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Diary For Thurs., 2/14/2018. Valentine’s Day. First Dinner @ Justine.

If the degree to which I don’t follow the advice I give people about getting the most out of restaurants, I’d lose all my credibility. So why am I telling you that I’m about to do that? Because I hold nothing back from you. Ever.

Today is Valentine’s Day, one of the busiest day of the year for restaurateurs. By the time we get around to it, Mary Ann and I have gone out to eat grandly on February 6, my birthday, and on February 11, our anniversary. It seems logical that we ought to take the day off from special occasioning on Valentine’s. But noooo! We never miss a special day.

Most of the time, anyway. But when the radio show ended, MA was on the phone with a plan for the evening. We would go to the newly opened Justine. MA has already checked the place out and found it filled with the kind of atmosphere that she likes.

I too was interested, but there were barriers–or so it seemed. Justine is the latest restaurant from Justin Devillier and his wife Mia. They are the owners of La Petite Grocery, which has at times had a five-fleur de lis rating from NOMenu. They also own Balise Tavern, the Middle-Creole Era in the CBD, and other good restaurant. We continue staff lineup by mentioning Sous Chef Daniel Causgrove, whose work we have enjoyed in several major restaurants over the past five years or so.

All of the above contributed to a strong interest in Justine when it opened on January 25. To consider going to Valentine’s Day with such built-in enthusiasm was asking for trouble.

But asking for trouble is what MA considers fun. She was going to get two seats at Justine or die. She called for a reservation and was told that there were no tables available tonight. But if we’d like, we could get two spaces at one of the community tables. The community table is about eighteen inches across and some six feet side to side, with round-top stools. The latter had the usual discomfort of tall, backless perches. But we were indeed seated.

Soon came the water, the cocktail for me (pastis, the classical, high-alcohol liquor much liked in the South of France), and an amuse bouche that told me that the chef has found me out. Two raw oysters topped with caviar. Made me happy, as was inevitable.

Then we saw the value of this table arrangement for the restaurant. Not only were we sitting and eating in what was otherwise a full house, but we had soon struck up a conversation with a couple sitting next to us. She was having a great time. He was an owner of a major winery in Napa, one I know well. We spent the entire evening talking with these folks, and they seemed to be as entertained as we were.

Justine is a classic French bistro, no doubt about it. We have had quite a few French bistros over the years, but they have not been popular here in recent times. That seems to be about to change. A few others of the genre are in the near future.

MA and I both like this kind of eatery. We began with a cliche: French onion soup. Good, but needs some work–in the caramelizing of the onions. Not many restaurants get that right. It will no doubt be refined here as time goes on. (I am not keeping to my usual guideline to wait around six months before going to a new restaurants.)

My starter was oysters persillade–a great but rarely-found appetizer in which the oysters float in a light sauce dominated by parsley. Loved it. It was followed by a marrow bone that really was stocked with marrow through its nine inches of length. And now I have steak tartare, something not only ideal for a a French bistro but also a specialty at La Petite Grocery. It was not only eminently edible, but very generously served. MA countered with duck confit with white beans. She loved it. I loved everything except the soup.


Food kept coming my way. My entree was moules marnier–mussels on the shells and with a pile of pommes frites. Another French bistro classic. We’ve had better fries at La Petite Grocery, but I think I’ve already mentioned that we were in a new restaurant.

The server was a young Asian woman who was on top of her game, even though some of the dishes were misdirected. (New restaurant–normal problem.)

But the bottom line was simply arrived at: We love Justine. Can’t wait until the next time.

Justine. French Quarter: 225 Chartres St.


Frog’s Legs Persille

Frog’s legs are delicious, mild, and easy to love even the first time you try them. The smaller they are, the better. I like to marinate them in buttermilk, like fried chicken, before cooking. And talk about French bistro dishes!

Fried frog legs.

  • 8 pairs of small frogs’ legs
  • 1 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1 tsp. green Tabasco
  • Persillade sauce:
  • 2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 6 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 15 sprigs flat-leaf parsley, leaves only, chopped
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 Tbs. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. white pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. thyme
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1/2 cup clarified butter
  • 1 tsp. red wine vinegar

1. Wash the frogs’ legs, then marinate them in the refrigerator for two hours in a food storage bag with the buttermilk and the Tabasco.

2. For the persille sauce, heat the olive oil in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and parsley. Cook until the parsley is wilted and the garlic is fragrant. Remove from the heat. Scoop the pan contents into a small food processor, blender, or (most effective) mortar and pestle. Add 1/4 tsp. salt and puree the mixture. Spoon the mixture into one corner of a small plastic bag (like a sandwich bag).

3. Combine the flour, salt, white pepper and thyme in a wide bowl. Shake the excess buttermilk off the frogs’ legs. Coat them lightly with the flour mixture.

4. Heat the butter in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. When it’s melted, add the crushed garlic clove. When the butter is bubbling, add the frogs’ legs and sauté until golden, turning once. Remove and drain the frogs’ legs. Whisk in the vinegar.

5. Place the frogs’ legs on serving plates. Spoon the butter from the pan onto the plates, trying to avoid picking up the solids on the bottom of the pan.

6. With scissors, snip off the corner of the plastic bag with the parsley mixture. Squeeze out lines of the persille across the frog’s legs. Garnish with lemon halves.
Serves four.

AlmanacSquare February 17, 2019

Upcoming Deliciousness

Mardi Gras–11

St. Patrick’s Day–29

St. Joseph’s Day–31
Easter: April 21

Food Calendar

It is National Cafe Au Lait Day. Every day is Cafe au Lait Day for me. In fact, I’m drinking the stuff as I write this. Can’t imagine a morning without it.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Bread Tray Hill is a community of about fifty people, fifty-six miles southeast of Montgomery, Alabama. It’s an intersection of two rural highways through a mostly wooded area. The namesake hill is bald at its 500-foot top, and from the south does look like its name. This is a farming and orchard area. The nearest restaurants are seven miles north in Union Springs. Among them is the inviting Pigg’s.

Edible Dictionary

cafe brulot, [kaf-ay broo-LOW], French, n.–A hybrid of coffee and after-dinner drink, cafe brulot is lemon peel, cloves, and cinnamon flamed in brandy, with dark, strong coffee added as the flames die down. It’s at least as much about the show as the flavor. While the spice-and-brandy mixture is burning, the waiter might intentionally pour the stuff on the tablecloth, where the blue flames burn harmlessly but dramatically. A special rig evolved for cafe brulot, involving a brass panholder held up by well-dressed demons, and thin, tall cups for serving the potion.

Invented at Antoine’s in the late 1800s, cafe brulot has become a universal end-of-dinner item in most of the traditional grand New Orleans restaurants, and has spread well beyond its boundaries. The best version now is at Arnaud’s, where they stud an orange with cloves, then cut the skin away from the fruit in a spiral. The waiter pours the flaming brandy down the spiral, which not only is quite a show but brings the oils in the peel into play, adding flavor as well as making the room fragrant.

Deft Dining Rule #219:

The only way an ethnic restaurant can be truly authentic is to be located in the place where its cuisine came from.

Our Great Restaurateurs

This is the birthday, in 1957, of Jacques Soulas. He and Jerry Edgar founded (and still own) Cafe Degas in 1980. It was one of the first casual French restaurants in New Orleans, and even after all these years it remains true to the style of the small, inexpensive French bistro. (The only thing missing is surly waiters.)

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

To make the most spectacular coffee of your life, next time you have about a dozen eggshells, crunch them up with the egg still sticking to them. Put the eggs into a coffee filter in your coffeemaker with two or three times as much coffee as you normally use. Brew a full pot. The egg whites pull all the bitter particles out, and the calcium in the shells neutralizes the acids and gets more extraction from the grounds. It’s a lot of work, but the result is amazing.

Food Inventions

Julius Wolff of Maine became the first man to can sardines on this date in 1876. The kind of sardines you find in cans are generic fish and of more interest to cats than to humans. However, real sardines–named for the island of Sardinia–are a treat we sometimes see in New Orleans, particularly around St. Joseph’s Day. They’re six to eight inches long, pan-sauteed or broiled, and served whole. Their assertive flavor will not please those who complain about fish tasting “fishy.” For those with more adventuresome palates, they’re a delight.

Food In The Comics

This is the eighty-first anniversary of the marriage of Blondie and Dagwood Bumstead, in the comic strip named for her. Blondie’s maiden name was Boopadoop. Dagwood was a wealthy playboy whose choice of a bride (not a bad one, if he was looking for a lady with a great figure) caused his father to disinherit him. Dagwood went on to become an iconic chowhound. The overloaded sandwich (regardless of its contents, as long as there’s plenty of different stuff, and sardines) is named for him.

Food Through History

On this date in 1454, Philip The Good, Duke of Burgundy, and son of John the Fearless (don’t you wish we still used such epithets?), held a magnificent feast in Dijon. At its end, he took the Vow of the Pheasant, and swore that he would go on a Crusade to fight the Turks. Big words at that time, because the Turks had just taken Constantinople. He must have been drunk on Pinot Noir. He never did undertake the Crusade.

Today is the ancient Roman festival Fornicalia, which was not what it sounds like. It celebrated the hearth, wheat, bread, and baking.

Food Entrepreneurs

William Cadbury, who founded the chocolate manufacturing concern that still bears his name, was born today in 1867.

Food Namesakes

Actor Noah Beery was brewed up today in 1882. . . Charles de Bourbon, the governor of Lombardy, was born today in 1490. . . Actress Christina Pickles hit the Big Stage today in 1935. . . American film director Michael Bay said “roll ’em” today in 1965. . . Rapper Wish Bone was pulled out today in 1975.

Words To Eat By

“So long as people don’t know how to eat they will not have good cooks.”–Escoffier.

Words To Drink By

“After a few months’ acquaintance with European coffee one’s mind weakens, and his faith with it, and he begins to wonder if the rich beverage of home, with it’s clotted layer of yellow cream on top of it, is not a mere dream after all, and a thing which never existed.”–Mark Twain.

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