31 December 2008
24 December 2008
Moving on. For those of you who don't know, there's this incredible art biennial here in New Orleans called Prospect.1 (is that properly punctuated? I can't seem to ever get it right). There are literally artists from the world over using every medium you can dream of, displaying their art at tons and tons of venues across the city. It's a big deal. A darling family friend, David Buckingham, has his art over at the Universal Furniture Store. He uses found metal to craft these wild, fantastic, sometimes quite offensive wonders. This is what he has at P1 (from Pulp Fiction):
Anyway, at the CAC, there are these two sculptures of sorts made by Lee Bul. The first is this glorious, delightful, frivolous, borderline garish chandelier-esque structure, draped elaborately with glass and beads and chains that reflect light in every which way. Its framework is spirally and ornate, reminiscent of pirate ships or even a tiny metropolis, bedecked in jewels.
Opposite this ostentatious masterpiece is its counterpart, a hulking blackblackblack bunker. It looks like a miniature cave, with a molded fiberglass shell and rocky peaks. On its own, it's morbid and base and slightly confounding at first glance -- an abstract manifestation of the elephant in the room, this gargantuan behemoth that seems out of place on the mirrored floor of the gallery. Two things contradict this first impression, though: first, its simple juxtaposition with what we will refer to as the chandelier calls in a yin and yang perspective that helps add insight and intrigue. More importantly, though, is the realization that the bunker is more than something to look at. Walk inside, put on the headset, and whisper -- strike up a conversation -- break out in a spontaneous tap dance. Every slight sound that is captured in that cave is magnified by about a thousand times, so that even if you're restricting your noise to the most basic and quiet noises necessitated by life itself, you hear this uproarious, unnerving, discordant cacophony in the headset. It's just wild.
And, okay, so this is a food blog, not an art blog. I'm here to talk to you about dishes and techniques and chefs on whom I have crushes, not so much about sculptures and structures that have caught my eye. But all this build-up does, indeed, have a culinary purpose. Because in my later reflections on those two pieces, I felt that kind of singular, rare inspiration that makes you truly proud to find. The notion of that dichotomy captivated me, and I started dreaming up flavors that reflected a similar duality. Here's a short list of my inspiration thus far, the first item as the chandelier and the second as the bunker:
* Ebullient champagne / dark amber beer
* Fluffy vanilla meringue / dense, flourless chocolate cake
* Shaved hearts of palm with fresh lemon juice / warm, earthy beets (can you tell Lilette inspired this one?)
* Tangy, zingy, flaky-white ceviche / decadent grits and grillades
* Tart balsamic vinegar / velvety olive oil
* Mahony's ethereal onion rings / Mahony's roast beef po-boy with wine-y dark gravy
* Wasabi / roux
* Sorbet / foie gras
* Passionfruit / eggplant
Take the idea and run with it! Let me know if you have any whimsical ideas of your own.
20 December 2008
I was leafing through the January issue of Food & Wine, reading about food trends of 2009 and new restaurants to visit and great things to try cooking at home. As usual, it was all I could do not to eat off my hand. No kitchen is satisfactory to my obscure cravings after I see glimmering photos of new dishes like Mario Batali's Fusilli alla Crazy Bastard or after I read Lettie Teague's 2009 wine diary.
Anyway, St. James sounded fantastic for lunch with my mom -- to me, its spot in New Orleans' restaurant world is as that girl who just throws on an outfit and looks effortlessly, enviably cool. Its cheese assortment borders on the profound, the sandwiches are always elegantly divine in a very simple way, and the chutneys and spreads that line the walls for purchase are adorable in a terrifically sophisticated yet genuine and humble way.
I almost got the ploughman's lunch, which has an assortment of cheeses (cheddar, Stilton, and one other kind, which has not yet lodged itself in my memory since I have not yet eaten it), pate, and chutney. The problem was that, while it was everything I had been craving recently, it was not what I was craving right then. I stuck with a sandwich: turkey, tomato, avocado, basil, and a magnificent cheddar.
As we were paying, we saw a sign advertising a new shipment that had come to the store. It was called iberico bellota and a sample plate was eight dollars. We wondered, a sample plate? Almost ten dollars? What could this possibly be? As it turns out, it's the creme de la creme of ham, made of hogs who are fed only acorns for the duration of their lives at pasture. It's also $80 a pound. We considered: this is either horrifically indulgent or so supremely perfect that it's worth it. I decided we should have it. I am, after all, an aspiring food writer and should take every chance I get to dabble.
As it turns out, the latter of our expectations was the correct one. Oh. My. God. This ham was beyond compare. We got a simple white plate that bore four thin ribbons of this legendary iberico bellota. No oils, no garnishes, no trappings, just unadulterated meat too perfect to be tainted by anything but its own essence.
It's wonderfully oily in a totally organic way that isn't heavy at all. The acorns lend themselves to the flavor, which is nutty and earthy and briney and ever so slightly buttery. It tastes like salted caramel, and it's so velvety and impossibly rich that I'd snap it up as a dessert in an instant. This is not the type of ham to put on a sandwich. This isn't deli meat or something to fry up for breakfast. This is elemental ham, platonic ham, the form of ham. It's fantastic and worth every cent and, dare I say, reduces prosciutto to the level of Oscar Mayer.
Also, as a quick last note: yesterday, I took my dear friend E. Leigh to Gumbo Shop -- she was born and raised here, moved away after her dad got a job teaching at Clemson in South Carolina, and hasn't been back for a year and a half. The Gumbo Shop is the embodiment of food to which locals become accustomed but which is craved by the rest of the world after first taste. I got a small cup of seafood (meaning shrimp and crab) and okra gumbo, which duly came with rice and had an admirable, rich brown roux that was NEARLY as thick as cake batter. I also got alligator sausage, which was a special; I'd actually never tried alligator meat before (!). The dish came with two small sausages with a special, sweet-spicy side of something vaguely resembling creole mustard on the side. And the meat was sweet!
11 December 2008
My family used to vacation in Sorrento, Maine, and we'd always stop at this restaurant on the water where one could get the freshest of fresh Maine lobster for a ridiculously low price, considering. You sat with bibs at picnic tables, swabbing your lobster in melted butter, while water rushed over rocks in the river. So of course, lobster is sentimental for me as it is. It's like dessert, no matter how you do it. In this case, it's poached in butter and served with King Richard leeks, pommes maxims (imagine a gourmet potato chip), and red beet essence. Mmmm.
It seems that this is essentially a glorified chocolate-mint ice cream sandwich, done with Thomas Keller's unique finesse.
These are the truffles they serve you at the end of your meal. The ones second from the left look like Sucre's port chocolates. They're all beautiful. For some reason, the one on the right cracks me up -- it's faceted like a precious gem!
Credit to Google Images. I wish I could say I'd taken them.
Perhaps this excerpt from The Gastronomical Me sums it up best: "It seems to me that our basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it... and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied... and it is all one."
A more serious or self-respecting gourmet might spend seven pages elaborating on how and why P is for Pasta, or Parmigiano Reggiano, or Panna Cotta, or Pâté. Fisher, though, is an entirely different story, and although she does pay homage to Pâté in a single page, she chooses to devote seven pages to a chapter entitled P is for Peas. (Later on, I might add, she spends only four pages on how R is for Romantic, glossing briefly over the inextricable connection between food and love.) Such is Fisher's eccentric and whimsical Alphabet for Gourmets, in which letter designations exactingly and comically refrain from the trite, so that C is for Cautious rather than Coulis and H is for Happy as opposed to Hamachi. Perhaps it's not the most elevated book out there as food literature goes, but it is undoubtedly among the most genuine, and that, in short, is Fisher's hook.
What is most alluring about Fisher is her effervescent wit and infectious passion. Important to note is the fact that Fisher is not just a food writer the way Brett Anderson is for the Times-Picayune. As opposed to an author of ephemerally significant newspaper reviews, she is a writer unto herself; her subject of choice just happens to be food rather than star-crossed lovers or the American Dream. Her writing style has an effect similar to that of an effortless host: instantly relaxing, humbled, and infinitely inviting in its lack of pretension. Rather than elevate herself superficially with typical food jargon, she has a no-nonsense but all-joie de vivre approach, so that one can read it without a familiarity with typical culinary semantics. She's a real human being, concerned more with the sentimentality of a certain meal than with emulsions or aromatics, who
07 December 2008
Allow me to introduce him. He is Graham Elliot Bowles, and he deserves his own Wikipedia page. Known for his chef-dom at Chicago restaurant Avenues in the Peninsula, he also presides over the eponymous graham elliot, where he upholds his reputation for serving unexpected things that tickle one's palate and seduce one's imagination.
As a high school senior, I haven't had the good fortune to dabble in his gastronomical ventures, so I'm relying on Frank Bruni's NY Times review to do the trick:
"Mr. Bowles has been known to serve crushed Altoids instead of mint jelly with lamb and to present diners with lollipops of foie gras encrusted with Pop Rocks. His cooking typifies another facet of this cuisine: the way it recruits junk food into the service of fancier dishes or creates highbrow versions of lowbrow classics.
'Why not go to the store and get the curiously strong mint?" Mr. Bowles said in a telephone interview, going on to reject "that horribly boring quote, 'I love to use farm-fresh products and local ingredients and European technique.''"
Irreverence and innovation, as anyone knows, are two surefire ways to win my heart.
Below, a deconstructed Caesar salad from graham elliot:
I like that the crouton is standing there like this immovable monument amid the frivolous ruffles of lettuce and anchovy.
As I was chatting with my dear friend Laurin about food and film (!), we mentioned our respective culinary crushes: I was yammering on about the dish in my previous post, and she was, well, discussing Eric Ripert in an informed way. I effused that I had used the same word -- "wit" -- as a New York Times food writer to describe Grant Achatz, and that whether or not I was making mountains out of molehills, I was going to take that to be providential.
She then gave me a very sweet and sincere compliment and hinted at maybe, MAYBE, getting a shout-out on PFB. So here's a toast to the entirely fictional but wholly ideal marriage of Laurin to Eric Ripert. Perhaps they will honeymoon in the South of France, as Ripert was born in Antibes and Laurin spent a summer in Nice. Quite obviously, the stars have aligned over their union, since Laurin is a pescetarian and fish is precisely Ripert's specialty.
Here's to decade upon decade of pseudo-connubial bliss...
28 November 2008
23 November 2008
Then tonight I'm hosting a potluck! Those are always fun because they are an excuse to eat comfy simple food. I'm making spaghettini with garlic-infused olive oil, red pepper flakes, and mushrooms. Mmmm. Should be delightful.
ALSO: my first issue of Food & Wine came in the mail yesterday and I'm in the process of reading it cover to cover. It practically oozes fabulosity. I'm loving reading about the ten best restaurant dishes of 2008- each one is inspirational in its own right, although it's all I can do not to eat my hand. One of the dishes -- a lovely crawfish ravioli -- is actually from Bistro Daisy here in New Orleans. I guess I'll have to make it a point to go there sometime soon. I'm particularly enamored of the duck-fat fried chicken... who can possibly resist an upscale, clever take on a comfort-food classic? Now I just have to wait for the first issue of Gourmet to arrive before I can be truly immersed in love and hunger.
17 November 2008
A few new chocolates have been added. I tried the pecan praline, which has a pecan-infused dark chocolate ganache and is itself a plain old square enrobed in dark chocolate, which was good but not great. The pistachio and passionfruit chocolates have been slightly changed -- they used to be rectangular and now they're taller, denser, more substantial squares. The grand coeur (a heart-shaped chocolate with a Triple Sec- and orange-infused ganache) and port (a dark chocolate bonbon in an intriguing but mildly frightening dark eggplant color) both caught my eye, but I wasn't in the mood to experiment. Next time I go, I'll pick up a grand coeur -- Giada de Laurentiis's show today featured a chocolate cake with hazelnut brittle and a garnish made of chocolate and orange zest... hopefully, Giada can train me out of my skittishness of that orange/chocolate combo.
My only disappointment? I was all ready to get five each of the passionfruit, gianduja crunch, bolivian palet d'or and avery when I discovered that their boxing has been revamped. If I wanted to pay the price I was used to paying ($30) for my usual medium-sized box, I could only get fifteen (rather than eighteen) chocolates -- they used to charge by weight, and now they have a flat price of $2 (steep even by my standards) per chocolate.
So I guess this'll be a lighter month... but at least I've got my macaroons to console me in my times of need. :]
But at the heart of the matter was a very simple but very pressing issue. I was a girl who needed a grilled cheese. And with that said, I have decided to compile a very sincere, very dedicated declaration of my love for the art of the sandwich. First off, were you aware that John Montagu, the fourth Earl of Sandwich, is credited with pioneering this delectable dish? (He didn't invent it, though; he was just a fond champion.) Wikipedia is such a joy.
La Divina's Il Tacchino panini -- I'm usually at this cute little place to get gelato (their crema di limon is like nothing else on this earth; it's exactly like a lemon icebox pie, and it's got a dreamy consistency), but every now and then, when I have company, I stick around for a sandwich and I'm never disappointed. The ciabatta bread is, well, ciabatta bread -- I'm not sure anyone has ever raved about plain old ciabatta, but it's certainly decent. Inside are thin-thin-thinly sliced smoked turkey, gorgeous avocado that is unfailingly green, diced red onions that are small enough to not overpower, and parmigiano reggiano cheese. I always ask for dijon mustard, because really, when can you go wrong with mustard on a sandwich?!
Sucre's sashimi tuna sandwich -- I actually haven't had this one in a little while so I'm having a hard time remembering the ingredients; I'm a foodie but not a cook, so I have a keen memory for finished products but very rarely pick out and remember particular flavors and ingredients. (I'm working on it!) Anyway, the sandwich is comprised of a soft kind of French bread that is the polar opposite of Leidenheimer's (it's firmer and moister, so it stays intact and dignified for the duration of your sandwich experience) but which lends itself nicely to the rest of the item. Then you've got strips of delicious, tender, perfect sashimi tuna enrobed in black sesame seeds, some sandwichy green vegetable garnishes, and a sensational but simple wasabi aioli that is mellow with a kick.
Camellia Grill's cheeseburger -- Hands down the best burger I've ever had. When I get married, I will bend over backwards to ensure that my wedding is catered with these things. They're just yummy slabs of plain ground beef, of a manageable but thoroughly satisfying thickness, cooked on that buttery Camellia grill until sizzling and served on the squishiest of squishy white hamburger buns. The best way to go is to get it dressed (mayonnaise is, for me, only okay when it's on a Camellia Grill burger); bonus points if you also ask for grilled onions, which are diced up and practically caramelized in the same butter in which the burger is cooked. Some might say this universal grill is brutish, but I think it's genius; I'm positive that the union of all the different items on that one cooktop makes for a sandwich that has subtle nuances and a pleasing sense of togetherness. I like my burger to have faint traces of fried egg in its flavor, and I like my onions to have faint traces of bacon grease or burger juice. Scrumptious.
Domilise's half-shrimp, half-oyster po-boy -- How can I possibly do justice to the way that bread crumbles at the slightest touch into a million tiny flakes? How can words possibly attest to the euphoria incited by that first bite into bread that is at once crunchy and soft? How can poetry possibly convey the glory of a single fried oyster bathed in Tabasco hot sauce? Enough said.
St. James Cheese Company's delicious concoction of salami, buffalo mozzarella, and pesto -- I haven't blogged about this place yet because I can't get over the mourning I have for my broken camera; I guess I haven't felt confident enough to do it justice in its own entry with words alone. St. James is really quite awe-inspiring the first time you go in; as the name suggests, it is a bastion of artisan cheeses -- every kind you can imagine -- as well as other cutesy little spreads and dips from all over the world. The lunches there are a favorite of my mom's and she's gotten me hooked, too; among the offerings are assortments of cheeses/pates/chutneys, gigantic salads, and a host of constantly changing sandwiches named after their respective starring cheeses. My favorite is toasted on thinly sliced ciabatta, with just a few slivers of this really hearty salami, fresh and splendidly white mozzarella that is melted to cover the entire sandwich in all its velvety goodness, and some good old-fashioned basilly walnutty pesto. The sandwich is aesthetically pleasing because contrary to so many other sandwiches you see these days, it is slender and easily fits into your mouth; with such strong and high-quality ingredients, there is absolutely no need for gross excess.
Lilette's pulled-pork sandwich with natural gravy -- I hesitated to mention this one because it hardly counts as a sandwich, what with its hedonistic extravagance and ostentatious flair. I decided to put it in because it fits the technical definition of a sandwich and because it nicely follows the prim tastefulness of St. James' creation. Pulled pork never loses its whimsy, in my mind; pulled anything is practically made for sandwiches, what with its easy biteability, and it absolutely doesn't get better than juicy, well-seasoned pork (unless PERHAPS we are talking about a very particular brisket). The natural gravy is creamy-silky, and it makes the sandwich as a whole utterly lavish, serving a purpose similar to that of icing on a cake. The fries on the side are not perfunctory, either, and they are worth poking around in any extra gravy you might have.
That's all for now because I'm a little swamped. Consider this a work in progress, and feel free to add your own input! I am always looking to expand my sandwich repertoire...
14 November 2008
Anyway... now I am sitting here pining for a bowl of their perfectly herbed and delectably warm mussels, or one of their many tasty and creative crepes, or a fantastic dessert crepe that is positively oozing chocolate fudginess. Save me now.
09 November 2008
I was so hungry on Friday that I ended up researching cheeseburgers on the Internet and this is what I came up with. It is allegedly the biggest cheeseburger ever made. Don't you just love it?
Today was a good eating day. I had yet another baking flurry and made some delicious lemon pound cake with sour cream. The sour cream made the inside really moist and soft, but the top baked perfectly golden and crispy, almost caramelized. It's perfect when it's reheated in the toaster oven and drizzled with some glaze I made just by mixing two cups of powdered sugar with about five tablespoons of fresh lemon juice. SO delectable. We also had spaghetti bolognese for dinner that was just sumptuous and will make just perfect leftovers...
Hope everyone's weekend was grand and restful.
03 November 2008
Anyway, this realization occurred to me because today, I had a similar such experience with a baking tantrum. It would appear that I am becoming increasingly and unknowingly domesticated. In the middle of poetry class, it dawned on me that I wanted to have chocolate soup. Stream of consciousness: chocolate soup --> chocolate soup for the class --> announcing this thought out loud --> this thought being met by a few dubious glances --> me reevaluating my plan for socialized desserts --> me settling on the idea of creating variations on the brownie theme. I ended up with the following:
First, a batch of a chocolate brownie-cake -- less chewy and melty than usual brownies, but equivalently glorious in its novelty -- with white chocolate peppermint icing and a preposterous amount of dark chocolate ganache that has since solidified in the fridge. Imagine: a glorified peppermint patty. It really doesn't get much better.
Second, a batch of my more famous fudgy brownies smeared with some really delectable homemade peanut butter frosting -- PB and powdered sugar and butter, oh my! -- as well as a thinner, sweeter bittersweet chocolate glaze. These are ideal because they're baked in a 13x9x2 pan, so the batter spreads pretty thin = easy nibbles. Okay, so they wouldn't make the most impressive birthday cake, but still...
31 October 2008
With that said, it's fairly implicit that each of these subway meccas must find its own hook, its own tagline, its own claim to fame. I would imagine that this has been easier for some than for others. Mother's and Domilise's, for example, are just permanent fixtures, and we love them as much for their decadent roast beef po-boys or interminably long lunch lines as we do for their familiarity. But for the places that aren't older than God and have had to work to win locals' respect, one fact is of the utmost importance: New Orleans will find justification to eat a po-boy just about anytime. So, even though Magazine Street Po-Boy is by no means remarkable, I eat there because it's just a few blocks from school. Guy's has a grilled shrimp po-boy, which is fairly rare. I'm sure you get my drift. Both places have earned special places in my heart because they have certain assets, insignificant or imperative, that set them apart.
Luckily, Mahony's has a few things to its advantage. The ambiance is casual and (as one would expect of any self-respecting po-boy establishment) exactingly no-frills, with old football memorabilia decorating the walls and a video game machine. Unlike some other dearly beloved locales, it's welcomingly and abundantly spacious, with simple chairs and simple tables scattered throughout several rooms and a big bar up front where you can sit and chat with the very friendly hostess/bartender/waiter. There are two front doors, each decorated with its own charming "In" our "Out" sign. Nobody really questions the fact that, sure, the "Out" door can, in fact, be entered from the outside. Mostly, people are reverent of the doors' designations.
Then there's the menu. Ironically, this is important, and that's coming from someone who is loath to eat anything other than a half-shrimp, half-oyster po-boy, no matter where I am. Mahony's menu is generous and diverse, with the old staples as well as some new additions. Most notable are the onion rings. They're not the most substantial things I've ever seen (as substance goes, I think College Inn on Carrollton takes the cake with its giant juicy rings of thickly sliced onion); rather, they're shredded like cole slaw or like the lettuce you get on a burger. This makes the ratio of fried batter to onion inordinately and extraordinarily high, and while I nibbled on them, I realized how perfect it would be to stick some on with my po-boy. It was sheer bliss- like a whole new level of onions on sandwiches. For that alone, I recommend Mahony's, though the po-boy was good enough on its own that the sandwich joint managed to weasel its way into a corner of my heart...
26 October 2008
-Some delectable leftovers from a lunch Mom had at St. James Cheese Company: prosciutto, buffalo mozzarella, the smallest little tomatoes I've ever seen (grape? no. cherry? no. I'd say... blueberry tomatoes. wait, those don't exist), pesto... mmm. Can't get enough.
-A ROAST! With mashed potatoes. Nothing like comfort food.
-PJ's has started carrying sunrise muffins. They're deep and dark (must be molasses-y) with carrots and raisins and (I think) coconuts mixed into the batter. Presumably lots of brown sugar. The top is crunchy. Delicious.
-Some special Moroccan Mint tea that Sean got for me at this lounge near his apartment. It's so perfectly sensuous with all kinds of layers of flavor wrapped up into a single tea bag.
-Oh, and gooey just-baked chocolate chip cookies... or someone's leftover flourless chocolate birthday cake (which, by the way, is really just sneaky fudge in the shape of a cake). Jealous?
21 October 2008
Molecular gastronomy, meet reckless conceptualization.
Some pictures, which I must attribute to blogs and photographers only Google Images could find:
The item on top is short rib. The red sheet below consists of Campari, beet root juice, cranberry, salt, sugar... etc. The chef then added agar agar, which gives the sauce its suddenly jellyish consistency, thus allowing it to be manipulated as such.
This is a photographic representation of the 24-course meal that Alinea calls "the tour." If you want to actually read about each of the dishes, feel free -- I found the description here: http://www.foodite.com/foodite/2006/09/alinea.html#more
Potato soup chilled to 30 degrees Fahrenheit, served with a ball of potato heated up to 275 degrees Fahrenheit, a single black truffle, and Parmesan cheese. It's designed to be eaten in a single bite so that one has time to enjoy the nuances of flavor as they naturally progress.
Hearts of palm. (!!!!!) Who knew?
Bacon. Somehow, the assortment looks at first like a stage of dancers in frilly green tutus. Why? No one knows, but I for one will not ask any questions...
Chocolate, passionfruit, lemongrass...!
What sweeps me away is the utterly romantic notion that food can be as much an artistic medium as oil paints -- it's an idea I've always believed but never seen in practice to such a degree as this. I'm dying to go and aching to figure out some sort of bribe involving someone taking me to Chicago to eat at this restaurant... hmm. Let me know if you have a brainstorm.
You see, my best friend flew in from college, and in doing so unleashed as much of an extravaganza as could be fit into the course of 24 hours.
Surrey's- breakfast for them, "lunch" for me (I had previously devoured a CC's chocolate chunk cookie, which, by the way, is sent directly from Jesus to us). I haven't gone to Surrey's much because it's on Magazine Street way down where it turns one way. For some reason, this repels me; presumably because it's one way the wrong way when coming from my house? So psychologically, I reason that the restaurant doesn't want me to come. Every time I'm there, though, my heart breaks a little. It was there that I enjoyed the greatest bowl of shrimp and grits I have ever, ever encountered, and it was there this past weekend that I devoured a fabulously perfect Cuban beef sandwich, comprised of realllly really tender beef, ham, Muenster cheese, and dill pickles that tasted homemade. All on sourdough. Need I say more? It was juicy.
My monthly venture into Sucre- six each of the Gianduja Crunch, Avery, and Bolivian Palet D'Or, plus two Passionfruit for the road. The guy who was ordering before me seemed to be waffling and amateurish. I didn't let him go before insisting that he try the Gianduja Crunch. Other moments: Joel, who works there, surveyed my selection and said, "Ooh, that's gonna be a good box." I explained to him that I knew what I was doing; in fact, I wrote my college essay on this, such is my expertise. He shook my hand and snuck me a free tasting of macaroons -- two pistachio, two strawberry. I had one of each yesterday, and I now know NEVER to pass them up again (I was previously a bit wary of their colors and went straight for the chocolate-hazelnut ones instead). Sucre macaroons melt in your mouth; they retain a perfect gooiness redolent of chocolate chip cookies straight out of the oven. I'm not sure if this is an accurate representation of the Idea of the Macaroon, but whatever it is, it's AMAZING. I'm going to get every color of the rainbow next time I'm in.
Before I left, Joel introduced me to Tariq Hanna, Sucre's chocolate chef, and explained that I had written the essay that might determine my future gushing over his creations. Then... the man KISSED MY HAND. My hand has been kissed by the genius of Sucre. It was a major watershed.
Baru- A veritable deluge of tapas! And oh, what amazing inventions they are. After all, why would you limit yourself to the steak entree when you can order 10 tapas with three friends and enjoy a bit of all of them? Every time I am at Baru, I am struck by how obsolete the idea of traditional dining is nowadays. All I have left to say on this subject is that the Mazorca -- a plating of smoky roasted corn, Salao cheese (a farmer's cheese), "pink sauce" (a sort of tomato aioli), and potato sticks (imagine whisper-thin crunchy potato fries) -- will save my life. That, and I want to devote my entire life to the ceviche there. It's superb.
A picture of me basking in the glory of my Cuban sandwich will be up as soon as I get it from Jenna.
05 October 2008
I am a firm believer in bread at restaurants. It's a quick and simple way to exponentially up the feeling that you're being served -- it's just an added bonus that, in my opinion, sets the distinction between a great meal out and a great meal at home. This bread was crusty and rustic in all the right ways, with teeny morsels of garlic (but not too much at all) baked in. The butter was to die for. I wish I knew what they put in it. It was both sweet and savory and turned into this succulent melting yellowness on the warmth of the bread. To start, Mom got a Caesar salad, which, quite frankly, I hated. With something like a Caesar, it's all about getting the details right, since there's so little room for creativity. I found the dressing tangy -- cloyingly so -- and the consistency was off.
Nonetheless, dinner itself was scrumptious. Mom got mussels in a really fresh red sauce that offset the mussels nicely and made us both wish for more bread. I got a pasta dish that just really epitomized everything I look for in a pasta dish. It consisted of angel hair pasta in butter and olive oil. There was a generous amount of three different kinds of wild mushrooms. The best part, though, was the crushed red pepper, which was invisible but which really added the kick that was necessary to take a dish from simple comfort food to quintessential delightfulness. Truthfully, the only downside was the service, but all in all, we left the restaurant content and excited to see The Funky Meters playing for Tulane's homecoming weekend.
21 September 2008
If you haven't yet tasted the sheer joy that is a Honeycrisp apple, I highly recommend that you run to your nearest grocery store and pick one up. I found mine at Whole Foods so you'll probably have luck there.
For a while, I thought an apple was an apple. I remember picking up a copy of Cook's Illustrated that featured a recipe for apple pie, and the writer detailed an extensive search for the perfect "pie apple." I remember thinking: pie apple? What happened to the simple days of red delicious, green delicious, and yellow delicious? Since 4th grade, my apple lexicon has expanded a bit -- it now includes Fiji, gala, pink lady, Braeburn -- but I still don't think I could explicate to you the subtle nuances of firmness, juiciness, or flavor. Apples are sweet and firm enough to fill my tummy and that's pretty much all that matters.
But today at the grocery, I happened upon the Honeycrisp and was quite honestly attracted not by its lovely two-toned color, its pleasing aroma, or its satisfying firmness. No, I was allured by its name, and I think that now, after having eaten one of the apples myself, I am at the very least qualified to say that this apple is everything its name cracks it up to be: sweet, sweet like honey and crisp, crisp, crisp. As soon as I bit into it, juice literally poured onto my lap- it's ambrosia. According to Wikipedia, these criteria make it the ideal snack apple. Whatever, that works for me.
I'll also take this opportunity to get in a quick word in favor of Tillamook white cheddar cheese. It's a little too creamy and the apple's a little too sweet for the two to be paired together, but on their own, they are both remarkable.
Second snippet: I actually managed to attend lunch here with someone who owned a working camera -- finally, I get to post photos of my own (or at least Margo's)!
So here goes the deluge of photos. Prepare yo'self.
As soon as you walk into Max Brenner, here is what you see: a large glass case of beautiful chocolates and truffles arranged aesthetically on printed trays; decadent gift boxes the size of a beagle and filled to the brim with chocolate novelties; a sign on the wall that proclaims "VERY MUCH CHOCOLATE"; a gigantic vat -- like a narrow, deep kiddie pool -- filled with melted milk chocolate and connected to an intricate framework of dark brown pipes. The pipes are this color because, of course!, they are filled with 100% chocolate, and they transport the chocolate you see at the front of the restaurant up through a tangled nest of pipes under the ceiling and back into the kitchen. Take note:
T-shirts for sale in the boutique up front:
One of the many kinds of artisan chocolates for sale:
Believe it or not, though, Max Brenner has more to offer than just plain, straight-up chocolate. So upon sitting down at our table, we were handed giant glossy lunch menus. To drink, each of us essentially decided that any hope of being nutritionally conscious was shot to hell, so we each chose one of Mr. Brenner's many variations on the classic hot chocolate (Andrew got toffee, I got hazelnut, Tess got spicy Mexican, and Margo got mocha). These came in heartbreakingly adorable "Hug Mugs," which are ergonomically designed for optimum holding capacity (imagine a teardrop-shaped mug that fits perfectly in one's cupped hands, thus creating both a cozy sense of euphoria as well as allowing the warmth of the mug to travel to your hands. Genius!).
To eat, Tess got a smoked salmon sandwich on some luscious-looking poppyseed-and-what-have-you bread; Margo got a perfect omelette that came with roasted potatoes, hollandaise sauce, and (why not?) chocolate sauce (in case it occurs to you that an omelette or potatoes might be even better with some rich milk chocolate -- it occurred to Margo, and boy was she happy!). Andrew and I split a smoked turkey/mushroom crepe and a bowl of the most perfect penne carbonara I have ever had. This includes all the carbonara we ate in France, and God only knows how many different kinds we tried while we were there.
But, of course, it's always a good idea to save the best for last, so after thoroughly sating ourselves with the savory stuff, we were ready to usher in the sweets. The final verdict? We all decided to split two desserts: the banana split waffle and the intense double chocolate fudge cake. The waffles were topped with fresh bananas, melted chocolate sauce, and candied hazelnut bits, served with fresh berries, vanilla ice cream, and a cute little beaker of MORE chocolate sauce. The fudge cake was dense, dark, moist and succulent, filled with the kind of dark chocolate lava you could drown in. This, too, was served with fresh berries, ice cream, and an extra beaker of chocolate sauce.
Here's a close-up on the cake:
In case you were wondering, the chocolate sauce in the beakers was warm and oozey enough to be chugged, as such:
Mmmm... I'm not embarrassed in the least bit. In fact, I embraced it so wholly and so lovingly that I felt inclined to spread it all. over. my face... but I'll spare you the picture of what Margo calls my Dali-stash, considering I do need to get into college. Explicit as the photo isn't, I do have to set boundaries somewhere. Here we are, eating away (sorry you're excluded, Margo; I guess you were being the photographer? So at the very least I'll give you due credit for that):
Here I am, quite obviously enjoying myself to no end:
And the damage:
At long last, when our stomachs were happily but uncomfortably full and our faces were becoming exhausted due to the inordinate amount of laughing we had done over the course of the meal, our suave waiter handed us the check -- and at Max Brenner's, not even the usual black leather folder is good enough to encase such a thing. No, our check came inside of a tin box that looked strangely like a box of chocolates. So as per usual, I painstakingly agonized over the check, giving everyone an accurate-to-the-cent (I'm only slightly OCD, actually) amount of what they owed...
...and as though I wasn't left COMPLETELY ecstatic by my marvelous meal, hot chocolate, and entirely over-the-top desserts, the waiter dropped by with one last thing. He handed me a small plastic container full of -- guess -- CHOCOLATE. Beautiful, hand-cut slices of the very milk chocolate that Max Brenner liquified into his god-like creations. "A gift for the freak," he muttered under his breath as he turned to get back to his other tables -- a reference, probably, to the fact that, before he could even give dessert menus to the rest of the table, I enthusiastically extracted my own tattered, printed copy from my purse. "It just makes me so happy that I always carry it around," I explained. So, YES, my lunch experience was capped off by a personal gift from (let's hope) Max himself to me. You must understand, this kind of miracle doesn't happen everyday.
So that was that, and after paying the check, we ventured back out into the torrential downpour for a jaunt into the Virgin Megastore to leaf through inappropriate books and a quick outside tour of the Met Opera. Good day? I seem to think so.
15 September 2008
Here's a picture:
The green ones are a white chocolate ganache with Sicilian pistachio, vanilla, and a dash of cinnamon + a dark chocolate couverture.
The fleur de lis is the Meuniere -- dark chocolate on the outside, brown butter and vanilla on the inside.
The shinyish square (shiny for a reason; it's edible glitter!) is chicory coffee with a really soft creamy dark rich core.
The plain dark chocolate square in the lower right corner is the Bolivian Palet d'Or -- perfect simplicity -- "bittersweet chocolate ganache made from the rarest Bolivian cacao bean."
The triangular chocolates with flecks on top have a really satisfying density, and they're made with hazelnut gianduja, crispy wafer, and caramelized cacao nibs. (!!!)
The purple ones are Paris, my love; dark chocolate couverture, white chocolate ganache infused with tea, orange, and vanilla notes.
The red is Earl Gray. Straightforward? Yes. lovely, too.
Yellow is passionfruit -- in light of this blog! I have been saving it so I can't say yet how it tastes. It'll be blissful, to be sure.
Last but definitely not least (quite the contrary, in fact): the Avery. God has indeed manifested himself. Caramel + dark milk ganache with salt from the Avery Salt Mines, all wrapped up in a delicious dark chocolate blanket.
This isn't my actual box, but as I've so sickeningly reiterated, my camera got smashed so sometimes I have to resort to photos stolen from the Internet. Hm at least this will do justice to the excellent verdancy of the box.
11 September 2008
09 September 2008
-lunch at Max Brenner's
-breakfast at Sip
-mushroom brie cheese
-superb macaroni and cheese
But for now, I'm going to talk about Criolla's, where I had dinner on my last night in Florida. Rather than get entrees for everyone, we split into two "teams," if you will, and ordered an inordinate amount of appetizers. On the menu for us:
West Indies crab & Johnny's guacamole with tropical root crisps
Griddled black bean queso cakes with tomatillo-avocado salsa
Flash-fried domestic calamari, island-spice dusted, with Creole mustard and key lime aioli
Criolla's Caesar salad with Cascabel Chile dressing, cumin flatbread, Dry Jack cheese, and applewood smoked bacon
I wanted so badly to get the plaintain-encrusted fried oysters with green tomato chutney, marinated cabbage, grilled cornbread and coconut creme fraiche, but alas, it appears that oysters aren't as agreeable to everyone as they are to me. As for the entrees, there were some tempura-fried Maine lobster tails on a sweet pea risotto cake and served with heirloom tomato jus that sounded divine; how could it not when it was a culmination of tempura, Maine lobster, sweet peas, risotto, and heirloom tomato? Given, I've never thought too heavily about the idea of fried lobster, nor of the idea of risotto in a dense cake form, but I can't imagine it would be possible for anything to go too terribly wrong.
So back to my praise, critique, and analysis. The crab was in the form of a dip -- a yellow one, curried, at once spicy, sweet, and creamy. I love crab, but I have to say that I'm a bit of a purist, or at least a traditionalist, and a devout New Orleanian at that; as such, I have a hard time enjoying crab when it strays too far from its perfect form, unless we're talking about the fried softshell crab po-boys at Jazz Fest or numerous other decadent New Orleans creations. Nonetheless, I am sure now that crab shouldn't be combined with curry. Like steak and ice cream, they're both amazing on their own, but shocking and offensive when combined. The guacamole, however, was to die for, and I'm such a freak for foods' consistencies that I seldom like the mushiness of guacamole. The chips were fried, paper-thin slices of "tropical roots" (which roots, I do not know), perfectly salted, and they were divine.
The queso cakes were... alright. A little bit grainy and just a bit bland for my taste; I would've loved just the slightest hint of jalapeno baked into the cakes. As it were, they tasted exactly how they sounded -- like warm black beans with a small core of melted white cheese and some cornmeal thrown on for kicks -- and left very little to the imagination. Swished around in the salsa, which looked like a thinned-down version of guacamole, they were infinitely more enjoyable, though still probably my least favorite dish of the night.
I have to admit that I was very bitter when I started eating the calamari because, as I said, I was so eager to have the plantain-crusted fried oysters, but my mother made the spur-of-the-moment decision to get the more innocuous calamari instead. They didn't knock my socks off (I don't think it's possible to do a truly OUTSTANDING version of something as simple and as relatively common as fried calamari), but the delicacy of the batter and the combination of flavors -- key lime, island spices, and that Creole mustard I know and love so well -- was harmonious and delightful. Like designer potato chips, though, they were ultimately unremarkable, despite how easy it was to eat them ceaselessly.
For me, the Caesar salad truly stole the show -- and that's saying a lot for such a simple salad, but I guess the originality lacking in the calamari took center stage with the salad. It wasn't even like any Caesar I'd had before; imagine it as the Caesar's sultry and enigmatic older sister, who has exotic coloring and knows how to tango. The dressing, first of all, could be bottled and sold as shampoo; I'd buy it simply because it's invariably flawless -- smoky, spicy, warm and autumnal. Bottom line: it tastes like hearth and woodburning ovens and smoky little chiles. I didn't even try the flatbread, but the cheese, which was nutty and hearty with a bit of grit, was a perfect complement to the dressing, and the bacon (I don't even like bacon!) added an ideal crunch and an extra layer of substance. Toasted pumpkin seeds made it feel like a true present.
We were all so sated that by the end of the meal, none of us really wanted dessert. However, being the true dessert aficionado that I am, and given the fact that one of my major criteria for a good restaurant is a great dessert menu, I needed to at least see it... but you know how that goes. I laid eyes on the chocolate gateau with ice cream of the day and raspberry coulis and couldn't pass it up. This is one dish that requires no innovation, no excitement, and no creativity to satisfy me -- all I need is mastery, and the dessert chef at Criolla's definitely had that to spare in this case. The chocolate ice cream was so creamy and smooth; the coulis waxed fudgey in its perfection; and the cake was the awe-inspiring combination of textures, consistencies, and nuances that it should be at its best.
All in all, a good meal for me and a great meal for Grayton Beach. I wouldn't describe it as the "cutting edge, dazzling" cuisine as it has been described, but it was undoubtedly a nice change from the Italian and Asian fusion foods I'm so used to, and in a town that has, I'd guess, 8 restaurants, Criolla's is definitely worth a return trip.
02 September 2008
...not food-related at all, but we just watched Ferris Bueller's Day Off and I was far too overcome to not publicly accept his proposal.
For dinner, we had a veritable smorgasbord of nostalgic New Orleanian food (even though technically we now know that we should all be home in a few days): Langenstein's red beans, which I sometimes (but only sometimes, in all fairness, because I am a waxing diabetic and consequently favor my sweets a bit more) believe to be better than ice cream. Also present was some delicious chicken and andouille gumbo, which was so delectable and so perfectly seasoned and so singularly New Orleans, and which inspired musings on the delightful shreddedness of the chicken (which happens naturally when you cook it down long enough; it's actually so so so comforting and not at all repelling). For dessert were stuffed green bell peppers (and I don't even really like green bell peppers)- this stuffing? It's like nothing I could've fathomed before. You know the sheer incomprehensibility of the universe, because humans have never experienced anything to which we can liken it? It's kind of like that.
Oh, and Grace and I did go on an *EMERGENCY* run earlier to the grocery store when we were seized with cravings for Ben & Jerry's. It all started when she imparted to me the gorgeous secret that is Chubby Hubby. Thank God she was wrong when she said it was discontinued, because where else can you find chocolate-covered, peanut-butter-stuffed pretzels in ice cream? Nowhere, I tell you. Nowhere.
P.S. Rum raisin ice cream is officially for old people only.
01 September 2008
That said, I will make it known to everyone that, as soon as I make it up to New York City (whenever that may be), I will look forward to what could only be a whimsical romp and gourmet extravaganza. What's planned? A jaunty little spree over to La Maison du Chocolat for some binging -- a skip through Central Park -- a wild-eyed wondrous whirl through the MoMA -- and lunch at Max Brenner's.
Did you know that Max Brenner wants to start a chocolate nation? The dessert menu is twelve pages. I carry it around in my purse (no, actually, the saddest part is the fact that that's true) because it makes me happy when skies are gray.
Anyway, Max Brenner and his fancy-free creations fill me with inspiration.
31 August 2008
Every day, I walk in the Fair Grounds with a stock and steady plan and a vow to follow it. And maybe I'll catch Susan Cowsill as scheduled at 11:20 Friday but then it will all fall apart, it always does.
At some point, I will hear some horn blowing out of a tent and say to myself: Don't look. You're supposed to be on your way to Big Sam's Funky Nation at 2:15 in Congo Square and it's already 2:25 (I have synchronized my cell phone to Gentilly Mean Time) but you're passing the WWOZ Jazz Tent and you hear James Rivers paying his bagpipe and who can resist a bagpipe?
So maybe you'll stop for just a second -- JUST FOR A SECOND -- and, well, might as well grab a beer and sit down and hey, look, there's your best friend from college, visiting from Chicago and one thing happens and then another and pretty soon it's 6:30 and you missed every act you came to see but saw five acts you'd never even heard of before and danced in the Gospel Tent with some crazy old lady with an umbrella and there's only one way to pronounce the day: glorious.
This is the time of year when music falls from the sky like rain in New Orleans; just open your window and let it fall in.
There's music everywhere, busting out of the French Quarter, Wednesday in the Square, Voodoo, Essence, everything else giving this town a special pulse, a steady beat, the rhythms of life, energy and vitality that make you scratch your head when you read in faraway journals and periodicals that this town is dead and gone.
Well, if that's the case, you can just bury my heart in Congo Square.Yeah, I'm missing New Orleans. This afternoon, I've been doing everything humanly possible to find focuses other than the obvious weather channel, which is a bit too morbid at times for an idealist like me. So it's ironic, I guess, that I've finally attained this distraction by none other than steeping myself in all things NOLA-related, particularly the inimitable Chris Rose (my personal favorite NOLA crusader). Here's what I'm loving right at this moment:
Then, this past Tuesday, I was in a little grocery by Tulane University and a young student from the university asked me: "What's your opinion of the hurricane?"
He asked me, I suppose, because I was 30 years older than anyone else in the joint, thereby exuding, strictly by process of Darwinian elimination, a greater store of wisdom than anyone else present.
"My opinion?" I asked, while gratuitously scratching my chin in ponderous repose. "My opinion is that I am against it," I said, and then walked out of the store.
New Orleans, my heart is with you.