Friday, April 27, 2012
1276 Restaurants Open Around Town (click for the whole list)
Friday-Sunday, April 27-29 and May 4-6
Eating At The Jazz Festival
The food at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival is exactly as good as the music. In exactly the same way.
A long-held belief among people who have festivalled every year for decades is that the most memorable music is from the most obscure acts on the smallest, most remote stages. Even with the coming of extremely big names at the JazzFest, this remains valid.
It's also true of the food. Almost none of the food vendors are chefs or restaurateurs. Most of the food is prepared by cooks whose main business is appearing at other festivals. Some of them have no food involvement outside the Jazz Festival.
Nobody misses the chefs. Although it's certainly true that some of the food at the Festival is a little too homestyle, that adds a certain authentic charm to the "heritage" work in the festival's name.
In the past few years of the Jazz Festival, the food offerings seem to have reached a plateau. A few new vendors appear, but they fade into the familiar array. It's been a long time since I've found something alarmingly new and different.
But, again, isn't this what we want from the Festival? It's certainly true of us Baby Boomers, who were just reaching the age of majority at the time of the first JazzFest in 1970. It's a ritual, with our strange kind of hippie nostalgia. Enough other things have changed in our lives without the Jazz Festival's becoming unfamiliar, too.
As I have done literally for decades, I have annotated the list of the food at the Jazz Festival with my ratings. The entire list can be found here. (You can also get it from our home page at http://www.nomenu.com.) I'll see you there!
Wednesday, April 25, 2012.
Eat Club Braves Andrea's.
At the Eat Club dinners we do once or twice a year at Andrea's, most people have a pleasant evening. Many courses are served, the wine bottles appear to be bottomless (not always the case at wine dinners), we usually have live music, and the spirits are high.
But the food is always spotty, as it was in the dinner we held. Most of the dishes were beyond reproach, but enough were unimpressive that I am frustrated.
We began with a table full of appetizers, of which by far the best was the marinated eggplant (left). It's absurdly simple to make--if you have a few weeks to wait for it to marinate in the combination of olive oil, vinegar or lemon juice, garlic, crushed red pepper, and herbs. It's packed in jars and allowed to sit for a month or more. When it comes out, it's so good that it transcends eggplant. In fact, a rumor at two of the tables was that it was squid.
Also well liked were the grilled artichokes. These weren't the little ones, but the full-size jobs. The spines were trimmed, then the globes were cut into quarters and slapped down on the open grill. But the arancini were starchy and unappealing. The pizzetti (right, above)--using a fluffy dough, a bit of tomato and cheese--weren't nearly as good as the last time we had them. The dough was fluffy and dry. And the mozzarella en carrozza--a kind of Italian croque--was like something from a low-end wedding reception.
The pasta course was pappardelle with shrimp and zucchini. What was the chef thinking with this? It had no flavor whatsoever. I lost interest after two bites and left the rest there--a lot of food. The waiters didn't even question that.
Then things picked up. The insalata Caprese--ripe tomatoes with fresh mozzarella and basil--were their usual highly appealing selves.
Those who had the filet mignon pizzaiola were very pleased with it. I always thought that red sauces and steak go together very well, and in this presentation of the idea both the sauce and the steak were excellent.
Unfortunately, I went for the flounder option. It involved rolling fish around a stuffing. Through my entire life of eating, that has never been a successful concept, even though the best chefs in the best restaurants feel compelled to give it a go.
But I keep hoping. This one had the flounder pounded out (that's what the chef told me during our radio interview before the dinner), wrapped around a salmon mousse, breaded, seared, and baked off. Then it was sliced into discs about half an inch thick, and touched with a lemon butter. It looked beautiful on the plate, but in terms of flavor it looked beautiful on the plate.
Fortunately, we were drinking good wines with all this. Andrea is now making wine from the grapes that grow on his family's land in Capri. We had a Falanghina (a white) and Aglianioco (a red). Both were big in aroma and flavor, and quite aromatic. Also on the table was a white Greco di Tufo and the alarmingly-named wine Lachryma Christi ("the tears of Christ," a red).
I have always liked Andrea's torta di mandorle, a very light flourless chocolate cake made with a great deal of crushed almonds. It was on his original menu, and sometimes still is. He topped it with homemade ice cream.
Andrea's has become something like Antoine's was in the 1990s. You could get a good meal there, but you had to choose dishes very carefully, then guide them a bit with special instructions. Left to its own devices, the kitchen at Andrea's--especially in banquet situations--turns out food according to its own convenience. That's never a formula for a memorable meal.
One day, we will have an Eat Club dinner here without having to compete for the restaurant's attention with another, larger private dinner going on elsewhere under the chef's gaze. From the very first Eat Club event, we have suffered from that effect.
The evening ended nicely. Pianist Ruth Ann "Baby Ruth" Kerr all but twisted my arm to get me to sing a few songs. I must say we did better than we have in the past. (The problems were all mine.)
Andrea's. Metairie: 3100 19th St. 504-834-8583.
Thursday, April 26, 2012.
Daddy And Daughter At The Steak Knife.
What with her frequent visits home lately, Mary Leigh and I have lapsed in our weekly daddy-daughter dinner dates. We made up for lost time tonight. When I called her to arrange it, she let on that she'd be up for a more substantial dinner than we typically have, in which she is arrayed in shorts and a T-shirt.
She liked my idea for a venue: the Steak Knife, a restaurant where Mary Ann will no longer dine. Not because of any failing of the restaurant, but because last time we were there she received some very bad news: the accidental death of the son of good friends. She says she will not be able to go there without thinking of that disaster.
We began with tidbit in the oven, the Steak Knife's most unconventional appetizer. It's like a pizza without sauce, crust, or meat. It's almost entirely cheese--three different ones--mixed with herbs. They bake it on a metal pan until it gets crusty around the edges. Every time I get this, I wonder whether I should be ashamed of enjoying it. But I do. Mary Leigh--a confirmed cheeselover--also got hooked.
After two enormous salads (wedge for her, Caesar for me), we each had our favorite steaks (filet for her, strip for me). Potatoes a gratin in the middle of the table. The strip was abetted by a bordelaise sauce with mushrooms. As always, the Steak Knife showed itself as not the best steak house in town, but a very good one with a menu full of good eats and a great wait staff.
En route to the restaurant, Mary Leigh waxed enthusiastic about her newest sculpture project. She has learned welding, and finds it exciting and fun. She is looking to intern at artist Luis Colmenares's studio this summer. Luis is rather famous for his metalwork, and says she will be able to carry on in this new medium.
On the way home, I recalled a moment at Jesuit in which the teacher asked us about our college plans. I was already playing everything for laughs back then, and said I hoped to go to Harvey Welding School. That got a good uproar, because Harvey Welding School ran spots on WNOE, the station we all listened to. And because it was absurd. I wonder what I would have thought about the prospect of Tulane student daughter taking up that craft.
Steak Knife. Lakeview: 888 Harrison Ave. 504-488-8981.
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.
WHY IT'S NOTEWORTHY
The Steak Knife is the longest-running player in the Lakeview restaurant row on Harrison Avenue. With an obvious (but not exclusive) specialty, it's long been a social center of Lakeview. The menu can't be called especially original, nor is any dish the best of its kind, but it is very good and consistent.
WHY IT'S GOOD
The menu begins with an unusually strong collection of appetizers, notably escargots with mushrooms, crab au gratin, and a funny but good original called tidbit in the oven (it's almost all cheese--better than it sounds). It goes on to a line of well-prepared steaks and chops of fine pedigree, served with more excitement now than I remember from many meal in the past. But they cook the non-beef dishes, of which there are many, every bit as well as they do the steaks. The easygoing manner of the place makes it one of the most comfortable restaurants around. places to dine in town.
After running a Lakeview bar for years, Bob Roth opened the Steak Knife in partnership with Ernie Masson (of the memorable, now-extinct Masson's) in 1972. Both men passed in the 1990s; the restaurant has been managed by Roth's sons Bobby and Guy for over 20 years. It moved from its original location across the street (now Mondo) to a former bank lobby in the 1990s. Like everything else in Lakeview, the Steak Knife had deep Katrina flooding, and took a long time to return. Its first post-storm opening was near the marina. It moved back into its pre-storm quarters early in 2009.
Marble floors, rich wood paneling, and heavy columns--all inherited from the bank that used to be here--dominate the main dining room. Smaller rooms surround it. The building is big enough for a substantial lounge, one of the more pleasant hangouts in Lakeview. There’s even live music some evenings. The service staff is welcoming and eager to serve, but always seems one or two people short.
ESSENTIAL DISHES [»=Recommended]
»Tidbit in the oven (crostini topped with cheeses and herbs)
Fried eggplant medallions
»Crabmeat au gratin
»Flash fried oysters, remoulade sauce
Soup of the day
»Crabmeat vinaigrette salad
Steak Knife salad
»Seraphine salad (avocado, marinated hearts of palm and artichoke, asparagus, greens)
Wedge, blue cheese, red onion
»Veal medallions, lump crabmeat, mushrooms, beurre blanc
Grilled chicken breast, olive oil, garlic, fresh rosemary
Pepper-crusted yellowfin tuna
»Gulf fish Robert (lump crabmeat, mushrooms, beurre blanc
Shrimp bordelaise (mushrooms, garlic butter, white wine and brandy)
Fried jumbo Gulf shrimp
»Prime New York strip
»Potatoes au gratin
Broccoli au gratin
Yukon Gold steak fries
»Fried onion rings
»Sauteed garlic spinach
»Bread pudding with whiskey sauce
Ice cream pecan ball
FOR BEST RESULTS
It's usually a bad idea to eat seafood in a steakhouse, but not here. Don't hesitate to order the fish or anything else. You usually don't need a reservation, but it's a good idea. The place can pack without warning.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
The tabletop furnishings seem a bit low-rent for as good a restaurant as this is. Sometimes the noise in the bar intrudes into the dining room.
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 +2
- Service +1
- Value +1
- Attitude +1
- Wine and Bar +1
- Local Color +1
- Live music some nights
- Good for business meetings
- Many private rooms
- Open Monday dinner
- Good for children
- Easy, nearby parking
- Reservations accepted
Tidbit in the Oven
I enjoyed this the first time I set foot in the Steak Knife, where it's an unique appetizer specialty. Its closest relative is pizza--but this has no crust and no sauce. A friend calls it a "cheese frisbee," but that's not quite it.
- Five very thin slices of French bread
- Vegetable oil
- 1/2 cup grated Jarlsberg cheese
- 1/2 cup grated Muenster cheese
- 1/2 cup grated Romano cheese
- 4 dashes Tabasco
- 1/2 tsp. Italian seasoning
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
1. Brush oil lightly on a six- to eight-inch metal plate. Place the French bread slices on the plate, touching one another but not overlapping.
2. Combine the cheeses, the Tabasco, and the Italian seasoning and mix together well. Spread cheese mixture across entire plate.
3. Place in oven and bake seven to nine minutes--or until cheese just begins to brown at edges.
Serve with a warning about the palate-searing heat, but be sure to eat it while the cheese is still semi-molten.Serves four.
April 27, 2012
Days Until. . .
Mother's Day 16
New Orleans Wine And Food Experience 25
Jazz Festival Begins!
Chef D'Oeuvre Du Jour
#92: Double-Cut Pork Chop @ Rue 127, Mid-City: 127 N Carrollton Ave. 504-483-1571. My favorite entree at this great new bistro is a thick slab of bone-in pork loin. The menu makes no claim for its source--it's not from a Mangalitsa or Kurabuta pig. It's lean and beautifully trimmed. Yet it lacks nothing in its flavor. Could win against the pedigreed chops in a blind tasting. I suspect it may be brined (a good thing). The sauce is made with whiskey and roasted peppers, with corn coush-coush (pudding) on the side. Finally, they have the good sense to leave it a little pink in the middle (which the USDA has declared is perfectly safe). This is one of NOMenu's 500 Best Dishes in New Orleans. Collect all 500!
Today is National Prime Rib Day. Prime rib is, speaking strictly, the three rearmost ribs from the primal rib roast. However, most restaurants and butchers consider all seven ribs in the standard rib roast as being prime rib. The ones in the back have a bigger "eye" in the center and smaller islands of lean around the perimeter of fat. It's the same cut used for ribeye steaks, but before the bone is removed.
The big difference between prime rib and ribeye is the cooking method. Most prime rib roasts are roasted whole for hours at low temperatures--300 degrees, give or take. That's what gives prime rib its soft, juicy texture, so different from the firmer texture of the same cut if meat grilled one steak at a time. Prime rib is usually not carved until serving time.
One more confusion: the word "prime" in the expression "prime rib" is not the same as in "USDA Prime grade" for beef. A prime rib can be choice or worse grade. USDA Prime prime rib is rarely seen; the amount of fat in it is fantastic, but fans of the cut love it for that.
Prime rib was much more popular in the 1960s and 1970s than it is now. Back then, restaurant chains all over America specialized in it. Two of note in New Orleans were Victoria's Station (a national chain that is down to just a few restaurants) and Ichabod's Galley, a local chain. The most famous place for the eating of prime rib, of course, is the Rib Room at the Royal Orleans Hotel.
Deft Dining Rule #712:
If you ask for the end cut in a prime rib place, the only acceptable answers are "Of course!" or "I'm sorry. . . we've already sold them tonight."
Deft Dining Rule #713:
Never order the end cut of prime rib, unless you want to be identified as a the kind of person who eats well-done steak.
The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:
A prime rib roast with two bones is one bone short. Three bones is routine. When you have four bones, you really have something worth inviting friends over for.
Rib Falls, Wisconsin is a crossroads community sixteen miles west of Wausau, which puts it in the center of the state. It is named for the Class III rapids on the Big Rib River, a favorite stream for avid canoe paddlers. It's a tributary of the Wisconsin River, which flows into the Mississippi and down to New Orleans. All this is in a pretty landscape with gently rolling hills and large acreage of cornfields. If you're hungry in rib falls, you have a choice of two sports bars with food: Don's and the Cornerstore. They'd better have baby backs.
Food Through History
Today in 1773, the British Parliament passed the Tea Act, which levied yet another tax that the American colonists found outrageous. It ultimately incited the Boston Tea Party, which got the attention of the British government.
rillons, [REE-yohnh], French, n., pl.--Small cubes and dominoes of meat--most often pork, but occasionally other fatty varieties. It's first cured with salt or brine, then slowly cooked to release the fat while at the same time the lean soaks it up. It's related to rillettes (which is reduced to strings, like pulled pork) and confit (left in large pieces). Rillons are usually served as a garnish to larger pieces of protein, but they can also be served on croutons as an appetizer. In its oldest and most traditional form, rillons are packed into a container with all of the rendered fat, which can preserve it even without refrigeration, in the same way a confit is. (Although it's probably a better idea to put it into the refrigerator.)
Today is the feast day of St. Zita. As a young servant girl, she gathered her own food as well as what other food she could find in the household of her employers and gave it to the poor in the streets of Lucca, Italy. She is the patron saint of waitresses. Her name is also the singular form of ziti, the tubular pasta a lot like penne. But there is no connection.
Annals Of The Cocktail
Today in 1957, Mario A. Gianini passed away. (I can't find his birth date.) He was the inventor of the maraschino cherry, so common in our drinks and baking. A maraschino cherry is a light-colored cherry preserved in a brine or alcohol solution, then marinated in a colored, flavored syrup that gives it (usually) an almond flavor. The flavor is in imitation of maraschino liqueur, made from the marasco cherry and containing real almond extract. Maraschino liqueur is rarely used now. Now, we turn to a long-running and absurd argument my wife and I have. I say--and dictionaries and speakers of Italian do too--that the preferred pronunciation is "maras-kee-no." I learned that from the cartoon character Snagglepuss, who was the first person (?) I ever heard pronounce the word. My wife says that it should be "mara-shee-no," because, she claims, that's how most people say it. Sheesh.
Former Louisiana Senator Lloyd Wheat was born today in 1922. . . A movie called The Dish opened today in 2001. Disappointingly, it was not about food, but a satellite antenna. . . Punk rock artist David Peel was born today in 1947.
Words To Eat By
"Any of us would kill a cow rather than not have beef."--Samuel Johnson.
Words To Drink By
"Beer is made by men, wine by God."--Martin Luther.
Is There Such A Thing As Leftover Chocolate?
Probably not. But think of all the things you could do with it! Click here for the cartoon.
Have a lusty New Orleans meal today!