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DiningDiarySquare-150x150 DiningDiarySquare-150x150 Diary 9/21/2018. Dinner @ Austin’s. MO.

I’m dizzy from various plans for our next few weeks. We have an Eat Club dinner at Trenasse next Wednesday. Mary Ann will visit Washington D.C. for a birthday party the week after. Mary Leigh finally has contractors in gear to finish the house she and MA have been renovating for months. Meanwhile, ML has achieved a major promotion in her artistic job. Finally, with the football season underway, I don’t have to host my radio show on most Saturdays and Sundays. That’s a welcome source of increased audience for my other shows, but my usual seven-day week can get grueling.

I wind up for dinner at Austin’s, deep in Metairie and the most ambitious of “Mr. Ed” McIntyre’s restaurants. The menu gets around to a lot of bases, although it’s not as sophisticated as similar restaurants Uptown or in the Warehouse District. It has always been what I call a “Suburban Creole” style of cooking. However, like many restaurants in that part of East Jefferson Parish, it has a lot of regular customers. Those folks don’t exactly push the restaurant to create menus full of new dishes.

The best part of Austin’s menu is that of a steakhouse, with good quality beef sizzling in butter. They also bring in some some nice seafood, but too many of the preparations are along the lines of cream sauces with crabmeat, shrimp, and crawfish.

While I wait for my eating to begin, I meet five or six people who tell me they listen to the radio show. They prove this by relating specific bits they heard on my air. One of the waiters is married to a woman who called me enough to have a handle: Linda, the Gourmet Aerobics Instructor. I haven’t heard from her in years. Too bad. I could use her conversation during the many dull moments on the show.

Soft-shell crab @ Austin’s.

My dinner begins with a honey-sweetened truffled salad. That’s a break away from the usual eats here, and quite good, I thought. The sweet aspect was restrained and interesting.

Then, with the encouragement of the waiter, I have a soft-shell crab “Austin.” That formula includes crabmeat, asparagus, bacon, mushrooms, and brabant potatoes. The soft shell crab element was more or less thrown into the fryer, and emerged overcooked. At $33, this was less than I was hoping for.

Austin’s tonight retrieved at least some of its reputation in the dessert course. Its creme brulee with fresh fruit embedded therein is always good.

On the way out I said hello to Scott Kyser, a young pianist who plays my kind of music all night long at Austin’s. He agreed to let me sing a song with him, but we couldn’t think of one we both knew at the moment. And then I had an idea. Mary Ann thinks that I should record a CD’s worth of songs sung by me, with minimal accompaniment.

I don’t think that would be of much interest. But an album of Kyser’s tickling the piano while I sing my favorite Tin Pan Alley songs might have a little something to it. If things got really interesting, I could ask Peggy Scott Laborde to warm up her vocal chords in the same endeavor. (Every time Peggy and I cross each other’s paths, we break into song.) It might be as good as what auto dealer Ronnie Lamarque lately recorded. As for MA, I’m not sure what she has in mind with this idea, knowing that she’s not a big fan of my singing.

Austin’s Metairie: 5101 West Esplanade Ave. 504-888-5533.

Shrimp And Ham Bouchees

No place has a perfect cuisine, and no occasion reveals the local imperfections like a wedding reception. At wedding receptions around New Orleans, it is almost a certainty that you will encounter a terrible dish called “oyster patties.” These consist of glop in a “patty shell”–a small round pastry with a pocket. The problem with it is that oysters release so much water as they cook that the sauce and the patty shell have a way of merging into an unpleasant whole.

I offer this dish as a replacement for oyster patties. I’ve removed the oysters for use in better dishes, and replace them with shrimp. (This also works with crawfish, in season. The sauce is a take on the one used for oysters Bienville, but without the oysters. And puff pastry replaced patty shells.

  • 1 stick butter
  • 2/3 cup flour
  • 3/4 cup hot milk
  • 4 oz. shredded Morbier or Gruyere cheese
  • 8 oz. smoky, lean sliced ham, chopped coarsely
  • 1 cup shiitake mushrooms, chopped coarsely
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup small shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 2 oz. brandy
  • 10 sprigs fresh parsley, leaves only, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp. fresh tarragon, if available (otherwise omit)
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • Generous pinch cayenne
  • 12 small puff pastry shells

1. Melt the butter over medium-low heat in a saucepan. Stir in the flour to make a blond roux. When you see the first hints of browning, remove from the heat and whisk in the hot milk to form a béchamel. (It will have the texture of mashed potatoes.)

2. Stir the cheese into the hot béchamel and set aside.

3. In a second skillet, heat the ham until it begins to steam, then add the mushrooms and wine. Bring the mixture to a boil and cook until mostly dry.

4. Add the shrimp and cook until they turn pink. Lower the heat, add the brandy, and let it mostly boil away.

5. Stir the shrimp and ham mixture, the parsley, and the tarragon into the béchamel. Add salt and cayenne.

6. Spoon the sauce into the puff pastry shells and place on a baking sheet. Bake the shells in a preheated 400-degree oven for about two minutes, and serve immediately. Serves six.

AlmanacSquare September 24, 2017

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Today’s Flavor

Today is widely noted as Cherries Jubilee Day, celebrating a dessert that’s all but gone from restaurant menus, living on only at historic establishments like Antoine’s. (Which, in fact, makes the definitive version.) It’s pretty simple: cherries are cooked down in a syrup made right there in the pan, then flamed with kirsch, and served over ice cream. It is believed to have been created by no less than Auguste Escoffier, the arbiter of classic French cooking, on the occasion of Queen Victoria’ s fiftieth jubilee. Escoffier’s original recipe didn’t have ice cream, but that was such a natural addition that it’s now universal.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Sweet Hill has two summits, both of which rise to 600 feet in eastern Connecticut. It’s twenty-nine miles east of Hartford, the state capital. The area is mostly wooded, but it clearly was farmed back in colonial times, and a number of small farms are still in the area. Want something to eat? The Log Cabin is just a mile away in Lebanon.

Edible Dictionary

prosciutto, [pro-ZHOO-toe], Italian, n.–A dry-cured ham in the Italian style. A pig’s hind leg is covered with salt and a bit of fat, then hung up to dry in a building with free, cool air flow for about a year. (It can be between nine and eighteen months, depending on the place and its climate.) The salt is washed off and the ham is dried. Sometimes the bone is then removed, but sometimes even the hoof remains on. Prosciutto is usually served as is, sliced very thinly. It shows up most often in the antipasto course, where it is so common that in most Italian restaurants it is the most common first course. The word comes from a Latin expression meaning “dried out.” The two most famous prosciuttos come from San Daniele in northeast Italy, and Parma at the top of the boot. Prosciutto is also made domestically, but it doesn’t compare with the real Italian article.

Cocktails On Television

Today in 1977 was the launch date for The Love Boat, the situation comedy-drama set on a Princess cruise ship. The series tremendously boosted the popularity of cruising as a mainstream vacation. Previously, the average age of cruisers was “deceased.” The Love Boat showed people of all ages having all kinds of fun on a spiffy, glamorous ship. What I remember most about The Love Boat was that no matter where you were on the ship, no matter what time it was, if you ordered a cocktail it would be mixed by Isaac, played by Ted Lange. He appeared to be the only cocktail server on the whole ship. Also at odds with our experience on cruise ships was the ease with which one could arrange to have dinner at the captain’s table.

Annals Of Coffee

Riccardo Illy was born today in 1955. He joined his family’s coffee company in Trieste, Italy, where he greatly expanded the marketing reach of Illy Caffe. He wrote an influential book about how to make espresso, starting with the unroasted beans and finishing in the cup. He then went into politics, where he’s still a major player in that field.

Annals Of Brewing

Arthur Guinness, who founded the Guinness Brewing Company, was born today in 1725, in Dublin, Ireland. Members of his family worked as brewers, but Arthur got into the business on the entrepreneurial side. He started out making ales, but then moved to porter–the higher-alcohol, darker beers for which Guinness eventually became famous. Guinness is now the leading brand name of such beers, as well as the sponsor of the Book of World Records. The latter began as a means of settling arguments that may well have started over glasses of Guinness Stout.

Annals Of Restaurant Advertising

Today is the birthday, in 1870, of Georges Claude, the Frenchman who invented the neon lighting tube in 1910. Restaurants have been among the best customers of neon signmakers, and still use them heavily. Imagine the Acme Oyster House, Mandina’s or Tujague’s without neon!

Music To Eat Pie By

Today in 1967, Jay and the Techniques hit Number Three with their biggest record, Apples, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie . It was about a girl!

Eating Around The World

Today is Heritage Day in South Africa, a holiday celebrating the ethnic diversity of that country. It is also known as National Braai Day. A braai is a barbecue, the kind you’d have with family and friends. Since it’s early spring in South Africa, it’s sort of the kickoff of that season.

Food And Drink Namesakes

We begin with food-named twins: Paul and Morgan Hamm, both American Olympic gymnasts, born today in 1982. . . Today in 1865, James Cooke walked a tightrope from the original Cliff House in San Francisco to the Seal Rocks, well out into the Pacific Ocean and covered with sea lions. . . Actor Don Porter, whose most famous role was as Sally Fields’s father in the television show Gidget, hit The Big Stage today in 1912. I wonder if he knew that he shared a birthday with the most famous name in porter, Arthur Guinness (see above).

Words To Eat By

“Time’s fun when you’re having flies.”–Kermit the Frog, the Muppet created by Jim Henson, who was born today in 1936.

Words To Drink By

“First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you.”–F. Scott Fitzgerald, born today in 1896.