Wednesday, May 7, 2014.
Cava Is Bubbling In Lakeview.
If I could follow all my own rules all the time, I would not have dinner at Cava for another few months. But I must be a good husband, and my wife says that she wants to have dinner at Cava, where owner Danny Millan is launching his first restaurant as proprietor. Danny and Mary Ann have continued their bimonthly lunches together (with one of Danny’s female assistants at the table to make it legitimate business). But the reasons for that appointment are currently defunct. Allegedly, it was about Mary Ann’s collecting new copy and a check for the ads Danny ran for Le Foret while he was still running that restaurant.
Laying down her counter-argument to mine, she says that everything is already perfect at Cava, and that I need not worry about new-restaurant jitters. Maybe not. As he did at Le Foret, Danny has pulled together a dining room staff of seasoned professional waiters and cooks, and while I think there will still be some further ironing out of wrinkles, things seem to be under control. Even to the point of knowing who they are in the Lakeview scheme of things.
The menu will compete with that of the Steak Knife a few blocks away, ad Ralph’s on the Park. It will also draw people who were once regulars at La Cuisine–although it’s been nine years since that restaurant died in Katrina, and a large percentage of their customers have passed on.
It is not an elderly community in the dining room at Cava. The bar is busy with thirty-ish people, taking advantage of the bright spaciousness of that corner, made even more attractive by the young, well-dressed women Danny hires to greet, seat, and pour.
MA and I just sit down when Tommy Andrade and his lady friend Jenny show up. Tommy owns Tommy’s and Tomas Bistro, both across the street from Emeril’s and each other. Danny was a young man when Tommy hired him decades ago as a waiter in the Sazerac. Those were the peak years for the Sazerac, and Danny was a protégé eager to learn service according to Tommy. Great friends ever since.
Tommy and company are not there for dinner. They excuse themselves after spending a few minutes with us, then make the rounds of the dining room to say hello to other friends. One would almost think that he is there to drum up business for his own restaurant, but that’s not it. Danny is happy to have Tommy there, because of the symbiosis of having a well-known restaurateur seen in his restaurant.
Later–still before we’ve put in an order–we encounter Kevin Maloney. Musician, artist, oenophile and longtime French Quarterite, Kevin is a guy I used to run into a lot when Jude was a little kid. Something about the rhythms of “Kevin Maloney” had Jude repeating the name over and over, to Kevin’s amusement. I haven’t seen Kevin in years. He is taken aback to learn that Jude is now a movie producer in Los Angeles, and soon to be married.
By the time all this meeting and greeting is done the restaurant–nearly empty when we arrived–is now full. It’s as if a bell pealed to alert all of the Lakeview section that it’s time to eat.
We start with a pair of panneed frog legs for me and a cup of chicken andouille gumbo for Mary Ann–both very good. One of the chefs gives us advice for the rest of dinner. I notice a sirloin strip steak on the menu, and chef says “you’ve got to get it if you’re in the mood.” Which I am. MA balances off her side if the table with a pork chop.
The steak is a textbook case in why strip sirloins should be cut in what I call New Orleans style. Instead of being cut seven or eight inches wide and an inch thick, a New Orleans cut would be about two inches thick, and then cut down the middle to form two steaks about the size and shape of a filet mignons. That allows a much better cooking, along with the superior flavor of the strip sirloin.
The steak I had before me reminds me of that half-fiorentina I had in Florence two weeks ago, but not as juicy nor as tender. The New Orleans cut could have helped this. On top of the steak are three big shrimp, which would thrill many a diner. I’ve never been much for any variation of surf ‘n’ turf, though, so I pass two of the shrimp along to Mary Ann. Who is already happy with the pork chop.
I wasn’t really up for dessert (I’d eaten more hot French bread than I should have), but Danny sent a couple of sweets over anyway. One was a bread pudding made from doughnuts, a fact I didn’t notice as I ate it. It is dense but so well saturated with custard that a bread pudding lover like me couldn’t help but like it. Just to make sure all the bases are covered, danny sends a slice of blueberry-topped cheesecake.
This is a happy place. The only thing I see amiss is that the exterior sign is hard to see, and once you see it hard to read. But I love the name, whose denotation refers to the bubbly wines of Spain.
Cava. Lakeview: 789 Harrison Ave. 504-304-9034.
Thursday, May 8, 2014.
The Pot Stickers Club Reconvenes At Trey Yuen.
Jude and his fiancee Suzanne fly into town. It’s his first visit since his proposal and her acceptance of the ring. That adds another celebration to the three we already have for this weekend: Mary Leigh’s birthday, The Boy’s college graduation, and Mother’s Day.
I radio my show in from home, and we go off to dinner a couple of hours later. Trey Yuen wins the dice throw that might have sent us to the Acme, the Chimes or Zea. I think we ought to go to Trey Yuen more often and the others less, anyway.
Frank Wong is just back from a long visit to China, and sat down and related his stories. What most of us remember is that he was only offered dog meat at one restaurant in China during the trip. He says its usually more frequent than that. And that he never touches the stuff.
One of his goals was to negotiate for some large dragons and lions to place on top of his roof. Trey Yuen was highly visible when it first opened, so stunning was the building. But between the elevated expressway built in front of the restaurant two decades ago and the ever-growing trees, it’s not so obvious now. The dragons will help, he says.
Frank has a pot of his Chinese gumbo simmering, and sends us all bowls of it. I don’t know why he doesn’t add it to his menu. It has an unmistakable gumbo taste profile from the shrimp and crab. But there’s something Chinese about it, too. Frank says he doesn’t use anything not employed by lots of other gumbo makers.
A large platter of pot stickers follows. This is obligatory when Jude is at the table. His very first gourmet food passion came when he was about nine. He loved pot stickers (pork-stuffed dumplings, first steamed then pan-seared) so much that he was up to four orders of them at his mania’s peak. In those days, he outspent the rest of the table combined.
This visit, sweet pecan shrimp turned up. I never liked this dish, but a lot of people are crazy about it. The sauce is made largely from mayonnaise, of all things. We also had a vegetarian eggplant dish, Trey Yuen’s special steak–the best new item on their menu in years–and the inevitable combo fried rice.
Suzanne is a born-and-raised Los Angeleno, and has eaten Chinese food all her life. But the pecan shrimp is new to her. And thre pot-sticker thing gives here another look into her future husband’s culinary backstory.