Friday, May 4, 2012
1292 Restaurants Open Around Town (click for the whole list)
NOMenu's 23rd Annual Jazz Festival Eating Guide
Click here for ratings and locations of all the food
Veuve Clicquot Menu Every Night In May At Ralph's.
Ralph's On The Park has struck some sort of cozy relationship with Veuve Clicquot, one of the most venerable makers of Champagne. Every May, they run a five-course dinner designed to blend well with Champagne. You can have it with or without the pairings; the "with" version includes five different Veuve Clicquot cuvees. Two of these are vintage Champagnes, which you don't encounter often. The paired menu is a serious bargain at $95. (It's $65 without the wines. Both prices are plus tax and tip.) The menu is created by Chef Chip Flanagan, and here it is:
English Pea & Mint Soup
Garnished with jumbo lump crab, white truffle oil
Wine: Veuve Clicquot "Yellow Label" NV Brut
Pepper jack Mornay, roasted corn foam, popcorn sprouts, pickled purple cabbage
Wine: Veuve Clicquot "La Grande Dame," 1998
Butter Poached Lobster Pasta
Mushrooms, country ham, micro basil
Wine: Veuve Clicquot Rosé NV
Fennel Pollen Dusted Salmon
Cauliflower custard, lemon zest butter sauce, pea shoot salad
Wine: Veuve Clicquot 2004
Buttermilk Panna Cotta
Strawberry gelée & sorbet
Wine: Veuve Clicquot Demi-Sec NV
This menu is available seven nights a week through the end of May. Reservations are probably a good idea.
Ralph's On The Park. City Park Area: 900 City Park Ave. 504-488-1000
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Thursday, May 3, 2012.
I warned Mary Ann months ago that publishing a book involves labors that continue expanding long after one is completely sick of the book and everything about it. Her current frustration involves a press release. Most of her problems come from having never done this sort of thing before. Learning curves accompany almost everything we do, natural talents not as many.
She called me after the radio show to let me know that Mary Leigh was probably available for dinner. Our daughter, she said, had just rolled out of bed. At six in the evening? Ah, but it's exam time, when the holiness of sleep is often usurped.
ML and I went to High Hat, one of the many restaurants that unexpectedly erupted in the old Freret Street commercial district in the past couple of years. We arrived early enough to beat the much larger crowd that showed up at dusk. High Hat, being new and in harmony with the trends, could be expected to draw a good crowd of Jazz festival visitors.
High Hat took over the space where the hallowed Bill Long's Bakery operated for fifty years. Other than the bar and a semi-open kitchen, the place is immediately recognizable to old Bill Long customers. The big windows and earth-shade tile floors bring a chill of nostalgia. Yes, a chill: the bakery closed after second-generation owner Bill Long Jr. was murdered in his shop.
But that's behind us, Katrina having washed the bad stuff in the neighborhood largely away, allowing all sorts of cool new establishments to rebuild the historic stretch between Napoleon and Jefferson Avenues.
We got a good look at one of the most celebrated of those en route to High Hat. Dat Dog just moved from its totally inadequate shed to a converted gas station across the street. That gives it many more tables, under the canopy that covered the old gas pumps. The line for the made-to-order hot dogs--the best ever served in New Orleans--is longer than ever.
Back to High Hat. Co-owner Chip Apperson lived in Memphis a long time, and was always intrigued by the name of Cecil's Hi-Hat Lounge, a seedy-looking bar there. When he and Chef Adolfo Garcia partnered on this place last year, Chip finally got to use the name. On a trip back to Memphis, he saw the old place was being torn down. He bought the sign and hung it above the bar. It was only then that he noticed that the old joint was called "Hi-Hat," not "High Hat" as was on his restaurant's permits and marquee. Too late to do anything about it now.
The Memphis connection made the menu fall into place. My first impression was that it was an affectation. But no--this really is the kind of menu you'd find a large circle of territory around Memphis. Southern food. However, it's been brought a long way toward present local restaurant conventions, and is therefore a lot better than the typical street corner café in Tennessee and Mississippi.
We started with two soups. The gumbo ya-ya was a dense, spicy, very dark bowlful in the tradition of the soup of the same name at Mr. B's. Mary Leigh has become a gumbo fan, and she liked this--although she thought it a little too spicy.
My soup was a milk stew of oysters and fennel--a natural pairing. It was full of big, plumped-up oysters. The fennel part was played by the fronds on the top of a bunch of the vegetable. You don't see that part used very much. I wonder what they do with the bulbs? Good soup, anyway.
Next, the never-before-attempted hybrid of a wedge salad and shrimp remoulade. Not a bad idea, actually. The shrimp were very large for a remoulade (maybe a click bigger than optimal), and there were plenty of them for an eight-dollar entree salad. The remoulade sauce was the red kind, made with a lot of red pepper. It was peppery enough to make my scalp break into a sweat--an effect I like. (I keep thinking it might reverse my balding.)
Mary Leigh made an entree out of an individually-baked macaroni and cheese, which suited her perfectly. She got a side of cornbread: not as impressive. It reminded me of the very dry kind I make intentionally as the first ingredient in cornbread dressing for a turkey.
Before me was the specialty of the house, fried catfish. The fillets were small (a good thing), lightly coated with cornmeal (ditto), and nicely if not brilliantly fried. They came out atop a pile of hand-cut fries. Both major parts of the dish were adversely affected by their being piled on one another. The resultant steam takes all the crispness out of both fish and spuds. Joining those two was finely-cut cole slaw, and very good hush puppies that actually had flavor beyond that of cornmeal. At $12, this was a good platter.
Strawberry pie looked as if it had been baked by someone who was doing it for the first time. Tasted okay, but it won't linger in my memory.
It's been a long time since I've seen a service staff so well suited to a restaurant. Women who are a shade past being routinely called young are friendly and efficient, and could fit into a tableau set in 1954 New Orleans. Or in 2012 Sardis, Mississippi. The whole restaurant has that feeling, in fact.
It is also very noisy in here when the place fills up. Which it did, by about eight o'clock.
Mary Leigh, who turns twenty next week, has glad news. A fellow student has been discovered who likes to watch hockey games with her and have long, funny conversations. That's all I am allowed to say, and I may already have said too much.
High Hat Cafe. Uptown: 4500 Freret St. 504-754-1336.
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.
Pumpkin and Pecan Bread Pudding
This is no ordinary bread pudding. Not only does it have the fall flavors of pumpkin and pecan, but it's quite rich and is best served not by scooping into bowls, but by slicing like a cake and serving elegantly on plates.
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 3 large egg yolks
- 3 whole eggs
- 1 quart half-and-half cream
- 1 pint whipping cream
- 2 Tbs. vanilla
- 1 loaf stale French bread
- 2 Tbs. butter
- 1 can pie pumpkin (the fresh jack-o'-lantern pumpkin won't work)
- 2 Tbs. cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
- 1 cup pecan pieces
Preheat oven to 250 degrees.
1. In a mixing bowl, blend the sugar, eggs and yolks, half-and-half, whipping cream and vanilla to make a custard mixture.
2. Mix the pumpkin with the cinnamon, nutmeg and 1/2 cup of the custard mixture.
3. Slice the bread into half-inch-thick slices.
4. Coat the insides of two 10-inch cake pans with a generous amount of butter. Line the perimeters with the smallest slices of bread, then cover the bottom with an overlapping bread layer. Pour enough custard mixture over the bread to soak it.
5. Spoon a quarter-inch layer of the pumpkin mixture and about a third of the pecan pieces across the bread. Add another layer of bread, soak it with the custard mixture, and top with the remaining pumpkin mixture and another third of the pecans. Finish with another layer of bread and pecans, and a final soaking with the custard. Repeat this procedure for the other pan.
6. Bake in the preheated 250-degree oven for about an hour and a half. The pudding will rise a great deal, but it will fall again when you take it out of the oven. Remove and cool.
Cut into pie-style slices and serve either warm or cold.Serves twelve.
May 4, 2012
Days Until. . .
Mother's Day 9
New Orleans Wine And Food Experience 18
Chef D'Oeuvre Du Jour
#101: Duck Glazed With Cane Syrup @ Dakota, Covington: 629 N US 190 . 985-892-3712. Some variation of this great roasted half-duckling has been on the menu almost continually since Dakota opened in 1990. They change it up often enough to keep it interesting. (Particularly good was the version smoked over sugar cane.) The glaze is not so sweet that it gets in the way of the tender meat, and the sauce and seasoning always carry enough pepper to make for the thrilling sweet-heat effect. Great with one of the big Cabernets or Merlots on the superb wine list here. This is one of NOMenu's 500 Best Dishes in New Orleans. Collect all 500!
Annals Of Popular Cuisine
The Big Mac was introduced at McDonald's today in 1968. It sold for forty-nine cents, a big jump up from the fifteen-cent standard McDonald's hamburger of the time. The chain's brilliant advertising people infected everyone's mind with the datum that a Big Mac consists of two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun? (See? I still remember that and I didn't even like Big Macs!) The Big Mac big-time nonconformity is that it has three bun segments, not two. The middle one is there to keep the thing from sliming apart. However, it's a bun surplus, unbalanced from a flavor perspective.
Today is National Orange Juice Day. At this time of year, those of us who squeeze oranges every day find ourselves with California navel oranges, whose only drawback is skin so thick that it sometimes tears when you push down in the juicer. Florida juice oranges this time of year are Valencias. Unfortunately, Florida barely keeps up with the demand for its frozen orange concentrate, and unless you live in the state or nearby you almost never see their extra-juicy oranges in stores.
It is also Candied Orange Peel Day. In conjunction with National Artisan Gelato Month, we can observe that a cannoli, contains candied orange peel. So we can observe two things at once.
Applejack Creek--named for the brandy made from distilled apple cider--is in central Idaho. It's usually a dry wash, descending from 5234 feet down the heavily-forested slope of Mineral Mountain. It ends up three miles later in the Muddy Creek. Through intermediate rivers Applejack's waters wind up in the Pacific Ocean through the Columbia River. It's a thirteen-mile hike from the source of the Applejack to the nearest restaurant, Wild Bill's in Garden Valley.
oysters Mosca, n.--A registered trademark for the popular New Orleans Italian baked oyster appetizer. Sometimes its served in a shell, other times in a small casserole. Either way, the oysters are covered with a bread crumb stuffing seasoned with garlic, oregano, grated parmesan cheese, olive oil, and (sometimes)lemon juice or white wine. It's baked until aromatic, and is quite irresistible. In other parts of the world the dish goes by the name oysters (or clams) areganata. It was popularized in New Orleans by Mosca's (which never did use its name on the dish) and the extinct Elmwood Plantation, where chef Nick Mosca did attach his ID to it.
Deft Dining Rule #782
When a menu mentions the presence of gremolata, micro-greens, or any other minor ingredient used as a finishing touch, it's because the main ingredients aren't impressive enough on their own.
Fine Dining At Sea
Cunard Steamship Lines was founded today in 1839 by Samuel Cunard in Halifax, Nova Scotia. It became the quintessence of luxurious sailing, and kept its standards through the times when ocean-crossing ships were almost extinct. The Queen Elizabeth 2 was the ne plus ultra of sailing for decades. It successor, the Queen Mary 2, is a stunning ship, but whether it duplicates the style of yesterday is open to question. It is the only line in which passenger classes are still rigidly enforced.
Food At War
Today is the day in 1942 that food rationing began in the United States. It was very serious business at first, but within months it gave all the radio comedians a great new source of jokes.
Music To Eat Dessert By
The song "If I Knew You Were Coming I Would Have Baked a Cake," sung by Eileen Barton, hit Number One on the music charts today in 1950. Which should tell you something about the state of popular music in that post-jazz, pre-rock period.
James Lance Bass, a singer in the pop group 'N Sync, was born today in 1979. . . Edward Toner Cone, a composer, pianist, and musicologist, was born today in 1917. . . Sir William Fothergill Cooke, one of the inventors of electric telegraphy, was born today in 1806. . . Sidney Lamb, linguist and grammar expert, was born today in 1929. . . Doctor and novelist Robin Cook experienced Page One today in 1940. His novel often have medical undercurrents, but not much cooking. . . Colin Bass, who coincidentally plays bass with the English rock group Camel, plucked his first E string today in 1951.
Words To Eat By
"She set about preparing her supper. It would have to be one of those classically simple meals, the sort that French peasants are said to eat and that enlightened English people sometimes enjoy rather self-consciously--a crusty French loaf, cheese, and lettuce and tomatoes from the garden. Of course there should have been wine and a lovingly prepared dressing of oil and vinegar, but Dulcie drank orange squash and ate mayonnaise that came from a bottle."--Barbara Pym, English novelist of the mid-1900s.
Words To Drink By
"Champagne, if you are seeking the truth, is better than a lie detector. It encourages a man to be expansive, even reckless, while lie detectors are only a challenge to tell lies successfully."--Graham Greene.
The Green Blues.
The more you do, the less gets done. Click here for the cartoon.
Have a lusty New Orleans meal today!