Wednesday, March 31. Remote Disaster, But Chef Duke Cooks Good Food. The Worst? There's an old saw to the effect that the shoemaker's children walk around barefoot. A printing company I used to work with was always talking about producing some fabulous brochures to advertise its superior capabilities, but never got around to it. Maybe that explains why the radio station, engaged entirely in the business of communication, had a lapse in its own internal information system.
When I arrived at Marchand Creative Kitchens for a remote broadcast--with Chef Duke Locicero from Café Giovanni ready to demonstrate and serve a few brilliant dishes--no engineer was on hand to get the show on the air. The engineering department had not been notified of the event.
The top engineer came out and did a quick job of getting the show going. (I did the first twenty minutes on a phone.) But with no time to check out the circuits, we wound up with a bad one. The show kept going off for five or ten seconds at intervals of two minutes, making it completely unlistenable. With no listeners, we had no callers, which is like a dinner with no food.
We finally got it going, sort of. I spoke with Marchand's people about the trend in kitchen design, and Chef Duke filled most of the chairs in the demo kitchen with good smells and great food--mussels, scallops, lentils, pasta. I got a little taste of it. (I can't really eat during the radio show, because my microphone is on almost constantly.) For once, I was happy to find out that the show would end early, pre-empted by a baseball game. I autographed a few cookbooks and talked with some of the people who came for the show. We promised the Marchand people we'd do it again on our nickel. I was still deeply embarrassed. I should be used to this--it's the third time it's happened in the last year--but this sort of thing deranges my mind.
I calmed down by instigating dinner plans, always an optimistic exercise. I wandered around Metairie, considering a number of restaurants on my Haven't Been In A Long Time List. I drove past the Tandoori Chicken; its teeny parking lot was packed, and there are no other parking options there. Drove by the Quarter View and saw what looked like a line to get in. Back to Veterans and--aha! Don's Seafood Hut. I couldn't remember the last time I'd been there. A few callers had given glowing reports recently, and the place had been much expanded and renovated since my last time. The parking lot was nowhere near full, and I pulled in.
They must have a very large parking lot. Inside the door, many people were waiting for tables. I was handed one of those beeping, vibrating, flashing pagers. I sat down and fooled around with my new phone, learning how to take better photos with it (I once again had left my good camera at home). Then I read an article in the New Yorker. About twenty minutes passed.
I heard a voice from the hostess stand. "Sir, your pager is going off," she said impatiently. I had not seen, heard, nor felt it, but indeed it was throbbing with urgency. I got up and walked over to the stand, where the lady seemed irked that I'd caused this delay. She pointed to a more pleasant hostess who, she said, would take me along with two other parties to our tables. "What, like in a herd?" I asked, and got no smile.
In all the years I have been dining in restaurants, this was the first time I'd been led to a table with other parties. The second, pleasant hostess made her way through the dining room, dropping sub-herds off as we went. A lone maverick, I wound up in the corner of a small dining room off the main one.
The waiter was cheerful. He took my order for a beer and answered a few questions. When he came back (quickly) with the beer, nice and cold, I ordered "jacked-up" oysters and the crawfish dinner. "Is that too much food?" I asked. He said my plan was a good one.
The jacked-up oysters are a takeoff on Drago's grilled oysters. (The also have a version closer to the original.) The jacking up is accomplished by bacon, jalapeno pepper, and pepper jack cheese. It sounds better than it is. I like all those toppings--indeed, with big shrimp, they become a terrific finger-food appetizer. But the pepper level was so high and there was so much cheese that the oyster flavor was overwhelmed. The oysters were big, the platter was well-assembled and as you can see it was appetizing to the eye. It just isn't a good idea.
The first parts of the crawfish dinner came separately. The crawfish cocktail was a little dish full of lettuce and so few crawfish tails I decided to remove and count them. In the photograph, none have been eaten, and none are hiding under the lettuce. Must be a new girl in the pantry who picked up the wrong spoon for the crawfish. I never much liked seafood in cocktail sauce anyway, so I chuckled and brushed it off.
The crawfish bisque was next. It was the worst I could recall. The broth was thick and on the verge of gooey. The stuffed head was generously stuffed, but the stuffing was so dense as to be tough. I gave up on the whole thing before I was halfway through.
Then the main plate. The crawfish etouffee (left in the photo) was thick, tomatoey, not very spicy. The sauce didn't smother the crawfish tails--it buried them. I took a second bite. Is this the most unappealing crawfish etouffee I've ever had? A third bite. Yes. Without a doubt.
I ate a few of the fried crawfish tails. They were overfried and needed something to soften them up. The waiter swung by just at that moment. "How about some tartar sauce?" I asked. Sure, he said, and returned in short order with a plastic cup of cocktail sauce and a smile. "Uh," I began. "Wait, you wanted tartar sauce, didn't you?" he said. Simple mistake, remedied right away. Busy restaurants attract good waiters, an this one was. He ought to work at Commander's or August.
By that time I'd sampled the crawfish au gratin (right in the photo). If you'd mix some crawfish tails right out of the bag with some of that mild queso dip you can buy in a jar under the Doritos brand, and microwaved the mixture a little too long--until the sauce was beginning to crust around the edges--you'd have a better dish than this gross, cheesy glop. The poorest in all my days.
I nibbled the fried tails with the tartar sauce. I will always remember this meal, I thought. The worst versions in my entire life of three different dishes, all in one sitting! Nothing like that has ever happened before!
The waiter was wrong, but right. This was too much food--if I had wanted to finish it. The amount of it I could stand was just about right, and even left room for apple cobbler (don't ask). I paid the $55.25 bill and sat there, trying to remember the last time I dined at Don's. All I remembered was not liking it much, but no details. But this time, I will remember, and vividly.
Don’s Seafood Hut. Metairie: 4801 Veterans Blvd. 504-889-1550. Seafood.