Bourbon Dinner At Bourbon House. Twenty-Two Days. Alka-Seltzer. King Of Blue Cheese. Apple Pie. Apple Pie Mountain. Apple Slump. Streetcar.
Eating Around New Orleans Tonight
Dickie Brennan will be named a Kentucky Colonel tonight, so honored for his service to the propagation of Bourbon drinking in New Orleans. (Who would think such an effort were necessary?) The honor will be bestowed during an unusually good small-batch Bourbon dinner at the Bourbon House, where such dinners have been a monthly event for the past few years.
I think you can still get a place at this table, where not one but two master distillers will be in attendance. Here's the menu:
Kentucky Ham on Angel Biscuits with Bourbon Jelly
Smoked Kentucky Paddlefish and Paddlefish caviar on Corn Cakes Manchego Stuffed Citrus Glazed Shrimp
BBQ Oysters on the Half Shell
With Specialty Cocktails featuring Woodford Reserve and Sazerac Rye
* * * * * * * * * *
Smoked Duck over a salad of local citrus
Paired with Elmer T. Lee Bourbon
* * * * * * * * * *
Roasted Butternut Squash Bisque
Toasted pumpkin seeds, maple cayenne oil and jumbo lump crabmeat
Paired with Eagle Rare Single Barrel
* * * * * * * * * *
Pan-seared and flamed with Woodford Reserve Bourbon, garnished with crème fraiche and tarragon over stone ground grits
Paired with Woodford Reserve
* * * * * * * * * *
Paillard of Bison Tenderloin
Stuffed with smoked oyster dressing and a Buffalo Trace Bordelaise
Paired with Buffalo Trace Bourbon
* * * * * * * * * *
White Chocolate Woodford Reserve Cream
The price is $85, inclusive of tax, tip, and all beverages. It begins at 6:30 tonight.
Bourbon House. French Quarter: 144 Bourbon 504-522-0111.
Twenty-Two Days Till Christmas
It is twenty-two days till Christmas. Twenty-eight days till New Year's Eve. Make restaurant reservations now. 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.
Alluring Dinner Dates
Tall blonde actress Daryl Hannah, who could probably arm-wrestle successfully for the check (which sounds like fun!), was born today in 1960.
Food Through History
King Charles VI was born to rule France today in 1368. He would raise the level of court cuisine to a much higher level, and was the bossman of Taillevent, who ruled over the royal kitchen. (Taillevent is now the name of one of the most famous restaurants in Paris.) It was during the rule of Charles VI that Roquefort cheese gained its recognition as a special food because of the place it came from--the first appellation-controlled substance.
Annals Of Indigestion
Today is the birthday, in 1931, of Alka-Seltzer. It's a simple concoction: aspirin combined with sodium bicarbonate (the chemical name for baking soda). The claim was that the effervescence got the pain-relieving ingredient into the parts of the body that needed it faster. Maybe. Water--of which you drink a glassful to take an Alka-Seltzer--also helps a headache. The bicarbonate also has a soothing effect on the stomach. Alka-Seltzer claimed to offer relief from a cold, too. So maybe they went a little far. Still a good product, and it gave rise in the 1960s to Fizzies, which were the same kind of tablet but with fruit flavors instead of aspirin.
The Old Kitchen Sage Sez: If you think you need an Alka-Seltzer, try a club soda first and see if that doesn't do the job.
Annals Of Home Economics
The founder of the science of homemaking, Ellen Swallow Richards, was born today in 1842. She was an accomplished scientist, and the first woman student and first woman teacher at MIT. She felt that women who stayed home to rear children should know enough science to be able to run their households more effectively.
Today is alleged to be National Apple Pie Day. Apple pie, as American a dessert as can be imagined, is in a period of decline right now. Think about it: when is the last time you ate a slice of apple pie? Not counting on Thanksgiving? In New Orleans, most pies on restaurant menus are either pecan or sweet potato pies. Other than chain restaurants, I can't think of five restaurants that routinely serve apple pie anymore. Here's why. Apple pie is perceived as very sweet. The crust is traditionally made with trans-fats. On top of that (literally), the temptation to top the pie with ice cream is hard to resist. That adds up to more calories, perhaps, than the entire remainder of the meal. Everybody knows this, so we stay away.
But a good apple pie--made with fresh, firm, slightly acidic fruit and a light crust--is a wonderful thing. And there's no reason we have to maintain the oversweet quality that was in vogue during apple pie's heyday in the 1940s and 1950s. A great apple pie will be baked on the premises--although you wouldn't believe how many upper-end restaurants just take their pies out of a box.
The greatest mystery concerning apple pie is how the practice of topping a hot apple pie with a slice of American cheese ever got started. It makes no sense from any perspective.
Let's sing now!
"Let's have another cup of cof-FEE!
And let's have another piece of pie!"
Food In The Theatre
A Streetcar Named Desire, Tennessee Williams's most successful play (it won a Pulitzer Prize, too), premiered on Broadway today in 1947. It made an instant star of Marlon Brando, who played Stanley. His love interest, Stella, was played by Kim Hunter. Those two characters inspired the naming of Chef Scott Boswell's restaurants, the five-star Stella! and the less ambitious soda fountain Stanley.
Toi Cook, pro football cornerback, kicked off his life today in 1964. . . Green Berry Raum, a Union general in the Civil War, was born today with his double food name in 1829. . . Pro wrestler Ray Candy began acting out today in 1951. . . John and Greg Rice, twin dwarves, were born today in 1951. They had a successful career in infomercials.
Words To Eat By
"Good apple pies are a considerable part of our domestic happiness."--Jane Austen.
"If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe."--Carl Sagan.
"If all the world were apple pie,
And all the seas were ink,
And all the trees were bread and cheese,
What would we have for drink?"--Mother Goose.
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.
Wednesday, November 25. Little Tokyo With The Beard. Cheesecake. Mary Leigh is off school today. Jude is on Pacific Time. Mary Ann got in late. This meant that I wouldn't see anyone until mid-morning, and perhaps not until noon. I needed the lack of distractions to get through my work, because I knew Jude would want to dine with me. And because tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and I have much cooking to do.
As it turned out, the kids went out on their own for lunch at Bosco's. As much as Mary Ann loves for us all to be together, her heart is warmed even more by evidence that her two children like to spend time together. I was on the air when they got back. I tried to set up the show in the kitchen, but my phone cable is missing. Drat it! I wanted to make the cheesecake during the show. (What other radio show permits such extra-curricular activity on the air?)
I got off an hour early because of some game--LSU versus the Islanders, or something. That gave me the hour I needed to mix up the cheesecake filling, make the crust, and get the thing into the oven early enough that I don't have to stay awake until midnight for the painstaking process of letting the cheesecake cool slowly. (A cheesecake that cools too quickly gets a big crack across its surface.)
Jude and I then retired to one of our special places: Little Tokyo in Mandeville. He is now unambiguously a sushi lover. No more chicken teriyaki. We had two big rolls. The "Dweeb Roll" was a new one and very good. Filled with spicy tuna and avocado, with salmon and something crunchy elsewhere, but no snow crab, it was delicious. Also some mackerel, salmon, asparagus, and tuna. The young guy who runs the place was making sushi tonight. "How are things?" Jude asked him. "Terrible!" he said. Don't know why: the place was full, as it always is.
Back home, I started simmering the root beer glaze for the ham and made up the brine for the turkey. A number of people this year asked me whether adding herbs or spices to the brine was a good idea. I did it a few years ago, but thought the addition didn't have any effect. I tried it again this year, dissolving about a half-cup of granulated garlic into the water. If that does anything to the flavor of the bird, we'll know it.
The cheesecake was finished at eight-thirty. I turned the oven off but forgot to open the door until over an hour later. By then, it had fallen. That always happens, but this was more drastic than usual. What gives? I went to bed around ten-thirty, with an alarm going off at eleven so I could move the cheesecake into the refrigerator. I don't think it awakened Mary Ann. But with her boy in the house, she's in her happy place.
Little Tokyo. Mandeville: 590 Asbury Dr. 504-727-1532. Sushi. Japanese.
Thursday, November 26. Thanksgiving For Eleven. It's a perfect day for Thanksgiving. Cold in the morning, things warmed up enough to be comfortable without a jacket. Our trees are near peak color, by New Orleans standards. Most of them are pines, live oaks, and magnolias, whose colors are green all the time. But the maples, Chinese tallowtrees, sweetgums, and (most brilliant of all) the poison ivy are all reds and oranges.
The first sign that this celebration would be different from those in the past came when Mary Leigh awoke and turned the television on to watch the Macy's parade. Thanksgiving is her favorite holiday, and this is one of its rituals. But nobody remembered that we do not have the converter box with which to watch local television, now that it's changed over to digital. Nor do we have cable--it's not in our neighborhood--or satellite. Mary Leigh was so disappointed that I saw her actually sobbing.
The turkey came out of the brine and onto the sugar-cane-fed pit around seven-thirty. The ham got glazed next, and was in the oven fifteen minutes later. From that moment on for the remainder of the day, I spent more time washing dishes than cooking. A shocking accumulation in the sink and on the counter greeted me.
Mary Ann pitched in, and finally got around to doing the load of wine glasses. She grilled squashes and zucchini that only she would eat--not because they were bad, but because there would be far too much food. Mary Leigh made her marvelous sticks of puff pastry with garlic and herbs. Jude came down and played the piano. And performed a first: he cooked something. Cornbread sticks. Even he had to admit were terrible, but I was impressed that he did anything at all.
At nine, I went on the air with my usual WWL Thanksgiving morning show, direct from my kitchen counter. Between talking with the listeners, I made cranberry sauce and a biscuit dough with herbs, pepper, and cheese. I had wanted to make real bread, but this was all I had time for.
After the show, the preparations went along at an easy pace. The invective that usually flared up between Mary Ann and me in the last hours before showtime failed to catch fire, thank God. I peeled potatoes for the mash. Cleaned the guest bathroom. Washed what seemed like a hundred pots, pans, dishes, and other utensils by hand. I noticed that about two-thirds of our silverware was dirty, in the dishwasher. How'd that happen? Good thing we have service for twenty-four.
The miracle of our Thanksgiving is that, regardless of the chaos of the last hour or so of preparation, everything works out fine and all the guests are happy. That happened this year too, even though the first invitees arrived early--my sister Lynn by over a half-hour.
By a bit after one, we were ready to serve. But the Tim Connells, whose reputation for lateness is beyond legendary, didn't get here till three. That set the style of the service. It was even more casual than a buffet. A few people made up plates, but most picked up appetizers (mushrooms stuffed with Italian sausage, Mary Ann's pimiento cheese spread, tapenade, crabmeat ravigote) or a slice of ham or turkey, and just ate it. People were scattered all over the ranch. With no watchable television, there was no football game to create a focus. I never had enough of a concentration of people to say grace with.
The primary difference between this year's gathering and those of the past fourteen was the small size of the crowd. When Mary Ann and I took over Thanksgiving from her parents in 1995, all her siblings and all their kids showed up, plus a goodly part of my family. That came to forty people. It went even higher in the following years, but began to dwindle as the kids grew up, got married, and left town. When Mary Ann's parents died (three years apart), it allowed some of her siblings to go elsewhere. Still, we had about twenty last year.
But this year we're down to eleven. One turkey easily fed everybody. (I am not talking about myself here.) The number of appetizers and side dishes was absurdly out of proportion to the number of eaters, leaving over vast quantities of leftovers. When you have leftover lump crabmeat ravigote, you definitely had too much food. I'm glad I didn't make a stuffing.
And we only drank two and a half bottles of wine, total. I began with the 2009 Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau, calling it the Lloyd Schully Memorial Wine. Lloyd--husband of Mary Ann's sister Sylvia--died this year. He brought this very wine to all previous Thanksgivings. The first glass went to his son Gary. Gary supplied the only thing like the fun of past years by giving rides around the ranch on his four-wheeler. He would have been busier if anyone here had been under seventeen.
I quit washing dishes when my hip started to ache. I was sorry Tim's wife Desiree wasn't here. She and I could have had a relaxing single-malt Scotch together. I did find company with my sister Lynn. We reminisced about 1960s rock and blues. I need to loan her my prom night music three-CD set.
The party persisted well past darkness, until about eight. Mary Ann's brother Tim and nephew Brian held discussions in the corner while I supplied them with café au lait. Mary Leigh and her cousin Hillary conferred with Brian's wife Shana. Shana has been part of the family since before Katrina, but as one of the women, not one of the girls. Mary Leigh told me that this tete-a-tete was different than those before in being more like the ones she has with her friends. That's because Mary Leigh and Hillary recently became grown-up women, too.
In fact, everybody here was a grownup. Another a first. I'd rather not think about that too much.
Gosh, I was tired. But I always am on Thanksgiving night.
Cafe 615 (Da Wabbit)
Gretna: 615 Kepler. 504-365-1225 .
Lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday.
AE DC DS MC V
WHY IT'S NOTEWORTHY
It seems strange to say that the best reason to come here is to get a load of the vintage sign outside. But it's so good that even though the food served inside this old roadhouse is also worth searching for the place (all West Bankers know about it, but it's only a legend to most East Bankers), the sign is what you'll remember. It depicts (in enamel by day, neon at night) a cartoon hare who looks like a blood relative of Bugs Bunny. Under the graphic is the legend "DA-WABBIT Drive Inn." (The latter is 1950s lingo for a place with a parking lot.)
WHY IT'S GOOD
This is a contemporary New Orleans neighborhood eatery. You expect to find the seafood platters, red beans on Monday, poor boy sandwiches, and fried chicken. What you don't expect is the handful of ambitious specials like blackened tuna and steak with crabmeat. All of this is beyond reproach. It comes out hot, garnished with sides to which someone has given more than routine attention, and seasoned the way it ought to be. That fried chicken is a major draw.
Kepler Street is the continuation of Fourth and Fifth Streets, all of which made up the major route through the suburban West Bank communities before the West Bank Expressway was built in the 1950s. Da Wabbit opened shop in 1949, and has been slinging hash ever since. For much of its more recent history, it was more than a little raffish, and was better known as a bar with card games in the back rooms than for its food. The current owners took over in the early 2000s, gave it a more respectable (but eminently forgettable) new name, performed a serious renovation to the interior, fixed the sign's neon, and reopened as a much better place to eat.
The floor plan is shaped like a keyhole, with the more pleasant tables--topped with brown butcher paper--in the circular part. The bar, which also has tables for dining, is the flat end of the keyhole. The interior shows few signs of the restaurant's actual age, and is as pleasant as any other good neighborhood cafe. Waitresses who wear "Cafe 615 Home Of Da Wabbit" T-shirts are like that lady who lives next door to you.
Fried eggplant sticks.
Poor boy sandwiches, especially those made with seafood.
Blackened ribeye steak.
FOR BEST RESULTS
Order one appetizer per two people. These are very large. Although you might get the idea that this is a place where only regulars are welcome, in fact it's among the friendliest neighborhood joints in town.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
They need to fix the neon on the west side of the sign. Or maybe not.
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 +1
- Service +1
- Value +1
- Attitude +1
- Wine and Bar
- Hipness -1
- Local Color +2
- Good for business meetings
- Small private room
- Open Monday lunch and dinner
- Open all afternoon
- Unusually large servings
- Quick, good meal
- Good for children
- Easy, nearby parking
- No reservations
ANECDOTES AND ANALYSIS
A bit before the storm, this old joint (and that's what it was) got a facelift and a new name--one that could only be understood in New Orleans. The menu and the waitresses' T-shirts say, "Cafe 615, Home of Da Wabbit." (Cf "Ruth's Chris," "Pascal's Manale." The improvements at Da Wabbit (Cafe 615 seems all wrong for the place, and who can remember a number, anyway?) is another encouraging signs that, after two decades of slim pickings, the dining scene on the West Bank is getting better. It's a reliable restaurant with more good food than immediately meets the eye. It would be the Mandina's of the West Bank of Tony Mandina's were't already there. We all have to go to Gretna once in awhile, and it's good to find a delicious neighborhood Creole place to eat.
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
Cheese And Herb Biscuits
One Thanksgiving, my goal was to make bread from scratch, so we didn't buy any. I ran out of time and never baked it, either. I filled the gap with this variation on our family's favorite buttermilk biscuits. Mary Ann showed me a recipe for something along those lines in Bon Appetit, and I borrowed a couple of ingredients from there. They came out of the oven savory, spicy, and a good match for turkey, ham, or fried chicken. They may be a bit too assertive to be eaten at breakfast.
You can underbake these a little and freeze them. When you're ready to serve, microwave them for about thirty seconds and then pop them into a 400-degree oven (a toaster oven works fine) until browned completely. They will taste as if they'd just come out of the oven!
- 4 cups self-rising flour
- 1 stick butter, softened
- 2 cups finely shredded cheddar cheese
- 2 green onions, tender green parts only, finely snipped
- 6 sprigs flat-leaf parsley, leaves only, chopped
- 1 tsp. dried oregano
- 1 heaping tsp. salt-free Creole seasoning
- 1/2 tsp. sage
- 2 cups milk
Preheat oven to 475 degrees.
1. Measure flour into a large bowl. Add the butter and stir with a wire whisk until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. It's okay for there to be a few small lumps. Then stir in the cheddar cheese, herbs, and Creole seasoning to evenly distribute.
2. Blend in the milk with light strokes of a kitchen fork until the dough leaves the side of the bowl. Add a little more milk if necessary to work all the dry flour at the bottom into a sticky, thoroughly damp dough.
3. Lightly grease a baking pan. Spoon out the dough with a soup spoon into balls about two inches in diameter. Dip your fingers in water and press the balls down only slightly (high biscuits come out better than flattened ones), and shape the dough up a bit if necessary.
4. Bake 14 minutes in the preheated 475-degree oven. They're ready when the little peaks on the biscuits begin to brown. Don't look for a dark overall brown; that indicates overbaking.
Makes about twenty little biscuits. They're best right out of the oven, but they're good at room temperature, too.
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