Gift Cards. Solstice. Four Days. Hamburger. Absinthe. Anisette. Plum. One Duck. Farce And Tragedy.
Eating Around New Orleans Today
The advent of gift cards as easy to use as a credit card has made giving restaurant meals as gifts popular. Restaurants love them too: they get the cash up front, and spread out the expense over the year. They like them so much, in fact, that more than a few restaurants have deals that give you more than your money's worth. The most common scheme is this: you buy $100 in gift cards, and you get an extra $20 free. Zea, the New City Grill, all of Ralph Brennan's Restaurants have these. Those are the ones I've heard about, but many other restaurants have them. Even where they don't, if you ask the restaurant to give you a deal, they just might--strictly because of the competitive pressure. So ask! Great stocking stuffers for all kinds of people I can think of.
The winter solstice occurs at 11:47 a.m. New Orleans time. Today's daylight is the shortest of the year, with the sun lowest in the sky. "Solstice" comes from Latin words meaning "sun stands still," which it apparently does. For the past few days and the next few, the points at which the sun rises and sets hardly vary at all. That was obvious a couple of days ago as I crossed the Causeway heading south; the sun was almost directly in my eyes, which is odd. The winter solstice is a cheery day for us here in the Northern Hemisphere, because it means summer is on its way back.
Four Days Till Christmas
The turkey should already be thawing in the refrigerator. Wash all the wine glasses you think you'll need for dinner at your house, if the glasses have been sitting on the shelf for a long time. If you don't have the menu completely planned, do it today. If you're planning on dining out Christmas Eve or Day, you should have your reservations long since made. A list of all restaurants open on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, updated just about daily, is here. It's eleven days till New Year's Eve, the busiest restaurant night of the year. Everybody's open; make reservations now.
Today is National Hamburger Day, says someone, somewhere, who probably had a space to fill on a calendar. Of course, every day in America is National Hamburger Day. If you consider how many restaurants serve the things as a main menu item, then note how many dishes are variations on hamburger (meat loaf, meatballs, kafta kebabs, chopped steak, on and on), the astonishing appeal of ground beef is revealed. Just under nine billion of them are sold every year in this country, two-thirds of them in restaurants. So they break up the home. Hamburgers account for about forty percent of all sandwiches sold. But what person in his right mind wouldn't prefer a roast beef poor boy, or an oyster loaf, or a muffuletta? Or a gyros or a deli corned beef on rye? Beware the hamburger's strong pull on your appetite. Resist it and improve your eating.
Two years ago this was named National Absinthe Day. Absinthe is a highly alcoholic liqueur that was very popular in France in the 1800s and early 1900s, after which it was banned there and here, too. Its flavor is dominated by herbs in the anise family of flavors. If you drink Herbsaint or Pernod (both of which were created as absinthe substitutes), you get an idea of what absinthe was like. There was an elaborate ritual for sweetening the stuff, involving the use of special perforated, flat spoons for the sugar to rest on.
One of components of absinthe was wormwood. Despite its evil-sounding name, it's a green herb. It carries a toxin that was alleged to be the reason for absinthe's illegality. However, none of that toxin comes through the distillation of well-made absinthe. The real reason for the ban was that an anti-alcohol movement was underway in the early 1900s, and the popularity of absinthe made it a target. Absinthe is making a strong comeback in recent years, and its fans are overzealous about it. (I'm sure I'll get an e-mail from a few of them correcting some tiny detail in this paragraph.) For more, see the
Today is the feast day of St. Baudacarius, a Benedictine monk who tended the grapevines and the kitchens at his monastery in seventh-century Bobbio, Italy. A legend about him is that he once ran out of food, and after praying for divine assistance he was able to feed thirty monks with a single duck.
Annals Of Brew
This is the day the Pilgrims got off the Mayflower in what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts. The year was 1620, and the ship had been at sea for sixty-three days. The crew didn't have enough beer to last all the way to Virginia and then back to England, so they unloaded the Pilgrims to lighten the pressure on the lager. (This is not a joke.)
Ray Romano, whom everybody loves, was born today in 1957. . . Francis Thomas Bacon, who developed the first fuel cells, was born today in 1904. Fuel cells, which may power the next generation of automobiles, make electricity and water at the same time. . . Kristi Cooke, Miss Ohio in 1991, was born today in 1967. . . David Nathaniel Baker, a classical composer and cellist, joined us today in 1931. . . Another classical composer, Edward Everett Rice, came into the world today in 1848.
People For Whom No Dish Will Ever Be Named
Today is the birthday, in 1879, of Josef Stalin. Whose real name, Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili, is even less likely to be honored with something delicious.
Words To Eat By
"Dinner at the Huntercombes' possessed only two dramatic features--the wine was a farce, and the food a tragedy." --Anthony Powell, a British writer who was born today in 1905.
Words To Drink By
"There is only one absinthe drinker, and that's the man who painted this idiotic picture."--Thomas Couture, whose birthday it is today (1815). He was talking about Manet's painting "Absinthe Drinker."
Sunday, December 13. Football At Zea, To Which I Am Not Welcome. I ate too much yesterday, and didn't sleep well. Lying awake I tracked the rain, which came in waves--some torrential-- throughout the night. I expected to see flooding when I finally arose, but the road to the Cool Water Ranch was clear.
The Marys informed me that they would be lunching at Zea, and that I wasn't welcome unless I kept my mouth shut. This because their primary motivation was not food, but the Saints. Mary Ann goes to Zea every week to watch the game, hoping the management wouldn't ask her to leave after she tied up a table for several hours while eating minimally. But they didn't care. When the Saints are playing, restaurant dining rooms all over town are empty. Most of the dining room staff is too busy watching the game to track how long people linger.
I showed up in the middle of the second quarter, with the Saints leading by three. The Marys were on the edge of their banquette, as worried about the game as if they were waiting on news about a friend who'd just been in a serious accident.
I ordered a Philly cheese steak panini. I remembered when it came out that this is one of the few things at Zea that leaves me cold. The beef is shredded and juicy, and could be used for making a poor boy sandwich. The melted cheese complicates the eating; the interior oozes out and onto one's lap. I will say that the dipping sauce is quite good.
They girls' emotions swelled and ebbed as the Saints were penalized a couple of times, scored a touchdown, missed an extra point, and chilled to the bone when the Yankees (or whoever the opponent was) got a field goal.
"I don't know if I can stand another game like last week," Mary Ann said. "This is making my heart pound!" Mary Leigh, who wore the Scott Fujita jersey I bought her last year, agreed that this was tough on her usually calm nerves.
I remained with them into the half-time show, finished my lunch, and left them to their anxieties. Thus concluded the longest piece of a Saints game I've ever watched. I have enough other things to worry about without this.
There went our dinner at home on Sunday. I asked Mary Ann later whether she might relent on her determination not to get a satellite dish, so she wouldn't have to watch the games in restaurants. The answer was no, especially not as a Christmas present. I didn't ask who won the game. The Marys looked so frazzled that they might have been capable of emitting painful electric shocks.
Monday, December 14. The Rain Gets Really Irritating. A stationary front lived up to its name, and rain fell all day long. Parts of the city were flooded. Mindy, my radio producer, told me later that her Chalmette home had water nearly to its steps, and a lot of cars were flooded on her street. The city would have two and a half inches before this day was out, bringing the running total of the last three days to eight inches of rain. I am very glad I invested in the equipment for doing my show from home.
Unfortunately, Mary Ann had to make the drive into town. She didn't feel good about Mary Leigh's driving the Causeway in this. I wondered why they went in at all. Today is a reading day, in advance of mid-term exams. But Mary Leigh said that she's going to be in the nativity show later in the week, and there was a rehearsal. I wish I'd known about this. I would have rescheduled the Eat Club dinner for another night. Now I can't see the play.
I can't remember what I ate today, or even whether I did. That's funny.
WHY IT'S NOTEWORTHY
It's a super-neighborhood restaurant, drawing customers from all over town with a menu bigger than is usually found in places that look like this. All the essential dishes of casual New Orleans eating are here, from beans and jambalaya to seafood platters and daily specials.
WHY IT'S GOOD
It's a classic New Orleans casual menu, almost to the point of cliche. But they take all of it seriously and cook it well. The daily specials are particularly good, enough so that many of the customers know exactly which day to be there for what. Portions are almost grossly oversize, and if that's not enough, they have an all-you-can-eat catfish deal that runs every day.
Clay Farnet opened Joey K's in 1992, a time when neighborhood restaurants were in steep decline around town. In its early years the restaurant was self-consciously nostalgic, serving famous dishes that not many people ate in restaurants anymore. When neighborhood joints had a resurgence, particularly after Katrina, Joey K's seemed a perfect example of the genre--especially after exposing the antique decor under what had become a shabby outer skin.
A big room with big windows on two sides (this is literally a corner cafe), with some nooks and crannies here and there for added space. The place looks (and is) much older than the current restaurant. Although it looks like the kind of place where the main clientele would be cab drivers and cops, in fact you see the entire assortment of Orleanians here, including a surprisingly large number of Uptown ladies and businesspeople. The wait stuff is fun.
Fried artichoke hearts.
Fried crab claws.
Seafood poor boys.
Roast beef poor boy.
Shrimp Magazine (artichoke hearts, ham, green onions on pasta).
Trout Tchoupitoulas (fried, with crab and shrimp).
Fried seafood platters.
Fried catfish (all you can eat).
White or red beans and pork chop (Monday special).
Stewed chicken (Tuesday special).
Boiled brisket and cabbage (Wednesday special).
Creole jambalaya (Friday special).
FOR BEST RESULTS
Order light. They serve too much food here. Don't wear your best clothes. It's usually hard to get a table in the peak of lunchtime.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
Some of the specials swap quantity for careful cooking. The fried seafood is crisp and hot, but the coatings all taste the same.
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
- Value +2
- Attitude +1
- Wine and Bar
- Local Color +2
- Sidewalk tables
- Medium private room
- Open Monday lunch and dinner
- Open all afternoon
- Unusually large servings
- Quick, good meal
- Good for children
- Easy, nearby parking
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.
Court of Two Sisters
613 Royal. 504-522-7273.
CER NYE NYD
Four courses $40
Turtle Soup Au Sherry
Creole Seafood Gumbo
* * * * * * * * * *
Fried Green Tomatoes
Topped with crabmeat ravigote and shrimp remoulade
* * * * * * * * * *
Panned Veal Medallions
Lemon braised artichoke hearts and roasted garlic potato puree
Potato mash and steamed asparagus, and lump crabmeat
Corn Fried Des Allemands Catfish
With jumbo lump crabmeat and napa slaw
Seared Duck Breast a l'Orange
Confit dirty rice, sweet potato puree and candied pecans
Char-Broiled Tenderloin of Beef
Marchand de vin and béarnaise sauces and new potato mash and haricots verts
* * * * * * * * * *
Eggnog Crème Brûlée
Assorted Dessert Tray
Poached Fish with Cranberry Hollandaise
I don't think we use cranberries enough. They're always on my mind this time of year. I made tis for a pre-Christmas dinner a few years ago, and it was well enough liked that I make it whenever I get some good redfish, drum, flounder, or salmon and a hankering for poached fish.
- 1/4 cup dry white wine
- 1/2 lemon, slice
- 6 black peppercorns
- 4 sprigs parsley
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 4 fillets of fish, 6-8 oz. each
- 1 cup cranberry juice, boiled down to 1/4 cup
- 2 egg yolks
- 2 sticks butter, softened
- Generous pinch cayenne
1. In a large stainless-steel or enamel pan, put about a half-inch of water and bring to a simmer. Add wine, lemon slices, peppercorns, parsley, and salt. Cook for five minutes.
2. Meanwhile, get the sauce started. In a metal bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water, whisk the egg yolks until they change to a pale yellow color. Whisk in the softened butter, a tablespoon at a time. If the sauce shows any sign of curdling, remove the bowl from the saucepan and keep whisking until it cools. Keep this up until half the butter is incorporated, then add the reduced cranberry juice and a tablespoon of water from the fish pan. Whisk in the rest of the butter slowly until fluffy. Whisk in the cayenne. Set the sauce aside.
3. Back to the pan with the lemon slices. With the water just barely boiling, add two pieces of fish at a time and cook for six to ten minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish. Remove the fish with a slotted turner and allow excess water to drain. Place on the plate and top with the cranberry hollandaise.
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