Plat du Jour Friday February 1, 2013: Taste of the NFL, What is Confit?, Sri Lankan Cuisine on Staten Island, A Few Oregon Pinot Noir Notes, and Super Bowl Reservations
It’s the eve of Super Bowl Eve in New Orleans. Do you think a few people just might be strolling down Bourbon Street right now? Care to take a guess how long the wait at the bar for a cocktail is presently at Cure? My guess is a good hour to 90 minutes.
The dinner hour is presently ending in New Orleans, unless you’re planning on beignets at Café du Monde for a late dinner/ early breakfast, or whatever a 2 am meal is considered.
Looking ahead to prime dinner time Saturday night February 2nd, good reservations can still be found on OpenTable for parties of 2. A Mano, Coquette, Lüke (a CBD John Besh spin-off), Ralph’s on the Park, and MiLa all are excellent choices with availability. But, hurry fast. The list is impressive and extensive for those fully booked: Bayona, Cochon, Emeril’s, Herbsaint, Lilette, Pascal’s Manale, August, R’evolution, Sylvain, and Stella!. Not that that is surprising in the least. You can always gamble and try to walk into Galatoire’s…
Then again Sunday night during the Super Bowl, there is even less availability, with nearly all of these restaurants being somewhat formal and not having televisions. Are people not watching the game or are all the chefs closing so they can watch at home or attend the game? I don’t blame them.
It’s almost gameday in the Crescent City, where on Super Sunday, February 3rd, the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers will face off in Super Bowl XLVII. It’s annually the biggest spectacle in the country and an unofficial national holiday. This year, even more media and fans will be descending upon the host city than ever before. With New Orleans being the sight of the event and the parties included, food is naturally one of the important components of a visit for the out of towners this week, along with the game.
Here now, we’ll march down the SuperDome field as the visitors march into the Big Easy, with helpful advice on where to dine over the next few days when avoiding the bland banquet food at team and media hotel gatherings. Yours truly actually has been giving insight to members of the San Francisco 49ers traveling party, as they hope to get a sense of the city’s culinary scene amidst the hectic chaos that is New Orleans at any time of year, especially Super Bowl Week.
Keep in mind that with so many visitors this week vying for tables and special events occurring too, many of these destinations, if not all of them, will either be swamped with customers or enormously crowded.
And, you don’t need a dining critic to tell you to avoid the food and drink of Bourbon Street (except Galatoire’s). It’s common sense. Don’t do it. You know better than to dine at the fish and chips carts on the sidewalks.
Many articles here at Trev’s Bistro have extensively covered the city’s dining and drinking scene, so make sure to pay a visit to the New Orleans page when conducting research.
Ravens Goal Line: Breakfast and Coffee
The perfect day in New Orleans will commence with an espresso at the impossibly charming café Velvet on Magazine Street in Uptown, using beans roasted by the masters at Portland, Oregon’s Stumptown. Just don’t have the portrait of Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter be the first alarm clock for your day, or you’ll be jaded for hours to come.
Breakfast, if not at Café du Monde (see below), should be at chef Scott Boswell’s (also of Stella!) morning power meal and all day dining French Quarter stalwart Stanley. They’re the only two restaurants worth your time around Jackson Square (very much worth a visit itself). Consider the Eggs Benedict Poor Boy or the Bananas Foster French Toast, New Orleans standards re-imagined. At lunch, the burger will be ordered or poor boys sporting Korean BBQ beef or a pepperoni pizza caesar salad. It is what it is. Don’t ask why they aren’t called “Po-Boys,” or why a pizza-salad needs to be a sandwich also. (more…)
Beet juice tends to be relegated to the same 1970’s health fad corner as wheat germ and kale chips. It happens to be an excellent base for new riffs on classic cocktails, in addition to adding a spectacular purple hue to the usual clear or dark color scheme of cocktails. I have always gone on record as saying the absolute peak of my cocktail life came at the Jade Bar at Scottsdale, Arizona’s Sanctuary on Camelback Resort, where a Gimlet goes to the blissful absurd with beet juice and yuzu juice. If beet juice works in a Gimlet, it must prove worthy too in a pisco sour.
A pisco sour, best known as the national apertif of both Chile and Peru, is a truly perfect drink on its own. A small egg white provides the froth for pisco, lemon juice, and simple syrup. Shake them together, pour into a coupe or a martini glass, top it off with a few dots of Angostura bitters, and there you have a fantastic drink for all occasions. Unlike the martini and its dreaded offspring the choco-tini, the bikini-tini, the berry-tini, and such, pisco sours tend to be straight shots. There’s no reason to add fruit juice to something perfect.
Leave it to the daring, bold vision of Christine Jeanine Nielsen to shake up the pisco sour world. Nielsen to begin with has a daring, bold vision to create a small corner of craft cocktails in the otherwise regular luxury hotel lobby of the Windsor Court. The setting seems more appropriate for afternoon tea than The Lion Amongst Ladies with Damiana and sous-vide “2 hour” kumquat infused tequila. In a city that treasures its classic drinks from the Sazerac to the Vieux Carré, Cure and its new sibling Bellocq are the oasis for craft cocktails. Start adding Nielsen’s creations to that list. Unfortunately almost nobody is noticing yet, but that will certainly change. Old, classic hotels can still have young drinking legs.
Nielsen uses agave in place of simple syrup, providing a bit more of a tangy sweetness instead of a sugary focused one. The beet juice plays perfectly with the subtle taste of pisco, both subdued by the egg white mixed with them. A checker board of Angostura bitters drawn into the egg white froth is a proper cap for this artistic take on one of the world’s premier classic cocktails.
Why is the drink called Beet & Co.? That’s a good question, perhaps a reference to the famed New York bar Death & Co. or going back to the Beat Generation? Whatever it is, it’s hard to believe, but a Beet & Co. beats a traditional pisco sour.
If you want a terrific cocktail, get away from the French Quarter is what I learned. For a city known for inventing and perfecting so many classic cocktails, from the basic Sazerac to the often complicated (or very basic) Hurricane, finding a worthwhile cocktail or beer from a bar not named Cure or affiliated with Cure became a steep challenge.
Cure has already been documented here, crafting what I’ll go on record as the premier cocktails in this city, and certainly a challenger for the best in this whole country. They are serious over there about the drinks, yet so relaxed in atmosphere. Cure is a breath of fresh air in the mixologist circuit. Luckily, the minds behind Cure have now opened up a second bar, Bellocq, on the Robert E. Lee Circle and St. Charles Avenue, near the Central Business District and a block from the World War II Museum. Bellocq is part of, but unattached to the Hotel Modern, forming quite the 1-2 drink and eat punch with the next door restaurant Tamarind by Dominique (Harrison Ford would agree as visited the restaurant the night I was there). The seductive lounge feel of Bellocq is more swank than Cure, a little bit more chic, intimate, and classic feeling with a grand piano in one corner and velvet couches in place of plush booths. While Cure evokes the trend of Prohibition era drinking without being a speakeasy like the rest of the cocktail world, Bellocq runs even further back in time to the late 19th century.
New Orleans photographer E.J. Bellocq is the namesake for the bar, who became famous for his pictures of madams in Storyville, the city’s old Red Light District. The sexual revolution theme is celebrated in the sleek, sexy vibe, the frequent burlesque shows, and of course the Bellocq photos that decorate the walls. While Cure focuses most on crafting intricate, multi-dimensional, thought-provoking wonders of cocktails, the 19th century theme of Bellocq is reflected drink-wise by its emphasis on cobblers– basic cocktails of a spirit or apertif accompanied by one or two elements, served in a frosted cup with a mound of beautifully manicured crushed ice, garnished with a few grapes and assorted fruits. Essentially choose your alcohol of choice, and a little juice or essence joins it in the cup. In the 19th century, drinkers either chose to not get smashed or got smashed very easily, so an apertif such as port or Cocchi Americano is a terrific base for a cobbler. I’d recommend the startling depth of a Madeira or the sweet nutty essence of Amontillado Sherry.
The cobblers go down quickly, yet don’t effect you like a real cocktail. That’s the point. You don’t have to stagger off the bar stool after every drink. A cobbler is an idyllic refresher on a hot New Orleans afternoon. It’s not a ground-breaking drink like the menu at Cure. However, this being a bar run by Cure, you can absolutely get an exceptional Sazerac or Cure-caliber, innovative cocktail as well. Great bartenders know how to make great drinks, no matter what century the bar’s theme is. Try a cobbler, then grow ambitious. (more…)
Chef expansion is always a precarious dilemma. One formula hits the right notes at the right time for the original restaurant to achieve a certain level of popularity. The food, the service, the atmosphere, the size of the restaurant– everything clicks. However, it is very well known in the restaurant industry that the only way to make a possible profit is to expand. Of course, even then there is far from any guarantee of success. Succeeding at one restaurant makes a chef beloved. Succeeding with multiple restaurants creates a famous chef. Fame brings television exposure. Fame brings photo shoots of July picnics in your backyard in glossy national magazines. Fame brings cookbooks. Fame most of all, brings profit. Or, at least the potential for profit.
Expansion on the other hand also means somebody else is in the kitchen when the heart of the original restaurant is not. What might have clicked perfectly at the original restaurant may not translate at a new spot. How many film sequels have been able to replicate the original film? “Star Wars.” “The Godfather.” (That would be “The Godfather Part II” but not Part III). That’s about it.
With the sudden rise in the past half decade of television chef-celebrities, pioneered in the 1990’s by the likes of Wolfgang Puck and Emeril Lagasse, chef empires have become more prevalent. Diners seek local, sustainable ingredients, yet many also feel at home eating at Emeril’s Restaurant when Emeril is on the other side of the country. It’s fine for the chef to be 3,000 miles away, but the asparagus better be from five miles away. (more…)
In the year 1880, Helen Keller and W.C. Fields were born. James Garfield became the 20th President of the United States, defeating Winfield S. Hancock.
132 years ago, Commander’s Palace also opened its stately doors in the Garden District of New Orleans, a mostly residential, Victorian home and grand tree lined area, a far cry from the cramped French Quarter.
The name Commander’s Palace is synonymous with New Orleans fine dining. It is a true destination for a special occasion night out, not just the place to go when you don’t feel like cooking. In this day of quinoa, foraged vegetables, Niman Ranch this, Coleman Farms that, sous-vide duck breast, and de-constructed s’mores, they just don’t make them like Commander’s Palace anymore. New Orleans is one of the few gifted cities to not need to preserve its dining past because so many of its century old establishments are still running. Some of them are running on fumes and more comparable to an antique by recent visits (Galatoire’s), while Commander’s Palace continues to push itself to a rare level of excellence that blends equal triumph in the cuisine, the elegant sprawling former plantation atmosphere, and some of the most gracious hospitality that exists in 2012. It’s hard to say which is the leading part of that trio for Commander’s Palace. Instead, it should be acknowledged that the restaurant achieves the dining version of the horse racing Triple Crown, complete with steep prices that cannot really be considered steep when comparing to the competition. (more…)
The most exciting dining to be found in New Orleans comes today from the new guard of the city’s chefs. Yet, there’s a reason that dining is such a part of the city’s DNA, as essential to the Big Easy experience as jazz at Preservation Hall and a picture at Jackson Square. It’s the classics that keep any city’s dining scene humming along consistently. The question always is have those classics grown tired and touristy, or do they continue to perform at the level they once did to deserve an exalted status.
For the most part, except for a certain grande dame restaurant on Bourbon Street, the New Orleans legends are as strong today as when they started decades ago or even a century ago. (more…)