Monday, November 14, 2011
1236 Restaurants Open Around Town (click for the whole list)
First CBD Food Market Opens In Decades
The Central Business District was once home to a lot of residents, who lives in buildings almost as old and architecturally significant as those of the French Quarter. That population decreased dramatically in the 1950s, and by the time I moved there in the late 1970s I had very few permanent residential neighbors. Fortunately, that was the low point, and now the entire downtown area is seeing great upscale population growth.
The one thing that has been missing for a long time is a supermarket. The only ones anywhere nearby were the Schwegmann's (later Robert's) on Annunciation Street, and the A&P in the French Quarter. Both of those served non-mainstream clienteles, though. So the opening of a full-fledged Rouse's tomorrow (November 15) will be very welcome. It's on Baronne at the corner of Girod--a location that can't help but bring further life and development to the Arts and Warehouse Districts. The ribbon-cutting is tomorrow at 10 a.m. A bunch of chefs will be there:
Tory McPhail (Commander's Palace)
David Slater (Emeril's)
Michael Sichel (Galatoire's)
Matt Murphy (Irish House)
Alfred Singleton (Dickie Brennan's Steakhouse)
Chris Montero (Cafe B)
Chris Barbato (Cafe Adelaide)
. . . and more. I assume there will be food to be sampled. You are invited, too.
Rouse's. CBD: 701 Baronne.
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The North Shore's Traditional Neighborhood Restaurant
Tuesday, November 15, 7 p.m.
Mandeville: 4240 La. 22. Map.
$55 per person, tax, tip, and wines included
Our first Eat Club the Mandeville Mandina's was excellent, and I'm sure this one will be as well. It'll be five courses long, with four wines. The courses will be scaled back from the usual Mandina's monstrous courses so you'll be able to get through the whole dinner. Here's the menu.
Shrimp and Crabmeat Remoulade
Wine: Morgan Sauvignon Blanc, Monterrey
Wine: Guntrum Dry Riesling, Germany
(A small taste, so you can finish the meal)
Softshell Crab Amandine
Wine: Fess Parker Riesling, Santa Barbara
Wine: Morgan Twelve Clones Pinot Noir, Monterre
Mauthe Farms Creole Cream Cheese Cheesecake
Wine: Monmousseau Sparkling, Loire Valley
Bonus: Each couple will receive a complimentary copy of my book Hungry Town. $5 for singles or extra copies. (The cover price is $24.95.) Great gifts for restaurant fanatics.
Sunday, November 6, 2011.
Saints @ Chimes. Tea Time At Vianne's.
We've been trying to get together with our friends Karen and Doug Swift, and Mary Ann figured out what would make the meeting happen. She invited them to join us for the Saints game at Chimes Grill in Covington.
We have been much more regular customers there than I would have imagined. It's not exactly my kind of place. But it's perfect for casual dining with a football game. The Marys love it, and the place has enough decent food that I can stand eating there as frequently as we do.
MA grabbed a table on the deck equidistant from two television screens. Some of us were watching one of them, others the other. That dynamic felt funny, but in a pleasant way.
Doug is a beer fan, and I thought he would love the fifty or so beers on top at Chimes. But he drank iced tea. I guess he must be the designated driver. I had a glass of Harp Lager, an Irish beer that was common in pubs long before the current craft beer phase began. A little too smooth for me. I like a beer to have bite. Makes the food taste better.
A dozen grilled oysters and a half-dozen big, skewered, spicy, grilled shrimp began the eating. The Saints took the lead and kept it during the salad course. We turned the conversation to other matters. Doug and I are the same age. He's a physician with, he says, four jobs. He's making plans to begin taking off Fridays in a year or two. The Saints did something spectacular when he said that, and it kept me from saying that I look forward to taking off Sundays someday, followed by Saturdays in the distant future. I can't even imagine what it would be like to have a weekday off. But Doug is a doctor and the stress is, I'm sure, greater than it is for my hobby-like "work."
Last time we were here on a Sunday I ordered something from the brunch menu and didn't like it. The culprit was the Chimes' boudin, which is terrible. Today I chose a variation on eggs Benedict, with the eggs on a croissant lined with ham and goat cheese. Roasted potatoes on the side. Much better.
I had to leave at about halftime, keeping my perfect record intact of never having seen an entire Saints game. My appointment was at Vianne's Tea Salon, a lovely little shop near the Mandeville Trailhead. Kerri Blache and her husband Michael started this place in the fall of 2003. I wouldn't have predicted back then that the place would be as successful as it is. Vianne's has expanded a good bit since my last time.
It's easy to figure why. Kerri is almost too enthusiastic about her specialty teas, and she has so much to talk about that people get turned on. And Michael is a good chef. He heard I was coming and made a batch of lasagna based on the recipe from the old Ruffino's on St. Philip Street. (Kerri's family owned Ruffino's at one point.)
Kerri had invited me and my co-author Peggy Scott Laborde to talk today about our Lost Restaurants book. Peggy couldn't make it, so I told my usual jokes and anecdotes to the small roomful of tea-and-scones indulgers.
For the occasion, I wore a bowtie Kerri gave in 1988, when she was in charge of selling underwriting for WYES-TV. I was wearing mostly bowties back then, and one of her clients was Wembley. The motif of the tie was brilliant: bowties. Bowties on a bowtie! Kerri gave it to me because we were in the midst of two or three dates. But then Mary Ann turned up, and for the first time I had the nerve-wracking experience of having two beautiful women in my life.
Mary Ann proved to be The One. Kerri had better luck, marrying a handsomer guy. I remember the whole bowtie incident more vividly than she does, apparently. She had no recollection of it at all. I seem to have that effect on women.
Vianne's Tea Salon and Cafe. Mandeville: 544 Girod. 985-624-5683.
Monday, November 6, 2011.
Fall Colorful. Ruffino's Lasagna.
The cool, dry weather we've had this fall has given rise to the best autumnal colors I remember seeing hereabouts in a long time. The Chinese tallowtrees are especially glowing, but the crape myrtles are right behind. The sweetgums haven't fired off yet, but they're turning yellow. As always, the most brilliant colors of all come from the many poison ivy vines that grow in the woods.
I didn't want to go out to eat today. The only food on my mind was the lasagna Michael Blahe gave me yesterday at Vianne's. It smelled marvelous all the way home, but I was already over my limit for eating. Today, I was ready. Good stuff. So was the squash and smoked sausage soup and the salad with tomatoes and strawberries Michael gave me.
It's over three years since a day was missed in the Dining Diary. To browse through all of the entries since 2008, go here.
NOMenu's guide to the fifty best restaurants for Turkey Day, plus all our favorite Thanksgiving recipes. Click here.
WHY IT'S NOTEWORTHY
A fixture in the Warehouse District for over a century, the Ernst Cafe has people spilling out onto its sidewalks from late afternoon until very deep into the night. Almost all of them are drinking. Many are also munching on sandwiches, salads, fried seafood, and other casual local eats. The crowd is on the young side, celebrating the end of the day either in the nearby offices where they work, or the end of the meeting schedule in the Morial Convention Center down the street. All this goes on into the wee hours of the morning, making Ernst a rare resource for late-night dining--but the quality declines as the hour gets later.
WHY IT'S GOOD
The menu is basically bar food. The best part of it is seafood, most of it fried, made into either platters or sandwiches. The goodness of all this varies, but less so than it once did. In the last year or so the menu has turned away from the food of American chain dinnerhouses (spinach-artichoke dip, for example) to be more like a neighborhood New Orleans place with red beans, gumbo, and seafood platters. Burgers too, of course.
The Ernst Cafe opened in 1902 as a slightly upscale lunchroom and bar for people working in that formerly industrial part of town. Almost exactly on the day when the World's Fair of 1984 opened right next door, the place began its evolution into a hangout for tourists. By then, most of the factories were gone. In the 1990s, an increasing number of people who live and work in the district joined the crowd, and now party every night. Late at night, it's popular among people working in other restaurants and the nearby casino.
Much of the old place's battered surroundings have been preserved, and what hasn't been is reconstructed in an antique style. Dining tables and bars are scattered throughout the long, brick-walled spaces on both floors. The upper floor has a long, classic New Orleans balcony overlooking the newly-restored pedestrian passageways on Lafayette and Fulton Streets. An oddity of the decor is the presence of swastikas in the design of the old tile floor. These turn in the opposite direction of the infamous Nazi insignia, however, and were here decades before those dastards arose.
ESSENTIAL DISHES [»=Recommended]
Fried green tomatoes, sauteed shrimp
»Fried green tomatoes, fried oysters
»Filet mignon nachos, chipotle pepper-cheese sauce, jalapeno, sour cream
Fried chicken tenders
Soup of the day
»Chicken andouille gumbo
»Eggless Caesar salad
»Buffalo shrimp salad
Filet mignon Cobb salad
»Fried oyster, shrimp or catfish poor boy
»Chicory barbecue chicken sandwich
"Ernster" sandwich (fried oysters and roast beef debris poor boy)
»Roast beef poor boy
»Fried shrimp or oyster platter
»Grilled or fried fish platter
»Red beans and rice with andouille
FOR BEST RESULTS
If the weather's nice, get a table on the sidewalk, and forget about what time it is. The drinks will be out quickly, but the food might offer the chance to have a second drink before it gets in the way.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
Consistency has never been the strong suit here. The best food is at lunch.
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 +1
- Attitude +1
- Wine and Bar
- Hipness +1
- Local Color +2
- Sidewalk tables
- Good view
- Good for business meetings
- Many private rooms
- Open Sunday lunch and dinner
- Open Monday lunch and dinner
- Open after midnight
- Open all afternoon
- Easy, nearby parking
- No reservations
This is a little more complicated than most guacamole recipes, and probably not authentic, but it sure tastes good. If you have fresh chili peppers available, chop about two tablespoons' worth and substitute it for some or all of the Tabasco jalapeno. Don't cut the avocados until absolutely everything else is chopped and combined. Doing this will prevent the avocados from browning. The hard part is getting avocados at the perfect point of ripeness. That would be when the little button at the top, left over from the stem, pops off with light finger pressure.
At this point, I'd like to apologize for the ketchup. But blind tasting doesn't lie: the ketchup adds a nice little something.
- 1 medium white onion
- 10 sprigs cilantro, leaves only
- Juice of one small lime
- 1 Tbs. olive oil
- 1 large clove garlic
- 3 Tbs. Tabasco jalapeno pepper sauce
- 3 large, very ripe tomatoes, seeds and pulp removed
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1 Tbs. ketchup
- 4-6 Hass avocados (depending on size)
1. Put the onion, cilantro, lime juice, olive oil, garlic, and jalapeno pepper sauce into a food processor and chop finely, but don't let it become a slush. Put this into a plastic or china bowl.
2. Chop the tomatoes coarsely and add to the bowl. Add the salt and ketchup.
3. Cut the avocados in half. Remove the pits. With a spoon, scoop out the flesh into the bowl, avoiding any discolored or stringy parts.
4. With a large wire whisk, mash and mix everything together. The guacamole should be on the chunky side, not a puree. Add salt and more Tabasco to taste. Serve with tortilla chips.Serves ten to fifteen.
November 14, 2011
Chef d'Oeuvre du Jour
#200: Guacamole @ Sun Ray Grill, Gretna: 2600 Belle Chasse Hwy. ||Warehouse District: 1051 Annunciation. 504-566-0021. ||Old Metairie: 619 Pink. 504-837-0055. For awhile, the SunRay Grill would, on request, roll up a cart next to your table and make guacamole fresh, right in front of you. That is not merely an affectation. Avocados are notorious for losing their fresh flavors as soon as the skin and the seed are removed. Alas, Sun Ray doesn't offer that service anymore. They do, however, make the guacamole several times a day with Hass avocados at the peak of ripeness. And it's a good recipes, too. (Or else we wouldn't be talking about it.) This is one of NOMenu's 500 Best Dishes in New Orleans. Collect all 500!
Today is National Guacamole Day. The word translates from the language of the aboriginal Mexicans as "avocado sauce." They were eating it and avocados--a pure American food--long before the arrival of the Spanish. Although guacamole carries with it a sort of secret-recipe cachet, in fact it's easy to make. The key is in limiting the recipe to ingredients that the Aztecs would have used. The originators seem to have had it down cold. So we're talking about native American plants: avocados, chile peppers, cilantro, onions, and tomatoes. No dairy products. No black pepper. Two ingredients of non-Aztec origin that can pass are olive oil and lime juice, both used in small proportions and mainly to keep the concoction from spoiling too fast.
Guacamole is everywhere in restaurants, and much of it is even good. Only recently has the spectre of pre-made guacamole reared it's ugly head; avocados have until recently resisted all efforts at packaging. On the other hand, some restaurants (notably Sun Ray Grill, in New Orleans) now make their guacamole to order, sometimes right at the table. In Mexico, guacamole is almost always made to order, even in the tourist-pitched restaurants.
The only problem with guacamole is that good, ripe avocados are not always available. One must plan ahead, buying the avocados days before you'll serve them. If I can only get Florida avocados or stone-hard, underripe Hass avocados, the dish is off the table. Guacamole is a house specialty of mine. My guests expect to find it when they come over, even for Thanksgiving.
Avocado, California is about sixteen miles east of Fresno, on the alluvial plain of Kings River as it comes down out of the Sierra to water the vast farmlands of the Central Valley. Among them are large groves of avocado and citrus trees, just south of the townlet. The farms give way to rangeland right at Avocado. Avocado Lake is nearby. The nearest restaurant, however, is seven miles away: The Highway 180 Cafe in Sanger.
Hass avocado, n.--The most popular and best of the many varieties of avocado. The avocado tree is believed to have developed in what is now Nicaragua. But it is known with absolute certainty that the Hass avocado came from a single tree grown by an amateur farmer in Los Angeles. All Hass avocado trees can trace their lineage to that tree, which was one of many in Rudolph Hass's grove in 1926. Its fruit was so much richer in flavor than any of the others that he patented it--the first tree to receive a patent. Grafts were taken from that tree and spread throughout all the avocado-growing areas of the world. The "mother tree" died in 2002, but every time you eat guacamole or an avocado salad, you're probably eating its genetic offspring. One more thing: It's "Hass," not "Hass."
Deft Dining Rule #523
Adding a layer of guacamole to a Mexican dish that already has three or more ingredients inside the tortilla cannot be guaranteed to make the dish better.
The Old Kitchen Sage Sez
When making guacamole, combine all the ingredients except the avocado first. Then scoop out the avocados and add them as quickly as possible. Mix only until the avocados are chunky, not a mash.
Annals Of Food Writing
Prosper Montagne was born today in 1865. He was one of several brilliant French chefs who remade French cuisine in the early 1900s, and streamlined kitchen operations by organizing cooks better and simplifying presentations. But his finest legacy is the creation of Larousse Gastronomique, an encyclopedic treatise of French cookery, still being published in many languages. It's considered the last word on the subject.
Today's Worst Flavors
Today in 2003, a bunch of people were sickened with hepatitis A after eating at restaurant in Pittsburgh. Three died. Green onions proved to be the vector. Always wash your vegetables and your hands before eating. And never eat your hands. . . On the very same day, a man in Chennai, India ate two hundred live earthworms in just over twenty seconds, beating the previous record of ninety-four worms in thirty seconds. That achievement was by an American named Hogg--no joke. C. Manoharan's feat was performed in front of official observers for Guinness. Earthworms are edible, but who would want to? Some years ago McDonald's was accused of substituting earthworms for beef. It disproved the charge by noting that earthworms are much more expensive than beef is.
Today is the birthday (1954) of Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State in the Bush II admin. . . Prince and the NPG had a number one hit on this date in 1991 with a song entitled Cream.. . . Accordionist Stanley "Buckwheat" Dural of Buckwheat Zydeco was born today in 1947. . . John Steuart Curry, who was a painter and maker of lithographs, was born today in 1897. . . Harrison Salisbury, long-time New York Times journalist, was born today in 1908. . . British wrestler Shirley "Big Daddy" Crabtree, who had a sixty-two-inch chest, wrestled his way into the world today in 1930. . . Leo Hendrik Baekland was born today in 1863. He was the inventor of Bakelite, which is considered the first plastic.
Words To Eat By
"To be always intending to live a new life, but never find time to set about it--this is as if a man should put off eating and drinking from one day to another till he be starved and destroyed."--Sir Walter Scott.
"In the last analysis, a pickle is a cucumber with experience."--Cookbook author and wit Irena Chalmers. Today is alleged to be National Pickle Day.
Words To Drink By
"When I find someone I respect writing about an edgy, nervous wine that dithered in the glass, I cringe. When I hear someone I don't respect talking about an austere, unforgiving wine, I turn a bit austere and unforgiving myself. When I come across stuff like that and remember about the figs and bananas, I want to snigger uneasily. You can call a wine red, and dry, and strong, and pleasant. After that, watch out."--Kingsley Amis.
The Modern Maitre d'.
The first quality of the 2011 model of the maitre d'hotel is that he hardly exists anymore. Most restaurants have hosts and greeters, not true maitre d's. The maitre d' used to manage the dining room. That job has gone to. . . managers. Well, a few are left, and here's what they're like. Click here for the article.
Restaurant Critics In The Future.
If only we had them a little sooner. Click here for the cartoon.
Have a lusty New Orleans meal today!