Wednesday, September 2. Eat Club At The Upperline. I didn't sleep well, and was up very early to survey the wreckage of my hard-built website. I was pleased by one thing. The guy who hosts the site performed an overnight rollback of the data on the site to August 25, which effectively removed the virus. He also updated the software weakness that allowed the Russians to hack into my site. I still can't get in there to make any changes, let alone deliver fresh product to my readers. But at least nobody who goes to the site will catch the virus, even though NOMenu.com is still being flagged as dangerous cyberground.
I wrote a newsletter anyway and sent it out by e-mail. Meanwhile, Jude moved our web identity to the new server we were going to use to upgrade the site in the next few months. Now I'll have to do it in a matter of days.
The bright spot in the day were our broadcast and Eat Club dinner at The Upperline. Owner JoAnn Clevenger didn't come out to talk to me until about five-fifteen. Once we got rolling there was no stopping. JoAnn is one of the three or four most interesting people in the local restaurant business. And restaurants are just one chapter (if a long one) of her life in New Orleans. She was here in the 1960s, working in restaurants and bars in the French Quarter. She took every opportunity to go against standard operating practice if she saw that people would like the result.
For example, her legendary bar The Abbey (still pouring almost thirty years after she left it behind) took off largely because she made it the only source of the Sunday New York Times in New Orleans. She beat back nutty laws to allow flower carts in the French Quarter, and opened The Upperline at the perfect time and place for such a restaurant. I keep telling her she needs to write an autobiography. JoAnn has done so many different things to get the most out of the city she loves, tells such great stories, and is so literate that it would be a great read. She doesn't seem to want to do it, though.
We went forty-five minutes without taking a break, until I was forced to do so at the top of the hour. We would have gone on another hour if I hadn't become so backed up on commercials. She had to get the dining room ready for the Eat Club, anyway, and her main dining room was full at six.
I had the kind of stress headache that a cocktail does wonders for. I filtered into the front room after the show, stopping to say hello to my fellow 1968 Blue Jay and sno-ball magnate Jack Casey. He and his wife were finishing some of the same dishes we were about to have. Looked good.
I explained the Brooklyn cocktail to the bartender (rye, sweet vermouth, Campari, shaken with ice, served up), and he made it well. I was surprised by the price--six something. Same drink that cost me twelve last Saturday at Emeril's place in Gulfport. Must be because The Upperline has no casino.
Our dinner sold out easily, even in this very soft time of year. I overbooked by a half-dozen; we wound up with only two people over JoAnn's requested three dozen. One especially happy table consisted of six people who'd been together at the Gautreau's dinner a couple of weeks ago.
That in spite of a lack of overwrought detail and unheard-of ingredients on Chef Ken Smith's menu. For example, the first course was simply called "crab salad." It was the kind of crab salad you always hope for: a lettuce leaf and a tomato slice topped with a fistful of solid jumbo lump, touched with a vinaigrette.
We went from that start to a dish JoAnn called oysters St. Claude, as an homage to the Katrina-eliminated but much-loved old Mandich restaurant in the Ninth Ward. That was a classy neighborhood café run by Lloyd and Joelle English for decades. They had an oyster appetizer covered with bread crumbs and served with a garlicky butter. JoAnn and Chef Ken Smith worked up a dish that concentrated the elements of the thick sauce and abetted the oysters nicely.
I finally found out what they mean by drumfish with hot and hot shrimp. The first hot was with what looked like a tan meuniere, but which carried a lot of pepper to the shrimp and those parts of the fish that got into range. The second hot came in little pitchers. The sauce in those was made with a much more aggressive pepper than was in the one on the plate, and one could adjust the heat almost as if th dish had come with a dial.
That was good. But it would have taken a magnificent dish indeed to top the entree. It was a duck breast--not the grilled, fanned-out variety, but like the one you'd get from a slow-roasted duck, tender and very moist. Ducks have long been a strong suit at The Upperline. This one came with a twist on one of the two regular sauces: ginger and mango, a nice taste.
I was so busy bouncing from table to table that I missed dessert. Just as well. Good thing I got a cup of coffee. Starting the day at five and not getting home until eleven can make the Causeway mighty boring.
Upperline. Uptown: 1413 Upperline 504-891-9822. Classic Creole.