Wednesday, May 2, 2012
1292 Restaurants Open Around Town (click for the whole list)
Zoo To-Do Friday
The Zoo To-Do was the first charitable fundraiser anywhere that focused on restaurants and chefs as its main theme. When it began in the early 1970s, the Audubon Zoo was in abysmal shape, and needed a large cash influx to become something better. The chefs of the city's restaurants were invited to serve appetizer portions of a dish or two, and people paid top dollar to attend. Now such events are so common that not a week of the year is without two or three, but the entire concept was born at the Zoo To-Do. It became the biggest non-medical fundraising event in America.
The event remains classy. Tuxedos or white linen suits are de rigueur for men, cocktail dresses for women. The price is substantial: $155 for members, $195 for non-members. That's high enough that people start looking at the food offerings with a sharp, critical eye, but never mind. There's plenty enough food food and wine about to make it a satisfying evening. And the socializing is the main part, anyway.
Things begin at the patron party at 7:30, in the Audubon Tea Room. The main event is all round the grounds of the zoo, beginning at eight. Live music goes on all night long, with the main act being The Family Stone (without Sly). It looks like the weather will be good, if a little on the warm side. Tickets can be paid for and printed out online: http://www.auduboninstitute.org/ztd/.
This year's Whitney Bank Zoo To-Do helps the Audubon Zoo continue to grow in creativity and excellence. And it's fun, too. You'll see a lot of people you haven't seen since last year. It usually sells out, and no tickets will be sold at the door. So order now.
Zoo To-Do. Uptown: Audubon Zoo, Friday, May 4, 8 p.m. till.
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Monday, April 30, 2012.
Pork Chops And Lasagna At Mandina's.
Back in the days when I was trying to get something started in radio (not knowing that my food writing would be the thing that would get me somewhere), my model was Johnny Carson. If my twenty-five-year-old self could visit my present life, he would be pleased to see that I stay home every Monday and broadcast from here. Johnny didn't work at all on Mondays, but still, the idea would have resonance.
Dinner at Mandina's in Mandeville, which seems to be moving up in our list of regularly-visited restaurants. I think we've eaten there three times this month. Maybe that's why I broke away from my usual order of trout or soft-shell crab amandine tonight and had the lasagna. I never thought that Mandina's red-sauce dishes were their best, but I was in the mood. It was reasonably good, but not one of their best dishes. Too much cheese, I'd say. Mary Ann had something else to say: "There's no such thing as too much cheese." I always check with her whenever I want to know about how the mainstream feels.
She had the grilled pork chop, which was bigger than I expected, though not as big as the waiter indicated with his thumb and forefinger. Still, it was beautiful, and her appetite left a meaty bone for the dog Susie.
The past few times at Mandina's, I thirsted for a martini. Today, I had one. They were out of Tanqueray, so I had Hendricks gin instead. When it finally came out, the drink was very large. I have enforced a one-martini limit on myself since last year, but how do you calculate that when the drink is a double? I now know the answer. I felt the impact of this the rest of the night. But how do you ask for a small cocktail? Or leave half of one behind?
Mandina's. Mandeville: 4240 La 22. 985-674-9883.
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.
Restaurant des Familles
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 the bayou outside its windows. At one time in the dim past, that was the Mississippi River. Pat Morrow opened the restaurant in 1993. It was washed out by Hurricane Katrina, but dried out and reopened just in time to be flooded again 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 creates most of the atmosphere. Alligators have been known to appear in the winding backwater. The visual is almost laughably typical of South Louisiana. The dining room is spacious and airy. Sometimes there's live music.
ESSENTIAL DISHES [»=Recommended]
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
ANECDOTES AND ANALYSIS
Our area is in close proximity to many Ends Of The World. Restaurant des Familles is not in such a place, but well down the road to one of them: Barataria, the hangout of Jean Lafitte and his pirates. The surroundings of the restaurant are primordial enough that there are swamp tours nearby. Yet it's close enough to town that if you have a visiting client or friend who wants to eyeball the unique Louisiana environment, it's not too long a trip to come here. And eat some gumbo, oysters, crabmeat, and all the other comestibles for which our town is celebrated.
West End Park
West End Park
The handsomest of all the new restaurants along the west side of West End Park, Pique's Wharf tried to go full-tilt gourmet, but with a style that reminded one more of places like Houlihan's. The hand-drawn menu was on an enormous card that cut off communications among the diners at a table while they read the thing.
Which took awhile. Not only were many dishes on it, but a majority were things that required explanations. How else to find out what "oysters Smokey Mary" were like? The menu also sported a byzantine set of symbols that told which dishes were spicy, which were gourmet, and which were house specialties. And, as if that weren't enough, advertising for outside businesses ran along the perimeter.
It was all a bit too much to take in. If the food had been good, it might have been worth it. But it always seemed to me to have been conceived by someone who had read about fine dining but not actually experienced it—let alone cooked it. A little too creative.
After Pique's closed, the good-looking space with its lake view became Willie G's. The seafood platters were as generous as those at Bruning's and Fitzgerald's, but better. Nothing was ever overcooked or tepid; it all seemed to be fried to order. I was so impressed that I talked about it a lot on my new radio talk show. The business didn't boom, but Willie G's seemed to be doing pretty well.
Then one of the owners had what he thought was a brilliant idea. Unlike most other seafood-loving cities, New Orleans had never had a steamed-seafood restaurant. Willie G's rebuilt its kitchen to that end, and one day swapped out the fried for the steamed.
It was a disaster. You have to grow up with steamed seafood to like it. Nobody around her had. You also need to like seafood that tends to the mild side of the flavor spectrum. (Some of it can be spicy, but not much.) And you have to get over the idea that food is best served piping hot—which steamed seafood often is not. It would not be the last time a seafood steamery opened with a bang and died with a whimper. (Visko's, which also tried steaming seafood, was brought down by it.)
They put the fried stuff back, but the momentum was lost. I don't think Willie G's lasted out the year. It closed, and the building sat unused for awhile. One night, it had a big fire, leaving only the stilts poking out of the water.
May 2, 2012
Days Until. . .
Mother's Day 11
New Orleans Wine And Food Experience 20
Chef D'Oeuvre Du Jour
#432: Hot Sausage Hamburger @ Bozo's, Metairie: 3117 21st Street. 504-831-8666. For longer than I can remember, Bozo's has served a poor boy (or a platter) with a blend of ground beef and homemade hot sausage. It's grilled like a burger, and packs an enormous flavor punch. You can get this made either with all hot sausage (which takes a glass-lined stomach to digest comfortably) or all hamburger. But the most popular is the combination of the two. Even so, it's the sort of things the regulars go for most often. Occasional diners will likely never get past the seafood, the real specialty at Bozo's. This is one of NOMenu's 500 Best Dishes in New Orleans. Collect all 500!
It is Truffle Day. Let's quickly note that chocolate truffles--the rich confections of chocolate and cream--only look like a real truffles. A true truffle is the fruiting body of one of a large family of mushrooms. Most of the fungus the hairlike underground mycelia that collect nourishment from decomposing plant matter. Instead of sending up a toadstool to spread its spores, the kind of fungus that makes truffles grows a dense nodule, usually on or near the roots of a tree. These nodules emit an attractive aroma that causes animals to dig them up and eat them, distributing the spores in the process.
The aroma is what makes certain truffles so valuable. It's similar to that of the sexual pheromone of the animals who like them. Including people. This is most true of white truffles from northern Italy. In season (the fall), pigs and dogs can easily smell them out, even though they're several inches underground. The human olfactory sense isn't as acute, but up close we pick up the smell frequency of these things. The reason seems to be that it fires off brain cells involved in our finding a mate. Which is why they have such allure.
Black truffles also are European. The best come from the Perigord region of France, where the cuisine includes many dishes involving truffles. They're more subtle than the white truffles, and while they don't elicit as strong basic animal response, they're very good if they're fresh. When they're not, they taste like nothing at all.
Attempts to cultivate truffles have not born much fruit. They taste more like dirt to us than anything else. In France and Italy, the location of the truffle-producing mushrooms is a secret that a father will not even impart to his son, save on his deathbed.
Deft Dining Rule #466
If a dish said to contain truffles is not significantly more expensive than similar truffle-free dishes on the menu, you will not be able to detect the truffle flavor or aroma in it.
Antelope is a ranch town in north central Texas, ninety miles northwest of Fort Worth. It acquired a post office before the Civil War, and prospered until it reached a population of 300, in 1900. From there it shrank to its present constituency of 65 people, a process that accelerated after the main highway was built a mile north. Antelope is not well fixed with dining possibilities. The nearest is 24 miles east in Bowie: Mancillas Taqueria. If it serves antelope, that will be the best thing on the menu.
Nilgai, [Indian], n., adj.--A large antelope, native to northern India, weighing as much as 800 pounds. Their heads look too small for their bodies. Nilgai were introduced to this country in Texas in the 1920s. Originally ranched for hunting purposes, they escaped into the wild. When the Axis deer began to be ranched and found their way onto restaurant menus. the Nilgai started appearing too. It's a tender red meat with a moderate gaminess and low fat--excellent eating. They have become uncommon, although Texas hunters still take them down. I wish this antelope were served more often.
High Living On The High Seas
Today in 1969, the Queen Elizabeth II departed London on her maiden voyage to New York. The age of transatlantic travel by ship was over, but the QE2 managed to attract passengers with its gilded service and food. By the standards of today's cruise ships, the QE2 of those days would be considered small and ordinary now. It was retired in 2009, but until then it was the fastest cruise ship on the seas, capable of doing over thirty-two knots. It could sail backward faster than other cruise ships can go forward.
Annals Of Food Writing
Good Housekeeping has always carried many articles about cooking, food buying, and kitchen techniques. It published its first edition today in 1885. Clearly aimed at women, its focus has broadened to include many matters well outside what its title might suggest. Is sex, for example, really considered part of housekeeping?
Music To Eat Hot Dogs By
"Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack. . . " That line is from Take Me Out To The Ballgame, by Albert von Tilzer. He registered a trademark on the song on this date in 1908.
Legends Of Wine
Julio Gallo, who began what became the world's largest winery with his brother Ernest, accidentally drove off the side of a mountain in the wine country and died today in 1995. He was 82.
Mickey Bass III, jazz composer and performer, was born today in 1943. . . Peggy Bacon, artist and printmaker, was born today in 1895. . . Actor William Bakewell hit The Big Stage today in 1908. . . Teenage actress Kay Panabaker came out of the oven in Orange, Texas today in 1990.
Words To Eat By
"If I can't have too many truffles, I'll do without truffles." --Colette.
Words To Drink By
"Wine gives a man nothing. . . it only puts in motion what had been locked up in frost."Samuel Johnson.
An Unanswered Question From An Old Movie.
It concerns King Kong and the classic New York delicatessens. Click here for the cartoon.
Have a lusty New Orleans meal today!