DiningDiarySquare-150x150 Tuesday, June 28, 2016.
Two Tonys, Another Tony.

I could fill a few hours with my tales of anxiety, almost all of which I can dismiss with a small amount of rational thought along the lines of “This too shall pass.” Yet some of the things that get to me are a little ridiculous. The Brexit thing, for example. Even recognizing that it will pass, until the stock market bounced back strongly today I have a rough day mentally. It would make sense if I were heavily invested in the stock market, which I am not.

I arrive early at the radio station and have a meeting with Chris Claus–boss of all six of our stations–and Diane Newman, who is charge of all the news and talk program. A couple of weeks ago, I was approached by a restaurateur who wants to put on a big charity function with me at its center. I can’t divulge the details, but I can say that there is more substance to it than I could bring with just my sharp wit and good looks.

My radio bosses think this is a good idea, too. To the point that they want to get all our stations involved in promoting it. Now that we’re talking about helping a lot of hungry people, I am more interested. Especially in the part where we get wealthy people laughing. And it did get my mind off today’s bout with paranoia.

Tony III and Tony II.

Tony III and Tony II.

To dinner at Two Tony’s (or, as its sign calls it, II Tony’s). It’s a combination seafood and Italian restaurant that spent some time in the building where Café Giovanni is now. It moved to Bucktown, then was evicted by the Corps of Engineers. The drainage guys, who wanted its land for a much-needed pumping station. It’s in West End now, near the marina.

II Tony’s has always been good, if only now and then brilliant. It does seem to get better with every visit, and that’s how things go today. I start with a well-made Italian salad, then a big soft-shell crab piccata–fried, of course, with buttery sauce with artichoke hearts, capers, and herbs. Among the side-dish options that come with this is angel hair pasta agio olio–or, as we call it in most of New Orleans, pasta bordelaise. This is precisely what I felt like eating.

When I enter, a disarmingly small and young-looking hostess greets me. The reason she looks young is that she is young–a tweener, I’d guess. And the daughter of Tony Montalbano, Jr. She is well-spoken and welcoming, with more skill than I find in nine out of ten seaters and greeters, most of who seem to me never to have dined in a restaurant, let alone worked in one.

She does not take me to the table, however. That job goes to her eleven-year-old brother, who is also suave, welcoming, and caring about my needs.

Soft shellcrab piccata at II Tonys.

Soft shellcrab piccata at II Tonys.

This young man is, of course, Tony Montalbano III. His grandfather was the original elder Tony of the II. Tony Jr., who has been in the restaurant since it opened, has been in charge of the kitchen all that time. Tony Sr., who was known for his friendliness, passed away some years ago. But that would not change the name. Tony III was much too young to have taken the stack of menus directly from the hand of his grandpa. There has never been a time when II Tony’s was short a Tony.

It’s not unusual for the management of a restaurant to pass to the next generation. Indeed, in my continuing reading of “Miss Ella”–the story of Ella Brennan and her restaurant family–I learn much about the second generation from its birth onward.

But I wonder how much longer this will persist in the restaurant business. For the rest of my life, I dearly hope.

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Two Tonys. West End: 8536 Pontchartrain Blvd. 504-282-0801.

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Oat Bran And Apple Muffins

Remember oat bran muffins? Remember how they were supposed to bring your cholesterol down, so everybody was eating them? Remember the cartoon about the man who stood in front of the three-story oat bran muffin he had to eat to make up for everything he’d eaten before?

Well, I fell for that stuff, too, and for a couple of years I made a batch of oat bran muffins every two or three weeks, and ate one every day. It was not unpleasant, actually. These are great with a cup of coffee and chicory with hot milk.

Muffins

  • Dry ingredients:
  • 1 cup self-rising flour
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • Dash nutmeg
  • 2 1/2 cups oat bran
  • 1/2 cup pecan pieces
  • 2 medium apples or pears, peeled, cored, and chopped
  • 1/2 cup shredded carrots
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • Wet ingredients:
  • 6 Tbs. canola oil
  • 1/2 cup Steen’s cane syrup or molasses
  • 1 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1 Tbs. honey
  • 1 Tbs. vanilla
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1 egg yolk

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

1. Combine the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, and oat bran in a bowl and mix well. Add the other dry ingredients and stir well to distribute everything evenly.

2. Mix all the wet ingredients in a larger bowl. (Measure the syrup after the oil, and it won’t stick to the measuring cup.)

3. Pour the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and, with a minimum of stirring, combine them. making sure all the dry ingredients at the bottom get saturated. The batter should be quite wet.

4. Spoon the batter into greased muffin tins. Fill each pocket about 90 percent full. Bang the muffin tins down on the counter to settle and even out the batter.

5. Bake in a 400-degree preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes. Larger muffins will, obviously, take longer. Aluminum tins bake faster than stainless steel, but the latter are preferable.

6. Remove from oven and cool. Freeze the muffins you don’t plan on eating right away.

Makes fifteen to eighteen muffins.

WholeFishInFabric

500BestSquareSteamed Or Fried Whole Fish @ Korea House

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Since the demise of Genghis Khan–the Korean restaurant that made whole fried fish popular in New Orleans–many of its customers continue to find something similar. Here it is, well hidden in Fat City. The Korea House actually has a bigger Korean menu than Genghis Khan ever did. And their whole fish is available not only fried but steamed, as well. It’s not even hard to find, around the corner from Drago’s.

Korea House. Metairie: 3547 18th. 504-888-0654.

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

AlmanacSquare June 29, 2014

Days Until. . .

Eat Club Dinner @ Cafe Giovanni 1
Fourth Of July 6
Eat Club Dinner @ Acropolis Cuisine 7

Today’s Flavor

Today is Veal Chop Day. Veal chops were very hip in the 1980s. Every restaurant that served them found its customers raving about the dish. This popularity faded in the 1990s, and now veal chops are uncommon except in Italian restaurants, and not all of those serve them. One reason for this, beside the fading vogue, is the high cost.

The standard veal chop is cut from the rib roast. It’s analogous to prime rib in beef. Two relatively new varieties of veal chops are sometimes seen. Veal racks come from the far-forward end of the rib cage. They have small “eyes,” so are usually served two or three at a time. Also making more appearances than previously are the veal T-bone and veal porterhouse. Both contain parts of the tenderloin and strip loin, separated by the bone. I think veal tenderloins and veal strip steaks are underappreciated. I prefer them to rib chops–if they’re cooked properly.

A textbook example of well-marbled ribeye beef steaks.

A textbook example of well-marbled ribeye beef steaks, at Impastato’s.

Veal chops need special care in cooking. Because they lack the fat and collagen-bearing tissues of beef, they can get tough in cooking. I am persuaded that it might be a better idea to cook veal chops at a rather low temperature, instead of searing them in a pan or on a grill. They’re juicier than if they’d been cooked like steaks.

Some restaurants serve a veal chop pretty much as is, with perhaps a natural sauce. Others stuff it (Andrea’s veal chop Valdostana) or top it (Commander’s veal chop Tchoupitoulas). An underrated classic is veal chop Milanese style: pounded out and panneed with seasoned bread crumbs.

Edible Dictionary

graines de paradis, grains of paradise, n.–A mildly peppery spice from the tropical zones of western Africa. It grows in a pod on an herbaceous perennial plant, Amomum melegueta. The seeds are what’s consumed; they’re about twice the size of black peppercorns. They became popular in Europe in the 1400s, when trade in black pepper and other spices was spiraling upward, and anything that could add flavor was in demand. Grains of paradise are much milder than black pepper, and have a bitter finishing flavor. It was a second choice if black pepper were unavailable or too expensive. Although it’s still used in its native African range, it’s almost disappeared from the spice market, despite the efforts of a few chefs who use it to puzzle their customers.

Annals Of Imaginary Eating

Antoine de Saint-Exupery was born today in 1900. He was both an accomplished aviator and a brilliant writer. His most famous book–Le Petit Prince–was ostensibly written for children, although the themes in it have a way of staying with us into adult life. His drawing in that book of a snake that just ate an elephant is memorable.

Gourmet Gazetteer

BaconBaconville is in central Massachusetts, ninety miles west of Boston. It’s on a ledge at the 300-foot level in the hilly woodlands, where each house’s clearing is like a hole in the dense forest. Baker Branch flows into Dean Brook at Baconville. Baker Reservoir is nearby. The nearest town of substance is Amherst, a mile and a half away. There you’ll find a place to eat called Wings Over Amherst. Get a baker with bacon there.

Annals Of Food Writing

Rembert Dodoens was born today in 1516. He was a Flemish botanist who wrote a seminal book about the entire plant kingdom. Later, he wrote the Cruydt Boek, or Book Of Spices, a reference to the herbs and spices that were then in use for cooking and medicine. It’s a valuable work for those researching the ancient history of European cooking.Annals Of Winemaking

Annals Of Winemaking

GrapeClustersThis is the birthday (1912) of Emile Peynaud, who in France is considered one of the leading figures in the modernization of French vineyards and winery practices. Most of what he suggested seems obvious now. He said, for example, that very underripe and overripe grapes should be left out of the harvest. That did result in better wines. So did allowing malolactic fermentation to occur in some wines.

The Saints

It’s the feast day of St. Peter, the patron saint of fishermen, bakers (why?), butchers (?), and popes (he was the first one). St. Peter is depicted on the label of Chateau Petrus, one of the world’s most expensive red wines.

Alluring Dinner Dates

The stunningly beautiful and zaftig actress Jayne Mansfield died today in 1967, in a very bad automobile accident here in New Orleans. She was 36. She held many Miss This-Or-That titles, but turned down Miss Roquefort Cheese because, she said, “That just didn’t sound right.”

Food Namesakes

Dr. William James Mayo, who founded the Mayo Clinic with his father and brother, was born today in 1861. . . Pepper Johnson, an NFL linebacker, was born today in 1964. . . Nick Fry, who is in charge of Mercedes Formula One Racing, started his engine today in 1956.

Words To Eat By

“My mother was a good recreational cook, but what she basically believed about cooking was that if you worked hard and prospered, someone else would do it for you.”–Nora Ephron, American writer.

Words To Drink By

“Brandy, n.–A cordial composed of one part thunder and lightning, one part remorse, two parts bloody murder, one part death hell and the grave and four parts clarified Satan.”–Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary.

FoodFunniesSquare

What To Do In Case Of A Food-Wine Emergency.

1. Make sure you have your jargon straight.
2. Check out the color and aroma before tasting.

Click here for the cartoon.

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DiningDiarySquare-150x150 Saturday, June 25, 2016.
Three-Star-Spicy Curry @ Thai Chili.

I have good luck ignoring the news today, as it freaks out on the Brexit matter. I believe that the impossible will happen: they’ll take the vote twice again best two out of three. Dumber things have happened.

I dispatch two jobs this morning. I bring my Beetle in for its first-ever oil change and service. They also rotate the tires, fixed a little problem with a loose screw (really!), washed the car and vacuumed it. The price for all this: nothing. I bought the service package when I bought the car. That always in the past proved a bad idea. But this time, that really was a zero on the bottom line.

While the dealer did the work, I walked the three or so blocks to the Mandeville Café Du Monde. I get an order of beignets and a large coffee with a mug for drinking it. I spend over an hour reading a pre-publication copy of “Miss Ella,” an autobiography of Ella Brennan, who is most often recognized as the member of the Brennan family most responsible for their restaurants’ success. In her book, Ella herself seems to say that everything she knew came from her big brother Owen, who created the business. But when he died young (forty-five), Ella more or less took over.

My initial impression of the book is that it’s full of interesting set-ups, but that most of the stories seem to end before they play out. But after I was five or six chapters in, I am no longer bothered by this. What I keep thinking is that we now have an authoritative source telling the true story of the Brennan family, most of which had many holes, rumors, and inaccuracies in past tellings. It also fills in a lot of blank spots in the history of the New Orleans restaurant scene as a whole. It will make my life much easier if I take Poppy Tooker’s suggestion that I write a history of dining in New Orleans.

I have a two-hour radio show at two in the afternoon. After that, I spend some time cleaning the house and trying to install new outdoor light fixtures. I encounter my usual problem: I cannot get the old ones off. That applies to every repair of every machine I have ever owned. In hell, nobody can get the old parts off.

I take a walk through the woods for a bit over an hour. Then I am off to dinner at Thai Chili as the sun goes down. The lady who seems to manage the place is the entire staff of the dining room. I ask her for Panang curry, the orange-yellow kind that has captured my palate lately. I specify three-stars on the hotness scale. (The hottest is four stars, signifying “Thai hot,” which all but requires one to have been born in Bangkok.)

I puzzle the lady further by requesting no meat. No seafood, chicken, or even tofu. Just more of the vegetables that make up the recipe. I did this last time and loved it. It hit the spot again tonight.

When I get home, I wish that the television connection worked. I don’t watch TV much, but I’m in the mood tonight. The problem seems to be the lack of a remote control. You can’t do anything from the screen’s panel of buttons.

Sunday, June 26, 2016.
A Sizzling Day.

I really didn’t want to spend the day at my desk, even though I certainly have enough to do there. But the temperature outside rose to 100 degrees. The temperature, not the heat index. It is roasting hot out there, too much for me to go walking.

Roast beef poor boy at Crabby's Shack.

Roast beef poor boy at Crabby’s Shack.

My only meal is a half-dozen oysters on the half shell, followed by a roast beef poor boy at Crabby’s Shack in Madisonville. The oysters look as if they have gone into the spawning phase, when they change gender and take on a white color. There is nothing harmful about this condition, but some people get suspicious about it. But isn’t everybody suspicious about raw oysters all the time? I gobbled mine right up, as usual.

And the roast beef was delicious too.

Monday, June 27, 2016.
Unwelcome Rejoinders. Great Red Beans Again. More “Miss Ella.”

Mary Ann calls me from Los Angeles at five a.m., her time. She has already called the Honda dealer here to find out if they would take me home after I drop off her car. They say yes. I am told that all dealers do this. This is only the second time in about twenty tries when I actually was so served.

The service manager calls an hour later to say that my prognosis of a dead radiator fan is correct, but doesn’t go far enough. There are two such fans, and both are gone. Price: $1000. But one must expect such repairs when a car is approaching 300,000 miles, as MA’s trusty Pilot is.

Lunch at Abita Roasters in downtown Covington. This is the second time I have had their red beans and rice. They are exactly the same as last time. Is there a commissary involved? Also here is a good hot sausage patty, my favorite adjunct to red beans. And a corn pancake, which is perfect with the beans. I get a salad with too much cheese on it. Why are so many salads topped with cheese to begin with? Blue cheese or feta are fine, but cheddar?

I’ve discovered recently that I am not the only one who dislikes the rejoinder “No problem” after the sayer is told “Thank you.” I think we may have a movement against that usage.

And there’s another, equally objectionable line brandished by waiters: “Are you still working on that?” The reference is to remaining food on a plate. Working? You mean, like with a band saw? Or a crowbar? But I don’t think I like the new version of this any better: “Are you still enjoying that, or. . .?”

Come to think of it, I don’t like the sound of “Are you going to [phrase describing an action on your part]? Or. . .

Or. . . what?

While I devoured my plate of beans (they are very good, again), I read a couple more chapters of “Miss Ella,” the new autobiography of Ella Brennan, the keystome member of the Brennan restaurant family. The story–and if you made it all up, it couldn’t be a better tale than the real one–is now up to the moving of Brennan’s from Bourbon Street to where it is now on Royal. I thought I knew all about that, but there was much more. Every imagineable kind of the worst luck hit the Brennans right before the relocation. That they carried on anyway is more impressive than I thought.

Abita Roaster. Covington: 1011 Village Walk. 985-246-3345.

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Chiles Rellenos

Chiles rellenos (“stuffed peppers”) have always been a fixture on local Mexican menus, with a great deal of variation in quality from one version to the next. Now that fresh Anaheim or poblano chiles (both mild varieties) can be found in stores easily, we can make this with some authenticity. I find it makes a better side dish than a main course, and I think it works well without a sauce–although a Mexican red sauce or a cheese sauce would not be bad.

Chiles rellenos

  • 4 fresh Anaheim or poblano green chile peppers
  • 1 cup grated asadero or Monterey Jack cheese
  • 1/3 cup onion, chopped very fine
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 Tbs. flour
  • 1/4 tsp. Creole seasoning
  • 1 cup light vegetable oil

1. Roast the peppers over a flame or under the broiler until the skins are blackened and blistered. Cool them in a plastic container for about a half hour (they won’t dry out that way). When cool, peel the black outer skin off. Slice around the stem end and pull out the inner seed pod, making sure to get all the seeds out. Wash your hands well after handling chiles, or wear gloves when working with them.

2. Combine the cheese and the onions, and stuff each pepper with the loose mixture, being careful not to tear the soft peppers.

3. Separate the eggs, and beat the whites till fluffy. Beat the yolks in one at a time. Mix the Creole seasoning with the flour, and fold into the egg mixture with a rubber spatula.

4. Heat the vegetable oil to about 350 degrees in a heavy skillet. Dip the peppers into the batter, and shake off the excess. Lower the peppers into the hot oil, and turn them frequently until browned all over. Don’t worry about the cheese melting–just pay attention to the color of the batter, to keep it from burning.

Serves four as a side dish, or two entrees.

500BestSquareChicken Spiedini @ Ristorante Filippo

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“Spiedini” is more or less the Italian word for “shish kebab.” It isn’t a common dish around New Orleans, but its’ so good one wonders why more places don’t serve it. I myself am wondering why chef-owner Phil Gagliano at this good little Metairie trattoria doesn’t keep it available consistently. It’s on the menu, but it’s out as often as it’s on. When it’s on, however, the thick slices of chicken get wrapped around a stuffing a lot like the one used for Italian-style oysters. It smells like a million lira.

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Ristorante Filippo. Metairie: 1917 Ridgelake. 504-835-4008.

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

AlmanacSquare June 28, 2015

Days Until. . .

Eat Club Dinner @ Cafe Giovanni 2
Fourth Of July 6
Eat Club Dinner @ Acropolis Cuisine 8

Today’s Flavor

TapiocaToday is National Tapioca Day. Tapioca is a refinement of cassava root, an American plant now raised worldwide, especially in Africa. (It’s known as yuca in Central America.) The most common use of tapioca in New Orleans these days in in bubble tea, the refreshing, smoothie-like drinks served by Vietnamese restaurants. Some are made with tea, but most aren’t. The “bubbles” are gelatinous black pearls of tapioca (sometimes there are other colors, but black is typical), suspended in the mixture. The name is a derivation of boba, a reference to nipples; the tapioca pearls are supposed to suggest this in their mouthfeel. In order to suck up the tapioca pearls, bubble teas are served with extra-large straws, which also makes you drink faster. Whatever the origin or explanation, they are certainly delightful, especially on a hot day.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Tapioca Creek is about twenty miles from the westernmost tip of mainland Alaska. It’s on the peninsula that reaches into the Bering Strait toward a matching peninsula on the Russian side of the strait. The first humans to enter the New World passed this way when a land bridge existed from Asia into North America. Tapioca Creek is in a hilly wilderness, just a mile on the Arctic Ocean side of the Continental Divide. Potato Mountain is about three miles west. No restaurants anywhere near, of course, but the source of Tapioca Creek is only 300 yards from a landing strip, so you can fly to Nome and eat some salmon.

Edible Dictionary

chipotle, chilpotle, Nahuan (Native Mexican), n., adj.–The name in the Central Mexican native tongue means, literally, “smoked chile pepper.” That’s almost all you need know about this increasingly popular ingredient. So popular, in fact, that a major fast-food restaurant has taken the name as its own. The only other important specificity is that jalapeno peppers are usually used to make chipotles. Most jalapenos are the harvested in the familiar green stage, but some of them are picked when brilliant red and ripe for making chipotles. They’re smoked heavily over smoldering wood, getting brown and more intensely flavored (because they dry out a good bit).

Gourmets Through History

HenryVIIIOn this date in 1491, King Henry VIII was born. Although he is best known for other deeds, you can’t help but note that he was quite a gourmet. He was an extraordinarily handsome and athletic young man, but then he found the pleasures of the table. On his birthday in 1533, he was reported as having said to himself, “Today, I’m going to do something nice for me.”

Annals Of Well-Fed Women

Speaking of well-fed people: Today is the birthday, in 1577, of Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens. He painted many subjects, but is best known for his nudes of women who were, to use the common expression, “pleasingly plump.” Or, to use the adjective inspired by the paintings themselves, “Rubenesque.” One would expect the paintings to depict bowls of fruit and other edibles nearby, but they don’t.

Music To Dine Romantically By

Today is the birthday, in 1902, of Richard Rodgers. His fame was for his work with Oscar Hammerstein on the great musicals Oklahoma!, The King and I, etc. But the songs he wrote with the lyrics of Lorenz Hart are, to me, even better. With any collaborator, Rodgers was the greatest of all composers of the Great American Songbook, in my opinion. When a restaurant has a cabaret-style singer, he or she is almost certain to perform at least one Richard Rodgers songs. One of my dreams is to record a CD of his works. I might sell a dozen copies!

Food Namesakes

Oran “Juice” Jones, an R&B composer and singer, was born today in 1959. . . Frank Mayo, an actor in silent movies (Burning Gold was one) was born today in 1889. . . Ty Cobb played in his 3000th baseball game today in 1928, in a game that saw Babe Ruth hit two homers. . . Frank “Home Run” Baker died today in 1963. He had a rare double food name.

Words To Eat By

“A significant part of the pleasure of eating is in one’s accurate consciousness of the lives and the world from which the food comes.”–Wendell Berry, American poet and conservationist.

Words To Drink By

“Wine is sunlight held together by water.”–Galileo.

FoodFunniesSquare

How To Get Food Deliveries By Taxi.

A new, freelance delivery service does the trick, especially if what you’re looking for to eat is high in carbs.

Click here for the cartoon.

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DiningDiarySquare-150x150 Friday, June 24, 2016.
A New–Really New–Entree At Antoine’s.

When MA is out of town, she encourages me to pleasure myself with my many personal traditions–many of them restaurants whose appeal she can’t quite figure out. For example, my single-guy habit of dining at Antoine’s every Friday. She put the kibosh on that right around the time Jude was born. How could I justify dining in the same restaurant every week, she wanted to know–and an expensive one, at that?

Now that our home life is much attenuated by the disappearance of our children, I have been given permission to resume the tradition somewhat. Five or six times a year. This works for me, because it means thinking about the next time I go for about two months before it happens. This amplifies the experience. If it’s really good, I appreciate it even more. (If not, the disappointment swells. But that doesn’t happen much.)

I will remember this evening’s dinner for a long time, because a new entree has appeared on Antoine’s menu. And it really is new–not merely a variation on one of the restaurant’s standards.

The dish’s name is misspelled on the menu as “cote de veau Rossellini.” Cote de veau=veal rib chop. The real surname is Rossini, for Gioachino Rossini, one of the most celebrated composers in the history of opera. Rossini was not only a gourmet but a culinary master. He created the dish, the most famous version of which is made with beef tournedos.

Veal chop Rossini @ Antoine's.

Veal chop Rossini @ Antoine’s.

I don’t think this has ever been on Antoine’s regular menu. Back in the mid-1970s, before the web and before I had a copy of Larousse Gastrononique, I ran into a mention of tournedos Rossini in an article. I called Joe Guerra, my waiter at Antoine’s then. He checked with the chef who, while knowing what the dish was, said that Antoine’s didn’t serve it. And if Antoine’s didn’t, then nobody did.

Oysters Rockefeller, Bienville, and Thermidor @ Antoine's.

Oysters Rockefeller, Bienville, and Thermidor @ Antoine’s.

After checking to make sure that the new dish is not made with veal porterhouse (a cut beautiful to look at but not especially great to eat), I place the order. While waiting, I have soufflee potatoes, oysters 2-2-2 (Rockefeller, Bienville and Thermidor), and a cup of crawfish bisque (no stuffed heads, thank goodness; the season is almost over).

The veal chop comes out with the big rib bone still attached, as well as with a few little bits of fat and cartilage (all this adds flavor). Once past that, I see that it’s medium rare, and the knife encounters little resistance. The chop is topped by slices of pate de foie gras, then the dark brown, deli-glace-like red wine sauce.

It is excellent. What’s more, it fills a gap in Antoine’s entree selection. I hope it catches on. A glass of Spanish red slakes my thirst.

I have meringue glacee–sort of a miniature baked Alaska–for dessert. I also have a glass of Riesling from somewhere in Germany. Nice combination with the dessert.

At this point, some people would like to go out for a nightcap in some interesting bar nearby. Others would go to the French Market for café au lait and beignets. Most would go home. What I wish I were famous enough to do would be to walk into a music club where is played the American Songbook, and sing a few numbers with the approval of the other musicians.

I can dream, can’t I?

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

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Rockefeller Salad Dressing

This idea grew out of something I ate a long time ago in the extinct T. Pittari’s, where it was the house salad dressing. It was a greenish vinaigrette with a good bit of garlic and parsley. What brought it to mind is the spinach vinaigrette created by the local Cousins salad-dressing makers. I thought I might have something if I used the other vegetables found in the original oysters Rockefeller at Antoine’s. It worked. This is a particularly good dressing for salads topped with some grilled or fried protein. Oysters, for example.

This recipe makes a fairly large amount, but it stores easily and well (and probably improves) in the refrigerator.

  • 1 10 oz. bag baby spinach, well washed, picked of stems
  • 1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, leaves only
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh fennel
  • 4 green onions, tender green parts only, chopped
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh garlic
  • 1/4 cup tomato puree (fresh or canned)
  • 1/2 tsp. dried tarragon
  • 5 anchovies
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. white pepper
  • 2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 cups extra-virgin olive oil
Rockefeller green dressing for salads.

Rockefeller green dressing for salads.

1. Wash and chop all the vegetables, and put them into a food processor with the tomato puree, tarragon, anchovies, salt, pepper, and lemon juice. Add two tablespoons of water, and process the mixture into as fine a paste as you can.

2. Add the vinegar to the mixture, give it a short pulse in the processor, and pour the resulting slurry into a bowl.

3. Slowly whisk the olive oil into the mixture, pouring it in a thin stream until completely blended.

Adjust seasonings to taste. Store in tightly-capped bottles in the refrigerator. The dressing will congeal at cold temperatures, but will become liquid if left out for about ten minutes.

Makes about three cups.

500BestSquareFish Pontchartrain (Oscar) @ Brisbi’s

DishStars_3
In the inevitable comparison between Brisbi’s and its West End neighbor the Blue Crab, we find them equally good, but different in their menus. While the Blue Crab sticks mostly with the basic fried, boiled, and grilled seafood, Brisbi’s menu ranges more broadly in sauced-and-garnished dishes. This dish is a perfect example, involving the fish of the day topped with crabmeat and hollandaise, with grilled asparagus alongside. Some will notice that this is the formula for the range of dishes with the surname “Oscar.” Although the classic Oscar dish is made with veal at its center, the idea of using fish works very well. The identity of the fish varies a good bit, but it’s always something interesting. Sheepshead, for example. In the early going at Brisbi’s, this had some flaws, but they seem to have it down now. It’s the most expensive item on the menu, but at around $20 it’s a good buy.

Drumfish Pontchartrain ("Oscar")@Brisbi's.

Drumfish Pontchartrain (“Oscar”)@Brisbi’s.

Brisbi’s. West End & Bucktown: 7400 Lakeshore Dr. 504-304-4125.

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

AlmanacSquare June 27, 2015

Days Until. . .

Eat Club Dinner @ Cafe Giovanni 4
Fourth Of July 7

Annals Of Silverware

Around this day in 1630, John Winthrop, the first colonial governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, began using at his dinner table what may have been the only fork in the colonies. He encouraged its use. As omnipresent as the fork is now, it was only then coming into widespread use in Europe.

Food Through History

Today is the birthday (1835, London) of Fred Harvey, who more than any other one man brought civilization to the Wild West. He emigrated to America and worked in restaurants in New York, New Orleans and elsewhere. Railroads were just beginning to carry passengers long distances, and Harvey saw an opportunity. Building hotels and restaurants along the tracks, he aligned his new operation with the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe. The railroad was completing its line from Chicago to Los Angeles in the 1880s, and Harvey kept right up with it. He hired young women from all over America to move West as waitresses. The wholesome Harvey Girls found many single men looking for wives. They married and settled, bringing real community to Western towns. Fred Harvey’s motto was “Maintenance of Standards, Regardless of Cost.” His restaurants were the best in the West. It lasted until the end of widespread train travel. Only a little of the Harvey empire remains, most notably the grand El Tovar Hotel in the Grand Canyon

Annals Of Food Writing

The author of the first Creole cookbook was born on this date in 1850. Lafcadio Hearn wrote La Cuisine Creole in 1885. Its subtitle was “A Collection of Culinary Recipes, From Leading Chefs and Noted Creole Housewives, Who Have Made New Orleans Famous for its Cuisine.” The recipes would seem odd to us now, but their style is very recognizable as New Orleans food. The book establishes that Creole cooking was all-encompassing and indeed famous way back then, long before the same could be said of other regional American cuisines.

Today’s Flavor

Today is National Indian Pudding Day. Indian pudding is made with cornmeal, eggs, and molasses. It’s also National Orange Blossom Day. An ingredient important in both Southern bars and Middle Eastern bakeries comes from those flowers. Orange flower water is a fascinating and under-utilized ingredient. The Ramos gin fizz cannot be made with out it. I forgot to mention it throughout the month, but June is National Papaya Month. I have not had a papaya lately, but I will. I think it’s one of the most delicious fruits in the world, when you catch it at optimum ripeness–but that’s not easy.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Potato Patch, Arizona is about two-thirds the way from Phoenix to Flagstaff, in the middle of Prescott National Forest. It’s a camping area, near the top of Mingus Mountain, with the widely-scattered trees characteristic of that part of the country. The Hassavampa River flows from a spring of the same name and forms a small lake nearby. It’s excellent hiking and camping country. Those who don’t enough food to grill over the campfire can find a few restaurants in Jerome, four miles northeast. They include the Red Rooster, the Flatiron, the Mile High, and Asylum. Hmm. I wonder which one has the loudest music.

Edible Dictionary

puff pastry, n.–A pastry which, when baked, shows many thin layers, with air gaps between them. It’s made by rolling out a thin dough made of little more than flour and water. Butter (or lard or shortening) is spread over the dough, which is folded and rolled out to about the same thickness it had before it was folded. This is repeated many times, with rests for the dough between each rolling. After ten fold, the dough has over a thousand layers. The fat between the layers causes the get expansion in the oven. Puff pastry is probably a descendant of phyllo, which is made slightly differently. Croissants are made in much the same way, but with yeast added to the flour and water.

Deft Dining Rule #241

Ask whether tomato paste is in the marinara sauce at every Italian restaurant. (Correct answer: no.)

Eating Across America

On this day in 1985, US Route 66–the road made famous by two songs and a television series, along with many guidebooks–was scratched off the list of certified highways and ceased to exist. It ran from Chicago to Los Angeles, and carried so much traffic that its route had long since been paralleled by Interstate highways. One of the many books I lost in the flood was a dining guide to Route 66, written in the 1930s. Even now, a few of the diners and cafes along the old route remain open.

Food Namesakes

Albert “Cubby” Broccoli, who produced the James Bond films, died in 1996 on this date. The vegetable that bears his name was developed by an ancestor. Broccoli is a hybridized cauliflower, crossed with raab. . . Actor Jack Lemmon died on this date in 2001. . . Blues immortal Robert Johnson recorded a song called Come On In My Kitchen on this date in 1937, along with nine other songs that would become classics of the genre.

Words To Eat By

“Don’t cut the ham too thin.”–Fred Harvey, born today in 1835. These were his last words to his son when he died in 1901. It’s bad advice. For a sandwich, anyway, you can’t cut the ham thin enough.

Words To Drink By

This bottle’s the sun of our table,
His beams are rosy wine;
We planets that are not able
Without his help to shine.
–Richard Brinsley Sheridan.

FoodFunniesSquare

A Joke To Be Taken Seriously.

Although the health codes for restaurants in Louisiana are pretty stuff, in some ways the rule is, “What the customers don’t think about won’t hurt them.”

Click here for the cartoon.

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DiningDiarySquare-150x150 Wednesday, June 22, 2016.
Manufacturing Time. Panneed Chicken, Two Sauces.

I own a wonderful mechanism that can create three hours of time. The way it works is that I stay home instead of making the round trip to downtown New Orleans. This is done by means of a gizmo that allows me to feed the radio station high-quality sound, better than the station itself transmits on the AM band. I am running well behind today, so I mash the button down and the show starts as if I were there.

Having my day loosened up also allows me to finish the list of eight restaurants with my top rating of five fleurs de lis. I send it to CityBusiness as my column for two weeks from now. And I put it into the NOMenu newsletter, too. People have been asking me for this list a lot lately.

Chicken parm at New Orleans Food & Spirits.

Chicken parm at New Orleans Food & Spirits.

I decide that I will have lunch instead of dinner, and do so at New Orleans Food & Spirits. Today is the day for its second-best lunch special, panneed chicken atop thin spaghetti with both a red sauce and a white sauce. (The very best special is tomorrow’s stewed rabbit with white beans–a legendary dish at all three of the NOF&S’s.

I have time to spend on the phone with Mary Ann, whose delight at spending her hours with our grandson Jackson is sending love waves over the phone line. “He looks just like Jude did at that age, just as smart, just as happy,” she says. Jude, for his part, sends me two photographs. In one I am holding him when he was about six months old. In the other, Jude is holding Jackson at about the same age. The two poses are almost identical. I would publish this diptych, but Jude doesn’t want me to publicize his family. Fair enough.

After the radio show signs off, I cut the grass–a job that has cried out for attention for weeks. The rains have made the grass a foot high over much of the three acres that I cut. It’s enough to choke up the mower blades here and there, and I have to run over some stretches two or three times to spread out the clippings. Takes me just shy of two hours. I take a nap at eight, wake up an hour later, and still am ready for the major sleep at midnight. A productive day.

By late evening I still have time to write to Alissa Rowe, the director of NPAS. Our first concert in the fall will be on a country-western theme. I think the program should have some cowboy music, like “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” or “Cool Water.” Not that I have enough stroke to make that happen. Just asking.

Thursday, June 23, 2016.
Shaya In The Works.

Ronald Richardson takes over as my Wednesday radio producer today. The people who have had that job–which consists of running the electronics of the mixer board, inserting the commercials and theme music, and answering and clearing the phone calls–tend to be more skillful than I expect. Ronald is also a host of his own program on the Delgado radio station. The guy who does it Mondays through Wednesdays for me is Doug Christian, who has been on the air in music radio for decades. Richard Dominique–who I lost when he moved to Houston after K–was an old radio pro with a great voice. Mindy H., who started as my producer when she was seventeen, may have been the best of all. She’s now a paralegal. If these producer jobs were as available when I was in college as they are now–we’re always looking for interested people–I would have begun my too-long radio career even sooner than 1974.

I’ve always been a radio geek. That’s what my little syster Lynn tells two of her friends. They were at Lebanon’s Café on Carrollton Avenue when I called Lynn to see if she’d like to join me for dinner. Instead, I joined them. Both of the friends are singers in a local chorus in which Lynn sang at one time. So we have a quartet sitting there. I couldn’t get them to start a song.

I haven’t been to Lebanon’s in quite awhile. It’s one of those restaurants so consistent in its offerings that I don’t need to check it very often. I start with some halloumi cheese, then spinach pie, then a big plate of cubed roasted lamb on top of a flow of hummus. The check for the whole table was $80. This place is not only good, but a steal.

It’s funny that I wound up at Lebanon’s. Earlier in the day I was working on a major review of Shaya, which is revolutionizing Middle Eastern cooking in New Orleans. I think we will soon see a number of restaurants following Shaya’s lead. (The review is in this edition.)

Lebanon’s Cafe. Riverbend: 1500 S Carrollton Ave. 504-862-6200.
4 Fleur
EntreePrice-27
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

Shaya

Uptown 2: Washington To Napoleon: 4213 Magazine St. 504-891-4213. Map.
Nice Casual.
AE DC DS MC V
Website

ANECDOTES AND ANALYSIS
Now here’s something we didn’t see coming. Restaurants serving the Turkish-inspired food if the Middle East have been rife around New Orleans for some twenty-five years. Their menus are nearly interchangeable. Because most of them are managed by Muslims, they don’t sell alcohol but do allow customers to bring their own wines, beers, or other alcohols, with no corkage fees–a policy that attracts many diners. Despite the unusual dish names and presentations, developing a taste for it comes easily. The prices, even in the presence of good ingredients, are almost too low. Everything is casual, with not much boasting on the menus.

And then, late in 2015–but soon enough to be called the best new restaurant of the year–Shaya opened with a very different approach to the cuisine. It shortly became one of the most popular restaurants in town. It’s still is hard to get a reservation there. The reason: it performed a total reworking of the culinary style of the Levant, with the further claim that the style is Israeli. That alone caught a lot of people’s attention.

Back wall in Shaya's dining room.

Back wall in Shaya’s dining room.

WHY IT’S NOTEWORTHY
Not a dish on Shaya’s menu will remind you of a Lebanese or Syrian or Egyptian dish you’ve had elsewhere. Shaya has rewritten the book. Either that or the rumors I’ve heard about a great restaurant scene in Tel Aviv are true. (I get this from both a niece and a travel writer I know who spend a lot of time in Israel.)

WHAT’S GOOD
Test case: Do you love hummus? Sure, everybody does. But you have not had hummus they way they do it at Shaya, where hummus washes over ingredients you’ve never seen it paired with. The entire menu works that way, except perhaps for the parts where there is nothing familiar at all. When you order shakshousha, for example, you get a dish of poached eggs with a thick sauce of tomatoes, chile peppers, onions, cheese, jerusalem artichokes (which aren’t really artichokes!) and a list of seasonings. Where have you had this before? In Jerusalem, yes. Or New York or L.A. But it’s new to me and probably you.

Shaya also dares to operate with eccentric menu categories. There are appetizers designed to either serve two people, or to serve as an entree for one. Then there are apps for one, and entrees for more than one. It all works, especially if you come with an emphatic hunger.

Even if you’re not a dessert lover, try one here. They are beautiful, fresh, unique and scrumptious.

Crispy halloumi cheese with fresh peas.

Crispy halloumi cheese with fresh peas.

BACKSTORY
The building was renovated by the same folks who put the now-extinct Le Foret on the map. After changing hands (Chef Dominique Macquet came and went) and another renovation, Chefs John Besh and Alon Shaya (who was born in Israel) expanded the partnership they forged at Domenica and opened Shaya.

DIning room at Shaya.

DIning room at Shaya.

DINING ROOM
The look of the restaurant makes one feel vaguely like he is in a town on the eastern end of the Mediterranean. The tables line up both inside and out, built of light-colored, smooth, angular, clean materials (almost all of them hard, making for a high noise level in the dining room). The bar and dining areas merge seamlessly into one another, as is the current vogue. Tables extend well back into the high-walled courtyard, which could also be called an alley. Upstairs is a larger room serving both a la carte and group customers.

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 Shaya.
5/17/2016~

FULL ONLINE MENU

Shaya's fries.

Shaya’s fries.

BEST DISHES
Starters For The Table
»Pita bread (an offbeat but irresistible version of the familiar flatbread, made by Alon Shaya using his pizza dough from Domenica. You can’t stop eating this.
Baba ganoush (eggplant, green garlic, olive oil)
Israeli salad (tomatoes, cucumbers, parsley, za’atar spice)
Labneh (yogurt, wax peppers, radishes)
»Tabbouleh salad (parsley, bulgur wheat, red onion, almonds, lemon)
Pickled ramps (big green onions, feta, olive oil, pecans)
»Lutenitsa (roasted pepper, eggplant, garlic, tomato)
Pickles (cauliflower, cucumber, cabbage)
Ikra (paddlefish caviar, shallots)
Roasted okra, tahini, tomatoes
»Moroccan carrots, Arab marinade, mint

Single Starters
»Hummus tahiti, olive oil, Aleppo pepper
»Curried fried cauliflower, caramelized onions, cilantro
»Lamb ragú, crispy chickpeas
Soft cooked egg, red onion, pickles, harissa hot sauce
Chanterelles, wood roasted corn, sunflower seeds, brown butter
»Avocado toast, smoked whitefish, pink peppercorns, rye bread
»Kibbeh nayah (raw ground beef and lamb, bulgur, walnuts, Yemeni flatbread)
Persian rice, golden crust, mustard greens
Foie gras, rose tahini, carob molasses, challah bread
Falafel, cabbage salad and cucumber tsatziki
»Lamb kebab, tomatoes, pine nuts, tahini, cilantro
Roasted cabbage, muhammara, tahini, hazelnuts
»Crispy halloumi cheese, spring peas, roasted leeks, preserved lemon
Matzo ball soup, slow cooked duck, escarole, tender herbs
»Fattoush salad, vegetables, feta, crispy pita
Grilled chicken, lettuce, harissa olives, citrus, sumac onions

Entrees
»Roasted chicken, mustard, lemon verbena, crispy rice, wild mushrooms
Wagyu hanger steak, pole beans, charred onions, tomatoes
Amberjack, grape leaves, cucumber taratour, walnuts
»Slow cooked lamb, whipped feta, walnut and pomegranate tabbouleh
»Shakshouka, chermoula, Jerusalem artichokes, spicy chilies, tomato, egg

Desserts
»Milk and honey (Lebneh cheesecake, mixed nut granola, burnt honey ice cream)
»Malabi (vanilla custard, strawberry, rose, rhubarb
sorbet
»Pavlova meringue, blueberries and basil
Warm chocolate baba (poppy seeds and halva ice cream)
»Honey cake (peaches, pistachios and sweet cream)

FOR BEST RESULTS
If you want to carry on a conversation, sit near a window, inside or out. Know that the only sign on the building is high and painted in low contrast, making it all but invisible as you pass by. Reward for finding the place: free parking in an adjacent lot, a big help in this restaurant-rich neighborhood.

OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
I’m no fan of banquette seating, which dominates most dining rooms. Reservations are very hard to get, even well in advance. A better strategy is to show up early for lunch or dinner and star at the hostess until she gives you a break.

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

 

SPECIAL ATTRIBUTES

  • Courtyard or deck dining
  • 25-75
  • Open Sunday lunch and dinner
  • Open Monday lunch and dinner
  • Open all afternoon
  • Easy, nearby parking
  • Reservations recommended

RecipeSquare-150x150

Feuillantine de Crustaces

Or, how about “seafood in pastry”? This was a well-liked, elegant, warm appetizer at Louis XVI, the first successful authentic French (as opposed to Creole French) restaurant in New Orleans. This dish is very much in that style, rich with cream and seafood essence–not to mention a good deal of Louisiana fresh seafood, which fits into French cooking just fine. The recipe will seem difficult in the reading, but pay attention as you go and you’ll finish with something really impressive.

The puff pastry dough can be bought at better supermarkets or good bakeries.

Pastry wrapped baked crabmeat, shrimp, and/or crawfish.

Pastry wrapped baked crabmeat, shrimp, and/or crawfish.

  • 12 oz. prepared puff pastry dough
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 1/2 Tbs. butter
  • 1/2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 3 Tbs. chopped French shallots (or onions)
  • 1 1/2 doz. fresh oysters, water reserved
  • 6 oz. lump crabmeat
  • 12-14 oz. crawfish tails, cooked
  • 12 medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 3 Tbs. Cognac
  • 3/4 cup fish stock (or oyster water extended with plain water)
  • 2 cups whipping cream
  • 1 bunch green onions, chopped
  • Dash Tabasco
  • Salt
  • White pepper

1. Roll out the puff pastry on a lightly-floured surface until about 1/4 inch thick. With a knife or a cutter, cut out rounds or ovals about 5-6 inches across.

2. Beat the egg with 1 tsp. water. Brush the tops of the pastry with the egg wash. Place the pastry on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake in the preheated 400-degree oven for 15-20 minutes, until golden brown.

3. After cooling, split the pastries as you would a biscuit. Cut out the doughy parts of the inside of the pastry, and set the pastry aside.

4. In a skillet over medium heat, heat the butter until it bubbles and saute the shallots until clear. Add the oysters and shrimp and saute about three minutes, until the oysters begin to curl at the edges and the shrimp turn pink. Add the crawfish and crabmeat and stir in to heat through–about one minute.

5. Measure the Cognac into a glass and then pour it into the pan. Carefully touch a flame to it and allow the flames to die out. Add the fish stock and bring to a boil. Remove the seafood with a slotted spoon and set aside.

6. Whisk in the whipping cream slowly and bring to a slow simmer. Return the seafood to the pan, along with the green onions. Stir lightly until the seafood are incorporated into the sauce. Add the Tabasco and salt and pepper to taste.

7. Place a bottom half of each puff pastry on each serving plate. Divide the sauced seafood among the plates and top with the other half of the pastry.

Serves four.

500BestSquareGoat Cheese Quenelles, Poached Pears, Pistachios, Lavender Honey @ Lilette

Cheese and dessert compete in France for the honor of being the final course in your meal. Here we have an item on Lilette’s dessert list that is both cheese and sweet. Best of all, the ingredients on the sweet side are searsonl local fruits. In the dish-naming convention of our times, all the description we need is right there on the menu. Taste that lavender honey before you dig into the rest. It’s beguiling.

Lilette. Uptown: 3637 Magazine. 504-895-1636.

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

AlmanacSquare June 24, 2015

Days Until. . .

Eat Club Dinner @ Cafe Giovanni 6
Fourth Of July 10

Today’s Flavor

Today is National Pralines Day. Pralines are the official candy of New Orleans. Even though they’re not eaten as often as, say, Snickers, and even though the typical Orleanian has not had a praline in awhile, we all say we love ‘em. Don’t we?

Pralines are as simple as a candy can be. Sugar makes up about 90 percent of the recipe, followed by butter, condensed milk, and vanilla. Cook that down to the soft-ball stage, add the pecans and you’re finished. The basic flavor is that of caramelized sugar, with its slight bitterness and butterscotchiness. The vanilla is an important but subtle note, and a good mouthfeel comes from the milk. In recent years we’ve been offered other flavors of pralines. Loretta’s, one of the better makers of pralines, has pecan, coconut, chocolate, and rum flavors of pralines. Other makers have other flavors, some bordering on bizarre.

My favorite praline flavor is “praline.” Especially those at Aunt Sally’s in the French Market. They have a flavor and texture I prefer to any others. You can watch the manufacturing process in the window, or go in and take in the aroma. After boiling the liquid concoction for a half-hour, they pour the sticky, molten mixture onto a marble slab around pecans. That’s everything a praline should be. The best time to have a praline is in an energy lull in the middle of the afternoon, and after a light meal, in lieu of dessert. The combination of sugar and nut protein does something nice to your head, and the creamy vanilla sweetness can’t help but put you in a good mood.

One final matter: the right pronunciation of the word is “prah-LEEN.” The only people who say “PRAY-leen” are those who would say “CRAY-fish” or “EYE-ber-ville Street.”

Eating With The Seasons

SummerThis is Midsummer Day, noted more in Europe than here. It’s the midpoint between the day of first planting and the day of last harvest. Obviously, those change, but this day was settled upon as a good average. It’s more about hours of daylight than temperature, obviously. Nothing could be much hotter than the weather we’ve had lately in New Orleans.

Music To Eat Grits By

This is the birthday, in 1904, of bandleader and comedian Phil Harris. Extremely popular during the Golden Age of Radio, Harris led the orchestra on the Jack Benny show, and had his own half-hour situation comedy show. His signature song was “That’s What I Like About The South,” which made numerous culinary references to the likes of grits and turnip greens. Phil’s daughter Phyllis lived in New Orleans, and so he came to town often. He was the king of the Bacchus parade in 1972.

Annals Of Expensive Coffee

CoffeeBeansYesterday in 1817, the first coffee plants were put down in Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii. Kona coffee is now some of the best on earth, commanding higher than average prices in your local coffeeshop or supermarket. The local coffee is served everywhere in Hawaii, and they make it good and strong, too. If we could produce coffee in New Orleans, I wonder what it would be like.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Clam Creek is a natural tidal inlet that has become completely surrounded by Atlantic City, New Jersey. It gores right into the middle of that Atlantic coast resort town. Also there is Clam Thorofare, another natural stream that separates the city from the wetlands to the north, and makes Atlantic City an island. This is certainly a favorable habitat for edible clams, although whether it’s been polluted out of existence is a question. Clam Thorofare is part of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, so a lot of ship traffic passes through it. Atlantic City is loaded with restaurants. But I think I’d go down Atlantic Avenue three miles to the Knife and Fork Inn.

Edible Dictionary

heirloom tomato, n.–One of a large number of tomato varieties created by allowing open pollination instead of controlled hybridization. What results often recalls characteristics that have not been seen in farm-raised tomatoes in a long time. The colors, shapes, growing patterns, and flavors can veer far from those of the standard tomato varieties. Some qualities that have been bred out of standard tomatoes return in some heirloom varieties, which may crack, fall victim to diseases, or develop stripes. Heirloon tomatoes (and other heirloom vegetables) have become very popular among chefs, who use them as a way to set their presentations apart from the norm. But the gambit gives rise to a common complaint: that heirloom tomatoes don’t taste a lot like tomatoes.

Food Through History

Gustavus Swift, who created the first efficient method of shipping and marketing meat in America, was born today in 1839. He created the railroad refrigerator car, a major breakthrough in getting beef from the vast western herds to the markets in the East. Swift’s railroad cars held meat that had already been slaughtered and butchered, instead of whole, living cows that had moved by cattle cars in the past.

Famous Names in Food

Jack Dempsey, the former heavyweight boxing champ in the 1910s and 1920s, was born today in 1895. He had a restaurant in New York City after he stopped fighting. Jack Dempsey’s is a seafood restaurant in the old Bywater section of New Orleans, and quite popular with those who favor very large portions. The restaurant was named not for the fighter but for a long-time police reporter of the old States-Item, who was quite a local character.

Food Namesakes

Betty Stove, a professional tennis player in the 1970s, is 61 today. . . Birkett Davenport Fry, who was a brigadier general in the Confederate Army, was born today in 1822.

Words To Eat By

“Cabbage: a familiar kitchen-garden vegetable about as large and wise as a man’s head.”–Ambrose Bierce, born today in 1842. His Devil’s Dictionary included many funny food entries. Here are some of those:

“Chop: a piece of leather skillfully attached to a bone and administered to the patients at restaurants.”

“Crayfish: a small crustacean very much resembling the lobster, but less indigestible.”

“Eat, v.i.: To perform successively (and successfully) the functions of mastication, humectation, and deglutition. ‘I was in the drawing-room, enjoying my dinner,’ said Brillat-Savarin, beginning an anecdote. ‘What!’ interrupted Rochebriant; “eating dinner in a drawing-room?’ ‘I must beg you to observe, monsieur,’ explained the great gastronome, ‘that I did not say I was eating my dinner, but enjoying it. I had dined an hour before.’”

Words To Drink By

MartiniThe horse and mule live thirty years
And nothing know of wines and beers;
The goat and sheep at twenty die,
With never a taste of scotch or rye;
The cow drinks water by the ton,
And at eighteen is mostly done.
Without the aid of rum or gin
The dog at fifteen cashes in;
The cat in milk and water soaks,
And then at twelve years old it croaks;
The modest, sober, bone-dry hen
Lays eggs for nogs and dies at ten;
All animals are strictly dry;
They sinless live and swiftly die,
While sinful, gleeful, rum-soaked men
Survive for three score years and ten.
And some of us – a mighty few –
Stay pickled ’till we’re ninety-two.
–Harlan F. Stone

FoodFunniesSquare

Yes, Cannibalism Is Revolting.

But is this actually cannibalism? And where do lemons fit in?

Click here for the cartoon.

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CremeDeLaCremeSquareI don’t have a quick answer to one of the five to ten most-asked questions on my radio food show. It comes up after I say that a restaurant gets five of my ratings fleurs-de-lis. I always add that this is my top rating. And that only eight restaurants in the New Orleans area win it. Within a few minutes, I will get a call wanting to know which eight restaurants get the five fleurs de lis. I ought to have a ready answer. I don’t change the ratings especially often. (Reason: one of my considerations for a high rating is a good track record–something that figures in very few of the online, reader ratings, which are usually based on just one meal.)

But I always seem to get stuck after rattling off six or seven of the five-fleur My memory isn’t what it used to be. Then I ask pardon, and say I will finish the list shortly, after a check my database. But searching cyberspace is hard to do while maintaining a three-hour-long ad-lib radio conversation.

That’s what moves me to present–for the first time in decades–a list of all eight of the Five-Fleur restaurants as of this writing. They are in reverse alphabetical order. (That is not a manipulation of the data, but a balance with the conscious way restaurant names are decided upon, with most names in the top one-third of the alphabet.)

Restaurant August upstairs.

Restaurant August upstairs.

FleurDeLis-5-ForLists Restaurant August. CBD: 301 Tchoupitoulas. 504-299-9777. The moment when chefs moved guys in suits aside in the management of grand restaurants was when Emeril opened his first restaurant, in 1990. Eleven years later, Chef John Besh took that game to the next level. Restaurant August was incontestably one of the most culinary advanced restaurant in New Orleans, and even though competitors at that level appeared, remained a contender.

Besh now has six restaurants locally: twice as many as Emeril or any branch of the Brennan family. Having that many restaurants takes an uber-chef out of the kitchen. Indeed, Besh and his lead partner Octavio Mantilla were elsewhere on all of my last three visits to Restaurant August. If this made a difference in the food or service, it was lost on me. The only decline I see at August is in the dress of the customers–but that disease is endemic now.

PelicanClub-Ext

FleurDeLis-5-ForLists Pelican Club. French Quarter: 615 Bienville. 504-523-1504. Top rating since 1993. The Pelican Club plays a game that is unique at its level of cooking. Chef-owner Richard Hughes buys beautiful food and cooks it with skill and originality, as any first-class restaurant must in these days. But after 26 years (it’s the same age as Emeril’s), neither the chef nor the restaurant ever had an especially high profile. Its many local regulars treat it like a secret club. It’s somewhat hidden on Exchange Alley, which even among lifelong locals is a familiar name but a mysterious location.

Something else the locals know is that the Pelican Club is unusual offering table d’hote dinners at prices so attractive that one becomes suspicious. Particularly during the summer and in December, these prix-fixe dinners have an almost cult following. And the place has its share of specialties. Nobody does better cold seafood appetizers. chock-a-block with crabmeat, shrimp, and even lobster. Here is the best version of the old West End-style whole flounder. Between the familiar names and flavors, Asian dishes appear and add sparkle. It’s a little too loud when the place is full. Sit in the bar to alleviate that.

Osman Rodas at Pardo's.

Osman Rodas at Pardo’s.

FleurDeLis-5-ForLists Pardo’s. Covington: 69305 Hwy 21. 985-893-3603. Top rating since 2015. It may surprise some to see that three of my eight five-fleur restaurants are on the much less populous North Shore. Some of that owes to the fact that I live on the North Shore, but I don’t dine out for review purposes any more often there than on the South side of the lake. Pardo’s is the most recent nominee for the top rating mostly by being one of the first North Shore restaurant to offer the food, service and style of the gourmet Creole bistro. Such restaurants have been dominant in New Orleans proper since the early 1980s, but until now they never got a purchase across the lake. Its dining room stays full every evening, owing to a team of adept chefs and the management skills of owner Osman Rodas, a graduate of Emeril’s organization. You never know whether he will be in the dining room or in the kitchen; he can do it all. The exterior is much less than inviting: ignore that and allow yourself to be pleasurized by Osman’s skill as a host.

LaProvence-DR2

FleurDeLis-5-ForLists La Provence. Lacombe: 25020 US 190. 985-626-7662. Top rating off and on since 1972. Chris Kerageorgiou–one of the all-time greatest chef personalities in the history of New Orleans dining–came to New Orleans in the 1960s after cooking around the world. He opened his own place in 1972 in the North Shore woods. It seemed like a crazy plan–the population of gourmets there was minuscule, and crossing the Causeway to get there and back was daunting. But Chris’s cooking drew enough avid eaters to keep it going until Chris died soon after Katrina. His long-ago protege John Besh bought the place, but failed to find the right chef for the gig. Erick Loos, a young guy who understood the legacy of Chef Chris–took over in 2009. La Provence has been great ever since, with semi-Provencal cooking blending with local flavors. And it has the city’s best fireplaces.

LaPetiteGrocery-Bar

FleurDeLis-5-ForLists La Petite Grocery. Uptown 2: Washington To Napoleon: 4238 Magazine. 504-891-3377. Top rating since 2015. One of the two or three brightest lights on the brilliant Magazine Street restaurant row, the Grocery has matured into a reliable, comfortable, sophisticated bistro. Behind the illusion of French technique are first-class local groceries, and the originality and fluidity that keeps things interesting. All this goodness started early on, when the staff of the extinct Peristyle restaurant moved in. Chef Justin DeVillier was also on the line, and he wound up buying the restaurant in 2009 and keeping the consistency of the food solid from then to now. Very busy most of the time, with good reason. Also nice: the ambient sound is under control.

Emeril on my radio show on the occasion of the restaurant's 20th anniversary.

Emeril on my radio show on the occasion of the restaurant’s 20th anniversary.

FleurDeLis-5-ForLists Emeril’s. Warehouse District & Center City: 800 Tchoupitoulas. 504-528-9393. Emeril led what would become the most powerful current local trend in cooking: finding the best local ingredients and making everything from scratch. His flagship restaurant innovates consistently without leaving the New Orleans flavor palette, nor ignoring the preferences of diners. But the chef’s television fame kicked up a negative: many local people find it hard to believe that a tremendous success can possibly be good. Visitors–and locals unaffected by this disease–find the same exciting food that made Emeril famous in the first place. His reworking of barbecue shrimp, for example. The ingredients, wines, and especially the service know few equals. Also here: the best restaurant pastry shop in town, with fresh breads and an amazing dessert list.

Dokota's chef-partner Kim Kringlie.

Dokota’s chef-partner Kim Kringlie.

FleurDeLis-4-ForLists Dakota. Covington: 629 N US 190. 985-892-3712. Top rating 1991-2012, and since 2016. It’s not unusual for a restaurant that hit the top ratings to lose its grip. I could make a long list of those. But it’s tough to make a comeback. Dakota, while never ceasing to serve good food and even better wines, seemed to lose its magic for a few years. This may have been because they opened two new restaurant on the South Shore. Some months ago I was very happy to see that the staff had tightened up the act, and had resumed cooking at level as good as what it served here in its first two decades, when it was really the only gourmet shop on the North Shore. The dishes for which they became famous are still there, but the new food–particularly among the specials–make you raise your eyebrows with each bite. And co-owner Ken Lacour’s wine list continued to be impressive. Good new bar menu, too.

Commanders-BananasFoster

FleurDeLis-5-ForLists Commander’s Palace. Uptown 1: Garden District & Environs: 1403 Washington Ave. 504-899-8221. Top rating 1984-2005; again 2012-present. Commander’s Palace gets voted Best Restaurant In New Orleans a lot. It really does have all the pieces of this restaurant puzzle in place. It has history (since 1893), atmosphere (two floors of unique surroundings, and a big courtyard), food (ever evolving under the creative mind of longtime chef Tory McPhail), the best wine list in town by a long way, and an exacting service staff. For decades, Commander’s set the standard for fine dining in New Orleans. But after the death of Chef Jamie Shannon it was almost as if the place had been spooked. That didn’t adjust itself until the mess left by Katrina was swept out. Commander’s has been on a roll ever since–although it’s fair to say that the chef might be having a little too much fun in his Playground. Two dinners there lately showed me the best evening of dining I can remember ever having, followed a couple months later by a parade of specials too far out for me. But that’s an easy issue to remedy in your ordering.

RecipeSquare-150x150

Caesar Salad

Many restaurants serve them, but very few make it in the original style. That involves tableside preparation, starting with the dressing, which is made from scratch to order. (Pre-made dressings, even those made in house, need not apply.) Julia Child once published the recipe she got from Caesar Cardini, who invented it in Mexico. That recipe has two interesting oddities. First, the original didn’t include anchovies, other than the small amount of anchovy in Worcestershire sauce. Second, Chef Cesar broke his eggs over the greens, then tossed them to mix the egg with the other dressing ingredients already in the bowl. Well. I like anchovies, and we’re so accustomed to seeing them in a Caesar salad that here they are. And I prefer the consistency that comes by adding the egg into the dressing instead of to the greens.

Here are two other new wrinkles. Fry the anchovies, as well as some capers. (It’s a good use for the inexpensive, large capers, which actually work better for this than the better-tasting small ones do.) I first saw this idea at the now-extinct Begue’s in the Royal Sonesta Hotel in New Orleans, and it can replace some or all of the croutons. (Who really likes croutons, anyway?)

So let’s get that big wooden bowl you never use and get to work.

Caesar Salad

  • 1 perfect head of romaine lettuce, outer leaves removed, picked well
  • 2 large cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 Tbs. Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 tsp. Tabasco
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 egg yolk
  • Anchovies to taste, cut into fours
  • 1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup toasted croutons
  • Garnish (optional)
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 5 anchovies, cut in half
  • 2 Tbs. large capers, drained

1. Cut off the bottom inch of the romaine head. Tear–don’t cut–the larger romaine leaves into no more than four pieces per leaf. Rub the inside of a bowl with the garlic cloves, then throw them away.

2. Rub the inside of a bowl with the garlic cloves, then throw them away.

3. Add the mustard, the vinegar, the Tabasco and the Worcestershire and whisk them together.

4. Slowly add half the olive oil and a tablespoon of water. Whisk until a smooth emulsion forms. Add the egg yolk and whisk till blended. Then add the rest of the olive oil–again, slowly–while whisking constantly. The dressing should thicken noticeably.

5. Add the greens to the bowl and toss them to coat. Sprinkle in the Parmesan cheese and the croutons, and toss just a little more. Serve immediately–the greens will begin to wilt.

Optional anchovy garnish:

Before beginning to make the salad, heat the olive oil in a small saucepan until it shimmers. Add the anchovy halves and the capers, and fry until crisp. Remove the anchovies and capers and drain in a sieve. The oil can be used to replace some of the fresh oil used to make the dressing, after it cools.

Serves four side salads.

500BestSquareMeat Pies @ Wayfare

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Wayfare in a hard-to-categorize restaurant in the densest part of the Freret Street restaurant row. Its menu shows specialties in sandwiches, salads, and appetizers, with a convivial bar that shares the one big room with the kitchen and the bar. The meat pies are made in house, with a different filling every day. The pies (also called empanadas by the menu) are as likely to follow the taste patterns of Italian or Latin American cookery, as well as Creole or Cajun. The best I’ve had was a trio of meat pies, filled h a Bolognese-style compound of pulled pork, tomato sauce, carrots and onions, with a mellow-spicy white dipping sauce. All of this is better than you expect, and more filling, too.

Meat pies.

Meat pies.

Wayfare. Uptown 3: Napoleon To Audubon: 4510 Freret St. 504-309-0069.

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

AlmanacSquare June 22, 2015

Days Until. . .

Fourth Of July 11

Today’s Flavor

Tuna-CanThis is Seared Fresh Tuna Salad Day. The timing is perfect. The heat has emphatically set in, and even though eating cold food doesn’t actually lower your temperature, the sensation of eating chilled, nearly-raw fish with crisp, cold greens and perhaps some avocado seems a perfect antidote to the weather. The best fresh tuna salads are made with vividly fresh tuna, seared on a very hot grill or pan to a noticeable crust on the outside, but still completely rare on the inside. The color contract between the interior of the tuna (sliced after the searing, of course) and the greens is dramatic and appetizing.

EclairToday is also National Chocolate Eclair Day. The original chocolate eclairs were made with choux pastry–the same stuff creampuffs are made from–and stuffed with pastry cream and topped with chocolate. Now you mostly find a big rectangular doughnut, filled with Bavarian cream and topped with chocolate frosting. Shouldn’t be eaten by anyone over sixteen.

Edible Dictionary

passionfruit, n.–A native of Brazil, passionfruit is now grown in most tropical areas in the New World. Its flavor and aroma are so alluring that even though most people couldn’t identify it blindfolded, it’s almost the definitive tropical fruit flavor. You might say that it reminds you of Hawaiian Punch, in which it is in fact the outstanding flavor. In is indeed much liked in Hawaii, where it’s called lilikoi. The fruits are the size of plum tomatoes, with a purple skin. It’s packed with seeds, to which the yellow pulp is attached. A juice extractor does the best job of getting the good parts out. They’re available in the summer. The best are the heaviest ones. Passionfruits grow on a vine whose flowers are culturally important. Parts of it are said to represent the passion of Jesus, including the nails, crown of thorns, and the Apostles.

Deft Dining Rule #183:

You can tell a lot about a restaurant by the size of the capers in the salade Niçoise. The bigger they are, the less the place spends on ingredients.

Food Through History

Doughnuts

Today in 1847, the doughnut was invented when Hanson Gregory watched his mother struggle to get her fried cakes fully cooked in the center. He suggested that she cut a hole in them. It worked! Which explains why beignets are often doughy in the center. If they had holes, they wouldn’t.

Great Restaurant Addresses

This is the birthday in 1837 of Paul Morphy, who many chess experts consider the greatest grandmaster of all time. He lived on Royal Street in the building that now houses Brennan’s. He also has a street named for him. In his day–and still, among chess enthusiasts–he was a major celebrity in New Orleans.

Music To Eat Bacon And Beans By

On this date in 1959, people around the country had these lyrics running around in their heads: “They took a little bacon and they took a little beans, and they fought the bloody British in the town of New Orleans.” Johnny Horton’s record The Battle of New Orleans was a million-seller and at the top of the charts.

Food And Drink At War

Back in 1898, during the Spanish-American War, six American ships landed at Cuba’s coast. From there the Rough Riders, led by Theodore Roosevelt, invaded the town of Daiquiri. (I suppose they picked up a few in go-cups and rode on.) . . . In another great moment in history, on this date in 1815, Napoleon threw in the towel for the last time after being defeated at Waterloo four days earlier. He abdicated and went into exile, but only after stopping at the Napoleon House for a muffuletta.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Roll is a small farming community on the high plains western Oklahoma, 150 miles due west of Oklahoma City, and 13 miles east of the Texas state line. Enough people live here to make you notice their homes in the vastness of the open fields. No restaurant, though. The nearest one is the Rockin’ S Steak House, twelve miles south in Cheyenne. Hope the rolls are good.

Food Namesakes

Gary Beers, bass player and singer for the rock group INXS, was born today in 1957. . . Operatic tenor Peter Pears was born today in 1910. . . Danny Baker, a radio comedian in England, gave his first laugh today in 1957. It would be nice if we had more radio comedians here. . . Stephen Chow is a comedian, too–as well as a film producer and director in Hong Kong. He jumped onto The Big Stage today in 1962.

Words To Eat By

“Many people have eaten and drunk themselves to death. Nobody ever thought himself to death.”–Gilbert Highet, Scottish-American author, born today in 1906.

Words To Drink By

“Sometimes too much to drink is barely enough.”–Mark Twain.

FoodFunniesSquare

Why Chefs Bring Their Own Knives To Work.

It’s a matter of competition between styles.

Click here for the cartoon.

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RecipeSquare-150x150

Onion Soup With Seven Onions And Peppers

This is a classic French onion soup, with a spicy twist. Try really hard to find the oxtails to make it. They’re not essential, but they give the soup an ideal mouthfeel and flavor. And make sure you remember which seven onions and seven peppers you used, because someone will want to know. This is especially impressive if you have a crouton covered with melted cheese floating on top. Below is the trick for doing that.

Seven onions and seven peppers soup.

  • 3 lbs. oxtails or beef soup bones
  • 1 tsp. marjoram
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 each large yellow, red, and white onion
  • 1 bunch green onions
  • 1 leek, cut open and well cleaned
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 4 Tbs. chopped chives
  • Enough of any seven peppers to make 1 1/2 cups when sliced, mixing hot and mild varieties. (Examples: red and green bell, serrano, jalapeno, cayenne, wax, poblano, cascabels)
  • 1/2 cup tawny Port or sherry
  • Salt
  • 6 inches of a loaf crusty, dense bread
  • 3 cups shredded Gruyere cheese

1. In a large soup pot over high heat, brown the oxtails or beef bones until rather dark. Add a gallon of water, the marjoram and the bay leaves. Bring to a boil, lower to a simmer, and cook for two hours (or longer if possible). Strain the stock and set aside. (You can do this a day or two ahead, and refrigerate the stock, which will congeal.)

2. Slice open the peppers and remove all seeds and membranes. Slice the onions and peppers as thin as possible.

3. In a large heavy pot over medium-high heat, heat the olive oil until it shimmers, then add all the onions except the chives and the garlic. Cook, stirring every two minutes or so, until the onions have browned rather darkly. This will take as much as a half-hour, but is essential to getting the sweetness of the onions. Then add the garlic and the peppers.

4. Add the port or sherry, and cook until most of the liquid is gone. Add the beef stock. Cook for about 30 minutes. Add salt to taste. and serve garnished with snipped chives and shredded cheese.

Heat the oven to 400 degrees.

5. Slice the bread into eight slices, cutting on the bias to make the slices barely fit inside the bowls or crocks in which the soup will be served. Sprinkle about 2 Tbs. of shredded cheese over each slices. Place them on a baking pan and put them into the oven at 400 degrees. When the cheese melts and begins to bubble, remove the bread. Leave the oven on.

6. Ladle the soup into ovenproof bowls, cups, or crocks. Place a slice of bread, cheese side down, into each crock. Divide the remaining cheese among all the bread slices in the crocks. Put the crocks on a baking pan and put them into the oven until the cheese melts and browns a little. Serve immediately, warning guests that the soup is very hot.

Serves eight.

500BestSquareFettuccine Alfredo/Pasta Asciutta @ Impastato’s

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The finest example of fettuccine Alfredo I ever tasted (and I’ve had it at Alfredo’s in Rome, where the dish was created) came from Moran’s Riverside in the French Market (later Bella Luna). Jimmy Moran made his own paper-thin pasta in house. He prepared the sauce and tossed it with the pasta and parmesan cheese right at the table. The sauce was rich but light at the same time, barely but completely coating the noodles.

Joe and Sal Impastato worked for Moran before they opened their own restaurants in the late 1970s. They each brought Moran’s fettuccine routine with them, along with its red-sauce equivalent, pasta asciutta. (“Asciutta” means “dry,” implying that the pasta is tossed with the sauce, but not afloat in it.) Joe Impastato makes the pasta for both restaurants at his place in Metairie, with the same thinness that increases the flavor release. It makes for a dish that seems far too delicious for its simplicity. It’s a must order at both Impastato’s and Sal & Judy’s, who continue the tradition started at the now-extinct Moran’s.

Impastatos-PastaCombo-

Impastato’s. Metairie: 3400 16th Street. 504-455-1545. Sal & Judy’s. Lacombe: 27491 Highway 190 , 985-882-9443.
Impastato Cellars. Madisonville: 240 Highway 22 E. 985-845-4445.

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

AlmanacSquare June 21, 2015

Days Until. . .

Eat Club Dinner @ Cafe Giovanni 10

Looking Up

Sun-SolsticeThe summer solstice occured yesterday, the longest day of the year. This ought to be a holiday. It’s one of the four days with meaning for every living thing on earth. What it means for New Orleanians is that four months of uncomfortably hot, humid weather lie before us. It also means that crabmeat prices will be coming down as the quality keeps going up. That sno-balls, icy beer, and cold watermelon will taste better and better. And that, after the trek of a block or two from where you parked your car, the overcooled environs of Galatoire’s and Antoine’s will be very welcome.

Today’s Flavor

Peaches-CreamToday is allegedly National Peaches and Cream Day. As popular as that saying is, when’s the last time you ever had that combination? I don’t think I ever have. I like nectarines (one of which my daughter is eating at the very second I am writing these words) with torroncino ice cream from Brocato’s.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Cherry Street runs through the Hollygrove neighborhood of New Orleans, from a half-block from the Orleans Parish line between South Claiborne Avenue and Earhart Boulevard, to the south perimeter of New Orleans Country Club. Barrow’s Shady Inn, which for sixty years until Hurricane Katrina was the city’s best catfish house, backed up to Cherry Street on its south end. The closest restaurant of note to Cherry Street now is Crabby Jack’s, over the Jefferson Parish line about eight blocks away. An oddity about Cherry Street is that it became a pedestrian underpass for a few yards at the crossing of the new passenger train tracks built in the 1950s. All the western trains–and there were quite a few back then–passed above it.

Annals Of Cajun Food

Halifax, Nova Scotia was founded today in 1749. It was established by the British, who in the ensuing years would force the existing French Acadian population in the area to either give up Catholicism or move. Most of them moved to the French colony of Louisiana, where they created the unique Cajun (a slurring of “Acadian”) culture. Meanwhile, Halifax grew to be an important port. It’s a city of significant size, but the funny thing about it is that it’s unincorporated. I’ve been there twice in the past few years. The lobsters, mussels, and scallops around there are as good as any in the world.

Moving Food Around

BargeOn this date in 1933, the first grain barge ever to travel from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico down the Mississippi River arrived in New Orleans. It left Lake Michigan by way of the Chicago River, then down the Chicago Ship and Sanitary Canal to the Illinois River, then the Mississippi.

Music To Eat Fruit By

O.C. Smith, whose biggest hit record was Little Green Apples, was born today in 1932, in Mansfield, Louisiana. His real name is “Ocie,” so the second initial doesn’t stand for anything. Before he went solo, he was a big-band jazz singer with Count Basie’s matchless orchestra.

Edible Dictionary

Salmonchinook salmon, n.–One of a number of names for the largest member of the salmon family. (Another common one is king salmon.) It’s one of the world’s best eating fish, much appreciated in all the places where it lives. In the Western Hemisphere, it’s found from San Francisco up to the Bering Strait, and down the east coast of Asia to Japan. Is spend most of its life in the ocean, but at spawning time it swims up rivers. One population travels about 1800 miles up the Yukon River. These fish have so much stored fat that they are the most prized of all salmon. You won’t likely see these in a restaurant, though, because the fishery is so isolated. The fish is named for a group of Native Americans in the Northwest.

Food Namesakes

Siméon Denis Poisson, a French mathematician who has a famous equation named for him, presented his first problem today in 1781.

Words To Eat By

“‘The bigger the better’ is, though a common, not a universal rule; it does not, for instance, apply to fish.”–George Saintsbury, British historian and critic.

Words To Drink By

“We borrowed golf from Scotland as we borrowed whiskey. Not because it is Scottish, but because it is good.”–Horace Hutchinson, early star golfer.

FoodFunniesSquare

How Restaurants Get Personalities.

The first step, apparently, is to get rid of any tony remnant of the wait staff’s personality.

Click here for the cartoon.

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DiningDiarySquare-150x150 Thursday, June 16, 2016.
Eat Club @ Lakehouse.

I am concerned about attendance at our Eat Club dinner tonight. We are faced with several deterrents. The reluctance of South Shore diners to cross the Causeway–especially the return leg, after the wine has been drunk–depresses reservations and increases no-shows. The ferocious storms we’ve had lately exacerbate the situation.

Lakehouse-EatClub-DR

I also have some concern about the menu. Two of the dishes center on rare to raw seafood. They are the best parts of the dinner to my tastes. But Mary Ann–to name one squeamish palate of the many who felt the same way–would not touch either dish. They didn’t go to waste: I eagerly scarfed down both the beautiful pepper-seared tuna and the crudo of very nice sea scallops.

Seared tuna @ Lakehouse Eat Club.

Seared tuna @ Lakehouse Eat Club.

But we get lucky. The restaurant’s own regulars add to the thirty regular Eat Clubbers to get us up to over fifty diners–a robust number. And the weather is sunny or starry, depending on what time it is. Finally, many people swapped out the pork belly and the beef short ribs from the entree course for the tuna and scallops. (I have never signed on for the crazes for either of those two meats, and gladly send mine over to MA, who loves them.)

Lakehouse-EatClub-ScallopCrudo

I am surprised not to hear a word about insufficient food. But many people in attendance are on weight-loss programs, and find these scaled-back portions perfect for their regimens. (I’d better say that these were not representative of the standard a la carte servings at the Lake House, which are right up to gourmet-Creole size.)

Short ribs for the Eat Club.

Short ribs for the Eat Club.

We have many guests I haven’t seen in awhile. I guy I used to play softball with in the UNO Alumni league has had triple bypass surgery, but is now ready to resume life. Bob and Jeannie–frequent travelers on our past cruises–were with us for the first time in awhile. A table is largely occupied by the staff from Dakota. Lakehouse owner Cayman Sinclair learned his restaurant strokes at Dakota, is why.

Speaking of Cayman: his business of catering to movie productions around town is, despite what you’ve heard about a decline in such commerce, rolling right along. He showed me a fleet of catering vehicles the size of over-the-road buses. One of these has a bigger kitchen than about sixty percent of the brick-and-mortar restaurants around town.

All of this and other conversations on other matters make this one of the liveliest dinner parties we’ve had in a long time. The entire crowd was bubbling. Most of them are still there at nine-thirty, after starting at six-thirty. The Eat Club is without question the most convivial gathering anywhere on the North Shore today.

Lakehouse. Mandeville: 2025 Lakeshore Dr. 985-626-3006.
Friday, June 17, 2016.
Red’s Chinese. St. Roch Market.

Mary Ann has become my conscience when it comes to choosing restaurants. She is ever reminding me that many interesting eateries I have not tried are out there, waiting for my attention. That she herself doesn’t especially go for hyper-cool restaurants with the likes of Asian fusion doesn’t reduce her insistence.

Tonight, she decides that we must get to Red’s Chinese, a Bywater restaurant that has attracted a good deal of attention from the food press. The New Orleans Menu has even reviewed it, in one of our attempts to bring reviewers other than myself into play.

Coolest table @ Red's Chinese.

Coolest table @ Red’s Chinese.

She calls the Hymels and the Poches, both of whom had sons at Jesuit High School when our son Jude was there. We haven’t been out with them in so long that I hardly recognized them.

Red’s Chinese is not the kind of place you’d go with people you want to impress–unless the people get a kick out of offbeat, minimalist restaurants with, shall we say, daring premises. Red’s Chinese doesn’t look like a restaurant on the outside. The signs on the building don’t seem to refer to food service. The restaurant’s own signage is a red square with no words. This red sign makes the place easy to find, but it’s unconventional.

RedsChinese-ChickenDumplings

You enter through the kitchen. The kitchen at this time of year is very hot. You hope that the heat doesn’t permeate all the way to the rear of the building, where are most of the good tables and air conditioning. (It doesn’t.)

Chicken dumplings @ Red's Chinese.

Chicken dumplings @ Red’s Chinese.

The menu is not your typical Chinese collection of familiar dishes. A few recognizable concepts show up–General Tso’s chicken, for example–but most items are significant departures from the norms. The menu is much shorter than we’re accustomed to, as well.

Bywater eggplant.

Bywater eggplant.

We order in the time-honored Chinese style, ordering big dishes of this or that and sending it around the table. The first dish is arrive are Grandmother’s Pickles–very spicy, kimchee-style cauliflower, turnis, radishes, cucumbers. Refreshing. Now crafish Rangoons–the fried wontons filled with cream cheese and crawfish tails. This is more commonly made with crabmeat, but crawfish is a good idea. Now some steamed dumplings filled with chicken and chanterelle mushrooms. And Bywater eggplant, which is almost a parmigiana dish, but with an Asian flavor.

Dirty fried rice. Very peppery.

Dirty fried rice. Very peppery.

The most controversial dish of the night is dirty fried rice-exactly what it sounds like, with a poached duck egg on top and a very peppery seasoning. Some like it (I do) and others don’t.

The final dish is the most interesting on the table: kung pao pastrami. It is pretty much a barbecue brisket platter, with rice cakes–those fluffy bao cakes whose goodness is lost on everyone at the table.

The food, while fascinating in its eccentricity, is for once not the main topic. Everyone wants to know what all the other children in our three families are up to. That does seem to be taking over most conversations at these reunions.

MA suggests that we all to to the St. Roch Market for dessert. Good idea. I’ve stuck my head into the revived, re-thought old market on St. Claude at St. Roch, but this is the first time I’ve stayed long enough to sample some of the goods. A caller to the radio show a few days ago said that the market was more like a food court than anything else. It certainly is good-looking, modern, and ready-to-eat. We have ice cream and coffee, and take a look at the sandwiches, breakfasts, and other offerings. A jazz band plays.

At the coffee counter, I ask for café au lait. The young man on the other way ascertains the size desired, and sets about making it. Watching him, I see that he is making a New-Coffeehouse version of the beverage: a strong coffee topped with a fluff of steamed milk. Like a cappuccino, but with less milk, and without the espresso coffee.

But this is an historic old market in a very New Orleans part of town. Shouldn’t this be café au lait in the New Orleans sense? What’s wrong with chicory coffee with hot milk? Truly, this feels like Anywhere, USA. Somebody in management should take the same approach that the French Quarter Commission takes to architecture in its district. And have both Euro-style café au lait for the younger customers, and real New Orleans café au lait for the rest of us.

St. Roch Market. Marigny: 2381 St. Claude Ave. 504-609-3813.

500BestSquareFoie Gras @ Restaurant August

DishStars-5
When Chef John Besh opened his first restaurant in 2001, it was as if there were a state law requiring all gourmet restaurants to serve foie gras. That effect has faded, and now with few exceptions it’s only the chefs that know what to do with the rich fat duck liver still standing. They prepare it several different ways, often serving all of them on one plate. Good enough to make foie gras an automatic order here.

Restaurant August. CBD: 301 Tchoupitoulas. 504-299-9777.

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

RecipeSquare-150x150

Fresh Marinara Sauce

This is the kind of red sauce we make most often at home. It’s cooked only a few minutes, so the freshness of the tomatoes doesn’t turn into sweetness. The flavor of fresh basil–which we have growing outside in all the non-freezing months–is a top note.

Grilled wahoo with tomato corn sauce at Dick & Jenny's.

Tomato sauce with corn.

  • 2 cans whole plum tomatoes with basil
  • 4 fresh, ripe plum tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tbs. chopped fresh garlic
  • 1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • Leaves of six sprigs of Italian parsley, chopped
  • 15 leaves fresh basil, chopped

1. Drain and reserve the juice from the canned tomatoes. Put the tomatoes in a food processor and chop them almost into a puree. (You can also do this by squeezing the tomatoes with your fingers in a bowl.)

2. Cut off the stem end and cut an X on the smooth end of each fresh tomato. Drop them into boiling water for about fifteen seconds. After they cool a bit, peel the tomatoes, squeeze out the seeds and pulp, and chop them finely.

3. In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over high heat until it ripples. Add the garlic, crushed red pepper, and oregano and cook for a minute. Add all the tomatoes and stir, maintaining the heat, until you have a pretty good boil. Lower the heat, add one cup of the reserved juice, and return to a low boil.

4. Add the salt, parsley and basil, and continue cooking for about ten minutes, stirring once in awhile. You can cook it longer for a sweeter sauce, but I think it tastes best right at this point.

Makes about six cups of sauce.

AlmanacSquare June 20, 2015

Days Until. . .

Eat Club Dinner @ Cafe Giovanni, June 30 10

Today’s Flavor

Today is National Vanilla Milk Shake Day. I prefer malted milkshakes myself, but I do lean toward vanilla over chocolate. Seems to allow the malted taste to come through better. First one I ever encountered was from a panel truck with a soft-serve ice cream machine aboard and the entire range of ice-cream-parlor ingredients. I loved it immediately. It was called Dairy Dan, and made the rounds in River Ridge in the 1960s. Anybody else remember it?

Eggs Sardou

Eggs Sardou

This is also Eggs Sardou Day. Poached eggs atop an artichoke bottom filled with creamed spinach, with a substantial flow of hollandaise sauce. The idea is such a good one that not only is the dish probably the most popular fancy eggs in New Orleans, but it has given rise to many other things Sardou as well. For example, there’s crabmeat Sardou, in which lump crabmeat takes the place of the eggs, but everything else is left standing.

Eggs Sardou was originally created at Antoine’s in New Orleans, in the late 1800s, when Antoine Alciatore himself was still alive. He named it for playwright Victorien Sardou, who’d just written a French comedy called Uncle Sam. (Imagine–the French poking fun at America!) The playwright is probably best remembered because posters for his plays were painted by the Art Nouveau master Alfonse Mucha, but I’m getting off the subject.

Antoine’s eggs Sardou is different from others in that it doesn’t include the spinach, but does have a bit of chopped anchovy. It’s a good dish, even though eating eggs at Antoine’s seems a little funny. Brennan’s changed the dish to its present form everywhere (except Antoine’s) by adding creamed spinach to the recipe. Making eggs Sardou at home is too much work for just one or two, but if you have a bunch of friends coming over for brunch, it would impress them.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Curry, Louisiana is one of at least ten places in this country bearing that name. That’s appropriate, considering how many different kinds of curry there are. This one is just a junction on US 84 in Kisatchie National Forest, in Winn Parish, about forty-seven miles north of Alexandria. The nearest restaurant serving curry to the denizens of Curry is the China Restaurant, twenty miles down US 84 in Jena.

Edible Dictionary

roadhouse, n.–Originally, a combination restaurant, bar, and small hotel, located on a highway well away from a large town. They served the same function that inns have since medieval times, long before the restaurant as we know it came to be. Roadhouses are found all over America, but the best examples from the heyday of such establishments is found on the original US highway routes, most famously Route 66.

Diner

The advent of motels and fast-food restaurants drew away customers from both sides of the classic roadhouses’ business. Few have rooms any more. Real roadhouses (as opposed to chains claiming the name for atmospheric purposes) are usually old and a bit raffish, with homestyle, inexpensive food and a dubious clientele in the bar. But that’s what makes them worthy of interest.

Deft Dining Rule #107:

One of the first steps to becoming a gourmet is deciding whether you want good or plenty.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

If your hollandaise breaks, add a tablespoon of warm water and see if it re-emulsifies. If not, start over again with just one egg yolk, whisking over gentle heat until it gets thick, then whisk in the broken sauce a little at a time.

Music To Eat In Your Room By

Today is the birthday, in 1942, of Brian Wilson, the songwriting genius and distinctive falsetto voice of the Beach Boys. His food quotation was, “Beware the lollipop of mediocrity. Lick it once, and you’ll suck forever.”

Food Namesakes

Toast Of The Town— which later became better known as the Ed Sullivan Show, made its first appearance on CBS television on this date in 1948. It was on Sunday nights for twenty-three years. . . Candy Clark, who was an actress in a bunch of 1970s and 1980s movies, was born today in 1947. . . Novelist Charles Chesnutt was born today in 1858. . . Actor John McCook was born today in 1945. . . Writer Lillian Hellman came out of the jar today in 1905.

Words To Eat By

“I am not strict vegan, because I’m a hedonist pig. If I see a big chocolate cake that is made with eggs, I’ll have it.”–Grace Slick, lead singer of Jefferson Airplane/Starship.

Words To Drink By

“I like my whisky old and my women young.”–Actor Errol Flynn, born today in 1909.
FoodFunniesSquare

Gas And Broccoli.

Where trends begin and end.

Click here for the cartoon.

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DiningDiarySquare-150x150 Tuesday, June 14, 2016.
Three Appetizers @ Ralph’s On The Park.

The direction of my driving changes twice before I get decisive about it and steer first to the left, then to the right, off the I-10 and onto South Carrollton. Which, after six blocks, becomes North Carrollton. (Not even the streets seem to know where to go.)

Now I turn left onto City Park Avenue, on which I pass Ralph’s on the Park. I make a U-turn towards Bayou St. John, pass the restaurant again, make another U-turn, and park. I cross the street, then return to my car to grab an umbrella. It has been raining hard all day. It seems to have stopped, but who really knows? I almost get back into the car and drive away, but then I remember that Ralph’s is running its summertime three appetizers and a glass of wine for $33. Finally, my mind is made up, and I enter the restaurant.

A waitress guides me into the bar, my preferred dining spot at Ralph’s. The windows that would ordinarily give onto the live oaks of City Park instead are fogged over with the humid New Orleans summertime air. The waitress brings over the menu and I start shopping it. Almost everything on it appeals to me.

Charlie Miller

Charlie Miller

Now a gentleman in a white suit sits down at the piano in the bar’s corner, right next to my table, which is now the best table in the house. It’s Charlie Miller, who in the time I am here will play Great American Songbook tunes. He will tell me that he is seventy-eight, and that music went to hell starting in World War I, and finally after the Beatles arrived. He has numerous other thoughts on many subjects. I am mostly interested in his music, which is also my music. He plays a wide range very well. He lets me sing a couple of songs with him. It’s already become a fine evening.

As I’ve said, the 3Apps+Wine=$33 is a very appealing formula. My order is as follows:

1. A bowl of turtle soup, made with the Brennans’ widespread recipe. Or so they say. I find that the turtle soup is different in every Brennan restaurant, but about equally good as the others . This one has a lighter-than-average roux and a thinner broth. But I’m glad to begin with it.

Agnolotti with a few other tasty things, an exquisite vegetarian dish at Ralph's on the Park.

Agnolotti with a few other tasty things, an exquisite vegetarian dish at Ralph’s on the Park.

B. Agnolotti has many variations, too. But it’s almost always a take on ravioli, stuffed more often than not with cheese. Ricotta in this case. Those noodles are tossed with thin but wide strips of various squashes, mushrooms, and brown butter. It’s actually a vegetatian fdish, straight off that part of the menu. I find it so delicious that yesterday I added it to NOMenu’s list of 500 Best Restaurant Dishes.

Sopes filled with beef, mole, and more than a few other sharp tastes.

Sopes filled with beef, mole, and more than a few other sharp tastes.

iii. Sopes are among the least common of Mexican tortilla-based dishes. The base is what looks like a tiny straight-sided dish made from shaped and fried masa. It’s filled with the same kinds of things you’d find in an enchilada or a empanada. In this case, the topping is made with beef and (be still my heart!) mole poblano.

I have now run out of appetizers on the $33 deal. I tell the server that I would probably order a fourth starter, but I am very much ready to stop. I let the dessert menu take over. It offers homemade vanilla ice cream with chocolate-mint nuggets. Very tasty.

Even leaving out the spectacular price bargain, this is a wonderful dinner. I am thinking (but I’m not ready to say) that it’s a better meal than the one I had at Commander’s three days ago.

The dinner is only marred by a table of four people, a table away from me, in which one of the two menu seems incapable of speaking a sentence without including the F-word, at a volume loud enough to pull quantas of pleasure from the repast. A man at another nearby table tips Charlie enough that he continues playing for another fifteen minutes. The man asks for the songs of Edith Piaf. Charlie improvises as he sings in pigeon French. He gets away with it.

After those folks leave, Charlie tells me that he’s really a trumpeter, but he likes to play piano, too. He sounds very experienced. He appears at Ralph’s mostly as a fill-in for other musicians. I have never quite doped out Ralph’s music schedule, which I think is more in the early than late evening. But I hope I hear Charlie again sometime soon.

The three appetizers, glass of wine for $33 does on at Ralph’s through the whole summer. It is one of the two or three best summer specials that have begun sprouting from menus around town.

FleurDeLis-4-Small

Ralph’s On The Park. City Park Area: 900 City Park Ave. 504-488-1000.
3 Fleur
EntreePrice-9
BreakfastNo Breakfast SundayNo Breakfast MondayNo Breakfast TuesdayNo Breakfast WednesdayNo Breakfast ThursdayNo Breakfast FridayNo Breakfast Saturday
LunchNo Lunch SundayLunch MondayLunch TuesdayLunch WednesdayLunch ThursdayLunch FridayLunch Saturday
DinnerNo Dinner SundayDinner MondayDinner TuesdayDinner WednesdayDinner ThursdayDinner FridayDinner Saturday

St. James Cheese Company

Warehouse District & Center City: 641 Tchoupitoulas ST. 504-304-1485. Map.
Casual.
AE DS MC V
Website

ANECDOTES AND ANALYSIS
By Ryan Pearce I went to St. James at their Prytania location for the first time around 2009. Hidden in plain sight, it was a destination for my hopeless romanticism about cheese, as well as a good place to spend $60 on farmhouse cheese. When I heard they were opening a new location in the Warehouse District–an area booming with extensions of local favorites–I was elated.

WHY IT’S NOTEWORTHY
The ten-dollar sandwich boom we’ve seen in the last several years is in full career here at St. James in the Warehouse District. The kitchen digs into new concepts and rotating recipes, creating appeal for those who like variety. Here are classics from their Prytania shop and many new sandwiches, soups, and salads. You get great food, a well-informed staff, aesthetically pleasing surroundings, and an opportunity to buy some of the rarest cheeses in the market.

WHAT’S GOOD
I’ve never had a bad meal at either St. James locations. They always give a little more than expected, regardless of how busy they are. Example: coconut curry soup, so beautiful it was hard for me to start eating.

BACKSTORY
Richard and Danielle Sutton opened their cheese shop in the year after Katrina, a time when all sorts of new ideas were blossoming Uptown. The goal was to bring the best farmhouse cheeses in the world to cheese-hungry New Orleans. The Suttons met while working together at Paxton & Whitfield, a 200-year old cheese shop in the London neighborhood of St. James.

DINING ROOM
The new restaurant is a modern, open room featuring a mixture of exposed brick and tiled walls and a granite floor. Upon entering you are greeted by the sight of antique lighting hanging above an island of cheese. The view of the cheese operation is yours no matter where you wind up sitting.


FULL ONLINE MENU

BEST DISHES
Manchego salad
Parmesan reggiano salad
Cheese & charcuterie boards
Cheesemonger’s mac & cheese
Duck confit bahn mi (special)
Cubano (special)
Hooks cheddar sandwich
Brie de meaux sandwich
Gruyere sandwich
Smokey blue sandwich
Mozzarella sandwich
Il mostro
Ploughman’s lunch

FOR BEST RESULTS
Go in with a friend or three after the lunch rush. Two in the afternoon is a great time to go as the lines have died down and seating is ample. Peruse the specials board before you grab a menu! They’re always cooking up some new soup, salad, or sandwich. At this time I like to place an order, choose a table, and after placing my number down it’s time for a trip to cheese island. If you are at all interested in the finer side of the cheese world, experiment. Some Bellegarde bread and a nice sweet cream Camembert never hurt anyone too badly.

OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
The room, albeit lovely and spaced semi-comfortably, can get loud. Not Peche loud, but it’s up there. It’s not a huge issue but it could be a detraction for someone interested in a nice, relaxing cheese plate.

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 +3
  • Wine & Bar +1
  • Hipness +2
  • Local Color +1

SPECIAL ATTRIBUTES

  • Sidewalk tables
  • Good for business meetings
  • Open Monday lunch and dinner
  • Open all afternoon until 7 p.m. MO TU WE TH.
    Until 9 p.m. FR SA
  • Quick, good meal
  • Good for children
  • No reservations

RecipeSquare-150x150

Oyster And Crabmeat Pan Roast

The oyster combination pan roast at Pascal’s Manale is one of my favorite dishes there. That’s saying something, because it must compete with a host of other good oysters dishes. I’ve never encountered anything quite like it in any other restaurant. The oysters and crab lumps (lately they’ve added shrimp to it) are afloat in a thick veloute with a generous admixture of green onions. It’s topped with bread crumbs and baked until bubbly. As much as I like it, it’s so rich that I find it hard to eat an entree portion. (Fortunately, they also serve it as an appetizer.) Here’s my version of it, which comes pretty close to theirs.

Manales-OysterComboPanRoast-

  • 2 cups oyster water (if available)
  • 4 dozen fresh oysters
  • 2 cups milk
  • 3 sticks butter
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 12 sprigs flat-leaf parsley, leaves only, chopped
  • 6 green onions, finely snipped, tender green parts only
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. Tabasco
  • 1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 lb. lump crabmeat (can substitute shrimp or crawfish tails)
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

1. If you have oyster water, pour it into a large skillet and bring it to a light simmer. (If not, use two cups vegetable stock, or water.) Reduce the water by about half. Add the oysters and let them cook until they just begin to plump up. Remove the oysters to a bowl and let them cool.

2. Add the milk to the oyster water in the pan and return to a simmer.

3. While that’s going on, melt the butter over medium heat in another saucepan and add the flour. Stir to make a blond roux. Don’t allow the mixture to brown.

4. Strain the oyster water-milk combination to the roux. Whisk the mixture until it takes on the texture of light mashed potatoes. This is bechamel.

5. Remove the bechamel from the heat and stir in the parsley, green onions, salt, lemon juice, Tabasco, and Worcestershire sauce. Drain the water from the bowl holding the oysters into the bechamel, and whisk in.

6. Add the crabmeat to the bowl of oysters. Toss gently to combine. Divide the oysters among eight gratin dishes or four small casseroles.

7. Spoon the bechamel over the oysters and crabmeat, and smooth it out. Top with a thin layer of bread crumbs.

8. Place the gratin dishes or casseroles on the top rack of the oven. Turn the oven on broil and raise the heat to 500 degrees. Broil until the sauce is bubbling and the bread crumbs are browning–15-20 minutes. Serve hot with hot French bread on the side.

Serves eight.

500BestSquareCrabmeat Sardou @ Tommy’s Cuisine

DishStars_3
The idea is simple and good. Remove the poached eggs from the classic breakfast dish eggs Sardou, and replace it with a pile of warm crabmeat. Everything else remains the same: the artichoke bottoms, the creamed spinach in them, and the hollandaise sauce over everything. All those flavors are great together, as long as there’s enough crabmeat to be the main ingredient. The dish was created at Galatoire’s a long time ago, but their longtime chef Prudence Milton spent a lot of time at Tommy’s, and so has his great crabmeat Sardou. It works as a light entree or a heavy appetizer.

Tommy’s Cuisine. Warehouse District: 746 Tchoupitoulas. 504-581-1103.

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

AlmanacSquare June 16, 2015

Days Until. . .

Father’s Day 5

Food Calendar

ChorizoThis is International Chorizo Day. Chorizo is a dense pork sausage made in Spain and Portugal, as well is most of the former colonies of those two countries. The pork is chopped and packed with a visible amount of fat, along with seasonings. Smoked paprika is one of the major spices, which give the sausage a little piquancy and a red color. Most Spanish chorizo is cured and smoked, and can be eaten as is. In this part of the world, however, there’s another kind: chorizo fresca. This must be cooked before being eaten. Chefs are finding more uses for both kinds of chorizo in their cookery. It’s good almost any way its used: with eggs, as a seasoning meat, in a salad, with mussels, or as tapas. A restaurant that takes chorizo seriously may have several varieties of the sausage.

FudgeToday is also allegedly National Fudge Day. Oh, fudge. We had a wonderful dog once named Fudge. My mother made a super-sweet fudge which was one of the few things she cooked that I never liked. That’s all I’ve got.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Fudgearound, Tennessee is almost exactly in the center of the state, fifty-seven miles southeast of Nashville. It’s in Coffee County, which somehow sounds right. Fudgearound is an S-curve in a local road through the low, wooded hills and fills in the area. A few farmhouses are there, but I suspect the name may be a reference to a story we will never know. The most appealing place to eat is four miles up the road in Beechgrove, a place called Pig EQ Barbeque.

Edible Dictionary

churros, Spanish, n., pl.–A fritter of sweetened dough, made in fanciful curls and spirals. The churros dough is a very thick liquid, extruded into hot oil, turning and piling as it goes. They usually come out of the extruder with ridges, making them crisp. The process of frying them is vaguely similar to the funnel cakes seen in American festivals. The finished churros are dusted with powdered sugar (and sometimes cinnamon). In flavor, they’re very similar to the New Orleans French Market beignet. Churros are popular in Central America and in Spanish Caribbean islands, notably Cuba.

Annals Of Junk Food

Today in 1903, the Patent Office granted a trademark for Pepsi-Cola. It’s named for pepsin (an enzyme that was supposed to help digestion) and the kola nut, which supplied not only a distinctive flavor but also caffeine. The formula also included vanillin and fruit extracts. Pharmacist Caleb D. Bradham was its creator; like most druggists, he had a soda fountain in his establishment.

Today is the birthday (1893!) of Cracker Jack. The achievement of its creator R.W. Rueckheim was to coat popcorn and peanuts with caramel in such a way that they wouldn’t stick together. The name was slang of the time for something that would be called “awesome” today. Sailor Jack and his dog Bingo were on the box from the beginning.

Food In Literature

This is Bloomsday, so called by avid fans of James Joyce’s landmark novel Ulysses. The peripatetic wanderings of Leopold Bloom and the other characters in the book begin on this day and end the next. Much food and wine is consumed along the way. I once made the mistake of trying to listen to an audiobook of Ulysses, and found it impossible. Fortunately, I have the actual book, which I should have read in college. Someday I will finally get around to reading it, and turning in my report to the professor in hopes of having that D reversed.

SeaTurtleFood And The Environment

SeaTurtle
Archie Fairley Carr, a marine biologist, was born today in 1909. He spent much of his career studying sea turtles, and as a result discovered why their numbers were decreasing so rapidly. His work had two results: we no longer use green sea turtles for turtle soup (as we did as recently as the 1980s), and the turtle populations are beginning to rebound, leaving them free to get covered with BP oil.

Food In The Movies

The movie Grease premiered today in 1978, with John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. Not the kind of grease we encounter in culinary work. But it gives me an opening to bring up a usage matter. “Grease” is an ugly word to use when talking about food. My skin crawls when I hear a cook saying something like, “Then you put the soft shell crabs into the hot grease. . .” To me, the only acceptable uses of the word are in a pejorative context, as in “The pot of chili had a half-inch-deep layer of orange grease floating on top.” Let’s eliminate “grease” from the language of fine cooking.

Deft Dining Rule #183

Restaurants that use the word “grease” in their descriptions of their food are very likely to serve greasy food.

Food Namesakes

Jim Dine, a major force in Pop Art, made his first strokes today in 1938. . . August Busch III, the boss of Anheuser-Busch, the country’s biggest brewer of beer, showed his head today in 1940. . . Novelist Joyce Carol Oates made her first statement today in 1941. I’ve read many of her short stories, but never her big works, like The Time Traveler. Any good?. . . The Dan Quayle Vice-Presidential Center and Musuem opened today in 1993, in Huntington, Indiana.

Words To Eat By

“Always serve too much hot fudge sauce on hot fudge sundaes. It makes people overjoyed, and puts them in your debt.”–Judith Olney, food writer.

“I know my corn plants intimately, and I find it a great pleasure to know them.”–Barbara McClintock, American botanist, born today in 1902.

Words To Drink By

“I’m going to be around until the Atomic Energy Commission finds a safe place to bury my liver.”–Phil Harris, comedian and musician, and early king of Bacchus. The AEC must have found the spot in 1995.

FoodFunniesSquare

Rough Neighborhood!

Busy but well-fed emergency room.

Click here for the cartoon.

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DiningDiarySquare-150x150 Sunday, June 12, 2016.
James Beard’s Eggs.

Mary Ann says that she will have exactly one meal with me today. So, after my stint in the choir loft at St. Jane’s, I make my way (without her) to Abita Roasters, where I have a simple breakfast: scrambled eggs, bacon, hash browns, a slice of toast, and coffee.

James Beard had a lot to say about scrambled eggs, most of it having to do with the need for making them very moist and soft without leaving them runny. Without knowing who James Beard was, I started eating eggs in my late teens, always asking that they be very lightly cooked. This was at the Camellia Grill, whose house style–especially in their famous omelettes–is to cook eggs very dry.

Soft-scrambled eggs.

I also breakfasted a lot at at the Krystal in those years. I Later I overheard someone else at the Krystal counter ask for “soft-scrambled” eggs, giving me the right jargon to get what I wanted. In fact, I was already eating everything lightly cooked. I once even asked the Krystal lady on the overnight shift to grill the sausage patties rare. She refused to do it, because didn’t I know that you always eat pork well-done?

Specifying soft-scrambled eggs works only about half the time. Cooks have an aversion to letting eggs go out wet. If I emphasize my desire, they almost always undercook to a ridiculous degree. I need an expression that communicates the ideal of damp in the center, but not runny on the outside. It could be that this is territory that cooks never enter–like getting a seven-thirty reservation at Commander’s Palace. (It can’t be done unless you’re a VIP. You get six-thirty or nine, and like it.)

I have decided to take a ten-day vacation at the end of July to visit Mary Leigh and Dave in Washington, D.C. If I don’t do it then, I will not see her until her wedding in September. But I also want to take my first extended road trip in some twenty years. I have a nice, new car to do it in, so why not?

I hit the highways a lot when I was a freelance writer and single. I went to places where nobody else wants to go. The first ride was to Des Moines, Iowa. Many of them were in West Texas and beyond. MA came with me during our brief courtship. She couldn’t see the amusement value in them. Her way of driving is to go at top speed until you can’t see where you’re going–800 or 900 miles in a day, and she has gone even farther. I poke along on back roads and stay in motels, both of which she hates. Not that I blame her.

I have her blessing for my upcoming solo trip. She sincerely thinks it’s something I really should do. So I get to work on the project. I find plotting the maps like in old times joyful.

Hangup: it’s hard to find road maps anymore. I’d better check in at AAA.

Monday, June 13, 2013.
A Map From (And To) Cracker Barrel.

I’m up early to make a first-thing appointment at the hospital’s lab, in preparation for my annual examination next week. As I departed, I remember that after the last time I had this done I went to breakfast at the nearby Cracker Barrel. (I think I have the procedure mixed up with donating blood, after which you are told to drink juice and eat a little something.) Having done something once is enough to make me want to do it again.

My last visit to the Barrel left me with no more respect for the place since the days when the kids were little. They found the Cracker Barrel amazing. But when I went there a couple of years ago, I found it terrible, with everything either overcooked, disagreeably starchy, flavorless, or all three.

But I thought Cracker Barrel might sell road maps. They don’t. But they do have a free coast-to-coast map showing the hundreds of other Cracker Barrels around the country, with reasonably good road details.

Cracker Barrel in Covington.

Cracker Barrel in Covington.

I don’t feel right about taking their map without staying to eat. I order “The Old-Timer’s Breakfast.” It consists of scrambled eggs (yes, they did make them soft-scrambled at my request), bacon (thick, crunchy and very good), hash-brown potato casserole (with cheese holding the potato strings together: yuck), two underbaked biscuits, starchy grits, “sawmill gravy” (a somewhat rich white sauce, which I have never liked anywhere), and better coffee than I recall. Seems that the whole country is coming around to dark-roast coffee.

For a moment, I consider stopping in a Cracker Barrel every day on my upcoming road trip, to search for minute regional differences. But I rid myself of that thought right away. What is a trip through the Southeast without having breakfast every day in little, old shacks on the sides of old roads?

It continues to rain, and when it rains, it’s with severe lightning, winds, and warnings from my phone.

MA and I have dinner at La Carreta in Covington. Now I have an excuse for going there as often as we do: they are running commercial on my radio show. I don’t see that as a payback. It just helps me compose the ad-lib commercials when I have recent mental images and taste memories to talk about.

RecipeSquare-150x150

Crab Cakes

Crab cakes are not native to New Orleans, but you would never know that to look at menus or recent local cookbooks. They moved in from Maryland in the early 1990s, replacing the good old stuffed crab, and igniting the issue that rages wherever crab cakes are found: Which restaurant makes the best? Interestingly, every single place that makes them at all claims its are self-evidently superior.

Most people will say that a great crab cake will contain as high a percentage of jumbo lump crabmeat as possible while still sticking together as a cake. But clearly there should be other things in there, too. I like green onions, parsley, a little garlic, and a little red bell pepper. I use béchamel to hold the crabmeat together, and and a light dusting with bread crumbs so the things can be browned. (I got the idea from Charley G’s, whose crab cakes were among the best in New Orleans when it was still around.) Crab cakes should fall apart at the touch of a fork, not hold together like a hamburger.

CrabCakeForRecipe

  • 6 Tbs. butter
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup warm milk
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. white pepper
  • 2 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp. chopped fresh tarragon (or 1/2 tsp. dried)
  • 2 lbs. lump crabmeat
  • 1/3 finely-chopped red bell pepper
  • 1/2 cup plain bread crumbs
  • 2 tsp. Creole seasoning
  • 2 oz. clarified butter
  • White remoulade sauce:
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 Tbs. Creole mustard
  • 1 Tbs. lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. Worcestershire
  • Dash Tabasco
  • 1/4 tsp. granulated garlic

1. Heat the butter in a heavy saucepan over low heat. Add the salt, white pepper, and flour and make a blond roux. Whisk in the milk until the blend has the texture of very light mashed potatoes. Cool to room temperature. (You have just made a béchamel.)

2. Pick crabmeat of any shells, trying to keep the lumps as whole as possible. Combine it in a large bowl with bell pepper, green onion, and tarragon. Add a scant cup of the cooled béchamel. Mix everything well with your fingers, being careful not to break the crabmeat.

3. Season the bread crumbs with Creole seasoning, and spread them on a plate. Using an ice cream scoop, scoop up balls of the crabmeat mixture. Gently form them into cakes about three-fourths of an inch thick. Press them gently onto the bread crumbs on each side, and shake off the excess crumbs.

5. Heat the clarified butter in a skillet. Sauté crab cakes until golden brown on the outside and heated all the way through. (The way to test this is to push the tines of a kitchen fork into the center of the cake, then touch the fork to your lips. That will tell you whether the heat has penetrated all the way through.)

6. Mix all ingredients for the white remoulade and serve with the crab cakes.

Makes twelve large crab cakes.

500BestSquareRicotta-Stuffed Agnolotti, Shiitake Mushrooms @ Ralph’s On The Park

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The summertime menu at Ralph’s is the very popular offering of three appetizers and a glass of wine for $33. The many choices include a superb item from Ralph’s vegetarian section. Agnolotti are pasta tubes stuffed with ricotta and surrounded by an assortment of cooked, cool squashes and locally grown shiitake mushrooms, with a bit of brown butter and lemon juice. Although the flavors are light, this winds up being something of a filling dish–and an elegant one, too. It can be had a la carte for $11.

Ralphs-Agnolitti

Ralph’s On The Park. City Park Area: 900 City Park Ave. 504-488-1000.

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

AlmanacSquare June 15, 2015

Days Until. . .

Father’s Day 4

Eat Club Dinner @ Lakehouse, June 16 1

Food Calendar

ConchIn Key West, it’s Conch Fritter Day. Conch is a highly local ingredient, not found often outside Florida. It’s the meat of the animal whose shell lets you hear the ocean waves when you put it up to your ear. It’s notoriously tough, and a predator on oysters. (For that reason, I hold some animus against conchs.)

It’s also National Arugula Day. Arugula is a weed, really, and for my money it’s the most delicious weed there is. It grows wild all around the Mediterranean, and has been eaten since time immemorial by people from the Riviera to Sudan. (Interesting that the impoverished people of Sudan may well be eating the same thing that the wealthiest people in America’s most expensive restaurants, at the same time.)

In 1988 I was in a hotel in Udine, Italy with a group of Italian-American restaurateurs. We were to have a lunch in the hotel. I went down to the lobby and entered the restaurant. Just inside the door was a gigantic glass bowl filled with arugula leaves. My only thought was of how fine a meal it would be to have nothing but that, olive oil, a little balsamic vinegar, and chunks of Parmigiana cheese on the side. I was very disappointed when the maitre d’ pointed me to the banquet room where the lunch was to take place. (Fortunately, we had a little arugula.)

You can grow your own arugula, but since it’s only good when the leaves are small you have to constantly plant it to have fresh young leaves constantly. (The big ones taste strong, in the direction of horseradish.) Unfortunately, it is not nearly available enough in markets. Arugula also goes under the names “rocket” and “rouquette” and “rucola.” How about a big salad bowl of it right now with a zippy vinaigrette?

Gourmet Gazetteer

Two places in Missouri are named Gumbo. Both are near St. Louis–one of them in the western suburbs of the city. That Gumbo was a small farming community a mile and a half south of the Missouri River. The site is now in the center of light industrial plants, with the Spirit of St. Louis Airport just west. A cluster of convenience restaurants–mostly pizza and Asian–are near dead center of where the old Gumbo once was. The other Gumbo is a better-defined community, although its old school and general store–both long abandoned–give it a ghost town aspect. This Gumbo is still a farming area. The rich alluvial soil appears to have been more intensively farmed in the past than now. The area was settled as early as 1823. The most appealing nearby places to eat in Gumbo now are two miles east on State Highway 8: Homestyle Cafe in Leadington, and the Whistle Stop Cafe in Park Hills. It is seventy-six miles from one Gumbo, MO to the other.

Edible Dictionary

Fiddleheadfiddleheads, n., pl.–The tightly-spiraled new spring growth of a number of varieties of fern, notably the ostrich fern. They get their name from their resemblance to the scroll at the top of a violin’s neck. The ferns grow mostly in the northern parts of America, and in the same latitudes in most of the rest of the world. They are not cultivated anywhere, but come up in such concentrations in the same places every spring that the wild ones can be harvested profitably. They’re cooked by boiling or steaming, and served as a side vegetable. They must be cooked until soft to remove a mildly poisonous acid. Nor is it a good idea to eat a lot of them at one sitting. Their taste has been compared with that of asparagus or green beans. Their visual aspect provides most of the appeal. It might be a good idea to treat fiddleheads as a plate decoration only.

Music To Eat Sushi By

In 1963 on this date, Kyu Sakamoto had a Number One record on the American pop charts. It was unique in being entirely in Japanese. The real name of the song is Ue O Muite Aruko (“I Look Up When I Walk”). But its American title was Sukiyaki. Sukiyaki is a Japanese beef dish, one served in only a few of our Japanese restaurants. It is to modern Japanese cooking what beef Wellington is to French cooking. The beef is stewed (at the table, classically) in a sauce of soy, onions, and a few other things. The song returned to the charts to at Number Three in 1981, performed this time by A Taste of Honey.

Music To Blow Bubbles By

Today in 1968, the bubblegum song Yummy Yummy Yummy (I’ve Got Love In My Tummy) peaked at Number Three. The Ohio Express did it, and was never heard from again.

Music To Listen To My Radio Show By

Today in 1910 was the birthday of David Rose, a composer and bandleader whose biggest hit was The Stripper. He did much better work than that, notably an instrumental called Holiday For Strings. It’s the theme music that opens each hour of my radio show. I have about a dozen versions of it, including the original recording in 1941 by David Rose and his orchestra. Many people recognize the tune as the theme music for the old Red Skelton Show on television. David Rose also wrote the themes for Bonanza and Sea Hunt.

Food Inventions

In an effort to stabilize a surplus of milk, dairy farmer Jacob Fussell experimented with making ice cream on a large scale. Production and sales were good enough that on this date in 1851, in Baltimore, he opened the first commercial ice cream plant.

The Saints

Today is the movable feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. We have a restaurant named for that veneration: Pupuseria Divino Corazon, a Salvadoran cafe on Belle Chasse Highway in Gretna. It recently reopened in beautiful new premises. And on the wall is still a painting of the Sacred Heart. . . Today is also the feast day of St. Vitus, for whom the nerve ailment chorea–it makes people appear to be dancing–is named. St. Vitus is also the patron saint of comedians. I am on my knees, needing all the help I can get in that department.

Food Namesakes

This is the day in 1992 when Vice-President Dan Quayle told a student in a spelling bee that “potato” was spelled “potatoe.”. . . The rap singer Ice Cube was thawed today in 1969. . . Dusty Baker, the manager of the Giants when they won the National League pennant in 2002, was born today in 1949. . . The unrelated Gene Baker, who played second base in the 1950s and 1960s, was born today in 1925. . . And on the same day, yet another man with that name, British broadcaster Richard Baker, was born.

Words To Eat By

“‘Tis an ill cook that cannot lick his own fingers.”–William Shakespeare.

Words To Drink By

“May you always have red-eye gravy with your ham, hush puppies with your catfish, and the good sense not to argue with your wife.”–Unknown, except that he is probably from Tennessee.

FoodFunniesSquare

Ted Talk And Lunch

Motivating to keep eating is critical for gourmets.

Click here for the cartoon.

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DiningDiarySquare-150x150 Saturday, June 11, 2016.
Trio For Dinner: A New Special At Commander’s Palace.
Daniel Lelchuck and Eric Silberger.

Daniel Lelchuck and Eric Silberger.

This is turning into The Year Of Daniel Lelchuk for us. In 2015, Daniel called me on the radio with the first in a sporadic series of questions and comments about both cooking and restaurants. Along the way we learned that he was the second-chair cellist in the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra. And that he has a good palate and an interest in eating at the higher levels.

The next thing I knew I was reading his father’s novel (Brooklyn Boy), he provided the music for Mary Ann’s birthday party, and he became a regular guest host of the radio show when I am out of town. More broadly, his name and his cello have turned up in a host of performances around town–not to mention a goodly amount of travel to performance venues all over the globe. All this from a guy about Jude’s age.

Commander's wine guy Dan Davis. Chef Tory McPhail at the end of the table.

Commander’s wine guy Dan Davis. Chef Tory McPhail at the end of the table.

And here Daniel is tonight, leading a trio that will play at Commander’s Palace. Daniel makes friends easily, and some months ago he got to talking with Dan Davis, the sommelier at Commander’s. They hatched a new wine dinner concept: an elegant menu, nine wines, and three performances by Daniel and friends.

“It’s a musical wine dinner in three movements,” says Ti Martin, co-proprietor of Commander’s and, apparently, another person under Daniel’s musical spell. Chef Tory McPhail adds his own spin with a food lineup similar to his nightly “chef’s playground” menu. The eats tended to the robust, surely because of the medium-to-very big red wines from the more remote crannies of Dan “Wine Guy” Davis’s cellar.

I have heard Daniel the cellist enough times to know that the music would be impressive. I didn’t expect Eric Silberger–a friend of his who spends most of his time performing around the world with his 1755 Guarneri violin. Eric’s virtuosity is so astonishing that more than a few mouths were agape. The fact that most of the attendees were within ten or fifteen feet of the performers made it even more impressive. Nobody gets this close to musicians.

First course. Chicken "oysters," hopper shrimp, crawfish flan.

First course. Chicken “oysters,” hopper shrimp, crawfish flan.

We begin elegantly enough, with bubbly glasses of Billecart-Salmon Brut rose Champagne, handed us as we assembled in Commander’s grand patio. We scale the stairs to the Coliseum Room and find 2014 Andre & Michael Cunard Savoie Albymes, a white from the foothills of the Alps in France.

L to R: violin, cello, and viola.

L to R: violin, cello, and viola.

Also waiting for us is 2010 Zind-Humbrecht Riesling. This is an interesting surprise. Almost all the wines from Alsace are dry. This one has an unmissable but subtle sweetness. A nice little trick, pairing “chicken oysters” with this instead of a red wine. (Chicken oysters are little nodules of fat on either side of the rear quarter of a chicken. These were made to actually resemble fried oysters.)

Also on the plate are Florida hoppers, a species of shrimp that grows around Point St. Joe in Florida, where the water is so salty that these are supposed to be the world’s best boiling shrimp. But are they really better than local shrimp? And what happened to the local sourcing of food that the chefs have been telling us is so important for the last thirty years?

Finishing up this movement is a flan of all the elements of boiled crawfish. It was like a pate, and I was using the bread to pick it up. At around this time, I had made a connection with the main kitchen asking for them to send some garlic bread up to our table. Mary Ann is nuts about Commander’s buttery, crescent-shaped French bread bites. And so is everyone else there. We just had to make sure that none of the musicians would touch the garlic bread and then pick up their instruments. One of the few things I know about playing the violin is that a little patch of grease on a string is a disaster.

But a worse problem would come up. Benjamin Thacher’s viola broke a string. The musicians had a spare violin string, and a cello string rarely breaks. But a viola string? Daniel checked with his network and turned up nothing.

Commanders-MusicDInner-ESilberger-a Commanders-MusicDInner-Silberger-b Commanders-MusicDInner-Silberger-c

The only solution was to replace the two remaining pieces in the program. Fortunately, both Daniel and Eric have show-stopping pieces in their heads. The result was nothing short of astonishing, with Eric creating walls of music that didn’t seem possible. “He’s the best violinist in the world,” says Daniel. I don’t think he was exaggerating by much, if at all.

Coq au vin four ways, but not gumbo.

Coq au vin four ways, but not gumbo.

The second food course is a coq au vin whose preparation heads off in at least four directions: sausage, rooster leg and skin, seared breasts, and a sauce the looked and tasted as if it were trying to be gumbo. “Why not just make gumbo?” I thought, but I kept my mouth shut.

I was busy with the wines, anyway. Two Burgundies: Domaine Bachelet-Monnot Chassagne-Montrachet, and 2010 Maison Champy Premier Cru le Vergelesses. Not a lot of those wines comes my way.

Lamb and baby goat, with smoke from 135-year-old cypress.

Lamb and baby goat, with smoke from 135-year-old cypress.

We were almost exhausted by the intensity of the second musical element. And, I imagine, so was Mr. Silberger. I don’t know if he or his colleagues got anything to eat, but they had time to do so. The most substantial and best of the courses brought together lamb and baby goat–two meats I don’t think I’ve ever had together. I was already shaking my head from reading that the lamb loin is smoked with 1880s cypress wood. To my sensitivities, most of the food already seemed contrived. I wasn’t picking up a smoked aroma or flavor as it was, let alone any advantage that the meat would achieve from being smoked over 135-year-old wood.

Quince and apple baklava.

Quince and apple baklava.

The controversy between classical music and modern music came to mind. Should we push ahead to new frontiers for their own sake, even if they make us uncomfortable with their unfamiliarity? Or should we go after ultimate goodness of flavor, aroma, and those other matters?

I was very happy with the wines in this part of the cycle. My favorite wine of the night was a Bourgueil, a red from Loire Valley, which is much better known for its whites than its reds. The aroma was smoky and meaty, almost suggesting that one would need to chew it. The flavor had the same fascinating rusticity. The other two wines are more distinguished, and include a 1995 Pomerol from Chateau Gombaude-Guillot, served from magnums. Both this and the Chateau de la Font de Loup 2015 were much bigger wines, but I kept coming back to that fascinating red Loire.

The final course was a baklava of quinces and yellow apples. (Quinces remind one of apples, was the trick here.) And we go back to Burgundy for another new wine idea: sweet 2012 Thierry et Pascal Matron, Aligote Moilleux.

The creative concept in this dinner was to capture the spirits of the music, the food, and the wine and then attempt to make their sensations multiply. I’m not sure that this idea has matured yet, at least not at this level of cooking, writing and playing music, and wine making. The Italians have it down: big red sauces and pasta and cheese eaten as an accordion plays and wines are poured from barrels full of wine grown in the nearby fields. But it’s hard enough to get one’s head around what our trendsetting chefs tell is is the current state of the culinary arts, let alone adapt wines and music to it.

That said, its clear that the attendees found the evening rewarding, as did I–even though not many of us completely understand or remember the details.

RecipeSquare-150x150

Avocado Ranch Salad Dressing

Every time I look at this recipe, the image of an avocado ranch comes to mind. Rounding them up. . . branding them. . . milking the cows. . . okay, enough. As is the case with any dish using avocados, the challenge here is to make this during the half-hour when the avocados on hand are perfectly ripe. Aside from being a great dressing for a green salad, this is also exceptional tossed with jumbo lump crabmeat.

AvocadosInBasket

  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. tarragon
  • 1/2 tsp. dill
  • 1 tsp. celery seed
  • 1/4 tsp. granulated garlic
  • 2 Tbs. Tabasco jalapeno pepper sauce
  • 1 dash Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 medium-size ripe California Hass avocados

1. Mix all the ingredients except the avocados in a bowl with a wire whisk. Let this sit for about an hour before moving on.

2. Slice the avocados in half, remove the pits, then scrape out the contents with a spoon. Avoid any stringy parts at the stem end. Add the avocado to the other ingredients and mash it in with the whisk. Add 1/4 cup cold water, and whisk until smooth. Add a little more water to thin the texture as desired.

3. Right before serving, toss greens (red and green leaf, romaine, Boston, or Bibb lettuces recommended; watercress makes a nice accent) with the dressing. Garnish individual salads with thin slices of avocado and tomato.

Makes enough dressing for about eight side salads.

500BestSquareCrabmeat Remick @ Clancy’s

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Crabmeat Remick is baked in the same way crabmeat au gratin is, but with a much zestier sauce. Clancy’s owner Brad Hollingsworth used to serve a lot of it when he was a waiter at the Caribbean Room, and he knows how great a dish it is–even though the ingredients are very simple: mayonnaise, mustard, chili-sauce and bacon. It’s not even a local dish, but one created in New York and named for the then-president of the New York Stock Exchange.

Clancys Crab Remick

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 June 14, 2015

Days Until. . .

Father’s Day 5

Eat Club Dinner @ Lakehouse, June 16 2

Today’s Flavor

StrawberryShortcakeToday is National Strawberry Shortcake Day. You can now buy strawberries all year round, and we’re seeing strawberry shortcake a lot more, too. We love it at our house, because it tastes good and its preparation involves three things we’re always either buying or making: strawberries, whipped cream, and shortcakes. A true shortcake is not that Twinkie-like cake that came to be used for this dessert decades ago, but more like a biscuit. We bake them exactly as we do the biscuits we make for breakfast, except that we use half-and-half instead of buttermilk and about three tablespoons of sugar per cup of flour.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Fryer, Kentucky (and what a perfect state to have a town of with name!) is a rural crossroads in the western part of the state, fifty-eight miles from Paducah. Its in a valley full of farm fields between two green-hill ridges that rise about 300 feet above it. A very pretty place, full of running streams and ponds. The nearest restaurant of note is the Family Place, ten miles away in Dawson Springs. I hope they have good fried chicken.

Roots Of Bourbon

Whiskey-CornToday in 1789 was the first recorded making of whiskey from fermented corn mash, in Bourbon Country, Kentucky. That was the birth of what we now call just bourbon, the most famous distilled spirit in America. It is held in high regard overseas and in Latin America, with a reputation somewhat like the one we accord to Cognac in America. In recent years, the Bourbon distillers reversed a long slide in their fortunes by creating new small-batch bourbons of much higher quality. My favorites are Van Winkle, Baker’s and Knob Hill.

Edible Dictionary

seabob, n.–A species of saltwater shrimp (Xiphopenaeus kroyeri) very common along the Atlantic, Caribbean, and Gulf coasts, from the Carolinas down to southern Brazil. They are caught commercially in great numbers in Louisiana, although not as great as white shrimp and brown shrimp, the leading species. Seabobs are a good bit smaller than those species, and are not often seen in markets. There is a Louisiana season for seabobs, though, and when they turn up they’re good for stews, etouffee, bisques, and remoulade.

Deft Dining Rule #240:

The more peculiar-looking the mushrooms in a Chinese dish, the better the dish will taste.

Annals Of French Cuisine

ChickenMarengoNapoleon won what he considered his greatest victory on this date in 1800 at Marengo in northern Italy, near Turin. He was fighting the Austrians. The battle is commemorated in a dish called chicken Marengo. It was what Napoleon’s cooks served him after the battle, the ingredients foraged from the area. The original recipe’s sauce was made with crawfish. Most recipes now leave that out, unless they’re made in Louisiana.

Physiology Of Eating

Dr. Henry Heimlich proposed what became known as the Heimlich maneuver today in 1974. While it doesn’t always work, and sometimes results in a fractured rib or two for the victim, it has saved thousands of choking victims who might otherwise have died or been permanently injured. Many of these were in restaurants, with the person doing the maneuver being just another customer. If you don’t know how to do it, you should learn. Here’s how, from Dr. Heimlich himself.

Food Namesakes

John Bartlett, who compiled the book of quotations that became so famous that his name is forever associated with such a book, was born today in 1820. He had no connection with the pears. . . Bill Baker, a Congressman from California, was born today in 1941 65 today. . . John Scott Trotter, who was the band leader on George Gobel’s early television show, was born today in 1908. (A trotter is a pig’s foot, in case you never heard the term.) . . . Gil Lamb, a movie actor in the 1940s, was born today in 1906.

Words To Eat By

“Talking of Pleasure, this moment I was writing with one hand, and with the other holding to my Mouth a Nectarine — how good how fine. It went down all pulpy, slushy, oozy, all its delicious embonpoint melted down my throat like a large, beatified Strawberry.”–John Keats.

Words To Drink By

“I know folks all have a tizzy about it, but I like a little bourbon of an evening. It helps me sleep. I don’t much care what they say about it.”–Lillian Carter, mother of President Jimmy Carter.

FoodFunniesSquare

Not Quite As Appealing As Bread Pudding.

Chefs are very quick to let you know about the foods that get better on the second day.

Click here for the cartoon.

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DiningDiarySquare-150x150 Wednesday, June 8, 2016.
Disturbance.

I awaken at two in the morning with a digestive issue that will keep me awake the rest of the night. In the morning, I take something that resolves the problem within minutes. But I can’t really eat the rest of the day, which is just as well, because I need to catch up on sleep. I don’t think any of this is related to what I ate last night (I felt it coming on before that), or any other recent eating. Stuff happens.

This is, however, an occupational hazard of my work. I used to get what’s usually called (inaccurately) “twenty-four-hour flu” a couple times a year. It’s been a long time since the last attack, though. Maybe I’m immune.

I reflect on how handy it is that I can give forth my radio show from home. Otherwise, I would have had to arrange a guest host for today, or run the NBC Sports Network during Food Show time. The latter is something I really hate to do.

T

hursday, June 9, 2016.
Cool! Swinging Around Slidell.

The weather has turned decidedly sweltering for the first time this year. After two years, I have to give up my method of keeping the house cool despite a malfunction of the downstairs unit. I have the A/C guy come with a stop-gap repair, but he says that the unit is ready to be replaced, after a miraculous twenty-six years of service. He suggests postponing the big job (as in $6K) until the fall, when the price will be lower.

Mary Ann is busy with something and can’t do dinner. I take the opportunity to head home around the east side of Lake Pontchartrain. It’s so long since I went that way that forgot how scenic the I-10 is as it cuts through the marshlands of the eastern half of the city. The sunny weather shows all this in clarity and color.

I take another eyeshot of the vista by crossing the lake on the old Maestri Bridge, built in the 1920s. It is in surprisingly good condition to carry the first miles of US 11–a highway that goes all the way from here to Canada. The only part of the bridge that gives one pause are several humps on the north end that are the doing of a fault line that the bridge crosses.

My real reason to go through Slidell is to stop in for dinner at Nathan’s. The restaurant in the Slidell marina is running live commercials on my radio show, and I am due to check it out to make sure a) that I am up to date on any new dishes and 2) the place is still good enough for me to stand behind.

Snapper throats at Nathan's.

Snapper throats at Nathan’s.

Chef-owner Ross Eirich isn’t here today. But his manager lagniappes a couple of amuse-bouches. One is a cup of crabmeat and asparagus soup, the other a pair of soft-shell crab claws with a couple of new sauces.

With the help of those things, I find myself with a massive dinner. An appetizer of scallops with bacon and a sort of remoulade sauce includes not the one or two scallops I expected, but a half-dozen. This would easily have served as an entree, and at $14 is a bargain. (On the other hand, I have had scallops of better quality than these. I would prefer one or two good ones to six not-so’s.)

The entree, of which I am too full to eat more than about a third, is “Mike’s snapper,” a good-size fillet with a buttery sauce and a generous amount of fresh garnishes.

How I get down a dessert of creme brulee after all that can only be explained by my total fast yesterday. On the other hand, I recently read something interesting about the role of sweets in a large dinner. Although our Enough! reflex makes further eating uncomfortable after a certain point, that reflex does not seem to choke off a desire for anything sweet. That’s why desserts are so pernicious. Even though the other strictures on my eating allows my weight to continue slowly downward, desserts still have myself-discipline surrounded.

Nathan’s. Slidell: 36440 Old Bayou Liberty Rd. 985-643-0443.
Friday, June 10, 2016.
A Steak And A Band At Andrea’s.

For the past week or so I’ve had a hunger for a good steak. The kind that’s crusty on the outside, juicy in the middle, and tender without being soft. Whenever this need comes to me, fortunately, I can put it off almost indefinitely. Because I know that I will get it as time goes on.

Today, during one of his biweekly commercials on the radio show, Chef Andrea Apuzzo mentioned that he has a pretty good steak on his menu. “I like to present the whole tenderloin at the table after I trim it,” he said. “I let the customer tell me how thick he wants it.” This is sounding better by the moment. Then he mentions that Butch Claire will be playing in the Capri Blu Bar tonight.

“What kind of music does he play?” I ask, wondering if this is a lead in solving Mary Leigh’s search for a band for her wedding reception.

“Seventies,” Andrea says. “Seventies, eighties, some Sinatra and Beatles. He knows everything.”

This sounds like it has some possibilities. I decide to stay for dinner, satisfy my beef-eating urge, then listen to Butch when he comes on at eight.

From top left: tournedos end of beef tenderloin; a nine-ounce tournedos steak; the tenderloin tip.

From top left: tournedos end of beef tenderloin; a nine-ounce tournedos steak; the tenderloin tip.

Seared tournedos with demi-glace and peppercorns.

Seared tournedos with demi-glace and peppercorns.

The dinner is more impressive than almost all others I’ve I’ve had at Andrea’s in a long time. He allows me to select the entire tournedos, the narrow end of the tenderloin. It’s about ten ounces, but because of the cut, it’s very thick. Just what I love. And I do, with a peppercorn demi-glace with a little cream. If I had to come forth with a complaint, it would be that the salt component is a little high.

Creole tomatoes with olive oil and fresh herbs.

Creole tomatoes with olive oil and fresh herbs.

I begin with excellent Creole tomato salad, then a small bowl (still too much) angel hair arrabbiata (“angry” pasta, a reference to the red pepper in the tomato sauce). On the vegetable plate that comes with the tournedos is gratin dauphinoise, but just the top part, with the light topping of cheese.

We move from the dining room to the Capri Blu Bar, where Butch has already begun his set. He has some groupies (his wife, for one–lucky him). His tastes indeed address the full range of American popular music. All we need now is for the bride to approve. She is very picky.

Then Andrea’s right-hand lady Tia tells me that Jimmy Maxwell–who has a terrific big band, and who has let me sing with him a couple of times–also has a smaller ensemble. And his son Mark Monistere has his own act. Tia says Mark is fantastic. I look at his website and notice immediately a likeness to Michael Buble in both look and musical style. Mary Leigh thinks Buble is the ultimate, to the point of having found out that he never does weddings at any price.

But maybe Mark does. We saw him at the French Quarter Festival a few weeks ago and he was very good. And we’ve got to hire a band sometime soon.

I say all these things as if I have some authority in the selection. I do not.

Andrea’s. Metairie: 3100 19th St. 504-834-8583.

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Andouille-Cucumber Salad

This salad came from Chef Gary Darling, when he was one of the corporate chefs for Copeland’s–although I don’t remember that it was ever on the menu there. It’s a good change of pace from salads made mostly of green leaves. It’s refreshing and light, but the andouille makes you feel as if you’d actually eaten something. It also comes out good with firm, well-seasoned, grilled fish or chicken in place of the andouille.

  • 1 Tbs. sugar
  • 1/2 cup rice vinegar
  • 1 Tbs. Creole mustard
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 Tbs. cilantro, finely chopped
  • 2 Tbs. green onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp. fresh, seeded jalapeno, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup sesame oil
  • 4 peeled, seeded cucumbers
  • 1/2 lb. grilled andouille, diced

CucumberSlices

1. In a mixing bowl, dissolve sugar in vinegar.

2. Add mustard, garlic, cilantro, green onion, and jalapeno to the sugar mixture. Mix well.

3. Add sesame oil. Mix well.

SausageSlices4. Slice cucumber into thin disks, then quarter the disks. Marinate for 30 minutes in the sauce.

5. Drain the cucumber from the marinade and reserve the marinade for the next batch. Toss the andouille with the cucumber.

Serves four.

500BestSquarePastrami Sandwich @ Napoleon House

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Although the Napoleon House is best known for its great muffuletta, it also makes other sandwiches. They buy very good pastrami and serve it very well in the traditional way (on rye) or the local way (on French bread). Either way, it’s sharpened with Creole mustard. So, this isn’t New York deli style, but if you have that taste in your mouth, this will satisfy it reasonably well.This is among the 500 best dishes in New Orleans area restaurants. Click here for a list of the other 499.

Napoleon House. French Quarter: 500 Chartres. 504-524-9752.

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

AlmanacSquare June 13, 2015

Days Until. . .

Father’s Day 6

Eat Club Dinner @ Lakehouse, June 16 3

Today’s Flavor

It’s National Lobster Day. Summer is a peak time for lobster, one of the great American delicacies. Its flavor is subtle, and sauces shouldn’t be overpowering. Creamy and buttery sauces seem best. Even the way it’s cooked has to be simple. Every now and then some bright boy will boil a lobster in crab boil, thereby ruining a lobster. In fact, the flavor of lobster may be too subtle. For me, the best lobster dish of all is not a boiled whole lobster, but lobster bisque, which concentrates the flavors.

Step one: boil a fresh lobster.

Step one: boil a fresh lobster.

Lobster inspires a special occasion the way Champagne does. Put it on the table and the meal becomes extraordinary. The only challenge is to get the shell off. It’s not hard to learn, so don’t do yourself the disservice of ordering a lobster with the shell removed. Unless you like cold lobster. Lobsters are a local product, its home being the North Atlantic. Since lobsters taste less good the longer they’re out of the sea, the most important consideration is to go to a store or restaurant that sells so many lobsters that they’re not around long. Tough lobsters spent too much time in the tank.

Several crustaceans bear the lobster name, but true lobsters are of the genus homarus. The Maine lobster is the outstanding species. Rock lobsters from Australia and South Africa also have panache, but they’re less good and usually more expensive. The spiny lobsters of the Caribbean have nowhere near the same complexity of flavor, and aren’t true lobsters.

Edible Dictionary

field peas, field peas, n.–One of several members of the cowpea family, Vigna unguiculata, which include blackeye peas and crowder peas. The entire family delivers more protein per ounce than any other bean. Field peas are about three-eights of an inch long, and are a pale tan color. They’re a little bigger than lentils. They cook quickly and make an excellent main course. They are particularly good as a side dish with seafood.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Lemon, Ohio is a reverse ghost town: overrun by the population of a bigger city (Cincinnati, 27 miles south), it has ceased to exist. It was a small agricultural community and a stop on the now-extinct railroad line to Dayton. It’s a Cincinnati suburb now, with a subdivision and a shopping mall nearby. And, a few blocks up the highway, a town with the interesting name Blue Ball. The whole area is now called–appropriately enough–Middletown. That’s where the nearest restaurant, the Home Town Buffet, is to be found, a half mile from the former site of Lemon.

Food Through History

On this date in 1789, Mrs. Alexander Hamilton served ice cream at a dinner attended by George Washington. It was the first President’s first taste of the treat. Oddly enough, the flavor may have been cherry vanilla.

Annals Of Talking

On this date in 1935, Huey Long ended a fifteen-hour speech in a filibuster on the Senate floor. His speech is the longest in the history of the Senate; it ran to 150,000 words. Coincidentally, the longest speech in a restaurant may have occurred on this date in 1976, when Nigel Hackle, a waiter at the long-gone Winston’s restaurant, spent an hour and fifty-three minutes giving the verbal menu presentation. Winston’s had no printed menu, and so Nigel had to read it again and again to a couple that couldn’t understand English well.

Annals Of Overeating

General Winfield Scott, one of the greatest military minds of the early United States, was born today in 1786. By the time of the Civil War, he’d become so fatthat he had to be lifted onto a horse with a crane. It was his idea to blockade New Orleans and take control of the Mississippi River early in the war.

Deft Dining Rule #252

WineGlass-SillyIf you think you will order more than two glasses of wine with dinner for your table, order a whole bottle. It’s cheaper than by the glass, and the wine will be fresher. Exception: When the restaurant has a wine-pairing package with dinner.

Culinary Corruption

Today in 2005, Leonard Pickell–formerly the president of the James Beard Foundation–was convicted of having siphoned off over a million dollars of the Foundation’s money. The James Beard organization is a non-profit fund that raises money for culinary education, among other things. James Beard, you probably know, was a major writer on American food in the mid-to-late 1900s.

Physiology Of Eating

.Today in 2004, a USDA study was released that showed that a quarter-teaspoon of cinnamon–about the amount in a good slab of bread pudding–reduces blood glucose, cholesterol, and fat levels by about thirty percent. I’d guess that’s about the same amount that would be restored by a good slab of bread pudding.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

To keep healthy and maintain a normal weight, only eat foods whose calorie content is equaled by the number of calories it takes to cook and eat them. Boiled crabs, for example. Or lobster, without the butter. Or oysters you have to shuck yourself.

The Saints

This is the feast day of St. Anthony of Padua, who is usually depicted with docile animals. Aside from that identification, he is also thought of as the saint whose intercession is prayed for when one is starving. He died on this date in 1231, and was canonized a year later.

Food Namesakes

Actor Basil Rathbone–whose name sounds like a rare double food name, but isn’t–was born today in 1892. He played Sherlock Holmes in the movies. . . Don “Sugarcane” Harris, a superb violinist who played jazz and blues, was born today in 1939. . . Bruno Frank, an author, poet, and screenwriter, was born today in 1878. . . Today in 1912, Albert Berry became the first man ever to jump out of an airplane with a parachute. (He had the parachute, not the plane.). . . Hamish Pepper, a yachtsman for New Zealand in the 1996 Olympics, was born today in 1971. . . Australian classical composer Nigel Butterley was born today in 1935.

Words To Eat By

“My fare is really sumptuous this evening; buffalo’s humps, tongues and marrowbones, fine trout parched meal pepper and salt, and a good appetite; the last is not considered the least of the luxuries.”–Journals of Lewis and Clark, Thursday, June 13, 1805.

“‘His mother worked in a factory, and his father was a cop. He probably wouldn’t know a dinner fork from a pitchfork,’ Lauren said. Jesse grunted. ‘Might make for an interesting dinner companion.'”–Lynda J. Coble, American novelist, born today in 1953.

Words To Drink By

“Vinum bonum laetificat cor hominis.” (Wine makes the heart of man glad.)–Psalms 104:15.

FoodFunniesSquare

The Presentation Of Inedibles.

This also explains the shortage of fake greens in some sushi presentations.

Click here for the cartoon.