Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Epicurean Adventures: Taste of the Town, Part III

First off -- so sorry! I almost feel like I shouldn't post this long-delayed entry, since it's been a couple of weeks since the event, but I feel I'd be doing the food I ate an injustice by ignoring the other things I tried that night, so here goes. In advance, forgive my sadly failing memory as the details fade into a more general feeling of content reminisces, and bear with me.

Having done some press for Phil's Grill and seeing it so many times on my way to Pearl's Place, the bustling shop that I purchased my wedding dress at, I was curious to check out their offerings. Home of the 27 burger options or something else equally exorbitant, Boy and I decided that since this was, in fact, an Epicurean Adventure, that we'd go for the more unconventional options. The Buffalo burger was excellent, the flavor beefy but more intense, with an iron-tasting gaminess ringing through the aftertaste. This would have been an outstanding burger if it weren't soft, red, and straight up raw in the center. We ate around. The turducken burger, however, was fully cooked and captured the essence of the three fowl well, while successfully mimicking the experience of eating a burger. Normally, it would gross me out that the birds didn't have the texture of birds anymore, but for some reason, this didn't disturb me too much.

The fried crawfish balls from Deanie's Seafood Restaurant were a pleasant surprise, what I thought would be uninteresting, unsophisticated food ending up being rich and delicious, with massive amounts of crunch, luscious bites of in-season fresh crawfish, and whatever else they cleverly decided to roll together and deep fry. Although they were held in the warming buffet servers, they still retained their hard crunchiness and tasted great with the sauce provided. In that same area, I had a little lentil salad type thing with chickpeas from Liberty's Kitchen, I believe with the seafood balls.

The shrimp cocktail from the catering company Pigeon Caterers (I think that's where I had it ... so hard to keep track with 60 restaurants!) was sweet, juicy, and extremely fresh tasting, and I tried two samples of the delectable shrimp. To my great enjoyment, they were well cleaned and the perfect amount of horseradish comprised the cocktail sauce, which can be overwhelming like at Acme, or underwhelming and taste like ketchup.

Onward ho, then, as all good things must pass, and we kept on with the shrimp streak by stopping at what I thought was the Hilton Riverside hotel. I didn't question it then, but how could that be? The Hilton Riverside has Drago's as its anchor restaurant ... so it must be a different Riverside hotel. Anyway, the shrimp here was served chilled with a sesame type of vinaigrette. Regrettably, it was a little too acidic and not particularly interesting, seaweed and all.

Going in the opposite direction, we then joined the group waiting for Vincent's Italian Cuisine, a neighborhood favorite just across St. Charles Avenue from our house, for some mild tender veal with spinach, ricotta, and housemade pasta, rolled up and baked in marinara topped with Alfredo. Now, we all know that Italian food is more often than not found to be lacking in New Orleans, but this veal was delicious. The pasta was not overcooked, even though it was in a catering warming tray, and this textural perfection remained true serving after serving ... according to Boy, who went back for seconds, then "dessert."

Speaking of dessert, we did those wildly out of order that night. After a quick shot of gazpacho from La Petite Grocery, where Chef Justin Devillier manned his own booth (how's that for getting your hands dirty? He's obviously no frou-frou chef afraid to make public appearances, since he was at the French festival for Ecolie, broiling oysters personally), we headed straight for the Sucre table. Trays upon trays of gorgeous chocolates, amazingly not melted or sweating in the humid air, were on display, gold tops shimmering and candy plates shining. The Earl Grey chocolate was a great subtle blast of that distinct tea, but I got no farther in the exotic bonbon selection. It was after I popped that single piece of candy in my mouth that I spotted the mmmacaroons.

In flavors like the sparkly purple and sage green King Cake (cinnamon-y, toothache sweet, and lush), golden Creole Cream Cheese (rich, soft, and heavy), these were awesome limited-time editions to sample alongside the fabulous regular lemon ones.

To wash it down, CC's had some hot, freshly brewed Praline coffee, just sweet enough to not really need sugar, but with enough of that coffee bean harshness to keep it from turning coffee purists against it. It lacked that nasty, plasticine flavor some artificially enhanced beverages sometimes have, and this was a good thing. Boy said this was a perfect complement to the macaroons, and I agree, even though I'd opted for the strawberry iced tea.

All in all, this is an experience I'd definitely repeat, even if I'd have to shell out a hundred-spot myself. Even the memories taste good.

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