Friday, February 12, 2010
1069 Restaurants Open Around New O. The whole list.
The Pelican Alternative. Galatoire's Carnival Hysteria. Chef Trace. Lentil. Beurre Noir. Butterville. Jell-O. Colorless Red Drink. Abraham Lincoln's Coffee (Or Tea?).
Dining Around New Orleans Today
Today the French Quarter restaurants go completely crazy at lunchtime, when the Carnival festivities kick in. (See below about the gaudiest celebration.) A new entrant to the Friday before Mardi Gras extravagance is the Pelican Club, which is right in the middle of things on Bienville Street at Exchange Alley (across from the Monteleone Hotel's parking garage). They have a special menu from 11:30 a.m. until 3 p.m.. Looking at it I see most of the dishes I would order anyway in Chef Richard Hughes' five-star establishment. The Pelican Club has plenty enough local regulars for this to be quite a party.
Pelican Club. French Quarter: 615 Bienville 504-523-1504. Contemporary Creole.
Four Days Until Mardi Gras
Today at Galatoire's, the contrast between formality and tomfoolery reaches its annual high for the New Orleans restaurant community. At eleven-thirty, the doors open to admit only those who were the high bidders at a charity auction a few weeks ago. They will jam the place instantly, and set about consuming unusual (even for Galatoire's) quantities of cocktails and wine. The noise level will rise to ear-splitting, the waiters will weave through the tables doing their best to deliver the soufflee potatoes, fried eggplant, and Galatoire goutes. A large number of people will be in semi or full costume. It will be dusk by the last member of this this jolly society heads for home. The restaurant will regroup and keep going until normal closing time, when it will retire from the scene until Ash Wednesday.
It is International Lentil Soup Day. Lentils are an ancient part of the human diet, having been cultivated since prehistoric times in the Middle East. They have two things going for them: they're highly nutritious, and they taste great. Lentils are legumes, more closely related to chickpeas and green peas than to red beans, limas, or other New World beans. They come in many colors, from green to red to brown; the latter are most common in our part of the world.
Lentils lend themselves so well to soup that they are found in that role throughout the Mediterranean. I order lentil soup whenever we find it; after hundreds of samples, I can't say I've ever had a bad one. The best come from Italian and Lebanese restaurants. Lentils play a particularly large role in the Indian menu. Not only do they serve them as soups and as beans, but they also mill them into a flour that's made into poppadums, those big thin wafers you get at the beginning of an Indian dinner.
The unique shape of the lentil gave rise to the word "lens," with which it shares a shape. (I know that sounds unlikely, but it's true.)
The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:
When the cook in the house
Prepares lentils and fish
The reviews from the spouse
Today is the birthday, in 1791, of Peter Cooper, a man active in everything from industry to politics to education. He built the first steam locomotive in the United States, the Tom Thumb. We remember him as having patented a gelatin dessert in 1845. After the patent expired, the concept evolved into Jell-O.
Food In Science
Today in 1976, FD&C Red Dye #2 was banned from use in food in the United States, after Russian scientists found it caused cancer in lab rats. As a result, we had no red M&Ms for many years. At the local level, Barq's Red Cream Soda became colorless for a time. There was no change in the flavor, but everybody said it did taste different. That dye was replaced by others that didn't cause problems.
Actor Joe Don Baker was born today in 1936. . . Sir Anthony Berry, British politician, was born today in 1925. . . Pro baseballer Chet Lemon stepped up to the Big Plate today in 1955. . . Former governor of Indiana Conrad Baker was inaugurated into life today in 1817.
Words To Eat By
"Kissing don't last: cookery do!"--George Meredith, British writer, born today in 1809.
Words To Drink By
"An American monkey after getting drunk on brandy would never touch it again, and thus is much wiser than most men."--Charles Darwin, born today in 1809.
"If this is coffee, please bring me some tea; if this is tea, please bring me some coffee."--Abraham Lincoln, born today in 1809.
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 the main 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 romantic, 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.
Saturday, February 6. Fifty-Nine. La Provence. I could easily have let this birthday slip by uncelebrated. Nothing about the number fifty-nine engenders importance. It's not a multiple of anything. It begins my sixtieth year, but that note really belongs to this time next year. And on top of that any thoughts I may have had about the day were eclipsed by my usual panic about getting ready for the cruise that leaves tomorrow.
Mary Ann believes all birthdays (especially her own) are major occasions. We had to do something. She knows that a proper celebration for me would be dinner in a restaurant I love. That would be, among all the typical attributes of a great place to eat, one where the Marys would also be happy. I learned that lesson at Milestone Fifty, when Mary Ann and the kids swore that they would let me have the grand feast I wanted at Arnaud's. They started whining after the second of the eight courses. I chose to just keep enjoying myself, but they were just as determined to make things miserable. You can't win that game.
The ruling factor today would be what Mary Leigh will allow. She spent the night across the lake last night, and with her still over there the possibility of having dinner in the population center came up. But she ran out of things to do, and out of clothes. So the North Shore it was.
I advanced La Provence as a possibility. We talked ML into it--they do have a filet mignon, after all. The final hurdle was jumped when Just Joyce--the maitre d', bartender, poet laureate and mother hen of La Provence--answered the phone when I called for a reservation. She said they were booked up except for someone like me on my birthday.
It was a cold night. La Provence has one door separating outside from inside, although the vestibule helps block wintry blasts. Our table was right in front of the fireplace, though, so only wisps of chill made it to our abode. All very comfy.
I started with gnocchi with wild mushrooms and guanciale (smoked hog's jowls, indistinguishable from bacon). Ideal for a winter night. Mary Ann tried the soupe de pistou, a standard offering on the rustic table d'hote menu here. It's a vegetable soup with pork belly and a floater of French pesto. She loved it.
Mary Leigh saw that La Provence has grilled oysters. They are very good. But all she wants out of grilled oysters is the garlic butter. I told her that the thing to get was the escargots, hold the slugs. The chef passed by at that moment, and we asked him if such a thing could be arranged. Of course it could, he said. So out came a crock of hot garlic and herb butter, which my daughter enjoyed with the restaurant's homemade bread.
The most intriguing main course was a one-night-only dish involving rabbit, long a house specialty. Here we had rabbit loin rolled up to look like sausages, with a stuffing of rabbit confit, bread crumbs, and herbs. It was surrounded by winter root vegetable and wet down with rabbit demi, with a nest of caramelized greens atop it all. This was all in complete harmony with the season, the theme of the restaurant, the setting, my tastes, and everything else.
Mary Ann found trout with crabmeat and shrimp on the menu. That's a combination she can't seem to resist. It was unusual in being rolled--a presentation we don't often see these days. I have an aversion to rolled fish born of my never having had a good version of it in my life. I can't explain why serving it that way instead of flat on the plate should make such a difference, but it always has to me. She said it was terrific, though.
Mary Leigh may have had the most conventional dish of the night, but it was surely the most beautiful. Whether this was intended or not, the filet came out in the shape of a heart. A perfect cylinder of gratin dauphinoise potatoes came with it, along with a bunch of beautiful mushrooms she didn't touch.
Joyce wrote not one but two poems for the occasion. She came by with a little cake and a burning candle for me to blow out. My wish was that all three of the ladies at my table would remain parts of my life until my birthday falls on Mardi Gras in 2035.
We had other desserts. Mary Leigh saw a molten chocolate cake with ice cream, and could not resist. Joyce strongly urged me to try the beignets with praline ice cream. The doughnuts came out in a little wicker basket, too many to finish, hot and light. The check was $225, underpayment for the pleasures of this night.
The fire kept blazing. Everyone was nice to me. We discussed whether the call from Jude I received in the afternoon had been instigated by a call to him from Mary Ann, reminding him that it's my day. Nobody believed me when I said that if he hadn't called--if he'd forgotten it was my birthday--I would also have forgotten to expect the call from him. We're guys, and we understand such things.
La Provence. Lacombe: 25020 US 190 985-626-7662. Mediterranean French.
WHY IT'S NOTEWORTHY
As we continue to say farewell to steak on the advent of Mardi Gras, we also note that the Steak Knife is a good best for Valentine's Day this Sunday. It will be open, is away from the parade routes, has great food and service, and qualifies as a romantic venue.
The Steak Knife is the longest-running player in the main Lakeview restaurant row on Harrison Avenue--one that delighted the neighbors by coming back strong after eight feet of flood water. With an obvious (but not exclusive) specialty, it's the social center of Lakeview. The menu can't be called especially original, nor is the food the best of its kind, but it is very good and consistent.
WHY IT'S GOOD
The menu begins with an unusually strong collection of appetizers, notably escargots with mushrooms, crab au gratin, and a funny but good original called tidbit in the oven (it's almost all cheese--better than it sounds). It goes on to a line of well-prepared steaks and chops of fine pedigree, served with more excitement now than I remember from many meal in the past. But they cook the non-beef dishes, of which there are many, every bit as well as they do the steaks.The easygoing manner of the place makes it one of the most comfortable restaurants around. places to dine in town.
After running a Lakeview bar for years, Bob Roth opened the Steak Knife in partnership with Ernie Masson (of the memorable, now-extinct Masson's) in 1972. Both men passed in the 1990s; the restaurant has been managed by Bobby and Guy Roth for over 20 years. It moved from its original location across the street to a former bank lobby in the 1990s. Like everything else in Lakeview, the Steak Knife had deep Katrina flooding, and took a long time to return. Its first post-storm opening was near the marina. It moved back into its pre-storm quarters early in 2009.
Marble floors, rich wood paneling, and heavy columns--all inherited from the bank that used to be here--dominate the main dining room. Smaller rooms surround it. The building is big enough for a substantial lounge, one of the more pleasant hangouts in Lakeview. There’s even live music some evenings. The service staff is welcoming and eager to serve, but always seems one or two people short. (What else is new?)
Crabmeat au gratin (appetizer or entree).
Tidbit in the oven (a sauceless, crustless, herbal pizza).
Escargots bordelaise in mushroom caps.
Fried oysters remoulade.
Crabmeat vinaigrette salad.
Seraphine salad (avocado, asparagus, hearts of palm, artichokes and greens).
Wedge salad with blue cheese.
Redfish Robert (with crabmeat and mushrooms).
Veal with lump crabmeat and hollandaise.
Roasted chicken with rosemary and mushrooms.
FOR BEST RESULTS
It's usually a bad idea to eat seafood in a steakhouse, but not here. Don't hesitate to order the fish or anything else. You usually don't need a reservation, but it's a good idea. The place can pack without warning.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
The tabletop furnishings seem a bit low-rent for as good a restaurant as this is. Sometimes the noise in the bar intrudes into the dining room.
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
- Attitude +1
- Wine and Bar +1
- Local Color +1
- Live music some nights
- Good for business meetings
- Many private rooms
- Good for children
- Easy, nearby parking
- Reservations accepted
ANECDOTES AND ANALYSIS
The return of the Steak Knife to Lakeview earlier this year made a lot of people happy. It was the last and biggest missing piece in the devastated Harrison Avenue restaurant community. Even though it resumed operations about two years ago in West End, all was not right with the world until it returned to its accustomed corner, and started making drinks and grilling steaks again.
New Orleans has more steakhouses than it really needs. This one stands out in a number of unconventional ways. The most important of them is the community of hangers-out that it supports. While only its most devoted regulars would claim that the Steak Knife served the best steaks in the city, the quality is beyond reproach. And everything else they do is good enough to make the place float into one's consciousness when in Lakeview at dinner time.
One of the inexplicable miracles of cooking is that it's apparently impossible to make a bad lentil soup. The worst I ever had was pretty good. The best were so good that they were gobbled up immediately and followed by a second serving. Leftover lentil soup can be refrigerated and will be even better the next day. Lentil trivia: these little beans are among the few Old World beans that are still widely eaten. (Chickpeas are another.) They're not closely related to red beans or the other common beans.
- 1 lb. lentils
- 3 Tbs. butter
- 1 1/2 cups chopped onion
- 3/4 cup chopped celery
- 3/4 cup finely diced carrots
- 1 clove chopped garlic
- 1 12-oz. can V-8 juice
- 2 quarts light stock (beef, veal, chicken, or a combination)
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1/2 tsp. thyme
- 1/2 tsp. black pepper
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tsp. Tabasco
1. Sort through the lentils and pick out debris, then wash them. Lentils don't need to be soaked for hours like red beans.
2. Melt the butter in a five-quart saucepan or Dutch oven. Sauté the vegetables until they begin to get tender. Add the V-8 juice, the stock, and the lentils and bring the pot to a boil.
3. Lower to a simmer. Add the salt, thyme, pepper, bay leaf, and Tabasco. Cover and simmer for two to three hours, or at least until the lentils are tender. Stir occasionally.