Thursday, May 24, 2012.
Barefoot Lady. The Stroll. Is Togosushi Sushi To Go?
Once again, I couldn't fit a much-postponed haircut into the day, even though today's radio show was only two blocks from the barbershop. Maybe tomorrow, when I'll be even closer.
For the past several years, our annual live broadcast from the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience Royal Street Stroll originated from the Monteleone Hotel's Carousel Lounge. It really does look like a merry-go-round in a park, complete with stools that revolve around the fixed bar in the center.
The Carousel is so corny it's cool. There's hardly ever an open seat. Working in it must require a bit of getting used to for the bartenders. For a complicated piece of mixology, the customer who ordered it will not longer be where he or she was when the bartender is finished shaking, stirring, and pouring.
More striking is what was done to the rest of the bar since last year. The hotel broke through its walls on Royal and Iberville streets and installed a dozen door-size windows. What an improvement! The rear recesses of the bar used to be a black hole. Now it's bright and open to the world. And to the hotel's new restaurant, Criollo. That's smaller than I thought it would be, and less formal--although that might have been a lunch setup I was looking at. It's still days or weeks until it opens.
This is always a chaotic radio show. Local wholesalers push their many visiting winemakers my way, sometime to the point that we have a line. Meanwhile, a party for visiting press and the winemakers goes on in the new part of the bar, kicking up so much noise that it becomes hard for me to carry on a conversation, even with headphones on. But it's a tradition now, and nothing can be changed.
Another tradition is the annual visit to the show from Jennifer Wall. She's the winemaker and face of Barefoot, an old label that came and went a couple of times until she (and, later, the Gallos) took over. She and her bubbly wines visit NOW&FE every year, with a tent on Royal Street to dispense the juice. She brought a couple of interesting items from her repertoire: a sparkling Pinot Grigio (as far as I know, the only one in the world) and a sweet rose of Moscato d'Oro, made pink with a little Grenache. The amount of Barefoot bubbly that's served at wedding receptions must be staggering.
The loud party ended when the Royal Street Stroll began at five-thirty, and I was out there at six. The event was sold out, and looked like it. At many of the galleries and antique stores, lines stuck out of the front door for the food and wine inside.
I like the new additions to the Stroll this year. Ten restaurants have tents along the street, serving up a dish a la French Quarter Festival to the wristband-wearing attendees. Until last year, when they gave this idea a tentative try, the restaurants along Royal Street were not much involved. That they are now is a logical enhancement.
And you know its for real when one of the restaurants is cooking and serving from a fire truck. That unit has become the signature of Drago's, pumping out its trademark pillar of steam and smoke as it char-broiled oysters by the hundreds. Tommy Cvitanovich was beaming with his toy, of course. What else is he up to? Well, it's his father Drago's ninetieth birthday later this year, and. . . well, he asked me not to tell.
The Stroll is longer than it used to be, too, extending all the way to Dumaine Street now. Near the end, I encountered Ted Daley, who runs a gourmet food distribution company. He and I were classmates at Rummel. Ted commandeered the carriageway into the courtyard of his French Quarter apartment, and had a few tables of some very unusual cheeses, including a mouthful of an English blue cheese (not Stilton), an Irish cheddar, and another cheddar veined with Guinness Stout.
Hanging with Ted was Jimmy Delery, a grower and distributor of local vegetables. Jimmy is more than a little enthusiastic about his occupation, and always has at least a half-hour's worth of news to impart. He is not happy about the tomato crop in St. Bernard Parish. He said that a parasite that burrows through the leaves of tomato plants has exploded in numbers, because of the very mild winter. Growing areas usually lush with tomatoes now look as if they'd been run over by four-wheelers.
I was slowed down on my way back by the organizing activities of the Krewe of Cork. They had taken lunch at Galatoire's in their Carnival-like costumes, and were ready to parade through the stroll, led by King-For-Life and founder Patrick Von Hoorebeck. Among the krewe members was, of course, Margarita Bergen. She continues to astonish by showing up at every single party that erupts anywhere in New Orleans, dressed to kill. In the early days of the Royal Street Stroll, she operated a gallery at the downtown end of the route. She always served Champagne and food from the Bombay Club.
En route to the parking garage, I encountered Chef Tenney Flynn, at the front door of his restaurant. He was on his way to resupply GW Fins's tent with more lobster potstickers. Quite a dish to dole out for free.
I hadn't had much to eat at the Stroll--most of my time is spent talking to people who stop me along the way. But I had a little during the Monteleone's party, and I thought I could make it home without further eating. But I was a little peckish by the time I was across the lake. And there I saw a several-month-old new sushi place called Togosushi. I don't know whether this is a play on words or just an accident, but when I entered the waitress asked me whether I was eating in or picking up an order to go. I have never before been asked that question in a sushi place.
Of course, I sat down. She brought over a chalkboard of specials. They had toro hand rolls (toro is the prized, expensive fat-belly tuna, which, frankly, I don't especially like), uni (sea urchin, which I love) and ankimo (paté of monkfish liver, the Japanese answer to foie gras, an a rare treat). The sushi chef recommended on of the rolls depicted in a large photograph on the wall. I took all this advice (except for the toro), and one more: instead of regular iced tea, green iced tea.
This place impressed me right off the bat with all these availabilities. I was less amused by the way all four orders (I also had some miso soup) came out before the one before it had much of a dent put into it. I also failed to notice that the roll was stuffed with "crab" salad, something I avoid.
But the food was well-made and unusual enough that I now know this place is serious about its menu, not just slinging it out as so many newer sushi bars have been doing lately. It won't take the place of Kazoku and Little Tokyo in Mandeville in my heart. But it is very convenient to my route home, si I may be stopping there often enough to become a regular.
Togosushi. Covington: 1600 N. US 190. 985-892-8988.
It's over three years since a day was missed in the Dining Diary. To browse through all of the entries since 2008, go here.
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