Food In Music
Tom Glazer was born today in 1914. He sang and wrote the words of a children's song I'll bet you know: On Top Of Spaghetti, sung to the melody of On Top Of Old Smokey.
Annals Of Food Technology
Today in 2002, McDonald's changed the oil in which it fried potatoes. If you're thinking "it's about time," that's not what I meant. They were using a frying medium high in trans-fats, and shifted to a combination of corn and soybean oils. I thought this also improved the quality of the fries, although they were still nowhere near the glory years for the chain, when they used rendered beef fat for that purpose, and fresh potatoes cut on the premises.
It is reportedly National Welsh Rarebit Day. It's pronounced, as I'm sure you know, "rabbit," because it started as a little joke on the Welsh, who turned it around by changing the spelling. It's a potentially disgusting mixture of cheese (Cheddar, usually), mustard, beer, butter, flour, and pepper, served warm for spreading on bread. My best advice about the stuff is to avoid it.
More appetizing an observance is Barbecue Baby Back Ribs Day. Baby backs are, as the name implies, the short ribs that come from the rear of the pig's complement of ribs. They contain a higher proportion of meat to bone than spare ribs or St. Louis style ribs. They're also not as fatty. I like both those aspects, and one thing more. Baby backs can be cooked many ways. You can bake them in the oven (preferably wrapped with aluminum foil in the early stages), grill them, barbecue them, or smoke them. Or combine two techniques--starting them off in the oven, for example, then finishing them on a hot charcoal grill. I like to season mine with Creole seasoning and let them smoke for a few hours. Don't let barbecue sauce get anywhere near them until they're finished cooking.
Ribs are a great Labor Day dish. That holiday is Monday.
Donald Brewer, the drummer for the 1970s group Grand Funk, was born today in 1948. . . Early MTV video jock Adam Curry introduced his life today in 1964. . . Cherry Barbara Grimm, who wrote fantasy novels under the name Cherry Wilder, had her own first page today in 1930. . . Jason "Cone" McCaslin, bassist with the pop band Sum 41, was born today in 1980. . . Race car driver Nino Farina won the 1950 Italian Grand Prix, driving a Formula One car.
Words To Eat By
"Around here, grillin's grillin' and barbecue is, well--sigh, sweat--what dinin' in heaven's got to be all about."--Jane Garvey, American wine writer.
Note To Subscribers
Late on August 31, the NOMenu.com website was attacked by an unknown electronic assailant, which installed harmful malware on the site and locked me out. My only recourse was to shut it down. In order to make absolutely sure no remnants of that attack remain, I am moving the entire site to a new server--a rather big job. Fortunately, I had the server already set up for the big site rebuild that has just begun, but moving all of twelve years' worth of files is a mammoth task.
If you went to NOMenu.com yesterday, run your anti-virus as a precaution. None of the computers I use to crawl all over the site have shown up with any problems, nor have I heard of any. But you never know about these things.
Large parts of the site are currently unavailable. I expect to have the main resources--the daily newsletter, the restaurant reviews, and the recipes--up and running again sometime today or tomorrow.
Fortunately, this board--which has always been on a different server--is unaffected.
And, as if that weren't bad enough, my refrigerator just went on the blink.
I beg your patience if you're a subscriber. The e-mail edition will not miss a beat, but the online edition will have a brief lapse in service. It's really the first extended outage in the site's history, but I hate it anyway.
Windsor Court Grill Room
CBD: 300 Gravier 504-522-1994.
Sweet Corn Soup
Spiced pecans, grape tomatoes, Champagne vinaigrette
Couscous, Raineri olive oil, zucchini, squash, cherry tomatoes
Ashley Farms Chicken
Boudin dirty rice, crispy chicken livers, sausage gravy
Grilled Filet of Angus Beef
Mascarpone potato puree, garlic spinach, vincotto
Key Lime Crème
Fillo square, grapefruit reduction
Bananas Foster Bread Pudding
Bananas Foster sauce, vanilla ice cream, hot buttered rum
Tuesday, August 25. Italian Barrel. We awoke to a very cool morning--in the low sixties. I learned that this was the lowest August 25 in over fifty years. Mary Ann grabbed this as proof that global warming is just a leftist plot, adding it to her predictions that the president will raise taxes to eighty percent, ban private enterprise, and send out goons to beat up those who object.
Today is Jude's first day of school. While this causes most students grief because their summer leisure has ended, Jude is vexed for another reason. Even though he has classes only two days a week (for what sounds like a sixteen-semester-hour schedule!), that will delimit his burgeoning career as a filmmaker. Mary Ann is leaning towards his dumping out of school completely and going out on his own. I object to this strongly, although the release from the massive tuition (USC is the third most expensive college in America, I learned last week). I can't imagine going out into the world without a college diploma. But then, I can't imagine going downtown without wearing a jacket and tie, either. I hope he stays with the program.
Dinner at The Italian Barrel, which has been touted highly by every person who's ever called about the place. As I understand it, the place opened as a wine shop and deli, and evolved during the past few years into a restaurant. Knowing that datum helps to understand the menu, which is heavy with prosciutto and other salumi (as Italian deli meats are called generically), cheeses, and salads. Some of these seem ambitiously priced. The prosciutto with melon, for example, goes for about the price of a complete dinner at Broussard's.
The pasta section is dominated by ravioli, which the waiter--who was inordinately full of praise for his establishment--says all come from Italy, along with nearly everything else in the place. If so, then strike another blow for pre-assembled ravioli over the homemade kind. An astonishing number of restaurants--including some major players--have quit stuffing their own pasta pillows in favor of the frozen ravioli from Italy and elsewhere.
The Italian Barrel's menu is short on non-pasta, non-salad, hot entrees. I counted only four of them, and two are not always available. The waiter recommended the chicken dish, and I went for it. He also told me that they do everything they way it's done in Northern Italy. I asked whether I could have a half-order of one of the pasta dishes as an appetizer. "Sadly, we cannot," he said. I didn't bother to note that a small serving of pasta as a preliminary course is all but universal throughout Italy, north and south. Instead, I asked him to bring a half-order of the truffle-oil-topped mushroom ravioli, and charge me whatever he wanted for it. This usually works in getting past silly house rules, and he agreed, along with the implication that he really ought to cut the price by a third, at least.
But then he came back to say that the chicken dish had just run out. All right, then. Let's start with the bresaola (that's the beef equivalent of prosciutto), topped with wild arugula. That really did seem like something you'd have in Florence, fresh and crisp. In place of both the half-order of ravioli and the chicken, how about a full order of the former. The ravioli were everything I was hoping for. The mushrooms were a puree inside the pasta, but the pasta was light and firm, and the truffle oil scattered about performed its sensory magic. (I now know with certainty that Zicam has not killed my sniffer.) If I had a complaint, is was a minor one: the cream sauce was too thick.
For dessert, there was a nicely-presented tiramiso, made with lady fingers--not too sweet, just about the right size. (I should have left some, in fact.) The whole meal was accompanied by a nice Chianti. The premises were cute enough to explain the way my callers have been charmed by the restaurant. It's in a very old brick building with rounded arches and a look across the street at the old U.S. Mint. It's part of what has become a nice little restaurant row in the vicinity of the French Market's old vegetable sheds, whose renovation has added a lot to the city.
I drove home by way of Esplanade Avenue. Why is it that the city's most scenic avenues have the worst road surfaces? Why is Poydras north of the Superdome being repaved down to the bedrock while St. Charles Avenue remains a washboard?
Italian Barrel. French Quarter: 430 Barracks 504-569-0198. Italian.
Wednesday, August 26. Bella Mattina. Eat Club At Chateau Du Lac. Mary Ann suggested that we have breakfast together, a prospect I always welcome. But when the waitress at Mattina Bella stepped up, MA said that she was just going to have tea. She watched me eat eggs Benedict (very well made; this place gets better every time I try it) for a few minutes, but couldn't stand it anymore after I was halfway through.
She called the waitress over to order an omelette. The California omelette, to be exact, filled with mushrooms, avocados, and cheese, topped with more cheese and more avocados. It's a good omelette--I've had it before--but when it arrived she thought it was a mistake. hat she wanted was the Country Boy, filled with bacon and sausage, among other things. I told her that if she were worried about her diet, the Country Boy is certainly not the omelette to get. But that didn't lessen her disappointment.
A radio remote and Eat Club dinner originally scheduled for tonight was postponed a couple of weeks ago, leaving an open date. Mary Ann called her buddy Paige Seleun at Chateau Du Lac to offer it for a dinner. Paige and her chef husband Jacques came up with a good idea: to construct a dinner from the dishes mentioned in the movie Julie and Julia.
About seventy people filled the main dining room almost to an uncomfortable degree, particularly in the acoustics department. Since we didn't have a remote broadcast hooked up with this, I had to drive to Metairie Road from downtown, making me the last to arrive. The only open seat was at a large table with only two other people. I guess they got there right before I did. They were about my age, and I guessed wrong when I supposed they were married. In fact, they were out on a date, and as I gathered it was early along in their friendship. I think I may have spoiled the romantic atmosphere by being there. Mary Ann--who is thick as thieves with Paige, and who had invited her sister to join us as our guest--was fully engaged at a table with those two women and five others. And they were talking politics. No way I would have so much as tried to slip into that hornet's nest.
The food was intriguing. It began with what many felt was the best dish of the night: an assortment of charcuterie and cheese, including Chef Jacques' fantastic duck terrine and his almost-as-good pork rillettes. I'm no fan of the stringy texture of most rillettes, but this was delicious.
Then came a mound of lentils and green peas, studded with duck morsels, served cold. It puzzled a lot of people, and I can't say I've had anything like it before. But it was quite good, and a bit filling. It could have been made with a demitasse as a mold instead of the coffee cup they apparently used.
Next, a piece of poached drumfish. I liked poached fish, but I didn't think it was a good idea to serve it to so many people. Nothing cools down faster than poached fish, and this was cool on many plates. It also had a grilled baby artichoke, covered with hollandaise. I wish the hollandaise had been on the fish, instead, where it could have kept it warm and would have gone perfectly. But we can blame all these deficiencies on Julia Child. The dish came straight out of her book. (I don't think she would have done it for seventy, though.)
Boeuf bourguignonne--the French beef stew--apparently plays a large role in the movie. And it did in this dinner, too. As in the movie, the reviews were mixed. I liked it for the same reason that some didn't: that it was made with a less-expensive cut of beef. But that's the kind that throws off the best sauce, and the sauce in boeuf bourguignonne is everything. The sauce, indeed, had that lip-sticking quality that comes from a well-made semi-demi.
We finished up with a shortcake filled with raspberry-flavored Bavarian creme--a shocking pink--and raspberries themselves. Simple, old-style, but nice.
Too much Rhone Valley wine flowed all night long for me to keep up with. At the end of the dinner, Paige's table was setting up for the same kind of after-dinner Champagne party that played after our last Eat Club event here. But I wouldn't make it home if I did that. What's more, Mary Ann was long gone, and I knew I'd better be going, too.
No spaces had been available in the usual Skinny City lots when I arrived. I had to park on the side street in back of the row of old buildings in which Chateau Du Lac resides. A narrow alley--two people would have trouble passing one another in it--gives a shortcut to and from the restaurant. It was not a problem when I arrived in the waning light of late afternoon. But it was pitch-black in there when I left. A little scary. And I am in the middle of Ken Follett's book Pillars Of The Earth, in which a lot of people are mugged and killed. I hustled through and made it without being attacked by a medieval knight.
Chateau Du Lac. Old Metairie: 2037 Metairie Rd. 504-831-3773. French Bistro.
Riverbend: 8132 Hampson. 504-301-9061.
Lunch Thursday-Friday. Dinner Monday-Saturday.
AE DC DS MC V
WHY IT'S ESSENTIAL
A small restaurant with a tight focus: to turn out exciting contemporary Creole cooking. Despite the minuscule kitchen, they succeed at this consistently. They're so intense that they even bake their own bread.
WHY IT'S GOOD
Taking a seat at the food bar with a glass of wine makes for very interesting ordering: you can watch the chefs cook everything, and when you see something that looks irresistible, tell them to make one for you. The chef is imaginative and builds
Co-owners Scott Snodgrass (chef) and Lee McCullough (dining room manager) came out of the Clancy's organization. (They ran the short-lived but excellent Lee Circle Restaurant.) They had just hit their stride at One open when the hurricane hit, but they managed to open it shortly thereafter. The building has hosted a number of restaurants in the past, notably Frankie's Cafe.
The restaurant and its kitchen are both tiny, but pleasant enough. The half-dozen or so seats at the food bar are the most interesting places to dine, but you can't get far away from the open kitchen.
Grilled oysters with blue cheese.
Seared sea scallops with acorn squash.
Herb gnocchi with escargots.
Crab cakes with basil and cabbage slaw with Creole mustard vinaigrette.
Liver and mushroom pate with fennel and watercress salad.
Crab and corn bisque.
Heirloom tomato and fresh mozzarella salad.
Tuna and Asian vegetable salad with ponzu.
Cochon de lait and grits with cracklings.
Beer-braised rabbit with grits and fava beans.
Pan-roasted mangrove snapper with saffron rice.
Beef tenderloin with braised beef shoulder.
Shrimp and clams fra diavolo with chorizo and pasta.
Barbecue shrimp and grits.
FOR BEST RESULTS
If you're more interested in the food aspect more than anything else in the restaurant, you surely should sit at the food bar and watch them cook.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
It would be nice if the place were bigger, but that might ruin the dynamics. The tables near the door have a way of getting caught in standee traffic.
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 +2
- Value +1
- Attitude +2
- Wine and Bar +1
- Hipness +2
- Local Color +1
- Open Monday dinner
- Vegetarian dishes
- Easy, nearby parking
- Reservations recommended
Squid, Octopus, And Other Cephalopods
Ten-tentacled animals seem so bizarre to a lot of people that, when they finally get around to eating them, they get a special thrill from doing so. (Compare with the way people get worked up about eating sushi.) The era of fried calamari--once found in every Italian restaurant in town--seems to be in a slump. All the formerly best places (notably La Riviera) are gone, or they don't do as fine a job as they once did. Moving into the breach are other chefs with other dishes made with these monsters.
1. Patois. Uptown: 6078 Laurel. 504-895-9441. Grilled baby octopus with olives, served cold.
2. Korea House. Metairie: 3547 18th. 504-888-0654. Spicy squid with vegetables. Enormous hot dish.
3. Royal China. Metairie: 600 Veterans Blvd. 504-831-9633. Salt and pepper squid, a spicy stir-fry.
4. Jamila’s. Uptown: 7806 Maple. 504-866-4366. Stuffed calamari with shrimp and bulgur wheat.
5. Bombay Club. French Quarter: 830 Conti. 504-586-0972. Asian-style fried calamari, with a sweet-heat finish.
6. Bosco’s. Mandeville: 2040 La. Hwy. 59. 985-624-5066. Sauteed calamari with garlic, an unusual take on the dish.
7. Acropolis Cuisine. Metairie: 3841 Veterans Blvd.. 504-888-9046. Fried calamari--lots of it, light, and tender.
8. Rambla. CBD: 221 Camp. 504-587-7720. Grilled octopus with chickpeas and chili oil.
9. Shogun. Metairie: 2325 Veterans Blvd. 504-833-7477. Octopus sushi or sashimi. Every sushi bar in town has this, and the differences are slight, but it's never less than perfect here.
10. Cafe 615 (Da Wabbit) . Gretna: 615 Kepler. 504-365-1225 . Fried calamari, a little overcooked but greaseless, which not many versions of this are.
Have I missed a good one? If you know of a great calamari or octopus that belongs on this list,
An index to all our top-ten lists is here.
Shirred Eggs with Crabmeat Remick
The biggest hit we've ever had when we invited people over for Sunday brunch was this dish, which turns a classic crabmeat appetizer into a terrific egg dish. You don't see shirred eggs very often, even in restaurants, but I love the style. The technique is to cook the eggs with powerful heat from above after setting them on something savory.
- 6 slices smoky, thick bacon
- 1 lb. jumbo lump crabmeat
- 1 Tbs. lemon juice
- 12 eggs
- 1/2 tsp. salt-free Creole seasoning
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 1/2 tsp. Tabasco
- 1/4 cup bottled chili sauce
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 1 Tbs. Creole mustard
- 1 Tbs. tarragon vinegar
1. Slice the bacon into squares and fry till crisp. Drain very well and set aside.
2. Divide crabmeat into six small, shallow au gratin dishes. Sprinkle with lemon juice, and heat in 350-degree oven for five minutes.
3. While waiting for crabmeat to warm, blend all the sauce ingredients.
4. When the crabmeat is hot, top each baking dish with an equal portion of crumbled bacon. Pour the sauce right on top, just enough to cover. Then carefully break two eggs onto each dish, keeping the yolk whole.
5. Turn the oven on broil and place the ramekins under the fire until the eggs have set. Serve immediately with a warning that the dish is mouth-searingly hot!Serves six.
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