Eating Around New Orleans Today
I don't know how the legend got started, but I've heard for years that the fried chicken at the Rib Room at the Omni Royal Orleans Hotel is fantastic. I've been told this by many of the restaurant's regulars--of whom there are enough to fill the place most weekdays, and always on Fridays. The management has always insisted that it was a fluke, but you can't stop a delicious rumor. Now the fried chicken is officially available as part of a $19 lunch that begins with a "New School" wedge salad (what in the world was wrong with the old-school version?). Then fried chicken with baked macaroni and cheese, smothered okra, and cornbread waffles, served family style. For dessert, pecan pie a la mode. This is a much better value than any other prices we've seen at the Rib Room lately. Gotta check out this chicken.
Rib Room. French Quarter: 621 St. Louis, 504-529-7045.
Annals Of Getting There
General Motors was founded today in 1908 by William C. Durant. It gives one pause to think of what the restaurant world would be like without cars. They would certainly be more concentrated geographically. Restaurants of the 1800s in New Orleans were almost all in the French Quarter or along the main rail lines (such as St. Charles Avenue). To travel far required a horse. The drive-thru wouldn't exist, nor would most fast-food places--but that would be a plus. There would be no Chevy's. Doesn't sound so bad, really.
This is National Wild Rice Day. Wild rice is only distantly related to true rice. The important food varieties are native to northern North America. It's the state grain of Minnesota, which grows more of it than any other state. It was historically the preserve of Native Americans, who still do most of the growing and collecting. Wild rice is not always wild anymore; after decades of trying, methods of raising it in paddies are now in use.
Wild rice has a distinctive, nutty taste, with a limited starchiness. It's traditionally served with fall dishes like duck and game, even though late summer is when it's harvested. Because it's expensive to grow and harvest, wild rice is only rarely served without its being mixed with true white or brown rice. The flavor and texture makes white rice much more interesting, and probably better than either the wild or true rice alone. Having the white rice in there also makes wild rice easier to eat. Wild rice won't stay on a fork.
Food On The Air
Today in 1993, the sitcom Frasier premiered on NBC. The main character was a pompous radio psychiatrist played by Kelsey Grammer, who created the role on Cheers. In the series, Frasier and his brother Niles were revealed as gourmets and oenophiles--or, to be more accurate, food and wine snobs. In one episode, they decided that Frasier's producer was mentally ill because she ordered a white Zinfandel. Also in the series was a foppish restaurant critic whose radio show came on before Frasier's. Why are my kind always portrayed as jerks? What? Oh.
Alluring Dinner Dates
Lauren Bacall was born today in 1924. The wife and frequent co-star of Humphrey Bogart, the young Bacall was a stunner, with a cool, heavy-lidded style and a sexy, smoky voice. In many pictures of her from those times, she and Bogey are in a restaurant or bar, often with other members of the original Rat Pack. What great tables those must have been!
Pro football player Todd Weiner kicked off his life today in 1975. . . Basketball pro Ron Brewer had his Big Tipoff today in 1955. . . Bilinda Butcher sings and plays guitar for the British band My Bloody Valentine. She was born today in 1961. . . Film director and writer Jules Bass was landed into the world today in 1935.
Words To Eat By
"A vitamin is a substance that makes you ill if you don't eat it."--Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, the Hungarian scientist who isolated Vitamin C and discovered many of its benefits. He was born today in 1893.
Sunday, September 6. Gilded Breakfast At Hungry Forager. Chained. Onion Rings Get Better. Mary Ann and I are still home alone, with our daughter still carousing with her girl cousins. She suggested that we go to the Hungry Forager for breakfast. I had already worked on the website three hours, after waking at five-thirty and starting to think about how to do all these unaccustomed jobs with the new software. A break was just the ticket.
Lawrence Dodds, the chef and owner, was making his usual assortment of careful breakfasts. I had an unusual egg dish composed of a pastry shell filled with soft-scrambled eggs with herbs, surrounded by smoked salmon (above). Mary Ann ordered a chicken and mushroom pie (below), baked in round flaky pastry. It reminded us of those Cornish pasties we had in London back in the spring. As before Lawrence's homemade bread was one of the best parts of the meal.
Then it was back to the salt mine. One bit of good news: the DSL modem decided to come back on. It ran most of the day, then died again.
I took a break when Tim Connell--Mary Ann's brother and Hillary's dad--came over to drop Mary Leigh off. Mary Ann made a batch of thick hamburgers and fried onion rings. She didn't think they were as good as usual. None of the rest of us knew what she was talking about. We consume more beer making batter for onion rings than we do by drinking it.
By midnight, I had templates built for most of the major kinds of pages on the web site. How boring can a goal be?
The Hungry Forager. Mandeville: 902 Coffee. 985-626-8883. Breakfast. Bistro.
Monday, September 7. Labor Day Certainly Was. This is the only day of the year when Chef Andrea Apuzzo closes his restaurant all day. He has no feeling for Labor Day that I can detect. He closes because this is the worst day for white-tablecloth restaurants the entire year. It's also the worst week. I know, because so little interest materialized for our Eat Club dinner this week that we'll have to postpone it. I have not done a dinner in Labor Day week for years, and now I remember why.
Mary Ann is cleaning out and cooking up all the stuff from the dead refrigerator. That's enough to keep me from eating very much. She'd get mad if I went out. I think I'm still riding on the overfeed we had Friday night at Keith Young's.
I spent the whole day working on the website. The DSL modem went out again. But if I unplugged it, let it rest, than plugged it back in, I could get three or four minutes of connection before it went dead again. That was enough to upload many, but not all, of the new pages I was building. This is maddening. And so utterly charmless an employment that I can't bring myself to write another word about it.
Tuesday, September 8. Chad's Bistro. The UPS guy came by, and my heart leapt. But it wasn't a new modem. In fact, it wasn't even for our house.
On Tuesdays, I ought to head into town a couple of hours before the radio show and have lunch somewhere--something I almost never do. I really should. But the work of publishing the Menu Daily expands as much as I let it, and I find myself leaving with just enough time to get to the radio studio every day. And on Tuesday nights, I always struggle to find a restaurant I haven't been to in awhile for dinner.
A few weeks ago I almost went to Chad's Bistro for a Tuesday night supper. I can't remember why I didn't, but it lingered as unfinished business. I dispatched it today. Even though I arrived late (I had three commercials to write and produce after the show), the parking lot was full. But most of those cars were for people who had a private dinner meeting in the back room. And they were on the way out when I arrived. A few people were in the bar. No a la carte customers were in the dining room.
It goes against my instincts to stay in such a situation. If I weren't there, the place may well have begun the process of closing. I mentioned this to the server, who gave no sign that she was miffed to have to take care of me.
I wasn't tremendously hungry. I started with a Caesar salad so enormous that it came close to filling me up--wtih the assistance of Chad's good garlic bread. They toast it to order and keep sending it out, no matter how much of it you eat.
All this made me glad I resisted the urge to get a seafood boat for an entree. Chad's is one of only two or three places that keeps this old specialty alive. It's a whole loaf of unsliced white bread, cut across and hollowed out, toasted and buttered, and then filled with fried seafood. I haven't had one of those in many years, but my appetite wasn't nearly equal to it. I'll bring Mary Ann here one night. She'd love that.
Instead, I followed had a combination fried oyster and stuffed crab platter. Just okay, even though both had clearly been prepared to order. Just what I'd expect from an empty restaurant. There's no question about it: busy establishments cook better food than slow ones do. That's largely because the good cooks and waiters take off on slow nights. But it's hard for a kitchen to get fired up when nothing's doing.
The bread pudding was delicious, and the size of a brick. I thought about taking it home, but then I'd eat it.
The modem is unarguably dead. I got it running a few times in the morning, but just long enough to upload a new edition of the Menu Daily. It wouldn't stay on long enough for me to publish an e-mail edition. That will result in a minimum of a hundred messages from people who missed getting it. I wish I could persuade them that the same publication is much more easily had online, but one must do what one's customers want.
Chad's Bistro. Metairie: 3216 W. Esplanade Ave. 504-838-9935. Neighborhood Cafe. Seafood. Italian.
WHY IT'S ESSENTIAL
Tujague's long history, giving rise to its unique menu and style of service, makes it a restaurant that every New Orleanian should try at least once in his life. For those of us saturated with a love for local institutions, New Orleans without Tujague's is unimaginable. One more thing: it's open 365 days a year, and does an unusually good job on the big holidays.
WHY IT'S GOOD
The many-course table d'hote dinner for which the restaurant is famous is a fine, authentic taste of old-style everyday Creole cooking. The kitchen's repertoire is limited, but most of it is as delicious as it is distinctive. Tujague's boiled beef brisket is the standard for that familiar local favorite. The chicken bonne femme is one of the two or three best dishes in town for lovers of garlic.
In 1856, Tujague's opened to serve lunches and dinners to the people who did business on the riverfront across the street. Those people worked hard and finished early in the day, and needed a big dinner. Tujague's sent big platters of whatever it cooked that day everything to its long, communal tables, family style. This clientele grew with the founding of the French Market. Tujague's history includes Madame Begue, the city's first superstar chef, whose cooking in the late 1800s was legendary. As the nature of the French Market changed, Tujague's held onto its table d'hote set menu, which until recent times was the only thing they served. Since Steve Latter took it over about twenty-five years ago, other entrees became available. But the menu of the day is still the thing.
Although its antiquity suggests otherwise, Tujague's has never been a fancy restaurant. The dining room is downright stark, with tiled floors, a high ceiling with church-style lighting fixtures, and small display cabinets filled with thousands of small bottles of liqueurs. The bar is a marvelous antique, one of the favorite watering holes for French Quarter residents.
The table d'hote dinner includes:
Soup of the day.
Boiled brisket of beef.
Entree of choice.
The best entrees are:
Chicken bonne femme (fried batterless, covered with garlic, parsley, and fried potatoes).
Stuffed eggplant with shrimp.
Cranberry bread pudding.
FOR BEST RESULTS
Call for a reservation and specify that you'd like the chicken bonne femme, if you do. The fresh turkey dinners on Thanksgiving and Christmas are excellent.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
The funkiness of the place screams for major renovation, but nobody (customers included) wants to touch the place.
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
- Consistency +1
- Wine and Bar -1
- Hipness -2
- Local Color +3
- Good view
- Medium private room
- Open Sunday lunch and dinner
- Open Monday lunch and dinner
- Open all holidays
- Good for children
- Easy, nearby parking
- Reservations honored promptly
We might all be back from vacations and sitting at our desks at school and work again. But summer is not over until September gives way, and forty restaurants around town still have their special summer menus going. The entire list, with Menu's ratings, can be found here. We'll revisit the best of these very affordable menus one a day until we get tired of it.
French Quarter: 430 Dauphine, 504-525-4455.
Special menu available Monday through Thursday evenings.
Cream of Garlic Soup
Soup of the Day
with Balsamic Vinaigrette
Eggplant Caviar with Tapenade
Vegetarian Dish of the Day
Fish of the Day
Grilled Duck Breast
with Pepper Jelly Glaze
Homemade Ice Creams And Sorbets
Coffee or tea
1. Mr. B’s Bistro. French Quarter: 201 Royal. 504-523-2078. The revolutionary new style, recipe, widely copied, and with good reason.
2. Dante's Kitchen. Riverbend: 736 Dante. 504-861-3121. Great shrimp, better sauce.
3. Emeril’s. Warehouse District: 800 Tchoupitoulas. 504-528-9393. The best version for those who don't like the idea of peeling shrimp.
4. Flaming Torch. Uptown: 737 Octavia. 504-895-0900. An offbeat approach, using more red pepepr than is common.
5. Arnaud’s. French Quarter: 813 Bienville. 504-523-5433. It's called shrimp Bellaire, and it's good either for an appetizer or an entree.
6. Bourbon House. French Quarter: 144 Bourbon. 504-522-0111. More or less the same recipe as at Mr. B's, but less consistently excellent.
7. Pascal’s Manale. Uptown: 1838 Napoleon Ave.. 504-895-4877. The original recipe allegedly unchanged, but not as exciting as it once was.
8. Pelican Club. French Quarter: 615 Bienville. 504-523-1504. The most offbeat on the list, with a touch of Asia in the sauce, and rice noodles.
9. Vincent's. Metairie: 4411 Chastant St.. 504-885-2984. ||Riverbend: 7839 St. Charles Ave.. 504-866-9313. Not a regular menu item, but made frequently and very well.
10. Mosca’s. Westwego: 4137 U.S. 90. 504-436-9942. Not really barbecue shrimp, although many put it in the same category. Garlic and rosemary are more dominant than pepper. But you eat these heads-on monsters the same way.
Have I missed a good one? If you know of a great version of barbecue shrimp that belongs on this list,
Wild Rice With Hazelnuts And Pecans
This could have been made by the Native Americans who lived in the northern two-thirds of the country, particularly in the Great Lakes regions. Wild rice, hazelnuts, and pecans are all native crops, and they're easy to get at the store. Wild rice (which really is wild, although it's not really a rice) is rather expensive, but make sure you're buying pure wild rice--not a blend of wild and domestic rice.
- 1/2 cup pure maple syrup
- 1 tsp. salt
- 4 cups wild rice
- 1/2 cup walnut oil
- 1/2 cup sliced green onions (tender parts only)
- 1/2 cup coarsely chopped hazelnuts
- 1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans
- 1 dash Tabasco
1. Bring a quart of water to a boil in a large pot. Dissolve the salt and maple syrup into it. Sprinkle in the wild rice and stir once. Cover the pot, lower the heat to a simmer, and simmer for 45 minutes. (Wild rice takes much longer than white rice to cook.)
2. While the rice is cooking, heat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the hazelnut and pecan pieces on a cookie sheet or pizza pan, and toast them on the top shelf of the oven. It takes about two minutes, but watch the nuts closely--as soon as you see even a hint of darkening, remove them.
3. When the rice is cooked, heat half the walnut oil in a skillet and saute the green onions just till they get tender--no more than two minutes. Add the rice to the pan, add the wild rice and the nuts to the pan. Stir with a kitchen fork to fluff and distribute all the ingredients.
4. Stir the Tabasco into the remaining walnut oil, and drizzle the oil over the rice.
Serves twelve to sixteen.
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