Thursday, May 26, 2011
1180 Restaurants Open Around Town (click for the whole list)
Strolling (And Sampling Food And Wine) On Royal Street
Today is everybody's favorite part of the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience. The two events could hardly be more different. The first is the Vinola tasting, which brings to the fore the rarest and most expensive wines of the entire event. The tickets are not cheap ($165, including the outrageous Ticketmaster service charge). But the serious grape nuts will all be there, and the reports are always good.
After that is the wildly popular Royal Street Stroll. It's as casual as can be imagined: tee shirts, shorts, baseball caps and flip-flops are the dress of the day. So arrayed, you make stops in any of the several dozen art galleries, antique stores and shops that have signed on to host. Inside are wine and winemakers, and in most cases chefs and food. A new enhancement this year will be tents on Royal Street operated by nearby restaurants, who will be cooking away.
As in past years, my radio show will broadcast from the Carousel Bar at the Monteleone Hotel from three until six. The Stroll officially begins at five-thirty, and will feature more live music than in past years, especially in front of the Monteleone. The Krewe Of Cork will parade, as always. The Stroll always sells out, but as of this morning there are still tickets available at $75. (They're $90 at the gate, in front on Brennan's in the 400 block of Royal.) Tickets and info are at www.nowfe.com.
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Saturday, May 21, 2011.
Mad Hatter Tea And Quiche. Speckled Trout At Café Lynn.
A few weeks ago, I asked Mary Ann whether she wanted to go to breakfast. She chewed me out for not knowing that she doesn't like breakfast to begin with, and eating the meal messes up her weight-loss program. Ever since, I have kept my mouth shut about breakfast. But she thinks she may have been a little too strident, and now suggests breakfast every Saturday. I am enjoying this while it lasts.
Another force is making it more likely I will get Saturday breakfast out. Mary Ann wants to add blogs written by others to balance out my flood of words. She has so far found experts on coffee, wine, and now tea. Jan Lantrip, who owns the English Tea Room with her husband, is writing the tea blog. Jan is a tea fanatic, and her three articles so far have all told me things I didn't know.
And the English Tea Room serves breakfast! So there we were this morning. I'd just finished editing a piece she wrote about an Alice In Wonderland themed tea party she held for young people a couple of weeks ago. She blended a special tea for the occasion. It sounded marvelous, and was: a straightforward tea with a number of fruit notes in the flavor, aroma, and even the unique pink-magenta color. I drank a whole pot of it.
And a couple of scones, a slice of spinach and artichoke quiche, and cinnamon toast. Mary Ann contended herself with a more conventional tea and scones. The latter are made from scratch in house, and are the best around, MA says. I agree. They're the perfect nibble for late in the evening. We took a dozen of them home.
No lunch, of course. The radio show's hour and forty-five minutes were busy on a topic that got started oddly. A caller was listening to The Splendid Table on WWNO, and heard the host say that an alligator pear was a chayote. That's the vegetable we call a mirliton around New Orleans. Yet another name for it is "vegetable pear." Maybe he or the host were confused by that. But there is no question that an alligator pear is an avocado, not a mirliton. At least it is in our part of the world. And in Mexico, too, where the avocado originated. I think I ought to get a James Beard Award for clarifying that, but I don't want to pay the entry fee required to enter their competitions.
We kept talking about avocados. A fellow called me up who wanted to know how long it would be before his wife's avocado tree would bear fruit. "She loves avocados but thinks they're too expensive. She can't wait to start picking them from the tree."
Planted from a seed? I asked. Yes. Bad news, then. Avocados do not reproduce true. The tree that grows from seed will not produce avocados like the one the seed came from. They might be edible, but probably not great. All Hass avocados are grown from cuttings that can be traced back to one now-deceased tree that grew in Los Angeles. Gosh, I'm sorry.
Someone called to add more bad news. "You need two trees to pollinate one another," said the caller, who added that he heard this from Dan Gill, who certainly knows.
Mary Ann was determined not to go out to dinner tonight, but she didn't mind driving me around for that purpose. Chuck Billeaud called to say that he had one of my cookbooks for a friend of his, and wanted me to autograph it. His wife was unavailable, too, so why just meet for dinner?
Chuck and I have often dined with and without our wives at Galatoire's. We weren't going there, but anything like it on the North Shore? First idea: Gallagher's Grill. No reservations there. Chuck suggested Café Lynn, the restaurant of Joey Najolia, former chef de cuisine at La Provence during Chris Kerageorgiou's final years. They could get us in, and Mary Ann didn't mind driving me all the way there and back.
I worked my crippled self into a chair. Chuck was waiting with a martini. Every time before, I would have followed suit, but I'm afraid of martinis now. I ordered a bottle of Sonoma-Cutrer's Les Pierres Chardonnay, a single-vineyard wine I remember loving about twenty years ago--which may have been the last time I had it.
Fried calamari, more than enough for two. They were crisp and nice, but the sauce served with it was nothing much. I ate too many anyway.
Chuck had three entrees in mind. Two of them were already sold out by the time we ordered. Stuffed eggplant with seafood is what he wound up with, but I think that's what he wanted. Another of the night's specials was speckled trout meuniere. This was perfect for one with a palate tuned to the Galatoire's frequency, if different from the way the old place does it. The fish was pan-seared with the skin still on, instead of fried. That works for me. The sauce was just brown butter, as it is at Gal's. Potatoes and fresh green beans finished a nice plate of food.
We haven't broken bread in awhile, so we had many notes about our kids to share. We each have two, about the same ages. His younger daughter Taylor and my Mary Leigh were close friends in grammar school, which created our connection. Chuck is in the business of building houses: not the greatest business these days, but he wasn't moaning about it.
Dessert for me was bread pudding, without the caramel-pecan topping, which sounded too sweet to me. But I should have let the chef be the chef. The custard mixture soaking the pudding was minimally sweet, and it needed the sauce. But I just let it be.
Cafe Lynn. Mandeville: 3051 East Causeway Approach. 985-624-9007.
It has been over three years since a day was missed in the Dining Diary. To browse through all of the entries since 2008, go here.
Summer Supper At An Eat Club Favorite
Wednesday, June 8, 7 p.m.
Metairie: 3400 16th St, behind the Morning Call
$75, inclusive of tax, tip, and wines
WHY IT'S NOTEWORTHY
Combining classicism with inventiveness, hitting peaks in every index by which restaurants are measured, ever improving on what it's done in its brilliant past, Commander's is solidly our most pleasurable restaurant. After a few years caught in the traffic of changing tastes and dealing with Katrina problems, Commander's got a fresh start in 2007, and is cooking at least as well as at any time in its history.
WHY IT'S GOOD
Commander's emphasis on local foodstuffs and flavors dates back to the late 1970s, when few other major restaurants had signed on to that now-dominant vogue. The restaurant has few peers in its program of buying interesting, top-class Louisiana fish, meat, and vegetables. Chef Tory McPhail, as innovative as he is personally engaging, leads an exceptionally strong kitchen bench. Many of the sous chefs here could easily open their own restaurants. The best evidence of their pre-eminence is the "Chef's Playground" menu, which breaks new ground every night and offers the serious eater high levels of both gustatory and mental amusement.
The Brennan family bought the antebellum Garden District mansion (it has been a restaurant since at least 1880) in the mid-1960s, but didn't do much with it until the split in the Brennan family in 1973. That brought the elders of the Brennans here, led by Ella and Dick Brennan, two of the most brilliant restaurateurs in the annals of the business. At Commander's in the late 1970s, they and their chefs--most notably Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse--reinvented the New Orleans gourmet restaurant. Trends they launched pervade most New Orleans restaurants to this day. Commander's stayed at the top until the early 2000s, when management shifted to the next generation and the place was spooked by the death of Emeril's successor Jamie Shannon. It took Hurricane Katrina to exorcise the place, but the storm required over a year and millions of dollars to remediate. When it reopened, however, owners Ti Martin and Lally Brennan (with the continuing help of Ti's mom Ella Brennan, who lives next door) re-ascended the heights.
The Victorian mansion and its adjacent courtyard and outbuildings comprise a big restaurant with a wide variety dining environments. The most controversial is the main dining room downstairs, which makes an unusual statement with its lighting, materials, and birds. The trellised upstairs Garden Room is the most popular among locals, up there in the leafy part of the big live oak tree, looking down into the courtyard. In spring and fall, they serve out in the courtyard itself. At other times, nobody will stop you from having a drink in that romantic spot before or after dinner.
ESSENTIAL MENU [»=Recommended]
Commander's menu is dominated by specials, arranged into complete dinners of three to six courses Those are usually the best dishes in the house, but the restaurant has a number of signature dishes available all the time on the a la carte side of the menu
»Oyster and absinthe soup under a pastry dome
Crawfish and dumplings
»Linguine and crawfish
»Shrimp and tasso Henican (hot sauce beurre blanc, pepper jelly)
»Foie gras "du Monde" (seared duck liver, foie gras-infused café au lait, blackberry beignets)
»Gumbo du jour
»Soup du jour
»Soups 1-1-1 (demitasse of all three above)
Commander's salad (a little like a Caesar)
Heirloom tomato salad
»Pecan-crusted Gulf fish with crabmeat
Griddle-seared Gulf fish (corn, blackeye peas, tomatoes)
Garlic and black pepper seared shrimp
Assiette of vegetables
»Veal chop Tchoupitoulas (Creole spice-coated, grilled, green peppercorn demi-glace)
»Pepper-crusted sirloin strip
»Creole bread pudding soufflee
Many other desserts du jour
»Artisan cheese plate
FOR BEST RESULTS
The best possible meal here for the adventuresome diner is the Chef's Playground menu, five or six courses veering from the familiar to the experimental dishes. Lunch at Commander's is convivial and a great bargain, complete repasts available for $25 or less.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
The famous Saturday and Sunday jazz brunches (the concept of which was created here) are nowhere near as good as the other meals, but people have so much fun they don't notice.
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 +3
- Consistency +1
- Service +3
- Value +2
- Attitude +2
- Wine and Bar +3
- Hipness +3
- Local Color +3
- Live music at brunch
- Courtyard or deck dining
- Good view
- Good for business meetings
- Small private room
- Open Sunday lunch and dinner
- Open Monday lunch and dinner
- Open some holidays
- Good for children
- Free valet parking
- Reservations accepted
ANECDOTES AND ANALYSIS
A strange thing is happening to us. We're forgetting about the best restaurants in town, in favor of diners, drive-ins, and dives. I plead guilty myself. It occurred to me while making up my annual Book Of Lists restaurant ranking that it's been almost two years since I've eaten in the perennial top restaurant: Commander's Palace.
I went immediately, and kicked myself even more afterwards. Only good things have been going on at the Brennan family's flagship. The Chef's Playground menu, which I found spectacular and innovative two years ago, is still that way. But the price has come down twenty bucks to $75, with a five-wine pairing for $50. That wine comes out of a newly-built cellar, which has grown so deep that it might be a good idea to download it and study it beforehand.
Meanwhile, all the little things we've gone to Commander's are still there: the garlic toasts, the overservice, the chicory coffee, the veal chop, the turtle soup, the bread pudding soufflee, the underpriced lunches. Some things have gone: the dress code (some people are in jeans and golf shirts at dinner) and--disturbingly--many customers on the young side of forty. Why are they passing on the best restaurant in town?
Here at the Cool Water Ranch in Abita Springs, blueberries and huckleberries grow throughout the spring. While our favorite recipe for them is to just eat up as we pick them, one day my daughter collected enough that we thought about blueberry muffins. I was in the early stages of making buttermilk biscuits at the time, and I wondered what would happen if I just sweetened up that recipe and added the berries to them. They came out almost like muffins, but very flat--they needed muffin tins. A few adjustments to the recipe and it came out this way. And very good, especially for breakfast.
- 1 stick plus 3 Tbs. softened butter
- 1 cup sugar
- 3 cups self-rising flour
- 2 eggs
- 1 1/2 cups buttermilk
- 1 cup (heaping) of blueberries or huckleberries
- Zest of one orange
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
1. Put the butter and sugar into a mixer bowl and beat with an electric mixer until "creamed"--fluffy and light in color, with no sugar grit easily apparent
2. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until they disappear into the creamed butter.
3. Add one cup of the flour and beat it into the mixture. Add a half-cup of the buttermilk and beat that in. Repeat this step, then one more time, using all of the flour and buttermilk.
4. Dump the berries and the orange zest on top of the batter. Using a rubber spatula, fold the batter over them. Scraping the sides of the bowl up from the very bottom, keep folding the dough until the berries are well-distributed. This folding technique rather than mixing will keep the berries from breaking.
5. Coat the insides of two six-pocket muffin tins lightly with butter. (This is not necessary if using non-stick muffin tins. Do not use paper muffin cups.) Put the same amount of muffin batter in each pocket, and bang the tins down on the counter to flatten the tops.
6. Bake the muffins at 375 degrees, in the center of the oven, for between 20 and 30 minutes--longer for larger muffin tins. If you have a convection oven, use the convect feature. The muffins are ready when the tops are golden brown.
7. Let the muffins cool for five to ten minutes in the tins. Carefully extract them from the tins and serve immediately.Makes twelve muffins.
May 26, 2011
Days Until. . .
Greek Festival 2
Chef d'Oeuvre du Jour
#402: Banana-blueberry pie @ Impastato's, Metairie: 3400 16th St. At the end of a dinner at Impastato's, it's amazing that anyone can think of dessert. For that reason, the dessert menu here has never been a strong suit there. When anyone brings one up, however, it's almost always this one. It's like a cheesecake, but gooier. The banana and blueberry flavors are not only fresh and vivid, but really do go well together. This is one of NOMenu's 500 Best Dishes in New Orleans. Collect all 500!
Today is National Blueberry Cheesecake Day. What a terrible thing to do with both blueberries and cheesecake. It's also National Cherry Dessert Day. My favorite of those is the ancient flaming dessert, cherries jubilee. The cherries are cooked down in a syrup made right there in the pan, then flamed with kirsch, and served over ice cream. It is believed to have been created by no less than Auguste Escoffier, the arbiter of classic French cooking, on the occasion of Queen Victoria' s fiftieth jubilee. Escoffier's original recipe didn't have ice cream, but that was such a natural addition that it's now universal. Most restaurants that make it (Antoine's is the most famous locally) use canned cherries, but it's much better with fresh cherries. Problem: we rarely see fresh cherries until July. Another cherry-full dessert is Black Forest cake, a light chocolate cake with white icing and cherries between the layers.
Deft Dining Rule #112:
A restaurant that specializes in flaming desserts served tableside these days is likely to have an exceptionally good service staff, but unimaginative food.
Cherrytown is a little over a mile south of the Mason-Dixon Line, in north central Maryland. It's forty-five miles northwest of Baltimore. It's in a mix of open fields and woods in rolling terrain, with farmhouses and country homes of people who work in the city. It's a pretty area. There's even a white tablecloth restaurant a mile away: Bud's at Silver Run, with good crab cakes and prime rib.
Rainier cherry, n.--A variety of cherry grown mostly in Washington State, the Rainier was developed in 1952 by one Harold Vogel. It's pale red and yellow, and is known for its sweetness. It's one of the sweetest cherries in the market, but it doesn't travel especially well. We will be seeing it in markets in June--if they get here. It's well enough liked that it has its own day of celebration: July 11. They are much loved in Japan, where it's said they can sell for a dollar each.
Music To Eat On The Levee By
On this date in 1971, Don McLean recorded the song American Pie. It wasn't about pie at all! Instead, it stirred up nostalgia (among those who could figure out what it meant) for the late 1950s. That was long before the gourmet era began.
Celebrity Chefs Today
TV's third Japanese Iron Chef, Masaharu Morimoto, was born today in 1955, in Hiroshima, Japan. After working in New York at Nobu and some other high-profile establishments, he opened a restaurant under his own name in Philadelphia. We've never been there, but wonder whether its kitchen runs by the rules of the Iron Chef TV foolishness.
Food In The Wild
Today in 1950, the first whooping crane hatched in captivity was born. It was delicious, I hear. Such a joke must be made whenever bringing up an endangered species in a fluffy medium like this one, but it's a long-standing tradition through history. An alarming number of last examples of species were killed to be eaten or added to a collection of taxidermy. I don't get it.
Ernst Bacon was born today in 1898. He was an excellent composer of classical music, particularly songs, with a distinctly and intentional American quality. He is well enough revered to have a website. . . Stephen Rice, born today in 1971, is a professional hockey player. . . Pro golfer Stephen Robert Pate was born today in 1961.
Words To Eat By
"The jelly--the jam and the marmalade, And the cherry-and quince preserves she made! And the sweet-sour pickles of peach and pear, With cinnamon in 'em, and all things rare! And the more we ate was the more to spare, Out to old Aunt Mary's! Ah!"--James Whitcomb Riley.
"No man is lonely while eating spaghetti."--Robert Morley, movie actor, born today in 1908.
Words To Drink By
"No poems can please for long or live that are written by water-drinkers."--Horace.
Why New York City Is A Town For Restaurant Amateurs.
It's because they focus on the mind, not the heart. Here's a list of ten big ideas that chefs and restaurateurs wasted their time and money (and those of their customers) last year. Psst--here's a hint, guys: try serving food that actually makes the eater smile. Click here for the article.
I'll Take Two.
The restaurant business being what it is, an idea like this is not for from reality. It would get people talking, and that's more important to some diners than good food is. Click here for the cartoon.
Have a lusty New Orleans meal today!