Tuesday, May 22, 2012
1292 Restaurants Open Around Town (click for the whole list)
N.O. Wine & Food Experience
Sleeper Dinner #1
Do you like huge, dark, unctuous California red wines? I have a full evening of them for you tomorrow night.
It's the night for the thirty-one wine dinners on the program of the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience. As always, a few surprisingly good dinners elude notice, while big-name restaurants draw the crowds. Going through the menus, I found a real sleeper. 5Fifty5 is the restaurant of the towering Marriott Hotel on Canal Street. Most of the time, it's an ordinary hotel restaurant. But Chef Mark Quitney rises to special occasions like this with excellent and original food.
He has two great big wineries to work with: Plumpjack and Cade, both of which are known for the intensity you get from mountain vineyards. The menu looks good, too, and here it is:
Gulf Tuna, Seaweed Salad, Ponzu Reduction
Buttermilk fried oyster, pickled onions, Cajun remoulade
Wine: Marcel Martin Tete de Cuvee
Grilled Creole Tomato Gazpacho
Baby heirloom tomato salad
Wine: 2010 Cade Sauvignon Blanc
Crisped Speckled Trout
Jumbo lump crabmeat, mache salad, Jazzmen rice
Wine: 2010 Plumpjack Chardonnay
Lemongrass Opal Basil Sorbet, Candied Hibiscus
Veal Osso Buco, Morels
Howell Mountain reduction, haricots verts, roasted beets, praline sweet potato
Wine: 2008 Cade Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon
Banana Foster Bread Pudding Poor-Boy
2009 Plumpjack Merlot
Fildalgo Bay French Pressed Coffee
Norman Love Lagniappe
The price is a steal at $100 a person (the wines alone are worth more than that), inclusive of tax, tip, wines, and parking in the hotel (space permitting, which it probably will be). It's Wednesday, May 25, 7 p.m. Reservations are required, made directly with the restaurant.
5Fifty5. CBD: Marriott Hotel, 555 Canal.
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Sunday, May 20, 2012.
Steakburger. Enchiladas With Tomatillos. Tractor.
The Marys were back on the South Shore to help Mary Ann's brother and his daughters with a dance production. MA once again set up a table to sell her book. Yesterday, she sold one copy. Today, two. I encouraged her by noting that her sales doubled in just one day! Then I ducked.
My formula for the number of hamburgers one should eat in a month is: the reciprocal of your age minus fifteen plus the number of pounds you are overweight, times ten. This says that I am allowed one and a quarter hamburgers per month. I have not had my May allotment, so I followed an urge to try the first Steak 'n' Shake in the New Orleans area.
Steak 'n' Shake is a hamburger specialist with origins in the Midwest in the 1930s. They call them "steakburgers," because they use sirloin to make them, hence the name. A 1980s girlfriend from Indiana turned me onto the place. Steak 'n' Shake looks like a fast-food joint, but they cook the burgers to order on a hot grill. At no stage is the cooked meat patty held in suspended animation. It's the holding that makes McDonald's and Burger King and Wendy's and Krystal terrible. Steak 'n' Shake's burgers are not only hot, but they're a little crispy around the edges.
The new location is adjacent to the new, disappointing, and unnecessary mall that hundreds of trees were cut down to build at the intersection of I-12 and LA 21 a couple of years ago. Mary Ann and I came here a few months ago before a movie, but the place was so busy we didn't get a good taste of it.
Steak 'n' Shake has table service. Once again, every table was filled. They were holding half the restaurant for a group of thirty-one people who would not appear until I was on the way out. I had to wait about ten minutes for a seat at the counter. Popular!
Then another five to get the burger--but I don't mind that, because that's what a made-to-order burger requires. It was the classic double with mustard relish, onions, lettuce and tomato. Exactly as I remember it in Fort Wayne and Chicago and St. Louis. Old style. I like it better than all but the best thick ten-dollar burgers I've had lately. My monthly burger limit was well spent.
The fries--frozen, of course--were not up to the old standard. But I don't need to eat potatoes anymore.
Heading home, I stopped at Home Depot to price lawn tractors. I may need a new one soon. The one I got for Father's Day 2001 has developed a number of maddening problems. I estimate that it travels about three miles each time I cut the grassy areas of the Cool Water Ranch, which I do about ten times a year. So it has three thousand miles on it. Time for an oil change, or time for a new tractor? I hate to let it go. It has new blades and (as of this afternoon) a new belt. When it works, it works. But today it only cut one swath before dying and refusing to be revived.
The Marys called to say that they were up for yet another Mexican feed at La Carreta. I really didn't need to eat again today. But dining with my daughter creates most of the time we spend face to face. So there I was, tortilla chip half in hand and half in queso with chorizo. And then eating enchiladas with beans and cheese and a tomatillo sauce, and grilled chicken. And the Marys are always giving me grief about fattening them up with my cursed restaurant needs!
La Carreta. Mandeville: 1200 W Causeway Approach. 985-624-2990.
Monday, May 21, 2012.
Farewell, Buddy. Same Old Copeland's.
Funeral today for Buddy Himbert, father of one of Jude's closest friends during their years at Christian Brothers School. The four of us met during the school's annual fishing derby, on the boat going to Ship Island. During the voyage, Buddy had no end of stories about his many encounters with rock stars during his years working on the production side of such gigs. We got to know the Himberts well enough that Buddy's wife Debbie handled all our Eat Club travel arrangements for years, and they shared Thanksgiving and other feeds a few times at our place.
After the services, Mary Ann wanted to have lunch. I didn't have quite enough time before the radio show began. I'm trying to make up for last night's surplus meal at La Carreta, anyway.
And I knew we were going to the newly-renovated Copeland's on Veterans Boulevard tonight. Mary Ann is trying to sell them an ad, but first she has to sell me on the place. I thought Copeland's was good for many years, but in recent times it has been much less impressive. The menu seems old hat, and they're covering lots of flaws with cream, cheese, and other kinds of richness.
But this new edition of Copeland's is supposed to be a harbinger of a new era. I'm always ready to open my mind. I liked immediately that barbecue lamb ribs are back. Those were on Copeland's original menu in the 1980s. They emerged from the fertile mind of chef Warren Leruth, who consulted for a long time for Al Copeland. But nobody ordered them but me, or so they told me when they took the lamb ribs off the menu after a couple of years. I wonder how long they'll remain this time at $30 an order.
We had a table of five, with Mary Ann's brother Tim and his daughter Hillary, plus the Marys and me. First came crawfish bread. Nothing like the dish of the same name at the Jazz Festival, more like a really cheesy, overloaded garlic bread. Pretty good, actually. And fried eggplant rounds topped with shrimp remoulade and a single fried oyster. So, a variation on the Upperline's fried green tomato with shrimp remoulade. Good, but the shrimp were cool while everything else--including the sauce--was warm. That seemed funny to me.
A hamburger for ML, chicken Creole for Hillary. They were in a hurry to leave, because they were off to a concert downtown.
I was going to get the lamb ribs. But the server never came back to the table to take our order. We sat and sat. I heard that the high school and college graduations had stressed the service staff over the weekend, and they may have been taking a breather.
I aborted the rest of the dinner, and vowed to come back on a better-staffed night. On the other hand, if this is really the renaissance that a lot of us former Copeland's regulars have been hoping for, it was not in evidence in anything I saw here tonight.
Copeland's. Metairie: 701 Veterans Blvd. 504-831-3437.
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.
Tripping On A Culinary Time Machine
Wednesday, June 6, 2012, 7 p.m.
French Quarter: 713 St. Louis St.
$100, inclusive of tax, tip, and wines
"Why not a full evening of dishes from a hundred years ago at Antoine's?" I blurted out, half kidding. We all looked at one another, each of us thinking about how good such a dinner would actually be. A few minutes later, we have the whole menu worked out.
All of the dishes have long histories, but became extinct recently enough that both Chef Mike Regua and I can remember what they tasted like. Of course, Antoine's still has all the recipes in its voluminous files. The full menu is here.
Wines will accompany every course. I don't have those details yet, but will post them as soon as I do. We will also have a reception before we sit down to dinner, with souffle potatoes and maybe a few other things.
Boswell's Jamaican Grill
Mid-City: 3521 Tulane Ave . 504-482-6600. Map.
Lunch MO TU WE TH FR SA
Dinner MO TU WE TH FR SA
DS MC V
WHY IT'S NOTEWORTHY
A storefront in a commercial neighborhood that has seen better times, Boswell's is a clean, pleasant cafe serving the everyday food of Jamaica. Although the names of Jamaican dishes seem unfamiliar, the cooking of this island nation resembles other Creole cuisines--including our own. You'll hear the restaurant's many fans say it's "authentic," but the meats and fish cooked here are much better than those in Jamaica.
WHY IT'S GOOD
Jerk pork and chicken--Jamaican barbecue--is the menu mainstay. It's not as smoky as Texas style, but has more of a grilled aspect and sharp pepper levels. Curried dishes are two steps removed from the Indian style, with less of the aromatic spices than Indian curry but more pepper. A good bit of seafood, including the unique pickled-and-grilled "escoveitched" fish and fried fish. The most "authentic" dishes are the vegetable sides, especially rice and peas and callaloo, the Jamaican equivalents of red beans and rice and stewed greens.
Kingston native Boswell Atkinson opened his combination grocery store and restaurant in 2000 on Broad Street. It was wiped out by Katrina, but after a couple of years he reopened in a warehouse on Tulane Avenue. (It's hard to see; park in the second block past Jefferson Davis Parkway, and approach on foot.)
The dining area is much more pleasant than the forbidding industrial exterior. Most of the atmosphere is created by Boswell himself, who is quite a talker and will be very pleased to engage you in conversation about his homeland. Service is minimal: disposable plates and cutlery. Prices are very low and the staff is pleasant.
ESSENTIAL DISHES [»=Recommended]
»Fried fish poor boy
Fried shrimp poor boy
Jerk chicken poor boy
»Jerk pork poor boy
»Fried or steamed fish fillet
»Fried or steamed whole fish
»Escoveitched fish (marinated and grilled)
Brown stew fish
»Vegetable platter (rice and peas, callaloo, plantains, salad
Veggie roti (like an open-face taco)
Sides (entrees come with two)
»Callaloo (stewed greens)
Irish moss (made of seaweed and syrup--better than it sounds)
FOR BEST RESULTS
If you've never had Jamaican food before, take a leap of faith and go for it. Its flavor and ingredient profiles have much in common with New Orleans food. If you know Jamaican food well from either Jamaica or a bigger American city, lower your expectations a notch. This is a minimal operation. You want a Red Stripe beer, of course.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
It would be great to see this place blossom into a more substantial restaurant. Boswell is a terrific cook.
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
- Value +2
- Attitude +2
- Wine and Bar
- Hipness +1
- Local Color +1
- Open Monday lunch and dinner
- Dinner ends early (6 p.m. MO TU WE; 8 p.m. TH FR SA)
- Open all afternoon
- Unusually large servings
- Quick, good meal
- Easy, nearby parking
- No reservations
May 22, 2012
The New Orleans Wine And Food Experience begins officially today, with the sold-out Ella Brennan Award dinner honoring Sazerac Company chairman Bill Goldring. The annual festival of excellent restaurant food and wine continues through Saturday. NOMenu has an overview of all the events here.
Chef d'Oeuvre du Jour
#388: Spaghetti And Daube @ Vincent's, Riverbend: 7839 St Charles Ave. 504-866-9313. Metairie: 4411 Chastant St. 504-885-2984. Roast beef, simmered in a thick, smooth red sauce, and served with spaghetti was a very common dish in New Orleans Italian restaurants until the 1980s, when it suddenly disappeared completely. A few restaurants realized this, and responded to many requests by bringing it back. Vincent's version is unusual in employing beef brisket, which in sliced form is great with this slightly smoky marinara. This is one of NOMenu's 500 Best Dishes in New Orleans. Collect all 500!
Notable New Orleans Restaurateurs
Patrick von Hoorebeck was born today in Brussels, Belgium in the 1950s. (He won't give me the exact year.) Good timing: as Captain of the Krewe of Cork, he gets to celebrate every year when his parade of wine buffs rolls down Royal Street during the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience's Royal Street Stroll. That happen this Thursday. Patrick came to prominence locally as the dining room and wine manager of the Bistro at the Maison de Ville. When that restaurant ran into trouble after the hurricane, Patrick began making the rounds, working at the Rib Room and Restaurant August, among other tony places. He now operates his own wine bar, Bar Vin, in the former lounge of Louis XVI.
It is National Speckled Trout Day. Speckled trout--whose official name is the spotted sea trout--is not a trout at all, but a weakfish, a member of the same general family as redfish and drum. Of this there is no doubt: it's the standard fish of New Orleans white-tablecloth restaurants.
Or used to be. That status is much diminished since the advent of laws that limit the commercial catch of trout to such a small number (less than one percent of the total catch by recreational fishermen) that the fish is now highly seasonal (October through spring), and it's hard to get even in season. The recreational lobby is once again trying to get speckled trout named a sport fish, which would remove it from restaurants and markets completely.
There are good ways to prepare trout, and less good ways. The standard method, at trout specialists like Galatoire's and Arnaud's, is to deep-fry it. Or, if you're being elegant, to pan-saute it--a variation on frying, really. Trout also comes out nice when baked, particularly underneath a modest topping. These run the gamut from seafood and bread crumbs to shredded potatoes to toasted almonds or pecans. Although sometimes trout is grilled, I think it's not as good as other fish for that purpose. Its flaky structure seems to fall apart on the grill.
Some of the best versions of trout meuniere and amandine are at Galatoire's, Arnaud's, Fury's, Mandina's, and the Bourbon House. It really is a great fish, with a nice texture with big flakes and a mellow nutty quality that lends itself to the buttery sauces we like to gild it with.
Trout, North Carolina is in the mother lode area for towns with food names: the northwest corner of North Carolina, near the borders with Tennessee, Kentucky, and Virginia. (Only a few miles from meat Camp, where this feature visited a few days ago.) It's a crossroads in some steep Appalachian mountains, in country where the roads run along creek valleys. A few houses are interspersed in the area. There probably are some trout and other fish in those creeks--although not speckled trout. It's an eleven-mile, twisting drive to the Beaver Creek Cafe, the nearest restaurant, in West Jefferson.
Deft Dining Rule #598
The most frequent misrepresentation in New Orleans restaurants is that the fish used to make the trout amandine is actually speckled trout.
Palm in New York City opened today in 1926. It set out as an Italian restaurant called Parma, owned by Pio Bozzi and John Ganzi. But the person taking the application for the license misheard the name, and Palm (without "the") it became. Palm quickly evolved into what it is now, a major player in the New York steakhouse community. It sprouted a second location across Second Avenue after a few years, and in recent decades has become a national chain. The original, which still has an extensive Italian menu, is one of the best steakhouses of our experience, although it seems to us that the chaining of the thing has lessened it somewhat. Sounds familiar.
salmon trout, n.--Also known as the steelhead, this freshwater fish lives in rivers in the American Northwest. It is an excellent fish for eating, and has been farmed for that purpose, particularly by Native Americans. They can grow to be as much as three and a half feet long, but are typically much smaller. A two-footer would be a big one. The ones that wind up on the table are smaller still, running two or three pounds. It is well named, because it's both a true trout and a member of the salmon family. Its fresh is a medium tan color and very firm. Great for grilling or broiling.
Annals Of Culinary Education
Today in 1946, the Culinary Institute of America--this country's best-known training school for chefs--was founded as the New Haven Restaurant Institute. It moved to Hyde Park in 1970, where it still is. A second major campus is at Greystone in Napa Valley. Thousands of graduates of the CIA work in restaurants across America, and have given new cachet to the occupation of chef.
Music To Eat Red Beans By
Today in 1961, New Orleans R&B legend-to-be Ernie K-Doe saw his most famous song at the top of the pop charts. Mother In Law was his only really big record, but he played music around town for the rest of his life, always putting out a distinctly New Orleans sound.
Annals Of Cold Drinks
Today in 1807, in Philadelphia, one Townsend Speakman (what a great name! reversible, too!) mixed fruit juices with carbonated water in his drugstore and created what may have been the first soda pop.
Annals Of Unusual Ingredients
Rattlesnake meat in a can went on the market for this first time today in 1931. Floridian George End was the entrepreneur. I don't have to tell you that it wasn't a runaway success. I've eaten rattlesnake meat a few times, and the only reason I remember it was because of it unusual identity. It didn't taste like much. Not as much like chicken as like some very heavy fish, but without the fish flavor. I keep thinking that rattlesnake cakes (like crab cakes) would be the way to go with the stuff.
Ed Fry, long-time soap opera actor, was born today in 1959. . . Former U.S. Congressman from Louisiana Richard Baker was born today in 1948. . . Classical pianist John Browning was born today in 1933. . . Harvey Milk, San Francisco politician and gay rights activist, was born today in 1930. . . And we have two Australian food names today: Actor Gary Sweet (1957) and football player Steven Baker (1980).
Words To Eat By
"My fare is really sumptuous this evening; buffalo's humps, tongues and marrowbones, fine trout, parched meal, pepper and salt, and a good appetite; the last is not considered the least of the luxuries."--From the journals of Meriwether Lewis, Thursday, June 13, 1805.
Words To Drink By
One sip of this
Will bathe the drooping spirits in delight,
Beyond the bliss of dreams.
--John Milton, Comus.
The Most-Asked Question In Italian Restaurants.
I don't know the answer, and they won't tell. Which is why I never order these things. Click here for the cartoon.
Have a lusty New Orleans meal today!