the gumbo pages

looka, <lʊ´-kə> dialect, v.
1. The imperative form of the verb "to look"; in the spoken vernacular of New Orleans, it is 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, cocktails as cuisine, music (especially of the roots variety), New Orleans and Louisiana culture, news of the reality-based community ... and occasionally 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.

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New Orleans music for disaster relief

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 directly from Shout! Factory Records, where all profits will be donated to New Orleans disaster relief through the end of March 2006.

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

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:
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!

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

July 2006
June 2006
May 2006
April 2006
March 2006
February 2006
January 2006

2005:   Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.

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.

My Photos on Flickr
My Darlin' New Orleans...

The Flag of The City of New Orleans

Shop New Orleans! Visit the stores linked here to do your virtual online shopping in New Orleans. The city needs your money!

Greater N.O. Community Data Center
New Orleans Wiki

Gambit Weekly & The Times-Picayune
Scat Magazine
WDSU-TV (Channel 6, NBC)
WGNO-TV (Channel 26, ABC)
WNOL-TV (Channel 38, WB)
WTUL-FM (91.5, Progressive radio)
WVUE-TV (Channel 8, FOX)
WWL-TV (Channel 4, CBS)
WWNO-FM (89.9, classical, jazz, NPR)
WWOZ-FM (90.7, Best Radio Station in the Universe)
WYES-TV (Channel 12, PBS)


New Orleans ...
proud to blog it home.

2 Millionth Weblog
A Frolic of My Own
Dispatches from Tanganyika
Home of the Groove
Humid City
Hurricane Katrina Aftermath
Library Chronicles
Mellytawn Dreams
Metroblogging N.O.
People Get Ready
Da Po'Blog
Suspect Device Blog
The Third Battle of New Orleans
World Class New Orleans
The Yat Pundit
Your Right Hand Thief
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 in 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.)

*     *     *

Peychaud's Bitters
   (Indispensible for Sazeracs
   and many other cocktails.
   Order them here.)

Angostura Bitters
   (The gold standard of bitters,
   fortunately available everywhere
   worldwide. Insist on it.)

Regans' Orange Bitters No. 6
   (Complex and spicy orange
   bitters for your Martinis,
   Old Fashioneds and many more.
   Order them here.)

Fee Brothers' Bitters
   (Classic orange bitters,
   peach bitters and a cinnamony
   "Old Fashion" aromatic bitters.
   Skip the mint variety, though.)

*     *     *

The Alchemist
   (Paul Harrington)

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

Ardent Spirits
   (Gary & Mardee Regan)

The Art of Drink:
   An exploration of Spirits & Mixology.
   (Darcy O'Neil)

Beachbum Berry:
   (Jeff Berry, world-class expert
   on tropical drinks)

The Cocktail Chronicles
   (Paul Clarke's weblog)

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

Drink Trader
   (Online magazine for the
   drink trade)

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)

Martini Republic: Drinks
   (featuring posts by Dr. Cocktail!)

The Ministry of Rum
   (Everything you always wanted to know)

The Modern Mixologist
   (Tony Abou-Ganim)

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

Nat Decants
   (Natalie MacLean)

Spirit Journal
   (F. Paul Pacult)

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

Vintage Cocktails
   (Daniel Reichert)

The Wormwood Society
   (Dedicated to promoting accurate,
   current information about absinthe)

Let's eat!

New Orleans:
Culinary Concierge (N.O. food & wine magazine)
Mr. Lake's Non-Pompous New Orleans Food Forum
Notes from a New Orleans Foodie

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

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

In vino veritas.

The Oxford Companion to Wine
Wine Enthsiast
The Wine Spectator
Wine Today
Zinfandel Advocates & Producers

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

Other wine/spirits shops we visit:
Beverage Warehouse, Mar Vista
Wally's Wine & Spirits, Westwood
The Wine House, West L.A.

Reading this month:

Soul Kitchen, by Poppy Z. Brite.

Blue Monday: Fats Domino and the Lost Dawn of Rock 'n Roll, by Rick Coleman.

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

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
Toasted Heretic
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

Talking furniture:

WWOZ (New Orleans)
   Broadcast schedule
   Live audio stream

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

Bob Walker's New Orleans Radio Shrine
   (A rich history of N.O. radio)
   (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)

Films seen this year:
(with ratings):

In the cinema:
Syriana (****)
Match Point (****)
Underworld Evolution (**)
Munich (****)
Transamerica (****)
The New World (****)
V for Vendetta (****)
The Frighteners (***1/2)
Eating Out (**)
Dead and Buried (***)
Heavenly Creatures (****)
Minority Report (****)
Tarnation (***)
Crash (**)
The Constant Gardener (***-1/2)

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


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, 6, 7.)

My photographs at Flickr


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

Suspect Device,
by Greg Peters

Ted Rall,
by Ted Rall

This Modern World,
by Tom Tomorrow

XQUZYPHYR & Overboard,
by August J. Pollak


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)
PostSecret (Secrets sent in via postcards; astonishingly beautiful, funny and sad.)
Talking Points Memo (Josh Marshall)
TAPPED (The American Prospect Online)
Think Progress
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
Ethel the Blog
Un Fils d'un État Rouge
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
Martini Republic
Mister Pants
More Like This
Mr. Barrett
Neil Gaiman's Journal
News of the Dead
No More Mr. Nice Guy!
Not Right About Anything
August J. Pollak
Q Daily News
Real Live Preacher
Respectful of Otters
Roger "Not That One" Ailes
Ted Rall
Sadly, No!
This Modern World
Whiskey Bar
What's In Rebecca's Pocket?
Your Right Hand Thief

Matthew's GLB blog portal

L.A. Blogs

Friends with pages:

mary katherine
michael p.
tracy and david

The Final Frontier:

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


Locus Magazine Online
SF Site


"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

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.)

LOOKA!Bia agus deoch, ceol agus craic.

 "Eating, drinking and carrying on..."  -- Adelaide Brennan

  Thursday, August 31, 2006

Good news at last!   The Camellia Grill, which has been closed for a year, has been bought and will be reopened:

The Camellia Grill

On Sunday, Hicham Khodr completed what he said was a seven-month negotiation to purchase the Camellia Grill. On Monday, he vowed to reopen the restaurant, which has sat idle since Hurricane Katrina, as soon as possible.

"I'm working hard to put it together," Khodr said. "I wish I could open it tomorrow. But it's going to take some work."

Khodr said the work required at the iconic Riverbend diner is largely cosmetic. The building suffered no flood damage, but for months it has served as a three-dimensional canvas for a particularly heartfelt, post-K brand of graffiti.

Its facade is papered with Post-it notes penned by customers sharing memories and wishing the 60-year-old diner would reopen already.

Notes from Wesly and me are among those which adorn the building.

Love notes to the Camellia Grill

Khodr is a longtime, behind-the-scenes figure on the New Orleans restaurant scene. He is a partner in Byblos, the local mini-chain of Mediterranean restaurants, and Table One, which opened for the first time shortly after the city reopened last fall. He's also a partner in NOLA, Emeril Lagasse's French Quarter restaurant.

Khodr said his first priority is to get the Camellia back up and running in New Orleans, although he is interested in eventually opening additional locations... He did, however, promise the Camellia's legion of fans that the diner is in good hands. He said he'd welcome any former employees who wished to return, adding that those who did will recognize the Camellia as the restaurant they knew before it shuttered.

Potato, onion and cheese omelette. Pecan waffle. Chocolate freeze with ice cream. As soon as possible!

Money for nothing.   From Foreign Policy magazine: "The United States received hundreds of millions in foreign aid last year, after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast. But what happened to the money? One year later, the fate of international disaster assistance has turned into a tale of inept bureaucracy, diplomatic bungling, and unspent cash."

When shocking scenes of devastation unfolded on television screens last August, the world was incredulous that the sole superpower could get its own crisis so very wrong. Relief offers poured in from abroad. China chipped in $5 million. Tiny Brunei gave $1 million. Even countries with little to give dug deep. Bangladesh sent $1 million, Rwanda wired $100,000, and Afghanistan coughed up $99,800. The United Arab Emirates was the biggest donor, doling out more than $99 million. By years end, the U.S. State Department had received $126 million from 36 countries and international organizations. (Other countries, such as Canada, India, Kuwait, and Turkey chose to donate directly to the American Red Cross or the Bush-Clinton Hurricane Katrina Fund.)

And it wasnt just cash that poured in. Other countries sent planeloads of tents, blankets, and Meals Ready to Eat, but the United States was ill-prepared to handle the largesse while residents were still trying to evacuate. Some offers were declined. But oftentimes the government accepted supplies like bandages, food, and cots and then allowed them to sit for months in Arkansas warehouses. According to a report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released in April, FEMA and the State Department paid tens of thousands of dollars in warehouse storage fees in the months after Katrina to house unused supplies from foreign countries.

The donated cash met a different fate. By late October, the State Department had allocated $66 million of the $126 million in international assistance to FEMA, which then granted it to the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), the nonprofit aid arm of the United Methodist Church. With the funds, UMCOR established Katrina Aid Today, a consortium of nine national aid agencies dedicated to case-management work for Katrina evacuees. But to date, only $13 million has actually been disbursed, and it has been allocated almost exclusively to salaries and training for case workers, not to evacuees.

As for the rest of the funds, some $60 million languished for more than six months in a non-interest-bearing account at the U.S. Treasury. Had the money been placed in Treasury securities, the GAO report notes, their value would have increased by nearly $1 million by the end of February. Instead, inflation meant the funds actually decreased in value as the government stalled. In mid-March, the Department of State finally agreed to sign over the remainder to the Department of Education for teacher salaries, books, and new school buildings along the Gulf Coast. But the Department of Education has yet to spend a dime. In response to inquiries from Foreign Policy, a spokesperson said that an announcement will be made this week regarding how the department intends to use the money.

Just when you don't think this government could possibly get any worse, you read something like this (and the trouble is, you read something like this almost every day now). Aren't you proud to be American?

It gets worse.   In case you missed Donald Rumsfeld's "ghastly" speech Tuesday in which he declares that "today's terrorists pose the same threat as yesterday's Nazis; critics of the war in Iraq are like the appeasers before World War II; the real problem is that 'the media' spreads 'lies' and 'myths' about how the war is going," Slate's Fred Kaplan provides a brief recap, and Keith Olbermann offers a commentary:

The man who sees absolutes, where all other men see nuances and shades of meaning, is either a prophet, or a quack.

Donald H. Rumsfeld is not a prophet.

We end the countdown where we began, our #1 story. with a special comment on Mr. Rumsfelds remarkable speech to the American Legion yesterday. It demands the deep analysis - and the sober contemplation - of every American.

For it did not merely serve to impugn the morality or intelligence - indeed, the loyalty - of the majority of Americans who oppose the transient occupants of the highest offices in the land; Worse, still, it credits those same transient occupants - our employees - with a total omniscience; a total omniscience which neither common sense, nor this administrations track record at home or abroad, suggests they deserve.

Dissent and disagreement with government is the lifes blood of human freedom; And not merely because it is the first roadblock against the kind of tyranny the men Mr. Rumsfeld likes to think of as "his" troops still fight, this very evening, in Iraq.

It is also essential. Because just every once in awhile it is right - and the power to which it speaks, is wrong.

In a small irony, however, Mr. Rumsfelds speechwriter was adroit in invoking the memory of the appeasement of the Nazis. For, in their time, there was another government faced with true peril - with a growing evil - powerful and remorseless. That government, like Mr. Rumsfelds, had a monopoly on all the facts. It, too, had the secret information. It alone had the true picture of the threat. It too dismissed and insulted its critics in terms like Mr. Rumsfelds - questioning their intellect and their morality.

That government was England's, in the 1930s. It knew Hitler posed no true threat to Europe, let alone to England. It knew Germany was not re-arming, in violation of all treaties and accords. It knew that the hard evidence it had received, which contradicted its own policies, its own conclusions - its own omniscience - needed to be dismissed.

The English government of Neville Chamberlain already knew the truth. Most relevant of all - it "knew" that its staunchest critics needed to be marginalized and isolated. In fact, it portrayed the foremost of them as a blood-thirsty war-monger who was, if not truly senile - at best morally or intellectually confused.

That critics name was Winston Churchill.

Sadly, we have no Winston Churchills evident among us this evening. We have only Donald Rumsfelds, demonizing disagreement, the way Neville Chamberlain demonized Winston Churchill.

History - and 163 million pounds of Luftwaffe bombs over England - had taught us that all Mr. Chamberlain had was his certainty - and his own confusion. A confusion that suggested that the office can not only make the man, but that the office can also make the facts.

Thus did Mr. Rumsfeld make an apt historical analogy excepting the fact that he has the battery plugged in backwards.

His government, absolute and exclusive in its knowledge, is not the modern version of the one which stood up to the Nazis. It is the modern version of the government of Neville Chamberlain.

But back to todays Omniscient Ones.

That about which Mr. Rumsfeld is confused is simply this:

This is a Democracy. Still. Sometimes just barely. And as such, all voices count - not just his. Had he or his president perhaps proven any of their prior claims of omniscience - about Osama bin Ladens plans five years ago - about Saddam Husseins weapons four years ago - about Hurricane Katrinas impact one year ago - we all might be able to swallow hard, and accept their omniscience as a bearable, even useful recipe, of fact, plus ego.

But, to date, this government has proved little besides its own arrogance, and its own hubris.

Mr. Rumsfeld is also personally confused, morally or intellectually, about his own standing in this matter. From Iraq to Katrina, to flu vaccine shortages, to the entire "Fog of Fear" which continues to envelope this nation - he, Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney, and their cronies, have - inadvertently or intentionally - profited and benefited, both personally, and politically.

And yet he can stand up in public, and question the morality and the intellect of those of us who dare ask just for the receipt for the Emperor's New Clothes.

In what country was Mr. Rumsfeld raised?

As a child, of whose heroism did he read?

On what side of the battle for freedom did he dream one day to fight?

With what country has he confused the United States of America?

Read the rest, and watch the video too.

[Link to today's entries ]

  Wednesday, August 30, 2006

"There are no two finer words in the English language than 'encased meats,' my friend." -- Hot Doug's, Chicago.   There are those who would say that a meal at Charlie Trotter's is a hard act to follow. Then there are those (among whose number I count myself) who would say that a meal at Hot Doug's is a hard act to precede. (I ask you ... does Charlie Trotter have his own theme song? With two other mixes?)

Doug Sohm is one of the few people to go to culinary school and then open a hot dog stand, but his training, experience, commitment to quality and sense of humor and fun make Hot Doug's one of the most enjoyable restaurant experiences I've had in ages. (Thanks a million to our friend Gary in Chicago for sending us there!)

Hot Doug's, Chicago The Motto

Public transportation mavens that we were, we took the Green Line and then a bus up to Doug's, and made sure to get there early enough to beat the lunch rush. There was a short line, entirely inside the building, fortunately, and this gave us plenty of time to study the menu.

Hot Doug's menus

We began quoting Mr. Creosote: "Right. I'll have the lot." It all looked incredibly good, especially the specials (featuring Doug's house-made sausages that rise above the level of mere hot dog up to fine charcuterie; it isn't "The Sausage Superstore and Encased Meat Emporium for nothing, after all), and we wanted to try everything. Finally a decision was made -- we'd split four dogs, that being the rough equivalent of each of us having two whole ones, and we've eaten two hot dogs/sausages in one sitting in the past and not died, right? Right? (Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?) Well, we decided to temper our excess (ha!) by ordering the special side dish that's only offered on Fridays and Saturdays -- Pommes frites en gras de canard; i.e., French fries cooked in rendered duck fat.

(Oh, holy bejeebies.)

After tearing our hair out and agonizing over the choices, we decided to start with a "control", a classic against which all the rest would be measured, and which would also fulfill one of our goals for the trip -- to have a great example of the classic Chicago-Style Hot Dog. That's the first thing on Doug's menu (natch, and simply called "The Dog"), and at a price considerably less than what we spent per dish the night before ... one dollar and fifty cents.

The Ultimate Chicago-style Hot Dog

It'd be hard to imagine a Chicago-style hot dog better than this. Perfectly grilled, with a skin that crackled, piled up with the traditional condiments, including that bizarre blue-green pickle relish that's a color not found in nature (on food, at least) and seems to exist only in the Windy City. I know, we need to go to Clark St. Dog one day too, but I'm well-sated hotdogwise until then.

I chose the next one...

Andouille Sausage

This was called "The Madonna" (formerly "The Raquel Welch", formerly "The Ann-Margret"; it's nice to see that when Doug changes the name of a special he takes care not to offend the previous namesakes), and was Louisiana-style andouille sausage. I wanted to see what this sausagemaker was made of himself, and he came through with flying colors. It was chunky and peppery and smoky and porky, just as a good andouille should be, and was a nice blend of Louisiana and Chicago in that it was topped with the traditional Chicago dog toppings. Yumm!

Wesly made the next choice from the specials menu (and at the time I wanted to smack him for not ordering the Bacon and Jalape˜o Duck Sausage with Blood Orange Mustard and Mandarin Orange Salsa ...what, this is Mr. Duck here, is he nuts?!) ...

Spicy Pork Hot Link

Turns out it was a really good choice after all -- the Spicy Pork Hot Link with Cherry Coke BBQ Sauce and Sharp Cheddar Cheese. OK, we're pork fanatics too, and he was drawn to the sauce; it reminded him of the root beer glaze for ham that we've done, and wanted to try this one. The sauce was fantastic, the link not only spicy with red pepper but very well-seasoned and complex in flavor. The sharp Cheddar was much sharper than most people are used to on a dog, and was an excellent topping. It's just as well that he didn't order the duck sausage, because it might have slowed us down too much befor this arrived, the most amazing thing we saw on his menu that we absolutely had to have:

Cognac-infused Smoked Pheasant Sausage

From the "Game of the Week" special menu: Cognac-Infused Smoked Pheasant Sausage with Truffle Sauce Moutarde and Foie Gras "Butter".

Y'know what kills me? We weren't able to have foie gras at what's known as a world-class dining establishment the night before, but this day we were able to have it at a fucking hot dog stand. Life is beautiful.

It goes without saying that this was the best hot dog I've ever had in my life, but it might be a bit insulting to this sausage to call it a "hot dog" (though Doug might not mind; he doesn't seem to carry any pretenses). It was sausagemaking art, with an absolutely gorgeous flavor, rich with gaminess and smoke and that deep flavor from the liquor, grilled to crackling perfection. The mustard sauce did indeed have chopped black truffles (and although they were probably canned rather than fresh, it was still a great sauce) and six honest-to-god chunks of foie gras right on top. Illegal foie gras, no less, which made it ten times more fun to eat! This dish, which I may have enjoyed more than any savory dish I had the night before, set us back a whopping $7.00.

Oh Gawd, I nearly forgot ...

Pommes frites en gras de canard

Look at those crispy little beauties. It's a good thing I don't get a chance to have duck fat fries often, because I'd be dead within a year. You simply must have duck fat French fries whenever you have the chance (the only other place I know of that has them regularly is from Chef Chris DeBarr at The Delachaise on St. Charles Ave. in New Orleans, but I'm sure you'll come across them whenever there's a true French fry fanatic about). If you're at Hot Doug's on a day other than Friday or Saturday don't feel too bad -- I'm told the regular fries are fantastic too.

Now, in order to make us look like the pigs we truly are, here's what the whole spread lookd like:

The whole spread.

Hot Doug's ties with Topolobampo for our favorite restaurant experience in Chicago. In fact, in the next photo I'm not sure whether I'm swooning with love or keeling over with a myocarial infarction ... probably a bit of both, but you an probably tell that I was one happy boy at that moment. It's probably just as well that I'll only get to eat there once a year or so, but that said I encourage anyone in the area or who may be visiting Chicago not to miss Hot Doug's. Make sure you get there by 11:30 or so, before the line is halfway down the block.

Love, or a heart attack?
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  Tuesday, August 29, 2006

8 . 29 . 2005   One year ago today.

Hurricane Katrina
Click for archived page with animated image of Katrina's path

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  Monday, August 28, 2006

Unbelievable quote of the day.   New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin had this to say when confronted by accusations that he's taking too long to clean up his city after Hurricane Katrina:

"You guys in New York can't get a hole in the ground fixed and it's five years later. So let's be fair."


Where's the money?   Bush emphasized in his moronic press conference last week that "our government has committed $110 billion to help" New Orleans and the Gulf Coast recover and rebuild after Katrina. Unfortunately only 40% of that has actually been spent, and of that $7.7 billion has gone toward "administrative expenses", a whopping 26% overhead. As you keep looking at the numbers of what we've actually gotten, they get smaller and smaller. And almost none of it has gone to any kind of coastal wetlands restoration.

Has there ever been a time in the history of the United States in which its government has been such a complete and utter failure?

Meanwhile, the Lower Ninth Ward lies in ruins still.

Halves, Reynes St. #1
Reynes St., Lower Ninth Ward, April 27, 2006

A year after Hurricane Katrina and the levee failures nearly obliterated his historic residential neighborhood, Herbert Gettridge Sr. hasn't given up on his home in the Lower 9th Ward.

Gettridge, 83, lives in a place described by its few post-Katrina residents as a ghost town. A place where the crickets take over at night as the only audible sign of life. Without power or potable water, Gettridge returned to his house earlier this year, having evacuated the day before the levees broke on Aug. 29 and left 80 percent of the city under water. Here he lives, as he has for 54 years, except now he is alone. His wife, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren remain scattered around the country. Several of his children have their own flooded houses to repair.

"I'm just one of those die-hard people that ain't going to let the flood and nothing else stop me from doing what I want to do, as far as my property is concerned," Gettridge said. "I built this thing with my bare hands. I didn't even have a skill saw. Everything was cut by hand. For that reason, I got a right to feel the way I feel. I don't want to leave, and I don't intend to leave."

He built his house, a white stucco shotgun in the 5000 block of North Roman Street, using lumber from torn-down Uptown houses. A plasterer by trade, hard work was never a choice for this native son, who raised nine children while holding down jobs on the riverfront and construction sites.

Gettridge, raised in the 7th, 8th and 9th wards, started gutting his house himself and later accepted offers of help from the nonprofit Common Ground. A year later, the shotgun is nearly rebuilt. A group of Baptist volunteers helped enormously, Gettridge said, but the homeowner did his share of what was needed. Everything but the electrical work is finished.

He has learned to live without what he had before the floods came.

[Much, much more]

One year later, in America. The most powerful nation on Earth.

Comme ci, comma ça.   Poppy contributed an editorial to the Boston Globe to try to clue in folks on the East Coast and elsewhere what the situation in New Orleans truly is these days.

As A New Orleans native planning to spend the rest of my life in this half-drowned but still vibrant city, I'm scared to address you . A year after Hurricane Katrina, I'm scared that you've forgotten me or are sick of me or think I'm stupid to keep living in a place that almost killed me.

Such are the conceptions New Orleanians have about other Americans these days. We're grateful for the outpouring of help and support we've received, but we also know some people think we're not worth the effort and expense to rebuild, not understanding that we are rebuilding regardless of anyone else's opinion. That's how we do things down here, and that's part of what you loved about us before. In the past year, though, it seems that "Laissez le bon temps rouler" has turned to "They were asking for it -- and haven't they already received enough help?"

For your part, perhaps you think New Orleans is utterly devastated and dying, or that those pictures you saw of the French Quarter mean it's back to normal. The reality is somewhere in between. You've probably heard about the billions of dollars allocated to help south Louisiana and Mississippi.

What you may not have heard is how little of that money has made it into the hands of people in the affected areas. Many homeowners are still wrestling with insurance companies; few have yet received any government compensation for the homes destroyed by the failure of the federal levee system. Huge swaths of the city still look like war zones, with no realistic plan in sight.

Yet we survive. In New Orleans, on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and (especially) in the mind-bogglingly devastated St. Bernard Parish, communities relegated to the status of Third World nations have pulled together to ensure that the places, customs, cuisines, and ways of life we love will not be destroyed by incompetence or neglect, the way so much else has.

Life in New Orleans is extraordinarily difficult now. Business is bad, essential services are shaky, and the people rebuilding our levees seem to tell a different story every day. One side effect of the hardships: The people still in town are the ones unshakably committed to New Orleans, the ones willing to invest in it and fight for its future.

Our tourism industry struggles because people elsewhere don't realize that it is still possible to have a great vacation in the city.

Nevertheless, the theater and art scenes are vibrant. The cocktails are flowing as always. Chefs freed from the obligation to cater to cautious tourist palates are creating some of the best food New Orleans has seen in years. Pete Vazquez, who lost his restaurant, Marisol, uses a portable grill to prepare weekly ethnic feasts at a Ninth Ward wine bar.

And with the local school board replaced by a network of charter schools, we've got a chance to ensure that current and future generations of New Orleans children will receive a high-quality public education rather than enduring the horrors of pre-Katrina public schools. We can begin to address our crime problem by teaching kids that they matter, that there are possible lives for them other than that of the street and the gun.

You can help us get through this difficult time by acknowledging that we matter, and by reminding your representatives. Coastal Louisiana provides America with 30 percent of its annual seafood harvest, 18 percent of its oil supply, 24 percent of its natural gas, and vast amounts of imported goods that come through the Port of New Orleans.

Perhaps even more important, we are a region unique in all the world, a beautiful, bountiful country within the borders of your own United States, a magic land that gives the world jazz and Mardi Gras and unforgettable characters and food unmatched in all the world. Louisiana artists -- musicians, painters, writers, actors, raconteurs -- will be dealing with the storm in their work for years to come. We are in a period of mourning for what we lost, and art is only one of the many ways we'll mourn it. In the words of jazz trumpeter and composer Irvin Mayfield, who lost his father to Katrina, "More so than ever, we've got to do what it is that we do." And we are. And we will.

We hope you'll join us in mourning our losses. But please don't make the mistake of mourning for New Orleans as a whole, because we're not dead, and we're not dying.

Yeah you rite.

With rapier and skewer.   This morning a press release came from the offices of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, in conjunction with a press conference held in New Orleans, to make the following announcement:


In a bold reversal of policy, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced today that they will reopen public housing in New Orleans and embark on a bold new plan to help former residents get back home.

At The Gulf Coast Reconstruction & Hurricane Preparedness Summit, organized by Equity International (, HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson admitted that the agency has been headed down the wrong path for the last year.

"Our charter, here at HUD, is to ensure access to affordable housing for those who need it the most. This past year in New Orleans, I am ashamed to say that we have clearly failed to do this," said Jackson. [...]

Until today, we at HUD planned to demolish 5,000 units of perfectly good public housing here in New Orleans, and put commercial housing in its place. Almost all of these apartments have no damage at all, and their former occupants are by and large begging to move back in and start contributing to their city once again.

Today, we're going to help them to do that. But that's only the start. With your help, we're not going to destroy much-needed housing, we're going to make it work - for all of us. We've got a three-step plan:

1. The first step is to let these folks go home right now.
2. Next, we're going to help them create the opportunities they need to thrive.
3. Finally, with your help, we're going to give back to Mother Nature what she needs to protect this city for all of its citizens.

All of this is going to require your help to an unprecedented extent, and we are very pleased to announce a contracting budget of 1.8 billion dollars.

Such a wonderful breath of fresh air. Finally, our government doing something right! Our government doing something for the actual benefit of its citizens! Our govermnment showing that it cares about us! Mayor Nagin and Governor Blanco were there to shake the hand of the HUD official with great enthusiasm.

Except ... it wasn't a HUD official. It was a member of a group called The Yes Men, described to me in email this morning as "the bitterest and funniest political pranksters I have ever seen." Because what they did was force the government to retract the statement, declare it to be a hoax, and instead announce that they aren't doing what's right, they aren't doing something for the actual benefit of its citizens, and they don't actually care about the fact that they're going to demolish 5,000 units of perfectly good public housing in New Orleans, most of which have no damage at all, and whose former occupants are by and large begging to move back in and start contributing to their city once again.

The fact that they are almost entirely black (and almost certainly voting Democratic by a vast majority of their numbers) is just a coincidence, I'm sure.

More on The Yes Men, from the forwarded email this morning:

They impersonate. Specifically, they impersonate corporate execs, government officials, etc. They then wreak havoc. In this case they're cheerfully announcing a total reversal of government policy to help the poor and apologizing for everything. This may well be widely reported, causing the government to have to explain that they aren't in fact helping anybody, over and over and over again, and making them look like the prime assholes they are.

Previous hijinks have included sending a speaker to globalization conferences who demonstrated why slavery was the future and how great it was going to be, to thunderous applause; issuing an apology to the people of Bhopal on behalf of Dow; creating a globalization website that many people thought was the real one; and other "edge play" satire.

This latest one is, as usual, right on that uncomfortable edge. I wonder how many media outlets will report it and how much carnage will result this time?

A lot, I hope.

Why doesn't the press pay more attention to this?   While reading Poppy's editorial above I noticed another one in the Globe about our so-called Vice President, who has more power than any vice president in American history and who essentially runs the country himself. While the face-shooting incident got the most press for Cheney of his entire veep career, it was mostly for the shock and amusement value (and I still enjoy saying, "The Vice President shot a guy in the face"), the press seems not to pay attention to the fact that the secrecy-obsessed man running our government is far less accountable to the People.

George W. Bush has been faulted in some quarters for taking an extended vacation while the Middle East festers. It doesn't much matter; the man running the country is Vice President Dick Cheney.

When historians look back on the multiple assaults on our constitutional system of government in this era, Cheney's unprecedented role will come in for overdue notice. Cheney's shotgun mishap, when he accidentally sprayed his host with birdshot, has gotten more media attention than has his control of the government.

Historically, the vice president's job was to ceremonially preside over the Senate, attend second-tier foreign funerals, and be prepared for the president to die. Students are taught that John Nance Garner, Franklin Roosevelt's first vice president, compared the job to a bucket of warm spit (and historians say spit was not the word the pungent Texan actually used).

Recent vice presidents Walter Mondale and Al Gore were given more authority than most, but there was no doubt that the president was in charge.

Cheney is in a class by himself. The administration's grand strategy and its implementation are the work of Cheney-- sometimes Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, sometimes Cheney and political director Karl Rove.

Cheney has planted aides in major Cabinet departments, often over the objection of a Cabinet secretary, to make sure his policies are carried out. He sits in on the Senate Republican caucus, to stamp out any rebellions. Cheney loyalists from the Office of the Vice President dominate interagency planning meetings.

The Iraq war is the work of Cheney and Rumsfeld. The capture of the career civil service is pure Cheney. The disciplining of Congress is the work of Cheney and Rove. The turning over of energy policy to the oil companies is Cheney. The extreme secrecy is Cheney and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

I know that it's a futile wish for the press corps to actually grow a collective set of balls, but if they'd stop and consider actually doing their jobs for five minutes or so, they'd do what needs to be done -- shining a 10,000 watt spotlight on Dick for the next two years.

UPDATE:   My review of Charlie Trotter's below from last week has been updated with the wines we had, and apparently I forgot to paste in the URL of the photo of the halibut dish, so in the event any of y'all are interested, there it is.

Hot Doug's post coming on Wednesday.

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  Wednesday, August 23, 2006

In New Orleans, knives, forks and hammers.   Here's a wonderful article from today's New York Times on the situation in the NOLA restaurant scene. As Mary put it, "partly deeply depressing, partly joyously optimistic, and it ends with evidence that Leah and Dooky Chase are as edible as their cooking."

Museum of the American Cocktail launches new weblog!   Which is, of course, perfect and needed and why didn't we think about this ten years ago?! (Well, probably because there weren't any weblogs per se ten years ago.) It'll regularly feature news, information and other random bits (including what my sister would call "cocktail issues"), and I'll undoubtedly be nicking links from it on a regular basis.

So remember this URL --, with an RSS feed here.

Speaking of the Museum, their second publication is now available: Mixologist: The Journal of the American Cocktail, Volume 2, featuring articles by

Also, don't miss Robert Hess and Anastasia Miller's new Museum of the American Cocktail Pocket Recipe Guide, featuring 100 classic cocktail recipes every bartender and cocktail lover should know. Carry it with you just in case.

Civil disobedience.   Nice to see that some people are thumbing their noses (and palates) at Chicago's most ridiculous new law. We engaged in a little civil disobedience ourselves ... more on that tomorrow.

What we did after Charlie Trotter's.   Yeah, I know we had three desserts, but they were small and we split them. Thing was, we couldn't help but notice that right across the street from Trotter's was a place where having fun is part of the very fabric and soul of the establishment -- Ethel's Chocolate Lounge ("Chocolate lounge"? Do you think we could actually let our selves walk by this place?), one of whose many slogans is, "You love chocolate. We're here to help."

"Oh my God!" we said. "People with a sense of humor who know how to have fun! And they make chocolate!"

We had no choice.

Ethel's Chocolate Lounge, Halstead St., Chicago The Lower Lounge
Come with me, and you'll be in a world of pure imagination ... Happy chocolated boy
Chocolate sample Ethel's Champagne Cocktail chocolate

The two above that we tried were the Pomegranate and the Champagne Cocktail, which is part of their Cocktail Collection, with which we were naturally enamored. Cocktails that taste like margaritas and mojitos and Champagne cocktails and spiced rum!

We beseeched them to open one in Los Angeles (San Francisco is coming, they said, but no L.A. plans as yet). Yes, they do ship. :-)

We've run out of time.   Via email, from our brilliant friend Rick, who told us there's a headline on Yahoo! News at the moment that says, "Bush: Katrina Recovery Will Take Time".

"It occurred to me," Rick said, "that this jackass has been using that particular line entirely too much so I did a quick Yahoo! search on 'Bush "will take time"' and found that he has said it 'will take time' to..."

- Win the war on terrorism
- Assess the reports on Iraq's WMD capability (a golden oldie from 2002)
- Come up with a UN resolution on Iraq (ditto)
- Win the war in Iraq
- Find the WMD in Iraq
- Stablize Iraq
- Win the hearts and minds of Iraqis
- Transfer control of Iraq to the Iraqis
- Create a stable Iraq government
- Get appropriate body armor to troops in Iraq
- Come up with a diplomatic solution for North Korea
- Spread democracy in the Middle East
- Get the world to view the Israel/Hezbollah war as a loss for Hezbollah
- Move China on currency equitability
- Reform the intelligence system (this was actually John Negroponte but close enough)
- Rebuild NY after 9/11
- Rebuild New Orleans after Katrina
- Rebuild the Gulf Coast after Katrina

"It's worth noting," he added, "that the only thing that has actually been accomplished on this list was 'assessing the reports on Iraq's WMD capability' which actually didn't take any time at all since they didn't actually do it.

"To co-opt a saying from good old Honest Abe: 'You can fool some of the people all of the time and you can fool all of the people some of the time but if you keep stalling by saying you need more time, many of the people are going to come after you with pitchforks.'"

Wes observed, "Bush's 'this will take time' is right up there with Condi declaring herself a 'student of history' every time somebody asks her a question."

Mary tossed in, "One asks why doesn't anyone in the media connect the dots like this, and confront President Jackass Q. Bystander with a similar list and ask 'What is it that you actually DO?'" (Can we get Rick a White House press pass?)

Gaaaaaah! *tear hair out*

Elvis would want you to have this.   I ... I ... um, I'm sorry. I must have this. Because I am just that sort of weirdo. (Lia needs one too.)

Yet they're sold out?! I suspect there's one particular friend of ours who may have bought them all ...

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  Tuesday, August 22, 2006

NYC's oldest bartender.   Hoy Wong, of New York's famous Algonquin Hotel, has been behind the stick for a good while now.

Marilyn Monroe came Wednesdays for lunch and ordered a Beefeater martini, very dry. Danny Kaye pulled his jacket over his head to avoid being recognized. Judy Garland sat in a corner drinking Johnnie Walker Red.

"Judy Garland, very sad," said Hoy Wong, who is about to be feted by his employer of 27 years, the Algonquin Hotel, on the occasion of his 90th birthday. "She always had a cocktail glass in her hand."

Wong, or Mr. Hoy, as he is known, has been working as a bartender for 58 years. Unless another candidate steps forward, his bosses seem safe in calling him the city's oldest bartender.

"He never misses a day," said Bill Liles, the Algonquin's general manager. "If the weather's bad he shows up early. It's just really an honor to work with someone like Mr. Hoy."

I so, so want to visit Mr. Hoy and have him make me a Martini! OK all youse New Yorkers out there ... go pay the man your respects, and please tell him I said happy birthday.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Hoy!

Cocktail of the day.   In honor of Mr. Hoy Wong, we present a cocktail named for the venerable hotel where he plies his trade, and the "Round Table" of people like Dorothy Parker, Roberty Benchley and Noel Coward who used to hang out there. Better still, it's a rye cocktail, and as Wes is fond of saying, what the world needs now is more rye cocktails.

The Algonquin Cocktail

1-1/2 ounces straight rye whiskey.
3/4 ounce pineapple juice.
3/4 ounce dry vermouth.

Combine with ice in a cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously for 10-15 seconds.
Strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish optional, your call.

If you're not a vermouth fan, you can reduce it to 1/2 ounce, or perhaps substitute Lillet.

Charlie Trotter's.   When I was in UCLA Extension's culinary program several years back, I studied under a chef named May Lim, who was from Malaysia but had been raised in England and who had trained under Michel Roux, one of the finest French chefs in the U.K. She ran the kitchen at the (I believe) now-defunct Garden Room restaurant in Westwood, where are classes were held. She was a big fan of Chicago chef Charlie Trotter, both with regards to inspirational combinations of flavors, use of fresh, top-quality ingredients and beautiful presentations. We cooked many dishes from his gorgeous cookbooks, and one of the nicest compliments I ever got from her was when I presented her with my final exam dish for that quarter and she said, "Ooh, very Charlie Trotter."

Needless to say, ever since then I've wanted to dine at Charlie Trotter's restaurant in Chicago, reputed to be one of the best in the country.

Charlie Trotter's, Chicago

There was some balking among my beloved readers, though ... "stuffy" and "overpriced" were a couple of the words bandied about. I did some intense review research online, and while I did find some similar opinions, and people who either were there on a bad night or didn't get the kind of food he served, they were well-outnumbered by people who raved about it. So, we took a deep breath and made the reservation.

Unfortunately, getting there was a bit trying, particularly since we were betrayed by the taxicab company, whose driver was nearly 30 minutes late. (We're never not using public transportation in Chicago again; that was only our second night, we were still feeling out the buses and the El, and wanted to splurge on a cab.) I was told that there were two seatings that night, 5:30 and 9:30pm, and was worried that our tardiness would screw things up. Not to worry, the hostess informed me when I called to tell her we'd be about 25 minutes late. "Just get here as soon as you can," she said. Eep.

As it turned out, the first seating sat people at 15-minute intervals between 5:30 and 6:30, so we did have plenty of breathing room. We were greeted at the door by a very nice lady with a warm smile, but who spoke in oddly hushed tones. Someone else came along and showed us to our table in a nearly-empty dining room; apparently only a couple of parties had shown up for the earlier portion of the seating.

Menus were brought, bread and water served, service so far being efficient, extremely polite but quiet. There's no ordering a la carte at Charlie Trotter's, it's all tasting menu -- you basically had two choices: The "Grand Menu" or the "Vegetable Menu" (not vegetarian or vegan, as meat stocks are used in many of the dishes, but there's no actual meat or fish in the dish). My Ninth Ward kicked in -- "I ain't payin' dis kinda money fo' nuttin' but vedge-a-tibbles," I said, although the Vegetable Menu looked really interested, and I began salivating like Pavlov's pup at the mention of fresh porcini mushrooms. The Grand Menu it was, two please, and we were agonzing over whether or not to get the wine. Seven glasses of wine, the night after we had two big cocktails and five very generous glasses of wine? Oh Gawd, my head ... and we wanted to get up early the next day. The server advised us that after the full glass of Champagne to start, the pours are only two ounces each, so it's only like having three four-ounce glasses over the course of a three-hour meal ... well, on top of the bubbly, and no cocktails. (Their web site says, "Charlie Trotter's does not serve cocktails," which I should have seen as a red flag, but more on that later.) We decided to pretend not to look at the price, and went for it.

This is when we started articulating how ... odd things were. The service was great, don't get me wrong. But it was so ... quiet in there. More of those hushed tones from everyone. It was more like being in a church than in a restaurant. No, not a church ... Wesly articulated it a bit more exactly: "It feels like we're in a funeral home." I could immediately hear the voice of Frances O'Connor from "Six Feet Under" saying, "Are you telling me that our restaurant is ... funereal?!" Solemn, perhaps, is more accurate than funereal. Another movie line came into mind -- the old man at the end of "Moonstruck," one of our very favorite movies. Everyone's sitting around the table waiting for Johnny Cammareri to show up so that Loretta can tell him that she won't marry him, and will instead marry his brother. Awkward silence envelops the table, when the grandfather finally blurts out, "Somebody tell a joke!"

That was it. There was no laughing. Even as the dining room in which we were seated filled up until ever table was taken save for the one right next to us, very few people seemed as if they were having a good time. There was the cute boy two tables over, apparently being taken out by his lovely girlfriend for his birthday; they seemed to be having a lovely evening, although she put on a very stoic face when the bill arrived. Other than that, it was hushed tones from everyone. I had to resist the urge to leap up and go from table to table, telling some of the dirty Cajun jokes I'd learned from our waiter John at Galatoire's. Fortunately, right at that point I got properly distracted, as the food began to arrive.

Amuse gueule: Seared Bigeye Tuna

The "amuse gueule," as the amuse bouche is amusingly referred to here, was a couple of bites of Seared Bigeye Tuna with sunchoke purée and grapefruit sauce. I know, it looks big in the picture, but I got a little carried away with the macro lens. Typical amuse size, gone in two bites. I love tuna, and this was perfect. The surprising flavor was that grapefruit sauce, though, which was perfect with the barely-seared, mostly-raw tuna and was absolutely divine.

Champagne came out too, Marc Hebrart Cuvée de Reserve, Premier Cru, Brut NV, nice generous full glass and our only such one of the meal. Now, for the first course of the Grand Menu:

Japanese Hamachi

Japanese Hamachi with Roasted Bell Pepper Sauce, Kalamata Olive Sorbet and a Quail Egg Yolk, garnished with Spanish paprika and basil oil. We were happy with all this fish, not only because it's good for us but because it's the kind of stuff we expect to see in a Japanese restaurant, not so much elsewhere; that, plus we love hamachi. The fish was near-raw, perfect; the sauce was lovely, that kalamata olive sorbet was intense and really interesting, and the egg yolk was ... odd. Enjoyed the dish, though; the fish ruled the sea on this plate. Wine: Schloss Gobelsburg "Gobelsburger" Grüner Veltliner, Langenlois, Austria 2004. (Grüner Veltliner is getting to be one of my favorite white varietals.)

Alaskan Halibut

Next, Alaskan Halibut with a chive pur?e, lump Dungeness crabmeat and Italian sturgeon roe, topped with chives and garnished with "crispy pig's feet".

This was great. I love halibut. I love pig. I love crabmeat. I love caviar. The fish was again, perfectly (barely) cooked, the presentation lovely (very Charlie Trotter indeed). How can you go wrong?

Well ... although I enjoyed these last two dishes very much, in comparison to the food at Topolobampo and the food I'm used to from New Orleans (yes, I know, different beasts entirely), I tend to find dishes like these to be underseasoned. It's a common observation among New Orleanians who dine elsewhere in the country, and surely it's just cultural on our part, but still...

The flavors worked well together, and it was all marvelous, but it lacked ... well, oomph.

Wine: J. J. Prüm "Wehlener Sonnenuhr" Riesling Kabinett, Mosel, Germany 2004.

Onward and upstairs.

Whole Roasted Squab

Whole Roasted Squab with braised sweet onions, black trumpet mushrooms and a Szechuan peppercorn reduction sauce.

Okay, there was oomph here.

The squab was gorgeous, that little squab drumstick even more gorgeous, and the oomph came from that astounding Szechuan peppercorn sauce. It's one of the most amazing spices I've ever had, and if you haven't tasted it you owe it to yourself to find it and try it.

In fact, if you crunch up some Szechuan peppercorns in your mouth, you'll get the strangest tingle and your mouth goes numb. It's the closest thing to drugs in your spice rack! (Kidding, kidding ... don't ban their importation again, dammit.)

Wine: Akarua "The Gullies" Pinot Noir, Bannockburn, Central New Zealand, 2003. My first New Zealand Pinot Noir, and it was gorgeous -- raspberries and strawberries, oh my.

Tallgrass Farm Angus Beef Tenderloin

Tallgrass Farm Angus Beef Tenderloin with quinoa, shortrib in a black cardamom mole emulsion, ash baked eggplant and eggplant purée.

The meat was perfect, and that shortrib (all two bites of it) was perhaps the best piece of shortrib I've ever had. I was annoyed that the portion was so small, though. Even though I understand the concept of the tasting menu -- you should be able to get through the whole meal, tasting lots of great things, and be satisfied but not Mr. Creosote-bloated by the end -- I could have easily accommodated double or triple the amount of shortrib.

The cardamom flavor was excellent and different and innovative, but I'm sick of this whole foamy emulsion thing in high-end restaurants. I'd be happy with just the sauce, thank you, without you foaming it up so that I actually get about half of what I'd otherwise get.

Wine: Bodegas Mustiguillo "Quincha Corral" Terrerazo 2003.

Next came the intermezzo, or palate-cleanser (which I would have expected between the fish and the quail, or between the quail and the beef, and I known it would be a palate-cleanser), but it came right before dessert. From the menu description I hadn't been expecting sorbet, and I certainly hadn't been expecting two. Oh, ready for that menu description?

Cantaloupe with Lavender-Cured Pork Belly and Preserved Melon Rind.

Cantaloupe Sorbet with Lavender Cured Pork Belly

Cantaloupe sorbet, with bacon. Melon and bacon. Bacon. Ha! (I just laugh and clap when bacon is served anyway, even when it's the size of two thumbnails, like this.) A riff on the classic prosciutto-and-melon combination, and the only bit of whimsy I saw on the menu. I wasn't expecting sorbet, and I was expecting a lot more pork belly, and in fact was wishing for actual cantaloupe flesh strewn with more appropriate amounts of bacon lavender-cured pork belly, but I have to admit the sorbet was fantastic, and so was the miniscule bit of pork, after which I nearly cried because I already missed it so. Whimsy, sure, but this dish pissed me off too. I wanted more cantaloupe and bacon.

So the lagniappe here didn't hurt:

Lychee Sorbet with Cucumber Purée

Lychee Sorbet with Cucumber Purée. Again, very nice, and a large spoonful of it. (Technically, a "quenelle".) Again, I could have done with more, especially if the previous dish had been actual cantaloupe.

The dessert wines came out, two of them together: A Mount Horrocks "Cordon Cut" Riesling, Clare Valley, South Australia 2004. Gorgeous, floral, vanilla ... yum. The process for making this wine allows the grapes to raisin on the vine, intensifying the sweetness and flavor. Next was a Niepoort 10 Year Old Tawny Port, and we're all over the tawny Port.

Dessert was a surprise, and the staff and kitchen redeemed itself a bit here. Only one dessert was shown on the menu, this first one, but three came out. Perhaps it was the fact that we were talking so animatedly about the food (probably the most animated couple in the whole room), and I was taking notes and snapping pictures, as that's seemed to inspire the staff to send out a few extra tastes for us. First came this, the Grand Menu dessert:

Jasmine Semifreddo

Jasmine Semifreddo with poached rhubarb gel&eacut;e and celery. This was ... interesting. Certainly different as desserts go, and the first dessert I'd ever had featuring celery. It was shaved paper thin and sweet, almost candied. The rhubarb gelée was lovely too (more on that in a bit), and the semifreddo appropriately flowery. I can see lots of people not caring for this dish, though -- our friend Nettie would have sneered and perhaps sent it flying toward the wall, Oscar Madison-style ("NOW it's garbage!") It was good, but also the least of the desserts they brought us.

Which brings up a point, and the aside I mentioned above. The menud didn't say "poached rhubarb gelée," it said "poached rhubarb." I was expecting pieces of the stalk. This sort of thing happened several times on the menu -- "eggplant" was really "eggplant purée", "cantaloupe" was really cantaloupe sorbet, rhubarb was really rhubarb gelatin. I'm unsure why this is, and it creates false expectations. Maybe my own expectations weren't in tune; maybe Trotter's does this kind of thing all the time. Maybe he feels as if those ingredients needed to go through a process rather than be served in a more recognizable form. Again, I was hoping for maybe a slice of eggplant prepared in a marvelous way rather than a tablespoon of purée, as good as it tasted. Perhaps they changed the ideas on the day of service after they already printed up the menus, who knows? I'd just like the descriptions to be a bit more reflective of what you actually get on your plate.

The next dessert softened me up, though:

Organic Michigan Raspberries

Organic Michigan Raspberries with shaved fennel, pistachio-ricotta panna cotta with a ricotta tuile. This was great. The idea of raspberries with shaved, blanched fennel is inspired and brilliant, and I wish I'd thought of it first. Then the final dessert, in combination with the late harvest Zinfandel and the 10-year-old tawny Port that went with it, removed all my bitchiness about the rhubarb ...

Flourless Colombian Chocolate Cake

Flourless Colombian Chocolate Cake with smoked banana sauce, toasted hazelnut-coffee ice cream, peach tapioca and assorted mignardises.

This was fireworks-exploding-in-the-sky fantastic. Deep, rich, intense chocolate in that cake. The smoked banana sauce ... feckin' brilliant! RIch nutty ice cream, and that peach tapioca ... I could have eaten a gallon of that stuff. A few little jelllies and nut caramels and candied almonds to finish up, and we were done. Sated, not bloated, but frankly I could have used a tiny bit of bloat. Most of the time, even when we're having tasting menus, the little mignardises at the end come close to being the "wahferrr--theen meent," but this time they went down with plenty of room to spare. Which from a healthy dining standpoint is okay, I gues, but ...

Then they brought the bill.

After being shocked with the defibrillator a few times I came to, took a few gulps of oxygen and got out the credit card to pay for the single most expensive meal of my life.

Was it worth it? Well ... I'm really glad we went, and for the most part the food was stellar. But man, these people need to lighten up. Again, I don't fault the service -- everyone was polite to friendly and very welcoming. The service was stellar, though very formal, and although I wouldn't say the place was "stuffy" due to the excellence of the staff, all those hushed tones were really getting to me. It was without a doubt the oddest fine dining experience we'd ever had, entirely due to the atmosphere.

Then there was the expense ... I can understand why the food cost is high. Top-quality ingredients, multiple sauces and infused oils and unusual garnishes on the dishes, lots of flavors going on. Where I drew the line was the cost of the wines -- $80 for one glass of champagne and six two-ounce pours was over the top. That said, they have a world-class wine list, and at least two of the wines we drank were relatively rare bottles from small wineries who only produce quantities of 500 cases, and the like. That said, I spent twice as much for that wine as I did on the wine at Topolobampo the night before, and did I enjoy them twice as much? That's a bit of a silly question when you get right down to it, but I can certainly say I enjoyed the wines and the pairings as much at Topolobampo as at Trotter's, if not more, and at the former it was half the price.

I've decided that what Charlie Trotter's needs to do is to hire Ti Martin from Café Adelaide and Commander's Palace (if she can be spared there, which she probably can't) to come to Chicago for a week and teach that the staff of that restaurant how to have a good time.

I'm afraid that the expense, combined with the funereal solemn atmosphere, means we probably won't be back, at least not for a long time.

Next time we'll try Alinea or Tru (and I can hear people going off on Alinea already), maybe, but I can tell you that no matter what, we'll definitely be going back to Topolobampo.

Who's to blame for the state of New Orleans?   A fairly thorough examination of the issues by the Associated Press:

In many ways, New Orleans is a huge crime scene, with bodies and victims and fingerprints -- many, many sets of fingerprints. But who did it? Who is responsible for this mess, for a barely functioning city with large swathes still uninhabited -- or uninhabitable -- a year after Hurricane Katrina?

An anonymous critic, posting his verdict at the edge of the French Quarter, blames the Army Corps of Engineers and its failure to build levees that could keep the floodwaters out: "Hold the Corps Accountable," demands the sign.

Others curse the Federal Emergency Management Agency - for its failure to rescue New Orleans as the waters rose, or in the months after. In ravaged Lakeview, a makeshift gallows bears a sign that reads: "Last Resort Shelter. Reserved for Looters/FEMA Reps/Adjusters."

But the roll of those accused of failing New Orleans is a long one: State and local officials who had no good plan for the disaster, and now preside over a languid recovery. A president who at first seemed remote from the cataclysm, and then made promises that have not been fully realized.

So many did not live up their responsibilities, says G. Paul Kemp, a Louisiana State University engineer and member of Team Louisiana, a group of forensic engineers examining how the flooding occurred. Every time anyone points that out, "people say, 'Oh, we don't want to play the blame game. We've got to get things moving.'"

But things are moving agonizingly slow. Piles of debris and wrecked cars are everywhere, and astonishingly, searchers were still finding bodies in ruined homes just weeks ago.

Harried recovery officials say it's only been a year. How much can you expect?

But to Lakeview resident Pascal Warner -- who walks through clouds of mosquitoes attracted by a neighbor's fetid, sludge-covered swimming pool still filled with stagnant Katrina floodwater -- a year seems like a pretty long time.

"I wouldn't want to spend a year in jail," the retired stagehand says. "Would you?"

Why did New Orleans go under?

Read the rest.

Why doesn't America believe in evolution?   A disturbing story from the New Scientist:

Human beings, as we know them, developed from earlier species of animals: true or false? This simple question is splitting America apart, with a growing proportion thinking that we did not descend from an ancestral ape. A survey of 32 European countries, the US and Japan has revealed that only Turkey is less willing than the US to accept evolution as fact.

Religious fundamentalism, bitter partisan politics and poor science education have all contributed to this denial of evolution in the US, says Jon Miller of Michigan State University in East Lansing, who conducted the survey with his colleagues. "The US is the only country in which [the teaching of evolution] has been politicised," he says. "Republicans have clearly adopted this as one of their wedge issues. In most of the world, this is a non-issue."

Miller's report makes for grim reading for adherents of evolutionary theory. Even though the average American has more years of education than when Miller began his surveys 20 years ago, the percentage of people in the country who accept the idea of evolution has declined from 45 in 1985 to 40 in 2005 (Science, vol 313, p 765). That's despite a series of widely publicised advances in genetics, including genetic sequencing, which shows strong overlap of the human genome with those of chimpanzees and mice. "We don't seem to be going in the right direction," Miller says.

[...] The main opposition to evolution comes from fundamentalist Christians, who are much more abundant in the US than in Europe. While Catholics, European Protestants and so-called mainstream US Protestants consider the biblical account of creation as a metaphor, fundamentalists take the Bible literally, leading them to believe that the Earth and humans were created only 6000 years ago.

Will they begin to complain soon that schools teach the round earth and heliocentric solar system theories as well? Again, faith is one thing, but ... oh, never mind, it's probably futile.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Monday, August 21, 2006

When the Levees Broke.   Tonight Spike Lee's four-hour documentary-event, "When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts", premieres on HBO. Deep breath, sit down ... and let's all watch it. It runs tonight and tomorrow, and is repeated several times, including four-hour marathon versions.

The premiere was last week, back home. Salon said, "Watching Spike Lee's four-hour epic on Hurricane Katrina in the New Orleans Arena with my neighbors, I felt awed, exhausted and heartbroken -- and more convinced than ever that somebody should go to jail for what happened here."

More from the Los Angeles Times here and here.

You know we can't miss this.

Toxic horseshit.   More from the Los Angeles Times (via Mary) ... a small sampling of some of the bullshit rumors about what happened in New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina and the flood, almost all of them entirely untrue. There were bodes, yes, because people drowned. But no stacks of dead babies, no broken bodies of raped children, no snipers shooting at helicopters. Wes and I remember hearing these things early on and thinking, "You've got to be fucking kidding me." All part and parcel, I think, of the current century's ridiculous obsession to get things on the news first, anything, no matter what, no matter if true, without any goddamn fact-checking, because God forbid the 24-hour news networks (and I'm sorry, but there isn't 24 hours' worth of news in a 24-hour day) should let one of the other 24-hour news networks get something on before them and impact their ratings.

More in my email this morning: "I think this is hugely important, because there is something primal and dreadful, something Lord of the Flies, about this idea that our city collapsed into anarchy during those terrible days. But for everyone we know personally who was there and who said it was all exaggerated, there seem to be a number who claim to have seen the violence themselves. Now, I do know of people who had a gun pulled on them, so I trust that, but for the most part the stores are bona fide 'friend of mine' or 'friend of a friend,' which any Jan Harold Brunvand fan knows not to trust. I don't think I can even trust those who claim to have seen it in person, because let's not forget that that includes the lady who said she say dead babies stacked up in the Convention Center (not true) and, of course, Nagin himself, claiming something not that different on the 'Oprah' show.

"If some like Da Mayor can lie that baldly in such a public place, why should I trust anyone else's 'eyewitness' account? What it comes down to is this, and I hate to put it this way, but show me the bodies. And apparently they aren't there, not in those numbers, anyway. (Four people who were shot is the count given in the article.) I guess that number could be an official lie, but for what gain? The officials want the money to help keep the peace, so it's not to their advantage to make the city look peaceful. Whereas I think it is in our best interests to demonstrate how relatively level-headed everyone stayed during that time. I mean, if it was so lawless in the Superdome, why did everyone there line up so heartbreakingly calmly, when the buses finally came, even when they weren't told where they were being bused to?

"Or just to say, the truth lies, as it usually does, somewhere in the middle."

Indeed. "L.A. Times editorial misses the point."   Yesterday the Times, usually tops in their coverage of Katrina, the manmade flood and its aftermath of destruction, ran an editorial entitled "Not Too Late For New Orleans". Local advocacy group opines that the editorial "misrepresents the issues facing New Orleans as they mourn their deada at the anniversary of the Federal Levee Breaks.

First, the editorial describes the death and destructions as ue to a natural disaster, which is false. The writers also blame 100% of our woes on our state and local governments. We are not perfect and our Mayor seems to have gone AWOL, but if the Corps of Engineers had properly built the floodwalls that Congress had authorized, we would not be having this discussion today.

Please write to the L.A. Times and set the record straight.

You heard the lady.

Uh ...   Just to remind ourselves that we know nothing about a goodly chunk of the rest of this profoundly weird country we love in ... I give you this.

Armor of Nuttiness

And they're really going to go to bed wearing the hats/veils, too? This is either serious, or a most excellent hoax. If it's serious ... OK, there's faith, and then there's just nutty. Wes opines that it's completely serious, and adds, "The little girl looks (relatively) normal, but the boy looks like he's seriously tweaked on something." All hopped up on Lordballs, no doubt.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Friday, August 18, 2006

Cocktail of the day.   This is the marvelous drink we had at Topolobampo in Chicago. As soon as I can get da licka store, I'm buyin' me some o' that mezcal ... wonderful, wonderful stuff, artisanally made in Oaxaca, Mexico. As soon as I do it'll go right on our home cocktail menu, although I'll probably rename it. Topolobampo has made a world-class drink but with a garden-variety name (and as it doesn't have any triple sec in it, it's technically not a margarita anyway). I'll likely rename it after the restaurant.

Topolobampo Cocktail
(Adapted from the "Mezcal Margarita", Topolobampo Restaurant, Chicago)

The Topolobampo Cocktail, a.k.a. the 'Mezcal Margarita'
1 ounce Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal, San Luis del Rio.
1/2 ounce Don Pedro Mexican brandy.
1-1/4 ounces fresh lime juice.
3/4 ounces simple syrup.
3 dashes Peychaud's Bitters.
Coarse salt.

Moisten the outer rim of the glass and dredge through salt.

Combine all ingredients with ice in a cocktail shaker and shake until ice cold.
Strain into prepared glass, garnish with a lime wedge.

As it turns out there are four varieties of Del Maguey mezcal, each one named after the Oaxacan village where it is produced, and the one used at Topolobampo wasn't specified. However, in studying the descriptions of the four, I reckoned that they had to have used the one described as having "a spicy nose and a creamy vanilla, smoky taste;" it was the only one described as smoky. I'll bet the others would be great in it as well, each giving the drink an extremely different character, but as they're a tad expensive I won't be finding that out for a while yet. To recreate the drink as served at Topolobampo, use the San Luis del Rio variety.

This is a complex and wonderful drink ... you're gonna love it.

Frommer's post-Katrina guide to New Orleans is out. (Yay, Mary!)   Well, the pocket guide, at least ... and the big book will be out in time for '07.

Although the city is not fully recovered, the French Quarter and Garden District "look like they used to," says Frommer's Portable New Orleans author Mary Herczog. It's a "huge misconception" that tourist areas show signs of devastation, she says.

She says that you can get a good hotel room for less than $100 and that almost all the famed restaurants are back. "The food is as good, if not better" than before, Herczog says. "A lot of places are doing their best work ever."

From all the meals I've had at home in the last year, I'd heartily endorse that. I can't wait to make it to Arnaud's, which I haven't been to in years (except for the bar); I've been hearing that they're better now than they ever were, and are quite probably the best of the old-line Creole places (or at least tied with Galatoire's).

Speaking of old-guard Creole restaurants ...   The awful rumor I've been hearing is that the venerable Antoine's may be closing, perhaps as early as next month. Antoine's had a horrible time of it during Katrina. Their maître d' died, drowning in his own home along with his diabled son. The restaurant building itself was badly damaged by the storm, with a whole outer wall collapsing, and while they were able to repair the damage and reopen, apparently business hasn't been good.

This would be awful news, if true. Antoine's is the oldest restaurant in the city, run by the Alciatore/Guste family for an incredible 165 years. It's part of the history and fabric of New Orleans culture, and the restaurant itself is a veritable museum of the city's history.

The thing is ... I haven't dined at Antoine's in years. Hardly anyone I know has. As Poppy said (scroll down), "I don't eat at Antoine's all that often, but I like knowing it's there. Of course part of the problem is that most New Orleanians feel the same way." One friend said she was planning to go there soon to check it out, as it had also been a long time for her, and another local friend of hers said something along the lines of, "Oh God, why do you want to eat there?"

It makes me feel guilty for not having eaten there in so long, but ... the food hasn't been that exciting, especially the entrées. (Part of the problem is that they haven't changed their menu in over 50 years, and probably for a lot longer than that.) There were so many other places in town that interested me more, and when I come home my time and the number of meals available to me is limited. I suppose if I were still living in the city I might have gone more often, but even locals I know don't, really.

I hope they can figure something out, because I would truly hate to see them go. What the Guste family needs to do is keep some of the venerable old dishes but hire a new chef that'll put some excitement into the menu. Unfortunately, it's probably already too late for that.

UPDATE: The management of Antoine's is strongly denying the rumor, and a local food writer is saying that it's completely untrue. Let's hope so.

B.V.M. news of the day.   Yes folks, you've waited with bated breath for the next "apparition" ... now workers at a gourmet chocolate factory think they see the Virgin Mary in a small lump of chocolate drippings.

"I have big problems right now, personally, and lately I've been saying that God doesn't exist," [Jacinto, the "discoverer" of the drippings] said, pulling the dog-eared prayer card out of her pocket. "This has given me renewed faith."

Um, okay. Whatever it takes, hon.

Y'know ... if you were the Mother of God, don't you think you'd have better, more useful things to do that supposedly appear in a two-inch pile of chocolate drippings underneath a vat in a factory? Besides, it looks more like some kind of bird to me. Audrey thought it looked like a hawk; I thought it looked more like the Maltese Falcon.

I wanna get one of those toasters that toasts Jesus or Mary onto the side of your toast.

Know what I hate?   Stickas on fruit. 'Specially stickas dat don't come offa fruit.

Quotes of the day.   "Wait, aren't you scared?", asks the Kung Fu Monkey, about the recent police work in the U.K. that nabbed the would-be airplane bombers. "Errr, no. And if you are, you frankly should be a little goddam embarrassed."

FDR: Oh, I'm sorry, was wiping out our entire Pacific fleet supposed to intimidate us? We have nothing to fear but fear itself, and right now we're coming to kick your ass with brand new destroyers riveted by waitresses. How's that going to feel?

CHURCHILL: Yeah, you keep bombing us. We'll be in the pub, flipping you off. I'm slapping Rolls-Royce engines into untested flying coffins to knock you out of the skies, and then I'm sending angry Welshmen to burn your country from the Rhine to the Polish border.

US. NOW: BE AFRAID!! Oh God, the Brown Bad people could strike any moment! They could strike ... NOW!! AHHHH. Okay, how about .. NOW!! AAGAGAHAHAHHAG! Quick, do whatever we tell you, and believe whatever we tell you, or YOU WILL BE KILLED BY BROWN PEOPLE!! PUT DOWN THAT SIPPY CUP!!

Read the whole article, and think about it.

The RIAA have no clothes.   Via ZDnet:

If you're like me and you're worried about the way that entertainment industry is using Digital Rights Management technology, the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, its lobbyists, and its lawyers to checkmate innocent people into paying copyright infringement fines that are easier to pay for than what a legal defense would cost them, here is a must read amicus curiae brief that was filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the American Civil Liberties Union (the ACLU), and the American Association of Law Libraries in the case of Capitol Records v. Debbie Foster. Ray Beckerman, an attorney that works with the EFF and a lawyer at a NYC-based law firm that represents people who are sued by the RIAA referred to the document as a landmark. While I can't vouch for that (I'm not sure what qualifies as a landmark and what doesn't), it certainly strips the emperor of its clothes:

When the RIAA threatens suit against an individual, it makes sure to offer her a carefully chosen sum that is substantially smaller than the legal fees required to fight the accusations, even for defendants that are completely innocent non-infringers. Faced with the threat of costly litigation to defend their names and the possibility that hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages might be wrongly assessed against them by a jury, many innocent people accept these unfair settlement offers because they cannot afford the legal costs to fight back. Wielding the threat of copyright lawsuits as a club, the RIAA has already bullied thousands of average Americans into settling...

...The RIAA is not only continuing to prosecute the innocent in spite of clear evidence to the contrary but also attempting to expand the scope of its copyright protections beyond what the statutes provide. This copyright "grab" stems from the plaintiffs' erroneous theories of secondary liability in copyright law. These theories, which the RIAA knows are wrong, attempt to put parents, employers, teachers, and other internet account holders on the hook for third-party computer activities -- even when the defendant has no knowledge or ability to supervise the actual alleged infringers. Because of the vast differential in resources between plaintiffs and defendants and the strict liability and statutory damages regime of copyright law, these cases often settle, sending the message that these erroneous theories are actually correct...

This guy is telling the RIAA where to stick it, after being sued for supposedly downloading a movie he didn't download, and which he in fact already owned on DVD. He has the legal fees to go to trial, and I hope he wins ... and takes the RIAA down.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Topolobampo.   First meal in Chicago, and it was a rush. Thanks to lovely United Airlines, we arrived over two hours late, jumped into a cab to get to our apartment, checked in quickly and were back out the door to cab it to the restaurant, only slightly late. They were very relaxed about it, fortunately, although it was a packed house. "Actually, since you're a table for two you're just about the only one we have ready," said the hostess. "Every table we've got for four or more is running 10 or 15 minutes behind." This gives you a hint to the restaurant's popularity.

Topolobampo, Chicago

It's actually two restaurants -- Chef Rick Bayless runs the Frontera Grill in the front -- casual and loud and lively and with excellent food, but the back dining room is a separate restaurant. Topolobampo is quite possibly the best Mexican restaurant in the country, due to the incredible talents, creativity and dedication to authenticity of Chef Rick.

The cocktail menu immediately intrigued us, with many house specials, almost all of which looked good. We tried two, starting with the Michigan Milagro Margarita, consisting of Milagro 100% agave blanco tequila that's been infused with Michigan blueberries, plus fresh lime juice and a dollop of blueberry-blackberry, topped off with fizzy Scharffenberger Brut NV. It's not nearly as sweet is it sounds, and was excellent -- fruity and tangy and with a bite from the tequila. The truly killer drink (for which I'll share the recipe in a later post, courtesy of Topolobampo's bartender) was the Mezcal Margarita, which actually isn't a margarita, since it's missing the triple sec. It's a marvelously smoky Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal, Don Pedro brandy, lime juice, simple syrup and three dashes of ... Peychaud's Bitters. Apparently it's the chef's favorite drink on the menu. We'll be adding it to our home menu soon.

Here's the worst thing about Topolobampo -- the menu is too good. After a quick scan (and especially after an indepth reading), one is tempted merely to hand the menu to the waiter and say, Mr. Creosote-style, "Right. I'll have the lot." Everything, and I mean every single dish, looked absolutely incredible. Every year in early summer Bayless closes his restaurants for a couple of weeks and takes the entire staff to a different region of Mexico, to learn about real food from real people. This year's trip was in June and was to Chiapas, and the almost entire menu (which changes every two weeks) consisted of dishes inspired by the cuisine of Chiapas.

Fortunately we had a bit of time to decide, drink our cocktails and get pleasantly squiffed on the excellent tequila and mezcal within, and our muy fabuloso waiter Tiago (who's actually Portuguese) started us off with some complimentary guacamole.


Really good, and chunky and spicy, topped with toasted pipians (pumpkin seeds, which were fantastic; I never want guacamole without them again) and crumbled queso añejo) and served with slices of cucumber and jicama for scooping.

Meanwhile, we were tearing our hair out. Tiago told us that as first-timers the best way to go would be with the very reasonably-priced five-course tasting menu, and it looked as if he was right -- it lookd fantastic. But, but ... none of the big secion of ceviches counted in that, and there were great-looking dishes on the regular menu we really wanted that weren't on the tasting menu ... but then again, there was one astounding-looking dish on the tasting menu that wasn't available a la carte aieee! Díos mio!

Tiago, proving himself to be the terrific waiter he is, said, "You guys like sharing?" Of course, we share everything. "Okay, then I'll start you with a sampler of three ceviches, then we'll swap out a few dishes -- instead of two you'll get one plus this one, and then one plus that one, and halfway through you swap dishes and get to try everything. No extra charge. Okay? Okay! I'll start you off with your ceviches in a few minutes." Poof, all that wrenching agony solved in about five seconds. Tiago's tip went up several percentage points at that moment, and it was already going to be high 'cause he was so good.

Trio, Trio, Trio

This was called Trio, Trio, Trio, a sampling of their most popular ceviches. Ceviche, in case you don't know, is generally raw fish or shellfish that has been chemically "cooked" by the acids in the lime or lemon juice in which it's marinated, and is one of the freshest, most delicious things you can ever have if you like seafood. Topolobampo feature a whole section of the menu on this, called "Marisqueria Ecologica: Mexican Raw Bar", adding that "All Marisqueria seafood is sustainably raised or caught," which is a good thing. I love ceviche, and up until now I think my favorite was the Panamanian-style ceviche served at Chef Adolfo García's Rio Mar in New Orleans, made with halibut, lime juice, habanero chile, salt and pepper, a little cilantro, and that's it. I think he's got some serious competition from what we see above, though. On the left, Ceviche Frontizero: Lime-marinated Alaskan true cod with vine-ripe tomatoes, olives, cilantro and green chile. In the center, Seaside Cocktail: Shrimp and lime-marinated cod in a spicy tomato broth, which was out of this world; of the three, all of which we loved, I think this was our favorite. On the right, Ceviche Yucateco: Steamed organic shrimp and calamari tossed with lime, orange, habanero chile, avocado and cilantro. Pure fish heaven

The first of the double/split dishes arrives ...

Tetelas de Pato

From the regular menu came Tetelas de Pato, crispy corn masa triangles filled with smoked duck breast and heirloom peruano beans, flavored with roasted garlic and queso añejo. Served with cava-dressed grilled cactus salad with Three Sisters Garden Diva cucumbers and poblano rajas. Perfect little crispy pillows of ducky goodness. Wes, being a duck fiend, was unwilling to let this one go by us, and I'm glad for that. Perfectly splittable too, as you can see, although along this path lies danger. "What if it's so good that I don't want to swap halfway through?" he asked at one point. "I have a fork, and I'm not afraid to use it," said I. Fortunately it never came to that, and once we did swap dishes and tasted the next, we were oh so glad we did.


This was the first dish on the actual tasting menu, Crepa "Puro Verano": green chile crepe filled with wild Mexican greens, fresh heirloom sweet corn and Tatume squash, squash blossoms and artisanal cheese, served with garlicky poblano salsa and cava-dressed sunflower shoots. Nice vegetarian option, and given the amount of meat we were about to consume over the next several days, one vegetarian dish couldn't hurt. (Okay, it was stuffed with cheese too, so much for that.) The corn was sweet sweet, days-long sweet, and popped as you bit into the kernels, and those sunflower shoots were really good - first time I'd ever had that.

The sopas arrived, another double-dish:

Sopa Azteca

This was actually Tiago's suggestion, that we try one of their menu mainstays, Sopa Azteca, Chef Rick's take on the old tortilla soup standard. This version is a ark broth flavored with pasilla chile, garnished with grilled chicken, avocado, Meadow Valley Farm handmade jack cheese, thick crema and tortilla strips. Very flavorful, with the use of herbs and chiles both dried and fresh adding layers and layers of flavor.


This is the one we really, really wanted -- Cigamut, a rustic, smoked ribeye steak soup. You would not believe how amazingly good this was. I can hardly describe it; I think my eyeballs were rolled back in my head with every spoonful. This was easily as deep and complex as a really good gumbo, and one of the best soups I've ever had.

Now, the first showstopper dish ...

Langosta en Salsa Negra

Langosta en Salsa Negra, pan-roasted Maine lobster in an inky sauce of huitlacoche (black corn mushroom), roasted poblano chile, garlic, epazote and squid ink., filled with two-corn esquites and seared chiles toreados.


This was outrageous. I love lobster, and hadn't had it in a while ... this was perfectly cooked and tender, and that sauce! I love huitlacoche too, and all those other ingredients, including the squid ink for color and a very slight bitter balance, was amazing. Esquites is a traditional Mexican side dish, kernels of roasted corn cooked in butter with chiles and lime juice, sort of a Mexican version of maquechoux, stuffed into the lobster head. Oh my oh my oh my.

We both got this one, thank Gawd, or we'd have gone after each other with our forks.

Now, the quacking resumes.

Pato en Mole Poblano

This is the one from the regular menu that Wesly couldn't do without. "But the next dish is pig!" I cried. "I don't care," he said. "I want duck." Then duck it shall be. We traded over this one too -- Pato en Mole Poblano. Adobo-marinated, pan-roasted Gunthorp duck breast in Mexico's classic fiesta sauce, mole poblano; served with blue potato torta (with bacon and queso añejo) and cava-dressed arugula and red onion salad. I'd had some great mole dishes before, but never with duck. The rich, deep flavor of the duck breast is a perfect match for the dark, complex, nutty mole sauce ... I wish we could get this every time we ordered mole!

And then there's pig ...

Cochito Chiapaneco

This was on the tasting menu, and I kinda can't believe we split this one ... Cochito Chiapaneco -- Maple Creek Farm suckling pig, marinated for 48 hours and slow-roasted in banana leaves for ... I don't remember how many hours, but several. Ay, Díos mio. Look at that pig. Perfectly rosy pink, unbelievably tender, an absolute thing of beauty.

Best-of-the-day Dessert Sampler

The "Best-of-the-Day Dessert Sampler" was the perfect ending, as we didn't have to agonize over the dessert menu (we didn't even see it, in fact, which was probably just as well). On the left, tiny turnovers filled with black raspberries and Michigan sweet cherries. In the center, Delicia de Chocolate (layers of white chocolate, dark chocolate and raspberry cremas). On the right, and the most incredible of the three, Cream Cheese Ice Cream studded with raspberry ate (AH-tay, which is a kind of candied fresh fruit jelly); all were drizzled with chocolate sauce.

For the oenophiles, here were the perfectly matched wines offered with the tasting:

Appetizers: 2005 Torres "Viña Esmeralda", Penedès, Spain.
Soups: 2005 Elk Cove Pinot Blanc, Wallamette Valley, Oregon.
Lobster: 2005 Emilio Bulfon Forgiarin, Friuli-Venezia, Guilia, Italy.
Duck / pork: 2002 Muga Reserva, Rioja Alta, Spain.
Dessert: 2003 Ridge "Essence" Late Harvest Zinfandel, Stone Ranch, Alexander Valley, California.

We had some great meals in Chicago, but in retrospect this was the best -- amazing food, great service, and a real feeling of fun and celebration ... very different from the meal we'd experience the following evening. In fact, if we had had the time and budget, we'd have returned to Topolobampo on the same trip and gotten a completely different series of dishes. It's tops on the list for our return trip next year.

Oh yes, we're already planning that. I fell hard for Chicago, and I'll be back as often as I can manage.

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  Friday, August 11, 2006

My kind of town.   We're baaaaaaaaack ... and boy, are we fat. You'll see why when I post the food porn over the next few days.

Chicago was fantastic! Rarely have I fallen for a city so hard -- I really loved it, and we're already planning another trip next year. Such a great, pulsing, vibrant city, so full of life and beauty and whimsy and people who really love their town, and who time after time went out of their way to help us find our way around. Thanks to everyone for their great advice -- we didn't have time for all of it, but he have a list for next time.

Now, we've got some catching up to do ...

The approach of One-Year-After.   I must confess I hadn't been giving this much thought, until I got an email from fellow New Orleanian Justin Lundgren, who said,

As you may know, there's been a lot of talk recently in the Times-Picayune and on the radio about the ways in which New Orleanians plan to commemorate the one-year anniversary of Katrina. I've developed a ritual that centers around a dinner to be prepared on August 29th. The central idea is to encourage all New Orleanians scattered around the country to sit down simultaneously, prepare a meal and creatively celebrate our endangered community. You can read about the ritual in its entirety at:

This is a perfect idea. I'm not sure if we'll pull off the rituals (or more likely we'll adapt the idea and add our own), but I think that we'll definitely be having a meal at our house on the 29th. Thanks for suggesting this, Justin!

Another great idea.   Our friend Kim, who lives across the street from us, sent us a link to The Katrina Furniture Project -- read and pass it around.

The Katrina Furniture Project focuses on developing culturally sensitive, ecologically sustainable building prototypes that will help to guide the redevelopment process; as well as building the economic and social capacity of those neighborhoods in New Orleans that experienced severe pre-Katrina economic and social challenges through furniture making workshops.

These furniture making workshops will train community members in the craft of making furniture and, where necessary, in the fundamentals of operating these workshops safely and according to fundamental business models. The training will be led by faculty and students from participating universities and NGOs and coordinated with local arts institutions. The workshops are intended to be multi-purpose in nature and function as neighborhood-based places of work, sites of learning and community centers. Weekend workshops, for example, will help provide facilities for community members needing to rebuild their homes by providing tools and expertise.

Return of the expats.   The Los Angeles Times, still doing a great job with its coverage of post-flood New Orleans, reports on how a number of New Orleanian expatriates like myself are beginning to return home, with a sense of duty to help out their city. I know how they feel -- I've been feeling the tug for almost a year now, but unfortunately it's not financially feasible for me to do it now. Maybe one day ...

You may recognize a couple of those New Orleanians profiled in the article too -- fellow NOLA bloggers and Looka! comment contributors Ray Shea and Ashley Morris ... way to go, y'all!

Katrina continues to take its toll.   In one of the saddest stories I've read from home in a while, the New York Times reports what's become of the Times-Picayune's amazing photographer John McCusker. Like so many other New Orleanians, he was physically okay, but mentally ... the stress of what happened finally got to him.

On the morning after Hurricane Katrina, when members of The Times-Picayune?s staff found themselves marooned in its flooded building here, John McCusker refused to join most of his colleagues in relocating to a remote newsroom in Baton Rouge.

fter the building was evacuated, Mr. McCusker, a photographer for the paper, swam through muck while managing to keep his equipment dry and, from a kayak, captured some of the most harrowing images of the storm?s immediate aftermath.

Then, for months, he lived the misery he had been photographing, having lost his possessions, his family's home and his entire neighborhood to the hurricane. On Tuesday, nearly a year after the storm, he seemed to snap.

In an episode that began as a traffic stop for erratic driving, the authorities say, Mr. McCusker was halted once, pinned a police officer between cars by backing up, then fled and drove into several cars and construction signs in the Uptown neighborhood before being stopped again and finally subdued with a Taser gun. In both stops, the police say, he begged officers to shoot him, telling them he did not have enough insurance money to rebuild his home in the Gentilly neighborhood and wanted to die.

Good God. Read the rest, but be warned ... it's heartbreaking. I hope he gets better as soon as possible, but mental health facilities in New Orleans have been decimated. Some of you psychiatrists, psychologists, social and mental health workers who relocated need to read the article before this one and get your asses back home. The people of New Orleans need you.

"I wish I'd written this,"   said Audrey in email this morning as she forwarded this post from Shakespeare's Sister, which I'll quote in its entirety because it's so feckin' good and so feckin' sadly true, and you should start reading her blog every day.

If Martians land tomorrow, and ask me to describe for them the country in which I live, I'm just going to tell them about Janet Wilson.

Janet Wilson is a 52-year-old, legally blind Quaker who demonstrates against the war with a group of other Quakers and peace activists once a week. She carries a sign that bears a peace symbol and the word "peace" in both English and Spanish.

Last Saturday, Janet had her sign ripped from her hand and destroyed by a passer-by who jumped out of his Hummer, which was towing a trailer done in camouflage and covered by a domed tent, to scream at them to support the troops. After yelling at them and smashing their signs, he then left.

This, I will tell my new extraterrestrial friends, is America. It's a country in which we have to fight wars to ensure we can continue to fuel both our dependence on oil and our gas-guzzling vehicles, but we fight these wars under the pretense of delivering freedom -- which, by our own country's definition, includes freedom of speech. Ironically, I will say, as the aliens each fix their single great, pulsing eye on me curiously, it is men like the sign-wrecking Hummer driver, whose hubristic refusal to sacrifice even the most easily expendable of his resource-gobbling habits, for whom we must fight these wars, and, in further expression of his luxurious ignorance, he is the most likely to believe that the war is being fought for the very freedoms he yet resents in his own country. And while he will be first to demand that others support the troops, he would be last to lay his own life on the line alongside them.

The Martians will pause for a moment, I imagine, and then gently explain they will seek out kinder shores, before returning to their spacecraft.

"What does that thing run on?" I'll ask.

"Reason," they'll tell me, and I won't bother asking for the blueprints, but instead wish them well on their journey.

Sigh. Never in my life have I found myself being so frequently ashamed of my country as I've been over the last five years, but I hold out hope that the people who are making me ashamed are more and more in the minorty; sadly, the horrid people they voted into office are still in power. When will America be great again? (I hope my country does me proud this November.)

Changing the law: the saga continues.   There's been further progress (a most inappropriate use of that word, actually) for the Bush administration to draft amendments to a law that'll make their war crimes no longer war crimes, with "cruel, humiliating and degrading treatment" (and the less publicized actual torture) of prisoners disappearing in a whiff of legal technicality.

When will they realize that when we behave like them, we're not the good guys anymore?

Bo knows airline security.   Via Steve, who said, "I'm glad the media has been able to focus on the real crucial angles of the [new airline security] developments: how they impact Bo Diddley."

Bo Diddley was traveling light, just like other passengers who couldn't bring liquids or gels on flights because of new anti-terrorism rules.

The 77-year-old singer-musician didn't have carryon items when he passed through security Thursday at Gainesville Regional Airport. But Diddley said he'd already left his most important item in a city where he was stopping on his way to a concert in Canada.

"My guitar is in New York," he said.

Okay then.

I'm really, really glad they foiled that plot, but on a more selfish note, I'm really really glad we flew Tuesday instead of Thursday. Holy crap.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Tuesday, August 2, 2006

Sorry for the lack of posting.   July was a busy busy month, with new things entering my life and I'm trying to find the time to balance and juggle them all. I promise to post more regularly.

Now, that said ... I must confess that I won't be posting for six more days. (D'oh, you lying hound!) Wes and I are off to Chicago for six days, but we'll be back with lots of pictures and food porn (Charlie Trotter's, Topolobampo, Hot Doug's Encased Meat Emporium, pizza from Pizzeria Due, souvlaki from somewhere, breakfasts at Ann Sather's and Walker Bros., and more.

Back on Tuesday, hopefully posting by Wednesday!

Fais Zozo!   Read the excellent interview in this month's OffBeat with Linda Ronstadt and Ann Savoy, as they talk about their wonderful new record done under the name "The Zozo Sisters", entiteled Adieu False Heart.

Wilcopalooza.   While we're in Chicago the Lollapalooza Festival will be taking place ... and we'll be ignoring it entirely. Too much else to see and do for my first trip to Chicagoland, and despite there being a bunch of bands there I'd like to see, big outdoor weekend-long rock festivals nowadays fall into the category of "Man, I'm too old for that shit." Give me my comfy chair in an air-conditioned theatre any day. (Jazzfest, French Quarter Fest and Satchmo Summerfest excepted, of course.)

If you're not nearby or of the same mind about festivals, you can still catch the performance by Wilco on Sunday, August 6, from 6:30 to 7:30pm Central Time. The direct viewing link is here.

July Looka! entries have been permanently archived.

[ Link to today's entries ]

Several of my friends and loved ones (and a few kind strangers) contribute regularly to this weblog, providing links, comments and sometimes lots more. Thanks to Wesly Moore, Mike Luquet, Mary Herczog, Steve Hochman, Dave Schmerler, Nettie DeAugustine, Diana Schwam, Andy Senasac, Michael Yasui, Steve Gardner, Michael Pemberton, Steve Kelley, Barry Kelley, Eric Labow, Tom Krueger, Greg Beron, Sean Burke, Shari Minton and Barry Enderwick.
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