1068 Restaurants Open Around Town
Cooking Experience.3 Bacon And Beans. Vol-Au-Vents. Patty Shells. Bacon, Texas. Guanciale. Bubble Gum. Queen Mary 2. Soupy Sales.
Eating Around New Orleans Today
The New Orleans Cooking Experience on Bayou Road has grown to become a major culinary resource, Its classes are as much for enjoying great food and having a fun evening as they are about honing your skills. Almost every night, a well-known chef or and cookbook author lead a full evening of cookery, dinner, and wine. The big names there are Frank Brigtsen, Gerard Maras, and Poppy Tooker, but many others appear. Tonight the class is run by Cajun cookbook author Boo Macomber. The classes are $150 per person, including the instruction, dinner, wine, tax, and tip. It all goes on at the fine old House on Bayou Road. Schedules of classes and menus can be seen at
Annals Of Bacon And Beans
The Battle of New Orleans took place today in 1815, the last battle in the War of 1812. The war had already ended, but word hadn't reached the 7500 British troops. They slogged through the swamps in what is now St. Bernard Parish, where they met defeat in Chalmette by Andrew Jackson's collection of 3100 back-bayou defenders. Who took a little bacon and a little beans, so that a rhyme could be made with a mispronunciation of "New Orleans." The battle was a rout, with 2000 British killed. It turned Andrew Jackson into a hero both here and nationally. His statue stands in the most prominent possible place in New Orleans.
Today is National Vol-Au-Vent Day. Or, to translate into Creole, Patty Shell Day. Made in sizes from that of a thimble to that of a coffee mug, vol-au-vents are made of two layers of puff pastry cut into circles. The top layer has a hole cut in the center. When stacked and then baked, they become cups to contain concoctions that typically run to the rich and saucy. The name translates "fly on the wind," which suggests the ideal lightness of these puff pastry cups. Unlike the smaller patty shells, vol-au-vents are usually made with a cap of pastry to cover the contents to keep them from cooling. The cap is always tilted off center, so the contents inside the vol-au-vent can be seen. Larousse Gastronomique says that vol-au-vents were invented and named by Marie-Antoine Careme, famous French chef and author of the nineteenth century.
In New Orleans, vol-au-vents are most often made into a dish called oyster patties--little vol-au-vents filled with oysters in thick sauce, baked a little more to make them crusty. Nine out of ten of these are terrible, usually because the the sauce is too thick. In the hands of a skillful chef, however, vol-au-vents can be fantastic. The best I ever had was a sweetbreads and mushroom dish made by Chef Denis Rety at the short-lived but brilliant Le Chateau in Gretna. The vol-au-vent was about five inches across and three inches deep, and was delicious enough to compete with the goodness of the creamy sauce and rich sweetbreads. You'd never know it was a close cousin to the gross little oyster patties forced upon you at wedding receptions.
Annals Of Candy
Walter E. Diemer, who invented bubble gum, was born today in 1905. (He also died on this date, in 1998.) Diemer was working for the Fleer Chewing Gum Company as a bookkeeper, but his interest in the product was fervent enough that he often fooled around in the test kitchen. He made a five-pound sample of pink gum that was both softer and more stretchable than standard gum base. It was tested in a store in Philadelphia, and became an immediate hit. Diemer not only created the gum but the technique for blowing gum bubbles, which he had to teach to his salesmen. He said that the most amazing thing about his gum was not its popularity but the fact that most of it is still pink, as if that were part of its essence. Fleer is still the maker of Dubble Bubble.
Food At Sea
Today in 2004, the RMS Queen Mary 2 was christened by Queen Elizabeth II, the granddaughter of Queen Mary. At the time, it was the largest cruise ship in the world, and hailed as the peak of luxury. The Eat Club took its first voyage on the QM2 in April, 2009, New York to London. We did not dine as well as we expected, but still found the ship the most luxurious in our experience.
Music To Eat Banana Sandwiches By
Today is Elvis Presley's birthday, in 1935. About twenty years ago a line of wines bearing Elvis's name and likeness appeared. "Was this Elvis's favorite wine?" I asked the distributor. "Elvis didn't drink wine," he said. "But if he had, this is the wine he would have liked."
This is the feast day of Saint Erhard of Regensburg, who lived in Bavaria in the 600s. He is one of many patron saints of bakers.
Politics And Food
Tonight in 1992, the first President Bush, attending a state dinner in Tokyo, became nauseous and lost his lunch in the lap of the Japanese Prime Minister. The White House explanation was that Bush had "stomach flu," which is a euphemism for food poisoning. Make up your own sushi joke.
Soupy Sales, a deliciously wacko comedian who was on TV a lot in the 1960s--frequently with a pie flying in the direction of someone's face--was born today in 1926. . . Bill Graham, the leading impresario of rock music in San Francisco in the Summer of Love (1967), began his trip today in 1931.
Words To Eat By
"All knives and forks were working away at a rate that was quite alarming; very few words were spoken; and everybody seemed to eat his utmost, in self-defense, as if a famine were expected to set in before breakfast time tomorrow morning, and it had become high time to assert the first law of nature."--Charles Dickens, referring to the way we eat in America.
Words To Drink By
"Americans may be drinking fewer alcoholic beverages, but they are certainly eating more of them than ever before. Wittingly or un."--Marian Burros, food writer for the New York Times.
Tuesday, December 29. Two Losses. The Godparents At Bonefish Grill (Again?) Today was to be the day when the Jesuit High School Class of 1968 would have its annual reunion lunch at the Court of Two Sisters. It was cancelled for a sad reason. Louise Fein--the wife of Court of Two Sisters owner and classmate Joe Fein--died a few days ago after a long fight with brain cancer. It's hard to hear news like this about people my own age without thinking, "Here it comes." I push the thought away and sympathize instead. And I have another opportunity to do that. John Fury's wife Tillie also died a few days ago. She was always at Fury's restaurant, telling everyone who came in to just sit anywhere. (If, indeed, there was a place to sit in that popular but small restaurant.) It won't seem right not having her there.
For the past few days, Mary Ann has been trying to reach Oliver and Carolyn Kluna. It's yet another Christmas tradition. They are Jude's godparents, and we have had dinner with them at this season almost every year since he was born. Come to think of it, that tradition predates not only Jude's birth but my marriage. I met the Klunas in 1974, when I wrote newspaper ads for their Sleep Factory stores. They became good enough friends that Oliver was my best man. For many years, we celebrated Christmas by going to the grand dinners at the Sazerac--a precursor to the Reveillon dinners.
We got hold of them in the nick of time. Jude is definitely leaving tomorrow. Mary Ann might be. The Klunas volunteered to cross the lake to have dinner with us. Mary Ann asked whether I could stand going to Bonefish Grill again. Why not? This will make three meals there--enough to write a review.
What we learned was nothing new. Given the corporate uniformity for which chain restaurants are famous, you'd think they'd be the most consistent of restaurants. Quite the opposite is true. The crab cakes and the crab chowder--dishes we liked on earlier visits--were not nearly as good. The fish tacos Jude asked for were borderline inedible, and he didn't eat them.
Grilled salmon was served in a finger-sized piece, grilled to a char--way overdone. The best dish of the night was a pecan-encrusted fresh-water trout with artichokes, which looked and tasted great. And bang-bang shrimp were less spicy than last time--an improvement, actually.
My dish was good enough but puzzling. I was intrigued by the bacon-wrapped sea scallop, sold three to the order as an appetizer. I asked whether an entree could be had of them. The waiter said that it could, but that I will still get only three scallops, plus two side dishes. Any way I can get, say, six scallops? Not unless you buy two full orders, which would kick the price way up there. You can count on a chain to use a very sharp pencil when planning its platters. The three scallops were good but left me wanting more.
The Klunas were impressed by how the kids have grown, and all that. And they had some news. Tomorrow, they will sell the building on Tulane Avenue where they had their main Sleep Factory store for many years. "The end of an era!" Carolyn said. It's their final exit from Mid-City, where they lived and worked for decades.
Bonefish Grill. Covington: 200 River Highlands Boulevard 985-809-0662. Seafood.
Wednesday, December 30. Domenica. The rain is back, stacking up to a bit over an inch at the Cool Water Ranch. Officially, this is the wettest December in history, with twenty-six inches of rain during the month. I wonder what the year's total will be.
Jude had to fly out in this mess. He got a call last night from one of the guys with whom he makes movies, and they said he was urgently needed to cast a number of roles. He will interview 140 people tomorrow. Casting calls on New Year's Eve? Nothing's more important to either an actor or a producer.
Mary Ann decided not to go to Los Angeles with Jude. That's far from the end of her stewing over the matter. But she was persuaded it was the right thing to do when she spoke to Jude late in the day. "He sounded alive again!" she said. "He was just rotting away hanging around here for two weeks, even though he really needed a break." My son, the workaholic. Must be genetic.
I drove through the rain into town, not so much for the radio show (the Rutabagas Bowl football game pre-empted my last hour) as to record a couple of commercials that start on the first. Mary Ann stayed in town after delivering Jude to the airport, and she was available for dinner. She wanted to go to Domenica, Chef John Besh's new Italian restaurant in the Roosevelt Hotel. We wanted to see the hotel in its Christmas glitter anyway.
Mary Ann invoked her powers as the Parking Witch, and found a space right in front of the hotel on University Place. But it was raining hard enough that even with two umbrellas we got a bit wet. And then we were in the glorious old lobby, for the first time since Katrina. It looked fabulous. The antique clock just inside the door is most unusual. I hear it cost seven figures. The angelhair Christmas decorations are not here--some fire issue, I heard--but that took nothing away from the glittery display.
I didn't think Domenica would be very busy, and they weren't. After five months, the novelty had worn off, and the weather (it's cold as well as wet) didn't help. We were led to a table that in most times would have been a very good one, right in the center of the most expansive part of the dining room. But the door to the street was about twenty feet away, and it's a single set of swinging doors. Meaning that every time someone opened it to come in, a chilly breeze rolled over us. On nights like this, they really should ask people to use the lobby entrance, which is well insulated from winter by a revolving door.
We ordered a pizza as soon as we sat down. Pizzas are made in a wood-burning stone oven weighing five tons, imported from Italy. The ingredients on our pie included various exotic mushrooms, chunks of tomato, onions, nubbins of pork belly, and a raw egg broken into the center. The egg business is pure Italian; it doesn't set completely, and acts almost as an enriching sauce when it comes to the table. I'd stop short of saying it was one of the great pizzas of my life, but it was a nice piece of work, with charred spots here and there on the crust.
The other major specialty here is a large selection of salumi--the Italian-style cured and aged sliced meats. They not only start with pork and seasonings, the pork itself comes from locally-raised pigs. For $25 you get a board with an assortment of these, plus some cheeses and garnishes. We took them up on that and had placed before us a piece of wood that really did qualify as a board--long and narrow. The thinnest prosciutto imaginable, silky and wonderful. Some sopressata, a little on the dense side. And coppa--like prosciutto, made from the shoulder instead of the leg. I was, frankly, a little disappointed by the lack of variety. I was hoping for some lardo. The cheeses were just okay. The garnishes were interesting palate-refreshers, acting like the ginger in a plate of sushi.
We both had pasta for the entree. Mine was a bowl of green stracchi--torn pasta sheets--with a ragout of oxtail and fried chicken livers. I was a third of the way through before I remembered those ingredients, and I had to look at the menu again to figure out what they were. Chicken livers usually make a bigger statement than this.
Mary Ann had some spinach and ricotta gnocchi in brown butter, in an appetizer portion. (You can get any of the pastas in a small or a medium). These were good enough. But the presentation needs some work. It came out in a small rectangular bowl with no underliner. Since the tables are unclothed (they're handsome and appear to have been made by hand), the dish looked a bit incomplete sitting there. In fact, so did my entree-size pasta dish. Something's missing. Doesn't feel right. But Mary Ann says that these cavils of mine are ridiculous, and that she loved the restaurant. It could be that I fail to grok the minimalism.
We passed on dessert and went back into the hotel lobby for a further tour. In what used to be the Fairmont Court, there's a coffeeshop with beautiful pastries and a nice Christmas display with model trains. The Sazerac looked much modernized, but the low lighting and high ceilings gave it the grandeur I remember. (And tablecloths, and plates with underliners.) The Sazerac Bar looked unchanged since the old days. It was so full of people that quite a few were standing up with their drinks.
The rain was gone. She took me back to the radio station and we went home in separate cars. At least she's here in town instead of in Los Angeles, with New Year's Eve tomorrow and all.
Domenica. CBD: 123 Baronne (Roosevelt Hotel) 504-648-6020.
Thursday, December 31. Year's End, With Nothing. If all had gone according to plan, the Marys would be at the Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego tonight, and I would have been home alone on New Year's Eve. Mary Ann is lamenting that she's here instead of in California, but not because of missing "The Del." That plan fell off the table when Mary Leigh made it clear that she wanted to be among her circle of friends on New Year's Eve, at a theoretical party. But MA's concern centered on Jude, who she feared would have no place to celebrate and would wind up alone in Los Angeles. I keep trying to tell her that, for a twenty-year-old man, being with his mother on New Year's Eve is even worse than being alone. And, in any case, Jude did turn up a party to attend.
For this and other reasons, Mary Ann is in a funk. She says this is the worst New Year's Eve of her life. I can't figure out why, but even if I could it wouldn't do either of us a bit of good. It's been years since we went out on New Year's Eve anyway. I agree with Dean Martin, who said he stayed home that night because the hot spots were filled with amateur drinkers. We go out plenty enough during the rest of the year. In past years, we just sat around with the kids and watched the ball drop on Times Square and the New Orleans version of that. But we still are without the converter box that makes local television watchable. I pulled up the Times Square moment on my computer, but it was on a teeny little screen.
I didn't give it much thought tonight, but as I write this now I find little to complain about in 2009. The worst thing that happened was the destruction of my website by the Russians on Katrina Day. (It just occurred to me that was the exact date malware attack occurred.) The invasion cost us a good bit of money and time, but I came out of it with a much stronger, better-looking site. It's done well enough to keep the tuitions paid up. Those set a record this year, reaching a number that would have been unimaginable two years ago. But Jude is fully engaged in exciting work, and Mary Leigh is having the ideal senior year in high school.
This year we went to England on the Queen Mary 2, traveled a good bit otherwise, and are in good health. I read sixty-six books this year and worked 150 crossword puzzles. The restaurant scene kept growing, but the demand for my services seems to be shrinking a little. In sum, I think this will be one of those years that will be hard to recall ten years from now. I will be happy that I didn't skip a single day of this journal the entire year.
Friday, January 1, 2010. A New Start For One Of Us. Acme Oyster House. Cold Comes. Mary Ann spend the entire morning making a list of resolutions for the new year. She would not show them to me. I'm probably better off not knowing. With the day off, I got right back to work, plowing ahead at my steady, mildly evolutionary state. In a month, I'll begin my sixtieth year. It's the thirty-fourth year of the New Orleans Menu's publication, the twenty-third year of our marriage, the thirty-sixth year I've been on the radio every day, the twelfth year of the cat Twinnery's life, the twentieth year we've lived at the Cool Water Ranch, the year when Jude reaches majority and when Mary Leigh begins college. The fifth year since Katrina.
Mary Leigh spent the night at a friend's house, and came home around noon. I am prohibited from even hinting at what happened at the New Year's Eve party, but I think I can say that she found it exciting but not magical.
We had lunch at the Acme Oyster House, one of the few decent restaurants open today. The usual: grilled oysters, wedge salad, a seafood platter. (Mary Ann splurged on this, clearly in violation of her diet--but she's lost so much weight lately she felt she could fit it in.) I invented a new sandwich in a dream last night (I really did), and they agreed to make it--even sending out the kitchen manager to consult with me first. Not that big a deal: a fried oyster poor boy with a few slices of grilled ham, pickles, and remoulade sauce. They were overly generous with the ham, but otherwise it delivered the precise taste I was dreaming of.
We go to the Acme and I write and talk about it so often that it cheeses Mary Ann that they don't buy advertising either on my radio show or on our website. That doesn't bother me, because it's a good demonstration of my failure to give our advertisers special perks, as some of my critics say I surely must. A few days ago one of the ad sales guys at the radio station said that I'm sitting on a gold mine and not mining it. He can't understand why I won't eagerly embrace any restaurant that wants to spend money. But if I did that, it would all be over tomorrow. And I wouldn't be able to live with myself.
The word is that we'll have a pretty hard freeze here tomorrow, and a really cold series of nights starting Thursday and running through next weekend. Time to get the canvas skirts over the crawl space. My pipes are all wrapped well, but having had pipes break wholesale in my Mid-City house about thirty years ago, I am gun-shy. I'm sorry I never got around to building a new roof for the pump house. Now that's something else to worry about.
WHY IT'S NOTEWORTHY
Emeril Lagasse has overcome one of the greatest disadvantages a restaurateur can have in New Orleans: being very successful. Visitors to New Orleans, unaffected by this disease of local diners, get a disproportionate number of the tables. But the restaurant has been one of the best in town since it opened. The kitchen led the local trend with its emphasis on finding the best ingredients and making everything from scratch, and innovating consistently without leaving the New Orleans flavor palette. No local restaurant has a better waitstaff or wine cellar.
WHY IT'S GOOD
Emeril's led--perhaps even started--the most powerful current local trend in cooking with its emphasis on finding the best ingredients and making everything from scratch. It innovates consistently without leaving the New Orleans flavor palette or ignoring the preferences of diners. A good example is its recent shift to a menu dominated by small plates. That not only made dining here more varied and interesting, but also made it more affordable, at a critical time. Also here: the best restaurant pastry shop in town, with fresh breads and an amazing dessert list.
Emeril Lagasse is America’s best-known chef, thanks to his winning personality, television shows and flow of cookbooks. After getting his feet wet in his native New England, he charmed the Brennans at Commander's Palace into letting him run the kitchen there in the early 1980s, when he was still in his twenties. He opened this, his first restaurant, in 1990. It was the first big-time chef-owned restaurant in New Orleans history, and it took off immediately, spawning two other local eateries and many more elsewhere (the empire now stands at eleven). After the hurricane, Emeril took a lot of flak for not being in town much--even as he raised several million dollars for the recovery in his travels. Although he does show up in the restaurant now and then, the day-to-day is handled by others.
It's a renovated warehouse, its industrial aspect softened with improved acoustics (although it remains a loud restaurant) and artfully designed but casual furnishings. Particularly interesting is the arch over the food bar, where those most interested in cooking can watch the action while eating atop barstools. A second large dining room runs alongside the wine cellar, with a bar at the intersection of the two rooms.
Smoked exotic mushrooms with tasso cream sauce and pasta.
Escargots with sun-dried tomato pesto and pasta.
Andouille and boudin sausage plate.
Rabbit remoulade with fried green tomatoes.
Barbecue lamb ribs.
Gumbo of the day.
Root beer glazed fresh bacon salad.
Andouille crusted redfish.
Saffron and chili-dusted shrimp with sweet potato grits.
Filet of beef with pork belly and mascarpone polenta.
Double-cut pork chop with tamarind glaze and green chile mole sauce.
Veal and sweetbreads saltimbocca hash.
Banana cream pie.
Chocolate pecan pie.
Chocolate Grand Marnier soufflee.
FOR BEST RESULTS
Nine times out of ten, the specials are the best food in this restaurant on any give night. No other restaurant puts more into devising these. It is a tremendous help that the post the specials on line every day. With the small plates menu, it's easy to construct a tasting menu of many courses--a good strategy. Dining at the food bar, with the chefs working within eyeshot, is fun. It helps to let all the staff know you're local.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
The food here has a way of being very filling, and the sauces rich and powerfully flavored. Some dishes could be kicked down a notch.
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 +2
- Consistency +2
- Service +3
- Value +1
- Attitude +2
- Wine and Bar +3
- Hipness +3
- Local Color +2
- Good for business meetings
- Many private rooms
- Open Sunday dinner
- Open Monday lunch and dinner
- Unusually large servings
- Free valet parking
- Reservations honored promptly
ANECDOTES AND ANALYSIS
Emeril Lagasse is America’s best-known gourmet chef, thanks to his winning personality, his television shows and his constant flow of cookbooks. His media activities and empire of five restaurants (the other two in New Orleans are Nola and Delmonico) take him out of the restaurant. But this is where it all started, and he's never let the place tank. Indeed, regulars who know how to play the place still report spectacular meals.
The menu is based on Louisiana flavors. It's also highly ingredient-driven: one of Emeril's ruling principles is that you should scour the market for the best seasonal stuff, and cook with that--the rarer the better. The result is big taste and high adventure. Among Emeril's most welcome innovations are his "studies" of certain foodstuffs: different parts of a duck, for example, prepared diferent ways.
They also set a new standard by including a full bakery in the kitchen. It turns out not only great breads, but the city's most impressive assortment of desserts. The wine selection maintains a sharp edge, backed by a staggering inventory. If it's new, hot, and hard to get, you'll likely find it here.
The interior design still reflects the warehouse origins of the space. But details like the mini-museum of food that frames the food bar are fascinating. Food bar? It's gourmet food and service at a lunch counter. When a reservation cannot be had, you can often still get a seat at the food bar, eat the same as everyone else, plus watch the kitchen action.
The Inevitable Discusssion
Who's Your Favorite King Cake Baker?
It's a question I never have to raise myself. Somebody else always does, usually on January 6, the beginning of the king cake season. And right now, people are weighing in on their ideas of what constitutes a good or bad king cake, and giving wildly various nominations of the bakeries that make this annual calorie-loader on our Talk Food With Tom messageboard.We'd all like to read your thoughts. Post them on the messageboard.
This was a specialty of the old Tchoupitoulas Plantation restaurant that operated in Avondale from the 1950s into the 1980s. By the time I got there, it was more of an atmospheric experience than a gustatory one. But this dish remained reasonably good, if not one of the great oyster dishes of all time. The bivalves were cooked (overcooked, I thought) in a very dark sauce flavored with Worcestershire and steak sauce. Roy Guste Jr. published what I think was the actual recipe in his book, "100 Best New Orleans Restaurant Recipes." I fooled around with it a little and came up with this. It's good served as is, but it's superb tossed with angel hair pasta.
- 4 dozen freshly-shucked oysters, with their liquor
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 1/3 cup flour
- 1 stick butter
- 4 green onions, tender green parts only, thinly sliced
- 2 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
- 1/4 cup Tabasco Caribbean-style steak sauce (or Pickapeppa sauce)
- 1/4 cup dry red wine (Chianti would be my choice)
- 1 Tbs. lemon juice
- 1/2 tsp. salt
1. Drain the oysters in a sieve and collect all the oyster liquor. Pour the oyster liquor plus enough chicken stock to make three cups of liquid total into a saucepan. Bring it to a boil and lower to a simmer.
2. Combine the butter and flour in another, large saucepan and make a medium dark roux, stirring constantly. When the roux is the right color, remove the pan from the heat and add the green onions, stirring until they become soft--about a minute.
3. Add about a half-cup of the oyster water-stock mixture to the roux and stir lightly until just combines--about five seconds. Add the wine, Worcestershire, steak sauce, and lemon juice. Return to a simmer over low heat.
4. When you see the first bubbles return, add the remaining stock to the roux mixture and stir with a wire whisk until uniformly blended. Cook for about ten minutes, or until the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Add salt and pepper to taste. The sauce is now complete. You may do it ahead up until this point and hold it (refrigerated if it will be longer than an hour) until serving time.
5. When it's time to serve, bring the sauce to a simmer and add the oysters. With a big spoon, stir them into the sauce to avoid breaking them. Bring the sauce back to a simmer and cook until the oysters are curly at the edges.
Serve the oysters over slices of toast or in a small ramekin, topped with chopped parsley.
Serves eight appetizers or four entrees.
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