Diary For Monday, April 7,2019. Our First Visit To Costera. The corner of Prytania Street at Robert has the odd distinction of having been the home of around a dozen restaurants over the years. The most recent and most successful of these was La Thai Cuisine, whose long run ended a few months ago, making room for the new Costera.
Costera (of the coast) will remind avid diners of other periods from the past. It bills itself as a Spanish restaurant, although it makes less of that heritage than it does about the broad array of seafood that dominates the menu.
But let’s return to the Spanish issue. As your fifth-grade schoolbook told you decades ago, New Orleans and its vicinity were dominated by Spanish colonists for a long time. That fact asks why there are so few Spanish restaurants, dishes, and culinary styles. While there have always been a few outlets of Spanish cooking in out area, there are rarely more than two or three. Why is there no widespread Spanish Creole cooking style here?
It is tempting to speculate that Costera might step into this breach and do what Thai food did here for so many years. Remember the bed of crabmeat stacked with a crabcake and a soft-shell crab on top of that? If not, it’s a good thing. Costera has no such kidding around in order. Its menu is much more adventuresome, with food items we have not seen in a long time. Razor crabs? I haven’t seen those on a restaurant menu since RioMar closed ten years ago. Offbeat species of mussels and other shellfish. Finfish tend to be in the background, with shellfish up front. All in all, the list of seafood on the menu is astonishing.
My theory is that the chef and other members of the staff came up through Chef Donald Link’s collection of restaurants, particularly Pêche, Link’s seafood specialist. More than anything else, Costera is about seafood.
But Mary Ann and I began with a classic Spanish appetizer: batatas brasas, a hard variation on French fries. Then some marinated beets with fennel. Mushroom balls with a green-herb slathering. And about three more such morsels. My entree was a grilled sheepshead. That’s a fish I generally like, but this specimen was a bit rough.
All of this had us leaving with a good feeling about the dining room, which was quite busy by the time we were ready to depart. The busy bar and a community table gave the place a buzz. The service was a shade slow, but Costera is still in its early days. The staff had a good attitude, however, and the restaurant will evolve into something better as the weeks go by.
Costera. Uptown: 4938 Prytania. 504-302-2332. Lunch and dinner every day except Tuesdays.
Artichoke Cream Soup
The most popular artichoke soup around New Orleans is the great herbal artichoke-oyster soup you find in restaurants. This is a completely different approach to artichoke soup–richer and more elegant. It’s for people who love the unique flavor of artichokes. They are at their best this time of year–the spring. To make this absurdly elegant, top each bowl with a poached quail egg.
- 4 fresh artichokes
- 1 lemon, quartered
- 1 small onion, sliced
- 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
- 1/2 stick butter
- 2 Tbs. flour
- Salt and pepper
- 2 bay leaves
1. Wash and trim the artichokes, removing all bruised leaves and the top inch or so. Cut the artichokes in half and place in six cups of boiling water seasoned with the lemon, onion, bay leaves, salt, and pepper.
2. Simmer for 40 minutes, then remove artichokes from the liquid. When cool, remove leaves and separate hearts and bottoms. Remove any pink or purple leaves, and any fuzzy parts.
3. Puree the hearts and the soft meat from the leaves in a blender and set aside.
4. Make a light roux from the butter and flour. Whisk this into the liquid and return to a boil. Add the pureed artichokes and boil for 10 minutes.
5. Strain the soup through a fine sieve into a clean pot. Add the cream and the diced artichoke bottoms. Heat through, and serve.
Serves six to eight.
April 8, 2017
French Quarter Festival April 11-14
Easter April 21
Jazz Festival April 26-May 5
Eat Club Dinner @ Impastato’s April 17
Currency And Food
The dollar sign ($) was invented today in 1778 by Oliver Pollock, the most generous monetary contributor to the American Revolutionary War. At the time, neither he nor his hometown of New Orleans were part of the new nation. He lived next door to what is now the Royal Orleans parking garage on Chartres Street; a marker there tells his history. His dollar sign is a stylized version of a U over an S. You could buy a meal in a restaurant without having to use a whole $ until about 1974.
Today is Pan-American Empanada Day. An empanada is a half-moon-shaped turnover, usually stuffed with some kind of meat. It’s found in both Spanish and Latin American cuisines. “Empanada” literally means “enclosed in bread.” The bread in this case is a flour tortilla, or (sometimes) pie dough. Ground beef, pork, and sausage are typical empanada fillings. Both Natchitoches-style meat pies and Hubig’s pies qualify as empanadas. The best empanada in New Orleans is the empanadas de atun at RioMar; it’s filled with tuna.
Corncob Creek runs across north central Oregon, some 207 miles east of Portland, up in the arid mountains. It’s often a dry wash, but carries a good bit of water from melting snows in late winter. It’s pretty far out there–it’s twenty-two miles as the crow flies to the nearest restaurant, the Big Timber Family Restaurant in Fossil, Oregon.
Today in 1879 was the first day milk was sold in bottles. Echo Farms Dairy of New York was the marketer. Before then, you bought milk by the pail if you didn’t have your own cows to milk. Bottled milk was the rule until about 1960, when a shift from home deliveries to supermarkets made the cardboard carton popular. Now, the bottle–made of plastic–is taking over again. When we started school in 1956, they served us milk in little bottles with a thick cardboard stopper. When you pulled open its tab, a hole was revealed for inserting your straw.
kataifi, Lebanese, n.–Shredded phyllo pastry, usually baked and wrapped around desserts filled with nuts, fruit, honey, and the like. Sometimes kataifi is used to make savory appetizers with meats, vegetables, or cheeses. Enclosing these fillings, it resembles hay or shredded wheat, giving a highly distinctive appearance. It’s crisp at the outside and soft in the center.
Deft Dining Rule #709:
The presence in a restaurant of any form of cornbread baked fresh in house is a strong indicator that the cooking will be excellent. This is true even when the cornbread itself is just okay.
Annals Of Imitation Foods
Today in In 1873, the first American patent for making margarine was granted to Alfred Paraf of New York. Now margarine, too, is exiting the scene, as we discover horrible things about its effects on your health.
Deft Dining Rule #710:
The presence of margarine on a restaurant’s tables is a very strong indicator of very poor food. But if they cook with it, it’s okay. (Especially if either the restaurant or the cook is over fifty years old.)
Catfish Hunter, who pitched more than 20 wins in five consecutive seasons for the A’s and the Yankees, was born today in 1946. . . Actor Alfie Bass took the Big Stage today in 1921. He played supporting roles in many movies. . . Kofi Annan brewed up today in 1938, and later became Secretary-General of the United Nations. . . Elizabeth Bacon, the wife of General George Custer, made her first stand today in 1842.
Words To Eat By
“It scored right away with me by being the smooth, fine-grained sort, not the coarse, flaky, dry-on-the-outside rubbish full of chunks of gut and gristle to testify to its authenticity.”–Kingsley Amis, describing a pate.
Words To Drink By
“My makeup wasn’t smeared, I wasn’t disheveled, I behaved politely, and I never finished off a bottle. So how could I be an alcoholic?”–Betty Ford, born today in 1908.