Sunday, July 18. Sesame Inn. Two Of The Five Hundred People. Late lunch at the Sesame Inn in Mandeville, curiously located a block from Trey Yuen. As usual, we got The Treatment from Steve, who with his staff is always working on a dish you wouldn't expect to find. (He does this for all his regulars, not just restaurant critics.)
Most of Steve's creations are designed for the ethnic Chinese palate, and for those attached to open minds. Today, he had something called "Chinese ham." I couldn't tell which part of the pig it came from, although my guess would be shoulder. It was cured to a flavor reminiscent of corned beef. Steve thought that was a legitimate comparison. Since it was an appetizer, it could also have been called Chinese antipasto.
We ordered the lettuce wrap, made here with chicken, savory vegetables, and a dark brown sauce. The meaty part of the dish is finely chopped, almost to the texture of coarse cole slaw. You spoon it into firm, cup-shaped leaves of iceberg, wrap it up, and indulge. The temptation (as with moo shu pork) is to put too much filling into the lettuce, making it fall apart.
The classical main ingredient in a lettuce wrap is squab or quail, but that's too much to expect in a restaurant with these prices--and chicken is probably more popular anyway. Regardless of all that, I will now add lettuce wraps to the order whenever I'm sharing this table with anyone else. This was as good as I've had. I include the few times I've had it with quail in that consideration.
Steve next sent out a plate of what he called Szechuan spaghetti. Add "bolognese" to the end of that, and you have it. The noodles were covered with a sauce made of ground meat, carrots, and green onions. It was milder than I expected at first taste, but after a few seconds the red pepper bloomed, and made you look back at the dish to see where the fire was coming from.
Two familiar faces appeared. Sonny and Nel Lauga, all the way in from Carriere, Mississippi. The Laugas were frequent Eat Clubbers until Katrina made them move out to the country. They've also been among our favorite companions on our cruises. What were they doing here, at this time of day, yet? Come to think of it, how is it that we're always running into them? Pure chance? No, I'd say it's more evidence supporting my theory that there are only five hundred people in New Orleans. Perhaps in the whole metro area.
We moved to a bigger table so the Laugas could join us. We caught up on things and continued devouring the food, beginning with a second order of lettuce wraps. Sonny remembered them from a previous visit, and favored them as much as we do. And then came the Singapore noodles and the General's chicken that Mary Ann and I ordered for entrees, and suddenly there was a tremendous oversupply of food on the table. (I don't think I mentioned the several bowls of hot and sour soup in the mix, either.)
Well, that was pleasant.
Then a pleasant surprise at the grocery store: Florida oranges, at less than five dollars per five-pound sack. Not only is this kind of late in the season for Florida citrus, but it was the first time since 2004 (it might even have been since 2003) that I've found Florida oranges at retail. And believe me, I've looked. The groves were hit first by a bad freeze, then by two consecutive years of enormous, damaging hurricanes. I greatly prefer Florida oranges to California (or South Africa, where a lot of them come from this time of year.) Florida fruit have thinner rinds and are heavier with juice. I will jam my refrigerator with these while they're here, which I expect won't be long.
Sesame Inn. Mandeville: 408 N. Causeway Blvd.. 985-951-8888. Chinese.