Thursday, May 20, 2010
1086 Restaurants Open Around Town
Delgado Roasts John Besh May 21
Chef John Besh will be roasted tomorrow night (Friday, May 21), at a big fancy wine dinner at Harrah's Casino. I'd say it's about time. Besh has been such a positive force in the community and opened so many good new restaurants in the past few years that it's about time somebody tear him a new one. The roasters include writer Lolis Eric Elie--too mellow a guy to do much damage. But Zea's Greg Reggio has the rapier-like wit to provide some good laughs at Besh's expense. (Since Greg is also a chef, he can get away with a lot.) The dinner will be cooked by chefs from some other great restaurants, including including Acme Oyster House, Andrea’s, Café Giovanni, and Galatoire’s. Lots of wine, too. Tickets to the event are $150, with the proceeds going to the Culinary Arts program at Delgado Community College. Delgado has been a critical resource in the restaurant community, turning out class after class of skillful chefs, many of whom have become famous. The event begins at seven with a cocktail reception, and goes from there. Tickets may be purchased online at www.dcc.edu or by contacting Connie Boudoin at firstname.lastname@example.org, 504-671-5631 or 504-671-5412.
Tuesday, May 11. Burrito Warms Up To Me. Last summer Mary Ann had a load of soil delivered to our house while I wasn't looking. Her idea was to fill in a border along our driveway, and to plant flowers there. I have two problems with this, which is why she did it on the sly. The first is that we have long used that stretch for parking extra cars when people come over. Now they must park on the lawn. When it rains a lot, they get stuck. And since we have three cars and only two carport spaces, we always have an extra car. This morning, for example, I had to move my car so Mary Leigh could get out, and then move it again a half-hour later so Mary Ann could get out.
My second problem is that this patch of ground is on an incline that continues downhill all the way to the road. Any soil placed there will get washed away. But one must choose one's battles, and I just let it go.
The pile of soil is now half its original size. MA spread most of it around, but a lot of it has washed away. None of the dozens of flowering plants MA planted in it have survived. The mud must have come from somewhere on the South Shore, because weeds I've never seen before over here are coming up. Ragweed, for example. But we are getting a nice growth of black-eye susans, a cheerful yellow flower whose bulbous black center gives rise to another common name. I haven't seen this many of them since I was a little kid living in a new part of Kenner.
Dinner tonight at Taco San Miguel in Metairie. I've had my eye on this place for some time, but by the time I get there it's always empty. (I think they do most of their business at breakfast and lunch.) I don't like dining in an empty restaurant, because it colors my impression of the place. Today there were quite a few cars in the lot. I had to park around back.
Inside, though, not another soul was dining. Even greater than my dislike for empty restaurants is leaving a restaurant once I'm there. I stood at the cafeteria-style counter and looked over the long menu. The señorita seemed unhappy that I was there, let alone that I was taking so long. I asked for the Burrito Monterrey--with beef tongue. And a Dos Equis. (Some day I want to ask for a Quattro Equis, and when I get the puzzled look, I'll say, "Okay, make it two Dos Equis.")
I sat down and waited. Señorita--suddenly much friendlier--told me that I could help myself to salsa bar. Then went over there and helped me. She brought a red salsa she said was very hot, and a milder green one. Both were good, the red one well within my tolerance. And a basket of tortilla chips in the three colors of the Mexican flag, matching the neon lights that run around the edge of the restaurant's roof.
After a few minutes señorita brought the burrito in a paper-lined plastic basket. It was the size and shape of a poor boy sandwich, and cut in two pieces. The ends were wrapped so deftly that when I picked it up, nothing came out the back end. Inside were thick slices of tongue, avocado, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and rice moistened with gravy. I was never excited by these overstuffed burritos when they became popular ten or fifteen years ago. But I really liked this. Its contents had a fascinating contrast between meaty and crunchy, soft and firm, cool and warm. I couldn't finish it, good as it was. The price was something like seven bucks. What a bargain! This one will need a few more visits.
Taco San Miguel. Metairie: 3517 20th St . 504-267-4027. Mexican.
Wednesday, May 12. Eat Club At La Famiglia. The restaurant behind the Burger King on the corner of Veterans and Oaklawn has not done well for any of its occupants. If any site proves the old adage about the importance of location, this one does. It's certainly convenient enough: Oaklawn runs uninterrupted to Metairie Road, so the place is easily accessible to both Old and New Metairie customers.
The Beef Baron built the place and moved there from its well-known Canal Street location in the 1990s. It did badly, then closed. T.J. Qutob--the former maitre d' at Andrea's--took it over and renamed it Petra. Petra changed its style a few times, closed and leased the place to a bar that had no better luck, reopened as Petra, then changed its name to the Maple (T.J.'s brother and partner was having luck with the Maple Street Café t that time).
Still the place refused to take off, even though the food was more than good and prices were at bargain levels. T.J. changed the name and menu again about two years ago to La Famiglia, a family-style Italian restaurant. But if there's one thing Metairie doesn't need more if, it's another Italian restaurant. (I think he ought to make it a steak house. Metairie could use another good one.)
I was over there a few months ago and told T.J. that as soon as I had an open space in the Eat Club schedule, I'd slide him in there. This was that week. The price was right, the menu was good--but it still wasn't much of a crowd--only about twenty, which is about half our usual numbers.
What a pity. It was a good dinner. It started with pass-around platters of oysters amandine (a house specialty, and well it should be), fried eggplant, and fried calamari. Only the latter was less than perfect. Next came a Caprese salad of buffalo-milk mozzarella (T.J., who is his own chef, made that himself) and tomatoes with olive oil, basil, and balsamic vinegar. Delicious.
The best dish of the night was next: a thick slice across a fillet of amberjack. I have not been a big fan of amberjack, but this will make me take another look at the Gulf fish. This was juicy, meaty, tender, terrific. T.J. topped it with some crabmeat, which was unnecessary except to crate a perception of value among the customers.
Now osso buco. It was one dish too many, and a big one at that. It was tender and tasty enough, with the classic Milanese brown sauce and pasta. But I had to hold back. I am sensing a possible oncoming gout attack, and this is the sort of thing that triggers it. I hate this getting old stuff.
We finished up with an array of desserts, among which was a superb limoncello-flavored frozen parfait. This was marvelous and refreshing, and everybody went wild over it.
A good dinner for sixty dollars, I thought. But why couldn't we get more people? It's that damned Burger King. Who wants to have a white-tablecloth dinner next to a Burger King? It doesn't make rational sense, but it is a problem. Location, location, location.
La Famiglia. Metairie: 541 Oaklawn. 504-833-8877. Italian.
WHY IT'S NOTEWORTHY
A fine-dining pioneer in the Marigny, Feelings serves a unique menu that blends French and Creole cooking in a style reminiscent of three or four decades ago--although lately many new dishes have been added. The premises have an antique New Orleans style that's more often seen in movies than reality, but that's one of the attractions of the place. The food is good but never brilliant, but nevertheless this is a very pleasant place to dine.
WHY IT'S GOOD
The recent, long overdue reworking of the menu has improved the dining here quite a bit in the past year. The new offerings are more contemporary, fresher, and lighter. Meanwhile, old, rich favorites like Anything Florentine remain--but somebody has to serve those dishes. The scaled-down entree portions and prices make having a multi-course meal a good idea.
Feelings started its life in 1979 as an experiment in casual gourmet dining. It was ahead of its time, and could be called the first modern restaurant routinely to offer tasting menus. In this it was reminiscent of old-style, country French bistros, but with food that clearly had a New Orleans flavor. Feelings really took off when it moved in 1980 to its present location, with its ancient slave quarters and courtyard.
The main building was built on a subdivided plantation in the early 1800s. But the slave quarters and the courtyard next to it are original, dating back to the late 1700s. The main dining rooms have small nooks with high ceilings to lend spaciousness. The small courtyard is pleasant for a drink.
Mushroom boudin in a corn husk
Vegetable terrine with smoked tomato sauce
Mirliton and roasted corn salad with pesto
Beet salad, pecan vinaigrette
Soft shell crawfish with avocado butter
Brochette of marinated tofu with pecan rice and asparagus
Shrimp etouffée spread
Oysters en brochette
Marinated, fried artichoke hearts
Fried eggplant with Creole mustard sauce
Crab and crawfish cakes
Pate maison (chicken livers and mushrooms)
Salad with mandarins and poppyseed vinaigrette
Gulf fish Nicholas (grilled, with shrimp and creamed spinach)
Baked eggplant stuffed with seafood
Chicken, veal, or fish florentine (creamed spinach and hollandaise)
Chicken or shrimp Clemenceau (garlic butter, peas, mushrooms, potatoes)
Tournedos au poivre
Filet mignon with blue cheese
Veal d'Aunoy (herb butter, mushrooms, hollandaise)
Duck bigarade (orange sauce, pecan rice)
Peanut butter pie
French silk pie (chocolate mousse)
FOR BEST RESULTS
Accept the option of getting a four- or give-course dinner, available with a price supplement. The cooking here was designed with that kind of meal in mind, and it won't fill you as much as you'd think.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
Some diners may find the style of the cooking so retro as to be corny. A few dishes still on the menu (because they're popular) really should be slated for extinction, but we put up with them to keep the good ones. The four-day schedule seems less ambitious than it should be.
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 +1
- Wine and Bar
- Hipness -2
- Local Color +3
- Live music some nights
- Courtyard or deck dining
- Good for business meetings
- Many private rooms
- Open Sunday lunch and dinner
- Easy, nearby parking
- Reservations honored promptly
ANECDOTES AND ANALYSIS
“Feelings” such a bad name that a former owner of the 31-year-old bistro tried to fade it out. But his customers just kept calling it “Feelings,” brushing past the name quickly to avoid embarrassment. It’s a lovely and distinctly New Orleans property, dating back to the early 1800s. The main house, the slave quarters, a balcony, and a covered brick courtyard are all used for dining; all are intimate and quiet.
The restaurant takes its general style from that of the surrounding Marigny and Bywater neighborhoods, which also supplies most of its regular customers. People do converge here from all over the city, though; the style of the place and its food are very likable. There's really nothing quite like Feelings. . . nothing more than. . .Feelings. . . ba ba doo doo da da. . .
"Clemenceau" is the name of a classic Creole chicken dish. But if you take the same ingredients and substitute big shrimp for the chicken, you get a unique dish with a great blending of flavors. It comes out best if you buy whole shrimp, peel them, and make a shrimp stock from the shells. The first place I ever had this--and the basis for this recipe--is from the hand of Leah Chase at Dooky Chase.
- 2 large potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch dice
- Vegetable oil for frying
- 1/2 stick butter
- 32 medium (21-25 count) shrimp, peeled
- 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper
- 2 oz. dry white wine
- 1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms
- 4 artichoke hearts, quartered
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 cup shrimp stock
- 2 green onions, chopped
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/4 tsp. black pepper
- 1/2 cup frozen petit pois peas
1. Heat the vegetable oil to 375 degrees, and fry the potatoes until they're golden brown. Don't eat too many of them as you do.
2. Heat the butter in a skillet over medium high heat. Add the shrimp and crushed red pepper. Cook the shrimp until they turn pink. Remove the shrimp from the pan and set aside.
3. Add the white wine and bring it to a boil. Add the mushrooms, artichoke hearts, garlic, and shrimp stock. Cook over medium-low heat, agitating the pan to mix the ingredients. Reduce the liquids until the mixture is quite wet but there is no standing liquid in the bottom of the pan.
4. Add the fried potatoes, green onions and peas. Cook until everything is heated through. Adjust seasonings to taste, and serve with hot French bread on the side.