Friday, May 28, 2010
1086 Restaurants Open Around Town
NOWFE Grand Tastings And Seminars,
Today And Tomorrow, Superdome
The main act of the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience begins this afternoon. It's too big for just one running, so it's spread over two days in three-hour sessions. The floor of the Superdome will fill with chefs from some sixty restaurants cooking up and serving food, and winemakers from all over pouring an aggregate of five hundred or so different wines. Friday's grand tasting begins at 6 p.m.; Saturday's at half past noon. Before each Grand Tasting, a program of seminars goes forth at a variety of locations around town. These combine food and wine--some of it very unusual--in thought-provoking ways. Almost all of these (including my own seminar Saturday) are sold out, but a few are still open. Go to the NOWFE website for more information and tickets. See you there!
Wednesday, May 19. Mazerati. Liver a l'Orange Returns. Jude called around nine this morning. That's seven his time. What's he doing up so early? "I'm just coming home," he said. "We had an all-night shoot. I'm glad it wasn't way out in the desert or anything."
What else is going on? "I got a guy to rent us his Mazerati for the shoot," he said. Making arrangements like that is Jude's primary function in filmmaking. He is apparently good at his. The studio just gave him a tremendous raise, screen credit as a co-producer, and a percentage of the gross for the movie.
But even better than that: "The guy told me that I was the only one allowed to drive the Mazerati," he said. "He said that's because he saw my BMW, and knew I'd have respect for his car." So Jude is tooling around Los Angeles in a Mazerati. I thought of bragging that my PT Cruiser had a nice new tire, but didn't.
At dinner, I neglected to employ that trick I mentioned here just yesterday for deciding where to have dinner. I was rolling down St. Charles Avenue trying to think of a place to dine. I came up with The Upperline.
As was the case at DiBlasi last night, the last time I dined at the Upperline was for an Eat Club dinner. A very good one. Why don't I eat here more often? I love the style of cooking. And no restaurateur I know is more interesting to chat with than JoAnn Clevenger. The reason is that the place is usually packed. But I got lucky tonight. A little table in the corner was open.
JoAnn came over and picked up the menu. "I'd like to present our menu the way I do to all the people who haven't been here before," she said. "Good evening. I'd like to call attention to the two sides of our menu. On this side, everything is planned into a three-course meal for $37. If you look at the entrees, you'll find that they are listed in the order of their popularity. If you order any of the first few on the list, you will have the dishes that other customers have liked most."
I never heard of a restaurant's doing that before. It's brilliant! She always thinks of such great, original ideas! Last time I was here, JoAnn told me that I should include in all my reviews the number of seats in the restaurants, because that tells something very important about the restaurant. It's a great idea. All I need is the data.
"Thank you," JoAnn continued said to my compliments. "And if you will kindly look over the other side of the menu, you will find all of the same items available a la carte."
"What does 'a la carte' mean?" I said, playing the dumb tourist.
"It means that each item is priced separately," she answered, apparently having encountered a few dumb customers over her twenty-seven years here.
I reverted to my native self and said how glad I was to get a table tonight.
"It's finally winding down," she said. "It's been very busy for months. It's very good. Last year, we made our first profit since Katrina."
JoAnn does not merely sit and talk with customers, and she was called away from our tete-a-tete. That left room for the actual server to move into position to tell me the specials. She had some surprising news. Better than she knew.
"The entree special tonight is veal liver with an orange glaze," she said.
"What?" I asked, my eyebrows arching. "Is this liver a l'orange, the way Chef Tom Cowman used to make it here?"
I may have scared her with my enthusiasm. "I think so!" she said.
"I ate here when Chef Tom created that dish!" I said. "I absolutely want that. I haven't had it since Brian Landry was in high school!"
I also asked for the oysters remoulade and a cup of turtle soup. I couldn't remember having had the first one here. The oysters were fried, and each one was set on a pad of remoulade sauce--two different kinds, red and white, alternating. In the center was a pile of celery root, shredded like cole slaw. JoAnn was back at the table and we discussed this. "In France, celery root is what they put remoulade sauce on, not shrimp," I said.
She stayed long enough to see me through the turtle soup. It was also good, in an old-fashioned style. I asked where the turtle meat came from. She wasn't sure, but Chef Ken Smith knew that it came from Ohio. No surprise there. All the Louisiana species of turtle formerly used in soup are off limits now. All of it comes from the Midwest.
Then the liver came. It was almost as I remembered it, but with more sauce. Not a problem. The flavor combination is one of those flashes of taste insight that Tom Cowman was famous for having. (He was the first to think of putting shrimp remoulade on top of fried green tomatoes, which everybody does now.) A really great dish.
"We've been running it as a special on Wednesday nights, but I'm not sure if we're going to keep doing it," JoAnn confessed. "It doesn't sell very well." Well, that figures. I wonder if I can turn it into a phenomenon.
I had pecan pie for dessert (I couldn't remember the last time I had it anywhere), accompanied by a glass of Madeira. JoAnn did a Thomas Jefferson menu some years ago, and got hooked on the wine. You can have it as a dessert here on the table d'hote menu. I'll be this is the only restaurant on earth in which that is the case.
We talked a little while longer. I told her--not for the first time--that she needs to write an autobiography. She let on that she is seventy-three. (She doesn't look it.) The things she did before the restaurant would make a book unto itself. She's one of the living legends, if you ask me.
Upperline. Uptown: 1413 Upperline. 504-891-9822. Classic Creole.
Thursday, May 20. Seared Scallops. Audis. Pizza. The third of our series of broadcasts from the showroom of New Orleans Audi. We're putting on the full court press to persuade people to take a look at the cars today. We have another major chef cooking and serving food: Michelle McRaney, the longtime (longer than anyone else) top kitchen authority at Mr. B's. She brought sea scallops the size of petit filets mignon. Amazing. She seared them in butter in a pan and plopped them into cheese grits. Both parts were the delicious, but more people talked about the grits. That's probably because you know sea scallops of this size will be wonderful, but grits is so quotidian a dish that it amazes when it's excellent. Mary Ann gave me the scallop and ate a double order of the grits.
A funny thought crossed my mind, but I kept it to myself. Instead of using drilling mud to stop up the BP oil well, how about cheese grits? You have to think outside of the box.
We had a second attraction: pairs of $85 tickets to the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience Grand Tasting next Friday. Take a test drive, and get 'em. We had fifteen sets. I thought they'd go in the first hour. But we had some left over at the end of the broadcast. I apparently am not as good at drumming up interest in cars as I am in food. I can understand this. I am happy with modest cars, and have owned nothing else. (Other than the cars driven by the Marys, who don't let me drive them.) I think people can pick up on my lack of ardor. I cannot hide what's on my mind. I would be a terrible poker player. This is also why I will never write a recipe for shrimp Creole (unless someday I have a revelation as to how to make the dish edible).
The two scallops and one plate of grits really had me full enough that I could have gone home with no supper. But I couldn't bring myself to do that, since this was the perfect day to make a stop at Parran's Po-Boys. They keep buying more and more commercials on my radio show (even the expensive Saturday edition). I can sell poor boys. But to keep the live commercials interesting, I have to get a new impression of the place now and then.
I didn't have a poor boy. I'm sold on those. I came for the newly-added pizza. I ordered my standard test pizza: basic cheese. It was misshapen, more an oval than round. This is a good thing. Show me a perfectly round pizza, and I'll show you a really bad pizza punched out, pre-baked, and frozen in a factory.
I took a seat in the spartan dining room. It looked better than I remembered, actually. Looks like some pain and some furnishings have been added. The tables and chars were better than I remember, too. But a neighborhood café shouldn't be too fancy.
Al Hornbrook, the owner, came to the table. He said he knew I was there because he recognized my voice when I placed the order. I hear that often, but don't understand it. To me, I have a normal male voice.
Whaffo' da pizza? "We used to have it," Al said, "But the guy who was making them left to do something else, and we stopped. But he came back, so we have them again."
He told me that the dough and the sauce are made from scratch. No surprise, because that's how everything is there. The pizzas are baked in a standard convection oven. "I'd like to have a pizza oven, but we don't have the room in the kitchen."
The pizza was good, and proved again that those screen-bottomed pizza pans don't work as well as baking the pizza right on top of a really hot pizza stone in a 500-degree oven, with no pan at all. The bottom of the crust could have used a more crispness. But it tasted like a good yeasty pizza dough should, and the sauce had all the pepper and garlic I like to find.
Parran's Po-Boys. Metairie: 3939 Veterans Blvd. 504-885-3416. Sandwiches. Platters.
Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse
WHY IT'S NOTEWORTHY
The French Quarter's best steakhouse, with first-class beef prepared in an unusually large variety of styles. All the set pieces of a traditional American steakhouse are here--but with a distinctly New Orleans touch. It's a masculine, civilized, romantic environment--unless there's a big convention in town of, say, metallurgists. In that case, the place fills with female-free tables of guys in golf shirts.
WHY IT'S GOOD
All the set pieces of a traditional American steakhouse are here--but with a distinctly New Orleans touch. The beef is mostly USDA Prime--although I note on recent menus that this claim is not made for the filets. The sirloin strip is seared in a black iron skillet, using an idea from Commander's Palace that later gave birth to blackened redfish. The house filet mignon is surrounded by fried oysters and the Pontalba-style potatoes. Despite the goodness of the ingredients, the steaks here only rarely blow me away. The menu goes on to include enough non-red-meat fare to cover the needs of those who prefer not to indulge, but no more than that. If you order something other than a steak you're missing the best of what this place has to offer.
No sooner had the Brennans of Commander’s Palace split their restaurant holdings among the members of the third generation than Dick Brennan Jr. announced he was going to build an idea his father had for years: a first-class steakhouse. This is the concept that caused the split in the Brennan family in the 1970s: a simple menu of very classy groceries, with great service. When it finally opened here, it was a runaway success, and remains so.
This is the only below-street-level restaurant in New Orleans. And a handsome place, with tile floors, rich wood paneling, banquette seating, and unusual displays of antique weapons in the private dining rooms. Just inside the entrance, the bar has a life of its own particularly at lunchtime.
Crab cake (photo well above)
Escargots with bacon, fennel, mushrooms garlic butter
Mcilhenny oysters (chilpotle cream sauce)
Boiled shrimp with fried green tomatoes and remoulade
Tomato and blue cheese napoleon (photo above)
House filet (with fried oysters, Pontalba potatoes, and bearnaise)
Cast-iron seared sirloin strip
Grilled fish with corn macquechoux
Pork porterhouse with andouille
Steamed Maine lobster
Potatoes au gratin
Pontalba potatoes (with ham, onions, and mushrooms)
Bananas Foster bread pudding
FOR BEST RESULTS
When you reserve the table, if there is even a small amount of romance in the dinner, ask to have one of the rounded banquettes. They have a collection of small-plate appetizers, cocktails and wines--each for $5--from 4-7 weekday afternoons.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
The sizzling butter sauce--a hallmark of New Orleans steak cookery--is not to be had here, but it should be. The service staff is cordial enough, but doesn't show the kind of fine tuning I see in other Brennan restaurants.
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
- Attitude +2
- Wine and Bar +2
- Local Color +2
- Good for business meetings
- Many private rooms
- Open Sunday dinner
- Open Monday dinner
- Unusually large servings
- Good for children
- Free valet parking
- Reservations accepted
Ten Best Restaurants For Escargots
Eating snails, after languishing as passe for a decade or two, has become popular again. Here are the best snails in town right now. Although a few innovative versions are on the list, most of them are bubbling (we hope) in garlic butter. There's nothing like garlic butter.
5. Brennan’s. French Quarter: 417 Royal. 504-525-9711. This is the garlic-and-herb butter again, green from the herbs. What makes this striking is that it's the only serving of snails in New Orleans that uses actual snail shells.
6. Keith Young’s Steak House. Madisonville: 165 LA. 21. 985-845-9940. The standard garlic-herb butter, best on the North Shore. It's a light appetizer (if you don't eat too much bread), leaving room for the steak.
7. Pelican Club. French Quarter: 615 Bienville. 504-523-1504. They've always served their snails with a sort of Asian-inspired sauce, although there's no lack of garlic either. They're topped with what the restaurant calls puff pastry "hats." Cute, and good.
10. Ciro’s Cote Sud. Riverbend: 7918 Maple. 504-866-9551. The very French bistro and pizza maker brings the classic bourguignonne version out smelling great, with more than the average amount of butter.
Have I missed a good one? If you know of a great version of snails that belongs on this list, post it on our messageboard. (You'll also find other people's suggestions there.)
Barbecued Brisket Seasoning
This is what I use when I barbecue briskets. I make a large batch (the seasonings are vastly cheaper that way) and use it for months. This is the 2003 revision.
- 1/2 cup granulated garlic
- 1 cup granulated onion
- 1/2 cup black pepper
- 1/2 cup chili powder
- 1/4 cup cayenne
- 1 cup paprika
- 2 cups salt
- 1 tsp. allspice
- 2 tsp. dried basil
- 1 tsp. dried thyme
- 2 tsp. dried marjoram
Mix everything together well. Store in a tightly-covered jar.