Wednesday, June 23, 2010
1103 Restaurants Open Around Town
Plus A $36 Summer Menu
The Upperline returned on schedule this summer with its annual Garlic Festival, something owner JoAnn Clevenger and Chef Tom Cowman cooked up twenty-three years ago. It went beyond popular to become legendary. Not only do many locals visit the restaurant multiple times to dig the garlic, but people from out of town come in with that menu specifically in mind. The $28.50 price is very attractive (it hasn't changed in at least six years), and the food is delicious. It begins with a whole head of roasted garlic, soft enough to spread on bread. The Garlic Festival menu is available Wednesdays through Sundays. On Saturday night, you can get the dishes, but not the special price. Here's the entire menu:
Creole Tomato Gazpacho
Guacamole & Garlic Chips
Creole Tomato Salad
Warm Goat Cheese & Pesto
Creole Tomatoes with Vidalia Onions
Creamy Basil Aioli
with Bagna Cauda & Carrots
Drum Anthony a la Muddy Waters
(A tribute to Anthony Uglesich)
Cane River Country Shrimp
Sautéed Shrimp, Mushroom, Bacon & Garlic over Crispy Grits)
with Stilton, Garlic & Balsamic Mushrooms
Petite Bread Pudding
with Toffee Sauce
Mixed Green Salad
Petite Ice Cream Sundae
Honey-Poached Garlic or Chocolate Sauce
Brandy Alexander on the Rocks
Aside from the Garlic Festival Menu, the Upperline has a three-course summertime menu for $35. This includes most of the regular menu items, although a few dishes (steak and foie gras, for example) carry a small surcharge. It's another one of the outstanding bargains we get from even the best restaurants this time of year.
Upperline. Uptown: 1413 Upperline 504-891-9822.
Tuesday, June 15. Bistro Daisy. Mary Ann said I ought to ask her brother Tim Connell to join me for dinner tonight. He's home alone while his wife and daughter are on a cruise in Europe. This unfairness to dad resonated with me, so we arranged it.
"What's this Bistro Daisy?" he asked. "I pass in front of it all the time but I've never looked in."
"Let's go there!" I said. "It's been too long since my last time, and it's terrific." Then I wondered whether he would like it. Like Mary Ann and all of her siblings, Tim is not exactly a gourmet. But Bistro Daisy's menu includes enough familiar things that I didn't think it would be a problem.
Mary Ann would say right now, if she were looking over my shoulder (and, in fact, she is), that someone can fail to be a gourmet and yet be a good person. And that my being a gourmet doesn't make me better than anybody else. I hear this kind of thing a lot. It must be the American dream of equality. I'm all for equality, but at the macroscopic level. I'm more of a pursuit of happiness kind of guy.
None of this came into play during our dinner, which was so exquisitely fine that I am on the verge of giving a fifth star to Bistro Daisy. And I don't think chef-owner Anton Schulte was even there that night (although his wife Diane was).
The place was busy for a Tuesday night in summer. I picked up a celebratory buzz. Tim beat me there, and to a glass of Pinot Noir, which I asked to have duplicated to keep the table balanced. As if selected to match the wine, here came a few slices of seared tuna with a cold pesto sauce as an amuse-bouche. So we're off to a great start.
Tim was intrigued by the pasta special, a ravioli stuffed with crawfish, mushrooms, and mascarpone cheese. That sort of thing is always good here, and we split an order of it as an appetizer. It was rich almost to the point of being too rich--my favorite place to find my food. Almost too peppery, almost too salty, almost too fishy, almost too anything--that the point on the ingredient axis where the best flavor often is.
The symmetry continued into the entree, parting company only at the point where beef heads left and lamb heads right. Tim had an arresting, corpulent, overcooked (for me; the entire Connell family eats atrociously well done beef) filet mignon, sitting in a pool of red wine demi-glace and topped with a disk of something I couldn't figure out until I tasted it. Even then, it was like eating a piece of butter. Turned out to be foie gras cooked down into something almost like butter, with the rendered fat from the liver showing up as marbling. Now that's unique. Very good, too.
But I liked mine even better. Lamb sirloin is not a cut we see very often. It's harder to get right than lamb chops, because it doesn't have as much fat. This was about three inches of the sirloin, sliced and fanned out in a magnificent sauce whose gelatin content that made my lips stick together. It had a touch of sweetness and flecks of herbs. The risotto with fresh grape tomatoes and asparagus did what it was supposed to do. This is the best dish I've had here, and one of the best I've had anywhere this year. Eating it triggered my thinking about the fifth star, and another trip here to confirm it.
The dessert was billed as a cheesecake, but with all its physical qualities altered. Not a slice, but a dollop of the cheesecake custard. Not a crust, but a round tuille. And cherries in the sauce. Good enough, but more impressive visually.
Through the evening, we discussed our common interests. The immediate futures of our pampered, eighteen-year-old daughters. Our wives and how they drive us crazy. Mary Ann, who Tim had to endure as a big sister for the first three decades of his life, until I relieved him. The insuperable amount of work we both have. And then our very different occupations. Tim works for the Army Corps of Enigneers, and he had a lot of insights--most of them disdainful--of the oil spill and its cast of characters.
The dinner didn't go on as long as it would have if the girls had been with us, but we both have a lot of work to do at home.
Bistro Daisy. Uptown: 5831 Magazine. 504-899-6987. Contemporary Creole.
Covington: 1248 Collins Blvd. (US 190). 985-892-9874. Map.
Dinner seven nights.
WHY IT'S NOTEWORTHY
Pizza Man is the kind of place where, if you start showing up on a regular basis with your kids and their friends and parents, a bank of memories will grow that will make you feel warm and fuzzy just to think about the place for the rest of your life. And the pizza is good--not just good, but unique, and prepared with some drama.
WHY IT'S GOOD
The toppings on the pizzas here have no local equal--not even in the gourmet pizza shops. They buy unusual ingredients and assemble them in artful ways, arraying them on crusts that could be crisper. But even if crust is everything to you (as it is to me), you suspend this imperative because everything else about the pie is so good. The house salad is surprisingly excellent and enormous.
Paul Schrems opened this place in 1976 with his wife, and when his sons were old enough they worked here, too. Paul is Pizza Man, and he's instantly lovable, a flower-power kind of a guy with a wistful attachment to the Sixties. His antics as he builds his pizzas delight the kids, who have a big window through which to watch it all.
The dining room is utilitarian, but decorated uniquely. An anonymous but very clever local artist and customer draws fanciful cartoons on pizza boxes. The collection is always changing and amusing. On other walls are framed jigsaw puzzles of fantastic scale--one of Pizza Man's hobbies. An old jukebox is full of tunes you're unlikely to hear anywhere else, with Puff The Magic Dragon being the signature hit. The place becomes very crowded when you least expect it to be.
"The Board" (spinach, mushrooms, spicy capicola, feta cheese, onions, garlic)
"Wow" (crabmeat or crawfish, olive oil, asparagus)
"Pizza Palace" (standard American style with the works)
Or whatever else you want on a pizza.
FOR BEST RESULTS
Do not get a normal pizza here, especially not pepperoni. Go for something unusual, and don't be afraid to ask for your own flights of fancy. They actually like making weirdo pies here.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
The best pizza in the house--the "Board," made with fresh spinach--gets soggy as the spinach wilts. I wish they'd bake them right on the oven's stone bottom. (Pizza Man says it makes too much smoke.)
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
- Attitude +3
- Wine and Bar
- Hipness +1
- Local Color
- Open Sunday dinner
- Open Monday dinner
- Unusually large servings
- Quick, good meal
- Good for children
- Easy, nearby parking
- No reservations
Tidbit in the Oven
I enjoyed this the first time I set foot in the Steak Knife, where it's an unique appetizer specialty. Its closest relative is pizza--but this has no crust and no sauce. A friend calls it a "cheese frisbee," but that's not quite it.
- Five very thin slices of French bread
- Vegetable oil
- 1/2 cup grated Jarlsberg cheese
- 1/2 cup grated Muenster cheese
- 1/2 cup grated Romano cheese
- 4 dashes Tabasco
- 1/2 tsp. Italian seasoning
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
1. Brush oil lightly on a six- to eight-inch metal plate. Place the French bread slices on the plate, touching one another but not overlapping.
2. Combine the cheeses, the Tabasco, and the Italian seasoning and mix together well. Spread cheese mixture across entire plate.
3. Place in oven and bake seven to nine minutes--or until cheese just begins to brown at edges.
Serve with a warning about the palate-searing heat, but be sure to eat it while the cheese is still semi-molten.