Diary: Thur. 11/29/2918: Manresa #40 And Beyond. Big Lunch At Dragos. What a busy month! Without a gap, it all began with Thanksgiving, with the thirty people we hosted requiring three days of cooking and cleaning up. Early the next morning, we flew–and not without extraordinary problems that took all day to work through–to Los Angeles. We had a fabulous four days with our son Jude’s family, with lots of birthday celebration for our grandsons, but made a mental note: never, ever again will we try to combine Thanksgiving with a trip to Los Angeles, even though grandson Jackson was born there on Thanksgiving.
When we finally came home, I was just in time to repack my bags for my annual retreat with the Jesuits at Manresa. For the fifth year, Jude joined me. I’m very happy for him about that–and for myself, because Jude can take the wheel for the drive from the airport to the retreat house. Which, at this time of year, involves much driving on dark two-lane highways. Also figuring into the plan were Mary Ann and Mary Leigh, because cars had to be swapped around to make the plan work. But nobody comes up with more effective plans than my wife.
She dropped me off at the airport, and told me to get a table and eat lunch at Dooky Chase’s. That’s where Jude would find me, without his having to scour the airport searching for me. It was a classic Mary Ann arrangement.
This gave me two hours to kill. I took MA’s advice to have lunch. Dooky Chase’s airport restaurant. It’s a big, good-looking place next to the entrance to the security check-in, on the Delta side of Louis Armstrong International. It is inspired by the original restaurant created by Leah Chase, the most venerated restaurateur in New Orleans. After having dined at the airport location a number of previous times, I can deliver a solid review about it. The prices are a little high, the service is a little rough (like all airport eateries, it’s made for people on the run), and the food is pretty good–certainly by the standards of airport dining.
I had the catfish platter and found it very good–even down to the crisp, hot, long french fries. The catfish itself was well seasoned and crusty around the perimeter, served nice and hot (almost too hot to eat right away). My only criticism is that the texture of the meat in the big catfish was soft and odd, making me wonder where in the world it came from. But that was an insignificant matter, and about the only other thing I’d criticize is the plastic utensils they serve they food with. It’s too good for that.
I thought I’d have some bread pudding, but there wasn’t time. By then I had managed to stretch this lunch just long enough for Jude’s plane to arrive. We fetched the car that had been left for us by MA and, with Jude at the wheel, blasted across the swamps for the remaining sixty or so miles to Manresa.
We arrived earlier than I ever have in all my years of Manresa-going. It was already getting dark, but that was a beautiful landscape–even in the neighborhood of the many and enormous chemical plants on the river next to us. It’s amazing how even ugly things look good in the gloaming.
When we checked in at Manresa, most of the other attendees had arrived. I was very pleased to see two of them–Dr. Charles Incaprera from New Orleans and Dr. Henry Poterucha from Effingham, Illinois. Both physicians were founders of our retreat group in the 1950s, and are now in their nineties. It gladdens my heart to see either one of these patriarchs, but to have both of them was a blessing, even though each has his problems getting around. But they keep on going. Two of the real men in my book.
I’ve written before at length about the magic of Manresa, and I won’t repeat much of that here. The weather was absolutely perfect: just sunny enough, no rain except for one overnight storm. Cool breezes. Lovely.
The retreat master seemed to be catering his presentation to me alone, addressing all my current problems with brilliant new perspectives. Father Anthony was one of the best we ever had in the forty years I have attended.
Jude and I broke the main rule of Manresa–that we are not supposed to talk with other people other than for consultations with the priests. In the long gap in the afternoon program, I have long walked about two miles down the levee to a spot where an endless ocean of sugar cane fields stretches to the horizon. Or usually does. This year, the usually stunning vista was wiped out by a very thorough harvest. That has to be done on a cycle of, if I remember right, five years. Then they tear up everything and replant.
Nobody else in all my years walks as far out as I do, so nobody could see Jude and me breaking the silence rule for about fifteen minutes of conversation. As much as we were together during my visit to his family a week ago, we never had much time to father-and-son converse then. We fixed that today. We concluded that our luck in having such a great dad and such a brilliant son coming together in two such wonderful lives is something to thank God about. Even MA agrees with that.
The food at Manresa is simple, very much in the River Road style (somewhere between Creole and Cajun), and very good in a modest way. The best meal of the trip is the roast pork loin with brown gravy, peas and dirty rice. I lead the group (over 100 people!) in the grace before meals. In this case, I say, “Let’s ask for the Lord’s blessing before the best red beans and rice you’ll have until this time next year.” For some reason, the men get a kick out of that. But a lot of good jokes are told at Manresa, mostly by the priests.
Jude had to go back to Los Angeles the day the retreat ended. He is with Amazon at the corporate level, and with that juggles a young family. But before he caught his plane we had lunch with the Marys at Drago’s. Tommy Cvitanovich–son of the late Drago and the very much alive Clara–wanted me to try a new dish on the menu: alligator tacos. My first thought about this was that it sounded gimmicky, but after eating one I agreed that this is a terrific appetizer to split among two or three people. Alligator meat of the quality Drago’s cooks is not as nasty an animal as it sounds. I find it a lot like white-meat chicken, but maybe even lighter in its flavors. The taco comes together with a great seasoning and sauce with a touch of richness.
Tommy said that he’d be interested in having his new restaurant in Lafayette host an Eat Club dinner there in the family style. That’s what we always do when we’re Eat Clubbing at Drago’s, and as a result we really eat. My New Orleans readership might enjoy a short trip this holiday season to Lafayette for this. It’s next week (on Wednesday, December 12). Details are elsewhere (below) in the newsletter you are reading right now. Or you can call 504-888-9254 to get info or to make a reservation. The price is $75, inclusive of tax, tip, and wines. Mary Ann and I will be there, and hope you are.
Drago’s In Lafayette. Cajun Country: 3151 Johnston Street. 337-706-7077.
Drago’s–home of the Original Char-Broiled Oysters, The Best One-Bite Dish In New Orleans–presents an extravaganza of its best new and old dishes. It will be served in the new Lafayette Drago’s, on Wednesday, December 12.
The newly opened Drago’s in Lafayette will show off its best new dishes with an Eat Club dinner on Wednesday, December 12, 2018, 6:30 p.m. at Drago’s in Lafayette. All of the dishes below will be served family-style for $75, inclusive of tax, tip, wines and other beverages.
To reserve, call the Metairie Drago’s at me at the Metairie location: 504-888-9254. Or you can reserve by e-mail:
The $75 admission will be paid at the restaurant when you arrive. Any other questions? Contact me personally by e-mail: email@example.com.
Here’s the Menu. Amazingly, you will get all the dishes on the menu for the $75 price. So come hungry!
Fleur de lis Shrimp
Crabmeat Mediterranean Salad
Lobster Surf & Turf, Served Family-Style
Half Maine Lobster, Shrimp Marco pasta, filet mignon served medium rare, topped with barbecue shrimp, fried eggplant, charbroiled corn
December 5, 2017
Reveillon Dinners. Nightly, now through December.
Eat Club @ Drago’s In Lafayette. December 12.
Christmas December 25.
New Year’s Eve: December 31.
This is National Pot Pie Day. The cold weather has settled in, and there’s something inherently warming about a pot pie–both in the thought and the eating of it. Second, we still have a lot of turkey to get rid of from Thanksgiving. Especially the dark meat, which with its bigger flavor and chunkier pieces, are perfect for pot pie.
Pot pies have gone out of vogue, and I think I know why. The pastry used for them is too firm and yucky. And the filling doesn’t have enough zing. It just sits there in a starchy sauce thickened with too much flour and potatoes, and without enough chunks of meat or vegetables. I think the solution is to use a fluffier pastry than the dense pie crust usually found, and make them smaller. And we ought to use more seasonal vegetables and things that go with pepper. Like beef and oysters together, for example. Carrots. Brussels sprouts. Mushrooms.
You will go a long time between sightings of pot pies in restaurants. It doesn’t seem like restaurant food to most people, except perhaps in rural areas where home-style cooking is all they know. Even there, the chains have killed so many old cafes that there aren’t many left to make pot pies. Reclaim them by making one or two this week.
Drink And The Law
At 4:32 p.m. on this date in 1933, Utah (of all states!) ratified the Twenty-First amendment to the Constitution, repealing the Eighteenth Amendment, and therefore ending fourteen years of Prohibition. We could lift a glass legally again. But not so fast. One of the provisions of the new amendment was that states and localities could continue to make their own laws concerning alcoholic beverages. Out of that came the impossible hodgepodge of local and state rules, some of which defy rationale. (Example: By Louisiana law, a restaurant must pay for deliveries of beer, but not wine or spirits, at the time of delivery.) Prohibition, of course, exacted it own costs, primary among them (from our perspective, anyway) the closing of much of the American wine business.
Annals Of Expensive Bottles Of Wine
Today in 1985, a bottle of 1787 Chateau Lafite once allegedly owned by Thomas Jefferson sold at auction to Malcolm Forbes for $157,500. That would be insanely cheap nowadays, but I remember that this made headlines back then. I wonder if Forbes ever opened it? Chateau Lafite is one of the first-growth Bordeaux standard-setters, and made in a style that leads to long life. But I don’t know about that long.
Annals Of Healthy Eating
Today in 2006, New York City passed a law banning trans-fats in food served in restaurants. They had till 2008 to stop using trans-fats in frying oils. By now, the evil stuff is supposed to be gone from every ingredient. Many thought of this as an outrageous intrusion into personal liberty, but it does address a very real and proven health hazard. The fallout from this has not all landed yet, and other cities are considering the same ban.
Olive, Indiana is a schedule point on the Chicago, South Shore and South Bend Railroad, a commuter line whose route is described by its name. A main line of the Norfolk Southern Railroad parallels the South Shore line there. Olive is near the South Bend end, where the cornfields that take up most of the land are giving way to enormous manufacturing plants and shipping terminals. Only a few houses are in the vicinity. And you have to drive three miles west to find the nearest restaurant: Kate O’Connor’s Irish Pub in New Carlisle.
devein, v.-To remove the thin conduit along the back of a shrimp before cooking. Whether this is necessary is a matter of much debate. Here in Louisiana, deveining shrimp–especially in casual restaurants–has generally been held as unnecessary. The dark color of the vein is caused mostly by dirt and sand the shrimp takes from the water while it’s feeding. There is no health or flavor reason to remove it. This is particularly true since almost all shrimp are cooked at a temperature high enough to remove any minuscule risk or foul flavor. Still, some people find it visually unappealing, particularly in large shrimp, where it’s more obvious. On the other hand, removing the vein breaks the shrimp open and forces it to be shelled. Both processes diminish the flavor of the crustacean.
The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:
Stale brioche is the ultimate main ingredient for pain perdu (French toast, lost bread).
Annals Of Food Writing
Today is the birthday, in 1935, of Calvin Trillin. He’s written a great deal about food over the years; his famous book on the subject is Alice, Let’s Eat, but he has two others along those lines that he refers to as his “Tummy Trilogy.” A recent piece of his in The New Yorker described his passion for a stew served only during Holy Week in a few towns in South America. He writes on many other things; lately, he’s been reflecting on his father, his wife, and his being a father. His unique humor makes his words a pleasure to read.
Annals Of Chewing Gum
Today is the birthday of chewing gum magnate Philip K. Wrigley, in 1894. And, coincidentally, on this day in 1905, the trademark of Chiclets–for lozenge-shaped, candy-coated gum, a competitor with Mr. Wrigley’s works–was registered.
A clothing and paraphernalia store called Apple was opened by the Beatles on this date in 1967, on Baker Street in London. . . Dutch actor Jeroen Krabbé was born today in 1944. . . Rock musician J.J. Cale was born today sometime after midnight on this date in 1938. Now here’s something odd. Yesterday we had birthdays both for somebody else named Cale and somebody else named Crabbe. Hmm. . . Honey, a movie about an inner-city girl who wanted to become a choreographer, premiered today in 2003. . . .Sir Arthur William Currie was born today in 1875. He was a Canadian military hero in World War I. . . And Eddy Curry Jr., NBA basketball player, was born today in 1982. . . Today is the feast day of St. John Almond, who lived in Ireland in the 1600s.
Words To Eat By
“The most remarkable thing about my mother is that for thirty years she served the family nothing but leftovers. The original meal has never been found.”–Calvin Trillin, born today in 1935. Here are a couple more of his better lines:
“I never eat in a restaurant that’s over a hundred feet off the ground and won’t stand still.”
“My wife Alice has a weird predilection for limiting our family to three meals a day.”
Words To Drink By
Oh many a peer of England brews
Livelier liquor than the Muse,
And malt does more than Milton can
To justify God’s ways to man.–A. E. Housman, 1896.