Caloric and Musical Break

August 2, 2009

O Best Beloveds, things are humming along in the medical department, and I will write about that shortly, but we are so so overdue for a bit of food porn, I think we should just go have a little fun for the moment. As always, this is a purely frivolous email, so please don’t worry about reading it unless you agree with the adjective “fun”.

I’m so behind I never reported on my December study (it was! We did!) trip to NOLA with Preacher Girl Nichole and God School Fay and believe me, there was much to write about. But it’s been so long that I’m now blurry on great details. Still, I can say the following with authority; after much dedicated research, we have concluded that the best BBQ shrimp (and by this I mean the “Cajun” style, which is, ideally, large Gulf shrimp, baked swimming in a rich buttery, spicy, garlic sauce that you sop up greedily with bread in between yelling about how this is the best shrimp you’ve ever had) in town at this moment is at the Bourbon Seafood House. Nichole had it, and she was unseemingly gleeful about how she had the hands down best dish on the table. And this despite the fact that Fay and I both had beautifully sauteed and grilled fish topped with fresh lump crab meat (but of course!). As your NOLA semi-expert, I really do think that this restaurant tends to get overlooked because it’s right there on Bourbon–not to mention right by the traditionally adored Acme Oyster House–but I’ve never had a bad meal there.

But back to that shrimp: our second favorite I think would have to be the version served currently at Ralph’s on the Park, which is a restaurant that has gone up and down over the years, but is at this moment (well, Dec., anyway) on an up. They do or add something slightly different/additional to the shrimp dish, but I’m sorry I can’t remember at this moment what it is. A similar version is served at Ralph Brennan’s really fine restaurant down at Disney, so that does make it more convenient for many of you to try. (And what of Mr. B’s, long my favorite bbq shrimp place? The version we had was way too peppery. Perhaps we caught them on an off night.) Another stand-out–for me, not fishetarian Fay–at Ralph’s was the lamb cheeks pasta, beautiful homemade wide noodles with a rich meaty sauce, just splendid. Also, a shout-out to Rambla which is doing Spanish and New Orleans influenced tapas, and very well, a place to go to have a light yet mature meal.

We also went, thanks to the graciousness of Leeann, to the Thurs farmer’s market, full of not just fine produce, but fresh fish and homemade cheese and weird breads and all other kinds of delights. They also have a chef from a local restaurant cooking up something special and seasonal there each week. Obviously, it’s a better experience if you have a nice NOLA house to bring booty back to (Fay made fried green tomatoes!) but it’s an interesting thing to do if you are a foodie or like farmer’s markets, because they cram a great deal of variety–percentage-wise, equal to the behemoth Sunday Hollywood Farmer’s market–into a relatively small space, reminding you again of the many possibilities of this eating town.

Now on to Jazz Fest. Oy, I can not believe I never wrote about Jazz Fest. But you know, I haven’t been feeling good. STILL. So let’s digress for a little music porn. Pete Seeger, ya’ll! Still getting it done at 152! And then there was Glenn David Andrews, exorcising his many demons at a Gospel Tent set that sent so much electricity in the air he could have powered the whole city post-Katrina. (There were other stunning gospel sets too, but I’m never smart enough to write down their names. But believe me–the whole joint was testifying.) Or Bobby Lounge, the great piano player/humorist (check out “I remember the night your trailer burned down”) who is very fragile, you know, and has to be wheeled out in his iron lung and overseen by his perpetually bored Nurse Pontevecchio. (This, in case you can’t tell, is an elaborate joke.) Bobby (“I may or may not be two steps ahead of the law”) gave me the line of the Fest when he said “Or as Nurse Pontevecchio said, `You don’t have swine flu you idiot, you’re just fat.'” (I have, in fact, said this a number of times to myself over the past few weeks.) And then there was John Boutte, the only set I made Bianca and her friend Leslie, first time (but not last) Fest goers, sit entirely through, apologizing if I oversold him. Some time during the third song Leslie turned to me and said “No, no, you did NOT oversell this.” He sang a new Annie Lennox song that made everyone go prostrate, and we all sang along about how, like him, “I’m a good neighbor, I’m a good friend, I’m a good neighbor, you’re in good hands.” He comes to LA from time to time, and next time I will send out a warning because you need to see him, that you do.

But the stand out shows for me were two evening ones. The first was the long awaited (eight years!) Continental Drifters reunion. No space for me to explain the Drifters to you all, but suffice to say that Paula, who had never seen them before despite husband Mark’s obsession with them, summed it up for us all when she turned to me and said “Tell me again, why aren’t they hugely famous?” The evening was a multi-reunion, as the Drifters got spread around the country post-Katrina. I saw Mark W. for the first time since then, and we cried as we hugged and kissed and then he asked how I was doing and I had to tell him and we cried some more. And then we all cried when they got on stage, and then they sang the song about all being drifters and lovers and dreamers and friends and we cried some more, and then Susan sang her song about what she’s going to do to keep on and if she can’t do it today she’s going to get up and do it tomorrow and I though “yeah, you rite.” Oh, and we danced. Boy, did we dance.

The next night, Susan Cowsill and her excellent band did their monthly “Covered In Vinyl” series, wherein they take a classic album and do it in its entirety. Last Fest; Born to Run. This Fest–Sgt. Pepper’s! Accompanied by local musician Caleb, Miss Vicki Peterson on backing vocals (and, like Susan, fetching clad in a band uniform), and with drop-ins like 14 year old (!!) Frankie Ford on harp (for “She’s Leaving Home”), oh, it was a hoot. They even had a rooster sound for “Good Morning.” And that “aaaaaah, ah ah” chorus on “Day In The Life” provided Perfect Diana and me a sublime moment. This band does this remarkable thing EVERY MONTH, and if you are in NOLA on the first Sat. of any month, GO.

Regrettably, I recall little about what we ate during Fest, though I know we ate very well. Two stand-outs: Cafe Adelaide, which is just getting better and better. (I actually had a wonderful lunch there during the Dec trip but my stomach checked out right before and I wasn’t hungry enough to appreciate it, damn it.) Chef spoiled us with his take on Vietnamese po boys, pork with pork on panneed bread. And then there is the duck debris on cornbread waffles, sweet and savory at once, one of THE dishes in NOLA right now, I think, though it’s not always on the menu. There were five of us dining, we had A LOT, and there wasn’t a bum dish in the lot. Please put them on your must-do list for NOLA dining.

And there was the Commander’s Palace dinner where they, oh, calloo callay!!, had the foie gras De Mode appetizer on the menu again. I wrote about this in lascivious detail last Fest round up, but as a reminder: foie gras on top a berry beignet with a chicory “coffee” mixed with just enough foie gras to give it a thick, almost cocoa quality. Paula put her fork down and said several rapturous, nearly incoherent things, but the point was that Commander’s remains firmly the NOLA restaurant of her heart.

Moving away from Fest now and into the present. I haven’t been on my game, food-wise, a bit lately, but have been indulging every food whim that wanders through, thanks largely to Steve, but also my brother, and Janet, and other friends who are willing to drop everything and go to Bay City Imports for a Godmother (Italian cold cuts fully dressed on flawless bread) or Yang Chow for Slippery Shrimp. But the stand out has to be hilarious British sister Claire (surely you’ve read her book, “Plus One”? If not, why not?) who came over with her lovely Colin bearing a full course meal, fully prepared. Oh, Beloveds, it was salmon baked on green beans, topped with little red and yellow tomatoes, and rice with all kinds of bits, including roasted garlic, and a lightly dressed salad, and good goat cheese with tarragon, and runny brie with pomegranate seeds and homemade strawberry ice cream and pineapple topped with mint and sugar. I ate more than I had eaten in a week or two, and there was a very good reason for that. Someone, hire this woman as a chef, stat. After you buy her sequel book, of course.

So, yay! Isn’t that ever so much better than nasty old tumors?

I should say so,