DiningDiarySquare-150x150 Saturday, February 18, 2017.
Don’t Take My Chair!

It’s a loose day. My Saturday errands are done before noon, when I go on WWL with a two-hour show. As usual, it’s the easiest show of the week for me, with lots of callers asking lots of good questions.

Mary Leigh meets me for lunch at La Carreta. She has brought her dog Bauer with her, all the way across the lake, so the pooch can get better exercise than he does in town. Usually she ties Bauer up in La Carreta’s courtyard, but none of the tables where this can be done are available. Another customer offers to move himself and his three friends to make our job possible.

This reveals an interesting dynamic in restaurants. Once a customer is seated, a restaurateur must have a serious problem for him to ask a customer to move to another table. This has come up a few times over the years at our Eat Club dinners. Usually, the problem is that a group of four can’t find enough room together. Because we always let all the Eat Clubbers to pick their tables and seats, it sometimes happens that the only way I can find a place for everyone is to ask somebody to move. Most of the time, the Eat Clubbers don’t mind, but I pick up a vibe that says the moving customers are not entirely happy about the change.

Chicken a la Diabla, from the Monterrey menu @ La Carreta.

Chicken a la Diabla, from the Monterrey menu @ La Carreta.

So I profusely thank the man who this afternoon gave us his table. Bauer has a happy half-hour tied to the table–he loves being with people–waiting for us to pass him another tortilla chip. He also gets a couple of piece of skirt steak to swallow without chewing. I wonder if dogs actually taste anything.

ML has other engagements for the rest of the day. I adjourn to the Cool Water Ranch for a 90-minute walk, a shower, and a long nap. After the big platter at La Carreta, I would not be hungry the rest of the day. I spend it in the office trying to manage the hundreds of little jobs that always fills my desk.

Boring? Yes, I know.

La Carreta. Mandeville: 1200 W Causeway Approach. 985-624-2990.
Sunday, February 19, 2017.
A Face From The Past.

The Sunday routine. I sing at the ten o’clock Mass. I do a little shopping. Then I fetch up for brunch at Forks and Corks. That restaurant is on my mind because Mary Ann has sold it an ad. I am the graphic artist for all of MA’s ads, tapping my earliest skill in the publishing business. Every week for many years, I wrote and designed all the ads in the weekly newspaper Figaro, for which I worked through most of its nine-year history. I also wrote articles for the paper, and by the time its lifetime came to an end, I was the editor-in-chief.

I like the brunch at F&C, mainly because it’s more like lunch at Galatoire’s than breakfast at Brennan’s. They have a few egg dishes, but for the most part the restaurant is sauteeing speckled trout and redfish for platters that will also include brabant potatoes, asparagus, meuniere sauce and turtle soup.

Blackened fish salad with spinach. Kinda like the one we have with fried oysters.

Blackened fish salad with spinach. Kinda like the one we have with fried oysters.

On the way out, I am halted by a man whose face I know but whose identity I don’t. He gives me a clue by mentioning St. Rita’s in Harahan. Ah. I know him now. He and his brothers were at that excellent parochial grammar school the same time I was. I think we may even have played ball together during that wonderful summer of my twelfth year, when the world was about baseball, bicycling, baseball cards, wandering in the woods, and the avoidance of girls. The following summer, the girls would intrude, and I had to deal with the fact that they were far ahead of me in every way. As I recall, the guy I spoke with now was more comfortable with the ladies than I was. Which wouldn’t take much.

Forks & Corks. Covington: 141 TerraBella Blvd. 985-273-3663.


Oysters Bienville

Few restaurants make oysters Bienville anymore, but that doesn’t make it bad. This classic baked-on-the-shell dish, named for the founder of New Orleans, is seriously delicious. However, there’s no gold standard for the dish. Nobody is sure who invented it, in fact. Arnaud’s, Antoine’s, and Commander’s all make claims, and Pascal’s Manale and Delmonico are also famous for their versions.

I’m persuaded that the ingredient list must contain bacon, shrimp, mushrooms, bell peppers, sherry, a butter-based light roux, Parmesan cheese and some lighter cheese, and bread crumbs. Other ingredients lurk in the background. You can bake oysters Bienville classically on the shells, but I find they’re just as good made in a small casserole or gratin dish. I serve them that way at Thanksgiving instead of oyster dressing.

When cooking, oysters release a good deal of water, and that can rip the sauce apart. The solution is to use more bread crumbs than looks or feels right. And to have the sauce fully cooked and hot before it goes into the oven, so that the dish can be cooked mostly by heat from above.

Keith Young's (and my) oysters Bienville.

Keith Young’s (and my) oysters Bienville.

  • 1 lb. small shrimp (50 count), peeled, rinsed, and chopped coarsely
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 rib celery, chopped coarsely
  • 1 large, ripe red bell pepper, seeds and membrane removed, chopped coarsely
  • 8 oz. small white mushrooms, chopped coarsely
  • 1/4 cup dry sherry
  • 4 strips lean bacon, fried crisp, crumbled
  • 2 green onions, sliced finely
  • 1 cup of oyster water (or as much as you can get, plus enough water to make a cup)
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 2/3 cup warm milk
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2/3 cup finely shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 cup bread crumbs
  • 1 tsp. salt-free Creole seasoning
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 4 dozen large oysters, well drained

1. Heat 1 tsp. of the butter in a skillet until it bubbles. Sauté the chopped shrimp until it turns pink. Remove and set aside.

2. Add 2 Tbs. butter to the pan and heat until it bubbles. Add the celery, bell pepper, and mushrooms. Sauté until they get tender. Add the sherry and bring to a boil for about one minute.

3. Add the shrimp, bacon, and green onions. Cook for another minute, then add the oyster water. Bring it to a boil and cook for about two minutes. The sauce should be wet but not sloshy. Remove from heat.

4. Heat the remaining butter over medium-low heat in a saucepan. Stir in the flour to make a blond roux. When you see the first hints of browning, remove from the heat and whisk in the hot milk to form a béchamel. (It will have the texture of mashed potatoes.)

5. Add the egg yolks to the béchamel, stirring quickly to combine it before the eggs have a chance to set. Whisk the mozzarella slowly into the béchamel.

6. Add the béchamel to the pan with the shrimp mixture. Stir to into combine completely.

7. Combine the Creole seasoning, salt, bread crumbs, and cheeses. Blend two-thirds of this mixture into the sauce.

8. Cover the bottom of a shallow baking dish with oysters, leaving just a little space between them. Top with the Bienville sauce. Sprinkle the top with the remaining bread crumb mixture. Bake in a preheated 450-degree oven for about 15-20 minutes (depending on the size of the baking dish). The dish is done when it’s bubbling and the top is browned.

Serves eight to twelve.

500BestSquareBarbecue Shrimp @ Dante’s Kitchen

Eman Loubier, the chef and owner of Dante’s Kitchen, has a thing for big flavors. After a stint at the top ranks of the kitchen at Commander’s Palace, he opened this place in 2000, and cut loose. Explosively good dishes riddle the menu, and the barbecue shrimp are among the best of those. Unlike most restaurants, they’re happy to serve the big, heads-on Louisiana shrimp in that spicy butter as an appetizer. Beware of eating too much French bread with the sauce.

Barbecue shrimp at Dante's Kitchen.

Barbecue shrimp at Dante’s Kitchen.

Dante’s Kitchen. Riverbend: 736 Dante. 504-861-3121.

This is among the 500 best dishes in New Orleans area restaurants. Click here for a list of the other 499.

AlmanacSquare February 23, 2017

Days Until. . .

Mardi Gras–5

St. Patrick’s Day–23

St. Joseph’s Day–25

Famous Names In High Living

Cesar Ritz was born today in 1850. Every use of the word Ritz implying luxury and excellence derives from his career. After managing hotels in Monte Carlo and Switzerland, how founded his own ritzy place in Paris. The Ritz-Carlton Hotel here is a direct descendant. I wonder how he’d feel about Ritz crackers.

World Food Records

Today in 2007, a group of New Zealand fishermen landed the largest colossal squid ever caught. It was just under forty feet long, and weighed almost a thousand pounds. These fantastic creatures have been known for a long time, but almost never encountered live. They can fight a sperm whale to the finish, the winner not a foregone conclusion. Not enough breading and oil could be found to fry this calamari, so it was grilled and served with aioli instead.

Physiology Of Eating

The man who invented the word vitamin was born today in 1884. Casimir Funk was a biochemist who worked on figuring out which parts of our food did what in the body. Good thing he didn’t name these essential nutrients after himself. Can you imagine a daily multi-funk regimen?

Annals Of Lunch

The Rotary Club was founded today in 1905, in Chicago, by Paul Percy Harris and three friends. Rotarians are nice people who accomplish much in their communities. After speaking at their breakfast and lunch meetings on many occasions, I can say that eating excellent food is not one of their goals. I usually respond to their invitations by saying that I’d be happy to speak, as long as I don’t have to eat.

Food Calendar

Bananas-RipeNational Banana Bread Day. As nugatory as that may sound, it rings a bell because if you buy bananas, it’s almost a certainty that you buy too many. When bananas become overripe, they’re in the perfect state for making banana bread. It’s great for breakfast, and makes a pretty good late-night snack.

Annals Of Candy

Leo Hirshfield, an Austrian immigrant who owned a candy shop in New York City, made up the basic formula still used today for Tootsie Rolls. The year was 1896. He named the candy after his daughter. It was the first hand-wrapped penny candy, and was obviously a big hit, even though it tastes chocolaty, not like chocolate. Sixty-four million Tootsie Rolls are made every day. (Does that sound right to you?) Tootsie Roll Industries (the front and back parts of the corporate name don’t sound right together, either) was founded with only the namesake product. Now it also makes Charms Blow Pops, Mason Dots, Andes Mints, Sugar Daddy, Charleston Chew, Dubble Bubble gum, Razzles, Caramel Apple Pop, Junior Mints, Cella’s Chocolate-Covered Cherries, and Nik-L-Nip.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Frog2Frog is a relict town on the old US 80 and the Texas and Pacific Railroad, forty-three miles east of downtown Dallas, Texas. When it was in its prime, it was a settlement of thirty or so African-American families who worked for the railroad. Most of them were of two extended families. This was enough to support two churches and a school. One of the churches is still active. No restaurants are in Frog, but there’s an off-chance frogs might be on the menu at Fisherman’s Delight, six miles south in Kaufman.

Edible Dictionary

farro, n.–An early form of cultivated wheat grown in the Mediterranean since prehistoric times. It’s also known as emmer or spelt, but some authorities claim that it’s subtly different from both. It’s cooked and eaten as whole grain, especially in Italy. A soup of farro is still popular there, thought of as very homely. In this country, farro is largely the province of health food stores and their customers, but in the past few years some chefs have begun cooking it to add variety to the grain side of their menus.

Deft Dining Rule #223 & #224:

When sauces or condiments come to the table in little dishes, don’t think twice about trying them with anything else on the table. Few mistakes can be made.

Always try a few drops of sauces or condiments brought in little dishes to the table before eating a lot of them. Some are very, very hot.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

The more different kinds of pepper in a dish, the more interesting and powerful the heat.

Food Namesakes

Gilbert Moxley Sorrel, brigadier general in the Confederate army, was born today in 1838. . . Pro golfer Cindy Figg-Currier teed off her life today in 1960. Later she was able to add a second food word to her name. . . Football linebacker Jerod Mayo got the Big Snap today in 1986.

Words To Eat By

“Hunger makes you restless. You dream about food–not just any food, but perfect food, the best food, magical meals, famous and awe-inspiring, the one piece of meat, the exact taste of buttery corn, tomatoes so ripe they split and sweeten the air, beans so crisp they snap between the teeth, gravy like mother’s milk singing to your bloodstream.”–Dorothy Allison, contemporary American writer.

Words To Drink By

“A rattlesnake that doesn’t bite teaches you nothing.”–Jessamyn West, American writer. She died today in 1984.


The Ice Cream Man Gets Complicated.

Everything that kids love to eat can now come from a truck with a mobile kitchen. But I somehow feel sorry for the ice cream man.

Click here for the cartoon.