12/12/2018: A Big Dinner @ Drago’s In Lafayette. My subscriber list for the New Orleans Menu Daily shows that I have forty regular readers in Lafayette, the capital of the Cajun Country and a major culinary town with a cooking style all its own. A year ago, Drago’s expanded its coverage of southern Louisiana with a new Drago’s in Lafayette. In conversation a few weeks ago, my wife Mary Ann talked with Drago’s owner Tommy Cvitanovich about our hosting a dinner at the Lafayette location.
Today, we followed through on the offer, and ten people gathered for it. At one point, we had twenty people signed up, but we lost a few. Still, it was a worthwhile undertaking for all involved. Will people drive in from New Orleans or Baton Rouge (more likely) to have the Drago’s menu in Lafayette? We’re not sure, but I am asked often enough where one could dine well in Lafayette, and Now I have another good one to suggest. And Tommy says that the new place is doing very well in its second year. I was impressed by the premises, spacious and pleasing to the eyeball. It’s better looking, frankly, than the original Drago’s in Metairie. Which is undergoing a major renovation even as we speak.
Tommy is an astute restaurateur, and he surely knows that diners are more swayed by the look of the premises than they ever have been, even in food-centered Louisiana. Whatever else they can say about themselves, the most successful restaurant owners are making their new restaurant very comfortable. A recent example is Fleming’s, whose main attraction has been its dining room, not the food. We also see there some lofty menu prices, which pay largely for the atmosphere.
We arrived in Lafayette at around two in the afternoon. The show went on at three, as usual, calming my concern about whether new software for sending The Food Show to our studios in New Orleans would work properly. It did. First time I tried, at that.
Meanwhile, Mary Ann was intrigued by a famous hamburger restaurant across the street from the Lafayette Drago’s. Grilling burgers since 1947, Judice’s is the most likely answer if you ask anybody in Lafayette about hamburgers. Some thirty years ago, I was asked by Lafayette’s weekly newspaper to sample ten different hamburgers. There was also a public contest, which Judice’s won. I thought it was the least interesting then, but it seemed to me that things have clearly improved. Mary Ann, the Queen of Hamburger Lovers, thought it was a great Fifties-style American burger, missing only fries (they don’t sell them) and pickles for perfection. In lieu of fries, there is a clothesline-like wire across the kitchen loaded with all imaginable chip offerings, clipped to the wire.
We spent a lot of air time with Tommy, who is a good talker, and who has much to talk about. One of the great heroes of the after-Katrina renaissance, he oversaw the production of 80,000 free lunches distributed, no questions asked, to anyone who went to Drago’s in Metairie during the weeks after the storm, when people were starving and in need. Very impressive for a one-unit, family-owned restaurant.
Tommy remains very active in the community and the restaurant business. He never bemoans his competitors, who he considers colleagues. One of those is Charlie Goodson, the owner of the original Charley G’s in Lafayette. He also was involved with the extinct Charley G’s that was on Veterans Boulevard in Metairie in the 1980s and 1990s. (It’s now an arm of Desi Vega’s.) Charlie Goodson spent some time with us on the air during the show. The Lafayette Charley G’s is as reliably good as ever.
Tommy (son of Drago and Klara Cvitanovich, his hands-on mother) makes it clear that he is interested in expanding Drago’s territory. He would like to open Drago’s in Baton Rouge, where it would likely be a huge success. I wish he would open on the North Shore, but Metairie isn’t that far away, and the North Shore is unpredictable.
The Eat Club dinner tonight began with the original char-boiled oysters, still the engine of Drago’s success. Then some shrimp fleur-de lis, an interesting semi-grilled dish with a sweet-hot sauce that’s hard to stop eating. A harder sell, although as good as anything else on the table, were the new alligator tacos. The Mediterranean crabmeat salad ended the roll-call of appetizers.
From which we moved to the lobsters, cut in half to make the eating easier, served with filet mignons served with the sauce that makes barbecue shrimp run, and the shrimp themselves. I don’t think I’ve had those two dishes put together, but it’s a great idea. The sauce, with a little bit of tomato on it and a lot of pepper, was the best flavor of the night.
Bread pudding and cheesecake ended the dinner. I moved from one end ot the table to the other, meeting a few people who told me that they have been reading and listening to me since the early days of my career. I’ll take them wherever I can find them.
Mary Ann, who doesn’t like the way I drive and so is always at the wheel when we travel together, had the unenviable responsibility of driving the two hours home. We got in at around eleven, but could relax after our dispatching a tricky day. I don’t know how I could get along without her. The opposite is not true. I am a lucky man indeed.
Drago’s. Lafayette: 3151 Johnston Street. 337-706-7077.
Judice Inn. Lafayette: 3134 Johnston St. 337-984-5614.
Charley G’s. Lafayette: 3809 Ambassador Caffery Parkway. 337-981-0108.
Muriel’s on Jackson Square rises to every special occasion with alluring seasonal menus. Their Reveillon menu every year is a particularly good example of this. Chef Erik Veney–who is back at Muriel’s after a long stint at the now-extinct Stella!–reaches into the market for what’s good and matches the weather. The four courses (two choices offered in each) at $48 constitute an excellent value even by Reveillon standards. The raw materials used to accomplish all this is of top quality. The fact that St. Louis Cathedral is less than a half block away completes an ideal venue for the Reveillon spirit.
The price for the three-course dinner is $55.
Fried Oyster Chowder
Oyster cream, leeks, corn, potato, and applewood-smoked bacon
Duck and Andouille Gumbo
Warm potato salad
Duck Confit Salad
Delicate mixed greens, pistachios, goat cheese and blackberry vinaigrette
Citrus Poached Gulf Shrimp
Ravigote sauce, choupique caviar and grilled bread
Braised Lamb Shank
Butternut squash and sweet potato hash, crispy onion rings and a natural sauce reduction
Herb Crusted Snapper
Caramelized onion risotto, ginger beurre blanc and charred broccoli
Spice Cake Trifle
Eggnog pastry cream and pear compote
French Quarter: 801 Chartres. 504-568-1885.
We’ll feature one menu every day throughout the Reveillon season, which for most Reveillon restaurants goes on until December 31.The snowflake ratings are for the Reveillon menu, not the restaurant in general. Dishes marked with the snowflake symbol ✽ are my recommendations.
December 14, 2017
Reveillon Dinners. Nightly, now through December.
Christmas December 25.
New Year’s Eve: December 31.
The Halcyon Days– two weeks of relatively pleasant weather after the first blasts of cold–allegedly begin today. The Romans named the weeks before and after the winter solstice for the kingfisher bird (halcyon in Latin). They believed the bird made floating nests of fishbones. The wind god Aeolus was commanded to keep calm during these two weeks, so the kingfisher could lay its eggs. But the kingfisher lays eggs on the beach, and doesn’t make floating nests, and Aeolus quit his job centuries ago. Maybe we should honor that fish-eating bird by eating bouillabaisse today. Because. . .
Today is National Bouillabaisse Day. Bouillabaisse is one of many fish stews found all along the European coast of the Mediterranean. It’s easy to develop a powerful taste for bouillabaisse, because it has a powerful taste. We can’t make it exactly the way they do in Marseilles, the French town famous for bouillabaisse. We don’t have those borderline poisonous trash fish that they use. (Rascasse is the most famous of these; I’ve seen and tasted it, and it has no intrinsic appeal.) But we come pretty close. It’s a great wintertime dish.
Today is National Bouillabaisse Day.
Deft Dining Rule #149
Any bouillabaisse served without rouille, croutons, a soup spoon, and a fork is evidence that the chef doesn’t understand the dish.
The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:
If you poach fish during the Halcyon Days, you will need twice as much lemon juice to balance a wild flavor brought on by the fish’s greater activity in those days, as it tries to avoid the kingfisher. Or did I just dream that?
Annals Of Angry Restaurateurs
Today in 2000, President Bill Clinton was visiting London and had lunch in a pub, running up a tab of about $36. He left without paying, thinking his people would take care of it. But they didn’t, and the pub owner raised hell about it to the eagerly listening tabloid press. One of those papers, The Mirror, paid the check to settle the matter and get one more day out of the story.
drawn butter, n.–Another name for clarified butter. It’s the clear liquid fat left over after butter sits in a saucepan over a low heat. After a time, all the water in the butter boils off, and the milk solids that make butter opaque precipitate. The latter both rises to the top and sinks to the bottom of the pan. The floating milk solids are spooned out. Then the clear butter is poured–“drawn”–away from the solids at the bottom. Clarified/drawn butter has many uses, the most familiar of them being the accompaniment for boiled lobster or other big shellfish. The stuff is shelf-stable. In India, it’s called “ghee,” and is used in a host of dishes. Clarified butter can be made much hotter than unclarified melted butter, and is terrific for cooking.
Pine Nut Creek is usually a dry wash running across the desert flatlands twenty miles south of Carson City, the capital of Nevada. A ridge mountains high enough to have ski resorts separates the creek from Lake Tahoe, nine miles to the west. Pine Nut Creek emerges from Fish Spring Flat, where a number of springs and well feed it a little bit of water. When a rainstorm comes, Pine Nut Creek it can suddenly carry a wall of water. That enabled it to cut a 200-foot-deep canyon along its way. It finally ends up in a series of canals, which control floods in what had become a new area for residential development. It’s enough water to allow some farming. If the fields grow basil, they have everything they need for pesto, with the pinyon pine nuts.
Food In Music
Today in 1968 Marvin Gaye’s version of I Heard It Through The Grapevine, a song that captures the sound of that era like no other, made it to Number One on the pop charts. . . On this date in 1961, Jimmy Dean–the namesake of the supermarket sausage line–was awarded the first gold record ever given for a country song. The song was Big Bad John. Jimmy was fired from his job as spokesman for his own sausage company a few years ago. That’s what happens when you sell out to corporate. This took a toll on his health, and he died this past summer.
Food In Entertainment
The Tilt-A-Whirl trademark was granted for the dizzying amusement park ride today in 1926. I wonder how many lunches were lost that way. . . On a related note, the Tom Cruise movie Vanilla Sky opened on this date in 2001. It was panned, but it brought in a hundred million dollars.
Annals Of Food Writing
Nostradamus was born today in 1503. Although he’s known to all tabloid newspaper readers as the source of absurd prophecies about the future, we’re interested in him because he wrote a cookbook. Its name was Excellent And Most Useful Little Book You Need If You Want To Learn Some Exquisite Recipes. (I am not making this up.) As for his predictions of the future, people are still discovering new references that come to pass.
Roger Fry, a British art critic, was born today in 1866. . . Today is the feast day of St. John Pan y Agua, a lay brother at an abbey in Spain in the 12th Century. He kept a lifelong diet of just the bread and water, and that’s how he got his name. . . Actress Lee Remick, who appeared most famously in Days Of Wine And Roses, was born today in 1935. Whenever she visited New Orleans, she had dinner at Andrea’s, which has several photographs of her on its walls. The classic dish crabmeat Remick is not named for her, but I’ll bet she liked it if she ever ate it.
Words To Eat By
“All the charming and beautiful things, from the Song of Songs, to bouillabaisse, and from the nine Beethoven symphonies to the martini cocktail, have been given to humanity by men who, when the hour came, turned from tap water to something with color in it, and more in it than mere oxygen and hydrogen.”–H.L. Mencken, American journalist.
Words To Drink By
“The egg creams of Avenue A in New York and the root beer float are among the high points of American gastronomic inventiveness.”–Mark Kurlansky.