Monday, April 2, 2012
1254 Restaurants Open Around Town (click for the whole list)
Passover Seder, Italian Style,
Starts Friday At Domenica.
Chef Alon Shaya was born in Israel, but he spent most of his career as a chef cooking Italian food in the United States. He escaped to Italy for awhile in advance of the opening in 2009 of John Besh's restaurant at the Roosevelt Hotel, Domenica.
While he was in Rome, Alon became fascinated by the way the Passover seder dinner is cooked and served in the Jewish quarter of Rome. He thought it might have appeal here, and he was right: last year, Passover at Domenica was well attended and appreciated. So much that if you want to try it, you'd better get a reservation.
Passover begins this Friday evening, April 6, and runs through Saturday, April 14. Domenica's Passover seder menu will be available at both lunch and dinner. It follows the traditions in being served family-style and for everyone at the table, as it would be in Jewish homes everywhere. Missing: the full strict kosher aspect of the food preparation. (There's just too much pork in the restaurant's curing coolers to meet the standard.)
Here's the menu:
Traditional First Dishes
Wood fired matzo with sea salt
Alon's mother's Sephardic charoset with dates, hazelnuts and passito
Freshly ground horseradish “both colors”
Warm marinated olives with lemon and oregano
Alon's Matzo Ball Soup With Duck, Escarole And Lemon
Coal-roasted eggplant with spicy romesco
Mediterranean Sea Bass
Cauliflower, pickled beets and bitter herbs
Pomegranate Lacquered Lamb Shank
Moroccan spiced root vegetables
Hazelnut Cake With Chocolate And Orange
The seder dinner is $55 per person, plus plus. It is open to everyone; you need not be Jewish, although if you've never attended a Passover seder before, it would be more enlightening in the presence of your Jewish friends.
Domenica. CBD: 123 Baronne (Roosevelt Hotel). 504-648-6020
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Our annual survey of seafood in Southeast Louisiana this year counts down the 33 best seafood species enjoyed in our restaurants, seafood markets, and homes. For the full survey so far, click here. Or use the links at the bottom to move up and down the list.
#5: Hard Crabs And Crabmeat
The favorite trick of waiters and chefs is making an ordinary dish seem irresistible by just throwing a little crabmeat on top. That's how appealing crabmeat is. And with good reason. Aside from people who are allergic to it, who doesn't love crabmeat?
Even so, using crabmeat as a price-elevating garnish is the least interesting way to use this fantastic local seafood. The best way is to serve it more or less as it comes out of the crab's shell. If there's a sauce, it should be a light one. The subtle flavor of our local blue crab is so distinguished that it needs no help.
Stone crab claws, king crab, snow crab legs, and other exotic crabs from around the world find their way onto New Orleans table. At the bottom of the spectrum is the fake crabmeat in sushi bars. I'd trade any or all of it gladly for the meat of our local blue crab (hereinafter called simply "crabmeat"). It reigns supreme.
Crabmeat is found in several forms, listed here from the most expensive to the least:
Marbles. These are the largest lumps from the biggest female crabs. Expensive and uncommon.
Jumbo lump. This is the big lump of meat from just below the point where the claws are attached. There's a little sliver of thin shell in there that's difficult to remove without breaking the lump. A sign that you're eating the best crabmeat is the presence of a little bit of shell. Restaurants buy almost all the jumbo lump in the market. Even in the best of times, the price per pound rarely drops below about $20, and it often reaches $30.
Lump or backfin. This comes from further to the rear of the crab, connected to the paddle-like legs. It tastes as good as the jumbo lump, but it's not as eye-popping. Great for crabmeat ravigote, crabmeat au gratin, crab cakes, and dishes like those.
Special white. This is white meat from inside the crab, but it's usually shredded. The flavor is not bad, but the look isn't as good as lump. There's a lot of inconsistency from one container to the next, and even between the meat on top and on the bottom of the same container. Good for making soups and sauces, and for topping things like baked fish.
Claw crabmeat is the least expensive, but has the most assertive flavor of any part of the crab. It's perfect for stuffings or dressings. It doesn't look as good, however--the meat is dark and stringy. So it's the cheapest kind of crabmeat, universally available wherever crabmeat is sold.
Whole boiled hard-shell crabs. This form may be the ultimate way to eat crabmeat, because you have all of the above in there. At the peak of the season--the beginning of the summer--it can't be beat, even though it's a lot of work. (It's always seemed to me that eating boiled crabs will cause you to lose weight, because you expend more energy than you get from the crab.)
Crabmeat has shot up in price in recent years because our crabs have become part of the national market. The people along the Chesapeake Bay--who have the same kind of crabs we do and a similar crab-eating culture--buy up a titanic quantity of our crabs. The meat is in demand all across the nation.
On the other hand, producers of crabmeat in South America and Asia have entered the market with pasteurized crabmeat in sealed cans. It's much cheaper, and for the price it's not terrible, but it has nothing on fresh local crabmeat.
Crabmeat is one of our great delicacies. The season for crabmeat is just beginning now. Enjoy it!
Friday, March 30, 2012.
Taste Of The Town.
After a few days of heavy rain off and on, it looked as if the Taste of the Town would catch a break. In its eleven years, thunderstorms have chased would-be celebrants at the big grazing event under shelter. It happened again this year, although the drizzle was so light that people either pulled out umbrellas or ducked under the large pavilion, waiting to get back to eating and drinking.
A few people expressed relief that the Taste had not been moved to the parking garage of the East Jefferson Hospital, as it had been twice in the past. That is such a dreary venue--especially compared with the breezy greenness of Lafreniere Park--that it was decided a couple of years ago to have an alternate rain date instead. I happen to know that this good decision was rescinded for this year, and the parking garage was once again waiting in the wings. The problem with postponement is that so many festivals take place this time of year that the conflicts are as big a problem as the weather.
The Taste of the Town has been a richer nibblefest than most since its inception. I'd say it's at least as good as the Zoo To-Do. Forty-three restaurants were there, and the food was as good as ever. But having been involved in other (if smaller) such events, I know imperfect coordination when I see it. Mary Ann noticed the same thing I did: four shrimp remoulades. This is not what could be called a disaster. If too many restaurants are serving the same dish, shrimp remoulade is a pretty good dish to overdo. Especially when Antoine's, Galatoire's, and Arnaud's are among the makers. But. . .
There were other examples of this. Too many stuffing-like items. Too much pasta. Too much rice. It's understandable that the restaurants--who cover all their expenses for being there--try to keep their offerings uncomplicated and within some kind of budget. But the LRA needs somebody to ride herd over the chefs to avoid duplications, no matter how good they are. More than anything, I think there's a need for more original cooking. A cooking demo would be fun.
More than a few attendees told me that for the $90 ticket they expected not better food, but more variety. But then again some of them blamed the bad weather on me. Foodies love their food enough to get unreasonable at times.
The best dish I had--aside from Drago's incomparable char-broiled oysters, the Acme's raw ones, and, yes, Arnaud's shrimp remoulade--was a barbecue plate from a new place called Saucy's. It was a pulled pork sandwich with a vinegar-based Carolina-style sauce. They also had a game sausage I thought was excellent. It was one of the few meaty dishes here--but it's a Friday in Lent. (I heard complaints about that scheduling, too. But sometimes the Taste of the Town is in Lent, and sometimes it's not.)
Saturday, March 31, 2012.
Buckwheat Waffling. Overdoing It At Keith Young's.
At last, Mary Ann suggested that we have breakfast this morning. (I am not allowed to initiate that without repercussions. Something to do with her diet.) We haven't been to Mattina Bella lately. The usual ideal versions of everything: an omelette for MA, a buckwheat waffle for me. The latter was something new to me here, and something I will get again. Buckwheat is funny stuff. It's not wheat, to begin with. It has a nutty flavor, plus a malty one. The batter will ferment if left alone long enough, but you have to catch it at the right moment. Which they did.
And there was bad news. Owner Vincent Riccobono (not the same Vincent Riccobono who owns the Peppermill, although the two men are cousins) had drastic eye surgery recently, and lost one of them. His daughter says he's in good spirits, which must take a very positive attitude indeed. Even the thought of it makes me uneasy. Vincent is too nice a man for such a turn of fate. But he'll be back to work in a few weeks.
No radio show today, so I got to work--sort of--on a couple of irritating issues. A leaking faucet in one bathroom has proven impossible to repair. Nobody anywhere has the replacement washers. So I bought a new faucet set, knowing full well that while I will have no trouble installing it, I will have a great deal of trouble getting the old one off. Getting The Old One Off is the worst part of performing any mechanical job.
I also need to put up blinds in my home office. During the radio show, the sun is right in my eyes. I was astonished to discover that Bali mini-blinds can be bought for under five dollars. I was less happy to find that neither of the batteries for my cordless drill will hold a charge. And that the chuck key for my old (1973 model!) plug-in drill is missing. Stymied at every turn.
Mary Ann surprised me for the second time today with an interest in going out to dinner. I have an urge for a steak, I said. "Great! I've been thinking about Keith Young's!"
We reserved for six-thirty (you never go to Keith Young's without a reservation, although a lot of people try). The restaurant was nearly full already, and would be soon. On top of that, the place was hosting a wedding reception. So we would see just how good this staff is. A few of the waiters said hello, but the one our table drew didn't know us. This didn't matter: the guy had his moves down.
I had an urge to start with a Manhattan. But I am backing away from cocktails. I sated the desire with a long draft of ice water. I have not stopped drinking wine, however. Here was a 2004 Russian River Valley Zinfandel from Brogan Cellars, in a half-bottle for $21. It is my experience that big Zinfandels (the red kind, I shouldn't need to say) show alluring bouquet and flavor development in a fraction of the time it takes Cabernets and Merlots. This one was big, all right. Sediment covered the shoulders of the bottle. Alcohol was an astonishing 17.1 percent. It was so luscious that even Mary Ann got excited about it.
An appetizer special also pleased us greatly. It was a napoleon of fried eggplant discs, with a sauce made with butter, tasso, green onions, and sweet red peppers. Why are so many excellent panneed eggplant dishes coming my way lately? I think this is the fifth one in about two weeks.
Both our entrees were immoderate. Mary Ann loves prime rib, especially if an end cut is available. It was, crusty and overcooked the way she likes it. For me, a sirloin strip, sizzling in butter. Neither of us got past the two-thirds mark (as if steaks have such indicators). But a big steak is always better than a little one, and I knew that Mary Ann would take all leftovers home for sandwiches and such.
We had another half-bottle of the Brogan Zinfandel. Aha! Bottle variation. The second wasn't quite as unctuous as the first. But still very good. We gave tastes to Keith, his wife Lynda, and the waiter, who claimed to have no taste for wine. But he liked it too.
On the way out, in the bar, we ran into a lot of people who knew us. Many of them were dining at the bar. I saw a lot of crab cakes. Keith Young overcomes the rule that deep-fried crab cakes are usually terrible. His are excellent: lump through and through, and little else.
It sounds philistine to say that a steakhouse is one of the two or three best restaurants on the North Shore. Especially with competition like La Provence, Gallagher's, Dakota, Juniper, Del Porto, and Carmelo. But we (MA and I agree, for once) enjoy no dining on our side of the pond more than we do Keith's straightforward, excellent cookery. There is no better service staff in the area, that's for sure.
Mattina Bella. Covington: 421 E Gibson. 985-892-0708.
Keith Young's Steak House. Madisonville: 165 LA 21. 985-845-9940.
It's over three years since a day was missed in the Dining Diary. To browse through all of the entries since 2008, go here.
A Festival Of Spanish Food And Wines
Santa Fe Tapas
Wednesday, April 11, 7 p.m.
Lee Circle Area: 1327 St Charles Ave Maison St. Charles Hotel)
$65, inclusive of tax, tip, and wines.
Jumbo Prawn Ceviche
Coconut milk, cilantro
Wine: St. Cosme Little James Basket Blanc
Caramelized Diver Scallop
Corn-fava bean succotash, fine herb ravigote, frisee
Wine: Hermann Moser Gruner Veltliner "Per Due" '10.
Pan Roasted Gulf Fish
Crisp oyster mushroom, artichoke confit, beurre rouge
Wine: Bigvine Pinot Noir Arroyo Grande Valley '09
Rotisserie Lamb Persillade
Flageolet beans, eggplant guisado, mint chimichurri, rosemary mint jus
Wine: Castro Ventosa "El Castro De Valtuille Joven" D.o. Bierzo '09.
Louisiana Goat Cheese Panna Cotta
Lemon-blueberry compote, vanilla tuille
Wine: Il Faggeto Prosecco DOC
Parking is easy: you can enter the hotel parking lot and get to the restaurant through the lobby. Should be an interesting night of Spanish food and wines!
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.
April 2, 2012
Days Until. . .
French Quarter Festival 11
Jazz Festival 25
Chef d'Oeuvre du Jour
#429: Turkey Breast And Chopped Liver Sandwich @ Kosher Cajun Deli, Metairie: 3519 Severn. Chopped liver is the pate of the kosher-style deli. It's usually made with chicken livers and chicken fat, among other ingredients. Not everybody likes it, but those who do (and I'm one of them) love the stuff. Here is a sandwich that stands out among Joel Brown's array of deli works. It's not only delicious but also rare in these parts. It's served cool (not cold) on first-class rye bread and sliced red onions. This is one of NOMenu's 500 Best Dishes in New Orleans. Collect all 500!
Annals Of Citrus
Today in 1513, Juan Ponce de Leon landed in Florida. He carried orange and lemon trees with him and planted them, beginning the now-enormous citrus industry in the Sunshine State. From which, in the past few years, we have not received fresh oranges, to our concern and dismay. Florida suffered major freezes and hurricane damage in 2004 and 2005, and it seems that all the orange crop is now going into the frozen concentrate stream. Alas.
Eggs In Politics
The first Easter Egg Roll on the White House lawn was to have taken place place today in 1877, but it rained. Games for kids involving Easter eggs had been going on for many years, mostly on the grounds of the Capitol, but problems with crowds moved President Rutherford B. Hayes to organize it better. By 1878, it became an official White House tradition, and hardly a year has been missed since, except during wartime. After the eggs are raced with spoons across the lawn, everyone goes out for eggrolls and egg sushi rolls.
Many sources say it's National Peanut Butter and Jelly Day. My friend Dick Brennan Sr.'s take on the matter says all that needs to be said. "You know why kids like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches? Because they're good."
However, we're more interested in today's designation as Seafood Beignet Day. A beignet is any fried lump of dough--not just the kind we get with cafe au lait at the Morning Call. The English translation is "fritter." You can make up the dough with seafood and herbs inside, fry it, and serve it with something like an aioli. The best I know about are the bacalaitos that Chef Adolfo Garcia makes as an appetizer or a tapas at Rio Mar. I'm no fan of codfish (the main seafood ingredient in these) but the rest of the concoction is too light and delicious to disdain. Similar things can be made with crawfish, crabmeat, shrimp, or any seafood.
Deft Dining Rule #918:
Never take a bite from a beignet if there's a possibility that one of the people you're with is about to say something funny.
Codfish Park is on the easternmost tip of Nantucket Island, one of the most picturesque places in America. It's a small but wealthy community of vacation homes, across the road from the Sankaty Head Golf Club, the nearest place to dine. Codfish Park is just north of the bigger town of Siasconset (or "Sconset," as the residents call it. There's a terrific French restaurant there called Chanticleer. In 1983, I bicycled all the way around the island--an extraordinarily scenic ride--and later in the evening had a marvelous dinner at Chanticleer.
cowan, [coe-WANH], Cajun French, n.--The common name used in the Louisiana bayou country for the alligator snapping turtle. This is the prime species for all Cajun and Creole turtle dishes. It's one of the largest freshwater turtles in the world, living in streams and rivers throughout the Southeastern United States. With its hooked beak and strong jaws, it can devour almost anything its size, and has a predilection for fish. It lures them with a pink, worm-like appendage on its tongue, which it extends while lying on the bayou bottom with its mouth open, ready to bite down.
Food Through History
Today in 1863, the women of Richmond--then the capital of the Confederacy--rioted because they had no bread, flour, or salt. That lack was due to the starvation strategy of Union forces. They knew that little wheat was farmed in the South, and they burned every cornfield they found. The Yanks also occupied all sources of salt, including the famous mines at Avery Island in Louisiana. The women rampaged through town, breaking into stores and commissaries and taking home loads of food. With his own wife causing havoc, what chance did Johnny Reb have?
Music To Make Wine By
Marvin Gaye, whose version of I Heard It Through The Grapevine was a signature song of the Motown Sound in the 1960s, was born today in 1939.
Music To Bake Cakes By
Eileen Barton had a top hit on this date in 1950 with the song If I Knew You Were Coming I'd've Baked A Cake. If you happen to hear this song coming on the radio (very unlikely), turn if off immediately. It can lodge itself in your consciousness and not leave for days.
Food In Show Biz
Buddy Ebsen was born today in 1908. He was best known for playing Jed Clampett on The Beverly Hillbillies, in which there were more than a few hilarious moments when Jed disdained the fine food and wine that came his way for the white lightning and Mammy's cooking. But in real life Ebsen was a gourmet. One of his favorite restaurants was Antoine's in New Orleans. Once he visited the kitchen there, and stopped right in the middle of that expansive space. All the cooks stopped what they were doing when they saw Ebsen's very familiar face face. He looked around for a moment, and said, in his Jed Clampett voice, "Wheee doggies!" (True story.)
Today is the feast day of St. Urban, the bishop of Langres (France) in the Fourth Century. He had a special relationship with the people who grew grapevines for the making of wine (sacramental and otherwise). So he is one of many patron saints of winegrowers, barrelmakers, and alcoholics.
Keren Woodward, of the rock group Bananarama, was born today in 1961. . . Charlemagne, King of the Franks and the first emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, was born today in 742. An incomparable white Burgundy, Corton Charlemagne, is named for him.
Words To Eat By
"What will be the death of me are bouillabaisses, food spiced with pimiento, shellfish, and a load of exquisite rubbish which I eat in disproportionate quantities."--Emile Zola, French writer and gourmet, born today in 1840.
"Eggs are very much like small boys. If you overheat them or overbeat them, they will turn on you and no amount of future love will right the wrong."--Irena Chalmers, British cookbook author.
The Italians Call Them "Lumache."
And unlike the French, who call them "escargots" and eat them with garlic butter, the Italians prefer their snails with pasta. Click here for the cartoon.
Have a lusty New Orleans meal today!