Monday, April 6, 2009

Epicurean Adventures: Tapas = Feast @ Zoe

Forgive the late post, but after a week of good eatin', I needed some time to recover. Last Thursday, I found myself where it all started a year ago. And by "it all," I mean my professional foray into food writing and my being taken seriously as an up and coming talent--something I've worked very hard on and am extremely proud of. The place that my heart will always have a soft spot for? Zoe, the ultra-chic second floor fine dining restaurant in the W Hotel on Poydras, headed by NOWFE award-winning chef Roberto Bustillo, Jr.

The feeling of deja vu was a good one, as we were seated at the long table on the right wall of the restaurant, Beth Ann Brannon, marketing director of the hotel, leading the conversation in that lively manner of hers. There were quite a bunch of media folk, some old faces and some new; Terri Kaupp at Peter Mayer had assembled a great group of folks. However, it was also a hungry one after an hour of cocktails, and Beth Ann, with her typical hospitality, got to ordering.

The menu was revamped a few months ago to reflect the advantages of sharing (because it IS caring, as I often say) food among groups, and voila! High-end gourmet tapas (or, translated: "small plates") are now Zoe's specialty. Huge, easily divisible portions of luxury food, all except for three options, under $20 each.

With this concept in mind, Beth Ann ordered several plates of pretty much everything on that menu, and then urged all of us to get two plates for ourselves of anything we liked. We were more than happy to comply. The Kobe beef short ribs and the sliced duck breast in rhubarb-cherry jus (one of my favorite duck dishes) were tempting, but on the higher end of the price scale, so I wrenched my eyes away from that section of the menu. When I'm not paying for dinner, it almost pains me to order the most expensive items, since I never want to be "that guy" that takes advantage. We all know "that guy." We all know not to be "that guy." And so I wasn't.

La Crema chardonnay was poured, and it wasn't as oaky or buttery as chards can be, which was a relief. I usually drink reds, especially when there's a nice Italian Chianti on the table, but since this particular white was being offered as part of my wedding bar package, I wanted to make sure it passed muster. It did. I mean, any Sauv Blanc would blow it away, but that's just my personal preference. The chard was good, and ended up complementing the majority of the food I ate anyway.

Three round pats of "W"-embossed sweet cream butter sat at the ready, and I anxiously awaited the bread. And when that bread came, I chowed down without shame. Crusty, hot, crisp, soft, lush, thick, dense, and sweet. Heaven. Little curved pistolettes with charming slits cut into them halfway through the baking, they were pretty and delicious. And God, do I love things that make me fat. So when the first wave of plates came, I was ecstatic, since this meant that I was being forced to lay off the enriched white stuff and move on to bigger and better things that I could pretend were more forgiving to the poundage I'm packing.

One of the first things I made sure landed on my plate were the Kobe beef burgers, which were slightly larger than your average slider and three to a plate. The bread (again with the bread!, you sigh) was a sweet yellow roll with a hint of toasted butter. Soft and with an undiscernable crust, your teeth just sank into the puffy little pillows like it were made of marshmallow. The burger itself was lovely, although I would have preferred it rarer, but medium is a perfectly acceptable temperature for a burger for a crowd. Fresh tomato, red onion, and lettuce dressed the meat, and a nice chunk of blue cheese sat in the center just waiting to be spread. The flavor of the burger was rich and delicious to the point that I missed neither cheese nor ketchup and let the beef shine through. I could have easily eaten every one on the table. I refrained.

The other big plate that came out was filled with thick squares of the lump crab and brie sandwiches, which were then covered in a creamy sauce whose main components consisted of tender leek and luxurious shittake mushrooms. Toasted bread cut into little triangles and toasted with lovely grill marks provided a nice crisp note to all of the other warm gooeyness, and the taste of crab was immediately apparent, with only a very small amount of shell, which was barely noticeable. The lemon butter sauce provided a nice, subtle hit of acid that make the little sandwiches easier to eat in large quantities, which I then proceeded to do.

Mini reubens then followed, with hot grilled and shredded corned beef on toasted marble rye, with Thousand Island dressing and pleeeenty of sauerkraut. Rich and flavorful, with mild melted swiss adding a nice neutrality, this was a very intense sandwich. Packed thick with meat and dripping with many different layers of tart and tangy, every bite burst with character. Not being a reuben-eater, I heard mumblings around the table of it being one of "the best reubens" some of the guests had ever had ... and they were only mumbling because their mouths were too full.

The Tuscan antipasti was a massive platter, half of which I ate on the spot, and the other half of which I ended up devouring for a fabulous lunch the next day. I'm normally not into cold foods, but boy, oh boy was this good. The thick, marinated portabella mushrooms had a lovely charred flavor to them without actually having charred it; the mini caprese salad, with fresh, mild, moist buffalo mozzerella and its trademark dense neutrality and ripe tomatoes drizzled with herbacious green pesto, balsamic vinegar, and olive oil, was light and delicious, with every component in perfect proportion. I was afraid of the pickled peppers but dove into the roasted red peppers that were sweet and just butterfly-kissed with the hint of flames. The prosciutto de parma was soft, tender, and not dry at all, but slightly firmer towards the edges. The fattiness and saltiness was absolutely ideal and great on the buttery, crisp crostini that was provided in a well thought out quantity. A mild, cold chorizo was presented as well, along with some breseola, but the proscuitto remained my favorite and the caprese was the first to go. The entire thing had a very thin layer of grease, olive oil and/or butter flavoring it all and giving it a richness that's filling in a way that cold food is often not.

One of the favorite dishes of the day, of course, was the seared sea scallops. Massive and quivering with sheer gravity-defying size as it stood tall and golden on the edges, this NOWFE gold fleur de lis-award winning dish was a study in sophistication. Creamy Tuscan corn grits were a great complement, adding a hearty rustic appeal to the light, perfectly seasoned seared scallops. The mushroom ragout was full of flavor, too, and contributed an earthiness that went well with all of the other components.

And of desserts, there were plenty! We ended the meal with a massive slice of strawberry shortcake, Louisiana strawberries at their lush peak as we speak. Generous helpings of hand-whipped cream frothed above glimmering, light layers of sponge cake. The creme brulee literally must have weighed a couple of pounds, though, both desserts indicative of the whole "sharing is caring" motif Zoe has taken on with its foray into a tapas-only menu. Needless to say, it was delicious, the cool custard and glassy top a perennial favorite.

I raise my glass to another great year of gluttony and writing even more about it, and hope to end the next year of my editorial career at Zoe as well. Cheers, y'all.

W Hotel New Orleans
333 Poydras Street
New Orleans, LA 70130
(504) 525-9444

1 comment:

  1. I need to remember not to ready your blog before lunch. Those Rubens look amazingly delicious.