July 26

Pad thai

Days Until. . .

Restaurant Birthdays

Today is the anniversary of the opening of The Pelican Club. Chef-owner Richard Hughes, after having a hit restaurant called Memphis in New York City, returned to New Orleans to open this well-hidden restaurant on mysterious Exchange Alley. He's a Louisiana guy who'd been in New Orleans before, making a great impression with his food when he was the chef of Iler Pope's Dante By The River. The Pelican Club opened to rave reviews from everybody and large crowds, despite the fact that it came into being almost exactly at the same time that Emeril's and Bayona opened. It's as good as ever, with classy, innovative New Orleans food with a few fusions here and there. The summer special menu (now in effect: $39 for three courses) and Reveillon menu make a lot of friends for the restaurant.

Food Calendar

This is Pad Thai Day. Pad thai can be called the national dish of Thailand, and is found on every Thai restaurant's menu, regardless of its level of ambitiousness. It's made with rice noodles cooked until soft and then tossed with a chicken, shrimp, peanuts, bean shoots, carrots, cilantro, green onions, and hot red pepper with a bit of chicken stock. It's usually made quite spicy, as much of Thai cooking tends to be. (Ask to have it "Thai hot" to experience just how extreme the Thai palate likes its pepper levels.) Pad thai is light enough that it makes a great summertime dish. It's filling, but doesn't weigh you down for some reason. It's such a great dish that other kinds of restaurants have adopted (and adapted) it. The first place I ever saw it outside a Thai kitchen was at Semolina, where it became (and still is) one of the most popular dishes on the menu. I find that a well-made pad thai accomplishes one of my favorite feats: it tastes better and better as you go through a bowl of the stuff, with the last bite tasting best of all. I can't remember ever having had a bad version of the dish.

Gourmet Politicians Through History

Today was the low point in the life of one of the great lovers of food and wine, Winston Churchill. Today in 1945, with World War II in its last critical days, he was forced to resign as Prime Minister of England after his party lost its Parliamentary majority. Churchill would return in a few years and round out his long political career. . . An American gourmet and statesman in a league with Churchill--Benjamin Franklin--became our first Postmaster General today in 1775.

Annals Of Japanese Cuisine

In other World War II news, today in 1941 the United States froze all Japanese assets in this country. Since that day, fish for sushi has traditionally been frozen in this country. That's a joke, but that really is how most fish in most sushi bars arrives. That's why it's a big deal when they note that a variety is fresh. They say that freezing the fish kills parasites, but it must also aid in shipping the raw fish around the world.

Annals Of Cheese

Today in 1925, Roquefort became the first cheese in the world to come under the protection of the appellation d'origine controlee laws. Only cheese from the area around the town of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon can be sold as Roquefort. In addition, it must be made with sheep's milk. Even the breed of sheep--Lacaune--is specified. The sheep must be allowed to graze whenever the weather allows it.

Deft Dining Rule #189

You can tell whether a restaurant's blue cheese salad dressing is made in house just by asking to have a little extra crumbled blue cheese on top. (You must be ready to pay a little extra, but it's worth it.)

Gourmet Gazetteer

Pecan is a small town in the low-lying real estate ten miles east of Pascagoula, Mississippi, on US 90. It's about a mile from the Alabama state line. Before the I-10 was built through just north, Pecan was the first and last stop in Mississippi, depending in which direction you were headed. A few pecan trees remain for former groves, but a spate of big hurricanes in the last couple of decades killed lots of the trees off as salt water washed over the land. The nearest restaurant is Lakeview Catfish House, two miles east in Orange Grove. The orange trees for which that burg was named met the same fate as Pecan's namesake nuts. It's all piney woods around there now.

Edible Dictionary

harissa, Arabic, n.--A thick sauce made of hot chili peppers, olive oil, garlic, and various spices from the North African pantry. It's served at room temperature, usually in a small dish passed around the table, and is most famously used to add some punch to couscous. It's used in about the same way that we use hot pepper sauce in Louisiana, but it's thicker, with a texture somewhere between ketchup and salsa. Most of the time harissa is very, very hot, so use it sparingly at first.

Vegetarians Through History

George Bernard Shaw, playwright and philosopher, was born today in 1856. He's most famous for the plays Man and Superman and Pygmalion. But this department notes his strong feelings about what we should and shouldn't eat. Here are a couple of his thoughts: "A man of my spiritual intensity does not eat corpses." And: "Animals are my friends. I don't eat my friends." One more: "Everything I eat has been proved by some doctor or other to be a deadly poison, and everything I don't eat has been proved to be indispensable for life. But I go marching on." Frankly, I think he was a little nutty.

Looking Up

Today in 1969, scientists got their first look at the moon rocks brought back by Apollo 11. Whenever the weather gets peculiar, restaurateur and philosopher Dick Brennan, Sr. says, "I'm telling you--they've got to put those rocks back on the moon."

Eating Around The World

Today is independence day for the Netherlands,. In 1581, the country broke away from (strangely enough) Spain. The main contribution the Dutch made to the culinary world was in helping popularize the food of Indonesia, a Dutch colony for a long time. We don't see too many Dutch chefs in New Orleans, but there is one of note: Hans Limberg, one of the Taste Buds who founded Semolina and Zea.

Food And Drink Namesakes

In 1952, Scott David Cook was born. He would later become CEO of the Intuit software company, which makes Quicken and TurboTax. . . Today is the feast day of George Swallowell, a Catholic martyr in the 1500s. . . Actor Chez Starbuck was born today in 1982.

Words To Eat By

"If the English can survive their food, they can survive anything."--George Bernard Shaw, born today in 1856. "When I roast a turkey I put a chicken in the oven, too. When the chicken is burned, the turkey is perfect!"--Gracie Allen, wife and co-star with George Burns of their long-running radio and televison shows, born today in 1895.

Words To Drink By

"Champagne for everybody!"--Vivian Vance, upon learning that William Frawley, who played her husband Fred Mertz on "I Love Lucy," had died. The two never got along. She was born today in 1902.