Journey On The Orient Express, March 2019.
Episode #6: Venice And The Doges Palace.
By Mary Ann Fitzmorris.
We awoke to sunshine in Venice, and slightly warmer temps. Downstairs we ran into some of our new friends at breakfast. One was vexing about spending 100E for a gondola ride. I try to live by a line from a Seals and Croft song from the Seventies, though I hate all Seventies music (and everything else about that decade). The phrase “we may never pass this way again” guides me through decisions like that.
I mentioned that to our friends, and another current song a friend says always reminds her of me. It may be the greatest compliment I’ve received. It’s Lee Ann Womack’s “I Hope You Dance.” So, dance!
After breakfast Tom and I walked to the Doges Palace, a place that has been closed in all previous visits here. Italian decor is so, . . Italian. Over the top, but still beautiful in its own way. I am obsessed with Venetian terrazzo, which is everywhere there. But it wasn’t the floors that wowed me. The ceilings were impossibly ornate. Whenever I see artistic expression at this level, I am saddened that television has destroyed so much of the beauty from future generations. Who will now create from these trades that have been passed down through millennia, when everyone is staring into their phone?
The most captivating thing at the Palace of the Doges is not the palatial spaces, but passing through the Bridge of Sighs. Looking at it from the outside is wistful, but entirely different. Seeing that last glimpse of the Grand Canal through a tiny window from inside is really sobering. I could only imagine the thoughts of the condemned as they were led to their fate.
And the armory room! I couldn’t help staring at a closeup view of arrows-their super pointed tips-and wondering about the mindset that would allow someone to fling that into another human. Or the swords or machetes that are used to simply whack off a head. I’ll have to remember that when I feel that culturally our society has descended into inhumanity with vicious attacks on social media. Or the endless prattling about guns. Fortunately, guns ended the barbarism of the the Middle Ages, at least in the Western world.
We left the Doges Palace and headed over to Harry’s Bar, where they charge a lot for food, because they can.
I had to have a Bellini, which was smaller than I thought it would be. Bread came really toasty, along with those awful breadsticks Italians are oddly attached to. Tom had carpaccio and I had tagliolini pasta with parsley and olive oil. And the bill was 128E!! Definitely worth every euro cent.
Tom returned to the hotel and I walked Venice alone for hours, checking in on some old haunts. And discovering new ones.
Late afternoon we went to Cafe Florian in Piazza San Marco, and sat outside listening to music. This was a favorite hangout for Dickens, which made 6E just to sit a little more palatable. We left when my guilt got to me for having Tom sit outside in the cold (though it really wasn’t). (Yes, it was–Tom.)
We returned to the hotel for a drink before dinner. All the places I threw out were too far to walk in the cold, Tom said. So we wound up at a place on the square. Doubtful about this plan, I looked it up, and was reassured by the revelation that the interiors were done by Phillipe Starck. Then I arrived and saw the high shelves of taxidermy animals, including a little bird. I wanted to go right then. Tom saw a 5 course, 8 course, or 13 course pre-fixe menu. I didn’t recognize a thing, though the bread baked in house was extra crusty delicious. When the bill came, it was 287E, and I only watched!!!
Most fascinating about this whole experience to me was the two Floridians at a neighboring table. They come to Venice every time their wine cellar is empty. After a few weeks they move on to Verona’s environs to restock with their favorite wine-Amarone. Dressed formally, they left their balcony suite at Danieli for the 13 course extravaganza. No sticker shock for them, but I left catatonic.
And ready to go.
Diary For Sunday, March 31, 2019. Discovery of the Best Grillades & Grits In A Restaurant I Don’t Really Like. Same place also has unusually good poached eggs with fried oysters and bacon.
The Marys share a strong liking for The Chimes in Covington, such that they dine there at least weekly, often to the exclusion of nearly all other restaurants. This would be a small matter were it not for the long-term mediocrity both of the menu at The Chimes and its execution. We’re talking here about a predominance of hamburgers, cheese fries, fried seafood platters, and uninteresting executions of the likes of gumbo.
Meanwhile, the Marys sit at the uncomfortable if scenic tables, which overlook the Bogue Falaya River. The look is pleasant, I’ll grant that. But surrounding the view are numerous televisions tuned to sports run-downs. Not my kind of place, in any way.
Drawing me to The Chimes is the presence of the two women in my life, with whom I will put up with almost anything–even though they don’t seem to care much about whether or not I will be there.
Lately, however, there has been a happy trend at The Chimes. For some months now, they’ve polished up one of their brunch dishes, Eggs Pontchartrain. This is a generous platter of fried oysters, bacon, hollandaise, and cheese grits. It’s a lot of food, and unlike most of what I’ve tried at The Chimes, it’s well crafted.
I reported all of this a few months ago, but there has been a further step forward, again in Chimes’s brunch menu. Mary Ann saw it first, while looking through the cheese fries, burgers and poor boys, spinach and artichoke dip. “This grillades and grits look good,” she said. At that precise moment, our waitress appeared. I asked her about the grillades. “That’s really good,” she said. “They have a lot of beef scraps and bones in the kitchen, and they put it all into a big pot and let it cook down until it sort of falls apart, with a lot of beef juices.” I told her that what she had just described is in fact the classic recipe for old-style grillades. The kind that my mother used to cook many decades ago.
So I ordered it. The platter featured a ring of the juicy, meaty scraps of meat, soaking a generous puddle of what could be described as gravy as well as it could be called grillades.
I’d better say here that the word “grillades” is a misnomer. It means, quite obviously, “grilled something or other, probably chunks of red meat.” In practice, grillades in New Orleans are almost anything but grilled meat. You’ll probably get something like osso buco if you’re lucky and panned veal if you’re not. In all my years, I’ve found grillades used for the classic Creole breakfast dish only once.
Well, make that two. The Chimes’s version starts with lightly grilled beef, and ends with a pool of rich grits with a jalapeno edge, floating on the beef gravy. It’s the best version of grillades and grits I have ever encountered. I’m already puzzling it out mentally so I can develop my version of this recipe.
I believe that restaurant critics should be ready to turn his or her opinions on a dime when the evidence shows a result much better or worse than what he has been saying. And that’s what I am saying right now. I add only that I hope The Chimes can keep its grillades and grits consistent for a long time. Amen.
This dish is not often seen in restaurants, even though it’s a natural. With the tuna seared rare and the Rockefeller sauce put down in a thin layer under it (resist the temptation to pile it on top), it give not only a great flavor but a unique one with a great aroma.
The amount of Rockefeller sauce made by this recipe is excessive for this recipe, but making a smaller amount doesn’t come out well. The extra sauce can be frozen, and has myriad uses. (Wild idea: how about tuna baked over oysters?)
2 ribs celery, cut up
1 small bunch green onions, chopped
1/2 medium yellow onion, cut up
1 pint fresh oysters, with water
2 lbs. fresh spinach, very well washed and large stems removed
1/2 cup Herbsaint liqueur
3 bay leaves
2 oz. anchovy paste
1 Tbs. thyme
1/2 tsp. cayenne
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup bread crumbs
6 yellowfin tuna steaks, about 8 oz.
2 Tbs. olive oil
2 Tbs. butter
18 fresh oysters
3 oz. Herbsaint liqueur
6 oz. hollandaise sauce
1. Combine all sauce ingredients except bread crumbs. Puree in batches in a food processor.
2. In a large saucepan, cook the mixture for 30 minutes. Add bread crumbs, stir in well, and cook five minutes more. You now have a good bit of completed Rockefeller sauce.
3. Cook three steaks at a time. Brush the tuna with olive oil. Heat a skillet and cook the tuna about a minute and a half on one side. Turn the tuna and spread the Rockefeller sauce on top, about the thickness of three stacked quarters.
4. Put the whole skillet into a preheated 350-degree oven for five minutes.
5. Meanwhile, in a separate skillet heat the butter to bubbling and add the oysters. Cook until the edges curl, then add the Herbsaint. Careful! Herbsaint is inflammable! Flame it if you want, but it’s not necessary. If you don’t, let it bubble for about a minute.
6. Place the tuna sauce side down onto the serving plate. Place the oysters atop the tuna, and nap the whole thing with hollandaise. Put the plates into the oven on the top rack, and turn the oven to broil at 450 degrees. Glaze the hollandaise for about a minute, then serve. (Tell people that the plates are hot!)
April 3, 2019/h3>
New Orleans Wine & Food Experience Vintner Dinners: Tonight.
French Quarter Festival April 11-14
Easter April 21
Jazz Festival April 26-May 5
Eat Club Dinner @ Impastato’s April 17
This is National Chocolate Mousse Day. It’s getting so that a good chocolate mousse is hard to find in restaurants. Its vogue seems to have passed, as has that of its insipid cousin, white chocolate mousse, which enjoyed a tremendous popularity in the 1980s. Chocolate mousse is not really hard to make; you just need to be careful making it. (I have a very good recipe here. ) The best restaurants for chocolate mousse these days are the Rib Room, Andrea’s, and Antoine’s. There’s a fantastic chocolate mousse cake at Nuvolari’s.
Today in 1985 was the last day of business for the Brown Derby restaurant, a Hollywood hangout of the highest order in its heyday of the 1940s and 1950s. It was owned by Bob Cobb, whose name lives on everywhere as the inventor of the Cobb salad: lettuce, tomatoes, radishes, chicken, blue cheese, avocado, and crumbled hard-boiled egg, brought out layered in a glass bowl and tossed at the table. The Brown Derby in L.A. is not to be confused with the so-called Original Brown Derby on LA–Louisiana Avenue, that is, corner of Freret. It was a long-running corner bar, grill and liquor store distinguished mostly for its catchy name and the illustration of a derby on its wall.
Chestnut is a town of 250 people in the vast corn-growing country that is the state of Illinois. It’s situated at the exact geographical center of the state; a monument in a park marks the spot. It’s on a main line of the Illinois Central Railroad, on which much grain is loaded and shipped. Unlikely to be found in Chestnut: actual chestnut trees. The Chestnut Family Restaurant looks forward to serving you downtown.
Yubari melon, n.–A contender for the title of Most Expensive Melon On Earth, this is a cantaloupe grown in its namesake city in Japan, on the island of Hokkaido. The best ones are perfectly round on the outside, and have a very smooth, beautifully netted skin. They’re packed in much protective netting and sold in handsome wooden boxes for around $100-$200 each. A couple of years ago one of them sold for $18,000. A farmer has to inherit the right to grow Yubari melons; the first thought that comes to mind is that this may be to keep the price up. Look for hotshot chefs to slip Yubari melons on their menus soon. If the Japanese don’t buy them all, as they have a way of doing.
Music To Dine Elegantly By
This is the birthday of singer Doris Day, who let out her first notes in 1924. She became more famous for her many movies, but on record she had a marvelous gift for putting emotion into a song, with the finest female voice in the popular music world of her time. She started with the big bands and recorded for decades. She sounded like the kind of woman who would snuggle up with a guy and make him feel warm inside.
Today is the feast day of Mary of Egypt, the patroness of reformed prostitutes and sexual temptation. She reformed herself by spending fifty years as a hermit in the desert, living on berries and herbs the rest of her life. (For more on Berry and Herb, see Food Namesakes, below).
Deft Dining Rule #808:
Truck stops are almost never good places to eat.
Annals Of Beer
Two weeks after Congress legalized 3.2-percent alcohol beer (the first step in ending Prohibition), Eleanor Roosevelt announced that this weak brew would be proudly served at White House functions. But if you went along with FDR’s programs, he’d sneak you round back for some white lightning.
Annals Of Coffee
Today in 1829, James Carrington patented a new kind of coffee mill. Before it was introduced, the standard way of grinding coffee was to put the beans into several thicknesses of plastic sandwich bags and run over it several times with a Hummer.
Abuse Of Food In The Movies
Butter. Last Tango In Paris. Marlon Brando, born today in 1924. I cannot bring myself to go into details.
Annals Of Food Research
William James Farrar, the father of modern Australian wheat farming, was born today in 1845. He developed a strain of wheat that resisted drought and grew in the extraordinarily poor soil of Australia. Even with that, the country cannot support a large population on its own crops.
Jan Berry of the surfing rock group Jan and Dean was born today in 1941. . . Former German chancellor Helmut Kohl was born today in 1930 (“kohl” is the German word for cabbage). . . George Curry was born in Louisiana today in 1861, and went on to become one of the leading figures in New Mexico politics during its territorial period. . . Herb Caen, who wrote a what’s-going-on column in the San Francisco Chronicle for decades, was born today in 1916.
Words To Eat By
“Erasers would taste good with this sauce.”–Blonde bombshell actress Jan Sterling, born today in 1921, speaking about the sauce she found on escargots.
Words To Drink By
“They who drink beer will think beer.”–Washington Irving, born today in 1783.