Bacco's Truffle Dinner Begins. Twenty-Three Days. Beignets. Fried Biscuits. Sinkers. What Makes Liver Good. Buttermilk. Eclairs.
Eating Around New Orleans Today
Today is the birthday of Bacco. When sibling Ralph and Cindy Brennan opened the restaurant in 1991, it was a departure from the French-Creole restaurant the Brennans had always built. This was Italian. They said this was because their mother was Italian. Besides, Ralph had been to Italy and few times and was turned on by the food of Tuscany in particular. One of the flavors that thrilled Ralph was white truffles. For years, Bacco served an outrageous white truffle dinner every fall. After missing a few years, it's back, beginning tonight and running through Dec. 23. Details and the menu are in Special Events.
Bacco. French Quarter: 310 Chartres. 504-522-2426.
Twenty-Three Days Till Christmas
Twenty-nine days till New Year's Eve. It's not too early for reservations for that night. A list of restaurants open Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, plus all the Reveillon menus (now being served in over forty restaurants around town, and our favorite Christmas recipes, are all on our Christmas Page.
Today is Beignets For Breakfast Day. Although beignet translates from the French as the very generic "fritter," here in New Orleans it refers to the square, plump doughnuts fried by the zillions in the French Market-style coffeehouses (which are scattered all over town now). They're eaten by threes with cafe au lait, made with dense chicory coffee and hot milk. Their importance as a local culinary icon was best illustrated when the Cafe du Monde reopened for business seven weeks after Hurricane Katrina. That story made all the national news outlets.
Although most beignets are consumed late at night, after an evening spent in other entertainments, they are delightful for breakfast. The coffeehouses aren't nearly as crowded, the service isn't as rushed, and the feeling is to linger and watch the French Quarter come to life.
Like many dishes that have remained unchanged for over a century, beignets are intrinsically not that big a deal. Eating all three that come in an order is not a good idea (unless, of course, you're a male in his late teens or early twenties, in which case--whoops! too late! they're already gone), because that last one will bloat and leave you with a bad feeling about beignets. And you don't want that.
Physiology Of Eating
This would have fit better yesterday, when it was National Liver And Onions Day. George Minot--born today in 1885--and two other physicians received the Nobel Price for Physiology and Medicine in 1934 for developing an extract from liver to treat pernicious anemia. Later, it was found that the active ingredient was Vitamin B-12, which is what we now use. Myself, I'd prefer the veal liver Lyonnaise with bacon and onions at Clancy's or Le Parvenu, with a side order of grits.
Music To Eat Biscuits By
Ole Buttermilk Sky, by the Kay Kyser Orchestra, with vocals by Mike Douglas (the one who would later be a talk show host), was a Number One hit today in 1946. A buttermilk sky is like a mackerel sky, covered with bigger, rounder little clouds.
Britney Spears, from Kentwood, Louisiana, was born today in 1981. I wonder if she even likes asparagus. . . Chris Wedge, the animator who did Ice Age and other big movies, animated himself for the first time today in 1968. I wonder if he likes blue cheese.
Words To Eat By
"They found that the eclair contains everything my system lacks. So I take three a day and I feel like a new woman."--Ruth Draper, British humorist and speaker, born today in 1884.
First Time In Three Years
Bacco's White Truffle Dinner Returns
It's been a few years since Bacco offered its white truffle dinner. Before the hurricane, it was an annual tradition. Problem: the quality of white truffles from Italy have been poor, and the prices have been incredibly high. Things are a shade better this year. Ralph Brennan, the proprietor of Bacco, says that the price is around $2000 a pound, up from about $800 when he first began doing these dinners in the late 1990s.
But so many people ask him when he'd offer the truffle dinner again that he gave in. The truffle dinner starts tonight and goes through December 23, replacing Bacco's Reveillon dinner at about the same price. The three-course repast ranges from $45 to $65, depending on the entree. Here's the menu:
Roasted Acorn Squash Soup
Warm spices, black truffles, homemade crème fraiche, shaved Alba white truffles
Truffled Honey & Pomegranate Salad
Baby greens, Taleggio cheese, toasted walnuts, shaved Alba white truffles
Bacco Truffled Egg
Grilled ciabbata, rosemary gorgonzola cream, black truffles, shaved Alba white truffles
* * * * * * * * * *
Veal Osso Buco $65
Risotto Milanese, veal reduction, gremolata, shaved Alba white truffles
Seared Duck Breast $55
Black truffle butter, pumpkin gnocchi, housemade guanciale, shaved Alba white truffles
Black Truffle Fettuccini $45
Fresh pasta, truffle mushroom puree, Parmigiano Reggiano, shaved Alba white truffles
* * * * * * * * * *
Toffee Pecan Bread Pudding
Chocolate chunks, bourbon toffee sauce, candied pecans
Miele Di Acacia Ricotta Cheesecake
Fresh ricotta, artisanal Italian honey, caramelized honey and Louisiana Satsuma sauce
Bacco. French Quarter: 310 Chartres. 504-522-2426.
Monday, November 23. Thai Chili. How do the Thai restaurants on the North Shore make it? We have eight of them, which is clearly too many. With the exception of the across-the-street neighbors Thai Thai and Thai Spice, they seem to be sparsely populated when I go. On the other hand, the food is usually not just good, but outstanding at all of them. I'd say we have better Thai cooking on the North Shore than on the South Shore.
Tonight, the Marys dismissed me to the dinner of my choice, because they weren't eating and weren't coming. (They're always dismissing me.) I returned to the Thai Chili, where I had a terrific lunch a couple of weeks ago. This is the longest-running Thai restaurant over here, although it's so well hidden that it's less well known than the others. It's also excellent.
Thai restaurants serve portions so large that I've come to the conclusion that any appetizer is over the top. I ordered just the jungle curry with pork from the young woman who served me. Her English was not very good, which probably explains why the dish came out with chicken instead of pork. But that's no big deal, and her service was otherwise flawless.
Jungle curry is really a soup, made with more different vegetables than in most Thai dishes. Its flavor is unlike those of the other Thai curries. Nor does it resemble Indian or Chinese curry, except in the general detail that the sauce includes a blend of aromatic spices. This one also had a good bit of red pepper, because I asked for it that way. Delicious, and hot enough to make my eyes water.
Despite the appeal of such food, the entire crowd (okay, it's a Monday night) consisted of me and a couple across the room. How can anyone eat at the nearby Outback, Cane's, or Bonefish Grill when there's food like this at these prices?
Mary Ann is finished with her floors, which are now finished. (Whaa...?) I have been asking her to do a load of wine glasses in advance of Thanksgiving, or let me do it. She says she will after she fills the dishwasher completely, runs it, and empties it. This sounds like Thanksgiving morning to me.
Thai Chili. Covington: 1102 N. US 190 985-809-0180 . Thai.
Tuesday, November 24. Jude Is Coming! Ruth's Chris. Jude Is Here! Jude arrives from Los Angeles tonight--after midnight. He had to do that because his last classes are today (the ostensible reason) and because he's working on a movie that allegedly needs his personal attention (the real reason). Mary Ann and I drove into town together, and on the way over she asked me to figure a spot in Metairie where we could have dinner while Mary Leigh went to a birthday party of eight girls at Houston's. (A perfect place for teenagers.) I suggested Ruth's Chris. She wheeled around and said, "Really? I'd love to go there." I knew she'd love to go there. Everybody loves to go there.
MA was miffed when I arrived. She said it took too long for me to get there. But it really does require about forty-five minutes to pack up, get out of the radio's downtown building, collect my car in the garage two blocks away, and drive out to Metairie. Both the Marys get bent out of shape about this allaeged laggard performance every time, even after dozens of iterations of this routine. I think they want me to use teleportation.
Mary Ann was fascinated by the crowd at Ruth's Chris. "This is the place my parents would go whenever they celebrated anything big," she said. "That's the function of this place for a lot of people." It was certainly true this night. The place was full. Two people with such an occasion--balloons and flowers, too--were near us, at a poor deuce next to a post. They were African Americans. But the manager was, too. Maybe they arrived when that was the only table open. I still felt bad about it, and considered giving them our comfortable four-top against the wall so they could celebrate in better style. After all, we were just there for a bite to eat.
"I don't think the host gave you this table because they know you," Mary Ann said. She's sensitive to such favoritism. "In fact, I get the feeling they're mad at you about something." Don't know what that would be.
Ruth's corporate is pushing a dinner that starts with an appetizer, moves to a filet mignon with shrimp (or a couple of other choices), and wraps with a dessert combo for $40. The standard Ruth's Chris meal runs more like $75; the place didn't make its reputation by being a bargain. I wonder why they're cutting back now. I hope not many people ask whether that filet mignon is Prime beef.
We started with salads. Mary Ann stayed with the $40 program all the way. A little filet with a few big shrimp--that had her name all over it. I got the best single-serving steak in the house, the unarguably Prime, man-sized sirloin strip. On a scale of ten, it was an eight and a half. Sizzling and all that. Creamed spinach. Lyonnaise potatoes, made with what looked like fried half-moons, a short-cut way of doing that. The Crescent City does it better. Heck, I do it better. But not bad. Two glasses of BV proprietary red. All this was served by an Asian waiter who was cooperative and fun.
Halfway through the meal, and ever since, Mary Ann has talked about how much she enjoyed this dinner. Maybe that was because, for once, we were in absolutely no hurry. Mary Leigh didn't show up until dessert time, and even then Mary Ann had until midnight to kill. I would have volunteered to pick Jude up, but I knew that she wanted to get the first possible glimpse of her golden son's face. I almost wanted to be there to see the look on her face when she saw him, because I knew something about Jude she didn't: he's grown a beard.
Ruth’s Chris Steak House. Metairie: 3633 Veterans Blvd. 504-888-3600. Steak.
Morton's The Steakhouse
WHY IT'S NOTEWORTHY
Morton's is one of the leading chains of high-end steakhouses, a segment of the restaurant industry that has become overgrown in recent years. By focusing on its USDA Prime steaks (not all of them are; be sure to ask about this), they give the rest of their menu and service game panache. The standard Morton's steak cookery is the simplest possible: they broil, then plate them up without sauce or garnish. Regardless of the quality of the beef, that's not good enough anymore, and you can now get bearnaise, peppercorn, and other sauces. Simplicity and quality characterize most of the rest of the menu, which includes lobster, crab cakes, big shrimp and scallops, and a few chops. To a great extent, the prices and offerings are most appropriate for people on expense accounts, or those who just hit it big at the blackjack tables at the casino across the street.
WHY IT'S GOOD
Everything at Morton's is designed to be visually impressive, from the poillow-size loaf of onion bread you get at the outset, through the imported crabmeat (!) and shrimp (!!) in the appetizers, to the oversize steaks. The Prime cuts are the best, particularly the sirloin strip and the porterhouse. (The filets are not likely to be Prime, not are most of the steaks on their promotional menus.) Most of the time, all of this is at least pretty good; sometimes it's excellent. It's almost enough to justify the prices, which are on the high end of an expensive spectrum.
Morton's is to Chicago what Ruth's Chris is to New Orleans, founded in the Windy City in the late 1970s. Chicago is one of the great steak towns, and the standard was high--higher than now, truth be told. Morton's first came to New Orleans--another great steak city--in the late 1980s. That one--where Landry's in the French Quarter is now--died quietly a few years later. The present restaurant opened in 1999 in Canal Place, taking over a handsome restaurant of the 1980s called Parker's.
Every major city has a Morton's, and they're all the same. Once you're inside the door, there's no telling that you're in New Orleans (or New York, or San Francisco, or Phoenix. The dining rooms are masculine, elegant, comfortable, even beautiful--as the one here is. Any of them could as well be a fancy French restaurant. Most bars at Morton's are equally posh, and the bar menus make them good places for a romantic interlude.
Broiled sea scallops (appetizer or entree).
Sliced tomato salad.
Sirloin strip (large, split for two).
Porterhouse for two.
Filet mignon au poivre.
Shrimp Alexander (broiled gigantic shrimp).
Double-cut lamb chops.
Hash brown potatoes.
Hot dessert souffles.
FOR BEST RESULTS
Morton's most distinctive specialty is its hot dessert soufflees, made consistently well. They are among the only ones in town. The wine list is very good, but very expensive.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
The beef was better when it was dry-aged. The quality of the beef in the discounted specials is less even than you'd expect, and the service dips when you order from that side of the menu.
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 +2
- Consistency +1
- Service +1
- Value -2
- Attitude +2
- Wine and Bar +2
- Hipness -1
- Local Color -1
- Good for business meetings
- Large private room
- Open Sunday dinner
- Open Monday dinner
- Open some holidays
- Unusually large servings
- Free valet parking
- Reservations honored promptly
Which Wine Would You Like
Santa To Bring You?
This question came to mind when I thought about how wonderful it would be to enjoy once again the experience of drinking 1970 Chateau Latour. A friend gave me that as a wedding present; I consumed it about six years ago, and it had the entire complement of flavors and aromas one expects from a great Bordeaux in a great year.
That wine would have to have been stored better than was possible in post-storm New Orleans, and I don't believe in wishing for low-likelihood things. (Like having dinner with Diana Krall.) But there are other good wines out there. I'm now thinking about 2002 La Tache. Yeah. Santa, get me that.
Now let's all entertain one another with wishes of equal fabulosity (in every sense of the word).
There are twenty-four days till Christmas. Santa? Was I nice enough this year?
Check out answers to this question from our other tasteful readers, and add your own on our
I love shepherd's pie, and my son seems to have inherited that taste. Between the two of us, we consume an obscene amount of the stuff every time I make a batch of it. My recipe has evolved a lot over the years. Here's the current edition.
- 3 pounds potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks
- 1 cup milk
- 1 stick butter
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1/4 tsp. white pepper
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1/3 medium bell pepper, stem and seeds removed, finely chopped
- 2 lbs. ground sirloin or round
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. black pepper
- 1 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
- 1 Tbs. soy sauce
- 1/4 tsp. marjoram
- Pinch CHinese five-spice powder
- Pinch CHinese five-spice powder
- 1 cup chopped squash, zucchini, or corn
- 1 lb. sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded
1. Boil the potatoes until soft, but not disintegrating. Drain. Put the potatoes into a deep bowl and add the butter (in chunks), salt, white pepper, and hot milk. Using a heavy wire whisk or potato masher, mash the potatoes, leaving small lumps. Set aside, covered.
2. In a skillet over medium heat, saute the onions and bell peppers until soft, but not browned.
3. Break the ground beef into the pan and add the salt, pepper, Worcestershire, soy sauce, marjoram, dry mustard and about 2 Tbs. water. Saute, breaking up the clumps of beef with a kitchen fork. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until most of the liquid in the pan is gone. Remove from heat.
4. Cover the bottom of a 4x9x3 ceramic or glass baking dish with the squash, zucchini, and/or corn. Cover that with a thin layer of mashed potatoes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the beef mixture to the baking dish. Top it with the remaining creamed potatoes. (Tip: spoon the potatoes into the center of the dish in a big pile and spread it out to the edges, to minimize mixing with the meat.)
5. Sprinkle the cheese on top and bake in a preheated 350-degree oven until the cheese just browns--35-40 minutes.
6. Allow to cool 10 minutes before serving, so that you can cut out large cubes. (Also, the heat of the interior will be lava-like for awhile.)
Serves six generously.
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