Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas Weekend 2011

It has been a very nice New Orleans Christmas weekend. After our wonderful Reveillon dinner at August, I got up early on Friday morning and drove a friend to the airport.  That done, I worked on getting the bird crap off my car.  Went to the Shell on Canal, which was not nearly powerful enough to attack the sheer volume of poop that was quickly cementing all over the car.  Went down the road to the cheap gas station on S. Carrollton that has a car wash.  This one was much more effective.  As I was driving out, a fellow came up to me and totally flimflamed me about something or other (called the "filange" by me for the purposes of my storytelling) being messed up behind the right front tire.  He pretended to fix it and I gave him some money.  It's Christmas, after all!  And it was a good scam, well executed and a soft sell.  After that, while I was trying to wipe off the remaining bird crap with a Kleenex, a squeegee guy with a bucket, spray cleaner, and rag came up to me and asked if he could do that for me, that way he could get himself a sandwich.  Sounded like a good exchange, so we went with that deal.

So, that was exciting. Later that day we went to J'Anita's at the Rendon Inn for lunch and then to NOLA Brewing for the pre-holiday brewing tour- much fun! Tom left with a mysterious package that he declined to discuss with me.  Hmmm. Had a couple beers at the Avenue Pub as well before we retired home to make lamb korma. Which was delicious.

On  Saturday, after getting up early to feed my friend's cats, I went to Rouses for groceries for Christmas Eve spinach lasagna before the hordes descended. The rest of the day was quiet- the weather for the weekend has been pretty consistently gray and foggy and misty- perfect for hunkering down and watching TV.  But I made the lasagna and it was amazing.  We also busted out our holiday fruitcake.and declared it worthy.

Before bed, we opened up one Christmas present each- Tom opened up the messenger bag I got him and I opened up an unlabeled bottle of beer with a NOLA Brewing ornament. Turns out that Tom had ordered me a personalized NOLA work shirt, but it hadn't come in yet, so Melanie, head of brewing operations, decided to give him a bottle of their internally distributed Christmas Ale (along with the NOLA Brewing ornament) to give to me as a placeholder. We drank it on Christmas Day and it was delicious- a dark hoppy ale in the style of Sierra Nevada's Celebration Ale.

We filled each other's stockings and called it a night. The next morning, Tom went to feed our friend's kitties and when he returned, he brought up stockings for all four of us - Tom and I and the cats. The cats loved the several catnip toys and mats we bought for them, as well as a sausage shaped catnip toy from their Grandmeow Joan. We opened stockings and presents.  We had fun buying for each other this year! Locally inspired presents included a "Drink Deck" of cards that represented 52 bars in New Orleans (you get a discount for each) and a very cool art/poetry book, "Constance: Delicate Burdens" dedicated to New Orleans artists of all kinds - the corresponding blog is Also CDs from Ingrid Lucia and Hannah KB. We both worked hard to do as much local shopping as possible: Fleurty Girl, Stein's Deli, Octavia Books, Defend NOLAVieux Carre' Wine & Spirits, and Southern Candymakers. (there was some use of Etsy and Woot Shirts as well!)

Then we went to brunch at MiLa, had their special prix fixe menu.  We started with a couple cocktails and ordered our food. My three courses were: Creamy Parsnip Soup with Buttery Lobster, Meyer Lemon Oil; Coffee Crusted Pork Loin with Celery Root Purée, Roasted Brussel Sprouts, Bacon Jus; and Egg Nog Ice Cream with Gingersnaps, Dark Rum Caramel, and Chantilly Cream. Tom had: Yellowfin Tuna Tartare with Satsuma Ginger Emulsion, Choupique Caviar, Scallion; Pompano Amandine with Haricot Verts, Tomato Confit, Lemon Brown Butter; and Vanilla Bean Rice Pudding with Dark Rum Glazed Dates.

Parsnip Soup

Tuna Tartar

Pork Loin

Pompano Amandine

Eggnog ice cream

Rice Puddin'
It was all delicious, and the service, save for one small quibble was great.  My quibble is small, but it seemed out of character so it kind of glared at me. Basically, we both ordered a glass of Pinot Noir (at $9 a glass).  They were out, so our waiter subbed out for glasses of Cabernet (without asking us first).  He didn't come back to check to see if we liked it (which... we weren't crazy about it, though it wasn't worth making a fuss over it) and then the bill charged us $11 per glass, which I thought was kind of less than classy, since it wasn't our fault that the wine was out and wasn't consulted on a substitution. I dunno. Just thought it could have been handled a bit more smoothly.

Afterward, we went to the Roosevelt Hotel to look at the lights in the lobby.  Very festive!

We spent the rest of Christmas day watching Dr. Who Christmas Specials from the last few years, and today we watched this year's Dr. Who Christmas Special AND DREW BREES BREAKING THE RECORD FOR MOST PASSING YARDS IN A SEASON. Man, that was a good game. WHO DAT!

Happy Holidays from Tom, Taz, Marley, and me!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

August Reveillon

Two years ago, Tom and I flew down to New Orleans from Boston for Christmas.  I wanted to show Tom the city I fell in love with back in May.  He hardly had the chance to see anything in New Orleans when he came out for that wedding and didn't understand my new obsession with it.

We flew in on Christmas Day (best day to travel in my experience,) checked in at the Bienville House, and headed across Canal Street to Restaurant August on Tchoupoutoulas. We had a wonderful Christmas dinner- definitely a good way to start my quest to get Tom on board the New Orleans train. I found my Chowhound writeup (where I used to discuss my culinary exploits before I went up a step in narcissism and started this blog) here.  Upon reading the menu from 2009, I see there's a couple courses that have stayed in the mix- the  Brouillade aux truffle (La Provence farmed egg with Perigord truffle) and the turtle soup "grand mere" finished off with Pedro Jimenez sherry. Also, looks like the Reveillon menu now 5 courses for $95 instead of 7 courses.

We started with cocktails- Tom had a splendid Gravier Gin Fizz, and I had the special house Manhattan, which used plum bitters.  Hooray for Manhattans! Man, that was a great way to start the evening. Tom would be driving home so after his gin fizz he settled on one of the fairly plentiful selection of local bottled beer.  Nothing crazy exciting, but all local stuff and a pretty good list of it. He had a Bayou Teche LA-31 Biere Pale,

Once again, I did the wine tastings.  First course was the foie course: spiced foie gras au torchon (with an espresso "vein," which I can't figure out a less gross way to describe) with a red currant linzer torte with a candied hazelnut crust. Also candied red currants. Aw, they're cute! Wine pairing was a sparkling rose.

Next course was the Brouillade aux truffle paired with an Alsatian Gewurztraminer, and after that was the turtle soup paired with a really excellent white 2010 Cotes du Rhone. Meat course was roast duckling with braised red cabbage and house made spaetzel and some sort of duck confit with bread crumbs? I don't know exactly, but it was pretty tasty. Wine pairing was a Russian River 2008 Pinot Noir from a vineyard called Merry Edwards, named for the head vinter, a lady pioneer in the California wine world.

Tom had decided to get the 4 course "Tasting of Farmer's Market Vegetables" which led off with an amuse bouche different than the standard egg and fish custard fume thing in the egg shell, some sort of fried cheese bite, delicious.  His first course was a quince consomme poured over a whipped truffled celery root, his second course was broccolini with aleppo and ricotta salada with pecans and a Plaqumines Parish citrus confit.  I'm pretty sure the existence of that citrus confit alone is what made him order that tasting menu. His third course was acorn squash risotto with Brussels sprouts and mushroom Parmesan crisps. I could eat a truckload of those cheesy fried mushrooms.

For the dessert course, I had a steamed dark chocolate torte with cherries. a spiced milk chocolate ganache, and roasted white chocolate ice cream.  Tom had the satsuma "creamsicle" which was a buttermilk and satsuma sorbet with satsuma segments and sauce and general satsuma awesomeness.  This was the only course I took pictures of:

Because it's super pretty, especially the satsuma one. My dessert came with a 1999 French late harvest grenache, which was a lovely dessert wine to close out with.

And then of course the final course of mignardises arriving with our check, of which there were four including a praline and a sour jelly candy, a blueberry financier and another fancy bite that I can't remember what it was called- something French, I'm pretty sure. They were all awesome and it felt like gilding the lily as I ate these last bites and it was fabulous.

I haven't been to August for dinner since that Christmas Night of 2009, and I'm pleased and relieved that it still ranks as an excellent place for Reveillon dinner. It was memorable and special to us as jaded residents in 2011 as it was as starry-eyed tourists in 2009.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Holiday pic spam!

So, Tom and are getting genuinely excited about our Christmas in New Orleans.  We have our beautiful tree with awesome ornaments and strewn with Mardi Gras beads, our fruitcake, a couple strategic reveillion reservations (Restaurant August on Thursday night and Christmas Day brunch at MiLa), and a few decadent Christmas goodies coming our way from Chef Pete (one hyphenated word: Foie-reos).  We have the cats, a roof over our head, and each other.  I have two weeks off from work. Life is pretty great!

Muses beads

Taz guards the gifts

Awesome ornament commemorating a long-ago local brewery

Rex beads, ornament, lights

Our 2011 ornament from Laurel and Brock

Cat loaf under the tree!
We are also excited about the upcoming Mardi Gras season, for several reasons: 1) It's AWESOME. 2) King cake king cake king cake king cake!  3) Taz has been chosen as the 2012 King of Endymeow!  WHAT IT'S TOTALLY A THING. Behold, King Taz, The Boss of Us:

Resistance is futile

Do you guys really expect me to stand here and... OOH FEATHERS!

Off with her head!

The drones (his word, not mine) doing their thing to make Taz look good.
(Including me, the droniest drone of us all)

Hail King Taz!

Bedecked in Mardi Gras awesomeness

Are we done here yet? 'Cause seriously, it is time for the Royal Nap.

We are incredibly and non-ironically proud of our Taz and super excited about the Endymeow party on January 28.  Man, our cats are awesome.  One is the KING OF YOU! (The other leads a life in the shadows, subtly manipulating the whole orchestra of the McWarnigle household. We call him...the Ginger Ninja.  Also, Marley. He is the puppetmaster!  But don't call attention to that, he'll get all Dick Cheney on ya if you do. Don't say we didn't warn you!)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Chef Pete, TSAI, Muriel's, and Middendorf's

While I wait patiently for Chef Pete to open his doors to serve up Eastern European food (tentative menu: Russian Beet, Cucumber and Sweet Onion Salad; Polish Kapusta with Egg Noodles (Bacon and Onions Sauteed with Blanched Cabbage and Egg Noodles); Armenian Steak Tartare; Potato-Onion-Cheese Pierogis; Duck Glubtsi (Russian cabbage rolls stuffed with Duck, Pork and Rice,); Hungarian Goulash with Parsley Dumplings; Bigos (Polish Hunters Stew...Pork Ribs and several Homemade Polish Sausages with Tomato Braised Sauerkraut); Armenian Kadayif (shredded Phyllo Pastry with Cheese Filling and Buttery Honey Syrup)... I thought I'd discuss last week's Thai triumph.  Thai-umph?

Whatever you call it, damn it was good.  We got: Thai Crab and Coconut Soup with Ginger and Basil; a cold glass noodle salad; Laab (Finely minced beef seasoned with fish sauce, lime juice, chile, shallots, palm sugar, toasted rice, and fresh mint); Thai Fermented Pork Ribs with Sticky Rice; Oxtails in Sour Northern Curry; Green Curry Duck; sweet sticky rice for dessert. Everything was fantastic.  We drank a lot of milk while eating the food- though it was actually pretty easy to adapt to our own heat sensitivities, by avoiding pepper looking stuff.  Not always successfully (thus the milk) but even with fire burning peppers in the duck, everything was SO GOOD.  I pushed myself heat wise because I knew it would totally be worth it, and it was. The layered complexity of heat and sweet and flavors was A-Mazing. Probably the best Chef Pete experience since our original Burmese foray (though we were sadly out of the country for Korea.) Can't wait for some comfort food tonight.

Other outings this week: went to Muriel's for a work lunch, which was nice.  Those goat cheese crepes they do are so good.  They were with shrimp this time, but I've had them at the FQF with crawfish and they are good both ways- it's the sauce, whatever is in it.  Besides creole crack. Had their pasta dish with fried oysters which tasted good, but I don't know if I got a bad oyster or if it was something else somewhere else altogether, but let's just say that several hours later, the contents of my stomach where awfully anxious to quickly exit. I would definitely try Muriel's again, I don't know where that bout of food poisoning came from. And even if it was from there, those damn crepes are worth it. Also, really great service and very festive and grand dining rooms.

Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending TSAI's "Glad Tidings" holiday brunch, held at the home of a co-worker of mine, coincidentally enough. Everything looked so good I ended up trying everything. I started with the wild rice grits with chard, mushrooms, and queso fresco, the sourdough and thyme sourdough bread, and a satsuma-beet mimosa.

I chilled out for a while listening to the always wonderful Hannah KB Band:

And then returned to get my second breakfast, root vegetable hash with cauliflower, mustard, and baked egg. And, um, a bloody mary.

Killer awesome amazeballs.  I ordered the apricot and ricotta-stuffed brioche French toast to go, because I knew Tom would appreciate it and it looked like it would travel well.  I was right on both counts!

Last night we went to Middendorf's for a meeting with a friend that could result in an interesting and incredibly cool project - stay tuned, if it gets off the ground I will share.  I had their Pontchtoula Strawberry Mai Tai (tasty), the baked oysters with garlic bread crumbs and cheese, and a quite nice serving of BBQ Shrimp which were different that the ones I've had in New Orleans.  They were peeled so it was a) easier to eat and b) the sauce was right on the shrimp.  Nom. It's heretical, I know, but I liked them better that the heads on, bib-requiring BBQ shrimp I've had around these parts.  Yes, less bad ass, but still delicious.

(Checks clock) OK, only 3 more hours to go until it's Chef Pete time!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Playing Tourist in the FQ

One of the fun things about having people visit - especially people who have never been to New Orleans before - is that it gives us the opportunity to go out and hit the cobblestones in the Quarter, which we don't do that often.

Saturday started out cold and cloudy, but we rolled out of bed to meet our old neighbors from Salem, their 2 kids, and the husband's sister and parents for breakfast at Stanley (side note: I find it hilarious that the Stanley employee uniform shirts urge everyone to mozey down to Stella! down the road to eat, all casual-like, when it couldn't be more different in vibe, price, audience, hours, dress code, and food.) Stanley is at the end of the right hand side Pontalbla apartments in Jackson Square and serves up some pretty delicious eggs in the morning.  I do enjoy being able to get my eggs benedict with a half dozen fried oysters atop them. They also have thick, dark, and rich coffee  which is much needed when starting out in the FQ at 8:30 in the morning. (Side note #2: an older couple peering into the FQ reproduction of the Camillia Grill, expressing concern that it wasn't more crowded.  IT'S 8:30. IN THE MORNING. PEOPLE BE SLEEPING! Don't worry, there'll be a line soon enough.)

Anyway, back at Stanley: a variety of breakfast dishes were ordered including the eggs with boudin and the eggs with fried soft shell crab. I had the eggs with the oysters, the kids had pancakes, and fun was had by all.  After breakfast, the kids tugged us to the guy dressed like a robot giving out lollypops. Watching people interact with the street performer was actually pretty amusing, I have to say.  I usually hustle by, not wanting to take focus away from the tourists that must be their bread and butter. Crossing the street (where there was an enormous line at Cafe du Monde, of course). we headed toward the French Market, because I kind of get a kick out of how random stuff in there is and there's lots of stuff for visitors to check out. Also, it's still before 10am so most stuff still isn't open!

However, I realize that Central Grocery IS open and that my friend loves muffelettas, and that the CG is not really conducive to big crowds of people and/or small children.  So I peel off from the group and go wait in the pretty short but slowly moving line to get 2 muffelettas- one for our visiting friend, and one for us! I've had muffelettas all over town (still need to get out to Nor-Joe's though) but Central Grocery's is still my muffeletta Platonic ideal.

Catching up with the group, I find that one of my guests has found a place in the Market that serves hot cider spiked with Old New Orleans Cajun Spiced Rum.  Naturally, I get in on that action immediately.  Damn, I need t have one of those every morning for the rest of winter. We all meander through the stalls- I do a bit of Christmas shopping from one of the local artists there as well as getting some cheap (probably made in China) masks, because I NEED MASKS in the house, and I've been paralyzed by getting the exact right one from a local artist and OK OK I will continue my search, but like 17 mask-wearing occasions have come and gone since I moved here and NOW I HAVE MASKS IN THE HOUSE. (until the cats pounce on the one with feathers, anyway. Then I will have MASK IN  THE HOUSE.)

OK, fast forward through random FQ meandering, discussing architecture and laying down some New Orleans history TRUTHS on our visitors, long story short, we saw some street musicians on Royal (our friend said with amazement, "I never knew the clarinet could sound so soulful!") and then cruised up St. Phillip to grab some hurricanes from Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop en route to the Treme Creole Gumbo Festival. Lafitte's makes my favorite hurricane in the Quarter, although truth be told, I haven't tried that many of them since I had this one.  (I still have never been to Pat O'Brien's, heh.) Also, Lafitte's ambiance is fabulous (and hella rustic), especially on a cold day with that fire roaring. While waiting, we got the heads up on the best hurricane recipe to make at home (the secret is Dole's Pineapple Juice) from a bartender customer. Very educational and informative.  Thanks, opinionated drunk awesome bartender guy!

OK, on to the highlight of the day, the Treme Creole Gumbo Festival, sponsored by the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and Foundation.  It had everything!  It had music (Shannon Powell and the Tuesday Night Allstar Band)!  It had shopping! It had Wayne Baquet! It had Ms. Linda, recently made famous on Tony Bourdain's No Reservations (as evidenced by the line)! It had gumbo! It had weird corsets for sale featuring feathers and alligator skulls! It had bargain priced clearout merchandise for Jazz Fests gone by! DAMN.  That festival was so awesome. Next year I am bringing chairs, staking out a table, and chilling all damn day. Was able to try two different gumbos - a dark roux chicken and sausage gumbo, which I thought was pretty good till I tasted Tom's Creole file gumbo from Lil Dizzy's, which knocked my socks off and rocked my world. It was like a religious gumbo experience.

After the festival, we had to all go to our separate corners for nap time (not just the kids!) so we went back home for a couple hours and then met up with our friends at the Napoleon House (which was right across from their hotel) and enjoyed a couple Pimms Cups. Tom and I split a half muffeletta, which was OK.  It's no Central Grocery, but it's still better than most sandwiches in Boston.

We ended up shopping a little while our friends prepared for the wedding they were attending that night, and that was the reason for their visit.  Went to Voluptuous Vixen and got a pair of Awesome Boots.  No, seriously, that's what they're called! I had a Groupon to use, and that seemed to be the perfect way to use it.  Then we headed back to the hotel to babysit for our friends' kids while they were at the wedding. The rest of our evening isn't very blog worthy, except that we were able to see the wedding's second line from the Cathedral to the reception from the hotel room, which was awesome.  It was funny/sad to see so many people fully bewildered by the second line concept and trudging along with their handkerchiefs dangling lifelessly from their hand.

The following day we enticed our friends out of the Quarter and got them to da Channel - they came out on the streetcar, and we went to the Courtyard to watch the Saints game with our friends and neighbors.  We'd procured some early season boiled crawfish from Big Fisherman on Magazine at Lousiana to ensure they had that experience as well.  And it was a HELL of a game.  Big props to all in attendance who worked really hard at not swearing in front of the kids during the 4th quarter! I also introduced out visitors to Bayou Teche and NOLA beer, which were both well received.  After that, we went back to our apartment where we sat around drinking beer and wine while the kids went BANANAS on our Big Bag O' Beads.

After we parted ways (I put them in a United Cab, of course), Tom and I plotted our strategy for Chef Pete's Thai extravaganza at his Hush Supper Club at Stein's... but that will be another blog post.  Soon!  (Spoiler alert: SO AWESOME.)

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Christmas preparation

We got a tree the day after Thanksgiving - I love having a Christmas tree in the house.  The lights, the smell, the  memories associated with all the ornaments hanging on many trees over many Christmas seasons. This year we also festooned the tree with some of my favorite strings of Mardi Gras beads, which is a new tradition that I love! Also, the cats love to lie under it, which is adorable.

(cats not pictured)

Today we went to Le Marché des Fêtes at the Pitot House on Bayou St. John, which was a lovely little holiday fair with artists and craftspeople selling their wares.  Saw Tom Fitzmorris wandering about for a bit, I stifled the urge to tell him about my burgeoning blogging career. Ate some chaurice and mustard greens gumbo (Crescent Pie and Sausage had a table set up, and I have learned that if you ever see any of Bart Bell's gumbo being served, YOU GET IN LINE.) I also had a warming Café Brûlot Diabolique, a New Orleans classic coffee cocktail.  Bought some presents for some niecephews.

I think we'll be making our annual Christmas fruitcake this weekend - it's full of dried fruits (macerated in rum) and pecans and candied ginger and marinated for several weeks with brandy and IS DELICIOUS.

I am thinking that we might hit the French Quarter tomorrow to do a little shopping.

Oh, I've been working on a new beer blog with a couple other beer bloggers in the area: the New Orleans Beer Guide.  Go check it out!