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DiningDiarySquare-150x150 Diary 8/30/2018: Desi Vega Turns Up In A New Place In Metairie. Desi Vega continues to expand his record of managing restaurants around town. He’s the successor to the late Mr. John Santopadre, who ran his own empire of varied businesses in these parts. They ranged from shoe repair shops to major restaurants. Some of the include Mr. John’s Steak House, the extinct CafĂ© Giovanni, Smilie’s (also extinct), Tastee Donuts, and more than a few real estate investments. Desi became part of the family by marrying Mr. John’s daughter, and from that moment the whole business accelerated its expansion.

Desi Vega’s sirloin strip.

Desi came into the family after first performing a stint in some of the major-name restaurants–Emeril’s and the Brennan family, to name the two best known. He quickly made it into the management side of things, and proved himself a skillfull operator. When Mr. John’s Steakhouse expanded to new locations, the name on their marquees was Desi Vega’s.

The newest such restaurant opened up shop a few days before this writing, in what had been the Heritage Grill. That in turn had been a number of restaurants in the towering Heritage Plaza just inside Jefferson Parish. Some of the restaurants that had been in that spot–most notable Charley G’s–were quite good. But most of them weren’t. In recent years, Ralph Brennan used it as a lunch facility for people in the building. He also used its kitchen as a staging area for catering projects. It was also an overflow facility for some of Ralph’s holiday buffets.

And, it must be said, on one occasion this had been a steakhouse. Nothing new under the sun.

The Marys and I were here for dinner, the selection having been advanced by both MA and ML. They were on the South Shore working on the house they’re renovating, which is not far from the new Desi Vega’s.

Two people of note were here. One of them–Glenn Boudreaux– was a waiter who had been working at Commander’s Palace when Mary Leigh was born at the old Baptist Hospital. The Brennans had a habit of sending a bottle of champagne to regular customers who were giving birth. In this case, Dick Brennan Sr. also sent along a small but elegant supper. Glenn had done this before and knew how it went. But this time a napkin caught a minuscule fire in the maternity room. Which immediately set off a smoke alarm. Which had firemen–some of them carrying axes–running up the stairs into the hospital. It didn’t take long for the almost-fire to be discovered and snuffed out. But the Marys had their first big episode of adventure. What a way to begin a life!

The dinner began with some poke-style, nearly raw tuna (all for me, since the Marys don’t go for that). Then a total-crabmeat crab cake with remoulade sauce, and a couple of very spicy meatballs. (The meatballs are a Desi Vega tradition, served at most meals there as an amuse-bouche.)

Chef Robert Bruce @ Desi Vega’s

The chef at the new Desi Vega is a familiar face. Chef Robert Bruce had put in his time with the Brennans. He also was the executive chef of Smith and Wollensky during the short time that chain was in New Orleans. He brought to the table a well-trimmed New York strip steak with an amazingly-well-marbled, two-inch-thick steak. I ordered this with the idea that I would split it with the girls. Who required afterburning of their steaks. But they let me have it my way–mid-rare), and returned it to the sizzling butter to cook the beef a little more. This was not only a terrific steak in the tradition of Mr. John and Desi Vega, but was a good deal at $45. Are steak prices pedaling backward?

Also on the table, courtesy of our family’s official orchestrator of side dishes MA, were some unusual and very good mushrooms, too-thick creamed spinach, hash-brown potatoes (the shredded form, which are not in a league with MA’s famous hash browns) and a well-tossed, heavy-on-the-dressing wedge salad. No room for dessert.

And that’s when Desi Vega himself appeared on a scooter. He had badly pulled his Achilles tendon while playing with his kids. What with all the variable levels of the floor at the new Desi Vega’s Seafood and Steaks, he was having a tough time getting around. But once he came to the table, he gave me the long version of what happened. We swapped it off with our own massacree from when MA gave birth to ML.

It was only the first ten days or so since opening day, but everything seems to be working well here.

Desi Vega @ 17th Street Canal. Old Metairie: 111 Veterans Blvd. 504-293-2490.

Coolinary @ Apolline

FIRST COURSE

Panzanella Salad
Herbed croutons, arugula, frisee, grated Piave, heirloom tomato relish
or
Heirloom Tomato Gazpacho
Topped with cucumber salsa

SECOND COURSE

Grilled Gulf Shrimp
Speckled grits, tomatillos, roasted corn, shishito peppers, pickled onions, housemade chimichurri
or
Braised Chappapeela Farms Pork Belly
Black eyed pea succotash

Pan Seared Airline Chicken Breast
Yellow squash, roasted fingerling potatoes, scallions, natural jus

THIRD COURSE

Chocolate Pots de Creme
Topped with whipped cream
or
Orange Dream Tart
Goat cheese cream, crushed pistachios
or
White Peach & Elderflower Sorbet
Edible flowers

Tomorrow is the final day for the 2018 Coolinary promotion. Looking back on all the restaurants and their three-course dinners, I think it’s safe to say that this was the best Coolinary issue ever. I can also say that a few restaurants will continue to offer the Coolinary dinners. It’s always worth asking when you make your reservations whether the Coolinary is still on.

This menu is one of the two or three best I saw this year. It offers a three-course dinner for $35 per person. Price does not include drinks, tax or tip.

.Apolline. Uptown: 4729 Magazine St. 504-894-8881.

Dining room at Apolline.

AlmanacSquare August 30, 2017

Upcoming Deliciousness

Coolinary Summer Specials Through August 31.

The Day Of No Restaurants

Today in 2005 was a really bad day in New Orleans. Katrina was gone, but the levees parted and the city filled with water. The flood would cover eighty percent of its formerly dry land with several feet of water, and remain for weeks. It would be a couple more days before FEMA and other governmental agencies got a grip on how bad things were. Orleanians in exile knew exactly how awful the situation was, as we gaped at what we saw on CNN. And the worst was still yet to come. I remember drinking many martinis and feeling powerless, homeless, and jobless. I hadn’t yet started wondering what would happen to our restaurants. On this day five years ago, the number of them in operation was zero. That had never happened to any culinary capital in history.

For a lot of us, the current disaster in Texas makes us relive the Katrina episode. As happened after Katrina, there people in Houston have been made homeless. And every person or organization is gearing up to help.

Today’s Flavor

This is National Seafood Stuffing Day. Restaurants from the lowest to the highest price categories stuff seafood dressings into all sorts of other foods. But what is it, really? Usually, a combination of claw crabmeat, tiny shrimp, bread crumbs, and herbs. In flavor, it ranges from bready, oil-logged, and tasteless to marvelous, fluffy, moist concoctions that add magic to whatever it stuffs.

Seafood stuffing can be dangerous. The temptation to make it out of a little bit of seafood and a lot of bread gives a bad name to what can be, when made well, a delicious thing. Stuffing can be actually stuffed into something (as in a stuffed fish, lobster, or soft-shell crab) or wrapped around the outside of the stuffee (as in stuffed shrimp). Or it can be served all by itself (as in stuffed crabs, which starts with only the shell of the crab, if even that).

The secret of good seafood stuffing is in starting with cubes of stale bread, rather than bread crumbs. You then soak the cubes in a flavorful seafood stock. Then mix it with as much seafood as you can, of a quality you would eat even if it were served by itself.

Food And Wine In Show Biz

Today in 1968, the Beatles recorded the first songs on their new Apple label. One of them was their all-time biggest hit, Hey Jude,. It entered the charts at Number Ten (the highest entry level for any record ever), then became Number One for nine weeks.

Today is the birthday, in 1908, of actor Fred MacMurray, who had a long career in radio, movies, and television. His ranch in Sonoma became a vineyard, and under the management of the Gallo family has become a great source of Pinot Grigio and Pinot Noir. Their reserve Pinot Noir I find particularly drinkable.

Shirley Booth, whose most famous role was as the eponymous maid on the 1960s television show Hazel, was born today in 1898. Talk about a show that would make no sense today! Hazel was a live-in maid who did all the cooking and serving for an upscale but not especially wealthy American family of three. She was a wisecracking busybody who bossed her employers around. Shirley Booth played another food-and-drink-related role, as Miss Duffy in the long-running radio comedy series “Duffy’s Tavern.” In real life, she was the wife of Ed Gardner, who created the series and played Archie, the manager of a sleazy dive in which inedible food and bad drinks were served to a bunch of lowlifes.

Annals Of California Wine

Today is the birthday, in 1812, of Agoston Harazthy, considered the father of winegrowing in California. A native of Pest, Hungary, he brought thousands of vineyard cuttings to Sonoma County, planting what became the Buena Vista vineyards. His work to solve the problem of the phylloxera root louse–endemic in America–saved the vineyards of Europe when the louse found its way there.

Deft Dining Rule #194

When you hear someone rave about a wine because it comes from pre-phylloxera vines, you are listening to someone whose reception of flavor comes largely from self-hypnosis.

Edible Dictionary

chutney, Hindi, n.–A relish served as a condiment with almost any main dish in Indian and Southeast Asian cooking. In India, the word is used much more generically than it is in this country, and can include everything from a dry mixture of whole spices to chunky, wet mixtures of fruits and spices, with the texture of preserves. In this country, almost all chutneys fit the latter description. They are both sweet and aromatically spicy. They typically are served in separate dishes. The eater dips a fork or a pappadum into the chutney and takes a small taste of it, thereby creating contrast with the flavors of the main ingredient. About the closest thing to chutney in the standard American menu is steak sauce–which, in fact, is inspired by chutney. I find chutney useful in making sauces and glazes, particularly for pork.

Bridges To Fine Dining

The Lake Pontchartrain Causeway opened today in 1956. A 23.86-mile, two-lane span (now the southbound span) opened as the longest bridge in the world. Lake Pontchartrain lies north of New Orleans; high water pushed into it by Hurricane Katrina caused the levees to break. (The Causeway, however, remained passable.) Its greatest effect was the development of the other side of the lake, now a major suburb of New Orleans. About twenty years ago I ran an April Fool review of a restaurant on the lower level of the mid-lake turnaround on the older span. Every now and then a radio listener calls about it. Come to think of it, that would be a good place to build an exit to a man-made island in the middle of the lake, with hotels, casinos, and restaurants there. Why not?

Politics In Food

Louisiana Governor Huey P. Long, the most famous political figure in the history of the state, was born today in 1893. The lore about his life and ideas fill many books. What we’re interested in here is that promise he made to his constituents of “two chickens in every pot.”

The Saints

Today is the feast day of St. Fiacre, who lived in Ireland in the seventh century. He is the patron saint of gardeners. His images depict him carrying a shovel and a bundle of vegetables.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Olive is a rural crossroads (of the Old Olive Road and Olive Hamlet Road) in western Kentucky, thirty-five miles southeast of Paducah and the Ohio River. It’s ten miles west of the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area, a long, narrow park between the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers, both of which are impounded and have formed lakes. The nearest place to eat is the Crossroads, three and a half miles south.

Food Namesakes

Coy Bacon, pro football player in the 1970s, was born today in 1942. . . Peggy Lipton, television actress, turned on today in 1947. . . R. (Robert) Crumb, the most famous and best of all the underground comix artists, was born today in 1943. . . Red Sox outfielder Jim Rice set an inglorious record today in 1984, by grounding into a record thirty-third double play of the year. He would run that total up to thirty-six. Otherwise, he was a great hitter. . . Samuel Whitbread, who would become the head of the largest brewery in England, was born today in 1720.

Words To Eat By

“I’m a salty, greasy girl. I give every French fry a fair chance.”–Cameron Diaz, born today in 1972.

“All happiness depends on a leisurely breakfast.”–John Gunther, American author, born today in 1901.

Words To Drink By

“A man cannot make him laugh; but that’s no marvel; he drinks no wine.”–William Shakespeare.