I don't make desserts nearly as often as I used to, but when I do, I like to go for what works best. And to honor the romantic side of the melting pot that is New Orleans, I decided to spruce up my old standby of brownie + vanilla ice cream with a little tender loving specialness: instead of just purchasing brownies and ice cream, I would make my own! From scratch! I would use the forlorn ice cream making machine and celebrate the day I acquired it in the best possible way...with vanilla!
I like the way my selection of bowls creates a striking visual irony.
Guess what? I had a really good meal for my first birthday as a New Orleans resident (surprise, surprise). We went to a great little place in our neighborhood, Mat and Naddie's, which our neighbor Mark has been telling us we should visit for months. Mark was right--this place is a gem. I'm so glad it's in our neck of the woods.
The only cocktail I ever want to drink during a stifling New Orleans summer: the Pimm's Cup. I've been trying these at different locations to find my favorite. Mat and Naddie's was smooth, so I don't think they use ginger ale or 7-Up...maybe lemonade? The cucumbers always make me happy.
A nice sampling of olives, artichoke hearts, roasted peppers, and fresh mozzarella to nibble. Everything was marinated in olive oil and herbs.
This photo doesn't do justice to these fantastic oysters, on the menu as "Grilled Oysters with Brie Cream and Shiitake 'Bacon.'" That's right--they make a "bacon" out of sliced shiitake mushrooms, I can only guess, by cooking it low and slow in a skillet until it intensifies its shiitakiness and dries out a little, like a mushroom jerky. Or maybe this happens in the oven. There's also a little garlic and pecorino-romano action going on here.
My fabulous entree, "Spicy Tempura Fried Gulf Shrimp Tonkatsu." This is one of the most exciting dishes I've had in New Orleans. The shrimp are butterflied and coated in a light tempura batter, and somehow remained outside-crispy and inside-silky the whole time I was loving this dish. I didn't know what Tonkatsu meant, so I asked the waiter if this was a good item to order, and he said it was one of the best things on the menu, which I totally believe. Apparently, Tonkatsu is a Japanese combination of fried pork served with something crunchy, like cabbage, and a sweet-spicy sauce. Mat and Naddie's serves their seafood version with a fresh bok choy slaw, sticky jasmine rice, and a sauce--it's one of the best sauces I've ever tasted--of red chile and a deep, complex sweetness, maybe plum, maybe lemongrass, a small piece of sun for brightness, a drop of dew from the Garden of Eden? I will meet this sauce again.
Believe me when I tell you that a couple of weeks ago, when I was dead-set on filling out a nice, long post with photos of the Creole Tomato/Louisiana Seafood/Cajun-Zydeco festival throwdown, I had no idea that it would be so hot down in the French Quarter.
I love these little guys. I ate them.
Cajun fish taco. I asked for a small portion of slaw so I could really taste the fish. It's a lightly fried tilapia filet, dusted with just a bit of Cajun seasoning (like a mixture of cayenne, garlic powder, thyme, salt, pepper). Really nice and simple-tasting, a good thing to eat in the heat.
Shrimp-and-crab-stuffed Creole tomato. This was the perfect dish to "marry" the two food festivals together. Creole tomatoes are the jewels of the summer season here in Louisiana--people talk about them all year, either how much they miss them or how much they love them. They don't really look different from regular tomatoes, to me, but the taste is something special. Denser, sunnier, redder. I devoured every last seed of this tomato.
We had some other yummies--crawfish sausage, hurricane sno balls--but they didn't make it to the photo stage. If you can stand the heat, this festival trio, known as the "Vieux To Do," is really something. Tons of food, great vendors, fun music. This year it was held the weekend of June 13-14, so I'd assume next year it will be sometime close to that.
- 4 portions of seafood (something inexpensive and local, if possible): shrimp, scallops, catfish, crawfish, tuna, salmon, bass, etc.)
- 12 small red boiling potatoes, scrubbed but not peeled
- 2 big handfuls green beans, trimmed
- 1 large ripe tomato, or 1 pt. cherry tomatoes
- 3/4 cup pitted olives (preferably niçoise, but kalamata are fine too)
- 4 eggs
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 lemons
- 2 cloves garlic
- a few teaspoons of wine vinegar (white, red, or champagne)
- 1-2 teaspoons Dijon or grainy mustard
- salt & pepper
- salad greens (optional)
- Make the vinaigrette first, which is the unifier of this dish: Mince the garlic and place in a bowl or measuring cup large enough for a whisk to move around in. Juice the lemons and add the juice to the garlic. Shake in a little wine vinegar and plop in the mustard. Start whisking this mixture with one hand, and with the other hand, slowly pour in the olive oil. This doesn't need to be perfectly emulsified; you'll keep whisking it every time you use it. Taste it, and add salt and pepper and additional vinegar until it tastes like a strong salad dressing. I like it slightly overseasoned, because the potatoes and beans are going to break it down a little.
- Potatoes: Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and boil them whole until a knife will almost go into the center of one easily. Take them off the heat, drain, and return to the pot and add the lid. Let them steam in the pot (no fire underneath) for another 10 minutes to finish cooking. Let them cool for a bit, then quarter or halve them, depending on size. Toss them in a bowl with some of the vinaigrette and set aside.
- Green beans: Put about 1 cup water in a medium saucepan, salt it, and bring to a boil. Add the beans and cook them the way you like them: really crunchy, slightly crunchy, soft, or cafeteria-soft. Drain them, cool them for a long minute, then toss them in a separate bowl with some vinaigrette.
- Seafood: Decide how you want to cook it: bake, broil, grill, saute, poach, etc. Season it with salt, pepper, and anything else you like (I used catfish & some seafood grill seasoning I had on hand). Drizzle it with a bit of olive oil (or another kind of oil) and cook it the way you like it (I baked it at 400 for about 12 minutes) and let it rest for about five minutes for most of the heat to leave.
- Eggs: Hard-boil, cool, peel, and halve.
- Tomatoes: Cut into 8 wedges (if you have cherry tomatoes, you can halve them or leave them whole) (as you might notice in the photo, I forgot to buy tomatoes).
- Olives: Snack on a few and then just keep them at the ready.
- Greens (if using): Make these ready to use as a bed for the other ingredients: wash & tear the greens and toss them with some of the vinaigrette, as you would for any salad.
- Compose: On each plate, place greens, potatoes, green beans, two egg halves, two tomato wedges, several olives, and a portion of seafood. Drizzle a little more vinaigrette over the whole dish and serve.
If you want to eat some good seafood, and you want to eat it at a NOLA institution, Casamento's on Magazine Street fits the bill. I fell in love with this place the minute I saw it, though we had to find something else to do with ourselves while we waited for it to open. It was so worth the wait.
The problem was that we arrived too early. Tip #1: they open for dinner at 5:30, Thursday through Saturday only.
So we headed toward the track, to visit Liuzza's, famed for its po' boys--a tip from Davey and Gracie. BBQ shrimp po' boy? Garlic oyster po' boy? Yes. But along the way, we got distracted by the idea of stopping on St. Charles for a drink somewhere, then got even more distracted by a new route which ended up taking us downtown. We decided to land in the Quarter. I found my first-ever parking place on Bourbon Street (a very big deal). Since we were there, we thought, "Frank's"--we'd heard great things about it. Alas, our stay was short. Under pressure from our waiter, we ordered crab-stuffed mushrooms, which were highly flavorful, but $10 for three? Ouch. Tip #2: Frank's is tasty but priced for tourists. Luckily, we mustered the courage to brave the rain and the traffic and head back to the car, by way of Molly's. Tip #3: Molly's is a cozy little place, but it gets real fratty on Saturday night. Back uptown, we returned to our starting point at 7:00 p.m., which was just in time to beat the crowd.
Casamento's was established in 1919 and still inhabits the same location. It's small, tiled, and bright, and you walk through the miniscule kitchen to get to the restrooms. I absolutely love walking through restaurant kitchens. More!
At Casamento's, the sandwiches are "loaves," which differs from a po' boy by bread. The bread for a loaf isn't the light, fluffy New Orleans French that you expect when you order a po' boy. It's thick-cut white toast, the type I normally call "Texas." Somehow that doesn't feel right anymore. I guess I'll start calling it "loaf." I think there's a little garlic butter spread on this bread. Your basic NOLA "dressing" of mayo, tomato, and lettuce, and then the lightest, freshest fried catfish you can imagine. Oh my.
The menu is small but complete. Everything you could want in a New Orleans seafood joint is there: seafood gumbo (a tomatoey version), fresh, juicy raw oysters ($9 a dozen! $4.50 half dozen!), fried trout and catfish, softshell crabs. The star, to me, was the catfish loaf I ordered--the best-tasting sandwich I've had in this city, bar none. I'm a fan of Casamento's for several reasons, but their "small prices"--the choice you have of ordering a full-sized dinner for $12 or a half-sized dinner for $6.75--are the most important, for me. I'm a taster. I don't need a huge plate, and I usually don't even want it. I respect a restaurant that does something to keep me coming back: excellent food, fair price.
Riccobono's Panola Street Cafe, in the Riverbend, is a homey, silverware-clanking spot on a residential street (7801 Panola), which helps contribute to the feeling that you've tapped into a true locals' secret. You walk in and seat yourself (if there's a seat to be had), read the menu waiting for you on the table, and linger over the paper and a cup of coffee. Prices aren't high, service is friendly enough, and there are several interesting options to try.
If liver and crawfish don't call to you in the morning, don't fear. The ordinary but soul-satisfying breakfast fare is all here as well: pancakes, sunny-side upps, bacon, and benedict.
By the way, if you're wondering what eating liver for breakfast is like, it's like this: each chew alternates between the flavors of steak and vitamins. Vitamin-steak-vitamin-steak-vitamin-steak. Swallow. Not bad, lots of iron, fortifying. Not exactly juicy.
They also serve lunch--sandwiches, burgers, salads, gumbo--quickly and affordably.
Just take my hand and I'll lead ya!
I promise life will be sweeter,
'Cause it said so, in my dreams...
I'm an Oklahoma girl, born and raised, so it should be understandable that I never had much occasion to sample raw oysters. There is a popular oyster bar, P&J Oyster Co., in Tulsa's Brookside (near my stomping grounds), which my dad visited occasionally, but when the family went, I only ordered fried shrimp. I should admit here that I was fifteen or sixteen before I could even abide the texture of shrimp.