Thursday, February 25, 2010
1069 Restaurants Open Around New O. The whole list.
Bourbon Mixing Course. Ashes. Caruso. Namesake Dishes. Insanity. Celery. Celery Creek. Celeriac. Potato Collection.
Eating Around New Orleans Today
The Windsor Court Grill Room will have a pleasant course tonight. Those who sign up and show up at 5:30 this evening will take part in a free mixology class led by the hotel's head bartender, Roger Blais. It's the first in a series. This one will focus on Bourbon, a spirit whose dimensions have widened enormously in the past decade. Best of all, you will taste some excellent bourbons: Hudson Manhattan Rye, Black Maple Hill, 1972 Ridgemont Reserve and Booker’s. And it takes place early enough that you might want to stay for dinner. Be sure to call as soon as you read this if you want to attend, because the spaces are limited.
Windsor Court Grill Room. CBD: 300 Gravier 504-522-1994. American.
Gourmets Through History
Today was the birthday, in 1873, of Enrico Caruso. In Italian restaurants across America, dishes are named after the famous operatic tenor, but they differ from place to place. I don't know of a classic dish bearing his name. Caruso was such a hearty eater that it seems there ought to be such a dish. Searches through cookbooks turn up a wide range of namesake Caruso dishes with sauces including everything from cream to prosciutto to spinach. Chef Andrea has a pasta Caruso with eggplant.
Annals Of Bad Cooking
Today in 1859, the insanity defense was first used to establish the innocence of a defendant. Little did the lawyer involved guess that the innovation would appear in a dining venue. Some years ago, I complained about a dish in a little French Quarter restaurant, now long gone. It paired flounder and pralines. When the waiter returned to the table after passing my comment along to the chef, he said, "We'll take it off the check. The chef pleads insanity." I never ran into that chef again.
Today is National Celery Day. For most people, celery is strictly a background performer in cooking. It's one third of the holy trinity of Creole cooking. But it doesn't step out into the foreground nearly as onions and bell peppers. It's hard to think of a dish in which celery is the main ingredient, but I will advance two. Braised celery, served as a vegetable side dish, is better than you might imagine. And celery cream soup is delicious.
In its usual role as a part of the flavor team, however, celery is indispensable. Imagine a bloody mary, tuna salad, stocks, or vegetable soup without it. Its flavor is subtle but distinctive, containing a slight acidity and an aromatic flavor reminiscent of anise. In some uses, celery's flavor improves a dish dramatically. Triple the amount of celery in your recipe for red beans, and it becomes much more delicious than you might imagine.
Celery has been used for food and cooking in Europe since ancient times. It developed from wild plants that still grown around the Mediterranean. We almost don't have to say that celery's good for you. Its natural diuretic properties can actually bring blood pressure down. Eating it fills you up while adding very few calories to your intake.
I also see that it's National Chocolate Covered Peanuts Day. I believe we are mainly talking about Goobers here.
Annals Of Food Research
Donald McLean, a Scottish botanist, was born today in 1922. He had a passion for potatoes, and through his lifetime he collected three hundred sixty-seven different kinds of spuds.
Food In Show Biz
Today is the birthday (1913) of actor Jim Backus. He is most famous as Thurston Howell III, the rich guy who was always portrayed with a martini in his hand on Gilligan's Island. His voice was so distinctive that he had a busy voice-over career, too. His most famous voice was that of the visually-impaired cartoon character Mr. Magoo.
Zeppo Marx was born today in 1901. He was in the Marx Brother's early movies, but later he became the business manager for Groucho, Chico, and Harpo for their many food-named movies: Animal Crackers, Duck Soup, and the rest of them.
Actress Diane Baker was born today in 1938. . . The well-named comedian Carrot Top sprouted today in 1965. . . Big league first baseman Danny Cater hit the Big Basepath today in 1940.
Words To Eat By
"The thought of two thousand people crunching celery at the same time horrified me."--George Bernard Shaw, about a vegetarian dinner. Oddly, he was a vegetarian himself.
Words To Drink By
"The soft extractive note of an aged cork being withdrawn has the true sound of a man opening his heart."--William Samuel Benwell.
Wednesday, February 17. Filipino Food At Christina's Empress Of China. Ash Wednesday. Reports on the amount of garbage that was swept up from the streets of New Orleans during and after Mardi Gras have begun to come in. That datum is often used as a measure of the success of the Carnival season. It seems to indicate that we have never had a better one. The hotels are saying the same thing. So are the national media, which note that Miami received only minimum benefit from hosting the Super Bowl this year. But the effect of the game in terms of sheer dollars in New Orleans was huge.
The best part is that everybody is saying that we can now forget about Katrina. Pretend it didn't happen, as a guy I know was saying within weeks after the storm. And move on. Why not? Things are looking better every day around here.
I went into town primarily because I needed to fill out a time sheet for the radio station. As long as I was there, I did a radio show. Then I crossed the river to sample, for the first time in years, Christina's Empress of China. It's always been a better-than-average Chinese restaurant, with a dedicated following. Some of that owes to the style--really, it rises to glamor at times--of Christina Tsang.
The menu took me completely by surprise. It was much shorter than I remember. It was also more interesting. While all the demand items are there (moo goo gai pan, beef with broccoli, General Tso's chicken, sweet and sour everything), I was struck by a few unusual dishes. Some Thai food has worked its way into the menu, for example. And curry--not the Indian or even the Chinese style, but Malaysian.
And pork adobo? That's a dish from the Philippines, one we haven't seen since the old Tahitian Room closed thirty years ago. I ordered it. Big chunks of pork--reminiscent of Cuban carnitas--came out with potatoes and sweet potatoes, in a thick brown sauce made with tomato, vinegar (that's the source of the distinctive flavor), and garlic. This was more than a little good. I had fried rice on the side (I would have asked for steamed white rice, but it didn't come up in the conversation with the server). And, before any of that, a good-sized cup of well-made hot and sour soup. A nice dinner, for around $20.
They locked the door as soon as I exited. Ash Wednesday is not a busy night for restaurants other than seafood houses. And it was cold outside. Cold keeps people at home. Maybe that's why we have so many restaurants.
Christina’s Empress of China. Gretna: 429 Wall Blvd. 504-392-9393. Chinese.
Thursday, February 18. Dining With My Daughter In The Usual Places, Eating The Usual Things. Mary Ann left early this morning for Atlanta. Her niece Jennifer Donner is allegedly having a trying time with her newborn third child. Or is it the first two that are causing the problems? In any case, Mary Ann thought she should pitch in. We owe an eternal debt of gratitude to Jennifer and her husband Bob, who took us in for two weeks after the hurricane. (In fact, she invited us to evacuate there even before the storm.) We'd do anything for the Donners.
I remained in Abita Springs to shovel down the work pile a little. Mary Leigh is off school all this week. Before she left, MA left the string suggestion that ML and I have a nice daddy-daughter dinner--as if we need help with coming up with that idea. Mary Leigh was hungry by noon, though, so we took a lunch break at the Acme Oyster House. Nothing new to report there: grilled oysters, very large. We both had wedge salads, making us responsible for dispatching a half-head of lettuce between us. (I'm tempted to use shorthand whenever this meal comes up in this journal, as it frequently does. How about "Acme Goys12, qtr-hd blu"?)
I was still hoping for a nice dinner with my big little girl, but she has breathtaking control of her eating and said she'd rather stay home. I pushed her a little bit, and she deigned to join me at Zea. This dinner was primarily for commercial reasons. Radio commercial, that is. Zea runs spots on my radio show, and their Lenten seafood menu is so good that I like talking about it in the commercials. They add a few items to it every year, and I wanted to see what they were.
It was with regret that I passed up the Asian sesame oysters, a thrilling dish that only runs on the Lenten menu. But the new Thai mussels needed investigation. A large bowl of black mussels (the good kind, as opposed to the larger but tasteless green-lipped mussels) came out in a sauce of coconut milk, red curry spices, and the juices from the mussels. It was peppery and delicious, both while the mussels were still around and as I spooned up the broth after the bivalves were dispatched.
I counted the shells and found about two dozen mussels. I asked the server, who knew exactly: "Twenty-eight," she said. "They actually count them for every order back there." That's just like a chain restaurant. In this case, it's a great number for eleven dollars.
The entree was grilled black drumfish with an artichoke and oyster sauce. The fish was good, the sauce less so; I think it needs a little more lemon juice or something else sharp.
Meanwhile, Mary Leigh passed on he usual hamburger and had a half-rack of ribs, dry style. She ate half of those. Again, her restraint is amazing. I know she loves good ribs.
Back home, I resumed a desultory online search for a new camera. I checked out Lakeside Camera's website to see if the purchase could be made locally. The store had an eBay auction going on. One of the items was an Olympus camera like the one I bought Mary Leigh for Christmas a year ago. That camera has been pinch-hitting for the Nikon that was robbed from me in Belize. I must say I like it better. The one on eBay--brand-new--was the next model up the ladder, and came with two lenses. The bid was at $300. I looked around and found it selling for about $850 in stores.
I've never bid on eBay before. But this looked too good. I put down a bid for $350 and crossed my fingers.
Zea. Covington: 110 Lake Dr. 985-327-0520. Eclectic.
WHY IT'S NOTEWORTHY
The pedestrian stream along the French Quarter riverfront almost rivals that of Bourbon Street, and I love to see those people . I love to see New Orleans visitors wander in here. The Brewhouse has a jazz band playing nightly right at the front door. At the other end of the bar is a guy shucking oysters. Behind the bar are copper tanks where the place brews its own beers. And the food is credible, with a non-cliche New Orleans flavor.
WHY IT'S GOOD
The beers are good and fresh, even though the variety is neither large (usually just five kinds) nor especially innovative. It goes well with the food, which is more adventuresome than you might expect from such a casual place. They serve many burgers and sandwiches, but the menu is wide-ranging, original, and local. The raw oysters or the sausage plate make a good starting point. The entree department explores many categories, but the most promising is the seafood.
Wolfram Koehler, a German guy descended from several generations of brewmasters, opened the Brewhouse in 1991. An adopted Orleanian who developed a taste for the local color, he fills his big restaurant with New Orleans food, music, and art.
The whole place looks very touristy, with its open front doors and the neon signs in the windows above. But the building is an old one, and although it's very casual it is comfortable enough for an extended lunch or dinner. It's bigger than it looks at first, with tables on two floors. The upper deck as a sort of mezzanine overlooking the ground floor and the big, polished beer tanks.
Deli meat, pate, and cheese board.
German sausage platter.
Baked oysters three ways.
Seafood and andouille gumbo.
Oyster club sandwich.
Corned beef and ham Cuban sandwich.
Grilled tuna or crabcake salad.
Soft shell crab with artichokes and crawfish in vermouth butter.
Redfish St. Louis (with oysters and New Orleans barbecue sauce).
Pepper jelly duck with cornbread dressing.
Barbecue pork ribs.
Weissbeer (white beer--great with desserts).
FOR BEST RESULTS
Get a table near the front of the restaurant so you can listen to the live music, which is always quite good. Get a beer assortment for the table.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
Keeping the front door open in the summer makes the dining areas warmer and more humid than is comfortable.
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 +3
- Live music every night
- Good view
- Many private rooms
- Open Sunday lunch and dinner
- Open Monday lunch and dinner
- Open after 10 p.m. (usually till midnight)
- Open all afternoon
- Oyster bar
- Unusually large servings
- Quick, good meal
- Reservations accepted
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
After Bienville and Rockefeller, this garlic-and-bread-crumby concoction is the most popular in the pantheon of local oyster dishes. The famous dish along these lines is Oysters Mosca, named for the restaurant that made it popular. Every restaurant that's even slightly Italianate makes a version of it, plus plenty of others. My version is a little spicier than most, inspired by the recipe they use at La Cuisine. The ideal side dish with this is spaghetti Bordelaise.
- 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 24 large oysters, partially drained
- 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper
- 2 Tbs. finely chopped garlic
- 1 Tbs. lemon juice
- 2 Tbs. chopped Italian parsley
- 2 cups bread crumbs
- 2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 Tbs. Italian seasoning
1. Pour a little of the olive oil in the bottom of a baking dish of almost any size, from a small au gratin dish to a pie plate. Arrange the oysters with about a half-inch between them in the dish.
2. Sprinkle the oysters with the crushed red pepper, garlic, lemon juice and parsley. Combine the bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, and Italian seasoning. Cover the oysters with the blend.
3. Put the dish into a preheated 400-degree oven, uncovered, for ten to fifteen minutes (depending on the size of the dish) until the sauce is bubbling and the bread crumbs on top brown.