July 11, 2007

O Best Beloveds, in response to the request of a few–okay, a couple–herewith an account of Some Things Eaten Recently In New Orleans. As always when I deliver food porn, I do not expect you to read any or all of it. But before you move on, know that all things considering, oral chemo seems pretty good, though I’ve been a bit wobbly the last few days, which could be anything at all. I went off my feed at some point during our trip, which for a normal person would usually be credited to the fact that I just flatly ate too much. But for me? We must blame the meds. But that’s why one travels with Stunts Stomachs, and they rose to fill in the spaces with dignity, nobility and gusto. In the interest of decency, I’m writing up only the best dishes consumed:

1) The Fried Chicken at Willie Mae’s Scotch House. You might want to watch this video first, but the short version is that before Katrina this was just a humble chicken shack, part of an octogenarian’s own home. But then in 2005, said chef was honored with a James Beard award as a living culinary treasure. Weeks later, her house and restaurant flooded and she lost everything–except her Beard medal. The video explains the dear efforts to help restore the place. And was it worth it? Oh, you bet. Platonic ideal fried chicken was the verdict, so good that Debi renounced her renunciation of skin eating, to consume every bit of the crispy, puffed, but not greasy goodness, to say nothing of the moist flesh beneath, and then insisted we have an additional round of fried bird. Nothing else on the whole trip delighted us as much. That it’s set in a place reconstructed with love and care doesn’t hurt.

2) Desserts at Riche. This is a Todd English venture at the new Harrah’s hotel. They have a pastry chef goddess of such genius we flapped around helplessly in her presence. A chocolate trio included molten balls of liquid chocolate souffle (a good take on what is becoming a tired dessert in town), a milk chocolate caramel tart and a popsicle of a square of mint chocolate ice cream covered in thin mint chocolate. Pineapple cake was deconstructed–I know, but between the caramel poached pineapple, the cherry soda and the pina colada sorbet, it all worked, and this from a girl who doesn’t like fruit for dessert. Speaking of, there was the “study in strawberry”–a fritter of strawberry dough fried with a strawberry inside, frozen vanilla souffle with thick strawberry ice cream and “drunken” berries. Dang.

3) The Almond and Herb-Crusted Rack of Lamb and Boneless Lamb Ribeye at Stella! You know how when lamb is done right, it’s meltingly tender? So your knife is almost not needed at all? This was that lamb.

4) Eggs Benedict at Dante’s Kitchen. Because they replaced the Canadian bacon with thin, tender slices of rosemary crusted pork loin, and used a little honey in the sauce. Sweet, savory, with eggs that were picture perfect poached. We figured the dish we would all fight over was the poached eggs with pork debris, but no, this take on an often dull dish nearly severed several beautiful friendships. We should have ordered two.

5) The Bacon Wrapped Chicago-Style Hot Dog at Palace Cafe. Also, the White Chocolate Bread Pudding. But most importantly, the Mississippi Mud Pie. The hot dog was a special done as part of a Brennan family hot dog competition, but you know how I feel about bacon wrapped dogs (or if you don’t, you can imagine) and this was terrific, aided by the brioche bun, the neon-green relish, the house made bacon and the dog which was part veal, part beef, in a swirly pattern. The pudding is mentioned because of Caroline’s deep and real relationship with it, which has continued unabated for seven years now. And the pie? Well, it’s five layers of chocolate mousse, from lightest to darkest and densest, on a chocolate cookie crust, and it’s long been my favorite dessert ever. It’s also been off the menu for at least ten years. (The day Steve and I went in there, merrily expecting our favorite afternoon snack, only to learn it was no longer available is one of the darkest days of our lives.) Is it as good as ever? No. Do I care? No. Chocolate mousse!!!

6) The Duck Debris Thingie at the Swizzle Stick Bar at Cafe Adelaide. This was a lagniappe courtesy bartender goddess Lu, and so we were too busy wolfing it down to get the details. But balls of duck debris, I think, crusted with something and then fried, with a foie gras sauce. Something like that. It was too brilliant for me to have been so careless with my attention regarding it.

7) That Soup from Dick and Jenny’s. I seem to have been more careless with menus than I thought (or ought) but it was a combo of mango and ginger and something else, and it had a nice terrine of lump crabmeat and avocado in the center. I’m usually indifferent to soups–there’s nothing to chew!–but this had a lot of richness without resorting to cream, and there was plenty of mouth interest and I didn’t want anything else on the table, I loved the soup so much. A fine way of showing my affection, not even learning it’s name!

8) Pretty Much Everything At Luke. A new venture from Beard-winning John Besch, it’s a German-French brassiere, and between the Alsatian tort of chunks of thick bacon, caramelized onions and kuchen base, the gelatinous and translucent warm calves head terrine (combined with a tart tomato salad), the flawless shrimp on top of creamy grits, the big juicy burger with more thick cut bacon and layers of cheese and caramelized onions on an onion roll, the house made charcuterie of pork belly, sausage, cochon de lait and more (one fine plate of pig) and the wee chocolate pudding filled profiteroles that we popped in our mouths like M&M’s, we waddled out of the place. Most satisfying.

9) Ice Cream at La Divina. New gelato and ice cream places are popping up all over the city, and we tried a few, but the honey sesame goat’s milk and the chocolate with cayenne flavors where–along with others, including sorbet made with Abita Turbo Dog–won our unofficial competition. Not enough atmosphere, but an awfully good menu.

10) The Truffled Scallops at Commander’s Palace. I know–again with the bad note taking. There was so much more going on with it than that description indicates. But I didn’t expect that Jean would receive this dish, eat a few bites, put her fork down and gravely announce “This is the best thing I’ve eaten in my life.” Still, no excuse for being caught off guard like that.

11) The Fish at Jill and Charles’. Probably my favorite thing to eat in New Orleans. Freshly caught that morning by Charles (assisted by Yasmin and Zan), pan fried with a little garlic, lemon and olive oil, and a little more of that on top. Perfection.

Gotta love those cardinal sins,