Diary For New Year’s Weekend, 2018. The calendar seems fuzzy, out of focus. But that figures, what with 2018 about exhausted. Nothing much happened in these final days.
I was asked to appear as a guest on Newell Normand’s show, whose studio is next door to the one where my show takes place. But we can’t use that convenience. There was a long and heavy thunderstorm through most of the previous night, and for the first time in ten or fifteen or maybe even twenty years, the road to and from our house is flooded. Not our property itself, but close. Across the road, a sheet of water floods across our neighbor’s eight acres. The Long Branch has jumped its banks for the first time in more than twenty years. It would not be until about two in the afternoon that our no-exit road became passable again.
Fortunately, we have not lost power, and the reliable gizmo that allows me to perform my radio show from home is pressed into service twice today. Newell will interview a ghost of me, but one can’t really tell the difference with my gizmo. He asks my wisdom about New Year’s Eve. The best restaurants for a big bash on New Year’s Eve. Favorite Champagne for the midnight celebration. How to cook cabbage and other greens, black eye peas and other legumes, allegedly for lots of money (if we eat collard greens today) and good luck (it’s supposed to come with the black-eyes).
My own show comes on at the usual time, and it is slow and dull. I am almost convinced that nobody calls in to radio shows anymore. The statistics show that a lot of people are listening to The Food Show–they just aren’t calling. The information is more easily had from the Internet, or by text messaging, while the idea of talking on the radio is daunting to most people.
Aha! That may be the key. Maybe if, instead of asking for telephone the calls, I ask for a text or an email message. Then I will answer that. It won’t be as good as hearing the listener’s live voice, but it’s certainly better than nothing at all. I think I will make this one of my resolutions for the new year.
Mary Ann and I have dinner at Del Porto. It’s among her five or six favorite restaurants on the North Shore, and perhaps in the metropolitan area. My accolade is that Del Porto is the best Italian restaurant in town. I take a chance by saying that, because for the diner whose idea of Italian food includes lots of red sauces, meatballs and sausage, mozzarella cheese, garlic, and olive oil, Del Porto might not register. Its cooking is more like what you’d find in Tuscany, where Italians like big slabs of beef, lots of seafood and a reliance on fresh herbs. But, having been to Tuscany a few times, I appreciate the food in Florence, Pisa, and nearby.
The restaurant is busy, with its usual population of mid-to-younger diners. We begin with one of our favorite starters: spearheads of toasted bread surrounding a pile of big, white, soft beans with artichokes, garlic and herbs. This is so delicious that we ask for a few more of the spears, which bring with them more bean-artichoke dip.
MA makes a second course out of a very large Italian salad. I have a lighter salad made mostly from arugula, which for my money is the best salad green of them all. The entrees are both beef steaks. Mine is the sirloin strip, a long-time specialty here, and among the best steaks in town–even if you factor in the works of steakhouses, which are not as important as they make theselves out to be. Del Porto’s strips are very tender and delicious–I came close to eating the whole thing on my own. Here’s that Florence influence again.
Mary Ann loves beef rib short ribs. So many restaurants make that a specialty these days that she has little trouble finding a source for them. She says that the present one could be braised a bit longer, but otherwise she’s happy with it.
We eat too much. Do we plan to rely on our New Year’s Resolutions to offset this dinner? Not tonight. The dessert is house-made vanilla praline gelato, studded with pralines. This is enough for two or more people, and is hard to resist. Overall, Del Porto lives up to its reputation.
Del Porto. Covington: 501 E Boston St. 985-875-1006.
After being absent from the restaurant scene since Hurricane Katrina, Chef Greg Sonnier reopened his Cajun-Creole in 2017, to the great pleasure of the local dining fanatics. Sonnier and his restaurant are among the few direct descendants of Paul Prudhomme’s heritage, having first worked in K-Paul’s kitchen in its glory years, then for Frank Brigtsen after he opened his own place. The Cajun aspect of the food at Gabrielle is very clear, but so are the original ideas of Greg himself. So we find deep rouxs, dark-skinned poultry, fish served whole, and other bold, country-style eats. This the restaurant’s return to the Reveillon scene. The four-course dinner sells at $47.
Four courses, $47.
Grilled Smoked Shrimp and Cheese Latke
Roasted red pepper crème fraiche
Spaetzle and preserved-lemon and chive aolli
Gold beets, feta, candied pecans
Oyster and Artichoke Soup
Duck and Goose Sausage Cassoulet
Grilled Fish, Fried Fingerlings
Lobster thermidor sauce
Ginger Pumpkin Pudding Cake
Bourbon Milk Punch
Mid-City: 2441 Orleans Ave. 504-603-2344.
We’ll feature one Reveillon menu every day throughout the Reveillon season, which ends over this weekend. However, some restaurants keep their Reveillon menus in force. The menus will probably not be available on New Year’s Eve New Year’s Day.The snowflake ratings are for the Reveillon menu, not the restaurant in general. Dishes marked with the snowflake symbol ✽ are my recommendations.
December 31, 2017
Twelfth Night–Jan. 6
Mardi Gras–March 5
The Sixth Day of Christmas
We are warned of the gifting by good friends of six geese a-laying, a six-pack of Dixie, a hammered aluminum nutcracker, little silver bells, or (according to our own lyrics for the song) six char-broiled oysters. We like the oysters as the appetizer tonight, and are interested in those geese for a big feast tomorrow. But the eggs? Geese don’t lay eggs this time of year, no matter what the song says. However, here’s a place in Folsom where you can buy them when the big birds get on with it in springtime.
Tonight is International Champagne Night. Of course. Champagne is a wine that started out disadvantaged. It comes from the northernmost of the major wine-growing areas of France, where the soil is chalky and infertile. The grapes make acidic wines, distinctly inferior to those of Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Alsace.
But the winemakers happened upon a trick. Somewhere in somebody’s cave, some bottles bearing wine of dubious purity underwent a second fermentation. That not only created the bubbles that are the hallmark of Champagne, but also softened up the acidity enough to make the effervescent wine delicious. The rest is history.
Champagne is now probably the most profitable winemaking district in the world on a per-acre basis. By international agreement, the name “Champagne” refers only to the wines from that region.
Perhaps the greatest miracle of Champagne is that it goes with almost every food, even hard-to-match stuff like Chinese and Mexican cookery.
Deft Dining Rule #98:
The most expensive bottle of Champagne you have in your possession must be uncorked tonight and poured into at most six crystal glasses. They will make the loveliest sound when they touch at midnight.
The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:
Don’t point that Champagne bottle at me until you’ve pulled the cork out!
cuvée, [koo-VAY], French. n.–A finished blend, most often of wine. The art of creating a cuvée reaches its height in Champagne, where not only are several grape varieties from many vineyards used to make most bubbly, but also wines of several vintages. Pulling all these together so as to keep a steady house style from year to year is one of the most challenging tasks in the entire winemaking world.
Champagne, Louisiana is a crossroads in St. Martin Parish on LA 347, the road that makes the shortest westbound connection between the I-10 and Breaux Bridge. It’s in the middle of rice and crawfish farms on high land built up when what is now Bayou Teche was the Mississippi River, thousands of years ago. Champagne is in the middle of the world’s best collection of Cajun restaurants, dozens of which are within five miles in any direction. The closest major Cajun restaurant is the legendary Robin’s (pronounced “roe-BANHZ”), three miles east in Henderson. The crawfish should be running by now.
Food Through History
Tonight in 1999, paranoia reigned as all the computers in the world turned over their dates to 2000. Chefs throughout America got ready to shut down ovens should they drop uncontrollably from 400 degrees to 004 degrees, and freezers if they should do the opposite. Nothing untoward happened. Rumors spread, however, that a speck of spinach appeared in the Rockefeller sauce at Antoine’s, somebody at Commander’s received 300 shrimp remoulade instead of the customary three, and a bottle of Salon Champagne 1978 showed up on the restaurant’s computer-generated check as nine cents instead of $900. The absence of computer geeks in restaurants (they were all at their machines, ready to stem a disaster) had no noticeable effect on restaurants at all.
Drinking Through History
Today in 1938, the first device able to detect intoxication was implemented in Indianapolis. Called the drunkometer, its targets were drivers, as you might imagine. But think about it: it was not six years after the repeal of prohibition, and already DWI was becoming a problem. The thing was invented by Dr. Rolla N. Harger.
Food And Medicine
Today is the birthday, in 1816, of Sir William Withey Gull, a British doctor who first gave a name to the condition wherein a patient develops an aversion to eating. He called it anorexia nervosa. May it never affect anyone you like to dine with.
Food On Stage
A musical play called Bubbling Brown Sugar closed on Broadway today in 1977 after over 700 performances. If they ever produce it here in New Orleans, they ought to rename it Praline.
Music To Drink Egg Nog By
This is the birthday, in 1905, of the composer Jule Styne. Among the hundreds of entries in the Great American Songbook that he wrote are the Yuletide classics, “Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow”and “The Christmas Waltz.” That last one begins, “Frosted window panes,Candles burning inside.. .”
Yankee pitcher Catfish Hunter signed a contract today in 1974 for $3.75 million. . . Actor and bohemian Taylor Mead was born today in 1924. He played the title role in Andy Warhol’s Tarzan movie.
Words To Eat By
Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring happy bells across the snow;
The year is going, let him go.
—Alfred, Lord Tennyson.
Words To Drink By
“Burgundy makes you think of silly things, Bordeaux makes you talk of them, and Champagne makes you do them.”–Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin.
“Too much of anything is bad, but too much Champagne is just right.”–Mark Twain.