Monday, February 27, 2012

Caffeine clip: Domenica

Regardless of my work schedule or what I do on the weekend, I always need an extra, afternoon dose of coffee on Mondays. If I could magic myself there in an instant, today I would choose this gorgeous cappuccino I slurped down several months ago at Domenica...

...and I'd eat the cookie, too.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Sampling a scrumptious imagination at ROOT

Being an aspiring writer, I love creativity in all of its many forms. I am continuously struck by the work of painters, sculptors, photographers, dancers, singers, musicians and yes, chefs. Great chefs have the ability to to seduce our senses, test the complexity of our palates, challenge preconceived notions and awe us with a symphony of flavors and textures that will literally bring tears to our eyes. I truly believe that Chef Phillip Lopez is one of those amazing innovators who has just begun to entice us...

Last week, John and I took a cab to the Warehouse District's newest gem, ROOT. There were only a few other diners when we arrived right in the middle of the lunch hour, but Mardi Gras' biggest weekend was just kicking off and I think most people were still claiming their spots along the route.We were immediately seated at a window-side table with comfortable, bright green chairs and our extremely attentive server brought us menus, along with a concise description of some of his favorite dishes.

After placing a huge order (determined to go overboard), we watched the minimal traffic roll by on Julia Street sipped at our drinks and watched the plates being brought out to other diners with envy. But, thankfully, we weren't tortured for long.

We chose a dish from each section of the menu to share - a "social", "beginning" and "middle"- and first to arrive was a charcuterie plate featuring the "CBD” chicken, beef, duck-poached ballotine which is kind of like a sausage. Served alongside was a large array of pickled goodies like squash, baby carrots, turnips, cucumbers and even strawberries! There were also some crispy, lavash-like crackers and our very own tube of the house strawberry "mustard". We gobbled everything on the board except for a few stray crackers and those only survived because we were sorely tempted by the next two plates.

One thing I love to eat (and make) is deviled eggs and when I saw the Louisiana Pickled Shrimp with shrimp stuffed deviled eggs on the menu, there was no two ways about it. Though the serving dish was placed in front of John, I couldn't help reaching over almost immediately, plucking one of the eggs from the plate and popping it into my mouth. It was so creamy, tangy and delicious that I could have eaten all of it to myself, but John and I fought tooth and nail over the last heaven-filled egg, which was the odd man out. The pickled shrimp were equally divine, perfect plump texture reminding me of ceviche, but delicately "cooked" with vinegar instead of lime.  

The aroma of our third dish, the “KFC” - Korean Fried Chicken Wings with a pepper jelly glaze and house made kimchi - had us drooling before it even reached our mouths. The crispy, deep-fried chicken wings covered in that super-spicy glaze had us smacking our lips and reaching for our water goblets at the same time. Not your typical wing fan, I was blown away by how much I loved this dish. To our combined surprise and relief, the chicken was also served with hot, wet towels and a wedge of lemon to clean our sticky faces and hands after we finished devouring every last wing.

We were getting quite full, but the party wasn't over yet as they brought out our entrees. I got the Vietnamese “Po’ Boy”, a banh-mi toasted and stuffed with pâté de campagne, face bacon, truffle scented chicken liver parfait, pickled carrots and dressed with Kewpie (Q.P.) mayonnaise. Though I really loved all the elements described in the menu, there was one pungent and bitter flavor that I just couldn't place or quite jive with. It tasted fabulous at first bite, but that strangeness intruded as an aftertaste. Now that I think back, I believe it might have been the chicken liver parfait...liver and I have never really gotten along. Next time, I will ask for the sandwich again without the liver and see what each her own, right?

John chose the Potato Chip Encrusted Gulf Fish Sandwich with bread & butter pickles, bitter greens and dressed with sauce gribiche. Oh yes, another culinary term I had to look up. Sauce gribiche is a mayo-like, cold egg sauce made with hard boiled egg yolks and mustard. The flavor was wonderful and both of our sandwiches were served with a nice pile of tasty French fries and another toothpaste-like tube of their house made ketchup.

Understand that what I am about to tell you is not intended to criticize ROOT, after all, things like this happen all the time. It is their response to the situation that I would like to highlight. As it sometimes happens when eating fish, we just happened to find quite a few bones in John's sandwich. Our server had stopped by the table to ask how we were getting along and when we told him about the bones, his immediate response was to take John's plate, politely apologize and promptly offered to remedy the problem. Not only did they replace the sandwich with a fresh one (absolutely bone-free), but they refunded us the cost of the dish on our tab! I was amazed by the courtesy, professionalism and downright exemplary behavior which is unfortunately a rare occurrence in my experience. Bravo Root and Adam "Hulk Smash", our terrific server!

Though we got doggy bags for the remainder of our sandwiches because we were so very full, I wasn't about to walk out that door before tasting their dessert. John once again feigned indifference to my sweet tooth, so I chose the “ROOT Beer” Float with Black Apple Jack Soda and Caramel Apple Pecan Ice Cream in a ornate glass goblet, an apple strudel tart and a couple of ginger snaps rolled in Apple Jacks. It was a delightfully adult twist to a childhood favorite that John and I both loved, as was evident by a clean plate. I cannot wait to go back!

Root on Urbanspoon

Monday, February 20, 2012

Why I don't go out on Lundi Gras...

My friends often tell me I have interesting stories to tell. Stories about my life and strange incidents I experience seem to enthrall them to no end. So, here's a perfect story to celebrate the anniversary of the first (and only) time I ever got arrested.

Once upon a time in a land called New Orleans, there was a festival called Mardi Gras. This particular Mardi Gras was in the fabled year 2004, right before the horrid devastation of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Actually, the devastation occurred due to poor construction of the levee system by the Army Corps of Engineers (among other things)...but that's another story.

Lundi Gras is the day before Mardi Gras and, as it happens, the day this particular story takes place. Thousands of people lined St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans to watch the colorful floats and dance to the local bands that roll down this oak-lined street every year. Shalom, Kevin (Shalom's husband) and Kim (me), were having a blast, catching beads from the passing floats and drinking beer that we stashed in our backpacks for mobile (and not to mention cheap) refreshment during the parades.

We were all pleasantly buzzed from the beer and after the last float ambled by, we decided to go for a quick snack at the Rally's down the street. Kevin got in line to order French fries for all and Shalom and I took our ease at one of the available tables outside Rally's. Hundreds of people were milling about and many were as drunk (if not more so) than the we were. You could almost see the bubbles rising from their mouths similar to the way drunk cartoon characters are displayed on T.V. But, the atmosphere was merry and everyone was treating everyone like long, lost friends.

Seemingly out of nowhere, the newly found "friend" that Shalom was talking to, a 17 or 18-year-old black guy, hauled off and slapped her across the face. My jaw dropped as I watched her husband Kevin appear like magic, grab the kid by his shirt and scream, spittle flying, "Don't you ever touch my wife again!"

Now, I knew Kevin wouldn't really hurt the kid, he just wanted to frighten him and being the burly 6'4" man that he was, he would have been successful. But, an eye-blink later, no less than eight other teenagers jumped on him and began pummeling away. He was literally down on the ground, covered in a pile very angry teenagers with fists and feet flying at him from every angle. Shalom tried fruitlessly (at terrible risk to herself) to try pulling some of them off, along with help from others in the crowd watching this go down.

Where was I, you ask? I was still sitting at the table with my mouth open, wondering what I could possibly do to help. I may have a temper and can scare with a growl or shout, but generally, I am a wimp and would do anything possible to avoid actual physical confrontation. Before I could utter "What the hell is going on here?" police arrived and the fight quickly ended. For an instant, I felt relief thinking the kids who started this mess will be reprimanded, perhaps even arrested and this horrible incident will end.

Then, to my complete and utter surprise, they handcuffed Shalom and Kevin...

Well, I might be too frightened to get in the middle of a fight, but there was no way on earth I was going to let the police arrest my friends who were the victims! So, I stood up from the table and took two steps towards the arresting officers, only to find that another officer had come up behind me, grabbed my arms and cuffed me too. Calmly (with tears welling up in my eyes), I asked why I was being arrested only to receive no answer from the stoic, female officer.

Folks from the crowd were shouting "You're arresting the wrong people!" and came up to the officers to appeal to them on our behalf, but they wouldn't listen. They wouldn't even listen to our explanations of the event and the kids who beat the crap out of Kevin (tore his earlobe, blackened his eye, bruised his ribs and cut his arm open) walked away "scot-free." So, one of my worst fears was realized as they drove us down to the police station/courthouse on the corner of Loyola and Broad and put us into a holding cell for the longest 13 hours of my life.

Naturally, they separated Kevin to the men's side and Shalom and I were put into the women's holding cell. I called my parents as soon as I could get a turn at the phone, only to scare the hell out of them. Of course, they didn't believe me when I told them I had done nothing wrong...what parent would? They said they would do what they could from such a long distance, but the biggest difficulty was that we weren't actually booked yet, and you can't post bail till you are processed.

Most of the girls in the holding cell were like us, parade revelers caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, but there were a few "career criminals" also. A few crackheads and prostitutes who were flirting with the guards to score cigarettes (which weren't allowed). One of the crackheads had managed to sneak in some drugs which she smoked while hiding behind the one-wall barrier that hid a foul, overflowing toilet that she hovered over while hitting her pipe. This toilet was so disgusting that I couldn't bear to use it, even though I had had to go sooo bad after drinking Heinekens a-plenty at the parade. One toothless woman even tried to befriend us, offering us drags off the cigarettes she scored by baring her breasts (and more) to the guards.

They kept moving us back and forth to different holding cells and at one point, they separated us where Shalom had to change out of her clothes, into the orange jumpsuit and be placed in her own cell inside OPP itself! Thankfully, she joined me again a few hours later dressed back in her civilian clothes, shaking while she related her fear that we would spend at least a week here before we got out.

Finally, miraculously, we were booked at about 10AM on Mardi Gras day and, much to our mutual surprise, it was Kevin who posted bail. You see, Kevin never actually made it into the holding cell and was never booked. Due to his injuries, the cops had to either take him to the hospital or let him go home. Shalom and I were the only ones who actually had to go to court! Kevin went home, tended to his hurts, and immediately called a bail bondsman to try and get us out. If it wasn't for the combined efforts of Kevin, Shalom's parents and my own parents, we might have been doomed to stay there for several more least until Mardi Gras and Ash Wednesday were over.

When we finally got out, I smoked a whole pack of cigarettes, gobbled down a McDonald's breakfast, peed for at least 20 minutes, showered three times, crawled into bed and didn't wake until early Wednesday morning.

We hired a lawyer (a friend of a friend) who listened to our story and charged a minimal fee to accompany us on the day of our arraignment. There was no trial and our records were expunged on a promise and a signature to a form that said we would not sue the NOPD for wrongful arrest. When I tell this story, people say that I should have sued, that it was in fact a wrongful arrest and that I shouldn't have backed down.  But you know what? At the time, I was just happy it was all over.

As a side note, when I told my friends at the Circle Bar (where I would often hang out) that I got arrested, they gawked at me and said, "You? Arrested? No way!" But then they also laughed and claimed that now I was a real New Orleanian because I broke my "getting-arrested-during-Carnival" cherry. I didn't know there was such a thing. It was definitely easier to laugh about it all after the fact.

Anyhow, from that day forward, I will no longer eat at Rally's or go out on Lundi Gras...would you?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Inhaling a feast at Maurepas Foods

Last week, I invited my friend Dani to have lunch with John and I at the recently-opened Maurepas Foods in the Bywater. Now, when I invite Dani, I am also inviting her 2-year-old daughter Posie and seeing as how everything must revolve around nap time and the kid's ever-variant mood swings, we didn't exactly make it for lunch. That being said, when we finally wandered into the restaurant it was almost 4PM and I was starving. We could tell that even Posie was hungry, seeing as she waited patiently for something to munch on. Needless to say, we went a little crazy and ordered a lot of food.

A cheese plate came out first with a hard Vermont cheddar, creamy morbier and thick Landaff  served with sugared pecans and sliced ciabatta. There was a kind of chutney on the plate, but after Posie stuck her whole hand in it, I kind of lost interest. At the same time, we also shared a plate of house made pickled root vegetables like carrots, turnips, ginger and even "Romanesco" broccoli (similar to cauliflower) and lima beans.

Maybe we went a teensy-bit overboard on the apps, because I also ordered their Sweet Potato Croquettes and Brussels sprouts. The Croquettes were just wonderful -- crunchy and crisp on the outside, sweet and creamy on the inside -- and served with a smear of a salted plum jam. There were unmistakable accents of Indian cuisine like coriander, fenugreek and cumin, which turned out to be sort of a theme for several of the dishes. The other plate of Brussels sprouts were browned with thick bacon and tossed in a "winter vegetable puree." I chose the sprouts because I thought Posie would dig them (and she did), but the rest of us weren't complaining either.

Believe it or not, we also got entrees and had no difficulty polishing all of them off. Dani got the Fish & Chips "Moira"  (Wendy Darling?) with crispy Lyonaise potatoes and malt vinaigrette. I am uncertain what kind of fish it was (being distracted by my own plate), but the taste I had was delightful and Dani could not stop raving about a curry sauce that came with it that brought to mind her favorite Indian dish, Butter Chicken. I think she showed admirable restraint by not swabbing up all of the heady sauce with her fingers.

John ordered the Pork & Bacon Terrine that was served with thin slices of pickled pears, honey and mizuna or Japanese mustard. Yep, I had to look that one up. Though I did enjoy a large bite of his luscious terrine, I was really hypnotized by my own dish, the P&J Oyster Stew. Served in an oven-hot crock and topped by buttery pastry, I was a bit unnerved when I first broke through the crust. A blood-red broth oozed onto the pastry and the steam released a scent of yet more Indian seasoning. My spoon dove straight to the bottom of the hot stew only to discover humongous, plump, juicy oysters and lots of minutely-diced beets. I slurped down every last drop and scraped down the pastry from the edge of the crock until anymore foraging would have looked helplessly desperate. I would so order this dish a heartbeat.

Keeping with the gluttonous theme of the entire afternoon, we ordered two desserts to share with no regrets.  My favorite was the Roasted Pumpkin Ice Cream Sundae with candied pecans and hot fudge, but I think Dani definitely preferred the fluffy King Cake/cream puff overflowing with a goat cheese filling and topped with a chocolate ganache and bright gold & green sugar crystals.

After that gorging session, it was time for my nap...

Maurepas Foods on Urbanspoon

Friday, February 10, 2012

House of the week: Horrendous tile!

As I was looking through house listings today for my weekly post, I couldn't help but come across a common feature in a lot of "remodeled" homes. Abhorrent tile!

Now don't get the wrong idea, I think tile is a perfectly serviceable flooring in kitchens, bathrooms and even the odd mudroom, but seriously people...does it belong in your living room? Or worse yet...your bedroom? I realize it is a cheaper alternative for the ruinous renovators who are, in my opinion, out to destroy any semblance of original architecture and style to save a damn dime, but it simply breaks my heart to see it. 

For example, I found a fairly cute, two-story double Craftsman house on St. Mary in the Lower Garden District. It's in a great location, around the corner from Juan's Flying Burrito (not to mention a ton of cute shops on Magazine Street) and just a couple of doors down from The Saint, one of the finest dive bars in the city. There are three bedrooms and two bathrooms per side, a total of 3000 square feet and it is listed for $299,000.  

But look at what was done to the beautiful hardwood floors (because I just know this house had them)! Every inch of floor space has been covered with a ghastly, godawful, cheap, ugly tile! WHY!?!?! I guess there is just no accounting for other people's tastes...or lack thereof. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

It left a bad taste...

Discovering something crunchy in a creamy soup, finding a long, black hair baked into pasta or sliding your teeth through a thick chunk of gristle...we've all experienced mishaps that will put us off a meal. It's a horrible sensation that destroys your appetite and try as you might, it's almost impossible to continue. Most of the time these experiences are purely accidental, but sometimes they can be creativity gone awry. I think the latter is what happened to John and I when we visited Origami last week, the new sushi restaurant on Freret Street.

We probably should have been forewarned that something would be amiss with our entire outing, considering the obnoxiously-bad cabby driver who sped at a frightening pace through the busy, after-school streets and the noisy road construction on the corner of Dufossat and Freret right outside of the restaurant. 

But once inside, things improved considerably. The dining room was modern and elegant with white flower-like chandeliers and concrete floors and luckily, the walls seemed to insulate us from most of the construction noise. We were seated at a large, private booth where we looked over the hefty menus and decided what to eat. After some green tea and a couple of warm, wet towels, we made our selections, anxious to inhale some excellent rolls. 

One thing I should make perfectly clear, John and I love sushi, especially the crazy thick "special" uramaki that many Japanese restaurants offer to please the American palate. It is rare when a month goes by without us placing an order at Ninja Restaurant around the corner for four or five fat, delicious rolls sporting ingredients like avocado, eel, tempura shrimp, deep fried soft shell crab and let's not forget the hallowed "crunchies" sprinkled through a spicy crab-mayonnaise mixture. John loves sushi so much that I can easily woo him into buying it so that I won't have to make dinner that night. It's like his kryptonite.

We started lunch at Origami with some salads. My Poke Salad had bright red cubes of tuna, tons of sliced cucumber, avocado and seaweed tossed in a wonderfully spicy, chili ponzu sauce. John tried the Origami Salad which was mostly plain lettuce, a few sweet baby greens and your basic squid salad tossed together in a ponzu spicy mayo dressing. Both were tasty, but we both definitely preferred the Poke.

We ordered three rolls, but the first to arrive was our "experiment" roll. Let's face it, all sushi joints sport pretty much the same array of these kinds of super-rolls, so when we try a new spot, we like to attempt their original concoctions with varying degrees of success. In this case, it was the "Italian Roll." The menu described a mango and eel interior with layers of prosciutto (spelled "prochuto") and broiled cheese on the outside. "Broiled cheese?" I thought to myself...maybe it'll be shaved Parmesan? Knowing the castigation I would receive for ordering sushi containing any other kind of cheese besides cream, I decided to take the risk. The chef obviously liked it enough to put it on the menu, right?

In my worst nightmare, I never would have imagined that the unknown cheese would turn out to be American. Yes ladies and gentlemen, I said American cheese. Those bright orange slices are a welcome sight on a bologna sandwich, but for sushi? And I thought the roll was supposed to be Italian? Since when did plastic, processed cheese squares bring to mind the taste of Italy? Don't even get me started on what seemed to pass as prosciutto...

John was acting unusually optimistic (maybe it's cheddar?), I blame it on his hunger and blind love of rolls, but he dove in with a will and popped a piece into his mouth. Since I couldn't initially gauge his reaction, I took a piece without hearing his verdict and knew immediately it was going to be difficult to swallow. At this point, lunch was basically over.

We had also ordered our favorite Rainbow Roll and a Blackjack Roll, but after a couple of unenthusiastic attempts, we just couldn't enjoy them at all. No matter how much I rinsed my mouth with green tea or nibbles of ginger, my tongue was haunted by the flavor of the dreaded Italian.

After our server packed the other food in go-boxes, I ordered dessert in a desperate hope to salvage the meal. Sadly, the tempura-fried bananas were crunchy shells holding formless banana goo and we had no less than three different people ask us to clarify the dessert least the green tea ice cream that accompanied it was nice?

Oh well, these are the events that make life interesting...right? 

Origami on Urbanspoon

Sunday, February 5, 2012

House of the week: Fixer-upper on N. Miro Street

Have you ever seen the movie Money Pit? Tom Hanks and Shelley Long play a new couple who believe they have finally found their dream house, but it (along with their relationship) basically collapses into rubble. This is what always comes to mind whenever I see the words "fixer-upper" or "investment opportunity" in a house listing. For example, how about this Greek revival on N. Miro?

It seems like an incredible deal. A gorgeous, three-story mansion originally built in 1860 with five bedrooms, three and a half bathrooms, original pine floors, marble mantles, pocket doors and transom windows for a total of 4,232 square feet of living space and a lot almost twice that size. It looks to need a lot of work, possibly some new plumbing and electric, drywall and paint, floor sanding and varnishing...but I have a vision in my mind of what it could be. Perhaps I am being optimistic, but this "investment" seems like a steal listed at $179,000. Since I am certainly no whiz at real estate investments, I wonder how much it would cost to make this place what it was and how long it would take to finish it. What do you think?

I do love to paint!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Suffice it to say...

We adore Creole Creamery.

(A perfect scoop of Banana Cane Malt ice cream)

Without ice cream, there would be darkness and chaos.  ~Don Kardong

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

A taste of the Mission at Juan's Flying Burrito

When people ask me what I miss most about living in California, aside from the obvious answers like my family or the beach, my most common answer is Mission-style burritos. Often I find myself craving the huge, inexpensive burritos loaded with well-seasoned meats, rice, beans, cheese, shredded lettuce and tomatoes and served with free tortilla chips, salsa and tasty condiments like whole pickled jalapenos. A feast such as this would easily feed me for two meals and all for less than $12! While there's nothing exactly like this in New Orleans, I can get pretty darn close at Juan's Flying Burrito.

John and I have been to Juan's on many, many occasions and at both locations, but last week we headed for the original on Magazine Street. Perhaps it's the loud music blaring through the restaurant with chefs singing along while they work, the heavily tattooed servers or the eclectic decor (who doesn't love a chandelier made from Patron bottles?), but we prefer this location to the Juan's on Carrollton Avenue - even though the Mid-City restaurant is closer.

We arrived late in the lunch hour and after some dithering about where to sit (I wanted the best light for pictures), we opted for one of the larger booths in front. Dani and her 2-year-old daughter Posie were with us and we all pretty much knew what we wanted until we spotted the colorful, chalkboard specials adorning the walls and were forced to make some adjustments. Our server was prompt, helpful and before we knew it, our drinks and appetizers arrived in a flurry.

It was hard to make everyone wait while I snapped shots of one special, their house made Chorizo Queso. The aroma of the cheese and sausage together was overwhelming, so I worked fast and got the best images I could before the first chip was dipped. Everyone agreed that we had made an excellent choice after tasting the creamy, melted cheese and the warm, cinnamon-rich chorizo...even Posie! We made quick work of the queso and had to request another basket of their fresh, crisp tortilla chips in order to scrape up every last drop.

Before we finished inhaling the appetizer, our entrees arrived. Posie was feasting on her own order of creamy, fresh guacamole while Dani enjoyed their Shrimp Quesadilla with an extra helping of sour cream. John fell back on one of our favorites and their namesake dish, the Flying Burrito which features grilled steak, gulf shrimp and chicken with cheddar, jack, yellow rice, black beans. salsa and guacamole in a grilled Chipotle tortilla. I veered from the norm and chose another special, the Shrimp Hooligan burrito that touted "twice the shrimp" and I can confirm that's not a lie. Plump Gulf shrimp were rolled into a grilled spinach wrap with jack cheese, refried beans, rice, sour cream and salsa. Though it was delicious, after a glut of queso dip I was able to finish less than half of the monster burrito (John had the same problem), but I wasn't complaining, because now I didn't have to worry about what I was having for dinner...

Juan's Flying Burrito on Urbanspoon