Eating Around New Orleans Today
The New City Grille recently expanded its menu substantially, and reinforced an offbeat but appealing practice they've had for the last year or so. On weekdays, their early-evening specials start at lunchtime and go all the way to six in the evening. You get a soup or salad (the excellent oyster-artichoke soup is one of the choices), an entree and dessert for a price that ranges in the high teens. They've also added to their hamburger selection. Hamburgers don't seem to fit in with the rest of the menu, but they make the choice easier when you have teenagers with you. And it's a very good burger. Also on at lunch: an excellent grilled redfish poor boy.
New City Grille. Old Metairie: 2700 Metairie Rd., 504-828-8484.
Eating Around America
Boston was founded today in 1630. It was a suburb of Salem, the original British settlement in the vicinity. Boston has contributed a good bit to American cuisine, although the dish referred to by its nickname -- Beantown -- is not one of them. Boston baked beans are navy beans baked with molasses, the latter a product that flowed in some quantity through Boston in the days when it was a port for sugar from the Caribbean. (Here's a
Food And Drink In War
Today in 1862, in the midst of the Battle of Antietem, a sergeant and one other soldier pulled a wagonload of food and hot coffee through Confederate fire to nourish an Ohio Union regiment. It was the bloodiest single day of battle in the history of the United States, with at least 23,000 soldiers killed. The sergeant was promoted by his colonel to lieutenant for his pluck. The sergeant was William McKinley. The colonel was Rutherford B. Hayes. Both became President. And now you know the rest of the story.
Alluring Dinner Dates
Annika Duckmark, Miss Sweden in 1996, now a television personality, was born today in 1971. If she ever comes to New Orleans, we want to take her to the Upperline for the duck with ginger peach sauce.
Today is National Greek Salad Day. Greek salad, one might suspect, is something created on these shores from Greek ingredients for American tastes. Not so. All the restaurants in Greece that I've visited--from Corfu to Athens to Rhodes, regardless of the level of formality or the other specialties of the kitchen--offered a Greek salad. And it was pretty much like the ones we have here.
Greek salads require a certain critical mass for the ingredients to balance out, so they're usually served in an entree size. Here's what goes into it:
- Green leaf lettuce, constituting only about half the salad
- Sliced cucumbers
- Green onions
- Mild green peppers (preferably something like wax peppers, but bell peppers are okay in pinch)
- A great deal of feta cheese, crumbled
- Kalamata olives
Now, the critical issue. The dressing should be an emulsified vinaigrette with a very significant herb (particularly oregano) component. Dill is essential. And it should also include a significant amount of fresh lemon juice. All of this should be tossed with the salad ingredients, not served on the side or dumped over the top.
Our two Greek restaurants (Acropolis Cuisine and Mr. Gyros) both make good Greek salads. But the best in town is at the Maple Street Cafe (7623 Maple, 314-9003). Their the Greek salad is served in a bowl made from a round loaf of crusty bread.
Music To Clean Your Plate By
Today in 1939, Frank Sinatra recorded his first big hit. Backed up by the orchestra of Harry James (the grand-uncle of Clark, the Gourmet Truck Driver), All Or Nothing At All didn't hit the charts until over two years later, after Sinatra had become a huge star. Coincidentally, this same date in 1952, Sinatra's career hit a low point. He recorded a little known but lovely song Why Try To Change Me Now? Right afterwards, Columbia Records ditched him. He'd reinvent himself and make a comeback the following year, and establish himself as the most-heard voice in Italian restaurants in America.
Winemakers On Television
The Smothers Brothers television show premiered today in 1965. Its satirical aspect made it controversial, and CBS got nervous and cancelled it, despite good ratings. Tom and Dick Smothers later opened a winery in Sonoma. Although the wines were good, their reputation as comedians hurt the image of the stuff. So they renamed it Remick Ridge, after their grandfather.
Today is the birthday, in 1907, of former Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger. . Pro shortstop Bobby Wine hit the Big Basepath today in 1937.
Words To Eat By
"From my table inside I watch the glamorous women outside who are lunching on spa Cobb salads without blue cheese or dressing. The man with the bread basket wanders from table to table, lonesome as a cloud. When he comes to me his basket is full and perfectly arranged. He gives me a smile of sincere pleasure when I tell him I will take both the sourdough roll and the cheese stick."--Ann Patchett, American fiction author.
Wednesday, September 9. Non-Eat Club At Marigny Brasserie. No sign of the DSL modem. I called AT&T and they said it might come this afternoon, when I wouldn't be home. I hoped they wouldn't leave it out in the rain. I managed to resurrect the old modem for about two minutes--long enough for me to upload today's edition of the Menu Daily, but not long enough to do e-mail. The Russian Crisis continues for NOMenu.com.
Hard rainstorms pressure-washed the Causeway as I made my path across the lake. These severe thunderstorms are what we're getting in lieu of hurricanes this year. I accept. The only thing I worry about is that if it keeps raining like this and we do get a hurricane, then the trees will be knocked over much easier. Someday I will need to start thinking about those big pines within falling distance of my house.
We were to have an Eat Club event tonight at the Marigny Brasserie, but Labor Day week and my computer problems put the kibosh on that. We proceeded with the broadcast at the restaurant anyway. I announced that I would stay for dinner, and that if anyone wanted to join me, I'd buy the wine. I've tried this before, but it never worked. I guess it's too intimate an invitation to most non-acquaintances. I've been told all my life that the way I treat total strangers like longtime friends is weird. But lots of people are praised for that! Mary Ann's father, for example, was legendary for his ability to get into an elevator with a bunch of people and have them all talking together by the time they get to their floors. I must be doing something wrong.
Anyway, one person took me up on this. She was a single woman about my age, and she was uncomfortable. "This will look like a date!" she said. I told her my wife would brush it off as typical for me and harmless. The lady said she would just have a drink and go. Which she did, although we had a nice conversation while it lasted.
The new chef of Marigny Brasserie, Irving Karas, has completely remade the menu. He also brought back five or six dishes that have been specialties there since the beginning, but had fallen off the card in recent times. Both on the air and afterwards, I asked him what I should order. He was reluctant almost to point of refusal to tell me what he thought was good. He wound up touting me on the crab cakes and the blackened redfish. Bring it on, said I. Both were fine. The crab cakes were small but meaty with a pair of sauces--one white, one orange--that added nice flavor contrasts. And the guy knew Rule #1 of blackening fish: you have to start with a rather large, thick piece of fish. This one was about ten ounces, I'd guess. Crusty and quite spicy on the outside, moist in the center. Just right.
I liked the dessert. It was a café au lait creme brulee, and tasted exactly the way it sounds. Served in a coffee cup, it had a thicker sugar crust than I've seen in a long time. Almost too thick. But creamy and good, and the coffee flavor hit the spot.
Marigny Brasserie. Marigny: 640 Frenchmen 504-945-4472. Contemporary Creole.
Thursday, September 10. Reconnect. Dinner At The Hungry Forager. I don't think I was ever as glad to see a UPS truck pull into my driveway as I was when one did at about ten in the morning. Yes, it was the new computer modem. I scanned the instructions quickly and plugged it in. It connected me to the internet right away, and I started uploading days of files. And downloading dozens of e-mails from my readers. The large number of concerns and complaints were respectively good and bad news.
Meanwhile, the publisher of Hungry Town is asking me to rewrite a few bits of the book, entirely to make the pages fit properly. No problem: I've been doing that all my life. But the time! I have no time! I'd better reclaim my commuting time and stay home.
Good news about the book: two people who received pre-publication copies for early reviews have sent back blurbs for the back cover. James Carville and Anne Gooch both wrote really flattering lines. Mayor Nagin sent his copy back, saying he had not ordered it. Mary Ann says this is a good thing.
We went to dinner at The Hungry Forager. We've had the brunch there four times, and it showed brilliance in dinner-like dishes. Everybody who has ever called me about dining here has sounded. So we were primed for something wonderful. It was good, but not wonderful. I think the chef may have been bummed out by the light attendance this night. I can't blame him. It's still Labor Day week, after all. Day after day, it keeps proving itself as the softest restaurant week of the year.
Things started interestingly with seared shrimp with paprika oil and aioli, atop fried green tomatoes, prettily arranged in the three-pocket plate with a little salad in the center. I had a bowl of mussels in a Thai-spiced coconut milk broth. The mussels were good enough, and the broth was terrific, but at least half the mussels had not popped open. I don't eat unopened mussels. That was a bit disappointing.
We then had salads. The one that caught my eye was described as a fried goat cheese salad. I did not expect an enormous basin of baby greens and little tomatoes, topped with six phyllo-wrapped, cheese-stuffed pastries. Good, but much too large.
We both had fish for the entree. Mary Ann ordered the rainbow trout (below), even after I warned her that it was more like salmon than the trout we eat around here. She said she likes salmon. I warned her again that this kind would be a bigger flavor than she's used to. It was too much for her, and left her unhappy. I took a lot of it, because I didn't like the way the drumfish came out. A little dry, the skin too much in the way.
The evening ended on a nice note with chef-owner Lawrence Dodds' bread and butter pudding. This is a bread pudding, but much softer and more custardy than we're used to, finished with a fruit glaze. It was marvelous. While we were there, a regular customer came by to pick up a few pieces of it. I think Dodds' greatest skill may be in baking. His homemade bread--of which we consumed quite a lot--is wonderful.
This may be too small a restaurant for the kind of food Dodds cooks. I will come back soon to get a better view of dinner.
The Hungry Forager. Mandeville: 902 Coffee 985-626-8883. Breakfast. Sandwiches.
WHY IT'S ESSENTIAL
A restaurant with a real personality at the helm appeals to a lot of people. The chef-owner is an engaging, good-looking fellow who spends a lot of time with the customers in the dining room, telling them how he cooks authentic Italian food. Of course he does. Every Italian chef is the only one who cooks the real thing. Whatever. What can't be gainsaid is that the premises are charming, the cooking is good, and the portions are eye-popping.
WHY IT'S GOOD
Chef Gio's menu reminds me of the ones we used to see in Italian restaurants thirty years ago, with their hundred or so dishes. This one, however, covers a surprising amount of territory--namly, from the Alps all the way down to the Sicilian football. It's usually very good. Sometimes it's amazingly good. A few dishes are grossly overdone, but one expects that.
Chef Giovanni Vancheri operated restaurants in Las Vegas for decades, a fact attested to by the dozens of photographs of himself with celebrities that cover his walls. A native Sicilian, he worked all over the world before winding up here on what sounds almost like a whim. The building is a little hard to see, especially since the reconstruction of the Florida-East Causeway-No Name 190 intersection. Cafe Giovanni and WOW wingery were among several restaurants to come and go from this spot.
Two dining rooms, both done up in a rustic Italian style. Twenty years ago, we'd call it a cliche Italian design, but now few Italian restaurants here look like this. The main atmoshere comes from the aromas of cooking: this place makes you hungry with your first sniff inside the door. The chef--who could pass for a movie star--makes sorties into the dining room all night, checking with every table at least once, whether he knows the customers or not.
Tuscan sausage and potato soup.
Salad Caprese (tomatoes and fresh mozzarella).
Antipasto plate (enough for at least three).
Capellini pomodoro (tomato sauce).
Pasta alla Norma (eggplant and tomatoes).
Chicken or veal piccata.
Chicken Milanese (panneed).
Veal or steak pizzaiola.
Orecchio di elefante (a veal chop pounded out and panneed, topped with arugula)
Steak fiorentina (porterhouse, easily enough for two).
FOR BEST RESULTS
Make a reservation. The restaurant is small and has a way of filling up when you least expect. You don't need an entree per person. Three will feed four very amply. (That's also true of the other courses.)
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
The panneed dishes (Milanese style) are a touch too oily.
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 +2
- Attitude +2
- Wine and Bar +1
- Hipness -1
- Local Color
- Live music some nights
- Open Monday lunch and dinner
- Unusually large servings
- Good for children
- Easy, nearby parking
- Reservations accepted
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,
Skordalia (Greek Garlic Sauce)
Skordalia is a thick, off-white garlic sauce fleshed out with either bread or mashed potatoes, plus olive oil and sometimes almonds. Hearing that description, you'd never believe how marvelous it is on fried seafood. Oddly enough, it's also delicious with salad, especially those made with root vegetables, most particularly beets.
- 4 slices white bread
- 5 cloves garlic, peeled
- 1 Tbs. vinegar
- 1 Tbs. lemon juice
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 3 drops Tabasco
- 1/4 cup olive oil
1. Remove crusts from the bread. Soak the white part of the bread with water, and squeeze out the excess.
2. Add all other ingredients except the olive oil to the bowl of a food processor or blender. Process while adding the oil a very little at a time. Blend until the mixture is smooth.
Serve cold with fried seafood, or atop a beet-and-onion salad.
Makes about a cup.
Missing something from the old format? I've moved a few departments to the column at left. Click below to go to them.