DiningDiarySquare-150×150 Wednesday, May 25, 2016.
Joining New Friends For Dinner.

Mary Ann is interested in playing the investments game, and in so doing she met up with a guy who specializes in the kind of thing she’s interested in. The four of us (including his date) have been trying to get together for a non-business dinner. The date was set for tonight, and the venue by MA. She thought that Kingfish would be a good place. We haven’t dined there in many months. Long enough, for us not to have sampled the cooking of the chef who took Greg Sonnier’s spot late last year.
The bar at Kingfish.

The bar at Kingfish.

I am the first to arrive, and have a newly-developed cocktail called the Amelia Earhart. It’s a variation on the Aviator, starting with gin, maraschino liqueur (or another interesting Italian mixer), and creme de violette. Kingfish adds a fresh basil leaf to all that. It’s a good drink, appealing to the same tastes I have for martinis and Negronis.

MA is upset that a certain parking space right across the street from the restaurant was grabbed by someone else. This forced her to park in the old D.H. Holmes garage, a disgrace to the Parking Witch.

Then our new friends show up. Everyone has met everyone else before, I am told, but the data has not sunk into my consciousness. It’s moments like this that my ability to start conversations with total strangers–an essential skill for hosting a radio talk show–comes in handy.

On the other hand, what stops me cold is most conversations about politics. Especially if MA is running free. So I just listen for most of the evening. Nothing is said about economics, investing, or anything else serious. This goes on for about a half-hour, as the waiter keeps a patient watch over our table, in case any of us actually wants to eat something.
Chicken livers–the offal of the hour–on crostini at Kingfish.

Chicken livers–the offal of the hour–on crostini at Kingfish.

We finally get to that. I order fried chicken livers (the offal of the hour, says the menu) with a tangy sauce over crostini. Mary Ann has a gratin of artichokes and crawfish. A shrimp and corn bisque with a lot of cream circulates. A half-dozen boudin balls are about the most beautiful I’ve ever seen.
Boudin balls.

Boudin balls.

The entrees are a sixteen-ounce ribeye steak for our investor friend. His lady gets a gigantic bowl of hard-to-eat nachos with pulled pork, cracklings, jalapenos and (of all things) creme fraiche. MA picks away at the appetizers in lieu of an entree. I have a piece of fish identified as “sea snapper.” What that? It is just okay, and set on the plate carelessly.
“Sea snapper,” whatever that is.

“Sea snapper,” whatever that is.
Cracklings and pulled-pork nachos.

Cracklings and pulled-pork nachos.

The political talk continues. Then it ends. Our new friends drive us from their parking garage to MA’s, and MA takes me to my parking garage. A three-garage meal! Wow.
Kingfish. French Quarter: 337 Chartres St. 504-598-5005.

RecipeSquare-150×150
Seared Tuna With Tomato-Lemon Vinaigrette

This is a dish popular at Gautreau’s in the 1990s, involving tuna cut into thick blocks. instead of slices. It was finished almost in the style of a salad. I add my own variations on the idea whenever I get my hands on really thick pieces of tuna. It’s always almost raw at the center, and therefore looks magnificent. Don’t hesitate to use different salad ingredients from the ones here.

Seared tuna

Vinaigrette:
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
2 Tbs. lemon juice
1 Tbs. white wine vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
2 Tbs. vegetable oil
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. white pepper
2 large ripe tomatoes
1 cloves garlic, chopped
2 Tbs. olive oil
Leaves of 1 sprig fresh thyme
Pinch salt
Pinch pepper
~
2 lbs. thick tuna steaks, cut into 16 cubes
3 Tbs. olive oil
6 oz. arugula or spring mix salad

1. To make the vinaigrette, whisk the mustard, lemon juice, and vinegar in a bowl until they blend. Add the oils slowly while whisking to create a light emulsion.

2. Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil. Cut the stem core out of the top of the tomatoes, and cut an X in the bottom. Plunge the tomatoes in the boiling water for 15-20 seconds, then rinse under cold water. The peel can now be removed easily. Slice the tomatoes in half crosswise and remove the seeds and pulp.

3. Combine the results of the first step with the tomatoes, garlic, thyme, salt and pepper in a food processor or blender. Mix until well blended. Thin with a little vinegar if necessary.

4. Allow tuna fillets to stand at room temperature for 15 minutes. Season all sides with salt and pepper.

5. Heat the olive oil in a heavy skillet until almost smoking. Place four tuna blocks at a time in the pan and cook over high heat for about 20 seconds per side, till all sides are lightly browned. Repeat till all are cooked, adding more olive oil if necessary.

6. Toss the arugula or spring mix with enough vinaigrette to coat, and place in the center of the plate. Place tuna around the salad, and drizzle with more of the vinaigrette.

Serves four.
500BestSquareRack of Lamb @ Commander’s Palace

DishStars-5
Only a few restaurants in New Orleans serve a rack of lamb anymore. Fewer still serve American lamb, a far better (and much more expensive) product than the smaller racks from New Zealand (which are pretty good, too). But no restaurant I know buys better quality lamb than does Commander’s. They have a source in Colorado that send them the prettiest, most flavorful lamb I know of. And then, casting aside the cutting-edge style that characterizes Commander’s food these days, they season the rack generously with Creole seasonings and Creole mustard, and blasts it on the hottest part of their hickory wood-burning grill. The sauce is also straightforward, a natural, smoky, full-flavored jus. They cook it whole and slice it into thick chops before sending it out, so it’s easy to dissect. A magnificent repast.
Commander’s Palace. Garden District: 1403 Washington Ave.. 504-899-8221.

This is among the 500 best dishes in New Orleans area restaurants. Click here for a list of the other 499.
AlmanacSquare May 27, 2015
Days Until. . .

New Orleans Wine And Food Experience Through The Weekend
Greek Festival 1
Father’s Day30
Gourmets In Show Biz

On this date in 1911, Vincent Price was born. He was famed for all those horror movies he did, but he was also a very fine radio actor. Most notably, he played Simon Templar in the radio version of “The Saint.” He was also a gourmet cook, and well enough known as such to encourage people to eat more butter in a series of commercials in the 1970s. The payload line was, “I can easily tell the difference between margarine and real butter. Can’t you?”
Celebrity Chefs Today

Today is the birthday, in 1975, of Jamie Oliver, “The Naked Chef.” He has turned what started as a frivolous television cooking show into a very successful empire of restaurants, cookbooks, restaurants, and much more television. A recent survey places him as the third most successful chef in the world. He has been very active in his native England in an effort to get better, fresher food into schools.
Gourmet Gazetteer

CornOnCObRoasting Ear Island is in the Okefenokee Swamp, a wildlife refuge in the southeast corner of Georgia. It’s a fifty-seven mile drive northwest of Jacksonville, Florida. It’s not an island in the traditional sense of land surrounded by water, but a hill rising about swampland. (A concept easy to understand for those of us who live in Louisiana, where there are many such islands.) Roasting Ear Island doesn’t peek out much–just a few feet–but that’s enough to create more or less dry land. It has more and bigger trees than the swamp, which makes it stand out more prominently. The nearest place to eat is at K&C’s Oak Tree Cafe, nine miles away in St. George.
Deft Dining Rule #610

The first bite of a strip of bacon should register as smoky, salty, sweet, and rich on your palate. If not, it isn’t very good bacon.
Today’s Flavor

Today is National Pineapple Day. The pineapple so astonished the early explorers of the West Indies that they brought it back to Europe as a great treasure. It is an amazing fruit. Actually, it’s a bunch of fruits all growing together so compactly that they fuse with one another. Have you ever found a pineapple seed? They do exist, but only rarely. It seems that the seeds had been bred out of the original plant long before Columbus arrived.

Pineapple2Its English name comes from its resemblance to a pine cone. The French word for it, ananas, comes from the original Brazilian Indian name, which means something like “excellent fruit.” It is indeed an excellent fruit, especially when eaten fresh. The best fresh pineapples are flown in from Hawaii, but those are not typical. Most of what we find in stores now come from Mexico, picked underripe, making them hard and less sweet. As they hang around they get softer but not much sweeter. The way to tell if a pineapple is ripe is to smell it. If it smells good, it’s ready.

You peel a pineapple by cutting off the bottom and top, and then cutting down the sides with a very sharp knife in strips about an inch or two wide. You can cut out the center if you like, but although it’s fibrous it’s quite edible. A unique property of pineapple is that it contains an enzyme called bromelain, which is an extremely effective meat tenderizer. This is well known to cheap steakhouses, which have been using it as a marinade on their tough beef for years. But it tastes good, too.

Thousands of recipes for pineapple exist, not all of them for sweet dishes. Among currently popular pineapple dishes, the hardest to figure is pineapple pizza. Some people love them. Hmm.
Edible Dictionary

pulque, Spanish, n.–A beverage of low alcoholic content made from the juices extracted from agave plants in Northern Mexico. Specifically, the agave classically used is the maguey or century plant. It’s usually still cloudy, to the point of being milky. It’s also a little on the thick side. The agave juices are what’s used to make tequila. It could be said that pulque is to tequila what wine is to brandy, in that the first could be distilled to make the second. Pulque has been made and drunk by Native Mexicans for hundreds of years, originally as a sacred beverage drunk by the most prominent people. Pulque doesn’t travel well, so it doesn’t show up in this country much. It’s worth trying if you find it in Mexico.
Food In World Politics

Former Secretary of State and Nixon associate Henry Kissinger was born today in 1923. In addition to being one of the most influential people in the world in the 1970s, he was a man about town, always at the best parties and in the best restaurants, accompanied by the most important people, with whom he socialized as much as dealt with. Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping once took him out for Mongolian hot pot in a restaurant. “It is not often done by Chinese leaders to invite guests to a restaurant,” said Kissinger, implying that Deng took him as a friend.
Animated Barbecue

Walt Disney’s cartoon Three Little Pigs was released on this date in 1933.
Food And Drink Namesakes

Tony “The Big Tuna” Accardo, a mobster whose career as an enforcer for the mob dated back to Al Capone, died at 86 on this date in 1992. . . Canadian classical composer Claude Champagne hit some Cs today in 1891, as he was being born. He was a teacher of many other composers. . . Former Pennsylvania Congressman Edward M. Beers was tapped today in 1877.
Words To Eat By

“Red onions are especially divine. I hold a slice up to the sunlight pouring in through the kitchen window, and it glows like a fine piece of antique glass. Cool watery-white with layers delicately edged with imperial purple. Strong, humble, peaceful, with that fiery nub of spring green in the center”–Mary Hayes Grieco, inspirational writer.“
Words To Drink By

A cause may be inconvenient, but it’s magnificent. It’s like champagne or high heels, and one must be prepared to suffer for it.”–Arnold Bennett, English writer, born today in 1867 and died today in 1931. He also is quoted as saying something a lot like what someone I know said after Hurricane Katrina:

“Always behave as if nothing had happened, no matter what has happened.”

FoodFunniesSquare
High In Fiber, With A Unique Flavor Of Roasted Limestone.

The earliest breads inspired new tastes among Neanderthals.

Click here for the cartoon.

DiningDiarySquare-150x150 Tuesday, May 24, 2016.
The Best New Restaurant Kitchen Of 2016?

Mary Ann calls me in the middle of the show to offer her companionship for dinner tonight. The usual rigamarole follows. She asks me where I’d like to go. I name a half-dozen or so possibilities, knowing in advance that all of them will be rejected, even if I keep reeling off more ideas.

Rebirth-EXTAn hour or two later, she tells me that she has a reservation at Rebirth. Perfect! I am hearing good things about the place, which is apparently doing well. My first attempt to dine there a couple of weeks ago was brushed off by the greeter, who said the restaurant was full and would remain so for the rest of the evening. Far from ticking me off, this tells me that we may have something very interesting here.

The location has a short but wayward history. It occupies a slot in an old brick warehouse on Fulton Street, across the street from the the former 7 On Fulton and its hotel. The first restaurant to move in was Tacqueria Corona. After a few years that closed, to be followed by the original location of La Boca, which after a few years moved to the corner of St. Joseph and Tchoupitoulas.

Rebirth-DR

The space then became a branch of Chateau du Lac, the great French bistro from Metairie Road. Jacques and Paige Seleun thought that they would get some serious convention business from the neighborhood. Maybe they would have, but a great deal of construction adjacent made the Chateau hard to find, in at spot that was a little spooky at night. Chef Jacques and company returned to Metairie before a year had passed.

Rebirth–the name is a reference to the owners’ earlier attempt at opening a new restaurant–opened at the end of 2015, with Manny Pineda at the dining room helm, and Chef Ricky Cheramie in the open kitchen. I know Ricky from his work at the Bombay Club, but before that he worked at Commander’s, K-Paul’s, and a few other eateries in that circuit. For his part, Manny had time at Emeril’s and Mr. John’s Steak House. This rebirth is staffed solidly.

Chicken Rochambeau at Rebirth.

Chicken Rochambeau at Rebirth.

The premises are only slightly larger than it was in the Tacqueria years. Just about a dozen tables, barely adding up to a hundred seats. No wonder I couldn’t get in until today. We were early enough to get the best table in the house, in the corner next to the glass-windowed front door. Tables snake around the open kitchen and bar, and a few tables are out on the sidewalk. The latter spot will need some further renovation to be comfortable. MA, with her love of Al Fresco, wanted to be indoors.

My entree sums up the tastes of Rebirth. It was chicken Rochambeau, a half chicken in which the breast and leg quarters are cooked differently. The front end is a basic roasting job, but they make a chicken-fat confit with the leg. Beneath all this chicken (indeed, there is a lot of it) are some slices of prosciutto and a brown sauce with some leafy savory vegetables. On top of the chicken is bearnaise sauce. All this adds up to a modernized version of one of my favorite dishes at Antoine’s, with the same Rochambeau name. As good as it is, Antoine’s original has been only rarely copied by other restaurants.

Rebirth follows the implicit suggestion of its name to improve the dish significantly. The prosciutto instead of plain ham, for example. The chicken skin is crisp. With the bearnaise it makes for a superlative flavor ensemble. The dish will shoot right onto our list of the 500 best dishes in New Orleans restaurants.

Grilled drumfish @ Rebirth.

Grilled drumfish @ Rebirth.

Mary Ann had before her an equally alluring, very large fillet of young black drum. Crusty, well seasoned, enriched with a controllable butter component, and watercress.

Steak tartare and carpaccio.

Steak tartare and carpaccio.

The appetizers were a combination of tenderloin of beef tartare and carpaccio. (Raw beef, so MA wouldn’t touch it, of course.) Elegant, right cool temperature, and generously served. On MA’s starter plate was a Caesar salad with crusty fried oysters scattered between the leaves. Dessert is a creme brulee, flavored with and the color of café au lait, with a hybrid of calas and beignets on top. The separate ideas I’ve seen before, but never in this combination.

Cafe au lait creme brulee, with beignet-calas.

Cafe au lait creme brulee, with beignet-calas.

As we dine, the idea looms that the components of this dinner could qualify as a history lesson in the evolution of Creole-French restaurant cookery. He’re are the chapters:

Beignets-Calas in dessert, 1840
Chicken Rochambeauu, 1899
Caesar salad, 1970
Grilled drum, 1976
Carpaccio and beef tartare, 1980
Amuse bouche, 1984
Café au lait creme brulee, 1998

Rebirth is my favorite new restaurant of the year so far.

Restaurant Rebirth. Warehouse District: 857 Fulton St. 504-522-6863.

RecipeSquare-150x150

Philly Cheese Steak Sandwich

In New Orleans, the poor boy is the king of the sliced beef sandwiches. Nevertheless, at various times some hopeful restaurateur, exiled here from the Northeast, will attempt to offer a Philadelphia-style cheese steak sandwich here. It’s shaped like and otherwise resembles a roast beef poor boy, but the flavor is completely different.

Talk with anyone from Philly, and you learn that the formula for making one of these sandwiches is set in stone, and any variation leads to perdition. Given that one of the standard ingredients for Philly cheese steak is Cheez-Whiz right out of the jar, and that every cheese steak I’ve had up there is different from all the others, I don’t hesitate to make my own adjustments. The main one involves using rare deli roast beef instead of sliced raw round (supermarkets don’t like to slice raw beef, and you need a meat slicer to get it thin enough). We are stuck with using French bread instead of the special Italian loaves they have in Philly, but that’s no great loss. Finally, of course, the Cheez-Whiz has to go, in favor of provolone.

PhillyCheeseSteakSandwich

  • 1 tbs. vegetable oil
  • 1 medium onion, sliced as thin as you can
  • 1/2 green or red bell pepper, seeds and membrane removed, sliced thin
  • 1 tsp. Creole seasoning (or salt and pepper)
  • 1/2 lb. rare deli roast beef, sliced thin
  • 1/2 loaf poor boy bread or French baguettes
  • 6 medium slices provolone cheese
  • Creole mustard

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.

1. Heat a griddle over medium-high heat long enough to get it good and hot. With a metal spatula, spread the oil around on the hot surface. Scatter the onions and bell peppers on the griddle. Sprinkle with Creole seasoning.

2. Cook the onions and bell peppers until they’re soft and lightly browned here and there. Move them off to the cool side of the griddle.

3. Spread the slices of beef out over the hot part of the griddle. Using a second metal spatula, hold the beef down while using the other spatula to scrape across the beef, causing it to shred away. Cook until all the pink is gone from the meat.

4. Lower the heat to almost nothing. Bring the onions and peppers back to the hot part of the griddle, spread it out, and deposit the beef on top of it. Cover the whole pile with the slices of provolone cheese. Leave it there until it softens, but not until it melts.

5. While waiting for that, slice the bread from end to end and put it into the oven.

6. Spread a very little bit of Creole mustard over one side of the bread. Moved the cheese, meat, peppers and onions onto the bread, and cover with the other half. Serve immediately.

Serves two to four.

[

500BestSquareHamburger @ Atomic Burger

DishStars_3
The Spitale brothers have a long-running sandwich shop near Archbishop Rummel High School, and thought they would expand their operations into the better-burger category. What came of that effort was better than better–it’s a contender for the best burger around. The patties are made by hand, and loosely, such that no two look alike. A bakery makes the buns to exacting and better-than-average standards. (Most burger places–even the expensive ones–just use the standard market products and cross their fingers.) The result is an astonishingly fine hamburger that belie the fast-food look of the place. In fact, even if you order at the drive-through, you find that the burgers are made to order.

AtomicBurger-Burger

Atomic Burger. Metairie: 3934 Veterans Blvd. .

This is among the 500 best dishes in New Orleans area restaurants. Click here for a list of the other 499.

AlmanacSquare May 26, 2015

Days Until. . .

New Orleans Wine And Food Experience Begins Today
Greek Festival 1

Today’s Flavor

CheesecakeToday is National Blueberry Cheesecake Day. What a terrible thing to do with both blueberries and cheesecake. It’s also National Cherry Dessert Day. My favorite of those is the ancient flaming dessert, cherries jubilee. The cherries are cooked down in a syrup made right there in the pan, then flamed with kirsch, and served over ice cream. It is believed to have been created by no less than Auguste Escoffier, the arbiter of classic French cooking, on the occasion of Queen Victoria’ s fiftieth jubilee. Escoffier’s original recipe didn’t have ice cream, but that was such a natural addition that it’s now universal. Most restaurants that make it (Antoine’s is the most famous locally) use canned cherries, but it’s much better with fresh cherries. Problem: we rarely see fresh cherries until July. Another cherry-full dessert is Black Forest cake, a light chocolate cake with white icing and cherries between the layers.

Deft Dining Rule #112:

FlamingPeppersA restaurant that specializes in flaming dishes tableside these days is likely to have an exceptionally good service staff, but unimaginative food.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Goobertown is in northeast Arkansas, on western edge of the endless, cotton-planted, alluvial flatlands created by waving back and forth of the Mississippi River. It’s an unincorporated farming town big enough to have a grocery store. I remember that from when I bicycled through the place on US 49 during a trip from New Orleans to Chicago in 1986. I know they grow plenty of peanuts (“goobers”) around there. The nearest restaurant is another five miles up the road to Paragould. It’s the Whiskey Creek Wood Fire Grill. Sounds good.

Edible Dictionary

beignet, French, n.–A small square of ball of fried dough. A beignet can be made sweet or not. When not, it’s usually wrapped around something savory, with seafood and crisp vegetables being common stuffings. In America and certainly in New Orleans, the most common beignets are square doughnuts topped with powdered sugar and served alongside coffee. These are the signature snack in the French Market on the riverfront in New Orleans. However, the French word admits of many variations. It’s even credible to think of certain kinds of hush puppies as beignets.

Music To Eat On The Levee By

On this date in 1971, Don McLean recorded the song American Pie. It wasn’t about pie at all! Instead, it stirred up nostalgia (among those who could figure out what it meant) for the late 1950s. That was long before the gourmet era began.

Celebrity Chefs Today

Chef&KnifeTV’s third Japanese Iron Chef, Masaharu Morimoto, was born today in 1955, in Hiroshima, Japan. After working in New York at Nobu and some other high-profile establishments, he opened a restaurant under his own name in Philadelphia. We’ve never been there, but wonder whether its kitchen runs by the rules of the Iron Chef TV foolishness.

Food In The Wild

Today in 1950, the first whooping crane hatched in captivity was born. It was delicious, I hear. Such a joke must be made whenever bringing up an endangered species in a fluffy medium like this one, but it’s a long-standing tradition through history. An alarming number of last examples of species were killed to be eaten or added to a collection of taxidermy. I don’t get it.

Food Namesakes

Ernst Bacon was born today in 1898. He was an excellent composer of classical music, particularly songs, with a distinctly and intentional American quality. He is well enough revered to have a website. . . Stephen Rice, born today in 1971, is a professional hockey player. . . Pro golfer Stephen Robert Pate was born today in 1961.

Words To Eat By

“The jelly–the jam and the marmalade,
And the cherry-and quince preserves she made!
And the sweet-sour pickles of peach and pear,
With cinnamon in ’em, and all things rare!
And the more we ate was the more to spare,
Out to old Aunt Mary’s! Ah!”–James Whitcomb Riley.

“No man is lonely while eating spaghetti.”–Robert Morley, movie actor, born today in 1908.

Words To Drink By

“No poems can please for long or live that are written by water-drinkers.”–Horace.

FoodFunniesSquare

All Dressings Are Made In House.

But they’re running out of ranch.

Click here for the cartoon.

DiningDiarySquare-150x150 Friday, May 20, 2016.
The Graduates At Antoine’s.

The takeover of nearly every formal restaurant in town (and lots of informal ones, too) by the graduating students from the city’s high schools and colleges takes local diners by surprise. They go to their favorite places expecting the usual quick seating and other considerations, but find no reservations and no open tables. This is especially a problem during the weekend before and after the Tulane graduation.

But that was a couple of weeks ago, and now it’s the high school grads and their parents, grandparents, godparents, aunts and uncles, and. . .well, let’s just say that it’s a very busy time. And once again I forget this condition myself.

Antoines-DR2

Some time during the first hour of the radio show I say that I am in the mood for dinner at Antoine’s, for all the usual reasons. Mary Ann calls to tell me that if I’d like to go to Antoine’s, she would be happy to be my date. That seals the deal, and a few minutes after the show signs off, we find a valid parking spot less than a block from the ancient dining parlors of Chez Antoine. (The parking witch does it again.)

We are greeted in the front room by Rick Blunt, the CEO of Antoine’s and fifth-generation descendent of Antoine Alciatore himself. He tells us that the full menu will not be available tonight, because the enormous restaurant is nearly booked out with graduation celebrants. All restaurants do this to some extent, but Antoine’s can hold so many more diners than its kitchen can serve perfectly, that they unstack the deck and omit a few items that are problematic.

Oysters Foch at Antoine's.

Oysters Foch at Antoine’s.

This amounted to no problem for us. All the flavors I looked forward to are available, including an item that isn’t on the menu even in normal times: poisson florentine. My waiter Charles Carter tells me that his father (he is one of many Antoine’s employees who descend from earlier staffers) favored the dish. In an oversize gratin plate, a layer of creamed spinach goes down first, followed by broiled fish (puppy drum tonight) and bearnaise. The whole thing is run under the broiler until the bearnaise starts to glaze over a little. Yum. And a classic Antoine’s dish.

Mary Ann has only a combination of crabmeat ravigote and shrimp remoulade for her entree. Not for the first time, we observe that the service of the crabmeat is sub-optimal. It appears to have been served with an ice cream scoop. That doesn’t look like jumbo lump, either. . Perhaps the scoop did the damage.

I begin with oysters Foch, sharing it with MA. She likes the crackly fried oysters on which this unique creation is based. She doesn’t like the sauce, even though I find it not only excellent but unique. It’s a dark-brown sauce with a thick consistency, made with a base of hollandaise with tomato sauce, sherry, and caramel color. It’s the same color as Mexican molé, but with an entirely different flavor.

By this time the number of people who have entered the restaurant since we arrived an hour ago is over two hundred, and they keep on coming. MA tells me she will give me ninety minutes to get my eating done. But this is a night where eating a course fewer and beating it is a good idea. Especially since we’re sitting underneath the exhibit of Pope John Paul II’s dinner at Antoine’s in 1987. Everybody who enters Antoine’s wants to look at this, and stands right next to us to do so. I don’t mind, because I can fill in some of the history for these visitors.

Peach Melba at Antoine's.

Peach Melba at Antoine’s.

I do have dessert, though, mainly because yesterday was the birthday of the opera singer Dame Nellie Melba, the star for whom my dessert of ice cream, peaches, and raspberry sauce was named. Melba toast is also the singer’s namesake.

And the next thing I know, we’re home.

Antoine’s. French Quarter: 713 St Louis. 504-581-4422.
Saturday, May 22, 2016.
Big Bowls Of Soupy Thai Curries.

I use up an insane amount of time this weekend reworking my subscriber files. But if I can get that all fixed and checked, I think that the Computer Massacree of the past month or so is over. I sure wish somebody else did this stuff for me.

For the first time in months, the radio show gets on the air at its normal time–but then it goes off early, bumped by baseball at three in the afternoon. It seems that next week I will have a full two hours for the Saturday edition, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

I persuade Mary Ann to have dinner with me at Sawasdee, a handsome and relatively new Thai restaurant in Mandeville. Like everything else in that pair of strip malls, finding the place is a little challenging. The only good landmark is that Mandina’s Mandeville location is in the back of the mall, and you have to pass Sawasdee to get there.

Sawasdee-DR

The name of the place is what you say when you face another person, press your hands together as if in prayer, then bow about fifteen degrees. It’s a welcome in the Thai language. Whether the story will make it easier to remember the name, I can’t tell.

We begin with an appetizer of coconut-crusted fried shrimp, served with a cool, sweet, and fruity red sauce with a significant pepper warmth. Very good.

We both have Thai curries for the main. MA has red curry with chicken. She read somewhere that coconut milk–a major ingredient in many Thai curries–is very good for you. I’m not going to tell her that coconut milk contains a fair amount of fat. But I do agree that Thai food expressed as a ratio of deliciousness to unhealthiness is a very high number.

Panang curry with shrimp at Sawasdee.

Panang curry with shrimp at Sawasdee.

My curry color today is green. I have it with just vegetables–no meat, poultry, seafood or even tofu. I am making no statement here; I just like it that way. Sawasdee serves all this in the most traditional form. Most everything in the category amounts to a soup.

I feel the need to say that Thai curries have almost nothing in common with Indian or Chinese curries in their respective flavors. They are my favorite curries anywhere, and I love all curries.

Sawasdee Thai Cuisine. Mandeville: 4250 Hwy.22. 985-626-3577.

RecipeSquare-150x150

Marchand de Vin Sauce

This is the great sauce for steaks in the old-line Creole restaurants. As is often the case, the New Orleans version of this is much different from the classic French sauce of the same name. When serving, place this right on top of the steak (or whatever–this is also good with many other dishes, from eggs to pork chops), not underneath.

My reading of old cookbooks tells me that this sauce originally contained chips of marrow. I love that flavor, and include it in the recipe in case you can get your hands on that.

Tournedos of beef marchand de vin.

Tournedos of beef marchand de vin.

  • 1 stick butter
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 2 slices ham, chopped finely
  • 1 green onion, sliced thin
  • 2 Tbs. chopped French shallots
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 2 cups beef stock
  • Beef marrow, up to 1/4 cup, chopped (optional)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 Tbs. Worcestershire
  • 1/8 tsp. thyme
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. Tabasco

1. Heat the butter until it bubbles over medium-low heat, then stir in the flour. Make a light brown roux, stirring constantly to avoid burning.

2. Add the ham, green onions, shallots, and garlic, and sauté until the vegetables are soft. Add the wine and bring to a boil, whisking to dissolve the roux into the wine. Reduce the wine by about half.

3. Add the beef stock, marrow, bay leaf, Worcestershire and thyme, and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook, stirring now and then, for a half hour to 45 minutes, until a sauce consistency is achieved. Don’t over-thicken.

4. Add salt and Tabasco to taste. Remove the bay leaf.

Makes about two cups.

500BestSquareEscargots Bordelaise @ Antoine’s

DishStars-4
Escargots’ reputation as a gourmet dish largely faded it in the last decade. It’s nearly impossible for restaurants to buy them fresh, so many chefs disdain them. But snails don’t really have a powerful flavor of their own. What makes the good ones great is the sauce. Among the best is the sauce in one of the two ways you can have escargots at Antoine’s. Under the name “escargots bourguignonne” they serve the standard version with garlic, parsley and butter, which are okay. But the Bordelaise version is better–and pure Antoine’s. A dark brown sauce with a good deal of garlic and sherry floats the snails in one of those six-pocket dishes that keep the sauce bubbling. Before it goes into the oven, it’s sprinkled with a blend of cheeses–just a little, not enough to form a solid layer. Odd, but innocuous. The flavor is spectacular, especially once you get the slugs out of the way and start in on a whole loaf of French bread with that marvelous, very Creole sauce.

All this said, it must be noted that snails are totally out of vogue these days, a victim of the imperative for chefs to by the best ingredients. Almost all snails found in restaurants came from a can.

Antoine’s. French Quarter: 713 St. Louis. 504-581-4422.

This is among the 500 best dishes in New Orleans area restaurants. Click here for a list of the other 499.

AlmanacSquare May 24, 2015

Days Until. . .

New Orleans Wine And Food Experience 2
Greek Festival 3

Food Calendar

Today is National Escargots Day. Snails were the foie gras of their day, the emblem of a gourmet restaurant. If it served them, it was one; if not, it wasn’t. Escargots went out of vogue in the 1980s, mainly because fresh snails are almost unavailable and chefs swore to use only fresh product. Even in the heyday of escargots, they were always from a can. Now that they’re making a comeback, they’re still strictly a canned item.
Escargots
Although you can still buy Burgundy snails that really did grow in French vineyards, most snails we eat are petit gris snails that began their long journey in Turkey or Indonesia. Although some snails are raised in this country (mostly in California, where I was once served snails “with the basil on which they lived their entire lives,”) live helix snails are illegal to possess in many places, including Louisiana. That was surprising news to the late Chef Jamie Shannon, who at Commander’s Palace once brought them to my table still crawling around on a plate. (He then cooked them.)

The classic way of serving snails is in a baking dish (or the shells, if they can be found) with butter, garlic, and parsley. That accounts for much of the popularity of escargots: we like dipping bread in garlic butter. The comedian Orson Bean told Johnny Carson one night, “I hate snails, but I love the butter they serve them in. So I say, ‘Bring me an order of escargots, but hold the slugs.'”

Gourmet Gazetteer

Apple Springs is a crossroads in the rolling countryside of east central Texas, 119 miles north of Houston. Most of the action involves cattle ranching now, but the first big business in the area was pine lumber. After World War I, Apple Springs became a center for bootleg whiskey, the quality of which is still remembered. The town was founded in the expansion and migration following the Civil War. Apple Springs was home to as many as 300 people in the 1960s, but the pull of the big cities has cut that by half now. The only restaurant in town is a Subway.

Deft Dining Rule #175

You may never need this skill, but if you’re a real gourmet you should know how to use snail clamps (they hold the shell while you dig into it) and a snail fork (it has two long tines for extracting the snail from its shell).

Edible Dictionary

scamorza, Italian, n.–A variation of fresh-milk mozzarella, with the same kind of sour-milk background flavor. It has an odd shape, like that of a snowman. It gets that way by having a string tied around it a bit off center. It’s hung up to cure for a few days. Because of its resemblance to a hanged man, this process is called “strangling” the cheese. The most distinctive scamorza is smoked after being strangled. If you own a pizza parlor, you could step ahead of your competitors by being the first to use scamorza.

Great Moments In Wine

WineRackThis is the day in 1976 when a wine tasting in Paris turned the wine world upside down. In a blind tasting by a panel of traditional wine authorities, California wines went up against the best wines of Bordeaux. A Chardonnay from Chateau Montelena and a Cabernet Sauvignon from Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars came in first. The experts praised both Napa wines being as obviously French. It was the beginning of a process that continues picking up speed, as the winemaking styles of California set the standards of taste for the rest of the world. A great account of the tasting can be read in George Taber’s book, Judgment of Paris.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

The problem with wine tastings is that wine is better with food than with other wines.

Dining Landmarks

BrooklynBridgeThe Brooklyn Bridge opened today in 1883. Only pedestrians and horse-drawn carts used it. On one of my most memorable trips to New York–for the first anniversary of 9/11–I dined in the River Cafe, on a barge almost underneath the Brooklyn Bridge. Locals consider it touristy. But a bunch of New Yorkers with me were impressed mightily by both the food and the scene. They were surprised. Why? Because they’d never been there before. New Yorkers never, ever buck trends.

Annals Of One-Hour Meals

Today in 1938, Carl McGee of Oklahoma City patented the parking meter. Thanks, Carl. We’re stuck with them forever now. Many dining decisions are made according to the availability of parking meters. If I’m looking for dinner and see an open metered space in front of a good place, I eat there. I always carry a film container full of quarters and dollar coins for that purpose. But now we get to watch our credit cards not work in those new parking machines. Someday, I hope to meet someone who has made one of things work by phone, as signs say they will.

Food In The Movies

The Cocoanuts, the first Marx Brothers film, was released today in 1929.

Food Namesakes

Peaches and Herb had a Number One hit on this date in 1979, Reunited. . . Rob Baker, the drummer for the major Canadian rock group Red Rider, is 55 today. . . H. B. Reese, the man for whom the famous peanut-butter-filled chocolate cups were named (because he invented them), was born today in 1879.

Words To Eat By

“I don’t like to eat snails. I prefer fast food.”–Strange de Jim, San Francisco quipmeister.

Words To Drink By

“I’ll stick with gin. Champagne is just ginger ale that knows somebody.”–Hawkeye, in the television show M*A*S*H.

FoodFunniesSquare

Shaved Chocolate.

It’s a great idea, allowing more chocolate flavor release when used as a garnish on a cake a mousse, or even a ruch coffee drink. Nut one must used the right tools.

Click here for the cartoon.

CremeDeLaCremeSquare-150x150

Baker’s Dozen Best Restaurants For New Orleans Style.

The concept of New Orleans style came up at a table at which I was sitting a few weeks ago. I got interested when the conversation shifted–as it inevitably does–to the local style in restaurants. I reached into the back of my brain (what a mess!) and recalled a quotation that I think speaks eloquently to the matter. We ran it every week in our masthead during my years at the extinct weekly newspaper Figaro. “Localism alone leads to culture,” said the American poet William Carlos Williams. Nowhere is that more essential an idea than in New Orleans.

That conversation led me to make a list of the dozen restaurants that best capture New Orleans style: their cuisine, their environments, the people who work there, and less obvious aspects like their names and locations.

I found it easy to compile this list, and I was well past a dozen candidates when it became clear that my list was almost identical with a list of oldest local restaurants. And that most of those achieved their strong New Orleans style just by staying open for many decades. So I started over, this time limiting the list to restaurants that opened no later than 1975–a pivotal moment in New Orleans cultural and culinary history.

To be fair to the old places–who, generally, really do top most of the younger spots with their Creoleness–I list them all together in the top spot. No need to explain. It’s obvious why these venerable dining establishments have a strong, legitimate claim to localism.

1. Antoine’s
2. Arnaud’s
3. Galatoire’s
4. Commander’s Palace.
5. Brennan’s
6. Tujague’s
7. Broussard’s
8. Pascal’s Manale
9. Crescent City Steak House
10. Felix’s
11. Bon Ton Café
12. Casamento’s

Now, here goes with the modern restaurants with a lot of New Orleans feeling.

R'Evolution dining room.

R’Evolution dining room.

1. FleurDeLis-4-ForLists R’evolution. French Quarter: 777 Bienville (in the Royal Sonesta Hotel). 504-553-2277. Only the renovation of Brennan’s two years ago exceeded the investment made by Chefs John Folse and Rick Tramonto and the Royal Sonesta Hotel in this stunning restaurant. And it’s not just fancy, but saturated in Louisiana style. The walls come close to giving a history lesson. It was a little stiff in the beginning, but the act is smooth now. The bar is particularly pleasant.

Ralphs-DR

2. FleurDeLis-4-ForLists Ralph’s On The Park. City Park Area: 900 City Park Ave. 504-488-1000. The non-continuous history of the building began in the 1860s, but it wasn’t much until Ralph Brennan renovated the place. All of City Park is across the street. Balconies extend around the second floor. Most night there’s live music–usually jazz–in the bar.

The bar at Clancy's. If my back were aching, I would have had dinner there.

The bar at Clancy’s. If my back were aching, I would have had dinner there.

3. FleurDeLis-4-ForLists Clancy’s. Uptown 3: Napoleon To Audubon: 6100 Annunciation. 504-895-1111. In a lot of ways Clancy’s feels fifty years older than it is. The food is classic French Creole, the waiters are chummy, and the conversion of the old neighborhood bar left lots of atmosphere behind.

Crab cheesecake at the Palace Cafe.

Crab cheesecake at the Palace Cafe.

4. FleurDeLis-3-ForLists Palace Cafe. French Quarter: 605 Canal. 504-523-1661. The best view of downtown New Orleans from river through the old Canal Street shopping and business district is here, on the sidewalk, in the first floor, and upstairs. Big windows everywhere.

Atchafalaya-DR2

5. FleurDeLis-4-ForLists Atchafalaya. Uptown 2: Washington To Napoleon: 901 Louisiana Ave. 504-891-9626. The premises has hosted restaurants since the 1920s, but it didn’t become one of the best gourmet bistros until after Katrina. That reputation has spread so widely that it’s hard to get a table these days. And with delicious reasons.

PelicanClub-Ext

6. FleurDeLis-5-ForLists Pelican Club. French Quarter: 615 Bienville. 504-523-1504. The Exchange Alley address tells good stories from the past. The art galleries that surround the restaurant are atmospheric. The menu includes its own classics, notably the West End-style stuffed whole flounder. The prices even suggest another local era in fine dining.

7. FleurDeLis-4-ForLists Brigtsen’s. Uptown 4: Riverbend, Carrollton & Broadmoor: 723 Dante. 504-861-7610. High ceilings, doors and windows make Frank and Marna’s place look bigger than it is. The whole place was built from old barge boards a century ago. Frank learned his craft the old way, and he buys most of his food from the markets.

MrBs-Bread

8. FleurDeLis-4-ForLists Mr. B’s Bistro. French Quarter: 201 Royal. 504-523-2078. Having the longest bar in the French Quarter is quite a claim. The best versions in town of such essential dishes as barbecue shrimp, chicken-andouille gumbo, wood-grilled fish, and bread pudding is also a local draw. Having to wait at the bar for a table is also something from the local restaurant past.

Double-cut pork chop.

Double-cut pork chop.

9. FleurDeLis-4-ForLists Muriel’s. French Quarter: 801 Chartres. 504-568-1885. The building was once a macaroni factory in the days a century ago when the French Quarter was really the Italian Quarter. Muriel’s moved in in 2001, managed by a longtime Brennan-family hand. It looks touristy but this is New Orleans dining top to bottom, at menu numbers designed for locals.

JoAnn Clevenger at her desk at The Upperline.

JoAnn Clevenger at her desk at The Upperline.

10*. FleurDeLis-4-ForLists Upperline. Uptown 3: Napoleon To Audubon: 1413 Upperline. 504-891-9822. JoAnn Clevenger took over an old French-Creole restaurant and, over the years, expanded into a building next door. Its menu and style are sophisticated and appealing to New Orleanians and to frequent visitors.

The entrance into GWFins, as seen from Arnaud's.

The entrance into GWFins, as seen from Arnaud’s.

11. FleurDeLis-4-ForLists GW Fins. French Quarter: 808 Bienville. 504-581-3467. The original idea was to start a chain of seafood restaurants around the country. That didn’t work out. Instead, we have been gifted with the best seafood restaurant in New Orleans, with more species of finfish and shellfish than we’ve seen since the glory days of the French Market fish stalls.

The big ballroom at Tomas Bistro.

The big ballroom at Tomas Bistro.

12. FleurDeLis-4-ForLists Tomas Bistro. Warehouse District & Center City: 755 Tchoupitoulas. 504-527-0942. Tommy Andrade is one of the last surviving proponents of grandiose fine dining. (He used to run the Sazerac.) Tomas Bistro is my preference for its beautiful and big-flavor cookery. All that is also true, with a bit more casualness, at Tommy’s Cuisine across the street.

Cafe Giovanni.

Cafe Giovanni.

13. FleurDeLis-4-ForLists Cafe Giovanni. French Quarter: 117 Decatur. 504-529-2154. This is one of those times when I can’t bear to leave unreported what would be Number 13 on the list. While most Italian restaurants have more of an Italian than a Creole style, Chef Duke LoCicero embraces both. The dining room is decidedly French Quarter in its design. Duke grew up eating and later cooking in the Sicilian way, but with New Orleans ingredients and methods. The opera singers recall the times when New Orleans was a world capital of opera.

DiningDiarySquare-150x150 Part II: Tuesday, May 17, 2016.
We Somehow Get A Table At Shaya.

The Marys are in town, still finding ways to make ML’s wedding reception even more fabulous. But that effort is eclipsed by MA’s success at getting a table tonight at Shaya. Named the best new restaurant of the year in America by both Esquire and the James Beard organization, the place is jammed every night for weeks or even months in advance.

But Mary Ann is good at weaseling her way into unlikely places. Her Parking Witch superpowers are astonishing: she finds a legal parking spot wherever she goes, usually right in front of the target address. And although the looks on the faces of Shaya’s hostesses tell me that they tried to stop her, she somehow got a table.

The Marys have already gone through three dishes of various dips and and crunchy marinated vegetables. Also on the table is Shaya’s most celebrated specialty: pita bread that’s puffed up many times bigger than any pita I’ve ever encountered. The story is that chef and co-owner (John Besh is the other one) is Alon Shaya, who also manages Dominica in the Roosevelt Hotel. The pita bread is his pizza dough, rolled out thicker than normal and baked at Shaya in a big, hot oven. You cannot stop eating this wonderful bread, which is good all by itself, but even better when you go after the dips and dabs.

Halloumi @ Shaya.

Halloumi @ Shaya.

The first dish I get is crispy halloumi. The latter word usually announces the presence of cheese and flames. Not here. Leeks, fresh peas (who else in town has that?), and a smooth sauce made from the cheese (made with goat’s milk, and perhaps some sheep’s milk), and preserved lemon. It comes together with some grilled chunks of the cheese, and is so delicious that I am tempted to get another dish of it. And another pita bread.

Lamb shank with beaten feta cheese at Shaya.

Lamb shank with beaten feta cheese at Shaya.

But there is no time and no stomach space. My entree is a whole lamb shank, darkly roasted but still very tender with a glaze of some kind of sharp, citrusy juice. The sauce is made by whipping feta cheese. I never thought about lamb and cheese, but I will not soon forget this.

Short ribs.

Short ribs.

Meanwhile, the Marys are at work on short ribs, one of their favorite meaty foods. There is plenty of this, but not nearly as much as the shanks in front of me. All we can talk about is how deeply the deliciousness goes in all of this. And a little about the waitress’s disdain for MA’s seating strategy. I didn’t see that, myself, but MA says that the waitress has her number.

Milk and honey, a little burned (on purpose).

Milk and honey, a little burned (on purpose).

The Marys do not eat desserts, but I do. Shaya calls it “milk and honey,” which amounts to cheesecake topped with burned honey ice cream. Israeli creme brulee? Or panna cotta? Good enough for me.

One can’t regard this place in the same way one thinks of the many other Middle Eastern restaurants in town. Everything at Shaya involves first-class ingredients and techniques. And we ate very generously. That explains how the check grew to $158 for the three of us. But here is a full house all the time. What an opportunity to carry forward an entirely new (for New Orleans) style of cooking. This is my third repast here, in which I have sampled almost everything on the menu. It is all as exciting as the buzz says it is.

Shaya. Uptown: 4213 Magazine St. 504-891-4213.

RecipeSquare-150x150

Creole Yam And Corn Chowder

The corn crop comes in late spring and early summer in Louisiana. (At least by the standards of the Midwest, where corn stalks are traditionally supposed to be “knee high on the Fourth of July.”) It gets made into many kinds of soups and side dishes. This one conspires with Louisiana sweet potatoes (which are always in season) and the smoky, spicy andouille sausage to make a really exciting soup. Swap out the andouille for half as much Cajun tasso, and this becomes a recipe for an excellent cold soup.

Corn and sweet potato soup

  • 1/2 pound smoky, chunky andouille sausage
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 4 cups vegetable or chicken stock, or water
  • 6 small red potatoes, peeled and quartered
  • 2 lbs. sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch medium dice
  • 3-4 ears sweet yellow corn
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne
  • 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 Tbs. brown sugar (optional; taste the soup first)
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream (or half-and-half)
  • 2 green onions, tender green parts only, snipped finely

1. Slice the andouille into quarters from end to end, then slice about as thick as two stacked nickels. Put them into a large saucepan over medium-low heat, and cook–stirring only once or twice–until the excess fat is rendered out.

2. Remove the andouille with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Pour off the excess fat from the pan but don’t wipe the pan.

3. Add the onion to the saucepan and cook until translucent.

4. Add the stock (or water), the red potatoes and the sweet potatoes. Add the stock and enough water to cover everything. Bring it to a boil and cook about fifteen minutes.

5. Strain the saucepan contents. Return the liquid to the pan. Process the solids in a food processor to a rough puree. (Or, better, run it though a food mill.) Add it back to the saucepan and return to a simmer.

6. Over a plate to catch all the milk, cut the corn krenels off the cobs. Scrape the cobs to get all the milk. Add all the kernels and milk into the saucepan.

7. Stir in the cayenne, Worcestershire, salt, brown sugar, and whipping cream. Add the andouille. Taste the soup and adjust with salt and Tabasco to taste. If the soup is too thick, add water.

Serves six to eight.

500BestSquareCorn And Tortillas @ Canal Street Bistro

DishStars_3
No ingredient is more common in Mexican cooking than corn. But tell me when you’ve ever seen corn kernels playing a major role in a dish. This is one of those rare examples. It looks like its description: a pile of fresh corn kernels cooked with peppers, onions and an invisible sauce making it tangy. Everything, including the onions, are still crisp. All this is piled atop homemade tortilla chips. Great with a glass of made-to-order sangria.

Corn and peppers on tortillas. .

Canal Street Bistro. Mid-City: 3903 Canal St. 504-482-1225.

This is among the 500 best dishes in New Orleans area restaurants. Click here for a list of the other 499.

AlmanacSquare May 23, 2015

Today

New Orleans Wine And Food Experience 3

Greek Festival 4

Today’s Flavor

It is Corn and Crab Soup Day. That combination has been around in Chinese restaurants for who knows how long, in the usual thin style common to most Asian soups. But that’s not the soup the name conjures up around New Orleans. A rich, spicy potage came to light during Paul Prudhomme’s tour of duty as chef at Commander’s Palace, in the late 1970s. That soup had the two namesake ingredients in a matrix of reduced heavy cream and crab stock, with a good shake of cayenne pepper to make it convincing.

CrabCornBisqueWhat makes a corn and crab soup great is the size of the crab lumps, the richness of the broth, and the freshness of the corn. The best versions involve corn cut freshly off the cob, with the corn milk collected and added to the broth. Sometimes a stock is even made from the corn cobs, and that’s good, too. It’s really simple to make–if you have any instincts at all, you already know how to make it from just what I’ve already told you here.

Corn and crab soup (also called bisque by some purveyors) quickly became part of the pantheon of classic New Orleans soups, right up there with gumbo, turtle soup, and oyster-artichoke. Some restaurants have become famous for it, notably Vincent’s (where they serve it in a bowl made of French bread), most of the Brennan restaurants, and even Copeland’s.

Food Patents

The Patent Act of 1930 made it possible for plants to be patented. This gave the seed companies a tremendous boost, largely at the expense of the individual farmer and the consumer. If a seed company developed a new corn hybrid, for example, it could now forbid farmers from just replanting the corn using the kernels from last year’s crop. Although this was seen as a boon to the creation of new, much more productive hybrids, it also had the unintended effect of narrowing the gene pool for corn. The jury is still out on this one, but it’s highly questionable whether in the long run this will prove to have been a good thing for anyone but the three gigantic companies that control corn.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Rabbit Ridge is in central Arkansas, fifty eight miles north of Little Rock. It’s a crossroads in rolling farm country, growing corn and cotton and truck vegetables. It’s named for a textbook example of a hogback ridge, running a couple of miles east-west through the area, rising over 100 feet and dropping again in a ridge only a few dozen yards wide. Rabbit Ridge is further accents by tree cover, in contrast with the open fields on both sides of fit. Growing what they grow around there, it’s a certainty that rabbits are noted. If you’re hungry while passing through, Grandpa’s Restaurant is five miles west in Center Ridge.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

Crabs don’t eat corn
And corn’s not for crabs
But when the cob’s shorn
And lump’s up for grabs
Put cream in the pot
And simmer it down
Add cayenne–not a lot
Then just go to town.

Edible Dictionary

RiverShrimpriver shrimp, n.–In Louisiana, a medium-size shrimp that lives in fresh water, notably the Mississippi and Atchafalaya Rivers. Most of the shrimp we eat come from saltwater or brackish water, but many species are found in freshwater streams. Rarely are they big enough to be worth catching for food. But the bluish-colored shrimp from the major streams in Louisiana are not only caught but prized. They’re medium-small, about 65 to the pound. Their flavor is subtle and almost sweet, such that they’re best cooked without the usual crab boil–just some lemon slices and salt. River shrimp are highly seasonal, usually showing up in enormous numbers for a few weeks in the early spring. They are mostly eaten by the people who catch them, and rarely make it to market. In the old days, they were often disdained. Now they’re considered a delicacy.

Deft Dining Rule #548

Before ordering chowder in any restaurant, demand to know everything in it, and what color it is. And ask this: Not canned, right? Watch the server’s eyes when you ask this.

Music To Chew Gum By

One of the worst songs ever to top the music charts did so on this day in 1968. It was the outer limits of bubblegum music: Yummy Yummy Yummy, by the Ohio Express.

Food Namesakes

Seabiscuit, the famous racehorse, was born today in 1933. . . Early baseball pro Zack Wheat was born today in 1888.

Words To Eat By

“I wish I had time for just one more bowl of chili.”–Kit Carson, a cowboy who, according to legend, spoke these words with his dying breath on this date in 1868.

Words To Drink By

There’s alcohol in plant and tree.
It must be Nature’s plan
That there should be in fair degree
Some alcohol in Man. —A. P. Herbert, British humorist.

FoodFunniesSquare

Eating Like A Bird.

It’s not what it used to be, now that birds have come to appreciate better ingredients from the great food markets of the world. And apply ideas from the wormhole-to-nest-movement.

Click here for the cartoon.

DiningDiarySquare-150x150 Sunday, May 15, 2016.
Jittery Sequence. Puzzles.

A busy day, with the Marys running around the South Shore working on ML’s wedding plans. Still no band has appeared that suits ML’s tastes.

My day begins with my solo of the Pentecost Sequence. I don’t know why this makes me nervous, but I am, and I lose my place for a second in the middle of very familiar music: the Ode To Joy part of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. I think I would have done a better job in a higher voice. But all comments are congratulatory.

I have plenty to keep me busy at home all afternoon. I fire up the lawn tractor and give the meadow by the pond its first mowing since last September.

A busy day, with the Marys running around the South Shore working on ML’s wedding plans. Still no band has appeared that suits ML’s tastes.

My day begins with my solo of the Pentecost Sequence at St. Janes. I don’t know why this makes me nervous, but I am, and I lose my place for a second in the middle of very familiar music: the Ode To Joy part of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. I think I would have done a better job in a higher voice. But all comments are congratulatory.

I have plenty to keep me busy at home all afternoon. I fire up the lawn tractor and give the meadow by the pond its first mowing since last September. Even after the feet of rain we’ve had in the early part of the year, it’s been dry enough in the last two weeks that I can roam all over the meadow with no fears of getting stuck in the mud. In fact, the big inconvenience is billowing dust when I pass through the many dried-up crawfish towers out there.

Now a five-lap, ninety-minute rapid walk around the Cool Water Ranch. I am followed a long way–and at my pace–by the dog Susie. She went to the vet a couple of days ago, and the doctor showed us the X-ray of the complete break in her left front leg, caused by bone cancer. So how is she all but running along with me? This old girl is some kind of tenacious. The doctor says that there is nothing to be done, but Susie seems to want to prove her wrong.

The Marys finally return home around five. We meet up for supper at Zea, one of our longtime Sunday-evening venues when there were still three or four of us to be fed. The Marys have eaten already today, or else I would have felt a push in the direction of the confounded Chimes. Usual menu: tomato-basil soup, a house salad, rotisserie beef with a red-wine sauce, and a scoop of ice cream for me. The girls just eat salads.

When we get home, the Marys resume the entertainment they have pursued throughout this visit: assembling jigsaw puzzles. Of course, there are pieces missing (MA found the old puzzles in a closet she was excavating), and the cats like to jump up onto to the table to see what’s going on, moving a few dozen pieces each time as the girls shriek.

Monday, May 16, 2016.
The Five Figures. Smoke. Ching-A-Ring-Chaw.

The Marys want to have lunch today at Smoke, the newish barbecue joint in Covington, operated by the same chef who owns the hip, gourmet-leaning Ox Lot 9 in the Southern Hotel. We’ve been to Smoke a few times, and we all agree that it’s one of the two or three best smokehouses on the North Shore.

Hot sausage platter at SMoke.

The girls split a platter of ribs, greens, grits, and macaroni and cheese. I have hot link sausage and fresh-cut fries. All very well achieved. Only two complaints: the kitchen ran out of lemon wedges, of which MA routinely uses a half-dozen or more for her iced tea.

Bread that needs some toastiness.

Bread that needs some toastiness.

The other comment–hardly a gripe, really–is the bread served by Smoke. It’s a thick slice of more or less plain white bread, served at room temperature and drying up minute by minute. If I had dictatorial culinary powers (not that I’d want them or accept them in anyone else), I would require that all bread (with a few exceptions) must be hot out of the oven or, at least, from the toaster. That one little procedure improves nearly all breads worldwide. The aroma of freshly-toasted bread make that point forcefully.

All these eating needs addressed, the girls open a subject they are loathe to put before me. They have calculated the cost of the wedding, and they hit me over the head with the number. It is more than I was expecting, but when I do the addition it becomes reasonable. Mary Ann notes that this will be the last big family expense we will ever bear. And we have carried some very big ones. Tulane tuition, to name one outstanding example. How can I do less for my only daughter? I am told. At the end of the our smoky lunch–it takes me that long for me to get used to the idea–I give my assent. Where will the money come from? I am not clear about this, but Mary Ann seems to be confident.

Maybe it’s trying to swallow that thought, I do a terrible job of singing at tonight’s NPAS rehearsal. It brings me to the edge of despair. Some of the songs we are working on for our June 3 and 5 concert of early American music seem well beyond my capabilities. I can blame a little of this on the confusing way some of the songs are printed. And a little bit more to what seems like intentional, perhaps even mischievous complexity on the part of composer Aaron Copland. “Ching-A-Ring-Chaw” is filled with nonsense words, and there doesn’t seem to be any point to the story being told musically. If I can learn all this, I will know that my musical abilities have come a long way since I joined NPAS a year and a half ago.

Smoke. Covington: 1005 North Collins Blvd. 985-302-5307.

RecipeSquare-150x150

Potato Salad

The two most important things to know about potato salad are that you must use little red potatoes, and that you should squinch all the ingredients together with your fingers. After washing your hands, of course. Feels funny, tastes good.

Potato salad

  • 20-24 small red potatoes
  • 6 slices thick, smoky bacon
  • 4 ribs celery
  • 4 green onions, sliced very thin
  • 6 sprigs flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • 2 hard-boiled eggs, pushed through a coarse sieve
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup cider vinegar
  • 3 Tbs. Creole mustard
  • 1 Tbs. celery seed
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. sugar
  • A few dashes of Tabasco
  • A few grinds of black pepper

1. Scrub the potatoes, then boil until barely tender. Cut the potatoes into eight pieces, leaving the skins on. Put the potatoes into a large bowl.

2. Fry the bacon until very crisp. Drain, then crumble into the potatoes. Spoon three tablespoons of bacon fat over the potatoes.

3. Trim the celery stalks, then cut in half. Slice lengthwise down the middle, then lengthwise again to get thin strips. Chop into small dice. Add to the bowl. Add all the other ingredients.

4. Wash your hands well, and mix all the ingredients with your fingers, lightly squeezing them as you do. The salad should ooze through your fingers a little, but minimize mashing the potatoes.

This is pretty good as is, but it gets better after being refrigerated a few hours or overnight.

Serves eight to twelve.

500BestSquareFried Shrimp @ Vera’s

DishStars_3
I am not a fan of fried shrimp. When they land in front of me, it’s only because I’m sharing a seafood platter with my wife (who loves seafood platters). She also loves fried shrimp, and she gets all of them while I hoard the fried oysters. So it’s high praise for me to make an exception for the fried shrimp at Vera’s. The size and quality of the shrimp are everything they ought to be. The coating is crisp and nicely seasoned. They even present them beautifully, in a ring around the fries and salad. Worth the trip across the lake for fried shrimp fanatics.

Vera’s. Slidell: 2020 Gause Blvd W. 985-690-9814 .

This is among the 500 best dishes in New Orleans area restaurants. Click here for a list of the other 499.

AlmanacSquare May 18, 2015

Days Until. . .

New Orleans Wine And Food Experience 7

Greek Festival14

Food Calendar

Cheese soufflee.

Cheese soufflee.

Today is National Cheese Soufflee Day. Cheese soufflees are not all that hard to cook, but they do require a certain amount of thought. The first issue is the cheese. You don’t want anything that will throw off a lot of fat–cheddar, for example, isn’t a good choice. Tangy cheeses–like those made with goat’s or sheep’s milk–make the soufflee more interesting. The assembly and baking require closer attention than most dishes. Although you can get away without either, a water bath and straight-sided soufflee dishes make the baking more foolproof. That instruction you hear about never opening the oven during the process is solid. All of what I just described makes it hard for a restaurant to offer hot soufflees–unless it has a chef who does little else.

The heyday of cheese soufflees in New Orleans was in the late 1970s. That’s when Louis XVI opened for lunch, under Chef Daniel Bonnot. Among the specialties were soufflees not only of cheese but oysters Rockefeller (yum!) and smoked salmon. The line cook was Susan Spicer, who’d just begun her career as a chef, in her early twenties.

Deft Dining Rule #100:

A restaurant that routinely serves well-made hot soufflees gets an extra star just for that.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

The best way to keep a high-rising soufflee from falling over in the oven (or when you take it out) is to make a collar of parchment paper around the top of the dish, holding it tight with masking tape.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Squid Island is just outside Acadia National Park, just off the central coast of Maine, forty-three miles southeast of Bangor. It’s about big enough for about three bowling alleys, laid end to end; it’s only about fifteen feet wide. The scenery is stunning, with mountains rising from the surrounding, bigger islands. This is lobster habitat, so it’s a no-brainer when looking for a restaurant to find Abel’s Lobster Pound, seven miles away in Mount Desert.

Edible Dictionary

bonne femme, French, adj.–The words literally mean good woman, with the connotation that this good woman is running a household and kitchen. It connotes, however, a woman of sparse resources, who must get the most out of all her food. When applied to food, it usually means a dish cooked simply in the oven with a lot of garnish. Creole cooking includes a number of bonne femme dishes, all of them so old that they show up only in traditional restaurants. The most famous of bonne femme dish is made with a roasted chicken, potatoes, onions, butter, and quite a bit of garlic. In New Orleans, Tujague’s and Antoine’s both have it, although the recipes differ. Antoine’s also has oysters bonne femme, a totally different dish, with a buttery sauce topped with bread crumbs. It differs so much from place to place that the eater is well advised to ask for a detailed explanation of it.

The Saints

Today in 1920, Karol Jozef Wojtyla–Pope John Paul II–was born in Wadowice, Poland. On his one visit to New Orleans, he dined at Antoine’s. (I know there’s much more to be said about him, but we have a narrow outlook here.). . . Today is the feast day of St. Theodatus, a patron saint of hoteliers and innkeepers.

Food And Volcanoes

Today in 1980 Mount St. Helens exploded with the force of five hundred Hiroshima bombs, removing most of its altitude. I don’t think a dish has been named for that volcano, but the names of at least two others have wound up on edibles. Both are Italian, which figures: lot of famous volcanoes there. A stromboli is a pizza turnover with a hole punched in the top to let the steam out. It’s supposed to recall the island volcano Stromboli north of Sicily, which smokes most of the time. Chicken Vesuvio is less obvious a connection, although when served right that collection of chicken sausage, and potatoes is as hot as lava.

Music To Marry A Cook By

On this date in 1963, Jimmy Soul hit the top of the charts with a song that gave this advice:

If you wanna be happy for the rest of your life,
Never make a pretty woman your wife.
So from my personal point of view,
Get an ugly girl to marry you.

At the end of the song is this exchange:

“Hey, man, I saw your wife the other day. And she’s uuugg-leeee!”
“Yeah, she’s ugly, but she sure can cook!”

So which would you prefer? A good-looking wife (or husband)? Or one who sure can cook?

Food Namesakes

Movie actor Yun Fat Chow was born today in Hong Kong in 1955. . . Joseph Beer, who was such a virtuoso on the clarinet that composers wrote pieces especially for him to play, was born today in 1744 in (appropriately) Bavaria. . . On a related note, Rufus Porter, former Saints linebacker, was born today in 1965. . . The Strawberries (Darryl and Lisa) filed for divorce today in 1989. . . This is a reach, but the scientist who theorized the existence of the ionosphere was born today–London, 1850. He sounds like a dedicated eater: Oliver Heaviside. . . Comedian Dane Cook was born today in 1972. . . Jean-Louis Roux, Canadian actor, playwright, and politician, stepped onto the Big Stage today in 1923.

Words To Eat By

“Soufflee is more important than you think. If men ate soufflee before meetings, life could be much different.”–Jacques Baeyens, French consul general in New York in the 1950s.

Words To Drink By

“It is most absurdly said in popular language of any man, that he is disguised in liquor. On the contrary, most men are disguised by sobriety.”–Thomas de Quincy, British writer of the mid-1800s.

FoodFunniesSquare

Indecision Helps You To Avoid Indigestion.

And it also leads you to a healthy diet.

Click here for the cartoon.

DiningDiarySquare-150x150 Friday, May 13, 2016.
Never Giving Up On A Restaurant.

A few days ago, a guy called me on the air and asked me to tell the story about Le Citron Bistro. We were running out of time that day, and all I got around to tell him is that the restaurant operates in the oldest building in New Orleans uptown of Canal Street. The owners make much of that fact, and for those interested in history and architecture you can read all about it on Citron’s website (www.le-citronbistro.com). The story involves the Jesuits, which is almost proof of its veracity.

Dining room at Le Citron Bistro.

Dining room at Le Citron Bistro.

The building has hosted a few restaurants over the years, notably Indulgence, a gourmet Creole bistro of the 1980s. Since 2004 it’s been Le Citron. I have been four or five times over the years, and always left wondering what the owners had in mind. The only thing I can come up with is that it makes an interesting reception or banquet facility. All of my attempts to dine there a la carte resulted in an hour or so of minimalism.

The call on the radio show reminded me that it’s been years since my last take of the place. I went there tonight and found that it’s about where I left it. The menu was abbreviated. The dining room staff was just one guy. I was the only customer there when I arrived. Two more tables–one of them for six people–came in while I was there. I was right next to the six-top, and I couldn’t help but pick up on snippets of their conversation. The man who seemed to lead the group indicated that somebody recommended Le Citron highly.

Crab cakes at Le Citron.

Crab cakes at Le Citron.

I was well into my meal by then. The first course was a pair of thin crab cakes of marginal goodness, topped by a sort of white remoulade sauce. The entree was the night’s special: half a chicken, defined by the waiter as roasted. Maybe it was rotisserie. It came across as braised. It came with cubes of potatoes that were decidedly undercooked (firm and nearly crunchy in the centers) and green beans. A cup of light brown gravy was also there, but why I don’t know. This chicken was well enough soaked already.

IMG_1832

They did manage a hit for dessert: an excellent bread pudding with a dark brown sauce and a kind of praline flavor and whipped cream. Delicious.

I never give up on a restaurant, no matter how many times it’s disappointed me. I will be back, but no time soon.

Today is the forty-ninth anniversary of the Jesuit High School Junior-Senior Prom, Classes of 1967 and 1968. It was the night I became a man, but not for the typical reason. I note the day every year. The best set-piece in that effort is a musical playlist that includes all of the top 50 records on the charts on this date in 1967. Between the records are the actual jingles heard on WNOE and WTIX, the two major pop music stations in those years. I have the whole thing loaded up on my phone, but for some reason I couldn’t get it playing. So I just went home.

Next year, however, will be the fiftieth anniversary. I will be ready to do it all over again. I have decided that the half-century mark will be a good time to end this rubric.

Le Citron Bistro. Warehouse District & Center City: 1539 Religious. 504-566-9051.
Saturday, May 14, 2016.
Twenty Minutes.

I get my car washed for the first time since I bought it back in February. Then I get a haircut at the Lion’s Den tonsorial parlor in Covington. At noon, I pick up Mary Leigh for lunch at the Abita Roasting Company. She gets a salad-like, panini-style club sandwich with turkey, bacon, avocados, cheese, tomatoes, lettuce, and a few other things. I have a fried catfish platter, a good deal at $13.

Steve St. John and his lady take a seat one table away from ours. Steve, whose audio production studio is across the hall from mine, has the greatest commercial radio voice in New Orleans. If you listen to WWL radio for even ten minutes, you’ll probably hear his voice at least three times. He is as nice a guy as he is talented.

I have a radio show to do at two, but it is delayed by an LSU baseball game. A long time. I don’t get on the air until three-forty–a mere twenty minutes until the end. It’s a good thing that I love being on the radio.

The Marys cross the lake to negotiate some wedding matters. I’m left at home alone but with much to do. Still hacking away at the computer disaster of a few weeks ago.

Panang curry @ Thai Chili.

Panang curry @ Thai Chili.

I leave that irritation after a couple of hours of eye-crossing work. And I have dinner at the Thai Chili. I have my favorite Thai dish, Panang curry. I haven’t had that for awhile, as I try other items on the big menu. I think they may have a new chef here. My last four meals (with the exception of one buffet I blundered into some weeks ago) have been exemplary. So is this one, a big bowl of orange coconut-milk-based sauce, at the three-star pepper level. Very enjoyable.

Thai Chili. Covington: 1102 N US 190. 985-809-0180.

RecipeSquare-150x150

Spicy Garlic Shrimp

Every summer the Upperline Restaurant has a Garlic Festival–a terrific menu of original dishes using garlic in all its delightful gustatory guises. This dish is from the event’s early days, and the deft hand of the late Chef Tom Cowman. It’s a rather spicy taste, all the better for the garlic to work its wonders with the shrimp. I’m not sure they make this recipe anymore, but if they don’t, it’s easy enough to make at home.

  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 Tbs. chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne
  • 1 tsp. chopped garlic
  • 1/2 lb. small to medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1/2 medium onion, sliced thinly
  • 1/4 cup garlic mayonnaise (below)
  • 4 two-inch squares jalapeno cornbread (see recipe on page 00)
  • Garlic mayonnaise:
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 Tbs. Dijon or Creole mustard
  • 1 Tbs. vinegar
  • 2 Tbs. chopped garlic

1. Mix the vegetable oil, spices and garlic in a stainless steel bowl. Add the shrimp and marinate for one to two hours, covered and refrigerated.

2. Make the garlic mayonnaise by combining all the ingredients and blending with a whisk. It’s better if you make it a day ahead of time and refrigerate, to let the flavors blend.

3. Heat a medium skillet and in it sauté the shrimp in its marinade plus the sliced onions. Cook until shrimp are pink and firm–four to five minutes, depending on the size of the shrimp.

4. Split the cornbread and spread both halves with garlic mayonnaise. Place on serving plates and top with the shrimp.

Serves four.

500BestSquareCrowder Peas And Greens @ Praline Connection

DishStars_3
The only restaurant in New Orleans that makes fresh crowder peas every day is the Praline Connection. The beans and greens are a side dish, often seen in the company of fried or baked chicken. Crowders have been here since day one, holding up the torch for this most underrated of legumes. Another rarity here is fried chicken livers, another major specialty at the Connection. Get both!

Crowder peas

Praline Connection. Marigny: 542 Frenchmen. 504-943-3934.

This is among the 500 best dishes in New Orleans area restaurants. Click here for a list of the other 499.

AlmanacSquare May 17, 2015

Days Until. . .

New Orleans Wine And Food Experience 8

Greek Festival15

Food Calendar

ChocolateFondueToday is National Chocolate Fondue Day. Chocolate fondue is the traditional final course of a fondue dinner, served after you’ve been through the bread dipped in melted cheese and the meats passed through hot oil or hot broth. It is clearly the favorite kind of fondue, involving cubes of pound cake and various fresh fruits, dunked in the molten chocolate long enough to coat it. You eat it still warm from the pot, and the end of long fondue forks. The chocolate is usually combined with cream or evaporated milk (otherwise it might seize up) and some flavored liqueurs or even coffee. Fondue has never been common in New Orleans, because it’s the sort of eating that is best done when it’s cold outside. Which it is only about three months a year, if that.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

You can melt chocolate in a double boiler or in a microwave oven, but no matter how you do it don’t wander far. Taking your eyes off melting chocolate is like punching a button in an elevator with your eyes closed, and you don’t even get to meet new people.

Annals Of Popular Cuisine

On this date in 1989, retired Rolling Stone guitarist Bill Wyman opened an American-style restaurant in London called Sticky Fingers. Its menu reads like a cross between those of Houston’s and Outback. Its website features an almanac of its own. For example, we learn that on this date in 1968, Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithfull moved into 48 Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, London. However, the site does not report that on this day in 1975, Mick punched a restaurant’s window in, and had to be taken to the hospital for twenty stitches. Wyman’s place has no connection with an American chain of barbecue places with the same name.

World Food Records

On this day in 1985, Les Anderson caught a ninety-four pound, four-ounce chinook salmon in Alaska–a record. He used rod and reel, yet. I wonder what such a thing would taste like, or whether you’d even try to eat it.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Two waterways are named Banana Creek in Florida, where banana trees might be found growing wild almost anywhere. The first is on the eastern shore of Tampa Bay, winding through a tropical, tree-filled marsh where, I’ll bet, some good oysters and shrimp can be found. Fishermen. Manatees. The logical place to eat is The Fish House, a mile and a half away by boat in Ruskin. The other Banana Creek comes close to cutting Merritt Island in half, on Florida’s Atlantic Coast. It’s a tidal stream that runs about seven miles before emptying into the Indian River. Most interesting, it’s right next to some of the launch pads at Kennedy Space Center.

Food And The Arts

VenusOnHalfShellSandro Botticelli, who painted the iconic “Birth of Venus,” was born today in 1444. His masterpiece is known to foodies as “Venus on the Half Shell.”

Annals Of Food Research

Elvin Charles Stakman, a plant pathologist, spent his life combatting world hunger by researching and fighting diseases in food plants, notably wheat, corn and other cereals. His passion for his work was fueled as much by concern for the poor (especially in Mexico) as by scientific imperatives. He was born today in 1885.

Edible Dictionary

aglio olio, aglio e olio, Italian, n.–Literally, “garlic and oil.” This is among the simplest of pasta dishes, served tossed with a sauce made by cooking chopped fresh garlic, parsley, and crushed red pepper in olive oil until fragrant. It’s found in Italian restaurants everywhere, particularly in the South. It has the reputation of being a poor man’s dinner, but this should not be taken to besmirch either its goodness or its popularity. Pasta aglio olio is known in New Orleans as pasta bordelaise.

The Saints

This is the feast day of St. Pascal Baylon, a lay Franciscan brother who lived in sixteenth-century Spain. He worked as a cook, and is one of many patron saints of cooks.

Food Namesakes

Sir Nicholas Hickman Ponsonby Bacon, 14th Premier Baronet (an hereditary knighthood in England) was born today in 1953. . . The famous racehorse Seabiscuit died today in 1947, at fourteen. . . Sugar Ray Leonard, the boxer, was born today in 1956.

Words To Eat By

“It is part of the novelist’s convention not to mention soup and salmon and ducklings, as if soup and salmon and ducklings were of no importance.”–Virginia Woolf.

Words To Drink By

“Milk is for babies. When you grow up you have to drink beer.”–Arnold Schwarzenegger.

FoodFunniesSquare

Where To Find The Rare Cheeses Of The Rocky Mountains.

Just look at the top of the cheese display in a store with a great cheese selection.

Click here for the cartoon.

DiningDiarySquare-150x150 Thursday, May 12, 2016.
Modern Classical Music And Beethoven, Followed By Pizza.

Mary Ann has taken a liking to classical music in the past couple of years. We have been attending most events on the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, and enjoying them.

But the test comes tonight. The performance has been billed as Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, which in my mind is the apotheosis of classical music. I probably feel this way because it was the first classical music to which I paid attention. With three other Beethoven symphonies (First, Fourth, and Eighth) it was the first classical music I ever bought. On eight-track tape cartridges (!) for my first stereo system. I was twenty-one.

MA says she prefers the Ninth Symphony. Same reason: it was played at the first classical music concert she ever attended.

But what neither of us knew tonight is that the first half of tonight’s program involves two very modern works, about as far away from Beethoven as could be imagined. I like this kind of music, even though I don’t understand it. I sit there trying to dope out the rhythm (I’m not sure there is one) and the tonality (ditto), but I get nowhere. You just have to agree to be washed along by music like this.

The LPO at the Orpheum.

The LPO at the Orpheum.

You also have to let the musicians have their way. I can’t imagine that this music is anything less than extremely difficult to learn and play. This is an exhibition of their skills, and very impressive at that.

The Marys are much less sympathetic to the music than I am. Especially Mary Leigh, who doesn’t even get her head around the Beethoven. Not even with my help, which I’m sure she didn’t want anyway.

I walked to the Orpheum from the radio station, and arrive an hour and a half before the concert. There isn’t enough time to have dinner. Domenica in the Roosevelt is a packed house. We don’t like the menu in the Fountain Lounge.

I wait out the time at the theater, where I get a Sazerac at the marble bar in the lobby. I run into Arthur Nead, an artist, designer, and all-around illustrator in local journalistic circles.

We get to talking about all the writers, photographers, artists, and graphic designers we know mutually. After an hour taking that inventory, it occurs to me that a book could be written about those people, that era (1970s until Katrina) and their environment. Most of them are a) still at it, or 2) retired but still working now and then, or iii) living elsewhere but frequently visiting New Orleans.

Most of these people have a connection to one another because at some time they all worked freelance for New Orleans Magazine, Figaro, or its successor Gambit. I was the editor for several years of New Orleans Magazine and Figaro, and I dealt with all these people often. Since most of us lived in or near the French Quarter, our social circles overlapped and relationships between us were numerous. Breakfasts taken at the Coffee Pot that included these semi-bohemians ran into the hundreds.

Mary Ann says this project is a terrible idea. Who cares about these people? I think it would be interesting, but she need not worry. I don’t have nearly enough time to consider the project.

But I might write the book anyway.

Back in the present, the LPO and conductor Carlos Miguel Prieto deftly handled Beethoven’s Fifth. I can scat-sing the whole symphony from memory, so I could tell when they were adding a new bit of interpretation. It was all sharp and loaded with energy.

The Marys and I cross the the street to have dinner at Domenica. MA got an after-concert reservation on her way in. We get the last available table. Within minutes, our threesome fills its empty seat with Daniel Lelchuk, the second-chair cellist in the LPO for three years. He is also a frequent caller into my radio, a gourmet and cook and friend. We importune him with opinions about the modern pieces. He says that it’s a challenge, but not so difficult that he and the orchestra needed more than a couple of rehearsals to nail it. I am in awe of his musical ability.

Calabresi pizza at Domenica.

Calabresi pizza at Domenica.

I order a pizza Calabresi, which involves a base of tomato sauce, salami, mozzarella, capers, and olives. Mary Ann says that I must have ordered that combination to please her. I let her believe that. I thought it was great, and so did Daniel, who shared the oversufficiency. The Marys split an individually-baked lasagna. That is the kind of thing that Domenica has soft-peddled, shooting after more authentic dishes. But there’s no way this lasagna could be called anything but perfect. No wonder it sells for $24.

The long day ends with our getting home at almost midnight. That reminds me of the Age Of Figaro, too. I might have to write this book. If I succumb to the temptation, I should write it between midnight and two a.m., which was an intensive work time for me in those days.

Domenica. CBD: 123 Baronne (Roosevelt Hotel). 504-648-6020.

500BestSquareSeared Sea Scallops, Israeli Couscous, Hazelnut Butter @ Sylvain

DishStars-4
Particularly if you’re dining at the bar, the seared diver scallops at this swinging nook just off Jackson Square make a great plate of food. The scallops are browned to a light crisp on the top and bottom, yet bulge to show they’ve been cooked perfectly. Scattered among the scallops’ adductor muscles (the part you eat) are perfectly spherical couscous beebees, lima beans, wilted greens, a little salad of fennel and citrus chunks. It’s all moistened and enriched by a hazelnut brown butter. This or something like it has been on the menu at Sylvain since the place opened, and remain even after the recent chef change.

Since this photo was taken, the garnish on Sylvain's great scallops has changed a little. But this gives a good idea of the dish.

Since this photo was taken, the garnish on Sylvain’s great scallops has changed a little. But this gives a good idea of the dish.

FleurDeLis-4-SmallSylvain. French Quarter: 625 Chartres St. 504-265-8123.

This is among the 500 best dishes in New Orleans area restaurants. Click here for a list of the other 499.

RecipeSquare-150x150

Coquille St. Jacques

With the advent of flown-in fresh seafood, we get beautiful day-boat scallops in New Orleans these days. (Scallops are not native to these parts.) Back in the old days, if you saw scallops at all it meant you were eating this classic dish. The old Arnaud’s was especially famous for it. The sad fact was, however, that the only part of the scallop that was used to make the dish was the shell. The seafood that looked like scallops in the shell was usually some anonymous seafood cut into circles. Skate wings were particularly common for that purpose. (Now, interestingly, we’re seeing skate wings being served in some gourmet places under their own name.) If those really were scallops, they were the inferior little bay scallops.

I’ve thought for a long time that this old dish should be reinvented and returned to menus–scallop shell and all. In the meantime, make your own! Not too difficult, once you have good scallops in hand. I’ve thought for a long time that this old dish should be reinvented and returned to menus–scallop shell and all. In the meantime, make your own! Not too difficult, once you have good scallops in hand.

Coquillees St. Jacques, with foie gras: a variation on the classic by Pardo's.

Coquilles St. Jacques, with foie gras: a variation on the classic by Pardo’s.

  • 8-12 medium sea scallops (not the tiny bay scallops)
  • Creole seasoning
  • 1 stick butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 3 green onions, finely sliced
  • 1/2 cup mushrooms, sliced into pieces about the size of a nickel
  • 2 cups fish stock or oyster liquor
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 Tsp. Tabasco
  • 3 Tbs. grated Grana Padano or other parmesan cheese
  • 3 Tbs. fresh bread crumbs

1. Slice the scallops crosswise. If they’re very large, halve or quarter them from top to bottom as well. Sprinkle with Creole seasoning to your taste, and brush with some of the melted butter.

2. Sear the scallops in a heavy skillet for about a minute on each side. Remove and set aside.

3. Lower the heat to medium. Add the wine and bring it to a boil while whisking the pan to dissolve the browned bits from the scallops. Reduce the wine by half, then whisk in all but 1 Tbs. of the remaining butter. When it begins bubbling, whisk in the flour until blended completely. Add the egg yolks, the green onions and mushrooms, and cook until the onions are soft.

4. Stir in the fish stock or oyster liquor, salt, and Tabasco. Bring to a light boil. Add the scallops to the pan and cook until the sauce thickens.

5. Pour the pan contents into coquille shells or au gratin dishes. Top with a mixture of parmesan cheese and bread crumbs and a flake or two of the remaining butter. Bake on a pan in a preheated 350-degree oven until the top browns and the sauce bubbles. Serve hot, but with a warning about how hot it is.

Serves four.

AlmanacSquare May 16, 2015

Days Until. . .

New Orleans Wine And Food Experience 9

Greek Festival 16

Today’s Flavor

Antoines-ScallopsVinBlancIt is National Coquilles St. Jacques Day. It is named for St. James the Greater, one of the twelve Apostles and a fisherman. He’s associated with scallops for some reason, and often depicted holding a scallop shell. Throughout Europe, scallops are named for James. So coquille St. Jacques are scallops, served in a thick cream sauce with leeks and fish stock. It once was a very popular dish in fancy, faux-French restaurants around the country, but we all got sick of the pasty sauces with the processed little scallops (Summing those were actually scallops.) I think the dish is due for a revival, but using dry-pack sea scallops, and mushrooms with a more pronounced flavor. A little Cognac, too. Click here for my recipe:

http://nomenu.com/?p=3522

Gourmet Gazetteer

Bar Harbor, population 4912, is a port on the central coast of Maine, forty-seven miles southeast of Bangor. It became an incorporated town in 1796, when it was a fishing port. That activity still goes on, but pleasure yachting, charter fishing boats, and even cruise ships give the place a tourist economy. It’s a beautiful place in summer, with rocky islands rising from the ocean. The local pronunciation of the town’s name is “bah HAH-bah.” Say it that way when you show up for lunch at the Carmen Verandah, right in the middle of the town. Have a mahtini at the bah.

Annals Of Meat

Today is the birthday, in 1832, of Charles Philip Armour, the founder of the meat packing company that bears his name. His breakthrough was using refrigeration and canning to keep meat fresh long enough that it could be sold in a widespread distribution system.

Wine And The Law

Today in 2005 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a state cannot prohibit the shipment of wine directly to a consumer from out of state, if the state allows wine shipments from within its borders. Louisiana was one of the states in which it was difficult to order wines by mail or on the Web; that has eased a good deal. The wholesalers and retailers are still fighting it, though. Personally, I think it’s better to buy wines in a store, because they’ll probably be cheaper than they are online, and you have the advantage of being able to talk to someone not connected to the winery. On the other hand, the great thing about mail-ordered wines is being able to get wines not distributed locally.

The Royal Menu

Today in 1770, the future French King Louis XVI married Marie Antoinette. She was fourteen; he was an older man of fifteen. Their time was the last gasp of the excesses of the ancien regime, and ended with the guillotine in the French Revolution. After that, the unemployed chefs of the aristocracy started opening restaurants in hotels, and the restaurant business began. But let’s think some more about two people in their mid-teens being married.

Annals Of Popular Cuisine

Today in 1965, Spaghetti-O’s were introduced to a waiting world. Canned pasta already in sauce. How hard is it to boil pasta? To make a fresh tomato sauce, even with canned tomatoes? For goodness sake, to open a jar of one of the many more-than-decent bottled pasta sauces out there? (Locally, we like Sal & Judy’s) It’s hard to imagine that anyone eats canned pasta except at the extremes of survival. We think we’d dig for edible roots first.

Edible Dictionary

GrouperThe word “grouper” is applied to a large range of saltwater fish species, some of which also qualify as sea bass. The Gulf of Mexico groupers are more popular in Florida than in Louisiana, but they are commonly enough caught that they’re showing up more frequently on local menus. The firmness of the meat and its whiteness also make it appealing. Some of the groupers are better than others. The one I’ve liked best is the Warsaw grouper, a rather large (as much as forty pounds) fish with enormous flakes. That’s what I like about it. You can serve it one flake at a time. Yellowfin grouper–a smaller fish–are more common. They’re usually served in fillets. In general, the flavor of grouper is on the mild side. It benefits from a brief marination in olive oil, lemon juice and wine, and a crust of Creole seasoning. The best preparations are grilling and broiling. It’s also good panned, with a crust of herbal bread crumbs. The name “grouper” comes through Portuguese from a South American word for the fish.

Deft Dining Rule #525

Ordering the following dishes marks you as not being seriously interested in Chinese food: chop suey, egg foo yung, fried rice, egg drop soup, and chow mein. Unless the restaurant is making some sort of ironic statement with those dishes, in which case at least one of them must be ordered.

Deft Dining Rule #526

Ordering lo mein in a Chinese restaurant is like ordering spaghetti and meatballs in an Italian restaurant, and bound by the same considerations.

Twice As Much For A Nickel

The five-cent coin that became known as the nickel was introduced today in 1866. It replaced the silver half-dime, which was irritatingly tiny. It’s hard to imagine, but many people still alive (I am one of them) can remember a time when a nickel would actually buy the parts of a hamburger lunch. Those little square hamburgers made by a number of superannuated chains started out as a nickel, and I remember the Krystal selling them for that for a week in 1966. (They were regularly ten cents then.) An order of fries and a soft drink were each a nickel, too. If I ever become too wealthy for my wife and kids to spend it all, I will open a hamburger stand with nickel hamburgers. Everything else would be expensive, especially the T-shirts and caps.

The Saints

This is the feast day of St. Honorius of Amiens, France, who lived in the seventh century. He is one of the many patron saints of bakers and patissiers. Always depicted in full bishop’s attire, he is shown carrying a paddle with bread on it.

Food Namesakes

Darrel Sweet, the drummer for the 1970s rock group Nazareth, got the Big Beat today in 1947. . . Fox News reporterTucker Carlson went live today in 1969 (“tucker” is Australian slang for food).

Words To Eat By

“Good manners is the noise you don’t make when you’re eating soup.”–Bennett Cerf.

Words To Drink By

“A man who doesn’t drink is not, in my opinion, fully a man.”–Anton Chekhov.

FoodFunniesSquare

Can A Revival Of The Bali Ha’i Be Far Behind?

We keep hearing of the return of Polynesian cuisine, rum-and-fruit juice cocktails, flaming torches, and all the rest. But where is it?

Click here for the cartoon.

CremeDeLaCremeSquareHotel restaurants go in and out of vogue, and this is not an especially good time for them. Tastes in restaurants these days are in the very casual direction, while the strengths of hotel eateries focuses on atmosphere and service. Too often, corporate hotel management has no good idea of what New Orleans eating is about. The greatest hotel successes have come from partnerships between hotel operators and well-known local chefs. (The Brennans and John Besh have led the field in that regard.) When that chemistry is right, we get some very tasty and beautiful places to dine.

1. FleurDeLis-4-ForLists R’evolution. French Quarter: 777 Bienville (Royal Sonesta Hotel). 504-553-2277. One of very few fine-dining restaurants to open in recent years, R’Evolution’s premises are spectacular and the food is impressive. The menu doesn’t quite fit together, and the lack of tablecloths in this expensive dining parlor is curious. Still, you can’t help but leave the place happy.

2. FleurDeLis-3-ForLists Lüke. CBD: 333 St Charles Ave (Hilton Hotel). 504-378-2840. The most successful of John Besh’s properties (enough so that they opened another location in San Antonio), Luke calls itself an Alsatian-French bistro. This is credible, but so too are the downtown-style daily specials, the raw bar, and the belt-driven ceiling fans and tile floors.

R'Evolution dining room.

R’Evolution dining room.

3. FleurDeLis-3-ForLists Criollo. French Quarter: 214 Royal (Monteleone Hotel). 504-523-3341. Dining at the Monteleone Hotel was dreary for decades. A few years ago the management completely rebuilt the Iberville@Royal corner, adding big windows and handsome, comfortable furnishings. The menu manages to be both traditional and adventuresome in its decidedly Creole tastes, with striking presentations.

4. FleurDeLis-3-ForLists Borgne. CBD: 601 Loyola Ave (Hyatt Regency Hotel). 504-613-3860. Chef John Besh has hit nothing but home runs in his partnerships with hotels. There’s no better example of this than Borgne, whose mostly-seafood menu covers a wider spectrum of Southeast Louisiana cooking than any other hotel bistro.

Rotisserie at the Rib Room, with a table set for 20.

Rotisserie at the Rib Room, with a table set for 20.

5. FleurDeLis-4-ForLists Drago’s. CBD: 2 Poydras (Hilton Riverside Hotel). 504-584-3911. The most successful Hilton Hotel restaurant in the world (yes!), this is an exact copy of Drago’s in Metairie. Oysters are at the center of the menu, of course: big, beautiful bivbalves on the half shell, or the famous, original char-broiled jobs. The entire range of local seafood is here, from gumbo to fried platters to grilled fish. And it’s one of the very few New Orleans restaurants with credible lobsters worth going to for lobster.

6. FleurDeLis-4-ForListsCompere Lapin. CBD: 535 Tchoupitoulas (Old #77 Hotel). 504-599-2119. Chef Nina Compton hails from the Caribbean islands, growing up in Santa Lucia. But her menu blends American Southern, Creole, and Cajun flavors, as well as those of the islands. The specials should be explored first.

CafeAdelaide-DR

7. FleurDeLis-4-ForLists Cafe Adelaide. CBD: 300 Poydras St (Loews Hotel). 504-595-3305. One of the first restaurants to take bartending seriously, Cafe Adelaide begs you to have a cocktail, then investigate an abbreviated list of local eats. The branch of the Brennan family that owns Commander’s Palace is here, and the influence is clear.

8. FleurDeLis-4-ForLists Trenasse. CBD: 444 St Charles Ave (Hotel Inter-Continental). 504-680-7000. A spinoff of a funky, wildly successful Gulf Coast seafood eatery, Trenasse comes across as a standard hotel cafe. In fact, it can stand up to the fare offered by even the best local seafood houses, with five or six species of fresh local finfish every day and a stridently excellent oyster bar (for raw and cooked oysters.

Trenasse.

Trenasse.

9. FleurDeLis-4-ForLists Domenica. CBD: 123 Baronne (Roosevelt Hotel). 504-648-6020. Leading the New Orleans pizza revolution when it opened in 2009 with a big wood-burning oven from Naples, this is a perennial crowded hangout with a short but impressive selection of pizza, Italian dishes, and house-cured salumi. It’s another John Besh place, in partnership with Chef Alon Shaya.

10. FleurDeLis-3-ForLists Rib Room. French Quarter: 621 St Louis St (Omni Royal Orleans Hotel). 504-529-7045. For most of the last fifty years, the Rib Room has been one of the top two or three hotel restaurants in New Orleans. After a long period of uninspired mangement and chefs, it’s now in the hands of Chef Tom Wolfe. Too soon to say whether he will return the place to its glory days when locals filled the dining room at lunch daily. But we’re hoping. The famous prime rib is the least interesting part of the menu.

11. FleurDeLis-3-ForLists The Grill Room. CBD: 300 Gravier (Windsor Court Hotel). 504-522-1994. The best part of the Grill Room these days is the meat-and-three lunch offering, which is brining many locals back to the beautiful dining rooms. The dinner menu needs further development. But it’s atmospherically hard to beat on a special evening. Live music of high quality most nights.

Dining room at the Bourbon House.

Dining room at the Bourbon House.

12. FleurDeLis-3-ForLists Bourbon House. French Quarter: 144 Bourbon (Astor Hotel). 504-522-0111. The Bourbon House is not obviously allied with the Astor Hotel, but it is. Operated by the Dickie Brennan wings of the Brennans, the Bourbon House is the seafood balance to Dickie’s steak house up the block. When it good, (and it usually is), the food is reminiscent of what COmmander’s Palace served in the 1980s. Which is a good thing.

RecipeSquare-150x150

Apple Meringue Pie

You see lemon meringue pie and chocolate meringue pie all the time, but I’ll bet you never had this. It grew out of my mother’s bread pudding recipe, which she made with meringue on top instead of a sauce. I thought that went so well with the cinnamon that there might be other possibilities. I was also looking for something to do with the bottle of Drambuie I’ve had for years. (You might try this with other leftover liqueurs.)

Apple meringue pie.

  • 1 lb. tart green apples, peeled and cored, thickly sliced
  • 2 Tbs. honey
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • 3 Tbs. Drambuie (or any other assertively-flavored liqueur you like)
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp. cream of tartar
  • 2 Tbs. sugar
  • 1 eight-inch baked pie shell

1. Cook apples with honey and 1 Tbs. water in a covered saucepan over medium-low heat until they’re soft but still hold their shape.

2. In a bowl, beat egg yolks with Drambuie and cinnamon. Add a few hot apple slices to the mixture, stirring it around a bit. Then add the entire mixture to the remaining apples in the pan. Cook one or two minutes over medium-low heat until it thickens. Do not let it curdle. Cool.

3. Beat egg whites with cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Add sugar gradually and continue beating until stiff.

4. Place cooled apples in pie shell. Cover completely with meringue. Bake in a preheated 450-degree oven until meringue browns (only a minute or two). Serve warm.

Serves six.

500BestSquareApple Pie @ GW Fins

DishStars-5
GW Fins features a familiar but unique dessert. It’s an apple pie–a standard job with a house-made crust, light and just right on the cinnamon and sweetness. What makes it unusual is that it’s small enough that you get your own pie. What makes it extraordinary is that the pie is baked to order, which means you have to ask for it when you place the rest of the meal order. Worth the trouble: this is the city’s best apple pie.

GW Fins. French Quarter: 808 Bienville. 504-581-3467.

This is among the 500 best dishes in New Orleans area restaurants. Click here for a list of the other 499.

AlmanacSquare May 13, 2015

Days Until. . .

New Orleans Wine And Food Experience 7

ApplePieFood Calendar

In most of America, today is National Apple Pie Day. For all its fame as an icon of American eating habits, apple pie has become a rare dessert on restaurant menus. It’s found most often now in chain restaurants and diners. Turning up an apple pie made in house is even more difficult. What happened? My theory is that the crazy idea of topping a slice of hot apple pie with melted cheese may have scared a lot of people off.

Apple pie isn’t American, anyway. It almost certainly came from England, where pies a lot like it have been made since the fourteenth century. Apples baked in pastry is well known throughout Europe, again for a long time before we Americans got into the act.

Most of us bake or buy apple pies only around the holidays. I make today a special holiday: for reasons too complicated to go into, I know that on this date in 1967, at around 7:30 p.m., I ate a slice of apple pie with ice cream after a cheeseburger and fries at the soda fountain in a drugstore. It was pretty good.

CornOnCobIn Cajun country, it’s Corn Macquechoux Day. Macquechoux is a staple of southern Louisiana cooking. It’s corn cooked with onions and butter or oil, with perhaps some tomatoes, and maybe even crawfish or shrimp. The corn gets soft as its starches caramelize and turn sweet. Macquechoux is usually served as a side dish, but with the shrimp or crawfish added it can become a light lunch or supper. It may be the only dish in which the crawfish or shrimp component can get a little overcooked and still taste good. In fact, that’s a reasonable target to aim for, because what comes out of the crawfish seems to get into the corn.

Nobody is quite sure what the word “macquechoux” means, or even if it’s one or two words. Different theories say it’s Spanish, Cajun French, or Native American.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

Macquechoux is best a bit on the spicy side. The best way to accomplish that is not with the usual Louisiana touch of cayenne or hot sauce, but with crushed red pepper flakes, which have a mellow flavor that goes well with the corn.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Pie Town, population 575, is in the vast arid lands in southwest New Mexico, a 161-mile drive from Albuquerque. It’s an unincorporated town on US 60, but big enough and proud enough to have its own website (pietown.com). From it we learn that the place was founded by Clyde Norman, who bought a piece of ground just west of the Continental Divide. He opened a shop where he made pies, and it became a stop for everyone passing that way. The town is at 7799 feet above sea level. A Very Large Array radiotelescope is nearby. And there are two restaurants: the Daily Pie Town Cafe and the Pie-O-Neer Cafe, both right in the center of town.

Edible Dictionary

apple slump, n.–If this dessert were invented now instead of 150 years ago, it would be called “deconstructed apple pie.” Apple slump (no prize to the person who named it) is made by cooking apples with sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and other spices in a skillet until the apples are soft. Then you make a dough similar to the one you’d use for drop biscuits, and drop spoonsful of it over the apples, still in the pan. The pan goes into the oven until it’s baked, during which time the dough flows over the apples. It comes out somewhere between a pie and a cobbler.

Deft Dining Rule #172

Never order the last slice of pie in a roadside diner, especially not if you are offered a substantial discount off its price. Exception: it’s okay if you get one other slice served from the same pan.

People We’d Like To Have Dinner With

Stevie Wonder was born today in 1950. During our dinner, I’d tell him my favorite song of his is “For Once In My Life.” Brilliant man, a real natural, a moving performer. A great sense of humor, too.

Dining On The Cuff

On this date in 1950, Diners Club issued the first credit card, eight years before the American Express card appeared. The early Diners Club card was exclusively for use in restaurants, but it expanded its scope quickly. As late as 1984, cash and checks accounted for more white-tablecloth restaurant spending than cards. Now, cards are used so overwhelmingly that most restaurants have to get cash from the bank to tip out the waiters at the end of the night.

Famous Words Of A Gourmet

On this date in 1940, Winston Churchill offered “blood, toil, tears and sweat” to Parliament. Five years later, England exploded in a riot of joy as the European phase of World War II ended. VE Day was actually May 8, but the main celebration was on this date.

The Saints

This is the feast day of Saint Erconwald, a monk of the seventh century in England. He is the patron saint against gout, the ailment of men who indulge in the best food and wine. I will say a prayer to him with regard to a current attack your humble servant is suffering.

Food Namesakes

Hamish Pepper, a crew-of-one yachter in the 1996 Olympics for New Zealand, was born today in 1971. . . Lyle Mouton, a White Sox outfielder from Lafayette, Louisiana, was born today in 1969. You know, of course, that Chateau Mouton-Rothschild is one of the first-growth Bordeaux. . . Golfer Terry Dill is 69 today. . . And, to keep this from being all athletes, Nigel Butterley was born in 1935. He was an Australian composer of classical music, especially of vocal works.

Apple pie.

Words To Eat By

“Good apple pies are a considerable part of our domestic happiness.”–Jane Austen.

Words To Drink By

“Always do sober what you said you’d do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut.”–Ernest Hemingway.

FoodFunniesSquare

The School For Pasta.

Lesson one: how to avoid going limp, with Professor Al Dente. (Warning: this is an existential bit of humor.

Click here for the cartoon.

4 Fleur
EntreePrice-26
BreakfastNo Breakfast SundayNo Breakfast MondayNo Breakfast TuesdayNo Breakfast WednesdayNo Breakfast ThursdayNo Breakfast FridayNo Breakfast Saturday
LunchLunch SundayLunch MondayLunch TuesdayLunch WednesdayLunch ThursdayLunch FridayLunch Saturday
DinnerDinner SundayDinner MondayDinner TuesdayDinner WednesdayDinner ThursdayDinner FridayDinner Saturday

Compere Lapin

CBD: 535 Tchoupitoulas. 504-599-2119. Map.
Nice Casual.
AE DC DS MC V
Website

Dining room in the crook of an L-shape, with the oyster bar on the left.

Dining room in the crook of an L-shape, with the oyster bar on the left.

ANECDOTES AND ANALYSIS
Everybody scratches a few restaurants off his preferred list for nutty reasons. One of my peccadillos is that I seldom dine in restaurants very close to where I live or work. It’s not because I’m sick of the proximate eateries–I never did dine in nearby places much.

I’m not the only one, I learned a couple of days ago, when the market manager of our radio stations–a serious gourmet–stops me in the hallway to update each other on our dining experience lately. It comes out that he has never dined in the main restaurant in the adjacent building.

Compere Lapin is the main eatery in the recently rebuilt hotel now called Old No. 77. The restaurant is operated by the chef who came in second in the Top Chef series last year. She runs the kitchen, and her husband oversees the dining room. There’s been a bit of a buzz about Compere, and every time I passed in front of it (which I do every day) I see a full house. And I finally made it there to eat. I wish I had gone there sooner.

Brussels sprouts salad, with chicken skin.

Brussels sprouts salad, with chicken skin.

WHY IT’S NOTEWORTHY
Will there ever be enough great restaurants in the Tchoupitoulas Corridor of the Warehouse District? (Already there: Emeril’s, Tommy’s, Tomas Bistro, Cafe Adelaide, Cochon, Butcher, Annunciation, Sac-A-Lait, La Boca, and Legacy Kitchen, to name not quite all of them.) Compere Lapin is in quick walking distance of all the hotels and office buildings in the Lower CBD, and is targeted at the youthful clientele that fill the sidewalks along that stretch. They are attracted by a large, well-managed bar and a menu addressing an underserved cuisine.

Curried goat.

Curried goat.

WHAT’S GOOD
In its early months, Compere Lapin’s menu struck me as insubstantial. You’d read through the whole thing and get the impression that there wasn’t enough to properly appetize a person in for dinner. The statements of philosophy on the place’s website were pretty gaseous. (“We don’t make food for everyone else,” it says, “we make food for you.” What happens when more than one person shows up for dinner?) But they seem to have gotten past this sort of thing and started cooking. Everything I’ve had since has been brilliant and thoroughly satisfying.

BACKSTORY
Compére Lapin (“brother rabbit”) serves the food of Chef Nina Compton, who made a big splash in her likeable personality and delicious-seeming cookery. She hails from the Caribbean islands, growing up in Santa Lucia. But the menu seems to me an amalgam of American Southern, Creole, and Cajun flavors, as well as those of the islands. The restaurant opened in early summer 2015, taking over a space that hosted at least five mostly forgettable restaurants over the past ten years.

Fruit puree islands with chicolate seas.

Fruit puree islands with chicolate seas.

DINING ROOM
The L-shaped dining room has a long stretch of windows looking out onto Tchoup, with the large bar opposite to them. At the corner of the two sections is a different kind of bar, one doling out crudo, raw oysters, and Japanese-style essays in raw fish. The traffic turns right at that point and enters the rest of the dining room, with the same less-than-handsome flooring that has made do for the previous restaurants in this space. (It is a former warehouse, after all.) The tables are small and unclothed, and when the place is full it can be loud.

REVIEWER’S NOTEPAD
More ruminations appear in our Dining Diary. Click on any of the dates below for those reports, each written a few days after a meal at Compere Lapin.
11/6/2015 ~


FULL ONLINE MENU

BEST DISHES
Numerous daily specials expand the range of the menu quite a bit. »=Best dishes.

Starters
Conch croquette, pickled pineapple tartar sauce
Spiced pig ears, smoked aioli
»Steak tartar, potato chips
Crispy dirty rice
»Arancini, sour orange mojo
Daily selection of chilled oysters
Hamachi (raw yellowtail), melon, nasturimus
»Caribbean seafood pepper pot
Marinated shrimp, roasted jalapeno jus
Cold smoked tuna tartare, avocado, crispy bananas
»Roasted beet salad, kale pesto, pistachios
Broiled, shrimp, calabrian chili butter
»Brussels sprouts, buttermilk, crispy chicken skin

Entrees
Pici pasta, lobster, squash
Local grouper, beurre blanc, potato pearls, caviar
»Curried goat, sweet potato
»Gnocchi, cashews
»Duo of beef, broccoli, foie gras
»Half chicken, turnips, leeks

Extras
Roasted potatoes, herbs
»Roasted carrots almondine, salsa verde
»Blackeye peas, bacon, crispy shallots
Spinach cavatelli, fontina fondue

Desserts
Granola with fresh berries
»Vanilla bruléed grapefruit
Sticky bun
»Beignets/spiced chocolate sauce
»Chia seed and coconut pudding/fresh berries

FOR BEST RESULTS
Many specials add to the menu. Be sure you know what they are. Make a reservation, and ask to be seated in the corner of the dining room. Ask many questions. Almost everything here is a departure from standard bistro fare.

OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
The route to the rest rooms is truly byzantine.

FACTORS OTHER THAN FOOD
Up to three points, positive or negative, for these characteristics. Absence of points denotes average performance in the matter.

  • Dining Environment +1
  • Consistency +1
  • Service+2
  • Value +1
  • Attitude +2
  • Wine & Bar +2
  • Hipness +3
  • Local Color +2

 

SPECIAL ATTRIBUTES

  • Romantic
  • Good for business meetings
  • Open Sunday lunch and dinner
  • Open Monday lunch and dinner
  • Open all holidays
  • Oyster bar
  • Easy, nearby parking
  • Reservations recommended

 

DiningDiarySquare-150x150 Wednesday, May 11, 2016.
Early Supper At Criollo.

Baseball steals the last half of my radio show today. I hate when that happens, but there’s nothing that can be done about it.

If I had known (and it wouldn’t be radio without unexpected changes) I would have stayed home today. Lord knows I have a lot to do. I’m still moving files from the dead computer into the new one. There is no easy way to do this, or at least not one I have found.

I kill an hour in my office at the station doing odds and ends tasks. I also slip in a fifteen-minute nap. Upon awakening, I check on the whereabouts of the Marys, to see if they are free for dinner. They aren’t. Mary Leigh is testing recipes for her wedding cake, and can’t leave the oven.

Dining room at Criollo, with the open kitchen distantly visible.

Dining room at Criollo, with the open kitchen distantly visible.

I walk the ten blocks to the Monteleone Hotel. The lobby is jammed with people checking in. The Carousel Bar is packed–not just on the carousel itself, but also in the comfortable new area behind it. When I make my way through all these people to the entrance of Criollo–the flagship restaurant of the Monteleone–I see a number of people spilling from the bar into the dining room.

Despite that, I get a table in the corner next to one of the many new windows the hotel added to this formerly dark part of the ground floor. The dining room is empty, but it’s not even six yet. It will fill about halfway by the time I leave.

I am recognized by a waiter named Joseph. I remember meeting him in some other restaurant, but I can’t remember which one. He tells me that he likes being here, and gives me a bunch of suggestions from the menu. They all sound pretty good.

Then a sous chef emerges from the kitchen to say hello. He too knows me from his work in other restaurants. This is how I am most often identified in restaurants, even when I am trying to mekeep a low profile. The hostesses never know, but waiters and cooks move around a lot, and they remember their customers better than the customers would believe.

The chef tells me a lot of flattering things, of which my favorite is that every review of mine he reads strikes him as being dead-on accurate. That’s something I wouldn’t even claim for myself, so it’s nice to hear. He goes on to agree with my feeling that Criollo is one of the most underrated restaurants in town. “People think that since we are a hotel restaurant, we just get everything from the Sysco truck,” he says. “But we put a lot of work into getting great seafood and produce and everything else.”

My dinners at Criollo–this one included–bear this out. Any restaurant with the guts to put those superb Colorado lamb chops on the menu for a price in the $40s is indeed making a statement with his raw materials.

Stuffed shrimp at Crioillo.

Stuffed shrimp at Crioillo.

Soup tasting, from front: crawfish bisque, seafood gumbo, turtle soup.

Soup tasting, from front: crawfish bisque, seafood gumbo, turtle soup.

Joseph talks me into the stuffed shrimp Bienville, served with a vegetable risotto. This is not at all what I had in mind to eat. It involves three very large shrimp with a ball of stuffing made almost entirely of crabmeat nestled into the curl of the decapods. The Bienville touch is an imitation of the sauce from the famous oyster dish. It all adds up to a double appetizer. But it works as an entree, and I am happy, even though I keep thinking about that lamb chop. Next time, I will get it. Also next time I will not eat a quarter of a roast beef poor boy in the early afternoon of the day I go to Criollo. (Regular readers will recall the sandwich I ate half of yesterday at Lee’s Hamburgers in old Metairie. It still lives on, as of this writing.)

Back to Criollo. Before the stuffed shrimp arrive, I sample all three of the house soups. The turtle soup needs a little Tabasco, but is otherwise good. The crawfish bisque is a handshake between the dark-roux Cajun bisque and the creamy French approach. No stuffed heads (I don’t miss them), but lots of crawfish tails. This is the best of the trio of soups. The seafood gumbo tastes right, but I can’t make up my mind as to whether deep-fried, battered okra is a good idea.

Dessert is a beautiful original billed as a gelato napoleon. So, two layers of ice cream with various berries and whipped cream in between. The layers make it a napoleon, in a long reach.

Gelato Napoleon.

Gelato Napoleon.

Thinking about that recalls a television commercial, for what product I can’t remember. An actor dressed in a Napoleonic uniform has his hand inside his shirt (as Napoleon is always depicted). In his other hand is a classic French napoleon pastry. He is about to take a bite of it when the disembodied announcer asks him a question. I wonder whether anyone other than a gourmet got the joke.

Criollo. French Quarter: 214 Royal. 504-523-3341.

RecipeSquare-150x150

Aegean Salad Dressing

A lot of the recipes I work on come about because somebody on the radio asked me for it. A fellow named Philip called me three times–each call separated by a year or so–before I got around to making what he called Aegean salad dressing. In trying to figure out what it was–I’d never heard of the stuff–I went through a few dozen cookbooks and many pages of Bing searches. No two were even close to alike, beyond that all of them were thick vinaigrettes with herbs. I didn’t get a good bead on the puzzle until my daughter and I went to Chicago a year and a half ago. I found it on numerous menus there, and tried it a couple of times. Not long after I returned to town, I found it being served at Caffe Fresca in Metairie. It’s a good dressing. I have no idea what their recipe is, but here is my approximation.

  • 2 large, very fresh garlic cloves
  • 3 Tbs. fresh-squeezed lemon juice, strained
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp. dried dill
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp. coarsely-ground black pepper
  • 1 scant tsp. garlic salt
  • 1/2 cup 100% pure olive oil (not virgin)

1. Trim the garlic cloves of anything dry or hard, and remove the green shoot in the center (it’s better if the garlic is so fresh that the shoot isn’t even there).

2. In a blender, combine the garlic and half of the lemon juice. Run the blender until you have a translucent, pale liquid with few visible solids.

3. Add all the other ingredients except the 100% pure olive oil. Add two tablespoons of water. Run the blender for about thirty seconds.

4. Add a few drops of the pure olive oil and run the blender on medium speed. After thirty seconds, add the pure olive oil in a thin stream while running at medium-high speed. Continue adding the oil until it gets noticeably thicker.

5. Turn the blender off and stick a spoon into the dressing to taste it. Adjust with salt and black pepper to taste.

Makes 1 1/4 cups of dressing.

500BestSquareSoft Shell Crab With Crabmeat Meuniere @ Clancy’s

DishStars-5
Although New Orleans is just about the only place where we routinely top soft-shell crabs with lump crabmeat, this version of the dish is made along classical French lines. Clancy’s proprietor Brad Hollingsworth came to appreciate it when he worked as a waiter at LeRuth’s. It’s simple enough: the crabs are dusted in flour, fried in such a way that the legs and claws fan out, then served with brown butter. This is classic French meuniere. Chef Warren LeRuth added another touch, topping it with lump crabmeat. That’s without doubt the most popular gambit for cooks and waiters in New Orleans restaurants, so much so that more fish is served with crabmeat on top in white-tablecloth restaurants than without. But LeRuth hatched the idea of doing that with a crab, which makes eminent sense. Clancy’s turns this out as well as LeRuth’s did, and when soft-shells are in season it’s the best dish in the house.

Soft-shell-with-crabmeat

Clancy’s. Uptown: 6100 Annunciation. 504-895-1111.

This is among the 500 best dishes in New Orleans area restaurants. Click here for a list of the other 499.

AlmanacSquare May 12, 2015

Days Until. . .

New Orleans Wine And Food Experience 14

Food Calendar

BeansToday is National Crowder Peas Day. This extraordinarily delicious bean is less common on menus and supermarket shelves than it once was. Crowder peas are closely related to field peas and blackeye peas. Crowders are about the same size as blackeyes, but are a uniform light brown, and have a different, meatier flavor. They’re considered a Southern bean, needing a warm climate to grow. That the name comes from the practice of planting them in cotton fields, where they would crowd (and fertilize) the cotton rows. (Another story: the beans are more tightly packed into their pods than typical.) As much loyalty as I have to red beans, I like crowder peas better. You cook them the same way as red beans, but they cook faster and need less fat in the preparation. Don’t cook them so long that they start falling apart.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Three streams in Idaho are all named Dip Creek. Coming from different directions the water from all three winds up in the Snake, the major tributary of the Columbia. What are the chances of that? The first is in the southeast corner of the state, hard on the Wyoming state line, in the ski areas of the Rockies near Soda Springs and Jackson Hole. It runs five miles and drops about a thousand feet before its water enters Dry Creek. The second Dip Creek is up in some more serious mountains, a 158-mile drive east from Boise. This one drops about 1500 feet through a canyon into the Big Wood River. The third Dip Creek is in the Idaho Panhandle, 134 miles east of Spokane, Washington. It begins on the slope of Crescendo Mountain (what a great name!) and drops 2200 feet through a rough, tree-filled wilderness canyon. It goes six miles to the Foehl River, a tributary of the Clearwater River and then the Snake. None of these are near any known restaurants, so pack the potato chips in.

Deft Dining Rule #141:

ManyBeansPhotoIf you ate at least five different beans with some frequency, each prepared differently, you would eat better than if you didn’t.

Edible Dictionary

popover, n.–A savory, eggy, buttery pastry made in muffin tins with a batter somewhat similar to that used for making pancakes. Butter is heated in the tins and then the batter is poured in. After baking in a very hot oven for a few minutes, the batter rises well above the top of the pan and swells up, ultimately “popping over” and falling inward. What comes out is usually hollow in the center, with most of its bulk near the top. They’re at their best (and irresistibly light) right out of the oven. Popovers are similar to Yorkshire pudding, commonly served with prime rib. The difference is that the latter is made with roast beef fat and drippings instead of the butter. They are nothing like turnovers, with which they are sometimes confused.

Great Fictional Gourmets

Today in 1907, British-Chinese author Leslie Charteris was born in England. He created The Saint, a series of books, radio and television shows. The namesake character was Simon Templar, a former criminal gone straight, ever involved in mystery and intrigue. The Saint was a cultured sybarite, never far from the next fine wine, magnificent dinner, or beautiful woman. A lot like James Bond. In fact, Roger Moore played The Saint on television before becoming James Bond in the movies. On radio, The Saint was Vincent Price, who was a gourmet in real life.

Food In Comedy

George Carlin was born today in 1937. Among his many classic routines was a long rambling that begins, “Why is there no blue food?” He said that the reason you never see blue food is that it was being kept from regular people by The Man. What about blueberries? “Blueberries are blue on the bush, but red when you eat them. They’re just called that to make us think we’re getting the blue food!” Demand the blue food!

People We’d Like To Have Dinner With

Yogi Berra was born today in 1925. He was an active player, and a major star at that, when I was a kid. I always liked his unconventional ways of doing everything. His quote about a popular restaurant (“Nobody goes there anymore–it’s too crowded”) is one of the finest of a long collection of Yogi-isms.

Music To Drink By

Today in 1934, Duke Ellington’s renditions of Cocktails for Two hit Number One on the charts.

Annals Of Weather

On this date in 1978, the National Weather Service announced that it would be using men’s names as well as women’s for hurricanes. All previous named storms were girls. The first male hurricane was Bob, which looked like it had a chance to come our way. I remember that it felt funny to talk about Hurricane Bob on the radio. A newsman I worked with said that Bob was the first gay hurricane.

Food In Literature

Today is the birthday of poet and artist Edward Lear, who wrote books of limericks. Let’s write a New Orleans food limerick:

In Galatoire’s mirror she gazed out
A beautiful girl with a pleased lout
She ate crab Rockefeller
While her date tried to sell her
On love, but he soon was phased out.

Food Namesakes

Otto Frank, the father of Anne Frank, was born today in 1889. . . Kix Brooks, half of the country music duo Brooks and Dunn, was born in Shreveport in 1967. Trix are for kids, I know, but what about Kix? (It’s a corn-puff cereal.) . . . Kid Creole, of the very wild band the Coconuts, was born today in 1951 in (he says) the Bronx, Haiti, and Tahiti. . . Twin child actors Sullivan and Sawyer Sweeten were born today in 1995. They were on Everybody Loves Raymond.

Words To Eat By

“You better cut the pizza into four slices, because I’m not hungry enough to eat six.”–Yogi Berra, born today in 1925.

Words To Drink By

“Stay busy, get plenty of exercise, and don’t drink too much. Then again, don’t drink too little.”–Herman “Jackrabbit” Smith-Johannsen, a Canadian who lived to be 112.

FoodFunniesSquare

Where Corks Come From.

Yes, Portugal. But how are they grown? A special harvesting tool is used.

Click here for the cartoon.

DiningDiarySquare-150x150 Monday, May 9, 2016.
The Golden Years, In A Good Sense.

Now that Mother’s Day is yesterday, we (the Marys and me) move cleanly today into the celebration of Mary Leigh’s birthday. She is two dozen. A big bouquet of pink and white tulips arrives at the Cool Water Ranch from her fiancé Dave, who is involved with military maneuvers for the next few weeks. Five months from now, those two will be married. Options spread out from the here and now in all directions.

Mary Ann suggests that we celebrate the day with lunch at the Windsor Court–the default celebratory venue since MA and I tied the knot. MA loves the meat-and-three lunch menu there, and ML joins her in this enthusiasm. Both Marys get a big cube of short ribs, which they like well enough–except that, MA says, short ribs don’t look the way they used to. I tell them that this is because the part of the roast that becomes short ribs is so large and irregular that no two cuts resemble one another.

Meat and three at WIndsor Court's lunch.

Meat and three at WIndsor Court’s lunch.

Gumbo for MA, corn chowder for ML. Grilled Brussels sprouts. Truffled mac ‘n’ cheese. I have the Windsor Court salad, one of the few Grill Room dishes that has been on the menu since the place opened in 1984. MA and I consumed one of those in our room after our own wedding. It was our first meal together as dweeb and wife. The Grill Room salad is a Cobb salad without the chicken. At the server’s suggestion, I have it with the chicken, as if some completeness were accomplished thereby.

Windsor Court Salad.

Windsor Court Salad, before being tossed.

The WC Salad–whoops! We’d better not use those initials, which have a different meaning in England, whose culture the Windsor Court has always reflected. The salad is a big, vertically layered glass bowl of greens, tomatoes, blue cheese, crumbled hard-boiled eggs, and sliced avocado. It’s very handsome, but the classic presentation has the layered salad returned to the kitchen to be tossed with the dressing. They hold back on that move until I ask for it. Which was asking for it on my part. Once done, it is delicious, and twice the size I could finish.

ML turns 24 in style.

ML turns 24 in style.

I say good-bye to the Marys after lunch, and walk the three blocks to the radio station with fifteen minutes to spare in assembling today’s broadcast. We have a surprisingly busy show–at two moments, we have six callers on hold.

I leave immediately upon signing off, and drive fifty miles of unusually sparse highways all the way to Covington. The Northlake Performing Arts Society has just begun to warm up its vocal cords. I slide into my spot next to the better tenors and see that a few people are later than I am. We rehearse the concert that we’ll sing first weekend in June.
Both the Marys are asleep when I get home at nine-thirty.

Windsor Court Grill Room. CBD: 300 Gravier. 504-522-1994.
Tuesday, May 10, 2016.
Aging. And I’m Not Talking About Wine Or Cheese.

Mary Ann drops a hint that she will soon return to Los Angeles for another extended stay with Jude, Mrs. Jude, and Master Jackson. It raises my blood pressure a few points, as my imagination gets the better of me.

Coincidentally, the guest on my show is Brian Berrigan, managing director of the local chapter of the nationwide Alzheimer’s Association. He is here to say a few words about an interesting fundraising food event next Thursday. A panel of local food writers, with me as the moderator, talk about their latest works, what was discovered during their book research, and as much amusement as I can drum up. We have the right kind of panel for this:

Ti Martin, one of the owners of Commander’s Palace, who recently finished writing about her illustrious mother, Ella Brennan.

Chef John Folse, who just published the fourth of his weighty cookbooks covering every imaginable aspect of Louisiana cookery.

Cynthia LeJeune Nobles, author of a new cookbook of dishes related to the novel “Confederacy of Dunces.”

Poppy Tooker, who just finished a cookbook of Tujague’s food.

People who attend the event with a $200 ticket price get an autographed cookbook of their choosing. Standard tickets ($150) get a four-course lunch with wines and repartee. And, of course, the knowledge that they are helping research into Alzheimer’s.

The event is next Thursday, May 19, at the executive quarters of the old American Can Company. Free valet parking. Tickets can be had at 504-613-6505.

Reading all the above surely has the same effect as talking about such an event on the radio. After we’re done, the radio audience is attenuated. But the word must go out.

My idea for dinner is Primativo, Chef Adolfo Garcia’s newish restaurant in Center City. Haven’t been yet. But when I look over the menu, I see that it’s tilted in the direction of large dishes designed to be split. Not the place for a solo repast. Anther time.

I was out in Metairie when I remember that numerous radio callers–including at least two people whose taste seems to be solid–have lately been raving about the Lee’s Hamburger in Old Metairie, in the same strip malll as Byblos and Porter & Luke. All these reporters say that the menu is much larger than in the other Lee’s, with poor boy sandwiches, a Philly cheese steak, and a few other items. The reports on the roast beef poor boy are exceptionally good.

That sandwich is about a foot long, well dressed, served on right-out-of-the-oven French bread. I ask for the gravy component to be limited, a request that is almost never satisfied in even the best roast beef vendors. But this one is perfect on that count. It’s not a brilliant sandwich, but it is very good. I’ll come back to try the Philly cheese steak.

I am home quite early. The Marys are still on their errands, which include a lot of investigation of wedding needs. While they are away, I spend the evening applying for Medicare. The very thought of it messes up my self-image. But the lady who handles such matters at the radio station tells me that if I miss the deadline for doing this, there may be penalties, and it may mess up my group insurance through the company.

Me on Medicare. I can’t dope it out.

Lee’s Hamburgers. Old Metairie: 1507 Metairie Rd. 504-837-8990.

RecipeSquare-150x150

Semolina’s Pad Thai

When chefs Gary Darling, Hans Limberg, and Greg Reggio started Semolina, one of their best and most popular dishes was pad thai. It never was exactly the way you’d find it in a Thai restaurant, but it was hardly bad. This recipe evolved in my kitchen from theirs. It differs in that I let the ingredients brown a little more over higher heat. And I make it a good deal spicier.

There’s only one Semolina left, still making this and all the other specialties of that former chain. It’s in the Clearview Mall, where the Taste Buds’ other restaurant, Zea, is too.

  • Sauce:
  • 1/4 cup white vinegar
  • 1/4 cup Thai fish sauce (nam pla)
  • 1 Tbsp. tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 6 dried shrimp, ground to powder
  • 1 tsp. Pickapeppa sauce
  • 1/3 cup coconut milk
  • 1/4 cup chicken stock
  • 1/4 cup sesame oil
  • 2 cups cooked, diced chicken
  • 1 lb. medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1/2 cup tofu, cut into medium rectangles
  • 4 sprigs cilantro, leaves only, chopped
  • 4 large leaves fresh basil, sliced
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 1 Tbs. Sriracha (Asian hot sauce)
  • 1 lb. medium rice noodles, cooked till just soft and drained
  • ~
  • Garnish:
  • 1/4 cup crushed roasted peanuts
  • 2 cups bean sprouts
  • 1 small carrot, sliced into matchsticks
  • Sliced green onions
  • Cilantro leaves
  • Crushed red pepper

1. Combine all the sauce ingredients. Add a tablespoon or two of water to lighten it if it seems too thick.

2. Heat the sesame oil in a skillet or wok over high heat until it almost smokes. Add the shrimp and cook until pink. Add all the other ingredients, tossing constantly, until the tofu begins to get firm. Add the sauce and cook, tossing the pan contents constantly, until the sauce coats everything and the pan is steaming.

3. Remove the pan from the heat and add the peanuts, sprouts, and carrots, tossing very lightly. Serve in a broad-rimmed bowl with more Sriracha squirted along the rim and green onions, cilantro, and crushed red pepper for those who like this really hot.

Serves two to four.

500BestSquareMexican Flag @ Taqueria La Noria

DishStars_3
“Noria” translates into Spanish as “water well.” This little Mesxican place just inside Mandeville actually has an old-time wishing well out front. The distinctive appetizer here is called “the Mexican flag.” The plate has grilled chorizo sausage on the left, charred Anaheim peppers on the right, and white cheese down the center. A big pile for $8, and larger than I expected for an appetizer–certainly big enough for two. A distinct change from the usual Tex-Mex canon.

LaNoria-MexicanFlag

Taqueria La Noria. Mandeville: 1931 LA 59. 985-727-7917.

This is among the 500 best dishes in New Orleans area restaurants. Click here for a list of the other 499.

AlmanacSquare May 11, 2015

Days Until. . .

New Orleans Wine And Food Experience 16

Eating Around The World

On this day in 1949, the kingdom of Siam renamed itself Thailand. Thai people are rightly proud of two things: that they were never dominated by another country, and that their food is uniquely delicious. By coincidence, this is the birthday of history’s most famous Siamese twins, Chang and Eng. They were indeed born in what was Siam then, and they were never separated.

ThaiFlag

Today’s Flavor

Today is National Thai Food Day. Thai food is clearly Asian: cut into bite-sized morsels, dominated by vegetables with smaller amounts of protein. Its sauces make Thai food distinctive. They’re made with lots of fresh, up-front herbs like cilantro, lemongrass, and galangal (a relative of ginger). Thai cooking includes many varieties of curry, none of which are much like Indian curry. The standard varieties are red curry, green curry (usually blended with coconut milk), musaman curry, which is mild and sweet with raisins and nuts, and Panang curry, which tends to the yellow side and makes the mildest statement.

The curries are juicy stews, but there are other kinds of dishes. Probably the most famous is pad thai, a combination of rice noodles, chicken, shrimp, peanuts, bean shoots, carrots, and hot red pepper with a bit of chicken stock. This is a dish about which we can truly say that we’ve never had a bad version. It tastes better and better as you eat it until, getting up the last little bits, you’re hungry for more, no matter how much there was to begin with.

Panang curry at Thai Spice.

Panang curry at Thai Spice.

Thai cuisine goes well beyond those major dishes to include some great soups, spring rolls with peanut-based dipping sauces, fried rice with pineapple, and many more specialties. One advisory you find on almost every Thai menu is that they’ll cook it to any degree of hotness. The choices are usually mild, hot, extra hot, and Thai hot–the latter being on the delicious threshold of pain.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Debris Creek runs down the eastern face of the Rocky Mountains in Glacier National Park, in northwestern Montana. It begins a tenth of a mile west of the Continental Divide at the 7300-foot level, then drops 2000 feet in eight miles through a rock-filled valley before flowing into Ole Creek. All this is in the headwaters of the Columbia River. Dramatic, stunning scenery. Food is surprisingly nearby, seven miles away in East Glacier Park on US 2, at Firebrand Food and Ale. By the way, “debris” has a special food connotation in New Orleans. It’s the chips and chunks of meat left over when roast beef is sliced. It goes into the gravy pot, making it thicker and more interesting.

Edible Dictionary

coconut water, n.–coconut water, n.–The clear liquid inside a recently-picked, young coconut. As the coconut ages, the water is absorbed into the meat and disappears. In places where coconuts are grown, one can often find vendors of coconut water on the sides of roads. They cut off the tops of green coconuts, stick straws into them, and sell them to passing tourists for a very refreshing and delicious beverage. It’s low in calories and contains more electrolytes than most sports drinks do. Coconut water is very popular among the locals as a drink, and in some places it’s even canned. It is not the same thing as coconut milk, which is processed from the meat.

Deft Dining Rule #881:

If you’ve never had a dish made “Thai hot,” tonight is not the night to try it. Order your curry “extra hot” and see if that doesn’t do it for you.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

The combination of Thai curry paste (any color) and coconut milk is so appealing that you can use it for a vast range of dishes. Anything involving seafood or chicken, for example. Take a leap of faith on this.

Music To Eat Cake By

On this date in 1968 McArthur Park, written by Jimmy Webb and sung by Richard Harris, was released. Nobody knows what the lyrics mean. My daughter once asked me why somebody would leave a cake with green frosting out in the rain, especially if it took a long time to bake, and the baker lost the recipe. And, more important, why someone would write a six-minute song about it.

Annals Of Cocktails

MargaritaCarlos Herrera, the inventor of the margarita, died on this date in 1992. He assembled the concoction of tequila, lime juice, triple sec, and ice, with a salt rim, at his restaurant, Rancho La Gloria, near Tijuana, in 1947. The story goes that he named it after an actress who called herself Marjorie King, a regular customer who preferred tequila shooters.

Annals Of Canned Food

The name Spam was registered as a trademark by the Hormel Company today in 1937. It’s short for “spiced ham.” That’s what it is: ham and pork shoulder, in a can. Not horrible, but not good, either.

Food In Show Biz

Foster Brooks, whose comedy routines were built around his allegedly being intoxicated all the time, was born today in 1912. We don’t consider drunkenness funny anymore, so his act seems appalling in retrospect. He died in 2002. . . Today in 1994, the Broadway musical Grease opened for what would be the first of 1503 performances.

Food Namesakes

The dancer and choreographer Martha Graham was born in 1894. . . Margaret Brewer, the first U.S. Marine Corps General of her gender, got the promotion today in 1978. . . Ex-Mafia boss Joe “Bananas” Bonanno died today in 2002. . . Faith Popcorn, a management consultant known for predicting trends, predicted on this day in 1947 that she would be born later the same day.

Words To Eat By

“How pleasant is the day when we give up striving to be young—or slender.”–William James, 19th-century American philosopher, born today in 1842.

Words To Drink By

“Reagan promised everyone a seven-course dinner. Ours turned out to be a possum and a six-pack.”–Jim Hightower, Texas populist politician, born today in 1943.

FoodFunniesSquare

Sportsman, Butcher, Chef And Gourmet–All In One.

The ultimate in a ranch-to-table cuisine. And it’s even ethnic!

Click here for the cartoon.

DiningDiarySquare-150x150 Saturday, May 7, 2016.
Green Acre. Chimes. Café Du Monde.

Mary Ann becomes a whirlwind of clean-up energy when either of our children comes home for a visit. Mary Leigh will show up at the Cool Water Ranch–or, more likely, one of the Marys’ favorite restaurants–tomorrow.

I am not permitted to help with this project. MA doesn’t trust me to resist the temptation to throw away large amounts of what to me look like trash. But I have my own program. The Great Lawn in front of the Cool Water Ranchhouse is growing like weeds (come to think about it, it’s all weeds this time of year). It will take about an hour and a half to trim the Lawn. That must be done in the morning, because MA has plans for most of the evening. I’m in the sun almost the entire time. But then again, I am The Man Wears Only Long-Sleeve Shirts And Long Pants, No Matter What The Weather.

I have a radio show to host, for a change. We are in the short season (until August) when my Saturday program gets on the air reliably.

Mint julep

Mint julep for watching the KY Derby at The Chimes.

Mary Ann has moved into Mother’s Day Mode, in which she has the right (we negotiated this a long time ago) to do anything she feels like doing for the duration of the holiday. I meet her at around five at The Chimes. She wanted to watch the Kentucky Derby as well as eat the Chimes’ food. (The usual salad). I have a mint julep. And then, because “mint julep” is somwhat similar to “jalapeno-bacon burger,” I order that as a main, hold the bacon.

Bacon and jalapeno burger at Chimes.

Bacon and jalapeno burger at Chimes.

I don’t think hamburgers and bacon go well together. Those who will now point to the immense popularity of bacon cheeseburgers will probably pooh-pooh my thesis that if a restaurant adds bacon to anything, it will sell more of that item at a higher margin. The restaurant business likes the effect even more than its customers do.

At some point, I ask MA when the horserace will take place. “It just did, about five minutes ago,” she says. I forgo asking who won. I don’t even have an imaginary horse in this game. I am, however, a card-carrying Kentucky Colonel.

The hamburgers at Chimes are among the few things I like there. I manage to eat only half of this one, so thick is the meat stratum. Besides, Mary Ann is now itching to get a move on to the LPO concert in Bogue Falaya Park. The main phalanx of the Louisiana Philharmonic is giving a free reading of the kind of tunes you’d hear at a Fourth Of July event, plus an assortment of other things. It entertains us until sundown, at which time we commence looking for MA’s car, whose parking location slips our minds.

Sunday, May 8, 2016. Mother’s Day.
Back Into Routines.

Mary Leigh’s flight from Washington, D.C. is due around noon. MA goes to pick her up without me because 1) she wants to maximize girl talk with our daughter and b) I am singing at St. Jane’s. I am also working on yet another computer glitch, one which before the day is out will have me on the phone with a tech for three hours. Next time I get a new computer, I’m going to hire somebody to move the data over. I don’t have the touch.

Our Mother’s Day lunch is at La Carreta. Of course it is. The Mexican place in Mandeville is a favorite of the Marys. The weather is so beautifully cool that the outdoor tables are especially inviting. On the other hand, we are not the only people who are celebrating Mother’s Day in a restaurant. We are also not the only ones who are in very casual restaurants instead of Commander’s Palace and Galatoire’s. It is, however, enough of an oddity that a crank poster emerges from the shadows of my web board every time the Marys and I go to Carreta, the Chimes, the Acme, Zea, New Orleans Food And Spirits, or the other restaurants we visit too often (sez he) because that’s what the Marys want.

Choriqueso would be good in an omelette.

Choriqueso would be good in an omelette.

In between the bean soup, the choriqueso, the tacos and avocado salad with cilantro vinaigrette, we talk about ML’s upcoming wedding. The menu, the band, and a few other details seem to be resistent to gelling. For the fifth or seventh time, ML tells me who the bridesmaids are (her cousins). I pretend great interest, which I do have–but it’s mostlly focused on the bottom line abuilding. As if it will do any good, the first computing I do after the tech finishes is to log in and pay the American Express bill before the wedding stuff kicks in big time.

I don’t need to eat anything more, but ML has a supper rendezvous with two of her three cousin-bridesmaids. They go to The Chimes.

La Carreta. Mandeville: 1200 W Causeway Approach. 985-624-2990.

RecipeSquare-150x150

Creole Corn Pudding

The inspiration came from VooDoo BBQ, but this is my version of that old-timey, little-seen side dish. You can use either fresh corn on the cob (if you do, par-boil it before stripping it from the ears) or frozen corn.

Corn pudding, with a few peppers floating  on top.

Corn pudding, with a few peppers floating on top.

  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 1/2 cups self-rising cornmeal
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 Tbs. plus 1 tsp. sugar
  • 1 cup corn
  • 1/2 cup chopped red and green bell pepper
  • 2 Tbs. butter
  • 1/2 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese
  • 4 sprigs cilantro, leaves only, chopped
  • 1/3 cup finely sliced green onion
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 tsp. Tabasco Jalapeno pepper sauce
  • Salt, white pepper, and cayenne pepper to taste

Preheat over to 400 degrees.

1. Combine the milk with two cups of water in a saucepan over medium heat and bring to a light boil. Stir in the cornmeal with the salt and sugar and stir until it gets to the thickness of light grits. Add more water if necessary to keep it flowing.

2. Remove from the heat. Add the corn, bell pepper, butter, cheese, cilantro, green onion, and Tabasco Jalapeno. Stir to combine the ingredients well.

3. Break the eggs into a bowl and beat with an electric mixer until light and foamy. Add the eggs to the rest of the mixture, folding it in with a rubber spatula. Taste and add salt, white pepper, and cayenne.

4. You may bake this in small individual glass baking dishes or one large one. Butter the dish first before spooning in the pudding mixture. Bake in a preheated 400-degree oven until the top begins to brown–about a half-hour.

Serves eight.

500BestSquareMazorca @ Baru Bistro & Tapa

DishStars_3
The description of this Colombian dish doesn’t ring a dinner bell. In fact, it sounds like a curious collection of ingredients: corn, cheese, and fried shoestring potatoes, topped with what the menu (and the waiter) only identify as pink sauce. Yet something about it makes you want to order it. And the first taste gives new respect for your subconscious and its way of picking winners for no apparent reason. It’s an appetizer at this fine little Central Ameican-South American-Caribbean cafe.

Baru Bistro & Tapa. Uptown: 3700 Magazine. 504-895-2225.

This is among the 500 best dishes in New Orleans area restaurants. Click here for a list of the other 499.

AlmanacSquare May 10, 2015

Days Until. . .

New Orleans Wine And Food Experience 17

Food On The Road

Today in 1969, the second (northbound) span of the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway opened. The idea of taking the twenty-four-mile trip just to go to dinner had not really been hatched, but it soon would be. Three years after the bridge expansion, Chris Kerageorgiou opened La Provence in Lacombe, and found that a lot of his customers came from the South Shore. Now lots of people do it every day. La Provence, now owned by John Besh and Chef Erick Loos), keeps up the standards from the era of Chris.

Today’s Flavor

ShrimpToday is National Shrimp Day. Shrimp are probably the favorite seafood of Americans. They’re found on menus of every kind, all over the country. The Louisiana shrimp industry recently supplied more the eighty percent of the American shrimp eaten in this country. That is way down because of ungrounded fears about the oil spill’s effect on our shrimp (there was actually very little), and because of a flood of imported shrimp from Southeast Asia. Why anyone would turn away from Gulf shrimp–arguably the world’s best–to save fifty cents a pound is a mystery to me.

You can cook shrimp thousands of ways. Here in New Orleans, the best shrimp dishes are New Orleans-style barbecue shrimp and shrimp remoulade. I can’t get enough of either of these two dishes. The two main species are white shrimp and brown shrimp, in alternating seasons. I prefer white shrimp, particularly for broiling, but the distinction is not great.

Shrimp are sized according to the “count” of shrimp per pound. This ranges from under 10 count for grilling and barbecuing, down to 40 or more count for frying, salads, gumbo, and stews.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Juice Creek runs in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, a wilderness area in south central Washington State. The creek drops from some bogs at the 2500-foot level down to the Panther River, where there’s a campground. From the campground, the Panther and Wind Rivers afford some thrilling whitewater rafting. Mount St. Helens is visible to the northeast from stretches of Juice Creek. All this is sixty-nine miles northeast of Portland, Oregon. You won’t have to go that far for a bite to eat–at least not if you don’t mind the twenty-mile hike through the woods and hills to Trout Lake, where you’ll find KJ’s Bear Creek Cafe.

Edible Dictionary

satsuma, n.–Satsumas are the first citrus fruits of the Louisiana season, and herald the arrival in a month or two of the world’s best oranges. Satsumas are native to the archaic Satsuma province on the island of Kyushu in Japan, where they seem to have mutated from a kind of orange. They came to this country in 1878, and are better known as mandarins (a reference to their Far Eastern origins) or tangerines. The satsumas in Southeast Louisiana are different from those found in most other parts of America, and remain very similar to the original Japanese variety brought here by the Jesuits. They have very thin skins with very large oil pockets. As we all discover as children, the skin is very easy to remove, and the sections usually come apart without breaking open. The flavor is distinctly different from that of an orange.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

Whenever you cook shrimp, the moment you have the first thought as to whether they’re cooked well enough is the time to remove the shrimp from the heat, immediately. Overcooked shrimp stick to the shells.

Food Through History

The ten-day Battle of Hamburger Hill began today in 1969. It was a disaster all around, and was the last major ground offensive in the Vietnam War. The tide of American opinion turned against the war as a result.

French king Louis XVI, for whom a very fancy New Orleans French restaurant was named, ascended the throne on this date in 1774. He would be the regal victim of the French Revolution eighteen years later. His namesake restaurant is still here, but only for hotel breakfasts and private parties.

Annals Of Herbal Beverages

TeaSetThomas J. Lipton, tea merchant and avid sailor, was born today in 1850, in Glasgow, Scotland. Lipton is the leading name in tea in this country, but it was one of many until it started advertising on radio, with the medium’s most persuasive spokesman: Arthur Godfrey.

RootBeerCharles Hires began selling a bag of roots, herbs and berries with instructions for making root beer today in 1869. You steeped the bag’s contents in hot water, then strained, sweetened and chilled it. It was the original root beer. Later, soda fountains began dispensing it and adding carbonation. Hires Root Beer, which is still around, is recognized as the first branded soft drink.

Deft Dining Rule #412:

The worst cold root beer is better with a roast beef poor boy sandwich than the best red wine.

Music To Eat Bouillabaisse By

Donovan Leitch, was born today in 1943. According to one of his hit songs, he was mad about saffron. He started out as a Bob Dylan soundalike, but evolved into the ultimate hippy-dippy singer, using just his first name.

Food Namesakes

Movie producer Jeff Apple fell from the tree today in 1954. . . Mike Butcher, a pitcher for the California Angels in the 1990s, took The Big Mound in 1965. . . Another baseball pro, Ken Berry, hit The Big Basepath in 1941. . . Ollie Le Roux, who plays rugby professionally in South Africa, kicked off today in 1973.

Words To Eat By

“The term ‘jumbo shrimp’ has always amazed me. What is a jumbo shrimp? I mean, it’s like Military Intelligence. The words don’t go together.”–George Carlin.

Words To Drink By

“I drink only to make my friends seem interesting.”–Don Marquis.

FoodFunniesSquare

Cool Beverages Around The Pool.

It’s time for the annual competition between iced tea and lemonade. The teabags and the lemon wedges are ready to chill.

Click here for the cartoon.

Dining room at the Italian Barrel.

Dining room at the Italian Barrel.

DiningDiarySquare-150x150 Thursday, May 5, 2016.
Return To The Italian Barrel.

John the computer guy has my job done. My old unit is off to the recycling bin (a real one, not the cartoon on the screen). He did, however, manage to save all my data–including my nearly-finished tax return, which I foolishly allowed to reside in only one place. The price is about what I figured, and now that matter is off my hands. (Almost.)

MA comes into town and we have dinner at the Italian Barrel. It’s a small café across the street from the Old U.S. Mint. Since the day it opened, I have heard nothing but praise for the place, whose owner and chef Samantha Castagnetti hails from Verona. That’s far up into northern Italy, where the food differs from the Southern Italian eats we find in most New Orleans-Italian restaurants. That expresses itself largely in the salumi and antipasti, and in the use of more white than red sauces.

There’s nothing seriously wrong with the food here, and a lot of friends love it. (Indeed, I have never met anyone who doesn’t love it.) But I guess it’s not the place for me. The food never quite rocks my boat. I also find it more expensive than feels right to me. It must be said that the location is prime, and when you can fill the restaurant every night (and they do), the price must be right for all those people.

Bruschetta at the Italain Barrel.

Bruschetta at the Italain Barrel.

We started dinner with bruschetta, served atop some good grilled focaccia bread and long slices of Parmigiana cheese, with marinated tomatoes contributing most of the dish. It was easily enough for the two of us. Entrees were penne pasta with a light red sauce (pink might be a better description of the color) with crabmeat. She also had side orders of spinach and broccoli at nine dollars a throw.

Italian Barrel's ravioli with porcini and truffles.

Italian Barrel’s ravioli with porcini and truffles.

For me, triangular ravioli stuffed with porcini mushrooms and truffles. The waiter told me that the pasta was imported from Italy. This was the sort of dish in which I would expect the pasta to be hand-made. But they have some different ideas here.

I finished with a dessert called the “coppa,” which was sort of tiramisu in a cup. Good idea. Also on the table was a glass of Chianti, a bottle of San Pellegrino, and an espresso. Total with tip: $130.

My main complaints in the four previous times I ate here concerned comfort. The restaurant is very small, and the tables are close together. Tonight we were seated at what may be the best table in the house, because it didn’t seem crowded there. I also see that the bar top has been reworked, making it more practical to dine there. There are a few tables on the sidewalk. For reasons I don’t understand–outdoor dining is her favorite kind–MA said she didn’t want to dine out there.

My walk to the men’s room passed by a number of people I know. They all love the Barrel, too. Also here having dinner with his brother was Jim Kellett, who in his eighties is one of the last surviving maitre d’s from the golden age of elaborate dining in New Orleans. In the 1970s and 1980s, he had stints minding the front doors of Louis XVI, Romanoff’s, and the Versailles. He’s out of the business now, working in real estate. It was nice to run into him after thirty or more years since the last time.

I still don’t get the appeal of the Italian Barrel, but I’m happy that they’re thriving in a neighborhood where a lot of locals go. It’s been a long time since I last felt that restaurants should all be the kind that I like.

Italian Barrel. French Quarter: 430 Barracks. 504-569-0198.
John’s PC Computer Service. 985-807-4948. (He’s too good for me not to give him a plug.)
Friday, May 6, 2016.
Listening To Myself. Meat Sauce Pizza.

I called my big sister Judy to ask her out for supper and a play. She is in the throes of adjusting to the loss of her husband of fifty-plus years, which can’t be fun. She seems to be getting along okay so far, with a good network of grown-up kids and other relatives. I have not done my part in that, so I will try harder.

The play is a production of “How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying” at the Rivertown theater in the center of old Kenner. This is one of my old neighborhoods. I went to school for three years here, but Judy has me beat: she was married across the street from where the play goes on the boards for the next few weeks. It’s a good, funny work from the 1960s, and the cast is made up of terrific singers, dancers, and character actors. And there is one voice who is heard but not seen: me. It’s the first time I heard myself talk in a good-sized theater. For once, I didn’t think the amplification is too loud.

With a curtain time of eight o’clock and my getting off the air at six, our dining options are limited. The perfect place, I decide, is the Happy Italian, across the street from another school I attended as a boy: St. Rita’s in Harahan. It’s right on the way to the theater.

Happy Italian meat sauce pizza

Happy Italian meat sauce pizza

Mary Ann joins Judy and me there, and among the three of us we consume a large meat sauce pizza. This is a brilliant idea from owner Lenny Minutello, and a simple one, too. You know the tomato-centric meat sauce everybody eats with spaghetti? How would that be on a pizza? Turns out that almost no other pizzeria makes anything like it. It’s a terrific idea. The sauce is made very thick, so it doesn’t make the crust soggy. Tasty, too.

The plan for the evening probably kept the girls up later than they really wanted. The script of the play–which, the director told me, was already cut back a good bit–keeps everybody in the theater until after ten-thirty. And then we took a wrong turn going back to the car, taking us two blocks through very dark streets. My brain’s direction finder and its memory of the old neighborhood are not what they used to be.

Happy Italian. Harahan: 7105 Jefferson Hwy. 504-305-4666.

RecipeSquare-150x150

Dirty Rice

Dirty rice is the brother of jambalaya. It’s much less complex, yet in its way is every bit as delicious. Unlike jambalaya, which can be served as a main course, dirty rice is a side dish. It’s also a way to use all that stuff you pull out of the inside of a whole chicken. While you can use the heart, it’s better to leave that out, and use about 50 percent chicken liver.

Redepmtion-DuckDirtyRisotto

  • 1/2 pound chicken giblets (heart removed)
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 green bell pepper with seeds, stem and membrane removed
  • 1 rib celery
  • 1/2 pound ground pork (improvement: substitute up to a third of this with pork liver)
  • 2 Tbs. butter
  • 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper
  • 2 tsp. salt-free Creole seasoning
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. marjoram
  • 1 tsp. thyme
  • 1 1/2 cups Uncle Ben’s or other par-boiled rice
  • 2 1/2 cups chicken stock

1. In two or three batches, chop the giblets, onion, bell pepper, and celery in a food processor until finely chopped.

2. Sauté the ground pork in a skillet until all the pink is gone. Drain the excess fat.

3. Heat the butter in a large, heavy saucepan and sauté the chicken-vegetable mixture until the onions are clear. Add the Worcestershire, crushed red pepper, Creole seasoning, salt, and marjoram. Stir, cover the pot, lower the heat, and simmer.

4. While that’s cooking, prepare cook the rice. Put it, the chicken stock, and the salt into another saucepan. Bring the stock to a boil, lower to a simmer, cover, and cook 25 minutes, until all the liquid has been absorbed.

5. When the rice is cooked, fluff it with a kitchen fork and add it to the pan with the chicken-vegetable mixture. Add the ground pork. Stir to distribute all the ingredients. Add salt and pepper to taste.

6. Dump the mixture loosely into a pan and bake in a 300-degree oven for about five minutes, longer if the rice is very damp. It should be a little dry but not hard.

Serves eight side dishes.

500BestSquareRoast Chicken With Black Beans And Cilantro Pizza @ Louisiana Pizza Kitchen

DishStars_3
Of all the many offbeat pizzas created at the Louisiana Pizza Kitchen, this is the best. It breaks completely away from the standard pizza palette of flavors, replacing it with a Southwestern taste. It’s perfect with the cracker-thin crusts they make. Where there would ordinarily be basil and oregano, this one has cilantro. And beans. On a pizza? If it tastes good, it is good.

ChickenBeanPizza

Louisiana Pizza Kitchen. French Quarter: 95 French Market Place. 504-522-9500.

This is among the 500 best dishes in New Orleans area restaurants. Click here for a list of the other 499.