Monday, April 30, 2012
1292 Restaurants Open Around Town (click for the whole list)
Red Beans At The Peppermill
There's been so much going on for this department to cover that we've neglected our Monday Red Beans Quest. So let's return to it in a place I've always found does the dish well: the Peppermill in Metairie. The beans are cooked in a looser style than is currently the vogue, with a lighter sauce and firmer beans. Maybe it's because I grew up eating them that way, but I have a taste for this. About the only complaint one could have is that the portion is too big to finish easily. This is a much better restaurant than those who are prejudiced against older customers ever bother to find out.
Peppermill. Metairie: 3524 Severn Ave. 504-455-2266
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Friday, April 27, 2012.
Jazz Festival Begins, But I'm Working On The Golf Course.
In the early years of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, the organizers were pleased to have radio stations broadcast live from the Fair Grounds. For many years, I was out there, mic before me. Then, one year, we were informed that all the radio stations would henceforth be relegated to a ghetto on the periphery of the main action. I thought it had to be a mistake. Getting food vendors to talk on the air became difficult, because few of them had the time to walk clear across the grounds. Some couldn't find us.
After the second year of this, the radio station management decided to blow off the Fair Grounds broadcasts. We haven't done them since. The Jazz Festival people seem not to miss us. It was theorized by some that the reason for the change is that the Jazz Festival has its own radio station--WWOZ, whose broadcast booth was right in the middle of things. But it's a non-commercial station, and that seems fair enough anyway.
I think is the real reason for radio's departure is that there are too many radio stations. When I first became aware of radio (and enthralled enough by it to want to do it for a living) there were only ten radio stations in New Orleans. It's a measure of what a radio geek I was in my pre-teens (and still am) that I can cough out all them without thinking hard:
All were on AM. (There were a handful of FM stations, but nobody listened to them because nobody had an FM radio in the early 1960s.) Now you can hear at least forty radio stations in the New Orleans area. All of them would likely be at the Jazz Festival if it were easy. I can understand why the organizers came to the conclusion that the broadcasts might be more trouble than they're worth.
I wasn't at the Jazz Festival when it opened today. I will be next Friday, when the New Orleans Booksellers association invited me to come by their JazzFest tent to sign books.
Instead, I accepted an invitation Tommy Cvitanovich (he of Drago's). The long-running golf tournament formerly known as the New Orleans Open--now called the Zurich Classic--has grown popular enough that it has a major hospitality aspect. The Acme Oyster House has its own pavilion seating about a hundred people. Inside the adjacent tent, the Acme's staff shucks oysters, fries shrimp, dishes out red beans and gumbo, and distributes beer. People pay $75 for this privilege, which also gives good views of three holes. It sold out this year.
Even more alluring is the Champions Club, where a septet of first-class restaurants (Galatoire's, Drago's, Arnaud's, Mr. B's, Ruth's Chris Steak House, NOLA), plus Outback Steak House were serving up food. Yeah, that was a little dig at the Outback, but it's to keep me from losing my credibility when I say that the best dish at the Champion's Club was actually the Outback's terrific seared, pepper-crusted tuna. I downed two orders of it. That's saying something with the competition from Galatoire's shrimp remoulade and crabmeat maison, Drago's char-broiled oysters, Ruth's filet sandwiches, Mr. B's seared scallops. . .
Our radio engineers were all busy with this weekend's NFL Draft Fest, so if I wanted to do the show I had to use my own equipment. The noise level was pretty high during the first half of the show, reaching a pinnacle when Bubba Watson--who won this tournament last year, and the Masters a few weeks ago--took a shot right in front of the Champions Club. (It was a long fairway shot that landed in a sand trap.)
The strangest thing I witnessed was that whenever a golfer was about to take a stroke, some moderators of the crowd called out for quiet. It reminded me of my dad, who loved golf. We were all watching a tournament on television (this was long enough ago that it was black and white). We kids were making our usual din when one of the golfers was about to putt. "Shhh!" Daddy said. "You have to let him concentrate!" We thought he was joking, but he wasn't.
When the radio show ended, almost everything else had, too. Mary Ann joined me for the show, but we were in separate cars, so we saved each other the pain of grumbling during the twenty minutes we were stuck in traffic on the US 90 approach to the Huey P. Long Bridge.
Saturday, April 28, 2012.
Return To Dakota.
Mary Ann gave me my choice of lunch or dinner, and immediately suggested that we have the latter at Dakota. It's at least a year and a half since the last time. I remember is that the sharp edge that earned five stars from me for many years seemed dulled then, in that meal and the few before it. It wasn't a momentous decline, but the difference between five stars and four stars is all in the details. In Dakota's case, it was things like the replacement of the gorgeous fresh flowers by, let's say, not as fresh. And I couldn't help but wonder about events at Cuvee. Dakota's owners Ken Lacour and Chef Kim Kringlie also owned that place, which dwindled in its last year and closed late in 2010.
On top of that, the Dakota guys took over the former Artesia in Abita Springs as a catering hall and short-schedule restaurant in early 2011. I pass there often enough to know that nothing much was happening. It shut down completely a few months ago.
Tonight, we were happy to see that the downward course has been arrested. The flowers are back. The dining room was busy. A private party occupied a large room. And the menu--which seemed static on our last few outings--was full of new dishes.
We began with a cocktail called a French bulldog--vodka (I asked for gin instead), St. Germaine, grapefruit juice. That was good with the always-wonderful parmesan-truffle fries. An amuse-bouche of a baked oyster apiece appeared. Sort of a Bienville without the bacon flavor, it was rich, hot, and good. Baked oysters are among my favorite things, but even Mary Ann--who usually passes hers over to me--liked this enough to consider asking for a second one.
Next, an oyster Rockefeller soup. One taste made me think that the perfect added touch would be a shot of absinthe. That flavor was almost certainly part of the original Rockefeller recipe when Antoine's created it. But Dakota's bar had no absinthe! Later, when I talked with Kenny, he said it had been on his mind, and now he would make it happen.
I had a nice French Sauvignon Blanc from Chateau Recougne instead, and then a glass of Montepulciano d'Abruzzo--the latter an enormous, purple-tinged red. I wanted that mainly to hold my place during the eating of a slab of foie gras topped with a fried quail egg and set in a pool of jus.
Now braised pork tenderloin sharing a bowl and broth with a dozen or so mussels. I wouldn't say the flavors were complementary, but both parts were fine. Like two kids who don't partake in the same activity but don't fight with one another, either.
Everything was going fine until Mary Ann dug into the Chairman's Reserve Cut (whaaa? just a fancy way of saying it was big, I guess) ribeye. Mary Ann finds a good ribeye hard to resist. This one was just okay. But I should have known. Even in its peak years, Dakota was never strong in the steak department.
Four desserts? They should do better than that. I had creme brulee, which I always liked here because it still flows when it comes out. (It should.)
Although he was busy tonight with a party hosted by Jimmy Buffett, who is performing at the Jazz Festival, Ken dropped by the restaurant and sat down with us. He filled in a lot of the gaps in the story of his restaurants' past couple of years, admitting among other things that the Artesia venture was sub-optimal. Reading between the lines, it seemed to me that the catering side of Dakota has achieved a stronger gravity than the a la carte operation.
And I learned that we will do an Eat Club here in June. I'm happy about that. It's been years, as I said.
Dakota. Covington: 629 N US 190 . 985-892-3712.
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.
Dozen Best Restaurants For Uncommon Meats
A restaurateur who is no longer in the business once told me that there wasn't much to making a menu. "All you have to work with is regular beef, pork, veal, lamb, chicken, duck, shellfish and fish," he said. "Nobody wants anything else!"
Restaurateurs who have made names for themselves among avid diners have shown this not to be true, by adding to their menus species of protein not included on the list above. And by using offbeat cuts of familiar animals.
That said, the first guy I mentioned is closer to correct. Our restaurants really don't have very many dishes centered on tripe, frog, goat, tongue, venison, or cheeks. And you will look in vain for kidneys, squab, brains, or even oxtails.
On the third hand (give me a hand here, would you?), we have seen rabbit, sweetbreads, hanger steak, pork belly, beef tendon (in the Vietnamese places, mostly) and a few other meats become commonplace. They were unheard of in New Orleans restaurants thirty years ago. Now a dozen-best list could be compiled about any of them. Beyond that, a lot of restaurants have begun using variety meats as specials. So there's hope for the future.
Here is a list of the dozen restaurants that have distinguished themselves by exploring the world of meats beyond the basics.
1. La Boca. Warehouse District: 857 Fulton. 504-525-8205. Chef Adolfo Garcia shows up twice on this list, starting with his Argentine-style steakhouse in the Warehouse District. They you find not only the standard cuts, but many unusual ones: hanger, flatiron, skirt, flank, and chuck filet steaks, among others. And here is an interesting approach to veal sweetbreads: La Boca grills them.
2. La Provence. Lacombe: 25020 US 190. 985-626-7662. La Provence raises its own Mangalitsa pigs in back of the restaurant. Mangalitsas are the current darlings of chefs in the burgeoning world of pig cookery. Chef Erik Loos makes much of them here (three ways on one plate in the photo above!), and also sends some off to his associated John Besh restaurants (notably August and Luke).
3. Lilette. Uptown: 3637 Magazine. 504-895-1636. Pork cheeks have become more widely available around town, but braised veal cheeks remain elusive. Here they are, as tender as any meat you've ever eaten, and twice as flavorful. Also here: boudin noir, the French blood sausage.
4. Clancy's. Uptown: 6100 Annunciation. 504-895-1111. Clancy's is famous among lovers of veal liver for its version of that, made with very young, tender veal liver cooked until a line of pink is at the center of each slice. Also here are excellent sweetbreads, served as an appetizer (the best place for it) from a wide repertoire of recipes.
5. Patois. Uptown: 6078 Laurel. 504-895-9441. I suspect that one of the explanations for Patois's popularity has been the boldness of its menu. It's full of French-scented, old-style dishes, many of which use meats of unusual provenance. Sweetbreads are a logical item to be here, but we also get gnocchi with guanciale (cured hog's jowls), roasted pheasant, and the occasional venison.
6. Domenica. CBD: 123 Baronne (Roosevelt Hotel). 504-648-6020. Capretto is what the Italians call baby goat--a light-colored meat they very much enjoy eating, particularly in the northern provinces. Domenica roasts it in a wood-burning oven, and it's wonderful regardless of the sauce (currently tomato).
7. Le Meritage. French Quarter: 1001 Toulouse. 504-522-8800. Venison slips off menus in the warm months, but Le Meritage's often-changing menu has featured it on most of my visits there. Once they did it with a savory chocolate sauce I thought was brilliant.
8. A Mano. Warehouse District: 870 Tchoupitoulas. 504-208-9280. Adolfo Garcia's Sicilian restaurant in the Warehouse District goes farther afield of the local norms than any other Italian eatery. The bucatini pasta all’ amatriciana is made in the classic style with guanciale--smoked, cured hog jowls. Also here is trippa alla Romana: beef tripe with tomato sauce, previously available only occasionally at Impastato's (photo above) and Tony Angello's.
9. Delmonico. Lee Circle Area: 1300 St Charles Ave. 504-525-4937. When Delmonico added a large small-plates component to its menu, two items stood out: the house-made charcuterie, and the crisp pork cheeks. The latter are a must-try dish at Emeril's grand restaurant on St. Charles Avenue.
10. Irish House. Lee Circle Area: 1432 St Charles Ave. 504-595-6755. The Irish love variety meats, and Chef Matt Murphy has been giving us many of them. Here are cider-braised pork cheeks. And beer-battered venison sausage. There's more where that came from.
11. Sylvain. French Quarter: 625 Chartres St. 504-265-8123. The most interesting and least-expected dish at Sylvain--a restaurant with a serious menu that still comes across as more of a bar--is braised beef cheeks in a natural jus. All I could think about when I ate this was how great a poor boy could be made of it, but it stands on its own just fine.
12. Taqueria Corona. Uptown: 5932 Magazine St. 504-897-3974. When Taqueria Corona opened the first restaurant of its kind in these parts, back in the 1980s, it caught a lot of attention from adventuresome eaters for featuring beef tongue as a taco possibility. That meat had gone completely out of vogue in the 1960s, but it's back, thanks to this place.
Poultry Liver Pate
This is the simplest of all the pates, the kind that a few restaurants serve as a complimentary appetizer (although that's becoming rare). It also uses something you may have been feeding to the cat: the livers that come packed inside the cavity of a store-bought chicken, turkey, or duck. When you make this, also slice rounds of French bread and toast them so your guests will have somewhere to spread the pate.
- 3Tbs. butter
- 1/2 cup chopped onion
- 1 tsp. chopped fresh garlic
- 1 small, ripe pear or apple, peeled and cored, shredded
- 1 pound chicken, turkey, or duck livers, rinsed, trimmed and cut in half (about 10 chicken livers)
- 1/4 cup Cognac or Calvados
- 1 stick cold butter
1. Heat 2 Tbs. butter in a skillet over medium-low heat until it bubbles. Add the onion, garlic, and pear or apple and cook slowly, while stirring, until soft. Spoon the pan contents into a food processor bowl.
2. Heat 1 Tbs. butter in the skillet. Raise the heat to medium-high and add the livers. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until seared all over. (They should remain a little pink in the center.)
3. Lower the heat and add the Cognac or Calvados. If you feel comfortable about flaming things on the stove, touch a flame to the mixture and burn off the brandy until the flames stop. (Otherwise, just let the brandy boil away until only a little liquid remains.)
4. Add the livers to the food processor. Run the processor until the mixture is completely smooth. If it gets thick, add a little cream to loosen it up.
5. Cut the stick of butter into about ten pats, and add them three at a time to the mixture, processing until they disappear. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.
6. With a rubber spatula, remove the pate to ramekins. Cover with small pieces of waxed paper and refrigerate for at least three hours. It's best to remove the pate from the refrigerator about an hour before you serve it.Serves six to eight.
April 30, 2012
Days Until. . .
Mother's Day 13
New Orleans Wine And Food Experience 22
Chef d'Oeuvre du Jour
#214: Soft-Shell Crab Loaf @ Casamento's, Uptown: 4330 Magazine. 504-895-9761. Eating a soft-shell crab sandwich is--when you try it the first time, or think about it thereafter--a kind of strange thing. You start out eating legs and claws. The center of the sandwich delivers the jumbo and backfin lump meat. Then you fall into a lull in the middle, but then the lumps come back into play. It ends how you started, with the appendages. At Casamento's, they only serve soft-shell crabs in season, so they're big and fat. The loaf comes out not on the usual French bread but the unconventional, toasted, buttered "pan bread." Flawless. This is one of NOMenu's 500 Best Dishes in New Orleans. Collect all 500!
Roots Of Creole Cuisine
Today in 1812, the Territory of Orleans was admitted to the United States as the State of Louisiana--the eighteenth state. This is also the day, in 1803, when Thomas Jefferson signed the Louisiana Purchase, making it officially part of the United States. Our state is named for King Louis XIV of France--the Sun King. Even by royal standards, he lived in high style. His taste for great food and wine encouraged the development of French cuisine. Which New Orleans inherited as part of the empire.
Music To Eat Red Beans By
Today is the birthday (1925) of Johnny Horton, who recorded the hit song The Battle of New Orleans in the 1950s. It was one of many songs that requires the tourist pronunciation of our city's name:
Well they took a little bacon and they took a little beans,
And they fought the bloody British in the town of New Orleans.
Today is allegedly National Raisin Day. Raisins are ultra-ripe red grapes. They remain on the vine until wrinkled and intensely sweet. The same effect comes from picking the grapes and letting them ripen in open baskets. Raisins are very good for you, but not everybody likes them. In every pan of bread pudding--in which raisins are a common ingredient--I put all the raisins on one side, leaving the other raisin-free.
The strangest use of raisins I ever heard of was a game played in England a century ago. You put raisins in a bowl of brandy and ignite them in a darkened room. The game was to reach into the flames and pluck out raisins, then eat them. They'd still be on fire, but as soon as you closed your mouth the flames would be extinguished. We do not recommend this game.
I also note that today ends National Soy Foods Month. Darn! We forgot to do anything about that!
The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:
If wine is better with age, and a raisin is a grape with age, why do grapes taste better than raisins? And would you get the aged-wine taste if you made wine with raisins? Many questions to be answered here.
Croaker is at the source of the York River in east central Virginia. The York travels twenty-nine miles to Chesapeake Bay, and has some tidal characteristics--enough that the fish called the croaker make their way far upstream. The town is named for the fish, which are small but make for good eating. Croaker is in a historic state park. It's also near Williamsburg, itself a historic preserve. That's where all the eateries are, including the Welcome South Restaurant.
Dinner In The Diner
Casey Jones ran off the rails in the great train accident that immortalized him in song. It happened near Vaughn, Mississippi, some fifty miles north of Jackson. The City of New Orleans used to cross the very spot where the Cannonball Express met its demise, but is now routed to the west. All the chicken gumbo in the dining car drained into a ditch, but they never talk about that. Hmph.
Music To Eat On The Road By (Again!)
This is the birthday (in 1933) of Texas country music icon Willie Nelson, as fine a writer as he is a performer. (He is playing at this year's New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, which began yesterday.) Among his many gifts to the word is his annual Farm Aid concert, helping the beleaguered American family farmer. He doesn't look to me like he eats enough, though.
Annals Of Popular Cuisine
On this date in 1904, 101 years after the Louisiana Purchase was signed (see above), President Theodore Roosevelt officially opened the Louisiana Purchase World Exposition in St. Louis. The hot dog, the hamburger, and the ice cream cone are all reputed to have been invented there. If they were not, they certainly became popular as a result of the Fair. Dr Pepper, little known before the Fair, was a big hit after.
nage, [nahzh], French, n.--The word is a French reference to swimming. The cooking aspect involved a poaching liquid flavored with savory vegetables and herbs. After the fish or chicken or whatever is cooked in it, the sloshy panful is reduced down to concentrate the flavors. Sometimes cream or a light roux is added to it. Sometimes it's strained, sometimes not. "Reduction" is becoming a more understandable word for it, but chefs like words that laymen aren't familiar with to enhance the uniqueness of their work. So "nage" is making a comeback lately.
Food On The Air
Today in 1945, Arthur Godfrey began a daily radio show on CBS Radio. He didn't end it until this same date in 1972, when his show was the last remnant of old-time network radio. It was a variety show with live music, interviews with guests, and joking around by Godfrey. Perhaps the most influential program in broadcasting history, its format is still in use by most television talk shows. A Prairie Home Companion is a lot like what Godfrey's show was. Godfrey did all the commercials himself, ad-lib. His most loyal sponsor was Lipton Tea.
Deft Dining Rule #616:
A Chinese restaurant that doesn't brew its tea to individual table order with loose tea leaves is Americanizing most of its menu, too.
Now here's a strange coincidence. Folk singer Richard Farina was born today in 1956. His wife Mimi Farina was also born on this date, in 1945. (She was Joan Baez's sister.) And Johnny Farina--who was no relation at all to any of the above--was also born today, in 1941. Johnny was half of the early rock duo Santo and Johnny, famous for their instrumental hit Sleepwalk. (Farina is a word referring to all kinds of flour.)
Words To Eat By
"A raisin is just a worried grape."--Fred Allen, radio comedian of the 1930s and 1940s.
Words To Drink By
"A hardened and shameless tea-drinker. . . has for twenty years diluted his meals with only the infusion of this fascinating plant; whose kettle has scarcely time to cool; who with tea amuses the evening, with tea solaces the midnight, and with tea welcomes the morning."--Samuel Johnson.
The Two Things Men Care About Most.
They are in eternal conflict, unfortunately, as happiness waits and watches. Click here for the cartoon.
Have a lusty New Orleans meal today!