DiningDiarySquare-150x150 Wednesday, April 26, 2017.
Another Look At Porter And Luke.

Mary Leigh calls as just after the radio show ends. I can tell from her tone that she’d like to have someone else pick up the check for dinner. What are fathers for, after all? An even more pleasant turn comes when as I run through all the restaurants I don’t expect her to like, I drop the name of Porter and Luke. “I love Porter and Luke!” she surprisingly says. Terrific.

I have to go there anyway, because the place is running commercials on the radio show, and I want to make sure I feel good about that. When I went there last week, there was a minor problem, but one that had the chef concerned. I assure him that I don’t shoot down restaurant for one slip-up.

The soup department of P&L is shining. Last time, a turtle soup was excellent. This time, there’s a very light but cream-laced mushroom soup that needs only a few dashes of Tabasco to make it a pleasure to eat. The entree is a mammoth trough of pasta with chicken parmigiana. Really, it’s twice as much food as I could possibly eat. But the first third of it made me happy enough.

Triple wedge and seafood salad.

Triple wedge and seafood salad.

One of P&L’s most interesting dishes is the “trio of wedges.” This is their oversize wedge salad with the usual blue cheese. But three more additions appear: shrimp remoulade, crabmeat ravigote, and fried oysters. You get all three, to say nothing about all the lettuce. ML still doesn’t go for seafood. I would have taken the shrimp, crawfish and crabmeat if I had any room left.

ML is still riding high from the design work she has done lately. Her most recent project will show up tonight in some kind of football reportage. She did a big part of the set. It looks great. Now she had a big project that is asking for her to come up with a completely original set. Yes, the first stroke of the pen or the first word of the sentence is always the hardest.

Porter & Luke. Old Metairie: 1517 Metairie Road. 504-875-4555.

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Wild Alaska Salmon Kebabs With Rosemary And Lime

Wild-caught Alaskan king salmon is among the world’s best fish. It’s certainly the best salmon. When you encounter it (which we don’t often in New Orleans), bring it home and cook it almost any way you like. Here’s one way we did it at the Cool Water Ranch. I like salmon rare, which is the way these instructions get it. Mary Ann, of course, likes it well-done. No problem. Just leave the skewers destined for the well-done people on the grill or under the broiler a couple of minutes longer.

If you have a bushy rosemary plant as we do, you can use branches of it in lieu of the skewers for an interesting presentation and extra flavor.

If you’re taking a cruise to Alaska this year (a trip I recommend, having taken in several times), you might go on a salmon fishing expedition, at the end of which the salmon can be packed up and shipped home. Keep this recipe in mind if you’re lucky enough to visit those amazing environs.

Grilled Alaska salmon en brochette.

  • 1 zucchini, cut into chunks
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, cut into chunks
  • 1 large red onion, cut into chunks
  • 1 1/2 lbs. wild-caught Alaska salmon fillets, cut into chunks
  • 1/4 tsp. sea salt
  • 1 Tbs. salt-free Creole seasoning
  • 2 cloves fresh garlic, chopped
  • 1 tsp. fresh rosemary leaves, chopped
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 Tbs. freshly squeezed lime juice

1. Soak wooden or bamboo skewers in water for about ten minutes to keep them from burning on the grill. (Metal skewers carry heat into the fish, which is not desirable in this case.)

2. Spread the vegetables in a bowl and microwave for 44 seconds–just long enough to take the crunch out, without softening them. (You can also do this in a steamer.)

3. Place salmon, zucchini, bell pepper and onion into a shallow dish and sprinkle with salt and Creole seasoning.

4. Stir the garlic, rosemary, olive oil and lime juice in a small bowl. Pour the mixture over the salmon and vegetables. Toss all the ingredients to coat, and marinate for 15-20 minutes.

5. Preheat the grill or broiler as hot as you can get them. Skewer the salmon and vegetables and grill or broil about two to three minutes, until it’s seared darkly here and there.

6. Warm the leftover marinade in the microwave or in a small saucepan. Drizzle over skewers and serve.

Serves four.

500BestSquareMiso Gumbo @ Sushi Brothers

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One of the most creative Japanese restaurants hereabout, Sushi Brothers’ most interesting concoction is this hybrid of the familiar tofu-riddled pre-sushi soup with seafood gumbo. The broth includes shrimp, fish, green onions, okra, and the crowning touch of half of a small fried soft-shell crab.More than just a gimmick, this is genuinely tasty, a fine beginning to a dinner, and at seven bucks a good deal. Also here is a peppery, Cajun-style miso soup, involving salmon, shrimp, crawfish, napa cabbage, white and green onions.

Sushi Brothers. Lee Circle Area: 1612 St Charles Ave. 504-581-4449.

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

AlmanacSquare April 28, 2017

Days Until. . .
Jazz Festival–Begins Today!
Mother’s Day–16

Restaurant Anniversaries

Charlie’s Steak House.

Today in 1932, Charlie’s Steak House opened on Dryades Street a block off Napoleon Avenue–right where it is today. Charles Petrossi started it, and turned it over to his children decades later. One of them–Dottye Bennett, who waited tables in the restaurant for decades–passed away in early 2017, in her nineties. Matthew Dwyer, who bought Charlie’s and renovated it after the hurricane, continues to roll along with the place, which is as close as you could get to what it was before the storm without applying grime to the new walls.

Today’s Flavor

The celebration of the best part of crawfish season here in Louisiana continues. Today is Crawfish Pie Day. Crawfish pie became famous outside the precincts where it’s most enjoyed through the agency of Hank Williams’s hit song Jambalaya. That song created a three-way combo that Cajun restaurants offer to this day: jambalaya, crawfish pie, and filé gumbo. Crawfish pie starts with the same ensemble of ingredients you’d use to make crawfish etouffee, but with no tomato and less liquid. It’s also enriched with a little cream and thickened with a touch of egg. Although the classic crawfish pie is made in a standard (but small) pie shell, my preference is to make it as a turnover, baked or fried.


It is also National Blueberry Pie Day. Blueberries aren’t in season yet–our bushes here at the ranch have nothing yet, and this is as far south as it gets–save, of course, for Chile, from which almost all blue- and blackberries come this time of year. In any case, blueberry pie sounds better than it is. For the blueberries to hold a berry texture, they must float in a thick matrix, which is too often made super-sweet. Blueberries are so marvelous in their fresh state that this comes across to our palates as a parody. But then, I like blueberry jam on my toast.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Grape, Arkansas is thirty-one miles east of Little Rock, halfway to Hot Springs. This is working up into the hills of the Ozarks, where grapes for wine and juice have been grown since the 1870s. Substantial vineyards surround the fork in the road that is Grape. The town is in the valley of the Moccasin Creek; Stillhouse Hollow is nearby. So some of that juice was made into white lightning, like as not. All the restaurants are in Benton, five miles away on I-30. I like the sound of Ed & Kay’s.

Celebrity Chefs Today

Today is the birthday (although he won’t tell me which one) of Richard Hughes, the chef-owner of the five-star Pelican Club. Richard first attracted our notice when he worked for Iler Pope at Dante By The River (where Brigtsen’s is now). He then moved on to New York City, where he was the chef at a well-liked restaurant called Memphis. (Despite the name, it served Louisiana food.) He and some chef partners started the Pelican Club in July of 1990. After the hurricane, Richard took full control of the restaurant. As star chefs go, he’s one of the quietest, and seems to enjoy flying his restaurant below the radar.

Speaking of star chefs: Alice Waters, the founder of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California, was born today in 1944. Her inspiration was in tirelessly searching for the best possible ingredients, and encouraging farmers to raise better quality foodstuffs, with as few artificial additives and techniques as possible. She led the movement toward organic foods in restaurants, and in doing so became one of the three or four most influential figures in the modern American restaurant industry. Here’s a good site that tells about her and her ideas.

Annals Of Food Research

We don’t think of sugar beets often, but in fact a great deal of sugar is extracted from them, particularly in Eastern Europe. The man who developed the method for extracting the sucrose, Franz Karl Achard, was born today in 1753. As far as I know, sugar beets are rarely eaten as is.

Edible Dictionary

A collection of green herbs, none of which are resinous (like rosemary) or assertive (like garlic). Typical components include chervil, basil, parsley, oregano, tarragon, and marjoram. It’s unusual for the very traditional French that the recipe for fines herbes isn’t set in stone. This is probably because all of these herbs are evanescent, and you might not have the same ones coming from the garden all the time. Fines herbs are frequently used in sauces (mayonnaise is the classic), omelettes (mixed into the eggs, not folded inside them), and light, brothy soups. You can buy dried fines herbes from the spice rack at the store, but fresh are mich preferable.

Turning Points In Dining

W.H. Carrier patented the modern air conditioner on this date in 1914. This was an incomparable for restaurants in places like New Orleans. Try to imagine dining at Galatoire’s or Arnaud’s on a 95-degree day in August with 85 percent humidity with nothing more than the arsenal of ceiling fans to keep patrons cool. (If you can’t, go to Southern Italy in July and dine anywhere.) Thank you, Mr. Carrier!

Annals Of School Lunches

Remember the student who was apprehended at his grammar school and had his pack searched, because he appeared to be carrying a gun? And that it turned out to be a very large burrito wrapped in aluminum foil? It was in Clovis, New Mexico, today in 2006.

Music To Do Shots By

Today in 1958, the mostly-instrumental song Tequila, by The Champs, hit Number One on the pop charts. The only word spoken (not really sung) in the number is the title.

Deft Dining Rule #838:

You can have fun picking and eating wild berries, but no matter how many you find and eat, you will still need lunch afterwards.

Food Namesakes

Appropriate for today, Canadian singer Dorothee Berryman was picked today in 1948. . . Today is the birthday, in 1930, of James Baker III, cabinet member in the Reagan and Bush I administrations.

Words To Eat By

“A person who can get a good table at Chez Panisse at the last minute is a very important person indeed. Royalty begins with Alice Waters.”–Willard Spiegelman.

“I’ve got a lot of ham in me.”–Actor Lionel Barrymore, born today in 1878.

Words To Drink By

“I drink no more than a sponge”–Francois Rabelais, French author.

FoodFunniesSquare

Hot Dogs, As Trendiness Pushes Them Higher Upscale.

Okay, we’ve commissioned a few fool-proof gourmet words to make wieners and their accompaniments a more important part of the culinary world.

Click here for the cartoon.

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DiningDiarySquare-150x150 Tuesday, April 25, 2017.
Chris’s Meats, And Fun. A Drink @ Treo, A Supper @ Tana.

I must say I’m having a lot of fun with the guests Mary Ann has been booking for the radio show. The motivating reason for them is to have someone for me to talk with during the program. For all its many merits, our shift to HD Radio has made it mildly difficult for anyone other than an audio buff to listen to the program. And if they can’t hear the show, they are less likely to call into it–even though a would-be caller needs only the telephone (504-260-6368) to connect with the conversation.

Today’s guests came from Chris’s Specialty Meats, a gourmet butcher on the corner of West End Boulevard and Harrison Avenue in Lakeview. It’s a Baton Rouge-based operation with major roots in Cajun Country, where little butcher shops are an important part of the cooking scene.

It’s always fun when the guests goof around with me. I made a good impression with the boss lady, Twyla Lauchaussee (pronounced “lah-chah-say.”) by making a sidelong reference to the dancer with whom she shares her given name. Also here is head meat smoker Anthony Ford, who goes by his “Da Parish” name of “Ant-nee.” Richard Graham, who plays straight man, rounds out the show.

It was a load of laughs, punctuated by tastes of boudin, smoked sausage, smoked briskets, hogshead cheese, and a few more house-made items. The shop also stocks top-end steaks, a good many game meats, and a substantial number of stuffings and side dishes.

Finally, we establish that there is no connection between Chris’s Meats and Ruth’s Chris Steak House.

We fill the first hour with these fun folks. Then comes another one: Mike Gowland, better known in food circles as “Fireman Mike.” He really was a firefighter in New Orleans for twenty-something years. His food credentials come from cooking in a few restaurants, most notably the now-extinct but well-remembered Bozo’s.

Mike has also participated in many eating contests, especially those involving eating something like a hundred raw oysters at a sitting–while beating the clock. The reason he is here, however is that he’s operated a food booth at the Jazz Festival for some fifteen years. Serving food long-term at the festival is a mark of distinction, since there is almost zero turnover in the Jazz Fest’s food booths. Fireman Mike’s specialty is shrimp and grits, and he keeps a long line in front of his window.

Afterwards, I finally make it to a restaurant that opened last year, but whose location I had trouble reconnoitering. It’s on Tulane Avenue a few outbound blocks before South Carrollton Avenue. Under its bar name “Treo” at attracts a mostly-Millennian clientele, one that uses language a bit saltier than what I’m used to.

So what was Bob Rintz doing there? He was probably asking the same question about me. Bob and I go back to 1972, when he was the business and sales honcho of the weekly newspaper Figaro. I worked there as a writer and designer. We have other social connections from the momentum of that one. Most memorable was that we both were members of Kit and Billy Wohl’s “waifs and orphans” Thanksgiving gathering for many years. Most of the attendees were media people with roots from other places.

The food side of Treo is called Tana, and is inspired by Chef Michael Gullota. He has an impressive dossier, too. He’s the owner of MoPho, and the new Asian restaurant MayPop. Before that, he was the chef and partner in Restaurant August, John Besh’s five-star flagship restaurant.

This kind of wide-ranging skill makes for a surprising menu at Tana. Its soul seems to be Italian, but there’s a lot else going on here. I began with agnolotti (little ravioli) stuffed with chicken liver pate, tossed with an assortment of lightly-cooked apples and vegetables, all awash in an intense chicken broth. It was a soup, a salad, and a pasta all in one.

I was interested in some of the other pasta dishes, but I’m on the one-pasta-per-meal diet. So next is an offbeat salad with citrus-tinged carrots and pickled beets, with cured hog’s jowls and yogurt made from goat’s milk. My mother gave me goat’s milk when I was a baby for some health reason, so I keep getting it whenever it’s within reach. This dish was a little hard to eat. I needed a spoon, and throughout the meal I never seemed to have the right utensils. Could be because the bartender took care of food service. The Manhattan he made for me was right on the money.

I felt the need to try a couple more items. From the bar snack category came fresh-fried potato chips with a pale orange aioli. And then a king of crostini topped wioth charred eggplant and ricotta. I didn’t get the combo Brussels sprouts and cauliflower with harissa, but MA would have loved it.

For such an abbreviated menu, Tana nevertheless held my interest, and persuade me to find another parking spot soon and try some more of all this.

Chris’s Specialty Meats. Lakeview: 6251 West End Blvd. 504-309-0010.
Tana. Mid-City: 3835 Tulane Ave. 504-304-4878.

Bosco’s Italian Vinaigrette

A part of the meal I most look forward to at Bosco’s–a great Italian trattoria in two locations on the North Shore–is their illusively simple Italian salad dressing. Dress green salads with just enough of this to coat, without leaving any extra in the salad bowl. (If you can’t see the dressing, you did it perfectly.) Dress the salad immediately before serving.

  • 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup freshly-squeezed lemon juice, strained
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tbs. fresh chopped garlic
  • 2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1 tsp. coarsely-ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 2 Tbs. water
  • 1 cups canola oil

In a blender, mix all the ingredients except the canola oil until completely blended. Then add the canola oil in a thin stream to the blender while running at medium speed. Continue until it’s noticeably thicker than what you started with.

Makes 2 1/2 cups of dressing.

500BestSquareMoo-Shu Vegetables @ Trey Yuen

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Moo-shu pork is a famous Mandarin dish whose fanciness and unique style of serving are at least matched by its deliciousness. Pork, eggs flowers, matchsticks of various savory vegetables, and exotic mushrooms all come together in a thick sauce. You spoon all that into a “pancake” (it’s more like a thin flour tortilla), roll it up, and eat with your fingers. It’s sort of a Chinese burrito. It’s so well-liked that lots of customers asked to have the same dish with chicken or beef. It was inevitable that someone would want moo-shu with just vegetables. When that happened, the Wong brothers just whipped it up and sent it out. It may be the best moo-shu of them all, the meat’s absence made up for with more vegetables and more mushrooms, in several varieties.

Moo-shu vegetables at Trey Yuen.

Trey Yuen. Mandeville: 600 Causeway Blvd. 985-626-4476.

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

AlmanacSquare April 27, 2017

Days Until. . .
Jazz Festival–1
Mother’s Day–17

Food Calendar

Today is National Prime Rib Day. Prime rib is, speaking strictly, the three rearmost ribs from the primal rib roast. However, most restaurants and butchers consider all seven ribs in the standard rib roast as being prime rib. The ones in the back have a bigger “eye” in the center and smaller islands of lean around the perimeter of fat. It’s the same cut used for ribeye steaks, but before the bone is removed.

The big difference between prime rib and ribeye is the cooking method. Most prime rib roasts are roasted whole for hours at low temperatures–300 degrees, give or take. That’s what gives prime rib its soft, juicy texture, so different from the firmer texture of the same cut if meat grilled one steak at a time. Prime rib is usually not carved until serving time.

Prime rib, well trimmed, ready for its two-part roasting routine.

One more confusion: the word “prime” in the expression “prime rib” is not the same as in “USDA Prime grade” for beef. A prime rib can be choice or worse grade. USDA Prime prime rib is rarely seen; the amount of fat in it is fantastic, but fans of the cut love it for that.

Prime rib was much more popular in the 1960s and 1970s than it is now. Back then, restaurant chains all over America specialized in it. Two of note in New Orleans were Victoria’s Station (a national chain that is down to just a few restaurants) and Ichabod’s Galley, a local chain. The most famous place for the eating of prime rib, of course, is the Rib Room at the Royal Orleans Hotel.

Deft Dining Rule #712:

If you ask for the end cut in a prime rib place, the only acceptable answers are “Of course!” or “I’m sorry. . . we’ve already sold them tonight.”

Deft Dining Rule #713:

Never order the end cut of prime rib, unless you want to be identified as a the kind of person who eats well-done steak.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

A prime rib roast with two bones is one bone short. Three bones is routine. When you have four bones, you really have something worth inviting friends over for.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Curry is a small farm town in the dry plains of southeastern Washington. It’s eighty road miles from Walla Walla, but only fifty miles by air. (The Snake River and its Sacagawea Lake cut off a direct road.) Curry is the turnoff to get the the Connell City airport. Said city, two miles away, is where you’ll have to go for food if you find yourself on Curry Road. There you find Mei Ling Inn, where they have curry in both the Chinese and Thai styles.

Food Through History

Today in 1773, the British Parliament passed the Tea Act, which levied yet another tax that the American colonists found outrageous. It ultimately incited the Boston Tea Party, which got the attention of the British government.

Edible Dictionary

Brunswick stew, n.–Brunswick stew is the best-known American dish with squirrel meat as a main ingredient. Even so, it’s not much prepared anymore. Selling wild-caught squirrel meat is illegal, and so you will not likely see the dish in a restaurant. If you do, it will be made with chicken in place of the squirrel. A better idea is to make it with rabbit. Other ingredients include bacon, tomatoes, potatoes, corn, and beans. The version made in Louisiana usually contains a noticeable cayenne component (no surprise there). Two Brunswick Counties–one in Virginia, the other in North Carolina–claim that the dish is named for them.

The Saints

Today is the feast day of St. Zita. As a young servant girl, she gathered her own food as well as what other food she could find in the household of her employers and gave it to the poor in the streets of Lucca, Italy. She is the patron saint of waitresses. Her name is also the singular form of ziti, the tubular pasta a lot like penne. But there is no connection.

Annals Of The Cocktail

Today in 1957, Mario A. Gianini passed away. (I can’t find his birth date.) He was the inventor of the maraschino cherry, so common in our drinks and baking. A maraschino cherry is a light-colored cherry preserved in a brine or alcohol solution, then marinated in a colored, flavored syrup that gives it (usually) an almond flavor. The flavor is in imitation of maraschino liqueur, made from the marasco cherry and containing real almond extract. Maraschino liqueur is rarely used now. Now, we turn to a long-running and absurd argument my wife and I have. I say–and dictionaries and speakers of Italian do too–that the preferred pronunciation is “maras-kee-no.” I learned that from the cartoon character Snagglepuss, who was the first person (?) I ever heard pronounce the word. My wife says that it should be “mara-shee-no,” because, she claims, that’s how most people say it. Sheesh.

Food Namesakes

Former Louisiana Senator Lloyd Wheat was born today in 1922. . . A movie called The Dish opened today in 2001. Disappointingly, it was not about food, but a satellite antenna. . . Punk rock artist David Peel was born today in 1947.

Words To Eat By

“Any of us would kill a cow rather than not have beef.”–Samuel Johnson.

Words To Drink By

“Beer is made by men, wine by God.”–Martin Luther.
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DiningDiarySquare-150x150 Saturday, April 22, 2017.
A Busy But Not Hectic Day.

What’s the difference between a busy day and a hectic one? It’s all in how you feel about your job. I very much like mine, even when I have many hours of work and a lot of running around in between tasks. On the latter days, I fall into my routines, which get jobs done more efficiently than any other way. So today I am at Mattina Bella, eating a combo breakfast (soft-scrambled eggs, bacon, and pancakes), asking at first for just one of the two pancakes that come with this deal. But it’s so good I wind up asking for the second one.

I go on the air for three hours, and take a long walk and a nap after that. Dinner is at Tchoupstix for the first time in awhile. It’s dominated by raw salmon and tuna with crisp little bits of peppery herbs throughout. Tchoupstix needs to reprint its menu so that it can be read.

I spend a lot of the evening pulling together my guide to the Jazz Festival’s food. That begins this Friday, and it’s one of the features that NOMenu readers like most.

And now I come out to diary time to say that on Tuesday afternoon, I have finished the Jazz Fest guide. It wasn’t as time-consuming as such things usually are (they amount to a massive fact-checking and proofreading project). I only have a little typographical setting up and I’m done. It is in line to appear first thing tomorrow morning.

And that also explains the foreshortened Dining Diary for the weekend just past. I’ll catch what little more there is to publish to day, return to normal, and see you at the Jazz Fest.

Tchoupstix. Covington: 69305 LA Hwy 21. 985-892-0852.

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Austin Leslie’s Fried Chicken

I first met Austin Leslie in 1973, very early in my career as a food writer. In the 1960s and before, it had been uncommon for white people to dine in African-American-owned restaurants. Those who did found them welcoming and delicious. Richard Collin–the “The Underground Gourmet” and my mentor–encouraged those of the pale persuasion to try places like Austin Leslie’s place, Chez Helene.

I talked with Austin the second or third time I went to Chez Helene. Somehow, he always recognized me, even after we hadn’t seen one another for many years. After he turned up at Jacques-Imo’s in the late 1990s, he was a guest on my radio show. I had the gall to ask him about his famous fried chicken recipe. He surprised me by handing me a sheet of paper with it all written out, along with the story of how the recipe was actually that of Bill Turner of the famous Portia’s on South Rampart Street at Lafayette. Austin traveled the world by that time, frying chicken wherever he went.

Now the unhappy part of this story. Austin was trapped in the attic of a flooded house after Hurricane Katrina. He died in Atlanta a few days later, the most lamented culinary figure lost in the storm.

Here’s my rewriting of his chicken recipe. The original was hard to follow, but after a few tests and adjustments this one turned out the flavor I remember.

Fried chicken with a side of red beans, the perfect combination..

  • 2 free-range fryer chickens, about 3 1/2 pounds each or smaller, if you can find them, each cut up into eight pieces
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 cups half-and-half
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cups peanut oil
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour, in a large shaker (the kind you use for parmesan cheese)
  • 2 Tbs. drained, chopped dill pickles
  • 2 Tbs. chopped garlic
  • 2 Tbs. chopped flat-leaf parsley

1. Cut the chickens into eight pieces each. Wash the chicken pieces and dry to just damp with a paper towel. Sprinkle about half of the salt and pepper over the pieces. Allow the pieces to come to cool room temperature (60s) before you start cooking.

2. In a wide bowl, whisk together the eggs, half-and-half, water and the remaining salt and pepper.

3. Heat the peanut oil in a cast-iron skillet or dutch oven over medium-high heat to 350 degrees.

4. Dip the chicken thighs briefly in the egg-and-milk mixture, and shake off the excess. Then shake the flour over the pieces to cover them all over lightly. Slip the thighs into the hot oil.

5. Repeat this process for the chicken legs, slipping them into open spaces in the pan. Leave plenty of room between the pieces. Hold back on adding more chicken if the pan gets crowded.

6. After eight minutes, jab each piece of chicken almost all the way through with a heavy, two-pronged kitchen fork. Austin said that this lets in just enough hot oil to let the center finish cooking without the outside becoming overcooked. He also said that this will not make the chicken too oily.

7. Fry the thighs until crisp–ten to twelve minutes total frying time, turning once to brown uniformly all over.

8. Remove chicken to a large unlined strainer (or one of those screens designed to keep bacon fat from popping) set over a shallow pan. (Don’t use paper towels to drain; they make the chicken soggy.) Put this assembly into the oven at 200 degrees to keep the chicken hot while you finish the rest of it.

9. After the thighs have come out, add the breasts, which will take a little less time than the thighs. Add the wings last, about six minutes into the cooking of the breasts.

10. Garnish the chicken with a mixture of the chopped pickles, garlic and parsley.

Serves four to eight.

500BestSquareEscargots Bourguignonne @ Steak Knife

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The most common and popular recipe for snails has the gastropods sizzling in garlic-parsley butter. The butter is the main draw, with its aroma and affinity with hot French bread. The latter turns what is really a small appetizer into something close to a full meal, as the eaters decimate a loaf of bread with their dunking into the sauce and eating. But how wonderful that is! Few restaurants prepare this well anymore, and the Steak Knife is one of that elite.

Escargots in garlic butter at the Steak Knife.

Escargots in garlic butter at the Steak Knife.

Steak Knife. Lakeview: 888 Harrison Ave. 504-488-8981.

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

AlmanacSquare April 25, 2017

Days Until. . .

Jazz Festival–3
Mother’s Day–19
Edible Dictionary

rabbit wings, n.–I won’t insult your intelligence by noting that rabbits don’t have wings. However, the number of similarities rabbit has to chicken inspires more than a few kitchen jokers to call the front legs “wings.” Like chicken wings, they’re not loaded with meat, but the upper parts are very tender and light. Most recipes call for frying them. But if you stew a rabbit, the results are all good, including the way the wings come out.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Rabbit Creek flows about nine miles through northeastern Iowa. It’s hilly enough that the many streams in that part of the state form distinct valleys, with good farming at their bases. The creek joins Bear Creek, which flows into Turkey Creek, and then into the Mississippi River. The end of Rabbit Creek is forty-eight miles west of Dubuque, and five miles from Edgewood, where is Graffiti’s, the nearest local cafe.

Food On The Air

Today in 1874 Guglielmo Marconi, the inventor of radio and the man for whom Marconi Drive next to City Park is named, was born in Bologna. His patent (number 7777) came from England. Where would we be without him? We’d have to sit around writing letters or something. In Marconi’s honor, tune in our radio show, from three to seven p.m. today on the future of New Orleans Radio: 105.3 p.m., HD2. While you’re there, explore the many ways you can get our new, much improved radio station. Listen to the stream, from your smart phone (best: the WWL app, which has direct links to HD2).

Drink And Topology

Felix Klein, the inventor of the Klein bottle, was born today in 1849. A Klein bottle has no inside or outside; the two merge into one continuous side. Problem: it requires four dimensions. If you find yourself drinking from a Klein bottle, you’ve had too much. (Or, really, nothing: a Klein bottle has no volume.) Klein bottles have their own web site, with pictures of projections of Klein bottles in three-dimensional space.

People We’d Like To Have Dinner With

This is the birthday, in 1940, of Al Pacino. Of course, we’d go someplace Italian, but which place? It would have to have cannoli. We’d also invite Talia Shire, the sister of Francis Coppola. Talia also has a birthday today (1946). Both Pacino and Shire were in The Godfather, and since Francis himself might be in town for the Jazz Festival, he could come too. What an unforgettable dinner!

Deft Dining Rule #520:

In a restaurant, the person who sits with his back to the wall is the one most likely to pick up the check for that table. If he doesn’t, he’s a fraud.

Music To Dine By

Ella Fitzgerald was born today in 1917. “The only thing better than singing is more singing,” she said. The same is true of listening, if it’s to her. She was one of the creators of scat singing. Her records with one of the other scat masters–Louis Armstrong–are delicious in their contrasts.

Annals Of Canned Milk

Today is the anniversary of the 1974 Carnation Revolution, which changed Portugal from a dictatorship to a liberal democracy. Although the first thing I thought of when I saw this was a famous rhyme allegedly sent in by a contestant for a contest put on by Carnation Milk. Maybe you’ve heard it:

Carnation Milk is the best of all
No teats to pull, no pails to haul
No barn to clean, no hay to pitch
Just punch a hole in the son of a xxxx.

Today’s Flavor

Zucchini Bread Day sounds appealing–for about ten seconds. That’s why it’s evolved in Louisiana into Crawfish Bread Day. Crawfish bread is made by covering an underbaked loaf of French bread with crawfish, cheese, a sauce like crawfish etouffee and herbs, then baking it. It is not widely available except at festivals–notably the New Orleans Jazz And Heritage Festival, which begins this Friday.

The Saints

It’s the feast day and birthday (1270) of Louis IX, king of France. He achieved sainthood for his exemplary life and devotion to the Church. On the other hand, he was captured during the Eighth Crusade by the Egyptians, and had to be ransomed for one and a half times the annual income of France at the time. St. Louis Cathedral, the focal point of New Orleans, is named for him, as is the city of St. Louis, Missouri.

Food Namesakes

In 1932, the most famous player in the history of the Harlem Globetrotters, Meadowlark Lemon, was born. . . Stu Cook, bassist with Creedence Clearwater Revival, was born today in 1945. . . Fish, a Scottish progressive rock singer and composer, was born today in 1958. His real name is Derek Dick. . . Karel Appel, a Dutch painter, was born today in 1921. . . C.B. Fry, ace cricket player and one-time holder of the long-jump record, was born today in 1872. . . The United States lease on the Corn Islands, off the east coast of Nicaragua, came to an end on this date in 1971. . . Italian poet Torcuato Tasso died in Rome today in 1595.

Words To Eat By

“Eating at a new, highly recommended restaurant is like a Very Important Blind Date, a contract with uncertainty you enter into with great expectation battling the cynicism of experience. You sit waiting, wondering about the upcoming moments of revelation. Somewhere in the back of your head is the dour warning that disappointment is inevitable but you don’t really believe it or you wouldn’t be there. The best eaters are always optimists.”–Stuart Stevens, American author.

Words To Drink By

“Just because your voice reaches halfway around the world doesn’t mean you are wiser than when it reached only to the end of the bar.”–Edward R. Murrow, CBS news reporter, born today in 1908.

FoodFunniesSquare

Some Hip New Styles Of Creating Food. . .

. . . go back a very long way.

Click here for the cartoon.

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DiningDiarySquare-150x150 Friday, April 21, 2017.
Porter & Luke Is Having A Renaissance.

Mary Ann has two guests for the radio show today. One of them didn’t show up (he is involved with the Zurich Classic golf tournament, and probably had hosting duties in its big food pavilion. The other guest didn’t have much to say, and left early.

Fortunately, I am pleasantly surprised by the audience participation today. During the second hour, about a dozen people called about a wide range of topics, most of them requiring long answers. Little by little, we are getting our audience back, with all the features of HD, the radio of the future.

Porter & Luke on Metairie Road is an off-and-on radio sponsor. It made a big splash on our show a few years ago. Since then the chef who made it rock moved on. The clientele has become numerous and regular. The bar is almost always full of people who seem to know one another pretty well. Watching this crowd, I see that few of these chummy folks moved to tables. Most of them ordered and dined right where they sat.

Soft shell crab with pasta bordelaise and some Crabmeat in Alfredo sauce. A little light supper at Porter & Luke.

The waitress for my solo table is of the bubbly, selling type who make restaurant operations smoother . They know every ingredients in every dish, even the specials. It must be said that a lot of dishes share toppings and sauces. You don’t need a good memory if five or six menu items all have a crawfish cream sauce.

Porter & Luke is an exemplar of a style of New Orleans dining I call Suburban Creole. The first members of the species were on (or near) Veterans Boulevard back in the early 1970s: the Red Onion, JC’s, Occhipinti’s, Augie’s Glass Garden, the Peppermill, Sal & Sam’s, and Chehardy’s, to name the most prominent. All these were large restaurants with a strong base of regular customers, many of whom put the drinks on their tabs until the restaurant involved ran into cash flow problems. (Quite a few of them collapsed for this very reason.) Some of the Suburban Creole restaurants had really great food, often because of the presence of Frank Occhipinti and his staff, who really could cook. Occhpinti’s restaurants were handsome and had careful service, too. Here and there were restaurants whose appeal was in reverse ratio to the number of square inches covered by the waitresses’ uniforms.

Not many examples of Suburban Creole persist to the present day. The best of them is Austin’s, which rivals or tops the best of the original Suburban Creole places. Porter & Luke is much more casual than the Occhipinti restaurants of old, and not quite as good. Augie’s never permanently closed; it recently moved from what long was Smilie’s, to show up a few blocks west under the name Augie’s. I was never much of a fan there.

All this went through my mind for the first time in years as I sampled the food at Porter & Luke, to see if I felt good about voicing commercials for them. I start with a very good version of turtle soup. They’ve always done good soups.

Fried trout at Porter & Luke.

The waitress has several fish dishes running as specials. I was leaning toward the catfish with pecans–I see they are using Des Allemands wild-caught catfish. The waitress comes back with two of those specials. They sound similar. One had a stuffing, the other a topping, both of which involve crawfish and crabmeat. I go for the stuffed redfish. It needed a sauce, and the waitress quickly brought a lemon butter that did the trick. The stuffing is the best part of the dish. Halfway through, I find the fish fillet a bit undercooked. I eat my share of raw fish, but this is redfish, and there’s a reason you don’t see redfish sashimi very often. I send it back. They take it off the check, for which I give full absolution. I ate enough of it to protest, but decide just to go to the spumone as a dessert. And I will come back another day to resume my investigations.

The big splash Porter & Luke made when it originally opened was centered on its fried chicken. Their original chef Vincent Manguno claimed that it’s becoming famous, but that it hadn’t quite made it yet. It really is good, right out of the fryer. Think I’ll have it next time, perhaps with one or both of the Marys.

Porter & Luke. Old Metairie: 1517 Metairie Road. 504-875-4555.

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Spanakopita (Spinach Pie)

Spinach pie is everybody’s introduction to Greek cuisine. That’s lucky, because one taste of spinach pie hooks you for life. Fortunately, it’s also found in most restaurants whose cuisines were touched at any time in their histories by the Ottoman Empire. Some restaurants have taken to doing this as a small turnover, but this is the original casserole style. It’s more often served as an appetizer than as a side dish.

  • 2 10-oz. bags fresh spinach, picked of stems, coarsely chopped
  • 3 eggs
  • 8 oz. feta cheese, crumbled
  • 2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup chopped white onion
  • 1 Tbs. chopped garlic
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice
  • 2 Tbs. chopped fresh oregano leaves
  • 1/2 tsp. dried dill weed
  • 2 Tbs. butter
  • 6 sheets phyllo pastry

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

1. Beat the eggs and combine with the feta cheese. Toss with the chopped spinach in a bowl.

2. Heat the olive oil in a skillet until it shimmers. Add the onions and garlic and saute until the garlic is aromatic, then add the lemon juice. Pour the pan contents over the spinach mixture. Add the chopped oregano and dill. Toss to combine all the ingredients completely.

3. Coat the inside of a glass baking dish (about 11 by 7 inches) with butter, then melt the remaining butter. Cut a piece of phyllo big enough to cover the bottom and overlap the sides of the dish. Brush the phyllo with butter, then place another sheet of phyllo over it. Butter and repeat until you have four sheets of phyllo in the dish.

4. Spoon the spinach mixture into the baking dish. Fold the overlapping phyllo on top of the spinach. Cut the remaining two sheets of phyllo to fit exactly, with butter between the layers. Make six or so cuts into the pastry to let steam out.

5. Bake the pie in the 350-degree oven until the phyllo browns and the mixture is heated all the way through–25-30 minutes. Allow to cool to just warm. Cut into squares and serve.

Serves six.

500BestSquareGrilled Scallops With Corn Macque Choux @ O’Brien’s Grille

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Although the steaks pull all the attention in what might be the best restaurant on the West Bank, the appetizers and non-meaty entrees are more than a little good. Scallops have been a specialty since the beginning, with fat diver scallops browned on their tops and bottoms and bulging on their sides. The sauce is a beurre blanc with a little pepper glow, and corn macquechoux scatted among them. It’s almost enough for a very light entree.

O’Brien’s Grille. Gretna: 2020 Belle Chasse Hwy. 504-391-7229.

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

AlmanacSquare April 24, 2017

Days Until. . .
Jazz Festival–4
Mother’s Day–20
Annals Of Food Comedy

How y’all are? Today is the birthday, in 1914, of Justin Wilson, in Roseland, Louisiana (just north of Amite). He wasn’t exactly a Cajun, but that didn’t stop him from becoming the world’s best-known ambassador of Cajun culture. He picked up most of his style, speech, and stories while working along Bayou Lafourche as a young man. He first came to public attention with his comedy routines, but soon he started talking about cooking. Wilson’s pioneering television cooking shows became among the most popular of their kind. The recipes were less than brilliant, often using less than the best ingredients. But that was quite authentic. Justin Wilson died in 2001, but his TV shows are still in circulation, his many cookbooks still sell well, and his Cajun jokes are still being repeated–I gaa-rohn-tee.

Food Through History

Today in 1877, Federal troops left New Orleans, ending Reconstruction here after it made a shambles of the town. One effect of the new freedom was a burst of new restaurant openings in the next few years. Some of the more notable additions were Commander’s Palace, The Gem (a little-remembered but very important restaurant on Royal Street), La Louisiane, Victor’s (the restaurant that evolved into Galatoire’s), and Madame Begue’s.

Edible Dictionary

gaufrette, [go-FRET], French, adj.–Waffled. This adjective is usually applied to potatoes which have been cut by a fluted knife first in one direction, then a second time at a ninety-degree angle to the first cut. This creates a waffle pattern. Depending how deeply the gooves are cut, there may be a pattern of holes all the way through each potato slice. The potatoes are almost always fried after being cut this way. Sometimes they’re as thin as potato chips. The word is a diminutive of gaufres, the French word for the full-fledged waffle.

Annals Of Soft Drinks

Today in 1833 two inventors–Jacob Ebert and George Dulty–patented the soda fountain. The bubbles lifted the water and carbonated it at the same time. The new drink was well received by the public, as the inventors suspected they would. Water with gas bubbles was already a big deal in Europe. By the end of the 1800s, soda fountains were everywhere.

Today’s Flavor

This is National Prosciutto Day. Prosciutto is dry-cured ham. Dry-curing takes much longer, and creates a much more intense flavor, than the brine curing more commonly applied to hams. To make prosciutto, salt is applied to the outside of skinned pig legs, usually with the bones still inside, and hung up to dry for as much as a year. In the old days, that was done outdoors. Now prosciutto makers have big warehouses whose walls allow free movement of air from outside through the hanging hams. The word derives from a Latin word that means “all dried out,” which it is after all that time.

The best prosciutto comes from Parma and San Daniele in Italy, but much prosciutto is made in this country. Its flavor is very intense; it should be sliced as thin as possible, and used sparingly. Classic uses of prosciutto include wrapping melon slices with it, stuffing it into veal and poultry concoctions, and standing alone as antipasto.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

A prosciutto made from the left leg of the pig tastes better than one from the right leg, which is tougher. Unless the pig is a southhoof.

Deft Dining Rule #452

It is impossible to slice prosciutto too thin.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Porkchop Pond, Maryland is well named: its name exactly describes its shape. It’s in the exurb of South River, one of many communities in the area giving spacious estates to people who work in the Washington, DC area. The pond is thirty-three miles from the Capitol dome. In the other direction, it’s only a couple of miles from Chesapeake Bay. Nice area. The nearest restaurant of interest is in Edgewater, two miles away. It’s called Let’s Eat.

Annals Of Chocolate

Britons breathed a sigh of relief today when World War II chocolate rationing finally ended in 1949. Until then, they had to make do with hollow bunnies made from a mixture of toothpaste and coffee.

Food And Space

The Hubble Space Telescope was launched today in 1990. Its magnification was so acute (once they got it focused, anyway) that it could actually detect an amuse-bouche on a restaurant table from space.

Food Namesakes

Former Connecticut congressman Charles Bakewell was born today in 1867. . . William I of Orange, who ran the Low Countries for a time on behalf of Spain, was born today in 1533. . . Kristie Krabe, Broadway actress, was born today in 1974.

Words To Eat By

“So to church, and staid out the sermon, and then with my aunt Wight, my wife, and Pall and I to her house by coach, and there staid and supped upon a Westphalia ham, and so home and to bed.”–Samuel Pepys.

Words To Drink By

“Ho! Ho! Ho! To the bottle I go
To heal my heart and drown my woe
Rain may fall, and wind may blow
And many miles be still to go
But under a tall tree will I lie
And let the clouds go sailing by
―J.R.R. Tolkien

FoodFunniesSquare

Really. . .What’s the difference. . .

. . . between pate and liver cheese?

Click here for the cartoon.

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DiningDiarySquare-150x150 Wednesday, April 19, 2017.
Eat Club Might Have A Dinner At SoFab.

A few weeks ago Holly Barrett was on the radio with me to tout an event at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum. With that matter covered, she had another idea. Maybe the Eat Club could hold a dinner in the restaurant next door to the museum (Toups South, operated by Isaac Toups, whose flagship restaurant is Toups Meaterie neat City Park). The proceeds would go to SoFab and its programs. We have had only a handful of dinners with fund-raising an imperative. But then, when I began holding the dinners in the early 1990s, the only other such regular fundraiser was Channel 12. Now few special dinners aren’t fundraisers. (The money spent at Eat Club dinners has always gone to the restaurant giving the dinner. And, I guess, to the customers, who on most dinners get a terrific deal on the food and wine for the price.)

Holly and I took spots at the bar for cocktails and bar snacks. The barman offered a variation on the Negroni. (Lot of those out there. We will have another one tomorrow.) The first bar snack was cracklings made mostly of pork belly. I like the taste of these, but until the dentist finishes an extensive project in my jaws I have a hard time crunching these morsels. Next came an platters of marinated red snapper with some interesting greens. That is delicious. A salad that looked like cole slaw revealed some sliced chicken and well-hidden curls of cheese.

This is not my idea of a fully proper dinner. Sitting at the bar on high stools with small portions of everything lacks something. However, I am growing accustomed to that milieu. The Millennials have made it clear that this will be the restaurant service of the future.

We came to no conclusions with the Eat Club matter, but I expect the idea is not dead. I would have to rely on the staffs and facilities of this or that restaurant, but all those are already committed heavily to such undertakings.

One result of the meeting is that I will return to Toups South for dinner sometime soon. The menu looks promising, and I like what Isaac and company have done with the space. It’s much more interesting than the Burgoo restaurant before it. Southern country food is a hard sell in New Orleans.

Thursday, April 20, 2017.
ML Survives Hard Work. Dinner At Altamura.

I have not been able to talk much with my daughter Mary Leigh for the past couple of weeks. In her new position with the company she was employed by four months ago, she has been working crazy long hours. This made an impression on her bosses, who have given her a major raise and full-time status. And she’s about to begin another project. From what I can tell, she stands to have quite a career going.

Spiedine at Altamura.

The one she just finished (I’d tell about it, but she asks me not to) was shipped to the client today. All is well and the pressure is off. She has the time to dine with me. We go to Altamira, whose proprietor was on the radio show a couple of weeks ago. It’s in an interesting and very large building on Prytania and Jackson. The chef and general manager say that they are cooking authentic Italian food. Doesn’t every Italian chef make that statement? Yes, they do. That’s better than a lot of other attitudes they could have.

Clams casino alla Altamura.

We begin with an amuse that they call a spiedine. That word means different things in different restaurants and different parts of Italy. I believe that it’s a Calabrese dish originally. It usually involves pan-frying. This version was essentially a thick layer of mozzarella wrapped in a thin layer of bread, all of which is pan-fried. If you like cheese, you love it. Pulling the sections apart reveals long tendrils of melted cheese, that stretch in such a way to suggest telephone wires. That is, in fact, an alternate name of the dish: “suppli al telefono.”

I have a line of clams casino. That’s a dish that’s universal in the northeast, but almost never seen in New Orleans. These clams are very small, making eating a challenge, but the flavor is good enough.

ML has a hot potato-and-leek soup. She reveals that she loves leeks. After 24 years as he dad I, didn’t know that.

Spaghetti and meatballs at Altamura. This really was the color of this food.

The entrees are spaghetti and meatballs for guess who? Meatballs seem to be making a comeback in recent times. I still can’t help thinking about the dish as anything but kid food. In Italy, they make meatballs as a sop to American tourists. But no small number of New Orleanians consider the goodness of the meatballs a barometer of the restaurant’s quality.

Lamb rack at Altamura.

I have a four-bone rack of lamb that has the texture of having been braised. They sit on a pile of risotto that steams the crustiness out of the lamb a bit more.

Tiramisu @ Altamura.

ML doesn’t want dessert, mainly because she’s still pooped out and wants to take her dog Bauer out for a walk, then go to bed immediately thereafter. I have the tiramisu for dessert, with the idea of having a few bites and then leave. But this serving is enough for four people, and I can’t help putting a bigger dent into it. It is indeed as good a version of the dessert I’ve had in a long time.

Altamura. Garden District: 2127 Prytania St. 504-265-8101.

500BestSquareFried Eggplant @ Galatoire’s

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How did the custom begin of having fried eggplant sticks at Galatoire’s? And why are they served with powdered sugar on the side? The answers: fried eggplant (or fried anything, really, including soufflee potatoes) are great with cocktails. And everybody drinks cocktails at Galatoire’s. And eggplants are sometimes a little bitter, and the powdered sugar takes the edge off. They’re seasoned nicely but fried in such a way that they come out a little limp. Before that bothers you, take another sip of that Sazerac on the rocks they serve.

Galatoire’s. French Quarter: 209 Bourbon. 504-525-2021.

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

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Tapenade

Here’s a cool appetizer made almost entirely from salty ingredients with big flavors. The first place the dish ever appeared in New Orleans was at Bayona, where Chef Susan Spicer put it on her first menu. It has remained there ever since, accompanying cocktails beautifully. My wife Mary Ann is a great admirer of tapenade, and we have it on the buffet for almost every party at our house.

  • 1/2 cup good-quality olives, pitted, perhaps of several varieties
  • 1 clove fresh garlic
  • 3 standard canned anchovies (or 2 white ones–preferred)
  • 2 Tbs. capers (the smallest you can find)
  • 2-4 basil leaves
  • 2 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/8 tsp. Tabasco green hot sauce
  • 2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil

Tapenade, garnished with fresh basil and anchovies.

1. With a sharp French chef’s knife, chop the olives and garlic as finely as you can.

2. Put all the ingredients into a food processor. Process for fifteen seconds, scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula, and repeat until the contents are a rough paste.

3. Spoon the mixture into a serving bowl and surround with toasted bread of some kind.

Serves 8-12

AlmanacSquare April 21, 2017

Days Until. . .
Jazz Festival–8
Mother’s Day–24
Today’s Flavor

This is the anniversary of the founding of Rome in 753 BC. Its glories are so great that one is easily distracted from eating there, despite the presence of many restaurants serving the first great European cuisine.

It’s also National Romano Cheese Day. Romano cheese is a long-aged, hard grating cheese made from sheep’s milk–hence its tangy flavor. The best Romano cheese is Pecorino Romano, the exclusive appellation of a consortium of makers in a wide area in Italy (not just around Rome). Romano cheese has a long history, extending all the way back to the ancient Roman Empires. Although Parmigiana cheese has a more vaunted reputation in this country, there’s nothing like Romano–especially in the making of lasagna.

Today is also Chocolate-Covered Cashew Truffle Day. That must have been started by someone who makes such a thing.

Annals Of Popular Cuisine

German air ace Manfred von Richtofen, the Red Baron,was shot down and killed over France on this date in 1918. He’s the same Red Baron Snoopy was always fighting from the roof of his doghouse. I wonder how the Baron would feel about his name plastered over the box of a frozen pizza.

Restaurant Anniversaries

The oldest revolving restaurant in the world, The Top of the Needle, opened on this date in 1962 at the apex of the Space Needle at the Seattle World’s Fair. It’s now called SkyCity restaurant. Reservations are required well in advance. The food is contemporary American. More info is here.

Deft Dining Rule #237

A restaurant at the top of any kind of tower doesn’t have to impress you with its food, and usually doesn’t.

Dining Royally

Queen Elizabeth II, who has ruled England since 1952, was born today in 1926. If you’re going to dine with a monarch, you’d be hard pressed to find a more impressive one. I tried to learn what the Queen’s favorite foods are, but apparently this is one of those facts hidden behind the screen separating royalty from subjects. What little she’s said on the subject indicates that she likes traditional English food.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Curry is a small farm town in the dry plains of southeastern Washington. It’s eighty road miles from Walla Walla, but only fifty miles by air. (The Snake River and its Sacagawea Lake cut off a direct road.) Curry is the turnoff to get the the Connell City airport. Said city, two miles away, is where you’ll have to go for food if you find yourself on Curry Road. There you find Mei Ling Inn, where they have curry in both the Chinese and Thai styles.

Edible Dictionary

ouzo, Greek, n.–The Greek answer to absinthe and pastis, ouzo is a high-alcohol spirit with the flavor of anise, and usually a few other, hard-to-pick-out bottom notes. Ouzo is clear in its bottle but turns cloudy when added to water, as it usually is. When served with crushed ice, it turns pale blue as well as cloudy. Although it is comparable in flavor and alcohol to liqueurs used as after-dinner drinks, ouzo usually precedes the meal, and is drunk all the way through it. It is common for the host of a table in a taverna to order and entire bottle of ouzo, and for a party of four or more to drink it all. The word “ouzo” is now recognized by the European Community as being distinctly the property of Greece.

Food In Show Biz

Comedienne Elaine May was born on this date in 1932. She has an obscure New Orleans connection: her voice, along with that of Mike Nichols, were heard on the famous animated commercials for Jax Beer in the 1950s and 1960s. If you haven’t seen them, they play continuously in the Jackson Brewery mall.

Anthony Quinn was born today in 1915. I think of him every time I dine in a Greek restaurant, where it’s inevitable that you’ll hear the theme music from Zorba the Greek. Quinn starred in that classic.

Food On The Air

At seven p.m. on this date in 1925, WSMB Radio signed on the air from the top of the Maison Blanche Building. The call letters referred to the co-owners, the Saenger theater and the Maison Blanche department store. It was the first professionally-operated radio station in New Orleans; the few other radio stations on the air at that time were all home-built jobs. WSMB’s factory-built transmitter and expansive studios allowed major dramatic productions and concerts of live music, which filled all the hours of broadcasting in those pre-network days. WSMB remained in those studios until 1990; I hosted the last hour broadcast from there. The station lives on, although the call letters and the transmitting electronics have changed. And I’m still there, hosting The Food Show every day on 105.3 FM, HD21.

Food Namesakes

Wild rocker Iggy Pop was born today in 1947. . . Leo Blech, a composer and conductor of operas, was born today in 1871. We say his name when we taste (or think about) food we don’t like. . . On a related note, Page Belcher, Congressman from Oklahoma in the 1970s, was born today in 1899. . . Actress Patti LuPone was born today in 1949. Pone is sort of a wet, undercooked cornbread. . . Today in 1908, Frederick A. Cook claimed to have been the first man to reach the North Pole. Most authorities say he did not, really.

Words To Eat By

“Food history is as important as a baroque church. Governments should recognize cultural heritage and protect traditional foods. A cheese is as worthy of preserving as a sixteenth-century building.”–Carlo Petrini,founder of the Slow Food movement.

Words To Drink By

“Sometimes too much to drink is barely enough.”–Mark Twain, who died today in 1910.

FoodFunniesSquare

Why Hamburgers And Other Sandwiches Are So Popular.

It’s so obvious, like the fist in front of your face.

Click here for the cartoon.

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DiningDiarySquare-150x150 Monday, April 17, 2017.
The Waiting Room Is Well Named.

I have a minor matter to investigate with the doctor. Getting to her office eats up a lot of time when all of St. Tammany Parish seems to be moving in my direction. So I leave early, then read an entire New Yorker magazine while waiting.

I address my luncheon hunger at New Orleans Food & Spirits. Everybody knows me there and is cheerful. Red beans and rice with smoked sausage are good as usual.

Back at home I send out the newsletter, then give forth with two hours of radio. The guest today is Roseanne Rostoker, the owner and chef of Red Gravy. The image that this name brings forth is largely inaccurate. This is not a neighborhood Italian trattoria flodded with marinara sauce, but a breakfast and lunch café for the lower precincts of the CBD. But Roseanne is quick to point out that she has in her repertoire a number of breakfast and lunch dishes that have a distinct tomato-sauce component. I can think of a few such that I eat regularly myself.

Roseanna is a New Jersey girl who fell in love with New Orleans many years ago. So here she is on a permanent stay, with her cute little eatery, one with a contingent of local regulars. She sounds great on the phone, which makes for a good show. I hang onto her until a quarter to two, after which we have a better flow of telephone callers through the rest of the live segment of the broadcast.

Chorus rehearsal at seven. We are scattered today. Conductor Alissa is busy with another program, in which some of our singers are going to Europe during the summer. I wish I had the time to join them. We have no cruise planned for this year, for the first time in years. I needed a break is one reason. Another is that MA doesn’t want to travel with me anywhere she has already been. But she will do a river cruise in Eastern Europe. I’m not sure I want to go that way for awhile.

And that’s why my only firm, major travel plan is the round trip via rail to Los Angeles and San Francisco in June. Grandson Jackson is not just walking but running. I haven’t seen him since before Christmas. And I haven’t taken a train trip in two years. The Sunset Limited in particular is a relaxing escape from the real world, and traverses the desert Southwest, which I love. And I know I’ll have some interesting food and wine in L.A. and S.F. I’ll do some radio shows from out there, and let Mary Ann host the others.

Getting back to the NPAS rehearsal: we continue our study of Motown Music from the 1970s. Most of it is music I like, but I can’t quite connect with the Michael Jackson stuff. I think I’ll attend the next board meeting and ask for a moratorium on songs whose lyrics include dubious words like “dee dee wop,” “boo-brrrrrrrree-umop itty-mop mop mop” “doodle-dogee-bip” and the like for a term to be voted upon. I actually like bee-bop to a point–but one can go overboard. But I may be overreacting.

Red Gravy Cafe. CBD: 125 Camp St. 504-561-8844.
Tuesday, April 18, 2017.
Piccola Gelateria.

I thought that I was onto something a few years ago when a fellow food writer–I can’t remember who she was other than that we were attending the same event in the Napa wine country–said that the difference between gelato and ice cream is that gelato has a gelatin component that makes it more affordable to the people in Sicily who like it most. “Gel” appears in both “gelato” and “gelatin,” so I bit for it. Not so, say a dozen or more other authorities. The “gel” coincidence is no more than that, they say. It comes from the same etymology as “gelid,” which means “really, really cold.” Which certainly applies to both gelato and ice cream. (Note to self: If I ever open a snoball stand, I will use the word “gelid” in its name.)

I brought this up during a radio conversation today with Ria Turnbull, who with her husband has a gelateria (“place that sells gelato”) on Freret Street just uptown of Napoleon Avenue. I detected an accent of the Balkans in her speech. Indeed, she says, since she is from Bosnia, just south of Croatia.

She proceeded to fill the better part of an hour talking about gelato and the ingredients and techniques necessary to make it excellent. She brought four flavors of her hubby’s hand-made gelato, the first one stracciatella. I’ve never seen two versions of stracciatella that were alike. But I’ve not had a bad one, either. And this one–basic vanilla with a million little naturally-shaped knurdles of chocolate–is wonderful. Also here is a dense, dark chocolate gelato, which I would bring to the Marys if 1) it didn’t melt on the way to the Cool Water Ranch and b) if they were in town to begin with. So I passed it over to my radio boss Diane Newman, who seemed to appreciate this late-afternoon treat.

The most interesting of Ria’s offerings was a pistachio gelato that was riddled with microscopic particles of the namesake nut, ground down to the texture od fine sand. It not only was good (pistachio is my favorite ice cream, gelato, or whatever) but it felt healthy to eat.

At the end of the live two hours of the program, I called Mary Leigh to see if she were an available supper companion. No dice. She has had a grueling work week, with nothing but more gruel in the next few days. Ah, for the stamina of a twenty-four year-old!

I have dinner at Ristorante Fillippo, where I have not been for so long the all the staffs says things like, “Hello, stranger!”

I eat too much here. After chef-owner Phil Gagliano informs me of the inevitable absence from the menu of the chicken spiedini, I order a cup of tomato-basil soup, a house salad, a small portion of a pasta special with a sauce that’s like bordelaise but with some white wine. The entree is the standard appetizer version of oysters areganata–a wet variation of dishes like oysters Mosca. The oysters they used to make it are titanic in size. A bit too big, I’d say. But the flavor and the aroma are both there in full measure.

Did I mention that I always eat too much food at Filippo? Well, so does everybody else, near as I can tell.

Ristorante Filippo. Metairie: 1917 Ridgelake. 504-835-4008.

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Veal Sorrentino

Veal Sorrentino is a classic dish from Sorrento, on the Amalfi Coast of Italy just south of Naples. They serve it in every restaurant there. It’s less well known around New Orleans, but it’s catching on. The flavor combination is hard to refuse: pounded veal, prosciutto, eggplant, and a variety of cheeses. You can make it either with a marinara souce or something along the lines of Marsala sauce. I refuse to be drawn into the irrelevant conversation as to which is “authentic.” I know that it’s delicious, which is good enough for me.

Veal Sorrentino in four layers.

  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. pepper
  • 1/3 cup grated Romano cheese
  • 1 cup bread crumbs
  • 2 sprigs flat-leaf Italian parsley, leaves only, chopped finely
  • 2 pounds sliced baby white veal round
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 eggplant
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cups marinara sauce (your recipe)
  • 1/2 lb. prosciutto, thinly sliced
  • 1 lb. sliced provolone or mozzarella cheese

Preheat the broiler.

1. Blend the flour, salt and pepper in a bowl. Combine the bread crumbs, Romano cheese, and parsley.

2. Place the veal between two sheets of plastic and pound it thin. Dust it with sprinkles of the seasoned flour. Pass the veal through the beaten egg, then dredge through the bread crumb mixture.

3. Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Saute the veal until golden brown–only about a minute on each side, if you pounded them thin enough. Drain on paper towels.

4. Peel the eggplant and slice it across about a half-inch thick. Brush each slice with the extra-virgin olive oil, and place it on the broiler pan about three inches from the heat in the preheated broiler. Broil the eggplant slices until they brown lightly, then turn them over and broil the other side about half as long as the first side. (You can also do this step on a grill or griddle.) Lower the oven to 350 degrees.

5. To serve, spoon some marinara sauce on an ovenproof plate. Place a slice of veal on top of the sauce, followed by a slice each of prosciutto, cheese, and eggplant. Finish with a little more marinara sauce and a sprinkling of Parmigiana cheese. Two such stacks per plate make a nice entree. Put the dish in the oven until the cheese begins oozing out the sides.

Serves four to six.

500BestSquareChocolate Cake @ Mondo

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“It’s just a chocolate layer cake, but it’s awesome,” say my two resident chocolate experts. No surprise there: owner-chef Susan Spicer has always taken more care with and used almost insanely good ingredients in all her baking. Dark, deep chocolate in the cake and between the four layers. Rich enough that I, poor male that I am, can only get through about a third of it before blowing a flavor-receptor fuse. The Marys shake their heads at this and add, “simply wonderful.”

Mondo. Lakeview: 900 Harrison Ave. 504-224-2633.

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

AlmanacSquare April 20, 2017

Days Until. . .
Jazz Festival–9
Mother’s Day–25

Annals Of Food Research

Today in 1862, Louis Pasteur proved the effectiveness of the process that bears his name. In glass jars, he sealed several liquids notable for their ability to turn truly foul. He then heated them to a high temperature, but below the boiling point, and held them for over a month. The liquids were as nasty as when they went in, but no more so. No fermentation or decomposition occurred. The first major use of pasteurization involved beer. Next was milk. Pasteur’s method doesn’t stop deterioration entirely, but slows it so much that these products, and many more to come, had what came much later to be known as a longer shelf life.

Today’s Flavor

Today is National Pineapple Upside-Down Cake Day. When I was a kid, my mother always made two birthday cakes: a regular birthday cake with regular icing, and a pineapple cake. I think it’s because she liked the latter. I still do. Pineapple upside-down cake is out of vogue in these days, and served by few restaurants. Too bad.

Today also is Respect Lima Beans Day. I never disdained limas. My parran (godfather to you) was fond of the small green ones, and perhaps because of that I am too. My most memorable plate of limas was at lunch in the famous old New Orleans soul food restaurant Buster Holmes, in 1971. They were the big limas–butterbeans, as we called them. I still remember how delicious they were, and the jet propulsion they provided the rest of the day.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Rib Lake is a town of 900 people in central Wisconsin, about midway from Minneapolis to Green Bay. It’s on the western shore of Rib Lake, which from the air looks like a healthy slice of prime rib (boneless), with an island where the fat triangle would be. The town has been a timber milling community since the 1880s. The people of Rib Lake apparently like their restaurants unusually named. In the center of town you have your choice of Mann Made, Ultimate Illusion, the Pot Belly Grill, and Camp 28 Saloon and Bunkhouse.

The Saints

Completely by coincidence, this is the birthday of St. Rose of Lima, the patron saint of Peru. 1586.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

When the beans are too big to fit in your ear
You’ve found the best kind to eat with a beer.

Edible Dictionary

drawn butter, n.–Another name for clarified butter. It’s the clear liquid fat left over after butter sits in a saucepan over a low heat. After a time, all the water in the butter boils off, and the milk solids that make butter opaque precipitate. The latter both rises to the top and sinks to the bottom of the pan. The floating milk solids are spooned out. Then the clear butter is poured–“drawn”–away from the solids at the bottom. Clarified/drawn butter has many uses, the most familiar of them being the accompaniment for boiled lobster or other big shellfish. The stuff is shelf-stable. In India, it’s called “ghee,” and is used in a host of dishes. Clarified butter can be made much hotter than unclarified melted butter, and is terrific for cooking.

Food Namesakes

Speaking of jet propulsion, Harold Graham made the first flight with a rocket belt today in 1961. I remember seeing that on TV. It didn’t take off, did it?. . . The embarrassingly sappy song Honey, sung by Bobby Goldsboro, was Number One today in 1968.

Deft Dining Rule #745:

It’s never a good idea to eat those fried noodles Chinese restaurants bring out with the soup.

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, best-selling American author and former waitress.

Words To Drink By

“The drink is slipping its little hand into yours.”–J. Bryan III, pseudonymous American writer.

FoodFunniesSquare

The Biggest Drawback To Authentic French Restaurants.

You don’t really understand what you just ordered. Ah. . . it appears to be a fried telephone book!

Click here for the cartoon.

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DiningDiarySquare-150x150 Easter Sunday, April 16, 2017.
Nobody Is Available.

I intentionally refrain from remembering the many Easter parties we had at the Cool Water Ranch when the kids were little. Easter egg hunts were a big part of the program, of course, along with decorating eggs and knocking them later.

Even the food was good, if I may say so. One year, when we hadn’t figured out what to cook, Mary Leigh was inspired. “I know what we can cook, Daddy,” she said, with her beautiful five-year-old smile under her blond hair. “How about eggs?” she said. Why not? I spent the day making omelettes, quiches, and such like. Everybody loved it, especially me.

This year, the attendance was way off. There was me. And the two dogs and three cats. And that’s it.

Not a bad day, though. A few years ago I asked to be allowed to sing the sequence at Easter Mass at St. Jane de Chantal. They let me do it, and every year since. But for the first time I got it perfectly today. No missed words, no obvious tone mistakes. Strangers approached me after the service with appreciative smiles. Made my day.

Then I had a radio show to do for two hours. I did it downtown, in the studios, so that I could perhaps meet up with Mary Leigh for dinner. But she has been working all day herself, and is tuckered out.

Well, I have to eat. So I walk down Magazine Street to the Chophouse. I had a steak the day before Lent began, at the Crescent City Steak House. It’s just right to have another one now.

The Chophouse is better than I remember. That corroborates the reports I’ve had from listeners lately. The place is part of a small chain mostly in the Southeast. It has a classy look and a good menu. The beef is all USDA Prime, and is routinely seared Pittsburgh style unless you tell them otherwise. But this is the way I like it, all right.

I begin with crab bisque, in the creamy style. It had not yet appeared when a man from the next table gets up and heads my way, while asking everyone at his table to make toom for another chair.

It’s Tommy Cvitanovich, son of the recently-passed Drago, boss with his mother Klara of Drago’s restaurant, home of the original Char-Broiled Oysters. How had both of us not noticed the other for the first fifteen minutes we were each sitting there?

Tommy Cvitanovich.

Tommy and Klara and I are personal friends of long standing. Klara always wants to know how things are going for Jude and, now, Jude’s son Jackson. She always remembers their names. Klara lately has been telling me that my weight loss looks good, but that I should stop losing any more weight. I don’t know why, but I’ll pay attention.

The crab bisque needed Tabasco, but that was fixed directly. The sirloin strip steak was just what I wanted to end the Lenten season. I meet Tommy’s son and daughter for the first time in awhile, and some other family friends at this happy table for nine.

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Stuffed Artichokes

Stuffed artichokes, Italian style, are an old New Orleans favorite. They’re at their best in springtime, when the new crop of artichokes appears. The stuffing is mostly bread crumbs and garlic. Not everybody likes (or understands) stuffed artichokes. My wife does; I don’t. This recipe came from the old Toney’s on Bourbon Street, which sold them by the hundreds.

Stuffed artichoke at Bosco's.

Stuffed artichoke at Bosco’s.

  • 4 fresh medium artichokes
  • 2 cups bread crumbs
  • 3 Tbs. chopped fresh garlic
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 4 anchovy fillets, chopped
  • 3 Tbs. chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/4 cup grated Romano cheese
  • 1 tsp. oregano
  • 1/8 tsp. sugar
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • One large lemon

1. Thoroughly wash artichokes. Carefully trim off top inch off each. Trim the stem so that the artichokes will sit straight up. With scissors, trim off points of leaves. Soak artichokes 30 minutes in 1/2 gallon of water with 2 tsp. salt dissolved.

2. Meanwhile, sauté garlic in a large skillet in the olive oil. Add all the remaining ingredients except the lemon and continue cooking, stirring frequently, over low heat until everything is well blended.

3. To stuff artichokes, spread the outer leaves and spoon in the stuffing, starting from the top and going around to the bottom. Form foil cups around the bottom half of each artichoke.

4. Place stuffed artichokes into a large kettle or Dutch oven with an inch of water in the bottom. Squeeze lemon juice liberally over all. Cook, covered, over medium heat for 30 to 40 minutes. Do not boil dry. Artichokes are done when inner leaves can be pulled out easily. If you can lift the artichoke by its inner leaves, it’s not done.

5. Allow to cool until you can touch them, and dig in. Also good cold as a late-night snack–in moderation, and only if your mate eats them with you.

Serves four.

500BestSquareHummus @ Lebanon’s Cafe

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Hummus is a spreadable, dippable puree of chickpeas, sesame seeds, olive oil, lemon, and a few seasonings. It is the universal appetizer and/or side dish in every Lebanese restaurant throughout the world. I have only occasionally encountered a hummus I didn’t like. But this one stands out for its texture and its ample use of lemon juice–the ingredient that pulls the slightly bitter flavors of the beans and tahine (sesame seeds ground into a pasta). It’s exceptionally good with roasted chunks of lamb leg.

Lebanon’s Cafe. Riverbend: 1500 S Carrollton Ave. 504-862-6200.

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

AlmanacSquare April 19, 2017

Days Until. . .
Jazz Festival–10
Mother’s Day–25
Eating Around The World

Today in 1770, British Captain James Cook sighted Australia for the first time. Outback notwithstanding, the influence of Australia on our eating habits is slight. The most popular Australian food in this country is the lamb from down under, found in many restaurants and supermarkets. We also get a lot of cold-water Australian lobster tails. (You never see more than the tail because there isn’t much of a head.) These are not bad, but too expensive. Also common are green-lipped mussels, larger than the black mussels from Canada and not nearly as good. Worst Australian eating passion: Vegemite. On the other hand, Australian wines are very good, with the best of them rivaling the best of any other place.

Today’s Flavor

It’s National Garlic Day. A long book could be written about garlic, and probably has been. We all know garlic and its many marvelous uses, so I will limit myself to a few facts about garlic that I think are not well enough recognized:

1. The more you cook garlic, the less sharp and assertive its taste. This can be used to whatever advantage you want to take from it.

2. If you need garlic puree, you can make it by chopping it first, sprinkling it with salt, and squashing it with the side of your knife blade while chopping it some more. Or you can chop it in a food processor, add the salt, chop some more, than add a little water at a time while processing until you have the texture you want.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

To get the scent of garlic off your fingers after you chop it, scrub an aluminum skillet with a scouring pad until all the black stuff is gone.

Deft Dining Rule #386:

Garlic mashed potatoes are not as good as not-so-garlic mashed potatoes.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Two bodies of water in extreme northeast Minnesota are both called Fungus Lake. They’re both in the glacier-scraped woods north of Lake Superior, about twenty-two miles from one another–by foot. If you try to drive it (with an off-road vehicle only), it’s seventy-two miles. So there’s not a lot of chance you’ll show up at the wrong one to catch some muskies or walleye. If both fishing and mushroom collection fail, it’s eight miles to the Gunflint Lodge, right on the Canadian border.

Edible Dictionary

foul, [FOOL], Lebanese, n.–A variation on hummus, the popular Lebanese dip/spread of pureed chickpeas, garlic, and tahine. To make foul, cooked whole fava beans are added to the hummus, as well as a bit of cayenne and chopped garlic. The same idea, substituting whole chickpeas for the favas, is called musabaha. A third variant called qudsia includes both fava beans and chickpeas. You’d have to grow up with this to make such distinctions, but all three dishes are often found on single Middle Eastern menus.

Drinking On Television

Today is the birthday, in 1920, of Frank Fontaine. He played Crazy Guggenheim, a cross-eyed, boozy goofball, in the Joe The Bartender skits on the Jackie Gleason Show in the 1960s. At the end of every sketch, Fontane would change character completely and sing a standard in a deep baritone.

Annals Of Beer

On this day in 1995, the Supreme Court, in one of its less important rulings, allowed the alcoholic content of beer to be shown on labels. For some reason, that had been prohibited from the end of Prohibition till then.

Food Namesakes

What a great name for a chef! Michel Roux, the proprietor of three-star Michelin restaurant Waterside Inn on the Thames just outside London, was born today in 1941. . . Rocky Horror Picture Show star Tim Curry showed his lips for the first time in 1946. . . Novelist Richard Hughes was born on this date in 1900. His play Danger is credited with being the first drama ever written for radio. His unrelated namesake, Chef Richard Hughes, runs one of the best restaurants in New Orleans, the Pelican Club. . . Courtland Mead, child actor in television and film, was born today in 1987. . . American legal analyst and writer Stanley Fish was born today in 1938. . . Amanda Sage, an American artist living in Vienna, made her first statement today in 1978. . . British soccer start Steve Cook kicked off his life today in 1991.

Words To Eat By

Garlic has inspired more writers to become quotable than almost any other single ingredient. Here are a few good quotations on the subject:

“A little garlic, judiciously used, won’t seriously affect your social life and will tone up more dull dishes than any commodity discovered to date.”–Alexander Wright.

“A nickel will get you on the subway, but garlic will get you a seat.”–New York wisdom.

“Garlick maketh a man wynke, drynke, and stynke.” —Thomas Nash.

“I have read in one of the Marseille newspapers that if certain people find aioli indigestible, it is simply because too little garlic has been included in its confection, a minimum of four cloves per person being necessary.”–Richard Olney.

“No cook who has attained mastery over her craft ever apologizes for the presence of garlic in her productions.”–Ruth Gottfried.

Words To Drink By

“Us Virginia girls, we have fire and ice in our blood. We can ride horses, be a debutante, throw left hooks, and drink with the boys, all the while making sweet tea, darlin’.”–Ashley Judd, born today in 1968.

FoodFunniesSquare

Yes, Eating Is Essential.

And so is selection from all the food and drinks that have ben declared good for you.

Click here for the cartoon.

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DiningDiarySquare-150x150 Friday, April 14, 2017.
Roosevelt Hotel. Casablanca Changes Hands. Elmer’s Big Day.

Today is sort of our Easter program. Like Easter itself, it begins with a Passover-related matter. Linda Waknin, the creator and longtime chef and owners of Casablanca, has sold her restaurant to Andy Adelman. This opens a question right away: will Casablanca remain a strictly Chabad kosher restaurant, as it always has been? The answer is yes. Linda knows Andy very well from their involvement in a common religious community. He has the recipes and the energy, and onward he goes, making the superb soups, salads, dips and rice dishes, and the Moroccan concoctions Linda always cooked so well. We finish the phone interview about all this hours before sunset.

Joining us at the microphone is Jose Martinez, the executive chef at the Roosevelt hotel. He tells us that the Roosevelt’s main banquet room–an enormous facility on the second floor–will serve a buffet with over a hundred items on it. That is typical of the Roosevelt, going back decades. The only way it could be more grand would be to deck the lobby the way it is at Christmas. The price for all this is $80. That’s not the highest number I’ve seen for Easter Sunday brunch, but it’s headed in that direction.

Mary Ann is excited about the visit from Rob Nelson, the third-generation CEO of Elmer’s Candy. MA is a chocolate-lover, is why. Last time Rob was on the program, he said that Elmer’s is the second-biggest maker of heart-boxed chocolates in the United States, selling under the names of numerous department stores and other merchants from the golden age of shopping.

Add that to the millions of Gold Brick and Heavenly Hash candies made into the shape of hearts, Elmer’s has a lot to do in its Ponchatoula operations.

Rob told me a bunch of interesting things about the chocolate business, none of which hook together particularly. So I made them into a list:

1. Almost all the production for the years takes place in a few months when the ambient temperatures are low. Chocolates melt in the Louisiana summer, and there’s nothing that can be done about it.

2. Companies are always asking to have chocolates made in the shapes of their logos or other iconography. But having molds made for such items runs into the tens of thousands of dollars. Chocolate is not glass or ice or soap. It can only be molded at a certain point in the production, and even then it’s ticklish.

3. Mint and Fruit Bublets–a popular Elmer’s hard candy from the 1950s and beyond–will never be seen again. Rob says that it wasn’t uncommon for more man-hours to be put into making the Bublet machine work properly than to make the thin bubbles themselves.

4. A new twist on the Gold Brick this year is Dark Chocolate Gold Brick Eggs, which are as appealing in flavor as they sound.

Rob left behind a large box of Elmer’s chocolates. My popularity among the radio station staff will peak because of this.

Casablanca. Metairie: 3030 Severn Ave. 504-888-2209.
Roosevelt Hotel Fountain Lounge. CBD: 123 Bayonne. 504-648-1200.
Saturday, April 15. 2017.
Coffee Pot Memories. Fat Spoon. Ballantine’s Multi-Malt Scotch.

My tax return went off a couple of weeks ago. So I don’t have that to worry about. The areticle about the Coffee Pot that I am engaged to write is over deadline, but the words are rolling right out of my brain. That’s easy enough. The Coffee Pot dates back in my consciousness to the very beginning of my career as a restaurant critic. I am full of memories and anecdotes about the place. I will be finished with it by Monday morning. I hope the Rouses Market’s slick, well-assembled magazine will stll have room for my piece by then.

I take breaks for a two-hour WWL radio show. Then a 90-minute walk. Nice long nap. I had a big breakfast the the Fat Spoon earlier in the day, so I’m not hungry for dinner. I use the time to keep writing the article. I lubricate it with one Scotch on the rocks. (Ballantine’s blended 12-year-old. Not a single-malt. I’ve had this bottle on my shelf for over thirty years. I’ve decided to dispatch it one drink at a time (one a day) until it’s gone. I hope I live that long.

Coffee Pot. French Quarter: 714 St Peter. 504-524-3500.

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Boiled Brisket of Beef

In New Orleans, the favorite method of cooking brisket is to boil it. This is done in many cuisines, mainly to derive a stock for making soups our sauces; the meat is often discarded. But despite the long cooking time, the brisket still has a lot of flavor, and makes a great match with boiled cabbage, carrots, and potatoes. Serve it with any of the many variations of horseradish sauce you can come up with.

One of the byproducts of making boiled beef is the ultimate stock for making vegetable soup. Which is great with some brisket floating around in the bowl. Be sure to save it if you’re not ready to make the soup today. It freezes and stores easily.

  • 4 to 6 lbs. choice brisket, preferably the butt end
  • 1 large onion, cut into eight pieces
  • 1 medium turnip, cut into chunks
  • Leafy tops of 1 bunch celery
  • Stems of 1 bunch parsley
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 tsp. black peppercorns
  • 1 tsp. thyme
  • 1 tsp. marjoram
  • 1/2 tsp. mustard seed
  • 2 bay leaves, broken in half
  • 2 cloves (not essential, but it makes the kitchen smell good)
  • 2 Tbs. salt
  • Sauce:
  • 1/2 cup Creole mustard
  • 1/2 cup chili sauce (or ketchup)
  • 1/2 cup prepared horseradish

1. Bring two gallons of water to a boil in a large stockpot.

2. Trim all huge slabs of fat from the brisket, but don’t be too severe about this. Cut it if necessary into two or three pieces to fit your pot. (It’s okay if it sticks out a little bit.) Put it into the water (no need to wait for it to boil). Add all the other ingredients. Cover the pot.

3. When the pot comes to a boil, lower it to the lowest possible temperature. Simmer for four to six hours, or whatever it takes for the brisket to pull apart when clutched with tongs. Skim off the scum that may rise to the surface.

4. Remove the brisket and set aside. Strain out the vegetables and discard, but save the beef stock for other uses–notably vegetable soup. The stock can be kept in the refrigerator for about a week, or it can be frozen almost indefinitely.

5. Slice the brisket it or serve it in large cubes, but cut against the grain with a sharp, non-serrated knife. The meat will be falling apart and easy to eat. Serve with boiled cabbage, potatoes, and carrots.

6. To make the sauce, blend the three sauce ingredients. Serve cool.

Serves eight, with leftovers for sandwiches or to add to vegetable soup.

500BestSquareChicken Clemenceau @ Galatoire’s

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People of my generation (Baby Boom) have watched chicken Clemenceau go from an ubiquitous French-Creole classic served in most white-tablecloth restaurants, to a nearly extinct, largely forgotten dish. Aside from appearances as a special here and there, it is kept alive by only one restaurant: Galatoire’s. Fortunately, that restaurant is so strong that chicken Clemenceau is in no danger of disappearing. It does seem old-fashioned: half a broiled chicken, covered with a sort of hash made of peas, mushrooms, potatoes, butter, and a good deal of garlic. Good, though, especially in cool weather, when its filling and home-style qualities makes it comforting.

The dish is named for Georges Benjamin Clemenceau, who was the Prime Minister of France in the World War II era. His most important act when the war ended was to have the former French provinces of Alsace-Lorraine restored to France from Germany.

Chicken Clemenceau with shrimp–another good combination.

Galatoire’s. French Quarter: 209 Bourbon. 504-525-2021.

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

AlmanacSquare April 18, 2017

Days Until. . .
Jazz Festival–11
Mother’s Day–26
Bad Days In Great Eating Towns

Today is the anniversary of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. It devastated the city, killing hundreds of people and ruining thousands of lives. What the quake didn’t level, the fire that followed it destroyed. Few people alive today remember it first-hand, but that event dominates SF history to this day. I wonder if the memory of Hurricane Katrina will last as long.

Speaking of our hometown. . . Today in 1862 Admiral Farragut’s Union fleet crossed the bar at the mouth of the Mississippi River. Within a few days, New Orleans was under Union control,and would remain so. It was very early in the Civil War. While not a proud moment in the city’s history, it did eliminate the possibility of a destructive battle there.

Today’s Flavor

Today is National Animal Crackers Day. There is more to said about this than you might imagine. Although crackers and cookies shaped like circus animals were being made and sold in the late 1800s, the definitive version was Barnum’s Animals, rolled out by the National Biscuit Company in 1902. Since then there have been fifty-four different animals in those small boxes. The boxes themselves were a breakthrough for Nabisco, and almost all Barnum’s Animals have been sold that way. Forty million boxes a year. You get twenty to a box. Do the math.

Today is also Fried Onion Rings Day. Even though fried potatoes are at least as good, onion rings command greater respect than any other fried vegetable. The first quality criterion thickness. There’s no agreement about this. I’d say that thick rings look more impressive, but thin onion rings are much better. Thick rings have a away of losing their coatings. The coating is the second issue. Either a light dusting with flour or a thicker batter seem to work, with or without bread crumbs as the outer skin.

Two quirky versions we run into now and then are the onion loaf and onions straws. An onion loaf is made by jamming a bunch of onion rings with a pretty heavy coating into a fry basket, and frying them till they not only are cooked but stick together in a mass. We’ve found these taste good enough, but have a propensity to become greasy, especially towards the end.

Onion straws (or strings) are thin onion rings cut in half, so they’re no longer O’s but C’s. They’re actually a little easier to eat than rings. But who wants to hurry?

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

Onion mums are theoretically delicious, but practically inedible.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Blueberry, Minnesota is in the north central part of the state, about 183 miles from Minneapolis. It’s in a glacier-scraped landscape with as many lakes as the license plates claim. Blueberry Lake is right there, and there’s a Blueberry Pines Golf Club nearby, where you can get a bite to eat.

Edible Dictionary

Brunswick stew, n.–Brunswick stew is the best-known American dish with squirrel meat as a main ingredient. Even so, it’s not much prepared anymore. Selling wild-caught squirrel meat is illegal, and so you will not likely see the dish in a restaurant. If you do, it will be made with chicken in place of the squirrel. A better idea is to make it with rabbit. Other ingredients include bacon, tomatoes, potatoes, corn, and beans. The version made in Louisiana usually contains a noticeable cayenne component (no surprise there). Two Brunswick Counties–one in Virginia, the other in North Carolina–claim that the dish is named for them.

Deft Dining Rule #101:

All other things being equal, a regular customer in a restaurant eats better food than a first-timer, but spends more.

Annals Of Seafood

Today in 2001, a blind codfish named Toralf died, a couple of months after it had surgery to relieve gas pains. (I am not making this up.) It was in a Norwegian marine park, to which it had been brought a year earlier by a man who had caught it in his nets forty times. The man felt sorry for it because it looked undernourished. After its operation, it seemed to regain its appetite, but it died anyway. By this time, it had become a celebrity in Norway. That’s what we need in America: more fish heroes.

Annals Of Beef

The Union Stock Yard–the last big cattle auction site in Texas–held its last sale today in 2001. It was on the outskirts of San Antonio, and had been in operation since 1889. Stockyards like this were put out of business by the hegemony of the biggest beef processors in the country, which have thousands of cattle farmers under contract, and don’t need to bid on beef–to the detriment of the ranchers.

Food Namesakes

Golfer Jeff Cook was born today in 1960. . . Today in 1834, William Lamb became Prime Minister of England. . . Lenny Baker, a member of the retro-Fifties group Sha Na Na, was born today in 1946. . . Dewey “Pigmeat” Markham, a comedian on the chitlin circuit (black vaudeville) was born today in 1904. Two of his trademark lines–“Heah come de judge!” and “Look that up in your Funk ‘n’ Wagnalls!”–survive today.

Words To Eat By

“What I admire most in men—to sit opposite a mirror at dinner and not look in it.”–Richard Harding Davis, American writer, 1864-1916.

“If you hear an onion ring, answer it.”–Unknown.

Words To Drink By

“The universe may
be as great as they say.
But it wouldn’t be missed
if it didn’t exist.”–Piet Hein, Danish scientist.

FoodFunniesSquare

Never Forget That Wine, Beer, And Cocktails Are Primarily Stress Relievers.

But only up to a point.

Click here for the cartoon.

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EasterHeaderII

Click here for a list of over 100 recommended restaurants open on Easter.

Easter used to keep us at home with family dinners and Easter egg hunts. But n the last twenty years or so it’s become a big day for dining out. Even those who cook at home on Easter are using the day as an occasion for some serious cooking–although it usually remains a buffet well supplied with kidfood. On Easter, with the warm weather finally here, we’re grilling. Or having a crawfish boil, because crawfish have finally begun to get good.

But more people are heading out to their favorite brunch, breakfast and dinner places to celebrate. That change in direction came quickly, so much so that demand for Easter brunch restaurant reservations outstrips the supply. The demand is such that the bad dog of special holiday menus has come out of its usual confines of New Year’s Eve and Mother’s Day. The special holiday menu is special only in that it’s more expensive, and offers fewer choices. This is not pure greed on the part of the restaurants, but a strategy to help the kitchen can get the food out.

EasterToon4If you can find a good Easter brunch, or even a good Easter dinner, it can be very pleasant indeed. The weather tends to be nice, so if you’re in the French Quarter a stroll around is inviting. Even the most ambitious restaurants make themselves friendly to families and their children, so that’s not a problem.

Below is a list of restaurants open for Easter that have a good track record from past holidays. Most–but not all–will be serving a brunch menu (not necessarily a buffet, though) at midday. Most will also be open for dinner. They are listed in order of goodness. Our rating system, for only this survey, awards between one and three Easter eggs to restaurants we think will be good bets for Easter. They are listed in order of goodness.

DiningDiarySquare-150x150 Wednesday, April 12, 2017.
To Maple Street Café For A Checkup.

I wonder which of these two, mutually-exclusive options would win a poll. Is it a restaurant with brilliant food most of the time but off-nights often enough to be notices? Or would it be a place that’s reliable almost all the time but in general doesn’t veer far from its steady fare?

I already know the answer to that. My statistics show that people get more worked up in the negative way over jerks and bumps in a restaurant’s performance, and consider the steady-coursers unexciting. (We can safely pay little attention to the restos that are always great, because so few of them exist.)

Maple Street Cafe. The Christmas-decoration interior is like that all the time.

All this underwrites my thoughts about the Maple Street Café. It a low-key restaurant that is only rarely memorable, but almost never experiences a full service or kitchen disaster. To see if that is still true since my last time, I called my little sister Lynn to join me. She groaned when I named the restaurant. I know she wasn’t holding out for a better deal, but merely wanted to go to as nice a place as possible.

Another problem with really consistent restaurants, as I mentioned before, is that we forget about them at moments when they might be the ideal restaurant for the evening. My experience with the Maple Street is that it always delivers more than I expect.

We began with a split order of the angel-hair pasta with a variety of exotic mushrooms in a light, almost brothy brown sauce. I’ve always liked it, and I did again. So did Lynn. We moved to a pair of redfish fillets. Hers was made Florentine style, making three examples of Florentine something in three different restaurants this week. Creamed spinach under the redfish, with almonds sprinkling here and there. Looked good, tasted good. Might have been just a little dry from having been overcooked a shade. No anger was generated by this.

Mine was the seafood entree special, enlisting the services of a good deal of steamed vegetables, topped with what the server said was “a Margarita sauce,” as if that were a standard Creole-French element. (If she meant “Marguery,” which is indeed a classic sauce, then this had nothing in common with the standard recipe. But so what? It was just the kind of thing I know they handle well here, as they did.

Only a little of that consideration powers our conversation. Lynn and I have many tastes, opinions, and amusements in common. One matter under consideration today is the overuse of the expression “going forward,” which is widely used in hollow business conversations instead of the longer-running and more familiar “in the future.” We decide that we can tell a lot about a person who is living his or her life going forward, instead of “after the present plays itself out.”

So. The dinner ends with caramel custard, which the Maple Street does as well as Galatoire’s or the Peppermill–my standard-setters for that dessert.

Lynn says that the word “so” is much too commonly used. But I can’t get into that because I am guilty of the sin myself. So, I will try to discipline my speech moving forward.

I neglect to ask whether her initial reluctance to have dinner at the Maple Street–which had held its side up as fare as I am concerned.

Maple Street Cafe. Riverbend: 7623 Maple. 504-314-9003.

Our annual survey of seafood in Southeast Louisiana comes to a close today, as we conclude a countdown of the 33 best seafood species enjoyed especially in restaurants. Over the weekend, I’ll fine-tune the list and post it permanently on the NOMenu website.

Oysters of the half shell.

#1: Oysters

The best assessment of how fine our local oysters are came from Richard Collin, in his last restaurant guide in the 1970s. He gave this recommendation:

Best Meal at the Acme Oyster House
One Dozen Oysters on the Half Shell; Beer

Better-Than-Best Meal at the Acme Oyster House
Two or Three Dozen Oysters on the Half Shell; Two or Three Beers

Yep. The only thing better than oysters is more oysters.

Oysters are, to my palate, the most delectable of all the seafood that comes our way in New Orleans. That has been especially true this year. Even while the oyster fishermen rebuild their beds after surges of freshwater killed a lot of them last year in the battle against BP oil, the oysters that remain have been unusually meaty, firm, salty and delicious.

Oyster connoisseurs agree that the best way to eat them is immediately after the shell is opened. Raw oysters on the half shell, despite all warnings about the dangers they present to our health, are the standard presentation. The health warnings are true, although most of the problems affect a small minority of the population.

Oysters Bienville.

The resource is so easily available that our cooks have dreamed up hundreds of ways to prepare them. Oysters appear in appetizers, soups, salads, seafood entrees, meat entrees. . . everything but dessert. My own favorite cooked oyster dish is oysters Bienville, above. (This batch was at Keith Young’s Steak House.)

Oysters are seasonal, but refrigeration on boats and trucks long ago eliminated the need to avoid oysters in non-R months. That said, it must be noted that oysters reach a low point in July, when the warm water makes them leaner than in the cooler months. They shrimp a lot in cooking then. In early summer, the liquor in the shell can get milky–a function of the spawning cycle. Neither of these effects is harmful, and only slightly impact enjoyment.

I admit to a local-pride aspect to my love of our oysters. But I’ve had oysters wherever I’ve traveled, including the famed Blue Points, Belons, Malpeques, Kumamoto, and Olympia oysters. None of them shows me anything that I find lacking in our oysters at their peak. On the other hand, all of those are much smaller than ours, are expensive, and typically sold a few at a time. To hell with them.

Beyond being delicious, our oysters represent a value. On a weight-per-dollar basis, there is no less expensive seafood. All of this adds up to what, for me, is the Number One seafood resource we have. New Orleans is the place where Americans travel when they decide to eat their first raw oysters.

RecipeSquare-150x150

Oysters Ambrosia

This was created at Commander’s Palace by Sebastian “Chef Buster” Ambrosia, who might have the best name I ever heard for a chef. For many years, Chef Buster hosted a cooking show on WWL Radio. He served this dish in every restaurant he headed, and it was always the best dish in that restaurant at the time. It’s as Creole as something can be: seafood with a brown sauce. “It’s good, hearts!” as Chef Buster would say.

  • 4 dozen big oysters
  • 2 Tbs. Creole seasoning
  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 sticks butter
  • 2 cups red wine
  • 1 quart strong beef stock
  • 6 bay leaves
  • 1 Tbs. chopped garlic
  • 1/4 cup Worcestershire
  • 1 tsp. Crystal hot sauce
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 Tbs. salt
  • 2 chopped green onions
  • 8 sprigs flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • Vegetable oil for frying

1. Drain the oysters and collect the water. Sprinkle the oysters with the Creole seasoning, and toss around to coat uniformly. Put them in the refrigerator while making the sauce.

2. In a saucepan, make a medium-dark roux with the butter and flour, taking care not to burn it. When the roux has reached the right color, add the red wine and bring it to a boil while stirring.

3. After the wine boils for a minute, add the beef stock, strained oyster water, bay leaves, and garlic. Whisk to dissolve the bits of roux that will be floating around. Lower the Bring the pot up to a simmer and let it cook and thicken for about 45 minutes.

4. Add the Worcestershire and the hot sauce, plus salt and black pepper to taste. Simmer another ten minutes, at most, while you’re preparing the oysters.

5. Get the oysters from the refrigerator and coat them with flour seasoned with the 1 Tbs. salt. Fry the oysters till golden brown, about two minutes. Don’t add so many that the oil temperature drops radically. Drain after frying.

6. Spoon some of the sauce into a bowl and toss the oysters around in it to coat them well. Place six oysters on a plate and top with some green onions and parsley.

Opulent option: Add some lump crabmeat to the bowl when tossing the oysters in the sauce, and serve them both together.

Makes eight appetizers or four entrees.

AlmanacSquare April 14, 2017

Days Until. . .Easter —2
Jazz Festival–14

Observances

It is Good Friday, recalling the most infamous execution of all time. And the day, most likely, on which the most seafood is eaten in America.

Today’s Flavor

Today is National Hush Puppy Day. Hush puppies are an important part of a well-balanced mess of fried catfish. We see them on other fried seafood platters, too. Most of the time the role of hush puppies is strictly as cheap filler, and that’s probably how they came to be in the first place.

Hush puppies, served unusually with a spice sauce.

Hush puppies, served unusually with a spice sauce.

The story (no idea whether it’s true) is that the cook carrying food from the kitchen across the courtyard to the dining room of the main house had to do so with dogs running underfoot. To quiet them, she made some of the coating for the fish or chicken into a ball, fried it up, and threw it to the dogs. Who, of course, went after it.

Hush puppies can be raised to a higher level. By incorporating onions, bell peppers, parsley, and perhaps some fresh corn and a little jalapeno, one comes out with a hush puppy that is stands alone. The best hush puppies I ever ate were and are at Cuevas Fish House, an all-you-can-eat fried whole catfish place near Picayune Mississippi.

Deft Dining Rule #404:

No catfish recipe, no matter how involved or careful, will match the goodness of fried catfish with a crisp, golden-brown, cornmeal coating.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Catfish, North Carolina is in farm country fifty-eight miles north of Charlotte. A school of substantial size is there. It’s a mile to Lookout Dam on the Catawba River, which forms an enormous reservoir where we imagine more than a few catfish live. No catfish restaurants are in the area, unless that’s on the menu at Rock Barn Lyle Creek Grill, three miles away.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

The best way to coat catfish (or anything else) with cornmeal for frying is to put the seasoned meal into a big, round-bottomed bowl, toss a few pieces of fish in, and shake the bowl around until everything’s coated. If you get good at this, it looks dramatic.

Edible Dictionary

basa, Vietnamese, n.–A member of the catfish family native to the Mekong River valley in Vietnam. It has been eaten throughout Southeast Asia for centuries, but in recent times it’s become a big business. Fish farms raise basa in tremendous numbers, and the fish is being exported all over the world. Basa became a big local story when it began showing up in grocery stores and restaurants in this country, and particularly in the South, where it competes with American catfish farms. In flavor and texture, basa compares favorably with farm-raised catfish, and it’s usually cheaper. For some time, it was even sold as catfish, but new laws forced it to be identified as basa on the label. (Or “swai” or “tra,” two other similar species from Southeast Asia). Restaurants looking to save a buck may well be passing these off as catfish. More reason for strong truth-in-menu laws.

Annals Of Food Writing

Heloise Cruse was born on this date in 1919. She created a newspaper column called Hints from Heloise in a Honolulu newspaper in 1959, and wrote it for a couple of decades. Her daughter writes it now. She may be most famous for telling us what else to do with vinegar besides making salad dressing.

Food Namesakes

Jack Bruce was born today in 1943. He doesn’t have a food name, but his band, Cream, did. Its drummer had a double food name: Ginger Baker. . . The Grapes Of Wrath, John Steinbeck’s novel, suggested by the lot of grape pickers in California, was published today in 1939. . . Lemuel Boozer, a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1860, was born today in 1809.

Words To Eat By

“Eating at a new, highly recommended restaurant is like a Very Important Blind Date, a contract with uncertainty you enter into with great expectation battling the cynicism of experience. You sit waiting, wondering about the upcoming moments of revelation. Somewhere in the back of your head is the dour warning that disappointment is inevitable but you don’t really believe it or you wouldn’t be there. The best eaters are always optimists.”–Stuart Stevens, American journalist.

Words To Drink By

“I am willing to taste any drink once.”–American writer James Branch Cabell, born today in 1879.

FoodFunniesSquare

Two Things We Didn’t Know About The Easter Bunny.

1. He’s a drinker.
2. He’s a cross-holiday figure.

Click here for the cartoon.

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DiningDiarySquare-150x150 Monday, April 10, 2017.
Back To Normal, But Tuckered Out.

I don’t often awaken tired. I almost always have a great night’s sleep, and I’m always eager to jump out of bed at around six-thirty and get with the process of writing a few thousand words.
But that was a rough, relentless weekend just past. And I can only wonder how the vendors at the French Quarter Festival feel.

I shift my gist around by having breakfast in late morning, at the Fat Spoon. A fancy egg dish catches my attention. They call it eggs Florentine, which means nothing much more than that there is some spinach in there. What appears is a large order of well-made creamed spinach is enriched by folding soft-scrambled eggs into it. Three strips of bacon and two slices of whole-wheat toast end it all deliciously.

Eggs Sardou @ Fat Spoon.

It brings to mind a matter I have not brought up before. The marker dish for chain restaurants is spinach-artichoke dip. It is sold so widely that most restaurants serving spin-dip (as it’s called these days) use it in more than one guise. It is especially common in restaurants with eggs Sardou. The recipe for most eggs Sardou manifestations include spinach and artichokes. So why not just open the coast-to-coast pipeline of spinach-artichoke dip and save a few steps? Why indeed.

I am no fan of spin-dip. (MA says that it’s evidence of my ongoing food snobbery.) Yet I love eggs Sardou. (At this time we interrupt the screed by noting that the original eggs Sardou created by Antoine’s never did have spinach in it–just artichokes and hollandaise.)

Getting back to the Fat Spoon: this new egg dish of theirs is better than I expect, and I had it figured for something very good. I love when that happens. And with that breakfast under my belt, I’m ready to finish the day without eating another meal.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017.
Best Chefs In Louisiana.

When I arrive at the radio station today, I find that nearly everybody on the staff is waiting to tell me about an urgent phone call from Chef T, the main organizer of the Best Chefs In Louisiana, to get in touch with him ASAP. Those who don’t bear that message want me to record two commercials before I go on the air. But my professors in the UNO Communications Department always said that all radio and television operations are normally in a state of crisis.

It turns out that Chef T’s crisis is that he needed me to show up at the Lakefront Airport by six-thirty. That’s where and when the Best Chefs in Louisiana program and party get rolling. I have almost always been the emcee of this, although in recent years I’ve shared the job with other luminaries in the America Culinary Federation, the chef’s association that puts on this event every year for the last seven.

I arrive with time to spare. I make a tour of the food booths scattered throughout the airport’s exquisite Art Deco terminal. Here an assortment of young and old chefs knock themselves out making beautiful, up-to-date eats. This is one of the best food-grazing event of the year and a steal at $100. I eat very well and talk to chefs I haven’t seen lately.

The band that takes up a third of the floor in the terminal is a first-class music association, but it has one big problem. The volume is excruciatingly loud, at least to my ears. This makes it hard to say anything more than hello. We get them to stop when we begin the awards presentation. The recipient of the big award of the night is Leah Chase, the genius of Dooky Chase’s restaurant. Miss Leah is in her nineties and doesn’t get around easily anymore. And day after tomorrow she will expound her big public feed of the year when she makes tanker cars full of her definitive gumbo z’herbes. It’s the busiest day of the year for Dooky’s.

I am asked to introduce her, which is my pleasure, even though I know that Miss Leah has a sharper intellect than I do. (I have been on panels with her, and that is clear.) No matter what I said, she would top it, in a humble way. She deserves all the honors she gets. Which is a lot of them.

I have been on my feet for three hours when I sneak out the back door and find yet a few more chef teams cooking up still more good things. Grilled oysters from the Upperline are the most impressive.

Last year–the first time the Best Chefs had its party at the Lakefront Airport–I got lost looking for my car in the total darkness. To keep that from happening again, while the sun is still out I see that a sidewalk goes straight from my car to the terminal building. This time, I walk the deep darkness again, but the sidewalk keeps me well aimed–until a twig hanging low grazes my forehead. You would think that a former Scout would remember to carry a flashlight. Mary Ann says to use my cellphone. I don’t bother telling her that the formula for turning the light on is so complex that one needs a light to puzzle it out.

Our annual survey of seafood in Southeast Louisiana this year counts down the 33 best seafood species that are best enjoyed in restaurants. The reason for that in this case is that pompano is a somewhat rare commodity in seafood markets and homes. Even in restaurants, finding fresh pompano it’s not an everyday thing. As we pointed out in #17 on this list, however, pompano is now being farm-raised. There also seems to be a subspecies of pompano which isn’t as large and not as good–although you’d never see me turn away from it. But if your concept of pompano involves the big, meaty, fillets for which Galatoire’s and Antoine’s are famous, you might not be entirely wowed by these smaller jobs.

Pompano David at Arnaud's.

#2: Pompano

Everywhere in the world I go, I ask to try what the locals say is their best fish. I’ve enjoyed a lot of amazing flavors that way–to say nothing of a galaxy of exotic recipes.

But after all those experiences, my belief that pompano is the world’s most delicious fish remained firm.

Pompano is not for everybody. Pompano makes a statement. With a fat content higher than most fish we commonly eat , it has a real flavor. Pompano has so much fat that when you’re finished cleaning one, your hands feel as if you rubbed them with shortening.

You don’t have to clean it much. Once the fish is gutted, it’s ready for cooking. The whole fish, placed on the grill with the help of a fish basket, may be the best possible of pompano recipes. Even if you fillet it, leave the skin on. The scales are so fine as to be edible, and if you don’t want to eat the skin it comes right off. Still, it tastes a lot better when the from the skin penetrates and adds flavor and tenderness.

Pompano has an unusual texture, too. It doesn’t flake or shred. Nor is it meaty like tuna. All the adjectives and comparisons that come to my mind don’t do it justice, so I won’t use them.

The flavor is the flavor of fish. I know that sounds nutty, but too many of the fish we are fed don’t have that taste. The general preference is for blandness. Pompano detractors describe it as “fishy.” So do I. That’s what I like about it. And why I like it best cooked simply.

The all-time worst recipe is pompano en papillote–at least when done in the traditional way, with a thick seafoody sauce. The sauce and the preparation are good, but they overwhelm the taste of the fish. Maybe that was the idea. The flavor of pompano may have overwhelmed some palates, and had to be diluted with crab stuffing or the like.

The problem with pompano is that it’s seasonal, and the seasons are peculiar. As I understand it, pompano move back and forth along the Gulf Coast, from Florida to Mexico. We get the fish when the schools pass in front of us. With the advent of better shipping of fish, however, we’ve had pompano much more than we once did.

It’s even a pretty fish to behold, with its silver-lamé skin. It’s a member of the jack family, and has that wide shape with what looks like a too-small head. The ideal size is between a pound and a pound and a half.

Inferior Alternative. Small pompano don’t have the flavor of the full-size fish. That makes it easy to order. If the waiter tells you the pompano is running small, wait for another day. (Unless the only other fish is something like tilapia.)

RecipeSquare-150x150

Nouvelle Pompano en Papillote

There are few worse travesties than the pompano en papillote found in traditional New Orleans restaurants. It starts with the best fish there is–one so good that sauces tend to detract from, not add to, the flavor. Then this great fish goes into a parchment bag with the gloppiest kind of light-roux, white-wine, three-or-four-seafood sauce. What comes out is anonymous, if rich.

I will admit, however, that the idea of the papillote–to keep the fish moist by cooking it essentially in its own steam–is a fine idea. Looks nice, too. So here’s my take. It starts with flounder, a milder fish that steams well. Small salmon and freshwater trout also work well. Of course, you could use actual pompano.

The parchment paper you need for this is more easily available than it once was, and it’s always at kitchen stores.

  • 4 fillets of flounder (or pompano, trout, or salmon), about 6 oz. each
  • 2 Tbs. softened butter
  • 1/2 cup green onions, green part only, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 stalk celery, cut into matchsticks
  • 4 tsp. fresh dill, snipped fine
  • 1 tsp. chopped fresh tarragon, chopped
  • 1 Tbs. lemon juice
  • 2 Tbs. white wine
  • 1/4 tsp. Tabasco jalapeno pepper sauce
  • Salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

1. Cut the paper large enough to enclose the fish completely, with enough overlap to fold over to make a tight seal.

2. After washing the fish fillets and checking for bones, generously butter each fillet. Place them on the parchment paper. Top with the green onions, celery, dill, and tarragon.

3. Combine the lemon juice, white wine, and Tabasco. Sprinkle the mixture all over the fish. Add salt to taste.

4. Fold the paper over and fold the edges down hard, then fold down again to seal the pouch as securely as possible. Place the papillotes on a baking pan and place them in the center of the oven. Bake for 15-18 minutes (longer if the fish is thick).

5. Remove the papillotes from the oven and place on serving plates. Serve immediately with a sharp steak knife for opening the bags. The fish should be eaten right out of the bag. (On a plate, of course.)

Serves four.

AlmanacSquare April 13, 2017

Days Until. . .
Easter —3
Jazz Festival–15
Eating Around The World

The Songkran Festival, Thailand’s celebration of the new year, begins today and continues until April 15. The exciting, absurdly healthy food of that country has become extraordinarily popular around America. The flavors of Thai curries, noodle dishes, and spicy soups always get me going. Most dishes are jammed with fresh vegetables and herbs. The cuisine has been popular long enough that more than a few chefs of other kinds of restaurants have borrowed Thai flavors. You even see that in chain restaurants.

Annals Of Winemaking

Baron Philippe de Rothschild was born today in 1902. At age 20, he took over management of Chateau Mouton, which his great-grandfather bought in 1853. For the next two decades, he was single-minded in the pursuit of first-growth status for Mouton, which had been a second growth in the great Bordeaux classification of 1855. His motto: “Premier ne puis, second ne daigne. Mouton suis.” (First I am denied, second I disdain. I am just Mouton.) He reached his goal in 1973. Baron Philippe also created the world’s first branded wine in Mouton Cadet. And the first French-California partnership in Opus One. He was a revolutionary.

It’s also the birthday of America’s first boutique winemaker. Thomas Jefferson–who in addition to his achievements as a statesman and philosopher was a serious gourmet and wine lover–was born today in 1743. He planted vineyards in Virginia using vines from Bordeaux, and thought that some day American wines could rival French wines. But his favorite wine was Chateau Lafite.

Deft Dining Rule #236

Never order a famous, very expensive wine just to be on the safe side. You’re already on the safe side by ordering wine at all.

Edible Dictionary

larb, Thai, n.–A warm-and-cool salad found widely on Thai and other Southeast Asian menus. Its origins are in Laos, but few restaurant serve that cuisine. In Thai restaurants around New Orleans, larb is almost always made with beef, although it can authentically be made with pork, duck, chicken or (rarely) fish. The meat part of the dish is on the spicy side, with chili peppers used in the cooking. Mint, basil, and other herbs are involved, as are crunchy greens and vegetables, all served as raw salad ingredients. It’s a good appetizer for two to four people, or an entree for one.

Observances

It is Holy Thursday (also called Maundy Thursday), the commemoration of The Last Supper and the institution of The Eucharist. The Last Supper was a Passover seder, so we have a pretty good idea what Jesus and his apostles ate. The bread would have been unleavened. So all those pictures that show Jesus holding what looks like the end of a loaf of French bread are inaccurate. In many homes and restaurants in New Orleans–most notably Dooky Chase’s–gumbo z’herbes is traditionally eaten today. Gumbo z’herbes has nearly no resemblance to seafood or chicken gumbos. In its strictest form, it has no meat in it at all, and is made entirely of vegetables, including many green vegetables (hence the name). Other versions have only seafood. The trend lately is to include not only meat, but lots of it. Leah Chase’s famous version has brisket and chaurice sausage. Since Holy Thursday is not strictly part of Lent, all this is fine, as long as the leftovers don’t show up tomorrow (Good Friday).

Today’s Flavor

It’s Peach Cobbler Day. Peach cobbler is easy enough to make: you bake some fresh peach slices with a little sugar and cinnamon until they’re soft. Then you drop spoonfuls of sweetened biscuit dough into the baking dish, mix them up, and bake again until it browns.

Not enough restaurants serve peach cobbler. The best I ever had around here was at the Coffee Pot on St. Peter Street, where they’d serve it, only on Saturdays, in a big beer schooner with whipped cream. Its only drawback was that it was very sweet, which is a hallmark of the dessert. I think it would be better if made with fresh peaches and less sugar.

Bad Taste Through History

In 1883, Alferd Packer was convicted of acts of cannibalism. Since this happened in Wild West Colorado, he became a folk hero. After he served his sentence, he became a vegetarian, and supported himself by selling autographs and memorabilia. There’s a museum of his stuff, and a web site. His name, by the way, is indeed spelled Alferd–that’s not a typo.

Music To Eat Barbecue By

Bob Nolan, the long-time leader and baritone of The Sons of the Pioneers, was born today in 1908. The group–founded by Roy Rogers, and appearing in many of his movies–was the most famous of the many cowboy harmony groups in the 1930s through the 1950s. In addition to having an immediately recognizable voice, Nolan wrote hundreds of songs, of which the most famous are Cool Water and Tumbling Tumbleweeds.

Annals Of The Soda Fountain

Today is the birthday, in 1852, of F.W. (Frank Winfield) Woolworth. He founded the dime store chain that bore his name. While most of what they sold were dry goods, most of us remember Woolworth’s (or, as they pronounced it on Magazine Street, “Woolswoit’s”) for its lunch counter. Many breakfasts, burgers, grilled cheese sandwiches, and malts were enjoyed at Woolworth’s in those pre-fast-food times. It was a very big deal when I was a kid.

Culinary Royalty

Today is the birthday, in 1519, of Catherine de Medici. She was the granddaughter of Lorenzo (“The Great”) de Medici, one of the major figures behind the Renaissance in Italy, and a practitioner of a high style of living. Catherine inherited a taste for the finer things. Legend has it that when she married King Henry II of France, she brought her Italian chefs with her. Supposedly, those chefs inspired French grand cuisine. Italian chefs love that story, but it’s not really true. French cuisine was already fairly well developed by that time, if not quite up to the level to which the Medicis were accustomed. Still, Catherine was quite a woman. Among other accomplishments, she was the mother of three French kings.

Food Namesakes

Actor Harry Leek–better known as Howard Keel (leek spelled backwards) was born today in 1919. He was in Dallas on TV, as well as Kiss Me, Kate and other movies. . . Janet Cook won a Pulitzer Prize today in 1981 for an article she later admitted she made up. (The award was taken away.) . . . Schalk Burger, a professional rugby player from South Africa, hit the Big Field today in 1983.

Words To Eat By

“An apple is an excellent thing–until you have tried a peach.”–George du Maurier.

Words To Drink By

“Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a fatted ox and hatred.”–Unknown origin.

FoodFunniesSquare

The Vagaries Of Developing A Great Restaurant Menu.

What you think will be a hit is a dud. What you think few people will order becomes the signature dish.

Click here for the cartoon.

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DiningDiarySquare-150x150 Saturday, April 8, 2017.
French Quarter Festival #34.

It’s going to be a very busy weekend, dominated by not one but two remote broadcasts from Jackson Square, as the French Quarter Festival swings (and jumps, sings, raps, and syncopates) into its thirty-fourth year. Also on the docket are two articles to write, the first half or so of our tax return, and another failed attempt to get the lawn tractor moving.

And at the very top of the pile is Mary Ann’s departure for two weeks in Los Angeles. Son Jude and his wife Suzanne actually need MA through the ten days she will be there. They’re overwhelmed with a perfect storm of business. And their regular nanny is not available for the coming two or more weeks. This means that grandson Jackson is stuck with his Emmie (MA’s chosen grandma name) as his all-day caretaker. As far as Jackson and MA are concerned, nothing could be better. MA misses her years as the mother of little kids, a job at which she excels.

Unfortunately, MA’s travel day is tomorrow–in the middle of the weather disaster in the eastern U.S. that has thousands of people with their flights cancelled. She will not be able to use her precious buddy passes for many days.

I arrive in town at noon and begin the three-hour radio show. Jackson Square is as jammed as I’ve ever seen it, and I can hardly move as I try to attract some of the many restaurant owners. But they are so slammed with customers that they can’t be away from their booths, and don’t need the extra business I can send their way.

However, I do manage to get a few minutes with some vendors. Paul Miller of K-Paul’s has his standard offering of Butterbeans That Make You Crazy. The third generation of Mrs. Wheat, maker of Natchitoches-style meat pies, has not only the spicy meat pies but also a broccoli-and-cheese pie which, if anything, is even spicier than the meat or crawfish versions. David Haydel also has half-moon-shaped pies, but his are filled with strawberries, lemon, apples, and other sweet stuffings. He also brings his chocolate eclairs and his king-cake bread pudding. Also here are the managers of the Festival, and many, many people who I see or speak with only once a year: here and now.

One of those people about which the above also applies is Mary Ann. She grabbed an expensive flight for tomorrow and will escape after all. Not that I ever thought she’d fail. She sets up some interviews for me tomorrow. She takes good care of me.

It’s a battle walking the streets from Jackson Square back to the radio station, where I left my car. I ate enough at the Festival that I will need no supper. At home, I take a long nap, then dive into the taxes.

Sunday, April 9, 2017.
French Quarter Festival #34-Part Two.

I feel bad that I must let down the St. Jane youth choir at Palm Sunday Mass, but I have to hit the road at around eight-thirty to perform the second half of my broadcast from the French Quarter Festival. The gates hadn’t opened when I ambled my way from the radio station to Jackson Square.

The most interesting visual of the Festival is what happens when the gates open. Where yesterday were cheek-to-jowl crowds is–for a little while, anyway–swept by a tide of people crossing the green lawns of the square. The eagerness of FQF fans is impressive.

In contrast with yesterday’s lack of people for me to talk with are lines occasionally running three deep. And I have no food to sell! All you get from me are words and laughter. A lot of these people are those MA set up yesterday. She herself managed to get on a plane to Los Angeles in the early morning, with daughter ML running the chauffeur service.

Which reminds me. What with all this hubbub, I have not dwelled upon the big raise and promotion Mary Leigh was accorded two days ago. After just five months. She loves the kind of design work she’s doing, and her future looks very bright. (She continues to ask me not to even hint in this journal at what exactly she’s doing.)

Once again, I don’t need to go to a restaurant for dinner. I consume plenty of my favorite cuisine while the festival went on. Best dish today: the brisket from Tujague’s. Marc Latter, the owner of the ancient restaurant, didn’t offer brisket last year. I think we can read something into that.

On may way out,, I hear the distinctive piano of my friend Ronnie Kole and his five-piece ensemble. I’m glad he’s here playing classic jazz. That’s something the festival needs more of.

I’m home at around four. I already had taken a long walk (25 blocks) and just needed a nap. Then back to the taxes. Yesterday, I was working with the online edition of Turbo Tax. I found it so clumsy that I went to Office Depot to get the CD version, with which I am very familiar. I pick up speed quickly, and have it about half done by the time I cannot focus my eyes. That’s when I filled out the extension request form and call it a day.

Our annual survey of seafood in Southeast Louisiana this year counts down the 33 best seafood species for dining in restaurants. There are places around the world (New England and the Canadian Maritimes) where excellent scallops can be had from just about every grocery or seafood market. We are less lucky in New Orleans–either that, or our seafood supply is so strong with local items that the lack of scallops is just karma).

Scallops from Keith Young's Steakhouse.

#8: Sea Scallops

Sea scallops have become omnipresent on local menus, even though they come from waters far away from New Orleans. Air shipping of seafood makes it possible for us to enjoy fresh scallops in our restaurants, and sometimes even from our grocery stores. That’s what you find in the better restaurants. Unfortunately, we’re also still getting the not-so-fresh scallops, too. Like as not, those are the ones you’ll see in the supermarkets. More on that–and the little bay scallops, too–later.

Back to the good news. The best sea scallops are the big ones. They come from the Atlantic in the same parts of the Northeast that give us good lobsters. They range in size from about an inch across to the size of a petite filet mignon. Scallops, like most mollusks, veer from the general seafood rule that smaller is better. I find the biggest ones most interesting.

The scallops you’ve enjoyed in the best restaurants are gathered and shipped with better-than-average care. They’re known generically as”dry-pack” scallops, meaning they have not been immersed in a preservative chemical. “Day-boat” scallops (gathered in one day’s fishing and rushed to market) or “diver” scallops (actually gathered by divers instead of dredges) are the best of the dry-pack scallops. These have the superb sweet flavor of fresh shellfish, with just a light searing at the outside. (They should bulge at the sides when cooked.) They’re also good raw as sashimi.

The part of the scallop that we eat is analogous to the eye of an oyster. It’s the adductor muscle, the one that keeps the shell closed. Only rarely do you see the entire surrounding tissue left intact. If you try that, you learn why we only eat the white part.

Seared sea scallop at Coquette.

Before cooking at home, wash scallops exceedingly well. They sometimes contain fine sand. It’s disconcerting to enjoy the flavor of a scallop and then be put off by a gritty sensation in chewing. Even in good restaurants I find this now and then.

Once in a very great while, scallops have the orange roe sac attached. Depending on which chef you ask, this is either wonderful or something to be got rid of. I like it, perhaps as much for its rarity than its intrinsic goodness.

Unacceptable Alternatives. The little bay scallops are about the size of miniature marshmallows. Although they are prized in the Boston and Cape Cod area when they’re fresh in season, almost all bay scallops you’re likely to find have been either frozen or treated with a phosphate chemical that extends their shelf life. Acceptable for people who go to places like Red Lobster (which sells tons of them), but nobody who really knows seafood.

As for the bigger sea scallops, most what you see in stores were dredged up from the sandy sea bottom and processed by what amount to floating factories. The phosphate chemical enters the picture, extending the length of time they can be sold at retail but giving a chemical taste and a strange texture to the teeth. Not only that, but the chemical is so effective that sometimes you can’t get the treated scallops to brown, no matter how hot the pan is.

To repeat what I said earlier, when you get scallops either in a restaurant or from a store, as this question: “Are these dry-pack scallops?” The correct answer is, “yes!” “Dry-pack” doesn’t sound right, but those are in fact the good scallops.

RecipeSquare-150x150

Seared Sea Scallops With Lentils

Sea scallops are the big ones–the bigger, the better. See if you can locate “diver,” “day boat” or “dry-pack” scallops, which have not been processed for shelf life. The lentils may not sound like a natural partner for scallops, but trust me: beans go brilliantly with seafood. This pairing is particularly good.

  • 3/4 cup dried lentils, soaked for two hours or overnight
  • 1 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tbs. chopped onions
  • 2 Tbs. chopped celery
  • 1/2 tsp. savory (or oregano)
  • 1/2 tsp. lemon juice
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 4 dashes Tabasco
  • 2 lbs. large sea scallops
  • 1/2 stick melted butter
  • 2 Tbs. Creole seasoning
  • 1 tsp. salt

1. Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat until it shimmers. Add the onions and celery, and cook until soft.

2. Add the lentils and all the other ingredients in the first section of the list, plus enough water to cover the lentils by about a half-inch. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook for one hour. Stir now and then during the cooking. The lentils are ready when they can be squashed between thumb and forefinger but are still a little firm. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

3. Heat a heavy skillet over high heat. Dust the scallops with the Creole seasoning and salt. Dip them into the melted butter, and sear them on each side for one or two minutes, depending on size. They should bulge noticeably when they’re ready. Scallops don’t need a lot of cooking, so if you think they may be done, they probably are.

4. Spoon the scallops on warm plates in a line across the plate, Set four to six scallops, depending on size, onto the lentils. Serve with a wedge of lemon.

Serves four entrees or eight appetizers.

AlmanacSquare April 12, 2017

Days Until. . .
Easter —4
Jazz Festival–16

Today’s Flavor

Today is National Licorice Day. Most licorice on the candy rack contains no actual licorice. The natural licorice flavor–similar to those of fennel or anise–comes from the root of a European plant. It contains, in addition to the distinctive taste, a compound called glycyrrhizin–the sweetest natural substance on earth. It’s being used in a new kind of artificial sweetener that hasn’t quite been perfected yet. Licorice is more widely used in drugs and herbal medicine than in cooking. I’ve only encountered actual licorice root once in a dish: the deconstructed oysters Rockefeller at MiLa.

Today is also Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day. For most people, that’s a trigger for childhood memories. For me, it conjures up the lunch counter at Woolworth’s on shopping trip with my mother. Those sandwiches were good, but I preferred the version served in the school cafeteria, made by putting a slice of cheese on a hamburger bun and baking it until the cheese stuck the two halves of the bun together. Once in a great while I make a grilled cheese sandwich at home, when I have some interesting cheese to do it with. Not standard Cheddar, which released too much grease when melted. Something like Gruyere, or raclette, or Jarlsberg, or Fontina, or even the aggressively aromatic tete de moines, grilled on bread with some texture and nuttiness. . . yes!

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

Licorice is the liver of candy. And you can quote me on that.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Boiling Point is an area–you couldn’t call it a neighborhood, exactly, although quite a few residences are there–in the mountains just north of Los Angeles. It’s on the Sierra Highway in Agua Dulce Canyon, at the 3200-foot level. The reason for the name is a mystery. Nice overlook of L.A. from up there. The nearest restaurant of note is the Sweetwater Cafe, appropriately located in Agua Dulce, four miles west of Boiling Point.

Edible Dictionary

poi, Hawaiian, n.–A soft, starchy side dish made mostly of cooked, mashed taro root. Taro has been raised as a food crop in Hawaii for hundreds of years. Fields of the plants, whose leaves look like small elephant ears, are still grown widely throughout the islands. Poi, however, is in decline even among Hawaiian natives, who serve it mostly as a baby food and as an essential at luaus. The surest way to mark yourself as a tourist is to ask for poi. The natives dread the moment when it will be brought up in conversation with mainlanders.

Food Festivals Through History

In ancient times, this day began a seven-day festival in honor of Ceres, the goddess of growing grain and of motherly love. She gave her name to the words cereal, as well as to the first-named asteroid. Her festival, which began being celebrated in the third century B.C.E., was called Cerealia. I wonder if Kellogg’s and Post ever thought of bringing that back to life. Seven days of revelry about cereal! (Hmm. I guess we’ve answered that question.)

Music To Eat By

On this date in 1969, Simon and Garfunkel released The Boxer, the only national hit that made reference to a certain kind of New Orleans-style sandwich. It’s in the first line.

Deft Dining Rule #51:

If you arrive at a restaurant less than a half-hour before closing time, and the dining room has only a few people who are finishing up their meals, find another place to eat.

The Saints

This is the feast day of St. Zeno of Verona, one of many patron saints of fishermen. He died today in 371.

Food Namesakes

Jean-Francois Paillard, a French classical music conductor, was born on this date in 1928. (A paillard is a thin, grilled slice of meat, in case you didn’t catch the food connection.) . . . Yung Wing, the first Chinese student to graduate from Yale University, arrived in the United States today in 1847. . . Howard Baker Sr., former Tennessee governor and U.S. Senator, was born today in 1902. . . William Cookworthy, a Quaker minster and pharmacist in England, got his life cooking today in 1705. He invented the first porcelain that didn’t have to be imported from China to England. . . Guy Berryman, the bassist with the group Coldplay, was born in Scotland today in 1978.

Words To Eat By

“My mother was a good recreational cook, but what she basically believed about cooking was that if you worked hard and prospered, someone else would do it for you.”–Nora Ephron.

Words To Drink By

“Champagne and orange juice is a great drink. The orange improves the champagne. The champagne definitely improves the orange.”–Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh.

FoodFunniesSquare

How To Get Out Of A Party Invitation.

All you need to do is show the host just how irritating you can be.

Click here for the cartoon.

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DiningDiarySquare-150x150 Thursday, April 6, 2017.
Domenica Pizza Precedes Unique Concert By The LPO.

Daniel Lelchuk–also known as the Gourmet Cellist, especially when he guest-hosts my radio show–intrigued Mary Ann with a an offer last week. Dan has a composer friend whose latest work will be performed a couple of times in the next few days. Yotam Haber is a professor of composing at Loyola, and spent enough time in New Orleans that he can hold an interesting conversation about New Orleans food.

Mary Ann spends a lot of her time booking guests for my radio show, and Yotam was a good score for us. He composes modern music, which right away places him in a controversial part of the music world. His pieces have been performed by the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra (among many other ensembles). One such was on the program last year, with Beethoven. This time Yotam shared the evening with Handel’s Water Music. Which will be performed on Lake Pontchartrain this weekend. It’s hard to explain, but easy to simmer down enough that one’s brain enjoys figuring it all out. Personally, I am amazed that the orchestra is capable of playing this complex score. Not that the LPO lacks skill, but because the music is. . .well, let’s say very dense.

I managed to get a skit together based on all the above. When YoTam was in the radio studio for my interview with him, I told him that my lack of skill in playing the violin gives his music just that certain quality that might make listeners believe that my mistakes are in fact part of the music. I checked with him before I did this. I didn’t want to insult him. But YoTam has a great sense of humor. And I play my violin so badly that I don’t think anyone bought the shtick. It was a good laugh for the radio show, however.

After the show, I walked over to the Roosevelt Hotel to meet up with MA. She made it just in time for the concert in the Orpheum. The music was everything we were expecting, which meant different things for each of us. Once again, the abilities of the LPO is impressive. And YoTam’s music, accompanied by a long video that required full attention–was also something different.

Calabresi pizza at Domenica.

Mary Leigh joined us for dinner after the concert. As always, it was at Domenica in the Roosevelt Hotel. We order a Calabresi pizza, which could be called a salumi pizza, with lots of very spicy deli meats. Of course, Domenica’s co-owner and chef makes all these himself. And I get the penne pasta arabbiata. “Angry pasta,” that means. But we weren’t.

Friday, April 7, 2017.
Kristen Effig From Coquette. Re-Usable Oyster Shells.

This has been a good week for guests on The Food Show. Today we are visited by Kristen Effig, a young chef who has turned up–in every case brilliantly–in the kitchens of quite a number of restaurant in and around the French Quarter and the CBD. She most recently is working and partnering with Michael Stoltfus in Coquette, the rustic bistro on the corner of Magazine Street and Washington Avenue.

Upstairs at Coquette.

I have liked Coquette since it opened, but I’ve never felt that I had a good feeling for the category it belongs in. (One of the first duties of a restaurant critic is to slot everything.) I kept asking questions that I thought would elucidate the situation, but I failed at that. Instead, we had a delightful hour-long conversation about the art of cooking. If that doesn’t get people to buy HD radios, I don’t know what will.

And that was just the first half of the show. Ali Loftin stopped in to show off her oyster shells. She was also packing a new gadget designed to easily move things like oyster shells and small au gratin dishes off a hot grill.

The shells are very useful in way swell beyond just grilling oysters. They are made of a special kind of ceramic that allows the chef (or the home cook) to take the ice-cold oysters Bienville (or whatever the recipe of the moment is) and put them right on a hot grill. No cracking. They look just like real oyster shells, at least from a short distance. You get a sack of twelve to the order. Gourmet shops around the area stock them.)

Coquette. Garden District: 2800 Magazine St. 504-265-0421.

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DiningDiarySquare-150x150 Wednesday, April 5, 2017.
Gendusa’s On Air. To Kenner For Gendusa, Which I Finally Find.

Over the last year or so, I’ve heard from quite a number of people who have taken a liking to Gendusa’s in the old town part of Kenner. It intrigued me enough that today I made my third visit there with dinner in mind.

But it would be only my first meal at Gendusa’s. My first attempt at dining there was a couple of months ago, when a freight train stopped cold on the Illinois Central* main line. I waited a for some forty-five minutes for the train to pass. It never did. I couldn’t even find a way around it when I drove a mile or two in each direction looking for a pass. The second try, a month or so ago, had me looking around the address, but not actually finding it.

Today, owner Troy Gendusa came to the radio studio and explained the location. It’s mildly embarrassing that I walked in front of the restaurant three or four times in that most rercent search. Especially since this neighborhood is where I lived in my last single-digit years. My school was a block away from what is now Gendusa’s. I walked in front of it every day. Little did I suspect that. . . well, I think that’s quite enough.

On the air, Troy let me hear his classic philosophy of cooking and serving. Best of everything. Fresh food only. Stone pizza oven. Et cetera.

Gendusa’s is a cute place, with low prices and a nice, young staff. The waitress came over to ascertain my drink wishes. Glass of red wine, I say. No go, she replied. Gendusa’s is across the street from a school (not the one I went to). So, no liquor license, forevermore, unless the restaurant moves.

Troy told me on the air that he has no soup du jour, because the cold season is over, and few people get soup in the summer. I’m sure that’s true, even though it was cool and a windy. I settle on an eggplant lasagna, something I’ve not encountered in recent years. The most famous local version of that was eggplant Tina, created by Tony Angello, whose restaurant in Lakeview closed a few months ago. Gendusa’s version, I would say, is better than that one. Very rich in tomato flavor from a lagre flow of the sauce. Didn’t need a lot of Parmigiana cheese.

If I were looking for complaints, it would be the the amount of cheese baked between the layers was a bit much, because the cheese almost needed a knife and fork to cut it into chewable chunks. It’s the old Italian abbondanza issue. Always too much. I’ve heard it said that if you eat a big Italian dinner, six days later you’re hungry again. That is not perceived by most people as a problem, of course.

I finish up with house-made spumone ice cream, another brick-size offering.

Troy comes out at that point and we talk for awhile. He congratulates me for finding the restaurant with not too much trouble. (I only went around the block three times.)

One other note. When Troy and I talked earlier, it was about ten minutes before I learned that although he is related to John Gendusa, who created the poor boy loaf in the 1920s, he had no business connection to the still-active John Gendusa bakery in Gentilly. I should have asked about the old Angelo Gendusa bakery, which until Leidenheimer absorbed it in the 1990s made what I thought was the best New Orleans French bread. It was the bread that Antoine’s used, and you don’t get better than that.

*The railroad through Kenner is still an active main line, but the the Illinois Central is now part of Canadian National.

Gendusa’s. Kenner: 405 Williams Blvd. 504-305-5305.


Our annual survey of seafood in Southeast Louisiana this year counts down the 33 best edible seafood species. The sub-theme this year is that these seafoods are more common in restaurant than in homes–unless your home has crabnets in nearby waters. In this entry we look at all forms of the local blue crab.

Crab cake from Fausto's.

#5: Hard Crabs, Soft Crabs And Crabmeat

The favorite trick of waiters and chefs is making an ordinary dish seem irresistible by just throwing a little crabmeat on top. That’s how appealing crabmeat is. And with good reason. Aside from people who are allergic to it, who doesn’t love crabmeat?

Even so, using crabmeat as a price-elevating garnish is the least interesting way to use this fantastic local seafood. The best way is to serve it more or less as it comes out of the crab’s shell. If there’s a sauce, it should be a light one. The subtle flavor of our local blue crab is so distinguished that it needs no help.

Stone crab claws, king crab, snow crab legs, and other exotic crabs from around the world find their way onto New Orleans table. At the bottom of the spectrum is the fake crabmeat in sushi bars. I’d trade any or all of it gladly for the meat of our local blue crab (hereinafter called simply “crabmeat”). It reigns supreme.

Crabmeat is found in several forms, listed here from the most expensive to the least:

Crabmeat marbles.

Marbles. These are the largest lumps from the biggest male crabs. Expensive and uncommon.

Jumbo lump. This is the big lump of meat from the point where the paddle-like “backfin” legs are attached to the body. There’s a little sliver of thin shell in there that’s difficult to remove without breaking the lump. A sign that you’re eating the best crabmeat is the presence of a little bit of shell. Restaurants buy almost all the jumbo lump in the market. Even in the best of times, the price per pound rarely drops below about $20, and it often reaches $30.

Lump. This comes from beneath the place where the crab’s claws attach to the body. It tastes as good as the jumbo lump, but it’s not as eye-popping. Great for crabmeat ravigote, crabmeat au gratin, crab cakes, and dishes like those.

Special white. This is white meat from inside the crab, but it’s usually shredded. The flavor is not bad, but the look isn’t as good as lump. There’s a lot of inconsistency from one container to the next, and even between the meat on top and on the bottom of the same container. Good for making soups and sauces, and for topping things like baked fish.

Claw crabmeat is the least expensive, but has the most assertive flavor of any part of the crab. It’s perfect for stuffings or dressings. It doesn’t look as good, however–the meat is dark and stringy. So it’s the cheapest kind of crabmeat, universally available wherever crabmeat is sold.

Boiled crabs.

Whole boiled hard-shell crabs. This form may be the ultimate way to eat crabmeat, because you have all of the above in there. At the peak of the season–the beginning of the summer–it can’t be beat, even though it’s a lot of work. (It’s always seemed to me that eating boiled crabs will cause you to lose weight, because you expend more energy than you get from the crab.)

Crabmeat has shot up in price in recent years because our crabs have become part of the national market. The people along the Chesapeake Bay–who have the same kind of crabs we do and a similar crab-eating culture–buy up a titanic quantity of our crabs. The meat is in demand all across the nation.

On the other hand, producers of crabmeat in South America and Asia have entered the market with pasteurized crabmeat in sealed cans. It’s much cheaper, and for the price it’s not terrible, but it has nothing on fresh local crabmeat.

And then we have soft-shell crabs. These are almost all farm-raised, because the critical moment in grabbing the soft-shell crabs involves monitoring the crabs more or less constantly. They are removed from the water the moment the old shell comes off. If that moment is missed, the crab’s new shell begins to stiffen to the consistency of paper. Not good.

The best soft-shell crabs of all are the ones that have their shells removed by hand. The meat at that point is at its peak of flavor. When the crab jettisons it old shell, it starts pumping itself up to its new size with water, diluting the flavor. The pre-molting crab is called a “buster” crab. We don’t see them much anymore. A buster almost always has a few legs missing from the ordeal.

As excellent as soft-shell crabs are, their range of recipes is limited by a hard-to-escape fact: soft-shells are best deep-fried. All efforts to broil or grill the crab never top the fried crabs. All the uniqueness comes from the sauces and garnishes.

RecipeSquare-150x150

Soft-Shell Crabs With Chinese Hot Garlic And Black Bean Sauce

It surprises Orleanians–who like to think that all the dishes we like originally came from our city–that crabs are also much enjoyed in the Asian coastal cuisines. Many Asian recipes for soft-shell crabs exist. And they know what we know: that the crabs must be fried somewhere along the line. This is a spicy Chinese approach to the delectable beasts, with a sauce that doesn’t take over.

  • 1 large egg
  • 2 Tbs. cornstarch dissolved in 2 Tbs. water
  • Dash of soy sauce
  • 1 tsp. finely chopped green onions
  • Pinch black pepper
  • 4 large soft-shell crabs, cleaned and cut in half front to back
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1 Tbs. rice wine vinegar
  • 1/2 Tbs. sugar
  • 1 Tbs. sesame oil
  • 1/4 tsp. finely chopped fresh ginger
  • 1 tsp. chopped garlic
  • 1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp. hot bean sauce (available at Oriental markets)
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine

1. Mix the egg, cornstarch blend, soy sauce, chopped green onions, and black pepper. Dip the crabs in the mixture to coat. Shake off the excess.

2. Heat the vegetable oil to almost smoking in a heavy skillet or wok over high heat. Fry the crab halves, two at a time, until crisp on the outside but still soft and moist inside. Remove from the pan, drain, and keep warm.

3. Pour out the oil from the pan, but don’t wipe. Add all the other ingredients and stir to blend until boiling rapidly–about one minute.

4. Place one crab on each plate, and spoon the sauce over it. Serve immediately.

Serves four.

AlmanacSquare April 10, 2017

Days Until. . .
Easter —6
Jazz Festival–18

Yes, We Have Some Bananas

Today in 1633, greengrocer Thomas Johnson of Snow Hill in London displayed bananas in his shop window. They were the first bananas ever sold at retail in that country. Most people in England had never seen or tasted bananas, but heard enough about them to snap them up. Bananas would not become widely available in England for another 200 years.

Today’s Flavor

National Soft-Shell Crab Day. Soft-shell crabs are just beginning to appear right now. The early part of the season is best, with the biggest specimens we may see all year.

BonTon-Softshell

Soft-shell crabs are almost absurdly delectable. Every creature that eats crabs relishes these. It’s a wonder any crabs make it past that vulnerable stage. Soft-shell crabs are blue crabs that have just molted their too-small shells. Almost all the ones that come our way are farm-raised. (The wild ones hide very effectively, and finding one is dumb luck.) Soft-shell crab producers can tell when a crab is about to molt. As soon as it does, it’s removed from the water. Otherwise, the shell stiffens and gets “papery.”

A crab increases its size by pumping up its tissues with water in the minutes after it sheds. If you ever see the process, you’ll wonder how that crab could possibly have been in that old hard shell. Crabs get better as they get bigger. A gigantic soft-shell crab contains, among many other wonderful things, two massive jumbo lumps of a size one rarely gets in straight crabmeat dishes. One “whale” (as the biggest soft-shell crabs are known in the trade) is better than two smaller crabs.

Cleaning a soft-shell crab for cooking is a bit involved. You cut off the face and rip out the gills (the “dead-man’s fingers”) and the sand sac. You can then proceed, but the crab will appear to have lost some corpulence. So some chefs stuff something inside to take the place of what came out. As for the actual cooking, no method beats deep-frying. I’ve occasionally had broiled or grilled soft-shell crabs that were as good as fried. But never better, and usually worse. From that point, nothing enhances a soft-shell crab more than napping it with a little brown butter and a pile of lump crabmeat on top.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Crawfish Branch enters Old Mines Creek sixty-five miles southwest of St. Louis. The branch drains some thousand-foot hills to the west, dropping about 300 feet in a half-mile. Most of Crawfish Branch has little flow, although it’s muddy a lot of the time–which is what draws the crawfish for which it’s named. The area is a mixture of farm fields and woods. Much evidence remains of the old mines of the creek name. These are lead mines originally dug by French explorers in the 1700s. If you follow Old Mines Creek for four miles, you’ll come to Cedar Creek Diner, the nearest restaurant to Crawfish Branch. Don’t get your heart set on crawfish; they don’t eat them much in those parts.

Edible Dictionary

consomme, [KON-soh-may], French, n.–The king of clear soups, consomme begins as a carefully-made beef stock. It’s then filtered by boiling through a raft of ground beef and egg whites, which remove all the particulate matter. A well-made consomme has an elegant mouthfeel because of a large amount of gelatin in it. The flavor is good, too, but because it’s so pure it comes across as too simple to many eaters. Among chefs, consomme is a test of a cook’s skill. Because of that, it shows up on more menus than it deserves to grace, because it’s been a long time since it was actually popular. Neither its reputation nor lack of mainstream favor have anything to do with its goodness, however. A good consomme is very good indeed. Variations made with little cubes of vegetables, or the tomato-enriched madrilene version are also interesting.

Food And The Law

On this day in 1995, smoking was banned in all New York City restaurants with more than 35 seats. From that point, laws prohibiting smoking in restaurants spread. It took a dozen years for them to come here, but we’re glad they did. Right now, some restaurants are complaining that the ban has had a negative effect on business. That happened in New York, too–initially. Sooner than anyone expected, volume was back up to (and beyond) levels from the smoking era.

Food On The Air

On this evening in 1982, in a skit on Saturday Night Live, Eddie Murphy pulled a large live lobster out of a tank, held him up to the cameras, and named him Larry. He then asked the audience whether they wanted Larry boiled and eaten, or whether Larry should be allowed to live. Giving the lobster a name was what decided that one. By the end of the show, the telephone voting from around the country gave Larry a reprieve, and he went on to live until he could collect residuals from the reruns of the show.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

When with your food empathy you feel
You’ll begin to dread your every meal.
For you to eat, something must die
But forget it! It’s already said good-bye!

People We’d Like To Take To Dinner

Novelist Paul Theroux’s birthday is today, in 1941. He mostly writes fiction now, but he came to my attention through two travel books. In both, he takes trains to the farthest points tracks lead. The Great Railway Bazaar goes from London through Asia. The Old Patagonian Express starts in Boston and ends in Mendoza, Argentina. He digs into the culture wherever he goes, and has much to say about the way people eat. To an extent, it was what Anthony Bourdain does now, but thirty years before.

Annals Of Fishing

Today in 1989, a number of major American food distributors stopped selling canned tuna caught in nets that trapped (and then suffocated) dolphins. The move caused the price of tuna to rise a bit, but tuna from countries that did not accept the restriction went down dramatically, and for a time its sales actually went up. Now dolphin-safe tuna is the standard of the business. Progress is all around us.

Music To Drink Shots By

Today in 1958, The Champs’ recording of Tequila hit Number One on the pop charts. It was essentially an instrumental, with the group saying “Tequila!” at the end of every few bars.

Food Namesakes

Relief pitcher Dan Quisenberry signed a lifetime contract with the Kansas City Royals today in 1985. . . Kirk Lowdermilk, pro football player, was born today in 1963. . . Bill Martini, former Congressman from New Jersey, was born today in 1947. . . Jay Cooke, an early American financier, was born today in 1821.

Words To Eat By

“Soft crabs are always fried (or broiled) in the altogether, with maybe a small jock-strap of bacon added.”–H.L. Mencken.
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DiningDiarySquare-150x150 Monday, April 3, 2017.
A Tradition Forgotten.

April Fool’s Day has a one in twenty-nine chance of falling on a weekend. That, and the fact that for most of my writing life I have had no deadlines on weekends, means that once every four years or so I don’t publish my April 1 restaurant review.

I began publishing that special edition back in 1973, when I was working for the weekly local newspaper Figaro. We filled a page with a bunch of completely fake and, it is hoped, hilarious stories. There are still people out there who, twenty or thirty years later, still believe that one of my frauds were for real.

But this year I clean forgot about the 2017 April Fool restaurant. I didn’t even think about it until setting fingers to keyboard for today’s diary. I usually run a few days behind in keeping that up, and by the time it came to me that I missed April 1, it is too late to double back and play the game.

I am deeply concerned about this. As my brain descends into its dotage, I must keep at least a little mischief going. And this year, I beg off by pointing out that April 1 fell on a Saturday. I’ll start working on next year’s now.

Lunch today at DiMartino’s in Covington. I am in the mood for oysters today. Although DiMartino’s is best known as a muffuletta and Italian food specialist, they do have some seafood on the menu.

The oysters come as a platter, a poor boy, and a small poor boy. All three carry the same market price, which today was $19.95. A bit high for an oyster loaf, but I want what I want.

The big sandwich was very good, using good-size oysters in a count that could have gone higher–but there’s no need for me to eat more than I was planning on just to keep the price in a mental balance.

And this was a near-perfect sandwich. I like these things on toasted French bread spread with enough butter that it looks like garlic bread. Then come the oysters, which are too hot to eat immediately, golden on color and crispy in textre. I would have liked some pickle slices and Tabasco, but the service staff at DiMartino’s is never quite up to my speed, and watching the beautiful fried oysters cool off was anathema.

And so I enjoy the simplest possible oyster loaf. And because of that simplicity, it is also one of the best. No tartar sauce, no lettuce or tomatoes. Just fried oysters and toasty, buttery bread. Yum.

Rehearsal tonight for NPAS’s Motown show planned for June. All the musical seletions so far came from the peak years of Motown, when I was in the my peak years of radio listening. I know it too well. Our conductors tell us to push out of our minds such memories. The only thing that comes from singing the same way the record plays the music is that you get good at imitation. Which is not good in any art form.

In the food universe, the best advice along these lines came from Dale “Del Frisco” Wamstad. Back in the days when he operated a minimal neighborhood steak shack on the West Bank–long before he built Del Frisco’s Silver Eagle Steakhouse near Dallas and sold its one location for over $20 million–he said, “I avoid hiring chefs with a lot of experience. I have to make them un-learn everything they know, and re-learn everything the way I want it.”

I have no doubt that this is effective. It’s certainly a tenet of most of the many-unit restaurant groups around the country. And I can’t say I like the results.

DiMartino’s. Covington: 700 S Tyler St. 985-276-6460.

Italian wedding soup at Marcello’s

Tuesday, April 4, 2017.
Marcello’s. Meatballs Two Ways. Beet That.

The Marys are celebrating. Daughter Mary Leigh, having worked long hours on her employer’s most recent project, got a promotion, a raise, and the promise of further projects in which she may exercise design skills. She is more thrilled by that more than she is about the monetary raise. And she’s only been there a few months.

The three restaurants under consideration for our celebratory dinner are wildly different: Ruth’s Chris, Mariza, and Marcello’s. I meet the Marys at Mariza, where I have not been in awhile. A visit there would give me something to write about. But they decide to go to the steak house, until we actually get there, when we shift to Marcello’s.

I am the last to arrive, routing myself along St. Claude Avenue, McShane Place (one of the least-known arterial streets in New Orleans. Do you know where it is?), and North Rampart Street. This defines the new streetcar line from Canal Street to Elysian Fields. The streetcars themselves seem to beckon people whose main goal is to ride the streetcar. On the other hand, I have a few friends along the line. Let’s see if it will revive the route that let down Restaurant Jonathan thirty years ago.

As I knew they would, the girls are seated at a sidewalk table. The weather is beautiful and the temperature comfortable. When I arrive, my proud beauties are working on a trio of meatballs with red sauce. They love Marcello’s, especially this kind of eating. The second course brings out another batch of meatballs and marinara, this time atop spaghetti. Happiness all around, save for the difficulty we all have in getting Marcello’s excellent focaccia bread brought to our table. We ask the runner for this at least five times, befor the waiter moves in and makes it happen.

Meatballs and rustic sauce at Marcello’s.

Second course for me is yesterday’s soup (har de har har), a fine example of Sicilian wedding soup. Chicken stock with herbs, three meatballs about half the size as the ones that came with the spaghetti, and a very enjoyable flavor overrall. I follow that with a beet salad in which the multi-color beet slices intersperse themselves with cubes of braised pork belly. The beets beat the bellies. Nothing new there. With a few exceptions, I have found pork bellies among the most boring hot eating trend in decades. The restaurant that was ahead of the game is Herbsaint, a door away from Marcello’s. Both restaurants are close to being filled–tables, bar, and sidewalk. I sure wish I still lived on Camp Street, as I did in the 1970s. I can see the back of my old slave-quarter apartment from Marcello’s. Two blocks away from the radio studio. Lots of great restaurants.

Marcello’s. CBD: 715 St. Charles Ave. 504-581-6333.

Our annual survey of seafood in Southeast Louisiana this year counts down the 33 best seafood species enjoyed more often in restaurants than at home. Indeed, you are unlikely to find fresh speckled trout at any retail fish monger.

The favorite fish in New Orleans white-tablecloth restaurants for decades, speckled trout has become much less common on local menus in the past twenty years. That made it even more desirable.

But this is an artificial shortage. State laws limit the commercial catch of speckled trout to a few tens of thousand pounds a year. That may sound like a lot, but the actual catch of Louisiana speckled trout is in the millions of pounds–over ninety-nine percent of it reserved for recreational fishermen, and therefore unsaleable in restaurants or seafood markets. Almost all the speckled trout you find in restaurants is either farm-raised (with the usual problems) or from the Carolinas or Virginia.

Trout meuniere, Atchafalaya.

#6: Speckled Trout

When the fish returns to menus during its short season (late fall through early spring), we realized just how terrific a fish speckled trout is. And how all the recipes developed with that particular shape, taste, and texture aren’t as good with other species.

The first fact about speckled trout (or “spotted sea trout,” as the ichthyologists call it) is that it’s a drum, not a true trout, and not related even distantly to those fresh-water, salmon-family fish. If you’ve ever had rainbow trout or ruby red trout substituted in a dish created with speckled trout in mind, you see how important this is. Neither texture nor taste are similar.

The best speckled trout weigh about two pounds. (They can grow to over ten, but they get worse as they get bigger.) Really small ones are excellent cooked whole–either fried or broiled. Beyond that, you’re talking about fillets.

Although some trout is poached and broiled, I’ve always felt that the fish lends itself to pan-saute with butter. It’s also great deep-fried for dishes like trout meuniere and amandine. (Despite what the waiter says about those dishes’ being sauteed, the fish is probably fried.) These are the dishes in which the flaky, nutty flavor of speckled trout becomes magnificent.

The best coating to use on trout, in my opinion, is simply a light dusting of flour seasoned with salt and pepper or Creole seasoning. In the case of trout meuniere–the classic preparation for this fish–the flour blends with the butter in the pan to make the sauce.

I think trout also comes off very well in preparations that essentially steam it to doneness. I’m thinking here about having the fish on a pan, topped or surrounded things like bell peppers, onions, mushrooms, bread crumbs, white wine–that sort of thing.

I don’t often see restaurants grilling or blackening trout, but that’s just as well. The fish tends to fall apart on the grill, and often dries out. (Keeping trout from turning dry while cooking is the essential step.)

RecipeSquare-150x150

Trout With Pecans

In the late 1970s, when trout amandine ruled the earth, Ella Brennan and Chef Paul Prudhomme remade the dish with a Louisiana flavor. Instead of almonds (which don’t grow around here) they used pecans (which are in everybody’s back yards). The sauce went from a brown butter to a darker, thicker Creole meuniere. The dish spread quickly, and is now a Creole classic. This preparation also works very well with fried soft shell crabs. This is more or less Commander’s original recipe for the dish.

NTinis-RedfishPecans

  • Pecan Butter:
  • 3 Tbs. butter
  • 2 Tbs. roasted pecans
  • 3 Tbs. lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • Sauce:
  • 2 Tbs. flour
  • 1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 cup shrimp or fish stock
  • 3 Tbs. lemon juice
  • 2 sticks butter, softened
  • Fish:
  • 3 Tbs. salt-free Creole seasoning
  • 2 Tbs. salt
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 6 trout fillets, 6-8 oz. each
  • 1 cup clarified butter
  • 8 oz. roasted pecan halves

1. Pecan butter: Place all pecan butter ingredients into the container of a food processor or blender. Cover and process to a smooth puree. Set aside.

2. Sauce: In a small bowl, combine flour and 2 Tbs. water to make a smooth paste. In a small saucepan, bring stock, Worcestershire sauce, and lemon juice to a light boil.

3. Whisk about 1/3 cup of the hot stock mixture into the flour paste. Then gradually pour the flour mixture back into the saucepan, stirring constantly with the whisk, and bring to a boil. Whisk in the softened butter, a tablespoon at a time. Keep sauce warm.

4. To prepare the fish, blend the Creole seasoning and salt into the flour in a wide bowl. Beat the eggs with the milk in a second wide bowl.

5. Dust the trout lightly with the seasoned flour. Pass it through the egg wash, and then dredge it through the seasoned flour.

6. In a large skillet, heat half of the clarified butter over medium-high heat until a sprinkling of flour sizzles in it. Add three fillets of trout and sate three or four minutes, until golden brown, turning once. Transfer fillets to serving platter and keep warm. Add the rest of the butter to the pan and sate the remaining trout.

8. Spread pecan butter over trout, sprinkle with roasted pecans, and top with the sauce.

Serves six.

AlmanacSquare April 7, 2017

Days Until. . .
French Quarter Festival–In Progress
Easter —9
Jazz Festival–21
Drink And The Law

Today in 1933, Utah ratified the Twenty-First Amendment, thereby putting the final nail into the coffin of Prohibition. President Franklin Roosevelt signed legislation allowing 3.2 percent alcohol beer immediately. And there was rejoicing in the land–except in Oklahoma, where Prohibition continued until, coincidentally, this same day in 1959.

The Physiology Of Eating

The man who created the word ptomaine (from the Greek ptomas, meaning “corpse”) was born today in 1817. Francesco Selmi thought that the nitrogenous compounds in spoiled food were responsible for food poisoning. That’s not exactly true; those ammonia-like aromas are a symptom, not a cause. The expression “ptomaine poisoning” is no longer used in the medical world for food poisoning, although many laymen still call it that.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

It is much less likely than you think that your bout of food poisoning came from a restaurant.

Today’s Flavor

It’s National Coffee Cake Day. I once overheard someone in a bakery say that he didn’t like coffee cake because he didn’t like the taste of coffee. Of course, there’s no coffee in coffee cake–unless you spill your mug into it. The basic coffee cake is a sweet, crumbly, thick cake of flour, eggs, sugar, and butter, topped with a streusel of sugar, nuts, and cinnamon. It’s often baked in a tube pan, leaving a hole in the center. Coffee cakes often include other ingredients; apples and blueberries are common. They’re best eaten right after they finish cooling. With a cup of coffee, naturally. I have a recipe for a basic coffee cake here.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Coffee Hill, Maryland is forty-five miles south-southeast of Washington, D.C. It’s on Wicomico River, one of the many tidal inlets off Chesapeake Bay. This is a strong oystering area; the oysters are the same variety we have in New Orleans, but smaller. It’s a weekend- and vacation-home area, with a major country club nearby. They share the land with no small number of rather large farms, one of which is centered on Coffee Hill. There is a hill, rising to 168 feet. Along one side of it is Coffee Hill Run, a creek that drains into the Wicomico. The nearest restaurants are six miles away in Mechanicsville. I like the sound of Crabby Rick’s Crabhouse, where you may well be served blue crabs brought up from Lake Pontchartrain. The people around there buy a lot of our crabs, because they grow in their waters, too–but not in large enough numbers to meet the demand.

Edible Dictionary

bolete, n.–A mushroom in a large family of meaty varieties. The bolete’s most distinctive aspect is that the underside of the cap doesn’t have gill-like spore structures, but a spongy mass with thousands of pores. The family includes some of the most prized mushrooms, notably porcini and cepes. They grow all over the world, including in Louisiana. They are very common on the North Shore of Lake Pontchartrain; the undersides of these are often a brilliant yellow. Only a few members of the family are poisonous. (But no mushroom should be assumed safe until checked by an expert mycologist.) The biggest drawback of local boletes is that the insects and worms love them as much as we do, and attack them at morning’s first light. To harvest boletes, you have to start early in the morning.

Deft Dining Rule #169:

If the little espresso cup is more than half-full with a single shot, it isn’t really an espresso.

Annals Of Processed Food

It’s the birthday in 1860 of William K. Kellogg, the founder of the cereal company that bears his name and the creator of modern processed cereal. He developed the original corn flakes with his brother John. It was not an entirely new idea. The Aztecs also made and liked processed corn products that were almost identical to modern cereal. The two Kellogg brothers were health nuts–vegetarians for starters, but with a lot of much less valid ideas.

The Saints

Today is the feast day of St. John Baptist de la Salle. Born in 1651 in Reims, France to a wealthy family, he became a priest, and took on a mission to improve education among the poor. To that purpose, he founded a Catholic religious order, the Christian Brothers. The brothers still operate schools around the world. Both my son and I are beneficiaries of Christian Brothers education (he at Christian Brothers School in City Park, I at Archbishop Rummel High School). The Christian Brothers also became well-known in this country for their winery, built in 1882, in the impressive, castle-like Greystone just north of St. Helena in Napa. They sold the winery in 1989; Greystone is now the home of the Napa campus of the Culinary Institute of America. So the legacy of teaching goes on. Christian Brothers Brandy is still around, too.

People We’d Like To Have Dinner With

This is the birthday, in 1939, of film director and winemaker Francis Ford Coppola. More than a few restaurant and food scenes appear inThe Godfather and its two sequels, the movies for which he’s most famous. Coppola’s career as a vintner is equally impressive. He bought the old Inglenook estate in Napa, including the Victorian house of the Gustave Neibaum family, who founded the winery in the 1880s. Coppola recently renamed the estate Rubicon, a reference to the marvelous meritage-style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and its usual partners that he makes there. Maybe he’ll bring a few vintages. (Actually, I’ve had lunch with Coppola already, at his home in Napa. He grilled some great pizzas.)

Fine Dining On Television

Andrew Sachs, the actor who played Manuel, the incomprehensibly incompetent waiter on the British TV comedy Fawlty Towers, was born today in 1930. He might have been able to get by were his boss Basil Fawlty (played by John Cleese) not such a ninny himself.

Food Namesakes

Peanuts Hucko, a clarinetist on the Lawrence Welk orchestra, was born today in 1918. . . Yvonne Lime, an actress on television (Dobie Gillis, Happy, and Father Knows Best) was born in 1938. . . John Oates, of the rock duo Hall and Oates, was born today in 1949. . . Pro baseball pitcher Ricky Bones was born today in 1969.

Words To Eat By

“How can you eat anything with eyes?”–W. K. Kellogg, cereal magnate, born today in 1860.

Words To Drink By

“A drinking man’s someone who wants to forget he isn’t still young and believing.”–Tennessee Williams.

FoodFunniesSquare

Charlie Brown’s Sole Entry Into The Realm Of Food Criticism.

And, as you might guess, he comes out with a negative report. It reflects badly on his palate.

Click here for the cartoon.

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DiningDiarySquare-150x150 Saturday, April 1, 2017.
Prom Night Is At Rip’s.

I give forth three very busy hours on the radio, and follow them with an assortment of weekend jobs. I try to start the lawn tractor again, but it continues to tell me that it is ready for the junk pile. Well, we got almost twenty years out of it.

It’s a pretty day, one in which I would have to take Mary Ann to a restaurant that has outdoor dining. That was easy: for the past few weeks I have had commercials on my radio show to the effect that the Lakehouse in Mandeville is now open for lunch and dinner on Saturdays. Illogically enough, it has not served on that busiest day of the week. They had a good explanation: the big old building that is the Lakehouse is ideal for weddings and receptions, and that’s what was going on there this evening.

I don’t have to go back in time very far to recall that Rip’s on the Lake is open every Saturday. Rosalyn Prieto owns the place. She was on the radio show for an interview a few days ago. But the place is so popular, with its panoramic view of the lake, the Causeway, and the sunset. But it’s such a beautiful, warm, breezy, blue-sky spot that the place is nearly full. We get one of the last available seats out on the front porch–just the kind of place MA loves.

Not long after we sit down, we note the coming, in twos and fours, some young adults in formal clothes. Members of the wedding party a block away at the Lakehouse? No, says MA and our friend Desiree Billeaud. Desiree came up here for a drink and a snack. We have room at our table, and she stays throughout dinner. She says that the young, dressed-up people are obvious prom-nighters.

That matter touches me deep down. On top of that, I have an assignment to write an article about how to play prom night to get the most out of it. One couple in particular grabs my attention. They are about two tables from ours. They are dressed flawlessly. For the young man, he completes his prom night milieu by being well groomed and fit. His date wears a dress the looks like something directly out of a high-end fashion magazine.

They are both arrayed so beautifully that they look a few years older than high-school seniors. Not only that, but they seem to be very much at ease, sophisticated and comfortable in each other’s company.

The question of whether this happy couple is really twenty-something is laid to rest when several other couples, all of them in full dress and wearing happy smiles, show up. As the evening progresses, they walk out to the floodwall across the street and have pictures taken of their group with the lake and the setting sun in the background.

We remain at Rip’s until it begins getting dark. I would love to write now that the rest of the evening was lovely and romantic for MA and me. It’s certainly a pleasant time in which we linger for a long wall. But the disasters that were our respective proms were not remediated. I do wish that MA and I had met in time for our proms, but we missed that target by twenty-two years. Too bad. That would have changed everything in both our lives.

I had not dined at Rip’s in a long time. It came a long way since then. We begin with a contemporary oyster appetizer, in which the oysters were fried and the sauce–composed mostly of blue cheese, butter and herbs–are not only good but served in portion enough to feed the three of us.

The entrees are another overload. MA had blackened salmon with a crawfish cream sauce and a bank of small brabant potatoes. She likes the pile very much. I eat fish, too: red snapper with a different sauce but still a lot of herbs, butter, and those little potatoes again. The fish selection goes well beyond these two dishes, a program that was already underway on our last visit.

What with this interesting seafood and the outdoor dining opportunity that MA loves, we’ll likely add Rip’s to our A list.

Rip’s Seafood Restaurant. Mandeville: 1917 Lakeshore Dr. 985-727-2829.
Sunday, April 2, 2017.
Singing In The Morning, Radio At Noonish, Tomato Bisque At Suppertime.

My Sundays are not quite carved in granite, but they’re predictable. I sing at 10 o’clock Mass in Abita Springs, go on the air during early afternoon with the Sunday edition of the Food Show (a recent addition to the schedule), and spend the rest of the day walking, bookkeeping, writing if I have anything to say. (If I don’t, I’ll think of something.) Then, absent any other plans from MA, we go to Zea for the great tomato-basil soup, the big Asian-style fried oysters that I wish they served all the time. I think it’s a little too much regularity and work, but I don’t know what else to do.

Although we sometimes watch movies, now that I have a reclining chair to watch them from. Birthday present this year. Love it! Always wanted one.

Zea. Covington: 110 Lake Dr. 985-327-0520.

Our annual survey of seafood in Southeast Louisiana this year counts down the 33 best seafood species enjoyed in restaurants, where they may be better than what you could cook at home. The small advantage that restaurants have over you and me is a better selection of sizes for the decapods. They also know when shrimp are in season. (Not quite yet.)

#7: Louisiana Shrimp

The shrimp we gather from local waters are of such fantastic quality that we’re safe in calling them the best in the world. For years, they were the standard of all America. In most of the of the country, when people ate shrimp they were probably eating our shrimp.

Quality versus price is the main game when it comes to shrimp. Don’t be wooed away from the local product for any reason. Don’t be among the people who save a dollar on a pile of shrimp by getting imported shrimp of substantially lower goodness. Not all is disaster, though. During shrimp season, restaurants have a hard time getting fish, because all the boats are out catching shrimp. Shrimp remain the most valuable single seafood commodity in the country, with Louisiana leading the league.

Shrimp remoulade.
Shrimp migrate from the Gulf into the estuaries along the coast. There they spawn and fatten up. Brown shrimp appear in the spring and fall. White shrimp, which have a longer growing cycle, show up in autumn. Although to the untrained eye white shrimp and brown shrimp look pretty much alike, white shrimp are the ones with the ridiculously long antennae.

Shrimp are sized according to “count”–the number of shrimp per pound. The best for barbecuing or broiling are under 20 count. Most of the shrimp you get in more elegant dishes are 20-25 count; for things like fried shrimp or shrimp Creole, they go as small as 40 count.

White shrimp are the best for barbecue shrimp, grilled shrimp, broiled shrimp, or any other dish where big shrimp are needed. The meat is a bit tenderer than that of brown shrimp, and the shells aren’t as hard. And at least one authority notes that white shrimp don’t eat acorn worms, which is what gives some shrimp that pronounced iodine flavor at certain times.

Boiled shrimp.

Although getting shrimp fresh off the boat is clearly the way to go, shrimp freeze and thaw without any significant damage to texture or flavor. So they’re available year-round, not just during the fall shrimp season. Here’s how you can tell if they’ve been frozen. If the legs and claws are sort of black, they’ve been frozen.

RecipeSquare-150x150

Shrimp Pasta Primavera

Shrimp have so much flavor that even when only a few of them are cooked with the other ingredients of a dish, the goodness spreads out. Here’s an excellent example that. There’s really more fresh vegetables than shrimp tossed with the pasta, but shrimp plays the starring gustatory role. The veggies make it feel like springtime. It could even be served chilled as a pasta salad.

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 green onions, chopped
  • 1 Tsp. chopped garlic
  • 1 rib celery, cut into thin matchsticks
  • 1 carrot, cut into thin matchsticks
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1/2 tsp. Worcestershire
  • 1 cup small broccoli florets (or cauliflower, or both)
  • 12 cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • 12 sprigs parsley, leaves only, chopped
  • 20-30 medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1/4 tsp. oregano
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. Creole seasoning
  • 1 lb. rotini pasta, cooked and drained
  • 1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper

Pasta primavera with shrimp.

1. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet until it shimmers. Add the green onions, garlic, celery, and carrots, and saute until tender.

2. Add the wine, Worcestershire, and 1/4 cup water from the pasta pot, and bring to a boil. Add broccoli, tomato, and parsley. Lower the heat to a simmer and cover the pan. Cook till vegetables just begin to turn tender–about five minutes.

3. Add shrimp, oregano, salt and Creole seasoning. Raise the heat a little and agitate the pan until shrimp turn pink.

4. Turn off the heat and add the pasta. Toss with the other ingredients until well distributed. Serve sprinkled with crushed red pepper.

Serves four.

AlmanacSquare April 6, 2017

Days Until. . .
French Quarter Festival–Begins tonight with Gala dinner
Easter–10
Jazz Festival–22

Annals Of Convenience Food

The TV Dinner was introduced by Swanson Foods today in 1954. The genius was one Gerry Thomas. He was trying to figure out a use for leftover turkey from the preceding year’s Thanksgiving supply. He and came up with a pre-cooked, packaged dinner with cornbread dressing, peas and sweet potatoes in a three-compartment aluminum tray that you could just warm up in the oven. It sold for ninety-eight cents. Swanson thought it would be a hit if they sold 5,000 the first year. By the end of 1954, ten million of them had been were snapped up. We were excited by the idea of TV dinners when I was a kid, but we never liked the flavor. We always figured we were doing something wrong, otherwise it wouldn’t taste so bad. The saddest fact what that this stuff we were so excited about could not possibly compare with our mother’s home cooking.

Today’s Flavor

It is Citywide Calas Day here in New Orleans. Calas are Creole rice cakes, rolled into a ball with cinnamon and sugar and fried. A century ago, calas were widely sold from street corner carts. For years, the only restaurant that serves calas is the Coffee Pot on St. Peter Street; they still do, as a breakfast item. In 2008, the Calas Bistro in Kenner tried to revive and expand the scope of the dish. It didn’t work out. Thank goodness for the Coffee Pot!

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

If you’re making calas or rice pudding, use brown sugar. Rice needs a little caramel flavor to keep from being insipid as a dessert. Cinnamon wouldn’t hurt, either.

Deft Dining Rule #708:

If you’re in a restaurant where they serve a dish you hardly ever see anymore, order it. You may be the last person ever to do so. Don’t expect much from it.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Salt Fork–a town with a rare double food name–is in north central Oklahoma. The town is a dwindling farm community surrounded on three sides by the Negro River, a tributary of the Salt Fork of the Arkansas River. The changing course of the Negro has stripped the soil, so most of the arable land is away from it. The Salt Fork’s waters run 193 miles, rising in Kansas and winding up ultimately in the Mississippi. Salt mines nearby give the river and the town its name. The nearest place to eat is twelve miles west in Pond Creek, at a place well named The BBQ Joint. It should also be noted that the closest town of any size is Enid–“dine” spelled backwards–thirty-three miles from Salt Fork.

Music To Drink Martinis By

This is the birthday, in 1960, of jazz guitarist, singer and composer John Pizzarelli. He’s a terrific interpreter of standards, with a unique, velvety sound. And he has (more or less) a food name!

Edible Dictionary

sorrel, n.–An herbaceous plant with leaves resembling long, rounded arrowheads. It’s a distant relative of spinach, and is used in many of the same ways. Its most familiar use is in making a bright green, creamy-looking soup. Sometimes its used in salads and stuffings. Its flavor is a little acidic and a little fruity. It’s one of many leafy vegetables that contain oxalic acid, which in large amounts can be harmful. It’s unlikely you will ever eat too much sorrel, however. It’s more popular in Europe than here. Overdue, in fact, for some chefs to start playing with it. Most of their customers will be puzzled, a condition chefs like to create.

Junk Food Through History

Twinkies were introduced on this day in 1930. James Dewar of the Continental Baking Company wanted to get more use from the pans used to bake strawberry shortcakes, which sold well only during strawberry season. The new product was a runaway success. A half-million hens are needed to lay all the eggs used in Twinkies in a year. What a way to make a living!

Food Inventions

Today in 1938 Roy Plunkett, a DuPont researcher, cut open a tank of a refrigerant gas he was working on. For some reason, it had no pressure. He found that the gas had polymerized into a slippery white powder which, to make a long story short, became Teflon. Teflon-coated cookware is handy for a couple of things. It’s perfect for an omelette pan. Or a muffin-tin-like pan for making popovers. Otherwise, I avoid the stuff, because I like the juices and browned bits to stick to a pan a little. And ultimately non-stick coatings flake off. Which stands to reason: if nothing will stick to it, how do they get it to stay on the pan? Answer: Not very well.

Food Namesakes

Roger Cook, an investigative television journalist in England, was born today in 1943. . . Brown Sugar was the first hit for Rolling Stones Records, which was formed on this date in 1971 for the group of the same name. . . Sugar Ray Leonard won a fight with Marvin Hagler today in 1987. . . Early NASCAR race driver Herb Thomas was born today in 1923.

Words To Eat By

“There is a communion of more than our bodies when bread is broken and wine drunk. And that is my answer, when people ask me: Why do you write about hunger, and not wars or love?”–M.F.K. Fisher.

“Cutting stalks at noontime. Perspiration drips to the earth. Know you that your bowl of rice each grain from hardship comes?”–Chang Chan-Pao.

Words To Drink By

“To buy very good wine nowadays requires only money. To serve it to your guests is a sign of fatigue.”–William F. Buckley, Jr.

FoodFunniesSquare

Why Is It That Cats Get Fat?

Same reason why people get fat.

Click here for the cartoon.

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DiningDiarySquare-150x150 Thursday, March 30, 2017, Part II.
Hummus & More. Rib Room. Antoine’s Is Jammed.

The radio show is jammed to capacity with guests. Problem: Mary Ann and I both were booking guests at the same times and days. Somehow, it all worked out, even with an unusually large load of commercials.

It began with Zaid and Sam Qaryouti, brothers who own the two-year-old Hummus and More. That’s a new Middle Eastern restaurant in the space that was Mr. Gyros. The owner of that long-running Greek place passed away a few years ago. His restaurant closed right after. The brothers (their name is pronounced “car-ee-YOU-tee” have a good menu and fine cooking skills.

I was just wrapping up a half-hour with them that Tom Wolfe appeared. He has operated a number of restaurants on his own and in the employ of bigger operations. The Royal Orleans Hotel’s Rib Room is a good example of the latter. Tom has been there almost two years now, and he’s still going strong. That’s good news on both sides of the equation, because the last few chefs at the Royal Orleans have been suboptimal in my experience. Although I have been to the Rib Room four times since Tom Wolfe took over, he has not been there on any of my visits. Despite that, the restaurant is clearly better than it has been.

Now we have some people from the French Quarter Festival, which begins in a week. Already? It never seems like a year since the last time. Finally, we have Erica Lassier, who is the owner of Diva Dogs. The interest in hot dogs around New Orleans–which was never more that warm over the years, has spiked up because of the excitement that the Dat Dogs guys generated when they opened on Freret Street not long after Katrina.

Hummus & More. Metairie: 3363 Severn Ave. 504-833-9228.

Friday, March 31, 2017.

Antoine’s Is Full, So We Adjourn To The Rib Room.

MA told me in the morning that she wouldn’t be around for dinner tonight. It’s Friday night, so a mental indicator alerts me to the Antoine’s-and-Friday convention I held for many years before I got married. So I will go to Antoine’s.

Antoine’s dining room is about to fill to capacity.

But a problem appears. Antoine’s has some 300 people in its larger banquet rooms. Two weddings, one big enough to fill the entire Annex–the big red room behind the main dining room. Walk-in diners are being seated in the front main room, but the good tables in there are all taken. The maitre d’, who knows me as a regular customer, offers the Dungeon. In its way, the Dungeon is a cool room. But. . . we decide to leave.

I apologize to the staff, and tell them that my love of Antoine’s is not diminished by this. They know as well as I do that a big crowd in the restaurant will tap into the equivalent of overloaded computer memory.

We go instead across the street to the Rib Room. At the hostess stand, I ask whether Chef Tom were in attendance. “Yes, he is,” says the hostess. “I just saw him.” But our waiter, when asked the same question, says that Chef Tom had just left for the day. I guess the thing to do is to show up for lunch, which on Fridays is a big deal at the Rib Room, with a lot of regular customers.

I settle in with a Maker’s Mark Manhattan, up. Generous drink. MA has an appetizer of fried oysters. The menu and even the check, later, both attribute the oysters to P&J, four blocks from here. My appetizer is a quartet of seared, decent-size sea scallops. Everything excellent so far.

I began a peculiar game. Our table is next to the big windows that give onto Royal Street. The people who walk past on the sidewalk often stop to look in at the table inside, the food on it, and the people sitting there eating. I like to push my face up to the glass, and make a funny expression. (That’s something I can do without trying.) The passers-by don’t expect to be confronted by a weird character staring them down from just inches away. Sometimes they reel back in surprise. It’s a good laugh.

Once, a guy I pulled this trick on came inside to find out what the deal was. I told him that I thought he was somebody else, a friend of mine. Sorry. He accepted that.

I’ve always liked the house salad at the Rib Room, which is simple enough: basic green salad with a few scattered, colorful vegetables and a blue cheese dressing that’s watered down intentionally a little bit. This actually helps the dressing. I think the technique works so well that this is the way I make blue cheese dressings at home anymore.

All the fish on the menu sound great. The most alluring is the redfish with a topping of crawfish etouffee, if I remember it correctly. I’m not a big fan of vertically stacked dishes with thick sauces, so I go to trout amandine. The waiter likes both dishes.

MA wins the Very Pleased Award of the dinner. It’s an enormous beef short rib. I’m no big fan of that cut, but MA loves it. Especially this one, which is not only tender to the max but also charred here and there. She’s still talking about it. Short ribs are a totally different deal from the Rib Room’s eponymous specialty. Tom Wolfe’s menu puts even more emphasis on it. I’ll have to try the slow-roasted ribs again, I suppose, if only for the reason that Tom Wolfe has shown himself to be insistent on his sense of standards. If anyone can make the Rib Room return to its former glory, it’s Tom Wolfe.

Rib Room. French Quarter: 621 St Louis St. 504-529-7045.

Our annual survey of the best seafood in Southeast Louisiana this year counts down the 33 best seafood species enjoyed more in restaurants than at home. Today’s entry is Pacific salmon, which are much more difficult for a home cook to find than the omnipresent Atlantic species. The latter is likely to be farm-raised, which is always at least a small environmental problem.

King salmon.

#8: Wild-Caught Pacific Salmon

Five different species of commonly-eaten salmon live in the Pacific Ocean, and spawn in rivers on the American and Canadian West Coast. The main difference between these and the more common Atlantic salmon is that the Pacific fish face an incomparably more challenging swim upstream on their native streams to spawn. To survive this, they build up a lot of fat. Much fat=big flavor. The fat is also why salmon is also the most beneficial fish to eat from a health perspective.

Virtually all Pacific salmon are wild-caught fish, not subject to those issues you hear about in their feeding. The orange-red color of their flash is all natural. Chinook (also called king) are the best species. The longer the river up which they travel, the better the fish. The ultimate is the Copper River salmon from Alaska, which have become a major gourmet phenomenon on the West Coast. Because of that, not much Copper River salmon makes it to New Orleans. Also very good is the sockeye or red salmon, whose color is as dramatic as its name implies. It’s smaller than the chinook, but has more fat per pound.

Cooking Pacific salmon is as flexible a proposition as it is for the Atlantic fish. Almost any preparation comes out good, with deep-frying being the least appealing. The flavors are pure enough that our usual heavy hand with seasonings ought to be relaxed for an especially fine side of Pacific salmon.

Not-Quite-As-Good Alternative: Atlantic salmon have already come up on this survey. The single species constitutes most of the salmon we find in our restaurants and stores. Most of it is now raised in farms, which typically are out in open ocean. It’s a good fish, but not the equal of the best wild-caught Pacific king or sockeye salmon.

RecipeSquare-150x150

Seared Salmon With Spinach And Beurre Blanc

The Steak Knife is an excellent Lakeview restaurant that has long been liked by its many regulars from the neighborhood. (Quite a few people from other parts of town make it there, too.) There’s much more to it than steaks. Owners Bob and Guy Roth include quite a bit of seafood in the Steak Knife’s menu. This dish isn’t on the menu anymore, but I always liked it.

Seared salmon with spinach

Seared salmon with spinach

  • 10 oz. fresh spinach, washed and picked of large stems
  • 3 Tbs. flour
  • 3 Tbs. butter
  • 3 Tbs. milk
  • Pinch pepper
  • 1 oz. baby Swiss cheese, shredded
  • 1 oz. grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 1 Tbs. salt
  • 1 tsp. white pepper
  • Juice of one lemon
  • 4 salmon fillets, 8-10 oz.
  • 1/4 cup chopped French shallots
  • 1/4 tsp. green peppercorns
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 2 sticks butter, softened

1. Prepare the spinach by transferring it with all the water that clings to the leaves after washing to a saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until tender but still with some body. Remove the spinach to a bowl and set aside.

2. In the same saucepan, make a bechamel sauce over medium-low heat by stirring the 2 Tbs. butter and the flour together until the two are blended. Then whisk in the milk, a little at a time, until it blends into a fluffy sauce. Add the cheeses and stir in until incorporated. Add the spinach back to the saucepan and combine with the sauce. Set aside.

3. Blend the salt, pepper, and lemon juice into the olive oil. Dip the salmon fillets in the oil, shake off the excess, and place on a hot grill or under a preheated broiler on a preheated rack. Sear the salmon for about three minutes on each side, then set aside and keep warm. (Test for doneness: insert a kitchen fork into the thickest part of the fish, hold it there for five seconds, then carefully touch the tines to your lips. If they feel warm at all, the fish is ready.)

4. While the salmon is cooking, make the sauce. Combine the shallots, peppercorns, bay leaf and wine together and bring to a boil. Cook until most of the wine has evaporated. Add the cream and reduce the liquid by about one-third.

5. Strain the sauce into a warm skillet. Whisk in the butter, a little at a time, over very low heat. Add the lemon juice and the capers.

6. Divide the spinach among four plates. Place the salmon fillets atop the spinach, and nap with the sauce.

Serves four.

AlmanacSquare April 5, 2017

Days Until. . .
French Quarter Festival–1
Easter —11
Jazz Festival–23
Legends Of New Orleans Dining

In 1910 on this date, one of the most important New Orleans restaurateurs of all time was born. Thirty-six years later, Owen Edward Brennan founded Brennan’s. He was later joined in the business by his siblings Adelaide, John, Ella, Dick, and Dottie, and then by his sons Pip, Ted, and Jimmy Brennan. What came out of that combination was a style of grand dining that dominated the high end of the scale for decades. In its evolved form, it still does.

Owen E. Brennan’s first business was the Absinthe House, which he opened in 1943. He was a congenial host, and the place became a celebrated hangout. A running joke was that people would go to the Absinthe House to complain about Arnaud’s. Owen duly reported this to his friend Count Arnaud Cazenave. Count Arnaud came back with a fateful challenge: “If you think you can do it better, why don’t you open a restaurant yourself? No Irishman can serve French food!”

Owen E Brennan, the founder of the Brennan family restaurant business.

Owen leased the Vieux Carre Restaurant (across the street from both the Absinthe House and Arnaud’s) and opened Owen Brennan’s French & Creole Restaurant. Brennan’s was a success from the outset. Its freewheeling style–calling the food French cooking, but serving whatever sounded good to the customers–changed the way first-class dining rooms operated. It did so well that the landlord insisted on a piece of the business when the lease came up for renewal. Owen told him to stick it, and found a new location on Royal Street.

A few months before the new Brennan’s was to open, Owen attended a dinner of La Confrerie des Chevaliers du Tastevin, a gourmet society of which he was a member, at Antoine’s. He ate and drank well. He died in his sleep that night. He was only 45. He left a legacy of hospitality that lives on in all the Brennan restaurants, and those owned by people who worked in them. I wish I had met him.

Legends In Winemaking

Today in 1994, Andre Tchelitscheff died, ending the most influential career in the history of California winemaking. Born in 1901 in Russia, Tchelistcheff worked in the French wine business before going to California as Prohibition ended. At Beaulieu Vineyards he pioneered methods of winemaking and wine marketing that made them what they are today. Tchelitscheff planted French grape varieties and blended wines in a French way, but used American oak barrels for aging. He also was the first to use cold fermentation, and developed methods for protecting vines from disease and frost. His laboratory and wine library was the most respected source of information about viticulture for decades. When you drink a Napa wine especially, you are benefiting from Tchelistcheff’s legacy.

Legends In Seeds

W. Atlee Burpee, who founded the seed company that bears his name, was born today in 1858. His company sold seeds nationwide by mail order, and the varieties of plants whose seeds he sold became dominant just by that fact.

Legends In Dairy

Today in 1881, Edwing Houston and Elihu Thomson received a patent for a centrifuge that separated cream from raw milk. It made possible all those creamy soups and sauces we love so much. Cream–is practically a sauce unto itself–is a magic ingredient. So much so that restaurants overuse it, sometimes winding up with too many dishes that taste the same. When you find more than fifteen percent of a restaurant’s non-dessert menu made with a substantial amount of cream, you are in a restaurant with a failure of imagination.

Today’s Flavor

In honor of Owen Brennan, whose grand Breakfast at Brennan’s redefined the upper limits of the meal, today is Fancy Poached Eggs Day. Most of the egg creations on Brennan’s menu were French classics revived by Chef Paul Blange. It shortly became clear that the ones people liked most were poached eggs (which few restaurants offered in the 1940s) set atop some flavorful food (ham, crabmeat, creamed spinach), and covered with hollandaise. From that came the endless variations we find today in any restaurant that serves Sunday brunch. The restaurants love such dishes: few menu items carry as low a food cost percentage as do eggs.

Deft Dining Rule #168:

If you want to see how good a breakfast chef is, ask for coddled or shirred eggs. If they make either without question, you have a winner.

Annals Of Salt

On this day in 1930, Mohandas Gandhi took a group of his followers to a salt flat and began collecting salt from the ground, in defiance of a British rule that all salt had to be bought from England. He was arrested immediately, but scored a moral victory.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Benedict, KS 66714 is in the southeast corner of Kansas, ninety miles east of Wichita. It’s a town of 73 people (down from 103 ten years ago), all living in a grid of perfectly square blocks. Most of those blocks are home to many more trees than people, with only three or four houses on each. Benedict first appeared on a map in the 1880s, when the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad touched the Verdigris River here. Farming has always been the main occupation, but the Dust Bowl years were hard on Benedict. Discovery of oil and gas boosted the population in the 1950s. It’s not enough to support a restaurant, though, and you have to drive eight miles to Buffalo and Drakes Place Cafe to get a bite to eat. I wouldn’t bet on getting eggs Benedict there, either.

Edible Dictionary

eggs Benedict, n.–Poached eggs set atop grilled ham on some kind of biscuit or toast, with the entire stack topped with hollandaise. Eggs Benedict are universal in restaurants serving brunch or fancy breakfasts. Many variations on the idea exist, enough that some menus show a category of “benedicts” or even “bennies.” Many other ingredients have been used in lieu of the ham, ranching from other meats to fish to vegetables. How the dish was created is a subject of dispute, with several authoritative sources each telling a different story. Most agree that eggs Benedict became popular early in the 1900s. Several different people named Benedict have been put forth the person who was present at its invention. Food writer Elizabeth David says that it descended from an old French dish made with salted, dried codfish. The main data worth knowing are a) the bread on the bottom needs to absorb the water from the poached eggs without getting soggy, and 2) the hollandaise has to be flavored with a touch of red pepper.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

Non-iodized table salt is the purest salt in the history of salt-making. I can’t think of a reason not to use it.

Food Namesakes

Alberto “Cubby” Broccoli, the producer of the James Bond movies, was born today in 1909. Not only does he have a food name, but one of his ancestors actually created the vegetable by hybridizing cauliflower. . . Gregory Peck was born today in 1916. . . Daniel Bakeman was the last surviving soldier from the Revolutionary War when he died today in 1869. . . The Lord of the Satsuma Clan, which lived on the island of Kyushu in Japan, invaded Okinawa on this date in 1609.

Words To Eat By

“Without butter, without eggs, there is no reason to come to France.”–Chef Paul Bocuse.

Words To Drink By

“Bad news isn’t wine. It doesn’t improve with age.”–Colin Powell, former Secretary of State, born today in 1937.

FoodFunniesSquare

Obviously The Best Eating.

Who would want those rapped-up nibbles when the real thing is right there? Who would eat a Slim Jim when you can get chorizo?

Click here for the cartoon.

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DiningDiarySquare-150x150 Thursday, March 30, 2017.
The Big Transmitter Is Here. The Peppermill’s Oysters.

I bump into Joe Pollet, the top engineering guy for our eight radio stations. He says that 105.3 HD2–which is where my Food Show can be found weekdays from three until seven p.m.–now boasts the most powerful HD radio station in the area. It’s not only innately powerful, but the fact that its signal is digital, its power is about four times greater than an FM operating analog. Joe says that he has received strong reception reports from Kentwood, seventy miles away as the crow flies. This is why my station made the jump from 1350 AM, which could barely be heard in Kenner or on the North Shore. Now all I have to do is persuade people to buy new radios, or use other methods like streaming, podcasts, and smart phone apps to pick me up. How eager I am to be picked up!

Oysters Riccobono.

Oysters Riccobono.

Mary Ann can’t dine with me tonight, and I had some work to do at the station. I wind up solo for dinner. I am in the mood for something Italian, especially if oysters can be involved. I remember the oysters Riccobono at the Peppermill. It’s kind of like Italian baked oysters, with mushrooms and artichokes underneath the layer of Italian bread crumbs, parmesan cheese, garlic and olive oil. The appetizer size version of this is easily big enough as an entree. This place continues to be one of the great Metairie restaurant values, and its food is underrated, too.

Peppermill. Metairie: 3524 Severn Ave. 504-455-2266.

I usually write more diary copy than this, but the violent thunderstorms of yesterday pushed me deep in the weeds. Somebody ought to invent a bicycle-computer combination that allows me to keep working when the power is out. I’ll catch this up tomorrow.

Our annual survey of seafood in Southeast Louisiana this year counts down the 33 best seafood species that you are more likely to see in restaurants rather than at home. Today’s entry is the meatiest, most versatile, most satisfying fish of all, and also can claim to be the world’s fastest fish.

Bistro Daisy's seared ahi tuna.

#9: Yellowfin Tuna

In New Orleans, fresh tuna went from unavailable to favorite in about three years. That was in the early 1980s. Before then, if you asked for or were offered tuna, you meant tuna from a can. The fresh was just not available. (We had no sushi bars then, either.)

Tuna is obviously different from most other fish we eat. It’s never seen in fillet form–always in steaks. Its color spectrum is shades of deep red. It has the texture of meat, with flakes so big that sometimes a large piece of the fish shows no flake structure at all.

Most of the fresh tuna we eat is yellowfin tuna from the Gulf of Mexico. It’s also known by its Japanese name ahi. In stores, it’s often marked “sushi grade.” There is no official sushi grade, so you can ignore that. The best cuts of tuna come from well forward on the fish, and far away from the dark bloodline areas.

The rules of tuna cookery differ as much from those for other fish as its appearance. Tuna is the most popular species of fish eaten raw, or nearly raw. It’s easier to accept than other raw fish, for some reason. Even outside of the sushi world, rare seared tuna is the standard style.

During a legislative hearing on the disappearance of redfish in the early 1980s, Chef Paul Prudhomme said that tuna was a much better fish to blacken than redfish. He’s right. It’s also true that no way of cooking tuna is better than blackening. What comes out is something that looks likes, feels like, and almost tastes like a beefsteak.

Which is the key to tuna: cook it like you’d cook meat. Methods of preparation, sauces and garnishes that work well with a steak probably will be equally rewarding for tuna.

I’d like to make another suggestion to cookers of tuna, both at home and in restaurants. Instead of cutting it into the standard three-quarter-inch-thick steaks, how about reducing the width and increasing the thickness? The best tuna dishes I ever had involved what amounted to blocks, rather than slices, of tuna.

Unacceptable Alternative: Gulf bluefin tuna is the species you hear selling for thousands of dollars per fish, with the buyers often as not being Japanese. Bluefin tunas weigh hundreds of pounds, putting it at the top of the ocean food chain. It is among the fastest fish in the ocean. On the table, bluefin tuna is an amazing thing to behold. It’s solid meat, with an amazing silky texture and a vivid flavor. Sashimi style is the way to go. No rice, no searing, none of that. Raw, all by itself. The fatty belly of bluefin tuna (known in sushi bars as toro melts in your mouth, leaving an amazing creamy sensation.

It’s a little too desirable, frankly. Even at the very high prices (or perhaps because of them), bluefin tuna has been overfished. I personally cannot eat bluefin tuna with a clear conscience anymore. You won’t encounter it often. It’s time to put the brakes on this fishery until populations recover.

RecipeSquare-150x150

Blackened Tuna

There’s no better fish for blackening than tuna. By wonderful coincidence, no way of cooking tuna is better than blackening. The essential thing to know is that blackening fish creates a terrific amount of smoke and perhaps flames. It’s best done outdoors over a very hot fire. And don’t be shy about getting the heat up there–it can’t possibly be too hot.

  • 4 tuna steaks, about 10 oz each, cut at least an inch thick (but the thicker, the better)
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1 tsp. Worcestershire
  • 2 Tbs. lemon juice, strained
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup salt-free Creole seasoning
  • 1 Tbs. salt
  • 1/2 stick butter, melted
  • 6 Tbs. butter, softened

1. Cut off any dark parts of the tuna and discard.

2. Blend the wine, Worcestershire, lemon juice, and garlic in a broad bowl. Place the tuna steaks in this mixture for about thirty seconds on each side. Shake off excess marinade and set tuna aside.

3. Strain the excess marinade into a small saucepan and bring to a light boil. Reduce by half and hold.

4. Place a large black iron skillet over the hottest heat source you have. The pan is ready when the oils that have soaked into the metal have burned off and the surface is smoking.

5. Combine the Creole seasoning with the salt in a bowl. Sprinkle the Creole seasoning liberally over both sides of the fish. Spoon melted butter over both sides, enough for it to drip a bit.

6. Place the fish into the hot skillet. WARNING! There is a very good chance that this will flame up briefly. It’s a certainty that there will be much smoke. The fish will first stick to the skillet, but after about a minute or so it will break free. Turn it and cook the other side the same way. It should be red in the center.

7. To make the lemon butter sauce, reduce the marinade by half, then remove from the heat. Whisk in the softened butter a tablespoon at a time to make a creamy-looking sauce.

Serves four.

AlmanacSquare April 4, 2016

Days Until. . .

French Quarter Festival 3
Jazz Festival 19

Roots Of Creole Cooking

Today in 1812, the Territory of Orleans was admitted to the Union and became the State of Louisiana. Happy birthday to us!
LouisianaTerr-Map
Two years later on this date (or perhaps two days from now–the exact date is unclear), the event that gave the Napoleon House its name occurred. Napoleon Bonaparte abdicated as emperor of France, and was exiled to the island of Elba. Nicholas Girod, former mayor of New Orleans, offered Napoleon an apartment in his building the corner of St. Louis and Chartres. The apartment is now used for private parties by the Napoleon House, one of the city’s most famous watering holes.

Food Inventions

Today in 1881, a centrifugal separator was patented by Edwin J. Houston and Elihu Thomson that could separate cream from milk. Or mud from water. A derivative of the concept is found in many homes: the juice extractor.

ChocolateMilkAlso on this date in 1828, in the Netherlands, Casparus Van Wooden patented a chocolate powder that could be stirred into milk. The forerunner of Quik?

Annals Of Food Research

On this date in 1932, after many years of research, W.A. Waugh and C.G. King at the University of Pittsburgh isolated Vitamin C for the first time. It’s called ascorbic acid because it prevents the condition called scurvy. Sailors in the British Navy found they could prevent scurvy by eating limes. Coincidentally, in 1581 on this date, Queen Elizabeth had dinner on one of their ships: The Golden Hind, just back from an around-the-world trip with Sir Francis Drake at the helm. They made her eat a lime.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

You know what has more Vitamin C, ounce for ounce, than any common food? Cilantro. Keeps your breath fresh, too.

Food Calendar

Somebody (not Le Cordon Bleu, the famous French cooking school, that’s for sure) started a rumor that today is National Cordon Bleu Day. “Cordon Bleu” (“blue ribbon”) in the name of a dish name usually means that it’s stuffed with ham and cheese, then baked or broiled. The idea really got out of hand in the 1960s and 1970s, and we became sick of it. Now you hardly ever see it–although lots of common dishes, particularly in Italian cooking, are stuffed with ham and cheese. (Or, one would hope, prosciutto and Fontina, as the dish in the recipe section of today’s newsletter is.) The real Cordon Bleu cooking school has advanced far beyond such practices.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Berry, Kentucky 41003 is a community of about three hundred people on the South Fork of the Licking River–itself a delicious-sounding place. In fact, the Licking is full of interesting fish, many of them eminently edible. It’s a tributary of the Ohio, which means that its water ultimately passes through New Orleans. Back to Berry: it’s sixty-three miles south of Cincinnati, with a main line of the former L&N Railroad passing through. The entire area is covered with farms. No restaurants nearby, but there is a cluster of family and ethnic places ten miles away on the main highway in Cynthiana. The Snappy Tomato Pizza Company sounds good.

Edible Dictionary

huckleberry, n.–A close relative of the blueberry, huckleberries are typically smaller, more tart, and have bigger seeds than their more celebrated cousins. Several species grow throughout North America, which is where the entire family originated. Roughly speaking, the father north they grow, the bigger and sweeter they get, and the later they ripen. The best are found in Alaska in August. The huckleberries in Louisiana are very small and ripen in April. (I have dozens of huckleberry bushes in the woods around my house.) Almost all are picked in the wild, where they’re also appreciated by animals from birds to bears. Gather enough of them and you can make a good pie. The name is a corruption of “hurtleberry,” a word that began to be forgotten after Mark Twain published Huckleberry Finn.

The Saints

Did you know that there is a patron saint of the internet and of computer users? It’s St. Isidore of Seville, a very learned bishop who is not just a saint but a Doctor of the Church. He also had some involvement with beekeeping, so put some honey on your biscuits or toast instead of jelly. Today is his feast day.

Deft Dining Rule #402:

A restaurant where the fish of the day is the same every day–especially if it’s tilapia, salmon, or catfish–isn’t putting much effort into buying its food. You probably will not be impressed by the fish entrees there.

Deft Dining Rule #403:

The exception to Rule #402 is Pacific salmon in season (spring and early summer). The best of all is Copper River salmon.

Food Namesakes

Actor Barry Pepper was born today in 1970. He was the sniper in Saving Private Ryan. . . Muddy Waters, the famous bluesman, was born today in 1915. . . Pro football player Chad Eaton was born today in 1972. . . Suzanna Salter, the first female mayor in the United States, was elected on this date in 1884 in Argonia, Kansas.

Words To Eat By

“Never commit yourself to a cheese with having first examined it.”–T.S. Eliot.

Words To Drink By

“The only way to keep your health is to eat what you don’t want, drink what you don’t like, and do what you’d rather not.”–Mark Twain.

FoodFunniesSquare

The Computer Add-On I’ve Waited For.

All the system needs now is a coffee maker, and I’m set to write all morning without having to leave my keyboard.

Click here for the cartoon.

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DiningDiarySquare-150x150 Tuesday, March 28, 2017.
Jones From P.J.’s. Tim Laughlin Comes From Maison Dupuy.

I first met jazz clarinetist Tim Laughlin some twenty years ago, during his long stint at the Hilton Riverside Hotel. That hotel was also home base for Pete Fountain. It was hard to avoiding a comparison between the two players, with Laughlin (pronounced lock-lin) often identified as Pete’s protégé. I was about to bring that up myself when Laughlin visited the radio show today. He was with the people from the Bistreaux in the Maison Dupuy hotel. That hostelry has a monthly beer tasting with music, and this is the night for it.

Anyway, Tim admits that Pete was indeed an influence on his playing, but that he had quite a few other influences. Wherever it came from, it’s good stuff, a point well made by his latest CD, a couple of cuts from which we spiced up the show.

The first half of the show was taken up with a visit from Felton Jones, the roastmaster for PG’s Coffee. Felton always pops in when he has a new flavor to discuss. This one is Southern Pecan, which has more than a suggestion of the nut than I expected. Another new flavored coffee is Red Velvet, not something I suspected could be made into a coffee.

I gave Felton my usual strong suggestion that PJ’s adds coffee and chicory with hot milk as a full-time item in the coffeehouses. He surprised me by saying ths P&J’s will shortly do that very thing. After all, they were already roasting a chicory blend for PJ’s supermarket line. Now we’re getting somewhere.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017.
Johnny Sanchez Revisited.

Mary Ann is lonely this week. Our daughter Mary Leigh has been asked to extend her stay working on a big design project in Orlando. She is deemed to be the key artisan at the current stage of polishing. All her co-workers have returned to New Orleans, while she continues more or less solo, with a couple of management types overlooking the work.

Meanwhile, MA is spending most of her day in ML’s apartment. Her job there is to take the dog Bauer out for walks.

At the end of my day of radio, MA calls to make plans for dinner. We settle on Johnny Sanchez. This is one of John Besh’s newest restaurants, a kicky Mexican place with the culture supplied by Aron Sanchez, Besh’s partner in the deal.

Johnny Sanchez's dining room.

Johnny Sanchez’s dining room.

I was impressed by my first visit to the restaurant, the day the place opened. (MA wanted badly to go there. She loves Besh. And she persuaded me to leave my disdain for new restaurants behind.) I went one other time, and still found it unique and interesting. But it all seemed watered down tonight. Molé poblano–the best flavor in the Mexican palette, but the hardest one to actually find on a menu–appeared a few times on Johnny Sanchez’s menu. But it’s faded away to a single dish offered only one day a week, and then only at lunch.

Restaurateurs to whom I address this disappointing omission all tell me the same thing: molé poblano is a hard sell. Its name–the sauce of Pueblo–does sound peculiar. It’s a nearly black, very thick sauce made with chile peppers, sesame, about twenty seasoning ingredients, and bitter chocolate. Chocolate on chicken? people ask. If only they’d try it with an open mind. If Houston can make molé poblano, why can’t we?

Tonight I get by with chicken-tortilla soup. (What Mexican restaurant doesn’t have that?). We have guacamole that is almost exclusively made of avocado. A beef burrito is as big as my fist. (Yeah, I know. How big could my fist be?)

Ceviche and salad.

Ceviche and salad.

The most interesting part of the dinner is ceviche, at $16 the order. In a time when ceviche (raw fish and shellfish bathed in a sharp marinade) is a rarity around town, I’m happy to find this. And made well, too.

Johnny Sanchez. CBD: 930 Poydras. 504-304–6615.

Our annual survey of seafood in Southeast Louisiana this year counts down the 33 best seafood species enjoyed more in our restaurants than at home. In most cases, this is because restaurants have better access to a wider variety of seafood out there.

#10: Halibut

A halibut is a gigantic flounder. It can outsize the boat from which it was caught. (If you don’t believe that, look at the halibut hanging on the wall in the Anchorage Airport.) Like flounders, halibuts lie on the bottom of the sea, waiting for a good-looking fish to swim within dinner distance. It’s highly thought of in the northern Pacific coast, where it’s in the company of salmon as the great gourmet fish of the region. It’s also caught in the north Atlantic.

In New Orleans restaurants, halibut usually runs as a special. If you ever encounter it, first make sure that it’s fresh. Frozen halibut is a factory fish and is both tough and tasteless. The fresh fish is wonderful, with a very mild flavor so good that even those who prefer stronger-tasting fish look forward to eating it. The most likely restaurant for trying halibut is Gautreau’s, where during her tenure as chef (she has since moved on) Sue Zemanick kept it on the menu most of the time.

If you ever have halibut in your kitchen, the way to prepare it is to either bake or broil it. It’s best cooked to the point where it’s still very moist inside. It is a fine fish for sauces, especially those with cream and some assertive ingredients like saffron, green peppercorns, or fennel.

RecipeSquare-150x150

Horseradish-Crusted Halibut

This is an idea inspired by Gautreau’s longtime chef Sue Zemanick, but different enough from her great work with halibut that the blame for what follows accrues to me. The detonator is a crusty topping with horseradish and garlic held in a matrix of bread crumbs.

Grilled halibut with a crust of bread crumbs, herbs, and a little cheese.While the fish roasts, the thick crust get toasty brown.

.

  • Crust:
  • 1/2 stick butter
  • 1 cups bread crumbs
  • 2 Tbs. fresh horseradish, finely grated
  • 2-3 cloves fresh garlic, finely chopped or even pureed
  • 10 sprigs flat-leaf parsley, leaves only, chopped
  • 1 Tbs. Creole seasoning
  • 4 thick halibut fillets, cut across, about 8-10 oz. each
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

1. Melt the butter and blend it with the other crust ingredients until it almost but not quite sticks together. Divide this into four portions, and cover the top of each grouper fillet with a layer of the crust.

2. Place the encrusted fish fillets in a large skillet or baking pan, lightly oiled with olive oil. Sprinkle lemon juice over all. Bake the fish in a preheated 400- degree oven for 10-12 minutes. (To test the fish for doneness, push a kitchen fork into the center of the biggest fillet. Hold it there for five seconds, then pull it out. Touch the tines of the fork carefully to your lips. If it feels even warm, the fish is done.)

Serves four.

AlmanacSquare April 1, 2017

Days Until. . .

French Quarter Festival–2
Easter —13
Jazz Festival–25

Restaurant Anniversaries

Bozo’s opened today in 1928. Founder Chris “Bozo” Vodonovich was one of many Croatians who created great restaurants in New Orleans in the 1900s. He relied on his connections with the fishermen in Plaquemines Parish to supply him with first-class oysters and other seafood. Bozo’s became legendary, always packed with people waiting for the simple but meticulously fried and boiled seafood. Bozo’s son–also named Chris–continued that attention to details until he sold it to Ed McIntyre in 2013. He renamed it Mr. Ed’s Oyster Bar & Fish Grill and expanded the menu a bit, but the standards set by Bozo are still in place.

Food Calendar

This is Sourdough Bread Day. Sourdough is to San Francisco what New Orleans-style French bread is to our town. It’s served everywhere a local flavor is desired. It’s an interesting product. The making of sourdough begins with a mixture of flour and water set out in the open to capture free-floating yeasts from the air. (San Francisco is supposed to have the best airborne yeast in the world, but that has never been proven.)

The yeasts begin leavening this starter dough and multiplying. More flour and water are added–as well as milk and sometimes sugar or potato starch. When enough active starter is made, some or all of it goes into a batch of bread flour, where over a period of hours it leavens the dough. Most of that gets baked into bread, but some of it is kept unbaked, to continue feeding the yeasts. That’s used to make the next day’s batch of sourdough bread, and the process is repeated.

Long-time San Francisco bakers claim that their sourdough starter has been developing this was continuously for decades. All the above is the original, artisan’s method of making sourdough. In actual practice, most bakers of sourdough also use a commercial baker’s yeast to help the process along. (They say it improves the taste, but the purists call this a shortcut.) It’s great bread, no matter how you slice it.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Saucier, Mississippi 39574 is nineteen miles north of the Gulf of Mexico beaches at Gulfport, up the US 49 artery. It’s pronounced in the French way [SO-shay], but the look of the word conjures up a superabundance of delicious sauce. Or (returning to the French) the person who makes sauce. Saucier has a population of 1300, and is evolving from a rural railroad stop in the woods into an exurb of Biloxi and Gulfport. The countryside is rolling, pine-dominated woods. The place to eat is the Magnolia Diner, about three miles south of the center of town.

Edible Dictionary

pil-pil, Portuguese, n.–Also piri-piri, particularly in places with a Portuguese heritage. A dish, usually involving shrimp or fish cooked in olive oil with chile peppers. It it usually quite hot to the taste, though not always. Pil-pil seems to be a dish that moved around the world a lot. Nobody’s quite sure which cuisine created it. My theory is that it’s a creole (in the generic sense) idea. It certainly has roots in the French, Spanish and Portuguese colonies in Africa, from which versions went back to the mother country for further evolution. The Basques also claim it. The essential chile peppers give it an American origin, too.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

If you make a good yeast sponge, you are evermore committed to taking care of it the rest of your life. Or you’re not a true bread baker.

Deft Dining Rule #235

A restaurant that serves just enough bread is more interested in its food cost percentages than your pleasure. [Note: Most chain restaurants don’t serve bread at all anymore.]

Annals Of Food Writing

Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, physician and author of The Physiology of Taste, was born today in 1755. His witty, appreciative tome was the first modern book on the subject of fine cuisine and dining, and remains definitive. His most famous quotation was “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.” Here are two more:

“A dessert without cheese is like a beautiful woman with only one eye.”

“The discovery of a new dish does more for the happiness of the human race than the discovery of a star.”

Food And Sports

Rusty Staub was born in New Orleans today in 1944. After a long and distinguished career in baseball with Jesuit High School, the Astros, and the Expos, he moved to New York and was adopted by Mets fans. He was popular enough that he opened Rusty’s, a restaurant that served Cajun food to New Yorkers for twenty-one years. He remains a gourmet and oenophile. A very nice guy, he is an ardent philanthropist.

The Saints

This is the feast day of St. Hugh, the patron saint of Grenoble, France. A dish noted as being the the Grenoble style almost always includes capers. It’s also where the potent Chartreuse liqueur comes from. St. Hugh donated the land on which Chartreuse Abbey, where the potent beverage originated, was built. Perhaps this explains why St. Hugh is also a patron saint of headache sufferers.

Food Namesakes

Apple Computer was founded today in 1976. . . Otto von Bismarck, the chancellor of Germany in the late 19th century, was born today in 1815. (A bismarck is a kind of filled doughnut) . . . Actor Wallace Beery came out onto the Big Stage today in 1885. . . Billy Currie, who plays many instruments for the group Ultravox, was born today in 1950. . . Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker got married today in 1961.

Words To Eat By

“Ex ovo omnia. Everything from an egg.”–William Harvey, British physician, born today in 1578.

Words To Drink By

“Burgundy makes you think of silly things, Bordeaux makes you talk of them, and Champagne makes you do them.”–Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, born today in 1755.

FoodFunniesSquare

Menus For Restaurant Workers.

Their tastes are much different from those of their customers.

Click here for the cartoon.

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DiningDiarySquare-150x150 Monday, March 27, 2017.
Chimes Again.

Sometimes I think that MA coordinates her life so that it will include the maximum number of meals at The Chimes. She loves it for the great view of the Bogue Falaya River’s flood plain, which with all the rain lately has been especially beautiful. I dislike the Chimes for its food. They have good grilled and raw oysters, a good hamburger, and that’s about all that interests me there.

The view from the upper deck of The Chimes in Covington. MA loves this.

But I go along with lunch there because the logistics of getting each of us to where he or she belongs today is complicated. As it turns out, the service was so inexact that I come close to running late for the radio show. Of all the maddening problems in restaurant operations, the most annoying may be a long time waiting for the check.

I barely make it on the air in time. My eating involved four grilled oysters with a blue cheese crumble over the top, which was better than I expected. And a platter of pasta with fired chicken and a crawfish sauce. Can’t say that moved me.

I go along with the MA plan because I’m trying to stay on her good side. She has been busy booking guests for the radio show, something I didn’t dare ask her to do, but for which she volunteered. Today we have a moderately busy program beginning with a spokesperson from British Airways talking about his airline’s new non-stop from New Orleans to London. That can’t help but be a positive for the city.And I’m certain that MA has some plans involving that flight already.

Our second guest is Holly Barrett Johnson, who does p.r. work for the Southern Food and Beverage Museum. They have a good many events coming up in the near future. I continue to be amazed by how far along this project has gone. I was lightly involved with it when it got started a bit before Katrina. I thought it was a good idea at the time, but one that would travel a difficult road to a doubtful success. But I was completely wrong about that.

NPAS begins rehearsals tonight for a concert of the broad range of music with the Motown stamp. The peak for Motown was coincident with my hit-music years. The center of that musical taste for me was the summer of 1967, the epoch centered on my Prom Night. The Four Tops, Stevie Wonder, the Temptations, and the Supremes Supremes controlled heaven and earth. “The Happening” by the Supremes was Number One on Prom Night.

I’m tired forever of the Motown sound. But I’m certain that our director Alissa Rowe will add enough new wrinkles to keep it interesting. And it’s almost a certainty that I will not be asked to take part in a duet or a trio, what with my embarrassing forgetfulness of the lyrics of the last NPAS song I was involved with.

The Chimes. Covington: 19130 W Front St. 985-892-5396.
3 Fleur
EntreePrice-18
BreakfastNo Breakfast SundayNo Breakfast MondayNo Breakfast TuesdayNo Breakfast WednesdayNo Breakfast ThursdayNo Breakfast FridayNo Breakfast Saturday
LunchLunch SundayNo Lunch MondayNo Lunch TuesdayLunch WednesdayLunch ThursdayLunch FridayLunch Saturday
DinnerDinner SundayNo Dinner MondayNo Dinner TuesdayDinner WednesdayDinner ThursdayDinner FridayDinner Saturday

Rosedale

Lakeview: 801 Rosedale. 504-309-9595. Map.
Casual.
AE DC DS MC V
Website

ANECDOTES AND ANALYSIS
A curiosity attendant to the rise of the celebrity chef is that, when high-profile chefs open their inevitable spinoff restaurants, the new places they are always downscale from the ambitious restaurants the chefs became famous for. I’ll give you a moment to consider John Besh as an example. His best work was (and still is) at Restaurant August. What followed, however, were Luke (a French bistro), Domenica (a pizzeria), Borgne (a casual seafood house), and most recently Johnny Sanchez (a Mexican hangout). All are good, so we have no argument. But. . . will we ever get another August? I doubt it.

This apparent rule also affects the work of Susan Spicer, who has always operated understated restaurants. After becoming known for the high-goal Bayona, she admitted that her second current restaurant Mondo would be a neighborhood, family kind of place. We weren’t expecting that her third restaurant Rosedale would have even rougher edges. I certainly wouldn’t didn’t we expect that the new place would include an open jail cell.

WHY IT’S NOTEWORTHY
Rosedale seems more a part of Mid-City than of its officially Zip-indicated Lakeview. And Mid-City seems to have an insatiable taste for neighborhood restaurants. Rosedale always seems to be full. The food is not only modest and homestyle, but appears to have been adapted for the palates of people from the 1940s. Many of the ingredients will appear to be of more recent vogue. And except for a few dishes here and there, the menu is unlike any other.

WHAT’S GOOD
The best dish I’ve had here is a big bowl of spaghetti with a thick, flavorful red sauce, shreds of ricotta cheese, and–evidence of Susan’s presence–lamb meatballs. The whole menu sounds like that. Most of it is very good. Some items are puzzling. Here’s a bowl of grits with your choice of eight toppings. Overall, there’s a subtle Italian pervasion.

BACKSTORY
Owner/chef Susan Spicer glowing career has been well known since her first, 1983 debut at Savoir Faire*. From there she went to the Bistro at the Maison De Ville* before launching in 1990 the prominent partnership that is Bayona. She was also involved in Herbsaint and Cobalt*, her interests in which she later sold. Her newest place is noteworthy for having long been the Lakeview police station. The neighborhood, for which the restaurant is named, has its own history as a modest collection of houses that was hit hard by Katrina. Wedged between a short row of office buildings, Delgado College, a railroad, and several cemeteries, Rosedale it’s not well known except to those who live there. (*Above denotes an extinct restaurant.)

DINING ROOM
Although the solid old building has been renovated into a restaurant, it is stark in an old-fashioned way. The seating is not especially comfortable. Parts of the place–particularly in the exterior–don’t seem to have recovered fully from the hurricane. The old jail cell has been converted into a rest room. The restaurant is a little hard to find the first time you look for it . Fix your sights on the enormous police radio tower next door. It can be seen for miles. Finally, be careful how you drive on Rosedale Drive. Some of the potholes can swallow a small car.

REVIEWER’S NOTEPAD

BEST DISHES
Small Plates
Soup du jour
Turtle soup, spinach dumplings, sherry, egg mimosa
Guacamole, tortilla chips
Grilled cebollitas, cotija, lime
Eggplant caponata, buratta
Campechana (marinated seafood cocktail)
Warm mushroom salad, shallots, kale, Manchego cheese
Oyster, bacon, spinach gratin
Shrimp hush puppies, hush puppy batter, sweet pepper relish
Rosemary barbecue shrimp
Cheddar stoneground grits with smothered greens, broccoli, mushrooms, bacon, eggs, barbecue shrimp, cochon de lait, and/or short rib debris
Chopped salad, (peppers, celery, creamy Pecorino dressing

Large Plates
Cochon de lait poor boy, hot mustard, slaw, fried pickle
Shrimp creole, fried eggplant, rice
Caramelized black drum, green garlic rice, mirliton chow chow
Lemon-herb grilled chicken thigh, olives, red bliss potatoes, tzaziki
Panéed pork chop, field peas, hot peach mustard
Lamb meatballs, spaghetti, ricotta, spicy Calabrian breadcrumbs
Braised beef short ribs, rice, broccoli-cheddar gratin, LA barbecue bbq sauce

Desserts
Pecan pie, whipped cream
Pineapple mango upside down cake
Ice cream sandwich duo (chocolate mint or ginger coconut)
Blackberry sorbet

FOR BEST RESULTS
Get a soup. All I’ve tried were terrific. Lunch at peak dinner hours here can be very busy and may require a waiting list. Don’t make up your mind about the main course until after you’ve spoken with the waiter at length. You may find that a series of small plates is better suited to your appetite.

OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
If a dish sounds dreary, don’t order it. Anything that sounds like mash atop a mash, for example. If you have any doubts about where you parked your car, tell them to the host.

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 & Bar +1
  • Hipness +2
  • Local Color +2

 

SPECIAL ATTRIBUTES

  • Good for business meetings
  • Open Sunday lunch and dinner
  • Open all afternoon
  • Historic
  • Good for children
  • Easy, nearby parking
  • No reservations

 

Our annual survey of seafood in Southeast Louisiana this year counts down the 33 best seafood species enjoyed more often in our restaurants than at home. Sea scallops–the big ones–have become omnipresent on local menus, even though they come from waters far away from New Orleans. But scallops were almost unknown to restaurant diners until about fifteen years ago. They come mostly from the waters off New England and the Maritime provinces of Canada. Air shipping of seafood makes it possible for us to enjoy fresh scallops in our restaurants, and sometimes even from our grocery stores.

Scallops from Keith Young's Steakhouse.

#10: Sea Scallops

The restaurants that are careful about what seafood they buy, the goal is to find what are known as “dry-pack” scallops. These are the ones that haven’t been marinated in preservatives. Dry-pack scallops include diver scallops and day-boat scallops, which are collected in the daily search for live scallops, then go straight to market.

Unfortunately, many restaurants and most retail seafood sellers are still selling the treated scallops. Like as not, those are the ones you’ll see in the supermarkets. More on that–and the little bay scallops, too–later.

Back to the good news. The best sea scallops are the big ones. They come from the Atlantic in the same parts of the Northeast that give us good lobsters. They range in size from about an inch across to the size of a petite filet mignon.

Scallops, like most mollusks, veer from the general seafood rule that smaller is better. I find the biggest ones most interesting. When cooked, those have the superb sweet flavor of fresh shellfish, with just a light searing at the outside. (They should bulge at the sides when cooked.) They’re also good raw as sashimi.

The part of the scallop that we eat is analogous to the eye of an oyster. It’s the adductor muscle, the one that keeps the shell closed. Only rarely do you see the entire surrounding tissue left intact. If you try that, you learn why we only eat the white part.

Before cooking at home, wash scallops exceedingly well. They sometimes contain fine sand. It’s disconcerting to enjoy the flavor of a scallop and then be put off by a gritty sensation in chewing. Even in good restaurants I find this now and then.

Once in a very great while, scallops have the orange roe sac attached. Depending on which chef you ask, this is either wonderful or something to be got rid of. I like it, perhaps as much for its rarity than its intrinsic goodness.

Unacceptable Alternatives. The little bay scallops you see in chain restaurants and in Florida are about the size of miniature marshmallows. Although they are prized in the Boston and Cape Cod area when they’re fresh in season, almost all bay scallops you’re likely to find have been either frozen or treated with a phosphate chemical. The chemical is so effective that sometimes you can’t get the treated scallops to brown, no matter how hot the pan is.

RecipeSquare-150x150 Save this recipe for occasions when you find those sea scallops that are almost the size of filet mignons. Sea scallops that size are wonderful, and lend themselves particularly to pan-searing. In our part of the world, this verges on blackening, and that’s just fine, assuming the pan is really hot and you don’t let the scallops sit there too long. They should bulge after cooking.

Cajun seared scallops.

  • 1 lb. sea scallops, the bigger the better
  • Creole seasoning
  • Salt
  • 1/2 stick melted butter
  • Sauce:
  • 2 tomatillos, peeled and chopped
  • 1 medium sweet onion, chopped
  • Juice of one lime
  • 1 Tbs. red wine vinegar
  • 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • 2 tsp. Tabasco jalapeno pepper sauce
  • 2 large ripe tomatoes, skinned and seeded, chopped
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. coarsely-ground black pepper
  • 2 tsp. Vietnamese fish sauce
  • 2 Hass avocados, ripe but not soft, sliced into 8-12 slices each (optional)
  • 8 sprigs cilantro, leaves only, chopped
  • 1 green onion, tender green part only, sliced

1. Heat a black iron skillet over high heat.

2. Check the sea scallops to make sure they’ve been well trimmed (sometimes you”ll find some fibrous stuff at the edge). Coat the sea scallops generously with Creole seasoning and a little salt. Roll them through the melted butter and put them, still dripping, into the hot pan. Cook them for about a minute on top and the bottom. (Don’t cook the sides.) They’re ready when they’re distinctly brown but still bulging at the sides.

3. Combine all the sauce ingredients up to the avocados in a food processor. (You can use that to do the chopping.)

4. Spoon about 1/4 cup of the sauce onto the plate. Place four to six scallops on the plate (depending on size). Put the avocado slice between them. Garnish with chopped cilantro and green onions.

Serves four.

AlmanacSquare March 31, 2017

Days Until. . .

French Quarter Festival–5
Easter —9
Jazz Festival–28

Today’s Flavor

Today is Oranges and Lemons Day. I’ve already had three big Louisiana navel oranges this morning for their matchless juice. Citrus fruits offer much more than just a drink. Lemon juice is one of the most useful ingredients in the kitchen. Not only does it have a marvelous fresh flavor, but its high acidity–it’s one of the most acidic foods we eat–performs all sorts of magic in sauces, as meat marinades, and in keeping things fresh.

Orange juice is less versatile, but much underrated as an ingredient. I’m always trying to include it in baking (as in our orange cheesecake) and in saucemaking (orange hollandaise). Orange zest and skin adds the unique flavor of orange oil.

Although we had three good months of them this year, the season for Louisiana navel oranges is about over the for year. However, we hear that you can go down to Plaquemines Parish groves and ask if you can pick the remaining fruit on the trees. They will be like no other oranges you ever ate, but too delicate to market. They are the best oranges in the world.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

If you jab a wedge of lemon and wipe its juice all over whatever poultry or fish you’re cooking, your chances of improving the dish are nearly a hundred percent.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Lima is a community of 160 people in west central Illinois. It is the second most western town in the state, after its bigger neighbor Quincy, fifteen miles south. The Mississippi River is six miles west. Growing corn is the big activity. Somebody must grow lima beans, too, right? Lima was hit by an enormous multi-vortex tornado wedge on May 10, 2003, destroying a number of houses. But not the nearest restaurant, the Hoop and Wink, six miles south in Ursa.

Edible Dictionary

chili powder, n.–Finely ground dried chili peppers, usually on the mild side but sometimes noticeably hot. There is no standard for the flavor. Indeed, ingredients other than chili figure in some chili powder blends, although those made with pure capsicum annuum peppers are the most common. In some chili powders, the methods of drying the peppers give a dark-brown color and a smoky flavor. Some use a good deal of cayenne pepper in the mix; these can be very hot indeed. Chili powder is almost identical to paprika, including the wine range of possible flavors. Taste chili powder before you use it.

Dining Around The World

In 1889 on this date, the Eiffel Tower was dedicated. Alexandre Gustave Eiffel let the French flag fly from the tower’s summit in the ceremony. It opened to the public about a month later, as the entrance to a world’s fair. The tower had a restaurant at the lower platform level until the 1980s, when it was disassembled, packed into containers, and shipped to New Orleans. A new structure was built for it at the corner of Josephine and St. Charles Avenue, where Restaurant de la Tour Eiffel opened in 1985. It did not do well, and closed after just three years. It’s been several other restaurants since, including the current occupant, Eiffel Society.

Annals Of Sashimi

On this day in 1989, the Food and Drug Administration allowed sushi chefs in New York City to import fugu for the first time. Fugu is the pufferfish whose salient culinary characteristic is that its liver and some other organs are so deadly that eating then can paralyze or kill you. However, the rest of it is alleged to be the best sashimi there is. I’ve tried it and can tell you this is not true. The ultimate fugu experience is supposed to be eating parts of the fish close to the liver, feeling the anesthesia begin to set in, and then to feel it leave your body. Not for everyone.

Deft Dining Rule #167:

The practice of wrapping lemon halves in yellow gauze–to keep the seeds in when you squeeze the lemon over your fish–is one of those disappearing niceties of fancy restaurants that really made sense. But ipso facto it’s not a sign of excellence.

Philosophy Of Taste

Today is the birthday in 1596 of Rene Descartes, a revolutionary figure in both mathematics and philosophy. His most famous utterance gives rise to a good restaurant joke, one that not everybody gets right away:

Seems that Descartes dined in an elegant Paris restaurant one night. He enjoyed a large, excellent repast. The waiter offered him a dessert on the house. Descartes paused a moment, then said, “I think not.” Instantly, he disappeared.

Food Namesakes

Author Mary Chestnut was born today in 1823. . . John D. Loudermilk, pop musician and composer, was born today in 1934. He wrote “A Rose And A Baby Ruth” and “Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye,” among many other tunes. . . Sir Benjamin Baker, who built the steel bridge over the Firth of Forth, was born today in 1840. He also built the first tunnel under the Hudson River in New York.

Words To Eat By

“And every day when I’ve been good,
I get an orange after food.”–Robert Louis Stevenson.

Words To Drink By

“He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lampposts—for support rather than for illumination.”–Andrew Lang, Scottish writer, born today in 1844.

FoodFunniesSquare

Let’s Hope He Doesn’t Replace It With Olive Oil.

That would involve a big tree. And extra virgins.

Click here for the cartoon.