In a recent interview with Michael Gulotta on the Food Show (airs weekdays 2-4 pm on WGSO 990 AM) he mentioned that he had fish and chips on his menu at MOPHO. We had a mild technical glitch while he was explaining it, so I thought he just had it as a Lenten special.
I went over to get it last Friday. We hadn’t been to MOPHO in a while, mainly because I consider it “challenging” food. I told him as we chatted that I often ask people if they would rather eat “challenging” food or “comforting” food. His response, and I paraphrase, was that he likes to think of his food as both.
After eating there, I respectfully disagree, and I was reminded why it has been so long since I have been there. He is a very talented chef, but my palate does not recognize those flavors as comfort food. To each his own. I have had food there that I liked, but maybe since COVID, I gravitate to traditional flavors that I find will feed my soul.
We went for this fish and chips, but we were there, so why not have a few other things, I reasoned. It was a warm day so pho was out. Tom got fried oysters, which came with what I now consider a prerequisite garnish in this type of restaurant: shaved radishes. There was also a really piquant sauce they call Mopho mayo, and smoked and pickled blue cheese. These were indeed interesting flavors, but the flavor of the oysters was completely eclipsed.
I noticed fried shrimp on the menu, but it came in a bao. To me, eating bao is the closest thing to eating styrofoam a person can get without actually eating styrofoam. This may be the most detestable item I have ever encountered. I asked for them to hold the bao.
What I got was a small plate of fried shrimp so basic a kid could eat them, accompanied by three sauces, including Cha Ca La Vong, a tartar sauce with turmeric the waitress was wild about. I did not concur. The other two were the house very hot (as in capsicum level) Vindaloo Sauce, and a Nuoc Mam-based sauce. One taste of these was enough.
The fish and chips arrived on the table, and it was a pretty plate of colors, and certainly flavors. A large pile of the ubiquitous cilantro made an umbrella for everything. There was a slab of fried fish, a pile of thick fried potatoes, and a slaw of cucumbers, carrot, and pineapple. A generous serving of Cha Ca La Vong came with it.
The fish was fried in cornmeal and was, like the shrimp, very basic fried fish. The fries were absolutely the best fried potatoes I have had in recent memory. They were thick, skin fully on, and fried so hard as to almost have a shell. These were terrific! I would love to have had a “normal” sauce for dipping, though ketchup was well beneath these delectable fries. These fries were true“chips,” though nothing the Brits would serve could come close to this stellar version of what some might say is the more interesting half of the famous fish and chips duos.
The slaw was a mishmash of vegetables and fruit that all tasted of pickling. And the pickling was so pungent I choked on a pineapple bit. I actually love pickling, but in its place. And purveyors of this type of food think picking’s place is everywhere. I disagree.
A friend popped in midway through the meal and announced his efforts to reduce his carb intake. When he looked at the bao section of the menu, I urged him not to waste carbs on bao. He was curious though, and got a very pretty plate of fried oysters in the edible “styrofoam.” (NOTE: It is not actually styrofoam, that’s just my pet name for bao.) The Mopho version of this nasty pancake wrapper seemed to be the best version of this I have encountered. Our friend ate the bao anyway, shrugging off my horror. He said it was “fine”, and remarked on my being in a restaurant this exotic at all. I replied with a Tom quote I heard countless times in our marriage: “I wish I could only go to restaurants I wanted to go to, but this is what I do for a living.”
Speaking for myself, all I have to hear is the phrase, “fish and chips” and I’m in. ML always laughs that I like the idea of fish and chips more than I actually like the dish. This may be true, but this one would not even be in contention. People who like bending expectations and traditions would love it, because Michael Gulotta is an excellent chef, and great at what he does, which is twist the boundaries.
Our dining companion also got the shrimp and grits, made with coconut milk. This was almost unrecognizable, and he barely touched it.
When Michael was on the show, he and I discussed his passion for fusing the flavors of Vietnam with New Orleans cuisine. To me, these ingredients are so wildly different as to seem incompatible. He did not agree, explaining that a good quality coconut milk stands in quite nicely for cream in his dishes.
I will leave these musings and this food for people like the woman at the next table, who was quite happily savoring a bowl of Vietnamese boiled crawfish, fused, of course.
And I will anxiously await this exciting chef’s take on the flavors he grew up with when Tana opens this fall in Metairie. Tradition can taste delicious too.