Diary: Wednesday, 11/28/2018. Big Evening At The Roosevelt.
A couple of months ago, one of the crackerjack new sales guys at the radio station made a brilliant sale to the venerable Roosevelt Hotel. The hotel is celebrating its 125th anniversary this years, and wanted to kick up a fuss about it.
Part of the Roosevelt’s history involves our main radio station. For a large chunk of its history, WWL’s studios were in the Roosevelt. That was a big deal in its day, with live radio music programs and dramas produced in house. Every night in the Roosevelt Blue Room, big bands and other entertainers of the highest order performed. The shows went out nightly, live and nationwide on the CBS radio network. The broadcasts were still on the air as late as the 1970s. They were the last gasps of the Golden Age of Radio.
The WWL account rep, the management of the Roosevelt, and I we put together a one-year program that would show off our ability to recall the Golden Age, and show that the Roosevelt could deliver hospitality as well as it ever did. We would broadcast from the many classy spaces in the hotel, host a dinner along the lines of my Food Show’s Eat Club events, and have live music from the same stage of the Blue Room where so many great talents had performed. With a big dance floor.
This sort of thing is right up my alley. I began working immediately on finagling myself onto the stage to sing a song or two.
The inaugural program took place in the Blue Room itself. I brought my antique microphone for the two-hour live radio show, during which the key people in the restaurant stopped in to tell us about the menu we would have for dinner that night. I also discovered what great acoustics the Blue Room has when empty. It’s a singer’s dream come true, wherein a voice of modest modulation can easily be heard on the other end of the big dining room.
The best news was something I heard yesterday: that between the efforts of the sales teams of the hotel and the station, we managed to get forty-five people to show up for the dinner and dancing. They began showing up as the bubbly wine began to be poured. That occurred in the hotel’s lobby, which was setting up its rightfully famous Christmas decorations. For generations, New Orleanians have made a visit to the Roosevelt during the Yule season an essential part of the celebration. And here we were.
By seven we were in the Blue Room. The George French Band mounted the Blue Room stage and let ‘er rip with a jazzy approach to the classics of American popular music. We could have listened to it all night long–and, indeed, we did. I knew right away that my vocal skills are not in the league of these guys, whose selection and arrangements were absolutely top-class.
I still am digesting the chemistry of the crowd that showed up for dinner. Among them were Eat Clubbers who have been dining with me since we first started our dinner regime back in the 1990s. Some of the tables were filled with young, beautiful women who I think were staying in the hotel for some glamorous event or other. When I stopped to say hello, they acted as if I were some kind of celebrity. They laughed at everything I said. At a nearby table, Mary Ann and friends held forth, and brought me down to earth.
The most interesting table was occupied by a number of radio stars from a long time ago. Example: Bob and Jan Carr, who hosted a very popular talk program on WDSU Radio in the 1950s and beyond. They moved to television and remained local celebrities for decades. Both Bob and Jan were here. Bob–who proudly announced that he is in his nineties–looked sharp, smiled like stars do, and knew everything about the Food Show and me. He spoke this exaggeration to me: “You are a national treasure.” I think he was kidding, but even so, coming from the mouth of Bob Carr, these inflationary words were square in the center of the my ego frequency.
The dinner was not one of the all-time best in Eat Club history, but it had some memorable high points. One of these was a clear soup of herbs and fresh black truffles. Even those to whom I had to explain what truffles are thought this was a remarkable flavor. We next enjoyed a beautiful, delicate, and assuredly non-Romaine salad. The entree was grilled puppy drum. I can’t really judge it–I was walking around the Blue Room talking with guests, and my server lost track of my hard-to-follow movements. What I had of it made me happy enough.
A communication from another part of time and space just came in as I wrote these words.They tell me to explain what truffles are. These were not the hyper-expensive white truffles that nobody in New Orleans serves anymore. They were black truffles, which went out of vogue in the 1980s. All truffles are underground parts of certain mushrooms that have flavors and aromas so powerful that they attract the animals that dig out the roots. This is how they reproduce.
Black truffles don’t cross the ocean from their native France very well. If you ate an average black truffle, it would be marinated on brandy and taste like nothing much, while remaining very expensive. But there are new methods of preservation, most involving flash freezing. They seem to work, if I can tell from the sample I got from our Roosevelt dinner. That was delicious, and did indeed have the sexy aroma and flavor for which all truffles are celebrated.
Now, today’s coincidence. A few days ago, at the Langham Hotel’s Royce restaurant in Pasadena, California, I had a rice-and-black-truffle dish that also had the same qualities I mention above. It cost $47, a la carte. It was the first time I’d had truffles in maybe forty years.
The dessert in our Roosevelt Blue Room dinner was a charming assortment of various clouds of this and that. Nice finish.
The George French band turned up the volume and the tempo. More people got on the dance floor. The party went on. If we do something like this every month for the next year, as is proposed, we may well have a legend in the making. To be part of it is what I live for.
Roosevelt Hotel. CBD: 123 Baronne. 504-648-1200.
December 3, 2017
Reveillon Dinners. Nightly, now through December.
Eat Club @ Drago’s In Lafayette. December 12.
Christmas December 25.
New Year’s Eve: December 31.
Food Through History
King Charles VI was born to rule France today in 1368. He raised court cuisine to new high, largely by hiring Guillaume Tirel to run the royal kitchen. Tirel became known simply as Taillevent, and published the first major French cookbook. One of the most famous restaurants in Paris bears Taillevent’s name.) It was during the rule of Charles VI that Roquefort cheese gained its recognition as a special food because of the place it came from–the first appellation-controlled substance.
Annals Of Indigestion
Today is the birthday, in 1931, of Alka-Seltzer. It’s aspirin combined with sodium bicarbonate (the chemical name for baking soda). The claim was that the effervescence got the pain-relieving ingredient into the parts of the body that needed it faster. Maybe. Water–of which you drink a glassful to take an Alka-Seltzer–also helps a headache, and the bicarbonate has a soothing effect on the stomach. Alka-Seltzer went on to recommended itself as a cold remedy, but that may go a little far. Still a good product, and it gave rise in the 1960s to Fizzies, which were the same kind of tablet but with fruit flavors instead of aspirin.
The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:
If you think you need an Alka-Seltzer, try a club soda first and see if that doesn’t do the job.
Annals Of Home Economics
The founder of the science of homemaking, Ellen Swallow Richards, was born today in 1842. She was an accomplished scientist, and the first woman student and first woman teacher at MIT. She felt that women who stayed home to rear children should know enough science to be able to run their households more effectively.
Today is National Apple Pie Day. Apple pie, as American a dessert as can be imagined, is in a period of decline right now. Think about it: when is the last time you ate a slice of apple pie? In New Orleans, most pies on restaurant menus are either pecan or sweet potato pies. Other than chain restaurants, I can’t think of five restaurants that routinely serve apple pie anymore.
Here’s why. Apple pie is perceived as very sweet, and the crust is traditionally made with trans-fats. On top of that (literally), the temptation to top the pie with ice cream is hard to resist. That adds up to more calories, perhaps, than the entire remainder of the meal.
But a good apple pie–made with fresh, firm, slightly acidic fruit and a light crust–is a wonderful thing. And there’s no reason we have to maintain the sticky-sweet style that was in vogue during the 1940s and 1950s. A great apple pie will be baked on the premises–although you wouldn’t believe how many upper-end restaurants just take their pies out of a box.
The greatest mystery concerning apple pie is how the practice of topping a hot apple pie with a slice of American cheese ever got started. It makes no sense from any perspective.
Nutmeg Creek comes tumbling down from the High Sierras into the Feather River, as the latter cuts a gorge through the mountains on its way into California’s Central Valley. The creek ends at a spot about ninety-four miles north of Sacramento, and just above Lake Oroville, formed by a dam on the Feather. This is dramatically beautiful country, with Feather Falls not far from there. But the nearest dining is in the well named River Restaurant in Oroville, twenty-seven miles away.
Deft Dining Rule #707:
Beware of apple pies served from thin, disposable plastic pans. That’s a sign that the pie came into the restaurant completely finished. If the pie is in a solid metal pan, they probably baked it in house.
stollen, [SHTOLE-un], German, n.–A dense, somewhat dry, slightly sweetened bread baked during the Christmas holidays in Germany and other places with a German heritage. Stollen are usually made to resemble bread loaves, although the variety of shapes is broad. It bears some resemblance to fruitcakes in that it’s made with dried fruits and citrus peels, but the flavor is really different. Stollen are traditionally covered with a snow-like dusting of powdered sugar. Because of its heavy texture and dryness, it’s often served with coffee or tea for dunking.
Food In The Theatre
A Streetcar Named Desire, Tennessee Williams’s most successful play (it won a Pulitzer Prize, too), premiered on Broadway today in 1947. It made an instant star of Marlon Brando, who played Stanley. His love interest, Stella, was played by Kim Hunter. Those two characters inspired the naming of Chef Scott Boswell’s restaurants, the five-star Stella! and the less ambitious soda fountain Stanley.
Toi Cook, pro football cornerback, kicked off his life today in 1964. . . Green Berry Raum, a Union general in the Civil War, was born today with his double food name in 1829. . . Pro wrestler Ray Candy began acting out today in 1951. . . John and Greg Rice, twin dwarves, were born today in 1951. They had a successful career in infomercials.
Words To Eat By
“Good apple pies are a considerable part of our domestic happiness.”–Jane Austen.
“If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe.”–Carl Sagan.
“If all the world were apple pie,
And all the seas were ink,
And all the trees were bread and cheese,
What would we have for drink?”–Mother Goose.
Words To Drink By
“I know how the nuts taken in conjunction with winter apples, cider, and doughnuts, make old people’s tales and old jokes sound fresh and crisp and enchanting.”–Mark Twain.