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DiningDiarySquare-150x150 Diary: 9/6-7-8/2018. A line of restaurants has formed lately along the 2000 stretch of Metairie Road. It’s not the first time. Quite a few excellent, unique eateries have come and gone over the years in these less-than-brand-new premises. Brasa Churresquerria, in what used to be the former Chateau Du Lac, is now a steak house with a Brazilian accent. Down the road a little bit is a cutting-edge Mexican café called Zocalo. It’s in what had been Vega Tapas Café.

I dined in both of these restaurants in the past week or so, as the buzz about both has become substantial. We were introduced to Brasa by some friends. I knew some of the staff back then, too. The first bit of knowledge I took in regarding Brasa is that it is nothing like Fogo De Chao, the all-you-can-eat Brazilian steakery. The beef here is pretty much American standard in its carving, sauce, and sides. On the other hand, Brasa ages and carves the beef with more than ordinary artistry. There always seems to be some Wagyu beef to select from. This has been good but perhaps not for the prices. On the advantageous side, the sides, vegetables, soups, and other elements are a bit more careful in their artistry.

Zocalo made quite a splash in the Metairie dining scene when it opened in August. Its small size almost guarantees that the dining would fill up most of the tables and the bar. The first couple of times I tried to go there, I found a wall and an insistence in getting reservations. That didn’t greet me after the place was open for a few weeks, telling us that here is an example of the standard new-restaurant excitement, one that probably won’t go on more than a few weeks.

That said, it must be noted that here is an entirely new approach to Mexican cooking. Although most of the words on the menu are quite familiar, the dishes that they herald may not be exactly the same as you’re used to reading. For example, the choriqueso that many restaurants have as a dip made by mixing Mexican cheese dip with chopped chorizo cheese is rendered in a completely different style at Zocalo. Out comes a gratin dish with peppers and other seasoning elements, with the cheese settled into the bottom of the dish. The way I handled it was to open the flour tortilla, sprinkle some of the green and red things, then top it with a thin layer of the queso and a few more nubbins and gratings of other cheeses. Then I fold the tortilla over and eat it more or less the way I’d do for a flautas. Very good, I’d say. But It’s different enough that some people will register bewilderment.

The best of what I’ve found at Zocalo is a variation on molé poblano, but made in the style of Oaxaca–very, very dark, and a mild sweetness in this hollandaise-tectured molé. The main substance of the dish is fried duck breast.

Both of these 2000 Metairie Road denizens have better dining room staffs than one expects, on the young, hip side. They will give you a lot of explanation about this new approach to Mexican food. So are a lot of the customers. But the Metairie Road crowd is notorious for being more or less finished with cooking and serving by about eight-thirty. If you can’t get a 5:30 or 6:30 reservation, try for 7:00 45 or 9 p.m.

Brasa Churrasqeria. Metairie 1: Old Metairie: 2037 Metairie Road. 504-570-6338.

Zocalo. Old Metairie: 2051 Metairie Rd. 504-836-2007.

Diary 9/9/2018. Meanwhile, MA is back home, after a week spent in Los Angeles with not nearly enough time given to her cherished and delightful grandchildren. But how much is ever enough? Especially since the addition of the second next-generationer. Two handsome little boys with brilliant blue eyes and arresting smiles. I wonder when I will get my chance to see them again.


Banana Peanut Butter Bread

This is the first hit recipe on my radio show, back in 1988. I remember sending out dozens of copies of it every week for a while. Then the interest faded, just the way it does for hit records on a music station. That didn’t make it any less good. It’s a terrific loaf of bread that can be eaten during a meal, as dessert, for breakfast, or for a snack.

  • 4 medium, extra-ripe bananas, peeled
  • 1/3 cup chunky peanut butter
  • 1/4 cup softened butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

1. Slice bananas into a blender. Puree until smooth.

2. In a bowl with an electric mixer, beat the peanut butter and butter together until smooth. Beat in eggs until completely blended. Then beat in the pureed bananas and the vanilla.

3. Combine all the dry ingredients. Add to the banana mixture a little at a time, beating until completely blended.

4. Pour batter into a nine-by-five-inch loaf pan. Bake in preheated 350-degree oven 50 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean.

5. Cool 10 minutes in pan, then turn onto a wire rack to complete cooling.

Makes one loaf.

AlmanacSquare September 10, 2017

Upcoming Deliciousness

Restaurant Week: September 10-16. Fettuccine Frenzy: Wednesdays, Thursdays & Fridays through September @ Middendorf’s.

Food Calendar

Today is Barbecue Shrimp Day. It won’t be a national celebration, because a) no other part of the country has shrimp as fine as the white shrimp we have right now and 2) no other place understands that “barbecue shrimp” is a misnomer. There’s no smoke, grill, or thick sauce. Instead, they’re cooked with a sauce Richard Collin once described as “all the butter in the world, and half the pepper.” A little garlic, Worcestershire, and paprika are in there, too.

The dish was invented at Pascal’s Manale in 1954, when a customer asked Pascal Radosta to duplicate a shrimp dish he had in Chicago. The resulting dish wasn’t like the one this guy had found, but he liked it even better. Barbecue shrimp soon became the signature dish at Manale’s, where most tables include at least one order of the things.

It’s essential for barbecue shrimp to be made with large, intact, unpeeled shrimp (about 10-20 to the pound), with heads, shells, tails, and everything else still there. Much flavor comes from the juices and fats in the head. Whole shrimp this size, drenched in sauce, are a mess to eat. Especially if you insist on peeling the shrimp. (I just pull the heads off and eat the rest, shells and all–although I do not recommend this to you.)

Chef Gerard Maras made a major improvement in barbecue shrimp in the 1980s, during his tenure at Mr. B’s. His trick: whisking in the butter at the end of the cooking process. Emeril Lagasse developed the only good peeled version of barbecue shrimp, making a very intense stock out of the heads and shells, and incorporating it back into the butter sauce. It’s a great idea, but a lot of work.

Every restaurant has its own version of barbecue shrimp, but to my tastes, the simpler the recipe, the better they are.

Tenuous Food-Sports Connection

Today is the birthday, in 1934, of Yankee home run slugger Roger Maris, my boyhood baseball hero. He batted left and threw right, as I do. Hit sixty-one homers in 1961, topping Babe Ruth’s best single season. His name originally was spelled “Maras,” same as New Orleans chef Gerard Maras. The chef renovated barbecue shrimp during his tenure at Mr. B’s, where it’s still the best version in town. (See above.)

Gourmet Gazetteer

Steak Lake is in the northeast corner of Minnesota, the Land of Lakes. There are certainly lots of them around Steak Lake, one of countless small lakes scraped into the hills by departed glaciers. It’s in the Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness Area, about twenty miles north of the north shore of Lake Superior. Better bring food or fishing tackle. Failing that, it’s a thirteen-mile canoe paddle and portage to the Gunflint Lodge, where the stoves are going unless the place is already frozen in.

Deft Dining Rule #614

Shrimp always taste better with the shells and heads still in place.

Edible Dictionary

lavash, [lah-VAHSH], Middle Eastern, n.–Also spelled lahvash, lavosh, and lavoch. A thin bread made from wheat flour, water, and salt. Whatever leavening it contains comes from the air in the place where it is made. Even then it hardly rises at all. In its fresh form, it is the thin bread used to make the Middle Eastern sandwiches that evolved into wrap sandwiches in this country. Lavash dries out so rapidly that it is also commonly served as a cracker. It once was common in bread-and-cracker baskets around America. As plain as they are, the cracker form of lavash can be habit-forming, especially when encrusted with sesame or poppy seeds, and they sometimes are.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez

If you have even a suspicion that the shrimp are completely cooked, they are.

Creole Icons

Today is the birthday, in 1801, of Marie Laveau, the most celebrated historical name in New Orleans voodoo circles. Her name has been used in connection with many dishes, a beer, and a restaurant. Her supposed tomb in St. Louis Cemetery (its authenticity is disputed) is among the most visited in the city.

Food Namesakes

Yma Sumac, a Peruvian singer who was famous for her alleged four-octave vocal range, was born today in 1922. (Sumac is a spice widely used in Middle Eastern cooking.) . . . Actor Philip Baker Hall was born today in 1932. . . Siobhan Fahey, who was a singer in the Irish band Bananarama, turned on his mike today in 1958. . . Professional snowboarder Travis Rice hit the Big Snowbank today in 1982.

Golfer Arnold Palmer was born today in 1929. He played in the Masters tournament fifty times in his career. He has a good, non-alcoholic beverage named for him. An Arnold Palmer is half lemonade, half iced tea. Very refreshing.

Words To Eat By

“I think somebody should come up with a way to breed a very large shrimp. That way, you could ride him, then, after you camped at night, you could eat him. How about it, science?”–Jack Handey.

That would be the perfect size for barbecue shrimp.

Words To Drink By

“I love drinking now and then. It defecates the standing pool of thought. A man perpetually in the paroxysm and fears of inebriety is like a half-drowned stupid wretch condemned to labor unceasingly in water; but a now-and-then tribute to Bacchus is like the cold bath, bracing and invigorating.”–Robert Burns.