February 29

Surf And Turf

Days Until. . .

Mardi Gras--1
St. Patrick's Day--19
St. Joseph's Day--21
Easter--46

Chef d'Oeuvre Du Jour

#401: Crabmeat Caesar Salad @ Maximo's Italian Grill, French Quarter: 1117 Decatur. The search for the perfect Caesar salad--as in one made tableside from scratch, without a pre-made dressing--is as frustrating as it is quixotic. Maximo's doesn't make it. Nor would I say it's the best salad under the Caesar name. However, it's excellent, and their addition of crabmeat to the mix makes it an opulent pleasure. Especially when preceding an entree of pasta or seafood. This is one of NOMenu's 500 Best Dishes in New Orleans. Collect all 500!

Observances

Today is Leap Day, the day that comes around once every four years (usually). Julius Caesar came up with the idea in 45 BC, when he reworked the Roman calendar and made February 28 (most years) or today this the last day of the year. Certainly the most peculiar day of the year, it has a good deal of lore connected with it. The best-known is that, in the English-speaking world, a woman is permitted to propose marriage to a man on this day, without fear of being thought of as a hussy. One source has it that a Scottish law made that official in 1288. Many women make the first move in other ways today, but not nearly enough of them, I'd say. If you're a woman, ask a man out to dinner tonight. He is bound by tradition to say yes.

Wine buffs have a newer Leap Day ritual. On this date, you're supposed to pull out the best wine in your collection and drink it with friends. Who, one hopes, also have found and opened their own best bottles. This is a great idea because a) most collectors of us hold onto wines too long and need an excuse to pull those corks and 2) you have four years to make up for the bottle, thereby keeping the average age of your stash secure.

Annals Of Extinct Restaurants

The first Playboy Club opened today in 1960, at 116 E. Walton Street in Chicago. It was an outgrowth of the men's magazine, and featured the famously underclad and shapely Bunnies as servers. It was so hip in its day that you could hardly get into the place. Playboy Clubs opened all over the world and ran successfully for some twenty years. The Baby Boom generation thought them uncool, and they began closing. All but the Chicago original were gone by 1991. The Playboy Club in New Orleans was on Iberville Street, next to La Louisiane. I had dinner there in May 1971, when the staff of The Driftwood (the campus newspaper at the University of New Orleans) held its annual banquet. I remember a filet mignon as the entree of an ordinary meal. The enlightened women on the paper complained about the male editors' choice of the venue. On the other hand, my date assisted me in achieving a certain major life milestone that night, one that would have made Hugh Hefner smile. The New Orleans Playboy Club became the bizarre Anything Goes restaurant in 1975. It's now one of those so-called gentleman's clubs, with a lot less class than the Playboy Club--and that's saying something.

Deft Dining Rule #699

Never dine in a restaurant whose main attraction is the allure of the waitresses.

Today's Flavor

Although it's not appropriate for a day that usually falls in Lent, Web lore says that today is National Surf and Turf Day. The best aspect of the dish is the name. It's not known who created it. It seems to have first appeared in the 1960s; Jane and Michael Stern, the authors of Roadfood, say it became popular at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair, in the restaurant in the Space Needle. Surf and turf combines seafood and meat into a single entree. The classic combination is lobster (surf) and steak (turf), although shrimp are at least as common as lobster in the surf role.

Surf and turf is popular because it appeals to the almighty chowhound impulse. The illusion that you're getting two entrees for the price of one requires resistance on the part of the deft diner. Beyond that is the avoidance of a commitment to just one major protein on the plate. Few people would order two entrees, but having two demi-entrees together on a single plate is almost as thrilling. It's the same dynamic that persuades indecisive people that buffets are a good idea. Restaurateurs love surf and turf, too, because it allows them to use shellfish and steak of secondary size and quality, while the perception of quantity glosses over those shortcomings.

Deft Dining Rule #318:

A seafood entree and a beef entree will always deliver better food at a better price than two surf and turf entrees. A couple should get one of each and split them. Never, ever, ever get two surf-n-turfs.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Steak Bake Creek, Kansas is an actual creek that winds through rolling cornfields in the eastern part of the state, between Wichita and Topeka. Not much settlement in the area, although a main line of the Burlington Santa Fe Railroad runs through there. The nearest place to eat is the Hitchin' Post, two miles south on KS 177 in Matfield Green.

Food And Music

Today is the birthday, in 1792, of Gioachino Rossini, the composer of The Barber of Seville and many other operas. Rossini is also immortalized in the annals of classic French cooking as the creator of tournedos Rossini. It's a steak cut thick from the narrow end of the tenderloin, broiled and butterflied into two mini-filets, each of which is topped with foie gras. The original sauce was a Madeira-based brown sauce, but most modern versions use demi-glace. It's a magnificent dish, one not encountered as often as it should because of its expense. Rossini was a gourmet and cook of the highest order, and created many other dishes that became popular in the French restaurants of his day.

Edible Dictionary

slipper lobster, n.--A crustacean found in many species worldwide, most famously in the Southern Hemisphere. It looks like a homarus (Maine) lobster whose head has been cut off, leaving only a tail with legs. It has no large claws, and its antennae look like rounded plates. It does sort of resemble a slipper. The tail meat is quite good, and the species found in Australia and South Africa are harvested and sold in steakhouses very widely in this country. Those tail-only lobsters served with the meat popping out of the shell are often slipper lobsters.

Food Namesakes

Pepper Martin was born today in 1904. He was ringleader of the Gas House Gang, as the 1930s St. Louis Cardinals were known. . . Another early baseball player, Ed Appleton, stepped up to The Big Plate today in 1892. . . Today in 2000, Doris Haddock completed a walk of 3200 miles, from California to Washington, D.C. She wanted Congress to enact changes in laws regarding the campaign finance. She was 90 at the time. . . Zoë Baker, Olympic swimmer (and one-time world record holder) jumped out of the gene pool today in 1976. . . Dennis Farina, Chicago cop turned actor, hot the Big Mark today in 1944. . . Pro soccer player Perry Kitchen booted himself up today in 1992.

Words To Eat By

"The only time to eat diet food is while you are waiting for the steak to cook."--Julia Child.

Words To Drink By

"Well, as he brews, so shall he drink."--Ben Jonson.