans dish.
- For soft-shell crabs:
- 4 small soft shell crabs
- 1 cup flour
- 1 Tbs. salt
- 1 tsp. Creole seasoning
- Vegetable oil for frying
- 2 beaten eggs mixed with 3 Tbs. milk
- 2 Tbs. butter
- 1/2 cup chopped green onions
- 1/2 cup sliced shiitake mushrooms
- 1/2 lb. lump crabmeat
- 1 clove garlic, chopped
- 1/4 cup dry white wine
- 1 cup whipping cream
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 1/8 tsp. pepper
- Pinch cayenne
- 12 oz. (precooked weight) cooked fettuccine
1. Wash and clean the soft-shell crabs. Blend the salt and pepper into the flour and coat the crabs lightly. Dip the crabs into the egg-and-milk mixture, then dredge through the seasoned flour. Shake off excess flour.
2. Melt butter in skillet and add green onions and mushrooms. Saute until the onions just begin to soften.
3. Add crabmeat, garlic, and wine. Bring the wine to a boil and let most of it evaporate. Agitate but don’t stir the pan, to keep from breaking up the crabmeat.
4. Add the cream, salt, and pepper. Allow to reduce over medium-high heat for one to two minutes, until the sauce is noticeably thicker.
5. Add cooked fettuccine and toss with sauce. Remove from heat.
6. Heat about an inch of vegetable oil in a deep skillet or saucepan to 375 degrees. Drop crabs in oil two at a time and fry until golden brown. Drain excess oil in a fine sieve.
7. Divide the pasta among plates and top with fried soft shell crab.
Whiskey Ginger Fish @ Sukho Thai
“Whiskey,” “ginger,” and “fish” don’t sound like they belong together in one dish. Indeed, nothing else like it can be found elsewhere around town. But they like whiskey in Southeast Asia (where it’s more likely to be Scotch than Bourbon, but never mind). This is a subtle dish, starting with steamed fish fillets (cross your fingers for drum, flounder, or trout). The sauce is light in texture and subtle as Thai sauces go, with the ginger being the sharpest note and the mushrooms the mellowest.
Sukho Thai. Marigny: 1913 Royal. 504-948-9309.
||Uptown: 4519 Magazine St, 504-373-6471. This is among the 500 best dishes in New Orleans area restaurants. Click here for a list of the other 499.
October 21, 2016
Days Until. . .
NOLA opened today in 1992. Two years after opening Emeril’s–still well before his national fame had heated up–Emeril Lagasse struck up a partnership with Hicham Khodr (the owner now of the Camellia Grills) to open a hip, casual restaurant in the French Quarter. NOLA went long with its food, implementing a host of unique ideas. The most famous at first was its cedar plank fish, in which fillets were roasted on the wood-burning oven on lengths of siding bought from Home Depot. Warm shrimp remoulade on pasta and jambalaya pizza were other NOLA originals. Many of Emeril’s best cooks and managers started at NOLA and moved up. It still plays that function today.
This is Apple Day in England, and we see no reason why we shouldn’t adopt the observance in this country too. Apples are being harvested right now throughout the Northern Hemisphere. And, as always, avidly eaten. Apples originated in Central Asia, in the area where Kazakhstan and China meet. They spread widely, with the tremendous assistance of humans, who had to learn a new skill to take advantage of these highly edible fruits. They found that seeds from an apple would not grow into trees with the same kind of apple. Somewhere along the way, somebody figured out how to graft stems from a tree with good apples onto the roots of a seedling. A major advance, that was.
Still, some good new apples come from seeds, which is why we have so many different kinds of apples. Even limiting oneself to the varieties in supermarkets, you could eat a different kind of apple every day for a long time without duplicating.
But, with Thanksgiving in the near future, remember this: cut an apple and stuff it into the cavity of the turkey along with the celery, onions, rosemary, and other flavor helpers. The apple flavor is great with poultry.
Apple, Ohio is a crossroads of several gravel paths through a densely wooded, rolling landscape fifty-two miles south of Columbus. There’s only one house there, in a large clearing. The nearest restaurant is five miles away in Laurelville: the Old Town Diner.
Winesap, n.–A variety of apple with a very dark, almost purple skin and a flavor reputed to be reminiscent of red wine. Cut into a Winesap, and you sometimes see reddish veins running through the flesh. It’s on the tart side, but is considered a good eating apple. It’s not as popular as it once was. Its outstanding quality is that it keeps for a long time, but new storage methods have been found to do that artificially with sweeter apples eclipses that merit. They start appearing in late fall and may well be on sale until spring.
Deft Dining Rule #511
Always order made-in-house apple pie if you see it on a dessert menu. It’s become rare.
The Old Kitchen Sage Sez
I learned this trick directly from Chef Jacques Pepin, in person. To core an apple, insert the paring knife into the stem depression at a forty-five degree angle to the vertical. Then rotate the apple to remove a cone-shaped chunk of the apple. Do the same thing at the bottom. Then cut the apple in half, and perform the same cone-ectomy to the seed cores on each half. The result is an absolutely clean apple in two hemispheres, ready for anything else you plan to do.
Music To Eat Fried Chicken By
This is the birthday of Dizzy Gillespie, one of the great jazz trumpeters of all time, and a man with a unique presentation. The bell of his trumpet was bent up twenty or so degrees. And his cheeks ballooned out distinctively. Wayne Baquet’s two Li’l Dizzy’s restaurants feature his likeness on their menus. (One of Wayne’s nieces or nephews has “L’il Dizzy” as a nickname.)
Tips For Great Servers
Glasses and cups–full or empty–should be held by the bottom half when delivered to the table. Most customers who see your hand anywhere near the rim will immediately register that you were touching the areas where their mouth will be.
Annals Of Processed Food
William A. Mitchell, a food chemist working for General Foods, created some of the most successful products in food marketing history. Tang, for example. A powder that you mixed with water to make a drink that tasted vaguely like orange juice, it actually replaced juice for a lot of people, who considered it (as we say around New Orleans) “modren.” But who ever drinks it now?
Mitchell moved on. He next patented Pop Rocks candy in the 1950s, but had to wait until the 1970s to see it explode–literally. Pop Rocks contain bubbles of pressurized carbon dioxide, and they pop when the candy dissolves in your mouth. After that, his next hit was Cool Whip, the non-dairy whipped cream substitute, sold in a plastic bowl with a tight-fitting lid. Many containers of Cool Whip were no doubt bought for the container. I wonder whether Mitchell made anything that was real or tasted good. Well, you can’t knock his success–seventy patents. Mitchell was born today in 1911.
Food And Drink Namesakes
British actress Vivian Pickles was born today in 1931. . . Canadian hockey pro Carl Brewer hit the Big Ice today in 1938.
Words To Eat By
“All millionaires love a baked apple.”–Ronald Evans, British novelist of the early 1900s.
Words To Drink By
“I heard a sound as of scraping tripe,
And putting apples wondrous ripe,
Into a cider-press’s gripe.”–Robert Browning.
How Menu Prices Are Arrived At.
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Friday, October 14, 2016.
Crowdy Weather. Checking In At Antoine’s.
Mary Ann tells me, with a slightly argumentive tone, that she would not be available to have dinner with me tonight, no matter what. No big deal, since she is planning to take a longer absence starting Tuesday, as she heads out to Los Angeles again to visit our son and his son.
This will leave me at home alone for a week or so. But that is one of the main functions of our marriage at this moment. One of us takes a trip, while the other one takes care of the dogs and cats. That actually works pretty well, at least as far as the animals are concerned.
As far as I’m concerned, the routine allows me to go to restaurants that MA doesn’t like. Although she says she’s happy to not dine out at all, that feeling obtains only in the first half of the day. When her hunger appears, we’re off to the restaurant. And, a few days after that motion has taken us to Chimes or the Acme or Zea or New Orleans Food & Spirits for the umpteenth time, I will get a message from a diary reader wondering why I keep going to the same places when there are so many unreviewed restaurants. I try to explain the dynamic above, but it just rankles. The perfect person to be a restaurant critic is one without any family attachments. I’m lucky in having a wonderful family life, even in its waning years.
So why did I, unencumbered by MA’s preferences, go to Antoine’s tonight? Because if I hadn’t, I would have missed a couple of intriguing pleasures. Walking from the parking lot next to the old Jax brewery to Antoine’s, I found the streets and sidewalks jammed with pedestrians and musicians. The musicians are exceptionally good, particularly a string ensemble that has taken up frequent residence on the corner of Royal and St. Louis streets. There’s no major festival going on. What are all these people doing here?
When I enter Antoine’s swinging front doors, I see what I expected: a half-full main dining room, and a nearly empty back room. But Charles Carter, my waiter, tells me that this is an illusion, and that Antoine’s has 400 guests on the book for tonight. But he has no idea why so many people are on the streets.
My dinner is exceptional. It starts with a generous Sazerac. Soufflee potatoes next, of course. Then a standard order of oysters Foch, which I’ve not sampled in quite awhile. My long-standing opinion that this is the best dish in the house reaffirms itself, wven though some day the kitchen will reformulate the presentation to add more pate–perhaps duck liver pate–on the slices of toast underneath the oysters and their thick brown sauce. Next time, I’m going to specifically request a lot of pâté.
Then a small Antoine’s salad to refresh my palate and other parts of my system. That kills just enough time for the second-string but effective waiter (Charles is too busy to take me personally tonight) to explain to the cook how I want my puppy drum. It’s in the old florentine style, with creamed spinach at the bottom, the fish atop that, and a bit of bearnaise across the top. Whoever assembled this did an exceptional job, getting rid of the old steel gratin dish in which this has long been served and replacing it with a standard plate. There the bearnaise has been glazed–a great touch in both looks and flavor.
I shouldn’t have succumbed to the pleasure of pêche Melba, with its fresh peaches, raspberry sauce, and ice cream, plus the historic connection with Dame Nellie Melba, an opera soprano with whom every civilized man in the world during the late 1800s and early 1900s was in love. (Antoine’s has many references to people from a century ago on its menu.)
As I’m indulging in this dessert, I see a woman walking toward me with a smile on her face. It takes me a few seconds for my brain to move from I Know Her, But Who Is She? to Look At Her! It’s Eveline Crozier, who with her late husband Gerard operated Crozier’s in New Orleans East and Metairie for decades. I haven’t seen her since Gerard’s funerary services some five or six years ago. She and Gerard had moved to Nashville, and I gather that she still does live there. But she has many friends here, and one of them is having a birthday. The table of celebrants is long and very full, so nobody suggests that I join them. Eveline is still her smiling, stylish self, and it’s wonderful to encounter her here tonight.
My dinner at Antoine’s becomes, with that, everything I wanted tonight. I’m a lonely guy who at least has a place to go that makes me happy. As Antoine’s always does.
I walk along the old Choctaw trail through the Royal Orleans Hotel, stopping when I hear the pianist playing something like “Street Of Dream.” I join him sotto voce. He remembers who I am (I don’t think we’ve ever met), and I hang around and listen to him play with a complex, gentle hand.
I still don’t know where all those people lining the streets came from.
Antoine’s. French Quarter: 713 St Louis. 504-581-4422.
Grilled Lemonfish (Cobia)
Lemonfish–also known as cobia or ling–is a large, much-admired Gulf fish that also goes by the names cobia and ling. It is as good a grilling fish as I’ve ever encountered. When my son was a Boy Scout, during a campout we grilled a ten-pound slab of lemonfish over an open fire, coated only with Creole seasoning. It was unforgettable–tender, flavorful, and moist.
- 1 large lemonfish fillet, about 6-8 oz. per person, up to about 10 lbs.
- 2 lemons, quartered
- Creole seafood seasoning
1. Wash the fish fillet and make sure all the bones are out. Rub the fish all over with the cut lemons.
2. Cover the fish with a liberal coating of two parts Creole seasoning to one part salt. Put on as much as will stick to the fish. Let the fish sit with the seasoning in place while you prepare the grill.
3. Heat a charcoal or wood grill (or gas, if you must) until very hot, with the heat source about five inches from the grill surface.
4. Place the fish on the grill and grill for about four minutes. Turn and continue to grill, turning ever four minutes or so. The exterior will get very dark, but it will not burn. The fish is done when you poke a kitchen fork into the center and it comes out warm to the touch of your lips. This will take 20-30 minutes, depending on the size of the fillet.
5. After removing from the grill, let the fish sit on the cutting board for about three minutes before cutting serving-size portions across the fillet. To dress this up into something elegant, you can make a beurre blanc sauce, preferably with more lemon than usual.
Roast Duck With Black Cherries @ Michael’s
Roast duck, served by the half with a crisp skin and a sauce combining duck stock and something sweet, used to be a given in any white-tablecloth restaurant. Grilled duck breasts and confit duck legs have largely taken over, leaving perhaps fewer than a dozen restaurants with the old style. Slidell Chef Michael Fredric takes yet another step back, reviving the classic canard Montmorency, named for France’s greatest cherry-growing district. The sauce is just a little sweet, but the big, soft black cherries are there to pop into your mouth to complete the flavor ensemble.
Michael’s. Slidell: 4820 Pontchartrain Dr. 985-649-8055.
This is among the 500 best dishes in New Orleans area restaurants. Click here for a list of the other 499.
October 20, 2016
Days Until. . .
Today is Last Chance For Rumtopf Day. Rumtopf (also spelled rhumtopf) is a traditional German holiday dessert of fresh fruit marinated in rum. In its most traditional form, it takes all year to make. But if you start today it will still be very good by Christmas, if not with the variety you could have had.
Here’s how. In a large (gallon) glass jar or ceramic crock, load about two inches deep of washed, fresh seasonal fruit. The fruit you use should be a little underripe. Almost anything works, from berries to bananas. Mix two cups of simple sugar syrup with a cup of light rum, and pour it over the fruit until it’s covered. Keep buying and adding layers of fruit, trying for a contrast in colors and shapes. Always top it off with the syrup-rum mixture. Keep doing this until the jar is full. You don’t need to do it all in one day. It will keep without refrigeration, as long as the rum soaks everything. When Christmas rolls around, you scoop out the fruit and serve it over ice cream. Delicious!
There are two Rum Creeks in Alabama. One of them runs northwest eleven miles alongside the old Montgomery Highway and the current Kansas City Southern Railroad main line, meeting Cypress Creek at the outskirts of Tuscaloosa. The outflow of Rum Creek is right behind a Waffle House and a Hooters. Not promising. How about Costas Barbecue, another three blocks away? The other Rum Creek is ninety-two miles south of the first one, seventy-seven miles west of Montgomery. It’s a tributary of the Alabama River at a spot where the Alabama has reservoir characteristics. Although this Rum Creek is only four miles long, it’s wider and has better fishing. The nearest restaurant is eleven miles south in Camden: the Southern Seafood and Steak House.
rum baba, n.–Also called “baba au rhum,” this is an yeast-risen sweet bread soaked in (and sometimes nearly floating in) a mixture of rum and syrup and served as a dessert. The bread is made much as a brioche is, but with more eggs and sugar. The word “baba” is of Slavic origin, and it’s through that connection that it made its way to the American cities where it is found. Which is not as many is it used to be. Here in New Orleans, rum babas were popular desserts in many restaurants, especially the many local establishments owned by either Italians or Croatians. Italy and Croatia or neighbors, and no doubt they brought the idea with them when they emigrated to Louisiana.
The Old Kitchen Sage Sez
The wide rubber bands around bunches of broccoli should be saved, until common sense tells you to stop. Wrap one around the lid of a hard-to-open jar. It will give your hand more traction.
Music To Peel Fruit By
Today in 1955, The Banana Boat Song was recorded by Harry Belafonte. It’s better known by its most famous words: Day-O! Day-ay-ay-o. Daylight come and me wan’ go home! A beautiful bunch of ripe bananas. . . etc.
Food Through History
Today in 1940, with the Nazis running rampant around Europe, the Netherlands began rationing cheese. That was for the Dutch something like crawfish being rationed to the Cajuns.
Sports Figures In Food
This is the birthday, in 1931, of Yankee baseball great Mickey Mantle. He was a partner in a sports bar and restaurant named for him on Central Park in New York City. There’s also a Mickey Mantle Steakhouse in Oklahoma, where he was born.
Robert Trout, one of the earliest broadcast journalists, went to work for CBS today in 1932. . . Middleweight Sugar Ray Robinson had his last boxing victory–his one hundred seventy-fourth!–today in 1965. . . Jelly Roll Morton, one of the seminal figures in early jazz piano, was born today in 1890, here in New Orleans. His real name was Ferdinand LeMothe. . . . Augustus Octavius Bacon was born today in 1839. Apparently his parents wanted him to become Emperor, but he only made it from Georgia to the US Senate. . . Olive Thomas, a beautiful young actress and Ziegfield girl, was born today in 1894. . . Stephen Raab is a German comedian and television personality. born today in 1966. (“Raab” is one of the names of the vegetable also known as broccoli di rape.)
Words To Eat By
“Give me books, French wine, fruit, fine weather and a little music out of doors, played by somebody I do not know.”–John Keats.
Words To Drink By
“And Mocha’s berry, from Arabia pure,
In small fine china cups, came in at last.
Gold cups of filigree, made to secure
The hand from burning, underneath them place.
Cloves, cinnamon and saffron, too, were boiled
Up with the coffee, which, I think, they spoiled.”–Lord Byron
Killing Two Birds With One Thermostat.
The most important job for any restaurant manager: keeping the temperature at the perfect level for every single customer in the place, even though no two of them agree as to what that temperature should be.
Click here for the cartoon.
Thursday, October 13, 2016.
Staying Dry At Vessel.
More and more often, I find myself moving to the March Of Time, but find it difficult to keep up the pace. Most disturbing are my discoveries that there are entire categories of restaurants that engender no desires or even interests within me. This is one of the reasons I like having Mary Ann along on my dining adventures. She is much more attuned to trends and styles in everything, even though she’s only five years my junior.
So I know we have a problem when we go to a restaurant that even she doesn’t quite understand. In the case of the new Vessel in Mid-City, her puzzle falls back to about the position of mine, mainly because Vessel is about as much a bar as it is a restaurant, and she’s not a drinker. This is nothing new, as quite a few substantial bar-rests have been open for some time, and continue to open.
I probably wouldn’t have been in a hurry to try Vessel if it didn’t incorporate a sacred icon. Here is where Christian’s operated for over three decades, in a century-old, steepled church a block off Canal Street. Even if the building’s heritage were not so obvious, people my age would remember it for the memorable lunches and dinners we had there, to the tune of unique dishes like the smoked soft-shell crab, the oyster-stuffed filet mignons, or the sweetbreads or veal with the demi-glace cream sauce. I can’t pass in front of the place and not recall those delicious times.
Nothing about Vessel recalls any of that, nor should it. This is a restaurant for Millennials and Generation Xers. That demographic has renounced most of its interest in anything like formal dining. There is no obvious dress code, so tattered jeans and exposed and/or tattooed skin are common. This represents the comfort levels of people of my son and daughter’s generation.
Even though this isn’t my style, the restaurant does its best to welcome my type. The dining room staff is smiling and and eager to help. And I need some help. The menu is hard for me to comprehend. It doesn’t include the building blocks with which I construct a dinner. In the two visits MA and I made to Vessel, we have about exhausted all the dishes that interest us.
Tonight, we have a pile of the very good, fresh-cut fries to go with my glass of Sardinian white wine. The cocktail list looks good, but I’m not up for any serious alcohol. (I’m working off the after-effects of the two-week cruise.) MA gets corn on the cob with undetectable truffle butter. And we get to work on the rest of the dinner.
The way the menu is divided tells us something. First are the Snacks, followed By Small Plates, Flatbreads, Plates, Vegetables, and Desserts. We found that except for a few pasta dishes in Small Plates, and the main Plates, one doesn’t have the sensation of, you know, like, eating. Things suddenly get more complicated among the four Plates, in which we find a whole fish, a half chicken, a big pork porterhouse, and a flier at bouillabaisse. (Which is the only notable dish Vessel shares with the memory of Christian’s, although the two can’t really be compared.)
Then, trying to have something like an entree, we get two studies in lavach. That’s a thin flatbread that stands at the corner of Pizza and Cracker. One is topped with a thick stew of lamb with tomatoes and peppers. The other is speck (smoked prosciutto) with shrimp and creamed corn. Both of these are quite good–the best food we’ve had here. But they are the equivalents of a medium slice of thin-crust pizza in terms of substance. But this is perfect for MA, who is trying hard to not eat while at the same time hanging out with me in restaurants.
I consider having something else. While going through the menu for the fifth or sixth time, I find that there’s a red snapper crudo among the small plates. But wait! Didn’t I have this at Josephine Estelle just two days ago? How could something so offbeat as snapper crudo possibly appear in two New Orleans menus in one week? Or is this a piscine version of my theory that results in there being only 500 people living in all of New Orleans?
I have calas for dessert. These fried rice cakes are a history lesson in New Orleans food, having been a popular item sold on the streets in the first half of the 1900s. It always warms my heart to find them anywhere. I get the order of five of them, which is four more than I thought I was getting.
The conversation about how Vessel might fit into our lives is Topic A during the rest of our meal. (Mary Ann would love to talk politics, but that’s a taboo topic when the two of us are together.)
Vessel. Mid-City: 3835 Iberville St. 504-603-2775.
Trey Yuen’s Steak Kew
This is a classic Cantonese beef dish, and like most such it involves the use of very rapid cooking in a hot wok–the curved skillet used by Chinese cooks for rapid cooking. You and I don’t have the kind of gas pressure they have in places like Trey Yuen (from which the recipe comes), so a flat-bottom skillet with curved sides is the thing to use. You wouldn’t believe the smoke they kick up with this at the restaurant. Like most Chinese recipes, this one is cooked very quickly, one order at a time. The quantities are per person.
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 1 12-ounce ribeye steak, with all exterior fat trimmed away
- 2 Tbs. soy sauce
- 1/4 tsp. finely minced garlic
- 1/4 tsp. finely minced ginger
- 12 snow pea pods
- 1/2 carrot, cut into coins
- 1 cup bok choy, cut into bite-size pieces
- 1 cup fresh mushrooms, sliced
- 1/2 cup sliced water chestnuts
- 2 Tbs. dry sherry
- 2 Tbs. oyster sauce
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/2 tsp. black pepper
- 1/4 tsp. cornstarch
1. Pour the vegetable oil into the wok or pan and heat as hot as possible. While oil is heating, chop steak into bite-size pieces. When oil is hot, carefully put beef into wok and stir-fry until exterior is seared–which should take less than 30 seconds. Remove the beef and keep warm.
2. Carefully spoon out hot oil and either reserve for further preparations or throw it away.
3. Put half the soy sauce, the garlic, and ginger into the wok and add all the vegetables. Sprinkle with sherry and stir quickly. Cover to allow vegetables to steam for one minute.
4. Remove cover, stir vegetables, and return beef to wok.
5. In a separate bowl, blend remaining soy sauce, oyster sauce, salt, pepper, and cornstarch and pour over contents of wok. Stir fry for 15 seconds over high heat. Serve immediately.
Collards, Black-Eye Peas, and Bourbon Soup @ Angeline
I’m always a little leery when I encounter a country-style dish, full of rustic ingredients, on the menu of an ambitious, expensive restaurant. The adaptations the recipe must undergo often removes the soul from the dish, an there it is, with the worst features of both high- and low-end cooking. And then I’m very pleased when a restaurant manages to pull off the concept. Alex Harrell, the chef-owner of Angeline, has done that. Here’s a very homely bowl of collard greens, black-eye peas, pork stock and bacon. And it’s delicious. The shot of bourbon whiskey at the end gives it that special something, both in terms of flavor and uniqueness. (We must have something to think about, not merely to eat.) It’s the house soup at Angeline, the successor to the space where Stella! used to be.
Angeline. French Quarter: 1032 Chartres St.. 504-308-3106.
This is among the 500 best dishes in New Orleans area restaurants. Click here for a list of the other 499.
October 19, 2016
Days Until. . .
Great Inventions In Dining
Today in 1879, Thomas Edison worked out the details of the electric light bulb and built the first one. The effect of that invention on human behavior is almost incalculable. What were restaurants like before electric lighting? Although many most of their business by day (Tujague’s, for example), surely Antoine’s and other venerable dining rooms were open at night. Gas lighting was common. Gasoliers still exist in some French Quarter buildings. There’s one in the Gold Room upstairs at Brennan’s. I asked once to have the electric lights turned off so we could see what it was like to eat by gaslight alone. I must say it made the food and the ladies look better.
It’s Seafood Gumbo Day. Seafood gumbo is much more distinctly a New Orleans dish than chicken gumbo. Which is not to say it’s better. But while you can get chicken gumbo from Campbell’s, canned seafood gumbo is a rarity. So is edible seafood gumbo in places outside Southeast Louisiana.
The number of variations on seafood gumbo in New Orleans is equal to the number of cooks preparing it. Each version is regarded by the cook and his or her cadre of supplicant eaters as the One True Seafood Gumbo. The diversity is a good thing. It means the dish is still a living thing.
That said, a few guidelines that ought to be followed. Okra, for example, seems essential. It gave gumbo its name, and in combination with the local seafood it creates the classic gumbo flavor. The second essential is a shrimp or crab stock. Many recipes don’t include that, but those that do are clearly better. Stocks are easy to make, take less than an hour, and use cheap ingredients (shrimp or crab shells).
Then there’s the roux. Although the vogue in recent years favors rouxless gumbo, it makes the gumbo better. Medium-dark in color, it should be a smaller pecentage of a seafood gumbo than for a chicken gumbo.
The most controversial matter in the making of seafood gumbo is whether it should contain any tomato. I think it should–but not very much. It not only adds another flavor dimension, but solidifies the gumbo’s Creole bona fides.
The final touch in a great gumbo is to have the seafood added at the last minute. The shrimp, crabmeat, or crab claws should be just barely cooked in advance, then added to the gumbo only enough ahead of serving to allow them to heat through. That avoids hard little shrimp and soft crabmeat. Oysters should go in raw, right before serving, with a couple minutes of simmering before serving.
Seafood gumbo is, more than any other Creole dish, the one that is least often successfully exported. To eat a good one, you have to be somewhere around here.
Bacon Hill is a collection of very modest houses at the northernmost extreme of Chesapeake Bay, in the northeast corner of Maryland. It’s wedged between the Old Philadelphia Road (from Baltimore) and the former Pennsylvania Railroad (now the main line of Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor). The area is swampy and not very inviting, with landfills, junkyards, and a power plant. The physical Bacon Hill rises to 210 feet just west of town, and has the greatest concentration of houses in the area. It’s across the highway from the nearest place to eat in these precincts: the Seven East Deli.
Food At War
Today in 1917, volunteers working for the Salvation Army began frying doughnuts for American troops fighting in France during World War I. This was not the first appearance of the doughnut–it has been around since 1847. Nor is it the origin of the name “doughboy,” a name for American soldiers in World War I. In fact, I’m not sure why I brought this up.
Wine In War
Today in 1453, the British were pushed out of Bordeaux, France, bringing the Hundred Years’ War to an end. However, the presence of Englishmen in that prime wine district had a lasting effect. To this day, many Bordeaux wine chateaux are owned by families with roots in England. And the English have always been the greatest consumers of the best Bordeaux wine, even creating an English word for it: claret.
Today in 1688, English physician William Cheselden was born. He discovered that the secretions of the alimentary canal are what digests food. Before his noting this, it was believed that food was digested by muscular action in your innards. You can prove he was right by holding a bite of cracker in your mouth for a few minutes. You will detect after awhile that it starts to turn a little sweet. This is caused by the digestive action of saliva.
hazelnut, n.–The nut of a tree in the Corylus genus. It resembles a small, light-colored chestnut. It’s also known as a filbert. Hazelnuts are not much eaten on their own, but are ground into a near-powder and blended with other ingredients. They are only rarely the main component in the many confections made from them. It best-know starring role is in the spread Nutella, very popular in Europe. There’s a bit of cocoa in Nutella, as there often is where hazelnut turns up. One of the most interesting is a Swiss candy called Ice Cubes. These appear to be ordinary squares of chocolate, but the presence of hazelnut powder in the mix brings the melting point down to approximately the temperature of the human mouth. As they melt, they absorb heat, giving a cooling effect. Hazelnuts are quite healthful to eat.
Food Writer Hall Of Fame
Today in 2000, Julia Child was awarded the French Legion of Honor. She won that for her long championing of French cooking, beginning with her first book and television show, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. That work woke Americans up to the possibility that they could cook in the French style, and many people took it up.
Pro footballer Reggie Rusk kicked his life off today in 1972. (A rusk is the hard, light bread you find under eggs Benedict. . . Speaking of: Ruud Bread, pro soccer player, was born today in 1962. . . Jazz trumpeter Don Cherry died today in 1995.
Words To Cook By
“Stock to a cook is voice to a singer.”–Unknown.
Words To Write Cookbooks By
“Having your book turned into a movie is like seeing your oxen turned into bouillon cubes.”–John LeCarre, novelist, born today in 1931.
Words To Drink By
“For each glass, liberally large, the basic ingredients begin with ice cubes in a shaker and three or four drops of Angostura bitters on the ice cubes. Add several twisted lemon peels to the shaker, then a bottle-top of dry vermouth, a bottle-top of Scotch, and multiply the resultant liquid content by five with gin, preferably Bombay Sapphire. Add more gin if you think it is too bland. I have been told, but have no personal proof that it is true, that three of these taken in the course of an evening make it possible to fly from New York to Paris without an airplane.”–Isaac Stern, classical violinist.
What Do We Know About The House Wine?
Click here for the cartoon.
Tuesday, October 11, 2016.
Josephine Estelle Again.
Mary Ann allows me to take her to dinner almost every night this week, and to interesting restaurants at that. Tonight we make our second stop at Josephine Estelle, the handsome, antique parlor in the Ace Hotel on Carondelet at Lafayette. This will give me all the material I need for a full review.
We notice both on this visit and the last one that the front desk of Josephine Estelle seems to allocate its tables in an organized way. MA says that the tables nearest to the front for seem to go only to young, good-looking customers. But her theory is debunked when, as the place filled up, the demographics remained random.
On the other hand, I was taken aback when I arrived and asked to be seated while I waited for MA. But the maitre d’ told me I had to wait in the bar, which was close to being full. So I just stood around impatiently until he relented and gave me a table.
MA was touring the neighborhood, looking for a space with the smallest number of underdressed people milling about. Don’t ask me. I’ve failed to figure out her parking imperatives for all our quarter-century together.
I’ve already reported on the food we had tonight at Josephine Estelle in the diary entry of a week ago. (Time is relative in the Dining Diary. Strange coincidence: I just started in on a biography of Albert Einstein by New Orleans-born writer Walter Isaacson.)
To go back in time (and the first report on Josephine Estelle), click here.
But above is a photo of the snapper crudo refererenced but without depiction in last week’s review. I still can’t get the photos out of the complex new smart phone that went with me on the cruise, but I’ve gone back to shooting with a standard camera.
Wednesday, October 12, 2016.
The most intense action in the New Orleans restaurant theater seems to have shifted from Magazine Street (where things continue to jump) to the short corridor along Decatur and Chartres Streets, from Dumaine to Ursulines. Here we find three revivals of storied names and locations, all of which have somehow kept their auras alive, even as they remained closed for extended periods.
So here’s Café Sbisa, in its fifth or sixth incarnation, depending on when you started or stopped counting. A block away is the new Trinity, in what was for a long time Maximo’s. Finally, the courtyard restaurant that became famous for Scott Boswell’s
lost, five-fleur masterwork Stella! is now Angeline.
Mary Ann had the idea of having dinner at Angeline tonight. I’m glad she thought of it, because it’s been open two years and is certainly in line for a review.
I have heard reports that dining at Angeline requires planning. The lady serving us said that our being there on a night that had brought in only four of five tables’ worth of customers was a major aberration. Not that the attendance bothers me. I actually prefer restaurants with a lot of available space. Keeps the noise down, allows the chef and servers to handle special requests, which MA is never at a loss for.
The restaurant comes across as less sophisticated than it actually is. The music, for example, is a mix of country, folk, and a touch of jazz. Whoever put this playlist together knows about this music. The tables are made of thick, handsome wood–but not clothed. All this is easy to explain given the resume of chef-owner Alex Harrell who, before moving here in early 2015, was the boss at Sylvain. That restaurant is about as hip as it gets, and much of that cachet rubs off here, too.
I get a variant on the Aviator cocktail, which means that of the fries are good. They are. Now comes two soups. One is sort of warm vichyssoise, but MA is much more interested in the soup headed my way, made with collards, black-eye peas, pork broth and bacon. All of these are among MA’s favorite things, and soon we swap soup bowls.
We have some fried pork cheeks, which I like better than she does. I find the grilled oysters even better, and for the same reason MA dislikes them: the garlic butter is tinged with Herbsaint. That anise-licorice-absinthe flavor is not for her or, indeed, anyone in our house except me.
This has been a great meal so far. At least from my perspective. The lady serving us has struck up a sassy conversation, and she and I entertain one another the rest of the evening.
And now comes a special of snapper crudo. It’s good and zingier than the. . . hey, wait a minute. Didn’t I have this at Josephine Estelle just two days ago? How could something so offbeat as snapper crudo possibly appear in two New Orleans restaurants in one week? Or is this a piscine version of my theory that results in there being only 500 people living in all of New Orleans?
We are running out of appetite, but not before I go after the fish of the day. What was it again? Something simple and toasty-buttery.
Mary Ann is not a dessert eater, but certain items grab her. She cannot resist chocolate pots de creme. Especially not from a chef who spent time at Bayona. As for me, I like the sound of Angeline’s cinnamon apple crumble with pecans. And the taste, too.
Angeline. French Quarter: 1032 Chartres St. 504-308-3106.
Butternut Squash And Shrimp Soup @ Brigtsen’s
Soup is an indispensable course at Brigtsen’s. Chef Frank Brigtsen has a wide range of great soups, most of them showing up as specials. This one goes back to the beginnings of his restaurant, and combines flavors brilliantly. Get it if you can pass up the turtle soup.
Brigtsen’s. Riverbend: 723 Dante. 504-861-7610.
Butternut Squash And Shrimp Bisque
This great wintertime soup has been a specialty at Brigtsen’s since the restaurant opened. It’s rich and convincingly peppery. The recipe calls for a little shrimp stock, which you can make from a cup or two of shrimp shells and heads with a little onion and celery, simmered for a half hour and strained. You could use any other seafood stock or just water if you don’t have the makings of stock handy. I’ve scaled the recipe back a little to use just one two-pound (or more) squash. This soup is also great made with fresh pumpkin in lieu of squash.
- 3 Tbs. butter
- 1 large yellow onion, chopped
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 large butternut squash, peeled, seeds removed, cut into 1/2 inch dice
- 2 cups peeled fresh shrimp
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1/4 heaping tsp. cayenne
- 1/8 tsp. white pepper
- 1/2 cup shrimp stock (desirable but optional)
- 5 cups heavy whipping cream
1. Heat the butter in a thick-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onions and bay leaf and cook, stirring constantly, until the onions become soft and clear.
2. Reduce heat to medium and add the butternut squash. Cook this mixture, stirring occasionally, until the squash begins to soften.
3. Lower the heat to low and add the shrimp, salt, cayenne, and white pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the shrimp turn pink.
4. Add the shrimp stock and cook, stirring occasionally, for 6-8 minutes. If the mixture begins to stick to the pan, scrape it with a spoon and continue cooking. This will intensify the flavor of the bisque.
5. Remove bay leaf and discard. Transfer the squash/shrimp mixture to a food processor and puree with about 1/4 cup of the cream.
6. Return the puree to a saucepan and add the cream. Whisk until thoroughly blended. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer for a few minutes. Adjust seasonings and serve in pre-warmed bowls.
Serves six bowls.
October 18, 2016
Days Until. . .
The United States took over the territory of Alaska on this day in 1867, having bought it from Russia for $7.2 million. In Alaska, this day is celebrated as Alaska Day. The best salmon in the world comes from Alaska, as does superlative halibut.
Logically enough, this is National Baked Alaska Day. It was the fancy dessert phenom in the last half of the 1800s. Every major restaurant in America served it. The idea, if not the name, was a bit older. French chefs discovered that if you put ice cream inside a thick layer of meringue, the millions of egg-white bubbles insulate the ice cream, so that you can actually brown the thing in a hot oven without melting the ice cream. (It helps that meringue browns very quickly.)
Baked Alaska almost disappeared when restaurants shucked off classicism for innovation in the 1980s. It’s mostly old restaurants that still have it. It’s the signature dessert (literally, because each one is signed) at Antoine’s, where it’s not only the best dessert but also the definitive version of baked Alaska. Antoine’s omits the widespread practice of flaming baked Alaska at the table. That is not great loss. On the other hand, they’ve begun serving chocolate sauce with it, which to me distorts the flavors.
I make a bread pudding version of baked Alaska that comes out pretty and delicious. Lately, I’ve wondered whether the baked Alaska idea could be applied to some other foods. The best I came up with was a baked Alaska-style tuna sushi using unsweetened egg whites with some wasabi and soy sauce stirred in. Some day I must try that.
Restaurateurs In Sports
Today is the birthday, in 1939, of Mike Ditka, hero as both player and coach for the Chicago Bears. He is less renowned in New Orleans, where he operated a very good restaurant on St. Charles Avenue shortly before being fired as coach of the Saints. After Ditka left town, the restaurant went into decline and closed. It was Mike’s on the Avenue (different Mike) before Ditka came along. It reverted back to Mike’s On The Avenue later, before becoming Desi Vega’s Steak House three years ago. Meanwhile, Mike Ditka’s restaurant is still going strong in Chicago.
Food In Show Biz
The musical Raisin opened what would be a long run off Broadway today in 1973. It was a musical version of Lorraine Hansbury’s 1959 play, A Raisin In The Sun, one of the great African-American works of theatre.
Food In History
Today in 1776 Betsy Flanagan served a chicken dinner to an assortment of Revolutionary American troops under Washington and French soldiers with Lafayette. She stole the chickens from a neighbor whose sympathies were not with the Revolution. Flanagan owned a tavern (which served as a restaurant in those days), and she also dispensed drinks to the soldiers. She decorated them with the tail feathers of the chickens and called the drinks Cock Tails. The story is of dubious veracity, but it’s still worth remembering on this date.
Today is the feast day of St. Luke, apostle and evangelist. He is the patron saint of butchers and brewers.
Food In Science
Remember cyclamates? They were powerful artificial sweeteners that for a time replaced saccharin in soft drinks. It was so sweet that a teaspoon of it had the sweetness of three dump trucks of sugar. (Or something like that.) Today in 1969 cyclamates were banned for human use, because it was found to be a likely carcinogen.
Mull is the remnant of a formerly larger town in the Ozark Mountains in north central Arkansas. The church is still there, along with just a few houses. Almost entirely wooded, the area is pretty during the late fall, with brilliant fall colors filling the many steep hollows. The springs and well provide excellent drinking water. It’s two miles north to the closest restaurant, the Buffalo Point in Yellville. Which is a quieter place than it sounds.
Gourmets Through History
Jean-Jacques-Régis de Cambacérès was born today in 1753. He was a statesman who is remembered as having assembled the Napoleonic Code, which is to French law almost what the Constitution is to the Unites States. This is of interest to us in Louisiana, where our French heritage left behind a lot of Napoleonic Code in our laws–notably those having to do with succession of heirs. Cambacérès was also a gourmet of the highest order, and when he held dinners they were the equals of any. He oversaw the kitchen personally, and was so compulsive about perfection that, if you showed up late for his feasts, you were denied entry to the table, no matter who you were.
galaktoboureko, Greek, n.–A dessert made by wrapping a very light, thick custard in a few layers of the paper-thin phyllo pastry, and baking it in the oven. The custard is sometimes flavored with the likes of orange flower water, but it’s more common for the flavors of the eggs and milk to stand out. The name means “milk pastry.” (A connection with astronomy: the Greek work galaktos gave rise to galaxy, specifically the Milky Way.) This is a lot better than a Milky Way, though. In fact, to my palate it’s the best of all Greek desserts. Middle Eastern restaurants have a similar (but not identical) dessert called ashta.
Deft Dining Rule #197
The correct response to being offered a slice of doberge cake is to squeal with delight, and then surreptitiously to refrain from eating any.
Food In Literature
A.J. Liebling, one of the great journalists of the twentieth century, was born today in 1904. He wrote voluminously for The New Yorker, on as broad an array of subjects as you could imagine. But a favorite topic was eating and drinking, which Liebling did in full measure. He very much liked Louisiana; one of his major pieces was about Louisiana Governor Earl Long. His book Between Meals: An Appetite for Paris is one every serious eater should read.
Chuck Berry, the early rock ‘n’ roll artist who had the greatest influence on the rock of the 1960s, notably the Beatles, was born today in 1926. . . Today in 1870, Benjamin Chew Tilghman patented the process of sand blasting. . . Freida Pinto, an Indian-born actress, came out of the pod today in 1984. . . . Today in 1697, the Venetian landscape artist Canaletto was born. His name sounds like a kind of Italian ice cream, but isn’t.
Words To Eat By
“The primary requisite for writing well about food is a good appetite.”–A. J. Liebling, American journalist, born today in 1904. Here’s another quotation of his:
“In the light of what Proust wrote with so mild a stimulus, it is the world’s loss that he did not have a heartier appetite. On a dozen Gardiner’s Island oysters, a bowl of clam chowder, a peck of steamers, some bay scallops, three sauteed soft-shelled crabs, a few ears of fresh picked corn, a thin swordfish steak of generous area, a pair of lobsters, and a Long Island Duck, he might have written a masterpiece.”
Words To Drink By
“Alcohol is a misunderstood vitamin.”–P.G. Wodehouse.
The Whole Enchilada
Click here for the cartoon.
Thursday, October 6, 2016
Dress Rehearsal. Mangrove Snapper Amandine @ Clark’s And Mark’s. I Mean. . .
The first time I ever went to a real live play in a real theater was during my freshman year at Jesuit. The Philelectic Society was the name of the organization for would-be actors. It had a secondary unit–sort of like a junior varsity of thespians–referred to as “the Junior Phils.” That troupe put on a comedy that I recall as being hilarious, with most of the laughs coming from the gag line, “Maybe it was something that he ate.” The name of the play was “Dress Reversal.” (I am astonished that I remember all this, from 1964.)
I think about that play every time I’m in a dress rehearsal, as I am tonight. NPAS has a steadfast law about dress rehearsal: you don’t have to wear the costume du jour, as the name seems to imply. But if you don’t show up, even if your excuse is a good one, you’re out of the show.
I broadcast the radio from home so I can be there for dress reversal tonight. That also opens up time for lunch. The frequency with which MA and I take the midday meal at Forks and Corks must make it our favorite lunch place. The well-hidden bistro has a cooking style somewhere between that of a good casual café and an ambitious Creole-French bistro. A comparison with Galatoire’s is not completely uncalled for.
I begin with a salad of spinach, pecans, goat cheese, and tomatoes. My entree is a generous filet of mangrove snapper. That’s a fish that live as all along the Eastern American coast, from New England through the Caribbean and Gulf, down to South America. It is not as good as red snapper, but it is very good to eat anyway. In texture and flavor it reminds me of small speckled trout. Since speckled trout is almost impossible for restaurants to find right now this is a good resource.
The chef sends the mangrove to me with the full, buttery amandine treatment. MA has more or less the same salad that I had, with fried oysters added. Spinach and oysters are being called by her Diet Bible Of The Moment: Grain Brain. I have no comment about its proscriptions at this time.
Forks & Corks. Covington: 141 TerraBella Blvd. 985-273-3663.
Friday, October 7, 2016.
At the rehearsal we run through most of our program of country music. Paula, Mike and I run our trio treatment of “Tumbling Tumbleweeds.” For once, I get the final note right. Spouses hanging around the theater tell me things like, “I didn’t know you sing so well!” Well, I don’t always. I hope I hear that kind of comment when we actually do the show tomorrow.
Today is my little sister Lynn’s birthday. She shared a suite with me on the Eat Club cruise to New England and Canada that just ended. Aside from her nagging me that I need to get a hearing aid, she was a great companion who helped me get through the stresses of leading the two-week event, and all the goofy complications. Thanks, Lu-lu!
Saturday, October 8, 2016.
A Three-Hour Cruise Remediation.
The day began beautifully, and then I had to go and ruin it all by leveling a minor criticism at my wife Mary Ann for something insignificant concerning the hug she gave me this morning. When will I ever learn to keep my mouth shut most of the time?
That particular issue came out while we had breakfast. During which I created a new egg dish for Mattina Bella. Already on their menu are poached eggs atop fried eggplant rectangles with grilled ham in between. I ask them to leave the ham off and add a link of Italian sausage sliced end to end in the ham’s place. Then spoon some marinara sauce around the eggs and eggplant. This may sound like a big load for friend Benedict to carry, but (if I say so myself) it is seriously delicious. It helps that Vincent Riccobono buys excellent Italian sausage and makes fine marinara and hollandaise. I will ask them to add it to the menu and name it after me. Am I a ham? Yes. Which is probably why I’m not as wealthy as MA wishes I am.
It’s a busy weekend. I run my Saturday errands–which have not been addressed for three weeks, what with the cruise and everything. I buy some stuff that will allegedly help me get the front left wheel off the lawn tractor. The weeds are getting high. I should junk the 18-year-old unit and buy a new one. But I can’t do either right now, because I have a three-hour radio show beginning at noon. LSU’s football game has been canceled because of the category-four hurricane in Florida and to the north. Something had to fill that gap. And on Saturdays I am Mister Fill-In.
One of the topics that came up involved canned codfish, the kind that for many years was made into those vile codfish cake that a small, nostalgic contingent of New Orleans people cherish, especially during Lent. I say make the same recipe with crabmeat, and everyone would be happy.
Mattina Bella. Covington: 421 E Gibson. 985-892-0708.
Sunday, October 9, 2016.
The Last Show Of The New Songs.
I have an incredibly busy day, but the work flies out of my hands rapidly. The jobs range from finishing my tax return (the extension period ends this weekend), singing at St Jane’s while an organist I didn’t know offered the few 10 o’clock regulars through sings we have never seen before, the final performance of the first NPAS concert of the new season, and a party at our assistant conductor Amy Prats’s house.
The NPAS performances went very well, both for the chorus as a whole and for the trio I gathered to sing “Tumbling Tumbleweeds.” But what we will remember about this program (Country and Western music) is that during the two performances, at different times and on different days, three people passed out and fell to the floor. None of them were hurt, but they all had the same issue: dehydration. I had a bout with that a few years ago, and now never go long without taking a swig of water from the bottle in my pocket.
And, as if this weren’t enough, one of the sopranos got slammed in a pile-up on I-12, totaling her car. And yet another had to take her son to the emergency room. There was one point in which the NPAS performance site had three 911 ambulances outside at the same time. Pure and unfortunate coincidences, but strangely chilling.
Soft-Shell Crawfish Carmine
Carmine’s was a seafood and Italian restaurant with some unusual specialties. Its most famous was an artichoke stuffed with fried seafood. Another was soft-shell crawfish, which began to appear in the late 1980s. They went out of vogue, mainly because they were hard to find. But Carmine’s kept serving them until it closed in 2012. Soft-shell crawfish have to be raised very intensively, so their price is a bit much. Worth trying as a curiosity, though.
- 1/2 stick butter
- 1/3 cup chopped or julienned tasso
- 1 green onion, tender green parts only, thinly sliced
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1 Tbs. Creole seasoning
- 16 soft-shell crawfish
- 2 cups flour
- 3 Tbs. Creole seasoning
- 1 1/2 cup milk
- 2 eggs, beaten
- Vegetable oil for frying
1. Make the sauce first. Heat the butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat until it bubbles. Add the green onions and tasso and cook for a minute. Add the heavy cream and Creole seasoning. Reduce by one-third.
2. While that process is going on, rinse and shake dry the crawfish. Snip the pointy rostrums off the fronts of their heads. Season the flour with Creole seasoning, then dust the crawfish in the seasoned flour.
3. Combine the milk and eggs. Dip floured crawfish into the mixture and shake off the excess. Dredge them in the seasoned flour.
4. Heat the oil in a skillet to 350 degrees. Fry the crawfish until golden brown. Remove and keep warm.
5. Spoon the sauce on warm plates and line up four of the crawfish on each.
Serves four appetizers.
Wedge Salad @ Charlie’s Steak House
For a while, it looked as though the wedge iceberg salad–also known as the head lettuce salad–was about to disappear. It was kept alive single-handedly for about thirty years by Charlie’s Steak House uptown. Suddenly, all the other steakhouses in town stared serving it again. Then it spread to every kind of restaurant. Although there’s nothing to stop you from having a wedge with, say, thousand-island dressing, blue cheese has always been the standard.
At Charlie’s, it was actual Roquefort until about ten years ago. (Longtime waitress and Charlie’s sister Dottye Bennett told me that people started to object to the power of true Roquefort.) In the revival years of the salad, bacon has become an expected addition. At Charlie’s, the wedge is draped with thin-sliced raw onions.
Know this: it’s a very large salad, enough for two.)
Charlie’s Steak House. Uptown: 4510 Dryades. 504-895-9705.
October 17, 2016
Days Until. . .
Someone has proclaimed this National Pasta Day. The National Pasta Association makes no note of this, but they have a pretty good web site, describing most of the common shapes of pasta, telling you (with a cartoon logo) that you should eat pasta three times a week, and explaining why American pasta is the best there is (a falsehood). One thing we know for sure about pasta is that almost everybody likes it, and that it or some variation is now eaten almost everywhere in the world.
Many stories purport to explain the origins of pasta. The story that Marco Polo brought it from China to Italy seems to be untrue (there are references to maccheroni before his time). But it does seem to have first been eaten in the Far East. It’s such a simple food that it seems likely that anyone who turned grain into flour figured it out. Pasta is flour and water blended together to make a thick paste (the Italian word for which is “pasta”) which is then dried. In that form it can be stored for long periods of time without deterioration. Which is the explanation behind many dishes we eat. In this case, the preservation method created something inherently good to eat, and its popularity spread.
Many books have been written about pasta. We will limit ourselves here to a few favorite facts and tips:
Use thin pasta for thin sauces, thick pasta for thick sauces, shaped pasta for chunky sauces.
Cook pasta in an oversized pot with enough water that when it’s at a rolling boil, the pasta also rolls around.
The best way to serve most pasta is to drain it, put it into the pan with the sauce, toss it around, then put it on the plate. Our American style of dumping the sauce over a mound of pasta on a plate is backwards, and prevents the sauce from properly coating the pasta.
Fresh pasta is best when you’re making a dish requiring sheets of pasta: lasagna, ravioli, cannelloni, and that sort of thing. Otherwise, use good quality dried pasta. It has a better texture.
Beans is a town that really came out of its shell when a dam on the Holston River backed up water into a reservoir called Cherokee Lake. Beans is right on the western edge of the reservoir, and what was formerly a poor farming town in the hills of extreme eastern Tennessee is now a place of docks and boathouses and recreation. It’s on US 11W, highway that runs from New Orleans to Canada. Beans even has a restaurant: the Valley Bar and Grill/ I hope they have red beans.
stracciatella (soup), [strah-chya-TELL-ah], Italian, n.–A soup made with chicken broth, spinach, Parmigiana cheese, and egg whites. The name means “torn up,” an apt description of the most distinctive aspect of this Roman soup. When the egg whites are stirred into the hot broth, they set instantly into thin scraps that do look like rags. Although the flavor is completely different, this trick with the eggs is identical to that found in Chinese egg-drop soup. Good soup to eat when you have a cold, especially if it’s made a little spicy with red pepper flakes.
Cocktails In The Sky
Today in 1949, Northwest Orient Airlines served cocktails, wine, and beer on one of its flights–the first time alcoholic beverages had ever been served to passengers on a plane in flight. It’s so obviously a good idea it’s a wonder they waited so long. Cocktail service went down with all other kinds of food and drink service in the 1980s, but a few bright spots remain. The Mile-High Mojitos on Delta are good enough that I look forward to them.
Annals Of Food Entrepreneurship
Too many kids are introduced to pasta through the agency of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. Charles Kraft, who with his brother James founded the Kraft Cheese Company, was born today in 1880. It broadened in the 1940s enough to rename itself Kraft Foods. Nobody could ever accuse Kraft of shooting too high. They brought us Velveeta, American cheese food, aerosol spray cheese, spreadable cheese in little jars, Parkay margarine, and lots of other uninteresting products. And that miserable macaroni and cheese on a box.
Famous Names In Cognac
Louis XIII was crowned king of France today in 1610. He was eight years old, and his father, Henri IV, had just been assassinated. With Cardinal Richelieu as his protector and advisor, he reigned for thirty-three years. Remy Martin named its most expensive, oldest Cognac for him. Louis XIII Cognac has a substantial amount of century-old brandy in its blend, and is currently selling for upwards of $1600 a bottle. The bottle itself is a collector’s item, made of Baccarat crystal in a Belle Epoque design.
Deft Dining Rules #300
Unless money doesn’t matter at all to you, under no circumstances should you ever say these words in a bar: “Bring me the best Cognac in the house!” Louis XIII Cognac, which a surprising number of restaurant bars have in stock, sells for well over $100 a shot. And there are others in that category.
Annals Of Beer
In London today in 1814, a wooden tank containing some 135,000 gallons of beer failed, and the wave of beer that emerged blew out several other tanks. Nearly 400,000 gallons of beer flooded the town. The beer wave peaked at around fifteen feet, destroying two houses and killing nine people.
Gundaris Pone, composer and conductor, took the podium of life today in 1932. . . William “Candy” Cummings, a pitcher from the earliest years of baseball, inventor of the curve ball, and Hall of Fame member, stepped onto the Big Mound today in 1848. . . Rapper Eminem was born today in 1972. . . Mark Peel, Australian writer and historian, was born today in 1959. . . American hockey pro Francis Bouillon hit the Big Ice today in 1975.
Words To Cook By
“Those who forget the pasta are condemned to reheat it.”–Unknown, born today in 1903.
Words To Drink By
“There is no danger of my getting scurvy [while in England], as I have to consume at least two gin-and-limes every evening to keep the cold out.”–S. J. Perelman, American comic screenwriter, who died today in 1979.
Gourmets In The Wild West.
Click here for the cartoon.
Saturday, October 1, 2016.
Part 2: Lunch In Quebec City.
Our wanderings through Quebec’s old town take us past the restaurant where the Eat Club dined last time we were here. Aux Ancienne Canadiens. The name comes from a novel set in the early years of Canada, the author of which lived in the place in the early 1800s. The building is much older, having gone up in 1676. The food is robust and country-style, which is a good description of Quebecois cuisine in general. The servers are dressed in regional and historical clothes. It’s regarded by the locals as a tourist place, but I am in fact a tourist, and find the place as interesting as it is good.
But we keep on walking, past many cafes specializing in crepes and omelettes, and that horrific Canadian snack food called poutine. That word translates into the cheese-and-gravy-topped French fries that are popular in New Orleans poor boy shops, but with a different, much lighter kind of cheese.
We finally fetch up at a hotel with a large outdoor dining area and a French menu. What catches my eye are the mussels, since this is mussel country. They are served with what’s universally called “white wine sauce.” I’ve seen that moniker from Belgium to Italy to New York to home. It’s misleading. The sauce is a thick affair that appears to be founded on mayonnaise, with the wine being barely detectable. It is very good, however. (The one I had during my honeymoon with MA in Ghent, Belgium made my mussels highwater mark.)
The restaurant here is populated by young people having lingering lunches with wine and cheese and pates and the like. The waiter encourages a leisurely pace. The trees nearby are still mostly green–we won’t see many bright reds and oranges and yellows until we’re on our way to the airport tomorrow–but the entire area is very pleasant. The Frenchness of it all keeps me thinking that indeed we are in France.
We walk off lunch with a climb up stairs up the side of the lofty hill in the center of old town. It is quite a climb, and every time the stairs take a turn, we expect the the hike is near its end–but it never is. No wonder they have funicular lifts here and there.
The shops here seem a bit more everyday than the ones below. Here is where you go for your magazines and newspapers and cigarettes and produce. The streets are also less amenable to finding one’s way around, and we lose our way. But around the corner is a tourist information shop. Since we are so high up the hill, we can see the entire route from where we are to the ship. En route, we encounter three major weddings, with carillon bells playing their familiar nuptial melodies.
I’ve said this every time I’ve been in Quebec City, and it’s affirmed again: the old town has few modern buildings, and the old ones are striking. That, added to the nice people, the shops and restaurants, and the French language, make me wish the New Orleans French Quarter were more like it. Everything about Quebec feels clean and substantial, compared with what we have at home.
But we do have better food than Quebec does.
Back at the ship, this voyage is clearly winding down. I show up for our nightly cocktail hour, but it’s a half-hour before anyone else turns up. The waiters in the dining room are saying good-byes while making bananas Foster (yes!).
As I walk around the ship, I ask perfect strangers how they liked the show last night. Almost everyone I so importune says it was great. “Did you like my song?” I ask.
“What was your song?”
“Come Fly With Me! I was the Sinatra wanna-be!”
“Oh! That was you? You are very good!” Music to my ears.
Less fun but some release of tension comes when I learn that the cruise line rescheduled many of the airline flights to make them actually possible. I go to the desk to check this out, and I am given new flight numbers and departure times for my own afflicted travel plans. This is what I have been asking for. After a week, I finally have it.
But not everybody does. John Volpe–who sells the commercials on my radio show–had a particularly horrible flight roundup, one he shared with me yesterday afternoon in Real Time. Between the ship and New Orleans, he will have to spend a night in a hotel in New York. What a mess this has been.
Sunday, October 2,2016.
Walking Around Quebec City Some More.
All passengers on the Princess Caribbean must disembark today. Our orders are to be the last to leave, at a quarter to eleven. We are taken by bus to spend one more night in Quebec City. We will be in the astonishing Chateau Frontenac. It’s the most-photographed hotel in the world, and looks like a castle. It’s a Fairmont hotel now, but its raison d’ete was to be an overnight stop for passengers on the Canadian Pacific and Canadian National railroads.
We arrive noonish, and after an initially chaotic check-in, Lynn and I find ourselves in a two-bedroom suite whose windows look directly at the immense clock tower in the center of the Frontenac address. It is very impressive.
We take another walk around, helped by the altitude of the hotel. First stop is for lunch, in what looked like a charming crepe and omelette café. It has a large outdoor area and a setup for a band that would begin playing shortly.
The dining was uninspiring. The waitress decided not to speak much English, which casts a pall on the situation. Nor did she want to take orders for more than two courses at a time. At least we won’t have that problem of two hot dishes arriving simultaneously.
As hard as I tried to come across as friendly and eager to be there, we never get a warmup from the server. The food is forgettable. That’s what I get for not checking my guidebook before we left.
After that, we spend a long time on the boardwalk along the riverfront. It resembles the New Orleans riverfront, except that the Quebec frontage on the St. Lawrence is not much developed. Musicians play every block or two. An exhibit of Salvador Dali sculptures appear every hundred feet or so. From any angle, Chateau Frontenac looks ever more amazing.
We discuss having a drink in the hotel’s impressive bar–where I had a Negroni four years ago. But I am out of energy, and the stresses of the past two weeks are subsiding. I need a nap. At least I won’t be kept awake by another round of disaster.
Or would I? At around nine p.m., Mary Ann calls to ask me why I am not at Chez Boulay. Our original plans were to hold an Eat Club finale dinner there tonight. But not as many of our group were spending the extra night as I hoped for. And the four-a.m. flights would be a problem for a dinner that starts the night before at nine p.m. I canceled the event over a week ago. I did this with regret, because we dined at Boulay last time we were in Quebec, and found it spectacularly fine, with an exotic menu that covered not only the local styles but also dishes from other northerly places in the world.
But Mary Ann didn’t know this, and had confirmed our appearance with twenty-four people. Some showed up, but not enough for the management not to be rightfully upset at our absence. This was the last thing I wanted to hear, but I can’t blame it on anyone else but myself. It made me sick. I could only think that this will be the last cruise I ever organize.
Monday, October 3, 2016.
Traveling All Day Homeward.
Our revised airline tickets have us leaving Quebec at eight in the morning. An hour to the airport, then a three-hour wait to check in, followed by a flight to Newark. Now three hours to Houston, followed by the short hop to New Orleans. Lynn was more miserable than I was, with a developing cold that had stopped up her ears. Agony in the sky for her. Mary Ann picked us up at around nine p.m. after sitting in for me on the radio show I had expected to do myself. Then home, my favorite place to be at this point in time.
“Tira mi su” literally means “pick me up” in Italian. That’s what’s alleged to happen when you eat this espresso-doused cake, although I think the sugar contributes more to that effect than the espresso does. It’s a a creation of relatively recent vintage, but it has become universal in Italian restaurants around the world. There are two styles of making it, both authentic. This one uses lady finger cakes, and is served by scooping it out of the pan with a big spoon. It can also be made (using the same other ingredients and assembly method) with sheets of sponge cake, and served in slices.
- 2 egg yolks
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 cup mascarpone cheese
- 1 pint whipping cream, chilled
- 1 tsp. vanilla
- 1/2 tsp. almond extract
- 2 Tbs. sugar
- 3/4 cup espresso or very strong coffee
- 1 oz. creme de cacao (or dark rum)
- 12-18 lady fingers
- 2 Tbs. cocoa powder
- 2 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, shaved into slivers
1. With an electric mixer, beat the egg yolks and half of the sugar together until the sugar is no longer gritty. Add the mascarpone cheese and beat it until smooth and light.
2. Clean the beaters. In a chilled bowl, beat the whipping cream until it forms soft peaks. Add the remaining sugar, vanilla, and almond extract until it peaks. Don’t overbeat, or the cream might break.
3. Add the mascarpone mixture to the whipped cream and beat it until completely blended. The filling is complete; hold it in the refrigerator.
4. Dissolve the 2 Tbs. sugar into the espresso and creme de cacao plus , 2 Tbs. water to make a syrup.
5. Cover the bottom of a 7 x 9 x 3 inch cake pan with lady fingers. Brush athe cake with the syrup. Using a rubber spatula or a cake-icing knife, spread about a third of the mascarpone cheese mixture over the lady fingers and into the cracks between then. Make another layer of lady fingers, brush with the syrup, and cover with the filling. Then another layer.
6. Sift the cocoa powder over the top of the cake and top with chocolate shavings. Refrigerate for at least two hours. Leave it in the refrigerator until serving.
Combination Pan Roast @ Pascal’s Manale
Although Pascal’s Manale is most famous for its original barbecue shrimp, its great specialty is oysters. Fine work with our area’s best seafood run from the raw ones in the bar through this dish, one of the most complex of Manale’s concoctions. It started as an all-oyster entree, but evolved into an appetizer with oysters, shrimp, and crabmeat. Holding everything together is a thickened veloute that looks cheesy, but isn’t. It does include a lot of green onions, which makes the dish. Bread crumbs on top, a pass through the oven until it bubbles–then it’s eating time. A very good time, if this is on the table. There’s nothing quite like it in any other restaurant.
Pascal’s Manale. Uptown: 1838 Napoleon Ave. 504-895-4877.
October 13, 2016
Days Until. . .
The Bistro at the Maison de Ville opened today in 1986. A minuscule dining room with a microscopic kitchen in a small hotel might not be expected to become a seminal local restaurant, but this one was. The first chef was Susan Spicer. She’d cooked around town for a few years, but she came to prominence at the Bistro. When she left to open Bayona, John Neal took over the Bistro’s kitchen. He left after a few years to to open Peristyle. That established the Bistro as a place to enjoy the works of future chef superstars on their way up. Greg Picolo was the longest-serving chef, remaining at the bistro until a problem with the lease shut it down. Patrick Van Hoorebeck ran the dining room and the wine cellar for along time; he was good enough at that to have opened his own wine bar. The Bistro is now extinct. But its influence lives on.
Music To Blow Out Candles By
Today in 1893, a copyright was issued to Mildred and Patty Hill for the melody of the song everybody sings on birthdays. Its real name is Good Morning To All. It remained under copyright protection for many years until it was declared a public-domain work by the courts. Until then, many big restaurant chains have their own songs for birthdays, to avoid royalties when their waiters sing (usually very badly) to their customers.
The worst rendering of “Happy Birthday” I have heard consistently is performed at Commander’s Palace. The servers botch it up so miserably that I’m convinced they do so intentionally, to keep it from spreading to other tables.
Drinking Through History
Molly Pitcher was born today in 1754, near Trenton, New Jersey. Her real name was Mary Ludwig. Her nickname grew from her job carrying water to the American soldiers fighting in the Revolutionary War. When her husband was wounded, she took over his cannon, and became famous for that deed. What is less known is that she refused to ask the soldiers whether they wanted still bottled water, bottled water with bubbles, or just the tap water.
Food And Cars
Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby starred in a big television special today in 1957, sponsored by the Ford Motor Company. The commercials introduced the Edsel, soon to become the laughingstock of the auto world. Later, it became a classic. Food connection: Richard Collin–the New Orleans Underground Gourmet, the city’s first restaurant critic–owned an Edsel in the 1970s.
Today is National Popover Day. A popover–not to be confused with a turnover–is a tall, muffin-shaped, nearly-hollow bread made with a very eggy batter. You bake them with butter in the pockets of the popover tin. They are best eaten immediately after emerging from the oven. You will eat a popover quickly. Its marvelous flavor, aroma, texture, and hollow middle grab you. The only restaurant in memory to serve them was during the brief hegemony of Tom Cowman in the kitchen of Lenfant’s when the Marcello family ran it, in the 1980s. They brought the popovers to the table when you sat down, and they were irresistible.
jumbo lump crabmeat, n.–The two muscles found near the rear of a blue crab’s body. They move the paddle-like backfins. Because those are the crab’s strongest, these two muscles are the largest in the crab. Jumbo lump is the most desirable and expensive part of the largest crabs, and is carefully picked to keep it whole. By its nature in includes a thin, translucent piece of shell-like material, the absence of which means that the crab was over-picked. Jumbo lump is white and firm. It’s the essential ingredient for the best quality crab cakes, crabmeat ravigote, and crab salads. Just plain lump crabmeat is also white and firm, but smaller. Beware: the phrase “jumbo lump crabmeat” has come to be used in many restaurants to mean “plain old crabmeat.” True jumbo lump is so expensive that many chefs use the name but not the crabmeat. If you ever see a dish that says it’s made with jumbo lump but carries a low price, it is likely not the prime jumbo lump. (Or pasteurized and canned, perhaps from southeast Asia or Venezuela)
Goose Lake is about as far east as you can go in Iowa, seven miles from the state line at the Mississippi River. It’s closer to Chicago (156 miles) than it is to Des Moines (201). It’s a fair-sized farming town of 235 people, surrounding by rolling fields of corn and soybeans to the horizon in all directions. The actual lake for which the town is named is a mile west, and is so shallow that it dries up completely in droughts. It’s more of a marsh than a lake. But this is what geese love, so it’s well-named. O’Brien’s Pizza And Millennium Grill is the place to eat, right in the center of town.
Deft Dining Rule #18:
Unless the goodness of the food and service are of secondary concern, never ask a restaurant for a table for more than eight people. Six is even better. If you have a larger number, divided it in to sixes and eights. At larger tables, the people at opposite ends won’t be able to talk with one another, anyway.
The Old Kitchen Sage Sez
After you cook ground beef or sausage to make a stuffing (i.e., for lasagna or stuffed peppers), use the end slice from a loaf of white bread to soak up the excess fat thrown off by the meat. (Do this after removing from the pan.) The dog will love that piece of bread, too.
Pro football star Jerry Rice was born today in 1962. . . Pro baseball pitcher Tim Crabtree hit the Big Mound today in 1969. (I wish crabs grew on trees!). . . British actor Wilfred Pickles was born today in 1904. . . British politician Edwina Currie was born today in 1946. She created a stir when she blew the whistle on English egg producers, noting that their eggs sometimes contained salmonella.
Words To Eat By
“In any world menu, Canada must be considered the vichyssoise of nations—it’s cold, half-French, and difficult to stir.”–J. Stuart Keate, Canadian writer, born today in 1913.
Words To Drink By
“No animal ever invented anything so bad as drunkeness–or so good as drink.”–Lord Chesterton.
One Starbucks Inside Another One.
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Friday, September 30, 2016.
At Sea On The St. Lawrence River.
This Eat Club cruises through New England and Canada glides up the St. Lawrence Seaway. At last, we are seeing some fall colors in along the banks, although they are far away. The St. Lawrence through most of its 1900 miles is much wider than, say, the Mississippi.
Today is our only day at sea during our eleven nights aboard the Princess Caribbean. I like sea days. They’re the only days on which I get to relax. But there will be little relaxing for me today. I spend yet another hour in line at the purser’s desk, trying to improve the going-home flight schedules for the peeps. There is a rumor that all the flights will be rescheduled, but I have no hard evidence of this yet.
On the other hand, this is a grand day for me. The finalists in The Voice Of The Ocean talent show have a dress rehearsal in the afternoon on the big stage in the big theater with the big band playing behind us. It’s already a thrill.
This is also the first time the judging methodology is explained. It has something to do with three judges/coaches, each of whom will choose a team from the best performers. I think that’s how it goes, anyway. I never quite understand what’s going on. The whole thing is based on a television show called “The Voice,” which I have never seen nor heard of.
The show goes on at eight o’clock–the Eat Club’s regular dinner time. But most of the group is faithfully in the theater to cheer me on. Even though there’s some kind of voting system for the audience to have a hand in the rankings, I don’t have that figured, either. So I tell everybody I encounter–complete strangers, most of them–to vote for me. This results in a very long-running table of people in the buffet during the breakfast hours. “The Voice” brand must be pretty strong.
I am the second person to sing. I have some concern that I will go up on the lyrics of “Come Fly With Me,” as well as I know the song. Indeed, I find myself singing a few non-words and making up notes until, a few seconds later, I find my way back into the real song. It feels good from that moment on. My coach says that the song makes him feel that he has come to know me. (I had never heard of the guy.) He especially liked my improvisations–my mistakes, in other words–and found them highly creative. The hundreds of people in the theater boom with applause. Yes! This is the reason I am here.
I hear all the other singers do their things, and then the judges give the results. Electronic pyrotechnics explode in the theater. Everyone is cheering. I didn’t win first, and I don’t think there was a second. I still don’t understand the rules.
Saturday, October 1, 2016.
Climbing Around Quebec City.
I awaken to good if not terrific news. The ship has issued a new schedule for disembarking tomorrow morning, and it seems that at least some of our people will have their inconvenient flights rejiggered. But there are still unresolved questions, and the Eat Clubbers continue to ask me what will happen. I wish I knew.
This cruise has a unique wrinkle. The ship’s itinerary with us is now over, but the passengers don’t have to leave until tomorrow morning. The ship becomes our hotel, so we can wander around the beautiful French city of Quebec. Walking around the cobblestoned streets–Quebec is more than a century older than New Orleans–makes one feel as though one were in Europe. That is no illusion. Most stores, restaurants, and attractions have French names, and the people inside them speak French as their default, although most of them handle English without much of an accent.
Lynn (my little sister, who travels with me on this cruise) and I spend hours walking around, looking for a place to have lunch later. But we to stay inside a part of town with more shops than eateries. She has some shopping to do: buying bottles of maple syrup and other gifts for friends at home.
I see a unique sign in front of one of the clothing stores. It says, “F— la Mode.” The final word doesn’t refer to ice cream on top of a suit, but to the style of the time. (I don’t think I need to interpret the first word.) We are intrigued, and climb a flight of steps to the center of the shop, where within seconds a welcoming salesman has a warm, striped sweater on my body. I have never owned a garment as good-looking as this. It feels great, too, given that the temperature outside is in the fifties today.
Lynn tries to swing in between me and the salesman. She wants me to know that the sweater costs six hundred dollars Canadian. I was thinking something like four hundred, but even that would be my all-time most expensive single article of apparel. Still I considering it. That’s how great this thing looked on me.
[Contemporary Interlude, from the perspective of October 12: I told Mary Ann about the sweater last night while we had dinner at Josephine Estelle. She was shocked that I would consider buying the sweater, but for the opposite reason from Lynn’s. MA thinks I don’t treat myself to such luxuries often enough, and that I have a poor-boy mentality. I say that I do indeed live lavishly once in awhile, but the expenditures usually take place in restaurants. Anyway, if I buy this sweater, it will give MA impetus for getting that Range Rover she’s been talking about. I do not get the sweater.]
We will pick up our Quebec adventures in tomorrow’s diary.
New Orleans Cut Strip Sirloin Steak with True Bordelaise Sauce
My favorite cut of beef is a bone-in strip sirloin, about twenty-four ounces. Of course, nobody should eat a steak that big. Not often, anyway. I usually split one that size, because there is no question that a thick steak cooks better than a thin one. This also works with porterhouse steaks cut about 40 ounces big. Those feed three to four people each.
The best way to cook steaks like this is on a very hot outdoor grill or in an equally hot black iron skillet. In either case, it will throw off a lot of smoke and perhaps even flames, so this is best done outside. You could also broil or pan-broil the steaks, but in either case use the highest heat you can.
Bordelaise sauce in New Orleans usually means a garlic-and-parsley butter. This version is closer to the French original, involving the most revered product of Bordeaux: red wine.
- 1 bottle red Bordeaux wine or Cabernet Sauvignon
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme
- 10 black peppercorns
- 2 whole shallots, finely chopped
- 1 cup intense beef or veal stock
- 4 Tbs. butter
- 2 boneless strip sirloin steaks, about 24 oz. each, cut about two inches thick
- 6 Tbs. butter
1. Make the sauce first; it will take about an hour, although most of this needs little attention. In a saucepan, bring the wine to a simmer boil with the thyme, peppercorns and shallots. Reduce slowly to 1 cup of liquid.
2. Cut each of the steaks into two pieces resembling filets mignon. Generously season with salt and freshly-ground black pepper. Leave them out on the counter, covered with a sheet of waxed paper, for about a half-hour.
Turn the oven on to 375 degrees, with a rack in the center.
3. In a heavy skillet over medium-high heat, heat 2 Tbs. butter until it sizzles. Put the steaks into the pan and sear them. They will stick to the pan at first. When they begin to break loose, turn them and sear the other side. When both sides are seared, move the steaks to a metal baking pan in the preheated oven at 375 degrees.
4. Strain the wine and the stock into a skillet and bring to a light boil while whisking to dissolve the juices and browned bits from the steaks. Reduce by about half over medium heat.
5. Check the steaks with a meat thermometer. For medium rare, look for 130 degrees. When they reach that point, turn the oven off and leave the oven door ajar.
6. Remove the sauce skillet from the heat and whisk in the remaining butter. Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper. Serve the steaks with the sauce right over them, saving some for adding later.
Turtle Soup @ Commander’s Palace
The turtle soup at Commander’s Palace is not quite the best in town, but it’s close, and it’s certainly the most famous. Enough so that it has spread to most of the other Brennan family restaurants. Ask them about the recipe and you’ll learn that turtle meat is not the only protein in there (they use veal, too). Another oddity (but an old one) is the background presence of spinach. Sherry is in the pot, of course–enough so that you won’t need any more added at the table. All this adds up to a singularly delicious, somewhat heavy soup, a must-get dish at Commander’s.
Commander’s made turtle soup a specialty long before the Brennans owned the place. The Moran family not only made turtle soup there, but was famous for serving it from a large, upturned tortoise shell. A final footnote: those who observe Catholic eating strictures will be interested to know that turtle is considered a seafood by the Church.
Commander’s Palace. Garden District: 1403 Washington Ave. 504-899-8221.
October 12, 2016
Days Until. . .
Turning Points In Eating
Christopher Columbus landed on an island in the Bahamas today in 1492. He didn’t “discover” America–lots of people were here already. Perhaps even a few Europeans–Viking stragglers whose forebears arrived a few hundred years before. What Columbus instituted was a major cultural exchange between Europe and the Americas. Part of that was the greatest culinary revolution in human history, as hundreds of new ingredients from the New World made their way to Europe. Within a relatively few years, they changed the way most people cooked. Most noteworthy among these were potatoes, chocolate, the entire range of chile peppers, many strains of leguminous beans. . . and the tomato.
In honor of the arrival of Columbus on these shores, today is World Tomato Day. Of all the native American vegetables that made their ways to Europe after the voyages of Columbus, the tomato had the most widespread effect. Tomatoes are now eaten almost everywhere in the world, including the Far East. Imagine Italian cuisine without tomatoes!
Tomatoes were originally regarded as poisonous by Europeans. They were sort of right: except for the tomato fruit itself, the plant is toxic, a member of the nightshade family (as are potatoes and eggplants). Once that myth was put to rest, a different one grew: that the tomato was an aphrodisiac. It became known as “pomme d’amour”–the “love apple”–in France.
The way in which overripe tomatoes become near-liquid is no doubt what inspired people to make sauces from them. There are hundreds, from ketchup and salsa to marinara and ragu. The makers of the first tomato sauces must have been delighted to employ their over-the-hill produce. And that the result was delicious in an entirely new way, matched by few other food items.
Cranberry is an unincorporated highway stop in the Appalachian Mountains of southern West Virginia. It’s fifty-eight miles south of Charleston, the state capital. The drive there is easy, because Cranberry is just off I-64/77. The old highway–US 19–runs right through the middle of Cranberry. Cranberry is home to 350 people, and is surrounded by similar communities. All of them support coal mining, the big business in the region. The restaurant in Cranberry is Southern Red’s BBQ, right on US 19 at Cranberry Drive.
Indian pudding, n.–A sweet dessert made from cornmeal, molasses, and cinnamon. It begins on top of the stove, then goes into the oven to bake in a baking dish. It comes out like a very wet cornbread. It’s much like a spoonbread, but sweeter. The name comes from colonial times, because of the presence of “Indian corn” in its making. It was also known as “hasty pudding.” Some versions of Indian pudding contain minced meat and eat fat. There’s no universally agreed-upon recipe, except that cornmeal is a sine qua non.
Annals Of Weight Loss
Today is the birthday, in 1923, of Jean Nidetch, the founder of Weight Watchers. She started it after battling against her own overweight problem. The original idea was that people trying to lose weight could get together and encourage each other, but it grew to a much larger effort–one big enough that, after fifteen years of its existence, H.J. Heinz bought the company in 1978 for its line of food offerings.
Annals Of Somethingfests
Today is the anniversary of the first Oktoberfest celebration in 1810, in Munich, Germany. It started as a celebration of the marriage of Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig to Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen. After skipping a year (Napoleon was active in the area), the festival resumed, and it’s grown ever since. It’s changed into a beer festival, and moved backward on the calendar. Most of Oktoberfest is just about finished when October arrives, since people drink more beer in the warmer weeks of September.
Annals Of Creole Culture
Today is the birthday, in 1844, of George Washington Cable. He was a New Orleans-born journalist remembered for his progressive views of how freed slaves should become full members of the community. He wrote much about New Orleans Creole culture, including no small amount of commentary on the distinctive food of the region. His books–especially Old Creole Days–tell us how well-developed Creole cuisine was even in the late 1800s.
Deft Dining Rule #431
Despite their popularity, fried green tomatoes are not worth eating. Unless they’re topped with something like shrimp remoulade. In which case the tomato will be the worst part of the dish.
In 1950, Takeshi Kaga was born in Japan. He was the host of the original Iron Chef show, so long ago that all his shows were in Japanese. They dubbed them into other languages, and they’re still being seen around the world.
Words To Eat By
“A number of rare or newly experienced foods have been claimed to be aphrodisiacs. At one time this quality was even ascribed to the tomato. Reflect on that when you are next preparing the family salad.”–Jane Grigson, American food writer.
“A world without tomatoes is like a string quartet without violins.”–Laurie Colwin, American food writer.
Words To Drink By
“Early to rise and early to bed
Makes a male healthy and wealthy and dead.”
The Gourmet Side Of Pokemon.
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