Monday, March 28, 2011

Feasting at Feast

Monday always needs a little something to pull it out of the crapper. What better on a sunny day than to go out to lunch with your best friend?

My dining partner hails from the United Kingdom, and we've been wanting to try Feast for a while (that's a common refrain in these blog posts- it's just that there are SO MANY places to investigate!) Feast is a relatively newcomer on the restaurant scene here in NOLA- the owners opened up their first location in Houston, which was very well reviewed and feted.

They're now open for lunch every day (except Sunday, when they have no service at all) and you can get 2 courses for $16.95 or 3 courses for $19.95. We both opted for the 3 courses, obviously. To start, Tom had a Samuel Smith Brown Ale. I originally ordered an iced tea, as this was a workday lunch. However, I changed my mind quickly (of course) and ordered a refreshing campari and soda. Tom was just saying that he had low expectations when the bread basket arrived and took our collective breath away. The first kind we tried was a sourdough that was just SO good. Very sour, still warm, excellent crust. The second one was a country white style, also a great crust and good crumb. The bread was served with a delicious European butter (higher fat content!) and - SALT & PEPPER ALERT - there was a large grained salt in a cute little dish with a tiny ceramic spoon AND there was a pepper mill. We only used the salt to sprinkle on the butter on the bread.

I started with the whole garlic shrimp, which were indeed whole with heads on and full shell action. The waiter brought me a bowl of warm water so I could rinse my hands, which should tell you how up close and personal I had to get with the shrimp. If only they were as easy to eat as crawfish! But they were really delicious once the work was done. Tom had the housemade beef sausage with raisin cheese and mustard. (Tom upon approaching his dish "Hmm, what's raisin cheese?" (tastes) "Oh, that's delicious, is what that is!")

Entrees: I had the braised pork cheeks with crispy polenta and kale. The pork was delicious and tender, the kale wasn't cooked to death - the whole thing that you need to cook hearty greens longer to get out the bitterness - and I don't know how they did it! The texture was great, the flavor was delicious, and I really enjoyed the simple preparation. The crispy polenta wasn't so crispy being served atop a braise but it was still tasty. Tom had the pan fried local gulf drum with braised lentils and asparagus. The lentils were flavored with mint, which isn't Tom's thing (he doesn't care for savory mint applications) but he still enjoyed the lentils and LOVED the fish.

There were two desserts: one was Sticky Toffee Pudding and I believe I have documented Tom's love of the Sticky Toffee Pudding in this blog, so it was a no-brainer that he'd order that. That left the chocolate mousse for me, what a hardship. The mousse was thick and rich and dark and the perfect end to the meal. Tom loved his sticky toffee pudding - it was served warm and the toffee was soaked into the pudding. He was pleased with the flavor and the texture.

I have Feast's website up in another tab while I write this - in order to link it and refresh my memory of our meal - and I'm looking at tonight's menu longingly, kind of wishing I could go back for dinner. I think I'd start with the French Fish Soup with Rouille and Croutons (kind of kicking myself for not ordering it for lunch - but I love garlic shrimp!) or the Garlic Snails on Toast and maybe have the Half Roasted Pheasant, Roast Potatoes and Watercress for a main? The Fish Pie Topped with Leek and Cheese Crusted Mash and Roasted Brussel Sprouts sounds good too... A couple of the entrees are a little adventurous, but I bet are good, like the braised pig tongue and the frog pie. You can get something called "Backfat, Parsley and Walnuts" as a side, which sounds very intriguing.

Anyone out there gone to Feast and had their more adventurous offerings?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sunday Festing

Today we zipped out east to Chalmette in St. Bernard Parish for the Louisiana Crawfish Festival. Parked the car, walked through the carnival rides, shooting booths, and tents advertising two headed snakes and the world's smallest albino turtle. Came to a loooong line, which we originally thought was to enter the eating area, but was in fact for crawfish bread.

We bypassed the crawfish bread and went right to the good stuff. We ate a bunch of boiled crawfish right off the bat and then I had crawfish potatoes, which combined several of my favorite things: mashed potatoes, crawfish, and cheese. Nom! Wandering around the festival:


Also, some zydeco music:

Full of crawfish, we headed back to Orleans Parish and went to Hansen's. Stood in line on a hot sunny Sunday afternoon, waiting to get inside to be cooled by the fan and the dark. Then waiting more to get to the head of the line. The lady who did the toppings and the money recognized me from last summer with delight (which made me feel all part of the community!) Tom had the combo I had last week (cream of peach/ginger) and I tried satsuma/wild cherry combo. We stood outside Hansen's in the shade and ate up our Sno-Blizes quietly, feeling the ice cool us off from the inside out.

After grocery shopping, we got home and found a little lizard on our gate!

Aw, New Orleans.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Louisiana Bistro

There's a little place on Rue Dauphine that's been clawing at the back of my brain for several months now- I've heard good things about their "Feed Me" menu, where you tell the chef what you can't or won't eat and then he brings out however many courses you specify. I love stuff like that, so I was excited to try it.

The Louisiana Bistro is a very small, intimate space- there couldn't have been more than 15 tables in there. We'd made a reservation and once shown to our seat, I ordered a Sazerac (because I love them). Tom ordered an Abita Amber (explained earnestly by our well-intentioned waiter who thought we were tourists as "the local beer") and our friend Sarah had a mint julep. My Sazerac came on the rocks, which was a bit of a shock. At least Galatoire's asks first if you want it straight up or on the rocks. When I ordered my second one, I requested it be served without ice, in the classic fashion.

So it looked like a lot of diners were getting the Feed Me menus, based on the number of chef sightings there were in the dining room. He'd come by to first assess what couldn't be served, and then to announce what every course was. He looked pretty frazzled but I sure couldn't blame him. It was still a nice way to dine.

It took a while till he came out to greet us (our table discouraged the use of: blue cheese, avocado, and raw onion) and then quickly we had paneed frog legs over a creole muniere sauce. I'd never had frog legs before so it was interesting. Had an aquatic taste that I couldn't decide if I liked or not. The creole muniere sauce was amazing though!

Second course: black pepper quail with a jalapeƱo hollandaise with braised greens and potlikker. Ooh, that was flavorful. It danced at just the very edge of the line of being TOO MUCH (too spicy, too salty, too overwhelming), but it quite admiringly stayed on this side of it. We used up the rest of the french bread to mop up the sauce. We also gnawed on those quail bones like savages. It is just impossible for me to eat quail with just a fork and knife.

Third course: lamb loin served over jambalaya and with that creole muniere sauce we had with the frog legs. We were excited to see it again, and the chef came back immediately like "aw CRAP- I already served that sauce to you! I'm sorry!" We assured him that was fine and we were happy with the result. Dang, that was some good lamb and jambalaya. I still have a little left of it in my fridge.

Three courses were $39 per person (and the entire table needs to participate) and the drinks were relatively reasonable- I think my Sazeracs and glasses of wine (Louis-Jadot Chardonnay) were $9 each. I'd love to try on a slower night in the future and sample more.

Oh, funny story- a neighborhood dog (Rex? Buddy?) who has obviously been spoiled by the chef and staff of the Bistro for quite some time showed up and performed for us outside the door, twirling round and round and round and round. The chef wasn't out on the floor so the dog and owner went on their way- 3 seconds later, the chef burst out with treats for the dog and chased them briefly down the block to deliver them.

It was a fun, intimate, kinda touristy but not in a bad way place with some good food with very bold flavors.

Hogs For the Cause, City Pork, and many other porcine puns

The perfect and gorgeous weather continues (though we do kind of need some rain at some point soon!). 70s and 80s, clear skies, breeze, not a trace of humidity.

Spring in New Orleans is even more awesome due to it being festival season! This weekend, Hogs For the Cause, the Louisiana Crawfish Festival, and the New Orleans Roadfood Festival all compete for our love, attention, affection, and dollars.

We are still moving pretty slow (Tom because he's exhausted and me because I went to go see Rue Fiya at BMC on Decatur last night and didn't get home till 2am) so we decided to only hit one thing today, and since Hogs For the Cause is only today, we decided to mosey down to City Pork (previously known as City Park) to give to the cause and eat some delicious pork goodness.

Well, the food was outstanding. I had several pulled pork tacos, some gumbo, grits, and a pulled pork sandwich with mustard-based BBQ sauce and potato salad on the side. I wish my stomach would have allowed me more, but I was quite satisfied and pleased as pork.


Tom with the flag of Piggy Stardust:

And more amusing signs by folks peddling their pork (some of them got really into it!)

Folks working hard (OR HARDLY WORKING AMIRITE????)

And this tent was particularly relishing its duty of porcine presentation:

To counteract those last photos, here is a bucolic view of one side of the Hogs For the Cause area at City Park, which was just lovely:

And here's Tom speculating on the probability of gators in said bucolic scenery:

I think that brings us up to speed on the weekend thus far. Hoping to hit the Crawfish Festival tomorrow in Chalmette! Till then, go out and eat like a New Orleanian!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Rue 127

There are a lot of places in New Orleans that have a lot of hype. Either they're 100+ years old, or has "The Best [Fill-in-the-blank]" or, more often these days, are promoted in Food Network shows like "Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives."

New Orleans has a lot of food culture and food tourism. Work through user-reviewing sites like Yelp or Chowhound, you'll see a lot of discrepancy between expectations and what's delivered. Even with places we like, there tends to be inconsistency of course. It's all to be expected, but it does make it special when we discover a gem of near perfection.

For us right now, that gem is Rue 127, a tiny bistro on North Carrollton just up from the Canal Street intersection. I hate to give it good press, because it is SO tiny:

We had reservations, of course, because this place is so small I would imagine it almost impossible to walk in on a Friday or Saturday night and get a table. We were there on a Friday night, just after Mardi Gras. The place was bustling and I noted as we walked in that there was a banner hanging that proclaimed that they had just started serving lunch. Since it's right around the corner from where I work, I filed that away for the future (the future of tomorrow was today, but we'll get to that shortly.) We waited for a few minutes while they were resetting our table and then we were seated.

Tom had been looking forward to this because of the promise of excellent mussels- but he was also prepared for disappointment. However, these mussels - prepared with garlic, white wine, shallots, and herbs - did not disappoint. He was thrilled by the quality of the mussels as well as the gentle steaming of them. The flavors were classic, simple, and delicious. Small quibble: the mussels were served with Parmesan frites, which were OK, but not awesome, and Tom prefers to sop up the cooking broth with bread. Very minor nitpick, though- he was thrilled with the mussels.

I had the mushroom risotto which was somehow hearty and delicate- rich umami comfort food.

Our mains were (for Tom) the grilled diver scallops, served with sour cream whipped potatoes, roasted fennel, oyster mushrooms, and an orange emulsion. I had the citrus glazed duck breast with caramelized fennel, potato puree, orange supremes, and a Louisiana citrus jus. The duck was outstanding- beautifully cooked and the citrus notes were again, delicate and subtle, calling to mind the classic duck a l'orange without actually going down that road. Tom's only issue was that his dish was slightly overseasoned- still delicious, though. And I am pleased to report that Rue 127 is one of the few restaurants I've gone to lately that has salt and pepper shakers at the table! Without asking and seeming like some primitive rube who doesn't have the proper palate to appreciate the chef's vision or some such.

We shared their toffee pudding for dessert, of course- if it's on a menu, Tom is going to order it. It was a really lovely meal. Service was also very good. Yay!

Today, I was feeling back up for having a nice lunch (I really hadn't been for a while) so I went down there from work. I was there by myself, and I made a reservation, just in case it got mobbed up. It was actually pretty relaxed- a 2-top, a 3-top and a 9-top. And me in the corner, taking pictures of my food and reading the internets on my phone.

First course: their duck, smoked turkey, and andouille gumbo, which is served with a horseradish potato salad in the middle. This is a fairly common gumbo experience, and I like it. Gumbo? Good. Potato Salad? Gooooood. It was tasty and flavorful. At first, I thought the horseradish in the potato salad would overwhelm the gumbo, but it actually melded more as I went along.

For my second course, I decided to try a French classic, often attempted and often botched, the Quiche Lorraine. This was not a fritatta in a crust, which is usually what quiches end up being. This was an amazing, elegant, silky egg and cream custard with Gruyere cheese, bacon lardons, and onion confit. (Though, I didn't actually taste the onion confit- it may have melted into the background.) The crust was crisp and light and butter and flaky. It was simple and beautiful; rustic yet elegant. The quiche was accompanied by an astringent fennel and grapefruit salad with frisee. It was the perfect counterpoint.

I decided that I needed to try some dessert- I still had a tiny bit of space in my stomach left before I would burst, after all. I decided, to the delight of my server, to try their (in)famous deep fried cupcakes that comes with three different dipping sauces: a vanilla creme, a butterscotch/caramel, and a deep dark chocolate.

I dunno how they fry that cupcake up with the icing, but by god, they do it. Five mini cupcakes come in a standing basket. The vanilla creme is a surprise- it tastes like it has a fruit flavor in it; the butterscotch is wonderfully complex; and the chocolate sauce is less a sauce than somewhere between a sauce and a ganache, and that I could have just licked clean.

It was total adorable delicious decadence. Yum!

Looking forward to my next visit already...

Bad blogger, no biscuit

So, apparently Mardi Gras immediately followed by St. Patrick's Day and St. Joseph's Day broke me. I was in the bizarre position of having TOO MUCH AWESOME STUFF TO DO, and I just had no energy for it. Not sure what happened there, but I deeply regret missing the Mardi Gras Indians on St. Joseph's Day (after sundown), going to a St. Joseph's Day altar, and going to the Super Sunday Parade the day after St. Joseph's Day. It was like having fun became a chore. Ah, the perils of living in New Orleans.

I do NOT deeply regret staying home on St. Patrick's Day proper, because that's just a lot of drunk ass folks and I have come to regard St. P's as amateur day/night from my many years living in Boston.

Things I have dragged my tired carcass out to do:

* Attended a crawfish boil out at the Lower Ninth Ward Village complete with college kids freaking out about eating crawfish, an excellent brass band (Glen David Andrews) and a second line in the neighborhood!

* The Top of the Hops beer festival in Mandeville, LA (which I need to discuss on my beer blog still)

* First visit of the season to Hansen's!!! (Inaugural flavor combo: cream of peach and ginger, with condensed milk on top.)

* Went to Le Foret(upshot: food- good, service- crap, and atmosphere- stuffy.)

* Had a delightful time as usual at Restaurant Atchafalaya with 2 visiting friends

* Brought out of town guest to Boucherie, as I like to do. Had 2 of their duck small plates which were AWESOME (#1: duck liver mousse gougeres with "bahn mi" salad and housemade bacon; #2: crispy duck confit with hazelnut brioche pain perdue, grilled shallot kho, and local honeycomb. EYES ROLLING OUT OF HEAD IN PLEASURE, PEOPLE.)

* Enjoyed a daytime drinking session at the Avenue Pub complete with gorgeous weather and amazing British imported IPA (Thornbridge Jaipur IPA) (also needs to be discussed on the beer blog.)

* Discovered that the jambalaya at Crescent City Pie and Sausage Company contains crack in it, that's the only reasonable explanation why I am craving it so much these days.

* Went to Hollygrove Farms to pick up their weekly produce box, which included fresh Louisiana strawberries (in season now) which Tom turned into ice cream; kale and chard, which I used for lasagna; parsley, which has been used a bunch because it's, well, parsley; blood oranges, used for juice; radishes, arugula, and lettuce, used for salads; and turnips, cabbage, green onions, and Louisiana grown brown rice, which haven't been used for anything yet. Hoping to keep picking up produce there on a weekly basis, and maybe even start going back to the farmer's market to score other produce as well as local fish and shrimp.

* Made red beans this past Monday and they were pronounced my best yet. Yay! Also cooked a lasagna last night.

The spring weather here has been amazing. Even with the overabundance of awesome that apparently wears me out, it's been a glorious (if exhausting) month or so. Oddly, I am also looking forward to the sticky heat of the summertime, when everything sloooooows doooooown. But this weather is my favorite.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Irish Channel St. Patrick's Day parade

So, hot on the heels of Mardi Gras came the Annual Irish Channel St. Patrick's Day parade. I know I spotted a few reused floats with new names, and there was some exciting new throws such as cabbages, Ramen noodles, underpants, and Moon Pies, and there was a lot of green and related costumes and revelry. Some folks just reused their Mardi Gras parade catches, but hey, that happens all the time. Recycling=good!

We'd planned on joining the NOLA Brewing crew in the parking lot of Sake Cafe to sit and sip beers in the beer garden that was supposed to be set up there. However, the owner decided he'd rather charge $20 per car to park in the lot. We did camp out next to Sake Cafe though, and bought NOLA Brewing beers (I settled on a variety of Brewer's Crack with Blonde Ale instead of Hopitoulous combined with Irish Channel Stout.) And the folks at Sake were cool with letting me use their bathroom, so I guess I can't hold too much of a grudge.

OK, pictures!

So the flowers that the dudes are carrying are to be given out to ladies who give them a kiss (on the cheek, as far as I could tell)

And yes, they throw cabbage. And other stuff.

As always, a variety of costumes and colorful characters!

Sorry for the lack of commentary- but I think the pictures tell the story quite well! Stay tuned for Crawfish Boil with Historic Green at The Village and Super Sunday...