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Diary For Fri.& Sat. March 1-2/2019: Del Porto, The Best Italian Restaurant In Metro Area. Lola, Now Open In An Old Railcar.

Mary Ann and I have a lot to talk about, with our big vacation two weeks from now. Today the official tickets arrived for our ride on the Orient Express, and MA is giddy with delight about the elegant possibilities on board that train from London to Venice (the one in Italy, not at the end of the Mississippi River). She and ML–who with friends will be taking care of things at the Cool Water Ranch–are worked up about creating an Instagram–whatever that is–to follow us around the continent. Our son Jude, who is an adept user of the internet–thought this was a good idea, and he’s already built it out for use in the near future. I’ll just keep on writing this diary.

Our discussion moved to dinner time, for which we had a new Mexican restaurant in Covington. I couldn’t find it, but I have a good excuse: the place turned out not to be open. We moved to one of our favorite eateries in the neighborhood: Del Porto, which I have been calling the best Italian restaurant in the New Orleans area. Our only complaint about the place has been that they don’t change the menu often enough–something that would only be said about an Italian restaurant, because of the typically great length of Italian menus. But this time around we found quite a few new items, and went after those. It’s a wonder we don’t go there more often I thought, while taking my first slurps of the Negroni cocktail, very well made at Del Porto and generously, too. I can’t safely drink the whole thing.

MA went after almost nothing but appetizers, a strategy that allows me to try more dishes. We started with an involtini (the word translates from Italian into something like “inside out”). Roasted red peppers formed the skin, and goat cheese was at the center. This was a fine cool starter, along with Del Porto’s old Italian salad, which MA orders every time we’re here even though it’s no longer on ther menu. But most restaurants will deliver items like that, if the ingredients are in stock.

Then came another salad, but with enough fried pork belly for it to become an entree, with apple and rutabaga puree, balsamic reduction, and slivered radishes.

My entree was one of the several dishes considered to be the official pasta dish of Rome: spaghetti amatriciana. It’s made with thick spaghetti, intertwined among bits of cheese, romato and pepper sauce, guanciale. It’s named for the town of Amatrice, wherever that is. Maybe we’ll go looking for it when we’re in Italy in a few weeks. That was my entree, and it went down with gusto and wintertime character. It’s so different from the many spaghetti with red sauce dishes we have in New Orleans that some people might not identify it as Italian. I love it.

Dinner ended with a cute dessert of fruit, custard, some little cubes of cake, and a strawberry or two. The whole dinner was polished and delicious, I stand by my judgement that here is the best Italian eatery in the area. MA fully agrees with this, which makes it almost incredibly valid.

Del Porto. Covington: 501 E Boston St. 985-875-1006.

No Menu On Mardi Gras.

Tomorrow, for the twenty-somethingth time, I will be on WWL Radio, the Big 87, for our annual broadcast of the peak of Mardi Gras, as enormous parade of Zulu, followed by the Krewe Of Rex. The Mayor will toast Rex in front of Gallier Hall. I think she will be the first female to conduct this famous this moment. Angela Hill and Newell Normand will share the microphone with me as we try to keep warm. (The low temperature on Mardi Gras morning may set a record.)

After we leave the air at 2 p.m., I will adjourn myself to the Crescent City Steak House for my annual good-bye to meat dinner. That is, after all, the meaning of Carnival. I will have a reserved table, and if you’d like to join me, just ask the Crescent City’s people. I have conducted this tradition for about forty years. It is now dedicated to Clark Marter, the Gourmet Truck Driver, who always joined us for the Mardi Gras gathering until he passed away last year.

NOMenu will return to this space on Ash Wednesday, as usual. Happy Mardi Gras from The Man Born On Mardi Gras!

Crescent City Steak House. Mid-City: 1001 N Broad. 504-821-3271.

AlmanacSquare March 4, 2017

Upcoming Deliciousness

Today Is February 25, 2019
St. Patrick’s Day–March 17
St. Joseph’s Day–March 19
Easter–April 21

Our Historic Restaurants

Today in 1979, Archie Casbarian closed on his purchase of Arnaud’s Restaurant from Arnaud Cazenavfe’s daughter, Germaine Cazenave Wells. The old restaurant, once the city’s finest restaurants, was in such a poor condition that it would take Casbarian most of the rest of the year to get it ready for reopening.

Our Celebrated Chefs

Chef Gerard Maras was born today in 1952. Maras was the opening chef and tastemaker of Ralph’s on the Park and the now-gone Table One. But he first came to our attention as chef at Mr. B’s during its greatest years in the 1980s. Their matchless barbecue shrimp recipe is his. He’s not currently cheffing, exactly; and his wife run a farm raising gourmet vegetables and herbs near Franklinton. Maras was one of the first local chefs to encourage local growers to raise better produce, and we have him to thank for the improvements in that market. He occasionally teaches cooking classes at the New Orleans Cooking Experience.

Today’s Flavors

It really ought to be put off until tomorrow, but this is National Whole Fish Day. The number of fish that come to the table still looking like a fish–with the head, tail, fins and everything in between still intact–is growing. For a long time, the only fish served whole was the West End-style whole flounder. Thank our Asian restaurants for making other large whole fish popular. Most people who enjoy fish that way first had it fried or steamed in a Chinese or Vietnamese restaurant.

Whole fish fall into two categories. Some weigh a two or three pounds, and are presented at the table, usually for more than one person. The most common fish prepared that way in New Orleans are redfish, drumfish, red snapper, and Dover sole. The other category is fish designed to be served to one person, who will pull the fish apart as he eats. The most famous of these is the Gulf flounder, fried or broiled whole. During the past few years, Mediterranean sardines have appeared, usually two or three to an order as an appetizer.

The best whole fish of all is a whole pompano of about two pounds. Hardly anything needs to be done to it besides gutting. It can walk across the grill and onto the plate, becoming the most delicious of all fish dishes.

It is also alleged to be Pound Cake Day. A pound cake is so called because it classically uses a pound each of flour, sugar, and eggs. Which is actually not a particularly good formulation. You also want to add a few things like vanilla and lemon peel.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Macaroni Lake stands at 8380 feet in the mountain fifty-five miles southeast of Butte, Montana, halfway to Yellowstone National Park. It’s in a pristine wilderness called Beaverhead National Forest. Macaroni Lake is an isolated basin that catches and hold snowmelt, only overflowing its clear gravy in wet years. Just below it is Indian Creek, whose canyon through the mountains makes for spectacular hiking. If you neglected to pack in some pasta for lunch at Macaroni Creek, it’s nine miles downhill to the Prospector Restaurant, in Sheridan.

Regional Flavors

Vermont became a state today in 1791, the first to be admitted after the original thirteen. Vermont is a rough, infertile place for farmers, dominated as it is by the Green Mountains that gave the state its name. Dairy farming is a big deal, creating excellent cheeses. Vermont’s most famous food product, of course, is the syrup that comes from its sugar maples–even though most maple syrup comes from Canada.

Annals Of Game

Today in 1909, the Unites States banned interstate transport of game birds. That was the first of a variety of laws that make it impossible for restaurants and grocers to sell pheasants, ducks, geese, and other avians killed in the wild. To this day, every duck, quail, or squab you eat in a restaurant is farm-raised.

Edible Dictionary

concassee, French, n.–The meat of a tomato, with the seeds, pulp, and skin removed. It’s usually chopped into cubes, the size being dependent on the use. The word comes from the French word concasser, which means to crush or chop. Although it almost always involved tomatoes, the word concassee can also be used to describe the same operation applied to other vegetables. Sometimes spelled concasse.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

One of the great mysteries of taste is why a fish that tastes “fishy” is considered undesirable by most people. This is like complaining that strawberries taste too strawberrylike.

Music To Dine By

This is the birthday in 1678 of Antonio Vivaldi, whose classical work The Four Seasons is almost certainly the most often-heard piece of classical music in restaurants. That’s because everybody likes the first part of it. The second movement, while still a chef d’oeuvre, is less suitable as background. I once heard a restaurateur order that it be removed from the system for that reason. It seems to me that classical music is being played much less often in restaurants these days, giving way to smooth jazz (aaauugh!), sappy soft rock, or even grunge band music (somebody shoot me).

Music To Blow Out Candles By

The song most often heard in restaurants was published in sheet music form today in 1924. Happy Birthday To You–which evolved from a song called Good Morning To All–came under copyright protection in 1934. Public performances of the song still generate royalties for the Hill family, and will for another decade or so years. That’s why chain restaurants have their own birthday songs instead of singing that one. Independent restaurants are a little too hard to persecute for celebrating their customer’s birthdays by having waiters sing four lines of the ditty badly.

Food Namesakes

Early American racecar driver Buck Baker put his foot on the Big Gas Pedal today in 1919. . . Comedian John Candy had a fatal heart attack today in 1994. He was only 43. . . Folk singer Nancy Whiskey was born in Scotland today in 1935. . . Punk rocker Scott Sturgeon (stage name Stza–good luck pronouncing that) screamed for the first time today in 1976. . . Baseball pitcher Lefty O’Doul was born today in 1897. He founded a restaurant with his name on it in San Francisco; it’s still there. But he has no connection with the non-alcoholic beer of the same name.

Words To Eat By

Robert Orben, one of the most quoted people in the world, was born today in 1927. He’s still on the lecture circuit, still performs as a magician, and still writes funny speech material. He began writing gags for comedians, but his lines have such resonance that they’re at least as popular among motivational speakers. He has quotable lines on every imaginable subject. Here are some about food:

“I always wondered why babies spend so much time sucking their thumbs. Then I tasted baby food.”

“I understand the big food companies are developing a tearless onion. I think they can do it–after all, they’ve already given us tasteless bread.”

“Remember the days when you let your child have some chocolate if he finished his cereal? Now, chocolate is one of the cereals.”

“Old people shouldn’t eat health food. They need all the preservatives they can get.”

Words To Drink By

“Then trust me, there’s nothing like drinking
So pleasant on this side the grave;
It keeps the unhappy from thinking,
And makes e’en the valiant more brave.”
Charles Dibdin, English writer, born today in 1745.