A Weekend Of Hellenic Hedonism.
The Greek Festival--fortieth annual!) begins today at 5 p.m. It's a total blast, and you don't have to be Greek to dig it. Food galore, from whole lambs roasting on an open fire (they'll cook at least a hundred of them) to a dinner plate of Greek standards (pastitsio, spinach pie, cheese pie, feta salad, olives). The Greek bakers of the community have an astonishing array of Greek pastries, good enough to buy by the box. Meanwhile, the Greek dancer wow you with their well choreographed act. It's a family event, with lots of stuff for the kids to do. If you have Greek friends you haven't seen in awhile, go--they'll be there.
Begun forty years ago as a fundraiser for the Greek Orthodox Cathedral, the Greek Festival supports the oldest Orthodox community in North America. Admission is only five dollars (free for children), and buying a ticket gives you a chance on a trip for two to Greece. It's all on St. Bernard Avenue at Robert E. Lee, alongside Bayou St. John. Park at John F. Kennedy High School; shuttles run frequently all day and night. The Greekness goes until 11 p.m. tonight, from 11 a.m. till 11 p.m. Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday. More info at the website below.
Greek Festival. Lakefront: 1200 Robert E. Lee Blvd @ St. Bernard Ave. Map.. . http://www.greekfestnola.com/.
Last Updated on Friday, 24 May 2013 10:14
Dozen Best Small But Superb Restaurants
JoAnn Clevenger, the owner of The Upperline, told me once that I should include in my reviews the number of seats each restaurant has. "That fact tells you a lot about a restaurant," she said. She's right, and one day I will collect that data and publish it. (It's harder than it sounds.) I suspect that those looking at the figure will be in search of little restaurants. There's something about a small cafe that makes you want to love it. Which is a good thing: it's hard to make a decent profit with a tiny establishment.
Here's a list of small restaurants with food as good as or better than much bigger ones. Another criterion for the dozen below is a certain charm that makes them romantic. They are ranked by a ratio of culinary excellence to size.
1. Rue 127. Mid-City: 127 N Carrollton Ave. 504-483-1571. This former cottage's tight spaces failed for a couple of previous restaurant tenants. With a brilliant renovation, Chef-owner Ray Gruezke made it work, somehow putting forty seats in there without having to crowd anyone in. It does help to have a few tables in the postage-stamp front yard. The artful bar has three stools. Three.
2. Brigtsen's. Riverbend: 723 Dante. 504-861-7610. High ceilings, doors and windows make Frank and Marna's place look bigger than it is. It's the food that keeps the restaurant full all the time (although that eases a bit in the summer). But it's the abbreviated square footage that makes it intimate.
3. One. Riverbend: 8132 Hampson. 504-301-9061. After a list of restaurants with much simpler food went bust in this place, owners Lee and Chef Scotty had a great idea for their turn: they built nine barstool positions in front of the counter that separates the kitchen from the dining room. That increased the restaurant's seating by a quarter. But this is still a small place, with low lighting and beautiful, original food, enough for the magic to set in.
4. Vincent's. Riverbend: 7839 St Charles Ave. 504-866-9313. ||Metairie: 4411 Chastant St. 504-885-2984. The original Vincent's in Metairie was a small-tucked away trattoria that nevertheless attracted a cult-level crowd. When Vincent Catalanotto bought the former Compagno's on St. Charles Avenue, he knew how to serve first-class food in a crammed-full space. I have a closet larger than one of the dining rooms at the Uptown Vincent's. But who cares when the food is this lusty?
5. Sylvain. French Quarter: 625 Chartres St. 504-265-8123. The coolest little eatery in town places its tables in such a way that most of them are adjacent to only one or two others. Getting to them in this very old building (even by French Quarter standards) involves a briefly-puzzling maze of short passageways. You may dine at the bar, whose liquid works are excellent. The food's goodness is out of all proportion to the premises.
6. Zachary's. Mandeville: 902 Coffee. 985-626-7008. The smallest serious restaurant in the New Orleans area first housed (I'm not kidding) a sno-ball stand. Then a little Indian restaurant, followed by the uniquely-named Hungry Forager. That last one didn't make it, but it did establish the address as a place for careful, interesting cookery. Chef Zach Watters knew what he was getting into--he's a Mandeville boy. But after spending time at Stella, Cafe Adelaide, and Del Porto, he thought he had a shot, if he could run the whole kitchen himself. So far, so good. Really good.
7. Ristorante Filippo. Metairie 2: Orleans Line To Houma Blvd: 1917 Ridgelake. 504-835-4008. With the upstairs dining room considered, Filippo isn't all that small. But who would want to go up there, except lunchers? Both the main dining room and the few tables in the bar find barely enough room. And that tingly, we're-the-only-ones-who-know-about-this-place feeling.
8. Cafe Lynn. Mandeville: 3051 East Causeway Approach. 985-624-9007. It's a repainted, early-model Burger King. Everybody knows this, but nobody dwells on it, because Chef Joey Najolia's food is so fine. But it does put a limit on the number of tables.
9. Boucherie. Uptown 4: Riverbend, Carrollton & Broadmoor: 8115 Jeannette. 504-862-5514. Not only is the floor space in short supply here, but the tables are small, too. Enough that four people will find it hard to have all their entrees and wine glasses on the table at the same time. The bottle might have to go on the floor. But the food--with its tinge of both barbecue and sophistication--is outstanding, and the prices are a bargain. No wonder so many people hang out on the sidewalk waiting for those little tables.
10. Ciro's Cote Sud. Uptown 4: Riverbend, Carrollton & Broadmoor: 7918 Maple. 504-866-9551. For decades, this was a pizzeria, period. Not much was needed of the dining room. The current French bistro in there is no bigger. But that works for the concept, and results in a narrow room with comfy little tables.
11. Baru Bistro & Tapas. Uptown: 3700 Magazine. 504-895-2225. Sidewalk seating came along just in time for this little specialist in the food of Columbia and the Caribbean. The dining room is small and a little dense, but at this season everybody wants to eat outside. They finally have wine.
12. Royal China. Metairie: 600 Veterans Blvd. 504-831-9633. The Royal China--built decades ago in the shell of a fast-food fried chicken place--looks bigger than it is. (The effect involves mirrors.) The menu is, too, with not only the usual comprehensive Chinese card, but a book full of dim sum.
A Cursory History Of The Tablecloth
Between the days when your Cro-Magnon ancestors stood next to a big rock where they left their communal haunch of fire-roasted wild boar between tugs with their teeth, and today, when you put your paper plate of pulled pork down on. . . well, that big rock will do, there came the tablecloth.
For most of the two centuries of restaurant history, tablecloths made cheaply-built tables appear elegant. Restaurant furniture is far more expensive than diners realize. The tables take a tremendous beating. Look under the tablecloth and see the gouges, scorches, and engraved initials.
Diners liked tablecloths. They were (usually) clean and fresh. They felt good when you rested your arms on them. And if Sister Mary Cunegunda was right when she warned her sixteen-year-old girl students against going with a boy to a restaurant with white tablecloths, the clean white linen puts you in mind of bed.
A very cheap table hides under these crisp white linens.
But about thirty years ago, a corner was turned. The new gourmet bistros, making inroads against the formalities of fine dining without pulling back on the goodness of the eating, began buying nicer tables and left them naked. (Or they covered ordinary tables with butcher paper.
Meanwhile, fine-dining restaurants were complaining about how much it cost them to replace tablecloths and linen napkins. At some point, it became less expensive to build a substantial and beautiful table than it was to change linen on it several times a day in perpetuity.
Now most restaurants--even high-ticket, culinarily ambitious ones with name chefs--open with handsome but uncovered tables.
As if nobody really likes tablecloths. As if tablecloths aren't cleaner than placemats (how often are those things washed?) As if tablecloths don't muffle the noise that is growing louder in eateries daily. As if they don't feel good to lean on. As if they don't remind one of bed.
As if "white-tablecloth restaurants" (as in industry still calls the category) aren't still the most stylish places to eat.
John Besh & Friends Honor Leah Chase
The grand finale of NOW&FE this year is the annual bash honoring the winner of the Ella Brennan award. Named for the longtime genius behind the success of Commander's Palace, the award is a lifetime achievement award for New Orleans restaurateurs. This year's honoree is Leah Chase, who deserves this honor for sheer longevity alone. She started cooking professionally in her teens, and is still at it in her nineties. And beloved by all, including everybody over here.
John Besh took personal charge of orchestrating the event, and persuaded many of his chef-superstar friends from around the country to come in for the fete. (A few names: Jacques Torres, Aaron Sanchez, Danny Bowien, Michelle Bernstein, Donald Link, Susan Spicer, John Currence.) It's not just a dinner but a big party, too, with Kermit Ruffins, the Young Fellas Brass Band, and Mia Borders. The money raised will go to the various charities supported by NOW&FE; info on that is at the same site from which you buy the $250 tickets. (Below.) It's at the Hyatt Regency, beginning at 7 p.m. I will be there and I hope you are too.
Funkin' It Up With John Besh, Honoring Leah Chase. Saturday, May 25, 7 p.m. Click here for tickets and info.
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