Diary: Saturday, May 5, 2018. A busy day begins pleasantly enough, with breakfast at Mattina Bella. I am served by a new face from among owner Vincent Riccobono’s family. His daughters and granddaughters have made up a large part of the wait staff, coming and going over the years. It’s a family operation in the way restaurants are in, say, Italy.
The new girl tells me that there’s a special today: a blueberry waffle. This caught my attention mainly because during the holidays they made several such variations, with flavoring agents like bananas foster. In this case, the blueberries are more along the lines of a syrup, flowing around the plate.
Next I get a haircut, which my head needs badly. Its importance is emphasized by two big parties I will attend next week. It’s the fiftieth anniversary of the graduation of the 1968 class of Jesuit High School. I had been dismissed by the time the graduation occurred, but I’ve always felt like a part of it, and I have many friends among its numbers. I’m always invited to the annual reunion; the very word “reunion” is itself an invitation.
Next on my schedule is a three-hour radio show, after which my daughter Mary Leigh joins me to help me buy a suit. The Belk store is advertising a buy-one, get-two-free sale. The usual asterisks are in this deal, but when I left I had spent barely $500 on three ensembles. Mary Leigh was a great help in this. Her eye is a lot better than mine, and she kept me from buying anything baggy in shape or flagrant in colors. This is important, because of the number of Jesuit ’68-ers who are either lawyers or doctors. In contrast, I dress like a newspaper writer, which is of course what I am.
The Marys spent most of the day working on the house they’re renovating. The progress of this project is much faster than either of the girls are expecting, but they are delighted by that. Especially Mary Ann, who is always pushing the edges of the envelope.
The Marys and I have dinner at N’Tini’s, which is now the domicile of Chef Duke Locicero. Duke closed his French Quarter restaurant about six months ago, and made a deal with Mark Benfatti, who opened N’tini’s in Mandeville not long after Katrina. This works well for Duke, who lives in Mandeville. The menu is a mix of Creole and Cajun food with steaks and seafood. Duke, on the other hand, is letting N’Tini’s drift into his familiar Creole-Italian territory. So far, it’s a good mix, one illustrated by the Marys, one of whom eats a steak while the other tried Duke’s proud spaghetti and meatballs. My menu involves a rarely-seen fish species called hake. It’s a firm, white fish that somewhat resembles cobia, and under the crabmeat pile makes for enjoyable eating. But one can’t be in a hurry to eat hake agan. The last time I encountered it was in the mid-1980s, when it was the fish du jour one night at Mr. B’s.
N’Tini’s. Mandeville: 2891 US 190. 985-626-5566.
Redfish, after several years of absence from markets (though not from sports fishermen’s ice chests) are starting to reappear. This elegant, light dish shows off its quality well; you can substitute trout, small amberjack, black drum, or sheepshead for the redfish.
The aroma of this dish is especially nice. It comes from Herbsaint, an anise-flavored liqueur made in New Orleans. The original inspiration was that of Chef Gunter Preuss, the owner of Broussard’s. He made something much like this at his previous restaurant, Versailles on St. Charles Avenue.
- 1 1/2 cups dry white wine
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 4 fillets of flaky Gulf fish, about 6 oz. each
- 1 medium carrot, peeled and sliced into matchsticks (about 1/2 cup)
- 1 rib celery, strings removed and sliced into matchsticks (about 1/2 cup)
- 6 black peppercorns
- 2 leeks, white part only, well washed and sliced into matchsticks (about 2 cups)
- 4 Tbs. butter
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 1/2 Tbs. Herbsaint (or Pernod)
- 1/2 tsp. white pepper
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1/2 cup lump crabmeat
1. In a stainless-steel skillet, bring one cup of the wine and all of the lemon juice to just barely a simmer over low heat. Add the fish, carrots, celery, and peppercorns and poach for 8-10 minutes. Check it after five minutes to see that it doesn’t overcook (the fish should not fall apart into flakes when done).
2. While the fish is poaching, sauté the leeks in 1 Tbs. butter until they turn soft–about three minutes. Add the remaining wine and bring to a boil. Cook for another minute, then turn off the heat.
3. Remove the fish when done to a warm plate. To the poaching liquid in the skillet add the remaining butter, cream, Herbsaint, salt and pepper. Over a medium fire reduce it for about five minutes, until the mixture thickens.
4. Add the crabmeat and cook, agitating the pan lightly, until the crabmeat is cooked through.
5. Place the leeks on the serving plate, put the fish with the celery and carrots atop that, and top with the sauce.
May 9, 2017
Days Until. . .
Mother’s Day May 137
Food At War
Today is V-E Day, marking the end of World War II in Europe, in 1945. At exactly the same moment, a great song called Candy hit number one, sung by Johnny Mercer and one of our favorite girl singers, Jo Stafford. It’s all before our time, but we like it anyway.
Food On The Frontier
A man largely responsible for the easy availability of beef in the American diet was born today in 1855. John “Bet A Million” Gates, the inventor and promoter of barbed wire, pushed his product on rangers, who found it cheap and effective. And suddenly the herds grew.
Annals Of Beer
Emil Christian Hansen, a scientist working in Danish breweries, developed a means of culturing brewer’s yeast in such a way that its performance (and therefore the flavor of the beer) became much more consistent than it had been. He also discovered that there are two species of brewer’s yeast: the kind that floats, and the kind that sinks. He was born today in 1842.
Today is Coca-Cola Day. It was sold for the first time on this date in 1886. Invented by pharmacist Dr. John S. Pemberton, Coke and beverages like it (Dr Pepper, for example, which was already in the market) were sold more in drugstores than anywhere else. Pemberton offered Coca-Cola as a “brain and nerve tonic.” He sold on average a big nine glasses a day during the first year at his Atlanta drugstore. A few years later, unhopeful for the future of his invention, Pemberton sold the rights to the formula to Asa Candler for $2300. Candler added an ingredient much more important than any of the ones Pemberton thought of: marketing. Indeed, the promotion of Coca-Cola to the general public worldwide is one of the most important chapters in the history of advertising.
The aspect of Coca-Cola that most interests me is that the formula for it is so bitter that it requires a great deal of sugar to bring it into a balance that tastes good. Nine teaspoons of sugar are in every twelve-ounce can. Imagine putting that much sugar in coffee or any other beverage! Part of the balance is also struck with the acidic carbonated water. If you’ve ever had a Coke that was allowed to go flat, you know how insipidly sweet it is. The bubbles play against the sugar.
Whatever else can be said about Coca-Cola, there’s no question we drink far too much of it. Really, it’s brown sugar water. Anybody try the new version of Coke with vitamins and minerals?
Melon, Texas is a tiny farming community on the flat chapparal country in the southern bootheel of the state, sixty miles south of San Antonio on the road to Laredo. They may well raise watermelons there; plenty of them come from that part of Texas. Mexican food is king in this land. The nearest restaurants of interest include Frio Cafe, Los Cazadores [“The Hunters”] Bar and Grill, and Taco Parado Cafe, all three miles north in Pearsall.
Bubble Gum (flavor), adj.–In sno-ball stands around New Orleans and many other locales around the Hot South, a flavor called Bubble Gum is almost universal. The reason for its popularity owes almost entirely to its unique color: a bright blue. What it’s supposed to taste like is less obvious. The story is that a company making flavors for the entire range of sweet confections had a formula it sold to a maker of actual bubble gum. The company making the gum went out of business, and the flavor company was stuck with a significant inventory of the bankrupt company’s signature flavor. The flavor company decided to try it as a new sno-ball flavor. It was colorless, though, so the options were wide open. There was no blue flavor at the time, so that’s the hue it took on. And that’s the whole story.
New Orleans Restaurateur Hall Of Fame
Felix Gallerani was born today in 1938, in Tirol, the part of Italy near Austria. Felix came to New Orleans in the 1970s to be the chef of the flagship restaurant in the Hilton Riverside Hotel. However, he shortly thereafter decided he’d had enough of the kitchen and went into the dining room as the maitre d’. He held that position for a very long time at Begue’s, where he became well known. He spent a few years at the front door at Broussard’s before buying Cafe Volage in the 1990s. (It was where Barcelona Tapas is now.) He sold the restaurant in 2007, and passed away a year later. He used to call into my radio show to talk about food and the antics of his parrot, Pistachio.
Pitcher Catfish Hunter pitched a perfect game for Oakland against the Minnesota Twins today in 1968. . . Graphic designer Saul Bass was born today in 1921. . . Henry Baker, one of the earliest users of microscopes in science, was born today in 1698. . . Today in 1919, Edward George Honey proposed an international holiday celebrating the end of World War I, Armistice Day. . . Today in 1999, Nancy Mace became the first female graduate of The Citadel, a previously all-male military college.
Today is the feast day of St. Michael the Archangel. Among many other roles, he is the patron of bakers and grocers.
Words To Eat By
“It takes a lot of dough to make the upper crust.”–Alfred E. Neuman, fictional goofball and mascot of Mad Magazine. He was on its cover for the first time today in 1956. Today is also the birthday of Mad itself, in 1952.
Words To Drink By
“But Daddy. . . Coke has vitamins!”–My son Jude at age three, trying to persuade me to let him have Coca-Cola right before bedtime.
Pizza Deliveries By Air To Your Back Yard.
Click here for the cartoon.