Diary For Thursday, 4/18/2019. Day after Eat Club Dinner @ Impastato’s, But Before Roosevelt Hotel Broadcast, We Have Lunch @ Desi Vega’s, Followed By Dire Weather.
Things sure are busy this Holy Week. Holy Thursday began with a skein of rough winds blowing across the city. Mary Ann, Mary Leigh and I watched the palmetto leaves swinging back and forth, threatening the 17th Street Canal. Meanwhile, we joked around with the wait staff, which was busy with a group of priests and some other people gathered for lunch.
Desi Vega’s newest steakhouse opened a few months ago. All the reports have been excellent, which doesn’t surprise me a bit. The steak house is a spinoff of Mr. John’s Steak House uptown, a candidate for Best Steak In Town. This is about our third or fourth meal here, which says something. The Marys are particularly interested in the place. If this were a normal day, we would have gathered at Desi Vega’s for, among other reasons, a conclave about ML’s home construction project, which is not far away from here.
But this is not a normal day. I must get myself over to the Roosevelt Hotel for another in our radio series of visits to the 125-year-old hotel, which has a connection with WWL from way back in the Golden Age of Radio. No connections manifest themselves today, but we do talk a good bit about Easter Sunday, a very busy day for the Roosevelt and its restaurants.
We set the show up in Teddy’s Café, the Roosevelt’s all-day, everyday restaurant. Teddy is named for the teddy-bear events that occur during the Christmas season, where children have events. No teddies right now, but I am pleased to see that the room has repaired its coffee facilities since my last visit. Teddy’s makes very good cappuccino and latte for the coffee crowd.
The radio show is hampered by the heavy rains and winds out there this afternoon. I’m glad that Mary Ann volunteered to chauffeur me from home to the Roosevelt. Getting around from the radio station to the hotel would have been a major problem without her help.
Getting back to our lunch at Desi Vega’s: the food was everything we were there for. I began with oysters Rockefeller, which Desi Vega’s makes the venerable dish by frying the oysters and topping the pile of oysters with mornay sauce. Neither of those touches is kosher (in the loose sense). But it highlighted something mentioned by one of Desi Vega’s waiters when I asked him about the variants. “You can order anything at any time from any of the menus. We’ll serve a dish from the lunch menu or make it with whatever side you might want.” I wish more restaurants had that policy.
Desi Vega’s Steakhouse. Old Metairie: 111 Veterans Blvd. 504-293-2490.
One of the most popular dishes at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in recent years is crawfish bread. If you called it the Louisiana answer to pizza, you wouldn’t be far wrong. Basically, the idea is to make a good,thick crawfish-base sauce with lots of crawfish tails, hold it together with a light roux and cheese, and bake it onto a half-loaf of French bread. I think this comes out best if you use half-baked loaves of bread–the brown-and-serve kind are perfect, but even a lightly-baked loaf helps.
- 1 stick butter
- 1/3 cup flour
- 1/2 cup chopped onion
- 1/2 cup chopped bell pepper
- 1/4 cup chopped celery
- 1/4 cup dry white wine
- 1 cup crawfish or shrimp stock or water
- Pinch dried thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 Tbs. chopped garlic
- 1 1/2 cups crawfish tails, with fat if possible
- 1/2 cup tomatoes, diced
- 3 sprigs chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 1/3 cup sliced green onions
- 1/2 tsp. salt-free Creole seasoning
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 8 oz. shredded Cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese
- 2 Tbs. grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 loaf poor boy bread, or three loaves brown-and-serve French bread
1. In a large heavy skillet, melt the butter and heat it to a bubble. Add flour gradually and stir constantly over medium-high heat to make a roux. Cook until light brown–about five minutes.
2. Lower heat and add green onions, bell pepper, and celery. Saute until limp, but not browned–about three minutes. Keep stirring to avoid burning the roux.
3. Add wine and bring it to a boil. After a minute, add stock, thyme, bay leaf, and garlic, then return to a boil. Simmer about five minutes more, or until thickened.
4. Add crawfish tails, tomatoes, parsley, green onions, Creole seasoning, and salt. Simmer for about eight to ten minutes, until sauce can be picked up with a fork. Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper.
5. Sprinkle a thin but complete layer of cheese over bread. Put the bread into a hot broiler or toaster oven until the cheese melts. Take the bread out and spoon the crawfish sauce down the center of the bread, and top with a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese. Return to the oven until the sauce begins to bubble. Slice into appropriate serving portions and serve hot.
Serves six to eight appetizers.
April 22, 2017
Jazz Festival Begins April 26
Mother’s Day May 12
Greek Festival May 23-26
Today is Crawfish Bisque Day. In the opinion of many, no crawfish dish is better. It’s substantial enough that it can be served as an entree, although in restaurants it’s more often served by the cup as a preliminary course. The classic Cajun style veers far from the standard definition of bisque in French cooking. Instead of being thickened with cream or pureed rice, it’s made with a dark roux, pulverized crawfish tail meat, and crawfish stock. It’s thick, spicy, and aromatic. Stuffed crawfish heads are considered by many eaters as sine qua non. (We stick by our dictum that stuffing and unstuffing the heads is a pointless waste of time, and recommend using crawfish boulettes, made with the same stuffing, instead.)
Most Louisiana chefs who make crawfish bisque agree on two things. First, it’s only worth making in the peak of crawfish season. Second, making it properly takes a long time. (The recipe for it is the longest one in my cookbook.) The hard part is extracting all possible meat and fat from the crawfish shells, which often are the detritus of a crawfish boil. Making a good crawfish bisque without the shells is not even worth trying.
But after all that work, what emerges is as distinctive a Louisiana flavor as any other. Making the pleasure even more intense is the knowledge that this is not something that can be had all the time, but is a seasonal gift of nature. When it’s time for crawfish bisque again, you can’t wait to get at it.
Annals Of Food Resources
The first Earth Day was celebrated today in 1970. Created by Sen. Gaylord Nelson, it brought attention to recently-discovered degradations of the environment, less well known then than they are now. As the Northern Hemisphere notes Earth Day today (the Southern Hemisphere’s Earth Day is in their springtime), we find our scientists discovering major challenges to the globe’s ability to continue feeding its growing human population. We’re on thinner ice than most Americans realize. If some disease were to race through our corn crops, for example (and this is not farfetched), our diets would change dramatically, and not for the better. Usingless seems to be the best idea, but who will go for it? Our fingers are crossed.
Crawfish Creek is a small tributary on the Illinois side of the Wabash River, in the southernmost wedge of the state. It’s forty-four miles north of Evansville, Indiana. Crawfish Creek really does have crawfish in it. Indeed, twenty-four species of crawfish are found in Illinois. These are pretty small , and if they’re caught by people at all they’re used for bait. (Birds love them, however.) Crawfish Creek travels eighteen miles, and in its lower reaches is good for fly fishing. The place to dine is the Nostalgia Restaurant, three miles south in Mt. Carmel.
ecrevisse, [eh-creh-VEES], French, n.–The French word for crawfish, a resource that has become so rare in France that they import them from Spain (or China). Most of those go into the making of sauce Nantua, a classic.
sauce Nantua, [soess-nahn-TWA], French, n.–A thick, smooth sauce made from crawfish, a mirepoix of vegetables, brandy and cream. Its classic use is with a crawfish ragout, or with quenelles of fish. A lot of sauce Nantua is served in southern Louisiana without its being called that, crawfish being more common on the bayous than in France.
Deft Dining Rule #858
Never order crawfish in any restaurant that spells them “crayfish.”
Food In The Skies
The supernova that became the Crab Nebula dissipated in brightness to below what the naked eye could see on this date in 1056. It had been bright enough to see by day. It’s still visible as a sort a stellar soft-shell in a telescope.
Annals Of Wine Writing
This is the birthday (1950) of Jancis Robinson, an influential British wine writer. She has written numerous books on the subject and hundreds of articles, plus a television show. She is one of the most vocal proponents of the merits of Riesling among white wines, saying that it’s better than is widely appreciated.
NFL football player Bobby Olive kicked off his life today in 1969. . . Lady golfer Nicky Le Roux teed off in the Big Tournament today in 1959. . . Planet Rock producer Arthur Baker got the beat today in 1955. . . Actress Carol Drinkwater took her first sip today in 1948.
Words To Eat By
“Any cook should be able to run the country.”–Vladimir Lenin, born today in 1870.
“The fact is I simply adore fish,
But I don’t know a perch from a pike;
And I can’t tell a cray from a crawfish
They look and they taste so alike.”–William Cole.
Words To Drink By
“A house where neither wine nor welcome is served to friends, soon will have none.”–Rob Hutchison.