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Diary For Wed., Jan. 9, 2019. Chef Tom Wolfe Is Still There.

In general, chefs move around a lot, a habit that is particularly widespread among European chefs and hotel restaurant chefs. But even by those standards, the career of Chef Tom Wolfe’s has been especially pronounced. He’s been the top man in a long list of New Orleans eateries, many of which bore his name, so sure it appeared that he was in for the long term at last. But then, off he want to the next place.

While that was going on, the Rib Room at the Omni Royal Orleans Hotel was going through a bad stretch. For ten years or so, it seemed to be unable to hang onto a chef. But that was welcome, because during this era not many of the Rib Room’s chefs were especially good, even the ones that claimed to be name chefs. The restaurant declined enough that it lost a lot of its many regular customers, who had long made the place enviably successful among hotel restaurants.

When Tom Wolfe took over the Royal O’s food operations in 2015, my first thought was, here we go again. I wondered how long Tom would stay, and whether his tastes and abilities would mesh with the expectations of his customers–especially the regulars.

I never had any doubts about Tom’s competence. He has a well-thought-out agenda for turning out a good product. He also knows that the Rib Room is not going to be a cutting-edge restaurant, but the place for people whose tastes are classical. The restaurant namesake signature dish–prime ribs of beef–has always been the restaurant’s most popular item. Given how few restaurants serve prime rib anymore, and how many people love those fine slabs o’ beef, the approach called for is a no-brainer. And that’s what Chef Tom lays down.

Tom Wolfe, shortly after he took over the Kitchens at the Rib Room.

The menu does include its share of current culinary creations. The duck is made from breast meat, in the style of the Italian veal dish saltimbocca. Interesting: new style and old in one dish. Another one is a honeycomb-topped rack of lamb. The idea that lamb and a sweet taste offers a nice flavor is at work here.

Nor does the strength of the almighty beef remove seafood from the menu. The fish special when I dined at the Rib Room a few days ago was American red snapper was a nice combination of blackened fish (harder to make than is supposed) with a sauce of rice and mushrooms. Chef Tom and ths Tom I agree that fish and mushrooms is a nice combination.

The appetizer in that meal was fried oysters served with bacon and hollandaise–a takeoff from a world with younger diners than most at the Rib Room (where even the music is from before the Royal O opened in 1960.)

I was well past the oysters when I remembered another long-running specialty: turtle soup, among the best around. But I had forgotten to order it. Oh, well. I’ll get it next time Dessert was a creme brulee that was overloaded with cream and topped with peanut-butter cookies.

Among the attractions that keep a fair number of people coming in daily is the bar. I don’t know whether the “washbucket” martinis at a lowball price are still there, but I’ve backed away from those, having found that the bartenders are among the city’s best. I don’t think I’ve had a Manhattan better than the one I had this night. Then I realized that I was recalling a Rib Room specialty of great cocktails–especially the New Orleans drinks like Ramos gin fizzes and Sazeracs. That goes back decades.

Four years is a long time by the standards of Tom Wolfe, but it has performed a miracle in the Rib Room. Even the waiters seem to be happy. They had a long tradition of crankiness, but that era seems to be over.

Rib Room. French Quarter: 621 St Louis St. 504-529-7045.

Cooking Demo At SoFab Saturday, Jan. 12.

The Southern Food And Beverage Museum is offering a pair of cooking demonstrations this weekend, bringing with them a good reason to visit the museum. It’s always full of artifacts from other eras, and it brings in local chefs to show off their skills and to provide entertainment. This is one in a weekly series of cooking demos. The featured chef is Eric Cook, owner of Gris Gris on Magazine Street in the lower Garden District. A few weeks ago this newsletter recommended Gris Gris as the best new restaurant of 2018. Apart from the goodness of the food he’ll show off, Eric is a good talker, very amusing. He’ll do two demos, one eat at one and two in the afternoon. The demos are free, with purchase of admission to the Museum. Next week: Mike Nelson, the chef of GW Fins.

AlmanacSquare January 11, 2017

Days Until. . .

Mardi Gras March 5.
Got Gumbo Competition Feb. 7.
Valentine’s Day: Feb. 14.

Origins Of Creole Cuisine

On this date in 1803, James Monroe and Robert R. Livingston boarded a ship bound for France, where they hoped to buy the Isle of Orleans. That’s the land bordered by the Mississippi River, Bayou Manchac, Amite River, Pass Manchac, Lake Maurepas, Lake Pontchartrain, and the Gulf of Mexico. They hit the jackpot. Napoleon told them he’d like to sell all of Louisiana, from Canada on down, for the United States.

I wonder what New Orleans would be like now if the Louisiana Purchase had not happened. My favorite scenario is that Louisiana would have become an independent nation, with New Orleans as its capital. Its territory would include the main stream of North American commerce, the breadbasket Midwest, and many other riches. There would have been no Civil War, allowing the culture and economy of New Orleans to blossom instead of being stamped out by Reconstruction. We’d have our French, Spanish, and African heritage and food, but with money and power. Imagine!

Today’s Flavor

This is National Warm Milk Day and National Hot Toddy Day. Hot beverages for the morning and the evening. Along different lines entirely is National Rhubarb Day. On this date in 1770, Benjamin Franklin sent some rhubarb to a friend in Pennsylvania, beginning a footnote to American agriculture that still exists. Nobody admits to liking rhubarb a great deal, although it cane me made into interesting things. I’ve had great rhubarb pie (in the diner of a train), and for many years Paul Thomas Winery in Washington State made a wonderful wine from rhubarb. The vegetable has big leaves (borderline poisonous) and a long, red, edible stalk; after trimming, it looks like red celery.

Deft Dining Rule #154:

Eat unusual vegetables with great relish. It will persuade those around you that you’re a real gourmet.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Eaton is a town of 1800 Hoosiers in east central Indiana, seventy-one miles from Indianapolis. It’s a commercial center for the many farms in that part of the state. It’s on the Mississinewa River. Its water winds up in New Orleans through the Wabash, Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. In 1876, while attempting to dig a coal mine, the people of Eaton struck a major natural gas reservoir, which contributed to rapid growth of the town in the early 1900s. Eatin’ in Eaton is best at the Country Cupboard, on the western end of town.

This is the third in a series of Gourmet Gazetteer entries beginning with “Eat.”

Annals Of Culinary Education

Ezra Cornell, who made his fortune with the telegraph and the Western Union Company that he co-founded, was born today in 1807. He endowed Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, one of the leading colleges for careers in the hotel and restaurant industries. Albert Aschaffenberg. who led his family’s Pontchartrain Hotel here in New Orleans, was one of many of our local Cornell lights.

Wine Inspirations

Chicken Caesar Salad with tomato and Croutons

Today in 49 BCE, Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon River, a gauntlet laid down by the Roman Senate. When the soon-to-be first emperor of the Roman Empire moved his armies into battle against the Roman establishment, it changed the course of history. “Alea jacta est,” Seutonius is supposed to have said to Caesar. (“The die is cast,” meaning that that Caesar had reached the point of no return. What that has to do with the superb Napa Valley wine called Rubicon is less clear, except that it was coined by Francis Coppola, the film director of The Godfather movies certainly show his feel for the dramatic. He reunited two prime vineyards that were part of the original Inglenook winery to grow the grapes for this Bordeaux-style red blend.

Edible Dictionary

sweat, v., trans.–“Sweat the vegetables” is a common instruction in western cooking. It tells the cook to put the vegetables over medium heat in a pan, and to cook them until they become damp and limp. What is happening is that the water inside the cells of the vegetable comes out of the heat-weakened cells of the vegetable. Some vegetables–notably onions and spinach–become distinctly soaked in their own juices from being sweated.

A second, less common, noun and intransitive verb meaning of “sweat” concerns the formation of droplets of moisture and liquid fat on the outside of some cheeses when they warm up to room temperature. This is not entirely undesirable, although the word itself is unappetizing in that context.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

Next time you clarify butter, save the foam that you skim off the top and the solids left in the pan after you pour the clarified butter out. Mix this with garlic and parsley and use it for garlic bread.

Annals Of Food Safety

Sir James Paget, a British surgeon and physiologist, was born today in 1814. He discovered that trichinosis–a bad muscle disease–was caused by the small roundworm parasites that most often get into the body from undercooked pork. That caused everybody to grossly overcook pork for over a century. We now know that the trichina worms are killed by a temperature of 139 degrees for nine minutes, which leaves pork medium rare. And that commercial pork hasn’t had the problem to begin with in decades.

Cheese In War And Peace

In the middle of World War I, a beleaguered France took drastic measures today in 1917 and placed price restrictions on Gruyere cheese. The population shook its collective fist.

Food Namesakes

Don Cherry, who had a big hit with the sentimental song Band Of Gold, was born today in 1924. . . Francesco Parmigianino, a Renaissance painter, was born today in 1503. . . The movie Orange County premiered today in 2002, a comedy. . . Gold pro Ben Crenshaw stepped up to The Big Tee today in 1952. (A Crenshaw melon is a variant of a cantaloupe.)

Words To Eat By

“I want a dish to taste good, rather than to have been seethed in pig’s milk and served wrapped in a rhubarb leaf with grated thistle root.”–Kingsley Amis, British novelist.

“Reagan promised everyone a seven-course dinner. Ours turned out to be a possum and a six-pack.”–Jim Hightower, former Texas Agriculture Commissioner and populist columnist, born today in 1943.

Words To Drink By

“How pleasant is the day when we give up striving to be young—or slender.”–William James, American philosopher, born today in 1842.

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