Wednesday, February 3, 2016.
Jelly. Brown Butter.
Whenever Mary Ann returns from one of her cross-country jaunts, she always comes home with a jar or two of jelly, jam, or preserves for me. Although she (and our daughter Mary Leigh) make fun of my habits–like my eating a slice of toast and jelly with my coffee every morning–they accommodate me. In a market MA found during her visit to Los Angeles last week, she found a plum and lavender jelly. It was not especially well made–the jar contained a lot of unset liquid. But the flavor is remarkable. I will enjoy it while I can, because I know that I will never find this stuff or anything like it ever again.
Busy radio show, with callers getting fired up by this question: “What dish have you tried that made you say, ‘I will never eat this again as long as I live.'” Most of the responses had to do with variety meats. I actually like organ meats, so I reached in a different direction for my example: turkey poulette, a vile dish made with a thick white sauce, turkey, bacon, and cheese. The Roosevelt Hotel was famous for it, and so was the Andrew Jackson. The Peppermill still serves it, but its been a long time since my last time.
To dinner at a new restaurant. Brown Butter is in a neighborhood that hosts a post-Katrina restaurant boom. The vicinity of the intersection of Canal and Carrollton has more than exceeded its eatery population before the storm. This place, however, has a small problem: it’s not easily seen. It’s just off Carrollton on Bienville, and has an ample parking lot–something most of its competitors lack.
The name suggests the meuniere dishes at Galatoire’s and Antoine’s. No such dish appears on Brown Butter’s menu that I could find. It seems to be more about red meats than seafood, although no less appealing for that.
I begin with a salad of frisee lettuce, whose slightly-bitter flavor I like–especially when paired with a tangy vinaigrette. The pile of greens camouflage a dozen or so fried oysters. Good dish in terms of taste, but challenging to eat. A fork can’t get a purchase on the thin leaves or stems. It would have been better if it had been cut up a but, or even mixed with other, fleshier greens.
In this weather, I’m always looking for a good soup. The search at Brown Butter ended when I was told that they have a soup do jour at lunch, but not dinner. I wonder why that is. A soup would have been perfect in the gap between salad and entree. Instead, I check on the fries that come with the steamed mussels. Yes, they are fresh-cut. Out comes an enormous order, clearly the fresh goods. Would have been perfect with the mussels, which I will try next time.
Instead, my interest is grabbed by the seafood special, which involves a slab of cobia, some big shrimp, and a few stray mussels out of their shells, presented in a seafood broth. Here, I think, may be the soup I want. But the dish’s not being served with a spoon suggests otherwise. On the side is a plate of hard-baked bread, with a ramekin of rouille. The latter ingredient is a spicy sauce classically found spread on pieces of bread to soak up the broth in a bouillabaisse, and to enrich and pepper it. In this task the rouille fails. It’s not even a little spicy, despite its alarming day-glo red color. I mix some of it up with the mayonnaise that came with the fries, and at least I get a good dip for the frites.
While I poke around through all the components of the dish, the broth–which wasn’t especially hot on arrival–cools quickly. I like the tastes okay, but almost everything here is just a flaw away from coming together.
So here it is again. The kitchen is hip to the current ingredients and buys good groceries. The staff knows the techniques of fine cookery. And the place has a personality. What’s missing–as it is in many young restaurants in our time–is the knowledge of what tastes great. You can have a delicious meal without pedigreed foodstuffs, clever service, or stylishness. But you can’t have it without great flavors. Hard-to-eat lettuces, blah sauces, and tepid broths don’t cut it.
But this is still a new restaurant–almost a year open. Still time to focus its palate. You know, that fish with the brown butter would be a good idea.
Brown Butter. Mid-City: 231 N Carrollton Ave. 504-609-3871.
Thursday, February 4, 2016.
Italian Beef Daube!
Mardi Gras parades are closing in on the Uptown and Downtown parts of the city. When I lived in what is now the Warehouse District, I learned that one can be completely encircled by parades, with escape routes complicated if available at all. Back in the 1970s, to get to my house in the 700 block of Camp, I had to drive across the river and back on parade nights.
Mary Ann has that experience today, as we attempt to meet up for dinner. Her idea was Shaya. Mine was La Crepe Nanou. But neither one was reachable without great difficulty. And she had to cross the river twice.
I suggest we go to TwoTonys in West End. No parades there. Just some nice surprises. This restaurant, which for most of its history has been an elementary New Orleans Italian trattoria, has clearly been working on its menu. Two specials are alluring tonight. One is cannelloni stuffed with shrimp and tasso, with both a cream sauce and a light roux-based filling. That combination was a big deal in the 1980s. First time I’ve run into it in a while. Good stuff.
But even better is a special that has attracted so many customers that the restaurant now has a mailing list to let regulars know when beef daube is served.
Two different dishes fly under that name. One is the cold, hoghead cheese-like appetizer from the holiday season. The other is pure Italian: roast beef sliced or in chunks, cooked in Sicilian-style red sauce until it falls apart. Once common in New Orleans Italian restaurants, beef daube is almost never encountered these days. But here it is at Two Tonys! The beef is top round, cooked until it begins to fall apart, and just delicious. For once, MA and I agree completely on this goodness.
It’s cold outside, and all the rest of our food was hearty. I had a cup of minestrone while waiting for MA to return from the West Bank. Then we shared a little flatbread topped with cheese, salami, olive, and tomatoes. It was a lot like a bruschetta, but on a pizza-like bottom.
The people at the next table asked to be photographed with me and their tweener son–who proves to be something of a gourmet, enjoying grilled fish dishes with offbeat sauces and grilled oysters any way he can get them. I think that the demographic after the Millennials may prove to be the savior of fine dining.