Diary 6-1-2018: Deep In The Renovations of Antoine’s.
Q. What do Antoine’s and the extinct restaurant Kolb’s have in common?
A. They both had the same kind of air-conditioning system.
If you old around long enough to have seen Kolb’s when it was still in action, you would have seen an elaborate network of leather belts and pulleys, all of which were connected ultimately at one spot in the ceiling, where a single electric motor turned a what appeared to be many interconnected belts. The setup ran a bunch of fans throughout the main dining room, no doubt to keep customers comfortable during the brutal summers in pre-air-conditioned New Orleans. At Kolb’s,the apparatus was originally part of the 1884 Worlds Fair in what is now Audubon Park. It was was still running when Kolb’s, just shy of 100 years old, gave up the ghost in the 1980s or 1990s.
Antoine’s appears to have built one of these networks in its dining room or kitchen some time around World War I. If it was hot for the diners, imagine what the heat was in the kitchen. That very question has been on the to-do list of renovations at Antoine’s, where the kitchen condition is sometimes blamed for the small number of young, would-be-star cooks at Antoine’s.
It was Friday. No demands are being made of me from the Marys or others. I thought I’d favor myself with dinner at my favorite restaurant, Antoine’s. It’s been months since the last time. But I found a hand-written note on the locked front door. I mistook this for a message that the restaurant was sold out. Fortunately, things were not so bad for me–I just needed to enter through the Mystery Room, where Antoine’s reroutes customers when something unusual was going on.
My regular waiter Charles Carter spotted me before one of the greeters could seat me against the far corner of the big red room. Charles told me that, as usual, he was loaded with other customers, but he would make sure I would want for nothing. But then he stopped us both in our tracks said I ought to look at what’s going on in the main room. He told me to watch my steps, because there was construction debris everywhere.
That proved to be an understatement. Everywhere we went were piles of demolition. I had seen something like this after Katrina almost brought Antoine’s oldest building to the grounds. But this was even more thorough, and revealed things that not even Antoine’s owners and workers had no idea existed. Among such rubble was one of those belted systems such as Kolb’s had.
As we penetrated further, we found arches covered with ceramic tiles, windows not known previously, and really old bathrooms. If even a thin layer of renovation were laid down where it came from, nobody would recognize the place as Antoine’s.
Charles, ever in the know, told me what the real plans are. The main dining room–the one with all the mirrors–would be rebuilt, but not with either the old or a new look. The scheme, much in need, would install an elevator in the center of the building, so customers attending events on the second floor would not have to be hoisted up the stairs.
And the kitchen would finally get air conditioning.
I dusted myself and Charles went back to his tables. As usual, I didn’t have a lot of thinking before figuring out what I would eat. Some soufflee potatoes with a bit too much salt came over. Then Oysters Rockefeller, Bienville, and Thermidor, which have become almost enough for a full meat. No soup or salad for me tonight. The entree was pan-fried black drumfish with a layer of what I’d say is the best creamed spinach in town underneath.
Meanwhile, the waiter Sterling–who has been working at Antoine’s for over fifty years–walked past with his humpteenth tray of food en route to the main dining room. Which, they tell me, will not change a lot in the restoration.
The thought came to my mind: are the changes at Antoine’s inspired by what happened at Brennan’s around the corner three years ago? And can the Kolb’s fan system possibly be revived here?
Antoine’s. French Quarter: 713 St Louis. 504-581-4422.
Diary 6-1-2018: Deep In The Renovations of Antoine’s.
June 12, 2017
Days Until. . .
Father’s Day 3
Celebrate National Crabmeat Au Gratin Day. The crabmeat is big and fat right now, and that means this is the time of year to eat this rich casserole of crabmeat, cream, a small amount of cheese, garlic (if you’re lucky), cayenne, and a sprinkling of bread crumbs over the top, baked till bubbly.
We see more crabmeat au gratin these days, mainly because of the availability of cheaper pasteurized crabmeat. Used to be that you could get the essential jumbo lump crabmeat only this time of year; now it comes in from all over. It’s sad that even some of the most expensive restaurants in town have taken to using canned crabmeat from Southeast Asia here. So it’s a mixed blessing: we get less flavorful crabmeat, but we can get crabmeat au gratin all the time.
But in crabmeat au gratin it makes less of a difference, I’d say, than in a cold crabmeat appetizer. The sauce is so rich that the fine points of the crabmeat’s flavor are, if not lost, at least hidden. The best versions are at the Bon Ton, Galatoire’s, Antoine’s, and Vincent’s. It doesn’t have to be expensive: at Fury’s, they give you a tub of white (not lump) crabmeat whose only flaw is that there’s too much cheese (ask them to leave off the two slices they melt on top).
Worcestershire sauce, [WOOS-ter-sheer], n.A brown sauce of moderate thickness, used to flavor sauces, soups, and many other dishes in the English-speaking world. Pharmacists John Lea and William Perrins created it for Lord Marcus Stanley, who had just returned to England after many years in India. He wanted a duplicate of the sauce he’d become addicted to there. That was probably Southeast Asian fish sauce, to which Worcestershire is somewhat similar. The pharmacists concocted the sauce from fermented anchovies, tamarinds, molasses, vinegar, garlic, chili peppers, cloves, and a few other things. The first attempt tasted horrible. They left it in a barrel in their basement and forgot about it for two years. When they found it again, they discovered that it had aged into something rather good. The sauce was named for Lea and Perrins and for their hometown, Worcester.
Trout, Louisiana 71371, population 2916, is near the center of the state, in LaSalle Parish, thirty-seven miles north of Alexandria. It’s a four-block-by-four-block hamlet that you’d notice if you were traveling on US 84, because the route takes a one-block jog as it passes through. It has a Railroad Avenue, but the railroad is gone. Amid forested area are cleared meadows for livestock. Any trout to be found here will be freshwater, and even that is questionable. There don’t seem to be any restaurants in Trout (opportunity!), but two miles away in Jena, JJ’s Fish House might be able to serve som speckled trout.
Annals Of Silverware
On this day in 1962, three prisoners on Alcatraz dug to freedom using soup spoons. I guess they didn’t like the soup du jour. One may have said, “This is an outrage. I’ve had soup du jour all over the world, and it tastes nothing like this!”
Gourmets Through History
Lillian Russell married for the fourth time today in 1912. In her day, Russell was the heartthrob of American males, including her long-time squire, playboy Diamond Jim Brady. She was a noteworthy gourmet, and could keep up with Brady or any other man at the table in her in her consumption of food and drink. As in four dozen oysters as an appetizer. She had the figure to prove her eating acumen. At that time in America, fleshy women were much admired.
Food And The Law
Today in 2004 in federal court, a Department of Agriculture rule to the effect that frozen, batter-coated French fries are fresh vegetables was upheld as valid. The judge said, in essence, that the term “fresh vegetables” had no real meaning. That’s how ketchup once flew in as a vegetable. Many, many restaurants claim to use fresh vegetables when in fact they used canned or frozen–again, I suppose because of this absurd reading of the English language. Seems obvious to us that fresh means fresh. As in unprocessed, uncooked, unfrozen. Right? I say we should raise this standard. And raise hell, too.
Annals Of Candy
Today in 1928, the trademark “Good and Plenty” was registered for the colorful, sugar-coated, soft licorice candy. It is the oldest branded candy in the United States, having first been marketed in 1893. And remember: licorice is the liver of candies.
Deft Dining Rule #107:
One of the first steps to becoming a gourmet is deciding whether you want good or plenty.
Vanessa Baker, a diver in the 1996 Olympics for Australia, was born today in 1974. . . In the same games was the unrelated Philippa June Baker, born today in 1963. She was a rower from New Zealand. . . Today in 1837, British inventors William Cooke and Charles Wheatstone patented a telegraph, a few years before Samuel Morse did. Morse’s method, however, became dominant. . . Bun Carlos, the drummer with the band Cheap Trick, got the beat today in 1951. . . David Rockefeller was born today in 1915. The famous oyster dish was named for his grandfather, because he had a lot of money and the sauce was green.
Words To Eat By
“I do not like broccoli and I haven’t liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it. And I’m President of the United States and I’m not going to eat any more broccoli. Now look, this is the last statement I’m going to have on broccoli. There are truckloads of broccoli at this very minute descending on Washington. My family is divided. For the broccoli vote out there: Barbara loves broccoli. She has tried to make me eat it. She eats it all the time herself. So she can go out and meet the caravan of broccoli that’s coming in.”–George H.W. Bush, born today in 1924.
Words To Drink By
“When alchemists first learned how to distill spirits, they called it aqua vitae, the water of life, and far from considering it the work of the devil, they thought the discovery was divinely inspired.”–Gene Logsdon, American essayist.