Thursday, April 9, 2009

Epicurean Adventures: When I Had a Taste of this Town

You have to admire a man who can pull together a kickass festival in the face of rain, moving it from Metairie's Lafreniere Park to the parking garage at East Jefferson General Hospital. A smaller man may have quailed from the challenge and cancelled or moved the event, but not Tommy Cvitanovich. Instead, even though it was novelly held in a yellow-lighted (although new) parking garage, the event still went on with as much fun and class

as the original plan, and between concrete beams and plenty of room for airflow, under less humid circumstances than the now-muddied park.

I'd been really psyched about Taste of the Town for a while, ever since Tommy first told me about it, and headed out with an empty stomach and a full heart. With proceeds benefiting the Louisiana Restaurant Association and a long list of top-notch participants, I knew this was going to be an event not to be missed.

One of the first scents that greeted me was that of Drago's signature charbroiled oysters. And if you've been following this blog, I really don't have to say any more since I essentially wrote an ode to their oysters the other day. Omg, love. Really. After passing by several open flame grills, I followed my nose to the booth the massive plates of mollusks were headed towards and immediately hopped on line. After two enthusiastic visits to this stand, the people manning it had already given up on the neat, portioned out servings and were cranking them out, dumping plates of oysters into paper baskets. My last portion of them was heaping, weighing it at SEVEN behemoth oysters. So you'd think that after downing a dozen by my 5'1 self would be enough? Nope ... I woke up the next morning craving more. They were THAT good.

I meandered through the place, making it a point to visit nearly every booth there. There were many outstanding dishes, with only a very slight few disappointments, like the boring shrimp remoulades at Arnaud's (too tart) and Galatoire's (really? That's all ya got? ... But then again, my beef with Galatoire's is personal, so that's as much as I'll say right now). Seafood seemed to be the theme, crawfish and shrimp headlining almost every restaurant, so it was a damned good thing that I began loving seafood shortly after I started eating for real in New Orleans.

5 Fifty 5, restaurant at the local Marriott, was the next batter up to plate. (Haha, I made a pun-ny! And another one! Okay, I'm done. Please don't stop reading ...) Classic mac and cheese was dolled up at this station by adding in nice amounts fresh, sweet chunks of lobster meat to the creamy pasta and cheese sauce. Garnished with a hollow, hard bread stick, this was a fantastic spin on the one-fashioned favorite, the quality lobster meat giving the dish a luxurious edge, and an sauce-like blend of cheeses adding to the high-end-ness of the dish (as opposed to chunks of gooey cheese commonly found in macaroni and cheese casseroles).

I meandered over to the booth of Chops, a nice restaurant across Veterans Boulevard in Metairie across the street from the offices of Renaissance Publications that I'd been meaning to explore. They were offering tuna nachos, which sounded interesting. Not a raw foods person, I was had some trepidation, but as seared tuna goes, I know I like it in small doses. I asked for a tiny bit and they gladly obliged, with three fabulous homemade chips and plenty of toppings, half of which I can't even remember at this point. The tuna was great, fresh and chopped small, and the cheese, guac, and all other necessary components were generous.

We then veered (quite understandably, I'd think) to the giant cupcake stand to peruse this glittering mass of confections. They cupcakes were huge! And they came in a medley of great flavors. Boy and I shared a classic vanilla cupcake, not for lack of daring or for fear of the lemon poppy, passion fruit, or cookies and cream, but because we figured the simplest one would be the most indicative of whether the more exotic flavors would be as delectable. Unfortunately, the vanilla kind of lacked character, which some may argue, IS the character of a vanilla cupcake, but I disagree, since I've had some absolutely fabulous "boring" cupcakes before. Saving room for all of the other goodies, we continued on our mission to taste everything.

Mr. B's Bistro's ("B" for "Brennan," might I add) booth was serving a crawfish corn chowder, which was light, sweet, and only vaguely creamy -- more packed full of stuff than what you'd normally expect from a cream-based chowder, which is usually more cream of- than the "of" part. The consistency was a little thin and runny, which just didn't feel right to me, but the flavor was great. Light, more sweet than salty, a summer stew is more what it resembled than your standard say, clam chowder fare of New England wintertime (which is what I think when I hear "chowder").

On a similar liquid note, I had some seafood gumbo, too, from ... well, quite frankly, I don't know where from! They've all started to meld into one another, these tastings from that night, in a glory of flavors and experiences. The gumbo was okra-based and the roux was not as thick as desired, so perhaps it's better this way, that I don't remember the vendor. It was good, but not great.

The gazpacho from La Petite Grocery was a cool burst of tomatoey freshness, and although more simple than what I've come to expect from Chef Justin Devillier, was still tasty. By that same founder, though, Joel Dondis, was Sucre's table, set up right next door, which I'll delve into on my even more belated follow-up post, since this one is almost illegally long at this point.

Rest your weary eyes for now, and I'll regale you with more tales of eating once this weekend calms itself down a little.


  1. This sounds delicious. I wish I was there!!!

  2. It was AMAZING. And this is only the half of it!