Wednesday, June 22, 2011
1205 Restaurants Open Around Town (click for the whole list)
New on NOMenu.com
Our Panel Of Experts Is Now Blogging
Go to our just-born, revolving blog about a wide range of specialties, reported by people who deal with those subjects for a living. Our first two are about wine and tea. More to come.
Locavore Wine Dinner Tonight, La Provence
A "locavore," you probably know, is someone who eats mostly the food produced near to where he lives. If you're a lover of seafood, yams, tomatoes, eggplants, and baby vegetables, it's easy to have a locavore diet in New Orleans. Especially on the North Shore, and especially in the early days of summer.
Chef Erik Loos (pronounced "lowss") at La Provence has the advantage of growing a lot of the above himself. And he raises his own Mangalitsa pigs on the premises. He's serving a dinner tonight of not only all these local products, but also wines from St. Tammany Parish's Pontchartrain Vineyards. These are the pick of the winery's work, with the "Rouge Militaire" (named for Military Road) being the best wine they make, if you ask me.
Here's the menu:
Chilled Terrine of Ratatouille
Smoked tomato, fresh basil from our garden, and pistou
Wine: 2007 Zydeco Rosato, Louisiana Rosé
Local Vegetable "Chop Salad"
Cured Mangalitsa jowl, sauce mousseline and fresh herbs
Wine: 2007 Roux St. Louis, Blanc Du Bois
Pan Roasted Red Snapper
Ragout of spring beans, jumbo lump crabmeat, and local mushrooms
Wine: 2007 Le Trolley, Blanc Du Bois
Slow Roast Shoulder of Mangalitsa Pig
From La Provence's own farm, with petit légumes farcis, smoked tomatoes
Wine: 2005 Rouge Militaire, Cynthiana/Norton
Local Peach Tarte Tatin
Blueberry sorbet and caramel sabayon
Wine: 2005 Port of New Orleans
The price is a giveaway at $65 inclusive--that's including the wine in five courses, tax and tip. There's a reception at 6:30 (probably with the chef and winemaker John Seago), and dinner at seven. I was at La Provence just this past Sunday and can tell you they are really on top of their game these days.
La Provence. Lacombe: 25020 US 190. 985-626-7662
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Wednesday, June 15, 2011.
Return To The Studio. Babysat By Chef Andrea.
Our failure to get moving yesterday made me determined to go into town for the radio show today. This time, we found all the necessary keys and left a little early. But only a little, under great protest from Mary Ann.
It's my first appearance at the radio station in over three months--not counting one Saturday when nobody was there. It had all the desired effects. Everybody said I looked as if I had lost a lot of weight (I have), that I looked funny walking around on an old man's cane, and that they were happy to see me. Programming boss Diane Newman had the most flattering line: "We missed your spirit around here." Coming from her, that's something, because she is fighting (successfully) much more dangerous health problems than mine.
In my absence, all the chairs in my studio had been moved around, and my regular chair was gone. I almost slipped onto the
floor when the one I landed on tilted in a way it shouldn't have. Other than that, it was like I'd never left.
Mary Ann drove me into town. I still haven't made any long trips solo. She ran some errands while I was on the air, then brought me to Andrea's. But she wanted to watch the final hockey game for the Stanley Cup. (The Marys have become rapt viewers of hockey.) MA decided that she didn't like the size and placement of the televisions in the bar at Andrea's. I told her it was okay to leave me here and watch the game at her brother Tim's house--our original plan. That way she wouldn't have to put up with my disdain for sports and could enjoy the game without guilt.
This suited me just fine. I flopped into a wing-back chair at a small wooden table next to the piano. I told Chef Andrea and his girlfriend/major domo Tia that they would be essentially babysitting me for the evening, although I wouldn't need much more attention than to be fed and watered.
Andrea's Capri Blu bar is the most comfortable spot in the whole place. It has a bar menu, including a three-appetizer, glass-of-wine special for $28. But you can get anything you want in there. Chef Andrea insisted that I try a new dish: oyster ravioli. The oysters are chopped and mixed with Parmigiana cheese and a few other ingredients for the filling. A cream sauce with more oysters topped the pasta. This was better than I would have imagined. I was even more pleased that he only gave me two of the pasta pillows. (I'd eat here more often if he didn't overfeed me so much.)
He came back with a second course of big fresh asparagus and a a few other cool, crunchy things in a well-made balsamic vinaigrette. Tia sat with me most of the time, with Chef Andrea swinging by for extended periods. Some of the bar's regulars also pulled their chairs over to join what became an entertaining conversation at my little round table.
Chef said he had some nice red snapper just in that morning. I asked what he thought of the idea of making that into a fra diavolo: pan-seared fish, with a sauce of tomatoes, wine, fish stock, herbs, and enough crushed red pepper to make it distinctly zippy. He thought that was a fine idea, and a few minutes later out came the best dish I've had at Andrea's in a long time. The fish was vividly fresh (always is here), and the sauce had precisely the flavor I was hoping for.
Funny thing. I have a long-standing distaste for seafood dishes made with up-front tomato. The worst example is shrimp Creole. But I've also noted over the years that when a fish-and-tomato dish works, it doesn't work just a little bit but in a spectacular, memorable way. That was what was going on here.
As I was loving this, Mary Ann's brother Tim called and asked whether I'd like some company. I guess he didn't like hockey, either. I invited him over and touted him on the fish I'd just finished. He had heart surgery some months ago and is watching what he eats. This was perfect for that. Done with almost no fat at all, most of the cooking takes place in the bath of tomato, stock, and wine. And yet it tastes great! The Italians are better at that sort of thing than anybody.
Mary Ann came by at a little after ten, happy because her team had won, but feeling sorry for the other team. En route home, we were shunted over to the southbound causeway span to get past work on the northbound drawbridge, delaying the trip. I'm glad I wasn't driving. I began my evening with a cheat: I drank a Negroni. Then the inevitable wine samples that Andrea insists on opening for any friends that drop by.
Andrea's. Metairie: 3100 19th St. 504-834-8583.
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.
The Enraged Chicken
Lower Garden District: 1115 St. Mary
The Enraged Chicken was as quirky as its name. One night, the menu would be Mexican. The next, Chinese. After that Italian, Creole, and Spanish. Maybe. You not only had to take what cuisine you found, but accept the set menu with no choices.
But if you were caught up in the phenomenon that had built up around The Enraged Chicken, you knew that it was essential to stop in at the end of the week to pick up the following week's menu. That would tell you exactly what would be served each night. So, instead of picking the dish you wanted, you chose the day of the week with the best-sounding food.
You also knew that behind this apparent madness was something entirely rational. Two brothers named Schaeffer operated The Enraged Chicken as a school for cooks, servers, and restaurant managers. Each night, the students would move from one position to the next. The chef of the day would decide what kind of food was to be served, and what dishes. Keeping a lid on the kitchen was Chef Gary Darling, then in the early years of his career. (He's now one of the owners of Zea.)
And the customers would fill the two small rooms of a converted neighborhood bar for lunch and dinner, Monday through Friday. They would pay with cash. If you made a reservation and didn't show up, you'd be put on the "you-know-what list" (they really called it that), and you couldn't get a reservation anymore. The Enraged Chicken had its customers well trained.
I ate there four or five times. Some nights, the place was brilliant, and the prices were low enough that it was easy to understand why people were so worked up about the place. Other nights, it was just okay, maybe even disappointing. The service gaffes were the biggest problem. Most of the students were inexperienced in serving gourmet customers. A few seemed never to have dined in a restaurant before.
But most customers turned a blind eye to the shortcomings, and enjoyed the hipness of the place. But, like all things hip, The Enraged Chicken's day in the sun ended. When it stopped being hard to get a reservation, and especially when there were empty tables at every meal, the novelty wore off. People stopped coming. And that was that.
The idea was a good one, however, when applied twenty years later by non-profit operations like Café Reconcile and Café Hope, which do more or less the same thing, but with at-risk young people learning the restaurant trade and a straightforward, predictable menu.
Red Snapper Creole-Italian
I am generally not a fan of seafood with tomato sauces. But here's a funny thing: when it works, it works wonderfully. Here is Chef Andrea Apuzzo's approach to the idea. It's reminiscent of the sauce for shrimp fra diavolo ("brother devil'), and is the Italian answer to fish with Creole sauce. (It also resembles fish courtbouillon.
If you want to make this the best way possible, buy whole fish and make a fish stock with the head, tail, and bones (not gills or liver). It's a bit more work, but adds a flavor dimension I think you'll like. Shrimp or crab stock would be good alternatives, too.
- 2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, lightly crushed to break skin
- 1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
- 4 red snapper fillets, 4-6 oz. each
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 1 cup canned Italian plum tomatoes, chopped
- 2 cups fish stock
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- Pinch white pepper
- 3 sprigs fresh oregano leaves
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
1. Heat olive oil in a skillet over high heat. Saute garlic cloves until they begin to brown around the edges. Add crushed red pepper.
2. Put two fish fillets at a time into the hot skillet, and saute 30 seconds on each side. Remove from pan and keep warm.
3. Add the wine to the skillet and bring to a boil for about a minutes. Chop the tomatoes roughly and add to the pan. Add fish stock, salt, pepper and oregano to the skillet and bring to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat to medium and simmer the sauce for five minutes.
4. Put the fish back in the skillet and put the skillet into the preheated 400-degree oven for about five minutes, until fish is cooked.
5. Place a fillet on each of four plates, and surround with a pool of the sauce.Serves four.
June 22, 2011
Days Until. . .
Fourth Of July 12
Chef d'Oeuvre du Jour
#129: Tuna stack @ Zea, Harahan: 1655 Hickory Ave. Some of the best dishes at Zea are seasonal items--an unusual state of affairs for a chain restaurant. The star of the summer menu for the past few years is this dish, made with cubes of fresh raw tuna, slices of avocado, mango, sesame seeds and wasabi aioli. All this is layered into a metal ring. After the rings is removed, it's a modest tower with colorful layers and even more edifying flavors. The house's spicy chili sauce is squirted here and there. It comes with a few triangles of pita bread. It's so good you want another, but move on to the entree: this is so intense in its flavors that it might overload your senses. This is one of NOMenu's 500 Best Dishes in New Orleans. Collect all 500!
This is Seared Fresh Tuna Salad Day. The timing is perfect. The heat has emphatically set in, and even though eating cold food doesn't actually lower your temperature, the sensation of eating chilled, nearly-raw fish with crisp, cold greens and perhaps some avocado seems a perfect antidote to the weather. The best fresh tuna salads are made with vividly fresh tuna, seared on a very hot grill or pan to a noticeable crust on the outside, but still completely rare on the inside. The color contract between the interior of the tuna (sliced after the searing, of course) and the greens is dramatic and appetizing.
Today is also National Chocolate Eclair Day. The original chocolate eclairs were made with choux pastry--the same stuff creampuffs are made from--and stuffed with pastry cream and topped with chocolate. Now you mostly find a big rectangular doughnut, filled with Bavarian cream and topped with chocolate frosting. Shouldn't be eaten by anyone over sixteen.
dolmades, [dole-MAH-dehss], Greek, n. pl.Grape leaves, rolled around a stuffing to resemble sausages and cooked. Most of the time, the rolls are then cooled and served at room temperature The stuffing admits of a wide range of ingredients. The most common concoction is rice, olive oil, parsley, dill, onions, pine nuts, and a light touch of spices in the cinnamon-nutmeg range. Dolmades can also be served hot, usually with a stuffing of lamb, eggs, dill, oregano, and bread crumbs. That kind is usually topped with a warm sauce, with avgolemono being the classic. ("Egg-and-lemon" sauce, the Greek answer to hollandaise.) Since you almost never get just one dolma (the singular form), the plural "dolmades" is the word you see on menus.
Deft Dining Rule #183:
You can tell a lot about a restaurant by the size of the capers in the salade Niçoise. The bigger they are, the less the place spends on ingredients.
Food Through History
Today in 1847, the doughnut was invented when Hanson Gregory watched his mother struggle to get her fried cakes fully cooked in the center. He suggested that she cut a hole in them. It worked! Which explains why beignets are often doughy in the center. If they had holes, they wouldn't.
Great Restaurant Addresses
This is the birthday in 1837 of Paul Morphy, who many chess experts consider the greatest grandmaster of all time. He lived on Royal Street in the building that now houses Brennan's. He also has a street named for him. In his day--and still, among chess enthusiasts--he was a major celebrity in New Orleans.
Music To Eat Bacon And Beans By
On this date in 1959, people around the country had these lyrics running around in their heads: "They took a little bacon and they took a little beans, and they fought the bloody British in the town of New Orleans." Johnny Horton's record The Battle of New Orleans was a million-seller and at the top of the charts.
Food And Drink At War
Back in 1898, during the Spanish-American War, six American ships landed at Cuba's coast. From there the Rough Riders, led by Theodore Roosevelt, invaded the town of Daiquiri. (I suppose they picked up a few in go-cups and rode on.) . . . In another great moment in history, on this date in 1815, Napoleon threw in the towel for the last time after being defeated at Waterloo four days earlier. He abdicated and went into exile, but only after stopping at the Napoleon House for a muffuletta.
Tuna, Pennsylvania is right up against the New York state line in the western part of the state, seventy-five miles south of Buffalo. It takes its name from the Tunungwant Creek, which runs along its western side. Locals have long shortened the original Native American name to Tuna Creek. It's a tributary of the Allegheny River, taking Tuna's water down to New Orleans by way of the Ohio. It hardly needs to be said that no tuna fish will be found in it. The Tuna Valley has been farmed by Americans since at least the 1830s. The restaurants are all about two miles south in the town of Bradford. Order the tuna salad sandwich at the Farm Family Restaurant.
Gary Beers, bass player and singer for the rock group INXS, was born today in 1957. . . Operatic tenor Peter Pears was born today in 1910. . . Danny Baker, a radio comedian in England, gave his first laugh today in 1957. It would be nice if we had more radio comedians here. . . Stephen Chow is a comedian, too--as well as a film producer and director in Hong Kong. He jumped onto The Big Stage today in 1962.
Words To Eat By
"Many people have eaten and drunk themselves to death. Nobody ever thought himself to death."--Gilbert Highet, Scottish-American author, born today in 1906.
Words To Drink By
"Sometimes too much to drink is barely enough."--Mark Twain.
The Slippery, Greasy Slope.
“You can still put the same flavors in a sandwich that you would in a formal dish,” says a chef in Chicago, explaining why he gave up cooking gourmet food and is now making sandwiches. “I think what has been lacking in the comfort food realm is creativity.” I think that he probably couldn't cook worth a damn. Nor could the other guys in this article. This disturbing trend is picking up speed, even around New Orleans. Click here for the article.
Menus On iPads?
I'll be we see that soon. But in the meantime, take a look at this new idea, spreading like wildfire in the Chinese community. Click here for the cartoon.
Have a lusty New Orleans meal today!