2015-02-09

Thursday, January 29, 2015. Unique Wine Dinner At Pelican Club. When I first began visiting the California wine country in the 1980s, one went to Napa and Sonoma. If you were ambitious and had a lot of time, you’d then go the Central Coast, south of San Francisco. But every trip I made revealed another new wine making area. I have not been as frequent a visitor to San Francisco and environs in the last two decades, using my vacations for Boy Scout summer camps with my son and cruises with the Eat Club. So I am behind in my oenological explorations. Jeff Runquist. This set me up for the likes of the dinner tonight. Runquist Wine Cellars, which supplies the juice for a wine dinner at the Pelican Club tonight, is the producer of wines from all over the place. Jeff Runquist–who I have encountered a few times over the years, although I can’t remember where or when–buys grapes from Napa, all right. But also Amador County, the Sierra Foothills, Clarksburg and Lodi. The last two places have raised wine grapes for as long as grapes have been grown in California, but historically they were rarely considered great wines. That has changed. While keeping the rustic style that sets them apart, Lodi wines in particular are fascinating to me. I think they go very well with Cajun and Creole food–especially if sausages are involved. Pelican Club owner/chef Richard Hughes has about thirty people lined up at a single table for the Runquist dinner. Richard, who has a somewhat rustic style himself, kept his flavors as big as those of the wines all night. And that took some doing. Jeff Runquist shows up with more red wine than anything. So, to pair with a very red Grenache was bouillabaisse. A risk, but it worked, with a highly miscellaneous array of seafood. Littleneck clams, stone crab claws (!), black grouper, gigantic shrimp, and (to raise the level of civilization) jumbo lump crabmeat. Nice. Rabbit with three-cheese grits. Now a slowly-cooked smoked rabbit with meaty oyster mushrooms, awash in a sauce made from a reduced rabbit stock and Marsala wine, surrounded by grits incorporating three cheeses. The wine stood right up to this hunter’s food: a Barbara, even bigger in its aromas and flavors than the Grenache. A country-style wine with a little Italian flavor. Angels on horseback. “Angels on horseback” is a great name for a simple but delicious dish: broiled, bacon-wrapped oysters. Yet here was the name applied to a very different collection, with only the bacon and the stick remaining from the classic definition. The rest of it was duck breast, Stilton cheese, foie gras and dates, with purple cauliflower and onion hash as garnish. This was lusty eating, and paired with the most interesting wine of the night. Petit Verdot is a classic blending wine in the recipe for many (perhaps even most) of the great Bordeaux wines. But the only time I’ve imbibed it on its own was at the barrel tasting during the Napa Wine Auction many years ago. Tonight, it was one of those wines which you know is good, but you can’t figure out why. And the more you drink of it, the more it grows on you. I keep coming back to this Petit Verdot the rest of the night. Filet with unique chimichurri variant. Richard never hesitates to serve a big filet, and here it was, with his take on chimichurri, made with red onions and balsamic vinegar. On the side was a gratin of celery root and some other vegetables. Hey! That’s something I served at Thankgiving about ten years ago! Jeff Runquist balances this off with his Petit Sirah. There is nothing petite about that wine, one of the darket and most solidly built of the wines of California. (I think it’s a California exclusive. I’ve never seen a Petit Sirah from anywhere else.) Richard has a great, sort-of piña colada dessert: a tarte tatin of pineapple and coconut ice cream. Jeff saw this ace and raised it one glass of the sweet Muscat Canelli. And then we had coffee. Great dinner. Even Mary Ann loved it, and she doesn’t do too many wine dinners. But she loves The Pelican Club as much as I do. Pelican Club. French Quarter: 615 Bienville. 504-523-1504. Friday, January 30, 2015. Pascal’s Manale, Before The Parades Start. Mary Ann didn’t cross the puddle today, so I look for dinner companionship to one of my favorite dining partners: my little sister Lynn. Bob DeFelice–one of the three brothers and one sister who own and manage Pascal’s Manale–is a client of hers. So let’s go there, she suggests. The barman with a smile and a story at Pascal’s Manale. The tenders of both bars at Manale’s apparently listen to my radio show. The guy who makes the cocktails (and insists that he be allowed to craft one for me) kept throwing my radio catchphrases at me. Meanwhile, Thomas–the best-known and best oyster shucker in the city, now that Drago has retired–was cracking those shells for a bunch of people, and told me that people tell him all the time about other people who call my show to affirm his skill and personality. You certainly don’t go to Manale’s with the idea of running into dry, businesslike personnel. The best oyster shucker in New Orleans. Thomas shucks a dozen monsters for us. They are so corpulent that I could stop the meal right there and go home full. But we move on. Lynn bought into a special of grilled redfish topped with peeled barbecue shrimp, with a lot of the famous sauce. I kept going with oysters, ordering the oyster combination pan roast. Lynn said the last time she had this great, unique dish, there wasn’t much in the way of oysters or shrimp inside the matrix of the smooth, light-green sauce. I brush that off, but indeed, there could have been quite a bit more oyster and shrimp content there. I still like it especially with a side of spaghetti Collins, which is like spaghetti bordelaise except made with green onions instead of garlic and parsley. Black drum with barbecue shrimp on top. Oyster pan roast at Pascal’s Manale. Today is the final day in which I host The Food Show from noon until three, a schedule which has done much damage to my other endeavors–most especially my writing projects. But that experiment is now over, and it is with great joy that I will return Monday to the three-till-six block, when our program is at its maximum effectiveness. I hope I can hold onto that timing until the end, however long from now that may be. Pascal’s Manale. Uptown: 1838 Napoleon Ave. 504-895-4877. Lüke CBD: 333 St Charles Ave. 504-378-2840. Map. Nice Casual AE DC DS MC V Website ANECDOTES AND ANALYSIS At seven every weeknight, Lüke is bustling. The bar will be full, and most of the dining room, too. The crowd is young and good-looking. That’s ironic, because the premises were designed with old-fart restaurants of the past in mind. But many of men have that Woody-Woodpecker crest down the center of their pates, and the women are slim and stylish. Yes, it’s unexpected that this crowd would be drawn to a restaurant that reaches back to another era of dining. And two places: the New Orleans of the pre-suburban era, and Alsace in France. It’s hard to believe that anyone under the age of thirty would know what a pastis is, let alone order one as a cocktail. But here we find a half-dozen versions of the drink. Oyster bar, with many varieties available. WHY IT’S NOTEWORTHY Lüke is the most eccentric yet most successful of Chef John Besh’s group of six restaurants, and one of the most unusual restaurants in New Orleans. It’s patterned on the bistros of France, particularly those in the Alsace region. It also recalls certain restaurants from a century ago in New Orleans, notably the old German restaurant Kolb’s. The menu is a mix of local dishes and Alsatian ones. Functioning as the all-day restaurant of the Hilton Hotel on St. Charles Avenue, it serves three meals a day, all day long, seven days a week. It draws a young adult crowd from the many nearby office towers. Charcuterie. WHAT’S GOOD Luke’s menu is charming, because everything on it seems to have come from another era. It operates like an old restaurant, too, making in-house even items that are quite difficult–a wide array of charcuterie, for example. Chilled fresh seafood is a major specialty, with enough varieties that one can make a very satisfying meal from it. Even the oysters come from several different places. BACKSTORY Chef John Besh channeled his past to open Lüke, his second restaurant. (His flagship is Restaurant August.) He worked in France for some time, and before that was in the kitchen of a German restaurant in his hometown of Slidell. The restaurant is named for his son; ignore the umlaut when pronouncing it. The restaurant is in the historic and unique former Masonic Temple Building, and has been a number of restaurants over the years–most recently Cobalt, which died when Katrina came. A second location of Luke opened in 2013 in San Antonio, Texas. DINING ROOM Lüke is divided in two by a passage into the lobby of the hotel. The front room is the more distinctive, with a big, dark-wood bar, high ceilings and furnishings that look ancient but were really built out in 2006. A point of interest is the belt-driven set of ceiling fans, along the lines of the ones at the old Kolb’s. The rear dining room surrounds an open kitchen, with tile floors and a less frenetic pace. Tables are unclothed, the napkins are dish towels, and wine is served in tumblers. REVIEWER’S NOTEPAD FULL ONLINE MENU BEST DISHES Starters Baked oysters, Herbsaint, persillade crust Pate of Louisiana rabbit & chicken livers, truffles, country bread croutons Assiette de charcuterie, stone-ground mustard, house-made pickles Roasted beets, blue cheese, mixed greens, spiced pistachios Fried oyster, bacon, romaine & avocado salad Entrees Le plateau de fruits de mer (assortments of fresh, chilled Gulf seafood, in several different sizes and selections Pork schnitzel, wild mushroom ragout, pommes frites Roasted chicken, rosemary potatoes, garden herbs, natural jus Ragout of wild boar, garganelli pasta, parmesan Jumbo shrimp “en cocotte,” jalapeño cheese grits, andouille, green onion sausages Fresh gulf fish meunière or amandine Lüke burger, Benton’s bacon, caramelized onions, tomatoes, Swiss cheese, house-made fries Entrecôte grillée et frites (ribeye, maître d’hôtel butter, sauce béarnaise or sour mash steak sauce FOR BEST RESULTS The prix-fixe daily menus offer terrific food at a bargain price. That’s one of many good strategies for enjoying this place. Another is to begin with either the cold seafood platters or the boards of charcuterie, either of which can feed the whole table. And with one of the cocktail variations of the French pastis–the absinthe-inspired beverages. The hamburger here is one of the best in the city. OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT Regular wine glasses and real napkins would not make as quirky a statement, but they would be better. The cast-iron bowls in which many dishes are served are hard to eat from. FACTORS OTHER THAN FOOD Up to three points, positive or negative, for these characteristics. Absence of points denotes average performance in the matter. Dining Environment +1 Consistency +1 Service Value +2 Attitude +1 Wine & Bar +1 Hipness +3 Local Color +2 SPECIAL ATTRIBUTES Live music some nights Romantic Good for business meetings 25-75 Early-evening specials Open Sunday lunch and dinner Open Monday lunch and dinner Open all holidays Open all afternoon Oyster bar Unusually large servings Good for children Reservations honored promptly Oysters Rockefeller The most surprising request for a recipe I ever received came from Bernard Guste, the fifth-generation proprietor of Antoine’s. He wanted to use my recipe for oysters Rockefeller. His reason was that since Antoine’s own recipe (they invented the dish, I’m sure you know) is a secret, they needed something to give the many people who ask for it. He told me that my recipe is “embarrassingly close” to the real thing. I’m flattered. And if I say so myself, he’s right. It took me about fifty tries to create a match for the flavor of Antoine’s great specialty. Which does not and never did include either spinach or Mornay sauce, as most recipes call for. It does have green food coloring–an atrocity now, but very common in the cooking of a century ago, when this dish was created. (Feel free to leave it out.) Oysters Rockefeller have always been among my favorite Creole-French dishes, and one that creates its own special occasion when you make it. Four dozen oysters Water from oysters, plus enough more water to make two cups 2 cups chopped celery 1 1/2 cups chopped green onion tops 2 cups chopped parsley, stems removed 1 cup chopped fresh fennel 1 cup chopped watercress 1/2 tsp. chopped fresh garlic 3 anchovy fillets 1 tsp. sugar 1/4 cup ketchup 1 tsp. salt 1/2 tsp. cayenne 1 tsp. white pepper 1 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce 2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters 2 drops green food coloring (optional but authentic) 2 sticks butter 1 cup flour 1 1/2 cups very fine fresh bread crumbs 1. Combine the vegetables and the anchovies in small batches and chop to a near-puree in a food processor, using the oyster water to help things along. 2. Combine this green slurry and the rest of the oyster water in a saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring every now and then, until the excess water is gone but the greens remain very moist. Add sugar, catsup, salt, cayenne, Worcestershire sauce, bitters and food coloring. 3. Make a blond roux with the butter and flour. Blend well into the greens, until the sauce takes on a different, lighter texture. Then mix in the bread crumbs. 4. Place large, fresh oysters into oyster shells, small ovenproof ramekins, or small au gratin dishes. Top each oyster with a generous tablespoon of sauce (or more, if you like). Bake 15 minutes in a preheated 450-degree oven, or until the top of the sauce has barely begun to brown. Serve immediately. If you’d like to bake this using oyster shells, serve on a bed of rock salt or on a napkin to keep the shells from rocking. Serves eight. Smoked Oysters @ Nathan’s The menu at this Slidell bistro is evenly divided three ways. You have the basics of local cookery (seafood platters, steaks, pasta). The dishes Chef/owner Ross Eirich picked up during his stint as executive chef at Galatoire’s. And–most interesting–the original dishes he’s dreamed up in the four years since Nathan’s opened. This one is particularly impressive. Flour smoked in house coats the oysters, which are then fried. Over the top goes a honey butter sauce whose sweetness is subtle. Finally, crumbles of blue cheese. It’s much better than it sounds. And it sounds pretty good. It’s certainly Nathan’s signature appetizer these days. Nathan’s. Slidell: 36440 Old Bayou Liberty Rd. 985-643-0443. This is among the 500 best dishes in New Orleans area restaurants. Click here for a list of the other 499. February 6, 2014 Days Until. . . Mardi Gras–11 Valentine’s Day–9 Today’s Flavor This is National Raw Oyster Day. It’s the shank of the oyster season right now along the Gulf Coast, with water temperatures cool enough to make the oysters pump a lot of water through their bodies to filter out nutrients. This makes them fat, with big meaty “eyes,” (the adductor muscles) and more complex, briny flavors. Assuming you have no health problems that would prevent you from doing so, you should have a dozen or two today and see how good oysters can be. I think they’re the finest seafood we produce in our part of the world, and by far the best buy. All that is true despite the damage done to the Louisiana oil beds indirectly because of the BP oil spill. Few beds of any size were touched by the oil, but fresh water sent from the river through the bays where oysters grow killed them. It was estimated that it would take three years to return to full production. It’s still much lower than before the spill, but you can once again get Louisiana oysters everywhere you once did. At higher prices, however. The oysters we enjoy in New Orleans are all of the species crassostrea virginica. These are also the oysters of the entire Atlantic Coast, including those of the Chesapeake Bay and the formerly rich oyster beds of New York City. But there are many other species, although they only occasionally appear in this market. Reason: the quality and low cost of the local oysters, which are as fine a blessing as a habitat ever bestowed on its interlopers. Edible Dictionary oysters Rockefeller, n.–A baked oyster dish, usually served as an appetizer, of a thick sauce of very finely chopped pureed greens with a slight tinge of anise in the aroma and flavor. It’s usually served atop an oyster on a shell, usually three to six at a time. The most common recipe for oysters Rockefeller uses spinach as the main component, and gets the anise flavor from Pernod, Herbsaint, or a similar liqueur. The original recipe, created at Antoine’s in 1899 and still served there, is made with celery, fennel (the source of the anise flavor), parsley, and green onions. All that is combined with a light roux and bread crumbs to thicken the sauce. The dish is named for John D. Rockefeller, the richest man in the world at the time of the dish’s creation. The richness and green color of the sauce suggested the name to Jules Alciatore, whose idea the dish was. The story is that he needed a quick appetizer for a party, and saw a line of picked-over relish plates in the kitchen. He told the cook to grind their contents and make it into a sauce for oysters. For many years, if you ordered oysters Rockefeller at Antoine’s, you’d get a card saying how many orders of it had been served in history, including yours. Gourmet Gazetteer Oyster Creek runs twenty-six miles through a twisting course into the Gulf Of Mexico near Freeport, Texas, sixty miles south of Houston. The creek is a distributary of the Brazos River, and about 7,000 years ago it was the Brazos. Now it is more a tidal stream than a running waterway, allowing oysters to move in as the salt water takes over. Along the creek is the town of Oyster Creek, with its 1200 residents. Niko’s Grill is right in the middle of the town, and probably has oysters on the menu. Deft Dining Rule #670: No recipe for cooking oysters will ever equal the goodness of the same oysters, freshly shucked, eaten raw. The Old Kitchen Sage Sez: The best way to shuck oysters is to find somebody who really knows how and get him to do it for you in exchange for beer. Food Games Today in 1935, the board game Monopoly was sold for the first time. Now you can find custom versions of the game for many cities and special interests. But I don’t think I’ve seen one with restaurants as the theme. Let’s see. . . in New Orleans, the inexpensive properties just past GO would be Domilese’s and Dong Phuong. Around the first turn you’d have the opportunity to buy Mandina’s and Liuzza’s. Just past Free Parking you’d have Mr. B’s and Clancy’s and Brigtsen’s. The green properties would be Galatoire’s, Arnaud’s, and Antoine’s. But which would be the ones where Boardwalk and Park Place? August? Commander’s Palace? Square Root? Annals Of Bottled Water Today in 1985, Perrier rolled out the first of its flavored bubbly waters. It was the first time the French company bottled anything but its famous spring water. They recently added Pink Grapefruit to Lemon, Line, and Citron (the latter, conceived in a flash of creative brilliance, is lemon and lime together). Annals Of Food Writing This is the birthday of Michael Pollan, the author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, a great book about the food we eat, where it comes from, and how growing it the way we do is creating enormous problems. It’s a book well worth reading, one full of surprising facts. Mardi Gras 1951 Today is the sixty-fourth anniversary of the last time Mardi Gras fell on this date. Reason I know: I was born that day. Carnival will not fall on my birthday until 2035. I hope I live so long. The day is shared with Ronald Reagan, Aaron Burr, Babe Ruth, Tom Brokaw, Zsa Zsa Gabor, and my late radio colleague Bill Calder. Also born today (in 1914) was Thurl Ravenscroft. A voice actor with the deepest imaginable bass, he appeared in thousands of records, movies and commercials. His most famous gig was as Tony the Tiger saying, about Sugar Frosted Flakes, “They’re great!” He was a good singer, too, easily able to hit a low C without sounding unnatural. You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch was his best-known song. Back Of The Butcher Shop Today in 1865, a banquet at the Grand Hotel in Paris featured horsemeat in almost every course. Horsemeat soup, sausages, ragout, and steak were served, among many other dishes. Horsemeat goes in and out of popularity in Europe. During the mad cow scare of a decade ago, it had a brief renaissance. Eating horsemeat has not caught in in the United States. I have never seen it on a menu or in a store, even though I have encountered just about every other edible mammal. Not even T. Pittari’s ever offered it. The Saints It’s the feast day of St. Amand of France, a monk of the seventh century. He is the patron saint of bartenders, brewers, and winemakers. He’s also a patron saint of the Boy Scouts, strangely enough. Food Namesakes Ebenezer Brewer, the writer of The Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, was born today in 1897. . . Film music composer and conductor Maurice Le Roux was born in 1923 on this date. . . Sir Charles Wheatstone, a British physicist who invented a device for measuring electrical resistance, was born today in 1802. . . Eric Partridge, who wrote about the English language as used in New Zealand, was born today in 1894. Words To Eat By “As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy, and to make plans.”–Ernest Hemingway. Words To Drink By “Here’s to alcohol, the rose colored glasses of life.”―F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Beautiful and Damned. Why It’s Hard For Food Writers To Control Their Eating. It’s something akin to other forms of self-indulgence. Click here for the cartoon.

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