Friday, May 14, 2010
1086 Restaurants Open Around Town
Half-Price Pizza, Wine, Cocktails: Domenica
Here's a new Italian word to add your diccionario: merenda. It translates as something like "afternoon snack." The closest thing we have to it in this country is another import" British -style afternoon tea. Since Domenica has introduced a number of previously-unseen Italian edible traditions, they thought this would be a good one, too. Here's the deal: weekday afternoons, when the keep the place open between lunch and dinner, they'll serve pizzas from their five-ton, wood-burning, made-in-Italy stone oven for half the usual $13 price. And cut the price of wine and cocktails, too. This sounds very appealing to me. I wish it didn't come right in the middle of my radio show, or I'd be there myself.
Domenica CBD: 123 Baronne (Roosevelt Hotel), 504-648-6020.
Thursday, May 6. Domenica. Mary Leigh took her last final exam yesterday. Today, she went in for her last official day of high school. The tradition at McGehee is for the seniors to play pranks on the underclasses and even the teachers. One of the sessions involved the cutting to ribbons their plaid uniform skirts, never to be needed again. Some seniors have been wearing that tartan since pre-kindergarten. It must have been cathartic. More such moments of closure are yet to come, but no more classes.
After the final bell rang, the seniors went out on another tradition--one that doesn't carry the sanction of the school--that seems peculiar. They drive around the city going to bars. Most of them don't drink. They just hang around, listening to music, talk about boys, get approached by boys, and heaven knows what else. This is the sort of thing that would have got me in trouble with the school when I was this age, but it's apparently common. Mary Leigh will not share many details, but when she came home she said there wasn't much to it. Why wouldn't they go to some good, swinging restaurant? Instead of these semi-sleazy bars. Is it just all a joke to get parents worked up?
MA ordered ML to call her when she landed at her friend's house of the night. (The friend's parents, who have allowed ML to spend the night dozens of times this year, are overdue for us to take them to dinner.) The call came in well before midnight. ML said she and her friend abandoned the bus that drove the girls around, and went home. She said the whole night was really pretty boring, but that it was something she had to do. The power of peer pressure!
Meanwhile, I made one more pass through the food at Domenica. I've covered the main specialties, so this time I burrowed through the menu looking for oddities. I began with a fried squid salad. I like the idea of a little fried something atop a salad--it takes the place of croutons, and in a much more interesting way. But the fritters must be light. Oysters and shrimp are too heavy. Squid, with their thin limbs and circles, are perfect. And so was this salad.
I learned a new pasta word tonight: trofie. It's made by rolling little balls of pasta dough with one's hands on a board. They take on the shape of teeny loaves of French bread, tapered at the ends. This had a very interesting texture, and tossed with pesto and artichoke hearts it was the ideal preliminary pasta dish. (I like that most of the menu at Domenica can be had in either small or large portions.)
The entree was the best dish I've had here in all my visits. Capretto--baby goat--also figured in the best meal I ever had in Italy. So the claim Domenica makes to serve food just like in Italy rings true. This was a loin of goat stuffed with the long-cooked, falling-apart shoulder. It came in what looked like a casserole dish with fresh porcini mushrooms. There was no mistaking the latter, with their distinctive fat stems. Some morels and other wild mushrooms contributed to a very good cause. If I were looking for something to complain about, it's that this dish looks out of place without either a tablecloth or an underliner plate beneath it.
The dessert also gets my ribbon for the best I've had at Domenica. It was a half-dozen beignet-like fritters, studded with cherries and mellowed with sweetened ricotta cheese. What sent these into orbit was a foamy, light, warm chocolate zabaglione. I don't think I've encountered that before, but I hope I do again. Great idea.
Now the bad news. The restaurant was two-thirds empty. This is a restaurant you couldn't get into with a shoehorn, a crowbar, and a jar of Vaseline when it first opened. That's when its food was spotty and the service worse--both typical of new restaurants. Now the cooking and dining room staff have their game sharpened. But where are all those novelty-seeking customers? This is why I wait many months before reviewing a new restaurant. After nine months, Domenica is solidly good. And the restaurant obviously needs the boost a good review will give. It didn't when all the other writers were rolling their eyes about it last summer, writing about dishes that are no longer on the menu, not knowing about their better replacements.
Domenica. CBD: 123 Baronne (Roosevelt Hotel). 504-648-6020. Italian. Pizza.
WHY IT'S NOTEWORTHY
The North Shore dining scene seems to be missing something when Pat Gallagher doesn't have an active restaurant. When he returns from his furloughs, he attracts an enormous crowd of regulars, all of whom are ecstatic to learn that Pat has not been infected by current culinary trends, and is still putting out the contemporary Creole dishes that established his work as delicious. This one is all that, in a very pleasant bistro environment with a patio and a good bar.
WHY IT'S GOOD
Nothing in Gallagher's repertoire is even slightly unfamiliar to New Orleans diners. He makes it all exciting by purchasing excellent beef (Prime), lamb chops, quail (local), and the full panoply of Louisiana seafood. The restaurant cooks more different kinds of fish than most. You are more likely to find pompano, lemonfish, and speckled trout than anywhere else north of the lake. He uses bubbling butter and rich sauces flagrantly and deliciously. Always here but not on the menu: a combination platter of quail and lamb that's hard to beat.
Pat Gallagher's following has to be very avid to keep up with him. The son of a revered Covington sports coach, he opened the Winner's Circle--his first restaurant--in Folsom, in the 1980s. It made him famous on the North Shore. He shut it down and reopened in a new location, where Dakota is now. Disappear, reappear--this time in the old Forest Steakhouse in Covington. While there he opened Annadele Plantation, but after a year or two was gone again. Next post was as executive chef of Ruth's Chris in Metairie. Now this restaurant, opened in late 2009. It occupies a property space where many eateries have come and gone. Only one other (Chef Claude Aubert's Le Bec Fin in 1985) was anywhere near as good or as handsome as Gallagher's Grill. And there we are, for now.
The main dining room, with its brick floor and rarely-used fireplace continues the rusticity of this older part of Covington. Interesting art pieces in metal and glass give a sophistication to the all of the dining rooms. Past the bar is a small courtyard for sipping anytime or dining on nice, busy days. The service staff in the evening is young, friendly and knowledgeable. Lunch service is a little less smooth.
Shrimp Remoulade with deviled egg
Panko crab cake
Crabmeat ravigote martini
(The above three items are available as a combination for two.)
Oysters en brochette
Crabmeat au gratin
Barbecue shrimp and grits
Creole turtle soup
Gazpacho with lump crab
Tomato and vidalia onion salad.
Filet mignon (large and small)
Stuffed chicken breast
Charcoal grilled quail
Grilled pork chop with cane syrup glaze
Grilled lemonfish with grilled shrimp
Barbecue spare ribs
Gulf fish amandine or meuniere
Stuffed shrimp with chimichurri sauce
Fried or broiled redfish
Crème brûlée with fresh berries
Flourless chocolate cake
FOR BEST RESULTS
Although it's not the packed house it was when it opened, I wouldn't come here on a weekend without a reservation. The steaks and chops are in the top rank. See if you can work a quail somewhere into the meal. The appetizers are good, large, and varied enough that you could make a dinner of them.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
Lunch is significantly less good than dinner, in both the food and service departments. This may be because Gallagher himself has been there only once in five lunches I've had.
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 +2
- Consistency +1
- Service +1
- Attitude +1
- Wine and Bar +1
- Local Color +2
- Courtyard or deck dining
- Good for business meetings
- Medium private room
- Early-evening specials
- Open some holidays
- Unusually large servings
- Good for children
- Easy, nearby parking
- Reservations accepted
Pan-Sauteed Catfish With
Cajun Crawfish Butter
Most good catfish dishes start by frying the catfish, and this one is no exception. But when good crawfish are in the market, it's fun to add a sauce to the dish. I like this because it breaks away from the usual tartar sauce. Serve the crawfish sauce around the fish, not over it, to keep the fish crispy.
- 2/3 cup vegetable oil for frying
- 1/4 cup sliced green onions
- 1/4 cup sliced mushrooms
- 1 Tbs. chopped garlic
- 1 small tomato, pulp and seeds removed, diced
- 1 link andouille or smoked sausage, sliced about 1/8 inch thick
- 1/4 cup dry white wine
- 1 Tbs. lemon juice
- 8 oz. fresh Louisiana crawfish tails
- 1 1/2 sticks butter
- 1 tsp. salt-free Creole seasoning
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1 cup flour
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/4 tsp. black pepper
- 1/8 tsp. cayenne
- 8 four-ounce catfish fillets
- 1/2 cup milk
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup cornmeal
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1/4 tsp. black pepper
- 1/8 tsp. cayenne
1. Make the sauce first. Heat one tablespoon of oil in a skillet over medium high heat until it shimmers. Add green onions, mushrooms, garlic, tomatoes, and andouille, and cook for about two minutes.
2. Add the wine and lemon juice and bring it to a boil. Then add the crawfish. Cook until the liquid is reduced by half.
3. Lower the heat to almost nothing and add the butter in big chips, a little at a time. Work the butter into the sauce by agitating the pan. Remove from heat and season to taste with Creole seasoning and salt. Remove the pan from the heat and cover.
4. Stir the salt, pepper, and cayenne into the flour. Dust the catfish fillets very lightly with the seasoned flour.
5. Mix the cornmeal with the salt, pepper, and cayenne. Beat the eggs and mix with the milk. Dip the catfish fillets into the egg wash, shake off excess, then dredge through the seasoned cornmeal.
6. Heat the oil in a heavy skillet until it shimmers. Saute the catfish until lightly brown on both sides, turning only once. (About two minutes per side). Drain on paper towels for no more than fifteen seconds.
7. Place two fillets on each plate, with the sauce between them. Warm the sauce a little if necessary.