Eating Around New Orleans Today
This is the anniversary of the opening of Cafe Reconcile, in 2000. A delicious place for lunch, it's a brilliant concept that has succeeded admirably in its main goal. That was to give at-risk (the new term for what used to be called "troubled") young adults the opportunity to learn the skills needed to work in the restaurant business. That not only gives them the means to make a good living, but also pulls them away from the problems that may have beset them in the past. The idea came from the late Father Harry Tompson S.J., the former president of Jesuit High School and one of the most charismatic people I've ever met. He inspired others to run with that ball. Among them were many restaurateurs who donated time, food, equipment, and money (Emeril's foundation has given Cafe Reconcile the biggest gifts). The result is a sparkling, neighborhood-style cafe with great food and very low prices. Today, to celebrate the ninth anniversary, Cafe Reconcile is serving a $9.99 lunch of either baked chicken with two sides, pot roast with two sides or shrimp etouffee with one side, plus spinach and artichoke dip, a salad, beverage and dessert. That's today only--but the food is as good any other day.
Cafe Reconcile. Lee Circle Area: 1631 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd. 504-568-1157.
Celebrity Chefs Today
It's the birthday (1960) of Mario Batali, one of the most celebrated of American Italian chefs. He was born and grew up around Seattle. Soon after graduating from college, he moved into a cooking career, and has been at it ever since. Restaurants he opened in New York City with legendary Friuliano restaurateur Joe Bastianich were so lusty and unique that he became a major celebrity chef. He's still constantly on television and on tour, and headlines numerous restaurants around the country. Batali, with his infectious enthusiasm for earthy cookery, proves that one need be neither slender nor beautiful to get on television--although the Food Network, in its effort to make everything on its air cute, has moved away from real chefs like Mario.
This is the birthday, in 1971, of Chef Jared Tees. He came to prominence as the original chef at Dickie Brennan's Bourbon House. After the hurricane he moved to the John Besh restaurant organization, and opened Luke. Recently, he moved over to the Besh Steakhouse. Tall, good-looking, well-spoken, talented chef.
Harlan Sanders was born today in 1890, in Henryville, Indiana. His is one of the world's most familiar faces: his portrait hangs in all 11,000 Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants around the world. He began cooking when he was six years old, after his father died and his mother went to work. He used that skill to open a cafe in a gas station in Corbin, Kentucky in 1930. His food became so celebrated that the place was mentioned in Duncan Hines's guide to dining across America. And he was named a Kentucky Colonel by the governor. He perfected his fried chicken recipe after a few years, introducing the use of a pressure fryer. He did great until a new highway bypassed his town. He sold the restaurant and gas station, but was left stone broke. At sixty-five he hit the road, selling restaurateurs around the country on his fried chicken recipe. It was an enormous success, and Kentucky Fried Chicken became an icon. In the early years, the KFC restaurants cooked all the chicken to order. When it went to a fast-food, prepared-in-advance production system, KFC lost a lot of its goodness. I hear that the Colonel was never a fan of the crispy version. When the original recipe with the famous eleven herbs and spices is made properly, it's still pretty good. But it's a long, oily slide from the Colonel's original product. He died in 1980, but his countenance still gazes on all of us as we drive by.
This is National Pressure Cooking Day, in honor of Colonel Sanders, who is probably responsible for more pressure cooking than any one other person. Pressure cooking involves closing a cooking utensil with an airtight lid, such that boiling water inside causes the air pressure to rise. It's a completely valid and effective concept, based on the fact that, under pressure, water boils at a much higher temperature. The pressure also forces the cooking liquid--water, stock, or oil--to penetrate more quickly and deeper into the food being cooked. The result is that cooking happens much faster than at normal pressure, but with none of the damage caused by just raising the temperature. It's not a new idea--French inventor Denis Papin is credited with devising it in 1679s. Despite the complete safety of modern pressure cookers and their effectiveness, pressure cooking has not really caught on in the mainstream. Those who like the technique are very enthusiastic, but there lingers a widespread, unfounded doubt about it.
Eating Across America
This is the anniversary of the statehood of California, admitted to the Union on this date in 1850. You and I would not eat and drink as well as we do were it not for the farmers of the Golden State. They raise an almost unbelievable percentage of the fresh produce we consume, including almost all of the artichokes, garlic, lettuce, oranges, and eating grapes. Wine grapes are grown all over the state, and its range is increasing. Not only does California grow almost every wine grape known in the rest of the world, but one of its most popular varieties--Zinfandel--is its unique property. Beyond fruits and vegetables, California has a food culture that supports a terrific array of artisanal producers of lamb, beef, cheese, and herbs. About the only food arena in which the state is an also-ran is seafood--but even there it has some specialties, notably Dungeness crab, abalone, petrale sole, and oysters. It's quite a place for eaters.
Alluring Dinner Dates
Tall blond actress and model Rachel Hunter blossomed today in 1969. She appeared in numerous Sports Illustrated and Playboy pictorials, and was the wife of Rod Stewart for a time.
Music To Eat On The Dock By
This is the birthday, in 1941, of Otis Redding, the greatest soul singer of all time. He was a terrific composer, too--Respect and Dock of the Bay were his best-known works. His finest recording, however, was the 1930s standard Try A Little Tenderness, which I can't listen to without feeling my soul moved. Otis died tragically young in a plane wreck, at 26. What would his career have been?
Music To Drink Champagne By
Michael Bublé was born today in British Columbia in 1975. He has become the leading performer of Big Band jazz and standards among his generation. He's a glamorous, polished performer who has even caught the attention of teenagers to the music of the 1930s and 1940s. That's quite a feat, despite the surpassing musical excellence of that material. He packs houses wherever he goes.
Music To Eat Roast Beef By
Dee Dee Sharp was born today in 1945. She had two 1960s hits with food names: Mashed Potato Time and Gravy (For My Mashed Potatoes).
Weather And Food
Hurricane Betsy, the first American hurricane to do over a billion dollars' worth of damage in the United States, hit the Gulf Coast near New Orleans today in 1965. It was a Category Four, and traveled across the southwestern side of the city. It flooded many of the same parts of the city that would be inundated in Hurricane Katrina. Many restaurants closed permanently after Betsy, but many more new ones opened to take their places.
Food And Drink Namesakes
Major-league relief pitcher Todd Coffey took the Big Mound today in 1980. . . Jose Negroni, singer with the 1950s group Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, as well as a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, was born today in 1940. A Negroni cocktail (not named for the singer) is gin, sweet vermouth, Campari, and club soda, on the rocks.
Words To Eat By
"Nothing rekindles my spirits, gives comfort to my heart and mind, more than a visit to Mississippi. . . and to be regaled as I often have been, with a platter of fried chicken, field peas, collard greens, fresh corn on the cob, sliced tomatoes with French dressing. . . and to top it all off with a wedge of freshly baked pecan pie."--Craig Claiborne.
Chef John Besh's Sixth Restaurant
Domenica Opens In The Reborn
After a few quiet days of run-throughs with friends, Chef John Besh's new Italian trattoria Domenica opened in the Roosevelt Hotel this week.
The concept is intriguing, and one that fans of the food of Italy (as opposed to the Italian food we're used to) hope will be long-term. Domenica (that's the Italian word for Sunday) has been curing and aging its salumi (Italian cold cuts, of which prosciutto is the most famous) for several months. Much of it is being made with locally-raised pigs--which is what they'd do in Italy. The flavor of each region's salumi is different as a result.
The restaurant also has a wood-burning oven with a stone turntable for making pizzas. We are promised that the heat is so intense that it will produce the crackly crust for which Italian pizza is celebrated. The oven weighs five tons.
The executive chef is Alon Shaya, who has spent the last year investigating the foods and techniques of Italian cookery and buying the equipment. He is also a partner in the business. The fact that Domenica will be open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., seven days a week tells us that it will be on the casual side--probably a good thing. So do the several communal tables in the center of the restaurant. The pizza will grab people, who will discover all the rest of it.
Domenica is on the Baronne Street side of the Roosevelt, in the space formerly occupied by Bailey's.
Domenica. CBD: 123 Baronne. 504-648-6020.
French Quarter: 801 Chartres 504-568-1885.
Soup of the Day
New Orleans Seafood Gumbo
Fontana’s West End Turtle Soup
Muriel’s House Salad
Mixed baby greens tossed in a pomegranate vinaigrette, with shaved red onion and peppery goat cheese
With shrimp and andouille stuffing, baked and served with a roasted creole tomato sauce
Muriel’s Chicken Cobb Salad
Wood grilled chicken Breast, egg, red onion, bacon, tomato, cheddar cheese and avocado; tossed with romaine lettuce and an herb vinaigrette
Gulf shrimp simmered in roasted Creole tomatoes and the holy trinity, over rice
Wood Grilled Pork Chop
With New Orleans red beans and Louisiana popcorn rice; served with cast-iron corn bread
All items are also available a la carte at a reduced price.
New Orleans Seafood Gumbo
Turtle Soup au Sherry
Soup of the Day
Shrimp And Goat Cheese Crepes
Goat cheese filled crepes topped with fresh Gulf shrimp in a buttery sauce of Chardonnay, onion, tomato, and bell pepper
Roasted Red Beet Salad
With mixed baby greens, sweet onion and fresh horseradish vinaigrette
Pecan Crusted Louisiana Alligator
Flash-fried and served with a mirliton, carrot and red onion slaw; accompanied by a pepper jelly
Wood Grilled Barbecue Shrimp
Grilled Louisiana shrimp in a spicy butter sauce; served over rice
Seafood au Gratin
Gulf shrimp, fish, and crabmeat baked in a parmesan au gratin, and served with a potato croquette
Pecan Crusted Puppy Drum
With oven roasted pecans and a Louisiana crabmeat relish; laced with a lemon-butter sauce
Wood Grilled Half -Chicken
With shrimp and eggplant dressing and a lemon-thyme compound butter
Double Cut Pork Chop
Wood grilled and topped with a Louisiana sugar cane apple glaze; served with pecan glazed sweet potatoes and Southern style greens
Pain Perdu Bread Pudding
With candied pecans and rum sauce
Vanilla Bean Creme Brulee
Saturday, August 29, 2009. K+4. Emeril's Fish House.
It's the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, and I'd say I've achieved the goal that the disaster set for me in two ways. First, my production of work is greater than it's ever been, and is having a greater effect than it did before the storm. Second, my strategy of acting as if nothing happened has returned my life to about what it was before the storm. So much so that when I look back in my journals about my state of mind back then, I laugh and think that if only I'd know how things would turn out, I wouldn't have worried so much. Of course, things might have been different had I suffered a loss of my home or job. But I like to think that I could have positive-thought my way out of that, too.
Yesterday and today, Mary Ann and I reviewed the Katrina times. It certainly had an effect on our family, some parts of which were damaged beyond repair. But in most cases, we were able to purchase (with money or work or love) a new model, and we came out better. Our children certainly are better off than they likely would have been had Katrina not struck. I feel guilty about that, but guilt is even more pointless than worry.
With all that in mind--and with Mary Leigh spending the weekend on the South Shore with her growing circle of friends--Mary Ann suggested that we have a romantic dinner together on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. That area was, if anything, hit harder by the storm than New Orleans was. She wanted to see what it looks like four years after. What it looked like was full steam ahead with new waterfront construction, hurricane hazards be damned.
I suggested we have this dinner at Emeril's Fish House, the chef's restaurant in a casino* in Gulfport. It's a spectacular venue, with fanciful, pearlescent macro-beads hanging from the ceiling, giving the illusion of bubbles. We were there early enough that it was easy to get a table. Mary Ann asked for one by a window. The maitre d' brought us to what must be the worst table in the house: a deuce next to a window, sure enough, but also in the landing pattern for waiters running in and out of the kitchen. We sat there for a minute while I waited for MA to decide whether she wanted to relocate. She did. I handled the transaction at the desk, and we moved to a cushy banquette in the middle of the room. The windows are so big in this place that we had a good view of the palms and the sky and, in the distance, the beach and waves.
We started with cocktails: some blue thing with a lot of fruit juice for Mary Ann, and the Brooklyn (a variation on the Manhattan, with Campari) for me. Nice enough. The first course was a two-and-two of oysters Rockefeller and the special baked oyster, with a topping of lobster and crabmeat and (I think) a little bacon, all topped with hollandaise. The Rockefeller was a long way from the classic, but both were good enough. MA was less happy with a pile of fried artichokes, something she loves. If she were anyone else, I would have told her not to order such a Houston's kind of dish in an Emeril restaurant.
Now a bowl of corn and crab soup, big enough for the two of us to split. It was the kind I like, thickened not with cream but with corncob juices and a little blond roux.
Salad course. Mary Ann's was a pretty stack of tomatoes, basil, spinach, and goat cheese. I was less lucky with a salad described as a deconstructed oyster poor boy. If I needed one more piece of evidence that "deconstructed" is a near-synonym for "disappointing," this was it. Imagine a fried oyster poor boy, with lettuce, tomatoes, mayo, pickles, and hot sauce. Now imagine scraping the contents onto a plate , throwing the bread on top of it, and serving it as a salad. Okay: the pickles (and the mayonnaise) were homemade. The oysters were crisp. But the lettuce was shredded iceberg, and nearly impossible to eat with a fork. Nothing about this was appealing to anyone except the chef who thought of it, who may well be giggling that he fooled anyone into ordering it.
We both had fish for the entree. Mine was a slab of seared tuna, set atop some pappardelle noodles. Hers was a slice of salmon fillet right off the grill, with a beurre blanc--and nothing else. "This isn't a salmon fillet!" she said. "This is a salmon finger! I can't believe they're serving this!" (The photo makes it look much bigger than it actually was.)
But there was a bigger problem. A long pause preceded the entree. That didn't bother us, because it was an improvement on the way they served the second course while the dishes from the first course were still on the table--and not quite finished. I told them to slow the pace down, and whenever you do that, you run the risk of very long gaps growing between courses.
What did bother us was that we saw the back waiter deliver the food to a tray stand and leave it there. "That's our food," said Mary Ann. I tried to catch our waiter's eye, but he was very busy giving his spiel to the next table, which had as many questions as I advise people to ask. He left the scene, but came back after a minute or two to serve our entrees. Which, by now, had been sitting there for four or five minutes. Long enough for them to get quite cold. Cold enough that the pappardelle had stuck itself together into a single lukewarm mass. The tuna wasn't affected much, because I ordered it rare, and it was cool in the center anyway. But Mary Ann is a freak for hot food, and the salmon finger was well beyond that.
None of this had as yet ruined our evening. But when I told the waiter about the problem, he argued with me, saying that the food had just come out when he served it. I stared back at him. I think he realized that he'd reacted wrongly, and he departed the scene.
The manager came over and apologized for the problem. I told him what had happened, and that he needn't take anything off the check. Which he didn't. Two hundred dollars.
Meanwhile, the place had begun to fill up. A few tables were dressed as we were--jackets, no ties, nice dresses. The majority, however, took full advantage of the lax dress code. More jeans than anything. Quite a few people wearing shorts, T-shirts, or both. That was the dominant couture in the casino, through which one must pass on the way to the restaurant.
Shorts and $100-per-person dinners don't mix in my mind. But what can anyone do about that?
Emeril's Gulf Coast Fish House. Gulfport: 3300 West Beach Blvd., 228-314-1515.
*For those who are always searching for inconsistencies in my thought, I don't have the same problem with casinos on the Gulf Coast that I do with the one in downtown New Orleans. When the casinos opened there, they built an entirely new tourism destination. It is my opinion that the New Orleans casino just sucked money out of the existing hospitality industry, making it hard for restaurants not only to keep their volumes up but also to find employees.
Casa GomezWHY IT'S ESSENTIAL
The North Shore is loaded with Mexican restaurants, but Casa Gomez was there before any of the others, and cooking more interesting food than most. Although the menu is primarily Mexican, the family is actually Cuban, and cooks the cuisine of that country even better than it does the more familiar Mexican dishes.
WHY IT'S GOOD
Case Gomez isn't afraid of getting ethnic. Although it has its share of dishes designed to appeal to people who know only Americanized Tex-Mex, if you dig through them you find more than a few dishes that a Hispanic diner would prefer. This is especially true among the Cuban dishes. The quality of the beef used here is better than most. The grilling is bold and crusty.
Jorge and Alina Gomez have cooked good Cuban food for about twenty years in Mandeville. And--because Cuban food is a hard sell on the North Shore--they've done pretty good work with Mexican dishes, too. In their original location, they were known to serve cabrito--barbecue baby goat.
The restaurant is a big, colorful place with two large dining rooms. The large one to the right as you enter is the more atmospheric. It also often has live music. The restaurant is in a convenient location--La. 22 at the West Causeway Apprpach, near Beau Chene--but it's a bit hard to see. Get on what amounts to the service road on West Causeway.
*Queso fundido (queso dip with chorizo).
*Ceviche de camaron (shrimp).
*Cuban appetizer sampler.
Black bean soup.
Pescado a la Mexicana (grilled fish with peppers and garlic).
Mexican combo platters.
Tacos al carbon (grilled meat in a soft flour tortilla).
Tacos Puerto Vallarta (with shrimp and guacamole).
Enchilada platter Cancun style (three kinds).
*Cuban steak (round steak with grilled onions).
Bistec empanizado (breaded, fried steak).
*Ropa vieja (shredded beef in a tomato sauce).
*Tres leches cake.
FOR BEST RESULTS
Have a Mexican appetizer, then stick with the Cuban dishes. Don't miss the desserts.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
The consistency is not perfect. Any restaurant serving Mexican food should have mole poblano, but few do. This one should.
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 -1
- Service +1
- Value +1
- Attitude +1
- Wine and Bar
- Local Color +1
- Live music some nights
- Courtyard or deck dining
- Open Sunday lunch and dinner
- Open Monday lunch and dinner
- Open all afternoon
- Unusually large servings
- Quick, good meal
- Good for children
- Easy, nearby parking
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.
Red Snapper Veracruzana
We New Orleanians, as proud as we are about our seafood, sometimes give short shrift to the seafood cookery of other place. Mexico is a good example of this. Mexico has a long coastline and lots of fish--many of them the same ones we catch and eat here. This dish is a Mexican classic, in the style of Veracruz. If red snapper isn't available, trout, drum, flounder, sheepshead or lemonfish would also be good this way.
- 4 fresh red snapper fillets, 6-8 oz. each
- Juice of two limes
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 2 yellow onions, cut into thin strips
- 2 green bell peppers, cut into thin strips
- 4 medium ripe tomatoes, cubed
- 1 Tbs. chopped cilantro
- 1/2 Tbs. chopped jalapeno pepper
- Pinch oregano
- Pinch sweet basil
- 2 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
- 1 cup tomato puree
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/4 tsp. Tabasco
- 1/4 tsp. Tabasco
1. Marinate the fish fillets with lime juice for a few minutes.
2. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat and saute the garlic, onion, bell pepper, and tomatoes until tender.
3. Reduce the heat to medium-low and add remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, then add the snapper fillets. Cover and cook for about 8-10 minutes, until fish is cooked.
Goes well with Spanish-style rice.
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