Diary 5/7/2018: Steak Dinner With The Best Man. || Mary Ann and I both have our calendars goofed up. We were supposed to attend a party for our friends Caroline and Oliver Kluna a few nights ago. They are celebrating their fiftieth wedding anniversary. Oliver and I go almost as far back: he was best man at my wedding, and they are our son Jude’s godparents.
Despite of the all this close longevity, both MA and I somehow managed to forget that the Kluna’s party was tonight. We are relieved in that the Klunas are the most tolerant of people and will forgive us. But we will take them to dinner in short order. Among the several options for our penitential feast the winning idea was dinner at Flemings, the new high-end, chain steakhouse in Metairie.
Mary Ann loves the look and style of Fleming’s. We’ve been there a few times since it opened a little less than a year ago. The Klunas are immediately amenable to the idea for tonight. No surprise there: they are Texas natives, and have a taste for a nice steak. Beside that, Oliver and I share the idea that well-concocted pork chops are preferable to even top-dollar steaks.
The first time I had dinner with the Klunas was in 1974. I was writing and designing advertising for their mattress business. All of us remember that evening. They were from a small Texas town, and had never been to the likes of La Provence, which I suggested as a good place to try. La Provence’s Chef Chris Kerageorgiou was in his prime, and he rolled out a feast. Caroline’s take on the dinner: “I never want to have dinner with that Tom Fitzmorris guy again. Can you believe it took that place four hours to eat dinner?” She also hoped the day would soon come in which you could take a single pill and have all your eating requirements for the day satisfied. Fortunately, I was able to convince her that big-time dining was a pleasure.
On the other hand, I’m not satisfied with what I am getting at Fleming’s. We have been for dinner four times, and had the management and chef on the radio show, too. On this pass, I was less than wowed. We started with two little crab cakes whose crabmeat component didn’t impress us. We went through that straight to the entree: a petite filet for Caroline, and a dry-aged USDA Prime ribeye steak for MA and I to split. For $63. The steak was juicy enough, but the full realization of the aging, the grade, and the tenderness wasn’t impressive to anyone at our table. Sixty-three dollars? I checked that one more time before writing these words. Yes, it really was $63, no matter how I looked at it.
As has often been the case, Oliver had the best plan: he went for the pork chop at $40, thick and juicy with not a touch of toughness. A light, slightly sweet glaze brought the best out of it. All of us had previously had excellent service at Fleming’s, but even that didn’t live up to its rep. A bad night, perhaps? This just wasn’t the steak house I was expecting.
Fleming’s Steak House. Metairie: 3064 N. Causeway Blvd. 504-799-0335.
Soft-Shell Crab with Crabmeat Meuniere
Few dishes inspire the eye-popping anticipation that a large, golden brown soft shell crab does. It has such intrinsic excellence that any elaborate preparation diminishes it. The standard (and best) preparation is to dust the crab with seasoned flour and fry it. All it really needs in the way of a sauce is a little brown butter, and perhaps a topping of some extra jumbo lump crabmeat.
- 4 large soft-shell crabs
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. white pepper
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup milk
- 1 whole egg
- Vegetable oil for frying
- 1 stick butter
- 1 Tbs. freshly-squeezed lemon juice
- 1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
- 1/2 lb. lump crabmeat
1. Wash the crabs and shake out any water from inside the shell. Remove the “dead man’s fingers” (the gills) from underneath the shell. With scissors, and cut off the eyes and mouthparts.
2. Heat vegetable oil in a large heavy kettle to 375 degrees.
3. Blend salt and pepper into flour, and coat each crab lightly with the flour mixture.
4. Combine the milk and egg, then dip the floured crabs into this mixture. Coat crabs again with the seasoned flour.
5. Place a crab top side down on the end of a long-handled cooking fork. (Do not skewer it.) Let the legs and claws dangle. Lower all but the body into the hot oil. Hold that position for about fifteen seconds, and then carefully flip the crab backwards into the oil. Fry two at a time until golden brown, and drain. (Let the heat of the oil recover before frying the next batch.)
6. In a skillet, cook the butter over low heat until it stops bubbling, and the milk solids at the bottom just begin to brown. Carefully add the lemon juice and Worcestershire (this will cause the butter to foam!) and cook until the foaming subsides. Add the crabmeat and sauté 30 seconds. Spoon butter and crabmeat over hot fried crabs.
June 8, 2017
Days Until. . .
Father’s Day 10
This is National Alfresco Dining Day. “Alfresco”–literally, “in the fresh style”–is the fancy name for outdoor dining. Tables in the courtyard or on the beach or even on a sidewalk are considered by many to be the most desirable. Everywhere on the West Coast, for example. Up in the mountains. On the beach. I’ve had memorable outdoor meals all over the place.
Unfortunately for us Orleanians, our climate doesn’t provide many days when dining outdoors is comfortable. In most years we go straight from a short, intense, clammy winter to a blazing, humid summer and back again. Just a couple of weeks of tolerably cool weather intervene. We like the idea of patio dining more than the reality. Especially in the fine-dining category. Even with the tremendous easing of dress codes in the past decade, you’re still unlikely to be clad in a bathing suit–the only cool attire in mid-summer–when you step out for a big evening.
Dining in courtyards here has other drawbacks. Things fall out of trees. First come the live oak catkins. Then the stinging buck moth caterpillars. The French Quarter, which has the best courtyards, also has rodents and termites. Even the best-kept, cleanest, most pest-controlled restaurant cannot control all its neighbors. Who but the most dedicated lover of outdoors would put up with it?
Everybody, apparently. Except on really hot, hostile sidewalks, alfresco tables fill up, regardless of how uncomfortable it may be.
Today is also National Jelly Doughnut Day. Do you know what flavor jelly that is? I mean the brilliant red stuff? Apparently it’s made only for doughnut-stuffing. I’m getting queasy just writing about it.
Boiling Springs is a college town of 4700 people just inside North Carolina at the South Carolina state line. It’s fifty-three miles west of Charlotte. The college is Gardner-Webb University, on whose campus wells up the hot spring for which the town is named. It’s on parklike, hilly terrain, with lovely hiking trails. Chen’s Fusion, right in the middle of town, is the hip place to eat.
Annals Of Food Marketing
On this date in 1786, the first known advertisement for ice cream ran in New York City. The ice cream maker’s name was Hall, but that’s all that is known. . . This is the day in 1965 when Frito-Lay and Pepsi-Cola merged to become PepsiCo. Later, after the company bought Taco Bell, KFC, and Pizza Hut, it became the world’s largest restaurant operator. (It has since spun the restaurant unit off to Yum! Brands.)
poké, n.–poké [POE-kay], Hawaiian, n.–Also spelled “poki.” A chilled salad made from diced fish–usually raw–mixed with seaweed, onions, and (to be really authentic) the meats of the kukui nuts. Poké has a long history in Hawaii, but its fame exploded when Chef Sam Choy started an annual poké festival. Now it’s found here and there on the mainland, especially on the West Coast. The fish most often used to make it outside Hawaii is tuna. It’s in many ways like tuna tartare and the spicy tuna found in sushi bars. And it’s turning up on many restaurants lately. Example: the tuna appetizer at the five-star Pelican CLub.
Dining Through History
Today in 1954, the Supreme Court declared that restaurants could not refuse service to customers on account of their race.
Music To Eat What By?
Today in 1958, the novelty song Purple People Eater made it to Number One. It was sung (and we use the word loosely here) by Sheb Wooley.
Food In The Movies
Today in 2001, the movie Swordfish premiered, with John Travolta and Halle Berry. The plot was not about seafood, but computer hacking. What a disappointment!
Celebrity Chefs Of Yesterday
Marie-Antoine Careme was born today in 1784. He, more than anyone else, gave French cuisine the complexity and structure that led to its becoming the leading Western style of cookery. He worked for kings and emperors, who could afford his elaborate dishes and were gratified by them. Careme wrote the first modern cookbooks of French cuisine, mostly for the consumption of court kitchens. He introduced the “brigade” organization of cooks that modern restaurants still use today.
This is the feast day of St. Medard, who lived in France in the Fifth Century. He is the patron saint of brewers (one of many), and his intercession is asked in times of too little or too much rain. The weather lately in New Orleans has worn him thin.
Luisa Tetrazzini, the opera singer for whom the fake Italian dish turkey Tetrazzini was named, was born today in 1871. She was, like many singers of the period, quite ample. Here’s a recipe. . . Tommy Roe, a singer of bubblegum-music hits in the 1960s, was born today in 1942. . . And here’s a rare double food name note: today in 1985, Eddie Maple rode a horse named Creme Fraiche to win the Belmont Stakes. . . Television and movie actress Kathy Baker stepped onto the Big Set today in 1950. . . British actor Colin Baker, one of the people who portrayed Dr. Who, appeared today in 1943. . . Bluegrass guitarist Tony Rice expressed his distress for the first time today in 1951.
Words To Eat By
“Is she fat? Her favorite food is seconds.”–Joan Rivers, born today in 1933, talking about Elizabeth Taylor.
“The breakfast slimes, angel food cake, doughnuts and coffee, white bread and gravy cannot build an enduring nation.”–Martin H. Fischer.
Words To Drink By
“Oh, you hate your job? Why didn’t you say so? There’s a support group for that. It’s called Everybody, and they meet at the bar.”–Drew Carey.
The Get More Done In Vermont, I’ll Bet.
The best major town in America to live if you have an animus against fast food.
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