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DiningDiarySquare-150x150 In my never-ending quest for good restaurants, this column often builds ten-best lists. Readers find them easy to mentally compute, and the lists show a positive stand as to how we feel about a restaurant, a dish, or a general assay of excellence.

In making these lists, however, there’s a built-in favoritism that turns up in the topmost elements in the list. It’s called alphabetism. Restaurants with names beginning with an A will rise toward the top. It’s not unfair, exactly. But I’ll bet Antoine’s and Andrea’s are glad they have the names that they do.

But even they have a competitor on the lists which naturally drifts up. 1000 Figs is the name. It’s a small café specializing in the food of the Middle East. It differs from most other restaurants in that category, and not merely because the “1000” in its first name pushes it to the top of the numerical list.

There is much more of interest in 1000 Figs kitchen than that. While most Lebanese and other proximate menus tend to be nearly identical, the food here is different enough that if you’re accustomed to, say, Lebanon’s Café, it will take you a few moments to figure out what’s on this one. Instead of a list of all the dishes involving chicken, then another with all the lamb dishes, 1000 Figs goes straight to, let’s say, the ultimate kebabs or the best falafels. It reminds me of the equally original menu at Shaya.

Falafel with vegetables and tzatziki sauce in pita bread close-up on wooden table

To help me make my way through this collection, I employed the services of my little sister, who loves this cuisine and the way it’s presented here. Here’s an example of the originality here. When I asked for a glass of iced tea, out came a tall, narrow glass of dark purple hibiscus tea. Although this was appealing to the eye, I had to think for a few seconds about how it fulfilled the iced-tea desire in my mouth. “Well enough” is the answer, but. . . well. . .

A tomato soup running as the soup of the day was fresh-tasting and delicious, but it had its own oddity: some little beebees gave the soup an unexpected crunchy quality. These were, my sister told me, crispy wheatberries. Also in here was some fennel and halloumi cheese. Once I dislodged a couple of the beebees from my teeth, I got to liking it.

Next thing to come out (and it did seem that they only send out a dish at a time) was an order of French fries. As common as that is in America, fries always seem to be available in Middle Eastern restaurants, and very good, to boot. These were just okay, but the dips for the fries were of interest: toum (Lebanese garlic sauce), baba ghanouj (the familiar smoked eggplant dip for appetizers), and hummus (which is everywhere in its corner of cuisine).

Moving on, we entered the falafel half of the menu. Little Sis is more or less a vegetarian, and therefore an automatic lover of falafel, a balls of crushed chickpeas, fava beans, and the like. As is usual the case, 1000 Figs gets really creative with falafel, which is nearly everywhere on platter. She felt strongly about this assortment, and she said that this was the best falafel and hummus she had ever had.

Also scattered around our tables (we were sharing everything) were a beet and carrot salad, tabouli, and a green salad, all with an interesting herbal dressing. Three different sauces were on the platter: tahini sauce, and zhoug (a cilantro-chili sauce.)

My side of the meal waxed meaty. The lamb kebab platter sounded appealing, and it was. But the server brought chicken instead of lamb. They caught this error only seconds after I had already dug into it. Nevertheless, they alerted us to the mistake, and rebuilt the lamb part of the plate. This was more or less a kafta kebab, a sort of sausage made of ground lamb. One bite, and I proclaimed this my favorite dish of this dinner. The platter was filled out with yogurt, dry yellow rice, cole slaw, grilled vegetables and the thick hot sauce called harissa. Dishes that were intended to be peppery did indeed call attention to themselves.

If there was a dessert menu, I didn’t have appetite for anything else. I was also a little tired of sitting in the somewhat uncomfortable corner. 1000 Figs is a small if picturesque café, with not much space to fit in all its eager customers at times. It’s open continuously for lunch and dinner, Tuesday through Saturday.

1000 Figs. Esplanade Ridge: 3141 Ponce de Leon St. 504-301-0848.

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Masson’s Almond Torte

The memory of Masson’s at West End is fading, but some of its famous dishes live on. In particular, I’m often asked about a rather strange dessert for which they were famous. It was essentially a ball of butter cream, frozen and sliced. (A similar dessert was served for a time at Christian’s, where it was covered with chocolate sauce and referred to as the “Skip,” (After a waiter who devised it.) Here it is for those who liked it, which is a fairly large number of people.

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 5 Tbs. flour
  • 1 tsp. almond extract
  • 1/2 cup toasted almonds, chopped fine
  • 1/2 cup pecans, chopped fine

1. With an electric mixer in a mixer bowl, cream the butter at medium-high speed until very pale in color. Add the sugar gradually and keep mixing until there’s no grittiness.

2. Add the egg and flour and blend on medium-low speed. Add almond extract and mix until it disappears.

3. With a wooden spoon, mix nuts in and roll into a cylinder. Wrap in aluminum foil and freeze for three hours.

4. Slice into pieces about a half-inch thick. Serve two per person.

Serves six to eight.

AlmanacSquare July 24, 2017

Upcoming Deliciousness

Coolinary to begin August 1. Over 100 restaurants participating.

Annals Of Gelato

Today is the anniversary of the 1905 opening of Angelo Brocato’s ice cream parlor. Brocato began a career of making ice cream in his native Palermo when he was twelve. He immigrated to New Orleans in the early 1900s, and set about realizing a dream: to open his own gelateria as fine as the ones he remembered in Sicily. He did that with a classic parlor on Ursulines Street in the French Quarter in 1905.

The original Angelo Brocato’s remained there until the 1980s, when it moved to North Carrollton Avenue just off Canal. By that time the business was in the third generation of the Brocato family, and had become the gold standard for its spumone, cannoli, cassata, lemon ice, cookies, and dozens of other confections. They were in the throes of celebrating their one hundredth anniversary when the storm came, flooded their parlor and factory deeply. Brocato’s came back, though, picking up right where it left off, to the great delight of ice cream lovers.

Drinking Calendar

Today is National Tequila Day. Tequila is growing in popularity every year, thanks largely to the many new tequilas hitting the market with their many claims to excellence. The best tequila is made by distilling the fermented juice of the blue agave, a desert plant that grows in Mexico and the Southwest United States. (Cheaper tequilas are not always made entirely from agave.) As is true of the better Cognacs, Scotches, and Bourbons, the quality factor in tequila comes from selecting which agave from which locations are used, how carefully the distillation process is, and how long the spirit is aged. As better tequilas come along, aficionados of the stuff grow ever more enthusiastic and particular. And tequila gets ever more expensive. It’s not unheard of for super-premium tequilas going for $50 a shot. I think we’ve been fooled into thinking this is worthwhile.

Edible Dictionary

praline, [prah-LEEN], n.–A flat, round candy made with lightly caramelized sugar, butter, condensed milk, vanilla, and pecans, the praline is the official candy of New Orleans. Sugar makes up about 90 percent of the recipe, which is logical enough: sugar cane has been a major crop in the New Orleans area for over two centuries. The flavor profile beyond sweetness is a slight butterscotchy bitterness. Vanilla is an important but subtle note. In recent years flavored pralines have become popular, with coconut, chocolate, and rum flavors. Often pronounced incorrectly “PRAY-leen.”

Gourmet Gazetteer

The Baker River flows for out of the astonishingly rugged, beautiful North Cascade Ranges in northwest Washington State. It’s a tributary of the Skagit River, which flows to Puget Sound on the Pacific Ocean. In its southern half, it’s backed up by hydroelectric dams to form narrow reservoirs in a very deep valley. The larger of the reservoirs is Baker Lake, which existed even before the dam was built. After traversing all thirty miles of Baker River, stop for a bite to eat at the Hi-Lo Country Bar And Grill, in the town of Concrete.

Annals Of Food Writing

This is the birthday, in 1802, of the French writer Alexandre Dumas. Although he is best known for his famous stories The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, he also write extensively about food and wine. His great work in that field was Grand Dictionnaire de Cuisine, in which he not only held forth in numerous articles about the art of eating, but also had copious notes about wines.

Food And Politics

Today in 1959, Richard Nixon (then the Vice-President) and Soviet Premier Nikita Khruschev had a heated discussion while touring a kitchen in Moscow. The event became known as the Kitchen Debate, and kicked up a lot of favorable publicity for Nixon. In an unrelated coincidence fifteen years later on this same date, Nixon was ordered by the Supreme Court to turn over sixty-four subpoenaed White House tapes.

Annals Of Bad Coffee

Nescafe, the first commercially successful instant coffee, hit the Swiss market today in 1938. The process took eight months for the Nestle Company to get right. What happens is that brewed coffee is sprayed into a heated stainless-steel cylinder, where all the water evaporates and crystals of coffee are left behind. This is something like letting your coffee dry up to a crust at the bottom of the pot (and we’ve all done this), then adding water to it and swirling it around till the crust dissolved again. Why anyone would buy that strictly for the slight convenience advantage is incomprehensible.

Food Namesakes

Bob Lemon, a pitcher for the Cleveland Indians, hit two home runs today in 1949. Unusual for a pitcher to hit one homer a year, let alone two in one game. . . John Partridge, British actor and singer best known for his performance in Cats, was born today in 1971. . . Banana Yoshimoto, a Japanese novelist, was born today in 1964. Her real name is Mahoko.

Words To Eat By

Today is the birthday, in 1842, of Ambrose Bierce, an American satirical writer whose book The Devil’s Dictionary has provided us with more than a few quotations for this department. Among them:

“Cabbage, n.: A familiar kitchen-garden vegetable about as large and wise as a man’s head.”

“Chop, n.: A piece of leather skillfully attached to a bone and administered to the patients at restaurants.”

“Custard, n.: A detestable substance produced by a malevolent conspiracy of the hen, the cow and the cook.”

“Edible, adj.: Good to eat and wholesome to digest, as a worm to a toad, a toad to a snake, a snake to a pig, a pig to a man, and a man to a worm.”

“Fork, n.: An instrument used chiefly for the purpose of putting dead animals into the mouth.”

“Mayonnaise, n.: One of the sauces which serve the French in place of a state religion.”

“Rarebit, n.: A Welsh rabbit, in the speech of the humorless, who point out that it is not a rabbit. To whom it may be solemnly explained that the comestible known as toad-in-the-hole is really not a toad, and that ris de veau à la financière is not the smile of a calf prepared after the recipe of a she-banker.”

Words To Drink By

“One tequila, two tequila, three tequila, floor.”–George Carlin.
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Variation On A Popular Cookie Theme.

The most popular of cookies might have a universe of flavors that nobody has yet explored. Try one! In fact, keep all of these.

Click here for the cartoon.

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