Wednesday, February 3, 2010
1069 Restaurants Open Around New O. The whole list.
Parade Night Dining. Day One. Cheese Factory. Carrot Cake. Parsnips. Dr. Heimlich. Saint Of The Throat. Restaurant Awards. The Day The Music Died. Rockwell.
Eating Around New Orleans A Week From Today
Carnival parades will be in full career next week, and begin this Friday. Restaurants all along the parade route have packages in which you can have dinner, enter their grandstands for watching the parade, then return to the restaurant for the facilities, a nightcap, etc. When our kids were little, we took full advantage of this resource. which made it more fun because we didn't have to worry so much. And we caught more beads. Here are three especially good sites near Poydras and St. Charles:
Luke (CBD: 333 St. Charles Ave., 504-378-2840) has a $20 buffet every night when there's a parade, and has stands in front of the place (next to One Shell Square). The prices for admission to the stands range from $15 for this Friday's Oshun parade to $$40 for Mardi Gras day. This strikes me as the best bargain in the vicinity.
Herbsaint (CBD: 701 St. Charles Ave., 504-524-4114) has stands in front for its diners only. There's an upcharge for access to the stands that varies depending on the day, starting at around $30.
Hotel Inter-Continental (CBD: 444 St. Charles Ave, 504-585-4383) sets up an enormous array of stands, from which ticketholders get access to the hotel's facilities. They also have a buffet going on some days. The prices start at $10 and go up to $90 (the latter is for an all-day pass and food on Sunday).
Thirteen Days Till Mardi Gras
And, according to the Maya, the world was created on this date in 3114 B.C.E.
Chronicles Of Cheese
On this date in 1815, the first factory making cheese for wide distribution and sale opened in Switzerland. Before then, cheese was the produce of farmers, who usually made their cheeses with milk they produced themselves. This historic moment opened the way for the eventual emergence of cheese in an aerosol can.
Music To Drink Beer By
This is the day in 1967 when Jimi Hendrix recorded Purple Haze. Little did he know it would inspire a raspberry- flavored beer made in Abita Springs decades latter. He probably wouldn't have cared. Abita Brewery's Purple Haze beer remains one of its signature brews.
It is supposed to be National Carrot Cake Day. Carrot cakes get a lot of attention because we all know carrots are good for us. The idea that it's therefore good for us--despite its sweet, gooey icing--gives us permission to eat twice as much of it. You can feel the good things and the bad things fight it out inside, to paraphrase Mark Twain. The most impressive carrot cake in town was at Smith and Wollensky, where one slice could feed a family of four. But you'll have to go to one of their other cities to get it, because they left New Orleans behind after the hurricane.
The Old Kitchen Sage Sez: Carrot and parsnip tops are so closely related to parsley that you can use them for any parsley purpose. One day, I will include them in the sauce for oysters Rockefeller.
Physiology Of Eating
Dr. Henry Heimlich was born today in 1920. He popularized a method of saving a choking victim so well that the technique is now known as the Heimlich Maneuver. He published a story about it called "Pop Goes The Cafe Coronary" in 1974. Shortly after the article came out, a restaurateur used the technique to save a woman who was choking on a parsnip in a restaurant. The maneuver consists of putting one's arms around the chocking victim from behind, holding a fist in the other hand. and giving a quick, forceful upward thrust to the abdomen right below the rib cage. This often dislodges whatever is blocking the air passages. It's not without risk, but it has saved many lives. Learn about it from the American Heart Association's illustrated page on the subject,
This is the feast day of St. Blaise, who lived in the third and fourth centuries and became widely venerated across Europe. He is the patron saint of Dubrovnik, Croatia, where the cathedral named for his is much visited. He is the saint whose intercession is called upon by those wishing not to have diseases of the throat. In Catholic churches everywhere, a blessing of the throat with two candles is given on this date. This is a blessing I always try to get, because I want to continue talking and swallowing.
Annals Of Food Writing
On this date in 1946, Holiday magazine, a large-format, slick, beautiful travel publication, published its first issue. There was nothing comparable at the time, and it dominated the field for years. One of its most influential features was the Holiday Restaurant Awards, given annually and proudly displayed by restaurants that received them. In the 1970s, Holiday was merged into Travel to create a magazine that stopped publishing in 2003.
Music To Eat American Pie By
This is The Day The Music Died, as per the 1972 song American Pie. Early rock 'n' roll stars Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper all died today in 1959 on their way to a concert when their plane went down in Iowa.
Annals Of Food Art
Norman Rockwell was born today in 1894. He was most famous for his Americana-drenched covers for The Saturday Evening Post, but those paintings were so evocative of American culture that they've lived on long beyond the magazine. Rockwell's depiction of Thanksgiving dinner, "Freedom From Want," created the ideal for all Thanksgiving dinners, one that is still revered even by people who haven't seen the painting. (You can find it in
Football player Eric Curry was born today in 1971. . . Actress Joan Rice made her entrance today in 1930. . . Joanna de Bourbon, the queen consort to Charles V of France, was born today in 1338.
Words To Eat By
"Vegetables are a must on a diet. I suggest carrot cake, zucchini bread, and pumpkin pie."--Garfield the cartoon cat, by Jim Davis.
Many Restaurants Closed Bacchus Sunday; Many Inaccessible
Valentine's Day Dining
Will Not Be Easy This Year
Valentine's Day is considered by many lovers to be essential to their relationship. This may cause a good deal of stress this year. Only Mardi Gras itself (and the Super Bowl) makes so many restaurants shut down. so difficult is it to get around th emain restaurant areas.
That's one of many issues covered in our Special Report on Valentine's Dining. In it, however, is a list of fifteen roamntic, delicious restaurants that will be open, and won't be on the parade route.
The full report is here. I'm updating it as I learn more about who will be open and what they're doing.
Tuesday, January 26. Another Look At Atchafalaya. The Times-Picayune finally got around to publishing an obituary for Richard Collin, who died a week ago. For a decade in the 1970s Collin wrote the newspaper's first and standard-setting restaurant review column. I was starting to wonder if maybe he hadn't died after all, and that the information on which I based the obit I wrote about him last Tuesday was bogus.
The TP article had the one bit of information that I had been unable to discover: he was seventy-eight. I knew it was something like that, but I couldn't nail it down. Collin is not survived by any close relatives living in this country, which may explain the paucity of information. The memorial service will be in New Orleans and private. It would have been interesting to see who'd show up for that among the restaurant community.
I returned for another dinner at Atchafalaya, which was so impressive a couple of weeks ago. Tonight they had a full house again. That's terrific for a Tuesday, especially in competition with Who Dat Fever. I had the choice of waiting in the bar for a table or actually eating in the bar. Neither was a bad prospect: I'd have another of the cocktail creations from Matt Palumbo, their adept bartender. His first offer was what he said was a variation on a Negroni, using a different liqueur than the standard Campari (less bitter, he said) and Champagne instead of club soda. That was good enough to get me through the first two courses.
The downside of eating in the bar--not just here, but almost everywhere--is that bars are usually furnished with high tables and high chairs. Those put the seated at the same eye level as the standees--a good dynamic in the cocktail-party setting that bars encourage. But I find them very uncomfortable for long sitting. Well, it was my decision, so I have nobody else to blame.
Last time I was here I had half an entree for an appetizer. I wanted to do that here, but the quail main course has only one overstuffed quail. I asked them to just leave off the sides and charge me whatever they wanted. The bird was stuffed with boudin from Creole Country, the good sausage makers in Mid-City. And wrapped with what I've heard called "a jockstrap of bacon." They set it on some greens. Just right. Spicy, crisp skin here and there, that bacon flavor coming in for brief cameos, the rice of the boudin acting as a dressing. Good dish.
I ordered the soup of the day, a fresh vegetable potage, which seemed right for the cold weather. Tony Tocco, one of the owners, came out with a fried green tomato topped with crabmeat and a bold, orange-brown remoulade sauce over the top. And an apology: the soup had run out, so try this instead. Fair enough: I'd been looking at this appetizer replacement anyway.
By that time I was into the second cocktail, made with rye whiskey and something sour and something mellow in a sweet way. (If I could find my cellphone, onto which I typed my notes on this, I'd have a better description.) This was not only a good drink but a very generous one, sharp on the palate and appetizing. But a glass of red wine with a moderate body would have to come for a meaty entree. (Its name is also in my cellphone.)
The main course was something new to me, sort of. I've had veal loin chops, and I've had porterhouse steaks. This veal porterhouse was somewhere in between those two. The veal must have ranged free--it was quite red. It had the conformation of a porterhouse, but in about two-third the size of the full-grown steaks at the Crescent City. It was held by some asparagus spears above a reduced veal stock. In the rear was a pile of brabant potatoes, rapidly losing any semblance of crispness in their veal semi-demi bath. A big plate of food, this, but I took pretty good care of it. If Mary Ann had been there, the dog Suzie would have had a nice bone tonight. I never remember.
Chef Mark Springfloat had time to come out and shoot the breeze. He played down the veal porterhouse. "It's just classic," he said. "Grilled meat with the bone in, good natural sauce, potatoes." Mark made the transition from the previous ownership when Tocco and his partner Rachael Jaffe bought Atchafalaya a year ago. Good name, Springfloat.
I could not even think of dessert, and it was getting late. Made it home at eleven fifteen. I need to move the radio show an hour earlier so I can get home sooner.
Atchafalaya. Uptown: 901 Louisiana Ave. 504-891-9626. Contemporary Creole.
Mid-City: 3700 Orleans Ave.. 504-302-1220.
Marrero: 1995 Barataria Blvd., 504-393-1107.
Algiers: 5145 Gen. de Gaulle Dr., 504-393-1107.
Lunch and dinner continuously seven days. Sunday brunch.
AE DC DS MC V
WHY IT'S NOTEWORTHY
This locally-owned chain of three pizza-and-pasta cafes has one thing going for it: when it needs bread for anything, it bakes it. Near as I can tell, they use the same dough for everything, but fresh-baked bread is better than any other kind. This enhances all the pasta entrees, because they come with a small, sauceless cheese pizza right out of the oven. It's everything in the pizza entrees, of course. And they even turn the bread into a few appetizers.
WHY IT'S GOOD
The good hot bread and pizza was not quite enough to distract from the fact that the pasta and other entrees I've tried were not especially good. The pasta itself seems either of mediocre quality, or cooked too long or too little--but the texture and sauce-collecting abilities of the stuff is sub-optimal. Neither the red and the white sauces are enough to keep it all together. Everything is servied in titanic portions at small prices, which shuts a lot of people up.
Rusty Autry opened the first Olive Branch on the West Bank in 1997, adding a second location on that side of the river a few years later. After Katrina, he took over the former Sun Ray Grill in the American Can apartment building.
The American Can location is very cool, with the big spaces for which old warehouses are celebrated. The West Bank restaurants are more utilitarian, especially the one in Algiers. Service at all of the Olive Branch's branches is something less than immediately attentive, but the attitude is good once they get around to you.
Spaghetti and meatballs.
Chicken parmesan or Alfredo.
Beef or spinach lasagna.
FOR BEST RESULTS
One word: pizza.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
The salads would be much better if they'd toss them with the dressings. And the pasta would be better if they'd toss them with the sauces. I never thought plopping chicken parmesan atop a pile of pasta was a good idea. It ought to be on the side, but the pasta-fill plates leave no openings.
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 +1*
- Consistency +1
- Service -1
- Value +1
- Attitude +1
- Wine and Bar
- Hipness +1*
- Local Color +1*
*Mid-City branch only.
- Good for business meetings
- Medium private room
- Open Sunday lunch and dinner
- Open Monday lunch and dinner
- Open all afternoon
- Unusually large servings
- Quick, good meal
- Good for children
- Easy, nearby parking
Why Are Most Of Them Mediocre?
What Is A Chain Restaurant?
In general, I don't like chain restaurants. Because there are a few decent ones, and because a lot of people do like them, I get more than a little flak about this stance. It is currently welling up on the
A chain restaurant in my way of thinking (your mileage may vary, but please take that into account before disagreeing with my conclusions) is defined by as the food-and-service concept, not the owner. That's because I review food and wine and service and the other pleasures I pay for--not the business model.
I say a chain eatery is one whose menu and service style are determined by a central corporate office which puts the same menu and style in all the other restaurants of the same concept. In such places, the chef is not free to add new permanent items to the menu, is required to have certain dishes and to buy his food from particular sources. The actual cooking is controlled by formulas that must be followed exactly. In many chains, this comes down to having all the seasonings in pre-measured packets: the cook just opens the packets and dumps it in. Many dishes in chain restaurants--including some of the most expensive ones--arrive at the restaurant completely finished, needing only to be warmed up. The kitchen has a little leeway to address customer requests, but can't really change a dish much.
The goal in all this is to have a tightly-controlled kitchen operation that makes the most efficient use of the least expensive ingredients that meet the chain's standards. It also allows the chain to hire cooks with minimal training, skills, and salaries. Sometimes they get lucky and have really talented chefs in their kitchens, but those chefs can't do anything, so they may as well be routine line cooks. While this may seem to promise consistency, in fact it has the opposite effect, because the typical chain restaurant cook isn't that good.
Meanwhile, in the dining room, it's typical for servers to be required to say certain things to every customer. Go to the Bonefish and see if one of the first things the server says--before even passing out the menus--isn't "How about an appetizer for the table? Some bang bang shrimp, maybe?" They're told to say that.
None of this guarantees that the chain's "stores" (as they call them) will be terrible, either. There's such a thing as a good chain restaurant. On the other hand, I've never been to a great chain "store."
On the other side you have restaurant groups owned centrally--Emeril's, John Besh's, and the Brennans' restaurants, and the like. In those, each of the restaurants has a completely different menu. Each has a real chef, who hires other real chefs. Instead of being prohibited from developing new dishes on their own, the chefs in such restaurants are encouraged to do so. They are allowed to go to the farmer's markets or call around to fish purveyors to find unusual ingredients to play with. There are not likely to be any finished dishes from a commissary on the menu. Most of the Brennan restaurants serve turtle soup made by the recipe that Commander's made famous, but they all cook them in their own kitchens, every day.
I think it's pretty obvious that a restaurant group will produce incomparably better results than a restaurant chain. If you have a counter-example, please share it on the
A couple of years ago we threw a party, and halfway into the preparations my wife insisted that we have some sort of dip with which to welcome our guests. All I had to make one out of was broccoli; I had my heart set on spinach. Oh, well. Anyway, I went ahead and made this, without high hopes. I was astonished that it went over big. We've made it ever since.
- 4 heads broccoli, large stems removed
- 1/2 large white onion
- 3 cloves garlic
- Juice of 1/2 lemon
- 1 Tbs. Cavender's Greek seasoning (salt-free kind)
- 8 oz. cream cheese
- 8 oz. sour cream
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. dried dill
- 1/4 tsp. Tabasco jalapeno sauce
- 1/2 tsp. celery seed
1. Steam or oil the broccoli until tender. Remove to a bowl of ice water to cool. Drain, then chop fine in a food processor. Remove to a bowl.
2. In the food processor, puree the onion and garlic with a tablespoon of the lemon juice. Add to broccoli, along with the remaining lemon juice and all other ingredients and blend well with a whisk. Taste and add salt, pepper, and hot sauce to your taste.
3. Place about a cup of dip in a serving dish. Heat in a microwave oven on 50 percent power for two minutes, stirring halfway through. Don't try to heat a large quantity at one time. Alternatively, the dip can be placed in a chafing dish held over hot water at the table. Serve with crackers, tortilla chips, or vegetable crudites.