Friday. May 9, 2008.
Sixteen. Café Adelaide's Lost Bread. Ruth's Chris. Reunion, Part One.
My daughter Mary Leigh is sweet sixteen. I pictured her at this age on the day she was born, and I couldn't be happier about the reality. She's lovely, intelligent, feisty, creative, sensitive, and very much her own young woman. She and I have enjoyed routinely wonderful times together. The only thing about her that ever gave me pause was the erratic history of her schooling. But she seems to have no problem with that, and keeps on making A's no matter where she is. It's not for me to direct the little things in her life as long as the big things come together, and they do.
I drove her to school today, perhaps for the last time. We did not talk about her and her life and her future and all that as we crossed the Causeway. Only she is allowed to bring that up. But we didn't really need to talk about that, because we both know it.
I had breakfast at Café Adelaide, which I believe may do a better job with that meal than anyone this side of Brennan's. They brought hot beignets out again, as they did last time; I saw a few orders going out to others, so it may be a routine amuse bouche. The "Good For What Ails You" breakfast (I think the name may be a quote from Adelaide Brennan, for whom the restaurant is named, and who had many remedies for ailing mornings) was a big plate with two thick pieces of lost bread, two eggs (poached, I said, and they perfected), brabant potatoes with a little glow of red pepper, and applewood-smoked bacon.
All this was served by a young man who revealed that he is the son of Ron Kotteman, the guy who travels around New Orleans in his horse-drawn buggy selling Roman Chewing Candy. He said his dad pressed him into service often in recent weeks. "Not pulling the cart, I hope!" I told him.
"No--the Jazz Festival and the French Quarter Festival--well, we can hardly keep up with how much we sell," he said. So another icon seems to be healthy.
Back to that lost bread. I have a passion for that going back to childhood. Because my mother made pain perdu as well as she did, I'm almost always disappointed by what I get under that name (or any of its other names, like "French toast"). But not today. This was the way it should be. Thick slices of French bread, saturated with the rich custard of egg, milk, sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon, and grilled just long enough to warm it through. Yes, I'll say it: this is the best lost bread in a New Orleans restaurant. Worth a special trip.
The fresh orange juice and chicory-dark coffee with hot milk rounded out all the details, and I was a happy if somewhat overfull boy when I returned to the radio station and my day's work.
When I asked Mary Leigh a couple of weeks ago where she wanted to have dinner on her birthday, she knew. "Ruth's Chris Steak House," she said. "I've never been there!" By coincidence, I had an invitation in my jacket pocket to attend one of the pre-opening dinners in the new downtown Ruth's Chris--on her birthday, yet. I don't usually go to these. They introduce useless facts to my brain that I later have to remove, since the whole point of pre-opening runs is to find bugs. But Mary Leigh loves that particular restaurant space (it used to be Riche), and is passionate about a good filet mignon.
So there we were. They didn't change the restaurant much, other than to close in what had been an open kitchen. The tile floors, lofty ceilings, and enormous windows with big curtains are still there. The room where Riche offered live jazz is now another dining room, with the oversize bar that came with it. Really, the space is too small for a Ruth's Chris, and the plans are to build out a bigger restaurant next door in the near future.
We started with Mary Leigh's favorite salad, a wedge of iceberg with blue cheese and bacon. "I have a theory," she said. "The fancier and more expensive a restaurant is, the worse the wedge salad is." Is that also true of this one? "Yes. The best is the one for $4.99 at the Acme Oyster House."
Mary Ann and I were happier. She had barbecue shrimp (a strange variation, I thought) and crab cakes. Before me was a sizzling platter of very delicious sea scallops, beneath an utterly worthless pile of shredded carrots and some unidentifiable white, crisp vegetable. I knocked the raw hay aside and enjoyed.
The birthday girl was pleased with the filet and mashed potatoes. The sirloin strip before me was significantly overcooked, but enjoyable enough. I think they need to hang back a little on the cooking of the asparagus, too. But these are opening-night issues we must forget about.
The restaurant was picking up the check for everybody in the house, so the least I could do was pony up for a $100 bottle of wine. It was a Beaulieu Vineyards current-vintage Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, just fine with a steak. Its cost was up there because all the money went to St. Augustine High School's fund for its matchless marching band.
The only disappointment was that Mary Leigh seemed a little down. She was ticked at her mom, because M.A. dared to surprise her at school with freshly-baked strawberry shortcakes at lunchtime. Anything that smacks of what mothers do for their kids in grammar school, no matter how wonderful or well-meant, creates the greatest embarrassment for teenagers. Heck, I could have told her that.
I thought we were lucky to share this meal with our daughter. Some girls her age have boyfriends with whom they are so tight that a birthday dinner with parents would be out of the question. She's not there yet, but I'm not counting on next year.
As soon as the girls went their way, I went to my other big event: the first of two parties celebrating the forty-year reunion of Jesuit High School's Class of 1968. I am not officially a member, but I spent three of my four high school years at Jesuit. Although I have loyalty and gratitude for Archbishop Rummel High School's taking me in and giving me a great senior year, I think of myself as a Blue Jay. And my former classmates do, too.
As always, this stag party was upstairs at the Court of Two Sisters. The restaurant is owned by one of our number, Jay Fein, who gives us a very fine event. When I arrived at about nine, I had no trouble locating the fracas be sound alone. I joined in the drinking of Sazeracs (the official cocktail of the Class of 1968, and made very well at the Court.)
Sixty to seventy guys showed up (they were hard to count, especially after a Sazerac). I was especially pleased to see Bill McCarthy, my best friend in high school, still a very cool musician in Seattle. And Gerry Vocke, Danny Hines, Wayne Garrett, Nick Matulich, Tom Ryan, Jay Baudier, Billy Phillips. . . too many to name, and I didn't get around to everybody. After forty years, it's amazing that we're all still here. (Although many live elsewhere, of course.) A few have retired. many have grandchildren. Some look really old. Others look exactly like they did in high school, at least to my eyes.
These things always get to me. To a certain degree, I still live in the world I discovered as a teenager, and I hope I can always refer to those times. But we are now within sight of our fiftieth year as a brotherhood. They say that's the last reunion for almost any group. Brrr.
Ruth’s Chris Steak House. CBD: 228 Poydras (Harrah's Hotel). 587-7099. Steak.
Court of Two Sisters. French Quarter: 613 Royal. 522-7273. Classic Creole.