Diary 8/23/2018: Gris Gris. As usual, Mary Ann spent most of her day working with Mary Leigh on the house they’re renovating. After that–depending on the state of her wardrobe–she calls to tell me what she might tolerate for dinner with me. Today she cleaned up sufficiently for us to fit in at a new restaurant on the corner of Magazine and Felicity. It’s carries the old voodoo word Gris Gris, and it occupies two floors in the middle of the burgeoning neighborhood in the Lower Garden District. The neighborhood shows a mix of shops and restaurants, enough to keep traffic constantly moving on the sidewalk.
Gris Gris is the remnant of Square Root, which a few years ago I called the best new restaurant of the year. I knew then that I was rolling the dice by saying that, and indeed Square Root was more original than anything else on the market at that time. A little too original, as it turned out.
Square Root hasn’t disappeared completely, however. It was so busy when we arrived that the only tables available were on the second floor (really at the third-floor level, really) on an open balcony overlooking the neighborhood. That is Mary Ann’s kind of dining space, but not intolerably hot. Quite a climb from the ground, however. We were out there because, as we were told coming in, the rest of the restaurant was booked out. Hmm.
The waiter up there jazzed up the evening, explaining that everything on the menu was decidedly Louisiana in its tastes and ingredients. We began with an excellent cup of chicken-and-sausage gumbo, which needed neither seasoning nor texture. An offbeat Caesar salad had a white dressing that changed the flavor of the romaine from typical to something a bit rich. I think there was some blue cheese in there.
The next small course for MA was billed as being somebody’s mama’s chicken and dumplings, made in the bready style (as opposed to pasta). This was juicy, riddled with carrots, and holding the pulled chicken pieces together.
For me, it would be either the double-cut pork chop or the redfish courtbouillon. The waiter said I should get the fish. I always get courtbouillon when it’s offered anywhere. (Ditto for the similar bouillabaisse.) First question: does it have a tomato sauce, a roux, or both? This one had red sauce all the way, with Louisiana popcorn rice.
But the main part of the platter was covered by a surprise: a whole redfish. This was neither on the menu nor in the waiter’s description of the dish. MA is a little squeamish about whole fish. I don’t have a problem with it, but it still wasn’t what I was thinking about. I did, however, eat the whole thing.
We were unimpressed by the desserts: bread pudding, pecan pie, and chocolate mousse pie. I thought they were overpriced a little, too.
I blame the complaints above on the fact that Gris Gris has only been open a few weeks. MA is insistent on having me write about new restaurants instead of those who have been around for awhile. I don’t entirely agree, but I do find life easier if I go along with her ideas.
The remainder of the menu featured a current, fresh-sounding Creole retinue. We have seen food like this before, and liked it then and now. The place calls for further investigation.
The traffic from Poydras Street to Felicity took incredibly long. I found out why later: Vice President Mike Pence was in town to check out the World War II Museum, and speaking somewhere along my usual route. Hmm.
Gris Gris. Lower Garden District: 1800 Magazine St. 504-272-0241.
Every year at this time, restaurants around New Orleans (over 100 of them this year) serve a special menu of three courses for prices in the mid-$30s. The motivation is to encourage New Orleans people to dine out a little more often. Under the name Coolinary, these dinners will continue until the end of August. (Some restaurants keep the promotion going well after August.) The price doesn’t include drinks, tax, or tips.
During the Coolinary season, the NOMenu Daily recommends one of the Coolinary menus. Here is today’s pick, from Carrollton Market. The price for the three-course dinner is $39.
Cuban-style Cobia Ceviche
Plantain tostone, lime, cilantro
Creole Tomato Gazpacho
Louisiana crabmeat, watermelon
Gulf Shrimp Risotto
Corn, saffron, shrimp essence
Beef “Debris” Lasagne
Housemade pasta, roast beef debris ragu, baby arugula, grana padano
Braised Beeler’s Pork Shank
Stoneground grits, stewed greens, pot likker jus
Pan-Roasted Verlasso Salmon
Sweet corn bread pudding, benton’s bacon-sherry vinaigrette
Buttermilk Panna Cotta
Chocolate Fudge-Pecan Pie
August 24, 2017
Coolinary Summer Specials Through August 31.
Annals Of Popular Cuisine
Annals Of Popular Cuisine
Chef George Crum invented potato chips today in 1853. He worked in a resort in Saratoga Springs, New York. The chips were meant as an insult to a customer who complained that Crum’s fried potatoes were too thick. The chef sliced them paper-thin, fried them, and sent them out. The customer loved them, and so did the chef. And they took off in popularity from there. Few restaurants serve freshly-fried potato chips locally; more ought to.
Sautee, Georgia is in the hilly northeast corner of the state, ninety-three miles north northeast of Atlanta. It’s an unincorporated community in the valley of the Nacoochee River. Hills on either side rise about 350 feet above the valley floor, giving a scenic outlook. It’s rural, but some Atlantans have weekend homes in the area, and enough people live there to support a school. The name of the town is pronounced “saw-tee,” derived from a Creek Indian word for “raccoon people.” No wonder people are moving there. The whole area is on the National Register of Historic Places, and a Folk Pottery Museum is there. A chef will sautee something for your lunch or dinner at the Nacoochee Guest House, right there in Sautee.
Deft Dining Rule #125
A fish and chips vendor without malt vinegar is like an oyster bar without Tabasco, an Italian restaurant without Parmigiano cheese, or a sushi bar without wasabi.
It is National Gyros Day–but only in the United States. Gyros, pronounced any way you like but most commonly “ghee-rho,” is a staple of American Greek restaurants. It may have been invented in this country, although that’s not certain. It is uncommon in Greece, except where American tourists congregate. No classical Greek dish is like it, although Lebanese shawarma is similar. It’s certainly not old; no mention of it has been found earlier than the 1970s.
Gyros is a processed blend of finely-chopped lamb and sometimes beef with seasonings, pressed into a tapering cylinder which is then mounted on a vertical rotisserie. Assuming the stuff is sold at a reasonable pace, the outside of this cylinder gets a little crust from the flame it passes on every rotation. The chef slices it off from top to bottom.
Gyros is serves as either a platter or a sandwich. In either case, it’s accompanied by pita bread, tzatziki sauce (a white sauce of yogurt, cucumber, and dill) lettuce, and tomatoes. If it’s a sandwich, sometimes it’s stuffed into the pocket of the pita, and sometimes the pita is wrapped around it like a taco shell. Despite its processed, fast-food aspect, gyros is pretty good. It’s certainly a great change of pace from the hamburger, which it resembles in enough ways to become popular.
Creole cream cheese, n.–A moist, white variation of cottage cheese. A staple at the breakfast table throughout New Orleans for decades, Creole cream cheese contains no cream (unless you add some at the table), and it’s just barely a cheese. The word “clabber” captures it exactly. It’s made by triggering the separation of milk into curds and whey. Most (but not all) of the latter is poured off. The most popular way to eat Creole cream cheese in its golden age (the middle of the 1900s) was with fresh fruit and sugar. For some reason, the taste for Creole cream cheese did not pass on to the Baby Boom generation, and the popularity of the product plummeted in the 1980s. All the diaries who once sold it stopped making it. There was a revival of interest in Creole cream cheese in the 1990s, when some chefs started using it to make cheesecakes.
Disastrous Interruptions Of Dinner
Mount Vesuvius’s most famous eruption–the one that buried Pompeii and Herculaneum–occurred on this date in 79 AD. From the excavations in the lava we’ve been able to learn much about the lifestyles of the Romans at that especially rich time in their history. What a strange coincidence that the earthquake that hit Italy overnight last night (2016) should have occurred on this date.
Annals Of Breakfast
Today in 1869, Cornelius Swarthout of Troy, New York patented a waffle iron. Although waffles existed for hundreds of years, and Thomas Jefferson brought a patterned waffle iron back from the Netherlands (where they have long been popular), Swarthout’s breakthrough was in creating the grid pattern we now identify with waffles. In those days before electricity, the iron was heated over an open fire or in an oven.
Alice’s Restaurant, a movie about the place where “you can get anything you want, excepting Alice,” premiered today in 1969. It grew out of a long, folky, humorous song performed by the movie’s star, Arlo Guthrie. The recording was better than the movie, a prime piece of pop culture of the late 1960s.
Today in 2006, the International Astronomical Union stripped Pluto of its status as a full-fledged planet. Back in the days when New Orleans had five-digit phone numbers, we dialed PLUTO to get the correct time. Before you got it, you’d hear an ad for Coca-Cola. Example: “Take five! Coke brings you back alive! Four thirty-one p.m.” To this day, whenever I think of Pluto I think of an ice-cold six-ounce bottle of Coke. What a great ad buy that was! And how antique such a service seems to be now!
This is the feast day of St. Bartholemew, one of the Apostles. He is much revered in Italy, and in Florence he is the patron saint of cheesemakers and salt merchants.
Baseball outfielder Tim Salmon was born today in 1968. . . British comedian Stephen Fry was born today in 1957. . . John Cipollina, guitarist with Quicksilver Messenger Service, a major band in the Summer of Love in San Francisco, was born today in 1943. . . Max Beerbohm, a British artist of caricatures, was born today in 1872. . . . Kenny Baker, who played R2D2 in the Star Wars movies, hit the Big Stage today in 1934.
Words To Eat By
“Lyon is full of temperamental gourmets, eternally engaged in a never-ending search for that imaginary, perfect, unknown little back-street bistro, where one can dine in the style of Louis XIV for the price of a pack of peanuts.”–Roy Andries de Groot, American food writer.
Substitute “New Orleans” for “Lyon” and “joint” for “bistro,” and the sentence remains true.
Words To Drink By
“A little learning is a dangerous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring;
Their shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again.