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looka, ('lu-k&) Yatspeak. v.
1. The imperative form of the verb "to look", in the spoken vernacular of New Orleans; usually employed when the speaker wishes to call one's attention to something.  
2. --n. My weblog - food, music, Louisiana culture, news, movies, books, sf, media and culture, Macs, politics, humor, reviews, rants, my opinions, witty or smart-arsed comments and whatever else tickles my fancy.

Please feel free to contribute a link.   If you don't want to read my opinions, feel free to go elsewhere.

Page last tweaked @ 12:14am PST, 5/31/2000

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Chuck Taggart

Looka! Archive

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Recent Epinions:

1. Mi Piace: It pleases me

2. Wusthof: Knives for Serious Cooks

3. The Isle of Skye

4. The French Laundry (Wine Country, CA): Meal of a lifetime

5. Sanamluang: Best Thai food in L.A.

6. Volkswagen New Beetle: Fun fun fun!

Now reading:

The American Way of Death Revisited, by Jessica Mitford.

A For Anything, by Damon Knight.

Breakfast on Pluto, by Patrick McCabe.


Bob the Angry Flower,
by Stephen Notley

by Peter Blegvad

This Modern World,
by Tom Tomorrow

Lookin' at da TV:

"The Sopranos"
"Malcolm In The Middle"
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"Star Trek: Voyager"
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The BradLands
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Hit or Miss
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Q Daily News
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weblog and (almost) daily blather

  Wednesday, May 31, 2000
A short treatise on English food.   I've gotten some interesting mail about my recent post on English food. Owen Linderholm (a Baton Rouge native who was raised in England), was kind enough to allow me to share his comments with Looka! readers.

The chip butty is NOT my favorite food, although I have eaten several. An English chip butty is a soft roll (AKA a "bap") loaded up with good chips (not greasy pieces of crap) and topped with a little salt and either malt vinegar or ketchup. A potato po-boy has got to have it beat by a few million gastronomic points even if they are equivalent calorifically. I have no idea when the chip butty was invented in England, but it is absolutely possible that it was before 1905. But don't get stuck on the which came first question. It is clear that we are talking about completely different gastronomic experiences here. It is strange to discuss English food in the US since the quintessential English gastronomic experiences are completely unavailable in the US.
I've found that local English pubs in L.A. (King's Head at the top of the list) do what I understand to be a rather good job with English food (I'll try not to quote Kevin Kline from "A Fish Called Wanda" here); I like 'em, at least. But here's where Owen hits the nail on the proverbial head:

We start with tea. There is no real cup of English Breakfast in the US. For something so simple it is astounding that it can't be replicated over here (although you can get a real cuppa at my house).
My house, too. I'm a tea aficionado.

First, the water actually has to be right at boiling. Water out of one of those "boiling water" taps on a coffee machine or worse at a sink DOES NOT COUNT!
A-fecking-men. If anybody tries to serve me tea made with warm or hot water rather than boiling, I will send it back in a picosecond.

Second, you have to use enough tea. Go get a real English teabag really from England and from the package figure out how much actual tea is in it. Then get one of those supposedly good tea bags like Stash or Celestial or Republic of Tea. Surprise! There is half the amount of tea in the US teabag.
When using tea bags I favor Barry's Tea, a brew from County Cork which I became addicted to on my first trip to Ireland. Fortunately, it's available at the Irish Import Shop on Melrose and Vine in Hollywood, and the bag has a LOT of tea in it. It's delicious, full-bodied, and not to be trifled with. As my friend Lou said after being served a cuppa, "Man ...this tea kicks ass!"

For iced tea, though ... it's hard to beat good ol' Luzianne from back home. (Okay, all you Irish and British out there ... stop with the gagging noises. I'm from the South and I drink iced tea. Thbbpthpt.)

Third, you have to let it brew just the right amount of time. 2-4 minutes but make sure it doesn't start to form that nasty scum from tannic acid reacting with any metal in the teapot or cup. Finally, you HAVE to add a little milk. Not cream, not half-and-half, not lemon. Just plain milk. OK, that scratched the surface of the problem with American Tea (let alone all that wastefulness in Boston Harbor).
True, it was a waste, but there was a point to be made in Boston Harbor that day. Fortunately, there was plenty more tea where that came from.

[As for] fish and chips... I would have thought that this could be duplicated, but so far not in my experience. I have occasionally had the fish done right, but never the chip, which should be thicker than a french fry, thinner than a home fry and should still have the skin on. It should be deep fried VERY hot until just as it turns golden. Then it should be eaten right away off newsprint (to absorb any left over grease) before it can get soggy. And it should be lightly coated in salt and malt vinegar.
King's Head does a pretty darn good fish and chips, but perhaps the best I've had in town is at John O'Groats on Pico in west L.A. I'm not sure how they'd compare to fish and chips from a good chipper van in the U.K. or Ireland (if there's such a thing as a good chipper van), or from a nicer take-away place. And though I've had chips with malt vinegar before, I don't care for that. As a New Orleanian, I like my fries a little perkier, dipped into good ketchup (Heinz only) that's been liberally laced with Tabasco.

Finally, Indian food, which has for at least thirty years now really been an English experience, since all the best Indian restaurants in the world are in England. This I will never experience in the US. Time and again unreliable American friends have told me of great Indian restaurants all over the US and time and again they have disappointed. True, they are slowly improving, but some core understanding of how to make a dish like Rogan Ghosht is missing.
Owen should visit Los Angeles sometime. There are lots of Indian people living here, and consequently there are lots of little neighborhood Indian groceries (I've lived near a terrific one for nearly 8 years now) and lots of terrific Indian restaurants. I'm sure the Indians who moved to L.A. can cook just as well as the ones who moved to England.

However, we won't even go into how many ways the reverse is true. I still recoil with horror from the idea of eating Mexican food in London. Only five years ago, the best Mexican restaurant in London was Taco Bell.
Ugh ... tell me about it. While travelling in Edinburgh, Scotland I saw a restaurant with a sign that said "Authentic Mexican Cuisine". My curiosity won out over my common sense (and my inner voice screaming "NO! NO! DON'T GO IN!"), so I went in and sat down. A nice Scottish waiter came by and asked if I'd like any tortilla chips and salsa. He pronounced them "tor-TILL-la" (first two syllables sounding like "for Bill") and "SAL-sa" (the first syllable like the "sal" in "salamander"). I tried not to giggle and said yes. He returned after a few moments with a bowl of Fritos and a little dish of what the British call "tomato sauce" and what I'd just call bland ketchup. I fled.

Black is the colour of my true love's ... vodka?   I was shopping for a bottle of cognac at The Wine House in West L.A. yesterday when I came across a bottle containing something that looked like squid ink. I did a double take at the label ... it's apparently black vodka, sold under the brand name Blavod. It's made in England, has good blurbs about it on the web site (natch), is triple-distilled, double-filtered, colored by some tasteless Burmese herb called black catechu (and promised not to stain teeth, tongue or clothes) and is supposedly now the third best-selling vodka in Britain.

What's the problem, then? Well, it just looks completely unappetizing to me, particularly in light of yesterday's sewage post. I just don't think I'd want to drink a black Martini. The Goth kids'll eat it up, though.

Speaking of sewage...   Fortunately, as far as we know, no one in Pineville has fallen ill as yet from drinking their sewage-contaminated tap water, even though the very idea of it is absolutely revolting. Folks up in Ontario are not so lucky.

Although their water wasn't obviously contaminated (no foul odor or discoloration), the municipal water supply of Walkerton, Ontario was contaminated with E. coli. So far over 1,000 people have become ill and six -- all either very young or very old -- have died so far. To worsen matters, it seems that the town's public utilities officer may have deliberately hidden evidence of the contamination for several days.

The Ontario government admitted yesterday that it violated its own guidelines when it failed to tell health officials about water contamination detected six weeks before a bacterial outbreak that has killed five people. [six as of yesterday]

It also admitted it had known for years that the Walkerton water system had problems.

In reaction to the tragedy, [Minister of the Environment] Newman proposed new regulations, but no new staff, to ensure safe drinking water across the province.

Since taking power, the Tories have privatized water testing and laid off 42 per cent of the ministry staff dedicated to monitoring drinking water. Before privatization, both the ministry and the medical officer of health would have been notified of problems. While government labs could have been disciplined for not following those guidelines, private labs have no legal duty to report contamination to health authorities.

Thanks to Mary Lacroix for passing this along.

At this rate, I'll never be the Kwisatz Haderach.   I must've been asleep not to have realized until now that the Sci-Fi Channel is producing a six-hour miniseries called "Frank Herbert's Dune", to be shown in December. David Lynch's film had interesting moments, but was a muddled mess overall. (I saw it with a group of friends opening night, and afterwards spent an hour explaining to everyone what it was all about, since I was the only one that had read the novel.) There's a good chance for this one to work much better, given three times the amount of storytelling time. I don't know much about the director, who's done lots of pretty decent episodic television, but I'm tremendously excited about the show's cinematographer -- Vittorio Storaro. It's gonna look great, at least. (Heads up from Ghost in the Machine).

  Tuesday, May 30, 2000
Back from jury duty.   In a nutshell ... we the jury, in the above entitled action, find the defendent NOT GUILTY of the charge of possession of cocaine. I have a lot to say about this case, which I'll do later when I've got a bit more time (it was a busy holiday weekend). One of the many things I learned is that the little guy can get justice.

God bless the fried potato po-boy.   Jason has had an interesting series of posts recently on odd English foodstuffs, among other things the battered and deep-fried Mars bar (which, I must confess, actually sounds great, if deadly) and the deep-fried steak and kidney pie. I'm an adventurous eater, but I dunno about kidneys. My friend Peter once told me a story about going to visit his friend Hugh in Wales. When he arrived, Hugh's mom was boiling kidneys to make the steak and kidney pie for that night's dinner, and Peter said that "the entire house reeked of urine." Not especially appetizing.

There's apparently an English dish called a "chip roll" or a "chip butty", described as "a greasy french-fry sandwich... apparenty quite good, or quite bad, depending on who you ask."

I cannot allow the English to take credit for such a dish, particularly if they're going to make it greasy and screw it all up. Such a dish has distinguished origins -- it was the first po-boy sandwich ever invented in New Orleans.

Po-boys come in myriad varieties today, but the original was invented around 1905. It was a huge amount of fried potatoes, piled high on French bread (8-12" long), slathered with roast beef gravy and "dressed" with lettuce, tomatoes, mayonnaise, pickles, with ketchup and hot sauce optional. It cost a nickel in those days, and gave the poor working man a huge carbo rush to help get him through his day of labor. Fortunately, you can still get such po-boys at a few places, and if they're done right, they're spectacular. Try one at Johnnie's Po-Boys in the Quarter. He says "Even my mistakes are edible," so what've you got to lose? You can also get them at Elizabeth's on Chartres in Bywater. (Speaking of Elizabeth's, an absolutely wonderful neighborhood restaurant... one of the menu items for their superb Saturday brunch is caramelized bacon -- they dredge the bacon in praline sauce before they fry it crisp. Oh. My. Gawd.)

Jason goes on to comment about the fried potato po-boy thusly: "I think that I would love and marry that sandwich. Anything that can combine gravy, potatoes, and mayonnaise in one fantastic package has my heart." Gotta love a guy who can talk about food that way. :-)

Times right now ain't nothin' like they used to be.   I'm on a quest to find all six sides that were recorded by the elusive New Orleans musician Richard "Rabbit" Brown back in March of 1927. So far I've only heard two: "James Alley Blues", which initially popped into my attention on the fabulous Harry Smith compilation "The Anthology of American Folk Music" on Smithsonian-Folkways (and in a great cover by Jeff Tweedy of Wilco), and a ballad called "The Mystery of the Dunbar Child", about the kidnapping of a little boy named Bobby Dunbar from a resort near Opelousas, Louisiana in 1914. Check out that Bluesworld article; it's pretty cool.

Ick! Ick! Ick!   I'm sure glad my family lives in New Orleans and not Pineville, Louisiana. If they had been, they'd have been drinking and bathing in raw sewage for the past three months. If you're eating right now, you might want to ... stop.

"I get physically ill when I think that I have been bathing, drinking and washing my clothes and dishes in sewage water," Tammy Campbell said.

The filters on Campbell's washing machine, dishwasher and refrigerator ice-maker became clogged with a white stringy substance, which she later learned was used toilet paper. The water heaters of other residents filled up with what they originally thought was dirt -- but turned out to be excrement.

Back home in New Orleans we don't drink the tap water in anyway; we use Kentwood Spring Water. (Kentwood is now famous for two things:  the source for sensible Louisianians' bottled drinking water, plus that Brittany Spears bubblegum singer person is from there).

  Wednesday, May 24, 2000
Feckin' eejit.   Last night I uploaded today's Looka! entry, then went to bed. This morning, I forgot I did that and re-uploaded ... only I uploaded an old version from April 28, and overwrote the one from last night. For a while I thought I had lost everything between yesterday and the 28th of last month, until I found a copy of one that was from last Friday. Whew. So now I just have to try to recreate what I wrote and the links I found (some of which I bookmarked, luckily).

Today's lesson:  Don't work on your blog before you've had your morning tea.

Busy weekend!   Saturday night Wes and I had dinner at Piero Selvaggio's wonderful restaurant Valentino, in Santa Monica. I had been wanting to go there for a long time, but... I sort of wish it wasn't on the heels of the New Orleans trip (which I still haven't finished describing), so it wouldn't have to compete with the memories of all those outstanding meals we had. But I'd say Piero and his chef held their own quite well.

I started the meal with a salad, but this was no iceberg lettuce salad like you get at ya momma's, or at lots of run-of-the-mill restaurants. This was a Fresh Porcini Salad with Truffle-Cheese. They were very generous with the porcini mushrooms, which were thinly sliced and piled atop mixed greens that had been tossed with a light balsamic vinaigrette. Tossed with this were several very thin slices of a soft white cheese that had been infused with white truffles. The flavor of the truffles within the cheese made me dizzy, almost delirious. With each bite, it took a fair amount of effort not to pass out (a lesser man might have!). There's nothing to compare with the flavor of white truffles. If you had a steady supply, you could probably control me like a marionette.

There were so many wonderful looking entrées that I had a hard time choosing. Even though it was my first time at Valentino, I decided to favor the daily specials menu -- if you see something fabulous there, you're less likely to see it on the menu again if you go back. For the entrée I chose the veal chop topped with morels and asparagus. I love morel mushrooms, and for me it tied in with the porcini and truffle-essence I had enjoyed in the salad. I had ordered my veal chop medium rare, but it arrived at the table cooked medium. Grmph. It was just this side of being overcooked for me, but it was still pretty darn good all things considered (it was well-broiled, well-seasoned, plus I was in a good mood from the Cosmopolitan I had had before dinner and the marvelous Cabernet I was having at the time). I decided not to send it back.

Although I might have been slightly disappointed with the main course, dessert lifted me back up to the heights I had experienced with the first course. I ordered a honey-poached pear, served with a scoop of fresh pear sorbet served in an almond tuile, in a pool of raspberry sauce liberally garnished with grappa-soaked fresh raspberries ... all washed down with a glass of Moscato d'Asti. It was indeed, as our waiter (the winner of the Otto Preminger Lookalike Contest) said, spectacular. I can't think of a better way to end a meal. (I can think of a worse way, though ... going to a restaurant like this, having a look at the bill, trying not to have a coronary, and wondering how long afterward you'll need to be living on red beans 'n rice. Oh, what the hell. We live once.)

Recipe of the week.   Another thing that the meal at Valentino did to me was to spark a morel and porcini craving. While doing a little digging I came across what looks to be a fabulous recipe for Fresh Morel and Apple Risotto, which uses Calvados (the marvelous French apple brandy). You start by having the sautéed rice absorb the 1/4 cup of Calvados, as you'd do with white wine in most traditional risotto recipes. I can't wait to try this one.

Speaking of Calvados... when my parents were travelling in France a few years ago, my dad was served what became his favorite cocktail for quite a long time -- Calvados mixed with fresh apple juice. I don't know what this is called (any ideas, anybody?), but I'd guess the proportions to be a shot or so of Calvados over ice in a cocktail shaker, adding 2-3 ounces fresh-pressed apple juice, then shaken and strained into a cocktail glass. (Hmm, I wonder what this would taste like with a couple dashes of Peychaud's bitters added to it. Let's find out!)

Oh yeah, he's a fisherman.   Maybe if you stretch the definition of "fish" to include dust mites...

Janitorial service owner Donato Dalrymple, the self-proclaimed "savior" of Elián González, has sued Attorney General Janet Reno and INS Commissioner Doris Meissner for $100 million, claiming that his civil rights were violated when federal agents seized Elián from his arms. He's doing this despite the fact that the agents had an entirely legal search and seizure warrant, and that the seizure didn't even take place in his house. He, like that wingnut Marisleysis, sees his gravy train going bye-bye. Feh.

  Friday, May 19, 2000
All hail the Emperor of the Universe!   More surreal adventures from the self-proclaimed Emperor of the Universe, that beloved but bonkers local R&B legend Ernie K-Doe, as a New York Times reporter gets held hostage in, and then banned from, the Mother-In-Law Lounge. Only in New Orleans...

One of the best things about jury duty in downtown L.A. is that the courthouse is a 10-minute walk from Grand Central Market.

It's been there for 80 years, in various incarnations, and now serves a big cross-section of L.A. folks, from downtown lawyers and laborers to Latinos from the neighborhood. There's produce of every description, for starters -- the cherries looked beautiful, there were Gargantuan plantains selling for 33 cents a pound, beautiful mangoes, and papayas nearly as big as my head. The food stalls range from burgers to Chinese, Mexican and Salvadoran, and for the most part it's all really good.

I had an enormous torta for lunch yesterday, filled with Michoacán-style carnitas, tomato, lettuce, onions, avocado, a splash of incendiary salsa and a drizzle of sour cream, all for three bucks (plus an extra buck for what seemed like a bucket of horchata.) I also bought a half-pound of chipotle chiles and a pound of piloncillo, so that I can make a batch of sweet pickled chipotles, mmmmmm!

I grow weary of people who diss downtown. They say it's dangerous, run-down, smelly (well, I'll give them that here and there), full of homeless and people dat don't talk no good English. But I've been going downtown for many years, visiting friends who live there and getting to know the area. It's alive, full of culture and wonderful food and lots of different people all doing their business and getting through their day. For instance, as I was walking to the market yesterday, there was an elderly man walking next to me who sang a beautiful song in Spanish the whole length of my walk. He wasn't singing for anyone in particular, just singing because it made him happy. It made my day.

That's one of the things I like about downtown. Try that on the well-to-do Westside and they'd look at you as if you were insane.

  Wednesday, May 17, 2000
I start jury duty today.   One of the pieces of mail waiting for me when I got back from New Orleans was that dreaded pink summons from the L.A. County Superior Court. Fortunately, my service this time is at the Criminal Courts building in downtown L.A., so there are plenty of great place to eat around there -- Grand Central Market, Chef Tara Thomas' new restaurant Traxx (in the beautiful Union Station), Phillippe's French Dip, Boyd St. Bar and Grill. Plus, I'll be able to catch up on my reading! Unless I get stuck on the next O.J.-type trial ... in which case, I'll see y'all next year.

The lamest studio website, ever.   The irrepressible Menahem Golan, my former employer, is at it again with a new "studio" called Filmworld. From reading his amateurish website we can see that his taste in movies hasn't improved much -- he's still making what portend to be huge pieces of crap that will go straight to the international/third world market, mixed in with attempts to make "serious" films. We've got an "Elian" movie listed there, natch. There's also a new Michael "American Ninja" Dudikoff movie in the works (Menahem used to say about him, "See thees keed? He vill be zee next Clint Eastvood!"). Oh yeah, and an adaptation of Dostoevsky's "Crime and Punishment", starring ... wait for it ... Crispin Glover!

"Eet veel be fantasteek! A vorldvide smash heet! Hundred million dollar gross!" (Lemme tell ya, working for Golan and Globus' Cannon Films about 14 years ago is what we call "payin' yer dues".)

  Tuesday, May 16, 2000
Seeya, sweetiedarling.   Procter and Gamble have dropped their sponsorship of Laura Schlessinger's upcoming (and reportedly wretched) TV show.

Peter Blegvad lyric of the day.   A link about diamonds and their non-scarcity in the May 15 entry on Medley made me think of a lyric from Peter Blevgad's absolutely stupendous song "Gold", from his album "King Strut and Other Stories". (Yeah, I know I blogged this a month ago, but it's one of my favorite songs, I thought of it today, and I'm blogging it again. Who knows, maybe you missed it last time...)

Gold would be worthless if it didn't require
Such heartbreak to seek it; to find it and mine it.
Things remain precious as long as they're rare,
But if gold could by found lying 'round everywhere

It'd be the lowliest of metals;
Too soft for serious use.
Pretty, of course, and warm to the touch,
But no longer alluring if you've handled so much...

Sometimes I dream the world is reversed;
I dream that accounants are rarer than poets.
That things will get better (they can't get any worse),
That a rich man has nothing but dirt in his purse...

Psychlo killer, qu'est-ce que c'est?   Predictably, John Travolta's pet film project of L. Ron Hubbard's pulp sf novel "Battlefield Earth" is a huge stinking flop at the box office, according to the Entertainment Insiders website, who said:

The Warner Bros. film based on the L. Ron Hubbard novel launched in a bloated 3,307 theaters for a $3,725 per theater average. In comparison, Gladiator's opening weekend per theater average was $11,130. The $70 million budgeted actioner became the third worst opening of all-time for a film released in over 3,000 theaters and looks unlikely to generate any decent word of mouth in the comings [sic] weeks.
Quelle surprise. Does this mean that they won't be bothering with the second planned film now? And while we're on the subject...

It's kinda like watching the proverbial train wreck.   That's the only explanation I can muster for my fascination with the universally bad reaction to this movie. That, plus my disdain of celebrity vanity projects (which is all this is), and we won't even get started on what I think of the idea of the copyrighted "religion" based on bad sf. (For those who complain about drawing a parallel between the film and the cult, saying that there's supposedly no connection between Scientology and the film/novel... apparently many people in the know -- former Scientologists, primarily -- claim that it's all an allegory for Hubbard's cosmology and "theology".)

So today, because it feels deliciously bitchy to do so, Looka! becomes BattlefieldEarthBlog -- let the bad reviews roll! Here's Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times:

"Battlefield Earth" is like taking a bus trip with someone who has needed a bath for a long time. It's not merely bad; it's unpleasant in a hostile way. The visuals are grubby and drab. The characters are unkempt and have rotten teeth. Breathing tubes hang from their noses like ropes of snot. The soundtrack sounds like the boom mike is being slammed against the inside of a 55-gallon drum. This movie is awful in so many different ways. Even the opening titles are cheesy... The film contains no evidence of Scientology or any other system of thought; it is shapeless and senseless, without a compelling plot or characters we care for in the slightest. I watched it in mounting gloom, realizing I was witnessing something historic, a film that for decades to come will be the punch line of jokes about bad movies.
Last week Fox News said:

Kevin Costner should send a thank-you note to the producers of "Battlefield Earth" because they have single-handedly eclipsed the memories of "Waterworld" and "The Postman" for post-apocalyptic bombast. Wearing a brunette bouffant "I Dream of Jeannie" wig, star John Travolta -- possibly doing an impression of Elaine Giftos from "Love American Style" --comes across as nothing so much as funkmaster George Clinton in drag.
From the Los Angeles NewTimes:

Hubbard's Machiavellian nine-foot-tall Sasquatch-like alien antagonist is somehow interpreted by the filmmakers as John Travolta decked out like a gay Conehead with Rob Zombie hair, in KISS platform boots. Oh yeah, and a massive prosthetic cock that conspicuously bulges through his pants.

Given that Hubbard is the key figure in Travolta's religion, you'd think the whole matter would be a solemn affair. But it's not. Travolta appears to be actually encouraging the film's more ludicrous aspects (or does he actually believe that a film this over-the-top is to be taken seriously?). Think Independence Day without the ponderous build-up or self-importance. Imagine how much more enjoyable the other blockbuster-of-the-moment, "Gladiator", might have been if Joaquin Phoenix had addressed every one of his rivals as 'Rat brain.' And wonder about the sequel that has supposedly already been greenlit, featuring 25 alien races and characters with names like Brown Limper Staffor and Roof Arsebogger. It's been a while since we've seen dumb entertainment this unpretentious, so why worry that it doesn't make a lick of sense?

From the Washington Post on May 11th:

"Battlefield Earth," John Travolta's epic, expensive and bizarre science fiction film based on a book by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, was greeted with guffaws and hoots from an audience of entertainment journalists, critics and others at a packed theater in Century City this week. The film -- which reportedly cost at least $90 million to launch -- got a similar response during a screening in Washington, where some critics walked out, and others tittered at such lines as "Have you blown a head gasket?" And at a screening in Dundalk, a blue-collar suburb of Baltimore where folks tend to like their movies full of really big explosions, there was derisive laughter.

In a competitive industry where, in theory, production costs are carefully weighed against projected revenues, how could such a movie happen? The answer is that "Battlefield Earth" is not a normal movie, not in its conception, not in its production and not in its financing. Travolta, a high-ranking Scientologist and acolyte of Hubbard, had been trying to persuade studios to make a movie of his hero's novel for years. Audiences dissolved into laughter when hero Tyler, played by Barry Pepper, tells his fellow hunter-gatherers that they plan to free all the human slaves and, implausibly, blow up the Psychlos' planet. Pepper pauses dramatically and opines: "We're going to need more supplies.' With that, the illiterate slaves scamper off and learn how to fly [1,000-year-old] fighter jets and launch nuclear bombs.

As he got up to leave the suite at the Four Seasons Hotel, Travolta turned back and flashed a grin at the polite journalists. "You all enjoyed it, didn't you?" he asked. There was no reply. Finally someone called out: "We love you, John!"

Speaking of the financing... I wouldn't be surprised if there was Church of Scientology financing for the film. The domain name, which is the official site for the film, is registered to the Church of Scientology. Eenteresteeng.

From The Arizona Republic on May 11th:

This is how the world ends. Not with a bang, but with a stinker. In "Battlefield Earth", the world is almost devoid of human life, much like theaters after word gets out on this dud. John Travolta stars as Terl, top man among the Psychlos, a plug-ugly race of 9-foot aliens who conquered Earth and turned it into downtown Newark. Travolta's performance is over the top to the point of absurdity; he spends half the movie laughing maniacally, for no apparent reason. The sets are dreary and the plot, based on a book by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, is a sad version of "The Postman Beyond Thunderdome". The dialogue makes even less sense. One minute, the humans sound like Tarzan, the next they're spouting stuff like "we've got company" and "piece of cake." I'm glad Dolly Madison survives the extermination of mankind.
From Variety:

The film is all too faithful to its source material, an 819-page doorstop that reputedly sold 5 million copies. Screenplay by Corey Mandell and JD Shapiro reshuffles and compacts events from the novel's first half, altering a few of the more ridiculous conceits (e.g., hero's warrior allies are no longer brogue-spaykin' Scotsmen). But haplessly cliched dialogue, cardboard characters and dunderheaded plot logic remain.

...Costumes are less inspired [than the fx], with the humans coming off like the dance troupe Stomp! doing a tribute to "Mad Max" in their tasteful war paint, caveman-chic leathers and Ally McBeal-on-a-bad-hair-day dos.

From The Charlotte Observer on May 12th:

John Travolta believes the writings of L. Ron Hubbard contain the philosophic keys to wisdom, contentment and self-mastery. He pushed hard to get "Battlefield Earth". And there he stands at the center of it: strutting around in platform boots, speaking in a pseudo-British accent when he's not cackling maniacally, sporting Confucius-style chin hair and knotty dreadlocks that would intimidate a Jamaican drug dealer, and breathing through an apparatus that looks like two 12-inch strings of leathery brown snot.

The final battle is the most incoherent I've seen in months; it makes the conflicts in 'Gladiator' look as carefully mapped out as the invasion of Normandy. [Director Roger] Christian shoots every scene on the bias, with characters standing at odd angles to us or each other. When he cut back and forth in dialogues, I thought I was riding a see-saw.

From the Tampa Tribune on May 12th:

Even by the dubious standard of "aliens conquer Earth" movies, "Battlefield Earth" is just awful. This clunker spends two hours teetering back and forth between serious science-fiction drama and bad camp. Apparently, the creative team behind the movie never quite decided what they wanted it to be, which is why they ended up making a big-screen version of the "V" television miniseries with better special effects but worse acting.
From The Boston Herald on May 12th:

The cheesy "Battlefield Earth" sets a new standard in the folly of catering to the whims of movie stars. A pet project of the actor John Travolta, the film is an adaptation of the best-selling, epic-sized 1982 science-fiction novel by L. Ron Hubbard, founder of the Church of Scientology, which some describe as a cult, others a religion. Travolta, in what I hope is the worst performance of his career, speaks his lines like a drama student doing his best to sound evil with a capital E.

Roger Christian, who directed second unit for "The Phantom Menace," pays polite homage to his mentor George Lucas in several scenes, one reminiscent of the outer-space dogfight in "Star Wars". But otherwise he's just clueless.

And then there's Mr. Cranky's review.

My my.

  Monday, May 15, 2000
It's bouncy, bouncy, bouncy, bouncy, fun fun fun fun-- (oops).   This is why I don't go bungee jumping. (I prefer to keep my adrenaline in my adrenal glands, too.)

Jazzfest redux, Day Six.   The Thursday before the second weekend of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival is generally considered to be Locals' Day. Out-of-towners who come in for the first weekend are already gone, and are only just arriving for the second. The fest organizers usually line up some pretty good acts for this day too, which is always less crowded, more locals-heavy, and you see lots of groups of school kids on field trips, too (sheesh ... my friggin' little cheezball prison elementary schools, who shall remain nameless except to say they were Ferncrest and Clifton L. Ganus School, never took us on field trips to Jazzfest. They were too busy dishing out corporal punishment.)

This was more of a day for eating and socializing with friends for me, 'cause the musical offerings weren't all that spectacular this Jazzfest Thursday. We met up with my friends Peter and Sarah, Dean and Becky and Michael and Louise and (after grabbing cochon de lait po-boys, sausage bread, fried soft-shell po-boys and various beverages to quaff) headed over to one of the big stages to see local rock band Royal Fingerbowl. In a word (or two), they sucked. I wasn't a huge fan of their music to begin with, but their asinine stage antics (particularly inappropriate at an outdoor festival where lots of people were there with kids) put us off completely. We wandered away before too long.

After that, we caught a few minutes of the wonderful blues duo Cephas & Wiggins (not enough of them, unfortunately), plus the Sounds of Unity and the Banks Family in the Gospel Tent, then most of the gang sent off to hear Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. Wes and I weren't terribly interested, so we wandered for a bit, got more food (some pheasant, quail and andouille gumbo, with crawfish enchilada on the side) and after a while ended up seeing, all too briefly, The Emperor of the Universe.

In case you're not up on global, galactic and universal politics, the Emperor of the Universe is also known as one Ernest Kador, known these days as Ernie K-Doe -- New Orleans R&B legend (particularly in his own mind), hitmaker with "Mother-in-Law" and lots of other songs, proprietor of Ernie K-Doe's Mother-in-Law Lounge on North Claiborne, a shrine to himself, and ... the self-declared Emperor of the Universe. Ernie's ... well, a little nuts, very unique, and is indeed a legend in New Orleans music. This was his first Jazzfest appearance since his acquisition of the Emperor's Throne, but we were rather disappointed that he barely played for 30 minutes of his 65-minute time slot. I guess he's too busy ministering to all the business of the Universe...

We finished the day seeing the Wild Magnolias, one of the premier black Indian tribes of New Orleans, led by Big Chief Bo Dollis on lead vocals. The Magnolias' backing band is as smokin' as ever, featuring their outrageous guitarist June Yamagishi. They warmed us up, then the Indians came out, one by one, in the height of costumed and feathered finery. They were great, as usual, but my one disappointment is that the Big Chief wasn't costumed; Bo came out dressed in a black shirt and black pants. I like to see the Big Chief dress up too, me.

We had to leave early, unfortunately, in order to get ready for ... dinner!

Gamay.   Dinner reservations were at 8:30 at Gamay Bistro, a relatively new restaurant opened by Chefs Greg and Mary Sonnier (of Gabrielle Restaurant in Mid-City) in the Bienville House hotel in the French Quarter. We arrived promptly, met Michael and Louise at the Bar and, of course, ordered Sazeracs. (They were pretty good, too.) My friends Steve and Mary had been seated at their table a half-hour earlier and when I went over to say hi, they were buisily chatting with the Chef, whom I had the pleasure to meet. Not long after, Dean and Becky arrived, we were seated, and got down to business.

I decided to take it easy with the appetizers, and to get a salad instead. Spinach and arugula with Stilton cheese, red grapes and an andouille vinaigrette ... just what the doctor ordered, leaving me plenty of room for a big entrée. Louise got what was perhaps the most interesting and fun-looking appetizer on the menu -- chips and dip. They were housemade Yukon Gold potato chips, absolutely delicious, with two different sauces to dip them in (roasted red pepper, and artichoke-garlic, as I recall). It was a whimsical choice of a whimsical offering, and as there were plenty enough to go around, we all got to try some.

I ended up ordering a giant fried soft-shell crab (soft-shell crabs were really good all over town this week), served with enormous Louisiana oysters and grilled shrimp that were mixed with linguine, tossed with a butter and black truffle sauce. (Sweet sufferin' JAY-sis.) It made my head spin. I barely noticed what other people got, although I remember that Dean ordered "Rabbit done Two Ways". I forget which two ways it was, but remember that they both looked fabulous, and that there was nothing left on his plate afterward but a little pile of bunny bones.

  Friday, May 12, 2000
Cosmic stinker, apparently.   Scientology devotee and apologist John Travolta's pet project, a big-bucks adaptation of Scientology founder and pulp sf writer L. Ron Hubbard's "Battlefield Earth", got seriously drubbed today by the New York Times and Los Angeles Times. In Elvis Mitchell's NYT review, he says it "may well turn out to be the worst movie of this century... 'Plan Nine From Outer Space' for a new generation." In Los Angeles, Robin Rauzi's review calls the movie "a wholly miserable experience".

Gee. As if I didn't see that coming. I think we'll skip this'n and go see "Gladiator" tonight. ("Ya like gladiator movies, Bobby?")

Dangit.   Today's planned recap of last Thursday at Jazzfest and Gamay Restaurant is postponed until I find what I did with the little piece of paper I wrote everything down on, 'cause I didn't feel like carrying my Pilot that day. This'll teach me not to slack off at being a geek.

  Thursday, May 11, 2000
Better PGP all your email to the UK.   Otherwise British intelligence will read it. In yet another historically consistent overreaction to a perceived threat, the British government will require all local ISPs to hardwire directly to their planned snooping facility so that all email in and out of the United Kingdom may be monitored, completely without warrant. The new law will also enforce the surrender of encryption keys.

Sweet Jesus.

People think that Britain is nominally a free country, but it has no Bill of Rights as is enjoyed and understood by citizens of the United States. Britain NEEDS a Bill of Rights, and all net users need reliable, legal encryption. It's this kind of behavior on the part of governments that gets them overthrown. 'Member what we former Colonists did after just a little taxation without representation? (Via Follow Me Here)

Speaking of whom ...   Thanks to Jorn for leading me to Eliot Gelwan's Follow Me Here, probably my favorite new blog (well, new to me, as usual; it's been around since last November). He's an M.D. (interesting that another favorite blog of mine is written and maintained by a physician ... well, almost), and also a Deadhead (woo!). Nothin' left to do but smile, smile, smile (and read, read, read).

How have I missed this site for this long?   A gentleman named John Copes maintains a wonderful site called The Deduct Box, named for a euphemism for Huey P. Long's massive slush fund, which is a digest of Louisiana political news. Needless to say, he's having a field day over the Edwards conviction. The heads-up on this one came from Larry Beron (thanks, bra!), and it's now a must-read for me.

Jazzfest redux, Day Five.   Last Wednesday we woke up early once again, this time to head from Lafayette to Opelousas to meet our friends Steve and Mary for breakfast. They were staying at an absolutely beautiful B&B there called The Estorge House, run by Judith Estorge, the house having been in her family since 1827 (and who moonlights as an Opelousas P.D. motorcycle cop) and her partner Sherl Picchioni, a fabulous chef.

Opelousas is a pretty little town, third oldest in Louisiana, but as we pulled up to the house, we didn't know it could get this pretty. The house is magnificent, outside and in. It's filled with history, antiques and hospitality. We were immediately seated at the spacious table and served fresh fruit and café au lait as we began to exchange stories of life, food, drink and Jazzfest. Then breakfast came out ... pecan-crusted French toast with applewood-smoked bacon. Ohmygodsweetsufferinjesus was it good. I've gotta get that recipe. And the bacon was just perfect.

You know how good perfect bacon is? Full of smoky flavor and absolutely crispy, without one nasty gummy chewy part, yet not burnt at all? Bacon that's not greasy but not so dry, so that when you bite into it the tiniest bit of bacon fat comes out, just barely enough to get the right mouthfeel and know you're being bad, your doctor would be pissed, but screw it, you're eating bacon, and it's soooooooo good? This was it. Besides that, she had cut it so that the pieces formed perfect little rounds as it shrank up. It was the best breakfast I'd had in recent memory.

We popped back to into Lafayette to tell my sis goodbye, forgot to stop at Creole's Lunch House in the Northgate Mall for some Creole's stuffed breads to bring back and freeze (d'oh!), and drove back to New Orleans, certain that we wouldn't need any lunch after all that. We spent the afternoon strolling through the city's beautiful Garden District, walking amidst the beautiful homes built during the early 19th Century as wealthy Americans moved into the former Louisiana territory with a vengeance. Among these was Anne Rice's place, at the corner of First and Chestnut. Pretty nice, although not as spooky-looking as you might expect (and not as spooky-looking as the one across the street).

(She had had her limo parked in front of the house, and Wes noticed the unusual personalized license plate that read "OPHANIM". He found that intriguing, as did I; we're both fans of her novels, but couldn't place the reference. When we got home, we started doing web searches, which led us to lots of nutty sites but gave Wes the idea that Ophanim are a class of angels, like Cherubim and Seraphim. Finally we stumbled across a page describing the classes of angels as to the earthly things they represent, and the Ophanim were mentioned in conjunction with the story of Ezekiel, the Ophanim representing "wheels". Get it? The limo's her wheels.  *giggle*  I'd have felt much more sophisticated if we'd laughed over that reference while standing in front of it, rather than a week later after 20 minutes of Googling.)

We had planned to go to Liuzza's for dinner that night, and we had really been looking forward to it. Not only is it one of the best neighborhood restaurants in the city, with great Creole-Italian food, but it's also very inexpensive; we'd been dropping a lot of money on food and wine and spirits the last few days. We were dressed in t-shirts and shorts, still sticky from the afternoon's strolling, and were glad that we didn't have to drive all the way back to Marrero to change and shower for dinner in an elegant restaurant. All we had to do was drive into Mid-City, order a giant schooner of Abita Turbodog and quaff it heartily while waiting for our fried pickles, onion rings, Galbaroni pasta and Frenchulettas to arrive.

Then, as we were standing directly across the street from Commander's Palace, my cell phone vibrated quietly in my left front pocket (woo!). It was my friend Mary again, with what she described as "an offer you can't refuse". They had initially invited us to dinner at the wonderful Bistro at the Maison de Ville that night, but we didn't think we could fit it in and still be able to eat at Liuzza's this trip, so we graciously declined. This time, though, she was saying it'd be her treat. *gulp* You don't turn down being an actual guest for dinner at a restaurant like this. It meant hauling ass back to Marrero, showering, changing, hauling ass back to the Quarter and only being 10 minutes late for the reservation ... which was in 70 minutes. *flee*

The Bistro is well-known for being the launcing ground for some of the most inventive and talented chefs in the city. Susan Spicer of Bayona and Dominique Maquet of Dominique's were chefs at the Bistro before opening their signature restaurants. The current chef is Greg Picolo, who had been getting raves for his creations since taking over the Bistro's kitchen. We made it there without being too grievously late; Steve and Mary already had their table but hadn't even ordered drinks yet. Wes and I, of course, immediately ordered Sazeracs to continue the research project (pretty good, this one; perhaps a little light on the Herbsaint).

Just looking through the appetizers was pretty staggering. I very nearly went for what Steve ended up getting, the Beggar's Purse of Louisiana Oysters, Grilled Fennel, Spinach and Apple-Smoked Bacon with Horseradish Tomato Reduction and Arugula, but ended up going for (after seeing it listed there, my eyes slowly turning into spirals) the Seared Sonoma Foie Gras with Grilled Pineapple Relish and Corn Cakes. (I'm just a whore for foie gras, what can I say?) Wes got the Spinach Salad with Andouille Vinaigrette (yum!), topped with Roquefort cheese and something called "shiitake bacon" -- thinly sliced, smoked shiitake mushrooms. Fantastic! What an idea.

The entrées were just as intriguing as they were delicious. The most intriguing of all was the one Mary ordered -- Rack of Wild Boar (now that's something I'd never tasted) with a honey-chipotle glaze, served with shiitake mushrooms, dried plums and a roasted yam risotto. The boar was wonderful, medium rare, sweet and peppery and smoky from the glaze, like a very rich pork without being gamy. She didn't particularly care for the yam risotto, but I loved the bite I had; there seemed to be a little whiskey in it, and the yams in it reminded me of the superb sweet potato dirty rice served at Brigtsen's. Wes got roulades of swordfish stuffed with capers, provolone cheese, currants and pine nuts, served with lots of lemon pepper linguine, sautéed spinach and "Salmoglio sauce", which I'd never heard of (I'll have to ask him again what it tasted like).

Everyone agreed, though, that the dish I ordered was the best of all -- Grilled Ahi Tuna (seared on the outside, rare on the inside) atop a Gargantuan ravioli of eggplant, smoked salmon, kalamata olives, tomato and ricotta, atop snow peas and julienned carrot, with a blood orange beurre rouge. Ode to Joy on a plate. I washed that down with an excellent Brancott Vineyards 1998 Marlborough Reserve Merlot from New Zealand.

Whoo, is this nutty.   Just when you thought I was finally going to shut up about Elián González, I have to go and stumble across a bizarre article on the always astonishing Religious Tolerance website about the burgeoning Elián González religious movement, in which claims have been made that among other things he's a sort of messiah, the personification of the Santeria god Elegua, and the overthrower of Fidel, protected by dolphins at sea while being seen nestled in the lap of the Virgin Mary. Cue the spooky music from the Theremin, boys...

  Wednesday, May 10, 2000
The new Anakin Skywalker is some guy named Hayden Christensen. His qualifications for the role? Um, well ... he's awfully cute ... um, he was in a Fox Family Channel thing once ... and, um ... his favorite color is blue! (Well, he couldn't be much more of a clunker than Jake Lloyd was.) According to this article, the only confirmed returning actors are Samuel L. Jackson and the guy who voiced J*r-J*r; apparently Lucas didn't listen to his fans exhortations that said unmentionable character was his worst-ever.

Woohoo! Start makin' dat Creole mustard sauce!   Exterminators are planning to put down an infestation of rabbits that have overrun the Leisure World retirement community in Seal Beach, California by shooting hundreds of the wild cottontails.

"The rabbits eat the vegetation and poop all over the place. Enough is enough," said Ernie Taylor, Leisure World landscaping director.
Well, God forbid you should piss off the landscaping director. But this should delight the chef! Man oh man, when I think of how many servings of Rabbit Tenderloin on a Tasso-Parmesan Grits Cake with Sautéed Spinach and Creole Mustard Sauce this would make .... mmmmmmmmm.

Tuesday of Jazzfest Week began with us getting up way too early and making a 2.5 hour drive to Ville Platte, Louisiana. There we met up with my pal Nancy Covey of Festival Tours and her gang o'Acadiana-bound travellers, where we shopped at Floyd's Record Shop, ate Sad Cake (recipe forthcoming), then completely pigged out at the Pig Stand.

The Pig Stand is a true Cajun restaurant. It serves simple, hearty, delicious local food in a Cajun town that real Cajuns eat. No blackened anything. I ordered the chicken and sausage sauce piquante, and watched with amusement as people who had never eaten there before wondered which of the three side dishes to choose -- the potato salad, the red beans, the rice dressing (like boudin outside the casing). Psst, cher ... you get 'em all. Plus 1/4 of a chicken and a huge piece of smoked sausage in a zippy sauce piquante over a ton of rice, and all for the princely sum of five bucks. The plate must've weighed two pounds, and I couldn't begin to finish it all. What a bargain. Hats off to the Guidrys, who own and run the little restaurant; when in Ville Platte, pig out at the Pig Stand!

We got back into our respective cars and buses and made a caravan down to Eunice, the capital of the Cajun prairie, for a visit to the Savoy Music Center, the music store and accordion factory that famed Cajun musician and accordion-builder Marc Savoy has run for the last 34 years. The group was greeted by Marc and his wife Ann, treated to a little live Cajun music, plus lots of history of Cajun accordion playing and making from Marc. He went over all the steps involved in making a handmade accordion, the parts (well over 500 of them) all handmade and fabricated in his shop except the reeds and bellows, which are made in Italy and imported. We were also treated to some of Marc's strongly held opinions, such as how he sees the current state of zydeco music (nearly dead, replaced by "zyde-rap"), and how a true musician is different from a mere performer. After the entertaining and informative visit, we headed to the Savoys' home for a brief visit. Usually the annual Festival Tours crawfish boil is held at the Savoys' home, but due to inclement weather it was moved this year. Hizzoner the Mayor of Eunice was kind enough to provide a warehouse space in town for everyone, and as regular boil attendee and Frommer's New Orleans author Mary Herczog said, "Aah, it's a more truly authentic Cajun experience to have a dance in a big old warehouse, anyway."

The boil was still a huge blast, despite the threat that there might not be any crawfish, due to the meager season and their extreme scarcity and expense this year from the drought. We still had about 400 pounds worth of heads to suck and tails to pinch, as well as The World's Best Barbecued Chicken, prepared by DJ Todd Ortego (with the help of lots of Jack Miller's Barbecue Sauce) ... my Gawd, that chicken was good. The accompanying music by Marc and Ann Savoy, Michael Doucet of BeauSoleil, the Savoys' son Wilson (17 years old and already he sounds like a cross between Professor Longhair and Jerry Lee Lewis on the piano), plus other musical friends was fantastic, and the perfect impetus for us to get up and dance off all the food we just ate.

After that, Wes and I drove back to Lafayette to my sister and brother-in-law's house and crashed. Quite a day.

Floridians say no to Jesus, sorta.   Evangelical churches in Palm Beach County, Florida misstepped big-time when thousands of the 400,000 proselytizing videos on the life of Jesus that they sent unsolicited to nearly every house in 48 zip codes, including communities described as "99.8% Jewish", were returned to sender by the offended recipients. The thousands of Jewish recipients were particularly offended to have received the videos during Passover. A Catholic resident of Boca Raton said:

Why did they do this? It makes no sense. All that money - they could have used it to do some good, to buy food for poor people or give a homeless person some clothes and a place to sleep.
The mailing cost $1.2 million. Surely the money could have been spent more wisely.

Human rights, shmuman rights! Save our Mother's Day!   Republican Senator Christopher Smith urged the Senate to defeat a U.N. treaty to bar discrimination against women, saying as his reason that "international bureaucrats" would be able to force the U.S. to abolish Mother's Day. An anthropologist working to end female genital mutilation in Africa and a women's rights activist from Afghanistan were not amused.

"I wanted to get up and slap him," Zieba Shorish-Shamley said later. "But then I wouldn't be able to come here again." Shorish-Shamley was one of three women who never got to tell the committee Wednesday how systematic discrimination in their homelands has hurt them.

Shorish-Shamley said she lost her 56-year-old sister to cancer because access to health care is denied to women in Afghanistan, along with education, jobs, or even the right to leave their homes unaccompanied by a man. Meme Akoko of Nigeria said her genitals were cut with an unsterilized razor blade when she was 3 months old, under a tribal practice aimed at keeping women sexually faithful to their husbands...  "I have been to many doctors and none have been able to undo what damage the circumcision has cause," she said, adding that an aunt, younger sister and a cousin died because of the practice.

  Tuesday, May 9, 2000
NEWSFLASH, 2:15pm: They finally got him.   Former Louisiana governor Edwin W. Edwards was convicted today of 17 counts of racketeering and fraud. He faces nearly 300 years in prison. The big question so far apparently is whether or not he'll remain free on bond pending the appeal. I guess the finally caught him in bed with the dead girl or the live boy...

Ugh ... crappy way to end a vacation.   Last Friday night, as I was preparing to sit down to a magnificent dinner at my friends Dean and Becky's house, I started feeling unwell. Not only was I unable to eat dinner that night, I was unable to eat any crawfish the next day, nor dinner at Dominique's the next night, and when I woke up Sunday morning with a 102.6° fever, I figured that Jazzfest was out for that day too. FECK! Oh well, at least I had 6-1/2 really great days.

I'll do a recap of fest highlights over the next few days, though ... beginning with today.

Irene's Cuisine.   Wes described this restaurant as having been his finest overall dining experience during the entire trip. That's pretty high praise, considering the places we'd been.

Irene's is one of the newer French Quarter restaurants, five or six years old by now, but has made a huge splash among the locals. It's not quite a best-kept-secret anymore, since out-of-towners are beginning to discover it as well, but maybe some of the tourons have been passing it up because it requires a little more effort than some other places. Irene's does not accept reservations, and they're open for dinner from 5:30 to 10:30pm. You gotta show up and wait. Fortunately, the wait tends to be quite pleasant, inside the little piano bar in the back of the restaurant, and if you get there before 6 or after 9 you'll be seated fairly soon.

The service was warm, inviting, friendly without being too forward ... in a word, impeccable. While I had no complaints with the service we had elsewhere (Bayona was wonderful too), at Irene's it was just perfect. The waiters were helpful, attentive, and everything arrived just when it needed to.

We started out with their soup du jour, passing on some of the tastier-looking appetizers because we had sort of overdone it at Bayona earlier in the day. That day's choice was a shrimp and corn bisque, made with a rich shrimp stock and with many layers of wonderful flavors (I tasted a hint of roasted chile in it that was just perfect). For the entrée I chose one of the dishes that came most highly recommended -- Veal Sorrentina, which was topped with grilled eggplant and mozzarella, with prosciutto and mushrooms and glazed with Marsala. Madonn'! Wes had the Duck St. Philip, which was roasted crispy over sautéed fresh spinach, with French mustard and herbs, garnished with grapes and served with Louisiana wild rice. When he was finished, there was nothing but a little pile of bones on the plate.

Dessert was also one of the best we had had in the city. We chose to split one, also due to our earlier indulgence at Bayona, and chose the Strawberry Napoleon, which had a huge pile of Louisiana strawberries layered with Grand Marnier whipped cream and housemade vanilla bean ice cream, between huge puffy pieces of puff pastry (not the more flatted puff pastry you usually get with a Napoleon). Heaven. There are very few things in the world tastier than Louisiana strawberries.

Projet Sazerac continue.   In case you're not aware, the Sazerac is the original cocktail. The Sazerac, and with it the concept of the cocktail, or mixed drink, came to us via the good graces of Creole apothecary Antoine Amedie Peychaud, who arrived in New Orleans in the 1830s from Saint Dominique. He became quite popular for his various mixed remedies, including a brandy toddy made with his own secret blend of bitters and a dash of absinthe. Over the years the absinthe became Herbsaint, New Orleans' own pastis liquor, and the cognac was replaced by less expensive rye whiskey in the 1870s. It's a fabulous drink, and Wes and I have been drinking our way across New Orleans, having Sazeracs all the while.

On Monday, we had Sazeracs at Bayona, the Napoleon House, the Sazerac Bar in the Fairmont Hotel, the Top of the Mart, and at Irene's. So far Wes prefers the one at Bayona (served in a martini glass) -- full of flavor yet light although not less strong. My favorite, barely edging out the very lovely Sazerac we had at Bayona, is a two-way tie between the one served at the Sazerac Bar and the one I had at Irene's. It was, to me, a perfect balance of every ingredient. The one at Irene's tied, not surprisingly; the waiter told me that their bartender used to work at the Sazerac.

There seems to be a little disagreement as to how to make the Original Sazerac cocktail; old-line traditionalists use Peychaud's bitters only, but many places add a couple of dashes of Angostura bitters as well. But this seems to be the best way to go about it:

Pack a heavy-bottomed 3.5 ounce bar glass with ice and allow it to chill. In a small cocktail shaker, place a sugar cube and moisten it with just enough water to saturate it, then crush it. Add one jigger of Old Overholt rye whiskey (or cognac, if you want to make a really stellar Sazerac the way Antoine Peychaud made it), three dashes of Peychaud's bitters, two dashes of Angostura bitters. Empty the glass of ice, and then add a small amount of Herbsaint or Pernod, swirling it until it coats the entire inside of the glass, then pour out the excess. Add a handful of ice to the shaker, stir very briskly, then immediately strain into the Herbsaint-coated glass. Add a twist of lemon (although the Sazerac company's recipe says twist the lemon peel over the glass but do not add it to the drink; doesn't matter for me, as I like having the twist in there). Drink and enjoy the first and greatest cocktail.
  Friday, May 5, 2000
Sorry 'bout that, y'all.   Well, my plan to update daily from Jazzfest has been a resounding failure. Predictably, I've had nearly zero time to do it, 'cause by the time we've been getting home each night it's been VERY very late, and the only way to do it would be to have a wireless PDA or laptop which I carry around with me (and I'm not that much of a geek).

So I'm behind with writing about the Pig Stand in Ville Platte, the crawfish boil in Eunice with music by the Savoy-Doucet Cajun Band, breakfast at the Estorge House in Opelousas, dinner at the Bistro at the Maison de Ville, Thursday Jazzfest, dinner at Gamay ...

We're on our way to Uglesich's (*moan*). See y'all later.

  Tuesday, May 2, 2000  ::  Jazzfest - Day 4
Bayona ... *clap*clap*clap*   We slept in yesterday, and went into the Quarter right at the crack of noon. Lunch was at Chef Susan Spicer's fabulous restaurant Bayona, on Dauphine St. We each started off with a Sazerac cocktail, one of the finest cocktails anywhere, and one that is quintessential in New Orleans. I started with the sautéed sweetbreads, which were crispy and tender, served with sliced mushrooms and diced potatoes and beets. Luxurious. Wes had spinach, artichoke and feta cheese phyllo with Mediterranean meatballs (made with lamb, spiced with a touch of mint and just an even smaller touch of cayenne to give it the tiniest bite to the back of the throat). We split an amazing salad -- shredded spinach and blackeyed peas tossed in a garlic-jalapeño vinaigrette, topped with 8 perfectly fried oysters, crusted in seasoned cornmeal. This one nearly put us over, but the entrées were yet to come...

I had one of the daily specials, the grilled mahi-mahi with portobello mushrooms, topped with rouille and a red bell pepper and leek salad; on the side was whipped butternut squash, broccoli florets, and some penne pasta tossed with a light butter-lemon sauce and minced shallots. Wes got grilled prosciuitto-wrapped shrimp over a white bean ragout seasoned with rosemary. Both were stupendous. I washed mine down with a lovely Riesling from Austria.

There was one dessert on the menu that looked interesting but a little scary -- a chocolate and basil mousse served with cashew meringues, the recommended accompaniment for which was green Chartreuse. I was too chicken to get that, and went for a roulade of pistachio cake filled with lemon mousse. (Our waitress agreed with my choice, made a face and stuck her tongue out at the very idea of the other mousse, so I guess I made a wise choice.) That went down with a wonderful dessert wine, a 1996 Chateau Puy-Servain Terrement, Haut-Montravel. *faint*

Bayona is beautiful, quiet, romantic, and one of New Orleans' very finest. Oh, the food is beyond compare, too. Hats off to Susan Spicer!

The Sazerac Project.   While we were sipping our Sazeracs at Bayona, Wes casually said, "Gee, too bad we don't have enough time to go around and figure out who makes the best Sazerac in the city."

Of course, I immediately replied, "Who says we don't?!?"

Consequently, we had five Sazeracs at five different bars today, and I took notes. There'll be more to come on this.

Bed.   I'd write about dinner at Irene's Cuisine, the fantastic Italian-Creole place on Chartres and St. Philip, but I'm tired and it's late and we have a 2.5 hour drive to Ville Platte tomorrow. I'm going to bed!

  Monday, May 1, 2000  :: Jazzfest - Day 3
Weekend one under the belt.   The weather for Jazzfest could not possibly be more beautiful. Not a cloud in the sky, blazing but not-too-hot sun, nice breezes, and an incredible amount of great food and music.

The food has been spectacular so far, as usual -- we started each day so far with the double delight of Creole's stuffed bread and strawberry lemonade. Saturday's menu also consisted of the fabulous fried soft-shell crawfish po-boy (garnished with the fried jalapeñ slices), crawfish sacks, crawfish beignets with white remoulade sauce, then on Sunday it was cochon de lait po-boys, a mango freeze, and alligator sausage po-boys. Mmmmmmm.

Musically it's been a bounty as well. On Saturday it was blues from Mem Shannon and the Membership, funk from George Porter Jr. and the Runnin' Pardners, gospel from the Nineveh Baptist Church Choir in the Gospel Tent, and Dr. Michael White leading a trio of traditional jazz clarinetists in a tribute to the late great George Lewis.

Today was even better -- New Orleans-based Afro-Cuban/salsa artist Fredy Omar con su Banda was fabulous (and the dopey stage announcer introduced them as "Fredy Omar and Con Su Banda"); Papa Don Vappie and the Creole Jazz Serenaders led us into a revue of early jazz by non-New Orleanian musicians who were strongly influenced by New Orleans jazz (and who had many N.O. jazz musicians in their bands), such as Fletcher Henderson, Fats Waller and Duke Ellington. Then it was the last half of the set from roots rockers The Continental Drifters (led by Peter Holsapple), a set of lively traditional and original Cajun music from the Bruce Daigrepont Cajun Band and a spirit-filling set from gospel group The Crownseekers. After that we saw the best act of the fest so far (in my humble opinion) -- the Brazilian forrò group Cascabulho, whose music was percussive, rhythmic, melodic, charismatic, danceable and lots of fun. We finished up with the man who for my money is the reigning King of Zydeco, Boozoo Chavis and his Magic Sounds.

Then we headed ova by my momma's for crawfish étouffée, stuffed artichokes, and my mom's Bananas Foster Bread Pudding with Crème Anglaise and Praline Pecan Sauces (I'll have the recipe for that up soon; it's fabulous).

Ram this, lady.   Saturday night Wes and I went out to dinner with my sisters at the Pelican Club, a wonderful French Quarter restaurant that I've wanted to try for a while now. We were a little late for our reservations, which didn't matter since the restaurant was running at least 20 minutes behind. We were ushered into the tightly-packed bar to wait for our table to be called.

It was fairly difficult even to get up to the bar to order drinks, but finally a fellow made a space and we managed to squeeze in. As we got up to the bar, my sister Marie accidentally brushed against a thin, tight-lipped middle-aged woman who was sitting at a barstool to our right. Before she could even say anything, the woman whirled around and barked, in an extremely rude and boorish tone of voice, "Ex-CUSE me, but would you MIND not RAMMING into me like that?!" Marie was nonplussed for a second but apologized in a sincere and friendly manner, and said it was just an accident.

But she wouldn't let it go, and kept fussing. "Excuse me," I said, "but it's a very crowded bar tonight, and she said it was an accident. Why don't we all just relax, okay?"

She whirled to me this time, with an incredibly ugly and pugnacious look, and said, "Fuck off."

Gee, where do you go from there?

I decided to respond with a mixture of amusement and condescension, and said loud enough for the guy she was hitting on to hear, "My, don't we have a potty mouth?" (Sorry, best I could do at the spur of the moment.)

Her bluster intensified, as did our amusement. Her date looked uncomfortable, and just as I whispered to my sister that I was going to say something superlatively nasty in just a minute, our table was called. Poetic justice being what it was, the woman was then seated right next to us, and got to listen to us laugh, have fun, and more importantly, make fun of her the entire evening.

The dinner was to die for. I had an appetizer of scallop-stuffed artichoke (the bottom was filled with a tomato concassé, then eight meaty artichoke leaves were each topped with a broiled scallop, arranged in a star around the bottom; this is one of the best appetizers I've had in the city; then pan-fried soft-shell crab that was ENORMOUS, topped with more diver scallops, a red Thai curry sauce, coconut rice, and baby vegetables. Wes had a 14-ounce broiled veal chop topped with gorgonzola cheese, and served with whipped yams and corn maque choux. I washed that down with a California Riesling, and finished the meal with a brandy and vanilla bean crème brûlée and a Hungarian Tokaji wine.

Oh my.

  Friday, April 28, 2000
We're off!   Wes and I take off at 11am, fly from LAX to the vile Dallas-Fort Worth airport, catch a prop puddlejumper to Baton Rouge and drive into New Orleans today. We'll proceed immediately to the Napoleon House to drop off a last-minute printing of the Festival Tours T-shirts for Nancy. Then we'll head off to the Camellia Grill, where I plan to have a potato, onion and cheese omelette with fries, plus (I hope) split a pecan waffle witih Wes. I'll have a chocolate freeze and, if I'm feeling adventurous and hungry enough, a piece of their famous chocolate pecan pie. (I'll be changing my name to Mr. Chuck Creosote when I get back...)

Well, at least that's $50 I'll be saving...   Once again, as two other years recently, the official poster for this year's Jazz and Heritage Festival sucks.

Because once again they've gotten hack pop artist George Rodrigue to paint it. And once again he's put that goddamn blue dog in it.

He did two lousy (and nearly identical, as is so much of his stuff) posters within the last several years, one of Pete Fountain and one of Louis Armstrong, each with the blue dog at his feet. The painting this year is of Al Hirt, once again with the blue dog at his feet. The blue dog has NOTHING to do with New Orleans, or the Jazz and Heritage Festival. It has only to do with Rodrigue lining his pockets by painting the same thing over and over and over and over ...

Save your money on the poster this year.

Paramount's behind Dr. Laura.   Executives at Paramount Studios say that they "stand firmly behind" the forthcoming TV show featuring "Dr." Laura Schlessinger. (Gee, if I were behind her I don't know if I'd be able to resist the overwhelming temptation to kick her firmly in the arse.)

The Paramount execs are absolutely right about one thing, though. "Once it is on the air, the judgment will be made. Ultimately, viewers will give us the answers."

In other words, the best way to deal with this show is not to protest, is not to complain, is not to while. It is to ignore it completely, and not to watch it. From the stories I've heard about how she can't even keep from alienating her studio audience, I have no doubt that this poor excuse for television will tank quickly and go away.

April Looka! entries   have been archived.

Thanks to regular Looka! contributors Wesly Moore, Steve Gardner, Steve Kelley, Barry Kelley, Tom Krueger, Eric Labow and Michael Pemberton.
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Chuck Taggart   (email me)