Thursday, March 25, 2010
1075 Restaurants Open Around Town
Oregon Wine Dinner Tonight At Atchafalaya
Atchafalaya--the much-enhanced former neighborhood cafe on Louisiana Avenue at Laurel--is holding a wine dinner tonight featuring wines from two Oregon wineries: Carlton Hill and Cristom. The wines I'm not familiar with (although I've read good things). The food I'm very familiar with, and can tell you that this is a terrific menu. (The shrimp in grits are the best in town). Here's the menu:
Wine: Cristom Estate Pinot Gris 2006
Shrimp and Grits
Wine: Cristom Estate Viognier 2007
Duck Confit Salad
Wine: Carlton Hill Estate Pinot Noir 2007
Veal Tri-Tip Chop
Wine: Carlton Hill Estate Pinot Noir 2006
Wine: Carlton Hill Estate Pinot Noir Reserve 2006
Wine: Louis Pedrier Sparkling Wine
The price of the dinner is $75, although I can't find out whether it includes tax and tip. (If it does, this is an outstanding value.) Reservations, of course, are essential.
Atchafalaya. Uptown: 901 Louisiana Ave. 504-891-9626.
Ten Days Until Easter
Easter, according to some restaurateurs, has now surpassed Mother's Day as the biggest brunch day of the year. I find that hard to believe, but even so, there's no question that it's a much bigger day for dining out than it once was.
I've prepared a page of information about Easter dining. It begins with a list of eighty-five restaurants I know will be open, with my ratings and links to my reviews. Also there are some Easter recipes. (I'm adding more to that collection day by day.)
The Easter Page is here:
It Won't Be In A Garage This Year
Taste Of The Town Is This Friday
The Taste of the Town is in a league with any other grazing event on the increasingly full calendar of such things. And with good reason. Local restaurateurs, who are constantly being asked to serve their food for free in support of charities, organized this one to support some of their own favorite causes. Most of those have to do with increasing the availability of training for those wanting a serious career in the hospitality business--by quite a bit the largest private employer in our area.
This is the ninth annual running of the event, which is planned for the island at Lafreniere Park (which also benefits from the proceeds). It's a lovely spot, verdant and open.
But. . . in the last two years the Taste Of The Town was hamstrung by rainy weather. The backup plan was to hold it in a large parking garage. It sounded like a good idea, but attendees made it clear that they didn't like it. On to Plan C: If it rains this Friday night, Taste Of The Town will just reschedule to that Sunday, still at the park.
The gates open at seven, and music and drinks go on until eleven. The food usual comes down around ten.
As always, the food will come from the best chefs and restaurants in town. Here are the restaurants so far (there may be more):
Acme Oyster House
Black Orchid Bistro
Colonial Country Club
Court of Two Sisters
Crescent City Brewhouse
Dorignac's "Jezz's Kitchen"
Hilton New Orleans Riverside
Mr. B's Bistro
Nirvana Indian Cuisine
Ralph's on the Park
Ruth's Chris Steak House
Serranos Salsa Company
Short Stop Po-Boys
Taj Mahal Indian Cuisine
Vincent's Italian Cuisine
Whole Foods Market
The best part: very few restaurants run out of food. Your appetite will give out before the chefs do. Beyond the food aspect, it's quite a party. Last year 4400 showed up; with the exception of the line for Drago's oysters (which seems to wrap around the place) there's not much crowding. Lots of bars dispensing wine. Pat O'Brien's has its hurricanes and other beverages.
And music, of course, featuring the jazzy sounds of the Bucktown All-Stars.
The tickets are $100 at the door. You can save ten bucks by going to Drago's (either one) to buy tickets in advance. They can also be had from the organization's website.
I'll see you there, I hope. . . please don't be shy about coming over to say hello. Everybody else does, and it keeps me from eating and drinking too much!
Wednesday, March 17. Wearing Of The Green. Drago's. Managed to remember to wear something green today, in honor of St. Patrick. It was one of the ties the Marys bought me this past Christmas. It's a good thing there is a St. Patrick's Day, because otherwise green clothing would never be worn at all.
Today's dinner venue on Jude's required eating list during his current week-long visit home was Drago's. I parked in the marginally legal but little-used parking space a block and a half away. I use it whenever a spot can't be found in the restaurant's small lot. Which is almost always. I walked past Drago himself, seated at his customary end of the bar. He greeted me with an enthusiastic smile and pat on the back. I found the Marys and Hollywood already settled into a corner table, with Klara Cvitanovich (Mrs. Drago) cooing about how big and handsome Jude has grown, but warning that he looked a little thin. Jude explained that this is what everybody looks like in Los Angeles.
The char-broiled oysters began arriving as immediately as they did inevitably. Drago's has reached that sweet spot in which they can have a certain number of oysters grilling away all the time, knowing that an order will come up for them before they get a chance to overcook. That allows them to serve that signature dish very quickly. They came to our table within two minutes after we ordered. And just as quickly scarfed up, with Jude and me eating most of the bivalves while Mary Leigh came behind us with crescents of French bread to get up the excess sauce. Mary Ann, in compliance with her diet, picked one or two small ones.
Another dozen was clearly needed, and came as quickly as the first. Somewhere in the eating of those, it was declared by somebody at our table, seconded by somebody else, and then passed unanimously that these really are the best of their kind. We can say that with some authority, because the four of us eat them wherever we find them. Since almost everyone with the capability for grilling oysters now has copied the dish, that's a lot of competitors. I've learned that when somebody says, "The oysters at [wherever] are better than Drago's," it just means that they're pretty good. Same as the way one must say that a steak is better than Ruth's Chris for the opinion to even register.
The next round of too much food included salads for me and Mary Leigh and gumbo for Jude. Jude is my official Gumbo Editor; he has a passion for the dish. He said this one (the seafood variety; they also make chicken gumbo at Drago's) was in the top ranks.
Mary Ann's entree was an appetizer of fleur-de-lis shrimp, Tommy Cvitanovich's hot new shrimp dish. It's fried shrimp--something that never puts a gleam in my eye. But they're uncoated when they go into the oil, and after they come out they're tossed with a spicy, orange aioli, and then coated with finely-chopped peanuts. It's a terrific dish, and the scattering of Mardi Gras-colored seasonings around the rim makes it look even better.
It occurred to me that the vogue for sprinkling random crumbs and dustings of seasonings around the perimeters of plates may speed up service a bit. Most plates get a drip or two of sauce when the cooks assemble them. This is wiped off in the kitchen most of the time. But if other droppings (that was a poor choice of words; let's change that to "scatterings") are there, you might not nice the stray drops of sauce or chips of crust.
Jude ate panneed chicken with fettuccine Alfredo. For me, grilled tuna with spinach and boiled new potatoes. I don't remember having had this here since the days when the tuna was blackened and the sauce was Rockefeller sauce. That was a great combination; this had almost no excitement at all. The grill wasn't hot enough, and the sauce was too buttery.
Mary Leigh is, like her mom, not usually a dessert eater. But she likes intense chocolate things, and the chocolate brownie sundae here makes that list. It looks like an absurd overkill, the brownie completely hidden by chocolate-sauce-drizzled whipped cream and a ball of ice cream. I took a bite and have to say it's better than most such things. And I don't even like most such things.
Tommy said that plans to open a Drago's in Baton Rouge are, at least for now, derailed. He was negotiating for a location, but it turned out that the mall involved already had a Bonefish Grill, and in the lease Bonefish stipulated that no other restaurant specializing in seafood could be in the same center. So Drago's will keep looking, although it's not an urgent item. Their Hilton Hotel restaurant downtown is still the highest-grossing Hilton restaurant in the world.
Drago’s. Metairie: 3232 N. Arnoult Rd. 504-888-9254. Seafood.
WHY IT'S NOTEWORTHY
Lafitte and the communities around it abound in fishing camps and charter fishing boats. It makes sense that a restaurant should tap into the bounty. This is a good-looking restaurant whose windows gaze into the bayou. The menu ranges from the casual to the more elaborate, with a logical emphasis on seafood.
WHY IT'S GOOD
A good bit upscale from the typical seafood joint, the restaurant provides the basics like boiled shrimp remoulade, gumbo, and seafood platters. But it gets more ambitious, too, with sauces and grilling. Also here: the only Sunday brunch worth talking about on the West Bank.
Restaurant des Familles is named for its location. At one time in the dim past, the Mississippi River came this way, leaving the sluggish Bayou des Familles in its wake. Pat Morrow opened the restaurant in 1993. It was washed out by Hurricane Katrina. They dried out and reopened shortly after--only to be flooded once again a few weeks later by Hurricane Rita. It came back quickly after that, too. In 2009, Morrow sold the restaurant to Bryan Zar, one of her early employees. He began as a teenage busboy with no plans to stay in the business, but it grabbed him.
A large wall of glass that gives onto the lazy old Bayou des Familles--a former route of the Mississippi River--creates most of the atmosphere. Alligators have been known to appear in the winding backwater. The visual is so typical of South Louisiana that you'll make a mental note to bring all your visiting friends here to soak it up.
Popcorn shrimp salad.
Catfish or soft-shell crab Foster (with artichokes and mushrooms).
Redfish Marcelle (fried, with crabmeat and shrimp).
Fried catfish meuniere or amandine.
Fried seafood platter (with gumbo).
Fried oysters, shrimp, or soft shell crabs.
Shrimp Diane (garlic butter, pasta).
Shrimp balls in Creole sauce.
Crab cakes with bearnaise.
Broiled stuffed crab.
Grilled T-bone steak.
Baby back ribs.
Black Forest cheesecake.
FOR BEST RESULTS
If you've never been this way before, check the map. It's not hard to find, but easy to zoom past. The simpler the dish, the better it is likely to be.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
Almost all the fish is farm-raised. Seems that in a place like this they could come up with more wild-caught fish. Too many dishes are deep-fried. Some of the more ambitious entrees are overwhelmed by their sauces.
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
- Service +1
- Value +1
- Attitude +1
- Wine and Bar
- Hipness -1
- Local Color +3
- Live music some nights
- Good view
- Good for business meetings
- Small private room
- Open Sunday lunch and dinner
- Open all afternoon
- Good for children
- Easy, nearby parking
- Reservations recommended
Ten Best Seafood Sandwiches,
Poor Boys, Boats, And Loaves
Although the roast beef poor boy and muffuletta are the king and the queen of the New Orleans sandwich landscape, the seafood sandwich is every bit as indispensable a part of a good sandwich chop's repertoire. Indeed, it also belongs on the menu of any casual seafood house. So a lot of them are being made. So many, in fact, that a top-twenty list would still have great sandwiches at the bottom of the list.
What I look for is the kind of seafood you'd eat on a platter, fried to order, with fresh, toasted bread. And a bottle of hot sauce at hand.
1. Bozo’s. Metairie: 3117 21st Street. 504-831-8666. Everything fried to order.
2. Casamento's. Uptown: 4330 Magazine. 504-895-9761. Famous for oysters, but fries everything well. The "loaf" here involves an unusual kind of bread, cut in thick slabs from a loaf of toasted, buttered white bread.
3. Acme Oyster House. French Quarter: 724 Iberville. 504-522-5973. || Metairie: 3000 Veterans Blvd. 504-309-4056. ||Covington: 1202 US 190 (Causeway Blvd.). 985-246-6155 . Oysters always big and crisp. The oyster loaf here is half again the size of a poor boy, and even if you're not really hungry it demands to be finished.
4. Vera’s. Slidell: 2020 Gause Blvd W. 985-690-9814 . Vera's has the best fried shrimp in the area.
5. Crabby Jack's. Jefferson: 428 Jefferson Hwy.. 504-833-2722. The winner for most overloaded seafood poor boys. Count the pieces. It's insane.
6. Chad's Bistro. Metairie: 3216 W. Esplanade Ave.. 504-838-9935. The last stand for the classic fried seafood "boat"--a whole loaf of bread hollowed out and loaded with fried seafood.
7. Charlie's Seafood. Harahan: 8311 Jefferson Hwy.. 504-737-3700. The old place in Harahan gets a new lease on life with Frank Brigtsen frying all local seafood, all to order. Catfish is wild-caught.
8. Parran's Po-Boys . Metairie: 3939 Veterans Blvd.. 504-885-3416. The standard seafood poor boys are terrific, and they have another kind: the seafood muffuletta. Also good grilled seafood sandwiches.
9. Joey K’s. Uptown: 3001 Magazine. 504-891-0997. Like everything else here, the fried seafood sandwiches are appetite busters. The grilled and blackened seafood sandwiches are good, too.
10. Parkway Bakery. Mid-City: 538 Hagan Ave.. 504-482-3047. When they're not very busy (when is that?), get the seafood sandwiches. Very well assembled.
I can't imagine that you don't have a sandwich that you think ought to be on or even at the top of this list. I ask you to share the intelligence with me and everybody else on the messageboard. Click here to go directly to this topic.
Deluxe Stuffed Crabs
Stuffed crabs were universal around New Orleans until the advent of the Maryland crab cake. Those have all but pushed stuffed crabs off the menu everywhere, but a few remain. The best I've had is at the Peppermill, whose version inspires this recipe. Most people measure the goodness of a stuffed crab by how much crabmeat is in it. This one is studded with jumbo lump, but is about three-fourths bread. How could it still be good? Because the bread tastes like crab, since it's saturated with strong crab stock.
- 1/2 lb. butter
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1/2 rib celery, chopped
- 3 green onions, tender green parts only, sliced thin
- 1/4 tsp. thyme
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1/4 tsp. white pepper
- 2 cups strong crab stock
- 1/2 loaf stale poor boy French bread, cut into cubes
- 1 cup bread crumbs
- 1 lb. jumbo lump crabmeat
1. Reserve 4 Tbs. butter. Heat the rest of it in a skillet until bubbling. Saute the onions and celery until they begin to brown at the edges.
2. Add the green onions, thyme, salt, pepper, and stock. Stir and bring to a light boil.
3. Remove the pan from the heat. Add the bread and the bread crumbs and mix well. Allow to cool.
4. Measure 2 1/2 cups of the bread mixture into a large bowl. Break it up with your fingers. Add the crabmeat. Very gently combine the crabmeat into the bread mixture.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
5. Spoon the stuffing into shells. Melt the remaining butter and brush it over each stuffed crab. Bake in the preheated oven for about 10 minutes. They will not really brown, but they will start looking toasty.
These are great with hollandaise sauce as an appetizer or by themselves.
Makes about 12-15 stuffed crabs.