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DiningDiarySquare-150x150 Diary 8/21/2018: The Marys Are Back In Town. After visits to Germany, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, Croatia and Slovenia, my wife Mary Ann and our daughter Mary Leigh packed up and flew overnight for home via Atlanta.

Upon their arrival on the the North Shore of New Orleans, they called to let me know that they were ready for dinner. Our family has a long-standing tradition after we return from trips: we dine at the Acme Oyster House in Covington. And there they were, waiting, when I arrived a half-hour later than they did.

The first commentary about this journey is that it was as enriching and enjoyable as any they’ve had before. Already they’re talking about where the next Eastern-Europe trip will go. I knew to be suspicious after MA swore that this would be the last such itinerary for this gang. But they were too happy from this gadabout for it to mark the end.

The advantage of our merging at the Acme after a vacation trip is that those would relish the feeling that we are back home with red beans and rice, raw oysters char-broiled oysters, fried oysters and catfish. Also roast beef poor boys. Because there’s no place like home. And New Orleans is my home. Even when I haven’t left.

Mary Ann says that she has had almost nothing to eat during her Eastern Europe trip. She has nothing against the cuisines of that part of the world. She just wanted to limit her eating both for dietary and budget reasons. And she wants to resume our current limitations on eating at home so that I only dine in restaurants I haven’t been to before, or ever. The first such eatery was Zocalo, a new restaurant in the row of cafes in or around the 2000-block of Metairie Road. We have already visited this hip, good-looking Mexican café about a month ago. That time, I was thrilled by the Oaxaca-style of molé that they serve there. But I already had that, so I added to my dinner with a great chicken soup with a fascinating array of vegetables, chile peppers, herbs, and radishes. Very good–and would be even better if the weather were cooler than the 90s we’re getting today.
Three courses, $37. The price doesn’t include a beverage, tax or gratuity. However, for an additional $15, you can get wine pairings for each of the three courses.

The dinner began with a cured tuna salad of very small size and not much flavor. Looked better than it was. Making up for this to some extent at the end of supper was another perfect flan. It’s a mystery: how do even mediocre Mexican places make such ideal flan as they always do. This one would make even Galatoire’s version look pale. Must be something in Latin American cookery that brings this out.
Zocalo. Old Metairie: 2051 Metairie Rd. 504-836-2007.

Coolinary @ Avo, Uptown.

The Coolinary is an annual month of fine dining brought to you by over 100 restaurants. During the month of August, the Coolinary restaurants offer three-course dinners for about $35. Every day in this space, NOMenu looks over the possibilities, and highlights what we think are the best Coolinary menus.

For more information about all the the Coolinary restaurants and menus, visit CoolinaryNewOrleans.com.

FIRST COURSE
Charred Octopus
Pork butter, black garlic, pineapple, Calabrian chiles
or
Watermelon & Beet Salad
Gorgonzola, olive, salsa verde, peanuts

SECOND COURSE
Cheese Ravioli
Taleggio, ricotta, tomato sugo
or
Shrimp Fra Diavolo
Field peas, peppers, creme fraiche

THIRD COURSE

Zeppole
Chocolate-hazelnut sauce, pistachio gelato
or
Peach Financier
Fruit, Bourbon caramel, vanilla gelato

Three courses, $37. The price doesn’t include a beverage, tax or gratuity. However, for an additional $15, you can get wine pairings for each of the three courses.

The dinner began with a cured tuna salad of very small size and not much flavor. Looked better than it was. Making up for this to some extent at the end of supper was another perfect flan. It’s a mystery: how do even mediocre Mexican places make such ideal flan as they always do. This one would make even Galatoire’s version look pale. Must be something in Latin American cookery that brings this out.
Zocalo. Old Metairie: 2051 Metairie Rd. 504-836-2007.

AlmanacSquare August 23, 2017

Upcoming Deliciousness

Coolinary Summer Specials Through August 31.

Today’s Flavor

This is National Sponge Cake Day. Not to be confused with angel food cake, sponge cake is another word for genoise, a light cake made with eggs beaten with sugar, after which the flour and other ingredients are added. In other words, a typical fine cake.

More interesting is another observance on this date: Gravy Day. Gravy. Not sauce. But what, after all, is the difference?

The Penguin Companion to Food says, “Gravy in the British Isles and areas culturally influenced by them is. . . well, gravy, a term fully comprehensible to those who use it, but something of a mystery in the rest of the world.” The French (and restaurateurs who are trying to avoid the common sound of “gravy”) have a word for it: “jus.”

Gravy begins with the juices and browned bits that come from cooking meat. That’s thinned or deglazed with stock or water, in the pan where the meat was cooked. Then it’s thickened up again (maybe) with a little flour or roux. A good gravy will be a little dirty with flecks of meat.

Stewed chicken, brown gravy, peas.

The most celebrated gravy in New Orleans is the one that wets down a roast beef poor boy. But there are as many more as there are meats to throw it off and take it on. Chicken gravy. Turkey gravy. Ham gravy, and its Southern variation, red-eye gravy. (Made in the pan where you just grilled the ham steak by adding a bit of coffee to it. Yuck.)

Confusing everything is the localism “red gravy,” for Italian-style tomato sauce. It is not unique to New Orleans, but if you use the expression, you’re thought of as local.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Watermelon Creek is in southeast Alabama, twenty-six miles southwest of Columbus, Georgia, and not far from the Georgia state line. It winds its way for about six miles through some hilly countryside, most of it farmed. It ends in the Hatchechubbee Creek, a tributary of the Chattehoochee River, which goes to the Gulf of Mexico. The closest restaurants are seven miles west in Pittsview, where two restaurants are named “Kountry Kitchen.” (I wonder how many Kountry Kitchens there are in America.)

Edible Dictionary

birch beer, n.–A variation on root beer, created in the 1880s as a competitor to the new and highly successful Hires Root Beer. It genuinely does use birch bark and sap as one of its flavoring ingredients, along with herbs and vanilla. It has a lighter flavor and color than root beer. Some varieties of birch beer are very pale or even colorless. It’s more popular in the Northeast and into Canada, but birch beer was common in New Orleans in the 1950s through the 1980s because it was the primary fizzy beverage sold by Royal Castle, a chain of hamburger restaurants. Royal Castle is still in existence in its hometown of Miami.

Eating Around The World

Today in 1821, Spain signed a treaty allowing its former colony Mexico to become an independent nation. It was triggered by political instability in Spain, which was occupied by Napoleon at the time. Mexico–heir to one of the world’s richest and most distinctive culinary traditions–was as different from Spain as the United States is different from Great Britain. Mexican food and culture expand in the U.S. every day. That’s also true in New Orleans since the hurricane, although I don’t think we’ve seen anything spectacular yet from the influx.

Annals Of Eating Like A King

Today is the birthday, in 1754, of King Louis XVI, the last king of France before the Revolution. He and his wife Marie Antoinette were guillotined, but while his reign lasted he and Marie had it pretty good. The old Louis XVI French Restaurant–originally in the Marie Antoinette Hotel–attempted to duplicate that dining grandeur in the 1970s. Under Chefs Daniel Bonot and Claude Aubert, it succeeded. The restaurant is still in existence, but only for breakfast and private events.

Annals Of Amphibians

The Goliath frog –the largest frog ever caught, weighing seven and a half pounds–was found today in 1960 in Guinea. It was the size of two chickens. One frog fed a family of eight. But it was very tough. The sauce was the inevitable garlic and herb butter.

Drinking On Stage

A play called Ten Nights In A Barroom premiered in New York City on this date in 1858. It was about to play in New Orleans, until the local producers learned that it was a cautionary tale about the evils of drinking, and canceled it for fear nobody would understand the point they were trying to make.

Food In War

On this date in 1944, the Allied forces liberated Marseilles in France, releasing bouillabaisse from the Axis stranglehold.

Overeating In The Comics

Today in 1919, the comic strip Gasoline Alley premiered. It is still being published, although not in New Orleans. (You can read it on line here.) Originally, it depicted a bunch of guys standing around talking about their automobiles, which were still a new thing back then. Then one of them–Walt Wallet–adopted a baby left on his doorstep. From that moment, all the characters aged in real time–a new idea in the comics. Walt is still alive in the strip, and is now about 130 years old. He has always been an overweight chowhound. The baby, Skeezix, is now almost a centenarian. Walt’s other son Corky owns a diner.

The Saints

This is the feast day of St. Rose of Lima. She is the patron saint of vanity, which ought to make her the patron saint of restaurant critics. (And television chefs, too.)

Food Namesakes

Johnny Romano, the all-star catcher for the White Sox in the 1950s and 1960s, was born today in 1934. . . James Roe, a professional football player, took the Big Snap today in 1973. . . Robert Mulligan, a movie director, said “Action!” today in 1925. . . Basketball pro Kobe Bryant was born today in 1978.

Words To Eat By

“It may not be possible to get rare roast beef, but if you’re willing to settle for well done, ask them to hold the sweetened library paste that passes for gravy.”–Marian Burros, New York Times food writer.

Words To Drink By

“I come from a family where gravy is considered a beverage.”–Erma Bombeck.

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