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Tuesday, July 12, 2011
1205 Restaurants Open Around Town (click for the whole list)

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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.

Summer Dining Deals

Free Wine In July At Windsor Court.

This is shaping up to be the summer with the most attractive restaurant specials in history. Lots of major restaurants are putting forth deals that are hard to resist.

Or believe. Like this: The Windsor Court Grill Room is offering you a free bottle of wine if you and at least one dining partner each have an appetizer and an entree. The wine can be priced at up to $50. If you'd like to go beyond that price point, they'll apply $50 credit against the upgraded bottle. What an opportunity to drink some wines whose price would ordinarily make you wince!

There are some rules to follow, as one would expect from a deal this good. You have to make a reservation at the number below. When you do, you must mention that you learned about this by e-mail. You must dine during the month of July. And, again, each person at the table must have both an appetizer and an entree. There's also some fine print here that says that this deal may be discontinued at any time, and you can't use it with any other offer.

You can make your reservation online here. Make a note on the online form that you want the free wine.

Windsor Court Grill Room. CBD: 300 Gravier. 504-522-1994

This daily feature is a free service for restaurants or organizations with upcoming special events. Please send all info to news@nomenu.com.

New Orleans Eat Club.

A Superb Creole Bistro In Mandeville. . . Almost Full

* * * *
Wednesday, July 13, 7 p.m.
Mandeville: 301 Lafitte. 985-624-5330.
$70, tax, tip and wines included

Join Tom Fitzmorris and friends for a five-course dinner with five wines, assembled by Chef Peter Kusiw. Be sure to come very hungry.

Click here for menu, info, or reservations.

Time to renew your Menu subscription!

If you have renewed within the past week, please ignore this notice and accept my thanks.

Dining Diary

Monday, July 4, 2011.
The Annual Pure American Meal.

I am taking the day off. I didn't publish a newsletter or do a radio show. One person complained, but I say if the Wall Street Journal can skip its Fourth of July edition, so can I. As for the radio show, I know from twenty years of experience that not enough people are listening for a conversation to begin.

I am home alone, filling the day with miscellaneous tasks. There's about a year's worth of these at all times--and that's without even leaving my little office.

One of these jobs generated today's recovery milestone. I was autographing and mailing books. The orders are coming in at an accelerated pace lately. (Which reminds me: Hey, "Woodman"! Remember how you posted a year ago on Amazon, after not reading Hungry Town, that it would be on the clearance table "in about twenty seconds"? Well, third printing, baby! I know you read this every day, so, hah!)

Anyway, I had to open another carton of Hungry Towns. But it was underneath a carton of my cookbooks. That weighs about forty pounds. I have not attempted to pick up something so heavy since breaking my leg. Absent-mindedly, I just went ahead and did, catching myself in the act when it was too late to do anything about it. But: no pain, no problem.

Emboldened by that, I left the cane in the car when I went out to lunch. First time I've attempted that.

Lunch was my annual visit to McDonald's. On a Fourth of July back in the late 1970s or early 1980s, en route to nowhere in particular, I stopped for lunch at the McDonald's in Covington. I remember thinking then that the cheeseburger is the most American of meals--at least as measured by the number of them we eat. Most Independence days since then, I've indulged in a McDonald's cheeseburger, the only one I eat all year.

I would not have guessed then that this same McDonald's would become to one closest to home. It's in need of renovation--one booth bench has had the same tear in its upholstery for the last several years. But the staff is inattentive. On the other hand, the food is tepid.

My Fourth of July meal at McDonald's.

My method for getting a good burger out of McDonald's doesn't work anymore. I'd order a double cheeseburger with several variations from the standard: no ketchup, extra onions, extra pickles, extra mustard. Used to be they'd have to grill that from scratch. I don't know what they do now, but it had that sitting-in-the-warmer-for-awhile quality I was trying to avoid. Oh, well. I wasn't expecting brilliance. It was certainly better than the awful new Angus burger I had here a year ago.

One improvement: the television in the dining room was off. Last year, it put the sneering face of Bill O'Reilly in mine.

Meanwhile, in Florida, the Marys spent the day driving all the way down to Key West. At the end of US 1--the southernmost point of the contiguous forty-eight states--they had to wait in line so they could take their picture in front of the identifying marker. MA said that the main drag of Duval Street reminded them a lot of Bourbon Street, including the sweltering weather. The Marys hate Bourbon Street.

They returned to the Rug Rat Inn, midway up the Keys, fighting tremendous traffic. What did they expect on the Fourth of July? Once again, I mentally thanked them for not inviting me on this crazy tour.


Tuesday, July 5, 2011.
A Nor'easter On The Radio. Cheryl Charming. Beef Tongue Sandwich

It wasn't until the end of the radio show that Mary Ann's weekly puzzle--Guess The Theme Of Today's Show!--was solved. And by a guest, yet. Everybody there was originally from the Northeast. Funny thing was that MA had no idea of this. It was accidental!

Paul Murphy, the low-key co-proprietor of Jacmel Inn in Hammond and Nuvolari's in Mandeville, was first to arrive and go on. He had the perspicacity to bring with him a bottle of Nadia Pinot Noir from Santa Barbara. I rustled up some glassware, and the guests and I began to loosen up to the degree that makes for the best conversation.

In the middle seat was Dan Stein, the owner of Stein's Deli on Magazine Street. I knew he'd come up through the deli at Martin Wine Cellar. I didn't know that his first career was as an attorney. He left that behind to do deli. And beer. His store has more different beers than any other retailer I know. So many, he wasn't quite sure of the number, which he guessed as being between 300 and 400.

Those include beers with such astronomical alcohol percentages that extraordinary means must be used to jack them up. This makes for great rarity. He told us of a beer that sells for over a thousand dollars a bottle. What does one drink that with?

Dan brought a bunch of his sandwiches, including a beef tongue sandwich. "I brought that because every time somebody asks for it, they usually say 'Tom Fitzmorris said you can get beef tongue here.'" It used to be so popular a cold cut that we even sold it at the Time Saver when I was a teenager. Now it's hard to find. (Not talking here about the awful canned stuff.)

Richard Fiske from the Bombay Club was at the end of our the red bean-shaped broadcast desk. We reminisced about a summer some years ago when, in three attempts to put on a New England-style clambake, the most torrential kind of summer rainstorms came up and put out the fire. After the third time, Richard gave up trying to make that a summer promotion, and moved to a special on lobsters. Which he has this year, too: $25 for a pound-and-a-half-lobster, salad and side, every Thursday.

Richard was supposed to have come with his new chef Ricky Cheramie. He was too busy to make it, but his replacement made us forget him immediately. Cheryl Charming, who runs the Bombay Club's famous bar, filled in. She was so interesting and alluring that in the days after I received numerous on-air calls and e-mails requesting that she come on again.

I'm ashamed to say I didn't know who Cheryl Charming was. Turns out she's a cocktailian of the highest order, having not only created more than a few new drinks, but written nine books on the subject. Four nights a week, she's the chef of cocktails at the Bombay Club. A bar that has always taken its work seriously.

We killed the bottle of wine, and several of the unusual "sodas" (to use the Yankee term) Dan Stein brought with him. And most of the sandwiches. After the show, I ate half of the rather large beef tongue sandwich. It left me too full for dinner out.

Fazzio's. Fazzio's.

Or so I thought. By the time I got to the North Shore, I was hungry. Where over there could I go that I haven't been too many times already? I thought of an answer to that: Fazzio's. It's been at least five years since the last time I darkened their door.

Fazzio's is a landmark, at the busy intersection of Causeway Boulevard and LA 22, highly visible from both. So why don't I go there much? Simple answer: I've never had what I would consider to be an especially good meal there. The appeal of the place is easy to understand, though. The menu is straightforward, the portions are enormous, and the prices are low. And the wait staff has always been friendly.

Today I was served by a guy I remember from years ago at Bozo's. Things were slow enough (day after the Fourth of July, it is everywhere) that he and I shot the breeze about the currents in the restaurant business.


He recommended the daily special of braciolone. This is a familiar southern Italian dish which is so much work to make that the number of restaurants serving it has been on the decline for years. It's a slice of beef rolled around stuffing of bread crumbs, ham, garlic, egg, and Parmesan cheese. It's the same thing you hear called braciole (brah-ZHOLE) on television shows with New York-Italian characters, except braciolone is a bit bigger.

Fazzio's version was one of those dishes which, if you eat a whole one, a week and a half later you're hungry again. I think it could have fed me and both of the Marys, with some left over for the dog Susie. With it came a large pile of spaghetti and red sauce, itself big enough for a meal.

Well, one thing I can say about Fazzio's. It's consistent. This was about as good as other meals I've had there in the past.

** Fazzio's. Mandeville: 1841 N Causeway Blvd. 504-624-9704.

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.

Exotic Cuisine

Three Stars
Average check per person $15-$25
Basil Leaf

Riverbend: 1438 S Carrollton Ave. 504-862-9001. Map.
Lunch Monday-Saturday. Dinner seven nights.

I wish everybody who operates an Asian restaurant in New Orleans would take a night off for dinner at the Basil Leaf. Aside from being one of the two or three best Thai restaurants locally, it breaks an unspoken rule that keeps most Asian places from being what they could be. The Basil Leaf charges higher than bare-minimum prices, and delivers better-than-ordinary food, wine, service, and environment. This will upset those who mistakenly believe that Asian food must be cheap to be authentic, but the logic is hard to fault. And the food speaks for itself.

Chef Bank buys ingredients of fine quality, cooks them with imagination, and presents it beautifully on handsome plates. It’s the kind of food and creature comforts you’d get at a gourmet bistro, but with Thai food. He adds his own ideas to the standards, and the results are fresh and powerful without really watering down the Thai spirit. Seafood specials here are particularly good.

Chef Bank (Siam Titiparwat) opened the Basil Leaf first in Metairie, where it was a big hit in a secondary location. In 1999 he moved to a much more auspicious location in Carrollton, near the streetcar barn. A handsome private dining room was added a few years later. A second location opened in Mandeville, but didn't last a year; too many Thai restaurants there. In 2010, the Basil Leaf added a full sushi bar to its Thai offerings.

The front room's many, large windows admit lots of light and views of trees, although they're curtained off at the lower level to lend privacy to the diners next to them. The room in the rear has an almost library-like quality. Service is carried out by the usual assortment of young Uptowners.

ESSENTIAL MENU [»=Recommended]
Spring roll (fried, noodles, shrimp)
»Summer roll (unfried, shrimp, carrots, cucumber, cilantro)
Rare seared peppercorn-crusted tuna
»Chicken sate
»Thai ribs
Seared dumpling (shrimp and pork)
Sauteed tofu, garlic sauce
Fresh veggie roll
Fried calamari
»Crabmeat eggplant napoleon
Pork shumai
»Shrimp shumai
»Tuna tataki
Mussels dynamite
»Seafood ceviche
»Spicy conch and octopus
»Ika sansai (Japanese marinated squid, seaweed salad)
»Hot and sour chicken soup
»Chicken coconut soup (tom kar)
»Spicy shrimp lemongrass soup (tom yum)
Miso soup
»Larb salad (chicken, lime, rice, mint)
Spicy calamari salad
Mixed greens salad
Lump crabmeat salad
Grilled beef tender
Shrimp and vegetable tempura

»Pad thai
Drunken noodles (chicken, shrimp, broccoli, mushrooms)
Shrimp fried rice
Siam beef tenderloin, wine chili sauce
Coconut meat, scallops, shrimp, eggplant,red curry sauce
Cashew chicken
»Spicy basil chicken
»Pad woon sen (scallops, shrimp, glass noodles
Kaffir lime chicken, green curry, bamboo shoots
Spicy shrimp
»Seafood pad thai
»Grilled sea scallops, shrimp, cashews
Spicy thai basil fried rice
»Thai curry--red, green, Panang, or musaman styles, with chicken, shrimp, or beef
All entrees can be made vegetarian
»Sushi and sashimi
Sushi rolls (many kinds)

Know that if you usually spend $15 in a Thai restaurant, you will spend $20 here. Try something offbeat; you can get the standards anywhere. There's usually a good wine program going on, allowing a mini-tasting at an attractive price.

The food is a little inconsistent; the service more so.

Up to three points, positive or negative, for these characteristics. Absence of points denotes average performance in the matter.



LeRuth's Back Door Pecan Pie

Warren Leruth didn't publish many of his recipes, and fewer still were for dishes he served at the restaurant. The pecan pie was one of the "back door" recipes in his Front Door, Back Door cookbook, a little collection he put out in the 1970s. Here it is:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

1. Mix eggs, sugar and syrup thoroughly. Then stir in melted butter and vanilla. Finally, stir in the pecans. Pour the mixture into the pie shell.

2. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 to 50 minutes. Cool for a half hour or more before serving.

Makes one pie.

Food Almanac

July 12, 2011

Days Until. . .
Tales Of The Cocktail 9
Satchmo Summer Fest 25

Chef d'Oeuvre du Jour
#166: Chocolate bourbon pecan pie @ Nola, French Quarter: 534 St Louis. Pecan pie is pretty good without any enhancements beyond the classic recipe. But that hasn't stopped some new inclusions from being successful. Notable among these is K-Paul's pecan and sweet potato pie. Also good is this over-the-top take on the idea, from the fertile minds in Emeril's pastry departments. The Bourbon sounds good. So does the chocolate. The sweet potato ice cream fills all the remaining gustatory room. It all comes together in a very rich dessert which you will have a hard time refraining from finishing. This is one of NOMenu's 500 Best Dishes in New Orleans. Collect all 500!

Masters Of Food Research
George Washington Carver was born today in 1864, as a slave. He became one of history's greatest botanists, gaining particular renown because his discoveries benefited poor farmers. He first advocated the more widespread planting of sweet potatoes by showing all the things it could be used for. He then moved to his most famous specialty: peanuts. He showed not only that peanuts could be used in hundreds of different ways, but also that growing them improved the soil. He did all this while constantly fighting people who wouldn't take a former slave had to say. His work spoke for itself, however, and by the 1920s, his reputation as a great man was beyond dispute.

Food Calendar
In honor of George Washington Carver, today ought to be National Peanut Something Or Other Day. But there are already many peanut observances on the calendar. And it's also National Pecan Pie Day. Pecan pie is one of the finest desserts in all of Southern cooking. We eat our share of it in New Orleans. The most famous local pecan pie is the one at the Camellia Grill. Like everything there, it's a pretty simple recipe. Pecan pie is not easy to make; the problem many cooks have is in getting the custard mixture to set. For that reason, for a long time one of New Orleans' best restaurants (you'd be shocked if I told you who, but I won't) took Mrs. Smith's pies out of their boxes, sliced them up, and served them.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Pecan is a small town in the low-lying real estate ten miles east of Pascagoula, Mississippi, on US 90. It's about a mile from the Alabama state line. Before the I-10 was built through just north, Pecan was the first and last stop in Mississippi, depending in which direction you were headed. A few pecan trees remain for former groves, but a spate of big hurricanes in the last couple of decades killed lots of the trees off as salt water washed over the land. The nearest restaurant is Lakeview Catfish House, two miles east in Orange Grove. The orange trees for which that burg was named met the same fate as Pecan's namesake nuts. It's all piney woods around there now.

Exercising The Food Away
Today is the birthday of fitness and exercise comedian Richard Simmons. He's a New Orleans guy, and succumbed to the common local condition of enjoying food so much that he became quite pudgy. When he got into exercise, the zeal of the converted propelled him onto television, where he works his way to the edge of embarrassment for laughs. Here's his website.

Annals Of Food Advertising
The Green Giant trademark was registered today in 1927. Originally, it was applied to a variety of extra-large peas, but the brand had such resonance that it was extended to package all kinds of vegetables.

Deft Dining Rule #184
If you want to throw off an overbearing waiter, ask him if the peas on the dish that has them (there always seems to be one) are genuine Green Giant peas.

Annals Of The Dinner Table
Josiah Wedgwood was born today in 1730. He was a fanatical perfectionist in the art of pottery, leading him produce the fine dinner china that still bears his name. You know--the plates you were given when you got married, but have never actually used? Wedgwood was also the grandfather of Charles Darwin.

Edible Dictionary
cappelletti, Italian, n., pl.--Also spelled capaletti. A stuffed pasta resembling a hat. The word literally means "little hat." Cappelletti are made with two circles or squares of pasta, one of which is made to bulge a little by pushing one's finger into its center. The stuffing--usually cheese, sometimes mushrooms, rarely meat--fills the depression. That's all pressed down onto a flat pasta sheet. Cappelletti's most common use is in a broth, especially a beef consomme. Making cappelletti by hand is very time-consuming, but it lowers your blood pressure by at least twenty points.

Food Namesakes
Willis Eugene Lamb, Jr., who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1955, was born today in 1913. . . Eugene Louis Boudin came out of the casing today in 1824. He was a French Impressionist painter. . . Film director Tod Browning heard "action!" today in 1880. . . Gospel singer Sandi Patty (I think I've had one of those from a burger joint at the beach) got the spirit today in 1956. . . British comedian Richard Herring got his first laugh today in 1967.

Words To Eat By
"I never did like chitlins. I think they spelled it wrong."

"The least-used sentence in the English language is, 'Can I have your beets?'"--Both these by Bill Cosby, born today in 1937.

Words To Drink By
"To eat, to drink, and to be merry."--A toast from Ecclesiastes, 8:15.

Outside World

25 Best Celebrity-Owned Restaurants.
And you know just how good the food and service are when a name actor, athlete, or politician applies his name to it. Click here for the article.

No Pain, No Gain: Gourmet Department.
New Yorker writer Calvin Trillin once said, "Health food makes me sick." And yet some cooks persist in giving it to us. Here is one of the early torturers, from The New Yorker. Click here for the cartoon.

Food Show

Have a lusty New Orleans meal today!

Tastefully yours,
Tom Fitzmorris