Sunday, October 23, 2011

Time-Picayune lists

The T-P lists of best restaurants came out today!  Here's the Top 10 (click the links to read blog entries that contain writeups of them.)
Gotta get to Clancy's Gautreau's and La Petite Grocery.  I've been wanting to get to LPG especially, but lately we've been enjoying much more casual types of meals (taco trucks, pop-ups, etc.) so we haven't circled round to a white tablecloth place probably since Stella!. 

Here's the list of the best new restaurants along with a menu of the other various categories.

Friday, October 21, 2011

File under "Rants I wish I'd articulated as awesomely"

...or "Blog posts I wish I'd written."

I have never run across Doug and his God-Eat-God Worlds Blog before yesterday, but I now wish I was his best friend.  He has written and extremely vulgar, profane, over the top, passionate defense of New Orleans in response to a pretty smugly written piece elsewhere on the internets singing the praises of Los Angeles. Where I would have rolled my eyes and maybe G-chatted some snark about the Richard Simmons thing (SERIOUSLY: WHUT.) Doug exploded into an EPIC RANT that perfectly encapsulates not just the reasons that I (and others) love New Orleans, but the sheer force of that love despite all its many flaws, and in a way, because of them.

You can read the rant in its full glory here. I also recommend reading the comments - there's some equally passionate agreement (and disagreement) that's great to read.

Since I do try to keep this a family friendly blog (uh, due to my family who reads it) there are only a few of my favorite reasons I can quote in their entirety:

22. Above ground cemeteries, some Masonic in nature, spread all over town. They are undoubtedly the prettiest way to have your corpse thrown into a hole.
13. There are over 400 festivals in Louisiana a year. There are only 365 days. We party more and harder than anywhere in this Puritan country, and we do it better. Jazz Fest is our most famous, but I seriously can’t begin to list them.
12. Uptown & The Garden District. It’s like walking into the 19th Century, only the racism is less obvious now. The flora is gorgeous and allows you to actually breathe clearly, unlike most of some cities I know. Once again, the food is plentiful and delicious, and the events are spectacular.
10. We aren’t small, but we aren’t big. You can get anywhere in New Orleans or its surrounding metropolitan area in 15 minutes. Locals call that a “commute” and bitch about it. Seriously, try getting anywhere in even Atlanta in 15 minutes, let alone LA. You know where you’ll be? The entrance to your goddamn neighborhood.
5. The French Quarter. It’s like the island in Pinocchio where all your evillest fantasies can come true, only you don’t turn into a donkey. Despite what people from LA or New York might believe, it’s more than Bourbon Street, though. It’s Frenchman, the last bastion of the Jazz dive. It’s Royal Street, a 14 block art gallery. It’s lower Decatur, where locals and Goths, gutter punks, the middle class, and the service workers all hang out together. It’s the Marigny (a different area but still attached), where the poets and the beat kids live. It’s real culture instead of stolen. It’s not a ghetto where we keep our ethnics like your Chinatowns or your Little Ethiopias. It’s where our city started. We are the French ghetto of the entire country.
 Seriously, the rant must be read in its entirety to fully appreciate the spittle flying passion and gusto of this ode to and defense of New Orleans.

(OMG, just saw his tag cloud- he's a Joss Whedon nerd!  OMG WE MUST BE BFFs IMMEDIATELY)

Autumnal musings

Autumn is here.  Today, I'm wearing a sweater and cords (still resisting socks though.).  People are bundled up in jackets, hats, scarves, and mittens, because the temps have dropped below 70 degrees.  I approve of this, as it means that this is pretty close to as cold as it gets (it will drop another 20-25 degrees in the winter.)

In conclusion: HOORAY NEW ORLEANS WEATHER.  Got through hurricane season, with Hurricane Irene bypassing us and hitting the Northeast (the interior areas of Vermont and New York State, especially) and Tropical Storm Lee raining through Labor Day weekend, but it was really just more damp than stormy.


Now that the intense heat of summer has faded, that means it's comfortable to sit outside for drinks and meals.  On Sunday, we sat on what I think of as the "Cabrini bridge" because it's right outside of Cabrini High School on Bayou St. John to eat a Taiwanese-style brunch, courtesy of our favorite vegetarian pop-up, Tsai.  


We sipped upon iced apple green tea while waiting for our food to be served.  The meal was four courses. The first course was oven baked buns with sweet potato and shiitake filling:

The second course had both the black rice rolls with roasted seaweed, fried tofu, and salted radish and the salty soybean soup with the shittake beignet (which was amazing).

Third course was Tom's favorite, almond tofu with mung beans and lotus seeds

The last course was fermented rice with orange peel.  Tom said that it tasted like rice pudding and marmalade (two of his favorite things.)  

All in all, YUM.  In other pop-up news, we had Chef Pete's Indian food later that night- we absolutely loved the Chicken Tikka Masala and the Dosai (with lamb and spinach- YUM!).  We also hit Noodle & Pie on Monday- they had a ham hock and apple steamed bun that was INCREDIBLE, and I had the brisket noodle bowl with the add on of braised ham shanks.  Full of porky, beefy goodness.  Tom stuck to his vegetarian noodle bowl, which he reported was excellent.  We were so full we had to take our honey pinenut pie home to eat later.  Which we did.  With great gusto.

We actually ate in on Tuesday and Wednesday- crazy!  I know! - but we enjoyed, as always, the 3 course prix fixe at MiLa (HMOG, the butternut squash soup was amazing) for lunch on Thursday and then picked up a white pie and special autumn salad from Pizza Delicious - local mizuna and golden frill salad greens from Hollygrove Market, roasted and sliced portobello mushrooms, pickled local organic radishes, with a homemade caramelized shallot vinaigrette and slices of Parmesan on top. It was amazing.  The white pie is also one of my all time favorites.  I just saw that they are offering both of those things on Sunday as well, and I am very tempted to get the same thing.  Maybe also a meatball pie.  Leftovers!

After dinner we strolled in the cool evening air to the Bulldog Uptown for NOLA's cask of their (much beloved by Tom) Smokey Mary aged with oak - they called it the Oakey Smokey.  Man, that beer was DANGEROUSLY drinkable. The oak was pretty subtle, but I really enjoyed the beer- more than the regular Smokey Mary from the keg, actually.  We had a couple pints, and hung out in the beer garden with NOLA Brewing's VP, Dylan Lintern, his lovely fiancee Lea, and their AWESOMELY ADORABLE black lab puppy Tipsy.  Tipsy lives up to her name and parentage- she absolutely loves beer and was in heaven when a quarter-filled glass got spilled. 

We walked home in the cool air and chuckled about the heat lamps being out in full force.  But I love it.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Reconcile



Went to Cafe Reconcile for lunch today with Tom.  First time I've been there, which seems odd.  It's only open for lunch during the week, and Tom's been there a bunch of time with folks from his office.  Cafe Reconcile is more than a lunch restaurant that serves New Orleans favorites like red beans, gumbo, jambalaya, and po-boys, it's a non-profit organization that provides training and other opportunities to local at-risk youth.  From the Cafe Reconcile website, their mission is:
We are a community of concerned people committed to addressing the system of generational poverty, violence and neglect in the New Orleans area. Our innovative life skills and job training program assists young people (ages 16–22) from severely at-risk communities who desire to make a positive change in their lives. Reconcile’s students arrive facing a vast array of challenges, from extreme poverty and high school attrition to homelessness, violence, and participation in the juvenile justice system. Nonetheless, these young people possess a deep desire to break the cycle and become productive, contributing members of society.
 An excellent cause served up with some excellent food.  The staff are in training, so, you know, the service is earnest but sometimes slightly confused. We both had the chicken and sausage gumbo and then one of the Thursday specials, shrimp and white beans.



The shrimp & white beans was a little light on shrimp, but the white beans were creamy and delicious.  The gumbo was spicy and herby (lots of thyme).



We also shared a blackberry creme brulee which was a little runnier than usual, but it was light and lemony, and the sugar crust was perfect.  Having the blackberries in there was a lovely treat.  I liked it a lot!


I wanna go back and get the baked chicken.

A nice lunch date!


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

National Night Out Against Crime

Or, as Tom likes to call it, "Kick Crime in the Nuts" Night.

I believe in other parts of the country National Night Out Against Crime Night is in August.  I know it was here in 2010, which made for a pretty sweltering and miserable Crime Nuts Kicking Night.  So this year, someone here or in Texas or somewhere like that had the idea for the Southern states to shift the night to October.  And, why yes, it was much more pleasant!

I'd volunteered Tom and myself to help out- I've been feeling super guilty about neglecting my neighborhood association duties, and running myself ragged trying to support other causes.  And especially since one of the usual backbones of ICNA events would be out of town (our beloved neighborhood association president), it was up to the rest of us to take up the slack and make it a great night.

Ed picked up the fruit, water, chips, and hotdogs/buns; Tom and I collected gelato and sorbet from our wonderfully generous local Italian gelateria, La Divinia.  The flavors were: Sweet Potato Pie, Creme Brulee (the favorite by a mile), and Honey-Ginger sorbet. We served all the kids who descended upon the unexpected free food, chatted with our neighbors, met various police officers and political types, and watched the kids eat and run and play and yell.  Only problem is in October, it gets dark much earlier than in August!  We were out there settling up at around 5:30 and got home around 8, so it wasn't too bad.  Ate a few hotdogs and a LOT of gelato.  Came home and chilled.

I really do love my neighborhood.  A lot.


Happy Night Out Against Crime y'all!

Monday, October 10, 2011

A pleasing routine

This past weekend we went to Hattiesburg, Mississippi for the Outlaw Homebrew Competition.  You can read all about it here.

We got home in time on Sunday to take a long lazy nap and then I headed out to Stein's to sample Chef Pete's Latin American cuisine.  We got the bacon, chicharone & cheese pupusas; one each of the Venezuelan Hallacas - beef/pork and pumpkin/queso chihuahua; chicken tamale; cuban black beans and yellow rice; chile de arbol spiced duck confit with posole chile verde; and the Ibarra chocolate dulce de leche  pots de creme.  Yum!


My favorites were the pupusas and the tamale.  The confit was seriously intense - went great with the chile verde posole. And that pot de creme was INSANE!  The hallacas was intriguing - a larger and more complex type of tamale kind of thing. Wrapped in banana leaf, I think?  (also saran wrap) The pumpkin/queso set up a little weird as it cooled so that the filling was a little hardened, so that wasn't my favorite. But, again, a great meal with exciting flavor profiles, many of which were new to me.  And for that I thank Chef Pete Vazquez once again.

Tonight we followed last week's playbook and went to Coulis for Noodles & Pie. I had the basic noodles again - this time they came with brisket.  Delicious once again- the noodles themselves seemed better than last week - they were specifically indicated as homemade on the chalkboard.  This week I had some of the house made kimchee in my ramen which was great. While we were slurping our noodles at the counter, Chef E-Man (who was manning the register and counter)'s daughter came up and ordered several pieces of pie, including the last 2 slices of honey-pinenut pie.  I made sadface and asked if that was the last of the pie, and he took one of the slices and gave it to us.  We literally took food from the chef's family's mouths.  Oh my. I regret nothing!!  That pie is goooood.

This is shaping up to be a most excellent way to start the week.  Next Sunday we'll be having a Taiwanese brunch from Tsai and Chef Pete will be cooking Indian food.  Then, the cure for any case of the Mondays- noodles and pie.  Sigh.  Delicious.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Three Days of the Pop-Up

Man, it's been a frenzy of pop-up action over the past few months!  So much so, that on Sunday night we had the option of three different pop-ups happening (Noodles & Pie at Coulis, Streats McGee at Cafe Rani, and Chef Pete at Stein's) in addition to Pizza Delicious.  Sunday was a tough choice, but we made it work knowing we'd been to Rani for Streats' food last week and that Noodles & Pie would be serving on Monday night as well.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Saturday was a busy day of running around doing errands and such, and when I finally had a chance to sit down and check Facebook, I saw that Hansen's Sno-bliz had posted that it was their last day open for the season!  So we hopped down there and waited in line for a while and got our final sno-blizzes of the season- I had satsuma and ginger, and Tom had pineapple and cream of coconut.  Was a little odd eating them when the weather was so mild and temperate- the experience loses a little something by not occurring in the godawful heat and humidity.

For dinner, we headed uptown for some delicious Tsai vegetarian treats.  The dinner was being held at the same place as the noodle bowl party that served as our introduction to Tsai a month or so back.  On the menu was: Polenta with either Roasted Eggplant Walnut Sauce or Blue Cheese Mushroom Sauce (or both!) Spicy Turnip Greens, and Roasted Carrots and Radishes with Lemon Horseradish Dressing.  We got the large plates, which came with two large and yummy slices of polenta along with the two side dishes.  Tom can't stand blue cheese, so he got both of his polenta slices decked out in the roasted eggplant walnut sauce.  I do not have the same aversion, so I tried both sauces.  Like so:



It was, as usual, freaking delicious.  I just feel so welcomed and comforted by Aron's food.  I just want to stay and eat with these people ALL THE TIME.  Hilariously, we got there about an hour after they opened, and since we're usually there right on time (which in New Orleans, actually equals "early" and sometimes that means "rude"), Karen was worried about us.  The music was great, keyboard, fiddle, vocals.  At one point Tom observed that it was like a Cajun Dr. Who soundtrack. It's really wonderful how Karen and Aron are able to bring together a community around food.  Their attention to the whole experience of sharing a meal together makes for a very enjoyable and satisfying evening for both the body and the mind.

Afterward, we wandered around Magazine Street because the Art for Arts Sake street fair was going on, and it was just such a lovely night.  (the weather's been gorgeous lately).  We felt pretty satisfied with both the food and the general space of place we had found ourselves in.  Yay.

Sunday night was the night of the aforementioned tough choice making.  We read that the guy, Chef Pete, who was cooking at Stein's was doing Burmese food, and that made a tough choice a LOT easier.  Menu:

Burmese Chicken and Coconut Soup- Rich coconut milk and chicken stock base with turmeric, chile, onion, ginger, garlic, roast chicken pieces. Served with Egg noodles, shredded cabbage, and hard cooked egg. $5.00

Slivered Ginger Salad- Finely slivered cabbage, roasted peanuts, fried split peas, toasted coconut, slivered chiles, onions, and juliened ginger, shrimp powder, fried shallots, sesame seeds..garlic oil/lime dressing $5.00

Burmese Tossed Noodle Salad ( Gloriously anti -Atkins!) - Basmati Rice tossed with chile,shrimp paste and Turmeric blanched potatoes..Rice and Egg noodles, Slivered cabbage, tofu, fried shallots, crushed prawn crackers~ tamarind dressing $5.00

Prawn Balls in Tamarind Gravy- Shrimp, Cuttlefish and Rice ground together with lemongrass, onions, rice flour , fish sauce in sweet and spicy tamarind sauce $ 7.00

Yellow Split Pea Butter Rice- Basmati Rice Cooked with Butter, yellow split peas, cinnamon, bay leaves and a little salt and sugar..$3.00

Burmese Chicken Curry- Boneless chicken pieces cooked in a puree of onion, garlic, ginger, tomato, turmeric, paprika, tomato, shrimp paste , palm sugar, and coconut milk. With pickled veg, Basmati Rice. $10.00 Mild

Burmese Pork in Black Bean Sauce- Boneless Pork Marinated in fermented black bean sauce, pureed chiles, garlic, onion and ginger. Braised with fish sauce, shrimp paste, soy sauce. Pickled veg. Basmati Rice. $10.00 Spicy**

Sago Pearls in Coconut Milk with Banana Jam $3.00

Sticky Rice and Banana Steamed in Banana Leaf $2.00




Holy crap was it good.  We had the noodle salad, the split pea rice, the chicken curry, and the pork curry. I just... god.  It was absolutely amazing.  Incredible flavors, expert and sophisticated technique, and the guy did it with pretty much no kitchen at Stein's whatsoever.  It was some of the best food I've ever had.  EVER.  It was exciting, it was vibrant, it was bold and soul-satisfying.  We ate with plastic forks in a technically closed NY deli in New Orleans and it was amazing.  Did I manage to take any pictures?  Um, no.  My phone was out of juice.  Did I manage to convey in any intelligent and meaningful way my joy to the chef, to whom I introduced myself?  Um, I believe the phrase "maximum deliciousness" was the height of my sparkling wit and conversation skills.  He did give us a sago pearl dessert to go, so I guess he wasn't totally put off by my inability to form a coherent or intelligent sentence!  Or he felt sorry for me.  Either way, sago pearls in coconut milk with banana jam for us, SUCKAS!

Oh, did I mention that Chef Pete is a BAMF?  This article was written at the beginning of the year, when he inexplicably transformed a suburban neighborhood red sauce Italian joint called Mimi's of River Ridge into a cutting edge restaurant serving regional Italian cuisine along with other globally influenced dishes.  This guy has serious chops, doesn't give a crap about making food pretty or fashionable, eschews pretension. and is pretty much the textbook definition of bad-ass m-f-er. His cooking philosophy is "Doing my part to knock the nonsense out of great food!" This more recent article is more up to date with his current adventures, but plays down his total bad-assery.

Note: I had leftover chicken curry for lunch the next day and it was still transcendentally phenomenal. 

Next week is going to be Latin American cuisine, and the menu (according to his Facebook page) will be:

Peruvian Shrimp Chowder
Hearts of Palm Salad
Ensalada De Bacalao with Aioli di Aji

Venezuelan Hallacas-(beef-pork) or Pumpkin-Cheese
Traditional Masa Tamales (chicken or pork)
Duck Empanadas

Cuban Black Bean and Rice

Cabrito or Lamb (tbd) with Red Chiles and Dried Fruits
Chimayo Spiced Duck Confit with Posole Chile Verde

Ibarra Chocolate and Dulce De Leche Pot De crème

I recommend getting there early- I know I will and I will order ALL THE THINGS.

DAMN.

Anyway, on the heels of that, we decided to give the Noodles & Pie place a look-see on Monday night.  Noodles & Pie is a project of the chefs at Dante's.  They serve noodle bowls and pie.  Also a couple appetizers like steamed pork buns and Vietnamese-style lettuce leaf-delicious pork wraps. 



We brought some beer with us and each ordered an appetizer (one of each) a noodle bowl (basic/pork with an add-on of short ribs for me and vegetarian for Tom) and a piece of pie (apple for me and honey/pine nut for Tom.)  I took plenty of pictures for this, I tell you what!

lettuce pork wrap thing

pork bun, the filling exposed!


Tom's vegetarian noodle bowl

My "basic" noodle bowl with awesomeness and an extra dose of awesome in the form of short rib add-on.


Tom's honey and pine nut pie

My apple pie.  Sans cheese.
It was a damn delicious dinner.  Totally scratched that comfort food kicked up to another level itch.  I mean, noodles and pie!  What's not to love about that!?  I admit, it was a bit gluttonous to add on the short ribs, but damn.  It was an option. IT WAS THERE. At least I didn't add the confit pork or the pork belly to the mix as well.  (other delicious sounding add-ons).  Tom freaking loved his honey-pine nut pie so much, I think he would have married it except for all the SOCIETAL RULES ABOUT A MAN LOVING A PIE. Er, now I'm thinking about American Pie, and that brings a somewhat tawdry image to the mix? Let me amend: his love for the pie is great, yet chaste.  Chaste, I tell you!

Man, but a big ole bowl of noodles will set you right on a Monday night. This may be our tradition for the foreseeable future: Stein's for Chef Pete on Sundays, and Noodles & Pie at Coulis on Mondays.

The thought of this tradition pleases me.

Up next for Tsai as well- a Tawainese Brunch on Bayou St. John on October 20.  Space is limited, so make a reservation!

Tonight we stayed in and made a Thai-esque curry with some Hollygrove farm vegetables (sweet potato, summer squash, tomatoes) along with curry paste, coconut milk, chick peas,and fish sauce.  It was nice, but a bit of a letdown.  Plus we had to clean the kitchen afterward! That sucks!  Tomorrow is our seventh wedding anniversary, I believe we'll be going to Dick & Jenny's.  It should be nice and low-key.

In conclusion: pop-ups rule, washing dishes drools.