Wednesday, September 23, 2009
1032 Restaurants Open Around Town
Eating Around New Orleans Today
Fall has begun, and the sand is running out of the glass for this year's summer specials. But there's still a week or so to catch them. One that caught my eye lately was what they're calling the "Local Lushes lagniappe" at Arnaud's. The French 75 Bar there (that's the one on the left as you enter the grand old restaurant) is one of the most comfortable places to tipple in the early (or late) evening. The summer special there is a 20-percent-off deal on the total tab in the bar. This isn't limited to drinks, but the the appealing bar menu in there. It ranges from the terrific soufflee potatoes to charcuterie and cheese plates, crawfish spring rolls, Brie- and jalapeno-stuffed shrimp, and oysters en brochette. Best of all: the smoked pompano with sour cream and capers. This is one of those things that's supposed to be a secret among locals, so you have to ask for the discount. Still. . .
Arnaud's. French Quarter: 813 Bienville, 504-523-5433.
History's Worst Cooks
This is the birthday, in 1869, of Mary Mallon. She was born in Ireland but moved to New York City in the 1880s. There she worked as a cook, first in a private home, then in a series of restaurants. She probably would have lived and died unknown, but she became the subject of one of the most famous medical investigations of all time. She was discovered to be a symptom-free carrier of typhoid fever, which she passed on to forty-seven people in her career. She became known as Typhoid Mary. Although she was quarantined and told to stay out of public kitchens, she denied that she was infectious, and kept getting jobs as a cook. (You can't make a chef give it up.) Finally, she had to be quarantined for life in an island hospital.
This is National Anchovy Day. Even those who like anchovies are usually unaware of how many different species there are of these little fish, found in most temperate seas worldwide. The ones that turn up in our Caesar salads and pizzas are cured in a brine, then packed in oil. The process creates the distinctively powerful flavors that aren't present in the fresh fish. It's comparable to what happens when a mild cheese ages into a sharp one.
More anchovies go into the making of sauces than any other purpose. After fermenting, it's the main ingredient in the fish sauces of Southeast Asia. Far earlier, the Romans made a sauce called garum from anchovies; it was surprisingly like Vietnamese nuoc mam. Worcestershire sauce--which was a British attempt to duplicate the flavors of Asian fish sauces--also includes fermented anchovies as an essential ingredient. Anchovies turn up in unexpected places. There's a bit of it in the sauce for oysters Rockefeller, for instance.
The assertive anchovy taste splits the human race right up the middle. People either love them or hate them; nobody's neutral on anchovies. Those who love them know that many kinds are available in well-stocked gourmet stores, varying in size, flavor, and color. And that anything they touch gains an extra spark of flavor.
Powerful Gourmets Through History
Gaius Octavius Thurinus, who became known as Caesar Augustus when he became the first Roman Emperor--was born today in 63 BC. During his long reign, the Roman Empire reached a peak of influence and peace. Augustus set a new standard for opulent living among Caesars, one that would be copied by his successors. He was buried in a monument about the size of a baseball field, next to the Tiber in Rome, across the street blocks from the restaurant that invented fettuccine Alfredo.
This is the birthday, in 1215, of Kublai Khan, a Mongol warlord who wound up uniting all of China's provinces into one empire, with himself at its head. His fame in our area of interest--as a man who liked luxurious living--is probably accurate. He was given to dining very well, and wound up becoming not only quite heavy but also afflicted by gout.
The first retail sale of chewing gum occurred today in 1848. The maker, John Curtis, called it State of Maine Pure Spruce Gum. Spruce? I don't remember that gum flavor. Is it anything like Beemans? Actually, it's the resin that oozes from punctures in the bark of red spruce trees. Curtis didn't so much make it as collect it. At its peak, around 1900, some 300,000 pounds of spruce gum are made each year in Maine.
Music To Gag By
The Archies--a made-up collection of studio musicians pretending to be the group depicted in the Archie comic books--had a Number One hit today with Sugar, Sugar. It was the most successful song in the mercifully short history of bubble-gum music.
Words To Eat By
"Americans can eat garbage, provided you sprinkle it liberally with ketchup, mustard, chili sauce, Tabasco sauce, cayenne pepper, or any other condiment which destroys the original flavor of the dish."--Henry Miller.
The Price Of The Lunch Special Is The Year
Restaurant August Resumes
Daily Lunch Service October 1
This is a sign of the improving climate: John Besh's flagship restaurant has opened for daily lunch service for the first time since Hurricane Katrina.
August had been open only on Fridays at the noon hour, and for a long time wasn't doing lunch at all. But with what looks like better times ahead, starting on the first of October, lunch starts every day at 11:30 a.m.
And it does so with a special. A three-course lunch goes for $20.09 every day. That pricing gambit has been in August's repertoire for years, making their rate of inflation .04 percent. Octavio Mantilla, Besh's partner, says we should get ready for a price increase on the lunch at the beginning of the new year.
August was far from unique in having given up lunch during the years after the storm. But all such seem to be coming around. Most recently, Cafe Giovanni reopened for the noon meal. The only major no-lunch restaurant remaining is Arnaud's, and they're thinking about it.
Restaurant August. CBD: 301 Tchoupitoulas 504-299-9777. French. Contemporary Creole.
Twenty Wines From Ten Countries, $45
The Night Of Appetizers And Wine
At Antoine's, Friday, September 25
One of the many nice new goings-on at Antoine's since the hurricane has been its series of wine and cocktail parties. They take place in the old restaurant's unique, historic, and expansive Japanese Room. While the libations flow freely, Chef Mike Regua will cook up a generous sampling of Antoine's matchless array of appetizers. Many will vbe familiar to regulars, but at each one of these we've also seen some entirely new dishes.
I've been to four or five of these, and they're good enough that I think I'll come to this one, too. I don't have the specifics on the wines, but they're worth the tastings. And with twenty of them being offered, we can cherrypick the ones that are of most interest. The first time, I figured I'd graze the offerings, then go downstairs for dinner. As it turned out, I had enough food at the party to leave me more than satisfied.
The price is $45 inclusive of tax and tip. It begins at 6:30 this Friday, September 25. To reserve, call the restaurant at the number below, and tell them you want to come to the Friday wine tasting. (Sometimes the people who answer the phone don't make the connection, since so many events go on in that big place.) We will toast the arrival of fall and discover some good new wines!
Antoine's. French Quarter: 713 St. Louis. 581-4422.
Wednesday, September 16. Eat Club At Café Adelaide. I am in an interesting and troubling quandary. I think about it often enough that I have a name for it: "The Relativity Of Taste." Am I onto something when I say that the most creative chefs of our times focus too much on the mental aspects of their dishes, and not enough on the food's appeal to the aroma and flavor senses? Or have I been at this game too long, such that I can't recognize brilliance if it's in the latest style?
There's lots of evidence for both propositions, which is why I think about it so much. For example, my daughter is keen on reminding me that only someone who has been left behind to wait for death would drive a PT Cruiser, write with a fountain pen, listen to Frank Sinatra music, or use WordPerfect.
On the other hand, there was the dinner we had at Café Adelaide tonight. It was certainly up to high Eat Club standards, and not what you could call far out. Two of the courses were easily within the range of excellent, and even the least of them was enjoyable.
We started with a take on the classic oyster chowder, whose broth contained oysters of ample corpulence and a fine oyster flavor. The potatoes had been smoked before being mashed. That is a classic flavor for this soup, usually accomplished by adding bacon to the mix. Ti Martin--who owns Café Adelaide with her cousin Lally Brennan--said she thought there was too much potato in there, but I thought it was enjoyable, if a little spartan in presentation.
Next came a salad of greens and a few other vegetables with blue cheese, figs, and a vinaigrette. Good enough. Special because of the figs. But only a little. Unless you studied the menu, or listened to Chef Chris Lusk tell how he made the salad. Then you'd learn that the figs had been grilled. Over cypress wood. Not the kind we have here (that would have been terrible, because of the resiny quality of bald cypress smoke), but cypress brought in from Oregon. The blue cheese also was from Oregon and smoked, although whether it was over cypress, I never found out. The salad also included sweet onions that had been cured in the style of gravlax with demerara sugar. That, in case you don't know, is a true raw sugar, taken from the refining process while the molasses are still present.
But wait, there's more. The vinaigrette was made with saba, which is the crushed must that is on its way to becoming wine, but stopped right there to be used in other ways. Also in the dressing was Bulleit Bourbon, one of the oldest whiskies in America, made with a high proof and high rye content. (It's also quite a bit more expensive than, say, Jim Beam.)
I can't say that all this isn't interesting if I'm into my third paragraph about it. But for most of the diners--myself included-- this registered as a green salad with onions, figs, and blue cheese. Eight words.
If you wanted to sit there and really pay attention to the flavors, to see if you could pick out the saba, or the demerara, or the smoke in the blue cheese, maybe you could. Or, perhaps, you could fool yourself into thinking you tasted those things. It happens at wine tastings all the time. Someone says he picks up the flavor of anise in a Syrah. All of a sudden, several others nod their heads, now also noticing anise, although they wouldn't have said so before. Our taste is that easily fooled.
In most such situations, we're fooled in a pleasant way. The people who tasted the Bulleit Bourbon in the salad or the anise in the wine probably felt good about it. Whether they really tasted it or just thought they did. I never argue with honest pleasure.
But I am a reality junkie. If I made a salad of green, sweet onions I'd baked with some white sugar for a few minutes (or maybe just raw onions), fresh figs from my neighbor's back yard, a normal blue cheese, and a red wine vinaigrette, I think my salad would deliver at least ninety-nine percent of the flavor of the three-paragraph version. All the messing with the heads of the eaters (and, let's be honest, the head of the chef) doesn't, really, contribute all that much of real substance. It's not food. It's atmosphere.
I still don't have a problem with it as long as my Rule #1 Of Deft Dining is fulfilled: "If it tastes good, it is good." It was good. Case closed.
But there's a rising tide of dishes for which most of the action is in the head, and which do not taste good--if they taste like anything at all. Our Katrina tide pushed it back locally for awhile, but I see it reversing now. In the rest of the country, the culinary mind game is in full career. Some of it is really silly. (Those restaurants in which one dines in complete darkness come to mind.)
Okay, we had a salad. The next course, to get back to Café Adelaide, was called "Sea Salt and Tellicherry Pepper Shrimp with Toasted Grits and New Orleans BBQ Sauce Blanc." What Chef Chris meant by that was that he used sea salt instead of regular (not that you could tell), black pepper from the Tellicherry province of India, which is where the original pepper bushes grew (not that you could tell), and a butter sauce (he didn't mention butter, but that's what it was) flavored with homemade white Worcestershire (not that you could tell). Toasted grits? I never doped that out.
For the diners, it was barbecue shrimp and grits. Four words. And one of the excellent dishes in the repast. But in the hands of a less talented chef, it might have had all those storied ingredients and not tasted good. Which is bad.
The entree was the other unambiguously excellent dishes, and more generously served than I expected. It was a pair of beef tournedos. That really is a meaningful distinction. The tournedos, cut from the narrow end of the tenderloin, is tastier to my palate than the filet. It was well seasoned and juicy, encrusted with dried mushrooms of a variety I never heard of (not that you could tell), accompanied by beef jerky made with Crystal soy sauce (not that you could tell; what was beef jerky doing here anyway?), and a really great potato gratin with Creole cream cheese made from goat's milk (!) (not that you could tell).
The Triple El Rey Chocolate Pound Cake with Praline Ganache and Bergeron's Pecan "Pearls" was an uninteresting little square of dense cake. My brain was tired from all that thinking by then.
Or am I just too old for this stuff? This is my quandary. I'll probably think about it until the day I die.
Cafe Adelaide. CBD: 300 Poydras Street 504-595-3305. Contemporary Creole.
WHY IT'S ESSENTIAL
This is the grocery-and-deli adjunct to the Byblos restaurants on Metairie Road and Magazine Street, but it has its own menu and special attractions that keep it on my mental map of restaurants. Particularly for days when time is short. In fact, this may be the best fast-food restaurant in town. You can come in, eat, and be gone in fifteen minutes if you needed to. And yet eat very well.
WHY IT'S GOOD
Behind the counter, a pair of vertical rotisseries slowly turn with gyros and chicken shawarma. The latter is the best in town, made in the most traditional way--not something many Middle Eastern restaurants do. The chicken is roasted, then sliced and stacked on the rotisserie. As it turns, it gets crusty at the edges, and that's the part the chef slices off for you. It comes with a fluffy garlic sauce, basmati rice pilaf, hummus, a salad with feta cheese, and a few black olives for far under $10. It's almost too much to finish. Daily specials of things like kafta kebabs and roast chicken are also here and just as cheap and good.
Byblos Market opened in the late 1990s, on the heels of the success of the two full-service Byblos restaurants elsewhere in town. Same owners.
It has the look of a convenience store, its shelves and refrigerator cases full of Middle Eastern foodstuffs for those looking to make their own. A row of tables next to the deli makes for comfortable eating, although everything id disposable.
FOR BEST RESULTS
Check the board for the day's specials. You might miss it, and these are usually very good.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
Plastic plates and utensils are unappealing, but it's hard to argue at these prices.
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 +2
- Value +3
- Attitude +2
- Wine and Bar
- Local Color
- Good for business meetings
- 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
CBD: In the W Hotel, 333 Poydras Street 504-207-5018.
Remoulade and spicy marinara
Hearts of romaine, shaved parmesan reggiano, housemade focaccia crouton, Caesar dressing and parmesan crisp
Roasted Chicken and Andouille Gumbo
Grilled pizza dough, roasted artichoke hearts, roma tomato, julienne red onion, pepperoncini and kalamata olives, arugula and crumbled feta tossed in a oregano vinaigrette
Gulf Coast Blue Crab Cake Oscar
Jumbo lump crab cakes, crisp tempura asparagus, béarnaise sauce
Roasted Chicken and Andouille Gumbo
With carpaccio of heirloom tomatoes, apple wood smoked bacon, crumbled blue cheese, creamy roquefort dressing
Scallops and Linguini Gremolata
Tossed with candied Meyer lemon, roma tomatoes and pesto
The name is an embarrassing Italian joke. "Puttanesca" means "in the style of the prostitute." Since the ladies of the evening are not known for their prowess in the kitchen, it must be about something else. A look at the ingredients may suggest what was going on in the mind of the man (it was undoubtedly a man) who came up with this name. All this notwithstanding, pasta puttanesca is a marvelous dish for those of us who enjoy big flavors. It's the best Italian dish I know involving fresh tuna.
- 1 lb. yellowfin tuna
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin (!) olive oil
- 1/2 tsp. Italian seasoning
- 1/2 tsp. salt (preferably sea salt)
- 1 cup chopped tomatoes
- 1/2 cup pitted calamata olives
- 12 sprigs fresh parsley, leaves only, finely chopped
- 12 leaves fresh basil, finely chopped
- 4 anchovies (preferably white anchovies), finely chopped
- 2 Tbs. capers
- 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper
- 1 lb. penne pasta, cooked al dente
1. Brush the tuna with olive oil and season it with a little Italian seasoning. Grill it or cook in in a hot skillet to the medium-rare stage (still red in the center). Cut into one-inch cubes.
2. Heat the olive oil in a skillet until it ripples. Add all the other ingredients except the pasta. Saute until everything is heated through, then add the tuna.
3. Turn off the heat. Add the pasta to the pan and toss everything around to distribute the sauce ingredients.
Missing something from the old format? I've moved a few departments to the column at left. Click below to go to them.