30 January 2009

Should I be more disturbed or giddy at the sight of this?

I don't even know what these are. I'm guessing they're actual ROMAINE -- it's starting to click that all this time, the Romaine I knew was only the heart. So maybe this is the whole behemoth of a body... I think, sadly, I am sheltered when it comes to produce.

29 January 2009

Anthony Bourdain proves to Mario Batali and the rest of the world that his heart is not made out of stainless steel.

My latest box of chocolates

Malted milk palet d'or: Luscious little coins of milk chocolate ganache infused with malt and coated in a shell of the adorable printed chocolate you see here.
Avery: My personal favorite, this is a ganache of chocolate (mixed milk and dark) and caramel, swirled on, covered in a thin layer of chocolate, and topped with a succulent flake of salt from the Avery mines here in Louisiana.
Gianduja crunch: I keep making a mental note to send in a request for something creamy and hazelnutty, but since there's nothing of the like currently at Sucré, this is what I always get to satisfy my hazelnut-chocolate craving. What's inside are caramelized cacao nibs, hazelnut gianduja, and something crispy -- essentially a crunchy, wafer-y, dense inside, coated in dark chocolate.
Bolivian palet d'or: A monthly staple, this is plain and simple bliss. Silky dark-dark chocolate ganache that's thisclose to being a liquid (so yummy), swathed in a matching outer layer of Bolivian dark chocolate.

Gianduja crunch
A space formerly occupied by the Crown: One of Sucré's more popular chocolates is the Magnolia, which is distinguished by the flawless pecan half that tops each one. I've tried it and, while it is of a lovely quality, never really fell in love -- I like nut flavors but am despicably and involuntarily deterred by nuts themselves (how many times have I tried to enjoy snacking on almonds!). That said, this Mardi Gras-time special is really just wonderful, and I wish they'd carry it year-round. The inside is silken pecan ganache starred with bits of caramelized pecan, and it's all inside that cute little dark chocolate crown. It's yummmyyy and Southern.
A space formerly occupied by the Wedding cake: In case I wasn't obsessed enough with weddings as is (totally impractical, as I'm not even finished with high school), I tasted this for the first time this month. Predictably, I fell in love, not only with the wedding association but also with the flavor: the inside is smooth, creamy white chocolate, infused with the flavoring of lightly toasted almonds, and it's all housed in this utterly adorable white chocolate sculpture that looks like a wedding cake for a mouse.
A space formerly occupied by the Gianduja crunch

Meunière: This is another Sucré classic, and while I don't love it enough to stock up on it every month, I do find it quite delicious and I was inspired to get it this month. It's named after sauce meunière, a New Orleans native brown butter sauce. Sucré's version is a brown butter and white chocolate ganache inside of a dark chocolate fleur de lis, New Orleans' symbol. I like to eat it in TINY nibbles (wait, what am I saying? I like to eat all good chocolate this way) so I can look at the pretty ganache on the inside.
Je ne sais pas.

As I was packing up this lovely little mint-colored box of joy, my eyes fell upon the passionfruit and I realized I'd totally forgotten to get one of my favorites. To me, of course, this was cause to get an entirely new and additional box:
The green ones are Sicilian pistachio, recently remodeled so that they're taller and more square shaped. This means that the ganache filling (white chocolate infused with pistachio flavoring and, thankfully, a hint of cinnamon) is denser and more abundant.
The yellow ones are Passionfruit, which, if you couldn't tell, now comes in the same proportions as the Sicilian. This one, though, is initially more subtle, and when you first bite in, it tastes and feels like any top-notch dark chocolate ganache. But don't be fooled. Wait for it... and ah, yes, after a second, you get this yummy pang of passionfruit, enough that you are pleasantly surprised but not overpowered.

$46 dollars later, I am a happy foodie.

28 January 2009

Rémy Eats: Boucherie

In case you're just now seeing this, I went to Boucherie this past weekend, where I ate my first meal as a... food columnist. Wow. Bizarre to actually write that out, but it works for me.
Anyway, I posted a preview of my blog a few days ago, but it's finally up on Blake Makes. If you want to read the whole synopsis (psst... you do), head on over here. SO exciting!

Top Chef spoiler alert*

I am struggling to conceive of an adequate expression of the emotions I am feeling right now in a way that wouldn't offend anyone. I think the best analogy is a break-up.

Sure, at the beginning of the season, everyone** loved Jeff because, well, he was the hot one. It probably happened a little bit after Jeff whipped up that marvelous, glorious, innovative tomato sorbet for Gail's bridal shower that it dawned on us, one by one, that Jeff was married. We probably would have been upset by this news if we'd noticed in the first episode, when Jeff had little more significance to us than as eye candy, but we were truly crestfallen to be hit with the news after Jeff had begun to prove himself in the kitchen as a really solid talent.

Top Chef is as much a frothy reality TV show as it is a gourmet cooking show, so it would be appropriate for me to take a minute out to focus on that other aspect. In a nutshell, Jeff was characterized for his creativity. In the quickfire challenge when the chefs had to whip up a dish using only packaged, processed foods that would be found in the average pantry, I felt certain that most of those chefs were doomed, but for a couple flukes. Jeff proved me wrong with his very well-plated, interestingly conceptualized dish of deep-fried conch and a pina colada-esque blend of flavors. If making a colorful, memorable, genuinely tasty dish out of crappy packaged food on a VERY strict timeframe isn't a test of talent, I don't know what is. In any case, he was eliminated tonight for crafting a ceviche that was "too watery" and had "too much going on."

I will now stop with my elegy and focus now on my emotions. First off, tonight's episode was psychologically exhausting for me, as I was very sentimentally/emotionally/gastronomically tied up with each of the three men on the chopping block. Stefan is far too talented to be cut until the bitter end of the show, in my opinion. Fabio is admittedly not a genius and in fact committed a culinary sin in the way he cooked that venison, but he's so charming, and his personality is part of why I look forward to the show every week. And then there's Jeff... oh Jeff. Two weeks ago, I wrote down my fantasy Top Chef bracket, and Jeff was in the final three (with Jamie and Stefan).

It looks like I will have to re-write that.

What it comes down to is that I feel a bit of a void. He is the background of my phone (obsessive, yes, I know, but if everyone else gets the carte-blanche to obsess over Robert Pattinson, I think it's fair enough for me to harbor an irrationally extreme crush of my own)... but, again, as much for his looks as for his talent. After the show was finished, I looked at my phone and started faintly tearing up.

I'm taking that as a sign that my heart is involved in this show to an unhealthy degree.

It's bittersweet, for sure, considering that two of my favorite cheftestants are still in the running -- and, I'd speculate, on solid ground. I feel hopeless and upset at the injustice of the judging/elimination conditions (do they not weigh past successes/failures into their deliberation at all?) and think it's a travesty that Jeff didn't at least make it further.

But I guess you win some, you lose some... Because guess who's guest judging next week!?!

*: For the record, the melodrama in this entry is entirely intentional and mostly for the sake of rhetoric.
**: By everyone, I mean teenage girl Top Chef addicts everywhere.

Cochon: A Pig Field Folly

Essentially, it was a festivity assembled to celebrate food as art as well as the success of Prospect.1, which was coming to a close at the same time (last weekend). Mom and I arrived at the Brickyard, which looks exactly how it sounds: a large space of piled bricks, the remains of a former factory (was it molasses?) situated right by NOCCA. A man sat at a table right at the entrance, soliciting donations to save endangered pig species.

But the center of attention was rather a giant ball game going on. As it turns out, it was human foosball, with members of two opposing teams (Swine and Sausage) placed in rows across the field, each row of players connected by a rope that was manned by people on the sidelines, who'd pull towards themselves when they wanted to move their players. When a ball neared a player, that person would kick and squirm about (from the confines of his or her roping) and attempt to kick it towards the team goal.

And I ask myself, would this happen anywhere else?

In the background, a whole pig was being cooked by none other than Donald Link, who served up hot boudin and pork sausage in the meantime for hungry bystanders.

25 January 2009

Rémy Eats: Tales from a Teenage Gastronome -- Boucherie

My first official adventure as Rémy Robert, Teenage Gastronome was to Boucherie. Many New Orleans foodies are familiar with Iris, a beloved jewel of a restaurant that was located on Jeannette right off of Carrollton until it relocated recently to the French Quarter. As it happens, Boucherie has filled its spot.
My friend Lexie and I walked into the main dining room (adorably small and quaint, with a compact little bar in the back corner). A waiter smiled and greeted us immediately, and we took our seats at a small table near a window. The room was clean and well-lit, with just a couple of other tables of diners (I imagine it'll get much more popular as more people hear about it, but as of right now, it's still just a nebular little newcomer that's not on most radars).

Helloooo, everyone. This is just a little taste-test of my first full-length column (!), which should be up on Blake Makes later this week! Stay tuned on his blog and mine.

Galette des rois, or French king cake...!

I'll be the first to admit how lucky I am to live within ten minutes of La Boulangerie, an adorable French bakery that is so charmingly authentic that it inspires acute nostalgia.

It's Mardi Gras, which means that La Boulangerie, bakeries, and grocery stores citywide are producing their own variations on the king cake. Although I am a sweet tooth, I have zero tolerance for the cloying white icing that is glopped onto many of these- the kind of icing that just screams diabetes, that tastes of nothing except processed sugar... gross.

What I do love, however, is La Boulangerie's galette des rois, which bears so little resemblance to these garish others that it's humorous:
Its crust is that of a quiche in love: flaky, ecstatically buttery, brushed with a tasteful lick of sweetness. On the inside is a creamy almond filling like you'd find inside the best almond croissant in all of Paris. And instead of a plastic baby, lodged somewhere inside is a porcelain trinket. In the past, I've gotten everything from a little tile to an actually very beautiful navy-blue and gold-painted heart-shaped pendant, which I wore everyday on a silver chain until, sadly, it broke off and was nowhere to be found... sad.

I also stocked up on pastries to eat for breakfast this week. First, the almond croissant:
With something like this, there isn't much to say. It is everything a croissant should be, and the dusting of powdered sugar is just enough to get on your nose.

I also got two each of these scones:
The one on the left is apple cinnamon; the one on the right is white chocolate raspberry. Let me say first (underline this) that THESE ARE NOT YOUR AVERAGE SCONES. As a child, I had many a bad experience with that awfully dry variation of scones. I thought it made sense that these scones were to be eaten with tea, because their utter lack of moisture and personality required the heat of tea to detach the concrete glop from the roof of my mouth.
These, though... they're as fluffy and edible as cupcakes, but you can eat these for breakfast and still have it be socially acceptable! The white chocolate raspberry was a bit burned, as you can see, but I ate one of those for breakfast today and the inside is still as good as can be.

Laurel Street Bakery

These are the remains of the first bagel I had there:

I loved it so much I forgot to take a picture! Worry not, though; I went back just two days later (this was less than a week ago, and I've returned once since then) and remembered that time around to commemorate photographically... I'll be uploading photos soon, but until then, imagine: a freshly baked bagel, still piping hot out of the oven, less dense and insurmountable than every single bagel (even the ones I thought were good) I've ever had in my life. Instead, these seem to have a slight family history of brioche, as evidenced by the tender biteability and the tiny little crispy buttery pinpricks that freckled up all over the bottom as it was baking. Add to this a thin but thorough spreading of sundried tomato cream cheese (garlicky and savory and oh so housemade) and you've got all the makings for a perfect breakfast. Now I know why they call it the most important meal of the day.

...Thanks for waiting. Here's more adequate imagery.

Mmm... tapas.

Last year, I mentioned Baru in passing during a time when I was feeling very melancholy about the absence of a working camera in my life. I will remind you that I have nothing but exuberant, grateful feelings toward this restaurant, and it was precisely that attitude that made me feel so glum about the prospect of not being able to include photos in what would inevitably become a novella of tapas raves.

How ironic it is, then, that I returned to Baru wielding a new and high-tech and adorable digital camera, and all I have to say for myself are a few photos that exhibit no sense of aesthetics whatsoever. In any case, that must be better than nothing.

After amusing our bouches over at Sucré, Baru was the perfect place to go. Think about it! Rather than commit ourselves to a single appetizer and/or entrée, we could nibble on some delectable little snackings and decide later on how many tapas we'd need to fill our tummies. On this night, three was the perfect number of dishes for us to split.

First on the lineup was the mazorca:
I first got this on the very same night I was feeling so dreary. At first, I was skeptical: roasted corn, "pink sauce" (what is that anyway?), and potato sticks did not sound as thrilling as, say, the grilled skirt steak with chimichurri. But my brother insisted, and at about the same time it arrived at our table, it disappeared. That's how good it was. We couldn't eat it quickly enough. As it turns out, the roasted corn exuded freshness and commingled happily with pink sauce (made pink with a whisper of tomatoes... duh). Salao cheese, a salty farmers' cheese, adds another dimension of flavor and texture, and potato sticks -- fried bits of goodness, like the ideal French fries if they were shrunken x10 -- completed the mix. Heaven on earth.

Next up were the empanadas:
Normally, these are filled with spiced ground beef, and they are delicious. On this night, though, the waiter informed us that they were improvisationally filled with chicken instead. We were set on the empanadas, so we decided to keep them on the line-up. Unfortunately, they were definitely the low point to the meal. The chicken was ground to a degree that must have humiliated it. What did this mean for us? We bit through the scrumptious corn-cakey outside and arrived at a core of mushy fill that vaguely resembled canned pet food. I hate to be so harsh, since I have faith it could have been good. It just goes to show you that having just one thing off -- in this case, consistency, to which I previously hadn't given much thought -- can ruin a plate. That stuff opposite the empanada was a fruity, sweet-then-spicy salsa.

Last up was the ceviche:
Oh my god. I have gotten this every single time I've been to Baru, and never once have I regretted it. Each time, it has metamorphosed a bit. For example, the first time I got it, it came in a martini glass with slightly different ingredients and crumbly saltine crackers rather than the thick tortilla chips you see here.
Inside the bowl is a serendipitious rendezvous of redfish that breaks apart in one's mouth in the most gratifying way. In case you didn't know, ceviche is raw fish that is "cooked" with citrusy juices (lime and the like). It's worth noting, then, that the fish tasted less fishy than some cooked fish dishes I've had in my life. It was buttery in consistency and full in flavor. There were also chunks of perfectly green, dazzlingly fresh avocado, cut into cubes the same size as the fish (not too big -- good for me, since I don't go wild over giant scoops of mushy avocado). Pickled onion makes another appearance here, and in case you didn't get my point when I mentioned this in my last entry on Sucré, I'll say it again here: I am obsessed with this. They were present here in a completely different context (in an already QUITE tart broth-esque of lime juice rather than atop some velvety crab), but they remained my favorite part of the dish, thoughtful and crisp, eye-squintingly tangy with a lingering hint of the onion's sweetness. I liked to eat this stuff straight on the fork, but it was also yummy scooped up with those chips over on the side.

For the adults out there, if you decide to hightail it over to Baru like we did, you should know that it is, as of right now, BYOB. This didn't matter to us, but it could quite possibly matter to you, and I want to give you fair warning, as I know that the sometimes-justifiable anger that would ensue at the lack of a wine menu would unfairly spoil what could be a delightful dining experience!

21 January 2009

Free wedding cake for all!

Let me start by saying that I was wildly surprised that the party at Sucré was as relatively intimate as it was. Make no mistake, it was busy and quite a success, but I guess I am dogmatic at least to the extent that, as a fervent foodie and sugarholic, I could not comprehend why the rest of the world wouldn't be as enthusiastic as I would about this turning-out of free wedding cake and hors d'oeuvres!

In any case, Jenna and I arrived at our favorite dessert place. Tariq Hanna's cake ideas ranged from the tried-and-true, conventional all-time favorites (white-chocolate almond) to salted caramel (mmm) to this elaborate concoction of coconut and other ingredients (sorry for the ambiguity; there were no slices left on the plate, so I didn't get a taste or even a look). There was even one dark chocolate cake (imagine devil's food to the power of six) slathered with a gooey chocolate buttercream frosting. Mmmmmm. I don't know why it didn't occur to me to take photos.

Hors d'oeuvres were also present -- i.e. vegetable crudités in dill cream cheese and truffled quail eggs (like tiny, tender deviled eggs... with the flavor of truffle... mmm, so help me God). Here's my favorite:
In case you can't see the photo, it's a little shot glass of crabmeat salad over tiny yummy greens topped with a smattering of pickled onion and a single beet chip. The pickled onion was my favorite, as the tartness was the perfect foil to the creamy crab, not to mention the fact that my mother craved vinegar when she was pregnant with me. Isn't there a theory floating around that people love what their pregnant mothers craved?

Anthony Bourdain and Mario Batali making a valiant effort to cross as many lines as possible.

19 January 2009

I need to visit:

Alinea -- top of the list, mostly because it's more accessible than...
...El Bulli, headed by Ferran Adria, the king of avant-garde cooking. El Bulli is only open from April to September each year, and 300,000 people annually try to snag one of the 8,000 seats available. I guess I should start planning my rehearsal dinner now? I'll just take a shot in the dark when I plan the date.
Le Doyen
The French Laundry
The Spotted Pig
Le Bernardin
Tony Angelo's
Restaurant August
Kanno California Sushi Bar
Savvy Gourmet
La Petite Grocery
La Cote Brasserie
7 on Fulton
Marigny Brasserie (I've only been for brunch... and it was the essence of perfection.)
Hip Stix?
Slice (would you believe I still haven't been!?)
Theo's (clearly I am not a pizza connoisseur)
Pascal's Manale (mmm BBQ shrimp)
Mimi's in the Marigny

This list is totally under construction and I will be constantly adding to it... which may stress me out, although fortune has recently happened upon me in a most becoming way. Sucre had a little party on Wednesday night where we could taste samples of pastry chef Tariq Hanna's wedding cake creations as well as snack on hors d'oeuvres from Joel Dondis' catering. While I was there, I happened upon Blake of Blake Makes, etc. (he's got a whole empire, of which Blake Makes is just the foremost), and we got to talking about a magazine he's got in the works. We exchanged contact information, one thing led to another, and now we've concocted a plan for me to write a weekly column that'll be featured on his blog. This means I'll have the budget to go to many more restaurants much more frequently. Definitely head over to his blog; the man positively churns out creative ideas. Check out his latest idea, the Food Chain. Fun!

I'm tremendously busy today reading up on Emerson (yeah, yeah), but I'll be posting some entries this week on Sucre, Baru, Herbsaint (possibly my new favorite?), and other random quips. Hope the three-day weekend and DELICIOUS weather in NOLA is treating you well, loves.

15 January 2009


As those of you who care may have noticed, Jenna is in town. For those of you who don't know, Jenna (my partner in the fluffy luv patty extravaganza) is my culinary accomplice, and although she doesn't channel her passion into writing, she's as much of a foodie as I am. The fact that we're in her last week of vacation before heading back to college called for commemoration, so we headed to Lilette with Dad, Caroline, and Raphe.

I faced my usual dilemma, which goes as follows: WHAT IN GOD'S NAME SHOULD I ORDER FROM THIS MOST LUMINOUS OF MENUS? Beyond a shadow of a doubt, this is one of those restaurants so near and dear to my heart that I have developed some habits with the menu that are very hard to break. So I narrowed it down to four things: grilled beets with goat cheese and walnuts; shaved fresh hearts of palm with lemon juice, olive oil, and parmigiano reggiano; Alaskan king crab claws in passionfruit butter; and the special of Kobe New York strip with duck-fat roasted potatoes and gremolada. I decided to just indulge, since it doesn't happen everyday that someone takes me to a meal at Lilette. Prepare yourself for a veritable deluge of photographic wonder, lovelies!

My appetizer (note that this nectary butter was the muse for this blog):
Aren't the crabs just beautiful? The colors nearly make me tear up. The portions, the simplicity... this just does not look like food to me. It looks more like a pseudo-sculpture. What I like to do is toil away on extracting every last morsel from the insides of those really hard claws and to stir them around the butter so that the white meat becomes passionfruit yellow. It feels like soup to me, but of course it trumps chicken noodle. Since the meat extraction takes so long, everyone else is usually just finishing up, which is serendipitous since it provides me with an audience as I dig into this most wondrous of appetizers. Below is the result of my toil (just some dregs).

These are the grilled beets, which both Jenna and Caroline got. Just really, really good -- a testament to talent in its artful combination of dense-fruity-earthy beets, crunchy walnuts, and creamy, almost tangy goat cheese. The bright purple oiliness left at the end is good for bread-swirling (fortunate, since the bread at Lilette is SO. GOOD.).

These are the hearts of palm. They are tart, unexpected, and fresh to an extent words can't encapsulate.

Here's the gnocchi. See my previous post on Martinique to read my thoughts. Basically: thick Italian gnocchi, sage brown butter, lovely slices of reggiano, chives. Mmmm.

Moving on... main courses! This is a special that Dad got. It's called bracciolo -- Google the name and almost all the results will be Italian, so that should tell you something. Basically, this dish consists of pounded-thin beef and pork, rolled together with hard-boiled egg and garlic, and cooked for a bit, then covered in red sauce. The dish was good, but it perturbed me for a few reasons. Part of what makes Lilette so fantastic is that the dishes there are singular and stunning and utterly unique, in one way or another. This seemed like a classic dish that your hypothetical Sicilian grandmother would make you while you were home for the holidays, and for that reason, it was a bit contrived and awkward. The spices were aromatic, perhaps to a fault, but the meat and the red sauce were both done very well.

Raphe got grilled hanger steak in marrowed bordelaise and housemade French fries. The hanger steak and fries were indisputably good, but the bordelaise truly made the dish -- perhaps it's embarrassing that I'd drink a small shot glass of it? It was very wine-y and the marrow gave it a profound depth that was a nice complement to the meat.

This is the roasted poulet breast -- the only dish on the menu that employs French (presumably because "chicken" is too base?). Mom gets this nearly every time she's at Lilette (it means to her what the beets or the crab claws mean to me) and it's just stunning. The chicken is unfailingly moist, topped with/soaked in a mushroom vinaigrette, over a bed of superbly tender brussels sprout leaves and balsamic glazed onions that I'd buy in a candy shop if they were there. Everyone says to pass up chicken dishes at restaurants since they're almost always not worth it, but this is one of the few very qualified contenders.

This is my Kobe NY strip. I asked for it to be cooked however the chef would have it; as you can see, it was quite rare. Normally, I don't like this, but with a meat like Kobe, there are bound to be exceptions. I was ultimately quite pleased (particularly because I felt so European with my super-rare steak), although a smaller portion would've been ideal for my palate (which, in its heightening snobbiness, grew a bit bored by the end of the meal) and my stomach (which needed all the room it could save for dessert). The gremolada was a tasteful accent, like a perfect pair of shoes on an otherwise minimally accessorized, super-chic French girl. The potatoes may actually have been the highlight, especially when they were swirled around in the steak-y juice and the lingering bits of gremolada. Duck fat is heavenly, the potatoes were cubed in perfect proportions that saved them from being too fatty or too potato-y, and the outside was crisp in a way that really just melted my heart. How lovely it is to encounter a glorified meat-and-potatoes dish like this one. I could learn how to cook something similar and win the heart of any man I pleased.

Believe it or not, we actually had just a bit of room (and plenty of motivation) to tackle dessert... I got Nutella custard with fleur de sel, caramel cream, and chocolate-hazelnut brittle. I was SO, SO, SO jubilant with how it turned out. The custard had definite Nutella notes, but it refrained from being overwhelmingly sticky, dark, and nutty, as the spread itself is prone to do. Ultimately, it retained only its best assets, and the consistency of the custard was thick without sticking to my ribs. I couldn't see the fleur de sel but it was definitely present, and it surprised me up through the very last bite. The caramel cream was fluffy, not gooey or dense -- perfect for glorious harmony with the custard, since the two textures played off each other. The nuts you see were candied and salty-sweet. I only had room for one stick of brittle, and I took home the other stick but lost it. :[

Here's Jenna with her mascarpone panna cotta, which almost looked fake since it was so smooth and glossy. It came atop an anise shortbread cookie with Louisiana strawberry sorbet and a sauce that tasted like red wine and balsamic vinegar. I loved everything except the cookie, which gave a nice crunch to the panna cotta but which left far too strong of a licorice aftertaste for my taste (though, to be fair, I hate licorice, so any aftertaste is too strong for me). The sauce was a very nice foil to the sweet creamy strawberriness- LOVED the red wine.

Here's Caroline's satsuma sorbet. Pretty self-explanatory- very, very, very true to the satsuma from whence it came. I couldn't have eaten a whole bowl since it was very single-noted, but the bites that I had were exciting and zingy.

Raphe got this impressively plated assortment of, from left, chocolate cookies, ricotta ice cream, pistachio ice cream, and milk chocolate ice cream. I was let down by the ricotta ice cream, which didn't taste like I thought it would. The other two ice creams were more the consistency of gelato, which of course I went crazy over. I loved the pistachio the most.

Of course, after this ridiculous epic of a meal, I never thought I'd eat again. But I did manage to eat at both Sucre and Baru the next night... stay tuned.

14 January 2009

Martinique, finally.

It happened one night when I suggested that my dad, stepmom, brother and I go to Mila for Dad's birthday dinner. As it turned out, Mila was closed for the holidays. Were we up a creek? Who was to say? We tossed around other ideas but ultimately settled on Martinique. Martinique is that neighborhood bistro: upscale but familiar, indulgent but low-key. Maybe it's not as thrilling as reservations at Restaurant August, but it is reliably yummy and that's what matters most at the end of the day.

I should mention the menu first. It's not rife with innovation, but it's ALWAYS full of things I really want- imagine French homestyle cooking with a facelift. The soups are hearty and the salads thoughtful. One of my favorites has always been a goat cheese salad, a variation of which is ever-present on the menu. It's got a warm goat cheese crouton, crusted in a certain nut (sometimes hazelnut, sometimes macadamia, you get the picture) and dressed in a certain vinaigrette (strawberry, pomegranate-molasses, etc.).

That day was just damp-damp-damp, and as I drove home to get ready for dinner, I could smell the earth through my car windows. (Wow, that sounded much more hippieish than I meant.) My point is that the smell of soil was pervasive, and I was struck with this very carnal craving for beets. So I got a salad with watercress, beets, chive-scented goat cheese, and toasted hazelnuts. It was good enough that I ate the whole thing but not remarkable enough that I still remember the dressing. Caroline got a tomatoey soup that was smooth and rich and tasted of bacon. Dad got a salad which I will talk about in a second. I don't remember what Raphe got.

The point of this entry is the gnocchi- an appetizer I ordered for my entree. This gnocchi was à la parisienne, which means that the adorably stumpy little dumplings are made without flour, unlike their Italian counterparts. They came in a warm sage cream sauce redolent of Lilette's gnocchi in sage brown butter, but in some ways I prefer this gnocchi to Lilette's. First of all, the dumplings are smaller; at Lilette, it would seem a bit gluttonous to eat two gnocchi in one bite, whereas they are more compact at Martinique. This dish comes with thin ribbons of fresh spinach and prosciutto (cut to roughly the same size so each bite has the perfect balance of flavors) as well as little bits of autumn squash, an appropriate and pleasantly seasonal accompaniment. A good shaving of parmigiano reggiano cheese was duly in the mix as well.

But that's not all! Because the next day, my mom calls me and asks if I'd like to go to dinner with some family friends. "Sure," I said, never passing up an opportunity to eat out, "where are we going?" She informed me that we'd be going to Martinique. Like I said above, though, everything on the menu has appeal if not whimsy, so I looked forward to dinner. To start, I got the same salad my dad had gotten: a jumbo lump crab Cobb salad with baby spinach, arugula, applewood-smoked bacon, avocado, hard-boiled egg, and blue cheese tossed together in a creamy, earthy green goddess dressing. The plating is part of the fun, since the salad comes shaped in a perfect little cylindrical tower that one can then demolish and devour. I'm just now training myself to like blue cheese, and that made it slightly harder for me to truly adore the salad -- although it did give me progress in my training.

For our entrees, Mom and I decided to split the gnocchi (she'd heard my raves and wanted to see what the fuss was all about) and the soup du jour, an artichoke-brie soup. The gnocchi were good, of course, and so was the soup, although I felt it had far too much artichoke and Mom thought it had far too much brie. Go figure. In any case, there was not a good balance of flavor, and I also had to put in lots of black pepper, which I hate doing since I think any dish should come properly seasoned.

In total: Martinique is a blessing to have in the neighborhood, particularly for the nights when other nearby places (Reginelli's, Taqueria) just don't cut it. The service could be better but the restaurant itself is well in tune with its identity, and it produces quintessential, delicious bistro food every time.

The glory of the noodle.

It's been a deplorably long time since my double feature at Martinique (dinner two nights in a row! Would you believe?), but anyway. All I'll say now is that I had some really fabulous gnocchi that prompted the thought: what does gnocchi translate to in Italian? I had heard that it came from the Italian word for "pasta," but of course I had to check my sources before I could blog about it. I was ultimately led into an extravagant process of tracing linguistic roots that involved conceiving of every pasta name I could think of and attempting to translate each one back.

Without further ado, here goes... I apologize if your favorite noodle has been excluded; most likely, the reason is that the translation was far too boring or redundant to be of any interest to anyone. Pictures of some of the more intriguing pasta shapes are underneath the names.

Campanelle: little bells

Conchiglie: shells
Fusilli: from "fusile," or rifle, in reference to a rifle's screw-shaped barrel?
Orecchiette: little ears

Strozzapreti: priest-stranglers (!!!)

Cannelloni: big reeds
Cavatappi: corkscrews

Manicotti: sleeves

Mostaccioli (like smooth penne): mustaches!
Penne: pens (boring)
Rigatoni: from riga --> line
Spaghetti: from spago --> twine
Vermicelli: little worms (appetizing)

Capellini: thin hair
Fettucini: little ribbons
Linguini: little tongues
Lasagne: cooking pot
Agnolotti: lambs' ears

Gnocchi: from gnocco --> a knot in the wood
Ravioli: little turnips

Also, just a quick to-do list, so I don't forget:

07 January 2009


...or the greatest chocolate chip cookies known to mankind. How many people can honestly say that they themselves created the best chocolate chip cookie they've ever tasted? I am a lucky girl indeed. Jenna and I make these whenever we're together. They are so called because, well, they are chewy and perfectly fluffy (which is to say, not dense in the least bit), so full of love that one can even misspell the word, with a flavor vaguely redolent of tollhouse cookies but infinitely better because, duh, they're fresh. Mmmmm the butter. There's just enough salt in there that you get that very subtle aftertaste that prevents the cookie from being cloying. Here we are with the cookies; obviously, we hadn't stirred in the chocolate chips during the photo shoot, since they looked so much prettier in that freshly-poured puddle:

Okay, yeah, we were too hyper to scrape that little clump of flour off the side of the bowl (honestly, we didn't even notice it was there; I'm just now noticing it), but the cookies didn't suffer for it, I promise. The patch of white on my cheek is thanks to the flour that Jenna hurled at me vindictively.

06 January 2009

St. James, and an overload on hyperlinks

I really don't need to write yet another blog entry about either this place or this sandwich, considering the relative frequency at which they appear in my thoughts and in my writing (also here)

So a picture (or a few) will have to suffice, courtesy of the fantastic and utterly adorable digital camera that was given to me for Christmas by my fantastic and utterly adorable mother! As you may have surmised, I got the mozzarella. After having tried sandwiches with roast beef and smokey blue cheese, with turkey and avocado and basil and tomato and sharp white cheddar (varying between Beecher's and Grafton), and with gruyere and caramelized onions on a really nutty grainy bread (like a dressed-up, all-grown-up grilled cheese), I see now that this one is my favorite. As I wrote that last sentence, "gruyere" was just on the tip of my tongue and I was going crazy trying to think of the name of this fantastic cheese that I eat all the time. I found the St. James website and was blown away by how engaging and interactive and well-designed it is. It's only fitting, I guess. You should definitely investigate. Now I'd die for the piave with salami rosa, spicy radish sprouts, garlic mayo, and dijon mustard on toasted rye. MMMM. Next time, I might just try that one (although I keep saying that about literally every single thing on the menu and really just hope one day I'll be brave (and rich) enough to walk in and order each and every thing.

But I digress. Hopefully my pictures are sufficient testimony to the Fra Mani salami and fresh basil pine nut pesto and lovely white meltiness that completely blankets the ciabatta. There's also a photo of my really yummy blood orange soda, simply because it tastes the way a sundress feels at Jazz Fest.

Note the impossibly poetic layers of salami and cheese, with the pesto as a tasteful and artfully executed garnish that isn't overpowering at all. It's the ultimate sidekick -- supportive but not overbearing.

And here's the drink of perfection.

Not so crabby

One would think that a restaurant called Crabby Jack's would at the very least have one fried softshell crab po-boy to offer me in my dire hunger. I found no such luck when Mom and I walked into the charmingly squat little shack on Jefferson Highway, which is not to say that I didn't have an overall delightful po-boy experience.

The menu at Crabby Jack's is really one to be celebrated. Mom and I decided to split two small po-boys -- same overall amount of food, but twice as much variety. You really can't go wrong. Our first choice was the slow-roasted duck po-boy, a true specialty of Crabby Jack's that I haven't found anywhere else, but the girl ringing us up told us they were already sold out of it (and this was at lunchtime! The horrors). So we decided to get fried green tomatoes with shrimp remoulade and cochon de lait. Turns out cochon de lait is also sold out, so we stuck with half-and-half (fried shrimp, fried oyster).

We managed to find a seat, and if you've ever been to Crabby Jack's, you know that that is no easy task. The seating arrangement there is such that there's one looonnggg table in the middle of the room, a long countertop with barstools, and a couple of smaller tables. We snagged two spots at a smaller table and hungrily (HUNGRILY, as it was already 1 at this point) awaited our meal.

I had high hopes for the fried green tomatoes and shrimp remoulade. The tomatoes were fried in a very perfect batter, and I was perfectly content and excited by them. The shrimp, however, slightly disappointed me, but I think it was more due to the fact that I really was disoriented by the presence of something cold in a sandwich that is typically filled to the brim with juicy hot fried things. The remoulade sauce was pretty good, although it was more soupy and less spicy than I prefer. Ironically, the old standby of half-and-half ultimately stole the show. Crabby Jack's is famous for filling its sandwiches with so much seafood that you could make a whole sandwich with all the stuff that falls out of the bread. Hands cannot fully contain the immensity that lies within that lovely bread, which shatters at first nibble as any good po-boy bread should. I was more than happy to settle for nibbling on the straggling shrimp and oysters, though it's true that they could easily have comprised a sandwich for someone else.

All in all, it's a great po-boy joint. Like I've said before, every po-boy joint needs to have a hook, just as every college applicant needs to have a hook (can you tell I've been brainwashed by all my apps?). My hook is a love for chocolate and gastronomy that borders on the insane. Crabby Jack's' (is that grammatically correct?) hook is that their menu contains all the staples and throws in a few zingers to entertain a palate that might be growing bored. I am eagerly anticipating my next jaunt there -- Mom and I have already narrowed down our selections to three (roast beef, cochon de lait, slow-roasted duck) and are agonizing over which to ultimately eliminate.