Thursday, December 17, 2009

Café Nino

Although last night was a cheat night for me, all I could think about was curling up in a blanket and drinking something hot.  I was hungry at dinnertime, but the last thing I wanted to do was brave the horrible weather.  When John suggested pizza, I jumped at the opportunity and suggested we get a pie from Café Nino, only a few short blocks away from our apartment.  This is my 18th cheat and I am down 47 pounds.

In my humble opinion, I believe Café Nino is the best place to go in New Orleans if you want a delicious, New York-style pizza.  Nino Bongiorno, the owner, is at his restaurant almost every day and is pleased to regale you with stories of how to make the perfect pizza.  He once confided in me that the path to a perfect pie lies in fresh dough and an excellent sauce.  If you have those two ingredients down, your pizzas will be the talk of the town.  If you have ever eaten one of Nino’s pies, you will know he’s got the formula down pat.

From the warmth of our apartment, we called Café Nino and ordered a large pepperoni and mushroom pizza and we were told it would be ready in 15 minutes.  When ordering pizza from an authentic joint like Nino’s, I love to keep the pie simple.  I believe that too many toppings can rob you of the exquisite experience eating a perfect New York-style pizza can create.

When we picked up the pizza, I couldn’t help eyeing the other dishes available that night.  I have heard that the Chicken or Eggplant Parmigiana is fantastic and it certainly looked tasty.  Apparently, Nino also offers daily specials for less than $10 and every Friday he prepares steamed mussels and a fish special for all those folks observing Lent.  He also makes an incredible Philly Cheese Steak that he claims is the “one and only in the city.”

I paid with a check (Café Nino only accepts checks and cash) and we took our steaming hot pie home.  Sitting comfortably on our couch, we only devoured two slices each. I absolutely love the savory sauce Nino uses for his pies and the crust is always thin and tasty.

John and I were surprised by how full we felt after only two slices, but that’s Nino’s for you!  I realized after inhaling my pizza that I had forgotten a cheat must; I had no dessert!  I went into the kitchen and busted out some Hershey’s cocoa powder and whipped up two steaming mugs of hot chocolate, complete with Christmas tree-shaped marshmallows.  It was an excellent cheat and enjoyed completely in the warmth and comfort of my own home.  It doesn’t get better than that!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Curry Corner: Fiscally responsible dining

All this week I have been considering where to eat and, unfortunately, it was the remaining funds in my checkbook that finally made my decision.  I don’t know about you, but spending over $200 on dining out in only two short weeks is way too rich for my blood.  So, keeping my finances in mind, and the fact that it was freezing cold last night, I decided to stay close to home and visit a corner restaurant I have been wanting to try for some time now…Curry Corner. This is my 17th cheat and I am down 46 pounds.

Considering my love for Indian cuisine, I am surprised I have not tried this little gem sooner.  Curry Corner, on the corner of Oak Street and Carrollton Avenue, happens to be a more convenient (and affordable) offshoot of Sara’s, which is located only a few blocks over on Dublin Street.  I have dined at Sara’s before and hoped the food at Curry Corner would be just as tasty.

When we walked into the restaurant, I immediately saw how this set-up would be an ideal place to come and get curry to go.  Don’t get me wrong, it was decorated nicely and the tables and chairs were quite comfortable, it was the system of acquiring your food that stuck me as timely and efficient.  Set up like a buffet, you receive rice from the server behind the counter and then fill your plate with whatever you choose and, at the end, you pay according to the weight of your plate!

John and I both got two scoops of basmati rice, a helping of garbanzo beans cooked in a tamarind sauce, some cubed chicken in a coconut curry, a nice portion of saag paneer made with spinach and lentils, half of a large samosa and naan.  We loaded up our plates and were surprised when the total price, including a couple of 20 oz. Cokes, was under $20!  We sat down right away and actually had no difficulty cleaning our plates.  The best thing about Indian food is soaking up all the delicious sauces with a piece of warm naan.  I could easily see myself picking up some dinner from Curry Corner to go and bringing it home to John as a nice, spicy surprise.

Completely full, but still anxious for dessert, we walked around the corner to Gelato Pazzo’s to see if they were still open.  We were in luck!  I couldn’t resist ordering a large Mocha to go along with a large half Dulce Leche, half Chocolato gelato.  I know, it’s really cold outside, but in my opinion it is never too cold to eat ice cream.  I love Pazzo’s, their gelato is always delicious.

Perhaps next week, I will be able to afford to dine out without worrying so much about the check, but I do not regret my delicious meal at Curry Corner in the slightest and my wallet certainly agrees with me.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Little Tokyo Restaurant: Conquering the big rolls

Although the weather outside is frightful...frightfully still doesn’t prevent me from craving huge sushi rolls stuffed with fried soft shell crab, avocado, cream cheese and other tasty ingredients that really have no place in traditional Japanese cuisine.

Don’t get me wrong, I adore sashimi, tonkatsu, udon and other classical dishes, but I also appreciate the huge effort made by sushi chefs to please their patrons by incorporating local favorites into their rolls, creating some really incredible flavor combinations.  Little Tokyo on Carrollton Avenue is one such restaurant that appeals to New Orleans diners by offering local cuisine with a Japanese twist.  This is my 16th cheat and I am down 45 pounds.

When my friend Anne, my boyfriend John and I get together for sushi, there is no limit to our appetite for big, hearty rolls with exotic ingredients.  Last night, after being seated at a comfortable table at Little Tokyo, we couldn’t help selecting from the “special” rolls on the menu, huge rolls that are not only delicious, but beautifully presented.

From a long list, we chose a Mango Crab Roll, a Gustav Roll, a Po-Boy Roll, the Yami Yami Eel Roll and, my favorite, a Rainbow Roll.  We also decided to ask for the “Sushi Bar Special Salad” that seems to be a combination of leftover roll ingredients as it is different every time we try it.  Understanding the ferocity of our insatiable appetites, we almost ordered a sixth roll, but thankfully we decided against it considering the veritable “food coma” we experienced after the meal was over.  But I get ahead of myself...

Our salads came out first with a large ceramic cup filled with steaming hot green tea.  This time, the “special salad” was laden with romaine lettuce, cucumber, squid, sweet seaweed and a ginger dressing that was extremely flavorful.  Before we were finished, our Po-Boy Roll and Mango Crab Roll were presented in all their colorful glory on square, white plates that only accentuated their aesthetics.  We hurriedly inhaled our salads while eyeing the rolls, trying to decide which one to try first.

After preparing my soy/wasabi dipping sauce, I couldn’t help diving into the Po-Boy Roll.  It was a flavorful combination of fried soft shell crab, crispy shrimp tempura, boiled crawfish, and romaine lettuce held together with a soybean wrap and accented with the Chef’s Special Sauce that was both spicy and tart.  Next, I dove into the Mango Crab Roll replete with Louisiana lump crabmeat and romaine lettuce tied together in a soybean wrapper and topped with thin slices of cucumber and mango drizzled with a sweet chili sauce.  Absolutely delicious!

Soon, there wasn’t enough room on the table because the rest of our rolls were coming out in a flurry.  By the time we finished the Po-Boy Roll, our Rainbow Roll came out, gleaming with assorted raw fish like tuna, salmon and yellowtail wrapped with avocado around a basic snowcrab roll.  Then, while masterfully stuffing the last piece of the Mango Crab Roll into my mouth, the Yami Yami Eel Roll and Gustav Roll were served.  The Yami Yami is yummy to my tummy with thick slices of barbecued eel layered on top of a snowcrab roll and drizzled with tangy eel sauce.

I don’t know how something so tasty can be named after a hurricane, but the Gustav Roll was a fattening treat with fried shrimp tempura, spicy tuna and cream cheese in a soybean wrap and topped with thick slices of fresh salmon and mango surrounded by a sweet chili sauce.

I can’t believe we did it, but all the rolls were demolished and we pushed ourselves back from the table with luxuriant sighs of satisfaction.  Only one thing was missing…dessert!  Even though we had stuffed ourselves silly, we knew we couldn’t let a good cheat night pass without having dessert.

Luckily for us, Angelo Brocato’s was less than a block away.  We figured the half-block walk would provide a newfound appetite for pastries, and although we were wrong about that, we indulged ourselves anyhow.

My favorite pastry at Brocato’s is their flaky, custard-filled Napoleons, but they had sold out!  As I resigned myself to a mezzo instead, Anne selected two small cannolis and John chose an éclair.  There is truly nothing like the delicate, creamy Italian pastries at Angelo Brocato’s.

I already have plans for my next cheat so stay tuned!  I’ve selected a fairly new restaurant that I have never been to before, and the menu is one of the most diverse I have seen thus far.  This is simply the best diet ever!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Muriel’s Jackson Square: A Thanksgiving to remember

There are simply too many things in my life to be thankful for.  I have a loving boyfriend, the cutest dog in the whole world and a wonderful family, who I desperately miss especially on Thanksgiving Day.  Since I often can’t afford to return to California to celebrate this awesome family occasion, I have held parties for my friends where we would feast on fried turkey (purchased hot from Koz’s) and my own Jambalaya-inspired cornbread stuffing.  This year, to save money and my diet, John and I decided to do something I have never done before.  We dined out for Thanksgiving and I am oh so thankful we chose to have our feast at Muriel’s Jackson Square.

Due to a horrid cheat experience and a case of viral conjunctivitis, I have not reported my cheats for the last two weeks.  After such a trying month, I have been looking forward to a new holiday experience plus a fantastic cheat and Muriel’s offered all that and more.  This is my 15th week and my 15th cheat and I am down 44 pounds.

The sun was shining bright over a beautiful, sleepy day in the French Quarter.  The city seemed almost bereft of tourists that made parking a breeze and strolling through Jackson Square a private delight.  Families were scattered here and there, admiring the beauty of the St. Louis Cathedral, watching the sole juggler spin soft beanbags around his head or dancing to a lone tuba player belting out “When the Saints go marching in”, his voice lilting alone across the unusually quiet square.  Hand in hand, John and I found ourselves falling in love with the beauty of New Orleans all over again.

Since 1718 the building that now houses Muriel’s has been everything from a personal residence, a grocery store, a spaghetti factory and even a saloon.  After a major renovation restoring the building as a personal residence, Muriel’s opened its doors in 2001 to the pleasure of both diners and ghost hunters alike.  John and I were escorted through classic New Orleans architecture with exposed brick walls and an elegant indoor gallery overlooking a courtyard bar.  The dining room was crowded with both large and small linen-covered tables with heavily padded chairs that were surprisingly lightweight.  To begin our celebration we ordered some cocktails, a cosmopolitan for me and a very dirty vodka martini for John, while deciding on appetizers.

For Thanksgiving, in addition to offering their normal dinner menu, Muriel’s was offering a 3-course special for only $38.00 per person and we decided to take them up on it.  For an appetizer, I chose the Gorgonzola Tart and John wanted to try the Oyster Pan Roast.  While sipping our drinks, we were brought a loaf of bread spiced for the season with clove and nutmeg served with a creamy whipped butter.  In short order, our appetizers arrived.  The Gorgonzola Tart was served with honeyed pecans, sliced apple and plump fresh blackberries that made a perfect mach for the rich, tart cheese.  John’s plump, juicy Louisiana oysters were swimming in a sauce with leeks, wild mushrooms and thyme and served with a savory apple-smoked bacon corn muffin.  Both dishes were so delicious that, although we shared a few bites, we jealously hoarded the remaining mouthfuls for ourselves.

Although turkey was on the menu, I couldn’t resist ordering a Double-Cut Porkchop for my entrée (surprise, surprise) and John selected a Garlic-Crusted Redfish topped with jumbo lump crabmeat.  Both entrees turned out to be very healthy-sized portions, but we had no difficulties devouring everything on our plates.  The porkchop was perfectly cooked, juicy on the inside, crispy and sweet on the outside.  It was topped with sugarcane apple glaze and served with pecan-glazed sweet potatoes and Southern-style greens.  Each bite was pure bliss and John was more than happy to help me clean the plate.  John’s Redfish was served on brown-buttered, Brussel sprouts, with apple-smoked bacon and red onions and loaded with jumbo lump crabmeat.  Both dishes were divine and we couldn’t have been more pleased with our Thanksgiving bounty thus far.

Finally, for dessert I ordered the Pumpkin pie with Creme Chantilly and John requested the Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie (what’s Thanksgiving without pie after all?) and some nice, hot cappuccinos.  We were sinfully surprised by the homemade biscotti that accompanied our coffee and for even extra lagniappe; we were gifted with two perfect chocolate truffles just in case we hadn’t over-indulged enough yet.  Everything was fantastic.  I particularly enjoyed the large pieces of rich chocolate among the sweet pecans in John’s pie, when I finally wrenched a bite away from him.  Also, my Pumpkin Pie was perfectly spiced, heavy with clove that only emphasized the sweetness of my favorite fall squash.  Simply delicious.

Heavily satiated, and sedated, as for any Thanksgiving feast in our past, we sauntered back into Jackson Square feeling elated.  We had an incredible dining experience in a beautiful restaurant in the heart of the city I love, the city that has truly become my home.  Not only am I thankful for the exquisite meal provided by the talented chefs at Muriel’s, I am thankful to live in New Orleans where food this delicious can be had on any old day and not just on special occasions.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Beef Connection

I’m not sure if it’s because I’m preparing to hibernate for the winter or a lack of iron, but I have been craving a nice, juicy steak lately.  Images of a thick, medium-rare filet that yields easily to a knife have been pervading my dreams and even my waking thoughts and I knew I couldn’t put it off any longer.  Although I know of many different steakhouses in the city, I asked around for a casual establishment where I could get a really incredible steak and one of my co-workers mentioned The Beef Connection in Gretna.  She had never been there herself, but her friend had raved how the filets were “like buttah” and I decided to give it a try.  This is my 14th week and my 14th cheat and I am down 43 pounds.

The name of the restaurant sent my other co-workers into giggling fits (the film The Breakfast Club comes to mind), and though it was amusing, it did not deter me in my quest for a mouth-watering steak.  John and I headed over to the Westbank to brave the name and risk the unknown. We arrived at the restaurant at around 7:30 p.m. and were surprised to find that half of the dining room was filled with people gathering for some sort of club.  The hostess led us to a table on the opposite side of the dining room and our waitress came immediately to take our drink order.

Looking around, I couldn’t help feeling that I had stepped back into the 70’s.  The dining room was decorated with peeling floral wallpaper and one wall sported floor to ceiling mirrors that were old and damaged. I’m not a stickler for perfect surroundings but this establishment is due for an update.

Browsing the menu at a steakhouse is always difficult.  I know I want a small filet but do I want an appetizer or a side dish?  It seems that many steakhouses are highly adept at grilling the perfect cut of meat but then their side dishes suffer serious neglect.  John and I, being the brave diners we are, ordered a fried calamari appetizer and two sides to share: Lyonnaise Potatoes and Asparagus Gratin.

In a timely manner, our fried calamari arrived with some clarified garlic butter for dipping.  The calamari was tender and the batter was spiced well and crunchy, but I think I should have requested a different dipping sauce.  The combination of the fried calamari and butter made the dish a little too oily and I would have preferred a good tartar sauce or marinara.  I can only blame myself for not asking.

Our sizzling “small” filets came out next served on extremely hot plates weighing in at what I would estimate to be easily over eight ounces.  I wonder what the large filets weigh!  Cooked medium-rare, the perfectly grilled filets were most definitely “like buttah” and each bite I took practically melted in my mouth.  John and I agreed, heads wagging and mouths full, that the steaks were absolutely perfect.

The side dishes had come out along with our steaks and were easily large enough for two servings.  If you don’t already know, Lyonnaise Potatoes is a fancy way of saying “potatoes sautéed with onion” and regardless of the simplicity of the dish, it was quite tasty.  Unfortunately, the asparagus used in the gratin was obviously canned and ruined the dish.  I realize asparagus is not quite in season until February, but I would rather it wasn’t on the menu instead of substituting fresh ingredients.

As you all know, I couldn’t leave the restaurant without sampling a dessert so John and I ordered the Crème Brule Cheesecake and some coffee.  Our order came out quickly and I found the cheesecake to be okay, although I believe it was store-bought.  The “Crème Brule” topping should have been crunchy, but instead it seemed a little chewy (probably due to refrigeration).

Walking away from The Beef Connection, my boyfriend and I were definitely satiated and highly pleased with our fabulous steaks and friendly service.  I believe that this restaurant could be improved greatly with just a little redecorating along with a commitment to fresh ingredients when it comes to sides and desserts.  But, if you seek a fantastic steak at a reasonable price, I would not hesitate recommending The Beef Connection...just try not to giggle at the name!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Burger perfection at GB’s Patio Bar & Grill

Everyone in New Orleans has a favorite burger joint.  A friend of mine loves the hand-formed burgers and sweet potato fries at Beachcorner Bar & Grill on Canal Street and another touts the overstuffed baked potatoes and heady Monsoons at Port of Call in the Quarter, but my burger of choice is lovingly made at GB’s Patio Bar & Grill.  Located on Maple Street on the river-side of Carrollton Avenue in the Riverbend, GB’s is an unassuming, neighborhood restaurant with a welcoming patio dining area replete with fans or space heaters, as the weather dictates and a small staff that remembers your face and treats everyone like an old friend.  John and I were in the mood for a leisurely burger in a comfortable atmosphere and GB’s always fits the bill.  I am down a grand total of 42 pounds and this is my 13th cheat.

As soon as we sat down, our waiter smiled at us from across the brick-lined patio dining area filed with large iron tables and chairs.  He greeted us with menus in hand and took our order of drinks.  As many times as I have been to GB’s, I have never ordered an appetizer, we always go straight for the burger. But, in the spirit of indulgence, we decided to try the Spinach and Artichoke dip in addition to two 6 oz. cheese burgers cooked medium rare and served with a side of French fries.  GB’s offers other great sides like a baked potato with lots of extras or a small salad, but I was in the mood for fries.

The dip came out in a timely fashion, piping hot and smelling delicious.  It was served with crispy, warm tortilla chips and we gobbled the cheesy concoction down in short order.  I’ve had tons of Spinach and Artichoke dips before and this one was really quite good.  Initially, I had wanted the potato skins, but John overruled me by choosing the dip and I was not disappointed.

After a comfortable interval, our burgers arrived cooked to order with a large pile of freshly grated cheddar cheese atop the perfectly grilled meat.  Fresh toppings like a thick, juicy slice of tomato, some pickles, red onion and shredded lettuce were included on each plate and all of the tables are conveniently equipped with various condiments including mayonnaise and ketchup.  I once asked our waiter why the burgers at GB’s are so tasty and he explained that the owner hand-grinds the sirloin and uses his own combination of spices and sauces to create perfection on a bun.

We always enjoy the juicy burgers at GB’s but I can rarely walk away from their homemade cakes.  Craving chocolate (as usual) we ordered a slice of German Chocolate Cake.  We were served a huge slice, but had no difficulty devouring the moist, rich, chocolate cake with creamy, coconut-laden frosting.  As usual, it was absolutely delicious.

Walking away from the restaurant, we were pleased that we had another wonderfully satisfying cheat and comforted knowing a great neighborhood bar (conveniently in our neighborhood) was still offering an affordable and tasty meal in a relaxing courtyard patio just blocks away.  Perhaps next week we should range further from home, but it’s nice to taste the familiar from time to time and neither of us could think of a better place for the perfect burger but GB’s Patio Bar & Grill.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Ye Olde College Inn Restaurant & Bar

Before the storm, my boss Jay put $40 in my hand and sent me to take out our intern (Gregg) to lunch for his last day at the office. He was moving on to bigger and better things in Dallas, Texas. Gregg and I grinned at each other, excited that we had more to spend at lunch than a $5 dollar meal at McDonald’s and ran out of the office clutching our cash before our boss could change his mind. I clearly recall having a leisurely lunch and one of the best hamburgers I’ve ever eaten at Ye Olde College Inn. Last night I decided it had been too long since my last visit. This is my 12th week and my 12th cheat and I am down 38 pounds.

John and I argued about where our cheat would be this week, he wanted hibachi and I wanted something fried, but I came out victorious and selected to re-visit Ye Olde College Inn on Carrollton Ave. It has been almost 6 years since I last visited this restaurant and I was ready to experience it again, although I was in for a whole new experience.

Ye Olde College Inn had actually moved into an adjacent building that they remodeled a few years ago and, when John and I walked in, I found the décor to be much more appealing, modern and hip.  There were murals on the walls of Canal Street scenes, wooden cutouts of New Orleans-style streetlamps reaching above walls that ended abruptly before an open ceiling that exposed the metal beams and air conditioning units.  An assortment of chandeliers hung above the white linen covered tables and a quaint, stand up piano in one corner. It seems they are trying to attract a younger clientele, though without apparent need, their regulars are very faithful and I was beginning to see why.

John and I were seated immediately and our pleasantly attentive server appeared shortly to take our order.  The simple menu offered a variety of classic New Orleans favorites like etouffee and gumbo, but we were in the mood for some po-boys.  We ordered an appetizer of Slow-Cooked Duck with grilled orange and pecans in a honey BBQ sauce and a tasty looking stack of homemade onion rings.  For my entrée, I ordered a famous Foot-Long Oyster Po-Boy with Havarti Cheese and Bacon and John got the Foot-Long Fried Green Tomato Po-Boy with boiled shrimp and their signature Remoulade.

The appetizers came out quickly and soon we were digging into the rich, moist duck with a sauce so decadent, it almost felt like dessert!  Although the onion rings were delicious by themselves, we couldn’t help but try to soak up the leftover Honey BBQ sauce from the duck and we found ourselves guiltily dipping the rings when we thought no one was looking.

Shortly after devouring the apps and licking the sauce from our fingers, our po-boys came out.  Filling the large dinner plates, we knew we wouldn’t be able to finish our two huge, foot-long po-boys served on crusty, fresh French bread and resigned ourselves to bringing home the leftovers.  The oysters were fried perfectly in a cornmeal-type batter and were plump, juicy and divine.  The bacon and Havarti cheese complimented the decadent oysters easily and it was truly a po-boy to remember.  John’s Fried Green Tomato Po-Boy was fantastic and their Remoulade was easily the best I have tasted so far.

Our server brought to-go boxes and accurately divined that we were ready for some dessert. One dish jumped out at me from the menu and I immediately chose it from the rest (including a Fried Bread Pudding Po-Boy…WOW!), the Chocolate Pecan Caramel Cluster Cake.

In no time at all, our server brought out two cups of coffee and our dessert that we inhaled much more quickly then expected.  The cake was the consistency of a thick brownie with large pecans draped in caramel on top.  It was absolutely wonderful!

We breathed a full, satiated sigh, grabbed our to-go box and waddled out of the restaurant.  This classic, New Orleans, family restaurant turned out to be even better than I remembered and exceeded my expectations.  I can easily see becoming a weekly regular like the generations of families since 1933 who already make this restaurant their favorite stop.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Classic New Orleans po-boys at Parkway Bakery

Ask a local New Orleanian where to find the best roast beef po-boy in the city and you will get a slew of answers, but one particular neighborhood joint will be named again and again, Parkway Bakery & Tavern.  In the 6 years I have lived in New Orleans, Parkway Bakery has come up repeatedly as one of the best po-boy shops in town, a real original whose building has stood (serving po-boys) since the 1920’s!  Nestled in Mid-City overlooking Bayou St. John, it is difficult to stand in front of this establishment and not imagine it existing in another era.  This is my 11th week and 11th cheat and I am down 37 pounds.

A short aside, I’m sure you’ve noticed that my weight hasn’t dropped this week.  I just can’t seem to get myself in gear again regarding exercise!  How do people do it? My hobbies have always been very sedentary like reading and writing.  The only sport I really enjoy is swimming but I can’t afford a gym membership.  I was trying to do Pilates everyday from some DVDs, but I just can’t seem to motivate myself to turn the damned things on anymore.  It’s only 20 minutes of my life…perhaps I am just going through a slump.  I am following the diet…I just need to get off my ass and move!  I’d gladly listen to any pep talks y’all might have to offer!

Anyhow, regardless of my slump, I was still following the diet and I still intended on cheating this week.  I have been craving a roast beef po-boy, dreaming of the messy, drippy goodness I’ve eaten at Joe Sepie’s and Parasol’s, but I wanted to try a different locale.  As I mentioned before, Parkway Bakery has long been boasted as the best roast beef po-boy joint in the city and I decided it was time I finally tried it out.

John and I headed over to Mid-City after I got off work around 5:30 p.m.  We were hungry and ready for a delicious po-boy.  When we finally found the building (the area around Bayou St. John can be confusing for me at times), we walked into the front that opened up into a cool little bar.  The bartender informed us that we could either eat at the bar, or choose a spot in the dining room to the rear or the patio outside.  The staff was so friendly and everyone in the joint was smiling and enjoying the delicious-looking po-boys and beers in front of them.  I felt welcomed, almost as if the neighborhood was embracing me and inviting me in.  It was an unusual, albeit incredibly warm experience.  It’s not like I haven’t felt the pervading “Southern hospitality” all over this city before, just never so acutely as when we were welcomed to Parkway.

John and I decided to head for the dining room in the back and we quickly ordered our sandwiches and drinks from a counter overshadowed by an old Woolworth’s sign and surrounded by framed, old newspapers and other New Orleans nostalgia.  I ordered a regular roast beef po-boy with gravy, “dressed” with a side order of sweet potato fries.   John got the Surf & Turf: a roast beef po-boy with fried shrimp with regular fries.  We both got Barq’s in a glass bottle and sat and waited for our name to be called.  The restaurant wasn’t too busy (probably due to the early hour) and our orders were up in no time.

Both sandwiches came wrapped in butcher paper and when we opened them, we realized why!  They stuffed fabulously fresh French bread with juicy roast beef swimming in gravy…I couldn’t pick mine up till I had spooned up a lot of the filling!  Both po-boys were delicious and the shrimp in John’s Surf & Turf were quite large and battered to perfection.  Our French fries were crispy and hot, probably the best sweet potato fries I have eaten in a while.

We both wanted dessert and I noticed that they had some chocolate brownies in a small display case on the counter.  John bought them “to-go” with acclamations that they were the “best homemade brownies in New Orleans” and we rolled our way out to sweet “Goodbyes” and “See ya soons.”  How could I not want to go back to such a wonderfully friendly place with incredible food?

By the way, the brownies were awesome!  I don’t know about being the best in New Orleans (I haven’t eaten many homemade brownies aside from my own), but they were certainly gooey, chewy, chocolaty goodness…and I will definitely return to Parkway Bakery again.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Trek to Taco Bell

Ever since John and I began this diet, he has been begging that we spend one of our cheat nights at Taco Bell.  I hemmed and hawed, whined about the delicacies to be found at so many local, non-chain restaurants and this week, I finally gave in.  In actuality, I was secretly stoked to go to Taco Bell as it is my favorite fast food restaurant and it had been so long since I had last been there. Now I had an excuse. So, without further ado, this is my 10th week and 10th cheat and I am down 37 pounds.

As we were considering which particular Taco Bell to visit, I realized that there are no Taco Bells on the East Bank.  None! Before the storm, I remember there was one on Claiborne and there was another over on the corner of Tulane & Broad…but now they’re gone and it seems they aren’t coming back.  So, John and I took a recommendation from Lorin Gaudin (food writer extraordinaire who also is a HUGE fan of Taco Bell) and cruised over to the West Bank to the Taco Bell on Manhattan.

We walked into the restaurant and elected to dine inside due to the overall cleanliness of the establishment.  Is it just me, or are most fast food restaurants places where you wouldn’t ordinarily eat in?  Anyhow, we walked up to the counter and grumbled over what we should order.  I finally decided to have a Nachos Bell Grande with extra sour cream, a Ranchero Chicken Soft Taco and a Volcano Taco.  John got a Steak Super Chalupa, a Mexican Pizza and a Double-Decker Beef Taco.  Due to the bill ($16.78), I knew this would be one of those occasions where my boyfriend would take out his wallet and say “Don’t worry baby, I got it.”  (Just kidding sweetie!)

Everything we ordered was quite yummy, in that fast food kind of way, and we tried each other’s orders.  I was surprised to find I really liked the Chalupa since I had never had one before, and found it quite flavorful.  Eating the Nachos Bell Grande was like stepping back into time when, in college, my roommates and I would hit up our local Taco Bell at 2 AM after a long night of drinking.  The nachos were just as tasty as I remembered and I still scoop up all the cheesy, beefy goop at the bottom of the tray that is left over when all the chips are gone.  After taking a bite of the Volcano Taco, I was shocked to find that it was not spicy.

John took the next bite, his eyes widening, and exclaimed, “This is HOT!”  Confused, I took another bite and, after sucking down half my root beer, agreed wholeheartedly.  Apparently, my first bite did not contain any of the infamous hot sauce that makes this item a tongue-scorcher!

After dinner, we were driving back towards the highway on Manhattan and spotted a Sonic.  Since we didn’t have dessert at Taco Bell, we thought it would be fun to get some ice cream, so we pulled into one of the “slots” and ordered.  John chose a Sonic Blast with M&M’s mixed into it and I got a Banana Fudge Sundae.  We enjoyed our soft-serve ice cream to the sounds of  a songbird singing away in a tree nearby combined with the dulcet tones of AC/DC blaring out of the car a few spaces over.

I have to admit, this cheat was nothing like dining at Le Meritage or Dante’s Kitchen, but we still had a lot of fun.  During our fast food frenzy, I was reminded of being a teenager with not a lot of dough, but ready for a wild and crazy evening and it was surprising that such a simple meal could revive those memories.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Dick & Jenny's

When The Da Vinci Code was published, I remember seeing it everywhere.  Every bookstore I went into had standees and posters designed to heavily promote the novel and increase it’s public appeal.  It worked.  Everyone I knew would ask if I had read it, people on the streets would have the novel in hand.  Finally, I gave into the hype.  Thankfully, a friend lent me a copy because I have never been more disappointed and I would have been upset if I spent upwards of $25 for it.  The writing was sup-par, the plot was weak and the only thing I really enjoyed were the historical and scientific references that were later revealed as inaccurate.   I should have researched by reading reviews and criticisms beforehand and saved a few hours of my life for more interesting endeavors.

To the detriment of my palate and what could have been an exquisite cheat, I re-learned that lesson last night when I dined at Dick & Jenny’s.  This was my 9th week and my 9th cheat and I am down 36 pounds.

I had been considering several other restaurants for my cheat this week and on a whim, I looked up the menu on Dick & Jenny’s website and found myself salivating on my keyboard. Both the appetizers and the entrees sounded absolutely splendid and after conferring with John, we decided it was a go.  Also, for several years I had heard how incredible this restaurant was, and I was ready to “give into the hype” yet again and give it a try.

We entered the quaint restaurant early last night to discover we were the only diners.  The lack of crowds worried me a little because I had read about the long waits on the “porch” due to a no reservation policy, but I chalked it up to the early hour and walked in anyhow.  There were a few people at the bar enjoying cocktails, but otherwise the dining room was empty.  The atmosphere was very pleasant and homey-feeling what with walls decorated with painted plates and our drinks served in mason jars.  There were many changes on the menu from what we had read on the website, but we still were able to select dishes that tempted our taste buds.

We began the meal with two appetizers.  John ordered the “Cuban Cigars” which were crepes stuffed with shredded pork and ham, Swiss cheese, house made sweet pickles, mirliton slaw and black bean coulis. The crepes were pretty thick and I didn’t taste any Swiss cheese in the “Cigars”.  Also, I was surprised that the house made pickles on the plate were dill and not sweet.  Although the meat was juicy and plentiful, the entire dish was rather bland.  For my appetizer, I chose the Fried Eggplant & Crab cake Napoleon with a roasted yellow pepper aioli and my fear of ordering restaurant crab cakes was renewed as there was hardly any crab and much of the cake was filled with chopped bell peppers and breadcrumbs.  The “Napoleon” sauce for which I had high hopes was dismally bland, especially compared with the Eggplant Napoleon appetizer I had a couple of weeks ago at Joey K’s.

Being the optimists that we are, John and I still looked forward to our entrees with high expectations. If you’ve read my blogs, you’ll know I’ve been a huge fan of pork lately, so I was compelled to order the Pork Tenderloin stuffed with goat cheese, pine nuts and basil served with haricots vert, seasoned root vegetables and a balsamic reduction.  John was interested in the Bronzed Atlantic Swordfish served with a blue crab and Parmesan risotto and Bercy sauce (a fish stock-based velouté with shallots, a reduction of white wine, fish stock and seasonings).

When my dish came out, I was a little disappointed by the portion size (this town has spoiled me with excess!) and the flavor of the goat cheese seemed to overpower the pork but the sauce was nice and I enjoyed the crunchy haricots vert.  Also, the stuffing for the pork seemed to lack the pine nuts and basil as was described on the menu.  John’s risotto was tasty (although I didn’t taste or see any crab), but the swordfish was rather dry and for the first time ever, John didn’t clean his plate and left more than half of it uneaten.

Still hungry, we decided to order a dessert.  We chose the Chocolate Chip Cookie Ice Cream Sundae with chocolate sauce, whipped cream and a cherry.  The simple sundae was tasty and for the first time we were able to devour most of our dessert.  While walking back to our car, our hearts were heavy with disappointment.  Due to the hype, we had such high expectations for our dinner at Dick & Jenny’s and it seemed to us our valuable cheat day had been ruined.

Today, while researching the restaurant for this blog, I discovered that Chef James Leeming, who formerly headed the kitchen at Dick & Jenny’s, had left his position there in January to be replaced by Timothy Swepston of Café Atchafalaya.   If only I had known!  It goes to show that a little research goes a long way, especially when cheating’s involved!

Friday, October 9, 2009

La Thai Restaurant

My brother-in-law is enamored of Thai cuisine and would seek out the hidden gems, hole-in-the-wall restaurants that offered the best Thai delights for the best price.  Often, I would accompany him and my sister on his excursions around the Bay Area and I vividly recall my first dinner at a quaint, home-style establishment called Chao Praya.  The dining area was packed with as many tables as they could fit in the relatively small space they had available and each table was covered with a lacy, paper tablecloth that could be whisked away and tossed after each party left the restaurant.  The chairs were rickety and we would be crammed at the smallest table possible for a party of four.  All this didn’t matter a bit when the food came pouring out of the kitchen.  It was true, home-cooked delicacies and we partook of some fabulous curries, ranging from spicy hot to sweet and creamy.  The cha-yen (Thai Iced Tea) was deliciously balanced with a thick layer of condensed milk sitting on top of strongly brewed black tea flavored with star anise and orange blossom water.  I will never forget Chao Praya.

Since I wanted a change of pace from the cheat dinners I had already experienced (and I was craving some Thai Iced Tea), I was sure that La Thai Uptown would fit the bill.  I was curious as to how they would manage a Thai-Cajun infusion.  I had noticed La Thai during my previous cheat when I visited Creole Creamery and thought it would be a good change of pace from the restaurants I had previously visited.  This is my 8th week and my 8th cheat and I am down 34 pounds.

When John and I walked into La Thai, I was a little shocked by the sparseness of the décor.  The entry opened up onto cement floors with an open ceiling with exposed steel beams overhead.  Rows of ceiling fans dropped below the beams and stretched all the way to the back of the long, hall-shaped restaurant.  On the left side of the restaurant, there was a long brick bar with stools running down the length of it and the front of the restaurant had small tables and a couch area for people who might pop in for a cocktail.  There were decorations over the windows that I couldn’t quite place that looked like wreaths of flowers and lace in shades of green and gold.  All they needed was a touch of purple and the Mardi Gras theme would be complete!

The main dining area was separated from the front by a thin, lacy curtain suspended from a beam.  John and I were seated quickly and offered water and drinks.  I ordered a Thai Iced Tea and was pleased to note that it was just as delicious as I remembered from Nipa-Pon, albeit a little sweeter.  After browsing the menu, we decided to order a couple of appetizers. Both sounded too delicious to choose just one, so John ordered the L.A. Oysters made with a pecan crust, artichokes, leeks and a tri-pepper chili glaze and I got the Crispy Coconut Shrimp with a sweet chili soy glaze.  Both dishes arrived shortly after we ordered.  Four large shrimp were served in a large martini glass with the sauce sitting at the bottom.  Each piece was surprisingly crunchy and quite tasty when dipped in the sweet pepper glaze.  Although I enjoyed both appetizers, the oysters were my favorite.  The big, juicy oysters were fried in a delicious pecan crust and the tart flavor of the artichoke and leek went so nicely with the chili glaze…it makes my mouth water as I write this.  There were five oysters and John and I fought over who got the odd piece.

As a side note, I have to ask, why do restaurants serve appetizers with an odd number of items on the plate?  I have witnessed this so many times at so many different restaurants. Have I discovered a culinary conspiracy? They seem to serve an odd number of items on purpose so either you’ll order another plate or so the waiters can be entertained by the squabbling that ensues.  Hmmm…

Anyhow, I am sure our server was properly entertained by the fork wars at our table because as soon as we scraped up the last scrap of oyster and artichoke, she arrived to whisk our plates away to prepare us for the main course.

I was actually really excited about my entrée because I hadn’t enjoyed this particular fish in quite some time due to an overwhelming sense of guilt.  You see, in California it was stamped into our brains that Chilean sea bass is severely overfished and is rated “Avoid.” In addition, most Chilean sea bass in the U.S. market come from boats that are fishing illegally and using unmodified bottom longlines. This unmodified fishing gear hooks and drowns thousands of seabirds each year, most notably endangered albatross.

Since moving to New Orleans, I have doffed several of the “touchy-feely” caps I was forced to wear in California.  Admittedly, I have still avoided eating Chilean sea bass for quite some time, almost 15 years in fact, but when I read the menu and saw the Chilean Sea Bass cooked in a panko crust with veggies, lump crabmeat and spicy coconut green curry, I just couldn’t resist any longer.  Chilean sea bass is fabulous regardless of how it’s prepared, but La Thai created something wonderful!  I especially enjoyed the coconut green curry that, although a tad oily, had such a wonderfully sweet, warm flavor that perfectly matched the tender, almost shellfish-like flavor of the sea bass.  I really shouldn’t recommend this dish (cringing inside) but I have to.   Do try it when you visit La Thai…but not too often!

John decided to order one of the specials, a Seafood Curry with Louisiana crawfish, jumbo shrimp, soft-shelled crab, spicy green curry with eggplant, bell peppers, onions, carrots, basil and Jasmine rice.  His dish was also delicious and so spicy that John sucked down two Cokes and a water to combat the heat.  That’s the spicy Thai food I remember!

Although we were stuffed (no surprise there!), I had to order a dessert.  The Coconut Fried Bananas with Coconut Ice Cream caught my eye when I first looked at the menu and it was just as I imagined it would be.  The bananas were sweet and warm with a tasty, crunchy exterior and the cool, creamy ice cream complimented them perfectly.  I asked the server if their ice cream came from Creole Creamery next door and she exclaimed “Of course!”

Despite the fact that La Thai was not much like Chao Praya , I still completely enjoyed the Cajun-Thai infusion we experienced.  Everything was well prepared and our service was excellent.  As usual, as we strolled down Prytania to our car, I began considering where our next cheat meal would be and already formulated several options.  Thankfully New Orleans offers us so many gastronomic delights to choose from!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Joey K’s Restaurant & Bar

Lonely and hungry, I would often visit Joey K’s when I first moved to New Orleans in 2003.  I lived nearby on Harmony Street and I would walk the few short blocks to the restaurant and enjoy the small community-oriented restaurant that had a knack for making me feel as if I belonged.  Since the decadence of the dinner at Dante’s last week, I have been craving a restaurant with simpler cuisine and a more “homey” atmosphere.  I knew I wanted Joey K’s.  It’s my 7th week and my 7th cheat and I am down 32 pounds.

Driving through the potholes scattered around the streets of the Garden District, I reflected on how much I enjoyed my first year in New Orleans.  I loved living in the Garden District, loved the fact that I lived on a street called “Harmony” and I loved the dining and shopping choices I had while living so close to Magazine Street.  I remember walking my dog from 7th down to 1st Street, looping back around when I hit Camp and making the trek back by winding down random streets on the way.  The homes in the Garden District never failed to capture my awe and envy no matter how many times I walked that route.  Every time I visit Joey K’s, I realize how much I miss the neighborhood that welcomed me to the city.

This time, I wasn’t lonely, but I was definitely hungry and so were my friends.  The corner restaurant was about half full and heavily decorated with art pieces for sale created by local folk artist Simon Hardeveld.  One piece warned us to “Be Nice or Go to China” so we heeded the sage advice in order to enjoy our feast.

We were seated immediately and after a quick consensus, knew what we wanted.  For an appetizer, we ordered the Eggplant Napoleon that consists of three deep fried rounds of eggplant, fried shrimp, a few scattered crawfish tails and a very interesting, yet tasty cream sauce that had a pink tint to it.  I tasted white wine, heavy cream and basil in the sauce, but I couldn’t figure out what created the color or a distinct sweet flavor I detected and the restaurant was reluctant to share its “secret ingredients.” Regardless, the appetizer was very good and we made quick work of it.  We received side salads, that came with our dinner at the same time as our appetizer and it was difficult to know what to eat first!  The salad was simple iceberg lettuce with large slices of tomato and cucumbers.  I had their homemade blue-cheese dressing on mine with deliciously large chunks of blue cheese that melted in my mouth.

For my entrée, I ordered the Seafood Platter which comes with fried catfish, fried shrimp, fried oysters, a couple of hush puppies and French fries.  I requested extra tartar sauce with my order and we were all able to share it.  I must say, I am used to tartar sauce made with dill relish instead of sweet, but I still enjoyed it nonetheless.  The seafood was fried perfectly in a cornmeal-type batter and was not too heavy or oily in flavor.  It was exactly what I had been craving.

My friend Anne ordered the “Trout Tchoupitoulas”; seasoned fish, lightly floured and pan-fried topped with shrimp, crab meat and served with mixed vegetables and new potatoes.  I was lucky enough to score several bites of her fish that was very light (compared to my fried goods) and flavorful, especially with the rich crab meat on top.  John ordered “All-You-Can-Eat Catfish” of which he devoured only one and a half plates.  I was almost sure he’d put away more than that, but I guess since he’s been dieting with me, his appetite has shrunk!

We were extremely full, as intended, and slowly made our way back to the car.  Although we thought we couldn’t eat anymore, Creole Creamery beckoned to us as we passed the bright pink shop on Prytania Street while driving home.  With little deliberation, we decided to stop for dessert.

Still aching from dinner, I knew I wouldn’t be able to handle much, so I chose a scoop of Chocolate Pecan Pie ice cream on a sugar cone.  Creamy and delicious, I could taste cinnamon among the pecans that mingled perfectly with the rich, dark chocolate.  John’s appetite apparently returned with a vengeance when I heard him order the Creamery’s “I Scream Fudge! Sundae”; two scoops of “I Scream Fudge” ice cream served in a fudge-coated glass with chocolate chips, cocoa powder and a chocolate covered cherry.  John also requested whipped cream and nuts…after all, what’s a sundae without whipped cream?  Anne braved the “Café Au Lait Sundae”; two scoops of “Café Au Lait” ice cream, layered with fudge and marshmallow toppings, whipped cream, cocoa powder and a cherry.

I barely managed to finish my scoop (but none of the cone), while John and Anne devoured their sundaes quickly.  I got to taste both sundaes before they disappeared though, and they were both fantastic.  The ice cream at Creole Creamery is…well…really creamy!  Also, the flavors they create are rich and definite; there is no mistaking simple chocolate for fudge or vice versa.

After a wonderful evening and lots of laughs (ask Anne about the “pea” incident), we headed on home.  I was pleased to have had such a relaxing evening in such comfortable surroundings like Joey K’s and Creole Creamery.  I’m going to have to plan something unusual for next week though…if you have any suggestions for where I should try next, let me know!  I am always excited to traverse our fair city for yet another dining adventure.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Dante’s Kitchen

As Steve Tyler screeched, I am “back in the saddle again” and I am ready for yet another culinary undertaking.  A couple of weeks ago in my Ninja Restaurant article, I mentioned that for my next cheat I was trying to decide between two different restaurants that were right across the street from each other.  Unfortunately, due to illness, I was relegated to ordering in.  This week, however, I elected to dine at Dante’s Kitchen …Brigtsen’s (the restaurant across the street) will have to wait for another cheat.  This is my 6th week and 6th cheat and I am down 30 pounds.

Fortunately, Dante’s is yet another restaurant within walking distance of my apartment, so John and I strolled three blocks and arrived in time for our 6:30 p.m. reservations.  Initially, we were seated inside the restaurant, but a couple sitting at the next table had a screaming infant and we requested to sit outside so we could enjoy our dinner in peace.  The hostess was very accommodating and understood why we wished to move.

Without hesitating, she sat us outside on the porch and turned on the wicker-paddled fan, creating a slight breeze to cool us while we dined.  The sun had just begun to set and the air was sweet with jasmine. The cicadas were humming loudly, muting the traffic noises of River Road as we relaxed on the porch of the quaint lavender and lime house secluded by large banana plants.  It was a very comfortable, and quite romantic setting for our first experience at Dante’s.

We started out with some cocktails, I ordered a Ginger Cosmopolitan featuring house infused ginger vodka and John selected Dante’s Lemonade with house infused lemon vodka.  Both cocktails were very tasty and while we sipped, our server brought out a little lagniappe, a Molasses Spoon Bread with honey butter served in a small pan that was still hot from the oven.  It “smelled to heaven” as my Mom would often say and it tasted even better.

Before we finished reeling from the Spoon Bread, our appetizers arrived.  John ordered the New Orleans Style Barbeque Shrimp made with Abita Turbodog beer, rosemary and garlic and I got Chanterelles and Louisiana Crabmeat with house made bacon, lemon zest, toasted brioche, and roasted tomato vinaigrette.  The shrimp were huge, served with the heads on, although they kindly peeled the tail, and the barbeque sauce was spicy and lemony and, in true New Orleans fashion, there was plenty left over for dipping.  The Chanterelles’ peppery flavor was complimented nicely by the lemon zest, tomato and crabmeat: a wonderful beginning to a fabulous cheat.

Growing up, my mother often prepared pork chops that were thin, dry and practically flavorless.  So, when I decided to brave Dante’s Double Thick Berkshire Pork Chop with Ruston peaches, roasted onions, corn & goat cheese grit cake, I still had a lingering childhood fear of dry, tasteless chops.  My worries were delightfully unfounded after I had my first bite of the juicy pork chop bursting with flavor from the Ruston peaches and fabulous grit cake.  In vain, I attempted to clean my plate but I wanted to save what little room I had left for dessert.  John’s entrée was called Trois Mignons which consisted of three petite beef tenderloin filets served on caramelized onion mashed potatoes and topped with pork debris, Stilton cheese sauce and marchand du vin.  The sauces were tantalizing and rich and a bite of the tender medium rare filets with a dollop of the caramelized onion mashed potatoes soaked in the marchand du vin was enough to make my mouth water for more.

As usual for my cheat meals, I stuffed myself silly and by the time dessert rolled around, I was already hurting.  But, I couldn’t walk away from Dante’s without sampling their sweets, so I convinced John that we should hang around long enough to order a Peanut & Mascarpone Torte with a chocolate crust and chocolate and caramel sauce on top.  The creamy mascarpone smattered with chopped peanuts melted in my mouth and I wish I could have eaten more than I was actually able to consume.

John and I finally waddled off the porch and slowly made our way home.  As usual, I was already considering where our next cheat meal should be, but the flavors from dinner were still rich on my tongue and I found I couldn’t quite concentrate.  All I could do was luxuriate in yet another fine dining experience as we strolled home through the Riverbend, listening to the soft rustling of the night.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Fresco Café & Pizzeria

This past week was difficult for me considering I wasn’t feeling well and didn’t have the energy or oomph that I needed to do Pilates everyday.  I still followed my eating regimen, but since I failed to exercise, I hit a plateau and didn’t lose any weight.  I am still down 26 pounds though, and I was still ready to cheat.
Last night I was still feeling weak and a bit woozy, so John and I decided to order in for our cheat.  It seemed fortuitous that we had just received a delivery menu from Fresco Café in our mailbox. We decided to order the Roasted Eggplant Dip, the Fresco’s Special “gourmet” pizza and Godiva Chocolate Cheesecake for dessert.  We were told the order would take almost an hour to deliver, but they were at our door only thirty minutes later.

I tipped the driver well for being so early and slipped the cheesecake into the fridge for later.  We began with the Roasted Eggplant Dip that was described as a roasted eggplant, garlic & parsley spread served with warm pita triangles.  I love roasted eggplant and the flavor it imparts to sandwiches, dips and even pizza is fabulously rich and decadent.  It was really too bad that when trying this particular dip, all I tasted was garlic and I could even feel the texture of chopped garlic on my tongue.  I quickly moved on to the pizza.

Now, I have had “gourmet” pizza before.  There was a restaurant in California that served the most amazing pizzas, one of which I ordered quite frequently called the “California Club”.  It was mozzarella cheese, fresh roasted chicken, bacon, ham, fresh tomatoes, and French dressing-like sauce on a sourdough crust.  Like icing on a cake, after baking the pizza they would slice fresh avocado on top.  Let’s just say I had high hopes for Fresco’s version of a “gourmet” pizza.

The Fresco’s Special certainly smelled good as we lifted the cover of the box.  With ingredients like mozzarella cheese, pepperoni, Italian sausage, ham, caramelized onions and roasted red peppers we thought we couldn’t go wrong.  The pizza had a nice crispy thin crust and they didn’t stint on the cheese, but I was a little confused when I found pineapple pieces on two different slices.  First, I thought I had read the ingredients wrong when ordering, but I was right, there wasn’t supposed to be any pineapple.

Regardless of the stray fruit, the pizza was still pretty good and we certainly were hungry enough to overlook any inconsistencies.  After all, Fresco’s is a chain and I have a habit of never expecting too much from chain restaurants.  That way perhaps someday one will surprise me!

My favorite part of this meal was the dessert.  I mean, who doesn’t like Godiva chocolate?  Although Fresco Café didn’t make the Godiva Chocolate Cheesecake, I have to give them props for ordering it.  Deliciously creamy and smooth with rich dark chocolate mingled with the taste of tangy cream cheese, this cheesecake is truly decadent.

I will be revving up the Pilates routine again for next week because I am determined to see some weight loss by my next cheat.  Wish me luck!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Ninja Restaurant & Sushi Bar

After the devastatingly delicious dinner at Le Meritage last week, I thought I would try some lighter fare for this week’s cheat by going for sushi at Ninja Restaurant.   I love Japanese cuisine and was spoiled by the variety and authenticity of restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area, but I have found some Japanese gems in New Orleans and Ninja is one of my favorites.  This is the fourth week and fourth cheat and I am down 26 pounds.

The first time I tried sushi or raw fish was around ten years ago. My father cooked everything well done and my mother put the fear of salmonella into me young, so I had a reasonable reaction to trying raw fish…”You’re kidding, right?”  A co-worker finally convinced me to try it when she took me to a tiny Japanese sushi bar in San Francisco, right off of 19th Avenue, close to Golden Gate Park.  She ordered salmon nigiri and from the moment the fresh salmon flavor hit my tongue, I was hooked.

My boyfriend and I chose Ninja for several reasons.  First and foremost, Ninja has some of the freshest sushi in town.  I have been to almost every sushi restaurant in New Orleans, and the quality of ingredients at Ninja is truly superb.  Secondly, Ninja offers this quality cuisine in good-sized portions at a very reasonable price.  Third, Ninja is only steps away from my apartment, literally around the corner…you can’t get more convenient than that unless you order delivery, which Ninja offers!

I was reading some other reviews of Ninja and noticed that some people were put off by the strange set up in the restaurant.  When you first walk in, there is a bar downstairs.  The person working the bar will alert the servers in the dining room above that there are new patrons waiting to dine.  Then he/she either tells you to go on up or to wait if the dining room is full.  It is kind of odd, but it definitely wouldn’t steer me away from dining at Ninja.

We strolled to the restaurant at around 6:30 and were seated immediately.  A bit too early for the normal dinner rush, we entered a dining room at the top of the stairs that was mostly vacant.  Our server offered us warm, moist towels to clean our hands and we ordered our favorite drink, Iced Green Tea. If last night were not my “cheat night”, I would have considered ordering sashimi or simpler sushi like nigiri in order to stick to my plan.  But, I thought it would be fun (and truly delicious) to order a few of the special rolls filled with fried goodies and mayonnaise/wasabi mixtures.  I wanted some fat in my rolls and Ninja didn’t disappoint.

We ordered a Rainbow Roll, a Special Crunchy Roll, the Volcano Roll, and after checking out the specials board, an Eggplant Tempura Roll.  We also thought it would be fun to try the Tiger’s Eye appetizer which is squid stuffed with salmon and asparagus.  Our server told us that the Tiger’s Eye would take 30 minutes to prepare, but we didn’t mind and requested the dish be served after our sushi order.  We had a little wait, but we expected it.  If you want to be served your rolls right away at Ninja, I suggest you sit at the sushi bar where the chefs will serve your rolls as each one is ready.  Since John and I chose to sit at a table, the chefs prepare all of our rolls first and serve them at once so it takes a little bit longer.

First, we were served a small bowl of Miso Soup with a small amount of tofu and seaweed at the bottom of the bowl.  Our sushi plate came out next with our beautifully presented rolls lined up along a hefty helpings of wasabi and ginger.  I tried the Eggplant Tempura roll first, it was a rice and seaweed roll filled with eggplant tempura, cream cheese and avocado.  The tempura was still warm and crispy and the perfect bite-sized piece was delicious.  I never thought eggplant and cream cheese would taste so good together!

I had to have a piece of the Rainbow Roll next and my particular slice included fresh tuna on top and a spicy snow crab mixture inside.  This roll is popular in many sushi restaurants but I think Ninja does it best with added lemon slices between each piece and sliced avocado on alternating pieces.  The lemon is key to adding a clean flavor to the already immaculately fresh fish (the Rainbow Roll also has fresh salmon and yellowtail on top).
In every sushi restaurant I have been to, there is a Crunchy Roll, but Ninja’s Special Crunchy Roll is quite delicious and it is always included in my order. It consists of crab mix, crunchy asparagus, egg sauce, eel sauce, chili sauce, pink sauce and crunchy bits of fried tempura batter.

Finally, we were served the Volcano Roll; fresh tuna, shrimp, crab-stick, eel, cream cheese, avocado, asparagus, cucumber, smelt roe, pink sauce, spicy chili and tempura on top.  This roll is huge and the presentation makes it look like a volcano waiting to erupt!  Each slice is at least twice the diameter of a regular slice of sushi and requires two bites!  It was very tasty and spicy and I couldn’t stop eating the cruchies scattered all over the plate.

Our server brought out the Tiger’s Eye appetizer at the end and it was refreshingly simple after some of the heavily spiced rolls we had already eaten.  It looked like the salmon and squid were steamed together and served with a light Teriyaki sauce.  The coolest thing about this dish was the presentation…each slice actually looked like an eye!

Even though I was fully stuffed, I actually considered ordering the Banana Tempura with Vanilla Ice Cream, but John and I were both ready to go home, so we rolled out of the door, our faces numbed into satisfied smiles and spent the rest of the evening in a hazy food coma.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Le Meritage Restaurant

Since it opened in March, I have been dying to dine at Le Meritage Restaurant at the Maison Dupuy Hotel.  The incredible culinary talents of Chef Michael Farrell had reached my ears from many sources and I knew experiencing his epicurean gifts would be a dining adventure to remember.

God, I love it when I am right.

After three weeks on my new healthy regime, I was down a total of 23 pounds, ready and raring for my third “Official Cheat ” and I was aiming to cheat big.  I can hear you ask, ”Did Le Meritage deliver?” Did it ever…  I have visited many fine dining establishments in places like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Napa Valley, Sonoma, Lake Tahoe, Las Vegas, Paris and right here in New Orleans and I have had some truly incredible meals, but last night literally blew me away.  Last night, my meal, my flavor explosion, pushed itself through the ranks and now sits as one of the top two best meals of my lifetime.  Believe it or not, you won’t know until you try it for yourself.

Before I go into detail about my transcendent dining experience, I must mention my love for the .  Before I became a New Orleans transplant, the Maison Dupuy was my “hotel of choice” when visiting our fair city.  The lush courtyard, the friendly staff, warmly decorated rooms and it’s excellent location made for the perfect stay.  Whenever I have the opportunity, I recommend it to friends, co-workers, and even tourists who call NewOrleans.Com for advice on where to stay.   Now I can add that one of the best restaurants in the city resides in my favorite hotel…

John (my boyfriend) and I arrived at Le Meritage Restaurant a few minutes before our 7:00pm reservation.  We walked into the entrance of the quaint “French Quarter Bistro” which fronts Le Meritage.  The Bistro was decorated with Toulouse-Lautrec murals, hardwood floors and a long bar running the length of the back wall.  We were guided by one of the bartenders to the hostess of Le Meritage who graciously introduced herself as Kim and immediately sat us in the dining room.  White linen draped the well-spaced tables and we luxuriated in the large, comfortable chairs, and although the décor was inviting, we could smell the food emanating from the tables of our fellow diners and were anxious to begin.

The menu features six categories of wine characteristics with dishes to compliment those flavor profiles. Even more convenient, every dish on their menu is available as small plates or large plates. I had already thoroughly perused their website menu and had formulated a plan of attack.  In order to get a taste of as many dishes as possible in one evening, I figured that John and I could share five or six small plates. We selected our choices and the waitress brought the dishes out in groups, from the lighter fare (the sparklers) to start and the heavier (Robust Reds) at the end.  Each dish was paired with a wine we selected from the left-hand side of the menu.

Initially we were served richly scented, warm dinner rolls.  I immediately felt spoiled when I saw the tiny, silver-domed butter dish.  We lifted the dome to see an elegant “M” emblazoned into the butter.  I still regret not taking a picture, although the camera we used was not very effective anyhow (as you probably already noticed).  Cool, stylish, yet small surprises like that just enrich the dining experience as a whole in my opinion, and being the silly girl I am, I just love things in miniature.  We were also served an amuse-bouche served in a small ladle containing a few boiled crawfish tails in an aioli.  It was a simple, yet tasty teaser for the dishes to come.

Our first dishes were a Jumbo Lump Crab Cake with crawfish and a Smoked Salmon Salad with Parmesan, spinach, pine nuts, a hard-boiled egg and red onions.  Both dishes were excellent, but truthfully, the crab cake was the star of the pair.  I usually avoid ordering crab cakes because I often find them loaded with breadcrumbs and other fillers, leaving me wondering where the crab went.  This crab cake was loaded with fresh, delicious lump crab meat and scattered crawfish and it was absolutely mouth-watering…easily one of the finest dishes of the evening.  I am still astounded as to how the cake managed to hold itself together.  These dishes were paired with a ’07 Simi Chardonnay from Sonoma County, complimenting the flavors perfectly.

Our next course was Paneed Rabbit wrapped in pancetta served with tagliatelle pasta, fresh peas and baby carrots.  Although I do enjoy rabbit, my co-worker specifically requested I try this dish and report back to her.  Meghan, if you’re reading this, the rabbit was tender and juicy, not too rich or heavily fried and I definitely recommend it.  When it’s your turn to come to Le Meritage, you have to try the duck for me…if I don’t beat you to the punch!

John and I were steadily demolishing each dish as it was served and our voracity had hardly slackened for the next round, Grilled Quail with andouille corn meal stuffing and a Molasses Pork Tenderloin with braised beet greens and fingerling potatoes.  The pork was juicy and sweet with the deep, rich molasses and the quail’s immense flavor surprised and delighted me.  John and I each had a different wine paired with these dishes. John had a 04 Frog’s Leap, Zinfandel from Napa Valley and I chose the 07 Coppola, Syrah from Sonoma County.  Both wines were rich and full-bodied and combined with the flavors of the quail and pork, made for a virtual fiesta in our mouths!

I thought that the dishes couldn’t get any better until the lamb came out.  The Savory Lamb Chops with sweet potato, apple and bacon hash was exquisite.  If I had to choose between the Lamb and the Crab Cake, I would be in trouble.  The lamb chops were crusted with savory seasoning a cooked medium rare and a careful bite arranged with the hash and a sip of the ‘05 Lonko, Malbec from Patagonia, Argentina made for an explosion my taste buds will not soon forget.  I especially loved how the wine left the flavor of cocoa lingering on my tongue.  It set me up for a tantalizing dessert.

Along with some strong coffee (mandatory after the heady wines), John ordered their Frozen Café Au Lait with mini-beignets and I selected the Blueberry Chocolate Panna Cotta served with chocolate sauce and fresh raspberries and blueberries.  Both desserts were fresh and tasty and we couldn’t have rounded off our dining adventure with a better finale.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Juan’s Flying Burrito

Remember when you were a kid, enduring the dull pace of yet another day at school, longing for the free days of summer to begin?  I find that as an adult, I don’t have very many things to look forward to.  Sure, I am anxious for a week or two away from work each year or seeing a beloved local band, but it isn’t quite the same.  For some reason, it doesn’t hold the same promise of unexpected pleasures and adventure as it did when I was young.

Just recently, I began a diet that requires cutting out extra fats and carbs, eating five, small balanced meals a day and drinking plenty of water.  I am never hungry, but I dearly miss the delicious meals this city has to offer.  Fortunately, once a week, I am allowed to “cheat” and eat whatever I want for one meal.  Thursday has been renamed as my “Official Cheat Day,” and now I have something to look forward to.  By the way, it’s been two weeks, with two cheats, and I have already lost 15 pounds.

This week, I have been looking forward to a spicy “Creole Tex-Mex” meal at Juan’s Flying Burrito, and that is exactly what I got.  After work, my boyfriend and I headed over to the Magazine Street location, which is my favorite even though I live closer to the Mid-City Juan’s. Perhaps it has something to do with nostalgia (it was the first restaurant I visited when I moved here 6 years ago) or because of the funky art, the cool coffee can light fixtures, the “alternative” vibe of the servers or the chef’s singing along to old 80’s tunes in the open kitchen, but I always choose the original Juan’s.

We were seated almost as soon as we walked in the door and started off the meal with their chips, salsa and guacamole.  I am always pleased with Juan’s crunchy tortilla chips and fresh salsa. The guacamole was tasty, too, with big chunks of avocado, a nice spicy kick and creamy consistency. We also ordered some margaritas, on the rocks with salt, and were pleasantly surprised to realize it was still Happy Hour. The margaritas came in tall pint glasses and were, as the waiter aptly put, “very happy.” Actually, Juan’s is having a summer “Happy Hour Special” that runs from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Thursday.  Now there’s an excuse to leave work earlier!

The specials board was advertising Barq's BBQ Chicken Nachos with cheddar cheese, sour cream, salsa and guacamole, and the waiter’s recommendation made it sound even more tempting, but I already had something else in mind. For my entree, I ordered an “Al Pastor burrito” which consists of slow-cooked shredded pork and grilled onions with pineapple salsa, sour cream, pickled jalapenos, cilantro, pinto beans and yellow rice wrapped in a flour tortilla. My boyfriend got Juan’s “Flying Burrito,” grilled steak, Gulf shrimp and chicken with cheddar and jack cheese, black beans, yellow rice, salsa, sour cream and guacamole, all rolled in a grilled tortilla.

The “Al Pastor” was deliciously sweet and spicy, hot enough for me to sip a little too strenuously on my margarita, resulting in both a cold headache and a pleasant buzz.  My boyfriend’s dish was tasty as well, overflowing with meat and perfectly seasoned. Portion size is never a problem at Juan’s...

As we rolled out of the restaurant excessively sated, we began planning our dining adventure for next week. My new eating regimen has me not only looking forward to a healthier lifestyle and continued weight loss, it has also brightened my palate for the dining experiences ahead.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Joe Sepie's

When our offices were still located in Harahan, my co-worker and I would frequently visit Joe Sepie's when it opened on the corner of Central Avenue and Jefferson Highway because the food was absolutely fantastic.

Let me tell you, nothing has changed...

My boyfriend and I decided that since we were going to see the new Harry Potter movie at the Palace Theater on Elmwood, we might as well stop and have lunch before the show.  The first place that came to mind was Joe Sepie's and I knew exactly what I wanted to eat, an Ultimate Roast Beef Po-Boy.

We arrived at the immaculately clean restaurant around 2:00 p.m. on Saturday and we were starved due to no breakfast that morning.  We ordered an Ultimate Roast Beef Po-Boy and a Fried Catfish Po-Boy, both with a side of onion rings.  The bread was fresh and chewy and the roast beef smothered in provolone was delectable.  I tasted my BF's catfish and found it equally delicious with a crisp, crunchy batter that contained fresh, flaky catfish.

One of the reasons I am such a fan of Joe Sepie's is that the owner really cares about his customers.  He asks their opinions on new dishes he creates and he goes that "extra mile" when creating simple dishes like homemade french fries and onion rings.  Who makes homemade french fries anymore?

I think Joe Sepie's could easily be about the best Po-Boy shop in New Orleans, one that really focuses on quality products and there are always cool new dishes on the menu like a Veal Parmesan Po-Boy.  I'm going to have to go back soon to try his latest creation, a Muffuletta Egg-Roll.  I know, it sounds bizarre, but I watched as one customer devoured them, relishing every bite.  He (the owner) claimed the classic Muffuletta flavors were more pronounced in the hot egg roll.  I will be back soon to give it a try!

*This was my first food review published online and when the diet began...will it ever end? Probably not.