Friday, April 6, 2012
1266 Restaurants Open Around Town (click for the whole list)
Dining Out On Easter Sunday
Easter used to keep us at home with family dinners and Easter egg hunts. But in the last twenty years or so it's become a big day for dining out. Even those who cook at home on Easter are using the day as an occasion for some serious cooking--although it usually remains a buffet well supplied with kidfood.
For many years, the demand for Easter brunch restaurant reservations outstripped the supply. With all the new major restaurants opening lately, more seats are out there, and it will not be too hard to find a suitable Easter venue.
We've listed and rated 100 restaurants serving Easter Sunday brunch and dinner this year. They include the big, expensive hotel buffets and the smaller, more intimate bistros. And no small number of ethnic places.
Also on our Easter Page are recipes suitable for the traditional celebration at home. Easter is different in New Orleans: for a lot of people, it means the first crawfish boil of the year.
Everything is posted here. . .
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Our annual survey of seafood in Southeast Louisiana comes to a close today, as we conclude a countdown of 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. The entire survey will remain on line permanently.
The best assessment of how fine our local oysters are came from Richard Collin, in his last restaurant guide in the 1970s. He gave this recommendation:
Best Meal at the Acme Oyster House
One Dozen Oysters on the Half Shell; Beer
Better-Than-Best Meal at the Acme Oyster House
Two or Three Dozen Oysters on the Half Shell; Two or Three Beers
Yep. The only thing better than oysters is more oysters.
Oysters are, to my palate, the most delectable of all the seafood that comes our way in New Orleans. That has been especially true this year. Even while the oyster fishermen rebuild their beds after surges of freshwater killed a lot of them last year in the battle against BP oil, the oysters that remain have been unusually meaty, firm, salty and delicious.
Oyster connoisseurs agree that the best way to eat them is immediately after the shell is opened. Raw oysters on the half shell, despite all warnings about the dangers they present to our health, are the standard presentation. The health warnings are true, although most of the problems affect a small minority of the population.
The resource is so easily available that our cooks have dreamed up hundreds of ways to prepare them. Oysters appear in appetizers, soups, salads, seafood entrees, meat entrees. . . everything but dessert. My own favorite cooked oyster dish is oysters Bienville, above. (This batch was at Keith Young's Steak House.)
Oysters are seasonal, but refrigeration on boats and trucks long ago eliminated the need to avoid oysters in non-R months. That said, it must be noted that oysters reach a low point in July, when the warm water makes them leaner than in the cooler months. They shrimp a lot in cooking then. In early summer, the liquor in the shell can get milky--a function of the spawning cycle. Neither of these effects is harmful, and only slightly impact enjoyment.
I admit to a local-pride aspect to my love of our oysters. But I've had oysters wherever I've traveled, including the famed Blue Points, Belons, Malpeques, Kumamoto, and Olympia oysters. None of them shows me anything that I find lacking in our oysters at their peak. On the other hand, all of those are much smaller than ours, are expensive, and typically sold a few at a time. To hell with them.
Beyond being delicious, our oysters represent a value. On a weight-per-dollar basis, there is no less expensive seafood. All of this adds up to what, for me, is the Number One seafood resource we have.
Thursday, April 5, 2012.
I Can See. 39 Greens. Burger And Fries At Capdeville.
Another enormous thunderstorm awakened us in the wee hours. By "us," I mean me, Mary Ann, and the dog Susie, none of whom checked in on the others. The dog is the most upset by thunder, and hides in exactly the places where one is supposed to go in case of a tornado. Every dog we've had did this, so it's clearly hard-wired. The cat Twinnery, on the other hand, is unperturbed. He takes walks in the rain, and doesn't mind getting soaked.
It was sunny when we got up for good. My work was progressing nicely when I got a call from the optician. After only seventeen days (not counting the two months it took for the first attempt at making them to fail), my new glasses are ready. I picked them up en route to the radio station. They are perfect, and my vision is sharp again. Not even the usual change in depth perception that new glasses always cause. Fake tortoise-shell frames. I have that Clark Kent-Steve Allen look again, after forty years of John Lennon-John Sebastian wireframes.
The radio show ran its annual Gumbo Z'Herbes Greens Census. Gumbo z'herbes is celebrated at Dooky Chase every year on Holy Thursday, and therefore by everyone plugged into the local food scene. Every year I ask callers to name a green to be added to the soup. Sometimes they actually do so, and this is one of those years. We came up with 39 greens. (An odd number is dictated by tradition.) The especially creative ideas are marked with a »:
New Zealand spinach (?)
Green bell peppers
»Nopales (cactus pads)
Capdeville has been on my mind as a dinner place for months. At first I refrained because I thought Mary Ann would like to join me there, hamburgers and fried being a specialty. We went once, but she didn't like the look of the place, and we went elsewhere. Since then, my show has ended after dark, and even though the radio station is only a block away, the restaurant's namesake street is a one-block-long near-alley. This would not have bothered me three years ago. I lived for a number of years in this neighborhood, and it is familiar. But ever since I was mugged in Belize in 2010, and ever since last year's broken ankle made running an iffy proposition, I feel less secure walking in the dark alone.
But the show ends in daylight now. The tables on the sidewalk were full: all women. Inside, the girls outnumbered the guys by about six to one. Makes sense: the primary clientele of Capdeville are the young paralegals and attorneys who work in the many law offices nearby. The table of six next to me (five women, one man, all in their low thirties at the oldest) left no doubt about this. The snippets of conversation I couldn't help but hear (as I tried to tune out the horrible music) was almost entirely about current events, not sports or music. Or eating and drinking.
Capdeville's space seems to have been blasted out of its old commercial building. The rough concrete floor creates most of that illusion. It feels more like a bar than a restaurant, which I suspect is intentional. The bar is serious about its mixology, and the wine selection is greater than I expected. I sampled a cocktail called The Speakeasy: bourbon, St. Germain, and orange flower water. It looked like a Sazerac from a distance, but had a unique flavor I thought was improved by the addition of a few ice cubes.
Fries have their own section of the menu. Fries are a great accompaniment to a cocktail. I chose the version topped with Manchego cheese and chorizo--interesting concept. The melted cheese made the fries on the bottom lose their crispness to their own steam, but that was an acceptable compromise. The pile was easily enough for two or three people.
Capdeville's kitchen offers a much wider range of dishes than bars serving this clientele did ten or twenty years ago. The oyster Rockefeller etouffee and the grilled fish special sounded good. So did the soup of the day, a creamy, peppery concoction I almost went for.
Among the most reliable of my Deft Dining guidelines is #247: "In any comprehensive local set of hamburger vendors, the bars will make the best hamburgers." I allow myself one hamburger per month, and Capdeville's menu leaves no doubt that the place hangs its hat on its burgers.
I asked for the house special burger, served with a creamy peppercorn sauce a la steak au poivre, fried thin onions, Gruyere cheese, roasted garlic aioli, and one very large leaf of Bibb lettuce. All this was enclosed by an oversize onion bun. I cut it into muffuletta-style quarters and found a medium-rare meat ellipsoid, irregular enough to suggest it was made by hand, crusty on the outside, juicy in the middle. The dressings were over the top in fat content. Even if I weren't concerned about the dietary aspect of that, it pushed the flavors out of balance. Next time I have a burger here, it will be simpler.
I didn't know that fries would come with the burger, but the waiter caught that issue and offered a small pile of Capdeville's truffled macaroni and cheese, studded with tiny cubes of pancetta--bacon. So the fat richness continued. A little of this goes a long way. It's tasty enough until one blows a richness fuse.
As if I needed it, I got the fruit cobbler for dessert. This had a good flavor from pears and strawberries, but the batter had not completely baked (or it had been soaking in the juices of the fruits too long), and the texture was offputting.
Here is another restaurant whose main effect on me is a yearning to be twenty-five again. Back then, I had a girlfriend who worked in a law office in the neighborhood, so this would have been perfect.
Capdeville. CBD: 643 Magazine St. 504-371-5915.
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!
WHY IT'S NOTEWORTHY
Domenica is the maximum current attempt to duplicate certain culinary practices very common in Italy but rarely seen here. There are three major specialties. The best is pizza, baked in a five-ton, wood-fired oven made of stone. The chef makes a showy array of salumi, curing meats for months in house. The remainder of the menu uses pasta, meats and seafood in about three dozen small and large dishes, most of them rustic in style. Eighty percent of the menu will be unfamiliar to anyone who has not been to Italy.
WHY IT'S GOOD
The pizza could be called the best of all time locally. The thin crust is charred here and there by the hot fire, topped with an offbeat selection of ingredients. The salumi is extraordinary. It may even be too good. A little of it goes a long way. The remainder of the menu is widely variable, with some dishes tasting much better than they sound, and a few (the pasta with chicken livers and oxtail ragu, for example) giving the opposite effect. This is a great restaurant for people who like to try dishes and menu plans different from the norm.
After over a year of planning (during which Chef Alon Shaya spent many months in Italy) Dominica opened in the fall of 2009, as nearly the last piece of the renewed Roosevelt Hotel. The restaurant's name is Italian for "Sunday," when in the glory days of the Roosevelt Hotel many local people went there for dinner. The hotel had a restaurant in this space for almost a hundred years--most recently Bailey's, the hotel's all-day restaurant.
The tall, wide room gets further spaciousness from a wall of windows looking to the rococo facade of Jesuit Church. Unclothed, rustic tables built of wood planks, topped with jars of long breadsticks, stand a bit too close to one another throughout the room, which is divided by massive square columns and split levels. What looks like the bar is actually the salumi station, where chefs work meat slicers on the cured meats in the glass-fronted walk-in cooler behind them.
ESSENTIAL DISHES [»=Recommended]
»Pizza (lighter variations recommended)
»Salumi (individual cuts or combination boards with cheese)
»Prosciutto, coppa, lardo, speck
»Minestra di orzo (vegetable, meatball and barley soup)
Anolini in brodo (small ravioli in chicken broth)
Bruschetta of burrata mozzarella and garlic
Octopus carpaccio with fennel and citrus
Crispy calamari salad
»Fried squash blossoms with goat cheese
Cavatelli pasta with fennel sausage and beans
Wood grilled shrimp and calamari
»Tagliatelle with rabbit ragu, porcini mushrooms
»Risotto with white truffle and pancetta
»Trofie (hand-rolled pasta strings) with pesto and artichokes
Stracci (torn pasta) with oxtail ragu and fried chicken livers
Linguine with clams, mussels, crab and shrimp
»Goat cheese tortelloni with fava beans, tomatoes and guanciale
»Paccheri pasta stuffed with crab, cream and cabbage
»Brodetto (spicy seafood stew)
Whole grilled redfish
»Braciole di capretto (goat loin stuffed with pulled goat shoulder)
Roast chicken with fava beans, morels and bacon
»Cherry and ricotta fritters with chocolate zabaglione
Chocolate and hazelnut pudding with candied hazelnuts
FOR BEST RESULTS
No matter what, a pizza must come to your table, preferably as soon after you sit down as possible. Try a little of the house-made prosciutto or other salumi selections. The cheeses are less impressive. Across the menu, the most exotic dishes have a way of being the best (the goat-stuffed goat loin, for example.)
An interesting sideline here is Israeli-born Chef Alon Shaya's special menus for the major Jewish holidays. They're not kosher--the restaurant has too much prosciutto hanging around for that--but otherwise very traditional and worth ordering, even if you're not Jewish.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
The lack of tablecloths and the use of smallish china with no underliners of any kind makes for a glaring comfort deficiency--at least to my sensitivities. And no bread? What's authentic about that? I've never been to a restaurant in Italy that didn't bring bread out immediately. It must be begged for here. (The breadsticks don't cut it.)
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
- Attitude +1
- Wine and Bar +1
- Hipness +2
- Local Color +2
- Good view
- Good for business meetings
- Many private rooms
- Open Sunday lunch and dinner
- Open Monday lunch and dinner
- Open all holidays
- Open after 10 p.m.
- Open all afternoon
- Good for children
- Reservations recommended
This was created at Commander's Palace by Sebastian "Chef Buster" Ambrosia, who might have the best name I ever heard for a chef. For many years, Chef Buster hosted a cooking show on WWL Radio. He served this dish in every restaurant he headed, and it was always the best dish in that restaurant at the time. It's as Creole as something can be: seafood with a brown sauce. "It's good, hearts!" as Chef Buster would say.
- 4 dozen big oysters
- 2 Tbs. Creole seasoning
- 1 cup flour
- 2 sticks butter
- 2 cups red wine
- 1 quart strong beef stock
- 6 bay leaves
- 1 Tbs. chopped garlic
- 1/4 cup Worcestershire
- 1 tsp. Crystal hot sauce
- 2 cups flour
- 1 Tbs. salt
- 2 chopped green onions
- 8 sprigs flat-leaf parsley, chopped
- Vegetable oil for frying
1. Drain the oysters and collect the water. Sprinkle the oysters with the Creole seasoning, and toss around to coat uniformly. Put them in the refrigerator while making the sauce.
2. In a saucepan, make a medium-dark roux with the butter and flour, taking care not to burn it. When the roux has reached the right color, add the red wine and bring it to a boil while stirring.
3. After the wine boils for a minute, add the beef stock, strained oyster water, bay leaves, and garlic. Whisk to dissolve the bits of roux that will be floating around. Lower the Bring the pot up to a simmer and let it cook and thicken for about 45 minutes.
4. Add the Worcestershire and the hot sauce, plus salt and black pepper to taste. Simmer another ten minutes, at most, while you're preparing the oysters.
5. Get the oysters from the refrigerator and coat them with flour seasoned with the 1 Tbs. salt. Fry the oysters till golden brown, about two minutes. Don't add so many that the oil temperature drops radically. Drain after frying.
6. Spoon some of the sauce into a bowl and toss the oysters around in it to coat them well. Place six oysters on a plate and top with some green onions and parsley.
Opulent option: Add some lump crabmeat to the bowl when tossing the oysters in the sauce, and serve them both together.Makes eight appetizers or four entrees.
April 6, 2012
Days Until. . .
French Quarter Festival 7
Jazz Festival 21
It is Good Friday, recalling the most infamous execution of all time. And the day, most likely, on which the most seafood is eaten in America.
Chef D'Oeuvre Du Jour
#177: Disgruntled Shrimp @ Ralph's On The Park, City Park Area: 900 City Park Ave. The name catches on the flavor predictor segment of your mind, and what it reports back is something like barbecue shrimp. That is erroneous. (They have barbecue shrimp elsewhere on the menu). Instead, here is an appetizer of teriyaki-tinged shrimp fried inside a tempura batter. The sauce is a sweet chili concoction with a red pepper glow, mingled with a bit of thickened cream. Not only is this a superb flavor, but it opens the door to almost anything else you'll have in the entree department--including barbecue shrimp. This is one of NOMenu's 500 Best Dishes in New Orleans. Collect all 500!
Annals Of Convenience Food
The TV Dinner was introduced by Swanson Foods today in 1954. The genius was Gerry Thomas, whose story can be found here. He was trying to figure out a use for leftover turkey from the preceding year's Thanksgiving supply. He and came up with a pre-cooked, packaged dinner with cornbread dressing, peas and sweet potatoes in a three-compartment aluminum tray that you could just warm up in the oven. It sold for ninety-eight cents. Swanson thought it would be a hit if they sold 5,000 the first year. By the end of 1954, ten million of them had been were snapped up. We were excited by the idea of TV dinners when I was a kid, but we never liked the flavor. We always figured we were doing something wrong, otherwise it wouldn't taste so bad. The saddest fact what that this stuff we were so excited about could not possibly compare with our mother's home cooking.
It is Citywide Calas Day here in New Orleans. Calas are Creole rice cakes, rolled into a ball with cinnamon and sugar and fried. A century ago, calas were widely sold from street corner carts. For years, the only restaurant that serves calas is the Coffee Pot on St. Peter Street; they still do, as a breakfast item. In 2008, the Calas Bistro in Kenner tried to revive and expand the scope of the dish. It didn't work out. Thank goodness for the Coffee Pot!
The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:
If you're making calas or rice pudding, use brown sugar. Rice needs a little caramel flavor to keep from being insipid as a dessert. Cinnamon wouldn't hurt, either.
Deft Dining Rule #708:
If you're in a restaurant where they serve a dish you hardly ever see anymore, order it. You may be the last person ever to do so. Don't expect much from it.
Wheat is a rural crossroads in north central Alabama, in a rolling part of the state. The land has been reshaped by Tennessee Valley Authority dams and the resulting reservoirs. Wheat is 55 miles north northwest of Birmingham. Despite the name, if any wheat is raised in the area it's not a major crop. This is dairy cattle country, and quite a few big milking sheds are nearby. The nearest place for a bite to eat with that glass of milk is Cold Springs Grill, eight miles away in Bremen.
Music To Drink Martinis By
This is the birthday, in 1960, of jazz guitarist, singer and composer John Pizzarelli. He's a terrific interpreter of standards, with a unique, velvety sound. And he has (more or less) a food name!
water chestnut, n.--A crunchy, off-white vegetable used primarily in Chinese cooking. The "chestnuts" are bulb-like corms that develop on the roots of an aquatic plant whose above-water part resembles scallions or lemongrass, with hollow stems. The bulbs really do look like the chestnuts that grow on trees, with a brown skin and a similar shape. (It isn't even distantly related to chestnuts, though.) Water chestnuts are first peeled, then sliced into discs or short sticks. They can be eaten raw, but more often they're in a wide range of hot dishes. They retain their crispness even after cooking, and lend an enjoyable textural contrast and a subtle nut-like flavor. Most cooks used the canned water chestnuts, but fresh are also available in Asian markets.
The moon is full at 2:19 p.m. this afternoon. Here in Louisiana this apparition is called the Soft-Shell Crab Moon, signaling the appearance of the first and best soft-shell crabs of the year. The Native Americans called this one the Pink Moon and the Sprouting Grass Moon. It's also known, says the Old Farmer's Almanac, as the Egg Moon and the Fish Moon.
Junk Food Through History
Twinkies were introduced on this day in 1930. James Dewar of the Continental Baking Company wanted to get more use from the pans used to bake strawberry shortcakes, which sold well only during strawberry season. The new product was a runaway success. A half-million hens are needed to lay all the eggs used in Twinkies in a year. What a way to make a living!
Today in 1938 Roy Plunkett, a DuPont researcher, cut open a tank of a refrigerant gas he was working on. For some reason, it had no pressure. He found that the gas had polymerized into a slippery white powder which, to make a long story short, became Teflon. Teflon-coated cookware is handy for a couple of things. It's perfect for an omelette pan. Or a muffin-tin-like pan for making popovers. Otherwise, I avoid the stuff, because I like the juices and browned bits to stick to a pan a little. And ultimately non-stick coatings flake off. Which stands to reason: if nothing will stick to it, how do they get it to stay on the pan? Answer: Not very well.
Roger Cook, an investigative television journalist in England, was born today in 1943. . . Brown Sugar was the first hit for Rolling Stones Records, which was formed on this date in 1971 for the group of the same name. . . Sugar Ray Leonard won a fight with Marvin Hagler today in 1987. . . Early NASCAR race driver Herb Thomas was born today in 1923.
Words To Eat By
"There is a communion of more than our bodies when bread is broken and wine drunk. And that is my answer, when people ask me: Why do you write about hunger, and not wars or love?"--M.F.K. Fisher.
"Cutting stalks at noontime. Perspiration drips to the earth. Know you that your bowl of rice each grain from hardship comes?"--Chang Chan-Pao.
Words To Drink By
"To buy very good wine nowadays requires only money. To serve it to your guests is a sign of fatigue."--William F. Buckley, Jr.
The Conundrum Of Home Cooking.
Is it really better than what you can get from a restaurant or a gourmet-to-go supermarket? A heavy thought for Passover. Click here for the cartoon.
Wets Versus Drys.
So the Sazerac sez to the glass of iced tea, she sez. . . Click here for the cartoon.
Have a lusty New Orleans meal today!