Other Than Hamburgers
Dozen Best Ground Beef Dishes
The king of beef dishes is not the steak. Or the roast, stew, paillard, or stir-fry. Far and away the most popular shape of beef (and most other red meats, too) is ground. As in hamburger, the world's most popular meat dish.
The reason for this is clear. A steak needs to be a large, beautiful cut with little in the way of bones or connective tissue. A hamburger (and all the other dishes that begin by grinding the meat) can use any part of the animal, including all the fat and a good deal of gristle. The fat makes the lean meat taste better. The gristle disappears when ground. No waste. Nearly the entire animal is used. Even if sold at a low price, this economy makes grinding beef a lucrative business.
Two more attractions. Ground beef can be cooked in a million ways. And --most important of all--it tastes good.
Here is a list of the dozen best restaurant dishes using ground beef in a starring role. There are so many candidates for the list that I've allowed only one example of each dish. And no hamburger sandwiches, which deserve (and have) a list of their own.
1. Lilette. Uptown 2: Washington To Napoleon: 3637 Magazine. 504-895-1636. Steak tartare is raw ground (or finely chopped, if you want to be a purist about it) beef mixed with the likes of mustard, cayenne, onions, capers, and a few other condiments of choice. It has almost disappeared, even from the upscale restaurants that made it tableside. (Could be that's because such restaurants themselves have mostly disappeared.) Lilette's version, served as an appetizer, is made with hanger steak. Great idea, because of the bigger flavor of that cut, and its need to be chopped up a bit.
2. Lebanon's Cafe. Uptown 4: Riverbend, Carrollton & Broadmoor: 1500 S Carrollton Ave. 504-862-6200. Kibbe is ground beef mixed with cracked wheat, parsley, and seasonings. It's usually made into the shape of a football about an inch and a half long, then fried and served with taratour (ground sesame seeds, mostly). Good appetizer. Another form of kibbe--surnamed nayyih--is served raw--but that cannot be found in restaurants anymore. I wish it could be.
3. K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen. French Quarter: 416 Chartres. 504-524-7394. Shepherd's pie. The layered dish with ground beef on the bottom, topped by mashed potatoes and then finally cheese is something people either love or hate, depending on how good your school cafeteria was. Mine was great, so I love it. K-Paul's might not seem the lace to look for shepherd's pie, but it's been on the menu off and on there since it opened. Very large portion, very spice brown sauce with mushrooms.
4. Vincent's. Metairie: 4411 Chastant St. 504-885-2984. Riverbend: 7839 St Charles Ave. 504-866-9313. Meatballs. The most famous ground beef dish in American Italian kitchens is, of course, the meatball. Vincent makes his with a mix of veal and beef, and they are tender, never dry, and the perfect size. He also makes on occasion a fantastic version of shepherd's pie at lunchtime.
5. Byblos. Metairie 1501 Metairie Rd. 504-834-9773. Uptown: 3218 Magazine. 504-894-1233. Kafta kebab. "Kafta" (and its many variant spellings) is an Indian word denoting ground meat. It's universal in Middle Eastern restaurants, where the beef is mixed with seasonings, parsley, and often ground lamb (although the latter ingredient turns it into a lula kebab). It it all rolled up into the shape of a sausage, a shish is run through it, and the whole thing is grilled. Byblos does this brilliantly.
6. Cafe 615 (Da Wabbit). Gretna: 615 Kepler. 504-365-1225. Hamburger steak. The hamburger steak has nearly arrived in full oblivion, a journey that began with its being one of the most common dishes found in casual restaurants. At Da Wabbit, it comes out big, juicy, and crusty, with brown gravy and onions.
7. La Boca. Warehouse District & Center City: 857 Fulton. 504-525-8205. Empanadas criollo. Empanada means "something enclosed in bread," and it's a common dish throughout Latin America. Its usually made in a half-moo shape, as it is here, with a beef filling that varies widely in its other ingredients. A terrific appetizer at this Argentine steakhouse.
8. Courtyard Grill. Uptown 3: Napoleon To Audubon: 4430 Magazine St. 504-875-4165. Turkish meat pie. Many cuisines make a pie with a meat filling, and here is an example from the Middle East. It's mixed with onions and parsley and baked.
9. Mr. Gyros. Metairie 2: Orleans Line To Houma Blvd: 3363 Severn Ave. 504-833-9228. Moussaka and its variations are found throughout the Balkan Peninsula, but they're best known in Greek restaurants like this one. Sometimes it's made with lamb or a combination of lamb and beef, as they do at Mr. Gyros. It resembles shepherd's pie, but instead of potatoes there's a layer of thick bechamel sauce across the top. And, usually, some eggplant in there somewhere.
10. Capdeville. CBD: 520 Capdeville St. 504-371-5915. Meat pie. When the Natchitoches-style meat pie arrived in New Orleans in the 1980s, it created a sensation. But after a time, it became available in only a few restaurants, and almost every festival with a heavy food component. Capdeville makes them from scratch and served them with a thick red-pepper sauce that sets it off. Great with the cocktails that are the real specialty of the place.
11. Joey K's. Uptown 2: Washington To Napoleon: 3001 Magazine. 504-891-0997. Stuffed bell pepper. This runs as a special a couple of times a week. It looks like the classic Creole version, but after a couple of bites you find that it's stuffed both with ground beef and shrimp. Better than it sounds. They also make a good hamburger steak here.
12. Cafe Reconcile. Warehouse District & Center City: 1631 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd. 504-568-1157. Meat loaf. Another rarity that once was popular, meat loaf is now a daily special--all you need to know is the day. A few retro restaurants make a fuss over it--notably the American Sector. It's a big favorite at Cafe Reconcile.
12 Best NOW&FE Wine Dinners:
Ralph's On The Park, Swanson Wines
Ralph's bird's-eye view of City Park is as inviting a venue I can think of for a wine dinner in springtime. So all that's left is for Chef Chip Flanagan to come forth with an alluring menu. He has done so, as you see below. Now, the wines. Swanson is pretty close to the dead center of the best Cabernet Sauvignon growing area in the Napa Valley, with big, chewy reds. Beyond that, the Swansons have some family connection with New Orleans that I never seem to remember when I need to. Anyway, they like us and we like them.
Tuna Tartare and Sesame Crackers
Escargot Tartlets with Tomato and Fennel Jam
Housemade Boudin Balls with Pepper Jelly
Wine: Swanson 2010 Napa Valley Pinot Grigio
Corn Fried Louisiana Crawfish Salad
Blair Farm’s lolla rosa, green tomato chow-chow, Creole mustard vinaigrette
Wine: Swanson 2011 Napa Valley Chardonnay
Smoked Rabbit Sauce Piquant
Mississippi rabbit, red and poblano peppers, cream cheese grits, country ham rolled loins, pearl onions, roasted pepper strained yogurt
Wine: Swanson 2009 Oakville Merlot
NOLA Irish Channel Glazed Rack Of Lamb
Pistachio crust, roasted Brussels sprouts, crispy lamb belly, green onion colcannon
Wine: Swanson 2009 Napa Valley "Alexis" Cabernet Sauvignon
Coconut Milk Tart
Fresh pineapple and mango, guava sauce and gelee, crushed pink peppercorns
Wine: Swanson 2007 Oakville "Tardif"
The dinner begins at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 22, like all the other NOW&FE dinners. The price is $120 inclusive. Reservations are essential at the number below. I've selected twelve of the menus as the ones most likely to be the best, from the field of thirty-eight. They will appear in this space, in no particular order, every day until the big night. Left out: dinners that are already booked up (!), and those that didn't publish their menus on the NOW&FE website.
Ralph's On The Park. City Park Area: 900 City Park Ave. 504-488-1000. www.ralphsonthepark.com.
Mandeville: 2040 La Hwy 59. 985-624-5066. Map.
Lunch MO TU WE TH FR Dinner MO TU WE TH FR SA
Covington: 141 TerraBella Blvd, 985-612-7250. Map.
Lunch TU WE TH FR SA Dinner WE TH FR SA
AE DC DS MC V
WHY IT'S NOTEWORTHY
From every perspective, Bosco's is two or three times the restaurant it was a few years ago. Owner-chef Tony Bosco moved to much nicer quarters in Mandeville and opened a chic new Bosco's in Covington. And while the menu has also extended its range, it remains that of the family-style, Sicilian-inspired Italian-Creole restaurant New Orleanians have always loved. Yet they still make muffulettas. That, and a few other dishes here, are the best of their kind anywhere in the area. The pricing and portions are also attractive, as they must be on the North Shore.
Bosco's shows no reluctance to serve the basics of local Italian cookery. If you like a smooth red sauce with pasta and meatballs, here it is. Cannelloni are enormous and well-stuffed. Italian sausage with peppers is a blast from 1960s. Veal Parmigiana comes in a stack so tall it makes you laugh--nervously. Recent additions to the menu include some great dishes involving fresh fish, oysters, crabmeat, and shrimp. There's nothing here that isn't worth trying. Even the house salad makes you look forward to the eating.
Tony Bosco's grandparents operated the well-known restaurant of the same name in Slidell, decades ago. Little of the food here reminds one of that place--which I'd say is a good thing. Tony first opened with a limited menu in a tiny space in a strip mall in 2003. He had been working for Sal Impastato at Sal & Judy's, where he learned skill and taste. Bosco's became extraordinarily popular after Katrina, enough that the restaurant moved to a much bigger space in early 2009. The menu expanded, too, making Bosco's a much more interesting restaurant. In 2012, Tony opened a second location in the TerraBella community in Covington.
The Mandeville location has expanded twice since it moved into its new strip mall, with the rooms getting nicer the farther you get from the front door. A real bar at the entrance has become more appealing lately. A suggestion I made in this space that it could use a guy sitting in the corner singing Frank Sinatra tunes for tips has actually been adopted on some weekends. The TerraBella Bosco's has a totally different and much more attractive decor, airy and bright with big windows looking into the faux-antique community from its center.
Baked cheese tortellini, tomato cream sauce, provolone
»»Crabmeat Buster (crabmeat dressing, artichoke bottom, sherry cream sauce)
Baked eggplant, crabmeat, shrimp
Italian salad, salami, cheeses, olives, tomatoes, artichokes
Tomato & fresh mozzarella salad
Bleu cheese salad, romaine & tomatoes
»Spaghetti & meatballs
»Italian sausage & peppers, pasta aglia olio
»Lasagna with meat and five cheeses, tomato basil sauce
»»Cannelloni with veal, spinach, and cheese stuffing, two sauces
Veal or chicken pannee
Veal or chicken parmesan
»Veal Carmella (pannee veal, shrimp, mushrooms, lemon butter cream sauce
Shrimp & pasta
»Shrimp diavolo, spicy tomato cream sauce, penne pasta
Shrimp or chicken alfredo or pesto, penne pasta
Spaghetti & sauteed oysters, garlic, green onions, pasta aglio olio
»Baked Italian oysters
Meatball sandwich, melted provolone, tomato sauce
Italian sausage sandwich, peppers, onions, melted mozzarella and provolone
Pastrami sandwich, melted baby Swiss, rye bread
Two-salami & two-cheese panini
Chicken pannee sandwich, tomato sauce
FOR BEST RESULTS
Order about two-thirds as much food as you would ordinarily; the portions here are like Mosca's, and can be shared while still having too much to eat comfortably.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
The main dining room in Mandeville, even after being decorated with wall hangings, is still a little dark and cold. On the other hand, the food at the lovely TerraBella Bosco's has never been quite as good as at the original.
FACTORS OTHER THAN FOOD
Up to three points, positive or negative, for these characteristics. Absence of points denotes average performance in the matter.
- Dining Environment
- Consistency +3
- Service +1
- Value +3
- Attitude +1
- Wine and Bar +1
- Local Color
- Good for business meetings
- Open Monday lunch and dinner
- Unusually large servings
- Quick, good meal
- Good for children
- Easy, nearby parking
- Reservations accepted
Two meatballs stand out in my memory of eating that famous American-Italian dish. (It surprises many American travelers that meatballs are rarely seen in Italy.) The first was the gigantic, ultra-light "diamond-studded" meatballs created by Diamond Jim Moran at the old La Louisiane. (He actually used to put diamonds in them for very special customers.) The other great meatballs were the ordinary-looking ones that Chef Goffredo Fraccaro made at his now-gone La Riviera. They were famously crusty and delicious.
The sad part of this tale is that neither meatball is being made anymore. So we must do them ourselves, or at least try. This recipe makes a meatball with the incomparable lightness of Moran's, and the crusty meatiness of Goffredo's. Here are the tricks:
1. Use soaked bread instead of breadcrumbs.
2. Use a bit of ground pork with the ground beef.
3. Beat the eggs to a near-froth.
4. Handle the meatballs as little as possible.
Get a pot of smooth red sauce ready before you start, because that's where these will go at the end of the process to finish cooking.
- 2 lbs. ground meat, consisting of up to 1 lb. ground pork (you can use less if you like, or none) and the rest ground round
- 1 four-inch piece stale French bread, crusts cut away
- 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1/4 cup chopped onion
- 12 sprigs parsley, leaves only, chopped
- 1/2 tsp. dried basil
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper
- 2 eggs
- Vegetable oil for frying
1. Break the ground meat up into a bowl and toss with fingers dripping with cold water to blend the two kinds.
2. Break the bread up into small pieces, and mix into 1/4 cup cold water with a fork until it has the texture of mashed potatoes. Add this to the meat, along with all the other ingredients except the eggs and oil. Again, wet your hands with cold water and toss the ingredients loosely to distribute them evenly.
3. With a wire whisk or blender (an immersion blender works very well), beat the eggs into a fine froth. Pour this evenly into the meat mixture.
4. Wet your hands again with cold water and caress the mixture into balls two to two and half inches in diameter. Handle the meatballs as gently as possible, compacting them just enough to make them stick together. Don't worry is there are cracks as fissures, as long as they're not about to break wide open.
5. Heat the oil about a quarter-inch deep in a skillet over medium-high heat. Put in enough meatballs to allow them to be rolled around easily. Roll them around every minute or so to brown them evenly. This will take ten to fifteen minutes, depending on the size of the meatballs.
6. When the meatballs are browned, remove from the pan and place into a pot of simmering tomato sauce. Cook for at least ten minutes, until no pink is left in the center.
Remove the meatballs from the sauce. Put cooked pasta into a bowl and pour the sauce over it. Toss to coat the pasta completely. Serve with a meatball on the top or size. (One of these is enough.)
Makes eight to twelve meatballs.
Tuesday, May 14, 2012.
A Great Show, For A Change. Bringing Soft-Shell Crabs To Brigtsen's.
It was just what I had in mind when I dreamed up the Round-Table radio show idea a couple of years ago. People from different parts of the food-o-sphere would come in and get a lively conversation started, with as many laughs as possible. That's just how it went today.
The funniest part of it was that John Besh--who is organizing the most expensive event in this year's New Orleans Wine and Food Experience, a well-deserved tribute to Leah Chase--was supposed to show up to promote the bash. Besh confirmed, cancelled, reconfirmed, re-cancelled, and repeated the cycle once more before he confirmed that he was cancelling. But he's a busy guy. And these days, I can't seem to get Mark Benfatti from N'Tini's on my show, let alone our city's current chef darling and inspiration.
On the other hand, Tory McPhail was there. The eleven-year exec chef at Commander's Palace found out a few days ago that the James Beard organization named him the best chef in America, Southern division. After Commander's also won the only Wine Spectator Grand Award in town a few months ago, it now looks as if all the things I've been saying about the place for thirty years are credible.
Tory is one of the most engaging and likeable chefs in the biz. He has a low-key style, but then he does something dramatic. Not long after Commander's reopened after K, I visited his kitchen and watched him stand on the opened door of one of his new ovens, to prove how well built it was.
Also in the room was Dr. James Moises, a local ER physician with a winery in Oregon. He is so active in the food and wine biz that I seem constantly to run into him. I think this is the fourth time he's been on the radio with me. Always nice to have him, because he always brings wine.
Danny Millan from Le Foret came along, too. He brought with him a couple of the wines he's serving at his Wine and Food Experience Vintner Dinner next week. They are from Provenance, which is to Napa wineries what the Court of Two Sisters is to New Orleans restaurants. Which is to say better than its reputation, and attractive to tourists.
Danny brought a man who wanted to identify himself as just "Mr. Richard." he is a soft-shell crab "shedder," as people who supply that delicacy are known. We covered the subject in greater depth than we ever have or will, while a box of eight live soft-shell crabs waved at us.
Finally, we were visited by Tracy Beninate, one of the members of the board of directors of the New Orleans Wine & Food Experience. No big issues to discuss there. I hear that NOW&FE has already set a record for tickets sold, and there's still a week to go.
I gave half of the soft-shells given to me by Mr. Richard to my producer Mindy, who said her mother loved to cook them. I kept the other four, even though there wasn't much chance we would eat them at home anytime soon. So I took them to dinner.
"In twenty-seven years, you are the first person to bring me soft-shell crabs through the front door," Frank Brigtsen said. Marna Brigtsen said she had a table available for me, and that I really ought to stay for dinner. How could I say no?
After the server informed me of an off-menu special of soft-shell crabs, I went after what I really felt like eating. Frank's shrimp remoulade knows no equal. It starts with a mound of guacamole in the center of the plate, topped with his coarse, Creole-mustard-heavy remoulade sauce. The shrimp were so big I had to cut them into two or three pieces. Radiating out from the center were several deviled eggs and low levees of corn and peppers.
Next came one each of the baked oysters Rockefeller and Leruth, served in aluminum shells that made the oysters stick a little bit to the bottom--but that was no deficiency. The sauces were marvelous. The one named for legendary chef and late friend Warren Leruth was enough like a Bienville that it could be called that--especially since no two restaurants have the same recipe for oysters Bienville.
Frank cooks the kinds of veal dishes that once were common in New Orleans restaurants, but are now seen only rarely. This one had a brown sauce with oysters and wild mushrooms. Just what I was hoping for, and very good with a glass of Pinot Noir.
Pina Colada bread pudding, from Frank's wide repertoire in that category. "This is one I'm not happy with yet, but I like the idea," he said. "I'm still trying to figure out how to bring the coconut in." I wasn't having any problems with it.
I had to ask about Charlie's Seafood. Frank said it was due to a difference between the landlord and him about a number of issues. Working through it and finally having to walk away was, he said, one of the most stressful times of his life. He is glad it's all over. And no, there will not be a rebirth of Charlie's under his ownership.
I don't eat here half often enough.
Brigtsen's. Riverbend: 723 Dante. 504-861-7610.
To browse through all of the Dining Diaries since 2008, go here.
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