the gumbo pages

looka, <'lu-k&> dialect, 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. Chuck Taggart's weblog, hand-made and updated (almost) daily, focusing on food and drink, music (especially of the roots variety), New Orleans and Louisiana culture, news of the reality-based community, movies, books, sf, public radio, media and culture, travel, Macs, liberal and progressive politics, humor and amusements, reviews, complaints, the author's life and opinions, witty and/or smart-arsed comments and whatever else tickles the author's fancy.

Please feel free to contribute a link if you think I'll find it interesting.   If you don't want to read my opinions, feel free to go elsewhere.

Page last tweaked @ 9:45pm PDT, 5/31/2005

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A new book featuring the best of food weblogs.

Digital Dish is the first ever compilation volume of the best writing and recipes from food weblogs, and includes essays and recipes contributed by me. Find out more and place an order!

U.S. orders:
Doctors, Professors, Kings and Queens

"Doctors, Professors, Kings and Queens: The Big Ol' Box of New Orleans" is a 4-CD box set celebrating the joy and diversity of the New Orleans music scene, from R&B to jazz to funk to Latin to blues to zydeco to klezmer (!) and more, including a full-size, 80-page book.

Produced, compiled and annotated by Chuck Taggart (hey, that's me!), liner notes by Mary Herczog (author of Frommer's New Orleans) and myself. Now for sale at your favorite independent record stores, or order from

The box set was the subject of a 15-minute profile on National Public Radio's "Weekend Edition" on Feb. 6, 2005, and a segment on Wisconsin Public Radio's "To The Best of Our Knowledge" on Apr. 3, 2005. Here are some nice blurbs from the reviews (a tad immodest, I know; I'm not generally one to toot my own horn, but let's face it, I wanna sell some records here.)

*      *      *

"More successfully than any previous compilation, Doctors... captures the sprawling eclecticism, freewheeling fun and constant interplay of tradition and innovation that is at the heart of Crescent City music." -- Keith Spera, New Orleans Times-Picayune.

"... if you DO know someone who's unfortunate enough to have never heard these cuts, press this monumentally adventurous box and its attendant booklet upon them. It's never too late to learn" -- Robert Fontenot, OffBeat magazine, New Orleans

"... the best collection yet of Louisiana music." -- Scott Jordan, The Independent, Lafayette, Louisiana.

"[T]he year's single most awesome package" -- Buddy Blue, San Diego Union-Tribune

"This four-CD box set doesn't miss a Crescent City beat ... For anyone who has enjoyed the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, this is Jazz Fest in a box. ***1/2" -- Dave Hoekstra, Chicago Sun-Times

"... excellently compiled, wonderfully annotated ... New Orleans fans will know much of this by heart, though they may not remember it sounding so good; those who don't know what it's like to miss New Orleans will quickly understand." -- Terry Lawson, Detroit Free Press.

"... a perfect storm when it comes to reissues. This box set is musically exciting, a complete representation of its subject matter, and just plain fun to listen." -- Charlie B. Dahan,

"... one of the best impressions of a city's musical blueprint that you're likely to ever find." -- Zeth Lundy,

"... an unacademic, uncategorized album that suits the city's time-warped party spirit." -- Jon Pareles, The New York Times


"To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public."

-- Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States (1901-1909), speaking in 1918

"There ought to be limits to freedom."

-- George W. Bush, May 21, 1999

"You don't get everything you want. A dictatorship would be a lot easier."

-- George W. Bush, describing what it's like to be governor of Texas, Governing Magazine, July 1998

"If this were a dictatorship, it would be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I'm the dictator."

-- George W. Bush,, December 18, 2000

"A dictatorship would be a heck of a lot easier, there's no question about it."

-- George W. Bush, Business Week, July 30, 2001

Looka! Archive
(99 and 44/100% link rot)

April 2005
March 2005
February 2005
January 2005

2004:   Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.

2003:   Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.

2002:   Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.

2001:   Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.

2000:   Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.

1999:   Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.


How to donate to this site:

Your donations help keep this site going. PayPal's the best way -- just click the button below, and thanks!

You can also donate via the Honor System, if you wish (but they deduct a larger fee from your donation and I keep less).

(Also, here's a shameless link to my Amazon Wish List.)

Buy stuff!

You can get Gumbo Pages designs on T-shirts, mugs and mousepads at The Gumbo Pages Swag Shop!

Friends with pages:

mary katherine
michael p.
pat and paul
tracy and david

Talking furniture:

KCSN (Los Angeles)
   Broadcast schedule
   "Down Home" playlist
   Live MP3 audio stream

   Subscribe to the
   "Down Home" weekly
   playlist email service

WWOZ (New Orleans)
   Broadcast schedule
   Live audio stream
   (Comprehensive listings)

Air America Radio
   (Talk radio for the
   rest of us)
Joe Frank
Grateful Dead Radio
   (Streaming complete
KPIG, 107 Oink 5
   (Freedom, CA)
KRVS Radio Acadie
   (Lafayette, LA)
Mike Hodel's "Hour 25"
   (Science fiction radio)
Radio Free New Orleans
Raidió na Gaeltachta
   (Irish language)
RootsWorld's Rootsradio
RTÉ Radio Ceolnet
   (Irish trad. music)
WXDU (Durham, NC)

Cocktail hour:

   The Internet's most comprehensive
   and indispensible database of
   authenticated cocktail recipes,
   ingredients, reseearch and more.
   By Martin Doudoroff & Ted Haigh)

Museum of the American Cocktail
   Founded by Dale DeGroff and many
   other passionate spirits, Jan. 2005.
   Celebrating a true American cultural
   icon: the American Cocktail.

*     *     *
The Sazerac Cocktail
   (The sine qua non of cocktails,
   and the quintessential New Orleans
   cocktail. Learn to make it.)

The Footloose Cocktail
   (An original by Wes;
   "Wonderful!" - Gary Regan.
   "Very elegant, supremely
   sophisticated" - Daniel Reichert.)

The Hoskins Cocktail
   (An original by Chuck;
   "It's nothing short of a
   masterpiece." - Gary Regan)

Chuck & Wes' Cocktail Menu
   (A few things we like to
   drink at home, plus a couple
   we don't, just for fun.)

*     *     *

The Alchemist
   (Paul Harrington)

Alcohol (and how to mix it)
   (David Wondrich)

Ardent Spirits
   (Gary & Mardee Regan)

The Cocktailian Gazette
   (The monthly newsletter of
   The Museum of the
   American Cocktail.)

DrinkBoy and the
   Community for the
   Cultured Cocktail
   (Robert Hess, et al.)

DrinkBoy's Cocktail Weblog

Happy Hours
   (Beverage industry
   news & insider info)

King Cocktail
   (Dale DeGroff)

La Fée Verte
   (All about absinthe
   from Kallisti et al.)
   (Ladies United for the
   Preservation of
   Endangered Cocktails)

Fine Spirits & Cocktails
   (eGullet's forum)

The Modern Mixologist
   (Tony Abou-Ganim)

Mr. Lucky's Cocktails
   (Sando, LaDove,
   Swanky et al.)

Nat Decants
   (Natalie MacLean)

Spirits Review
   (Chris Carlsson)
   (Beverage Tasting
   Institute journal)

Vintage Cocktails
   (Daniel Reichert)

Let's eat!

New Orleans Menu Daily

Food-related weblogs:
Chocolate and Zucchini
Honest Cuisine
Il Forno
KIPlog's FOODblog
Mise en Place
Notes from a New Orleans Foodie
Sauté Wednesday
Simmer Stock
Tasting Menu
Waiter Rant

More food!
à la carte
Chef Talk Café
Food Network
The Global Gourmet
A Muse for Cooks
The Online Chef
Pasta, Risotto & You
Slow Food Int'l. Movement
So. Calif. Farmer's Markets
Zagat Guide

Click here for a new daily recipe from Chef Emeril!
In vino veritas.

The Oxford Companion to Wine
Wally's Wine and Spirits
The Wine House
The Wine Spectator
Wine Today
Zinfandel Advocates & Producers

Wine shops in our 'hood:
Colorado Wine Co., Eagle Rock
Silverlake Wine, Silverlake
Chronicle Wine Cellar, Pasadena

Reading this month:

The Devil You Know, by Poppy Z. Brite.

Microcosmic God: The Complete Stories of Theodore Sturgeon, Vol. 2, by Theodore Sturgeon.

Ken and Thelma, by Joel L. Fletcher.

McSweeney's Enchanted Chamber of Astonishing Stories, edited by Michael Chabon.

Listen to music!

Chuck's current album recommendations

Luka Bloom
La Bottine Souriante
Billy Bragg
Cordelia's Dad
Jay Farrar
The Frames
Sonny Landreth
Los Lobos
Christy Moore
Nickel Creek
The Old 97s
Anders Osborne
The Proclaimers
Professor Longhair
Red Meat
The Red Stick Ramblers
The Reivers
Zachary Richard
Paul Sanchez
Marc Savoy
Son Volt
Richard Thompson
Uncle Tupelo

Tom Morgan's Jazz Roots

Miles of Music

New Orleans

New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival

No Depression


Appalachian String Band Music Festival - Clifftop, WV

Long Beach Bayou Festival

Strawberry Music Festival - Yosemite, CA


A Gallery for Fine Photography, New Orleans (Joshua Mann Pailet)
American Museum of Photography
California Museum of Photography, Riverside
International Center of Photography

Ansel Adams
Jonathan Fish
Noah Grey
Greg Guirard
Paul F. R. Hamilton
Clarence John Laughlin
Herman Leonard
Howard Roffman
J. T. Seaton
Jerry Uelsmann
Gareth Watkins
Brett Weston

The Mirror Project
(My pics therein: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.)

Chuck's Photo of the Day Archive


The Amazing Adventures of Bill,
by Bill Roundy

Bloom County / Outland / Opus,
by Berkeley Breathed

Bob the Angry Flower,
by Stephen Notley

The Boondocks,
by Aaron McGruder

Calvin and Hobbes,
by Bill Watterson

by Garry B. Trudeau

Electric Sheep Comix
by Patrick Farley

Get Your War On
by David Rees

by Jonathan Rosenberg

L. A. Cucaracha
by Lalo Alcaraz

by Peter Blegvad

Lil' Abner,
by Al Capp

Lulu Eightball,
by Emily Flake

The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green,
by Eric Orner

by Walt Kelly

Ted Rall,
by Ted Rall

This Modern World,
by Tom Tomorrow

XQUZYPHYR & Overboard,
by August J. Pollak

Films seen this year:
(with ratings):

Meet the Fockers (***)

Lookin' at da TV:

"The West Wing"
"Battlestar Galactica"
"The Sopranos"
"Six Feet Under"
"Malcolm In The Middle"
"Star Trek: Enterprise"
"One Tree Hill"
"Queer Eye for the Straight Guy"
"The Simpsons"
"Father Ted"
The Food Network


Polly Ticks: (Progressive politics & news)
Daily Kos (My favorite political weblog)
Eschaton (The Mighty Atrios)
Hullaballoo (The Mighty Digby)
Media Matters for America (Debunking right-wing media lies)
Orcinus (David Neiwert)
Talking Points Memo (Josh Marshall)
TAPPED (The American Prospect Online)
TruthOut (William Rivers Pitt & Co.)

Borowitz Report
(Political satire)
The Complete Bushisms (quotationable!)
The Fray (Your stories)
Landover Baptist (Better Christians than YOU!)
Maledicta (The International Journal of Verbal Aggression)
The Morning Fix from SF Gate (Opinions, extreme irreverence)
The New York Review of Science Fiction
The Onion (Scarily funny news/satire)
"Rush, Newspeak and Fascism: An exegesis", by David Neiwert. (Read this.) (Not the actual White House, but it should be)

Weblogs I read:

American Leftist
The BradLands
The Carpetbagger Report
Considered Harmful
Creek Running North
Anil Dash
Ethel the Blog
Follow Me Here
Franklin Avenue
Ghost in the Machine
Hit or Miss
The Hoopla 500
Jesus' General
Mark A. R. Kleiman
The Leaky Cauldron
Letting Loose With the Leptard
Little. Yellow. Different.
Making Light
Mister Pants
More Like This
Mr. Barrett
Neil Gaiman's Journal
News of the Dead
No More Mr. Nice Guy!
August J. Pollak
Q Daily News
Real Live Preacher
Respectful of Otters
Right Hand Thief
Roger "Not That One" Ailes
Ted Rall
Sadly, No!
This Modern World
Whiskey Bar
What's In Rebecca's Pocket?

Matthew's GLB blog portal

L.A. Blogs

My Darlin' New Orleans:

Gambit Weekly


New Orleans ...
proud to blog it home:

Library Chronicles
Metroblogging N.O.
Right Hand Thief

The Final Frontier:

Astronomy Pic of the Day
ISS Alpha News
NASA Human Spaceflight
Spaceflight Now


Locus Magazine Online
SF Site

Made with Macintosh

Hosted by pair Networks

Déanta:  This page is coded by hand, with BBEdit 4.0.1 on an Apple G4 15" PowerBook running MacOS X 10.3 if I'm at home; occasionally with telnet and Pico on a FreeBSD Unix host running tcsh if I'm updating from work. (I never could get used to all those weblogging tools.)


Bia agus deoch, ceol agus craic.

  Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Wow.   We no longer have to picture Hal Holbrook. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein confirms that former FBI deputy director W. Mark Felt was "Deep Throat".

Who will be this administration's Deep Throat? Who would put his duty to the United States and to the American people above his loyalty to BushCo? Does this administration contain anyone with that much fortitude and courage? (The 8 Ball says, "Signs point to no." Sigh.)

Quotes of the day.   You can say that again.

"The thing that stuns me is that the goddamn secret has lasted this long."

"The number-two guy at the FBI, that was a pretty good source."

-- Ben Bradlee, former executive editor and current vice-president of the Washington Post, and the only one other than Woodstein who knew Deep Throat's identity.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Monday, May 30, 2005  ::  Memorial Day

A thought for the holiday.   An editorial from the Minneapolis Star Tribune, which is, as was pointed out at dKos, right in the middle of Norm Coleman country:

In exchange for our uniformed young people's willingness to offer the gift of their lives, civilian Americans owe them something important: It is our duty to ensure that they never are called to make that sacrifice unless it is truly necessary for the security of the country. In the case of Iraq, the American public has failed them; we did not prevent the Bush administration from spending their blood in an unnecessary war based on contrived concerns about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. President Bush and those around him lied, and the rest of us let them. Harsh? Yes. True? Also yes. Perhaps it happened because Americans, understandably, don't expect untruths from those in power. But that works better as an explanation than as an excuse.

More in the comments.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Friday, May 27, 2005

Lilette.   It's become somewhat of a tradition on our Jazzfest visits to have one big blowout dinner with my siblings and siblings-in-law, which has on occasion gotten a big raucous. (We're still quoting the incredibly rude woman from New York in the incredibly crowded bar at the Pelican Club several years back. It was impossible to wait in there without brushing up against people. My sister Marie brushed by someone, who whirled on her with a look of intense hatred. Marie said "Excuse me," but she responded to that by bellowing, "Would you mind not ramming into me?" I replied, "Hey, it's very crowded in here, let's all just relax, okay" She responded, "Fuck you," and the rest that went on from there was, shall we say, history.)

This year we managed to avoid verbal (and nearly physical) fisticuffs, and had a really fun dinner at a place my sister Melissa had been raving about for ages -- Lilette, on Magazine Street between Louisiana and Napoleon. "I'll go there with you anytime, she'd say. Okay kiddo, you're on.

Lilette is one of the prime examples of my annoyance at not being able to get home as often as I'd like; I should've eaten here ages ago, as it's been open for nearly five years now. One day, perhaps, finances will allow, but at this point it is better late than never. Chef John Harris' cuisine is primarily French with some Italian influences, and only a hint of the Creole dishes of New Orleans. This is good; as much as I love Creole food, if every restaurant in the city cooked Creole (as some people seem to want), it'd get pretty boring pretty quickly. Lilette features very creative, high-level bistro cooking and flavors that tend to elicit my favorite reaction -- the old moaning-and-pounding-on-the-table.

We couldn't have had a better start. Lilette prides itself on its superb cocktail menu, including several house originals -- y'all know we're all over that. We began with their house special, The Lilette Cocktail: Lillet Blanc, soda, a dash or two of Madagascar vanilla extract and a few snips of fresh vanilla bean, served tall with ice. It's light, refreshing and absolutely lovely. I went on with another house original, the Linstead: Bourbon, Ricard, lemon, lime and pineapple juices and a touch of sugar. Pretty good, although I'd have to try one more and decide whether I'd order that one again.

Now, for dinner:

Oh my Gawd ...

For my appetizer, I listened to Melissa, who kept repeating, almost as if chanting a sacred mantra, "Get the toast, get the toast, get the toast ..." Who am I to argue? White Truffle Parmesan Toast, with wild mushrooms, marrow and veal glace. Holy bejeebies, this was good. I was so stoned just from the aroma coming off the plate that I neglected to focus the camera properly, as you can see. The toast was drizzled with white truffle oil and Parmigiano-Reggiano, under the broiler, then draped with the intensely flavored demiglace and mushrooms. As if this wasn't rich enough, chunks of veal marrow mingle with the mushrooms for a blast of fatty goodness every few bites. Oh my.

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Wes and Jeff got the Boudin Noir Lilette with housemade spicy mustard and cornichons. This wasn't Cajun-style boudin, this was French blood sausage, no rice, a very earthy flavor (in case you're wondering, "earthy" is a compliment, not a euphemism for "nasty") and rich rich rich. The "spicy mustard" is a bit of a misnomer. It isn't "spicy" the way you might expect; it's more "thermonuclear" (this is also a compliment). That mustard went straight up my noise and out the top of my head, leaving an approximately three-inch hole in the top of my skull. (This is a good thing, believe me.) This isn't a dish for everybody, but if you like intense, rich flavors, don't miss it. In fact, you should get each of the two above starters and split them ... oh hell, just get them both for yourself. They're not all that big. On the second visit, begin exploring the other starters.

I was trying, oh so feebly, to "behave" myself on this visit, attempting to opt for dishes that were either smaller or less heavy. I had a grilled seafood entrée coming, and I felt a bit of a hole in the meal approaching. I scanned the menu to see what else I could add, and something wonderful caught my eye. I asked the waiter that given the dishes I had already ordered, would splitting this one extra dish make me into a big ol' pig? He politely assured me that it would not, so ...


Braised veal cheeks on baby greens with horseradish vinaigrette. One of the finest expressions of meat, in three little bits, that I've tasted in a long time. Impossibly tender, so much so that I almost expected the morsels of veal cheek to start oozing into a puddle, but with a good, meaty texture. Marvelous flavor, and just a hint of horseradish in the vinaigrette; you don't want to overpower meat that tastes like this.

My first marlin.

I was actually quite well-behaved for my main, and had an entirely new experience. Grilled Kaijiki with fava beans, grape tomatoes, grilled ramps and lemon vinaigrette. Kaijiki is Hawaiian marlin, and as I don't know any deep sea fishermen this was the first time I'd ever tasted it. It reminded me of swordfish, very tasty, but with a meatier texture. Chef recommended it medium-rare, which was perfect, and that light lemon sauce was a perfect foil for the flavor. I love fava beans, and was happy to have the ramps (sort of a wild spring onion), which were just in season. Look ma! No cream sauce, and not battered-and-deep-fried! Along with that I sipped a lovely Zardetto Prosecco Brut N.V., which was the perfect accompaniment.

I'd call this dish 'Beef Expen$ive Mustapha' ...

Wes and Jeff opted for the same entré -- Seared Kobe Beef New York Strip Steak with roasted potatoes, mixed mushrooms and gremolata. "Wow, I've never had Kobe beef before," Wes said, after having heard of it many times, and watched various Iron Chefs prepare it on TV. He's a beef lover and was intensely curious, but then there was the price ... $38 for a six-ounce portion, and $70 for a 12-ouncer. Six ounces of beef is quite enough, actually, so that's what they went for. The verdict? Very, very good ... and yet, they still weren't sure it was worth the money. Wes said he was glad he'd ordered it and tried it, but he's had less expensive steaks he's enjoyed just as well, and Jeff said, "Y'all might call me a heretic, but I enjoyed this less than the last New York strip I had at Outback Steakhouse, which was a lot cheaper." I had a taste, and it was very, very good. Would I order it myself sometime? Maybe. (Wine was a Bordeaux, Château Greysac Medoc '00.)

Okay, here's where I make up for that light main course.

All the fat and calorie points I saved during my marlin entrée went out the window during dessert, which was another one of those "ya gotta" dishes. "Ya gotta get the pear and goat cheese," said Melissa. Okay, I'm easy. Quenelles of Goat Cheese with Poached Pears, pistachios and lavender honey. Wow. Um, wow. The tangy goat cheese was lightly sweetened and mixed with crème fraîche, and the lavender honey was the crowning touch, so sweet and aromatic, and it reminded me of a painting of a lavender field in Provence we had seen at a gallery on Julia Street earlier that day. So simple -- maybe six ingredients, not counting the poaching liquid -- and absolutely gorgeous.

I'm ready for my next visit already. August is shaping up to be a good visit ... Dad's 70th birthday, Café Adelaide, Marisol and Lilette? Just over two months to go.

Anatomy of a cocktail (or two).   In a recent issue of Cheers Magazine Gary Regan, who missed being behind the stick, begins tending bar at his local, Painter's Tavern in Cornwall-on-Hudson, New York, and concocts two new Scotch-based cocktails for his customers, both of which look very much worth a try.

UPDATE: Bad link to the article now fixed.

Hypocrisy.   Via Wes, who asks, "If we style ourselves as defenders and promoters of democracy, why are we selling weapons to countries that are, at best, undemocratic?" Or worse; Uzbekistan is ruled by a despot, who mows down opposition protests and has been known to boil political prisoners alive? Yep, we love to be allied to them, don't we, George?

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Troublesome? Um, worth the trouble, bra.   I subscribe to New Orleans food writer Tom Fitzmorris' New Orleans Menu Daily and read every issue. I generally enjoy it, but man ... sometimes I wonder what planet he's on. For instance, today's list -- I agree that many foods are troublesome to eat, but some of his comments about them are jaw-dropping. (My comments are in italics after each entry.)

Tom Fitzmorris' list of "Ten Most Troublesome Foods To Eat"

1. Lobster. Nothing like it for work, complexity, and mess. Is it worth it? I doubt it. Still, I refuse to order a lobster that arrives already out of the shell. [It's not that much trouble, and if you refuse to order a lobster that arrives already out of the shell, then you will deprive yourself of one of the best dishes I have ever eaten -- Chef Thomas Keller's Butter-poached Lobster preparations from The French Laundry. Even my homemade version was out of this world.]

2. Quail. Most quail are not worth eating. There's so little meat in the breast that you want to pick them up immediately (you should at least start with a fork). Eating quail legs is of dubious value. Eating quail wings is an absurdity. [What, you only eat one quail? Wes' excellent quail salad at Bayona came with four of them, wasn't that much work (they were boned except for the legs, which are easy to eat) and tasted great.]

3. Artsy sushi. The trend these days is for standard sushi rolls to be wrapped in further layers of ingredients. Or for multi-strata box sushi. These always fall apart before you can get them from table to mouth. ["Always" is a bit of an absolute, isn't it? My experience with this type of sushi roll would substitute "rarely" or "never" for that "always". Hold the pieces upright and practice your chopsitck skills.]

4. Whole fish. Here's another dish that requires practice. People who like whole flounders, for example, know exactly when and how to remove the backbone without leaving any little bones. Non-flat fish are harder to deal with, and create a lot of waste. However, there's no question that a whole fish tastes better than fillets. [Again, this is something I've never had a problem with. "Practice?" After you've eaten one or two fish this way you'll get the hang of it, folks.]

5. Roast beef poor boys. Some of them, anyway. The widespread preference for sloppy roast beef causes even stalwart bread to disintegrate before the sandwich is close to being eaten. Then you're picking up the pieces. [Again, I don't seem to have this problem very often, usually only when the gravy is thin like a jus instead of thick and well-reduced, like mine. I prefer to get my roast beef poor boys from places where the gravy isn't watery.]

6. Boiled crabs. More work than lobster if you don't have the knack of it. Even after you figure it out, there is some question as to whether you derive food energy enough to perform the work involved. [Food energy? Um, lissen cap ... nobody eats boiled crabs for the food energy. We eat them because crabmeat is one of the most fantastically great-tasting substances on the planet. It's entirely worth the work for the sheer pleasure of it, not the food energy. Jeezus Gawd.]

7. Barbecue shrimp. This New Orleans classic is best eaten without peeling, although you take that recommendation at your own risk. When you try to peel the shrimp, the mess is unbelievable. [Without peeling? Are you mad?]

8. Hot dog with chili. The two best versions of this -- at Bud's Broiler and the Camellia Grill -- are so sloppy that they're better handled with knife and fork. [Okay, fine. Doesn't bother me.]

9. Asian soups. If the spoon they supply you with is that ceramic or plastic ladle that Asian places prefer, the noodles and other long pieces always slip off before you get any elevation. [The spoon they supply you with is for the broth and the chunky bits. The chopsticks are for the noodles. Guh.]

10. Tubular pasta. Spaghetti and other string pastas are no problem. You just twirl them with a fork. It's those rigatoni, farfalle, and radiatore that fall off. In Italy, the sauce holds them together, but here they're too slippery. [I ... pick up my jaw off the floor and really have nothing further to say about this. *boggle*]

Okay, I will say something. Have you actually heard of the revolutionary technique of spearing tubular pasta with one's fork? Try it sometime. I've been doing it since I was three, and lemme tell ya, it works. Also, do not ever eat barbecue shrimp without peeling them.

The ultimate trip... through the films of one of the world's great filmmakers, that is. Taschen has just released The Stanley Kubrick Archives, a spectacularly beautiful, comprehensive and altoghether huge (11" x 16" and well over 10 pounds) book that'll take up half your coffee table, and which I was recently astonished to receive as a gift (thanks, hon!)

It's the last book a Kubrick fan will ever need, with the first section feature full-page stills from all of his films, plus interviews, essays and analysis and, best of all, innumerable items from Kubrick's meticulously thorough archive. Apparently he kept everything, on practically every movie.

Part 1: The films
In 1968, when Stanley Kubrick was asked to comment on the metaphysical significance of 2001: A Space Odyssey, he replied: "It's not a message I ever intended to convey in words. 2001 is a nonverbal experience... I tried to create a visual experience, one that bypasses verbalized pigeonholing and directly penetrates the subconscious with an emotional and philosophic content." The philosophy behind Part I borrows from this line of thinking: from the opening sequence of Killer's Kiss to the final frames of Eyes Wide Shut, Kubrick's complete films will be presented chronologically and wordlessly via frame enlargements. A completely nonverbal experience.

Part 2: The Creative Process
Divided into chapters chronologically by film, Part 2 brings to life the creative process of Kubrick's filmmaking by presenting a remarkable collection of material from his archives, including photographs, props, posters, artwork, set designs, sketches, correspondence, documents, screenplays, drafts, notes, and shooting schedules. Accompanying the visual material are essays by noted Kubrick scholars, articles written by and about Kubrick, and a selection of Kubrick's best interviews.

It's one of the most amazing books I own, and I'll have months, if not years of enjoyment from it.

There's also an article from the Guardian on the book, the archive plus an interview with Kubrick's widow Christiane that's worth reading.

Quatres étoiles!   Chef Eric Ripert of Le Bernadin in New York talks to Newsweek about his restaurant having received its fourth consecutive four-star rating from the New York Times, and more. This one's on my list with Babbo and several others, if we can afford it, when we finally make it to New York. (I can't believe I've never been there.)

Moan and pound on the table.   That's one of my reactions to culinary ecstasy, and ... well, if anyone develops cheap or free teleportation between now and mid-June, please let me know, as I'll have to resist the temptation to otherwise spend too much money flying home on June 12 for one single meal.

From Poppy's journal I snagged the dégustation menu that Chef Pete Vasquez is preparing at Marisol in honor of her new novel Prime. It's apparenltly similar to the dinner he did in honor of the publication of Liquor last year, in that then all the dishes were based on the title ingredient; this time, it's all beef, baby.

Oh Gawd, does this sound great ...

Marques de Gelida Cava

Amuse Bouche
Tacos de Lengua

First Course
Crisp Calves' Brains with Madeira Sauce and Coarse Mustard
2003 Syrah, Qupe Central Coast

Second Course
Salad of Summer Asparagus and Poached Salsify with Confit of Veal Cheek
2004 Cotes de Ventoux, Chateau Valcombe Rose

Third Course
"Vitello Tonnato": Crisp Veal Sweetbreads and a Tartare of Yellowfin Tuna
with Lemon Mayonnaise and Crisp Capers
2002 Pinot Noir, Elk Cove, Willamette Valley

Intermezzo: Spicy Bullshot Sorbet

Fourth Course
Peppered Hangar Steak with Sweet & Sour Rhubarb and Gnocchi Parisienne
2002 Petite Syrah, Stag's Leap Napa

Fifth Course
Oxtail Ravioli with Reduced Veal Jus, Red Wine Vinaigrette and Fava Beans
1999 "Bourriquot," Havens Napa

Dulce de Leche Crepes with Aged Goat Cheese and Lavender Honey
2002 Beaumes de Venise, Domaine de Durban

E-mail Janis at Marisol or call (504) 943-1912 for reservations.

Le *faint*.

The only thing I'm a little iffy about is the brains. I've had 'em before and I'm not that big a fan. It's probably the creamy texture that gets me, although if Chef Pete can get 'em crispy, that'd probably be a help. (They've also got about 10 times the amount of cholesterol you should have in a single day in a single serving). However, from everything I've been reading and hearing, I'll eat anything Chef Pete puts in front of me. It's all just wishful thinking, though, 'cause I won't be able to go, unless we can ...

Beam me over! Or I'll buy a gris-gris bag that'll win me just enough of a lil' lottery prize to get me there and back in a weekend.

Mmmm, speaking of lengua ...   That's Spanish for "tongue", by the way.

Yeah yeah, I can hear you now. Ewwwww, tongue! It was in a cow's mouth! (Big deal! It was washed off. Ham was next to a pig's ass!)

Tongue is actually quite delicious, and isn't tough like you might expect. Properly cooked with a long braise it's very tender, richly flavored and insensely beefy. Most often in Los Angeles you see it in tacos de lengua, as mentioned above, although I have no idea what Chef Pete's will be like.

One of my favorite tongue dishes locally is the thinly sliced tongue in a spicy red sauce at La Luna Negra, the excellent (although frequently too crowded to get into) Spanish tapas restaurant in Pasadena. That plus the tacos was the bulk of my lengua experience, until last weekend ...

Our friends Moisés and John invited us over for mole de lengua, and at the very mention of that my eyes lit up. I'm a mole fanatic, and I'll eat just about anything as long as it's swimming in a mole sauce. I've had at last a half-dozen or more different kinds -- red, black, green, from Oaxaca or from other parts of Mexico. A thick, rich, extremely complex sauce which might just put many French sauciers to shame, can contain upwards of 30 ingredients (including chiles, nuts, seeds and frequently chocolate) and usually takes all day to make, mole is one of the many aspects of traditional Mexican cuisine that elevates it to the same level of any of the finest cuisines in the world.

Double, double, toil and trouble ...

I'm still trying to take off the weight I put on in New Orleans (5 pounds to go), so I toyed with the idea of being good and asking for a small serving, maybe only one slice of tongue. One whiff of this stuff and I knew that'd be amusing foolishness. This was reinforced when he put my plate in front of me.

Oh my.

Moisés' mole was thick, rich, nutty, hot, deeply flavored and with a touch of bitterness from the charred dried chiles and God knows what else. The lengua was as tender as meat can get before it starts falling apart into "debris". It might just amaze how you good this is, how good beef can be. It ain't all just steaks, baby.

A morsel of rich, tender, intense beefiness.

My only concession to being "good" was only eating about half the rice, which was plenty. (Rice is about 2 WW points per half-cup.) I didn't need any dessert.

Even though I've still got some mole Teloloapan in my fridge, and some black Oaxacan mole on the from Mary (who picked it up for me at Grand Central Market when she was looking for my carnitas tacos from the other day), and I can always pick up mole paste at Guelaguetza on the way home ... I'm feeling a compulsion to spend a day making this at home sometime. I'd love something that tastes this great to come from my own hands.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Cocktail of the day. (Congratulations, you nutty kids!)   Felicitations, much happiness and biddings of long life go out to our good friends Chris and Mary Jane, who got married last Saturday on a perfect, beautiful day.

We were honored that they asked us to come up with a new cocktail for the occasion, which would be served to the wedding guests. Mixological duties fell to Wes this time, who had been knocking around some ideas in his head for a while and eventually came up with this gem, which is a relative of the Footloose Cocktail and was a big hit at the reception. Even people who don't normally quaff cocktails loved this one.


The Mary Jane Cocktail

2 ounces vanilla-infused vodka.
1 ounce Belle de Brillet (a French pear-Cognac liqueur).
1/2 ounce fresh squeezed lime juice.
2 healthy dashes of Peychaud's Bitters.

Shake and strain; garnish with a lime twist.

Not to be outdone, the groom had a drink named after him as well. "The Christopher Michael", however, was a bit simpler, and was described thusly on the menu: "A bottle of beer." Natch.

Congrats, youse two!

'Cue!   Via Wes, who sends along Slate's David Plotz's tale of barbecue mania and pilgrimage. He's a man after my own heart, a man who once licked his own wrist days after spending time in a smoke-filled Estonian sauna, because he could still smell it on him; "I'd been barbecued."

Wes noted one interesting political idea about 8 grafs into the story:

[...] I decided to set out on a pilgrimage in search of the greatest barbecue joints in America, an R.W. Apple-ian gut-stuffing to sample as much 'cue of as many different varieties as I could in a week, to try to figure why barbecue was so distinctly American and where you should go to eat the best meat in the world.

This latter question is impossible to answer without starting a brawl. Barbecue is one of the last bastions of local prejudice in American life: Every state in the South -- and some in the Midwest -- thinks its barbecue is the first, most authentic, and best in the nation. If you want to see hatred, just put a Texan and a North Carolinian in a room and ask them who makes more righteous barbecue. A Democratic presidential candidate could fracture the Republican South with a few well-placed barbecue ads.

You paying attention, Howard?

Then there's this bit of moan-inducing description:

Stehney invited me and Stephanie back to the kitchen. He grabbed a "burnt end" that had just exited the smoker and asked one of the cooks to chop it up for us. The "burnt end" is, after jazz, Kansas City's most important gift to civilization. Some great Kansas Citian of the past realized that the ends of a barbecued brisket were the fattiest, saltiest, smokiest chunks of meat on God's own Earth. Every barbecue joint in KC -- and practically nowhere else -- sets aside its burnt ends, chops them up, and serves them with a little sauce. It is a profound experience to eat them. Stehney, Stephanie, and I stood around this particular burnt end and snacked it into oblivion. Stehney talked obsessively and eagerly about the precise way to cut a rib, and the exact temperature at which a burnt end reaches perfection. [...]

The burnt ends stacked up in my belly and suffused my whole body with a comforting warmth. Stehney, burnt end clasped between thumb and forefinger, entered a kind of reverie.

Oh my Gawd. Wes says, "I want me some burnt ends more than I want world peace, almost. It's close.

(One quibble here, though -- Kansas City has a great jazz heritage, but this guy makes it sound like civilization wouldn't have jazz if it weren't for Kansas City. Actually, as we all know, civilization wouldn't have had jazz if it weren't for New Orleans. He should've said "its jazz" rather than merely "jazz." Yes, I'm that persnickety.)

What a po-boy is supposed to be.   Second day of Jazzfest we rested; in fact, we didn't go to either Saturday. We'd be back on the first Sunday, but before that the order of the day was leisurely strolling, shopping, drinking and, of course, eating.

I had never managed to get Wes to Domilise's before, which was an odd omission. I spent many of my college hours in there quaffing beers and devouring poor boys, which are among the very best in the city, some of which are quite unique. Frequently invoking the cliché of "better late than never," off to Annunciation Street at Bellcastle we went.

Domilise's Po-Boys and Bar

Doesn't look like much, does it? (Person standing in front of da place, i.e. Wes, excepted, of course.) Ah, that's the deception of the New Orleans neighborhood restaurant; it might look like a dump, but the food within might well be some of the best in the city. Surely you've learned this lesson by now.

Bill of fare.

The menu looks deceptively simple and run-of-the-mill (click the picture to enlarge), but if you know the food well or if you ask the right questions, the gems emerge from the rock. What looks deceptively like "hot smoked sausage" is just that, but if you ask for it it comes swimming in a chili gravy that is so good in combination with that sausage that you'll be in the troposphere before you know it. Fried seafood also can be augmented by a ladling of brown gravy, and that day the fried catfish with gravy was the recommended combo. We got two small poor boys, knowing that we'd be having a Gargantuan meal later in the evening, and traded halves. Well, we thought we'd trade halves, but we each liked what we had ordered so much that we ended up trading bites instead.

Now THAT'S a coupla po-boys!

Some of the finest examples of the poor boy maker's art, these are. Actually, the only disappointment with mine is that it wasn't sloppier; lots of the time the gravy is dripping eveyrwhere, oozing out the sides of the sandwich along with the yellow and Creole mustards and down your chin and onto your shirt and pants and just about everywhere else. I actually managed not to get it all over me this time, so I feel I missed out on something. Fortunately, it tasted fantastic. Incidentally, these are indeed smalls; the large size has three pieces of that size.

I didn't see Miss Dot Domilise there, although it appeared to be her daughter and perhaps granddaughter making poor boys there that day. Miss Dot would be in her 80s now, and I hope she's doing well, and having a well-deserved rest after making hundreds of poor boys every day since long before I can remember. If you've never eaten here, you're missing out.

Compromise.   Yeah, it pretty much sucked, and means that right wing nutcases Priscilla Owen, Rogers-Brown and Pryor will be appeals court judges now. It's a good sign, however, that the right wingnutosphere is apoplectic, and radical cleric James Dobson, whose puppet Senator Bill Frist is firmly ensconced in his pocket, had this to say:

"This Senate agreement represents a complete bailout and betrayal by a cabal of Republicans and a great victory for united Democrats. Only three of President Bush's nominees will be given the courtesy of an up-or-down vote, and it's business as usual for all the rest. The rules that blocked conservative nominees remain in effect, and nothing of significance has changed. Justice Clarence Thomas, Justice Antonin Scalia, and Chief Justice William Rehnquist would never have served on the U. S. Supreme Court if this agreement had been in place during their confirmations. The unconstitutional filibuster survives in the arsenal of Senate liberals.

"We are grateful to Majority Leader Frist for courageously fighting to defend the vital principle of basic fairness. That principle has now gone down to defeat. We share the disappointment, outrage and sense of abandonment felt by millions of conservative Americans who helped put Republicans in power last November. I am certain that these voters will remember both Democrats and Republicans who betrayed their trust."

I can't wait until they find some dirt on this dirtbag, and take him out of the political scene.

Meanwhile, Kos advises us to look at the cold, hard facts:

There are those who think any compromise is a sign of weakness, and there's little that can be said to change their mind.

But here are the plain, unspun facts:

  • Democrats hold 44 seats in the 100 seat Senate. One independent sides with the Democrats, giving Dems a 10-seat deficit.

  • Reid had 49 votes. He needed 51 to defeat Frist's nuclear option.

  • Reid needed at least two of four undecided Republicans.

  • Had Reid come up short, the filibuster would be dead in judicial matters.

  • If the filibuster was dead, Bush would've been able to put anyone on the Supreme Court. Anyone.

  • Radical Christian Rightist James Dobson is demanding the right to choose the next Supreme Court nominee.

  • Dobson's biggest enemy is the filibuster. Hence, he forced Frist to engage in the nuclear option.

  • Because of the deal, Dobson can't choose the next Supreme Court justice. Bush's choice, if too extreme, faces the prospect of a filibuster.

In order to save face, Republicans have gotten up or down votes on most of the handful of judges who are currently being filibustered. It's a price, but a relatively small one to pay to protect the filibuster during the next Supreme Court battle.

Given that we have a 10-seat deficit in the Senate, that's no small feat.

Now, depending on what the definition of "extraordinary circumstances" is, and who thinks they get to define that with certainty, we could be in for this fight all over again.

This is yet more demonstrations that the Republicans do not want to govern; they want to rule. Vote Democratic in 2006.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Saturday, May 21, 2005

Cinnabar, 1993-2005.   Our favorite area restaurant closed last Sunday night, and we had our final meal there a week ago tonight. We're very sad.

Cinnabar, owned by siblings Alvin and Flame Simon and helmed by their "Magic Chef" Damon Bruner, served its last meals and drinks last Sunday night after 12 years of business in Glendale. Although they did great business on weekends, they couldn't get enough people to come during the week, and made the decision to close several weeks ago.

We first found Cinnabar via Dr. Cocktail, who recommended them to us as a great place to get well-made and classic cocktails (one of the few). Our first visit there was just to drink, and we weren't disappointed. They were one of the only places in Los Angeles (if not the only one) serving Sazeracs. Their cocktail menu included classics like the Sidecar, as well as 1930s-era cocktails from New York and tropical concotions from Cuba (such as the Hotel Nacional Special). The bar itself had some history as well; it was rescued from the now-demolished Chinatown bar Yee Mee Loo's, and according to Doc, it was once a prop in a 1930s-era movie.

This bar was gorgeous, and my lame photographs do not do it justice.

As we were drinking during our first visit some other people sitting next to us at the bar ordered food, and as soon as it was set down in front of them the aroma wrapped around our heads and nearly drove us mad. What we were smelling was perhaps the restaurant's signature dish, the Spicy Lemongrass Bouillabaisse, which I'll describe a bit later on. It was a dish that (as far as I know) Chef Damon had inherited from his predecessor, but it led us straight into the rest of his own wonderful cooking.

We quickly became regulars, and not just for drinks. We loved ever single dish we ever ate there, and when I was trying to behave myself during my major weight-loss period, we could still dine at Cinnabar because many of their entrées came in what they called a "half-order", which was more like two-thirds, and was a perfect amount of food.

We got to know the owners, bartenders and servers, and were happily greeted by name whenever we arrived. When we sent friends there, and they said they were friends of ours, Flame once exclaimed, "Oh, Chuck and Wes! I can hardly keep those two out of here!" We felt at home there, we felt happy there, but apparently we (and many others) didn't go there often enough. As they say, I suppose all good things come to an end. (Goddammit.)

As it turned out, though they were always busy on the weekends, they hardly had anyone coming during the week. Special events held on weeknights always sold well, but it apparently wasn't enough. Several weeks before we left for Jazzfest we got an email from Flame via their mailing list, saying that from then on the restaurant would be closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, and we thought that was a bad sign. Then, while we were at Fest, I checked my email and, at the bottom of the message about their upcoming Mother's Day event, was this:

What else is there to say?
SADLY, AS OF SUNDAY, MAY 15, WE ARE CLOSING CINNABAR, closing our doors after these twelve years of serving you fine cuisine and excellent wines, not to mention our classic cocktails. This was a decision taken neither easily nor quickly nor happily. We certainly hope to see each of you before we close, to say goodbye and thank you. We most assuredly shall miss you, our loyal customers and friends, but hope to see you again.

We immediately emailed some friends and made plans to have two more dinners there, on the next two Saturdays after we got back from New Orleans. The first Saturday's dinner was with Dr. and Nurse Cocktail, and unfortunately I forgot my camera so I have no pictures of that meal. Fortunately, though, Doc had his Treo phone/PDA camera with him -- only 640x428 resolution and no flash, and we were in the dark, but we made do. Almost everything we had that evening was ordered the following week as well, with a couple of exceptions, including one of our favorite Cinnabar desserts, simple yet lovely: Chocolate Fondue, a little ramekin of a dark, dense sauce consisting of lots of melted chocolate and cream, kept warm above a votive candle, with fresh fruits for dipping.

Chocolate fondue

There was one other notable dish that night, served when it was far too dark for the camera phone and which we didn't order the following Saturday, so no pictures. My description will have to do: Northern Pacific Oysters, half a dozen on the half-shell, topped with an ice-cold pickled ginger and sake granita. This was one of Wes' favorite dishes at the restaurant; he never ceased to rave about it. Usually he just had one, as an intermezzo during one of Damon's tasting menus (five courses, typically, for about $45). This time it was a whole plateful of them, and he and Doc gobbled them down. I, alas, thought I would not. I love oysters in every form -- fried, broiled, baked, stewed, in oyster dressing or gumbo or other soups -- except raw. I just can't do the raw oyster thing, as much as I want to. Maybe it's something I can build up to throughout my life, but right now and for the last 30 years I just haven't been able to do it. I did end up having one ... and the flavor was wonderful, but there's just something about the texture of a raw oyster that's still off-putting to me. I must get to work on that.

The mood was more jovial than we had expected. We were delighted to dine with Ted and Janet, of course, but when Flame came by our table she seemed to be in a great mood. It seems that she, Alvin and Damon had been discussing the possibility of closing for a long time, and made the decision to close a year ago; it was only a question of when, and when was announced with just over three weeks' notice. That made it more jarring for us, but she seemed to have made her peace with it. That made us feel a bit better, but only a bit. What made us feel the best was the grand company, the terrific drinks, and the fabulous food.

The following Saturday we returned for what was to be our last meal at Cinnabar, and this time forgetful eejit Chuck didn't forget the camera. Robb and Jaason joined us, and the meal was on. Oddly enough, in all the years we had been dining there, Wes and I had never tried the drink that Cinnabar inherited from Yee Mee Loo along with their bar, perhaps because we're skeptical of blue drinks in general (unless we're really in the mood for one, which is infrequent) and more so of drinks named after toilet cleaning products. However, since this was our last chance, we had The Infamous Yee Mee Loo Tidy Bowl:

Oh no, Father Jack ... not the Toilet Duck again!

Yep, that's one blue bleepin' drink, all right.

Doc was right; it was the least of the drinks on the menu. What did it taste like? Blue. And rum. And a little citrus (the blue curaçao, of course). Blue rum drink. That's about it. But now, we can say that we've had one.

Time for a real drink after that -- the Cinnabar Negroni. Former bartender Jason (we think) came up with this variation on the standard Negroni, which is equal parts gin, sweet vermouth and Campari, and we find the variation to be superior. Not only do we find it so, but Gary Regan found it to be good enough to publish in his book New Classic Cocktails, immortalizing it in print forever. Here's the recipe, with our latest bitters specification:

The Cinnabar Negroni

1-1/2 ounces Campari.
3/4 ounce gin.
3/4 ounce sweet vermouth.
2 dashes Regans' Orange Bitters No. 6.

Shake for 10 seconds (or stir for 30) with cracked ice; strain into
a cocktail glass and garnish with an orange slice.

That, my friends, is a kick-ass drink, a kicked-up Negroni that'll tickle your palate as a near-perfect aperitivo to your meal. Make your Negronis this way and not only will you like it better (I predict), but you'll help keep the memory of Cinnabar alive.

Okay, our palates perched and ready to go, we dove into the menu. The signature appetizer at Cinnabar never appeared on the menu, for some reason. We didn't care; we always knew to ask for it, and in fact we ordered it nearly every time we dined there, often splitting it before each ordering our own starters. If we'd forget about it, our servers Jessica or Chris would always remind us. These were the No-Ri Rolls: Slices of sashimi-grade tuna rolled up around a spear of asparagus with a strip of nori (seaweed) on the outside, then dipped in a tempura batter and fried just long enough to crisp up the batter and cook the very outside edge of the tuna, leaving most of the tuna raw. This was served with a spicy mayonnaise-based dressing and shredded carrots and daikon with sprouts.

The magnificent No-Ri Rolls

So simple, yet so wonderful in flavor, the whole far surpassing the sum of its parts. Such a lovely thing deserves a close-up, I should think:


I felt like splurging. This was to be our last meal there, so let's not skimp on anything. I had tried just about every starter on the menu save one, primarily because of its expense. As it turned out, $15.50 was a pittance for what may be the best thing on their starter menu; as gorgeous as all the dishes are, this one absolutely knocked my socks and shoes off: Pan-Smoked Lobster, with baby field green salad, soy sauce, ginger and scallions. The lobster was amazing, slightly smoky and impossibly tender, just as tender as the butter-poached lobster we had had a few months back, courtesy of the recipe from Chef Thomas Keller of The French Laundry. I daresay that I may like pan-smoked lobster better than butter-poached. The dressing was spicy-tangy-gingery; in my humble opinion, a Platonic dish.

Pan-smoked lobster with baby greens, ginger, soy sauce and scallions - a Platonic dish.

Robb and Jaason split a dish that we ordered the previous week, one that we had enjoyed very much: Spicy Sizzling Calamari Salad, with cilantro, mint, peanuts and lime juice. It's so nice to have calamari not-fried, which is how so many places prepare it. This was stir-fried in a wok, Chinese-style, but with Thai flavors and seasonings. Beautiful.

Here, squiddy squiddy squiddy squid!

For my final entrée I chose something that had appeared on and disappeared from the menu at various times, and I was glad to catch it one last time; it's one of my favorite salmon preparations ever. Sesame-Crusted Wild Alaskan King Salmon, with wasabi mashed potatoes and lobster coconut-curry sauce. This, along with dishes like the bouillabaisse and lobster, are perfect representations of the California-French-Asian fusion that's executed so perfectly by Chef Damon. The black and white sesame seeds provide a perfect crunchy crust and creamy, nutty flavor; the salmon is perfectly cooked; the broth, based on a classic French lobster stock becomes Asian-tropical with the coconut milk-based mild Thai-style red curry sauce, with an up-your-nose zing from the wasabi in the potatoes, but not so much as to cause the exquisite pain I usually seek from wasabi and horseradish, with the potatoes anchoring the dish in creamy, American comfort food. And it's all perched atop some kale, green beans and a stack of batonnets of other veggies, so that I'll grow up to be big and strong.

One of my favorite salmon dishes, period.

That was washed down with a glass of Sonoma Pinot Noir, the name of which sadly escapes me, but a Pinot was perfect for this dish.

Wesly couldn't have anything as his final Cinnabar meal other than the restaurant's signature dish -- the Spicy Lemongrass Bouillabaisse, with fresh crab, sea scallops, rock shrimp, lobster and fish of the day, with glass noodles in a lobster, lemongrass and Asian lime leaf broth. It's absolutely amazing, incredibly aromatic, spicy indeed and delicious in the same way a good gumbo is, with many layers of flavors playing off each other like musicians in a symphony orchestra. It killed me not to get this, but I was in a mood for something else. I had the perfect solution, though -- I had Chris ask Chef to pack up an order of it to go, and I'd have it for lunch the next day. I couldn't let it pass me by either, 'cause it's also a Platonic dish.

A Platonic dish.

Robb had a dish that I had been very fond of, variations of which appeared on the menu now and again, and of course, the dish is made magical by the very first words that describe it: Bacon-Wrapped Swordfish Medallions with garlic mashed potatoes and whole-grain mustard cream. My own particular favorite rendition of this dish featured bacon-wrapped medallions of monkfish, which I love even more than swordfish.

Mmmmmmmm, baaaconnnnnn ...

Jaason had what I had last week with Doc and Nursie, although then it was too dark to get a decent picture with the camera phone. My splurgey mood last week (although the dish wasn't really expensive) was to have something truffley, and since one of my other favorite fish was being served in a truffley manner, it was a no-brainer: Panko and Herb-Crusted Alaskan Halibut with grilled celery root purée and black truffle cream. "Cream sauce!" shrieked my inner WeightWatchers counselor. "Cream sauce, cream sauce!" "Feck off," I retorted to my inner WeightWatchers counselor, and beat him over the head with my inner rubber truncheon until he retreated into my inner coat closet, whimpering and cursing, whereupon I then locked him in. Presumably Jaason had no such inner struggle.

Truffles?  Yes please.

They looked at and ate the food, and saw that it was good, and after the third course, they rested. (Then we had Chris take a picture of the table, and I had a dopey look on my face.)

What was I saying?

Okay, enough rest. Time for dessert!

They mostly speak for themselves, such as Wes' choice: Lemon Bread Pudding, with green tea ice cream, raspberry and mango sauces. That's a glass of late harvest Riesling next to it.

Great chieftain o' the puddin' race!

Jaason got another old favorite, and the one with the best name: "Chocolate Air Cake ... on a Drunken Cloud". A light-textured, almost fluffy but rich chocolate cake with a densely chocolatey topping, atop a Grand Marnier-flavored whipped cream. Oy.

I wanna live on a drunken cloud!

Robb got another favorite (but they're all our favorites ... how the feck do we have a favorite when they're all our favorites?): Warm Banana Spring Rolls with chocolate sauce and vanilla bean ice cream.

This one runs hot and cold with me ...

Finally, mine; the only one on the menu I had never tried before, and finally ordered at the recommendation (urging, really) of our server Chris. I'm really glad I listened to him. Rustic Apple Tart à la mode, with caramel sauce, sort of the poor man's Tarte Tatin and incredibly tasty. The 20-year-old Taylor Fladgate tawny port I drank with it as lovely, lovely, lovely.

Not a cheap tart.

And with that, we were finished.

I managed not to cry, as I feared I would. I also managed to have as wonderful a Cinnabar experience as any I'd had before -- great drinks, great food, great friends, in a warm, friendly atmosphere. Places like that are damned scarce these days, particularly right by your neighborhood.

Flame and Alvin are done, apparently, but there's some potential good news on the horizon. The owner of the building which housed Cinnabar likes having a restaurant there, and Chef Damon is actively seeking and lining up investors with the aim of reopening a restaurant in that space, with him as chef-owner, potentially by the end of this year. It won't be Cinnabar; it'll be redone, rethought and will have a new name. We'll undoubtedly go there, because I'll eat anywhere that Damon Bruner is cooking, and I'll eat just about anything he puts in front of me.

But it won't be the same, and it won't be Cinnabar. Sigh. Ah well, all things must pass.

Flame, Alvin, Damon ... Jason, Bob, Doug, Carlin, Eric ... Jessica, Chris, Arturo and all the rest of the staff of Cinnabar -- thanks a million, from the bottom of our hearts, for years of lovely evenings. Wesly and I will miss you more than we can say.

Thanks, y'all!!!

So long.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Friday, May 20, 2005

Cha-CHING!   Several lovely listeners of "Down Home" coughed up $1,030 for KCSN last night! Thanks a million, y'all! That, combined with the fact that our Incredibly Generous Anonymous Benefactor From Chatsworth has pledged to kick in an additional $1,000 to every show that makes at least $1,000 in pledges, plus just the employee matching funds that I know are already coming from one pledge, brings our grand total for my show to $2,390. That oughta keep me around for a while.

However, I could be sittin' prettier, if there happens to be someone left who forgot about my shift during the drive, and still wants to pledge online. In fact ... every online pledge of $100 or more enters you in our online sweepstakes to win a Sony PlayStation Portable, the hottest new technogizmo. I'd say your odds are pretty good, too.

The Cocktailian.   Today's installment of Gary Regan's fortnightly column has The Professor, our cocktailian bartender, discovering that California brandy holds its on in two Big Apple recipes.

Hmm, the Debonnaire Cocktail? Dubonnet, Germain-Robin alambic brandy and crème de cassis? I'd drink that! Read on.

Cocktail of the day: Fear and Loathing on the Cocktail Trail.   'Member a while back, when the Regans called for entries in a cocktail-creating competition? The idea was to honor the late Hunter S. Thompson by creating a cocktail in his honor.

The results are in, via this month's issue of Gary and Mardee's Ardent Spirits newsletter. Some of the entries were, predictably, weird.

We got one drink from Chris Gallagher of PUG! Muddler fame that called for a toothbrush garnish, and we haven't quite figured that one out yet. Another submission, this one from bartender Joe Gonzalez, resulted in a drink that looks like a lava lamp when assembled. Pretty creative, huh?

And of course we had to get one recipe that called for an illicit substance, so we weren't surprised when Nancy Breslow, a recent graduate of Cocktails in the Country, suggested that the glass containing her "Gonzo Martini" be rimmed with cocaine. "IF (and only if) cocaine is ever legalized," she added, covering her tail quite nicely. And you seemed so prim in class, Nancy...

The winning entry was submitted by LeNell Smothers, owner of LeNell's Ltd.: A Wine and Spirit Boutique in Brooklyn. While I can't necessariy see Hunter drinking too many of these and winding up whapping big hairy bats with a yardstick, Gary opines that Hunter would have approved. We'll try this one this weekend.

The Fear and Loathing Cocktail

1 slice pick grapefruit, cut about 1/2 inch thick, peel removed.
2 barspoons bar sugar, superfine or granulated sugar.
4 dashes Fee's Peach Bitters.
3 ounces Bellows Bourbon.

Muddle the grapefruit with the sugar and the bitters in a large Old Fashioned glass. Add the ice and the bourbon, stir the drink and serve.

Seems mighty Suth'un to me. I'll wear my seersucker suit while we're tippling.

Christy Moore on RTÉ's "The View".   See a 39-minute interview with Christy Moore, featuring live performance, recorded on John Kelly's programme "The View" on Irish television.

Man, RTÉ is doing a great job streaming and archiving programming. I woulda killed for this kind of thing 17 years ago when I came back from my first trip there, or 15 years ago when I started studying Irish (something that has led at least one friend of mine in Galway to declare that I am certifiably insane; ah, it's a beautiful language, so feck off).

Do they have a file on you?   Today's email newsletter from the ACLU led me to this fascinating and disturbing little quiz, which determines, based on your legal political activities and exercise of freedoms, whether or not the FBI probably is keeping tabs on you.

The questions ask whether you're vocal in opposition to government policies (well, yes, that'd be me), attended an antiwar protest, belong to certain organizations, attended any meetings or gatherings with people who oppose government policies, etc. The most startling question, however, came last: Have you ever sent a package using FedEx? My "yes" answer prompted this reply:

You might think your privacy is ensured, but you should know that FedEx maintains its own deputized police force and is part of a Joint Terrorism Task Force. We don't yet know what kind of information FedEx is sharing with the FBI and other law enforcement officials, but given what we know about JTTF activity, we thought you'd want to know about the relationship.

I had no idea.

Between the six questions on the quiz (and doubtless bolstered by other aspects of my opinions and positions), the result was returned that the FBI might have a file on me. If true, it would be unsurprising; they've probably had a file on me since my subscription to Mother Jones in high school, and for what I wrote on my draft registration form when I was 18 (I was in the first group that had to register, and it cost Jimmy Carter my first presidential vote).

Don't let this worry you into shutting up, though. Then they win.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Digital Dish ordering buttons fixed.   Okay, we had a few technical problems the other day. Clicking on the buttons to order copies of Digital Dish: The Freshest Writing and Recipes from Food Blogs Around the World, the new anthology which contains some of my food writing, was returning an error. This time I think we've got it nailed. To order one or more copies of the book, click on the appropriate button below:

Click this button for shipping within the U.S.:
or this button for shipments outside the U.S.:

That oughta do it. Buy one, so's I can make some money off this thing! Buy several -- they make great gifts!

Just monkeying around.   From my friend Steve Kelley: "May 5th marked the 80th anniversary of the arrest of John Scopes for teaching evolution. Here's a piece that ran in the July, 1922 issue of The Nation. What's amazing is how much it sounds like something somebody could write today. Who says history never repeats?" Right now, Kansas is just as crazy as Tennessee was then. Joseph Wood Krutch wrote:

[T]he real problem raised is not legal but sociological. No verdict of the jury and no injunction of the Supreme Court can change the fact that the trial is a symptom of the vast gulf which lies between two halves of our population, and that the real question to be settled is the question of how this gulf may be bridged. In the centers of population men have gone on assuming certain bodies of knowledge and certain points of view without realizing that they were living in a different world from that inhabited by a considerable portion of their fellow-citizens, and they have been unconscious of the danger which threatened them at the inevitable moment when the two worlds should come in conflict. In Tennessee the moment has arrived and a single battle will no more settle it than the World War settled the questions from which it arose.

Of the reality of the danger there can be no question. The zeal of the fundamentalists has been enormously quickened by an anticipatory taste of triumph, and they will push any victory they may gain to the fullest possible extent. Already one State legislator has announced his intention of "putting teeth" in the present law by making the penalty for its violation a prison sentence instead of a fine, and various extensions of the principle of State interference with teaching may be confidently predicted. Members of the D. A. R. will, sooner or later, seek to forbid in the schools any historical facts which tend to reflect upon the character or motives of Revolutionary heroes; conservative economists and sociologists will certainly follow their lead; and, unless the movement is definitely checked, the next twenty-five years will see the State schools and universities so shackled with legislation as to make them utterly worthless as institutions for education. The control of learning will pass into the hands of the uneducated, and youth will leave the schools more ignorant than when it entered them.

Parkway Bakery and Tavern.   At this rate, it'll take a month for me to get through all our food experiences during Jazzfest. Oh well, better slowly than not at all, eh?

Parkway Bakery and Tavern

After a day's festing on Friday the 22nd we didn't like showering and getting dressed up for a fancy restaurant, and as we all know, many of the best places to eat in New Orleans are as casual as casual can be. That evening's repast was a short walk (we needed the walking, believe me) from our friends' house in Faubourg St. John, over to Parkway Bakery and Tavern, reopened about a year and a half ago after 75 years of operation under its original owners, and eight years of closure. What new proprietor Jay Nix has wrought is pretty much perfect realizations of the classic New Orleans poor boy, to wit:

Fried ersta po-boy

That's a fried oyster poor boy, dressed. Big, plump and perfectly fried in a seasoned cornmeal batter, crisp and hot. Hoo, boy. Just about as good as it gets.

Hot sausage!

That's a hot sausage poor boy, dressed, and done properly with patties, not links. Creole hot sausage is one of the two greatest non-seafood poor boy fillings, and is completely unique to New Orleans; there's nothing else like it anywhere. It was great, too; very peppery (both red and black), garlicky and well-seasoned. As it turned out, we didn't make it to Gene's this time, so I'm really glad I got the hot sausage here.

Roast beef

That's a roast beef poor boy, also dressed. "Profoundly beefy" is one of the best descriptions I've ever read of what a New Orleans roast beef poor boy should taste like, and this was a superb example. Not a whole lot of additional seasoning on this roast beef, but as you can see, it even looks tender, all on the verge of becoming debris, and melting in your mouth.

That, plus a pile of Hubig's Pies along with free Blue Bell ice cream (served by The World's Happiest Poor Boy Restaurant Cashier, who said "I'm so happy right now, I think I'm about to hallucinate") made for a supremely fine meal. (Urp.)

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Monday, May 16, 2005

Good news!   The Supreme Court has struck down state bans on interstate wine shipments, meaning that people across the country can now buy wine directly from out-of-state vineyards.

This is great news for wine lovers, as well as small vintners without large distribution networks who can now sell their wines directly from the wineries nationwide.

Pass the corkscrew!

Quotes of the day.   Broadcasting veteran Bill Moyers, one of the most respected broadcast journalists in history, "closed the National Conference on Media Reform in St. Louis on Sunday with his first public response to the revelation that White House allies on the board of directors of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting have secretly been holding PBS in general -- and his show in particular -- to a partisan litmus test." Among his comments:

"The more compelling our journalism, the angrier the radical right of the Republican Party gets," he explained. "That's because the one thing they loathe more than liberals is the truth. And the quickest way to be damned by them as liberal is to tell the truth."

"An unconscious people, an indoctrinated people, a people fed only partisan information and opinion that confirm their own bias, a people made morbidly obese in mind and spirit by the junk food of propaganda, is less inclined to put up a fight, ask questions and be skeptical. And just as a democracy can die of too many lies, that kind of orthodoxy can kill us, too."

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Sunday, May 15, 2005

An important message from Robert Hess at the Museum of the American Cocktail:

We are registered as a 501(c)3 "Non Profit" organization. Our operating expenses are funded by the dues paid by our membership base, as well as donations from our sponsors. In order to retain our Non-Profit status, our membership income has to be a certain pecentage of our financial base, and at the current time we are in danger of falling below that level. Which means we need to focus on getting new members.

I'd like to extend an invitation to all of you to become a member of The Museum of the American Cocktail, and assist us in trying to provide a venue for educating people in the historical and culinary significance of the cocktail.

Membership in the Museum is at three different levels:

Standard: $35 per year
This level is intended for bartenders, students, and anyone who is interested in cocktails in general. You get a 15% discount on seminars and other museum related purchases.

Gold: $75 per year
This level is intended for "Cocktailians", bartenders or other individuals who are motivated to help spread the word of the culinary cocktail. You get a 20% discount on seminars and other museum related purchases.

Industry: $150 per year
This level is intended for bars and restaurants, and includes a 20% discount on seminars and other museum related purchases.

If you would like to sign up, you can do so online here.

Thanks for your time, and if you have any questions, just let me know.

-Robert Hess

The Museum needs our help. I know that many of you who read this weblog are cocktailians, so whether you're well-seasoned or a rank beginner, we need to have you on board.

Please join the Museum today! Most of your membership is tax-deductible, and you'll be helping to support the world's only cocktail museum. If you have a Ruth's Chris Steak House in your city, keep an eye out as well; the Museum has made a deal with Ruth's Chris to host travelling cocktail seminars, and your membership gives you a discount on the admission fee!

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Friday, May 13, 2005

Waiting for the other shoe to drop.   If I were triskaidekaphobic, I'd be hiding under the bed today, particularly considering the amazing run of luck I had yesterday. I'd better make sure someone doesn't drop a grand piano on me as I'm walking down the sidewalk today.

I got a fix-it ticket in February for a burned-out taillight, and of course I, being me, waited until the last minute to get it taken care of. This meant my having to go downtown to Traffic Court on the final due date for the ticket, which was yesterday. Such a proposition is generally a nightmare, and I steeled myself for a most unpleasant morning.

Freeway traffic wasn't bad at all, oddly enough, but as I turned onto S. Hill Street and approached the courthouse, my heart sank -- there was a line of approximately 300 people stretching out the front door of the courthouse and wrapping around the block. (Fuck.) I passed the courthouse to look for parking, and immediately past it was a huge, welcoming sign that said, "TRAFFIC COURT PARKING, FLAT FEE -- $7.00" (Double fuck.)

Muttering a litany of hideously foul obscenities, I flipped around the corner to see if there was anything I could do about the parking situation, as it is a violation of ever fiber of my being to pay that much to park my car, and as I approached the courthouse again I quickly pulled into a Marie Laveau parking spot (my term for an impossibly unlikely parking place found in an area where it's incredibly difficult to park, and which couldn't possibly be any more convenient to my destination). It was about a quarter of a block and across the street from the court ... perfect! Well, at least one thing is going well today, I thought. I removed anything looking remotely valuable from the car, including a sweatshirt that was nearly a rag, and stuck it in the trunk.

Upon looking at the parking meter, I saw that the person who had just vacated that space had left me over 90 minutes of time on it. Wow, thanks, mystery person, I thought. Given its location I figured I'd need to deposit 50¢ for every 7.5 minutes to get the meter up to its 2-hour maximum, but no ... it only wanted a dime.

I grabbed the book I had just started, wondering if I'd finish it in that appalling line, and thought that if I was still in line after an hour I'd have to call into work to tell them I'd probably be late. To the end of the line I went, sighing with resignation, and didn't even get a chance to open my book before I was greeted by a nice courthouse lady who asked me what I was there for. "Fix-it ticket," I said. She asked if the correction had already been certified, which it had, by a CHP officer the previous day. "You need to go through that door to the left," she said, pointing.

"Oh, that door over there ... with nobody waiting to get in through it?"

"That's the one."

I went inside, and it was a large room lined with cashier's windows, and herding ropes the likes of which they actually needed outside, rather than in there. There were five people in line ahead of me.

In and out, zip zip zip ... and I had plenty of time. It wass only about 8:40. What to do then? How about going to breakfast? At Grand Central Market!

I love L.A.'s downtown Grand Central Market -- tons of food stalls, fresh produce, spices and chiles and moles and herbs and botánica stuff. Thing is, it's notoriously difficult to park around there. There's a structure adjacent, but it costs money unless you purchase a certain amount inside. Grr.

Fortunately, there was a Marie Laveau parking spot ... directly across the street from the main market entrance.

Hmm, what to do now? I found myself drawn to a stall advertising "Productos Latinos", where the nice Korean lady running it (ah, I love L.A.) was putting out some apparently freshly made mole paste of a kind with which I wasn't familiar -- Mole Teloloapan. I read later that it comes from the state of Guerrero in Mexico, and is described as "super-red, chocolatey and nutty, with a nice bite that's high and flavor and low in heat; you feel instant heat, but it doesn't last." Sounds good to me, and at the time it looked and smelled really good. (I adapted my old friend Luis' rule of thumb for eating from street food stalls in Mexico: "If it smells good, go for it. If it looks like it's been sitting around in the sun all day, it probably has.")

Half a pound of mole Teloloapan cost me the princely sum of $2.25. Enough crushed red pepper to last me a year? $1. As I was putting my change away, a ratner intent-looking Latino gentleman came up to the counter and without speaking, gestured four upraised fingers to the lady. She broke into a big smile and said, "I got 'em for you, like always!" He paid quickly and departed just as quickly. I wondered if he needed an actual fix of whatever was in those bottles to keep the creepy-crawlies off of him. The lady noted my puzzlement and said, "It's his favorite hot sauce." I asked to see what it was, and she had one bottle left. If he was so intent on getting that stuff, I figured it was worth looking into.

"How much?"

"Eighty cents."

"I'll take it."

Salsa Huichol, family-owned since 1949, apparently named for the indigenous, Aztec-descended Huichol people and made from cascabel chiles grown in the Nayar Mountains in the state of Nayarit in Mexico. And cheap. And hot. And really tasty.

I decided on a somewhat unlikely breakfast -- a carnitas taco. One little taco. I was being really well-behaved. The next stall I came across was just opening, with piles of just-prepared meats that looked incredible -- carne asada, spiced chicken, lengua, and lots more. I ordered my taco, which was two bucks -- kind of expensive, double what they charge at the taco truck in our neighborhood (more on that later). I watched as the server prepared it, putting one medium-sized corn tortilla on a paper plate and plopping an absolutely Gargantuan mountain of pork onto it. "Cilantro, onions, salsa?" Yes please. "Hot or mild?" Silly question.

He threw a few more tortillas on top, charged me another buck for a melon agua fresca, and there was breakfast. As it turned out, there was enough meat and tortillas there for four well-stuffed tacos, which I augmented with my newly-purchased Salsa Huichol. The carnitas was very porky, salty, crispy at the edges and marvelously tender, just perfect. It worked out to be cheaper than the truck, as I had ended up paying about 50¢ for each of these tacos. Look at all this food, I thought. This is way more than I should be eating; I don't even have more than three of the little tacos as dinner, and I've got four bigger ones here. Just use the rule -- eat half, and dump or save the rest.

It was too good. I scarfed them all.

9:30, and time to head to work. I was ten minutes late, and nobody even noticed. I had never been so glad to have procrastinated in paying a ticket before. What a lovely, lovely morning.

I'm probably doomed.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Thursday, May 12, 2005

The Digital Dish is here!   Upstart publisher and editor (and Looka! reader) Owen Linderholm emailed me several months ago about an idea he had -- a book that would include food writing from a wide variety of food-related weblogs. I was honored to be asked to contribute, and now after lots of hard work, the fruit of our labor is ready for harvest.

Digital Dish

Digital Dish: Five Seasons of the Freshest Recipes and Writing from Food Blogs Around the World was published last week, and is available for order now. Besides myself, there are over 20 other food webloggers participating. It's a great idea -- food writing is forever, in my opinion, whereas a great deal of weblog writing is as ephemeral as it gets -- and a terrific project; I hope you'll buy one (or several!) Here's a little preview: the book's introduction, and profiles of all the participating weblogs and their authors (.pdf file).

Digital Dish is $19.95, plus $5 for handling and 2-day shipping (CA residents will add sales tax). For shipments outside the U.S., it's a US$11 fee for shipping.

Click this button for shipping within the U.S.:
or this button for shipments outside the U.S.:

Although it's listed at Amazon, please buy it here, 'cause that way I get the money for it, rather than the huge evil faceless corporation. Hey, ain't nothin' wrong with an author gettin' paid!

I'd be honored and thrilled to have my writing on your bookshelf, and not just as a fleeting glance at a transitory page on your computer monitor. It feels good to be published. Enjoy!

This Is The Dirty Dozen Brass Band Collection is released!   (Um, last month, actually; I've been a busy yet distracted boy lately.)

My latest record project is now available, compilation by me and liner notes by my good friend, music journalist Steve Hochman (of the Los Angeles Times and many other publications). TITDDBBC is the only record to cover the entirety of the Dirty Dozen's career, beginning with rare and until now out-of-print tracks from their debut album My Feet Can't Fail Me Now, all the way through their most recent release, Funeral for a Friend (a tribute to the late Tuba Fats).

It was a fun and enlightening project to work on. There were a few DDBB albums I was actually missing (especially their rare debut), so I acquired the rest of them, finding a frighteningly overpriced LP of the debut album in a shop in New Orleans. Then, I completely immersed myself in their music for almost a month. As much as I liked the DDBB, I must confess that I tended not to listen to them as much as other brass bands like Rebirth, and spending all that time being bathed in all their music opened my eyes to what incredible jazz and roots innovators they are. The song choices I made were presented to the band, who really dug the list and gave it their blessing, and so far the reviews have been good.

Here's the track listing:

This is the Dirty Dozen Brass Band Collection
  1. My Feet Can't Fail Me Now
    (Dirty Dozen Brass Band)

  2. Mardi Gras in New Orleans
    (Roy "Professor Longhair" Byrd)

  3. Blackbird Special
    (Dirty Dozen Brass Band)

  4. Oop Pop a Dah
    (Dizzy Gillespie)

  5. Charlie Dozen
    (Kirk Joseph of the DDBB)

  6. Freakish
    (Jelly Roll Morton)

  7. Cissy Strut
    (The Meters)

  8. Don't You Feel My Leg
    (Blue Lu Barker and Danny Barker)

  9. Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)
    (Marvin Gaye)

  10. Bongo Beep
    (Charlie Parker)

  11. Use Your Brain
    (Roger Lewis of the DDBB)

  12. John the Revelator

  13. Unclean Waters
    (Kevin Harris of the DDBB)

  14. Hannibal
    (Gregory Davis of the DDBB)

  15. Just a Closer Walk With Thee

Buy it from the Louisiana Music Factory, at your local independent record dealer, or if you must, here's a link to Amazon, the giant faceless corporation. Buy one or more today! (Man, am I hawkin' da products today, 'r wot?)

Oh, by the way, about that little round sticker on the CD shrink wrap that says "18 songs handpicked by the band", that would be ... not true. Handpicked by me, actually, and approved by the band.

(*slaps hand of marketing person*)

Hee hee.   From this week's issue of The Onion:

Scientology Losing Ground to New Fictionology

LOS ANGELES -- According to a report released Monday by the American Institute of Religions, the Church of Scientology, once one of the fastest-growing religious organizations in the U.S., is steadily losing members to the much newer religion Fictionology.

"Unlike Scientology, which is based on empirically verifiable scientific tenets, Fictionology's central principles are essentially fairy tales with no connection to reality," the AIR report read. "In short, Fictionology offers its followers a mythical belief system free from the cumbersome scientific method to which Scientology is hidebound."

Created in 2003 by self-proclaimed messiah Bud Don Ellroy, Fictionology's principles were first outlined in the self-help paperback Imaginetics: The New Pipe-Dream Of Modern Mental Make-Believe.

Fictionology's central belief, that any imaginary construct can be incorporated into the church's ever-growing set of official doctrines, continues to gain popularity. Believers in Santa Claus, his elves, or the Tooth Fairy are permitted.even view them as deities. Even corporate mascots like the Kool-Aid Man are valid objects of Fictionological worship.

[...] Church of Scientology public-relations spokesman Al Kurz said he was "shocked" when he learned that Fictionology is approaching the popularity of his religion.

"Scientology is rooted in strict scientific principles, such as the measurement of engrams in the brain by the E-Meter," Kurz said. "Scientology uses strictly scientific methodologies to undo the damage done 75 million years ago by the Galactic Confederation's evil warlord Xenu. We offer our preclear followers procedures to erase overts in the reactive mind. Conversely, Fictionology is essentially just a bunch of make-believe nonsense."

Does Fictionology have their lawyerly hit squads yet?

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Tuesday, May 10, 2005
Belated Happy Birthday, Christy!   Aah Jaysis, I knew I'd forget this; it was three days ago!

Christy Moore turned 60 years of age on Saturday, celebrating it with what sounds like a fantastic gig in Waterford. Sorry I missed it.

Oh list to the lay of the poor Irish harper
And scorn not the strain of his old withered hand
But remember those fingers could once move much sharper
To play merry tunes from his own native land.

At a Pattern or Fair he could twist his shillelagh
Or dance around the floor with his brogues filled with straw
Whilst all the young maidens for miles gathered round him
To hear Bold Phelim Brady The Bard Of Armagh.

Happy birthday, Christy. You and your mates changed my life about half a life ago. Thanks a million for all the great songs, tunes and craic since then. Let's have plenty more.

"Why haven't you been posting for the last four days? Where's our free content?!"

Because I'm lazy, and because you all will surely agree that time spent away from the computer (eating, drinking, reading and having relationships) is superior to time spent in front of the computer.

So there!

Bayona.   All my meals at Bayona have been memorable, for the company as well as for the food. I myself have never had a bad meal there (some people's mileage may vary); in fact, I've had nothing but excellent meals there. I've always had a soft spot in my heart for this place and for the cooking of Susan Spicer. Since this was the first fine restaurant I took Wes to in New Orleans, we decided it was time for another visit.

Bayona was also the site of our cocktail epiphany. Years ago we had had a vague dissatisfaction with the pathetic state of cocktails at 98% of the bars and restaurants we went to, just having begun our researches on how to imbibe higher quality concoctions and for kindred spirits who could help show us the path. It had also been many years since I had had a Sazerac, probably due to the fact that the last one I had at that time was undrinkable. (I won't say where, because it's a good place that now makes fine Sazeracs, if a bit too sweet, and was probably due to a single clueless bartender at the time. He had made me an opaque Sazerac that tasted of nothing but Herbsaint and seemed to have orange pulp floating o the top ... *shudder*). I saw Sazeracs on Bayona's drinks menu, along with a few other traditional New Orleans drinks, and decided to try one again just to see if perhaps my tastes had changed, or if theirs was better.

The Sazeracs they served us, served in a non-traditional manner in a cocktail glass, were in all other ways a revelation.

After having three or two more, I made the silly statement, "Jeez, too bad we can't just go around and try every Sazerac in town." To which Wes wisely and incredulously replied, "Why the hell not?" (We consequently had five more Sazeracs through the course of that afternoon and evening, in five different bars, and kept up that rate for the next few days.)

Our return to Bayona was for dinner on our first full day in town, Thursday the 21st of April, after that Gargantuan final meal at Uglesich's you read about last week. Fortunately we sat down for lunch at 11:30, and our dinner reservations weren't until 7, so there was sufficient time to get reasonably hungry again.

Of course, we kicked off the evening with Sazeracs, again served in a cocktail glass rather than the traditional Old Fashioned glass, and again, they were excellent. A little frothy; I prefer them stirred rather than shaken, but a relatively minor quibble. Enough bitters and not too much sugar; overly sweet Sazeracs are the bane of this drink in New Orleans. I once watched a bartender pour at least an ounce of simple syrup into my Sazerac and a place which shall go nameless for the moment.

Okay, appetizers -- for me, it was back to an old friend:

Just don't think about what part of the calf they come from, just enjoy them.

Sautéed Veal Sweetbreads with Potatoes, Mushrooms and Sherry Mustard Sauce. Crispy, tender inside, intensely rich yet still delicate. A few cubed beets added into the mix for color, and a sauce that was absolutely perfect for them. Don't be afraid of food like this; if questions like "what part of the calf does this come from?" bother you, don't ask them. Just say "sweetbreads" and they sound far lovelier than their actual name (which doesn't bother me). Food this good really deserves to be enjoyed.

Tasty wee birdies.

Wes began with the Crispy Smoked Quail Salad with Bourbon Molasses Vinaigrette. Since his birds were so tiny I only got the tiniest bite, but the smoke flavor was very appealing, skin nice and crispy, and the greens also included sliced apples with a toasted pecan topping. That vinaigrette was terrific, too; it's hard to go wrong with Bourbon and molasses, although if I try to reproduce it at home I'll go with cane syrup instead.

The first pompano dish of this trip.

My entrée selection kicked off my continuing taste for pompano on this trip, which I hadn't had in a while. It's pretty delicate in flavor, and can be easily overpowered by a gloppy sauce (like Antoine's pompano en papilotte, which is overkill). It's best almost nekkid, with accompaniments that complement and balance it rather than overpowering it. Chef Spicer did that well with a decidedly non-New Orleans version of this local favorite: Pan-roasted Pompano with Curried-Coconut Black Lentils and Fresh Mango & Spring Onion Chutney. A very tropical, Caribbean flavor to this dish, with the fish nicely nekkid except for the dollop of sweet, tangy but not overpowering chutney on top, with a bit of pappadam for garnish (!). The lentils were earthy as usual, with only a hint of the curry behind the coconut milk with which they'd been cooked. A few haricots verts so that I got a lil' vedge-a-tibble with it, and that made a lovely dish.

We like veal.  Get over it.

Wes chose the Grana Cheese & Sage Breaded Veal Cutlets with Polenta, Wild Mushrooms and Marsala Sauce. These weren't your typical New Orleans-style pannéed veal, they were thick, meaty cutlets that were rosy red on the inside, crispy and very well seasoned on the outside. I loved the Grana Padano cheese in the breading; it's a hard, "grainy" cheese of which the legendary Parmigiano-Reggiano ("The undisputed king of cheeses") comes from, although made in other parts of Italy and not in Parma. That said, my favorite breading has actual Parmigiano in it, but I'm just being picky. Polenta was the perfect accompaniment for this, as was the garnish of a little bitter leafy green; not sure which one, as I didn't get a taste.

Wines were by the glass; I had a Pike's 2003 Viognier from Australia, Wes had a 2002 Sang de Cailloux Vacqueyras from the southern Rhone valley. Yum.

Now, on to the most important course of the evening. We each ordered one, ate half and then swapped, which is way better than just splitting one! I'm not going to behave myself, dammit; I'm on vacation.

Including the majestic mousse.  (A mousse once bit my sister ... No realli!)

El Rey Chocolate Mousses with Dulce de Leche & Warm Cinnamon Churros. The mousse (which was delicious but not furious) was also blessed with a little chile powder, tequila and Grand Marnier, and was fabulous. It was a dessert I might have expected more in Los Angeles or perhaps Mexico City or Caracas, and was a nice surprise. El Rey is a Venezuelan chocolatier that's quickly becoming one of my very favorites, giving the fabled Valrhona a run for their money. (When Wes was given pieces of each in a blind tasting, he preferred the El Rey.) They use old-growth criollo strains of cacao, and is earthy and spicy and fruity and fabuloso. The churros went perfectly with the mousse, but it was kinda funny to see them on the plate with such an elegant dessert; they're so thoroughly non-fancy that the incongruity was entertaining. The recommended liquid accompaniment was Gran Ducque d'Alba Brandy from Spain, and I'll be wanting to pick up a bottle of that as soon as budget allows.

I know it was you, Semifreddo ... you broke my heart!  (Okay, that was bad ...)

Next after the swap, keeping up the theme of chocolate (because about 75% of the time I'm one of those people who think it's just not dessert unless there's chocolate involved), we had Bittersweet Chocolate Pecan Semifreddo with Bourbon Caramel, along with Francis Darroze Armagnac Réserve Speciale (oh boy, that's going to be an expensive trip to the liquor store). Rich and thick and gone in about 90 seconds, sitting atop a shortbread cookie with ground pecans.

Evan Christopher and Tom McDermott, at Donna's, in the dark

Believe it or not, after all that we actually managed to waddle over to Donna's to hear Evan Christopher and Tom McDermott (along with Shannon Powell, Matt Perrine and Michael Skinkus), some of our very favorite local musicians, for some fantastic jazz and ragtime and choros. It was full but not too crowded, not too hot, and we managed to get a place to sit for the majority of the time we were in there. Evan's an amazing, supremely expressive musician, and Tom never ceases to make my head spin when he plays. (He's got a brand-new album out, all in the Brazilian choro style -- in the context of their music, it's their equivalent of old jazz and ragtime -- with Brazilian choro musicians playing on Tom's original compositions in the style, plus some Bechet and Gottschalk for good measure.) We even managed to stay conscious through the end of the second set. (Sadly, that'd be the last time we'd manage late-night music clubbing for the entire visit.)

A few Jazzfest highlights, Day 1.   First day on the Fair Grounds was nothing short of spectacular, weather-wise. I can't remember the last time Jazzfest weather was this good, if ever. Mild temperature, gorgeous sun without being broiling, and a breeze that would have been chilly if it had been any cooler, but was just cool enough.

I only have one thing I do upon setting foot on the Fair Grounds each Jazzfest day, and that's head over to Food Area II, in the very same place every year, so familiar it's as if it were my own backyard, to head over to the stall that sells what's got to be the most underappreciated and unjustly unheralded food item at Fest: Creole's Stuffed Bread, from Lafayette.

Right there as expected, except more expensive.
A jewel. Natchitoches, Shmatchitoches.

Don't look like much, does it? Nope, just a lil' bun, with some meat inside. Perfectly browned bread filled with a mixture of ground meat, sausage, spices, cheese and peppers, seasoned to absolute perfection, and royally and effortlessly kicking the ass of the lauded Natchitoches Meat Pies (which don't hold a candle to these). They're the product of Creole's Lunch House in Lafayette, and as I have for many years I've greeted Mrs. Merlene Herbert, my very favorite food vendor at Fest (personally, not only for what she makes). She's been the first person I see at Fest for going on 20 years now, and it wouldn't be the same without her. I did manage to get a photo of her finally, for my own album, but I won't post it here; she didn't feel she was looking her best that day (kinda hard to look your best in a roasting hot food tent while wearing a hair net) and I know she wouldn't want me to. We love ya, Miss Merlene!

The other culinary highlight of Fest that day:

Pig!  Pig!  Pig!

Ahhhh ... cochon de lait poor boy. Pit-roasted pig, intensely smoky, meltingly tender, and "all debris", as they said in Da Paper. I still miss the cochon de lait of the old days, from the vendor that slopped them with gravy and sold french fried potato poor boys as well, plus that magnificent combo that was piiled with both pig and potatoes, and smothered in gravy. That was the sandwich that made my Israeli friend eat treyf for the first time.* Then they were replaced with another cochon de lait vendor that was markedly inferior, and we were sad. The current one took over from them, and they're pretty damned good, although I still miss those 'taters.

A few musical highlights:

The Magnolia Sisters. C.C. Adcock
John Boutté
Tim Laughlin The Anointed Jackson Sisters
Wilco Wilco

From top left: The Magnolia Sisters, an all-female Cajun band based in Eunice, features Ann Savoy and Jane Vidrine, plus Anya Schoenegge and Lisa Reed, doing not only traditional waltzes and two-steps but also the slow, often unaccompanied ballads that would have died out if they hadn't been passed along by Cajun women, from mothers to daughters. There aren't nearly enough women in Cajun music, and we love seeing them.

Swamp rock 'n roll from C.C. Adcock, who put on a great set as ever. John Boutté, my favorite singer in New Orleans, absolutely rules, whether he's singing R&B, soul, gospel, folk or jazz. He had a great choir of friends singing with him, and absolutely brought the house down. If you ever get a chance to see him, do so at all costs, especially if he's touring outside of New Orleans; I don't know how often he gets to do that.

Tim Laughlin, my old Holy Cross High School bandmate and I had the same music teacher when we were kids, the late Bill Bourgeois. He was a fantastic teacher, but it's obvious that the lessons really took with Tim, and not so much with me. Not only is he one of the finest jazz clarinetists in the city (or anywhere else), but he's just about the only one prolifically composing new tunes for the repertoire of traditional New Orleans-style jazz. As he puts it, as great as the classics are, how many times can you hear them over and over again? Tim put on a great set as ever, and it was a double pleasure to see and hear Tom McDermott at the piano with him.

A trip to the Gospel Tent (which unfortunately I didn't do nearly enough this Fest) for The Anointed Jackson Sisters, who were good but kinda slick for our tastes. Then ...

Wilco. What was that I was saying about how I can't stand all those mainstream rock bands that have nothing to do with either jazz or heritage coming to Jazzfest? Well, there's an exception to that -- such bands that I happen to like are fine. (Hypocrite, you say? Aah, ya mamma.) Besides, Wilco is far from mainstream, so there. I decided against seeing them indoors at the State Palace Theatre the night before, as we already had restaurant and music plans, and had really been looking forward to this set, albeit with a bit of trepidation. I wasn't sure how they were going to sound outdoors, in front of a huge crowd that is often more interested in talking and drinking beer than listening to the music, especially farther back from the stage. My fears were partially realized, as some of their stuff seemed to work a little less well in this kind of venue. Fortunately, as the set continued, the guys seemed to get more into the groove of playing outdoors, and by the end they were crankingly fine.

Wind-down and dinner with the Fat Pack came later, but I'm too lazy to post about that now.

(* -- Oh yeah, the asterisk. Almost forgot. Okay, in 1991 my friend Doron, who was born and raised in Israel, came with his then-girlfriend Francine down to Jazzfest. On our first day there I of course made a beeline for the cochon de lait poor boy stall around the middle of the day and began to devour my poor boy. The aroma of that poor boy, and the more massive aroma emanating from the stall, began to drive him to the brink of insanity.

"Oh my God!" he shouted. "That smells so good!" I told him exactly what it was, and he seemed a little anguished, undecided, and then finally blurted, "Fuck eet." He went over there and bought a large one, with gravy and potatoes. He came back over to me, gently unwrapped it, took a huge sniff, whereupon an expression of sheer bliss crossed his face. As he prepared to take a bite he hesitated, turned to me and said, "So this is all pig?" "Yep, I'm afraid so," I replied." His eyes took on a look of steely determination and he said, "Oh well. My poor mother." And took a huge bite. The whole thing was gone in about three minutes.

As my friend Steve said, "You made a nice Jewish boy eat treyf? You are so going to Sheol.")

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  Friday, May 6, 2005

Uglesich's Restaurant and Bar: 1924 - May 6, 2005.   All y'all who're there today ... enjoy every oyster.

Anthony and Gail Uglesich, hard at work, April 21, 2005

And it's over today ...

After our last Uggie's meal.

Anthony and Gail, thanks a million for so many great meals over the years, and giving us the gift of just about the best fried oysters and soft shell crabs anywhere. John, thanks for getting our dishes to the table without fussing at us (well, 'cause we were always so well-behaved). Michael, thanks fa shuckin' all dem ersters.

I think I'll fix me some Shrimp Uggie for dinner this Sunday.

UPDATE: There's a sweet little story about Uglesich's closing on NPR's "All Things Considered" today.

Da Box Set soars at Fest!   Me and da Box Set Okay, I have to confess ... while we were on the Fair Grounds, Wes and I went to the Record Tent every day (okay, two or three times a day) to discreetly see how Doctors, Professors, Kings and Queens: The Big Ol' Box of New Orleans (aka, "Da Box Set") was selling. "Hey," Wes would say to someone who'd pick it up. "That's a terrific set. You from out of town? Man, what a great look at the city's music scene." Smile, nod, walk away with Box Set. Hee hee.

We were pretty shameless. We'd not only plug it to bystanders who were eyeing it, we'd ask people at the Record Tent and at other local shops how it had been selling during Fest. "Fantastic," said a salesguy I didn't know at the Louisiana Music Factory. "We had to order another case of them, in fact. Pretty darn good set, too -- a great overview!" I thanked him for saying so, without mentioning that I was the one who put it together. I was glad to hear nie things about it from the folks at the Factory; Barry Smith, the Factory's owner, had told me a few months ago that it sold well over Christmas as well, and that he also had really liked it. That means a lot, coming from a hardcore local music person such as himself.

So yes, we had heard that it was doing really well, but confirmation came in today's Times-Picayune in Keith Spera's article about record sales at Fest, in the form of actual rankings (Thanks, Michael!):

Jazzfest proved again that discounted pricing, when matched with the right product, is a powerful sales incentive.

The Shout! Factory box set "Doctors, Professors, Kings & Queens: The Big Ol' Box of New Orleans," is among the most diverse New Orleans collections ever, with such usual suspects as Professor Longhair and the Neville Brothers augmented by lesser-known local club favorites such as the Hot Club of New Orleans and Leigh "Little Queenie" Harris.

The box set lists for around $60, but Tower sold it for $44.95 and the Virgin tent offered it for $41. "Doctors, Professors, Kings & Queens" wound up as the sixth-best-selling item at the Virgin Records tent and the 15th-best-selling release at Tower during Jazzfest.

"That's amazing," said Tower's Mike Robeson, "for a four-CD set to be in the Top 20."

The end result? As should be the case during Jazzfest, many tourists went home toting a big ol' box of New Orleans.

Yeah you rite! Thanks a million to everyone who bought one. To everyone who hasn't bought one ... buy one, fa Gawd's sake!

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  Thursday, May 5, 2005

It ain't over until it's over (which is Friday).   He's been talking about it for years. He never really did it, so we never really believed him, even though we knew it was inevitable. The day has come, though -- Anthony Uglesich is closing Uglesich's Restaurant this Friday, after 81 years in business.

Part of me is really sad -- I've always loved the food there, and had some of the best fried soft shell crabs of my entire life there (especially when you go in and ask what's good that day, and Anthony immediately says to forget everything else and get the crabs). I remember being able to go there when there was no blocks-long line, when it was an open secret of New Orleans chefs and people who worked downtown, before the tourists discovered it several years back. I remember any number of moan-and-pound-on-the-table moments.

The other part of me really thinks that Anthony and Gail need to take it easy. They've been working their butts off, starting at 4:30am, for 50 years. They deserve it.

Still, I'm glad that Anthony suspects he'll be back in some form after the summer, with just appetizers on the menu. I wouldn't care if all he served were those fried oysters with blue cheese vinaigrette ...

Our last meal at Uglesich's.   Maybe it wont' be; maybe we'll be able to go back next year and have a few small plates of terrific food over on Baronne and Erato. But probably, this was our last full meal there, on Thursday, April 21.


There was already a line by the time we got there at 10:20am, and they had already opened. I think everyone knew this was going to be their last chance, and the line contained locals as well as out-of-towners (both knowledgable and mindbogglingly clueless). Wes and I met up with Dave, Nettie and Robin again, and had a blast hanging out in line until we were able to get in and order after about half an hour (a mere blink of an eye).

We chatted with Anthony as we tried to decide what we'd all get (five orders of the oysters, as everyone wanted a whole order for themselves) plus four or five other appetizers to share, plus poor boys and plates. He excused himself to answer the telephone, and his side of the conversation went something like this:

"Uglesich. No ma'am, no reservations, you come and get in line. What? No ma'am, we're a seafood restaurant. Seafood only. You haven't done your homework, have you? You've never heard of us? I guess you're not a foodie! Wh-- I don't know about that, ma'am, but come on over if you want. Look, I'm really busy right now, I got people goin' out the door and down the block." *click*

To us, he said, "She said she was born and raised here, older lady, but she'd never been here, never even heard of us, but someone told her we were closing soon and that she should go. I told her we were seafood only, and she said that her favorite meal is a hamburger at McDonald's!" We gasped and laughed, and expressed our utter astonishment that a native New Orleanian could be like that, and then Anthony added, "Y'know, I've never been to a McDonald's in my life."

"You ain't missin' nothin', Mr. Anthony," I assured him.

As is the usual way at Uglesich's, you wait in line to order, then you wait around inside before a table opens up. If you're smart, you quaff one of Gail's perfect Bloody Marys (singing with horseradish) or have some raw oysters and the three-foot oyster bar. The place is tiny, 10 little tables, and the intricate juggling act of who sits where and when is handled by John, their longtime (and usually only) waiter. Probably one of the hardest-working waiters in New Orleans, John's speed, efficiency and sardonic sense of humor has always been a fun part of a Uggie's visit, but we knew never to get on his bad side, unlike some unfortunate others. Just as we were about to get to the table for six that John had cleared for us, two other parties of clueless tourists who apparently knew each other decided unilaterally to take that table and push it together so that they could all sit together, then proceeded to do the deed and sit.

This was likely to be the worst mistake they'd made all week.

John, bless his overworked heart, let out an enraged bellow that they had turned his finely tuned symphony of tables into a "clusterfuck", and proceeded to chew them up and spit them out into little wads. The entire restaurant fell silent as he continued to berate them as I've never seen a waiter berate a customer before. Clearly they didn't understand that John was the master of his domain. I kinda felt sorry for them (there are many who would say that a server should never speak to a customer in this way, and I'm usually one of them), but they also kinda asked for it; they really did screw him up, and thanks to them we had to wait longer for another table to open up. Apparently the ranting was a little much for management, as Anthony asked him to cool it, but he had it out for that party for the rest of their stay. They'd meekly ask him a question, and he'd reply, "No. I'm punishing you." We loved him. I left a larger tip to help make up for the tip he inevitably wasn't going to get from the clueless-tourist party.

Okay, let's get down to business.

One of the best dishes in the universe.

Fried oysters, topped with blue cheese vinaigrette, on a bed of shredded lettuce. Sounds simple, don't it? It's a quintessential example of the whole being far, far greater than the sum of its parts. Part one is pretty feckin' fantastic -- perfectly fried oysters, in a crispy, well-seasoned cornmeal crust. Uglesich is a Croatian name, and Croatian immigrants and their descendants have had the lock on the best oysters in south Louisiana since they began arriving in the late 1800s. If the surname ends in "sich" or "vich", baby, you wanna eat their ersters. I love fried oysters so much I could just sit there and eat a whole plate of them, unadorned. These oysters, however, were anointed with a dose of a blue cheese vinaigrette that's light years-removed from gooey, thick blue cheese salad dressings. The dressing is light yet pungent with blue cheese flavor, and an absolutely perfect complement to those oysters, the two ingredients catalyzing an alchemic reaction that transmutes a seemingly simple dish into gustatory gold.

Ya think we like dem ersters, Chief? Ya right.

Another perfect dish -- shrimp and bacon and sweet potatoes and sugar and spice ...

I was going to get Firecracker Shrimp, which is like BBQ Shrimp topped with horseradish cream sauce, but Anthony said no. When he vetoes one of your ideas, you always go with what he says, because he's always right. He thought I'd enjoy a newer dish better: Shrimp and Bacon on Sweet Potato Purée. Three bacon-wrapped (I'm your slave already, with that one adjective) shrimp, grilled and served atop sweet potatoes with about a pound of brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and topped with bacon crumbles. Good, good, good, good, good. (This was too new for the cookbook, but I know I can make this at home.)

Ecstasy indeed.

Another new dish recommendation, this time to Robin, who was kind enough to get two and share it with the table. Ecstasy -- Shrimp sautéed in extra virgin olive oil, with a sherry and lime dressing, over lettuce and served with blue cheese dipping sauce with a touch of Gruyère. VERY different from the blue cheese dressing on the oysters, and again ... seemingly simple, but the combination of flavors really made this dish. That sherry-lime dressing was amazing.

Works almost as well as with the green tomatoes.

I didn't hear this getting ordered -- I'm not sure if he was out of green tomatoes, or if this was a recommended variation -- but the Fried Mirlitons with Shrimp Rémoulade were great too. Usually this is fried green tomatoes, a dish Anthony is famous for but which originated at Upperline Restaurant Uptown, but it worked almost as well with the mirliton.

Ahhhh ...

A longtime Uggie's favorite -- Shrimp and Grits. Just a breaded and fried grits cake, topped with small shrimp in a very well-seasoned cream sauce and some French bread to sop it all up. I remember the first time I tried this my head nearly fell off, it was so good. It seems that it's a little different now than it was before, but still lovely.

Now that we're done amusing our bouches, let's get down to the main courses:

Paul's Fantasy.

Paul's Fantasy -- Pan-fried trout topped with grilled shrimp and new potatoes. I love Shrimp Uggie, but I can make that at home now, and it was what I used to get most frequently. This one I hadn't had in a long time, and remember, I'm still on my trout kick. Green onions, olive oil, cayenne, parsley. Simple. Perfect.

I'm a hoochie-coochie main ...

Wes had Muddy Waters -- Pan-fried trout with muddy water sauce (chicken broth, anchovies, tons of garlic, gutted jalapeños) and Parmesan cheese. Very flavorful, not spicy at all. A lovely dish.

No coffee or dessert, as we know ... not that we would have had any place to put it if there had been. It was a fantastic time, and we couldn't have had a better time during our last Uggie's meal. We bade goodbye to Anthony, Gail, John and their oyster-shucker Michael, and then I left to fall in love with a painting.

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  Wednesday, May 4, 2005

Hoo-boy.   Weight on April 20, 2005: 162 lbs. Weight on May 4, 2005: 169 lbs.

I had a great trip.

I'm goin' home, via Chicago.   What kinda airline nutball routes a flight from Los Angeles to New Orleans through Chicago? (Apparently, the kinda nutball that offers such a flight for a fare of $185 return, and apparently we're the kinda nutballs who sign on.) It wasn't as bad as we thought it'd be, though, particularly since we got to try one of those great examples of regional American food for the first time -- the Chicago-style hot dog.

Usually I only have hot dogs once a year, at our friends' annual Labor Day Weekend Karaoke Barbecue (where they are, of course, bacon-wrapped), but according to our friend Gregg, a Chicago native, we needed to make an exception here. They did not fail to please -- meaty and spicy, with a skin that crackled and an array of crunchy toppings. We were a little concerned, however, about the fluorescent green pickle relish. I happened to glance toward the food prep area as the lady was assembling our dogs, and what caught my eye was a flash of color that we were fairly certain exists absolutely nowhere in Nature.

That's one yummy weenie. It's just not natural!

That plus an icy Sam Adams at an airport eatery and bar called the Prairie Tap, decorated in faux Frank Lloyd Wright, which made me wanna stay in the area for a while and head to Oak Park for a couple of days. However, we had lots of Louisiana food to eat and music to hear, and onward we went.

One interesting aspect of flying to New Orleans from Chicago is that I had never approached the city from the north before, and never had this particular view of the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway -- pretty neat. Seeing the city as we approached the south shore put me in a good mood right away.

Da Causeway. I'm happy.

Despite the fact that we had to be up at 4:30am to get ready and be picked up by the airport shuttle at 5:45am, were in the air all day and didn't get to New Orleans until 9:30pm in the L.A. time zone, we weren't about to let the rest of the evening to go waste. Some of the Fat Pack were already there, the rest were arriving the next day, so we met Diana, Robin, Nettie and Dave at their Faubourg St. John house, tried unsuccessfully to get into Dick and Jenny's (45-minute wait, at the end of which their kitchen would be closing), and decided to stick with our first idea for the visit's first meal -- we headed down Canal to Mandina's.

Mandina's, late in the evening.

They're open until 10:30, fortunately, and even though the restaurant was sparsely populated at that hour, the kitchen was not -- the food was, as usual, superb.

The drinks were as well, as always. I love going into a place with old-school bartenders who know how to make a feckin' Old Fashioned -- whiskey, sugar, bitters. No soda, no smashed fruit, just the good stuff. It came garnished with a cherry (which is fine) and a chunk of canned pineapple (which was weird, but easily removable). Damn, damn fine drink.

I can't go to Mandina's without having their Turtle Soup, which is one of the best in the city -- different from, but almost right up there with, the turtle soup at Commander's Palace, the apotheosis of turtle soup in New Orleans and a Platonic dish. To even put Mandina's version in the same paragraph as Commander's speaks very highly of them. Chopped egg, a drizzle of sherry, and lots of luscious turtle meat. Doesn't look like much more than muddy water in the picture, but don't let the picture fool you.

Second-best turtle soup in the country?

I was still in a trout mood from the last fine restaurant meal I'd had before we left, that lake trout with blueberry farro at Blair's in Silverlake, so I still had trout on the brain. The Trout Meunière, with that luscious brown butter and lemon sauce, is a no-brainer.

Trout meunière

Wes, who devours so much soft shell crab and duck when he's down here that I fear one day he'll turn into a creature with the head of a duck and the body of a soft shell crab (what would that be called, I wonder?), had the Soft Shell Crab Meunière.

Good LORD, look at the size of that crab!

Robin had the crab as well, and unfortunately I didn't get pictures of the other dishes. Nettie had Daube Creole over Spaghetti -- a chunk of beef roast that's been slowly braised in a Creole red gravy for hours until it's completely falling apart. This is a great, great old dish, and I'm inspired to make it at home as soon as I can. Dave had the Pannéed Veal, another old favorite of mine, which I think was half-gone before I could even think about getting over to his side of the table.

I did, however, manage to get a picture of our one addidtional indulgence. I hadn't had a Fried Potato Poor Boy in years and years. It's the original "poor boy sandwich", fried potatoes (y'know, French fries) on French bread and doused with lots of roast beef gravy and debris (y'know, the little bits of melt-in-your-mouth tender beef that fall apart from a roast that's braised almost forever). We got ours dressed, and were a bit gobsmacked that it came with gooey melted cheese also. This sucker went around the table a few times before it was gone. Good, although it could have used more gravy, and an Atkins-ite's worst nightmare. Heh.


We drank, and ate, and laughed, and ate, and laughed, and ate and laughed some more. What a great way to start a visit home. (Well, that and go to my sister's house and collapse into bed, exhausted and bloated.)

Column: "Hatred for gays has a creepy, familiar look."   I read this column by Leonard Pitts in the Times-Picayune yesterday. Their online articles only last a couple of weeks, so I thought it bore repeating:

"Gay Holocaust."

That was the subject line of an e-mail I received last week from "Chris," a lawyer in a red state. He wanted to know if anybody else sees a similarity between the beginning of the Holocaust -- the nibbling away of rights and personhood that ultimately led to the attempted extermination of a people -- and what is happening to gay people in America right now.

He knows it's far-fetched. "But," he says, speaking of the conservative element that is pushing hardest against gay rights, "we are not dealing with normal people here."

Chris concedes that there are differences between the plights of Jews and gays. "But they also have this in common -- at one time in history, that time being the present for gays, they were the object of official government-sponsored hatred couched in the name of religion or morals."

Here's what I think:

The Holocaust is an atrocity unique in history, and I'm wary of appending modifiers: the "this" holocaust or the "that" holocaust.

Which is not to say the lawyer is off base. I've long felt the current spate of laws -- you can't do this because you're gay, can't have that because you're lesbian -- bears a discomfiting resemblance to Germany in the 1930s.

Both spring from a mindset that says a given people is so loathsome, so offensive to our sensibilities, that we are obliged to place them outside the circle of normal human compassion. We don't have to hear their cries, don't have to respect their humanity, because they are less than we -- and are responsible for everything that scares or threatens us.

Whatever it is, it's all their fault. Blame them, whoever "them" may be.

My problem is that I see human dignity as all of a piece. I don't know how to want it for me and mine, but not for them and theirs. As Martin Luther King Jr. put it, we are caught in a network of mutuality. As Dick Cheney put it, freedom means freedom for everybody. As Cain put it, "Am I my brother's keeper?"

I always considered that the lesson of the Holocaust; always felt that in the largest sense, it was not about Jews and Aryans but about humanity and inhumanity. The Holocaust was hatred carried to its logical extreme, the predictable outcome of an environment where we countenance taking rights from "them," heaping scorn on "them," making scapegoats of "them."

And who can deny that this describes the plight of gay Americans in 2005? Or that demagogic lawmakers are using this environment to further their own ambitions?

There used to be an expression in Southern politics. The candidate who lost because he had been found to be insufficiently Draconian on racial issues was said to have been "out-niggered." These days, the worry seems to be that one might be "out-homoed." Consider, for instance, a law under consideration in Alabama to ban books with gay characters from public school libraries.

Books. With gay characters.

It prompted a group of gay Alabamans to rise before a legislative committee and ask a pregnant question.

Why do you hate us?

The same thing could have been asked by an Armenian in 1915, by a Bosnian Muslim in 1992, by a Rwandan in 1994 and, yes, by a Jew, in 1936.

We just don't learn.

Ours is a stable and prosperous democracy, so no, I don't predict train cars full of gays rolling toward death factories. Still, the mindset of aggrieved righteousness that allowed those trains to roll is not dissimilar from that which would ban books about gay people from public school libraries.

Maybe your instinct is to find the comparison unthinkable. Nobody is interning gays or mass murdering them.

You're right. But ask yourself: How many would if they could?

One feels complelled to mention that gays were included in the Holocaust; gay men were also systematically rounded up and sent to extermination camps in Nazi Germany.

I'd sure like to hear some of these self-proclaimed Christians (especially the ones who are pathologically incapable of minding their own business or focusing on their own family) talk about what they love rather than what they hate.

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