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DiningDiarySquare-150x150 Diary: 11-1-2018: Zocalo Reviewed. A few months ago the buzz positioned itself over Zocalo in Old Metairie. Not only were people asking me about this new Mexican restaurant on a daily basis, but they were reporting that one had to get a reservation to even consider a visit. That also brought revived interest in the nearby Brasa, with its menu of Brazilian beef and related dishes. All of this revealed itself to be managed by Edward Caro, whose two Baru restaurants Uptown work on the cuisines of the Caribbean.

I wasn’t quite up to date on these restaurants, so into the fray I went. I’ve always liked Baru and its Colombian eats. After five visits I’ve about finished with Brasa, whose style of steaks don’t set my world on fire.

But I’m not yet finished with Zocalo, whose personality starts with its name. “Zocalo” refer to the central plaza in Mexican cities. The implication is that if you go to the plaza, you’ll get the real, authentic story on the food if you eat it where it comes from.

That’s an interesting idea, but how unique it can be in reality? I’ve long been amused by the percentage of Mexican restaurants in America that claim to serve authentic Mexican food. It is a very high number.

That’s what Zocalo says about itself. And of this there is no question: little of what you will eat at this Zocalo will resemble any other Mexican food that has passed your lips lately. The reason for that is, of course, is that you haven’t had much real Mexican food in your life. (Neither have I.)

However, just because you haven’t eaten Chef Eduardo’s real thing doesn’t prove that you do understand the cookery of Chef Juan. Zocalo’s food will probably puzzle the typical eater. You will know the names of the food, but wonder what this brown, crusty, authentic stuff is. It is revealed to be queso fundido, in the authentic form of Zocalo. This one is pretty good, but much of the remainder of the menu is better described as puzzling. Restaurant customers don’t like to be puzzled, even when they have been.

I had the same reaction here as I have had about Brasa: I think the quality of the ingredients, and especially the beef–is less than what I am accustomed to. Metairie is not loaded with great steakhouses, but it’s not desperate enough to revert to what I found at Zocalo.

However, after several visits I did find a few exceptional dishes. The best of these should be obvious to readers who know of my passion for molé–the magical Mexican sauce made of sesame, chiles and chocolate. The version at Zocalo is in the near-black Oaxacan style, made with duck along with the other ingredients. The dish reveals its most expensive number: $28 for Enmoladas de Pato. Don’t miss this dish.

Also here but off the menu is flan, the caramel custard that all authentic Mexican restaurants always make in house. The version at Zocalo is among the lightest and best I ever ate–and I order it at every Mexican restaurant I visit.

I finished the diary on Zocalo and rejiggered it for my column in CityBusiness, where I have been writing in almost every edition since 1980. I specialize in longevity.

Zocalo. Old Metairie: 2051 Metairie Rd. 504-570-6338.

RecipeSquare-150x150

Creole-Cajun Jambalaya

As with many Louisiana dishes, jambalaya has distinctive Creole and Cajun versions. Creole jambalaya is reddish, a color it gets from tomatoes. Cajun jambalaya never includes tomatoes, and is brown. Creole jambalaya almost always contains shrimp. Cajun jambalaya usually includes smoked sausage or tasso. Which jambalaya is better is the subject of one of the longest-running arguments in the annals of Louisiana cookery. It’s a great dish to serve as a side dish at Thanksgiving.

Instead of stepping into that mess, I present here my favorite kind of jambalaya. It has some elements of both styles, with oysters giving a unique flavor. I don’t like tomatoes in jambalaya, so I leave them out–but if you add a 16-ounce can of crushed tomatoes with the vegetables, that would be okay and quite authentic.

  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 4 lbs. chicken pieces, bone in
  • 2 lb. andouille or smoked sausage, sliced across 1/4 inch thick
  • 2 large onions, coarsely chopped
  • 2 green bell peppers, coarsely chopped
  • 2 ribs celery, coarsely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 cups oyster water or chicken stock, plus enough more water to make 7 cups total
  • 1 Tbs. Tabasco
  • 2 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp. thyme
  • 1/2 tsp. marjoram
  • 1 Tbs. salt-free Creole seasoning
  • 1 Tbs. salt
  • 4 cups (uncooked) Uncle Ben’s rice (or similar par-boiled rice)
  • 2 green onions, sliced
  • 3 sprigs flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • 4 dozen large fresh oysters

Jambalaya from Bennachin: both seafood and sausage

1. Heat the oil in a heavy kettle or Dutch oven. Add the chicken and sausage and brown the chicken all over, till it sticks to the pan somewhat.

2. Add the onions, bell peppers, celery, and garlic, and sauté until they wilt.

3. Add the oyster water or stock and enough more water to make 7 cups total. Bring to a light boil, stirring to dissolve the browned bits in the pot.

4. Add Tabasco, Worcestershire, bay leaf, thyme, marjoram, Creole seasoning and salt. Bring the pot to a boil, Lower to a light boil and cook for 30 minutes.

4. Remove the chicken. Stir the rice into the pot. Cover and lower to a simmer for 30 minutes.

5. Remove the chicken meat from the bones and set aside.

6. When the rice is cooked, stir in the chicken, green onions, parsley, and oysters. Stir all the ingredients well with a big spoon or wooden paddle. Continue to cook, uncovered, at the lowest possible temperature, stirring gently every couple of minutes, until the rice is just beginning to dry. Add seasonings to taste.

Serves twelve to eighteen.

Nesselrode pudding, n.–Dessert chefs looking for a new dessert along the lines of creme brulee or caramel custard should revive this old classic. It starts with the eggs and cream of a creme brulee, then incorporates chestnut puree (an underrated ingredient, with a starchy quality that gives a whole new substance to a custard. Also in there are raisins and things like raisins. Maraschino liqueur was the final ingredient, but if I were making it I’d use amaretto instead. The mixture is baked, then either refrigerated or frozen. It’s also sometimes pumped into the center of a pastry. The pudding is named for Karl Nesselrode, a Russian diplomat and all-around aristocrat of the early 1800s. His father was a count of the Holy Roman Empire. Serious gourmet, the guy seems to have been. Several other dishes were named for him by admiring chefs.

Thanksgiving is not the busiest day in the year for restaurants, but it is the time when things have a way of becoming most frantic. It’s also a day in which finding a reservation is most difficult. Calling ahead months is a very good idea, particularly if you’re planning on having Thanksgiving dinner with many family members and friends. Tables in famous restaurants are also hard to nail down. Finally, if what you want from the restaurant is a big feast, it’s essential to make your reservation in, say, September or earlier.

There is an escape if you still don’t have a reservation a few days ahead of Turkey Day. When you call a few says or hours before dinner time, laugh to show that you understand how dear Thanksgiving tables are, then ask whether there are any last-minute cancellations you can fill. That works even for the toughest seats.

The Thankgiving experience is is different from other meals in other ways. Buffets–which have almost disappeared from fine dining in recent years–have a way of popping up in many restaurants. Most of these are high-end hotels. If you go that route, know that it will be much more expensive than what you remember from years ago. It may even go higher than $100.

On the other hand, Thanksgiving has a way of inspiring restaurants to create special menus that may be surprising. Three courses for $around 50 have been common in recent years. Here is a list of the 40 best restaurants. And there are always children’s menus.

All that said, here is my list of the forty best restaurants for Thanksgiving in 2018. Enjoy!

Andrea’s. Metairie 2: Orleans Line To Houma Blvd: 3100 19th St. 504-834-8583. Special menu. Regular menu also available. 10:30 a.m.-7 p.m.

Annadele Plantation. Covington: 71518 Chestnut St. 985-809-7669.

Arnaud’s. French Quarter: 813 Bienville. 504-523-5433. A special four-course menu, with a mix of traditional Thanksgiving dishes and Arnaud’s specialties.

Bistreaux. French Quarter: 1001 Toulouse St. 504-586-8000.

Borgne. CBD: 601 Loyola Ave (Hyatt Regency Hotel). 504-613-3860. A special four-course menu, plus a limited regular menu.

Bourbon House. French Quarter: 144 Bourbon. 504-522-0111. Regular menu and Thanksgiving specials.

Brennan’s. French Quarter: 417 Royal. 504-525-9711.

Broussard’s. French Quarter: 819 Conti. 504-581-3866. An especially beautiful setting, with the courtyard open.

Café B. Old Metairie: 2700 Metairie Road. 504-934-4700. Special menu, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Three courses, around $45.

Chophouse. CBD: 322 Magazine St. 504-522-7902. This high-end steakhouse is promoting its steaks as an alternative to the standard turkey dinner. If that appeals to you, there they are. Handsome place.

Commander’s Palace. Uptown 1: Garden District & Environs: 1403 Washington Ave. 504-899-8221. Special menu. Very likely already to be sold out.

Compere Lapin. CBD: 535 Tchoupitoulas. 504-599-2119.

Criollo. French Quarter: 214 Royal. 504-523-3341. The new restaurant in the Monteleone Hotel serves its second Thanksgiving. It’s a handsome restaurant with an imaginative, current New Orleans-style menu.

Crystal Room. CBD: Le Pavillon Hotel, 901 Poydras. 504-581-3111. Buffet, a bit less expensive than in the other hotels, and for that reason fills up early. Food is good as buffets go.

Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse. French Quarter: 716 Iberville. 504-522-2467. Regular dinner menu and Thanksgiving specials, 3-9 p.m.

Domenica. CBD: 123 Baronne (Roosevelt Hotel). 504-648-6020..

Five Happiness. Mid-City: 3605 S Carrollton. 504-482-3935.

Fleming’s Steak House. Metairie 2: Orleans Line To Houma Blvd: 3064 N. Causeway Blvd.. 504-799-0335.

Fountain Lounge. CBD: 123 Baronne, Roosevelt Hotel. 504-648-1200. The Roosevelt Hotel will certainly serve a Thanksgiving buffet somewhere, but they haven’t announced the details. My guess is that it will be in the Blue Room and expensive.

Fountain Lounge Roosevelt Hotel Ballroom). CBD: 123 Baronne, Roosevelt Hotel. 504-648-1200.

Latil’s Landing. River Parishes: In Houmas House Plantation. 225-473-9380. This is the grand restaurant in Houmas House Plantation, on the River Road, halfway from New Orleans to Baton Rouge. Buffet, noon-4 p.m. $65, $25 children.

Lebanon’s Cafe. Uptown 4: Riverbend, Carrollton & Broadmoor: 1500 S Carrollton Ave. 504-862-6200.

Lüke. CBD: 333 St Charles Ave. 504-378-2840. John Besh’s most popular restaurant. Special menu.

M Bistro. French Quarter: 921 Canal. 504-524-1331. The flagship dining room of the Ritz-Carlton offers a high-end buffet 11 a.m.-7 p.m.

Maple Street Cafe. Uptown 4: Riverbend, Carrollton & Broadmoor: 7623 Maple. 504-314-9003. Both locations, special menu. Three courses, $30, $13 children. under 12. Noon-7 p.m.

Mr. B’s Bistro. French Quarter: 201 Royal. 504-523-2078. Special menu, featuring free-range turkeys. Noon-8 p.m.

Muriel’s. French Quarter: 801 Chartres. 504-568-1885. 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Special menu, three courses, $48.

Palace Cafe. French Quarter: 605 Canal. 504-523-1661. Regular menu with Thanksgiving specials (entrees $30s-4$40s2), 11:30 a.m.-7 p.m.

Ralph’s On The Park. City Park Area: 900 City Park Ave. 504-488-1000. Very substantial special menu, three courses $46-54.

Red Fish Grill. French Quarter: 115 Bourbon. 504-598-1200. Buffet 10:30 a.m.-9 p.m., $47, kids $15, under 6 free. It’s not an enormous hotel-style buffet, but the food is fresh and distinctly Creole. Lots going on for the kids.

Restaurant des Familles. Marrero To Lafitte: 7163 Barataria Blvd. 504-689-7834. Way out on the bayou twenty minutes from downtown, and quite an environment. Special menu.

Rib Room. French Quarter: 621 St Louis St83. 504-529-7045. Special menu. four courses, $37-51. 11:30 a.m.-8 p.m.

Roux On Orleans. French Quarter: 717 Orleans (Bourbon Orleans Hotel). 504-571-4604. The restaurant of the Bourbon Orleans, a block in back of St. Louis Cathedral. Buffet from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Adults $59, tax and tip included (!).

Royal Sonesta Ballroom. French Quarter: 300 Bourbon. 504-553-2278. Now that R’evolution is the main dining room at the Sonesta, the holidays bring forth special arrangements. The buffet you remember from the days of Begue’s is now in the hotel’s big ballroom. $85 is the price; $35 6-12 years, free under that. Seatings begin at 10:30 a.m., with the final seating at 1:30 p.m.

Ruth’s Chris Steak House. Metairie 2: Orleans Line To Houma Blvd: 3633 Veterans Blvd. 504-888-3600. Thanksgiving specials ($40’s, complete dinner) and regular menu, both locations. Noon-8 p.m.

Ruth’s Chris Steak House. CBD: 525 Fulton St. 504-587-7099. Thanksgiving specials ($40, complete dinner) and regular menu, both locations. Noon-8 p.m.

Tujague’s. French Quarter: 823 Decatur. 504-525-8676. Usual table d’hote dinner, with fresh turkey and other Thanksgiving dishes, about $40. 11 a.m.-9 p.m.

Vacherie. French Quarter: 827 1/2 Toulouse St. 504-207-4532. This boutique hotel in the French Quarter (it’s where Louis XVI used to be) hase continually expanded the reach and goodness of its restaurant, particularly on holidays. Thanksgiving brings a buffet from noon until 4 p.m. The price is $39 adults, $18 children.

Windsor Court Grill Room. CBD: 300 Gravier. 504-522-1994. Special menu, four courses, $95. It’s offered all day long: 11 a.m.-9 p.m.