31 August 2008

Diversion at its finest

As excerpted from a Chris Rose article about the one, the only Jazz Fest:
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.

Nothing like Chris Rose's caustic sense of humor (and, yes, the smell of homemade bread wafting from a schizoid, eccentric breadmaker) to soothe my mind -- or, at the very least, to tinge the imminent disaster a slightly brighter shade of dark and gloomy.
New Orleans, my heart is with you.

30 August 2008

A while back,

I went for a mother-daughter double date with my best friend to a beloved restaurant with which you'll quickly become acquainted if you have any plans of reading these blogs even just fairly religiously: Lilette. The ambiance is that of a clean, happening Parisian bistro; the feeling is very clean -- the main restaurant is one big room, tiled, a former drugstore from the 1800s. Whenever we go, we sit in rich cream leather booths. At this particular dinner, Jenna serendipitously discovered that even the tables are cushioned at the bottom -- a nice little luxury for diners' knees was the only purpose we came up with.

I mention this occasion because it's among the best, most memorable meals I've ever had. All four of us had made up our minds for both appetizer and entree (after a good deal of agonizing, I might add) when the waiter came to us and elaborated on the specials. Our previous reassurance was shot to hell: how could we possibly pass up a Kobe beef New York strip with diced roasted potatoes and flash-fried gremolada? Remaining buoyant, my mom piped up with the solution to all our problems. "This might sound appalling and piggish," she said diplomatically to the waiter, "but we'll start with the Kobe, cooked however the chef would have it, with four plates, please." And then we went on our merry, meal-ordering-as-usual way.

The steak was phenomenal, cut in impossibly thin strips that divided perfectly between the four of us, but the potatoes, too, were not to be outdone (which is saying a lot when they were alongside Kobe beef): delicately, perfectly crisp on the outside and flaky yet creamy on the inside. Altogether, not too much, not too little -- just a perfect amuse-bouche, we all agreed.

My appetizer salad of shaved fresh Hawaiian hearts of palm with parmigiano reggiano, lemon juice and olive oil was nothing short of gorgeous in its simplicity; each bite was a multi-faceted little gift- tart, smooth, hearty, and fruity, in perfect succession. Mom's chilled corn soup with crab and avocado bucked every ounce of my skepticism with its comforting/novel/summery-fresh hybrid of inspiration- I'm sure there's a psalm written about it somewhere. Holly got sweet-and-sticky fried short ribs with a lime-ginger vinaigrette that stole the show (though in truth, there weren't enough short ribs for me to take what most normal humans would consider a "bite," so my assessment may not be fair). And, of course, Jenna got the classic grilled beet salad that I've only recently been able to quit: dense, sweet, rich purple beets, grilled and served in a little puddle of olive oil with walnuts, mouth-watering goat cheese, and a few chives for kicks. What it lacks in originality, I can assure you it boasts in angel-chorus-caliber heavenliness.

But truly (and if you know me, you could've predicted this), the lifeline of this post is surely the Alaskan king crab claws, which come in a pool of none other than the passionfruit butter that inspired this blog in the first place (if you could've heard the gleeful squawking that ensued after my first bites of this dish, you'd understand -- but I'm jumping ahead). As someone who always likes a challenge, I took well to the crab, which was truly a labor of love, as a tiny fork was my only tool of defense against the rock-hard shell that encased the crumbling, velvety, snowy-white meat. To the enchantment of my tablemates, I intrepidly approached that crab with full intention to extract every last morsel -- and I did. Though my obsessive nature triggered this spree, I quickly reaped the benefits, as each little bite that I postponed was bathed in that delightful delicacy that is Chef John Harris's rendition of passionfruit butter. Needless to say, the minute I was sure that both claws had been thoroughly drained, I shamelessly devoured my meal, torn between wanting to share this newfound bliss with those loved ones around me and wanting to hoard it selfishly in the realm of my own shallow bowl. So as those around me delighted in roasted chicken breast with balsamic-glazed onions, mushroom vinaigrette, and only the most delicate outer leaves of baby brussel sprouts, my crab and I loved with a love that was more than love, with a love that the winged seraphs of heaven coveted it and me...

If only all breakfasts could be like this

Heath toffee crumbles in a ramekin with melted semisweet chocolate chips are sinfully good and dangerously simple. It's warm, it's decadent, and you can eat it with a spoon. Molten oozing scrumptiousness -- how could you find any better way to start the day?

29 August 2008

Good things come in small, wax-paper envelopes...

We decided yesterday afternoon to evacuate early for Tropical Storm Gustav -- worst case scenario, we beat the evacuation traffic and aren't on the road for 10 hours like we were during Katrina; best case scenario, we've got a four- or five-day holiday.

Now, we've been approaching this optimistically, but we all know what happened to Candide and his optimism... so as a survival mechanism, perhaps, we decided to make our last meal in the city count. Why not? Looking back on the days before Katrina, my fondest memory (not that there are many) is that of coincidentally taking the streetcar down to the legendary Camellia Grill for cheeseburgers, waffles, and chocolate freezes, not knowing we'd wake up early the next morning in a frenzied rush to pack the bags and get out.

With that said, before we got on I-10, we took a short detour to Bud's Broiler. Not even the thickest, most gourmet burger ever to be made can truly compare to the burgers at Bud's: thinly sliced, charcoal broiled, and impossibly juicy. They're redolent of a hybrid between backyard barbecue nostalgia and flat-out nirvana... and don't even get me started on the smoked sauce, which is phenomenal on burgers but honestly, it could probably be phenomenal on an ice cream sundae. Use it in lieu of ketchup on fries -- you get just a little closer to enlightenment.
Needless to say, after a quick meal of #4 with smoked sauce and diced onions, not an ounce of trepidation or fear remained in us as we left the city for what we knew would just be a long Labor Day weekend.

25 August 2008

Passionfruit butter.

We'll kick this thing off with a bit of word association.
First: passionfruit. Exotic, sweet, aromatic, juicy, maybe a little tart and tangy. Sensuality... maybe just plain passion (hence the name?).
Butter. Indulgent, rich, warm, inviting. Anything's better with it, and if you think otherwise, you're most likely just lying to yourself.

The culmination of the two is unexpected, golden-yellow, and has a million nuances of flavor. Nectar of the gods? Maybe a variation. It's silky, simultaneously sweet and savory, the quintessential condiment. Who'd've thought?