Navels. Seventeen. Brownie. Butte. Sfogliatelle. Lemon Squeezer. Count Chocula. Cottonseed Oil. Popeye's Creator. Moonlight Cocktail.
Eating Around New Orleans Today
Satsumas are like Advent. Oranges are like Christmas. The Louisiana navel oranges are coming down from the trees right now, and although they're hard to find in supermarkets, they're widely available now from roadside fruit stands. And if you drive down LA 23 to Plaquemines Parish, you'll find all you can possibly buy. They're best stored in a refrigerator, which will keep them from turning green with mold yet allow them to get sweeter for as long as a couple of months. My wife thinks my effort to stock up on Louisiana oranges is crazy. But, really--is there anything as delicious? There certainly is no better-tasting orange.
Seventeen Days Till Christmas.
Twenty-three 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 and our favorite Christmas recipes, are all on our Christmas Page.
The sunset has begun getting later again, after months of heading backwards. You will soon notice a little more daylight in the afternoons, even though the days will continue to shorten until December 21. We'll gain ten minutes by Christmas. To me, this is the first sign of next summer.
It's National Brownie Day. I can't figure out why so few people make brownies from scratch. It's flour, sugar, cocoa, eggs, and milk. How complex is that? What do we need a mix for? Also, when you order a brownie in a first-class restaurant, doesn't it seem a bit out of place to you? Regardless of the excellence of the brownie or the quality of the ice cream?
On this date in 1896, inventor J.T. White patented a new kind of lemon squeezer that strained the juice and kept it off your hands. I'd like one of those! . . . Count Chocula was registered as a trademark for a kid's chocolate-flavored cereal today in 1970. The Count was a harmless cartoon of the infamous vampire.
Today is the birthday, in 1765, of Eli Whitney, whose most famous invention, the cotton gin, accelerated the development of the American South. While the fibers where where the value was in cotton, the seeds the gin extracted were a good source of cooking oil--or would be, after they figured out how to remove the objectionable smell from cottonseed oil. Wesson Oil is cottonseed oil. I'm still waiting for some distiller to come out with Cotton Gin for making very, very dry martinis.
Food On The Funny Pages
The man who is probably more responsible for the vast amount of spinach eaten in America was born today in 1894. Elzie C. Segar was a cartoonist who began a newspaper comic strip called Thimble Theatre in 1919. Its two main characters were hapless adventurers Castor Oyl and Ham Gravy. In 1929, a new character named Popeye appeared and soon took over the strip. He was a sailor with unaccountable strength, which he attributed to his lavish eating of spinach. That fantasy inspired kids all over the land (myself included) to eat as much spinach as possible.
Alluring Dinner Dates
Blonde: This is the birthday (1954) of actress Kim Basinger, one of the sexiest people on the big screen in the 1980s and 1990s. Brunette: Teri Hatcher celebrates her birthday (1964) today. Neither could be sneaked into a restaurant unnoticed.
Music To Drink By
Moonlight Cocktail, a major hit for the Glenn Miller Orchestra, with Bob Eberle and the Modernaires on the vocals, was recorded today in 1941.
Today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, a holy day of obligation for Catholics. The doctrine that Mary was born without original sin was proclaimed by Pope Pius IX on this date in 1864, which is recent by Catholic standards.
Actor Lee J. Cobb was born today in 1911. He played tough guys who probably would never be caught eating a Cobb salad instead of a steak. . . Baseballer Darryl Strawberry was indicted in 1991 for alleged tax evasion. . . James "Pigmeat" Jarrett, a Georgia blues pianist who played until his nineties, was born today in 1899. . . Richard A. Baker, a famous film makeup artist, was born today in 1950.
Words To Eat By
"Looks can be deceiving; it's eating that's believing."--James Thurber, New Yorker magazine humor writer, born today in 1894. Here are two more of his lines about food and drink:
"The most dangerous food is wedding cake."
"It's a native domestic Burgundy without any breeding, but I think you'll be amused by its presumption."
Tuesday, December 1, 2009. Beijing. December began with a classic New Orleans winter day, and it's not even winter yet. It was in the forties when I left the Cool Water Ranch in mid-afternoon. The place was drenched from an all-day, miserable rain. This is good. I have a theory that when the cold weather comes early in the season, winter is less severe and breaks sooner. My thinking is that there's a certain finite amount of cold air that the North Pole can produce, and the more thinly it's spread the less concentrated it is. Meteorological science doesn't back me up on this, but the idea makes winter more bearable. And here I am at one of the southern extremes of our nation. How to people with real winter stand it?
I looked over my list of unreviewed ethnic restaurants, and found Beijing. A few readers and listeners told me it was pretty good, so I thought I'd give it a try.
Beijing is in the strip mall where where Pap's Supermarket--an icon of my past--met its end. When I was a boy, my Aunt Una used to take me along on her shopping trips to Pap's spiffy new Gentilly store. It had a "kiddie corral" with books, toys, and games. Decades later, when I was a student at UNO, I lived a few blocks from Pap's. It became my regular food store, and remained so for many years after I moved elsewhere. In the 1980s, Pap's built a second store in Metairie, near the I-10-Clearview cloverleaf. The store was quite visible, but the traffic pattern involved in getting to it was so inconvenient that the store failed, bringing down the Gentilly Pap's, too.
Beijing is where the produce department of Pap's once was. It's a nice-looking restaurant, but this night it presented a discouraging scene. The place was nearly empty. Well, it was Tuesday night, it was cold, drizzly, and windy. I jacked my hopes up and order hot and sour soup. Pretty good. So, how about some pot stickers? Uh-oh. These were enormous, with grossly overthick, gummy pasta wrappers and solid, featureless balls of ground meat inside. I ate two of the five; I should have stopped after one, but I felt sorry for these people.
I asked the server whether I should get the twice-cooked pork or the pork with spicy garlic sauce. I could not comprehend her answer at first, but I think her point was that the twice-cooked pork was very straightforward, while the version with garlic sauce had more going on. Okay, the garlic sauce, then. It was okay. A little too oily for my taste. Darn. I was hoping for a discovery to crow about.
Cold rain and blowing wind challenged me all the way home. It felt like Christmas. But I have a theory about Christmas. It's something like my theory about winter. When it comes too emphatically too early, it isn't as intense and doesn't last as long as when it doesn't.
Beijing. Metairie: 2222 Clearview Pkwy. 504-885-8881. Chinese.
Riverbend: 8116 Hampson. 504-865-1634.
Lunch and dinner continuously, sevem days.
AE DC DS MC V
WHY IT'S NOTEWORTHY
Hana's longevity and location--in the restaurant row anchored by the Camellia Grill--brings it an unusually loyal cadre of regular customers, many of them from the nearby universities. Being a known customer here confers even more benefits than usual. Walk in from nowhere, and you'll find a pretty good sushi bar, but nothing spectacular. But if your face is familiar, the chefs start letting you in on all sorts of unusual specialties. (You can also get that if you're a friendly, inquisitive type.) The quality is above average, the price below average.
WHY IT'S GOOD
They are capable of building remarkable works of sushi and sashimi part here. Ask and receive. But they're also caught in the same current vogues of using too much mayonnaise and snow crab salad in too many dishes. The cooked side of the menu also ranges from the standard to the remarkable. With a little notice, they'll build a kaiseki menu that will remain in your mind a long time for its beauty and deliciousness.
Hana opened in 1988, when you could count the number of sushi bars in New Orleans on the fingers of one hand. It has been steady state ever since, following the trends (like the current one toward immense rolls with too many ingredients) as it went.
The restaurant lives in a converted cottage with high ceilings, which add spaciousness to a not-very-large restaurant. They’ve decorated it fancifully and colorfully.
Sushi and sashimi.
Shu-mai (steamed dumplings).
Tuna poke (Hawaiian-style tuna tartare).
Irori (skewers of various meats and seafoods, grilled at the table).
Hana bento (a dinner of sushi and sashimi with many side vegetables).
FOR BEST RESULTS
Become a regular, or ask a lot of questions. If you don't see it, ask for it. Don't hesitate to request the unusual or ambitious dish.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
The sushi always seems a touch too warm for my taste, but it's not a serious issue.
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 +1
- Open Sunday lunch and dinner
- Open Monday lunch and dinner
- Open all afternoon
- Quick, good meal
- Easy, nearby parking
This review was updated with new information on 12/8/2009.
Every day, a new suggestion on where to celebrate whatever it is you're celebrating, right up to the end of the year. A collection of all these menus can be found here. Our snowflake ratings are for the holiday menu only, with three flakes being the top rating.
1413 Upperline. 504-891-9822
Four courses $38
Glass of Madeira Wine
* * * * * * * * * *
Oysters St. Claude
Crispy Oysters, Celery Remoulade
Fried Green Tomato With Shrimp Remoulade
Spicy Shrimp, Cornbread Aioli
Duck Etouffé, Pepper Jelly
Watercress Stilton Salad
Foie Gras Bonaparte (add $4)
* * * * * * * * * *
Cane River Country Shrimp And Grits
With oysters béarnaise
Sautéed Fish Meunière
Gulf Fish Piquant
With hot and hot shrimp
Lamb Shank Braised in Red Wine
Filet Mignon, Port Sauce (add $6)
Rack of Lamb (add $6)
* * * * * * * * * *
Thomas Jefferson's Crème Brûlée
Profiteroles, Chocolate Sauce
Toffee Bread Pudding
Creamed Spinach a la Wohl
In my bachelor days I was a regular guest at the large Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts hosted by my good friends Kit and Billy Wohl. Kit is the author of Arnaud's Cookbook, and four books in the series Classic New Orleans [Desserts, Appetizers, etc.]) Kit would divide the kitchen down the middle: cooks and burners on one side, talkers and wine drinkers on the other. I was usually recruited to wash and chop spinach (on the talker side--we usually had actual chefs in attendance). It would go into an ever-evolving creamed spinach recipe that was always part of the dinner, although it never tasted the same twice. Here it is from one particularly good batch.
- 4 10-ounce bags fresh spinach, picked of stems, washed well
- 1/2 cup of half & half , whipping cream or milk
- 1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
- 1/2 stick melted butter or margarine
- 1 package of Boursin cheese with garlic and herbs
- 8 ounces cream cheese
- 2 Tbs. grated Parmesan cheese
- Pinch nutmeg
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- Salt and pepper to taste
1. Cook the spinach in a large saucepan over low heat with just the water that clings to it after washing. Cook until completely wilted. Squeeze out excess water.
2. Put the spinach in a large food processor and chop for ten seconds. Add all other ingredients, one at a time, except sour cream, salt and pepper. Puree. Add more cream if looser texture is desired. (Watch it: one time it got the texture of baby food when it was pureed too much, though it still tasted great.)
3. With a spatula, load the spinach into a butter-coated saucepan. Reheat slowly, stirring to prevent scorching. Remove from heat stir in sour cream. Season to taste.
If you want to be fancy and have the oven space, reheat in the oven with a grated cheddar cheese topping. Or do like we did one Thanksgiving: turn it into a soufflé by folding in stiff egg whites at the end (let the mixture cool to lukewarm first), and baking it for 20 minutes at 350 degrees.
Serves about twelve.
Missing something from the old format? I've moved a few departments to the column at left. Click below to go to them.