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Continuing Diary On The Orient Express. 2019

Ever since I read Agatha Christie’s account of nefarious deeds aboard a mythical train, I’ve wanted to take a ride on the Orient Express. And who better to accompany me that Tom, the ultimate train buff? When I called American Express to book the trip, the first thing she said was, “Let me explain how this will work, because it’s kinda complicated.” That was an understatement I didn’t quite grasp then, but I do now!

London to Venice means the trip begins on the British Pullman line, then luxury coach through the Chunnel, then boarding the Orient Express in Calais.

London is always calling, to me anyway. We went there a few days early. Upon arrival we rented a car from Hertz, then to begin our touring Windsor Castle. It’s a charming little town with a magnificent castle that dates far back in English history. The center of town is full of cafes and pubs. After shopping through many of those, Tom suggested we stop in a pub called Carpenter’s Arms. I had a kid’s plate of fish and chips, which was perfectly done. Tom had a vegetarian lentil cottage pie, which miraculously had that beef gravy taste. He loved it.

It was typically cold and rainy, but when I emerged from the pub for a quick visit to the castle while Tom finished his dessert, it was sunny. Before leaving Windsor, we passed the Thames a few times. Outside the city, I find this river impossibly enchanting. One of my great fantasies is to meander the Thames in the countryside in a tiny houseboat.

We left a little later than we’d planned for London. I booked the Goring Hotel, part of the fabulously British and just plain fabulous group called Pride of Britain Hotels. It’s two blocks from Victoria Station, which I knew would mean a lot to Tom on train departure day.

The Goring Hotel is definitely not my kind of place. By that I mean that it’s frilly, fancy, and pretentious. But by checkout time I had come to love the place. After three days of this kind of treatment I felt as if that I were family to these people, treasured guests in their proper British home.

Tom loves that kind of attention. He was giddy to be in the dining room watching waiters steam-iron nearby tablecloths. I made the mistake of asking for a scone at breakfast. It is GB after all. I was aghast to see 3 different kinds of freshly baked scones appear before me after thirty minutes. The waitress sheepishly explained that it took so long because they only have scones at afternoon tea time, so they baked some for me. “But a stale one from yesterday’s tea would have been fine,” I mumbled under my breath.

“Oh no Madame,” she said. “We could never do that.” I’m still wracked with guilt for asking.

The last night we were there, Tom was in his happy place-an ultra gourmet dinner from a menu full of unrecognizable things. Nothing that came to the table disappointed us. But what most won my heart about the Goring was the good-natured way they tolerated this entirely too-casual American.

Tucked away on a tiny street in Belgravia, it was like having my own place in London. After every outing, I parked right in front, exchanged greetings with the bellmen, and dashed up one flight of stairs to our room.

This first night we skipped tea and dinner to get to a Brandenburg concerto concert at St Martin in the Fields. The church is ordinary and brown in that 18th century way, but what is most interesting is “the crypt” below, where the cafeteria is located. Only in Europe can you carry your food over the gravestones of centuries past.

When we parked the car two blocks away in Covent Garden, it happened to be steps away from the door of one of the few Smith & Wollenskys left in the world. We miss this delicious steakhouse, so we dropped in for a post-theater “snack.”

Smith & Wollensky does my favorite European food (bread and butter) better than just about everyone, so I was looking forward to that, but I also got a bowl of pea soup for dipping. Tom had a dry-aged peppercorn encrusted strip. Could it really be as great as it seemed? I think, yes.

Take note iced tea drinkers: In Britain that means lemonade. Tea is consumed hot here.

The diary of the Orient Express continues tomorrow and beyond here in the New Orleans Menu Daily.


Honey-Mustard Salad Dressing

In the first year of my radio show, this was the most often-requested recipe on my radio show. At that time (1988), the dressing had become very popular in restaurants, but few recipes for it could be found in cookbooks. It’s easy to find one now. In fact, there are many honey-mustard dressing formulae out there. Here’s my original from back in its heyday.

  • 1 Tbs. Creole or Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp. dry mustard
  • 4 tsp. honey
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice
  • 1/4 tsp. onion puree
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. white pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. white Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 dots Tabasco
  • 2 Tbs. tarragon vinegar
  • 1 1/2 cups extra-virgin olive oil

1. Mix all the ingredients except the olive oil in a bowl with a whisk.

2. Whisk in the olive oil in a thin stream, little by little, until it’s all incorporated and the mixture is smooth.

3. Chill for one hour before serving.

Makes two cups of dressing

AlmanacSquare March 26, 2017

Upcoming Deliciousness

French Quarter Festival April 2-5
Easter April 21
Jazz Festival April 26-May 5

Annals Of Famous Restaurants

Either yesterday, today, or tomorrow can be considered the anniversary of Emeril’s. I was there today in 1990, the second evening of pre-opening dinners. The restaurant opened to the public March 26. Things went wrong, as they always do in new restaurants. But Emeril’s former employer–Ella Brennan of Commander’s Palace–told him, “Change nothing.” He didn’t, and the place took off. It’s hard to believe now, but that was not a foregone conclusion at the time. Emeril had not even begun to achieve the stardom he now enjoys outside New Orleans. It wasn’t quite just another new restaurant.

Emeril’s, as we know now, joined that rarefied list of restaurants whose influence caused major changes in the dining scene. Antoine’s in the 1880s, Galatoire’s in the 1900s, Arnaud’s in the 1920s, Brennan’s in the 1950s, LeRuth’s in the 1970s, Commander’s Palace in the 1980s, and Emeril’s in the 1990s. No restaurant has joined the list yet in the new century, in my opinion.

Celebrity Chefs Today

Today is the birthday (1954) of Greg Picolo, long-time chef of the Bistro at the Maison de Ville, where he distinguished himself. In 2011, the restaurant fell apart (long story, and not his fault). In 2012, Chef Greg joined Redemption, the newly-reopened restaurant formerly known as Christian’s. He was the ideal person for that job; the restaurant had been struggling to find a direction in its first two years. Greg has a direction, all right, and the menu has not only his stamp but that of Christian’s, too.

Deft Dining Rule #200

If you need predictability from a restaurant, find one where the chef has been there a long time. If you want novelty, find one with a history of hiring young chefs who stay a year or two and then open their own places. You can’t have both.

Today’s Flavor

Today is International Waffle Day. Waffles seem special because they’re not often made at home. Waffles are associated with restaurants, with the added touches of which add nice touches like whipped cream, fresh fruit, and real maple syrup, all of which are a lot of trouble in your own kitchen. Restaurants also keep their waffle irons on all the time. That gets around the First-Waffle Problem. For reasons nobody can understand, the first waffle you make is much worse than all the ones that come after.

The best waffles are made with a thick batter containing a good bit of egg and butter. Because butter can be heated much hotter than water, it gives the waffle not only its fine flavor but also a crisp exterior. The other ingredients are milk, self-rising flour (I find that works better than using baking powder) a pinch of salt, a dash of vanilla, and a generous sprinkle of cinnamon (not enough to taste, but enough to add a certain something). A really fabulous waffle comes from separating the egg whites, beating them until they foam, and gently stirring them into the batter.

An overlooked possibility is making non-sweet waffles with ingredients like onions and herbs. They are excellent bottom layers of savory dishes. Small oniony waffles carry caviar and sour cream marvelously well. At the street level, restaurants are popping up all over the country serving fried chicken and waffles.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

The best waffle irons are the kind with big squares and non-stick coatings. Be sure they heat up a long time before you put the first one in. And be ready to give that one to the dog. Or to Dad.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Garlic Creek, Texas is just south of Austin, running around the back of a small subdivision. It flows, interestingly enough, into Onion Creek. There’s as much of a size difference between the two streams as between their namesakes. The nearest non-fast-food places to eat are the Railroad bar-B-Q (which really is on a railroad track), and Macho Taco, both a mile and a half away in Manchaco.

Music To Eat Chicken And Waffles By

Aretha Franklin, who gets our respect as the definitive female soul voice, was born today in 1943. She takes care of TCB.

Edible Dictionary

cappe sante, Italian, n., pl.–Literally, “cowls of the saints.” In Italy, this notes a resemblance of the scallop’s shell to the headgear worn by many of the saints (most notable St. James) depected by statues in the older churches. Scallop shells (like the Shell gas station logo) are a familiar motif in Italian religious iconography. When the expression shows up on a menu, you are being offered scallops one way or another.

Annals Of Food Tourism

On this date in 1806, the first people to travel by rail took a train through Wales. Their destination: a place where they would consume a few dozen raw oysters on the half shell. Writer Elizabeth Isabella Spence said about the ride: “I have never spent an afternoon with more delight than the one exploring the romantic scenery at Oystermouth (Mumbles). This car contains twelve persons and is constructed chiefly of iron, its four wheels run on an iron railway by the aid of one horse, and the whole carriage is an easy and light vehicle.” She mentioned nothing about the guy who fell off while looking for the bar car.

Annals Of Popular Cuisine

Today in 1995, Pizza Hut rolled out its Stuffed Crust pizza, inspiring commercials showing people eating pizza crust first. Which, by the way, gets messy when you get to the point of the slice–unless it’s a very dry, cheese-poor pizza. The hard part was finding a cheese that would still look like cheese after baking inside dough.

Eating Around The World

Today in the town of Tichborne, in Hampshire, England, a gallon of flour is distributed to every adult in the town, and a half-gallon per child. The Tichborne Dole, as it came to be known, was instituted by Lady Mabella Tichborne. Her dying command to her husband was to make a donation of bread every year on the feast of the Annunciation (nine months before Christmas). She added a curse to it, which came true for one of her husband’s descendants. Afterwards, the Dole was kept up without fail, and still is. Here’s the whole story.

Annals Of Nuts

Today in 1775 (although there’s dispute about the year), George Washington planted pecan trees at Mount Vernon, his home. Some of those trees are still alive. He may have done this at the suggestion of Thomas Jefferson. Both men were strong proponents of pecans, and advised their widespread planting throughout America. It was a good idea. The harvest of pecans–erratic though it may be–is always welcome. And when a pecan branch or a tree falls, its wood is among the finest to burn for grilling food.

Annals Of Food Research

Norman Borlaug was born today in 1914. An American agronomist, he won the 1970 Nobel Prize for the research that evolved into the Green Revolution. He spent much of his career figuring out how places with inadequate food production could grow more and better crops. His notable successes were in Mexico, India, and Pakistan.

Chefs In The News

Today in 2008, Chef Paul Prudhomme was hit by a falling bullet while attending the Zurich Classic golf tournament in New Orleans. He was not hurt.

Food Namesakes

Long-time major league third baseman Travis Fryman hit the Big Basepath today in 1969. . . The mother of film director David Lean yelled “action!” at him today in 1908. . . Kaat Mussel, an outspoken woman in Rotterdam (and seller of mussels, hence her name) was born today in 1723.

Words To Eat By

“He gave her a look you could have poured on a waffle.”–Ring Lardner, American writer.

Words To Drink By

“He that eateth well drinketh well,
He that drinketh well sleepeth well,
He that sleepeth well sinneth not,
He that sinneth not goeth straight through Purgatory to Paradise.”
William Lithgow.

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