Tuesday, June 29, 2010
1104 Restaurants Open Around Town
Tequila Tasting And Dinner Tonight At Broussard's
This is the tequila season. Something about the classic tequila drinks--the lime, the ice, the touch of sweetness--seems perfect for the weather. A bracing shot of one of the good ones takes the edge off, too. Tonight, Broussard's is celebrating the Mexican national tipple with a tasting of tequila cocktails, a dinner of dishes prepared with tequila, and a tasting of of aged tequilas at the end. There'll also be wines by Sonoma Cutrer to lubricate everything. Here's the menu:
The Margarita, The Tequila Sunrise And The Paloma
A collection of chilled local seafood marinated in lime juice and Herradura tequila, in a martini glass with julienne citrus
Almond Crusted Grouper
Fresh Gulf group with a lemon and orange glaze and roasted almond crust, with anejo tequila and lime rice with truffle butter
Wine: Sonoma Cutrer Chardonnay
With fresh berries
Aged Herradura Reposado and El Jimador Anejo tequila for sipping
Broussard's. French Quarter: 819 Conti. 504-581-3866. Classic Creole.
Sunday, June 20. Father's Day At La Provence. The Marys said I could choose any place I liked for dinner. I know better than to push that too far. Even if everything about the repast is perfection for me, if the girls don't like the place they will make the time pass very, very slowly, as if I deliberately chose the place in order to make them miserable.
I gave three options, from which they chose La Provence. We went there on Father's Day a few years ago. It was in the early months of John Besh's ownership of the place. The waitstaff and kitchen hadn't gelled yet, and my kids were less tolerant of what to them was a weird menu with nothing appetizing on it. But the Marys had no recollection of that disappointment, and the restaurant itself is back up to the excellence of Chris Kerageorgiou's time.
A chill of concern set in when I saw that the restaurant was running a special, limited menu for the day. We were home free when Mary Leigh agreed to venture away from her default filet mignon to try a hanger steak. And then everything about the special menu was glorious, including the price. At $45 for four courses, this was a giveaway.
The crock of gratis chicken liver pate took its time-honored place in the center of the table with some crisp homemade croutons. MA and I proceeded to stuff ourselves with that, in the time-honored La Provence tradition.
The first official course brought grilled oysters on their shells, the bivalves sizzling in pesto. As she does when we go to the Acme, ML went after the sauce left behind after I cleared the oysters out the way. A happy daughter allows her dad to be happy, too.
Accompanying the ersters to the table was house-made prosciutto, from pigs raised on the premises, served with purple heirloom tomatoes also brought forth from these grounds. And a bowl of soupe pistou, a vegetable-studded broth with small dice of pork belly (at last! a sensible use for pork belly!). I love this stuff and get it almost every time I come. Mary Ann had an offbeat starter made entirely of various vegetables, most of which had sort of been fried. We scratched out heads about the function of that one.
Entrees: pork cooked three different ways, making MA happy. The hanger steak was entirely acceptable to its owner. But I had the best dish by a mile. It was a bowl allegedly full of pasta, but in fact dominated by rabbit prepared a couple of ways (better way: the spicy little rabbit meatballs), little crisp summer vegetables, and a brothy sauce (below). This dish is what La Provence is all about. Exactly the flavor and spirit Chef Chris was always playing around with. I thought of him looking down smiling as I enjoyed it.
The great dessert today was a tart of blackberries and blueberries, both peaking right now in their local season. A ball of ice cream on top. Marvelous.
"Just Joyce," the longtime waitress and mother hen of La Provence, was so busy running the bar that I didn't see her until late in the meal. She had written a poem for me, of course. It wouldn't have been Father's Day without one. For once, I had something for her: a copy of Hungry Town. One of the photographs in the book was taken at La Provence about twenty-five years ago. Joyce gave it to me after Chris died.
We started dinner at around two-thirty and didn't get back home until six. So much for getting anything done today. But Mary Ann reminded me that I had a bunch of ads to design for the web site. Then reminded me of the tuitions coming, and all those things that dads take care of. I guess if I can't get a lot of work done on Sunday, I should forget about coming in on Monday.
La Provence. Lacombe: 25020 US 190. 985-626-7662. Mediterranean French.
Monday, June 21. Zea's Summer Menu. First, the usual fruitless conclave about where to go to dinner. It goes like this, every single time:
Mary Leigh: Where are we going?
Tom/Dad: Wherever you want to go.
ML: Grrr! I hate it when you say that! Why don't you tell me a place you're thinking about?
TD: I could, but ninety-five percent of the places I'd pick on my own are places you don't like. It's faster if you just tell me a few places you can stand tonight from your small universe of acceptable eateries.
ML: I can't! You name one!
TD: How about Sesame Inn? We haven't been there in awhile.
TD: Thai Thai. Wait. I know. No, right? Right. India 4U? No. Mandina's? No. Camellia Café? No. YuJin? No. Acme Oyster House?
Mary Ann, sticking her nose in, and not in a helpful way: We just went there.
TD: Okay. Zea it is.
ML: I don't know. Maybe.
TD: Maybe is close enough for me. Let's go.
MA: I'll eat too much there.
TD: I'll edit your order. Come on. I have work to do.
The only problem with Zea for the Marys is that they go there too often. But I don't have time for any more of this. Besides, Zea has rolled out its summer menu. I do commercials n the radio for Zea, but I don't talk about and certainly don't recommend anything I haven't tried on my own nickel.
The girls started in on their ribs and salads. I wanted the tuna sashimi stack, a great summer appetizer made by piling cubes of raw tuna, avocados, cucumbers, tomatoes, and sprouts inside a cylinder. When they remove it, there stands a cool tower, lubricated and sharpened by a nice sauce with an Asian tinge (as a lot of the food here has).
A new summer item is chicken kang karee. I wouldn't have known what this was a couple of days ago, but while looking over a menu to update a review of Siamese in Metairie I saw it. Zea's version is much altered from the ethnic original. It's made with two grilled chicken demi-breasts, over a stew of brown rice, potatoes, coconut milk and Thai yellow curry, with sugar snap peas on the side. This was delicious but bulky, a meal unto itself. And for $12, something of a bargain.
The first difficulty with the Eat Club train trip to Chicago turned up. I reserved eight standard sleeper roomettes and four deluxe bedrooms. So far, everybody who's expressed an interest wants the more expensive accommodation. I hope Amtrak has some more of them. This might prove to be a bigger group than I thought. Maybe we can have our own exclusive sleeping car and have a real party!
Zea. Covington: 110 Lake Dr. 985-327-0520. Eclectic.
Tuesday, June 22. Guest Dog. Distractions. No Time For Food? Mary Ann has decided that Hazel, the old mother dog of a friend of ours, needed more than just visits while its family was in Croatia for a few weeks. Mary Ann brought her home. Hazel, a chocolate Lab, has a lot of trouble getting around. She walks arthritically, and from having had too many litters of prize puppies (one of whom used to belong to us) her underside drags on the ground. She's a nice dog but pathetic.
Mary Ann's sympathies with animals know no bounds. And so Hazel is not merely staying with us, but inside the house. To allow the dog to go outside for necessaries, Mary Ann had to put up a ramp. But her claws (the dog's, I mean) are so long that she slides down the ramp and has a hard time climbing back up. She's too big to carry. (Both the dog and Mary Ann, I mean.) Suzie, our full-time dog, is jealous of Hazel, especially when Hazel gets anything to eat. And the cat Twinnery is afraid of Hazel, even though Hazel could no more chase him down than shoot death beams from her eyes.
Meanwhile, I spent an inordinate amount of time on the phone trying to get Network Solutions to fix their system so my website works properly. They still say that they have no idea when they will have the issue resolved. When I had to quit my day's writing, the newsletter wasn't finished to my satisfaction.
At the radio station, so many commercials were waiting for me to produce that I didn't leave until almost nine. After nine on a Tuesday, most restaurants have closed. Next thing I knew I was at home, not having had anything but my usual small breakfast and lunch nibbles. I toasted two slices of raisin bread and ate the last remaining three slices of capicola. And that was it for the day. I don't know how, but I wasn't starving.
Gretna: 1412 Stumpf Blvd. 504-361-9142. Map.
Lunch and dinner continuously Monday-Saturday.
WHY IT'S NOTEWORTHY
This is what Mexican restaurants in New Orleans were like before the Americanized chains took over and made even family-run Mexican places seem plastic. Eating at La Fiesta--which I have done about every three years since my first review in 1977--is like entering a time machine. We have come a long way. The menu is dominated by combo platters of mainstream Tex-Mex dishes, prepared in a very plain style. A few new, very Mexican dishes have been added in recent years.
WHY IT'S GOOD
One of the most welcome, consistent, and inexplicable aspects of La Fiesta is that they serve the coldest beer in town. They always have. It balances the food and the scene perfectly. The cooking is reasonably good, but the minimal surroundings persuade some that it's much better.
This is the oldest Mexican restaurant in New Orleans, in continuous operation since 1972. The greatest changes in the offerings have occurred in the last few years, with the arrival of enough Hispanic customers that things like menudo and carne guisada are worth cooking.
An old, utilitarian building is furnished with booths the place bought from the short-lived Here's Johnny's restaurants in the 1970s. (It was a Johnny Carson theme restaurant.)
Fajita salad, chicken or beef
Quesadillas (chicken, beef, or cheese)
Menudo (Mexican tripe soup)
Fajitas, beef or chicken
Carne guisada (Tex-Mex beef stew)
Chiles rellenos platter
Mexican combo platters
Cheese and onion enchiladas
Scrambled eggs with chorizo
FOR BEST RESULTS
The new, more ethnically true dishes are better than I expected, but still the standout dish here is the enchiladas. The sauce is good, and they routinely make even the cheese enchiladas with grilled onions, the way everyone should. Those egg dishes are also designed for eaters who grew up with them.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
A total renovation of the building is long overdue. Parking is a problem when the place is busy.
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
- Value +1
- Wine and Bar
- Local Color -1
- Open Monday lunch and dinner
- Open all afternoon
- Unusually large servings
- Quick, good meal
- No reservations
Veal Chop Valdostana
This is a classic veal dish from Northern Italy--which is where the "Val d'Aosta" of the name is located. It's a distinctly Italian version of a dish that's also found else where in Europe, although the Val d'Aosta folks claim it's original to them. What we have here is a veal chop stuffed with ham and cheese--specifically prosciutto and Fontina. This dish is universal in the Italian restaurants of New York, but you see it only in the most advanced Italian restaurants here. It is a signature dish at Andrea's, from which I took this recipe.
- 4 oz. Fontina cheese
- 4 large, thin slices prosciutto
- 4 baby white veal chops, 12 oz. each including bone
- 1/2 cup flour
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 1/8 tsp. white pepper
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1 cup bread crumbs
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 6 oz. butter
- 1 tsp. chopped garlic
- 1 Tbs. chopped onions
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 8 oz. exotic mushrooms (porcini, shiitake, or portobello, to name a few examples), sliced 1/4 inch thick
- 1 cup whipping cream
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
1. Cut the Fontina cheese into four thick, narrow, long slices. Wrap the prosciutto around the cheese. Cut a slit in the side of each veal chop. Insert the prosciutto-wrapped cheese into the slits deep enough so it can't come out.
2. Mix the salt and white pepper into the flour, and sprinkle this on the veal chops. (Don't dredge.) Pass each veal chop through the beaten egg to to get it good and wet. Then dredge through bread crumbs to coat thoroughly.
3. Heat the olive oil very hot in a large skillet. Brown the chops, two at a time, to a medium-dark, crusty brown on both sides. Remove the chops and repeat with the second two.
4. Put all four chops onto a roasting pan and into the oven at 450 degrees. Roast the chops for 12-15 minutes, until top is brown and crusty and the cheese is oozing out the sides a little.
5. After cooking all chops, pour the excess oil from the skillet, leaving only a film. Return to medium heat and add the butter, onions, and garlic, and cook until the onions are clear.
7. Add the white wine and bring to a boil, whisking the bottom of the pan to dissolve the pan juices. Reduce the wine by about half, then add the mushrooms and cook until they're soft.
8. Whisk in the whipping cream and bring to a light boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook for two or three more minutes to a light sauce consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste.
9. Nap the veal chops with the sauce and lots of the mushrooms.