Wednesday, August 1, 2018. It always happens when I return from extended vacations: I don’t know what day of the week it is. It’s a good thing my computers and smart phones display that datum, or else I wouldn’t be sure that it was Richard Hughes, the chef and owner of the Pelican Club who showed up for the radio show on this diary date. Or that Chris Montero from Ralph Brennan’s seven-restaurant group would be on the air with me in the studio today. It was all clear.
This will go down as the darkest of days for my wife Mary Ann and our daughter Mary Leigh. The Marys awakened to the death overnight of their rescue dog Bauer. He has been very ill for months, a situation made worse by our leaving going to Los Angeles, where our grandson’s baptism took place. All of our resources for having the dogs taken care of while we’re gone aware unavailable. A vet who undertook the job found a dire situation and not many options.
Mary Ann was the first to discover that Bauer wasn’t breathing. This triggered ML to come home from work. The two of them were as distraught as I’ve ever them. Inconsolable is really the right word to describe their emotional state. This dire mood moved over to me, as well as to the dog Steel, our big handsome German shepherd, the last of our canines.
It was in that state of mind that I left the Cool Water Ranch to tend to my radio show in town. Chris Montero was my guest in the first hour of the show. He wanted to tell me about a series of cooking demonstrations at the New Orleans Museum of Art this summer. Four of these events have already played, with four more coming. All of them are free, and getting tickets is not the easiest task.
Otherwise, I had a lot to do at the station. A bunch of commercials to write and perform. Somehow, it seemed that the world had changed.
My most successful way of recovery from a disaster–where it’s a flat tire or the death of a loved one or a Hurricane Katrina–is to get back to work. The more regular, the better. My main job is the frivolous but in-demand endeavor of finding good places and things to eat. Today, I had much work to do. The Coolinary begins today, with over 100 restaurants creating three-course dinners for about $40. I get right on it.
Dinner for me after the show was at the original location of Mr. Ed’s Oyster Bar and Grill, where the seafood restaurant Bozo’s once was. It’s the first of a series of restaurants created by Mr. Ed McIntyre and scattered around the city. Its menu features many variations on oysters, my favorite restaurant concept. Today at Mr. Ed’s I have oysters Rockefeller, oysters Bienville (really more like shrimp Bienville), and a half-dozen raw. All good, but not as good as the baked oysters I had yesterday at Felix’s in West End.
Also a little goofed up was the soup du jour–billed as turtle soup, but replaced seafood gumbo. The waitress came over to offer the gumbo for free, and the turtle soup, too. I told her not to worry about it. I hadn’t noticed the swapout, anyway.
As long as I’m talking about the dinner at Felix’s yesterday, I will finish that review. I tried to go to Felix’s with the Marys last week, but found parking there impossible. I should have known. West End, even when it sported over ten restaurants, has never been a good place to go in a hurry on a summer evening.
Come to think about it, Mr. Ed’s Oyster Bar also has a parking problem. A large building–at least five stories–is going up across the street from the Oyster Bar. It has already removed a lot of curb parking, and kept me from getting easily to Mr. Ed’s Oyster Bar. Something will have to be done about that.
Mr. Ed’s Oyster Bar & Fish House. Metairie: 3117 21st St. 504-833-6310.
Late summer–now through most of September–is a dead zone for New Orleans restaurants. Particularly those which rely heavily on tourism, which is especially scarce (although, it seems, not as bad as people thought it would be this summer).
The knowledge that the summer downturn is coming every year doesn’t lighten the anxiety for restaurateurs. What does help, though, is the patronage of local diners. Who, in turn, know that this time of year is a great time to sample the city’s most famous restaurants.
A friend once told me that he loved August in New Orleans, because you could stand on the corner of Royal and Conti at seven in the evening, without reservations, and walk into any restaurant you wanted: Antoine’s, Brennan’s, K-Paul’s, the Rib Room, Nola, Mr. B’s, the Pelican Club, Broussard’s. And those are just the ones within a block or two.
From the restaurant’s perspective, though, that effect looks like a lot of empty tables. To fill some of them, restaurants create special menus with exceptionally attractive prices. For the past few years, that promotion has become coordinated. A few years ago The New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau invented “The Coolinary.” The restaurants are asked to devise a special dinner menu with three courses for around $40, and lunch for around $25.
The Coolinary (they could have thought of a better name, but we’re stuck with it now) officially began August 1. Between the restaurants officially part of that program and others that have done it on their own, over thirty major restaurants are participating. I’d say that’s enough to call it a festival.
Scanning the menus, I can’t say that there’s a bargain-table aspect to this food. The prices are shaved by cutting back the portions a touch (that needed to be done anyway) and by limited use of expensive ingredients (although I’ve seen foie gras, filets mignon, and lots of crabmeat included).
And the foodstuffs of the summer are terrific. Although crawfish are now gone, the crop of crabs is rich. Creole tomatoes are, for some reason, widely available and very tasty. (They’re running a little late.) Shrimp are superb. There has been a nice supply of pompano, amberjack, and tuna. The only major seafood with spotty availability is oysters, because of the oil spill closures of the beds. But this is the poor time of year for oysters anyway.
I’ve posted all the menus and details for these summer specials at www.nomenu.com/summer. As I write this, I find myself adding a new summer menu to the list daily. Only a few seem half-hearted. The best are very good indeed. Topping my list is the summer menu at the Pelican Club, which has used such promotions extremely well to raise consciousness of its food the rest of the year. Its $39, three-course menu is a good example of what you’ll find during the next six weeks:
COOLINERY MENU FOR PELICAN CLUB
Smoked Duck, Andouille & Shrimp Gumbo
Creamy Corn and Crab Bisque
Onions, avocado crema, mango and house tortilla chips
Escargot in Casserole
Baked with mushroom duxelle, garlic butter & puff pastry
Seafood Martini Ravigote
Maine lobster, Gulf shrimp, jumbo lump crabmeat with Yukon gold potato salad
Pelican Club Baked Oysters
on the half shell with applewood smoked bacon, roasted red peppers, parmesan & garlic herb butter
Heirloom Tomato Burrata Salad
with torn basil vinaigrette and grilled ciabatta
Local Jumbo Lump Crab Cake
Roasted pepper chive aioli and frisee salad
Little Gem Lettuce Wedge
Roquefort buttermilk dressing, little gem lettuce, apple smoked bacon, watermelon radish and tomato
Pecan Crusted Louisiana Catfish with Fried Popcorn Shrimp
Rum butter sauce and pineapple chipotle salsa served with Caribbean slaw
Jumbo Lump Blue Crab Spaghetti Fino
with sweet corn, butter, lemon, Vidalia onion and parmesan
Pan Seared New York Strip Steak
with crispy onion rings and a bourbon brown sugar BBQ sauce served in a skillet with freshly baked jalapeno and sweet onion corn bread
1 LB Whole Maine Lobster and Fried Jumbo Shrimp +$7
with haricots verts and lemon cream
9oz. Rack of Lamb
marinated and roasted with rosemary pesto crust and port-mint demi-glace with truffle mashed potatoes and asparagus
Whole Crispy Gulf Fish +$5
sea scallops, jumbo shrimp, citrus chili sauce, served with jasmine rice
Louisiana Cioppino – in its own pot
Gulf fish, shrimp, scallops, mussels and little neck clams served with a side of linguini in a fresh basil tomato sauce
Chocolate Decadence Cake
White Chocolate Bread Pudding
Coconut Cream Pie
Bourbon Pecan Pie
Vanilla Bean and Brandy Crème Brulee
Court of Two Sisters
Salon by Sucre
Red Fish Grill
Muriel’s Jackson Square
Mr. B’s Bistro
Little Gem Saloon
La Petite Grocery
K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen
Happy Italian Pizzeria
Grill Room at Windsor Court
Galatoire’s 33 Bar & Steak
Fogo de Chão
Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse
Crescent City Brewhouse
Charlie’s Steak House
Brown Butter Southern Kitchen
Bon Ton Café