Monday, May 10, 2010
1086 Restaurants Open Around Town
Red Beans And Burgers.
This week's featured source of a good plate of red beans and rice comes from the Good Food Is Where You Find It department. The New Orleans Hamburger and Seafood Company started as the first local restaurant in the Better Burger category. (The restaurant industry is all agog about Better Burgers.) But almost since the beginning it's expanded its menu continually. I don't remember when the red beans with smoked sausage made it onto the menu, but they are very good. My guess is that the product comes from some comissary or other. However, red beans is among the few dishes that not only survives that treatment, but seems to improve. These sell for about $10, and are there all the time, not just on Mondays.
New Orleans Hamburger and Seafood Company. Elmwood: 1005 S. Clearview Pkwy.. 504-734-1122. Metairie: 6920 Veterans Blvd., 504-455-1272. Metairie: 817 Veterans Blvd., 504-837-8580. Mandeville: 3900 LA 22, 985-624-8035. LaPlace: 1338 West Airline Hwy., 985-653-6731.
Saturday, May 1, 2010. A Hundred And Fifty Autographs. Vega Tapas Café. The Jesuit prom kept Mary Leigh out until around two in the morning last night. Is that all? In my day, we stayed out all night, and nobody thought much of it. When I was that age, I routinely stayed out till one or two in the morning for no particular reason. I don't even remember where I went. It certainly wasn't anything that would have been trouble. But here is one of the rare examples of a When I Was Your Age story in which the current generation is the better behaved.
No radio show--the Saints pre-empted me. At three, I was due at Barnes and Noble in Metairie for a book signing. En route, I realized that I didn't have a bottle of ink with me. Unless an embarrassingly small number of books were sold, my 36-year-old Parker Sonnet fountain pen would need to be refilled. This is a problem from the long ago for most people, but it's still part of my life. All five of the pens I use regularly are filled from a bottle. I don't own a ballpoint.
Finding ink in bottles is much harder than it once was. When I Was Your Age, I could walk into any drugstore and buy a bottle of Skrip ink. Now, you can't buy fountain pen ink even at a stationery store. Office Depot didn't have it when I checked there. I took a chance on a box of cartridges from a different pen maker and lucked out: they fit perfectly. But ten dollars for eight cartridges? A bottle of ink costs less, and gives me a hundred or more refills.
I signed books non-stop from three until five, and stayed another hour to sign backup stock for the store. I left behind about a hundred autographed books total, which seemed excessive to me. But the manager of the store said, "Oh, we'll go right through those. Your books sell very well." That's nice to hear.
Dinner at Vega Tapas Café. I haven't been there in some time. They were quite busy, but I did get an immediate table in the back of the main room, with enough light to read and take pictures easily. I began with a romaine salad with fried oysters. When it arrived, the round, long head of lettuce shifted and rolled, throwing two of the oysters off the plate. One landed on the floor, the other in my lap. The waiter apologized, but didn't replace the lost oysters. Hmm.
Next came a tapa: a small empanada filled with pork, napped with a zippy orange sauce sort of like an aioli. Delicious. I probably could have eaten two instead of one, but I'm glad I didn't. (I've loved dinners of many small courses since long before they became popular.)
The main course was emphatically not a tapa. It was a slab of opah, an unusual fish from Hawaii. It's also called the moonfish or the sunfish, because seen from the side it looks almost perfectly round. I've had it a few times before, mostly on the West Coast. Its texture is somewhere between salmon and tuna. I hear it makes good sushi. Here, it was seared and served atop a bed of corn. No extra points for creativity, but it was more than good enough, and I appreciate that Vega went to the trouble of bringing this rarely-seen fish into town.
I accompanied all that with a glass of Albarino. It was a filling dinner by the end of it, and I couldn't work up a desire for dessert.
I was home by nine. Mary Leigh was already in bed. She probably wouldn't tell me anything worthwhile about the prom, anyway. I attempted to watch Saturday Night Live, but it wasn't funny enough to keep me awake.
Vega Tapas Cafe. Old Metairie: 2051 Metairie Rd. 504-836-2007. Mediterranean.
Sunday, May 2. Steak And Eggs. Grilling Chicken In A Tornado Watch. Will The Forms Never End? Mary Ann wanted breakfast at Mattina Bella. She was even eager about it, enough that she didn't want to wait for Mary Leigh to bestir herself--something she wouldn't do until nearly noon.
The suggestion put the image of steak and eggs in my mind. That's a breakfast I haven't eaten in something like forty years. Nor have I had a hunger for it. The last steak and eggs I ate was almost certainly at the old Buck Forty-Nine Pancake and Steak House, a now-extinct local chain. There is a DNA connection between the Buck Forty-Nine and Mattina Bella. Owner Vincent Riccobono is the nephew of Joe Riccobono, who created the Buck Forty-Nine in the 1960s. Vincent managed the last Buck Forty-Nine, in Gretna. (Joe's son, also named Vincent, is the owner of the Peppermill. Which also serves steak and eggs. But this is getting unnecessarily confusing.)
So here's the steak: a seven-ounce sirloin strip, about a half-inch thick, striped with grill marks. It was alone on its plate, with scrambled eggs in another, and the breakfast potatoes (small brabants) on a third. Also here was Mattina Bella's unusually good toast. They make white toast with sourdough, and wheat toast with a chunky whole-grain bread full of seeds and nuts. The beef, getting back to that, was much better that I expected. Not a brilliant steakhouse steak, of course, but perfect for a big breakfast, and a bargain at $12 for the whole ensemble. I will probably not wait another forty years before the next one.
The weather was looking shaky. In fact, the entire area was under a tornado watch. Would they cancel the day's program at the Jazz Festival? As it turned out, they didn't, and even though it rained, almost everything went on as planned. The major cancellation was Aretha Franklin, who was concerned that the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico would somehow choke her up. She left town.
The weather was not good for efforts to fix the enormous problem British Petroleum faces in the Gulf of Mexico. A freak fire last week destroyed a deep-water drilling platform, and all the safeguards against disaster failed. Tens of thousands of barrels of oil are shooting out of a broken pipe a mile underwater and spreading over the Gulf. This story enters my niche because already a few areas of oyster beds have been shut down, and all fishing east of the mouth of the Mississippi River has been prohibited.
The concern is, of course, widespread. People are asking me how many restaurants I think will close, or whether restaurants would post signs saying that all their seafood comes from the Pacific. In fact, most Louisiana seafood comes from waters outside the present spill zone, and the inspection process for wholesalers and restaurants is so stringent that the possibility of tainted seafood is vanishingly small. But nobody knows how this drama will play out. It will give us something to worry about for the next month, at least.
The Marys ordered me to grill chicken for dinner. I fired up the Big Green Egg in a light rain and got to work. The tornados passed us by well to the north, but did some damage in Mississippi. But the winds were howling, blowing too much air through the Egg, cooking it on the inside while making the charcoal burn faster. I had to reload halfway through, and the chicken took a lot longer to cook than usual. Cooking over charcoal is exciting but is highly prone to unpredictability.
At the table, I finally heard Mary Leigh's debriefing on her acceptance into Tulane and the Jesuit prom. She was ecstatic about the former and cool about the latter, although she would not explain further.
After dinner, she gave me a web address where I would have to fill out some forms for financial aid at Tulane. I spent most of the evening working on those, plus some new ones Jude has laid on me. It made for a full evening of the kind of work I hate most. It persisted until my eyes crossed after midnight, and was still not done.
Mattina Bella. Covington: 421 E. Gibson. 985-892-0708. Breakfast. Neighborhood Café.
Kenner: 3203 Williams Blvd.. 504-443-6454. Map.
Lunch and dinner continuously seven days.
AE MC V
WHY IT'S NOTEWORTHY
The best casual seafood restaurant in Kenner is the restaurant arm of an excellent fresh seafood market, Fisherman's Cove, right next door. This brings an unusually large selection of fish to the Harbor's menu, at attractive prices. They cover all the ground that a good neighborhood seafood restaurants would be expected to, from boiled crawfish, crabs and shrimp in season to poor boys to excellent grilled fish platters. The place is packed almost all the time,
WHY IT'S GOOD
A restaurant with such good access to fresh seafood and a crowd that keeps the kitchen moving can almost not help but be at least reasonably good. But they know how to cook back there. Especially good are the grilled and blackened fish, which rely largely on the freshness of the fish.
Harbor opened in the mid-1980s, and slowly but steadily attracted a crowd that includes not only Kennerites but a rather substantial number of people who have a long break between flights and want to eat one more New Orleans meal. The restaurant is close to the airport, and the seafood market next door offers to pack seafood for the flight--a major draw for those who live in places without the rich seafood availability we have here.
The building looks like a warehouse, and the undersize dining room is only slightly less utilitarian. Nobody cares about that, because getting a table here is a victory unto itself. It's almost always packed, a fact that dictates the frantic state of the service. That does not, however, seem to affect the food, whose consistency across the board is reliable. A line outside is not uncommon, especially on Fridays.
Oysters on the half shell
Boiled shrimp, crawfish, and crabs in season
Fried or blackened alligator
Fried or blackened calamari
Fried crab fingers
Artichoke oyster soup
Shrimp and corn chowder
Caesar salad with blackened shrimp or tuna
Stuffed bell pepper
Grilled or blackened fish
Fried shrimp, oyster, catfish, or soft shell crab platters
Shrimp, oyster, or catfish poor boy
Soft-shell crab poor boy
Roast beef poor boy
Bourbon pecan pie
"Chocolate Beyond Reason" (an intense chocolate cake)
FOR BEST RESULTS
Dine in the middle of the afternoon, avoiding weekends and Lent--unless you don't mind standing around waiting for a table. The grilled fish is better than the fried, but the fried is very good.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
They need to either expand the dining room or move it to a bigger building with more parking.
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 +2
- Attitude +1
- Wine and Bar
- Local Color +1
- Open Sunday lunch and dinner
- Open Monday lunch and dinner
- Open all afternoon
- Oyster bar
- Unusually large servings
- Good for children
- Easy, nearby parking
- No reservations
Ten Best Dishes With Oranges
In There Somewhere
I love oranges. I've never encountered a dish made with oranges than I didn't like, too. The juice of oranges, as well as the much different flavor of the oil from orange skins, can be worked into a wide range of dishes and sauces, both sweet and savory. Some of them are famous, like the French duck a l'orange (although that's become something of a rarity). A lot of chefs are using orange juice instead of lemon in their hollandaise, to good effect. And if you ever run into something that combines orange and chocolate, get it. Here are my current favorites with an orange component.
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Shrimp Pasta Primavera
Shrimp have so much flavor that even when only a few of them are cooked with the other ingredients of a dish, the goodness spreads out. Here's an excellent example that. There's really more fresh vegetables than shrimp tossed with the pasta, but shrimp plays the starring gustatory role. The veggies make it feel like springtime. It could even be served chilled as a pasta salad.
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 green onions, chopped
- 1 Tsp. chopped garlic
- 1 rib celery, cut into thin matchsticks
- 1 carrot, cut into thin matchsticks
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1/2 tsp. Worcestershire
- 1 cup small broccoli florets (or cauliflower, or both)
- 12 cherry tomatoes, quartered
- 12 sprigs parsley, leaves only, chopped
- 20-30 medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 1/4 tsp. oregano
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. Creole seasoning
- 1 lb. rotini pasta, cooked and drained
- 1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper
1. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet until it shimmers. Add the green onions, garlic, celery, and carrots, and saute until tender.
2. Add the wine, Worcestershire, and 1/4 cup water from the pasta pot, and bring to a boil. Add broccoli, tomato, and parsley. Lower the heat to a simmer and cover the pan. Cook till vegetables just begin to turn tender--about five minutes.
3. Add shrimp, oregano, salt and Creole seasoning. Raise the heat a little and agitate the pan until shrimp turn pink.
4. Turn off the heat and add the pasta. Toss with the other ingredients until well distributed. Serve sprinkled with crushed red pepper.