DiningDiarySquare-150x150 Friday, January 13, 2017.
Saffron Nola Before It Crosses The River.

I am a keeper of lists. Some are for publication, which is what I do for a living. Some are for me to keep track of the lists in the first bunch. It’s almost a certainty that I have more of the latter.

Among them is the list of restaurants that I need to visit for the purpose of dining, then to make another list about the writing. Such lists actually scare me, because I’m so far behind am I in the research.

A longtime resident on the visit-and-write-about list is Saffron Nola. It’s almost certainly the best Indian restaurant in the New Orleans area. But the challenge of reviewing it is compounded by the fact that the place is open for only one meal per week. Owners Arvinder and Pardeep Vilkhu–who are married to each another–are primarily in the catering business. Arvinder is also the general manager of the Pickwick Club. They’re both articulate, knowledgeable, and fun to talk to.

They have been on my mind lately, because they’ve announced that the one-dinner-a-week version of Saffron Nola will shortly grow into a full-time restaurant on Magazine Street Uptown. Good choice of locations. The young crowd that fills the eighty-seven restaurants on Magazine Street has shown itself to be eager diners in ethnic restaurants. Indian food will fit right in.

For the past few years Richard Hughes and his wife Jeanne have joined Mary Ann and me for dinners here and there–especially if the restaurant we attend is offbeat. His easygoing personality makes him fun to hang with. I don’t dine with many restaurateurs, because the conversation usually devolves into shop talk. Such matters don’t come up often with Richard.

Lately, the topic has been the diets that our respective wives have been laying on us. Both of them have dense concepts in this regard, based on the latest diet books. I think both Richard and I appreciate having the girls outline their programs to each other.

We have cocktails, soon to be followed by Indian beer. A round of appetizers includes paneer–the house-made, light cheese served to tomato curry and cashews. We have lentil pancakes (you can make a dough out of lentils, you know) with crabmeat. Potato pancakes with pea pâté.

Jeanne is intrigued by the vegetarian “thali.” (The word denotes the stainless-steel tray that carries about a dozen different vegetarian items. It’s an Indian tradition that any thali must have only enough for a bite of everything for one person. But diners go for it anyway.

In the entree department, Richard and I have curried goat with basmati rice. It’s light and delicious. The ladies are hesitant to try it. Although my entree is the best plate of food in this dinner, I think I may have been more amused by its name: Khyber Pass lamb chops, soaked in rum before being grilled. This is seriously good. Now look up the definition of Khyber Pass. Talk about exotic!

Saffron Nola. Gretna: 505 Gretna Blvd. 504-363-2174.


The Royal Oak Restaurant And Pub
Gretna: Oakwood Mall

What was the best Greek restaurant in New Orleans history doing in a large shopping mall on the West Bank?

If you stepped into the Royal Oak without knowing anything about it, you probably wouldn’t guess that it was Greek. The dining room was handsome and comfortable, with no Greek decor to speak of. Its kitchen used the best raw materials for everything, at a time when the few other Greek places served canned stuffed grape leaves and the like.

The reason for the Royal Oak’s unlikely excellence was that its owners were avid gourmets. John “Chauncey” Newsham–a CPA by profession–and his wife Julia Pappas Newsham were members of all the wine-and-food societies we had in those days. They were also a pair of happy, unpretentious people. You took a liking to them the first moment you met them. John was always laughing about something or other–especially his own checkered fortunes in the restaurant business. He also owned the Seven Samurai, in the location where Mr. B’s is now, when Japanese restaurants were not yet popular. “Of the three least popular kinds of restaurants in America,” he told me once, “the only kind I don’t own is a health-food restaurant!” Then he threw his head back and laughed.

Julia was the Greek connection, but John knew all about Greek cooking too. Royal Oak’s menu included all the Greek classics. If you were there on a good day, the food was brilliant, served amply and even presented nicely. Which is not a common appearance for Greek food.

You started well indeed if you had taramosalata. John made it personally, using carp roe, olive oil, lemon juice, and bread soaked in water and pureed. As unpromising as that may sound, the stuff was fantastic as an appetizer. Similar in appearance but totally different in flavor was the skordalia, a thick, smooth sauce of almonds and garlic which they served with two utterly different dishes: a cold beet salad and a fried seafood platter. The stuff was spectacular with both.

The Royal Oak was the first New Orleans Greek restaurant to serve saganaki, a slab of kasseri cheese coated with a light batter, broiled on a hot platter, then brought to the table and sizzled and flamed with ouzo and lemon juice.

The entrees included the most elegant gyros sandwich you ever saw, a marvelously light moussaka, and souvlaki of various kinds. They also had good lamb chops.

And one real oddity. The Royal Oak’s chef had come from Pascal’s Manale, and knew the recipe for that restaurant’s barbecue shrimp. The Royal Oak made them the same way, and they were terrific. Nobody ever questioned the obvious non-Hellenic aspect of that dish.

A case could be made that the best dish of all at the Royal Oak was a dessert called galaktoboureko. The lightest imaginable custard, flavored with honey and something like orange flower water, was baked under a phyllo crust. It all but floated off the plate. Julia Newsham made that personally.

The Royal Oak had consistency problems. John and Julia had other irons in the fire, and weren’t there to watch the place all the time. Nor was the restaurant so busy that the kitchen kept a white heat going at all times. This became especially true in the last years of the restaurant, when the Newshams had given up on the idea of making a profit with the place. It folded when all the other good restaurants on the West Bank did, in the aftermath of the oil crash in the 1980s.

But to this day, even in Chicago and other centers of Greek citizenry, I have never found a better Greek restaurant than the Royal Oak was in its prime.


Turkey Poulette

Sliced turkey with a thick, pale, warm sauce, cheese and bacon–this is an old luncheon favorite that is now nearly extinct. And perhaps it should be. However, people who remember it fondly as a standard at the Roosevelt Hotel might not think so–even if it’s been forty years since the last time they tried it. It’s just one of those dishes. In modern times, the Peppermill in Metairie has been about the only restaurant even attempting to keep turkey poulette alive.

The poulette sauce that holds all the pieces together is a classic French sauce, most commonly used for chicken. (Hence the name.) But it’s not much used even in France anymore. Most references to it tell you to see “allemande sauce,” which is similar but with a bit of egg to make it even thicker. (“Allemande” credits the Germans for the stuff.)

  • Sauce:
  • 1/2 stick butter
  • 3 Tbs. flour
  • 1 cup warm whole milk
  • 1 cup sliced fresh white mushrooms
  • 1 oz. dry sherry
  • 1/8 tsp. white pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 2/3 cup shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
  • 2 onion rolls
  • 8 large slices roast turkey breast, about 1/8 inch thick
  • 8 slices bacon. fried crisp
  • 1/4 cup green onions, snipped thin

Preheat the broiler to 450 degrees.

1. Melt the butter in a small saucepan and stir in the flour to make a blond roux. When the roux just begins to color, lower the heat to the lowest setting and add the warm milk. Whisk until the mixture pulls away from the side of the pan.

2. Add the mushrooms, sherry, white pepper, and salt. Stir until the sherry disappears. Simmer, stirring every now and then, until the mushrooms are soft. Remove the sauce from the heat.

3. Slice the onion rolls from top to bottom to make slices about a half-inch thick. Toast them until medium brown. Divide the slices on four plates.

4. Top the onion roll toasts with two slices per plate of the turkey. Divide the sauce over the turkey. Top each plate with two slices of bacon and a fourth of the grated Cheddar.

5. Put the plates under the broiler until the cheese melts and the sauce bubbles. Remove the hot plates to liner plates. Garnish the turkey poulettes with green onions and serve.

Serves four.

500BestSquareVegetable Soup @ Tujague’s

Tujague’s is famous for its boiled beef brisket. A byproduct of that specialty is homemade vegetable soup. Few stocks are better for making vegetable soup than the one in which briskets were boiled. And here it is, served occasionally as the soup of the day. In the pre-Katrina era, when Tujague’s was open for lunch, a group of French Quarter residents and businessmen met every Wednesday to consume bowls of vegetable soup. Among them a unique habit developed of plopping potato salad into the middle of the bowl. I never could figure that out, but I liked the company and the soup. Nothing could be more delicious on a winter day. And very few other restaurants offer it.

Vegetable soup at Tujague's.

Vegetable soup at Tujague’s.

Tujague’s. French Quarter: 823 Decatur. 504-525-8676.

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

AlmanacSquare January 17, 2017

Days Until. . .

Mardi Gras–41
Valentine’s Day–26

Deft Dining Rule #434:

Before you order a dish described as including spinach, find out whether the spinach will be visible and tastable. If not, it’s just in there to boost sales. Everybody falls for spinach.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

Next time you cook spinach for anything, give it a single shake (less than a pinch) of nutmeg. When you eat it, you’ll wonder why it tastes better than usual.

Gourmets In History

BenFranklinInQuadrantsBenjamin Franklin was born today in 1706. He didn’t invent the almanac, but he certainly set the standard for the genre with his Poor Richard’s Almanack. It made him into a rich man who could afford the fine food and wine that Franklin enjoyed. In his honor, go out for a dinner that costs the amount of the bill on which Franklin is remembered. Or not: he was famous for his common-sense style of living and doing business.

Food In War

Today in 1991, the first Iraq war began. One of the Marines who saw action was Chef John Besh of Restaurant August. Being in the service is one of the things that persuaded him to take a job cooking.

In other war news, on this date in 1827 the Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley, was made supreme commander of all British troops, twelve years after he defeated Napoleon at Waterloo. The dish beef Wellington was created in his honor by a chef whose identity has been lost. It’s a seared filet mignon (sometimes a very large section of the tenderloin) covered with foie gras and mushroom duxelles, then wrapped in pastry and baked. It’s a grand dish to see, but just okay in terms of taste. It seems very British, and has a way of being overcooked. I’ve always thought it ironic that beef Wellington is served most often in fancy, very French restaurants.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Grit is a crossroads community in the farming countryside of central Virginia, fifty-three miles east of Roanoke. The main action as far as dining out is concerned is in the adjacent towns of Hurt and Altavista, three miles west. I think T.A.’s Place sounds most promising for reasons I’m at a loss to explain. Also, the name of the town indicates that it’s probably south of the Grits Line, which separates the grits-eating part of America (the Southeast part) from the hash-brown eaters in the Northwestern three fourths of America.

Today’s Flavor

It’s Hot Buttered Rum Day. A drink dating back to Benjamin Franklin’s times, this is spiced rum served warm; the butter is to make the spices rise to the top, where the aromas can be better released. Interesting when it’s cold outside, but I can think of hundreds of better things to do with rum. Better we should make it Beef Wellington Day.

Annals Of Popular Cuisine

CableCarToday in 1871, Andrew Hallidie patented the design of the cable car, the kind used to this day in San Francisco. When we see a picture of a cable car, three things come to mind. First, the St. Francis Hotel, our favorite hotel in America, and the home of Michael Mina’s fantastic restaurant. The cable car passes right in front of it. Second, we think of Chinatown, because if you hop onto the cable car at the hotel, it takes you there, and to within a block of the Great Eastern, our favorite Chinatown restaurant. Finally, the cable car reminds us of Rice-A-Roni. Television commercials for “the San Francisco treat” (it’s really the Lebanese treat) always showed cable cars with ads for Rice-A-Roni on them. Those ads are still on many of the cars. One more: they remind us of Tony Bennett, and that song, and. . . well, now we want to be in San Francisco.

Edible Dictionary

Calamariarroz con calamares, [ah-ROEZ-con-call-uh-mah-ress], Spanish, n. Literally, “rice with squid.” But that doesn’t capture the big-time distinctiveness of this familiar Spanish dish. One of the main ingredients of the dish is ink from the squid’s system of camouflage. A little of it goes a long way. A well-made bowl of arroz con calamares may be as black as anything you ever eat in your life. The ink provides not just color but flavor, too. It’s usually made with enough pepper to make an impression that way, too. It’s usually served as an entree, and although it might not seem to be the sort of thing that wears well, no avid diner leaves any of it behind.

The Saints

Today is the feast day of St. Anthony The Abbott, who lived in the third century. He is the patron saint of butchers, as well as of pigs and those who raise them.

Food Namesakes

Actor Noah Beery was born today in 1882. . . Captain James Cook became the first person to cross the Antarctic Circle intentionally, on this date in 1773. . . Aviation pioneer Norman “Squab” Read was born today in 1891. . . Raphael Ritz, a Swiss artist, was born today in1829. . . Model, former Playboy Playmate, and former Hooters waitress Kimberly Spicer was born today in 1980. . . It’s the birthday (1933) of ventriloquist and puppeteer Shari Lewis, and indirectly also the birthday of her favorite puppet, Lamb Chop.

Food In The Comics

Today in 1929, Popeye the Sailor made his first appearance. He walked onto an existing comic strip by Elzie Segar called Thimble Theater, and before long he’d pushed the other characters in the strip into the background and became one of the biggest stars of the comics page. His major contribution to American culture, however, was in making spinach cool. His love of canned spinach was so influential among kids (including this one) that a statue of him stands in front of City Hall in Crystal City, Texas, the spinach-farming capital of America.

In New Orleans, we think of something else when we hear Popeye’s name. The national fried chicken chain started here (in Chalmette) was, however, not named for the sailor but for Popeye Doyle, portrayed by Gene Hackman, in The French Connection. That’s what Popeyes creator Al Copeland said, anyway. King Features, which syndicates Popeye, disagreed, and wound up forcing Popeyes Famous Fried Chicken to pay royalties for use of the equally famous sailor’s name. I can’t say I’m nuts about the product Popeyes puts out these days. But when it first opened in 1973, I had it at the top of one of my early Ten-Best lists. That spicy style was something really different back then, and I though it was worth driving miles to get the stuff.

Words To Eat By

“Kill no more pigeons than you can eat.”–Benjamin Franklin, born today in 1706.

“A mother never gets hit with a custard pie. Mothers-in-law, yes. But mothers? Never.”–Mack Sennett, early filmmaker, master of slapstick movies, born today in 1880.

Words To Drink By

“Love makes the world go round? Not at all. Whisky makes it go round twice as fast.”–Sir Compton Mackenzie, English writer, born today in 1883.


Any Distraction From The Food!

Restaurants are forever looking for set-pieces that make you think you’re getting good food.

Click here for the cartoon.


DiningDiarySquare-150x150 Thursday, January 12, 2017.
Girl Scout Cookies Arrive.

The radio studios are loaded with sweets today. A few king cakes arrive from various sources. Some of the classic Carnival cakes are very dry, and some are cloyingly sweet. Three other cakes lacking the Mardi Gras colors or shape are here, too. Must be somebody’s birthday.

The Girl Scouts have landed on our radio shores, too. They leave me with a package of their S’More’s cookies. Rectangles with shortcakes in the centers. These are covered with a paper-thin layer of marshmallow, which is in turn covered with a complete and generous coating of fudge.

The other cookies are disks covered with chocolate on one side and “Thank You!” in several languages on the uncovered side. Both of these are good, but there is a big change from last year: the packages are about twice the size they were last year. This means that I get a smaller variety to sample. Oh, well. I’m eating too much sweet stuff anyway.

One of several murals at Meril.

One of several murals at Meril.

The Marys call to say that they have procured a table for tonight at Meril. Those just joining the Diary may have missed the two other times I’ve attempted to eat at Meril, Emeril Lagasse’s fourth and newest restaurant in New Orleans. The Marys managed this by getting a reservation for 5:45 p.m. Although Meril is only a block and a half from the radio station, I’m not free from my master the microphone until six, at which time I always have five or ten minutes of handling an issue or two before I can stride out. So the girls will be sitting there killing time while waiting for me to appear at about a quarter after six. Restaurants don’t like this. Some of them refuse to allow seating until every member of the dining party presents himself.

Flatbread or pizza, as you like.

Flatbread or pizza, as you like.

But Meril is actually set up for such shenanigans. Most of the menu–a long list–is made of appetizers. That is nothing new to Emeril’s restaurants, especially Delmonico and Emeril’s itself. But Meril’s takes this to another level. Most of the dishes on the list are finishable in a few bites. The ingredients and techniques used are also familiar to diners who eat in chain restaurants than they are to five-star establishments. Yet they are indeed using first-class foodstuffs and methods.

I mentioned all this when I wrote about what it was like not to have dinner at Meril a few days ago. Now that I’ve confronted it, I can confirm that here is a genuinely new approach to dining out–one tailored for people on the young side of the dining-out spectrum. From now on, this is as elegant as a restaurant will get, and as casual, too. No tablecloths, of course. Order a course of appetizers and nothing else. Finish the first round, then call the waiter back over to start working on another one.

Mussels at Meril, after I decimate half of them.

Mussels at Meril, after I decimate half of them.

“They set the menu that way on purpose,” said the waiter taking care of us. Yes, that’s quite clear. The food will be the star, more than the place, the service, the wine list, or anything else.

The Marys were through with an offbeat approach to a flaky empanada. Then came flatbread from a wood-burning oven. Kind of like pizza, I thought. But they didn’t want to use that word, I guess. The shape of the pizza is unusual, too, looking like a short skateboard. The taste is pizza-like.

Bread pudding meets king cake.

Bread pudding meets king cake.

But this place is not for kids. The great dish of the night is mussels. They aere the plumpest I’ve encountered in awhile, fat enough to display the evidence of their gender (pale white = female; pale orange = male). The sauce reminded me of the “wine sauce” on mussels in Belgium, where wine was hard to pick out and cream dominant. In this case, something about the sauce was so alluring that I asked the chef for the recipe. Simple: coconut milk.

That they have mussels is a good sign. I remember a time when mussels were not to be found anywhere in New Orleans, even the gourmet places. People will order them now.

By this time I had been spotted by Emeril’s main people. I got a piece of bread pudding mounted with the colors of Mardi Gras. A new approach, that. There is much of it throughout Meril. It may be as much a turning point as Emeril’s flagship was in 1990.

Meril. Warehouse District & Center City: 424 Girod St. 504-526-3745.


Stuffed Squid With Pasta

This may be the best squid dish I ever cooked or ate. The late Mexican chef Jorge Rodriguez, who owned the excellent but now extinct El Patio in Kenner, created the dish. The cavities of the squid bodies are stuffed with crabmeat and savory vegetables, then cooked down in a cream sauce.

The advance preparation requires pulling the tentacles off the rest of the squid. If you’re ambitious, fry these with a corn-flour coating and scatter them over the pasta to lend a textural contrast.

  • 1 1/2 lbs. small, fresh squid (about five inches long)
  • 2 slices onion, about 1/4 inch thick, separated into rings
  • 1/2 stick butter
  • 3 Tbs. flour
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 cloves garlic, very finely chopped
  • 4 sprigs flat-leaf parsley, leaves only, chopped
  • Pinch cayenne
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 lb. claw crabmeat or shrimp, peeled
  • 1 pint heavy whipping cream
  • 1 1/2 cups grated Romano cheese
  • 1/8 tsp. white pepper
  • 1 green onion, tender green parts only, thinly sliced
  • Cayenne
  • 1 cup corn flour (Fish-Fri)
  • 1 Tbs. Creole seasoning
Squid stuffed with crabmeat.

Squid stuffed with crabmeat.

1. Buy the squid already cleaned if possible. If not, use a twisting motion to pull the tentacles away from the body. Avoid squeezing where the two parts of the animal meet, so as not to break the ink sac–a real mess. Remove the viscera and the beak from the tentacles by squeezing the point where the tentacles meet. Rinse everything, then set the tentacles aside.

2. Put the squid bodies and the onion into a small saucepan with barely enough water to cover. Bring the pot to a light boil and hold there for about three minutes. Strain the liquid and save. Remove the onions and reserve. Set the squid bodies aside to dry and cool.

3. Heat the butter in a saucepan until it bubbles. Sprinkle the flour into it and whisk as if you were making a roux, but stop after it thickens, before it begins to brown. Add the garlic and parsley and cook until the garlic is fragrant. Remove from the heat. Add the milk and whisk until the mixture has the texture of mashed potatoes.

4. Add the parsley, cayenne, salt, and crabmeat (or shrimp). With a rubber spatula, stir the mixture gently until the crabmeat is well distributed, but not broken.

5. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Using an iced tea spoon, stuff the squid bodies with the crabmeat mixture. Leave the last quarter-inch empty. Seal the opening with a toothpick. Lay the stuffed squid in a large baking dish, at most two layers deep. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for about 25 minutes.

6. While the squid are in the oven, bring the cream to a light simmer in a wide skillet, and reduce by about a third. Add the Romano cheese and stir until it melts into the cream. Stir in the white pepper and 1/2 cup of the reserved stock from poaching the squid.

7. Remove the squid from the oven and place them into the sauce. Agitate the pan back and forth to cover the squid with the sauce. Serve two to four squid per person, garnished with sliced green onions and a scant sprinkle of cayenne.

8. If you’re inclined to fry the tentacles as a garnish, just dust them in corn flour seasoned with Creole seasoning and fry in 375-degree oil until golden brown.

Serves four entrees or six to eight appetizers.

500BestSquarePad Prik King @ Thailicious

This is an exceptionally good, thick-soupy stir-fry of meat (pork is the classic, but you can have it with chicken, beef, etc.) with green beans, bell pepper, carrots, cucumbers, and red curry. It sounds like many other Thai dishes, but has a unique flavor I think comes from ginger. There’s also a little muskiness (I know that’s an unappealing word, but it’s the one that fits) that I find alluring. Pad (or paht) prik king (or khing) is on many Thai menus, but this version sets the standard. The restaurant is spartan, but Chef Cathy cooks at the highest levels of Thai flavors. One more thing: this is one of many excellent Thai restaurants on the North Shore, perhaps more than can be found on the South Shore.

Pad prik king at Thailicious in Slidell.

Pad prik king at Thailicious in Slidell.

Thailicious. Slidell: 2165 Gause Blvd W. 985-649-8900.

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

AlmanacSquare January 16, 2017
Dr. Martin Luther King Day Celebration

Days Until. . .
Mardi Gras–42
Valentine’s Day–27
Restaurant Anniversaries

The Red Fish Grill opened today in 1997. Ralph Brennan was running Mr. B’s with his sisters and cousins. He offered them the opportunity to buy into the new place he was planning for Bourbon Street, but got no takers. It proved to be a good investment. The Red Fish was (and still is) the most casual of Brennan restaurants. Its design is singular: it looks as if a bomb had been set off inside an old building, which was then patched up and painted, with cool furniture and neon installed. The design was by Luis Colmenares, who would do many more restaurants after that one. The Red Fish was the first full-service restaurant to open in the French Quarter after Hurricane Katrina.

RedFishMascotCoincidentally, this is also the birthday, in 1966, of Chef Haley Gabel, the corporate chef for all of Ralph Brennan’s four restaurants. We first met her at the now-in-limbo Bacco.

Also celebrating its birthday is Chateau Du Lac, opened in Kenner on this date in 2005. Bad timing. After reopening following the hurricane, Jacques and Paige Seleun moved their French bistro to Metairie Road in 2008. It always reminded me a lot of the original Crozier’s, with a similar menu (although it’s so classic that they can’t be accused of copying). It became much better after the move, and is a very pleasant place to dine. But now the bad news. At the end of service on the New Year’s Eve just passed, Chateau du Lac closed. It’s a hard business, running a restaurant.

Beer And Sports

Today is the birthday in 1911 of Dizzy Dean, the ace pitcher of the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1930s. Later, he was the first major baseball play-by-play announcer on television, on the Game of the Week, sponsored by Falstaff Beer. I watched that every Saturday afternoon with my dad, who usually had a cold long-neck Falstaff in his hand during the game. To this day, Dizzy Dean reminds me first of Falstaff, second of baseball. Falstaff was the biggest-selling brand of beer in New Orleans in the 1960s, making millions of gallons of brew here. I did radio commercials for Falstaff in 1979, and after that I have no further impressions other than regret for the abandoned brewery, with its tower that tells what the weather would be like, based on whether the letters in “FALSTAFF” lit up from top to bottom or bottom to top. In recent times, the weather ball has come back to life. The plans are to make condos out of the old building.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

Never fry beignets on a day when you see the letters on the Falstaff tower light up top to bottom before dawn and and bottom to top after dusk the same day. Don’t ask why, just remember.

Annals Of Temperance

A federal law that would be repealed only thirteen years later went into effect today in 1920. But its effects are still felt today, and in some places the law is still in force. Prohibition began, and from that moment on very few alcoholic beverages were legal to sell in the United States. The worst result was that most of the winemakers around the country went bust, and thousands of acres of great old vines were ripped up, to be replaced with everything from table grapes to almonds. Morris Sheppard, who wrote the amendment, said that it would result in “a rise to a higher and better plane of civilization for the United States. It means more savings, more homes, better health and better morals. It means that the American republic has achieved a distinctive triumph for right and righteousness in the low and bitter struggle between good and evil.” This sounds a lot like what they’ve ben saying about trans-fat in New York City.

Food Calendar

This is National Fig Newton Day. How they’re made is more interesting than how they taste. The inventor, Joshua Josephson, used a rectangular-tipped funnel inside of another, larger one. The thick fig jam filling went into the funnel in the middle, the dough went into the one on the outside, and the whole thing was extruded in one operation. Then it was baked, cut, and named after the town of Newton, Massachusetts. I used to love them when I was a kid. Maybe they’ve made them sweeter, or maybe I don’t like sweet stuff as much as I once did.

HotPeppersIt’s also International Hot and Spicy Food Day. My favorite way of making food hot and spicy these days is to sprinkle what I would have considered way too much crushed red pepper (the stuff you shake on a pizza) into it. As it cooks, it seems to mellow and spread out over a wider flavor spectrum. My taste in this regard is changing, too. I find myself liking my food hotter and spicier as I get older. Maybe I can’t taste it as well as I once could?

Gourmet Gazetteer

CoffeeMugs&PitcherThree places in the United States are called Coffeetown. How is it that all three are in Pennsylvania? And within less than a hundred miles of one another? Coffeetown #1 is in Lebanon County, nine miles east northeast of Hershey. It’s a suburb of Harrisburg, the state capital, whose population is spreading out into the former farm fields so rapidly that many houses are across the street from cropland. The restaurant of note in Coffeetown #1 is Tatiana’s, an Italian place a mile from the center of the community. Coffeetown #2 is sixty-nine miles east-northeast of #1, in Lehigh county. It’s just west of the steel-making towns of Allentown and Bethlehem. The nearest coffeeshop is Ambika’s Donuts, two and a half miles south. Coffeetown #3 is twenty-seven miles southeast of #2, on the other side of Bethlehem. It’s the most rural of the three towns, less than a mile from the Delaware River and the New Jersey state line. The place for coffee and lunch is Mueller’s Too, with a view of the river.

Alluring Dinner Dates

Today is the birthday, in 1948, of Ruth Reichl. After working in a Berkeley, California restaurant for a few years, she became a restaurant critic on the West Coast and with the New York Times for years before being named editor of Gourmet Magazine in 1999. Her three-volume autobiography–Tender At The Bone, Comfort Me With Apples, and Garlic And Sapphires–is fascinating, occasionally sexy, and delicious.

Annals Of Restaurant Criticism

Andre Michelin was born today in 1853. He founded the Michelin Tire Company in France in 1888, to make rubber tires for farm equipment. It grew into one of the world’s largest makers of the early removable automobile tire. To encourage people to travel around France more (and buy more tires), Andre Michelin published a guidebook to the points of interest, including restaurants. Ratings were added later, and that more than anything else contributed to the fame of the Guide Michelin series. It was the first published to award stars to restaurants, to a maximum of three. No accolade is more valuable to a restaurant than a three-star rating from Michelin.

Edible Dictionary

falafel, Lebanese, n.–A mixture of roughly pureed chickpeas, onions, garlic, parsley, a little flour, and seasonings, formed into a flattened ball or a pattie and fried. Falafel is one of the most popular street foods throughout the Middle East, but especially in Lebanon, Syria, Israel, and Egypt. It’s served both alone as an appetizer or in a sandwich. The latter is as often seen on a bun-like bread or pita, with lettuce, tomatoes, hummus, or tzatziki. It’s a staple on Middle Eastern restaurant menus in this country, especially among vegetarian customers.

Moving Food Around

BoxcarThe railroad refrigerator car was patented on this date in 1868 by William Davis, who quickly sold it to a Detroit meat packer. The car used use and salt in racks to keep meat cool as it traveled from the place where it was butchered to markets. Although the railroads didn’t like the idea, it quickly became a huge force in the distribution of meat, and made a fortune for Swift and Company.

European Food And Drink

In a blow to standards of gustatory excellence, the European Community ruled today in 2003 that confections made with vegetable oil instead of cocoa butter could be called chocolate. Spain and Italy, sensibly, were opposed to this. Most of the questionable chocolate came from England. . . In a related story, the first Starbucks in France opened today in 2004 in Paris.

Food Namesakes

A lot of sho-biz today. The group Brandy had a Number One hit today in 1999, Have You Ever. . . A really stupid movie, Half-Baked, premiered today in 1998. . . Tennessee Williams’s play Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore premiered today in 1963. A milk train, in case you miss the reference, is one that stops at every depot along the line. . . Mass murderer Alfred Fish was executed today in 1939. . . Two actors named Bacon: Lloyd Bacon, who was in many Charlie Chaplin movies, was born today in 1890, and Frank Bacon (a rare double food name!), who was also a writer, in 1864. . . Osip Brik, a Russian writer, was born today in 1888. (Brik is a Tunisian appetizer of puff pastry and various savory fillings.)

Words To Eat By

“Sea urchin is the sexiest flavor on earth, a shock of soft, sensual richness that resonates in your mouth long after you have swallowed.”–Ruth Reichl, born today in 1948.

Words To Drink By

“That’s the problem with drinking, I thought, as I poured myself a drink. If something bad happens you drink in an attempt to forget; if something good happens you drink in order to celebrate; and if nothing happens you drink to make something happen.”–Charles Bukowski.


The Worst Pasta Pun Of The Year So Far

Think tubular, with the ends cut off at a bias, served with a creamy sauce.

Click here for the cartoon.


DiningDiarySquare-150x150 Tuesday, January 10, 2017.
Rejected @ Meril, We Find Safe Harbor @ Marcello’s.

The Marys make themselves available for dinner when the radio show ends. They tell me where they are, and I go there, to find that they are not there, but a block away. I park on the corner thinking that I could have just left my Beetle in the radio parking garage, which is all of two blocks from our target: Meril.

Add an “E” to the beginning of the restaurant’s name, and you have most of the story behind the place. It’s the fourth New Orleans restaurant from Emeril Lagasse, opened a couple of months ago. It operates with about the same level of formality as Emeril’s NOLA.

Brussels sprouts.

Brussels sprouts.

Looking over the menu, we find what sounds initially like fast food. That’s only the continuing trick among major chefs to stoke their everyday dishes with high-quality ra materials. What comes out of this is a list food that sounds very familiar even to a person who doesn’t eat in ambitious restaurants often. Samples: boudin-stuffed tamales. Fried calamari with white beans, with the source of the squid specified. (Anyone know where Point Judith is? Or why it’s important?) Meatballs with burrata. Lasagna Bolognese. Brussels sprouts with bacon. Nobody will be frightened away by Meril’s menu.

The reason we don’t stay is that the Marys hadn’t made a reservation, and the waiting list even for a spot at the counters that surround most of the dining room is over an hour.
And that’s about all we will learn about Meril today.

Roasted chicken at Marcello's.

Roasted chicken at Marcello’s.

It’s not too far from here to Marcello’s, which is near the top of Mary Ann’s Italian list. We found no table there when last we went a couple of weeks ago. The room is a little looser tonight, and we find seats in the back of the wine-filled main dining room.

Meatballs and rustic sauce at Marcello's.

Meatballs and rustic sauce at Marcello’s.

As it has been in the past, Marcello’s restaurant on the corner of Girod and St. Charles is excellent tonight. MA has her favored basics: meatballs with the excellent rustic-style tomato sauce, and an Italian salad with fried eggplant cubes. Mary Leigh begins with the truffled macaroni in its creamy sauce. She says that the sauce is pretty close in its creamy richness to fettuccine alfredo. I get no hint of the truffle aspect, but I never do for dishes like this. She also has a pan of roasted Brussels sprouts, which she shares with MA and me. Damn! We could have had this at Meril!

Truffled penne pasta.

Truffled penne pasta.

My dinner is the best food on the table. I start with yesterday’s soup–that’s what they call it on the menu. It’s a lightly creamy potage of root vegetables and herbs. Pretty good. The entree is superlative: half a roasted chicken with the bones out but the skin still present and crispy, with a bed of risotto under all.

It’s been many months since the last time we were here at Marcello’s. It was good in its early days, and seems to have become even better. That entire area of the CBD is getting better for living every time I find myself there. In the late 1970s I lived two blocks from where Marcello’s is nowaround here in the later 1970s, and I wish I still did.

Meril. Warehouse District & Center City: 424 Girod St. 504-526-3745.
Marcello’s. CBD: 715 St. Charles Ave. 504-581-6333.


Foil Chicken, Indian Style

The tiny Taj Mahal is the third restaurant operated by the Keswani family, who have a verve for getting Orleanians to try their native Indian cuisine. This dish is based upon their most popular item, tandoori chicken–marinated chicken roasted in the superheated clay-pot oven called a tandoor.

Chicken being marinated on its way to the foil-wrapping and high tandoor roasting.

  • 2 chickens, about 2 1/2 lbs. each
  • Marinade:
  • 6 Tbs. yogurt
  • 1 1/2 Tbs. lemon juice
  • 1 Tbs. oil
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 tsp. paprika
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. red pepper
  • 1 tsp. granulated onion
  • 1/2 tsp. fresh ginger
  • 1 tsp. fresh garlic
  • 1 Tbs. heavy cream
  • 1 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 tsp. curry powder
  • 1 medium onion, sliced about 1/4 inch thick
  • 1 medium green bell pepper, sliced about 1/4 inch thick
  • 1/2 medium red bell pepper, sliced about 1/4 inch thick
  • 1/2 medium yellow bell pepper, sliced about 1/4 inch thick 6 button mushrooms
  • 1 tsp. basil
  • 2 oz. white wine
  • 1 oz. olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp. paprika
  • 1 Tbs. butter

1. Skin and clean chicken and remove fat. Make long slits in the breast and thigh.

2. Mix all ingredients for the marinade. Rub marinade over the chicken. Cover chicken and marinate two to four hours in the refrigerator. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

3. Roast chicken at 375 degrees for 25 minutes. Occasionally baste with marinade. After roasting, cut the chicken into quarters.

4. Mix all the other ingredients except the butter.

5. Brush butter on squares of aluminum foil. Place the chicken on the foil, and cover with the vegetables and spices, and roast for 15 more minutes at 425 degrees.

6. Re-wrap chicken in another, larger piece of foil. (If you want to get fancy, make it into the shape of a chicken.) Place it on a platter and serve by slicing open the top.

Serves four to eight.

500BestSquareBiscuits @ Mother’s

Early in the morning every day, the cooks at Mother’s bake several pans of enormous scratch-made biscuits. All morning long, those tall, wide biscuits–usually still hot from the oven–go out with gobs of butter and the same kind of raspberry jelly you find in jelly doughnuts. Obviously, you will not sully your biscuit (all you need is one of them) with that jelly. You can ask to have some of the famous baked ham or bacon or sausage shoved into the biscuit. But I still advise you take the biscuit as it comes. There is no better in this town. (Other than the ones my daughter and I make for one another at home.)


Mother’s. CBD: 401 Poydras. 504-523-9656.

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

AlmanacSquare January 12, 2017

Days Until. . .

Mardi Gras–46
Valentine’s Day–18

Food At War

HotDog-WellDressedYou remember how hot dog makers used to stress that their products were all meat? That stemmed from something that happened on this date in 1943, when the Office of Price Administration introduced the Victory Sausage. It was like a hot dog, except that the meat wasn’t specified, and soybeans were used as filler. It took decades for the wiener to live that down.

Today’s Flavor

ChckenStewsThis is National Stewed Chicken Day. That’s a whole chicken cooked slowly in a lot of water, which slowly becomes a stock, then a gravy. (Onions, parsley, celery, and other seasoning vegetables are in there, too.) When it comes to the table, the meat is all but falling off the bones. The bird might be pulled apart into primal pieces (leg, breast, thigh, wing), but no more than that. A half-chicken is the right portion per person, accompanied by rice and some kind of vegetable (peas are the classic, but potatoes or carrots are also good). This is a marvelous, homely dish found on fewer menus every year, and that is a shame. Solution: make it at home.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Almond is a cute little town of 460 people in the center of Wisconsin, ninety-two miles west-southwest of Green Bay. The tight street grid of the village rises abruptly out of the endless cornfields that surround and define the town. Almond was founded in 1850, not long after the Menominee Indians were screwed out of their land by the U.S. government. Almond was at first a stagecoach stop, then grew with the coming of the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad. There’s a hump on Highway D where the tracks used to be. There are no almond trees here–the weather is entirely wrong. The town was named for Almond, New York, from which its first postmaster hailed. The town’s hot spot for food and beverage is the Two Lakes Supper Club, two miles west of downtown Almond.

Edible Dictionary

Escargotsescargot, [ess-car-GO], French, n.–The French word for snail is the one most commonly used on menus. While escargots are identified with gourmet dining, they have been eaten since ancient time, and were much liked by the Romans. Not all snails are edible. The two most widely enjoyed are the petit gris snail (Helix aspersa) and the larger and slightly better gros blanc or “apple” snail (Helix pomatia). To get them ready for eating, they must first be purged for a few days, because snails eat some things that are poisonous to humans. They’re then removed from their shells, cleaned, then poached briefly. The classic preparation for escargots is bourguignonne–with garlic and herb butter. But many more recipes have come to the fore in recent years. Dirty secret about escargots: virtually all of them, even in the best restaurants–come out of cans. Live helix escargots are in fact illegal in Louisiana and many other states.

Deft Dining Rule #549:

Beware of dishes whose goodness is lost on people too young to have heard of them before. Nostalgia is an ingredient that cannot be detected by the palate.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

There’s not a chicken dish in the world that isn’t improved by wiping the chicken first with a lemon wedge.

Big Mouths

Radio windbag Rush Limbaugh was born today in 1951. Rush’s favorite restaurant in New Orleans was the old Brennan’s, where he dined on many occasions, according to Ted Brennan. To follow Rush blindly, order Brennan’s turtle soup, oysters Rockefeller, steak Diane and bananas Foster. That’s actually a pretty good dinner. . . Strangely enough, today is also Howard Stern’s birthday, in 1954. I find him as unlistenable as I do Rush. . . And in 1959 Bob West was born. He’s the voice of Barney, the big purple dinosaur, who makes much more sense than either of these other guys. But I know nothing of his dietary preferences. (He looks carnivorous.)

Food Namesakes

Actress Farrah Forke was born today in 1967. . . Hattie Caraway became the first woman elected to the United States Senate on this date in 1912. She was already a Senator, filling her late husband’s term. Huey P. Long was a fan of hers. . . American rock guitarist and singer Kris Roe, of the Ataris gave his first riff today in 1977.

Words To Eat By

“I went on a diet, swore off drinking and heavy eating, and in fourteen days I lost two weeks.”–Joe E. Lewis, comedian and actor, born today in 1902.

Words To Drink By

“My grandmother is over eighty and still doesn’t need glasses. Drinks right out of the bottle.”–Henny Youngman, king of the one-liners, born today in 1906.


The Chef Will Be Delighted To Hop To It.

They will be flash-fried, with fresh herbs.

Click here for the cartoon.