Sunday, April 29, 2012

Pre-Jazz Fest Festivities

Jazz Fest! We did not go this weekend (and we don't have tickets for next weekend, at this point) but the whole city is filled with tourists and musicians and it's like a very specific party vibe - different than Mardi Gras. Man, people love Jazz Fest! It's cool to see. An old high school friend that I'd reconnected with on Facebook came into town for the Fest and we made plans to hang out on Thursday night before he got swept up in the Jazz Fest madness. It's the magic of New Orleans and Jazz Fest (possibly aided by the magix of Facebook)- you can just up and hang with folks you haven't seen since 1990, and it's all good.

Jack's a bartender/mixologist (and official "rumologist") in Key West, so I thought it would be fun to bring him to a couple cocktail bars he wouldn't necessarily get to in the course of his festing. I met him at Twelve Mile Limit in Mid-City, which is probably my favorite bar in New Orleans along with the Avenue Pub. Excellent cocktails, awesome vibe. I always love hanging out there, and I think that Jack did too. I had several of the house cocktails (the Lexington, the Great Idea, the No-Name Cocktail) and Jack also enjoyed a Great Idea and when Ted Haigh's Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails book came out (GREAT book, BTW) to look something up, he pointed out the "Blood and Sand" cocktail to Allie (the bartender) and she mixed one up for him. I also had a Brooklyn Brewing Sorachi Ace, and when Tom met up with us, he had an Anchor Steam (both on draft).

We decided we should leave before we ended up settling in for the rest of the night (it's so comfy and awesome there!) and thought it would be fun to show Jack the development on Freret Street.  We parked the car and decided to take the Ancora dining option, since Tom and I hadn't been there and it was supposed to be excellent. And it was! We had a couple of cocktails- it looks like they do house made limoncello and variations thereof (clemencello, made with clementines; satsuma cello, made with satsumas and was an ingredient in my Ancora Old Fashioned; grapefruit cello, in their Ancora Sazerac) and they're really tasty.  Tom, the ever-patient designated driver, had their house made strawberry soda.

At first, we decided on 2 pizzas for the 3 of us - the Bianca (with olives and capers, yum) and the Meatball (pretty much what it sounds like) - but our waiter convinced us we should add another one, so we did- the Putenesca (tomatoes, olives, anchovies, capers). We kind of thought he was upselling us, but what do ya know, we only had a couple pieces left at the end (boxed 'em up for Tom's lunch the next day.) The pizza was good, and definitely different than any other pie in the city. The crust dough is well seasoned and blistered from the raging inferno of the special pizza oven they have imported from Naples. The pies are small, but intensely flavored. INTENSE. Whoo!

After pizza time, we strolled down to Cure for a nightcap. It was pretty hopping, and we grabbed a table near the bar - Jack sat facing the beautiful bar and its thoughtful bartenders and many shelves of bottles of booze. It is indeed a lovely sight. Upon studying the cocktail menu, I decided on the "Floridian Void" (created by Nick Detrich) made with Ferreira white port, yellow chartreuse, Trader Nick's Freret Falernum, lime, honey, and Angostura bitters. Tom had "The Hardest Walk" (created by Turk Dietrich) with Carpano Punt e Mes vermouth, Plantation overproof rum, Gran Classico Bitter, and orange bitters. He said it was "dark and intense, like a sixteen year old poet" (heh.) Jack got the "Arrow in the Gale" (created by James Ives) with Buffalo Trace Bourbon, Nardini Mandorla almond grappa, lemon, ginger, strawberry, and black pepper. We did a little round robin to try each other's cocktails- Tom's was definitely the most hardcore, and mine was the most deceptively smooth (served in a highball glass in a straw, no less!)

We quietly sipped our cocktails and digested our pizza. When finished, we drove Jack back to the Quarter and sent him off to the very important business of Jazz Festing.

Happy Jazz Fest, y'all.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Monday Magic

You ever have one of those nights that turn out to be so awesome so unexpectedly?  Tom and I had one of those nights on Monday. A Monday of all days! Talk about unexpected. It started when Coquette posted this on Twitter:
Merguez is like the magic word in our house. (See our visit to Root for another example of this obsession.)  This news perked up an otherwise pretty typically crappy Monday. We'd planned anyway to go to the Avenue Pub to collect another Duvel glass and we enjoyed a couple nice beers there (I had, in addition to a Duvel, an Anchor Summer Ale and Brooklyn Irish Stout, and Tom had 2 Duvels and a High and Mighty Purity of Essence) and a friend whose company we greatly enjoy stopped by as well. The evening was looking up!

After we left the Pub, we went to Coquette in search of Merguez. We were pleasantly surprised to see that the dining room was full on a Monday night, and were seated outside. It was a lovely night- just cool enough so that the bugs weren't out, but not cold. Very enjoyable evening to eat al fresco.  We ordered drinks: I had a cocktail, of course- I love their cocktail menu. I ordered was the "Creaky Door" that had bourbon, strawberry shrub, and Angustura bitters. Served over ice in an old fashioned glass, it was really excellent-simply constructed yet complexly flavored. The bourbon and the fruitiness were beautifully married by the acidity of the shrub, and although the taste of strawberries was definitely present, there was no sweetness, only the flavor of the fruit itself. I assume they make their own shrub- I know I've seen jars of infusions behind their bar since I started going there. Tom availed himself of one of the very nice bottles of beer they had listed - Gulden Draak, a dark Belgian ale.

The bar manager, Jeff, stopped by to see how our drinks were and I, my tongue possibly loosened by delicious beer, booze and general joy, talked a lot with him about how much I enjoyed my cocktail, and discussed the trend of using shrub in cocktails, which we all were big fans of. I mentioned that we had heard about the lamb special on Twitter that day, and asked if he did the social media stuff for Coquette.  He said he didn't, and confessed that he actually did not know who did that stuff.  A voice came from a couple tables over, "oh, that's me!" And it was Chef Michael Stoltzfus, chilling with his laptop waiting to have a manager's meeting with his colleagues. Awesome! In this town, I get more excited meeting the chefs of the great restaurants than any of the movie stars or whatnot that hang out here shooting movies.

We chatted a bit about merguez, their new menu, their source for ramps... I got teasingly called out for not mentioning them in my interview with the Times-Picayune as a restaurant that features and respects beer - I told them it's because I'm always dazzled by their cocktail menu. That was totally my bad, which I hope to rectify in the near future. The bottle list at Coquette is small but pretty stellar- in addition to the Draak, we also ordered a bottle of the Hitachino Nest 3 Days, which is a beer that was left to mash for 3 days longer than it should have been due to evacuation during the 2011 earthquake in Japan.

On 11 March 2011, a huge earthquake struck Japan and with it our brewery.  Some parts of the brewhouse were damaged, and the brewing tanks were left leaning at an angle. 
Completion of the typical mashing period had to be extended to three days until electricity to the brewery was restored.Natural fermentation had already started in the mash tun during these 3 days with lactic acid cultured in our brewery.  
This “3 Days” beer is limited to only 8,000 bottles. 
This is a very special beer that I'd been wanting to try and I could tell from the reactions from both the bar manager and the chef, that it was a good choice. We asked that it be brought out to drink with our entrees.

We decided to skip starters so we could be sure that dessert would be possible. Tom had the Two Run lamb loin and merguez with kohlrabi, Brussels sprouts and harissa and I had the duck breast that also had duck confit and was delicious. Tom declared it the best merguez he's had since moving to the States. Chef Stoltzfus stopped by to see how we enjoyed it, and after we effusively told him how awesome it was (as well as my dish and the 3 Days), he dropped a little package with two merguez sausages for us to bring home. Which was just so thoughtful, and just added to the greatness of the night. It's fun to kind of bond with someone who loves food like that. I was sincerely honored and flattered.

Then, after we ordered dessert - Tom ordered the old fashioned donut with huckleberries, oatmeal crunch, and sour cream ice cream, and I got the kaffir lime panna cotta that I'd admired the last time I was at Coquette - Jeff the beer man bar manager stopped by with a present! He let us have some of his stash of Dogfish Head Midas Touch, a beer that is not distributed here, and which paired beautifully with dessert. (I would also like to note that the funkiness of the 3 Days went very well with the game flavor of both the duck and the lamb.) Again, we were totally in awe at the generosity shown at Coquette, just talking and enjoying food and beer with people who love food and beer! How is this not a perfect night?

After we happily finished our dessert, a little post meal mignardises came out for one last delight: I think they called it an ambrosia pop?

Whatever it was called, it was delicious, and a perfect end to a perfect meal on a perfect night in New Orleans- full of delicious beer (and an equally yummy cocktail), exciting food, great conversation with interesting, thoughtful, generous people whose work I deeply respect, gorgeous night, the person I love most in the world... It just doesn't get better than that.

Oh! Stay tuned either here or my other blog for some exciting upcoming news regarding Coquette. (my other blog is a beer blog, which ought to give a hint about what kind of news may be forthcoming.)

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Weekend Report

Had a couple culinary adventures over the weekend. 

Went to check out a place that had just opened that week in Mid City for lunch- Toups Meatery. It's up on North Carrollton, so pretty near my office. I liked the look of the menu and wanted to check it out! I started with the deviled eggs, which looked nice, but the filling had WAY too much horseradish for my tastes.  Like, it was inedible to me. I suffered through 2 eggs and then I had to leave the rest. Sadface!

Then I had their confit chicken thighs with white beans, mustard greens, and gizzard gravy. That was excellent.

I noticed they had some Debbie Does Doberge on the menu as well, so I had to get a slice of their hazelnut/salted caramel cake, which comes with a piece of candied bacon, spiced up with some cayenne.

I dug it!

Friday night was beautiful weather, so we decided to walk up to Magazine Street and check out a new(ish) restaurant called Ignatius that had been located further Uptown (still on Magazine) but moved into the former Rue de la Course space and opened there just a day or two previous to our visit. Ignatius seems to be New Orleans comfort food. I had the jambalaya and Tom had the red beans.  

They also had etoufee and crawfish pasta and po'boys and stuff like that. Funny, they had a few local beers listed, including an "LA 35" (which is actually supposed to be Bayou Teche's LA 31) which I ordered. Got a NOLA Blonde instead, which... OK! The food was fine, satisfying, cheap, and we had a nice time. Stopped at La Divinia for a sorbetto afterward, and walked home. A quiet but lovely evening.

Sunday we went to the Avenue Pub for some NOLA Smokehouse BBQ! Got there by noon, which was good, because those dudes ran out of food by like 4pm. (it was supposed to go from 11am-11pm) We had: brisket, spareribs, potato salad, and BBQ beans.  For real, there was so much pork in these beans I actually needed a knife to eat them.  I liked the potato salad, too- creamy and with eggs in it.  The star of the show- the meat - was EXCELLENT. Brisket and ribs were smoky and tender. There were 3 choices for sauce, we liked the VTQ (named for Vermont- a sweet/spicy sauce with apple) the best. 

We actually didn't even eat dinner that night. Mmmm, delicious meat.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Interview with Rob Bechtold of NOLA Smokehouse

In celebration of NOLA Smokehouse’s inaugural pop-up at the Avenue Pub starting on Sunday, April 22 from 11am to 11pm, I reached out to the owner to find out a little bit about what makes him and his business tick.  

The Bechtolds
Rob Bechtold, the man with a smoked meat mission, is the pitmaster, delivery boy, and driving force behind a new NOLA BBQ pop-up/delivery service called NOLA Smokehouse. Rob and his wife Emily started working out of their home to create delicious BBQ and sides to deliver all over the 504 after their first venture, a bricks and mortar restaurant called Smokin’ Buddha’s BBQ in Metairie, closed down after a brief run.  Even in that brief run, Bechtold’s food had already gotten excellent word of mouth that kept growing after he changed his business model under the auspices of NOLA Smokehouse.

Love of food has been a driving force in Rob’s life starting from the time he was a small child back in Georgia, sitting in his Great-Grandmother Ruby Gibson’s lap snapping beans. He was by her side pickling, canning, and baking, and got his love and respect of food from his culinary hero, a sharecropper who understood that no matter how tough life is, if you have food and family, you have love. Rob moved to New Orleans from Georgia when he was eight years old, and grew up in Chalmette. He stayed here because of the food culture, working in restaurants and leaving his position as Executive Sous Chef at KPaul’s to follow his dream of cooking his own food for people.

He decided on BBQ because “BBQs remind me of family and large gatherings when I was a kid. The smell of chicken cooking over hot coals still makes me drool. Slow cooked family goodness - I’m all about it. Friends and family kept saying sell this stuff and make a fortune...still waiting!”

Q: What do you envision as the future of NOLA Smokehouse?
A: With every inch of my soul I would love to have a restaurant in the best culinary city in the world. A future of cooking honest, farm fresh food for the people in the 504 has been a lifetime dream. After 25 years for helping other chefs in this city be successful, it’s my turn.

What are your thoughts on the burgeoning BBQ movement in New Orleans?  Why now?  What do you think of your competitors/colleagues? Do you think there is enough room for all these new BBQ places to thrive?
Big question...A lot of Chefs left NOLA after the storm and brought back some different cuisine that they were exposed to I believe. Getting national coverage by The Joint and others has been great. Its good honest food that you can’t fake. Those that do will not last now that people see real BBQ with smoke and love. Some of my competitors/colleagues do BBQ right and I support those guys. Those that don’t are not on my radar.

What is your favorite non-BBQ restaurant?
I LOVE Sushi any and all

How would you describe your perfect meal?
Friends and family in the backyard ice chest full, smoker rollin', crawfish in the pot. Perfection

What are your 3 favorite ingredients to cook with?
Salt, Pork, Vinegar

What 3 things can always be found in your fridge/pantry?
Tabasco, Maldon sea salt, pickles

What important lesson have you learned from the 2 incarnations of selling your ‘que?
To be honest with the food and the people will taste it. The quality comes from the craft.

How do you decide on the week's menu?
Farmers markets and what’s on sale and fresh.

What is your favorite / least favorite thing about the food scene in New Orleans?
Favorite - people support good food no matter what!
Least- Fast food apathy. I love some fast food, can I just get some hot fries please?!

Besides your Great-Grandmother Ruby, do you have any culinary heroes?
All the GREAT line cooks out there that work long hard hours for Chefs. With little money and a lot of heart they keep this city fed. They are the true culinary heroes of NOLA.

What dish are you most proud of?

Cooking a whole pig. Its a great way to show respect and eat a majestic animal.

Is there a dish you love that you would not put on your menu?


I, personally, cannot wait to go to my favorite bar in New Orleans and have delicious BBQ. Note: it's a 21 and over establishment only, so if you have young 'uns, you can get your food to go. If you buy BBQ and a beer, you get a dollar off each! If you can't make it out this Sunday, take heart! You can still order delivery going to the NOLA Smokehouse website, and he will be at the Avenue Pub on Sundays for the foreseeable future - except on May 6, because he is doing a BBQ demo at Jazz Fest!

Rob is also Twitter crazy, follow him at @NOLASmokehouse to get all the up to date news. As his business model is nimble, this comes in handy when trying to get you some BBQ.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Three things of note this week...

1) Craig and Kimmie Giesecke have returned to a prime location on St. Charles Ave - the Blind Pelican. We stopped in there on Wednesday for my beloved (and much missed) chicken fried steak with garlic mashed potatoes, smothered green beans, and sausage gravy. (Note: skip this meal the week before going to the doctor to monitor my blood pressure.) Tom was reunited with his also much loved Best Fish Sammich Ever, which, as always, lives up to the name. I don't know if they are still using the J'Anita's name (the sign outside the door on Wednesday night said "Jamitas") but I am so, so, so happy they are back,  And apparently busy as hell. So when you go, be prepared for some weak table service - I don't think the front of house crew anticipated the kitchen being so popular so fast - but awesome food. And I think they are working out the issues and instituting new systems, etc. They've actually only been open a little over a week, so it's still all finding its rhythm. Food's already in the groove though.

2) McClure's BBQ hit the weekend circuit this past Friday night! After a lovely session at the Avenue Pub, we biked down to the Rusty Nail to have some post-beer BBQ. And it was gooooooood. The ribs were divine. (Brisket and pulled pork were nothing to sneeze at either.) We had a beer (Ruthless Rye on tap!)  and chowed down happily out in the courtyard on a beautiful April night, then biked home. Good work Neal! (I totally drunk texted him how awesome his food was instead of drunkenly gushing to his face when he was obviously super busy.) That made for an awesome Friday night.

3) Went to Coquette for dinner on Saturday night. Sadly, they were unable to squeeze in a fifth person in to our reservation, so I had to leave Tom at home. The food was very good as always- I had the pickled beet salad (mmm.... burrata) and then their version of fried chicken (I so wish places used the leg instead of the breast, though.) The chicken was pretty good, considering it was white meat - restaurants often have a hard time getting the doneness right on chicken breast. (general rant that does NOT apply to this meal at Coquette: It's awful when it's overcooked, and I've had a few instances where places pull the breast to early to avoid that fate, which is... really gross. This is why I do not eat chicken in restaurants, generally speaking.) BUT! this one was fine.  The general blandness of this cut of meat was helped quite a bit by the zing of the accompanying ramp pesto, and the baby turnips were fresh and earthy and the dish was very spring-y. We also had a side of Brussels sprouts that were outstanding.

But the part of the meal I definitely wanted to comment on and share with the internet was the fact that Coquette has cleared out the back office area of its building and created a kitchen just for desserts. They've really elevated their dessert game, and the four our table ordered were amazing.

This was my dessert, called "Strawberries and Cream." Since it's the height of strawberry season, I couldn't resist. Strawberry sorbet, strawberry salad with basil and a hint of balsamic, strawberry creme fraiche, and some sort of dehydrated strawberry covered cream log.

Milk chocolate mousse with peanut butter sorbet. There was also peanut butter inside the mousse cube!

This was called "Coconut, coconut, coconut."
Had... coconut cake, coconut sorbet, and dried coconut (possibly meringue?)

This dessert was transcendent- the kaffir lime panna cotta with grapefruit, meringue, some sort of citrus preserve.
I need to get back again with Tom to try that kaffir lime panna cotta (they grow their own kaffir limes out back!) and to try a dessert our table didn't get a chance to try, the old fashioned donut with huckleberries and oat...ness of some sort (look, I can't remember! I had a couple of their collins by then.) The entire meal was delicious- my three dining companions all got the black drum with gnocchi, spring peas, and asparagus, which everyone loved.)

Also, the French Quarter Fest is this weekend but somehow we haven't gotten over there. Ah, well. We did enjoy the OCH market (with delicious Tsai food- especially the shittake beignets) and supported some local artists. Did some much needed stuff around the apartment (it's getting nice and cozy and lived in!) Slept a bunch. I have begun to take it easy on myself about not getting to every awesome thing that's going on in New Orleans, letting go of the guilt of Not Doing New Orleans Right. There's amazing stuff always going on- big stuff like FQF, but also small stuff like a second line wandering through a residential street, a great restaurant, strolling around people-watching and smelling the blooming jasmine and magnolia. April is just so gorgeous here and merely living day to day is a beautiful state of being.

I hope everyone had a wonderful weekend, no matter where it took you or how it ended up.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Rites of Spring and Summer

Years ago, (2001-2004) I worked as parish administrator for an Episcopal church in Brookline and Easter week was like the week before April 15 for CPAs. I.e., crazy bananas. Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and then the big finale, two services on Easter Sunday. Working at MIT after that until we moved down here in 2010, Easter wasn't a meaningful part of my life aside from an opportunity to enjoy Sunday dinner with family, with a lamb dinner and a basket full of candy.

Obviously, New Orleans is deeply connected to the culture of the Easter holiday, starting with the celebration that precedes the start of Lent, a little something called Mardi Gras. Many people have long Easter weekends off- getting some combination of Thursday, Friday, and/or Monday off of work. There are all sorts of traditions in play all over the city. 

One such tradition that I've been itching to try since I heard about it is Dookie Chase's Holy Thursday Gumbo Z'herbes. Ms. Leah Chase has been making this gumbo on this one day for many years. She uses 9 different kind of greens - you need to have an odd number of greens for luck- and the tradition is that you will make as many friends in the upcoming year as there are number of types of greens. The greens used this Holy Thursday by Ms. Chase were: mustard, collards, red swiss chard, beet tops, cabbage, carrot tops, spinach, kale, and watercress.


It had the nine greens, and sausage, and bits of pork and maybe... turkey? Served over rice. We'd ordered the fried chicken, but they ran out, which actually worked out to us getting our meal comped AND getting some awesome official Dooky Chase Holy Thursday t-shirts! Ms. Chase's grandson came out and was so gracious and apologetic.  Also, um, super handsome? Anyway, we had a wonderful meal and this will be a tradition every year.

After gumbo, we went to Hansen's for our first snoballs of the season!! So awesome. I got cream of chocolate and vanilla bean, and Tom got cream of nectar and anise. 

The sweet taste of summer! 

Gumbo Z'herbes and Hansen's Sno-Bliz. Two amazing traditions that make me incredibly happy to live in this wonderful, vibrant city that values their unique customs and loves to eat.

(to find out how we spent what will hopefully become an annual Holy Saturday tradition participating in NOLA Brewing's Easter Keg Hunt, check out my other blog here.)