Sunday, May 31, 2009

Apologies, and a Plea for Forgiveness

Alack and alas! It seems I’d been remiss in my research and assumed that China was more modern and less controlling than it had been in years of late. Although this assumption has not been entirely incorrect, I neglected to research whether Blogger would be accessible from this country. Obviously, the answer has been no, considering I’ve not been able to post a single damn thing. However, I asked my good friend RGB of LoserEx.blogspot.com to post this on my behalf, and will try to update as much as I can without photos. However, please look forward to super awesome posts after June 11, including the slew of pieces I’ve written up in MS Word, when I return to the states and begin my journey north from there.

So thank you for continuing to read at this point! Hope to see your faces plastered to your screens in mid-June!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Scheduled Maintenance

So, sorry, readers, but I'll be taking some scheduled maintenance on this blog for ... umm ... recovering and maintaining my own sanity. What with the most amazing weekend ever with some of my favorite food and the greatest people I've ever had the honor to know, and now with moving and getting ready to leave on my honeymoon, I'm feeling a little run-down. The chaos of my wedding weekend (good chaos!) has unfortunately kicked my ass and my voice is no more; my cognitive skills are on their way out, thanks to Zyrtec and other little pills that make sure I'll get to China and be able to enjoy it in a few days. In the meantime, though, I'll bombard you with details as soon as I'm able to keep my eyes open for more than fifteen minutes at a time.

Thanks for understanding!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Gratuitous Sexiness: Shrimp Toast


I'm apparently still on my fried shrimp binge, and so the form has moved on to toast. Minced shrimp, water chestnuts, and other flavorful, crunchy stuff, smeared on white bread, breaded (in this case), and fried. Different than Chinese shrimp toast, whose ingredients are finer ground and not served with any kind of dipping sauce, Chill Out Cafe's version (on Maple and Burdette, Uptown) comes with a flaky, battered layer and peanut and sweet chili infused ramekin of accompaniment. The portion is delightfully sizable and a bit on the greasier side, but what do you expect of deep fried bread and topping?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Gratuitous Sexiness: A Sea of Shrimp


A king-sized overflowing fried shrimp po-boy from fabulous Crabby Jack's, by Jacques Leonardi of Jacques-imo's. The amount of shrimp in these sandwiches is such that after eating the overstuffed sandwich, there are enough fallen soldiers on your paper wrapping to make a mini-po-boy later. No joke. Well-seasoned, piping hot, deliciously crunchy with a flaky breading, it's worth the slightly higher than normal prices, especially since one half will satiate the best of them. Consider this: I was full to the brim after splitting one of these and a few big onion rings, and I've been known to outeat men twice my size. The bread is not Leidenheimer bread, but slightly denser and still crisp and satisfying. The trick? Getting there while it's actually open, since the hours are limited and the lines extremely long.


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Epicurean Adventures: Flirting with Food @ Coquette

So, while having lunch at Sukho Thai yesterday with my fellow office monkeys, it struck me -- I haven't yet dedicated a post to my upcoming "rehearsal" dinner at Coquette! Well, this must be fixed right away, and so, kids, I'm going to talk about rising star Chef Mike Stoltzfus' elegant, sophisticated, yet reasonably priced brainchild.

There were a variety of things that went into my choosing Coquette as the place to have that super-important night-before meal. The location is great, allowing my guests to see a bit of the Magazine Street strip/shopper's paradise, and to pass through the Garden District, since the family is staying downtown pretty much the whole weekend. It's classy and understated without being pretentious, new enough to be trendy without being overly edgy, and honestly? It made me feel in the know to have it somewhere that was still slightly obscure. (Like the insider that I am?) But the most important reason, above the dark French ambiance and stellar service, is the food. Nothing trumps flavor.

I went there for the first time, after mentioning its grand opening in Where Y'at's Food News, for me and Boy's New Year's Eve dinner. I was intrigued by the little tidbit that the chef/owner was one of the former sous chefs for acclaimed New Orleans chef John Besh. Stoltzfus had apparently risen quickly through the ranks to having most recently served as the sous chef for Restaurant August, Besh's flagship, for a time before embarking on his independent endeavor. Having eaten at August, Luke, and Besh Steak, and being an avid watcher of the Food Network, my curiosity could not be resisted, and after getting a copy of the awesome menu emailed to me, well, we couldn't find any other option that was comparable. A fabulous five-course menu was offered for about $60 (may have been less) and it was only $80 total to include the wine-tasting (which promptly led to Boy becoming sloshed but decidedly content). Many dishes later, we were fans of the surprisingly young chef and his inaugural enterprise, and with the opening of the private dining space on the second floor, Coquette became our first choice to hold our "rehearsal" dinner.

Now you must be wondering why I keep putting the word "rehearsal" dinner in quotes. Basically, this is because we're not holding a traditional rehearsal dinner. I'm not exactly what you call a traditional gal, as conservative as I may look these day, and still can't help but gravitate towards "edgy" and unique things. Again, hence Coquette versus the classic Creole mainstays of Commander's Palace and Brennan's, both of which we took under consideration before ultimately deciding on Chef Stoltzfus' restaurant.

Anyway, because everyone is coming in from out of town and Boy and I are paying for every penny of our own wedding, what we've essentially set up is a group dinner, not necessarily a rehearsal dinner. We coordinated the place, set up the menu, and invited people to the gathering, but everyone is responsible for their own bills. And since Coquette is a new restaurant and the chef is a really nice dude, they've been extremely flexible and accommodating, allowing our diners to choose and pay for their own wines, and setting up a beyond reasonably-priced with a veritable cornucopia of options ... for only $35 for three courses and $40 to do both the appetizer AND the salad.

Here's what's on the menu:

  • Amuse Bouche - Secret surprise!
  • First Course - Choice of two (or both, if opting for the four-course deal): Bibb lettuce salad with warm goat cheese and candied pecans OR Boy's favorite pasta dish of all time (he'll actually be getting this as an entree, too), homemade pumpkin capelleti pasta served on shredded duck confit in a tangy orange au jus.
  • Second Course - Choice of one: robust flatiron steak with sweet shallots and steakhouse cut frites OR whole-roasted cochon de lait with creamy stone-ground grits and good old Southern bitter collard greens OR juicy sea scallops with fresh acorn squash, a touch of pork shoulder, and enhanced with the tang of ginger
  • Third Course - in-season local strawberries with a lush elderflower sabayon OR warm bread pudding drizzled with caramel and topped with melting ice cream
Coquette
2800 Magazine Street
Garden District
New Orleans, Louisiana
504.265.0421


Friday, May 8, 2009

An Unusual Eater's Remorse Post, Part I


It came to my attention that my wedding is about a week away, and I then have a mere three more days to enjoy being in this fabulous city and eat as much as possible to ensure I get a healthy last dose of my favorites. Since time is making fools of us (yes, I did just quote Professor Dumbledore of Harry Potter. I'll take this moment here to NOT defend myself and my nerduality) once again, I think it's appropriate to write an homage to the tastes that have made New Orleans such a joy to have lived in and a fodder for food porn. This Eater's Remorse post (to be released in two batches due to length) is not about guilt as it often is, but about grief and sadness. My remorse is that the dishes listed will no longer be readily available, their presence in my life sorely missed ... resultant love handles and all. These memories will warm my heart and belly for years to come, and strengthen me for a time when I can once again return to what has become more home than my native home, a city I love so much that I, as I writer, can't even put into words.

So enough with the mushy talk; let's get down to the nitty-(corn)gritty. Here's to some of the best of New Orleans. Salud.

Sandwiches
  • Parkway Tavern, Domilise's, Johnny's, Crabby Jack's: fried shrimp po-boys. Crunchy, decadent, cooled with fresh toppings, and sloppy with mayonnaise, I salute you as a po-man among boys.
  • Saltwater Grill: fried green tomato po-boys, crackling with cornmeal breading, and topped with crunchy shrimp and creamy remoulade.
  • Central Grocery: Muffuletta. End of story. We know all about these, the Italian cold cuts layered with oily olive salad on sesame-seeded oversized Italian round rolls. This sandwich bested even me with its size, but I've got no regrets.
  • Yo' Mama's: peanut butter bacon burgers. Huge patties of seasoned beef, thick and cooked to your liking, with an appalling amount of creamy peanut butter smeared across the meat, and fresh, crumbled REAL bacon (unlike the overrated and overrated frat boy mess, Port of Call), served with a blase salad or a delicious, plump, and perfectly baked potato. The burgers are fully dressed, with mayo, onion, lettuce, and fat tomatoes. And yes -- you do put ketchup on that condiment-y concoction. Sooo good.
Ethnic Food
  • Pho Tau Bay: B5 - lemongrass beef and crunchy egg roll vermicelli rice bowls, topped with garden-fresh vegetables and covered in a sweet fish sauce dressing mixed with Sriracha. Cool, yet heavy, and always delicious.
  • Sukho Thai: Dirty Noodles, an obsession of mine that Boy just doesn't "get." Wide rice noodles cooked to perfect tenderness, with crunchy broccoli, fried egg, and white meat chicken slices in a sweet yet smoky soy reduction. Addicting.
  • Nine Roses: pork and cabbage gyoza-style dumplings, greasy and in portions of 8 for under $6, accompanied by a sweet soy dipping sauce that rivals the shrimp noodle wraps of Chinatown.
  • Nine Roses: roast pork and egg noodle soup, just like the rich broths and soups of Chinatown, but freshened up with bean sprouts, cilantro/parsley, and sweetened with shallots. Mmm.
  • Sara's: Indian, Thai, and French Creole rolled into one creates dishes like the sweet and spicy eggplant something.
  • Hoshun: Singapore Noodles -- yellow curried thin rice noodles with juicy, sweet roasted pork (not your typical roast pork, although it is red), peppers, and dried shallots, giving it a Vietnamese feel -- and Gou Loo pork -- a whopping platter of fried then candy coated in a pineapple-soy sauce.
  • Cafe East: this may be blasphemy, but the hot and sour soup, with a chicken instead of pork base, is the best hot and sour soup I've ever had. They don't shy away from the weird, from the tree ear fungus to the bamboo shoot to other unidentified roots. I've been known to stockpile pints of this soup to save myself a trip to Cafe East's inconvenient location in Metairie.
  • Miyako: Flaky panko rather than thick tempura batter makes the shell for their shrimp tempura. Lunch specials here were a steal, too, if you feel like a long one and smelling tantalizingly like soy and white pepper fried rice and hibachi meats for the rest of the day. Always worth it.
  • Lola's: Mmm, paella. It's always a perfect meal at Spanish-Mediterranean Lola's in Mid-City New Orleans, from the sangria to the little white pistolettes with strong crushed garlic aoili to a skillet that can sear off a few layers of skin.
  • Juan's Flying Burrito: home of the best pico de gallo-type salsa I've ever had in my life. Complemented with fresh-made tortilla chips, it'd pretty much be the whole dinner for me ... if I had any kind of self-restraint and didn't always get suckered into a massive, overstuffed hot burrito or some fabulous steak tacos with melty cheese on wheat. *Drools.
  • Lebanon's Cafe: Best falafel in the city, hands down. Garlic permeates the crunchy falafel at this neighborhood Mediterranean joint, and the prices are so low, they're laughable. Example: a gyro wrap is around $4. The vegetarian bake, with carrots, onions, broccoli, zucchini, squash, bell peppers, and mushrooms on saffron basmati with melted mozzarella and feta outstanding.
Am I missing anything in these categories? In both senses, yes. I miss all of these items already, and know I'm forgetting some other ethnic and sandwich-y things that I'm going to find hard to live without. I'll continue adding things as my mind is jolted. Keep an eye out, though! A post with a listing of my absolute favorites in terms of Cajun/Creole (real N'awlins) and breakfasts and desserts to come!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Eater's Remorse: Fried Shrimp Po'-ly Done Boy

There's nothing worse than feeling like your money was wasted ... unless it's feeling like your money was wasted, as well as your fat allowance. There's a certain amount of artery-clogging fat I like to enjoy on a daily basis, but for me to feel okay with meeting or surpassing that quota, it needs to be proportionately delicious. Otherwise, it's not really worth the guilt. On Wednesday, it was definitely not worth it.

Boy was actually downtown during lunchtime for a job interview for a company that was located in the CBD-ish area. He had noticed a sign that intrigued him -- "Bobby Flay Lost Here." Being an avid fan of Food Network's show Throwdown with Bobby Flay, he was of course interested in having me meet him to explore this divey joint, as we are wont to do.

So off I went, walking from my office at One Canal Place to St. Charles Avenue, wandering down the street for anywhere that looked disreputable enough to be a po-boy dive. I happened upon Mike Serio's Po-Boys and Deli, a seedy/cheap-looking establishment with a spacious dining room filled with football memorabilia and apparently, a would-be senator named Stormy Daniels. (...Who incidentally used to be some kind of Playmate. Who'd have thunk with such a proper name like Stormy, that they'd turn out to be a Playmate of sorts? I don't know -- it all struck me as very Legally Blonde, what with the long extension, shellacked makeup, pasted-on skirt, and high, high heels. She was very pretty, though.)

Anyway, we walked past the brouhaha to order up at the counter, where the prices were reasonable and the service was friendly, even if the staff was a little unhealthily obsessed with LSU and consequently, football. After all, this is a permanent condition in these parts. I looked at the "Bobby Flay" flyer they had up, and saw that if was specifically for a muffuletta throwdown and debated getting just that. However, I've been using the fried shrimp po-boy for the past two months as a gauge judging po-boy shops, so I went for my usual - fully dressed, extra, extra mayo and plenty o' pickles.

With the order placed at the counter, I went in search of the ladies room and was directed through a discreetly placed door near the entrance, whose paint was more closely resembling greasy gris than white, and made my way up old industrial stairs into a big empty room. The bathroom was located through the abandoned, filthy room, with two toilets with no doors and no toilet paper holders. Now having no toilet paper holders is forgivable; having them on the disgusting, ashed-on floor in a restroom that reeked of cigarettes? Not cool.

But it's New Orleans, so I sucked it up, and made it downstairs with minutes to spare before my sandwich was ready.

It was hot when it hit my hands--a good sign--and I eagerly brought it to one of the many tables so that we could sit and enjoy our greasy goods.

I unwrapped the sandwich and found the size to be standard. A few shrimp rolled out of the sandwich. This is a plus, since it usually signifies that the po-boy is overstuffed. However, in this case, this was an inaccurate assumption. Here's what went wrong:
  • The shrimp: being small is no big deal--you expect high-count shrimp when you're getting a sandwich made out of them. However, in small shrimp, what you don't expect is that Gulf-y strong briny taste that I find unspeakably abhorrent. It just makes the shrimp taste old and not fresh.
  • The salt: the batter for the shrimp was simply too salty. Not Bennachin's omg-my-tongue-just-suctioned-onto-the-back-of-my-throat salty, but salty enough for me to say, "ugh, this is too salty."
  • The seasoning: aside from salt, the batter didn't really have much other flavor to speak of.
  • The bread: I don't always need to have Leidenheimer bread. Quite frankly, one of my favorite po-boys (Crabby Jack's) doesn't use this venerable bakehouse's goods at all. But this bread was hard, not as moist or dense as you'd expect of quality French bread, and didn't break apart with fragility. Rather, it broke off in chunks.
  • The dressing: there wasn't much that counts as "dressing" in this sandwich. The lettuce was sparse, the few slices of tomato extremely thin, and my request for "extra" pickles resulted in approximately five pieces of pickle.
  • The mayo: their "extra" was any other shop's "normal" -- a thin layer smeared on top. I want it gloppy and a little bit gross. This isn't their fault; I'm obviously an anamoly when it comes to mayonnaise, but I thought I'd throw it in there.
  • The price: just wasn't worth a ten-spot, when I could go to the Adams Street Grocery and get a better quality shrimp po-boy for under $8, or an overstuffed king-sized sub from Crabby Jack's, a buttery one from Johnny's or Parkway, or for a couple bucks more, a toppings-heavy sammich from Domilise's.
The verdict?

Not worth it. Save yo' dollas and go the distance to a different neighborhood for a better value. Or don't be stupid like me. Get the muffuletta, since that's obviously their specialty ... or again, cross Canal and head up towards Central Grocery for the original. Either way, Mike Serio's is a poor copycat if their shrimp sammich is any indication, and I'm very sorry I wasted my money and fat quota here.

Mike Serio's Po Boys and Deli
133 St. Charles Avenue
New Orleans, Louisiana
Downtown/CBD
504.523.2668

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Epicurean Adventures Go Global!

Well, it seems that my gorging in the fair Crescent City is reaching an unfortunate end; rather quickly, my life has been turned around and it's become necessary, after five wonderful, rewarding and gut-busting years, to blow out of town.

Like I've said to my people at Mudbug (my Clark Kent job) and Where Y'at (my Superman job), this was not a decision that came easily. But as anyone that's lived here would know, salaries aren't what they categorize as "high" in the luxurious city of perpetual poverty, and with Boy's degree in hand but no opportunities, it makes it kind of hard to stay.

However, with this sad news comes some more exciting news!
  1. I'm getting married. In two weeks! I know! *Freaks me out, too.* This leads to points 2 and 3:
  2. Wedding food! Yay, rhapsodizing about the food we're going to have at our pocket-sized gathering!
  3. Honeymoon food! (Read on so you can be psyched, too. I'm going to go into this in a hot minute, so bear with me.)
  4. Even more adventuresome adventure food! (Details in a later post, where I reveal my *temporary* life game plan.)
I know I'm all over the place right now, but I swear, this will all make sense soon.

Essentially, what I'm saying is that although I'm leaving New Orleans again, the Epicurean Adventures will go on, just in different places. My honeymoon, for example. Although we is po', Boy and I are going to be spending 20 intense days traipsing around China and, of course, eating everything in sight that doesn't crawl. (Well, he might eat crawly things, but I'll be the first to say that I have no aspirations of being the next Andrew Zimmern.) How can we afford it? Buy direct, my friends -- this all inclusive guided tour of China is under $4k, including admissions, all flights, 4-5-star accommodations, a river cruise, and of course, FOODS.

As anyone that reads my blog with any frequency should know, I love Chinese food. I have a healthy respect for bastardized/Westernized Chinese takeout food, but growing up just outside of New York City's Chinatown, I have the guts to go authentic, too. Dim sum, here I come!

Can you tell I'm excited? Quite frankly, I'm more excited at the prospect of eating amazing French wedding food, fluffy cake, and exotic cuisine in an exotic locale for pennies on the dollar (the exchange rate is absurd -- who knew you could still do stuff and eat things for $1?) than for the actual nuptials -- no offense to Boy. We've been together for eight years, since high school, and I'm really just not that girly. Which I'm sure surprises no one who knows me personally, considering I took it as a duel-worthy insult when I was told that my wedding dress made me "look like a princess." A princess?! That I am not. Bleah!

Back to the point, as we continue to be suctioned into the dangerous waters of the stream of consciousness ...

WE ARE GOING GLOBAL.

Yep, that's all I'm trying to say. It was right there in the title of the post. Why'd I make you suffer through the rigmarole? Because brides don't have to make sense. That's right -- I'm not too girly to play the bride card. HA!

So here's a sneak preview of the places I'll be talking about as I travel halfway around the world, savoring dishes and food innovations invented in one of the ancient cradles of civilization:
  • Beijing (Peking Duck!)
  • Xi'an (dumplings! Infinite dumplings!)
  • Shanghai (seafood! noodles!)
  • Guilin (provincial village food!)
  • Hong Kong (noodles! street vendors galore!)
  • Yangshuo (farmer food!)
  • Suzhou (spicy food! ... I think)
  • Wuxi (famous signature spare ribs!)
  • Nanjing (small plates!)
  • Hanzhou (the world's best tea!)
Won't you come along for the ride?

Monday, May 4, 2009

Epicurean Adventures: Battle Pizza in New Orleans

I've found that, unable to imitate the deep dishes of Chicago and the thin crusts of New York exactly, New Orleanians have come to call their own pizza chains "New Orleans pizzas." Now, this would be no problem, given that California has their own Pizza Kitchen among other locales, but there is a distinct disconnect and lack of continuity with "original New Orleans" pizzas. Some are thin crusted and crackly like saltines (Reginelli's tends to waver in this direction); others yet are buttered like the Pizza Hut crusts (tasty Italian Pie, but it's too bad they tend to be inconsistent); yet another pizza purveyor makes a tangy, acidic sauce that I think of as heartburn under cheese (*ahem* Slice ... the owners claim to make New York style pizza since they're also from that state, but quite honestly, their abrasive, sour, and stomach-charring marinara would never be found in a respectable parlor in my stomping grounds).

The closest I've found here, though are two places: Brooklyn Pizzeria in Metairie, and closer to home, The Dough Bowl, also affectionately known as The Boot Pizza. There are differences between the two, such as the slightly tangier sauce of Brooklyn Pizzeria (whose proprietor is actually not from Brooklyn, but learned from a Brooklyn pizza master, bringing the secrets down South) and the more preferable, less intensely spiced sauce of The Dough Bowl. Brookyn Pizzeria also has on their menu real garlic knots, which are essentially hard-shelled (like a stadium soft pretzel) knot of dough coated in olive oil and plenty of roasted garlic and parsley. Unfortunately, the garlic flavor doesn't quite permeate as I'd hoped, but it was a fair attempt. The Dough Bowl doesn't even try and just offers bread sticks, but at $6 for 8, I wasn't tempted to try, especially since my order is always for a 20-inch whopping big pie.

Regardless of these minor differences, the necessary similarities to label it as real "New York" style are still there.

  1. Foldability: in order for it to truly be New York pizza, the pizza must be of a large enough size and thin and pliable enough crust to fold over itself without breaking anything more than the very small amount of outer crunchy layer along the spine of the fold.
  2. Size: the slices must be large enough to fold and much bigger than your hand. A single slice of pizza should be equivalent to at least two Pizza Hut or Domino's slices.
  3. Sauce: red, mild marinara is the classic sauce choice, and the balance of tomatoes should be such that the natural sweetness of ripe Roma tomatoes shine through. More sugary than tangy, it should still not have the taste of added sugar like Southern "tomato gravy." Rather, it should have very small chunks of crushed tomatoes and the balance of herbs should complement rather than overpower the taste of tomatoes.
  4. Cheese: chewy mozzarella should fully cover the pie, but not in a quantity that no red sauce is visible. Ideally, the cheese oozes and strings out when the slices are separated, but this glorious effect is only possible while the pie is piping hot. Otherwise, for a neater slice, you should be able to part each piece with minimum mess since the cooled cheese breaks apart rather neatly.
  5. Grease: many choose to dab the golden sheen off the tops of their pizzas, but on most occasions--unless I'm feeling rather fatter than usual or my skin is having an oily day-- I embrace the pooling grease. For it to be really, really New York-y, when you fold your pizza slice, the yellowish oil should intermingle with the tomato sauce and drip down, once folded, funnel-style as a vivid orange waste onto your paper plate. I believe in the natural filtration of this method, but it's also dangerous to your clothing if you're even twice as "graceful" as me.
  6. Crust: this is the most important component. Foldability has already been considered, but for authenticity, it's crucial that the bottom of the pan be dusted with flour for the appropriate amount of crunch. To dust the bottom with any other substance (i.e. cornmeal, as Slice does - pagh! Cornmeal only belongs on the bottoms of BAGELS) is essentially sacrilege, and it changes the texture and flavor. the edges should be no more than an inch and a half, and the sauce and cheese goodness should wash upon those virgin white shores of crust gently at that level. Any less and you've got no crust for your sad-eyed dog (oh, Baxter!); any more, and you know you're getting gypped on ingredients. The taste should be slightly sweet in a yeasty way, but also really neutral so that it doesn't overshadow your toppings, and there should be a surface crunch and pockets of bubbles within the dough for thinner spots.
The Dough Bowl/Boot Pizza
1039 Broadway
Frat Row, Uptown, attached to frosh dive and destination The Boot
Super-handy pickup window late at night
New Orleans, LA 70118
504.861.2200

Brooklyn Pizzeria
4301 Veterans Boulevard
Metairie, LA 70006
504.833.1288

Brooklyn Pizzeria Drive-Thru
(I know!)
1809 Veterans Boulevard
Metairie, LA 70005
504.834.1030

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Dish on Deals: Mother's Day with Dickie Brennan

I just got this great email from the Dickie Brennan restaurant group that I absolutely HAVE to share. They've just rolled out their promotional Mother's Day menu for their steakhouse to supplement their usual offerings, and it's cheap(-ish) as prix fixes tend to be, with a selection that's mouthwatering. My mother may be all the way up in Long Island, but I'll think about her as I munch happily downtown on Sunday.

Here's what we've got:

Dickie Brennan's Steakhouse
Appetizers: Steak House Salad OR Lobster Bisque (my personal take? Screw salad - unless there's some form of candied nuts, sugar cane, or goat cheese, soup all the way!)
Entrees: Gulf Fish Napoleon (Gulf fish, obviously, but layered with wilted spinach and delicious ugly Creole tomatoes, topped with jumbo lump crab and refreshing yet creamy beurre blanc, one of my favorite sauces for fish) OR Twin Filets (charbroiled tournedo-style filets, 4 ounces each, with Louisiana jumbo shrimp, wild mushroom risotto, a particular weakness of mine, and lobster herb demi-glace. Ain't nothin' wrong wit' dat!)
Dessert: Strawberry Shortcake Bread Pudding with creme anglaise. I defy you to find a single word in that dish's name that doesn't sound incredibly appetizing. Strawberry? Good. Shortcake? Good. Bread pudding? GOOOOOOD. And what dessert isn't enhanced by light, fresh-whipped creme anglaise?

The cost of the menu is determined by your entree selection. The fish is $30 and the steak is $32. And you thought you had to wait for COOLinary for awesome fine dining deals.

Dickie Brennan's Steakhouse
716 Iberville
French Quarter/Downtown
New Orleans
504.522.2467

Friday, May 1, 2009

Epicurean Adventures: Eat Like a King, Pay Like a Pauper

After finding out about the delectable specials that were going on immediately after work at Palace Cafe, I of course shot an email over to Boy about it. Thanks to his new best friend, the BlackBerry Bold, plans were quickly confirmed to check out this fun, inexpensive way to do nice tapas for dinner and pretend to be fancy while actually being a little bit cheap. After all, Dickie Brennan's Palace is a fairly upscale restaurant, so to get anything for $5 was exciting.

The day was a little brisk for Boy, so we opted for the indoor bar area dining. Our server greeted us politely enough, and I asked for the small plates menu. He obliged and I opted to try to South African Sauvignon Blanc, which was frankly not too impressive. For just five bucks, I'm not expecting a whole lot, but there was less fruitiness than I would have liked. Give me a Robert Mondavi Sauv Blanc any night!

We sat munching on warmed Leidenheimer bread, good as usual with a flaky outer crust, but not as good as I'm used to from a Dickie Brennan restaurant. (They serve their bread in miniature loafs from the famous bakery at Bourbon House, Dickie Brennan's Steakhouse, and PAlace Cafe.) Ordinarily, the bread is piping hot with a warm center, not hot enough to melt the better, but certainly not very cold. Well this bread this day was cold in the center. Weird. But French bread is French bread, and complimentary is free, so with a shoulder shrug and a big pat of butter, I downed half the loaf.

The first two things to come out were the crabmeat cheesecake and the fried oysters on grilled ciabatta. We were surprised that they would choose to serve these first before the salads and other less substantial tapas, but didn't think much of it. The crabmeat cheesecake had a nice, nutty crust made of pecans, and the mushroom and Creole meuniere was delectable. The fried oysters were juicy and reasonably sized, and the flavor and texture of the oysters themselves were dead on, not grainy inside as tends to happen with overcooked oysters. The sherry tasso cream was rich and decadent on the buttery toasted bread, but not overly so. I could have popped these babies in my mouth for the next couple of hours with pleasure.

After we finished these, it was to my extreme surprise when the server asked us if we were ready for dessert. I let him know that we were not, and asked about the other plates. Apparently, when I gestured to the entire bar menu and said "one of each of these," he thought I was just pointing to the first two items. Why? I don't know. But he was not happy about this and showed it, telling me that I didn't specify. Umm ... what?

I kind of "whatever"ed this, since I was going to get what I wanted anyway, which were the other three missing items. And as Boy pointed out, I couldn't expect the same level of service in the bar area as the dining room. However, it always does feel like crap to be spoken down to by your server and have him roll his eyes at you when you thought you made yourself perfectly clear. It gets worse, though, as the food gets better. Tragic irony, isn't it? But I'm getting ahead of myself, here.

Anyway, we obviously waited around for the rest of the food since we were excited to try it. The crab claws remoulade was served with a tangy variety of remoulade sauce versus the sweet I prefer far more, but it was still delicious. Served cold, it was refreshing and the spring greens the half-open claws were on were a perfect complement. The crab was sweet of flesh and plentiful, but Boy thought it was hazardous and a tad messy to have to use your hands to eat your salad. I thought it was $5 and didn't really care.

The fried eggplant fingers were next up on our personal itinerary, since our brilliant server brought everything out all at once, and we figured we'd eat these before they lost their crunch. In a light, crispy shell, these tender stalks of ripe eggplant were great for snacking, a little bland, but with a tinge of salt to keep it from being too boring. The jalapenos in the tartar sauce, though, were not very obvious, and it seemed almost like dipping really nice pizza parlor eggplant sticks into mayonnaise rather than marinara. However, though they were nothing too special, they were good and there was a lot of them, so no complaints.

The best, however, was the spinach salad, served with red onion, chopped boiled egg, and tossed in a sherry cane vinaigrette. It was also supposed to come with housemade candied bacon, though, which it did not when it hit our table. At first bite, I felt that something was missing, and I borrowed a menu from another table to check. Sure enough, I was right, but since our server had already written us off, after waiting for abour ten minutes, I had to tell a different server of the problem, who went off to find our waiter.

Our server sulkily took our spinach salad from us, then returned with the same salad, retossed and retopped (so double the onions and eggs now) plus some candied bacon. I thanked him as graciously as possible, to which his response was, in the most patronizing tone as possible, with a subtle eye roll, "mm humph." Not even "mm hmm," but a definitive huff of disdain, a sound I was getting really tired of hearing throughout dinner, since it was his standard response every time I said "please" or "thank you."

Anyway, although service sucked, the bar bites menu did end on a positive note. The spinach leaves were tender, the candied bacon crunchy, fresh, and in large pieces, the red onion shaved thin and sweet and tangy simultaneously, and the boiled egg provided a nice tone of neutrality and pleasant texture change. The sugar cane vinaigrette was absolutely Besh Steak spectacular (Besh's spinach salad with goat cheese and candied pecans being among one of the best salads I've EVER had), sweet, rich, slighlty smoky, but not too cloying or thick.

We wrapped it up with the white chocolate bread pudding, a dense, fluffy, and spongy bread pudding of a substantial size, drizzled with little chocolate pieces and covered in a white chocolate sauce. This was extremely heavy after a considerable amount of food, and I was unable to get past the first few bites. Boy soldiered on and finished the entire thing, but the whole dessert just smacked too much of chocolate for my liking. I like chocolate when I expect chocolate, like in a flourless cake, a brownie, or a bonbon, but with the texture of bread pudding, I found it a tad confusing.

So what's the verdict? The winners of the night? The spinach salad, fried oysters, and crabmeat cheesecake. The losers? The level of service, a level that should never, EVER be the case in any Brennan restaurant, which makes it even more of a shame.

Palace Cafe
605 Canal Street
Downtown/CBD/FrenchQuarter boundaries
New Orleans
504.523.1661