Monday, February 22, 2010
1069 Restaurants Open Around New O. The whole list.
La Thai's Deal For Uniformed Customers. Popcorn. K-Doe. Margaritas. Ceviche. Fish, GA. Mama. Woolworth's. Madeira And The Founders.
Eating Around New Orleans Today
Starting today, if you're a fireman, policeman, or a member of the military, you will get fifteen percent off your check at La Thai Cuisine. That's the Semiesuke family's flagship restaurant on the corner of Prytania and Robert, as well as a candidate for the honor of best Thai restaurant in the city. The Semiesukes opened the city's first Thai restaurant in the late 1980s, and have had many since--notably the Bangkok Cuisine. The price break for our first responders and fighting men and women will run for three months at least, and covers lunch or dinner--everything but the bar tab.
La Thai Cuisine. Uptown: 4938 Prytania, 504-899-8886.
Annals Of Snacking
A long-running but probably apocryphal story has it that this was the day, in 1630, when the Native Americans introduced British settlers to popcorn. They popped a bunch of it, then sat down at watched The Birth Of A Nation. No. There was nothing new about popcorn. It had been grown and popped for many centuries.
Music To Eat Gumbo By
Ernie K-Doe (real name Kador) was born today in 1936. His famous song was Mother-In-Law, but he played all kinds of New Orleans music for decades. The cooking of this mother-in-law is not mentioned, but it's a long-running topic of controversy. K-Doe died in 2001.
This is National Margarita Day. The essential ingredients are tequila, lime juice, a splash of triple-sec, Cointreau, or some other orange-flavored liqueur, and ice. The rim of the glass is coated with salt, but Lu Brow at the Swizzle Stick Lounge came up with an improvement: only dip half the rim of the glass in the salt. That way you can take it or leave it.
And this is a perfect coincidence: today is also Pan-American Ceviche Day. Ceviche is a cold appetizer of fish (or sometimes shellfish) marinated in lemon or lime juice, with a little salt and sometimes chile peppers and other savory, crisp vegetables. The fish starts out raw, but the acidity of the citrus juice changes the proteins in the fish such that it comes out with the texture and flavor of cooked fish--even though it's still raw. Ceviche was created during the Spanish colonial days in Peru. From there it spread to almost all Latin American countries, each of which added its own flavors and ingredients. So many variations on ceviche can be made that restaurants (notably RioMar) sometimes serve several kind of ceviche, with different seafoods and marinades. It's a delicious appetizer, the lightness and the acidic marinade giving a lift to the palate as the flavors satisfy at the same time.
Annals Of The Lunch Counter
Frank W. Woolworth opened his first store in Utica, New York today in 1879. Woolworth's would become the first chain store. It was treated by locals as part of the fabric of New Orleans. We once had at least half-dozen Woolworth's stores around town. A shopping trip to Canal Street would not have been complete without a stop in one of the two big Woolworth's for a grilled cheese sandwich, crinkle-cut fries, and a cherry Coke.
Today would have been the ninety-eighth birthday of Aline Gremillion Fitzmorris, my mother and the person to whom I owe much of my enthusiasm for Creole food. She was born in rural Avoyelles Parish, near Cottonport. Her enormous family (she was the fourth-youngest of twelve) moved to New Orleans in 1918, which caused her to object when I once referred to her as a lifelong Orleanian. She grew up in the French Quarter, and was valedictorian of St. Louis Cathedral School (that's her graduation picture at left). Everybody who knew her remembers the goodness of her cooking. I still think of her versions of chicken gumbo and seafood gumbo, red beans and rice, bread pudding, lost bread, and baked chicken as definitive. My favorite description of her talents came from one of her brothers: “Aline can make a meal from nothing.”
It's the birthday (1732) of George Washington. The father of our country had, among many other distinctions, a strong interest in good food and wine. (That was common among many of the Founding Fathers.) His favorite wine was Malmsey Madeira, a sweet, fortified, oxidized wine that's sort of a cross between sherry and tawny port.
Kate Sage, Australian Olympic hockey player, was born today in 1973. . . Samuel Whitbread, who founded the British ale brewery named for him, was born today in 1937. . . Actor Dwight Frye was born today in 1899. . . Isaac L. Rice, a New York businessman and philanthropist, was born today in 1850. . . Robert Weiner Jr., professional polo player, was born today in 1982. . . Bill Baker, an early pro basketball player, was slam-dunked today in 1911.
Words To Eat By
"Shellfish are the prime cause of the decline of morals and the adaptation of an extravagant lifestyle. Indeed of the whole realm of nature the sea is in many ways the most harmful to the stomach, with its great variety of dishes and tasty fish."--Pliny the Elder.
Words To Drink By
"And the sooner the tea's out of the way, the sooner we can get out the gin, eh?"--Henry Reed, English writer, who was born today in 1914.
Yucatan Cruise Journal, Aboard The NCL Spirit
Friday, February 12. Cozumel. Chicken Mole. At no point during or after the mugging yesterday did I feel fear. That was strange, because I have a well-developed set of fear receptors and worry warts. I thought it would hit me at about four in the morning, but I just went right back to sleep.
Breakfast was eggs benedict with crab cakes shoved between the eggs and the ham, with dill hollandaise over all. This was extraordinarily delicious. Adding to the joy of this breakfast was the server, who let me get away with cappuccino on the house.
I had more cappuccino in The Café, the ship's specialty coffeeshop in the atrium. They do a terrible job of making espresso variations, but I've spent large chunks of my morning there because it's an internet hot spot--one of the few on the ship. It's more comfortable to work in my stateroom, where there are truly no distractions. But sooner or later one needs a window.
I disembarked at around noon. Our ship is docked at the pier closest to downtown--a good thing if the plan is to walk around town. The other dock requires a cab ride in, although the snorkeling spots are closer. Cozumel is, I'm told, the best easily-accessible snorkeling place in the world. On our first trip here we did a bit of that and found it so.
Cozumel needs two cruise-ship piers because it's the second-busiest cruise port in the Caribbean, after Miami. Both piers have a feature I've never seen elsewhere. To get onto the street, you must first pass through a tourist mall. Not the shed full of crafts we saw in Guatemala or the hundred feet of shops in Belize City, but an enormous mall with no fewer than three dozen stores on two levels. You're forced upstairs on an escalator. Then you must walk across the main street on a bridge, and keep going for about a block beyond. At that point, you take a U-turn (or not--the shops keep on going) and cover another block of Diamonds International and electronic stores before you can finally descend to street level and freedom. Even there, the traffic pattern forces you past the craziness of Carlos and Charlie's and Señor Frog's. Those are wild chain restaurants where the drinks are absurdly large, people dance with the waiters in conga lines, and listen to really loud and not very Mexican music. I always peek inside, and never see anyone eating.
The moment I was finally past all this, I encountered Captain Peterson, the ninety-three-year-old pilot traveling with us. "I was on the way to your lunch place!" he said. We went together. He's been to Cozumel several times before, and had the same impression of the town that I did: it looks better, cleaner, and more prosperous with every visit. It's Mexican tourism all the way, of course. The shops were either selling fake Cuban cigars, Rolexes, and Louis Vuitton leather, or they were selling the genuine articles. (The prices were the immediate giveaway.)
Something was wrong, though. On the last trip, an immense Mexican flag flapped on a tall pole on the beach, directly opposite the main plaza. The restaurant where we'd meet for lunch is on the plaza, and I told everybody to just look for the flag. The one that wasn't there today. I hoped they'd notice the pole.
As it turned out, almost all the Eat Clubbers were on tours to Tulum and Chichen Itza. It was only the captain, the Richardsons, and me at Casa Denis, the oldest restaurant in Cozumel. The place dates to 1945, when it probably was the only restaurant in the neighborhood. Now it has many competitors, each of which sends its emissaries out to greet you as you walk by with their menus in hand.
We sat at the same table on the plaza we did last year, and were served by the same waiter. I didn't remember the guitarists, but I liked their music anyway. The same very spicy, chunky, predominantly green salsa was there with the chips. I recalled the sausage that Clark, the Gourmet Truck Driver ordered last time and got a plate of that for an appetizer. It was crunchy at the skin and so red on the inside that I was sure it would be peppery--but it was only mildly so. We spread that around the table, in advance of an assortment of tacos and unfried chimichangas.
I remembered my second choice from last year and got it this time. Chicken con mole poblano is a dish from far-away Pueblo. My default preference for dishes of the regions where I find myself made me get the distinctly Yucatan dish pollo pibil last time. Now, at last, the non-sweet chocolate-and-sesame-flavored mole, flowing all around the plate with the color and texture of a chocolate malt. It was unbelievably good. I figured it might be. Of all the dishes we ordered, this was the only one that made the waiter exclaim with approval.
After lunch, the captain and I headed back through the town. At some point he split away to look at something or other, and I continued on. It began raining. I had a plastic bag in my back pocket to protect my camera--but no camera. (The mugger yesterday got it.) I was almost back to the shelter of the mall, and by the time I made my way through that labyrinth, the rain had faded, and I hustled down the long pier back to the ship, getting only a little damp.
At this evening's meeting of the Martini Club, I did not have to buy my own drinks, or those of anyone else. It's about damn time. Then the four of us (the crowds always dwindle towards the end of a cruise) went to dinner in the main Windows dining room again. I began with a mushroom risotto and ended with a pair of lamb chops. They were not as good as the one on the left side of the plate when I had them a few days ago in Cagney's, but they were better then the one on the right side of that plate. Which pair was better, then? I will think about this if I awaken in the middle of the night.
Karaoke has moved from the windy deck to the British-style Henry's Pub. I was happy to find the great song list from the first night. And a pub full of good singers. One young guy with a terrific high range sang current songs I never heard of, but he also knew some from my day. I was amazed by his performance of Jefferson Airplane's White Rabbit. How did he know that one? I was the next singer up, and I told this twenty-something-year-old fellow that the song he'd just finished played at my junior high school prom.
A young woman was also very listenable. I asked her if she'd join me on a duet on Unforgettable. Every karaoke operation has the Natalie/Nat Cole version of this. We did it very well, I thought.
I went to bed around midnight, by which time the highest swells on this cruise--and perhaps on any cruise of mine--were crossing the ship at a forty-five-degree angle. The winds were blowing at nearly fifty miles per hour. In a cabin as low and far forward as mine is, all this motion is exaggerated. Also catching my attention as I tried to fall asleep were the booms whenever the bow of the ship slammed back down into the water after lifting out of it in the trough of a swell. I'm glad Mary Ann wasn't here to go through this. It would have disturbed her greatly.
WHY IT'S NOTEWORTHY
Chad's is an updated, ambitious neighborhood restaurant that tries to cover too much territory in one menu. The seafood is clearly the best part of the menu, from the simple standards to the more complex daily specials. Reason enough to come here: the revival of the old seafood "boat"--a loaf of toasted, buttered bread filled with fried shrimp and oysters.
WHY IT'S GOOD
The menu is reminiscent of the those in big mid-range restaurant thirty years ago and more. They do everything from poor boy sandwiches and pizza to Italian food, steaks, and even some rather fancy, saucy dishes. The most complicated the dish, the more attention the kitchen seems to pay to it, and the better it is. Everything is prepared to order, if not always delivered as rapidly as you might like.
Chad's opened in 2005, before the hurricane. It honors the memory of Chad Barcia, a De La Salle High School football star who died tragically on the rugby field. The rather nice dining rooms were those of the brilliant French bistro Crozier's, which evolved into the French Table and Mirabelle before giving up the ghost.
The restaurant is in a nondescript strip mall, but the previous restaurants here left behind a pair of presentable, airy dining rooms and an ample bar. The larger front dining room is the more atmospheric. The waiters are not the kids you find in most moderate restaurants, but more experienced people who seem to have done this for awhile. They give better advice about the food than most servers can.
Fried artichoke hearts or eggplant marinara.
Eggplant napoleon with shrimp and pecans.
Crabmeat au gratin.
Fried seafood boat or platter.
Pepper-crusted seared tuna.
Veal or chicken parmesan or piccata.
Filet mignon with crabmeat bordelaise.
Veal parmesan poor boy.
Seafood poor boys.
Strawberry beignets for two.
FOR BEST RESULTS
The Italian food here is just passable. With several excellent Italian restaurants nearby, it's not a good choice. Avoid the tilapia in favor of local fish.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
The menu is unmanageably large. The specials they make with seafood--particularly on the grill--make me think that part of the menu could be enhanced. When you arrive, there's often nobody at the door to greet you.
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
- Value +1
- Attitude +1
- Wine and Bar
- Local Color
- 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
- Reservations honored promptly
This review was updated with new information on 2/22/2010.
A new or updated review of a restaurant specializing in seafood will appear here every day throughout Lent. List of all 320 current restaurant reviews.
Ten Best Seared Tuna Dishes
Slabs of fresh tuna are in almost every restaurant these days, to the point that it's almost become everyday eating. Heck, you can even buy the tuna in the supermarket and do it yourself. These restaurants, however, are pickier than you or I can be in choosing their fish. And they're probably better cooks, too.
1. K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen. French Quarter: 416 Chartres. 504-524-7394. Chef Paul Prudhomme said once that as good as blackened redfish is, he thinks blackened tuna is better. And so it is.
2. Iris. French Quarter: 321 North Peters . 504-299-3944. Chilpotle-rubbed tuna with shaved fennel. This is a spectacular dish, with a combination I've always loved: seafood and anise-flavored ingredients.
3. Gautreau’s. Uptown: 1728 Soniat.. 504-899-7397. Tuna however they're doing it today will almost always involve thick blocks of the fish, seared to crusty and cool within, surrounded by interesting garnishes.
4. Brigtsen’s. Riverbend: 723 Dante. 504-861-7610. Blackened tuna with smoked corn and roasted red pepper sour cream is one version I've liked, but they're always having fun with tuna here.
5. Cafe 615 (Da Wabbit) . Gretna: 615 Kepler. 504-365-1225 . Blackened tuna is one of the best surprises in this excellent neighborhood joint in Gretna.
6. RioMar. Warehouse District: 800 S. Peters. 504-525-3474. Serrano-ham-wrapped seared tuna. What a great idea!
7. Rambla. CBD: 221 Camp. 504-587-7720. Seared tuna with smoked romesco--a sauce made of tomatoes, red peppers, and almonds.
8. Jacques-Imo’s. Riverbend: 8324 Oak. 504-861-0886. Cajun bouillabaisse. With a slab of seared tuna on top. Best dish in the house.
9. Dakota. Covington: 629 N. US 190 . 985-892-3712. Rare-seared ahi tuna salad with wasabi aioli. Light enough to feel good about, big flavor.
10. Ristorante Del Porto. Covington: 205 N. New Hampshire. 985-875-1006. Fennel-scented grilled tuna. Here's that flavor again, from an Italian angle.
If you have additions to or subtractions from the list, I would love to read about them. Post your opinions on our
I can sum up my approach to tuna simply: I treat it as if it were a steak. When I’m finished with it in this recipe, it even looks like a steak. The exterior is crusty and dark brown to black, and the inside is red and juicy. It's almost (but not quite) blackened. Take it off the grill at the first moment you wonder whether it's done. It will be perfect then. The idea side dish for this is--believe it or not--red beans and rice.
- 1/2 stick melted butter
- Juice of 1/2 lemon
- 1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
- 4 tuna steaks, 8-10 oz. each
- 3 Tbs. salt-free Creole seasoning
- 1 1/2 tsp. salt.
- 1/2 tsp. ground anise seed
1. Heat the grill as hot as you can get it. Meanwhile, mix the melted butter, lemon juice, and Worcestershire sauce, and brush the tuna with the mixture.
2. Mix the Creole seasoning, salt, and ground anise. Sprinkle generously all over the tuna on both sides. Use all the seasoning.
3. Grill the tuna for about two minutes per side (for medium rare; one minute for those who like sushi) over the hottest part of the grill. Turn it once with tongs or a metal spatula (no forks, please).