Wednesday, September 30, 2009
1033 Restaurants Open Around Town
Eating Around New Orleans Today
Commander's Palace has the loveliest restaurant courtyard in town, but they use it primarily for cocktails most of the year. The weather is just not comfortable enough for dressy dinners. But the refreshing cool front that came through this morning triggered the opening of the courtyard for lunch and dinner. It will last until it gets uncomfortably cold. Or until it gets hot again, which is almost inevitable. Reservations specifying outdoor tables are a must. The food and service are on a hot streak, even by Commander's lofty standards.
Commander's Palace. Garden District: 1403 Washington Ave. 504-899-8221. Contemporary Creole.
Annals Of Seafood
The first photos ever of a live giant squid were taken today in 2004, about 600 miles from Tokyo. An elusive monster, the giant squid is big enough to battle a sperm whale to the finish. They can grow over forty feet in length, and have the biggest eyes of any living creature. Giant squid have been known for centuries, but no live ones were documented fully until these photos were taken. They could have been found quicker if a trap filled with millions of gallons of marinara sauce were set in the Pacific.
Annals Of Waitstaff
Today in 1997, Hooters agreed to shell out $3.75 million to men who'd applied for jobs, but claimed they were discriminated against in hiring on the basis of sex. What? Get real.
Food in Literature
It is the birthday, in 1924, of Truman Capote. His book Breakfast at Tiffany's was not about breakfast at all, we were disappointed to know. Nor was In Cold Blood about boudin noir. On the other hand, he was quite the member of the New York literary crowd. A party he attended was one worth attending.
People We'd Like To Dine With
This is the birthday of Johnny Mathis, in 1935. The smooth-voiced singer has sold more records than almost any other singer, and sells out every concert he performs. His style is original and unmistakable, and his taste in material is impeccable. When I drove home from evacuation after Katrina, all the way I had a song he did in the 1970s in my head. (I'm Going Home, a modest hit.) But the main reason I'd like to have dinner with him at Cuvee is so I could ask my big sister to join us. She's had a passion for Mathis's singing since she was a teenager, and I'd love to surprise her.
This is Northern Hemisphere Wild Mushroom Day. Mushrooms that can only be gathered in the wild appear throughout the year, but a large number of them turn up in the fall. Especially one preceded by a wet summer. Here at my place on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain, I've had an efflorescence lately of bolete mushrooms, one of the best of the wild ones.
Mushrooms only resemble plants, but are in a kingdom all their own. The ones we buy at the store or see popping up suddenly in the yard is the fruiting body of the organism--what an apple is to a tree. The mycelia--hairlike filaments that grow underground, sometimes spreading through many acres of ground--form the main part of the mushroom, absorbing nutrients from decaying matter in the soil and water.
Mushrooms contain little food value. They're mostly water. However, that doesn't prevent them from having a flavor, which is what we're interested in. It has the umami flavor--a meatiness. Mushrooms stand in for meat in many dishes. Some even have a meaty texture.
The edible mushrooms range from the trumpet-shaped, orange chanterelle, to the brain-like morel to the misshapen hen of the woods. Each is as distinctive in flavor as in appearance. The fact that some of them are poisonous or hallucinogenic adds to their allure. Most mushrooms are edible, if not worth eating. The few bad ones make people like me say, never eat a mushroom that you're not absolutely positive is edible. There's no easy way of telling. That's why there are mushroom clubs, in which people hunt mushrooms and learn the difference. Eat them whenever you can, and write down all the kinds you've had in a little book. When you get up to a hundred, throw the book away, and all your warts will disappear.
Annals Of Chewing Gum
Today is the birthday, in 1861, of William Wrigley, Jr. He founded the Wrigley Chewing Gum firm, and propelled it into the far-and-away leader in its field. (That would be Wrigley Field, I suppose.) His first two gums--named "Lotta" and "Vassar"--didn't have long legs. His third one did: Juicy Fruit, the oldest gum brand still being made. Next came Wrigley's Spearmint, and Doublemint in the 1930s. . . and away it went, filling the bottoms of tables in restaurants all over the land.
Beverages On Television
Today in 1982, a bar named Cheers opened for business on the tube, and became a top-rated television sitcom for eleven years. The set was based on a real Boston bar called Bull and Finch, whose owner did very well by the connection as the show's popularity skyrocketed. My beef is that not much was ever said about the quality of the drinks. But most of the customers just drank beer and schemed romances.
Major league baseball pitcher Jose Lima stepped onto The Big Mound today in 1972. . . Kenny Baker, an Irish tenor who became famous as the singer on the Jack Benny radio shows in the 1930s, gave out his first notes today in 1912.
Words To Eat By
"When the stomach is full, it is easy to talk of fasting."--St. Jerome, whose feast day is today. He lived in the fourth century.
"I confess that nothing frightens me more than the appearance of mushrooms on the table, especially in a small provincial town."--Alexandre Dumas.
Serving Mexican Tapas, Plus Much Of Old Menu
Taqueros Returns Yet Again
To St. Charles Avenue
Guillermo Peters, who has at various times operated the best Mexican restaurant ever to open in New Orleans, and who at other times has opened eateries that make one wonder what in the world he's thinking, has reopened his restaurant on the corner of St. Charles and Melpomene for the third or fourth time.
At its peak, Peters had two great restaurants in the building: the casual Taqueros downstairs, and the gourmet-level Coyoacan upstairs. Both were in perfect quarters, with a distinctive, rustic Mexican design. Peters moved there in 2004 after operating Taqueros very successfully in a minimal location in Kenner.
And I thought that, at last, Mexican food was getting its due. Peters and his daughter are imaginative and skillful cooks, and never was there a lack of deliciousness or good ingredients.
But he closed after the storm. Reopened. Closed. Reopened, consolidating the two restaurants. Closed, after a week or so of grand farewell dinners. Reopened as Stop 9, which started out as an advanced snack shop (they even had sno-balls for awhile). Nobody could figure it out, or understood that the name was a reference to the stop on the streetcar line, right in front of the place. It closed. Now, he writes:
I have reopened Taqueros at the same location on 1432 St. Charles Avenue. The menu is based in Botanas (small Mexican plates) also known as tapas, appetizers, bocas, bocadillos, etcetera. We will be serving tacos and the best of Taqueros' appetizers. The idea of botanas is to let the you tailor your menu to satisfy your appetite, no matter how large or small. We have a full service bar featuring our signature margaritas and home made sangria.
The service is very casual, fill-out an order slip, bring it to the bar and we will call your name when ready. We are cash only. No checks or credit cards accepted.
I hope to see you all soon!
Here's my response:
Hello, Bill. . .
I'm very happy you reopened and can't wait to try your great food again. But when will you believe me when I say that the reason you haven't been there consistently is that you make your customers jump through hoops? No service? No credit cards? Come on, Bill. Right there you've given a lot of potential customers--maybe most of them--a reason not to come. If you would just see things from our side of the table once in awhile and quit acting like you know better than we do what we like in a restaurant, and accommodate us, you'll be there forever. Which would be a wonderful thing, because nobody has your style.
Here's the menu:
Guacamole served with baked tostadas $6.00
Grilled Veggies $6.00
Tortilla Soup $3.50
Esquites corn kernels sautéed with onions, jalapeños and splash of lime juice. served with baked tostadas $4.50
Ensalada San Carlos spring mix, grape tomatoes, queso fresco and house dressing $3.50
Queso Fundido melted quesadilla cheese stuffed with choice of chorizo, shrimp adobo or veggies. served with tortillas $7.50
Chipotle Shrimp jumbo shrimp grilled and tossed with sautéed onions and chipotles $7.50
Tequila Shrimp sautéed shrimp in a tequila-pasilla butter sauce $8.50
Drunken Mussels mussels sautéed with tequila-smoked chile pasilla $7.50
Lamb Chops two lamb chops marinated in our special seasoning and grilled $8.50
Tacos $2.50 topped with cilantro & onion, choice of:
Cochinita Pibil pork wrapped in banana leaf seasoned with achiote and baked
Al Pastor pork marinated with pineapple and our own blend of red chiles and baked
Poblano Chicken braised chicken with roasted poblano strips, tomatoes and red onions
Chile con Carne braised beef seasoned with our own adobo, onions and tomatoes
Rice and Black Beans $3.50
Roasted potatoes $3.50
Cheese Cake Chef’s inspired flavors $4.75
Taqueros. Lee Circle Area: 1432 St. Charles Ave. 504-267-3028. Dinner Tuesday-Saturday.
In The Blue Room; Not A Buffet
Roosevelt Hotel Resumes
Sunday Brunch October 4
The Roosevelt Hotel (formerly the Fairmont, and before that The Fairmont, formerly The Roosevelt) resumes its Sunday brunch this weekend. It will be back where it was most often served from the 1970s onward: in the Blue Room, the dinner-and-dancing club on the University Place end of the grand lobby.
The restored brunch will be a big change from the old one. It's a fixed price, three-course offering, with a glass of Champagne at the outset. To add drama to the room, two "action stations" (that's a new one on me, too) will be set up in the room. Chefs manning these will cook seafood specialties and desserts to order. But you get to remain in your seat.
The food will bear little resemblance to the fare you may remember from the Blue Room's brunches of yore. Here is a sampling of the menu, which clearly indicates that chef Stefan Kauthe is moving in lockstep with the trends, and following the law requiring pork belly and at least one industrial- sounding dish* on all menus claiming to be serious:
Marinated Tuna Cru; Caraway Cracker
Chilled Asparagus Soup; White Truffle Oil
Kurobuta Tenderloin; Achiote, Habanero, Pickled Onions
Duck Liver Parfait; Green Tomato Jam
*Compressed Watermelon; Goat Cheese, Arugula
Crawfish Empanadas; Cilantro Cream
Cane Syrup Braised Pork Belly; White Bean and Onion Salad
Grilled Calamari; Gazpacho Cloud, Lemon Oil
Shropshire, Bittersweet Plantion Triple Cream, Comte, Castelli Provolone Stagionata. Presented with clover honey, fig jam,
dried apricots, grapes and spiced walnuts.
Chilled Seafood Presentation
Oysters on the Half Shell; Roasted Jalapeno Mignonette
Gulf Shrimp Remoulade
Marinated Crab Claws; Olive Salad, Lemon and Herb Vinaigrette
Yellowtail Ceviche; Navel Orange, Tellicherry Peppercorn Oil
A la Carte Plates
Crab Meat Omelette; Fresh Herbs, Gruyere De Comte
Eggs Sardou; Artichoke, Spinach, Sliced Tomatoes
Seafood Gumbo; Tasso, andouille, okra and popcorn rice [any seafood?]
Abita Amber Marinated Chicken; Asparagus and Oyster Dressing
Crispy Paneed Pork Loin; Caramelized Onion Mash and French Beans
Banana Nut Pancakes; Cinnamon, Walnuts and Honey
Bananas Foster, Prepared a la Minute [is there any other way?]
Hmm. Not exactly comfort food, is it? And there's one more uncomfortable aspect. The price is $30. But that's the children's price. You and I will pay $59. Yes, of course, plus tax and tip. So about $80 per adult. It includes free valet parking, and the music of the superb jazz clarinetist (and protege of Pete Fountain) Tim Laughlin.
Wow. This will not be a weekly tradition for a lot of people. Sunday brunch is for relaxing with familiar food, like on Thanksgiving. Not a time for matching wits with a chef who's trying to advance the cuisine. (Gazpacho cloud?) Look for this menu concept to evolve rather drastically in the first year, and cross your fingers that they don't go to a buffet.
Brunch runs from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Sunday.
Blue Room, Roosevelt Hotel. CBD: 123 Baronne. 504-648-1200.
Tuesday, September 22. My Son's People. Doubleheader At Louie And The Redhead Lady. Jude called to tell of his travel plans. He's flying in from Los Angeles for the funeral of Ben Bragg tomorrow. He asked me whether I knew who Daniel Ellsberg and George McGovern were. Of course: the guy who released the Pentagon Papers that helped to bring down Richard Nixon, and the Democratic candidate that Nixon brought down by a landslide the year before Tricky Dick resigned. I was in the earliest years of my journalistic career, writing for Figaro, when all that excitement came down. Was this something he was reading about? "No," he said. "They spoke in one of my classes yesterday and I got a chance to talk with them for awhile." What a school this kid goes to! I told Jude that his dad was one of the few who voted for McGovern. "That figures," he said.
Our Eat Club dinner tonight--one of two this week--is at Louie and the Redhead Lady. I had my qualms about this, but Mary Ann thinks it's a good idea to have dinners in some low-end places once in awhile. This one was $45, which seemed like an outstanding deal for all the food and wine. So I went along.
Louie Finnan gave the Eat Club a revolutionary twist. He touted the dinner to his regular customers, and served it in two shifts. The first bunch of people--about fifty--came in at four-thirty, and had the full five-course dinner with wines. They finished up by six-thirty, when the seventy people having the dinner on the main seating began to arrive. Problem: the restaurant's acoustics are so lively that it became difficult--especially after the second glass wine--for me to do the radio show. We pushed my microphone way back into the corner of The Redhead Lady's gift shop, which helped, but the few callers (the noise made the show irritating to listen to) were still hard to hear. I'm glad they all came, but I was glad when they left.
I think this would have been a better dinner if it had been more like what Louie and the Redhead lady usually serves. And serving 120 people, even in two movements, was no bonus. We began with a fried green tomato with shrimp--a single shrimp--with white remoulade sauce. Then a crab cake atop the same baby greens we'd just had under the fried green tomato. That was the tastiest thing of the evening, I thought. Now a shrimp and spinach soup, given the Rockefeller twist with some ouzo. The spinach was the creamed spinach Louie has turned into a trademark at breakfast. So far, so good.
The entree was grillades and grits. This sounded like a good idea, but I don't think it worked. It was a slice of pan-seared veal with a light brown sauce, with the plate filled with runny, ordinary grits. There's a range of possibilities for the sauce used with grillades, but all of them are thick and chunky with onions, bell pepper, and celery, and tomato is almost universal. This had none of those things, and tasted like nothing much.
Meanwhile, we were treated to a wide assortment of wines from Pontchartrain Vineyards, the winery up the road in Bush. The best of them was a rose, made by adding a bit of Norton (a red grape that actually does well around here) to a white. We also had a decent Cabernet, the grapes for which came from California. Can't really grow that grape in this climate.
The dinner finished up with a brilliant idea, one I will remember and use. It was billed as lost bread, but it was made unusually. Four-inch lengths of stale French bread were soaked in the standard liquid custard. But instead of being grilled or fried, they were baked. So they came out looking as if they were just a piece of bread. When you cut into it and ate it, all the lost bread flavor was there. The bread was topped with the sauce used to make bananas Foster, and that made it better still.
I may have been the only person in the room not congratulatory. Louie was on a high, and got a lot of new fans out of this. That's the whole point, of course.
Louie and the Red-Head Lady. Mandeville: 1851 Florida 985-626-8101. Neighborhood Cafe. Breakfast.
Gretna: 2600 Belle Chasse Hwy.. 504-391-0053.
Old Metairie: 619 Pink. 504-837-0055.
All: Lunch and dinner continuously, seven days. Sunday brunch.
AE DC DS MC V
WHY IT'S ESSENTIAL
The Sun Ray has a history of placing its moderate-price restaurants in neighborhoods where such restaurants are not to be found. So they become popular. The menus have a self-conscious international aspect--mostly quasi-Asian and semi-Mexican--with an underpinning of New Orleans flavor. It sounds appealing, and often is.
WHY IT'S GOOD
If you cherrypick the menu here, you find enough good food to make an enjoyable lunch or dinner. They're adept at salads, sandwiches, grilled seafood, and finger food; not so good at pasta, steaks, or poultry. I've had better luck (but not comprehensively) with the specials. It's refreshing to find very little fried food here.
The Gretna location is the original, opened in 1996. It has long been a major resource for non-Asian dining on the West Bank. Other locations came along and also did well, even in somewhat hidden locations; the one in Old Metairie, in the former Delerno's, is especially hard to find the first time. The concept was created by owner Dana Deutsch, who had a significant history as a chef, including stints in Europe and the Windsor Court Hotel.
No two of the restaurants look alike, but all have in common open spaces and colorful design. The Warehouse District location is especially expansive, and recently added a second concept: Aloha Sushi, a tweaked approach to the namesake cuisine. The Warehouse District location has an intentional hangout aspect.
The menus vary a little from location to location.
Black bean soup.
Crab cakes with corn remoulade sauce.
Santa Fe burrito (a grilled chicken wrap sandwich).
Singapore spring rolls (pork and shrimp with ginger, fried).
West Indies spinach salad.
Chinese chicken salad.
Tuna with two kinds of sesame seeds.
Pacific Rim style grilled fish (with Thai herbs and spices).
Shrimp and scallop pan roast.
Pecan-crusted chicken salad.
Adobo barbecue ribs.
"Baja skillets" (fajitas, more or less).
Thai barbecue chicken.
Guava-glazed half-duck with jalapeno cheese grits.
Sushi (Warehouse District only).
FOR BEST RESULTS
This is one of the few restaurants whose websites are up to date. They even show the correct daily specials every day. Very useful.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
The menu sounds better than it actually is. I've hardly ever had a dish here that didn't remind me of a much better dish somewhere else. The kitchen could do with a lot more refinement; a lot of what it produces has all the soul of a national chain restaurant's food. Must every restaurant have spinach-artichoke dip?
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
- Service +1
- Value +1
- Attitude +1
- Wine and Bar +1
- Hipness +1
- Local Color +1
- Open Sunday lunch and dinner
- Open Monday lunch and dinner
- Open all afternoon
- Vegetarian dishes
- Unusually large servings
- Good for children
- Easy, nearby parking
- Reservations accepted
Many Chefs Are Serving This As If It's Original And Great
Beef Short Ribs: Threat Or Menace?
For the thirteenth or fourteenth time this year, a restaurant planning a dinner for the Eat Club has proposed beef short ribs as the entree. And for the as-manyeth time, I told the chef to think of something better.
Can anyone distinguish short ribs (even Kobe beef short ribs, whose pedigree is often used as a selling point for these near-scraps) from the kind of beef you'd cook for a long time and then spoon (you can't slice them) onto French bread for a poor boy? They'd be good for that. But not acceptable as an entree in a big-deal dinner.
That is my opinion, anyway. My wife loves the things. But she also thinks macaroni and cheese is beyond reproach. (I have a feeling this may kick up a fuss, but that's my job.)
My theory is that some meat purveyor out there has been selling short ribs very assiduously to every restaurant in town. That's why so many of them are running it.
Why? Because the markup on short ribs is a lot higher than that of a straight steak. I suspect the purveyor makes most of the money, but the restaurants probably do well, too--given that a steak sometime carries as high as fifty percent food cost. Based on menu prices I see for short ribs, my guess is that its food cost percentage (the price paid for it divided by the menu price) is down in the twenties, and maybe the teens. (I will here short-circuit the inevitable response from somebody out there pointing out that there are many other expenses a restaurant carries other than the food cost by saying, yes, I know--but food cost is still an important index.)
The funniest part of all is that all the chefs serving short ribs--all 134 of them--indicate that this amounts to hipness and innovation.
Short ribs--bah. You may have all of mine.
Other perspectives are invited and will be respected, as long as they stay away from my plate. Please post your thoughts, and read those of others, on our
Last Day For Coolinary, Summer Menus
Today is the end of the summer dining program for all of the restaurants I know of that were offering it throughout the end of the summer. They could not be happier to see that period end--not because they minded giving us the unbeatable values we've enjoyed all this time, but because even with the specials September was a terrible month for most restaurants. Even worse than usual--although the rest of the summer wasn't so bad.
It was fun, and nice to know that it will be back next year.
Uptown: 5908 Magazine 504-891-8495.
Chilled Sweet Corn And Dill Soup
With jumbo lump crab
Black Summer Truffle Gnocchi
A la parisienne with sautéed shitake mushrooms, leeks, gruyère & white wine cream sauce
Pecan Crusted Goat Cheese
On mixed field greens with a Louisiana strawberry and basil vinaigrette
Grilled Sea Scallop Niçoise
On baby spinach with haricots verts, teardrop tomatoes, roasted potatoes, hardboiled egg and caperberries with a niçoise olive vinaigrette
Prince Edward Island Mussels
Steamed in white wine, garlic, shallots, thyme & cream
Pan-Sautéed Medallions Of Pork Tenderloin
And shiitake mushrooms with a Madeira demi-glace and crumbled Maytag blue cheese
Root Beer Float Baked Alaska
Vanilla sponge cake, housemade root beer ice cream with cherry meringue
Daily Housemade Sorbets
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.
Wild Mushroom and Rabbit Ragout
This dish was created by Chef Gerard Maras when he was at Mr. B's. I think it's a great example of how new dishes can be created that still have a distinctly Creole flavor. It's tenderloin of rabbit, cooked with a great deal of heat to sear the outside of the meat and keep the inside nice and juicy. This is terrific as is, but is also good with pasta or rice. The ultimate mushrooms with this would be chanterelles.
- 3 Tbs. flour
- 3 Tbs. butter
- 3 cups rich stock (rabbit, veal or chicken)
- 3 whole rabbit tenderloins, cubed
- Salt and pepper
- 2 Tbs. vegetable oil
- 1/4 cup chopped onion
- 3 ripe plum tomatoes, chopped
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves only (or 1 tsp. dried)
- 3 cups whole wild mushrooms, or sliced shiitakes or criminis
1. Make a blond roux with the flour and the butter. Heat the stock and whisk the roux in. Keep warm.
2. Dust the rabbit pieces with salt and pepper.
3. Heat the vegetable oil in a skillet over high heat, then add the rabbit. Sear the exterior, then lower the heat to medium.
4. Add the onion, tomato, and thyme, and cook until soft. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Reduce till the sauce coats a spoon.
5. Stir in the mushrooms and warm through. Serve hot by itself or over pasta.
Missing something from the old format? I've moved a few departments to the column at left. Click below to go to them.