Friday, January 30, 2009

Chatter 14 - A New Orleans Dinner

Mostly I write about restaurants - food, service, ambiance, wine whatever. Anyone can go to these places, order these dishes and express their opinions. Occasionally I have an experience which is more or less unrepeatable but I would still like to write about it. Sometimes it's at my home, sometimes somewhere else. (See Chatter 9- Dinner with Neil, or Chatter 12 -an Amish Dinner) Last night was one of those occasions. We were invited to dinner at the home of a New Orleans family. This was about as far away from our Amish dining experience as you could get. To start with the house , a mansion really, was packed with furniture, display cabinets of beautiful crockery,
glasses and Chinoisery
. We started in the kitchen with wine and a huge plate of anti pasta
before moving to the dining room. The table was magnificent,

with striking candelabra centre pieces the light from which was supported by a little additional electric light
. Dinner was served from platters of meats,
salads asparagus and greens from the garden. Dessert was ice cream with an orange brandy. The difference to Amish was firstly the elegance and secondly the alcohol but, in their way, each was an excellent dinner

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Casamento (New Orleans) 09

Someone has been pulling the leg of Zagat readers, describing this white tiled, rather sterile looking joint - The wall and

The floor
as a "legendary" Uptown "oyster-rama". They don't serve the famous N.O. po boy - a French roll stuffed with whatever you order but serve whatever between a toasted sandwich. We had the "full" sandwich half with a soft shelled crab and half breaded oysters with a slice of tomato, a leaf of lettuce and a gherkin.
The soft shell crab was very good, a fair size and the five breaded oysters just what you get anywhere along Magazine St.
Price: About the same all over N.O. for oysters. The sandwich set us back $23 plus $1.75 for a bottomless iced tea.
Comments: Somehow they've got a reputation for bad service and good food - I'd have it the other way!
Score: 13/20

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Cuvee (New Orleans) 09

Cuvee has got romantic low lit decor, exposed brick walls and, despite the kitchy chandeliers built around upside down champagne Jeroboams, presents a sophisticated dining space.

Unfortunately the next best thing about my dinner was the cheese! The service was somewhat abrupt, generally courteous but no match for some of its' competition. We came with high expectations and ordered an appetiser of lobster bisque ($9)

which was very good and duck foie gras ($24)

which was not impressive. It came with a sweet custard with crunchy Granny Smith apple, and foie gras somewhere, and a mean serve of foie gras which had been over cooked. This needs to be handled with great care to get the best out of it and it failed badly here. For mains the duck ($34)

was very reasonable and had with it a better piece of foie gras than the appetizer. My seared yellow fin tuna was a disaster
- over cooked, over seasoned and with a fishy taste foreign to any tuna I've ever eaten. It lay on a thin bed of something that tasted approximately like pure fat, though it did look pretty, and some cooked vegetables. I explained to the waiter that it was inedible and ordered another appetizer - veal sweetbreads ($13).

Two lumps of bland heavily breaded sweetbread sat atop a sharp crisp salad which totally overwhelmed the sweetbread and some grapefruit on a bed of pastrami. This unbalanced dish carried its' own internal inconsistency. A sad mismatch. A cheese plate ($14)

was very tasty, served with the chef's accoutrement's

- crisp bread, sliced pear and sweet chutney. Apple tartin ($11)

for dessert was accompanied by a slightly burnt caramel ice cream. The tart had lots of very sweet sliced apple on a pastry base but it was far from the classical tart. Unfortunately, though they knew we were sharing, both the cheese and the tart arrived at the same time which led to the ice cream mostly melting before we finished the cheese. They did extend a courtesy to me removing the tuna from the bill.

Wine: Reasonably priced, they were happy to let us have a small taste of several of their wines by the glass, which was just as well as I tried three before finding one acceptable.
Price: At the upper range . They have a five course degustation ($58) which might be better but I am 'degutastioned' out!
Comments: A far from exquisite experience
Score: 13.5/20

Stanley (New Orleans) 09

Opened only seven weeks ago Stanley, at the top of Jackson square, is destined to be a very popular venue for locals and tourists alike. Presided over by chef Scott Boswell, from Stella! with the enthusiastic assistance of team of young workers dedicated to the success of the place it has that other secret ingredient that makes for a strong client base - good food. he dearest item on the menu ($19) is the soft shell crab.
Served on a split toasted bun with a few slices of salami, two perfectly poached eggs and a creole Hollandaise sauce over the biggest soft shell crab I've ever seen it's a great lunch. Eggs Stanley ($14)
is similar with five rather heavily breaded oysters which had lost a lot of their juice in the cooking. I think a lighter tempura batter would have been much better.

Comments: Comfort food of a higher than usual order .
Scott Boswell with Sandra

Score:14 /20

Felix (New Orleans) 09

Almost opposite Acme, another famous oyster bar which I visited some years ago, and did not like much, Felix recently reopened. For my money they should have stayed closed. We tried a dozen mixed oysters
- six mornay and six Rothschild i.e. with spinach. The spinach was heavy and gluggy and, although somewhat better the mornay was unappealing. The dish was a peasant production in a very ordinary bar.

Price: $15.95 before tax and tip

Comments: A waste of good oysters

Score: 12.5/20

Cafe du Monde (New Orleans) 09

A N.O. institution and tourist must. This restaurant serves awful coffee and indifferent beignets, indistinguishable from awful donuts, covered in swathes of icing sugar.
Its cheap and fast. Takeout is available and if you want a memento of N.O. they will sell you lapel pins, mugs, aprons or whatever.
Price $6 for three beignets and two coffees
Comments: Waitresses are not to busy!
Worth 10 minutes max

Score: 11.5/20

August (New Orleans) 09

Clearly one of N.O.'s very best restaurants, in the top ranking for decor, food and service we went with high expectations and were not disappointed. The restaurant occupies one large front room with magnificent chandeliers
and two more connecting rooms with bare brick walls and dark wood panelling,

each with about five tables seating about 18 customers, They have a al carte menu, a five course degustation and a 10 course degustation menu. We, naturally, went for the 10 courses, one with and one without the matched wines. Chef John Besh is noted for creativity and imagination. These important qualities are fine but what really sets his food apart is the wonderful sauces and the good balance of dishes. We began with a chef's offering
- an egg custard with truffle sabayon and Balkan caviar. For once everything could be tasted in this great start. The first course was a local vegetable 'chop salad' with champagne herb vinaigrette,
served with a Marquis de Palade, Pierre Sparr, Brut, Alsace, Sparkling, NV , a very appropriate match. Next was a warm salad of 'pieds du cochon.
veal sweetbreads, hearts of palm and black truffles. this was a little bland after the previous dish but again was well matched with the light Pinot Gris, Domaine King Estate, Willamette Valley, 2006. Acorn squash "mezze luna" with chestnuts, local satsuma and fennel were small ravioli filled with cheese. This produced a combination of light flavours and interesting textures. The Bourgogne "Laforet" Joseph Drouhin, 2006 was rather dry. The fourth dish was a large plate full of crawfish,
described as a French craw fish boil,

"Facon chez bruno" ( in
honour of its' original creator) in a fabulous sauce - brandy, truffle and Smith's cream. The Macon-Chardonnay, Domaine Talmard, 2006 was typical of an Australian wooded chardonnay. Next came a pan roast turbot, truffled potato, fine herbs and winter vegetables
with another chardonnay - Lincourt, Santa Barbara County, 2005. Sixth was a whole roast rabbit "cassoulet, white beans and Jacob's andouille, no photo!, with a lovely Pinot Noir, Acacia "A" California 2005. I eat a lot of rabbit and this was prepared perfectly, there was no element of dryness in the dish and the taste was excellent with just a hint of gaminess. The petit filet with oyster dressing, lady apple and baby root vegetables served medium rare
was a very fine piece of extremely tender beef. This came with another shiraz like red. Actually a cab/sav, Ehlers Estate, St. Helens, Napa Valley, 2005 Light and smooth. The Vache Sante "grilled cheese sandwich served with a cherry chutney and local honey was delicious. It came with an absolutely luscious Sainte-Croix-du -Mont, Chateau La Rame, 2003. The ninth dish was a Ponchataoula strawberry "shortcake", with warm citrus scone and buttermilk ice cream. This ice cream has a coarse texture which is unusual and reminded me of Kulfi - the Indian clotted milk ice cream.
The Nivole, Muscato D'Asti, 2007 had distinct strawberry tones and was a perfect match. Finally a Spielweger chocolate torte with blood orange sorbet completed the meal. I must say my palate was a little jaded by now but I found the sorbet much to sweet and it also suffered from having crystals of ice.
The service was impeccable. Being a server short the room captain Christopher Alexander provided us with exemplary care and courtesy going to considerable length to keep us fully informed about the food and wine. My only concern was the very cool temperature which necessitated my wife wearing a jacket through most of the meal.

The only thing I found a little strange was the continual use of chevril as decoration. Perhaps it might have been better fried! This would rate as an outstanding restaurant anywhere in the world.
Score 18.5/20

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Herbsaint (New Orleans) 09

Despite the devastation of Katrina, and there's plenty of evidence of it, and the exigencies of the stock market New Orleanians continue to eat out in large numbers and so do their tourists. Herbsaint, named after an absynthe like drink created by a Louisiana local, is a popular venue. The restaurant presents beautifully with its' butcher paper covered white table clothes, very clean look and big windows looking onto two streets. It has Creole influenced French/European food and is particularly known for house made pasta. We began with a pleasant offering from the chef - shredded duck on Creole mustard on a house made potato crisp,
the mustard was light and did not dominate, I had an appetizer of Frogs legs ($12).
Lightly battered, tender and succulent they were a pleasure. They have a daily gumbo ($7)
which we also had- pork today, only slightly hot with a little chilli, a dish I normally avoid, this was a very suitable winter soup. Their paparadelles with beef daub ($16), the dearest item on the menu, was another substantial winter dish. The paparadelles had excellent texture and taste. Another main, the meat loaf was also moist and soft tho' not outstanding. A side dish of onion rings ($5)
were cut fine and fried in a light batter. Not the usual coarse over battered stuff you get so often in comfort food restaurants. I enjoyed a Absynthe ($11)
served with the appropriate paraphernalia but I wish they had an old fashioned spoon for the sugar.Basically a good quality bistro restaurant. Modestly priced, I'd be happy to come back and try some of their other dishes.

Score: 14/20