8/1/2018 Un-Vacation

I never could quite pull together a description of what the New Orleans Menu Daily published in lieu of a newsletter during the five days at the end of July. But we’ve passed those days now, and I took notes. The central event was the baptism of my new grandson Bennet. Bennet is the brother of Jackson, the firstborn son of my son Jude.

Mary Ann suggested that we must attend this addition to my list of successors. We spent a lot of time hanging out with Jackson, who is making rapid progress in his literacy and his athleticism. He’s almost always on the run, with a dozen or two entertainments. Bennet is much calmer, just beginning to smile after three months in the cradle. Most of my time during the visit had me rocking Bennet within my arms. He’s quieter than most of the babies I’ve had in my lap. All of this goes on goes on in Los Angeles, where Jude moved his career as a movie producer a long time ago. He now works for Amazon, for which he has been quite successful.

The christening took up only an hour or so at the church where an entertaining priest gave the baptismal ritual for the third time for our family. From there, most of the entire visit revolved around dining in what Jude affirms is the current array of enjoyable restaurants. It was a mix of California eating, which included Mexican food, new American, and every stripe of Asian cuisine. In between the girls found time to do the kind of shopping that only seldom available in New Orleans. Los Angeles has, of course, has no shortage of anything you might want to buy from a well-stocked shop.

In between, MA zoomed at breakneck speed between shopping, visiting, and dining. If there is a speed limit on the many stretches of freeway, they were lost–usually frightened away–on me. It all gave me the jitters. MA made fun of my aversion to these high-speed adventures.

However, there was one welcome escape: the Langham Hotel, a magnificent but calm refuge from all the buying and selling. MA discovered the Langham some ten years ago. She loves luxurious hotels as a hobby, and this one fits the category. So we begin our days with breakfast on the edge of the pool at the Langham. This is not cheap, but it’s not bad. Indeed, the same can be said about the room rates. When the bill for the five days we spent at the Langham arrived, we were very pleasantly surprised–although I must add that when I saw the first such bill years ago, I was on the edge of screaming. I somehow got used to it. But then I also got used to walking around the house with a baby who needs constant attention in the crook of my arm. Bennet started smiling most of the time, if I held his body the right away, and added a pacifier if necessary.


Orange Ice Box Pie

Lemon ice box pie is wonderful. This is the same idea using oranges, which lack the necessary tartness to make it on their own. That’s easy to solve: just add lemon juice, and cut back on the sugar. I make this when I get a batch of oranges that seem unusually sour.I have a recipe here for making your own pie shell, but I never do. Too much work. I like the pre-made frozen pie dough you can buy these days better than a pre-baked pie shells.

  • Crust:
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 5 Tbs. butter, softened
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 5 eggs, separated
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed, strained orange juice
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice, strained
  • Zest of three oranges and one lemon
  • 1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
  • 2 1/2 Tbs. sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. orange flower water, or 1/4 tsp. orange extract (optional)

To make the crust, preheat oven to 350 degrees.

1. Combine dry ingredients for the crust in a bowl. Beat in the butter. Beat the egg with vanilla and salt, and blend in. Form the dough into a 10-inch pie pan.

2. Line the crust dough with aluminum foil and fill it with dry red beans. Place the crust in the preheated 350-degree oven and blind-bake it with the beans for 10 minutes. (The beans keep the sides from caving in and the bottom from bubbling up.) Remove foil and beans and bake another five minutes. Remove and cool the crust. Reduce oven heat to 325 degrees.

3. With an electric mixer, blend condensed milk, cream, and egg yolks. Add orange and lemon juices and half of the zest. Blend well.

4. Pour this mixture into the pie shell and bake for 20 minutes. Remove and cool.

5. When the pie is warm room temperature, beat the egg whites in a grease-free bowl with the cream of tartar until peaks begin to form. Add sugar a little at a time, until completely blended, then add orange flower water or orange extract. Beat until stuff but not dry. Carefully fold in the remaining zest with a rubber spatula to distribute evenly. Spread the meringue on top of pie.

5. Return the pie to the oven at 350 degrees for five minutes, or until top is lightly brown. Chill several hours before serving.

Serves eight.

AlmanacSquare July 31, 2018, 2017

Upcoming Deliciousness

Coolinary to begin August 1. Over 100 restaurants participating.

Today’s Flavor

This is International Antipasto Day. The word translates from the Italian as “before the repast,” and that’s just where you find it. Restaurants in Italy place it so far ahead of the main part of dinner that the antipasto is typically on a table just inside the front door. Here in New Orleans, most of us know antipasto as a plate of prosciutto, salami, cheeses, and olives, served ice-cold.

While all of those items are commonly found on an antipasto spread, the good ones go far beyond to include a wealth of marinated and fresh vegetables: eggplant several ways, mushrooms, asparagus, escarole, carrots, green beans, and whatever else is fresh. Seafood is also common, particularly cephalopods like squid and octopus. The common thread running through most of this is olive oil, along with garlic and herbs. All of this is served at cool room temperature, releasing maximum flavor and aroma.

When chefs with more recent ties to Italy began opening restaurants here, antipasto began diversifying. The two restaurants that offer the best versions are Andrea’s and Cafe Giovanni. Other Italian restaurants are expanding their selections. And you can buy a fine assortment of antipasto at stores with good gourmet-to-go sections. It’s a great first course, especially in these hot months.

The Web says that today is National Hot Fudge Sundae Day. The most famous hot fudge sundae routinely served around New Orleans is what the waiters call a Walgreen (but not officially) at Antoine’s. It’s a ring of meringue baked stiff, topped with vanilla ice cream, chopped nuts, and chocolate sauce.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Rabbit Town is in northeast Alabama, sixty-eight miles northeast of Birmingham, and just outside Albertville. To some extent, it’s beginning to be a suburb of Birmingham, with a mix of themed developments and some big homes on large spreads of land. And dairy farms, too. Many restaurant chain locations are a mile or two away on US 431. The most intriguing in that cluster is Papa Dubie’s. I wonder if they serve rabbit?

Edible Dictionary

salmis, [sahl-MEE], French, n–A highly savory stew made by adding slices of roasted meat or poultry to a warm sauce, usually one made from stock, along with drippings from the roasting of the meat. Game birds are often involved. Although this has the ring of leftovers, in fact salmis are rich in flavor and sometimes include foie gras, Cognac, or truffles in their preparation.

Deft Dining Rule #229

An Italian restaurant must have at least ten varieties of antipasto if it is to be taken seriously as cooking faithfully to the cuisine.

Culinary Influences Through History

Today in 1805, former Vice-President Aaron Burr–killer of Alexander Hamilton and paragon of amorality–visited New Orleans with the idea of forming a new country out of the Louisiana Purchase territory. He would have made New Orleans its capital. I wonder what that would have been like. Founded by a complete rogue like Burr, such a thing held the promise of astounding intrigue. What a novel that would make! Hmm.

Food Inventions

The Japanese food company Ajinomoto, which makes about a third of the world’s monosodium glutamate (MSG), was organized today in 1908. One of its founders, Kikunae Ikeda, discovered that soup stocks made with the sea kelp konbu taste good because they contain MSG. He isolated the compound and patented it, thereby creating the basis for the company. MSG has a terrible reputation among consumers, even though no scientific tests have revealed that it causes any ill effects. Cooks have know of its flavor-enhancing properties for a long time. It is more widely used in Creole cooking than most people know.

The Saints

Today is the feast day of St. Christopher, the patron saint of travelers. His name translates as “Christ-bearer,” and he’s depicted as carrying the baby Jesus across the water. He likely was mythological. A restaurant in Slidell was once named for him: St. Christopher’s Curve Inn, on US 11 at the point where it swerved away from the railroad tracks, was where everybody stopped for a (bad) bite to eat through the 1970s. Famous local restaurateurs named for the saint include Chris Kerageorgiou, the founder of La Provence; and Chris Matulich, who opened Chris Steak House (and later sold it to Ruth). Both have left us. Chris Vodanovich, who ran Bozo’s for over fifty years, is still with us, but retired. Chris Ycaza manages Broussard’s. Christopher Case is the owner-chef of Christopher’s on Carey in Slidell. I’m sure there are more.

People I’d Like To Dine With Again

Today in 1909 was the birthday of Joseph Fitzmorris, my father. He never went to restaurants, but he did have strong ideas about food. He pointed out how much better a poor boy sandwich becomes when the bread is warmed. He had a passion for pasta with brown sauces, which my mother never would make for him for some reason. He loved marrow bones. . . . Also having a birthday today is Clark Marter, The Gourmet Truck Driver. He found my radio show about twenty years ago when the station was left on by the previous driver of his eighteen-wheeler. He’s listened ever since, frequently calls in, has come to a few Eat Club dinners, and will be joining us on the Caribbean cruise next February. Clark is the great-nephew of trumpet great Harry James.

Music To Dine Noisily By

Bob Dylan was booed off the stage at the Newport Jazz Festival today in 1965. He dared to appear with an electric, amplified guitar rather than his customary acoustic equipment. It doesn’t seem like a big deal now, but I wish it were. Why do musicians feel the need to play so loudly? This is true in virtually every place where live music is played, but especially in restaurants. It’s always too loud.

Food Namesakes

The movie about the racehorse Seabiscuit premiered today in 2003. . . Harold Peary, who portrayed The Great Gildersleeve on classic radio and in movies, was born today in 1908. He was a serious gourmet and quite a good singer, but he was best known for his mischievous laugh. . . Bob Lemon became the manager of the Yankees today in 1978. (Second consecutive day that Lemon turned up here.) . . .Relief pitcher Larry Sherry, the MVP of the 1959 World Series, relieved his mother today in 1959.

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, American food writer.

Words To Drink By

“I rather like bad wine. One gets so bored with good wine.”–Benjamin Disraeli, prime minister of England in the late 1800s.

DiningDiarySquare-150x150 Wednesday, August 1, 2018. It always happens when I return from extended vacations: I don’t know what day of the week it is. It’s a good thing my computers and smart phones display that datum, or else I wouldn’t be sure that it was Richard Hughes, the chef and owner of the Pelican Club who showed up for the radio show on this diary date. Or that Chris Montero from Ralph Brennan’s seven-restaurant group would be on the air with me in the studio today. It was all clear.

This will go down as the darkest of days for my wife Mary Ann and our daughter Mary Leigh. The Marys awakened to the death overnight of their rescue dog Bauer. He has been very ill for months, a situation made worse by our leaving going to Los Angeles, where our grandson’s baptism took place. All of our resources for having the dogs taken care of while we’re gone were unavailable. A vet who undertook the job found a dire situation and not many options.

Mary Ann was the first to discover that Bauer wasn’t breathing. This triggered ML to come home from work. The two of them were as distraught as I’ve ever them. Inconsolable is really the right word to describe their emotional state. This dire mood moved over to me, as well as to the dog Steel, our big handsome German shepherd, the last of our canines.

It was in that state of mind that I left the Cool Water Ranch to tend to my radio show in town. Chris Montero was my guest in the first hour of the show. He wanted to tell me about a series of cooking demonstrations at the New Orleans Museum of Art this summer. Four of these events have already played, with four more coming. All of them are free, and getting tickets is not the easiest task.

Otherwise, I had a lot to do at the station. A bunch of commercials to write and perform. Somehow, it seemed that the world had changed.

My most successful way of recovery from a disaster–where it’s a flat tire or the death of a loved one or a Hurricane Katrina–is to get back to work. The more regular, the better. My main job is the frivolous but in-demand endeavor of finding good places and things to eat. Today, I had much work to do. The Coolinary begins today, with over 100 restaurants creating three-course dinners for about $40. I get right on it.

Dinner for me after the show was at the original location of Mr. Ed’s Oyster Bar and Grill, where the seafood restaurant Bozo’s once was. It’s the first of a series of restaurants created by Mr. Ed McIntyre and scattered around the city. Its menu features many variations on oysters, my favorite restaurant concept. Today at Mr. Ed’s I have oysters Rockefeller, oysters Bienville (really more like shrimp Bienville), and a half-dozen raw. All good, but not as good as the baked oysters I had yesterday at Felix’s in West End.

Also a little goofed up was the soup du jour–billed as turtle soup, but replaced seafood gumbo. The waitress came over to offer the gumbo for free, and the turtle soup, too. I told her not to worry about it. I hadn’t noticed the swapout, anyway.

As long as I’m talking about the dinner at Felix’s yesterday, I will finish that review. I tried to go to Felix’s with the Marys last week, but found parking there impossible. I should have known. West End, even when it sported over ten restaurants, has never been a good place to go in a hurry on a summer evening.

Come to think about it, Mr. Ed’s Oyster Bar also has a parking problem. A large building–at least five stories–is going up across the street from the Oyster Bar. It has already removed a lot of curb parking, and kept me from getting easily to Mr. Ed’s Oyster Bar. Something will have to be done about that.
Mr. Ed’s Oyster Bar & Fish House. Metairie: 3117 21st St. 504-833-6310.

The Coolinary

Late summer–now through most of September–is a dead zone for New Orleans restaurants. Particularly those which rely heavily on tourism, which is especially scarce (although, it seems, not as bad as people thought it would be this summer).

The knowledge that the summer downturn is coming every year doesn’t lighten the anxiety for restaurateurs. What does help, though, is the patronage of local diners. Who, in turn, know that this time of year is a great time to sample the city’s most famous restaurants.

A friend once told me that he loved August in New Orleans, because you could stand on the corner of Royal and Conti at seven in the evening, without reservations, and walk into any restaurant you wanted: Antoine’s, Brennan’s, K-Paul’s, the Rib Room, Nola, Mr. B’s, the Pelican Club, Broussard’s. And those are just the ones within a block or two.

From the restaurant’s perspective, though, that effect looks like a lot of empty tables. To fill some of them, restaurants create special menus with exceptionally attractive prices. For the past few years, that promotion has become coordinated. A few years ago New Orleans & Company–a visitor and promotion organization for the city–invented “The Coolinary.” The restaurants are asked to devise a special dinner menu with three courses for around $40, and lunch for around $25.

The Coolinary (they could have thought of a better name, but we’re stuck with it now) officially began August 1. Between the restaurants officially part of that program and others that have done it on their own, over thirty major restaurants are participating. I’d say that’s enough to call it a festival.

Scanning the menus, I can’t say that there’s a bargain-table aspect to this food. The prices are shaved by cutting back the portions a touch (that needed to be done anyway) and by limited use of expensive ingredients (although I’ve seen foie gras, filets mignon, and lots of crabmeat included).

And the foodstuffs of the summer are terrific. Although crawfish are now gone, the crop of crabs is rich. Creole tomatoes are, for some reason, widely available and very tasty. (They’re running a little late.) Shrimp are superb. There has been a nice supply of pompano, amberjack, and tuna. And despite the old legend about not eating oysters in months without an”R’ in the name, the oysters have been great this year.

I’ve posted all the menus and details for these summer specials at www.nomenu.com/summer. As I write this, I find myself adding a new summer menu to the list daily. Only a few seem half-hearted. The best are very good indeed.

Coolinary @ The Pelican Club.

Topping my list is the summer menu at the Pelican Club, which has used such promotions extremely well to raise consciousness of its food the rest of the year. Its $39, three-course menu is a good example of what you’ll find during the next six weeks:

Smoked Duck, Andouille & Shrimp Gumbo
Creamy Corn and Crab Bisque
Tuna Poke
Onions, avocado crema, mango and house tortilla chips
Escargot in Casserole
Baked with mushroom duxelle, garlic butter & puff pastry
Seafood Martini Ravigote
Maine lobster, Gulf shrimp, jumbo lump crabmeat with Yukon gold potato salad
Pelican Club Baked Oysters
on the half shell with applewood smoked bacon, roasted red peppers, parmesan & garlic herb butter
Heirloom Tomato Burrata Salad
with torn basil vinaigrette and grilled ciabatta
Local Jumbo Lump Crab Cake
Roasted pepper chive aioli and frisee salad
Little Gem Lettuce Wedge
Roquefort buttermilk dressing, little gem lettuce, apple smoked bacon, watermelon radish and tomato

Pecan Crusted Louisiana Catfish with Fried Popcorn Shrimp
Rum butter sauce and pineapple chipotle salsa served with Caribbean slaw
Jumbo Lump Blue Crab Spaghetti Fino
with sweet corn, butter, lemon, Vidalia onion and parmesan
Pan Seared New York Strip Steak
with crispy onion rings and a bourbon brown sugar BBQ sauce served in a skillet with freshly baked jalapeno and sweet onion corn bread
1 LB Whole Maine Lobster and Fried Jumbo Shrimp +$7
with haricots verts and lemon cream
9oz. Rack of Lamb
marinated and roasted with rosemary pesto crust and port-mint demi-glace with truffle mashed potatoes and asparagus
Whole Crispy Gulf Fish +$5
sea scallops, jumbo shrimp, citrus chili sauce, served with jasmine rice
Louisiana Cioppino – in its own pot
(Vegetarian/Vegan Available)
Gulf fish, shrimp, scallops, mussels and little neck clams served with a side of linguini in a fresh basil tomato sauce

Chocolate Decadence Cake
White Chocolate Bread Pudding
Coconut Cream Pie
Bourbon Pecan Pie
Vanilla Bean and Brandy Crème Brulee

50 Best Coolinary Restaurants, In Reverse Alphabetical Order.

Check back for more featured Culinary restaurants, as I get around to as many as I can during the Coolinary Season

Upperline Restaurant
Tsunami Sushi
Toups’ South
Toups’ Meatery
Tommy’s Cuisine
Munch Factory
Country Club
Court of Two Sisters
Salon by Sucre
Riccobono’s Peppermill
Rib Room
Restaurant R’Evolution
Restaurant August
Red Fish Grill
Pelican Club
Pascal’s Manale
Palace Café
Muriel’s Jackson Square
Mr. B’s Bistro
Little Gem Saloon
La Petite Grocery
K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen
Johnny Sanchez
Happy Italian Pizzeria
GW Fins
Grill Room at Windsor Court
Galatoire’s 33 Bar & Steak
Fogo de Chão
Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse
Dante’s Kitchen
Crescent City Brewhouse
Commander’s Palace
Charlie’s Steak House
Casa Borregas
Carrollton Market
Cafe Degas
Brown Butter Southern Kitchen
Bourbon House
Bon Ton Café
Bombay Club
Balise Tavern
Arnaud’s Restaurant
Antoine’s Restaurant
Andrea’s Restaurant

AlmanacSquare August 3, 2017

Upcoming Deliciousness

Coolinary Summer Specials Through August 31.

Food Calendar

It’s National Watermelon Day. The National Watermelon Promotion Board seems to know nothing about this. However, they do have a wealth of information and recipes here.

WatermelonMy old traffic reporter Don Wilbanks once gave me some slices of golden watermelon, which I’d never tasted. The color of a cantaloupe, it’s not as sweet as red watermelon, but good. Watermelon is my daughter’s favorite flavor of hard candy. However, watermelon has only occasionally showed up in gourmet settings. I suppose this is because the fruit conjures up images of sitting outside in the grass and eating huge hunks of it, not caring how messy you get in the process. You can’t eat just a little bit of watermelon.

As much as we consider watermelon a major local eating presence, it’s not from around here. The vine originated in Africa, almost certainly in the Nile Valley. It spread all over the world from there. The Chinese have been growing and eating it for at least a millennium. One last fact about this refreshing fruit: the rind is as nutritious as the sweet flesh in the center.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Choupique is a name claimed by four places in Louisiana, all of which are neighborhoods rather than true towns. The one that looks most plausible is in the middle of cane fields just outside the town of Baldwin, on US 90 just west of the Atchafalaya Basin. There is a strong likelihood that actual choupique fish have been found in the area, and gave their name to the spot. If any were found now gravid with caviar, it could be taken to Mr. Lester’s Restaurant in the casino at Charenton, just a few miles north.

Edible Dictionary

vinaigrette, n.–A sauce or dressing served at room temperature, usually over salads and cool, crisp vegetables. It’s an emulsion of oil in vinegar and water, often with other flavoring elements added. Mustard is almost universal in vinaigrettes. Herbs, onions, garlic, and ground pepper are common. Cheeses find their ways into some vinaigrettes. Other sources of variety come from the kind of vinegar used, with balsamic vinegar currently enjoying a vinaigrette vogue. A fading usage of the word refers to a cold dish–fish, poultry, meat, or vegetables–marinated in a vinaigrette or other tart, light sauce.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

You can tell whether a melon was picked at the right ripeness by fingering the spot where the stem was. If it’s jagged, it was picked before it should have been, and will never get really ripe.

Annals Of Elegant Dining

Martha Stewart was born today in 1941. A great deal of her advice involves creative ways to serve food and lots of recipes, although whenever I read such articles in her magazine I get the idea that everything is conceived more for effect on the brain and eye than on the palate. Still, her ideas have certainly changed the way food is served in American households with ambitions to elegance.

Annals Of Bad Food

This is the day in 1975 when the Superdome was dedicated. It has since been part of many unforgettable moments in New Orleans history. But nobody in the Superdome’s management ever seems to say, “Why don’t we offer something really good to eat in here?” I once heard one of the former operators of the Dome’s food services claim that for Saints games, they have to start frying the chicken fingers at the midnight before. Boy, I’ll bet those are good.

Some good food infiltrates anyway, as during the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience’s Grand Tastings in May. Maybe it will inspire something permanent. Like, how hard could it be to find a vendor who will serve a great poor boy? Or great pizza? Or a great hot dog? If Zephyr Stadium can do it, why not the Dome?

Restaurant-Enhancing Inventions

Elisha Graves Otis, who invented an automatic braking system that made elevators safe and therefore useful, was born today in 1811. Unlike in other places, Otis’s invention had little effect on the New Orleans dining scene, which continues to find people reluctant to dine anywhere but on the ground floor.

Long Reaches For Almanac Entries

Today is the birthday, in 1801, of Sir Joseph Paxton, the English landscape designer and architect who created the Crystal Palace in the London Exhibition in 1851. He announced once that he’d like to build a community on the American prairie. The citizens of Prairie City, Illinois thought that if they renamed their town Paxton, the architect would build his town there. So they did. But he never set foot in the place. I did, however–twice. On a trip to Chicago in 1972, we stopped for a terrific catfish dinner there in a 1940s-style downtown diner called Carman’s Arcade Cafe. I returned in the mid-1980s and found Carman’s was still there, but the catfish wasn’t as memorable. And now you have too much information.

Music To Eat Rice-A-Roni By

Today is the birthday, in 1926, of Tony Bennett. Only Frank Sinatra is heard more often in Italian restaurants. Sinatra himself said the he thought Tony Bennett was the best interpreter of the American popular song. Although he’s recorded better songs, his most famous hit–I Left My Heart In San Francisco–sends a chill of longing to be in that city there down my spine. I think I’ll listen to it now.

Food Namesakes

Hamilton Fish, Secretary of State in the Grant administration, was born on this date in 1808. Did he come from Roe? No, but . . Reginald Heber Roe, early proponent of education and tennis in Australia, served himself up today in 1850. . . Boxer and martial arts fighter Eric “Butterbean” Esch started putting on weight today in 1966. He weighs almost 400 pounds.

Words To Eat By

“Some people kiss as if they were eating watermelon.”–Saadat Hasan Manto, Pakistani writer of short stories.

“If I can’t have too many truffles I’ll do without.”–Colette, French writer on living well. She died today in 1954.

Words To Drink By

“To Gasteria, the tenth muse, who presides over the enjoyments of taste.”–A toast by Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, a French chef and cooking authority of the 1800s.

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