Thursday, June 24, 2010
1103 Restaurants Open Around Town
Andrea's is holding a wine dinner tonight, featuring the wines of Simi. Particularly at the top end of its spectrum, Simi's wines have been climbing in quality in recent years. The restaurant didn't send me the wine pairings, but I have a feeling that the big Cabernet they're producing in Sonoma will be in there, along with at least one of the Chardonnays, which always have been nice. Cabaret pianist Phil Melancon will perform through the event. Here's the menu:
With buffalo-milk mozzarella and Creole tomatoes
Sauteed Calamari Amalfi
Red Snapper Livornese
16-oz, T-bone steak with salsetta alla minuta
with vanilla ice cream
Andrea's. Metairie: 3100 19th Street, 504-834-8583.
Garlic Festival Returns To Upperline,
Plus A $35 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.
Wednesday, June 16. Eat Club At Chad's Bistro. I've reached a conclusion from an experiment with our Eat Club dinners. Enough people have told me over the years that they found the idea of our dinners very intriguing, but think the price is too high. Our dinners hover around the $75 price point, and that's over the line for a lot of people, regardless of the goodness of the food and wine.
So lately I planned a few dinners at significantly lower prices, to see whether this would tap into a new pool of would-be gourmets on budgets. Tonight, we had a dinner for $55. Four courses, with major fish and beef in the entree, and three wines, tax and tip. The attendance was just okay, and took a lot of cajoling.
What I take from this is that another force besides mere budgetary matters keeps some people from spending $75 for a dinner. Many people who do have the money just aren't all that interested in fine dining as an entertainment. I understand the dynamic of this fully. It's at work in my own life. Any price for a ticket to a college or pro football game would be more than I'd want to spend. But, just as football fans think I'm weird for never having watched a Saints game even on television, I'm always taken aback when I meet someone who doesn't care much about great cooking.
So, not only does a lower price for our dinners fail to attract chronic non-attendees, but it also depresses interest among the gourmets. A $55 dinner is rarely as appetizing as a $75 or $85 dinner. And they want to be wowed. (So do I.)
We were not wowed tonight at Chad's Bistro. Chad's is a pretty good place for what it is. For the most part, it offers neighborhood-café dining, in premises much handsomer than most such places. (It was the old Crozier's and two more classy French bistros after that.) But it's a restaurant that specializes in poor boys, fried seafood platters, seafood boats (the best reason to go there), and basic pasta and red sauce dishes. The specials are a notch or two above the regular menu, though. Which is why I thought this could be a good dinner.
It started off well enough, with Buffalo-style oysters. Fried big ones, tossed with pepper butter and sprinkled with blue cheese. In fact, I thought this was excellent. The second course was less so. The salad option looked good, but the chowder of sweet potatoes and crawfish sounded better. It wasn't. The sweet potatoes needed to cook more, and the ingredients didn't really merge.
The entree choices were speckled trout meuniere and a pair of beef tournedos. The trout was broiled instead of fried, and was at about the level of standard banquet fare. The steaks--two five-ounce filets that looked great--occasioned something less than excitement from the people I spoke with. But maybe they're the kind that doesn't get excited about food.
The restaurant bounced back at the end with a well-presented, well-made tiramisu. The Eat Club social magic acted as usual, with most guests enjoying the party aspect of the evening with their newly-met friends. And most said they liked the dinner. But they always say that. It wasn't up to my standards. I take some of the responsibility. I think we pushed this restaurant too far. The lower price was more of an excuse than an explanation.
This had nothing to do with the dinner, but the evening ended on a bad note. Nathan Ales, the radio salesman who sold the remote broadcast we did before the dinner, was forced off the road on his way home by an out-of-control vehicle. He slammed into a powerpole, sustaining significant injuries. As I write this his condition is stable, but the accident will leave scars.
Chad's Bistro. Metairie: 3216 W. Esplanade Ave.. 504-838-9935. Neighborhood Cafe. Seafood. Italian. Creole.
Thursday, June 17. The Train Trip Is On. No Food All Day. I finally made contact with Amtrak about the Eat Club trip I'd like to make to Chicago this fall. We took that trip six years ago and, although a few people with us discovered that train travel is not for everybody, it was a memorable adventure. People have been asking me about a reprise ever since. Since we're not doing a cruise for the rest of this year, the train voyage--again to Chicago, because of the convenience of the rail service from here to there--sounded like a good plan.
Working through Amtrak's knotted-up reservation system is something I have a lot of experience with. Yet it always astonishes me how little imagination the outfit has, and how unempowered (or lacking in initiative) its agents are. Trying to persuade them that I really did want sleeper space for twenty-four people was absurdly difficult. I guess most of their groups go coach all the way.
We finally worked it out, and I was pleased with the prices. Although significantly higher than airfares, they came in lower than I was expecting--$345 for the economy room, $452 for the deluxe bedroom. I must pay for all twelve compartments in a month, however. I hope I can sell twenty-four people on the idea by then.
That ate an hour of my time. More than an hour went into trying to figure out why the messageboard on the web site has bogged down. Network Solutions has done it again: some sort of software problem on their servers, affecting hundreds of websites they host. Give us forty-eight hours, they said. I am writing this a week later, and it's still not fixed.
At the radio station, I found three commercials that needed to be written and recorded. If all goes well, it takes me about twenty minutes to write a commercial and ten minutes to record and edit it. (I am unusual among talk show hosts in producing all my own spots without assistance.)
But all did not go well. At the end of a three-hour talk show, preceded by a morning of writing several thousand words, the day after an Eat Club dinner keeps me out late, my brain is jelly. And my voice needs a rest. It was nine-fifteen before I left the station. Too late to have a serious dinner. But I couldn't think of a place to have a non-serious dinner, and the next thing I knew I was on the Causeway, heading home. I prefer to skip a meal instead of availing myself of fast food. But I'd had no lunch today, either.
At home I went through the capicola left over from Mary Leigh's graduation party two weeks ago. And some wedges of Dubliner cheese (I love that stuff). A slice of raisin toast. This is a hell of a state of affairs for the Dean of American Restaurant Critics. The Marys were already asleep when I came in, so I didn't even have anyone to complain to. (Not that they would have given a care if they had been awake.) Bah.
WHY IT'S NOTEWORTHY
Boucherie--French for the place where the butcher works--slipped into a hot spot in the local dining continuum. Already legendary for the food its chef had been selling from a truck around town, it tapped into the new local taste for barbecue and Southern cooking. Both of those are different from Creole cooking, but similar enough. But the chef's abilities led him to build upon those basics, resulting in a new gourmet bistro with a unique flavor palette.
WHY IT'S GOOD
Although smoked meats, vegetables, and seafood loom large on the menu, this is not a barbecue house. The menu used the smoked foods as a leitmotif. The plates that come to the table have the complexity of the food in the other bistros, but with strikingly original and different flavor compositions. But if you like barbecue, you'll love this place.
Boucherie grew from a unique seed. Chef Nathaniel Zimet, after working in a number of estimable local restaurant kitchens (Ralph's, Stella!, and Iris among them) found a big purple van and used it to cook highly advanced street food. It had a strong barbecue influence, and became best known for selling its goods outside the music club Tipatina's. When Iris moved to the French Quarter in 2008, its chef advised Zimet to move into its vacated Uptown space on Jeannette Street just off Carrollton. The renovated cottage has hosted numerous previous restaurants, all of which left because of the tight, undersize spaces inside. Zimet and partner James Denio thought it would be perfect for an enhanced version of the purple van's menu. In fact, the chef got ambitious with the menu from the outset, and in concert with a surprisingly low price structure caught on to a cult degree among Uptown diners--particularly at the lower end of the age spectrum.
The cottage has no large spaces at all, but is built so substantially that no tenant has ever knocked walls out wholesale. This results in small tables jammed into some inconvenient corners. And in a seat count much smaller than the number of diners who show up of an evening. Even with a reservation, you may spend some time on the porch or the sidewalk. But enough others are out there that a social scene results.
Grilled Caesar salad
Duck confit with blue cheese and grilled beets
Blackened shrimp with grits cake, bacon vinaigrette
Boudin balls with garlic aioli
Peach soup au poivre
Steamed mussels with collard greens
French fries with garlic butter
Hamachi (yellowtail) sashimi with pickled vegetables
Seared foie gras with spicy pecan praline sauce
Smoked scallops with smothered green beans
Jerk chicken with plantains
Heirloom pepper stuffed with pimiento cheese
Pan-seared duck breast with smoked blackeye peas and cracklins
Pulled pork cake with potato confit and purple slaw
Smoked Wagyu beef brisket
Thai chili chocolate chess pie
Krispy Kreme bread pudding
FOR BEST RESULTS
Boucherie is unexpectedly adept at creating cocktails, and you should begin the meal with one of their many originals. Lunch is less densely packed than dinner, although the menus (and prices) are nearly identical.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
As they did for all the previous restaurants here, the shortage of room to move in cramps the style of everything here. Someday, they will have to move.
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
- Consistency +2
- Service +1
- Value +2
- Attitude +1
- Wine and Bar +1
- Hipness +3
- Local Color +2
- Outdoor tables, drinks only
- Small private room
- Easy, nearby parking
- Reservations recommended
The meat most closely identified with the Texas style of barbecue is brisket, which is more commonly found around New Orleans in its boiled form. Brisket needs to be cooked very slowly for its goodness to emerge, and that’s why it’s such a natural for barbecue. I've always done my briskets on a large barbecue pit instead of a smoker. I get this idea from my Texas-born buddy Oliver Kluna, who grew up on barbecue brisket and who showed me the ropes. The astonishing thing about what he does is that he uses no wood: just the smoke from the charcoal. I usually add oak wood I pick up from the ground at the Cool Water Ranch.
- 1 beef brisket, preferably flat end, 4-8 lbs.
- Salt-free Creole seasoning
1. Start a natural-wood charcoal fire in your pit, with all the charcoal on one side of the grate. If you're using wood chips (which you will have to if using gas), wrap them in heavy aluminum foil and punch a few holes in the resulting packet. (No need to soak them.)
2. Trim the brisket of the really thick slabs of fat, but don't be too aggressive--you should never cut into the lean. Don't worry about the fat in the middle, if there is some.
3. Mix two parts Creole seasoning with one part salt. (For the big brisket, this will be about 1/4 cup seasoning with 2 Tbs. salt.)
4. Coat the outside of the brisket liberally with the seasoning.
5. Place the meat on the grill fatty side up, with the thicker end facing the fire, as far away from the heat source as possible. To keep direct heat from the fire from hitting the meat, hang a curtain of aluminum foil between the two. Close the lid and maintain a 225-to-250-degree temperature inside, adding coals and wood now and then. There is no need to turn the brisket, but you might move it around on the grill so the bottom is more evenly smoked.
6. The brisket is done when the internal temperature, measured with a meat thermometer, hits 165 degrees. This takes three to five hours, depending on the size of the brisket and the heat in your grill.
7. Let the brisket rest for about 20 minutes before slicing. Whatever fat remains can easily be removed before slicing. Slice against the grain of the meat for easy, tender eating. Note that the direction of the grain changes as you cut; change with it.
Serve with warm barbecue sauce and cole slaw. Serves two people per pound.