Wednesday, September 14, 2011
1218 Restaurants Open Around Town (click for the whole list)
Restaurant Week Dinner At Ruth's Chris: $35
Both New Orleans locations of Ruth's Chris Steak House have been running a summer special,. although they weren't part of the Coolinary program. They did join in on We Live To Eat Restaurant Week, and they're serving this menu for $35:
Steak House Salad
Chef’s Fish Selection
Sizzling lemon butter
Blue Crab Cakes
Three jumbo lump crab cakes served sizzling with lemon butter
Stuffed Chicken Breast
Oven roasted free-range chicken breast stuffed with garlic herb cheese and served with lemon butter
Garlic Mashed Potatoes
With fresh berries in sweet cream sauce
Sounds good. Whenever I go to Ruth's Chris, I wind up ordering my favorite steaks--the sirloin strip or (if I can talk the Marys into it) a porterhouse. Which would raise this price considerably. On the other hand, sometime I can't overcome Mary Ann's excitement over getting a good price. I'll bet they sell a lot of these.
Ruth's Chris Steak House. Metairie: 3633 Veterans Blvd. 504-888-3600
This daily feature is a free service for restaurants or organizations with upcoming special events. Please send all info to email@example.com.
We feature a different Coolinary menu in this space every day throughout the event, and keep all of them online here. Also going on right now is Restaurant Week, which is rather similar to the Coolinary. Those menus can be found here.
Wednesday, September 7, 2011.
Smoking At Squeal.
At around this time in 1979, I met up with my then-girlfriend Kim in her northern Indiana hometown. After a few days with her parents, we took a short trip north before heading back to New Orleans. In Ludington, Michigan, we boarded a coal-fired steamship called the Badger, and crossed Lake Michigan to Milwaukee.
The S.S. Badger is big enough to carry not only automobiles but railroad cars. (It was operated by the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad.) The lake crossing took enough hours that the ship offered staterooms and a real dining room, with white tablecloths and waiters. It was spartan--more like a train than a cruise ship--but special enough that it was a pleasure.
The Badger tied up in Milwaukee just as the sun was setting. And then we were off to a German restaurant called Mader's. For Kim, Mader's had an aura. She went there now and then with her parents when she was a girl. She wanted to relive those feelings. She thought I'd like it, since it had a long history. (It opened in 1902, and is still going strong.) And a restaurant serving German food in Wisconsin is like a Creole restaurant in Louisiana. Mader's is the Antoine's of Milwaukee.
She wallowed in her memories. The place looked and acted exactly as she remembered. I was less enthusiastic. My experience with German food was, however, less than comprehensive. Kolb's and Willy Coln's were about all we had. Mader's was better than Kolb's (what wasn't?). But it wasn't as good as Willy Coln's. The place seemed a bit tired in a lot of ways.
I went into restaurant critic mode and explained why I didn't think much of Mader's. Kim didn't give a damn about any of that. This was Mader's, an icon of her scintillating teens, and what kind of asshole was I to ruin the experience for her? She gave me the silent treatment all the way to Chicago. I noted this lesson. But if I were given a test on it now I'd still get at best a C. It's hard for me to separate the restaurant critic lookout from the rest of what I am. That this happens to a lot of people doesn't get me off the hook.
Now that Mary Leigh is back in school, she's ready to resume our weekly daddy-daughter dinner dates. She had long since decided where we would go for the first one of the new school year. She is a big fan of Squeal, the barbecue restaurant on Oak Street. I, on the other hand, had not been there yet. That's benign negligence on my part, since they've been open for over a year now. She thinks it's inexcusable. I say I've been waiting for her to ask me.
It was another perfect advance-autumn day. Like her mom, ML likes sitting outside, even if it means getting a table in what looks like a converted driveway on the side of the restaurant. (All the tables on the nice front porch were taken.) I was determined to remember the lesson of Milwaukee, and to keep my niggling criticisms to myself. I am a father before I am a restaurant critic to her, am I not?
I began with a cocktail that sounded refreshing and not powerfully alcoholic. It's called a Gardener, I guess because of the chopped leaves floating around in it. It tasted of citrus, with the alcohol (whatever it was) deep in the background. Somewhere between a classic daiquiri and a mojito. It was big enough that it got me through the whole meal.
Mary Leigh's order was more or less the same as she gets here every time. Nachos with pulled pork, split with whomever else is at the table. And a pulled pork or brisket sandwich. Today was a brisket day.
I always order last, working around the menus of my dining companions. I asked for the pork cakes, strongly pushed by the waiter. Then gumbo, followed by pulled pork tacos.
The waiter asked how we wanted all this food delivered. "It doesn't matter, really, as long as there aren't two dishes in front of me at the same time," I said. "Let me say that again. I do not want to have to choose which hot dish I will eat and which will get cold while I'm eating the one I'm eating. Do you understand what I am saying?"
This request seems obvious, enough that it shouldn't need to be said. But the number of times I've had two, three, or more dishes in front of me at the same time--even when I specifically asked that this not be done--is almost unbelievable.
The gumbo came first, with ML's nachos. The gumbo looked like gumbo. Very thick, very dark roux, okra and sausage together, plus too many other ingredients. It was like the gumbo you get when you travel more than 300 miles from New Orleans. Even though gumbo-making admits of an infinite number of variations, there is a certain indefinable, magical quality that separates Gumbo from Not Gumbo. To my palate was decidedly Not Gumbo. And just okay, whatever it was.
In the middle of eating it. . . well, I'll be damned. Here were the pork cakes. And Mary Leigh's nachos, in an enormous portion clearly made for splitting. A minute or two later, the pork tacos arrived. I now had three hot dishes on the table in front of me--four, if you count the nachos--all at the same time. The ceiling fan overhead did a good job of making them cold. The waiter remembered what I said and noticed this even before I did. I hushed him up, not wanting to ruin Mary Leigh's evening at one of her favorite restaurants.
I turned my attention to the good news. Which was that these pork cakes, as unlikely an idea as they seem (crab cakes made with pork instead of crab) were nothing short of delicious. They would be the best item on the table. The tacos were the small kind that are hip these days, using tortillas about three inches in diameter. The pulled pork here is beyond reproach, and the topping of a spicy slaw worked very nicely. The nachos left me cold, but that's not my kind of thing. Mary Leigh was happy with them.
There now ensued a long pause while I chewed through all this food. I caught up. Then ML's barbecue sandwich came out. She ate, I watched. I asked her for some of the very large serving of brisket. It wasn't cut properly for a sandwich, coming out in slabs at least a half-inch thick. What's more, the beef was on the very dry side. This is a common problem with brisket. Two briskets of the same size from the same source cooked at the same time in the same pit can come out very different. We got the dry one today.
Someone noticed that I now had no active plates before me. The kitchen sent out a plate of four St. Louis-style pork ribs to make up for their delivery errors. These were crusty with seasoning and very good. Really, pork handles barbecue better than beef does.
Mary Leigh became the restaurant critic. She had the same comment about the brisket that I did. And she'd had the gumbo before and didn't like it either. So we made it through the dinner without her getting angry with me. She was a little embarrassed, I guess. We will come back again for another look.
Squeal Barbecue. Riverbend: 8400 Oak. 504-302-7370.
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.
Our First Event At A Hip Mexican-Plus Bistro
Wednesday, Sept. 21, 6:30 p.m.
Esplanade Ridge: 3201 Esplanade Ave, 504-948-0077.
$65 per person, inclusive of tax, tip, and wines
Our dinner will include an assortment of the old and the new. We'll not only have a full evening of food and wine, but a low-volume Latin jazz ensemble playing for us. Should be quite an evening. Here's the menu:
Crawfish and Beef Empanadas
With A Welcome Cocktail
Seasoned, seared yellowfin tuna served with crispy corn tortilla, lettuce, black beans, guacamole, fresh corn salsa, sour cream and cilantro.
A signature dish at Santa Fe, chicken breast roulade with roasted anaheim peppers, house-made chorizo and cheese stuffing, served with rice and black beans
Pescado Fresco Del Dia
Fish of the day, to you and me. Spice-rubbed, sauteed fresh Gulf fish with citrus beurre blanc, cilantro risotto and fresh vegetables
Beef tenderloin, grilled to your liking, topped with wild mushroom Bordelaise sauce, served with yuca fries and vegetables
Santa Fe rice pudding with tequila and Grand Marnier soaked fruits, slivered almonds and whipped cream. And orange-infused flan.
I don't have the wines included on the menu because I don't know them yet. However, we will have a wine with each course.
Garden District: Pontchartrain Hotel, 2031 St. Charles Ave.
For most of the history of New Orleans dining, only a few hotel restaurants had a serious local clientele. Of them, the most revered was the Caribbean Room at the Pontchartrain Hotel.
Created by Lysle Aschaffenberg--the hotel's founder, world traveler, and dedicated gourmet--the C-Room was one of the handsomest, most comfortable, and most romantic restaurants in town. The rooms had a soft glow, a color scheme of plush pink among walls of rich wood paneling that went a long way up to the ceiling. A fountain splashed in the center of the main room, and you could hear it, so quiet was the environment. Everything about the place spoke of luxury in the old manner.
The Caribbean Room's two long-time chefs were legendary practitioners of Creole cooking. Nathaniel Burton and his successor and protégé Louis Evans were unusual in having celebrity status in a time when few African-American chefs were known at all. They were encouraged by Aschaffenberg and his son Albert to maintain an unambiguously Creole flavor, and they did. At the same time, they also prepared a number of classic French dishes (one of which, trout Veronique, became the house specialty) and other dishes that Aschaffenberg found in his travels.
My favorite dish at the Pontchartrain (the hotel's name was synonymous with that of the restaurant) was crabmeat Remick, made with bacon, mustard, and chili sauce in an au gratin sort of way. They also made a great fish-with-everything (oysters, crab, and shrimp) dish called trout Eugene.
The two most famous dishes at the C-Room however, were both sweets. The first was the blueberry muffins that came in the bread basket. Those were so popular that they should have been on the hotel's crest. They were also much liked in the Pontchartrain's coffee shop at breakfast.
The other signature was mile-high ice cream pie, now widely copied by other restaurants. It had vanilla, chocolate, and peppermint ice cream in layers, with a meringue on top and chocolate sauce all around. It was designed to be split by at least two people. In my early twenties I somehow managed to eat an entire slice of it. "My God!" said the waiter. "Do you know what we do to anyone who eats a whole piece of mile-high pie?" What? I asked. "We give you another slice on the house!"
For years, the Caribbean Room was famous for its Sunday night buffets. That style of dinner service was almost unheard of in New Orleans. It was popular but--as all the regulars knew--not as good as the regular menu.
Service at the Caribbean Room was orchestrated by its incomparable maitre d', Douglas Leman. Douglas (many longtime customers never knew his last name) was the apotheosis of hospitality and style, always ready with an effusive gratefulness for the customers for just showing up. Douglas was at the front door of the Caribbean Room for most of his adult life. It seemed to me that his death was the final nail in the coffin of the Caribbean Room. The earlier demise of Chef Louis Evans didn't help.
The restaurant was already fading when the Aschaffenbergs sold the hotel in 1987. The new owners cut back the C-Room to a third of its former size, and the handwriting was on the wall. When it finally closed, few people noticed, so marginal had the restaurant become.
The Caribbean Room figured in many high moments in people's lives and the history of New Orleans dining. I have one myself: my first date with my wife Mary Ann was at the Caribbean Room, as Douglas smiled on.
It's pan-sauteed speckled trout with a lemon butter sauce with crabmeat and shrimp. Not a rare dish in white-tablecloth restaurants around town. It originally became famous under the name trout Eugene at the Caribbean Room at the Pontchartrain Hotel, and many years later, at Cafe Sbisa.
- 2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 Tbs. French shallots, chopped
- 12 medium (20-25 count) shrimp, peeled
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 3 Tbs. lemon juice, strained
- 1/2 cup shrimp or crab stock
- 1 stick butter
- 8 oz. lump crabmeat
- 6 sprigs flat-leaf Italian parsley, leaves only, chopped
- 4 fillets of speckled trout, about 6-8 oz. each.
- 1 cup flour
- 1 Tbs. salt
- 1/4 tsp. black pepper
- 1/2 stick butter
1. Make the sauce first. Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shallots and the shrimp and cook until the shrimp turn pink. Lower the heat to medium.
2. Add the wine, lemon juice, and stock, and bring to a boil. Reduce the liquid to about one-fourth the original volume, then lower the heat to as low as it will go.
3. Cut the stick of butter into pats and whisk them in to make a creamy-looking sauce. Add the crabmeat, and agitate the pan until the crabmeat is heated through. Cover the pan and turn off the heat.
4. Mix the salt and pepper into the flour. Dust the trout fillets liberally in the seasoned flour.
5. Heat the 1/2 cup of butter over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Saute the trout, two fillets at a time, until golden brown--about three minutes per side.
6. Place a trout fillet on each serving plate and top with the sauce.Serves four.
September 14, 2011
Days Until. . .
Summer ends 9
Chef d'Oeuvre du Jour
#360: Kafta kebab @ Babylon Cafe, Riverbend: 7724 Maple. Kafta (also spelled kefta, kifta, kofta, koufta, and kufta, depending on where you found it) is the Middle Eastern version (and, probably, ancestor) of the meatball and the hamburger. It's usually shaped like a sausage, made both of beef and lamb, and includes onions, parsley, and sometimes cracked wheat in the mix. It's cooked by first being run up on a metal skewer, than seared on a hot grill. It comes out with hummus and a salad, and it's one of the best dishes at Babylon. Get the freshly-baked Najah bread and make a sandwich of it. This is one of NOMenu's 500 Best Dishes in New Orleans. Collect all 500!
Local Culinary Personalities
Today is the birthday of Mike "Mr. Mudbug" Maenza, in 1959. His family was in the produce business for a long time. He started his own company to do crawfish boils for big parties. It grew into a major producer of prepared sauces, soups, and other dishes for restaurants all over the country. If I gave you a list of the restaurants that buy finished dishes from Mr. Mudbug, you'd be astonished. It's all good stuff, though.
This is International Shish Kebab Day. Stringing pieces of food on a stick and roasting it over an open fire is such an obvious and simple preparation that it's almost certainly been practiced since prehistory. The word has been traced back to the oldest Middle Eastern languages. The method not only has tremendous flavor and aroma appeal, but uses meat very efficiently. A lot of meat comes in pieces substantially smaller than a roast or a steak. Even when they don't, it's easier and faster to cook small pieces of meat than large ones.
But small pieces of meat have a way of falling into the fire. The shish--the skewer--solves that problem elegantly. The skewer holding kebab meat together takes many forms, from short wire rods to large vertical spindles that are more like rotisseries. All are considered kebabs; the shish is an option. The homeland of kebabs stretches from India to Morocco, and from there they've spread almost everywhere else in the world.
The Old Kitchen Sage Sez
If you want to grill shrimp on skewers, use two of them per portion. That way, when you turn the shrimp, they can't rotate. So no shrimp wind up getting cooked twice on the same side.
Rice is the small remnant of an old farming town in north central Kansas. It's 166 miles north and northwest respectively from both Topeka and Wichita. Wheat farming all the way, on wide fields flattened out by the Republican River, which passes within slingshot distance from Rice to the north. A secondary main of the Missouri Pacific Railroad used to pass through, but it's been abandoned. The big city in the region is Concordia, five miles west. There you can hunker down to a pile of lunch at Heavy's BBQ.
spiedini, [speh-DEE-nee], Italian, n. pl.--"Italian shish kebabs" tells ninety percent of the story. But spiedini has enough distinction to deserve its own definition. For starters, spiedini are almost always made entirely of meat--no vegetables. The meats tend to be rather good; even ground meats are considered raffish in spiedini. (Although sausage is welcomed.) Most spiedini use more than one variety of meat on the skewer. Here in New Orleans, a variation has emerged in which the meats are stuffed with a concoction of bread crumbs, prosciutto, garlic, parmesan cheese, and olive oil. If anything, those are even better than all-meat versions. The word is rarely spelled correctly on menus.
Today in 1927 Isadora Duncan, dancer and free spirit, died when her long, flowing scarf became entangled in the wheels of the convertible sports car she was driving in Nice, France. A very good restaurant here in New Orleans once bore her name. Isadora was where the Allegro Bistro is now, on the ground floor of the Energy Center at Poydras and Loyola. A painting depicting the moment before her demise hung on its wall.
Food In Science
Ivan Petrovich Pavlov was born today in 1849. The Russian scientist is most famous for his experiments with dogs. He found that any kind of stimulus a dog associated with food would make the dogs salivate. This worked not only for the sight and smell of food, but any activity that routinely preceded the dogs' being fed. This became known as a "conditioned reflex," and it works on people as well as dogs. For example, just the thought of the Supreme Court building in the French Quarter makes me hungry for turtle soup at Brennan's, across the street.
Today is the feast day of St. Notburga, who lived in the thirteenth century in Tyrol (now Austria). She is a patron saint of waiters and waitresses. She worked as a maid for a wealthy family that threw its leftovers to the pigs. Notburga would surreptitiously collect the food and give it to poor, hungry people instead. In one of the stories about her, she was caught doing this by her employers, who demanded to know what she had in her apron. When she opened it, the food had turned to wood shavings and vinegar.
Today's Worst Flavor
Today in 2006, the Food and Drug Administration announced that it had found fresh bagged spinach contaminated with e. coli bacteria. For weeks afterward, no spinach salads were served anywhere, and fresh spinach became hard to come by.
Constance Baker Motley, the first African-American woman to be elected a New York state senator or appointed to a Federal judgeship, was born today in 1921. . . Erieatha "Cookie" Kelly married Magic Johnson today in 1991. . . Deryck Victor Cooke, a British composer, was born today in 1919. . . British pop singer Amy Winehouse uncorked today in 1983.
Words To Eat By
"The most usual, common, and cheap sort of food all China abounds in, and which all in that Empire eat, from the Emperor to the meanest Chinese; the Emperor and great Men as a Dainty, the common sort as necessary sustenance. It is called Teu Fu, that is paste of kidney beans. I did not see how they made it. They drew the milk out of the kidney beans, and turning it, make great cakes of it like cheeses, as big as a large sieve, and five or six fingers thick. All the mass is as white as the very snow, to look to nothing can be finer. Alone, it is insipid, but very good dressed as I say and excellent fried in Butter."--Friar Domingo Navarrete.
Words To Drink By
"We frequently hear of people dying from too much drinking. That this happens is a matter of record. But the blame almost always is placed on whiskey. Why this should be I never could understand. You can die from drinking too much of anything--coffee, water, milk, soft drinks and all such stuff as that. And so long as the presence of death lurks with anyone who goes through the simple act of swallowing, I will make mine whiskey." --W. C. Fields.
Should States Ban Medium-Rare Hamburgers?
Well, at least one of them has: North Carolina. A black market for juicy burgers has sprung up. Really. Click here for the article.
How Chef's Measure Ingredients.
You ever notice in those televised cooking demos that chefs never measure anything? Well, some of that in instinctual. But in some ways. . . well, behind the scenes. . . how shall I say this. . . Click here for the cartoon.
Have a lusty New Orleans meal today!