Friday, September 25, 2009
1032 Restaurants Open Around Town
Eating Around New Orleans This Weekend
Fulton Street is the perfect place for what will go on there this weekend. The well-appointed pedestrian mall off Poydras Street hosts the third annual New Orleans Seafood Festival, a freewheeling party with music, cooking demonstrations, activities for children, and lots of food. Among the food vendors are the Acme Oyster House (seafood poor boys), Galatoire's (shrimp remoulade), Drago's (char-broiled oysters), Red Fish Grill (seafood boudin, barbecue shrimp, and alligator gumbo), Café Giovanni (seafood martini), and Mr. Mudbug (shrimp pasta). And there are others. Portions top out at six dollars; most are lower. Admission to the festival is free. The proceeds from food and beverage sales go to the Louisiana Hospitality Foundation, which supports a number of local educational programs. It begins at five this afternoon and runs late. Tomorrow it's from eleven a.m. until whenever; Sunday, eleven till six p.m. Much of the area is covered to keep one out of the potential rain. Parking is easily available from a number of garages within a couple of blocks. My radio show will broadcast live from the event this afternoon from four until seven.
It is Turtle Soup Day. Turtle soup is right up there with gumbo as one of the great potages in the Creole cooking catalog. The way we make it here is quite distinctive, not just in flavor but in texture, too. Like gumbo, it seems almost absurdly thick for the climate we live in. In most of the rest of the western culinary world, turtle soup is a clear, along the lines of a consomme.
The popularity of Creole-style turtle soup in New Orleans is so strong that two strains of it have appeared. The one popularized by Commander's Palace is distinctive in that it contains spinach as a major ingredient. The other, older kind contains a good bit of tomato. The outstanding example of that is the version at Brennan's on Royal Street, which is not only the best turtle soup in town but a contender for best soup of any kind.
The greatest obstacle to making your own turtle soup is finding turtle meat. Just in the time I've been writing about food, we've run through three species. In the 1970s, we used the green sea turtle, now absolutely off limits. For the last couple of decades, turtle meat came from farms of alligator snapping turtles. That industry has collapsed after it was discovered how slowly turtles grow. Now, most turtle meat is snapping turtle, from Oklahoma, Iowa, Virginia, or wherever else it can be found. The supply is tight. Which is why you don't see turtle soup as often as we used to.
The solution many restaurants found was to replace some of the turtle meat with veal or beef. Or not to use turtle meat at all. One of the most famous and best turtle soups--the one at Mandina's--is in the latter category. With the disappearance of turtle meat from commercial sources, this may be the future of turtle soup.
Annals Of Stadium Eating
After being closed for over a year to repair damage caused by Hurricane Katrina and the people who evacuated inside, the Superdome reopened today in 2006. And another opportunity to institute the vending of edible food in the big bowl was lost. It's as bad now as ever.
Annals Of American Leisure
Today in 1926, Henry Ford announced that the workers in his plant would begin working a five-day week of eight-hour days. That event is often noted as the beginning of the consumer economy in America. Many firms followed suit. Workers who'd previously had little free time before suddenly had not only leisure time but some money to spend on it. One of the things they bought was Ford automobiles. They also spent some of it in restaurants. It's no surprise that the next decade and a half was a time of great expansion for the restaurant business in New Orleans and elsewhere.
Wine In War
The Second Battle of Champagne began today in 1915. The French attacked the German-occupied wine country and fought for a month and a half. It resulted in a tremendous, useless loss of men and machinery of the kind for which World War I was infamous. The French wound up losing all the ground they gained shortly after.
Alluring Dinner Dates
Today is the birthday, in 1969, of dark-haired, formidable (almost frightening), Welsh-born actress Catherine Zeta-Jones. She is regarded as so beautiful that once she was cast opposite Julia Roberts in order to make Roberts' character--who was supposed to be plain--credible.
Food On The Air
Today in 1933, Tom Mix--at the time America's best-known show-biz cowboy--began The Tom Mix Ralston Straight Shooters radio show on NBC. It was sponsored by the cereal company that later brought us Wheat Chex. Its theme song was a commercial, sung to the tune of When The Bloom Is On The Sage:
Shredded Ralston for your breakfast
Starts the day off shining bright
Gives you lots of cowboy energy
And a flavor that's just right
It's delicious and nutritious
Bite-sized and ready to eat
Take a tip from Tom, go and tell your mom
Shredded Ralston can't be beat.
Food In Science
Today in 1974, a report came out identifying Freon, then used as a propellant in aerosol cans, as responsible for much depletion of the atmosphere's ozone layers. A movement to stop using the stuff for that purpose began. It gave us all a reason--as if taste weren't already enough--to stop eating aerosol cheese, whipped cream, and other foods we'd be better off making ourselves.
George Salmon, an Irish mathematician whose main work involved surfaces, was born today in 1919.
Words To Eat By
"[It was] a soup so thick you could shake its hand and stroll with it before dinner."--Robert Crawford, British writer, who may have been writing about New Orleans turtle soup.
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.
Friday, September 18. Steak Knife. Dinner Interrupted By Awful News. The Marys stayed over after school, waiting to have dinner with me. The usual challenge: Mary Ann thinks I should go to a restaurant that will give me material to write about, but no such restaurants fit into the narrow range of the girls' tastes. I told them to pick a place they'd like. They wouldn't, so I did it for them: the Steak Knife. I knew they'd like that idea.
Bobby and Guy Roth must be doing something right. At a time when most local restaurants are struggling, their restaurant was full. All the stools at the bar were even taken. In the room past that, a band was setting up for the evenings's entertainment. which goes on two or three days a week here. Or it might be a celebration of the rebirth of Lakeview. Lago, across the street, was also a packed house.
We had to wait about fifteen minutes for a table. The girls didn't seem to mind; Mary Leigh was, for some reason, intent on staying here. While we waited, and after we were seated, one person after another came over to say hello. I did the same thing, because I saw a table full of fellow Jesuit Blue Jays, presided over by Joe Fein, the owner of the Court of Two Sisters. It was almost as if we lived in Lakeview ourselves.
Mary Leigh is no fan of this kind of attention, although she has much more poise in meeting new people than she did just a year ago. But tonight, she spied a table occupied by a young man and his father. She didn't tell me which one it was until they were on their way out the door. The son had been adjudged a hottie. "Everybody here knew you except the one person I wanted to meet!" she complained. I'm such a failure to my children.
We started with wedge salads and crab cakes and the Steak Knife's excellent escargots, served with sizzling garlic butter inside mushroom caps. Mary Ann tried to persuade me to order the porterhouse, which we'd split. I agreed. "Are you just ordering that to make me happy?" she asked. I wouldn't have ordered a porterhouse for just me, I told her. "Then what would you have ordered if I weren't here?" I wouldn't be here at all if she weren't here, I told her. But I was thinking about one of the seafood entrees. "Well, then, get it," she said. No, I told her. The porterhouse sounds appealing, too. "Yes, but. . . "
This hopeless impasse was broken when her phone rang. She listened intently, then jumped up and left the table. I watched her talking to whomever that was. Mom is getting some bad news, I told Mary Leigh. "How do you know?" she asked. I can tell, I said. Look at her. Mary Ann paced around in a figure eight, brows knit, hands cupped around the cellphone. The call went on for five minutes. The food came. She returned.
What's up? "If I told you, it would ruin your dinner, like it's already ruined mine," she said. "In fact, this restaurant, which I love, has a smudge because I'll always remember what I just heard every time I come here from now on."
I had to know now. "You asked for it," she said. "Ben Bragg is dead. He was changing the oil in his car and it fell on top of him."
Ben Bragg is one of five boys who started in Cub Scouts together in first grade, and then remained in Scouts for ten years, always in the same unit. They remained close friends afterwards. Jude was in that quintet, too. These boys were like sons to me, and their fathers like brothers. Ben was a great kid. Freckle-faced, always smiling, never complaining about anything, no matter how cold or rough or rainy the Scout campout ever got. He was a cadet at the Merchant Marine Academy in New York. Twenty years old. Ben, dead?
Yes, that did ruin the dinner. The steak was good, I guess. Mary Leigh said her filet was, too. Delicious potatoes au gratin, runny broccoli au gratin. (How did that get there?) What was this dessert I took a picture of? I remember eating it, but not what it was. All I could think of were the times when Ben came over to our house, or when he and Jude and I went to Pizza Man with the other three Cobras and their dads. The times Ben and I and the rest of them talked about stuff in the long evenings around the campfire. Oh, God. Ben!
Steak Knife. Lakeview: 888 Harrison Ave 504-488-8981. Steak and Chops.
WHY IT'S ESSENTIAL
Dakota is the only restaurant on the North Shore that has consistently kept its food, service, surroundings, and wine lists firmly in the five-star category since it opened. This is more challenging than it is on the South Shore, particularly in the service department--there being no real community of career waiters in that area. The clientele that supports restaurants like this--and keeps them on their toes--is also in short supply. But Ken Lacour and Chef Kim Kringlie keep their restaurant as fine as almost any in the city.
WHY IT'S GOOD
The style of the menu is unmistakably Creole, and refrains entirely from testing the limits of their customers' adventuresomeness. (The place wouldn't have survived otherwise.) But even within those confines Chef Kim finds new ideas, many of which make one think, "Why hasn't anyone thought of that before?" (The cider-brined pork chop and the crabmeat and Brie soup come to mind.) Ken Lacour has an intensive training program for his dining room staff; many North Shore restaurateurs began their careers working at Dakota. Lacour is also a knowledgeable oenophile, and keeps a distinguished wine cellar.
After working together at Juban's in Baton Rouge, Ken Lacour (local guy) and Kim Kringlie (from one of the Dakotas) partnered to open this restaurant in 1990. They took over what was originally (and still looks like) the restaurant of the Best Western motel next door, after Chef Pat Gallagher built out then shut down his Winner's Circle restaurant there. The timing was perfect: the migration of upper-middle-class people to the North Shore had reached boom proportions, and there were few restaurants for their high-end dining. Dakota has the distinction of being the first white-tablecloth restaurant in the New Orleans area to reopen following Hurricane Katrina.
The two main dining rooms are spacious in every dimension. That and the superlative floral arrangements throughout the restaurant give the place a sense of richness, even in the face of a hard, too-modern renovation a few years ago. The servers and front door staff could hardly be more accommodating or intelligent.
Shrimp and grits.
Crabmeat and Brie soup.
Char-grilled oysters with parmesan cheese and truffle oil.
Wild mushroom ravioli withh foie gras glace.
Lamb nachos with blue cheese.
Foie gras du jour.
Roquefort salad with apples and cashews.
Rare-seared ahi tuna salad with wasabi aioli.
Bacon-wrapped quail and chèvre salad.
Caesar salad with oysters.
Seared black sea bass with shellfish and pea risotto.
Stuffed soft-shell crab with Creolaise sauce.
Sea scallops and crabmeat with flageolets and chorizo.
Filet mignon with roasted garlic fondue.
Grilled trio of veal with three sauces.
Cider-brined double-cut pork chop.
Rabbit with wild mushrooms, spaetzle, and mustard sauce.
Valrhona chocolate torte.
FOR BEST RESULTS
Although weekday crowds rarely create a full house, the restaurant does so much private-dining business that it's always a good idea to make reservations. Lunch is a bargain. They recently instituted a very good bar menu with a tapas-like quality; it's a romantic,. quiet venue for a light supper.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
The wine list can be frightening if you wander too deep into it. About two-third of the list consists of very expensive bottles on it. The management has brought the more modestly-priced wines to the front of the book, which made it a little easier to take. For some reason, Dakota is more stringent about its house rules than seems necessary.
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 +3
- Consistency +2
- Service +2
- Value +1
- Attitude +1
- Wine and Bar +3
- Hipness +2
- Local Color +1
- Good for business meetings
- Small private room
- Open Monday lunch and dinner
- Open some holidays
- Easy, nearby parking
- Reservations honored promptly
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
Best Creole Turtle Soups
As opposed to the European style of turtle soup, which is likely to be a clear consomme. Yuck, compared with these.
1. Brennan’s. French Quarter: 417 Royal. 504-525-9711. Made exclusively with turtle meat, a great texture and spice level, and the perfect subtle tomato component. This is on my mind as soon as I even begin making plans to dine at Brennan's.
2. Commander’s Palace. Garden District: 1403 Washington Ave.. 504-899-8221. The definitive modern version with spinach has become lighter in recent times, and less appealing. It's made with veal as well as turtle meat, which gives it a milder flavor that appeals to more people.
3. Court of Two Sisters. French Quarter: 613 Royal. 504-522-7273. An outstanding version of the old-fashioned turtle soup, with flavors of lemon, sherry, pepper, and turtle balancing each other out into a superb whole.
4. Cannon’s. Uptown: 4141 St. Charles Ave.. 504-891-3200. A big surprise, and the best dish in this generally just-okay restaurant. The turtle soup recipe survived several ownership and name changes since the old Stephen and Martin's--or at least that's how it tastes to me. A good bit of spinach. Aromatic and big in flavor.
5. Muriel's. French Quarter: 801 Chartres. 504-568-1885. Another descendant of the Commander's version, but very well made at that--enough so that the place is becoming famous for it.
6. Palace Cafe. CBD: 605 Canal. 504-523-1661. Like many things here, this version recalls the cooking that Commander's Palace was doing ten years ago. Terrific. the same recpe is served at the Bourbon House. (French Quarter: 144 Bourbon. 504-522-0111.)
7. Arnaud’s. French Quarter: 813 Bienville. 504-523-5433. A little tomato, a lot of turtle meat, and a fine spice level.
8. Mandina’s. Mid-City: 3800 Canal. 504-482-9179. ||Mandeville: 4300 La. 22. 985-674-9883. An excellent potage, with the classic Creole turtle soup flavor--even though there's not a speck of turtle meat in there.
9. Cafe 615 (Da Wabbit). Gretna: 615 Kepler, 504-365-1225. Surprisingly delicious, made in a very old-fashioned style with more hard-boiled egg than one usually finds anymore.
10. Bon Ton Cafe. CBD: 401 Magazine. 504-524-3386. They're famous for their turtle soup, made in the very old style, with a good bit of lemon.
New Orleans-style turtle soup is as unique to our cuisine as gumbo. Unlike the clear turtle soup eaten in most other places, Creole turtle soup is thick and almost a stew. The most widely-served style of turtle soup in the area is descended from the one at Commander's Palace, which is distinctive in using as much veal shoulder as turtle and in including spinach as an ingredient.
My recipe is influenced by that one, as well as the incomparable version at Brennan's (quite different, with more tomato), and the wonderful old-style version they did at the now-extinct Maylie's. The hardest part of any turtle soup recipes is finding turtle meat; if you can't, using veal shoulder turns out a very credible mock turtle soup.
It is traditional to serve turtle soup with sherry at the table, but I've never liked the alcoholic taste and aroma of that. I add the sherry into the recipe early to get the flavor, but not the bitter alcohol.
- 3 lbs. turtle meat or veal shoulder or a combination of the two, including any bones available
- 3 bay leaves
- 3 whole cloves
- Peel of one lemon, sliced
- 1 Tbs. salt
- 1/2 tsp. black peppercorns
- 2 sticks butter
- 2/3 cup flour
- 2 ribs celery, chopped
- 2 medium onions, chopped
- 1 small green bell pepper, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1/2 tsp. thyme
- 1/2 tsp. marjoram
- 1 cup dry sherry
- 1 cup dry sherry
- 2 Tbs. Worcestershire
- 1 cup tomato puree
- 1 tsp. black pepper
- 1 Tbs. Louisiana hot sauce
- 2 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
- 1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, leaves only, chopped
- 1/2 of a 10-oz. bag of spinach, well washed and chopped
1. Simmer the turtle meat and/or veal with bones in a gallon of water, along with the bay leaves, cloves, lemon peel, salt and black peppercorns. Keep the simmer going very slowly for about two hours.
2. Strain the stock, reserving the liquid and the meat. If you don't have at least three quarts of stock, add water or veal stock to get up to that quantity. Chop the meat into small shreds and set aside.
3. Make a medium-dark roux (the color of a well-used penny) with the butter and the flour. When the roux is the right color, add the celery, onions, bell pepper, and garlic, and cook until the vegetables are soft. Add the thyme, marjoram, sherry, Worcestershire, and tomato puree, and bring the liquids to a boil.
4. Lower the heat and add the pepper, hot sauce, and meat. Simmer for a half-hour, then add the egg, parsley and spinach and simmer 10 minutes more. It's ready to serve now, but it gets better if you let it simmer for an hour or two more.
5. Correct seasonings with salt and black pepper and serve in heated bowls.
Serves six to eight.
Missing something from the old format? I've moved a few departments to the column at left. Click below to go to them.