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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Buy my New Orleans music box set!

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 (such as the Louisiana Music Factory, because you should be supporting local New Orleans retailers) or via Amazon if you insist.

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

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)

May 2007
April 2007
March 2007
February 2007
January 2007

2006:   Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.

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
Ashley Morris
Dispatches from Tanganyika
Home of the Groove
Humid City
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.
   (Their weblog.)

*     *     *

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 Bitter Truth
   (A new brand of bitters
   from Germany: orange, lemon,
   aromatic bitters and more!)

*     *     *

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.)

A Dash of Bitters
   (Michael Dietsch)

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)

Imbibe Magazine
   (Celebrating the world in a glass)

Jimmy's Cocktail Hour
   (Jimmy Patrick)

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
The New Orleans Menu
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
The Hungry Passport
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:

D*U*C*K, by Poppy Z. Brite.

To Marry Medusa, by Theodore Sturgeon.

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)
Raidió Idirlíon
   (Irish language & music)
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:
Babel (****)
Children of Men (****)
Notes on a Scandal (***-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
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

  Wednesday, May 30, 2007

"Plan Calls for $3.5M Katrina Memorial"   Um ... no.

Tucked inside a $14.4 billion blueprint for the rebuilding of New Orleans is a proposal for a Hurricane Katrina monument on a grand, "Homeric" scale, like the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

The idea is to honor Katrina's victims and the spirit of New Orleans, and create a tourist attraction.

But with many sections of the city still in shambles and only about half the population back 21 months after the hurricane, some question the need for a $3.5 million memorial, even if it is paid for mostly with private money, as proposed.

"What will it memorialize? How many people came back?" said Angele Givens, president of the Gentilly Civic Improvement Association. [...]

It is not at all clear whether the memorial will ever get built. No money has been secured for the project. The costs of upkeep were estimated at $70,000 a year.

Givens said she would rather see money, private or otherwise, spent on rebuilding neighborhoods and bringing residents home.

City Council president Oliver Thomas said the best thing officials can do to honor the storm's victims is to bring New Orleans back, with "better schools, better streets, safer streets and lower utility bills."

"If we do that," he said, "it will be the greatest Katrina memorial we could have."

No. No Arc de Triomphe, no millions wasted on something like this. Not until every home is rebuilt, ever family is back home, every school is back, the cracked pipes are fixed, the city is safe from storm surges, and every musician's lost instrument is replaced. Any private donor who would give money to this and not to rebuilding efforts and local charities should just keep it.

Jazzfest '07, Day 3.   We had a bit of a food hangover from Becky's JazzFEAST, unsurprisingly. Eating was a bit light at Fest today, although what it lacked in quantity we certainly made up for in quality and fabulosity. Although I'm only featuring two dishes here in the photos, I must point out that I did start my Jazzfest day as always with another Creole's Stuffed Bread, washed down with a Strawberry Lemonade, one of the best things to drink at Fest. (I don't know why people waste their time with that crap beer they sell.)

Between our own experience, recommendations from friends and also from local food writers, we were determined to not only try new stuff but to also hit the "Best of Fest" food items, two of which we covered today.

Pheasant, Quail and 
Andouille Gumbo

Pheasant, Quail and Andouille Gumbo from Préjean's Restaurant in Lafayette is a don't-miss dish. Rich and smoky and full of dark, flavorful game bird meat, with a nice dark roux, Cajun-style (natch). So, so good, and a perennial favorite (except for last year ... our serving was way too salty last year, which was a bizarre anomaly we were glad to see had been fixed this time around).

Then came ya piece o' da resistance ..

Soft Shell Crab 

The Soft Shell Crab Po-Boy had gone up to $9 this year, and it was still worth every cent. This is one of the ultimate examples of taking a fantastic ingredient, treating it simply and letting it speak for itself. A battered and deep-fried whole crab, unbelievably crabmeaty and loaded with crab fat to boot, very un-greasy, on perfectly crisp and airy French bread as only New Orleans bakers can do properly, with just a little hot sauce. Heaven ... I'm in heaven ... and my heart beats so that I can hardly speak ... and I seem to find the happiness I seek ... when we're out together eatin' soft shell crab! (Um, sorry Irving.)

Oh, um, and I had another Chocolate Eclair too, and a smooth, icy Mango Freeze when it got really hot. The freeze is another must-get, and proceeds from freeze sales support WWOZ, the greatest radio station in the universe.

Okay, music now! A sampling of photos is below; you can see the entire Day 3 set here. First off were The Bluerunners from Lafayette, a Cajun "garage rock" band that play some pretty raucous songs but also excel at doing traditional Cajun music, in their own offbeat style. One commenter on my Flickr stream expressed surprise that they were still around -- not only are they still around, but their two most recent albums, Honey Slides and Live at the Triple Door are two of the best.

The Bluerunners
Mark Meaux of The Bluerunners Adrian Huval of The Bluerunners

Next a brief sojourn in the Gospel Tent (which you should always try to do every day if you can, because not only is the music fantastic but those of us who are not as young as we used to be can get out of the sun and off our feets) for one of my long-time favorite gospel groups, Betty Winn and One-a-Chord. The tent was crowded but not nearly as crowded as it'd be next weekend ... more on that later.

Betty Winn & 

Then we were off to Congo Square for two great acts in a row -- local Latin superstar Fredy Omar. He's from Honduras, but he and his very talented banda play music from all over Latin America and the Caribbean. ("Fredy Omar con su Banda" is how they're usually billed, and fortunately this year there was no idiot stage emcee introducing them as "Ladies and gentlemen, Fredy Omar and Consubanda!" We're still makin' fun of that guy.)

Next was a wonderful set of African music from a Guinean musician named Ba Cissoko. He plays the kora, a 21-stringed harplike instrument from west Africa made of a large gourd. I love this stuff, and have loved African music since my days doing my radio show right before "The African Beat" (Hi CC, Solomon and Ade!), back when KCRW used to be good. Two kora players, a bassist and a percussionist, and that was an incredible amount of music to come from just four guys.

Fredy Omar Ba Cissoko

On to the Grandstand, where I finally got to see the legendary Bobby Lounge, whose absurd, sarcastic songs delighted Jazzfest audiences for the first time only last year (and of course, I missed it, including his Big Entrance in which he was wheeled to the stage in an iron lung). No iron lung this year, but plenty of great songs, laughs and silly antics, such as when the "Squirrelsquatch" (a mythical Mississippian beast) arrived incarnate, snatched a young lady's dress off and ran away with it. They ended up dancing on stage together ... all part of the show, of course. Bobby's a bit too much to explain here; follow the link and learn more about him. Get his two albums too, they're wonderful.

Bobby Lounge "Squirrelsquatch" dancing with the lady whose clothes he "stole"

Mango freeze in hand, we headed off to the Fais Do-Do Stage to catch Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. I love these guys, and was glad to see them booked at the Fest. They were certainly the quietest artists I'd seen the whole time, perhaps ever, but I'm a huge fan and hey, we need a little relaxation amidst all the funk.

David Rawlings and 
Gillian Welch

Moving right along ... and making up for the music that I didn't see yesterday with all these acts, next was the fabulous Miss Leigh "Little Queenie" Harris and band, a highlight of my Jazzfest for a long time now. She always puts together an all-star band, which featured several longtime collaborators, including Jimmy Robinson of Woodenhead and Twangorama, C.C. Adcock from Lafayette, Matt Perrine on sousaphone, The Pfister Sisters on vocals, Joshua Paxton on piano, plus her hubby Rick Ledbetter on bass and her son Alex McDonald on rubboard. This was a great first course for a long-awaited Little Queenie & the Percolators reunion that'll be happening later in the evening at Southport Music Hall out past the Riverbend.

Leigh "Little 
Queenie" Harris
Jimmy Robinson and C.C. Adcock Alex McDonald
Leigh "Little 
Queenie" Harris and band

By the way, Leigh and fellow Percolator John Magnie (now of the subdudes) have compiled a CD of Percolators studio and live rarities entitled Home. Yeah you rite! Given that the only Percolators record ever to come out was a 45rpm single of "My Darlin' New Orleans" b/w "Wild Natives" (included on the CD), this is not to be missed for any Percolators fans. Buy it at the Louisiana Music Factory.

We split up here for a bit -- I forgot who Wes went to see, but I wanted to catch a bit of C. J. Chenier and the Red Hot Louisiana Band at the Blues Tent. It'd good to see him carrying on the family tradition from his father The King. So few young zydeco bands nowadays, if any, even seem to acknowledge the existence of Clifton Chenier.

C. J. Chenier

Headed out after four or five songs to catch some of Big Chief Monk Boudreaux and the Golden Eagles at the Jazz and Heritage Stage. Monk's one of the great Indian chiefs, and a great singer too. His band, as always, smoked.

Big Chief Monk 
Boudreaux of the Golden Eagles

Then to wind down with some vocal jazz ... Topsy Chapman and Solid Harmony, accompanied by Don Vappie on the bass and among others, Craig Klein (of Bonerama and more) on the trombone ... one of the hardest working musicians in the city, whom I saw playing at least three or four times a day every day. As my old classmate Tim Laughlin says, "There are 10,000 bands in New Orleans but only 10 musicians." Heh.

Topsy Chapman and 
Solid Harmony

Then home again home again, to scrape off the Jazzfest gunk, get some dinner and head out to see Li'l Queenie and the Percolators!

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Tuesday, May 29, 2007

"I thought you were dead!"   Charles Nelson Reilly, 1931-2007 He was told that by people for many years, people who thought his only job was being a "Match Game" panelist, and who hadn't seen him on their televisions in years after having seen him on TV several times a day in the past. Sadly it's now true ... Tony Award-winning actor, director of television, opera and Broadway theatre, sitcom and children's televsion star and (most infamously) "Match Game" regular ("When I die, it's going to read 'Game Show Fixture Passes Away'") Charles Nelson Reilly has died at the age of 76 from complications of pneumonia.

I first saw Charles in the sitcom "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir," as the nervous and twitchy Claymore Gregg, when I was about six years old. watching his "Match Game" appearances after school every day, in which he was funny funny funny. The risqué elements to his humor went over my head at the time, but I could still tell he was being naughty. One MetaFilter comment put it best: "It always felt like I was watching a fun grown up party that I wasn't supposed to be awake for." (It always looked like a lot of fun too. Indeed, a friend of mine once sat next to Brett Somers at a show, who told him that "Match Game" was the best job she'd ever had -- she got to hang out and crack jokes with her friends all day, not infrequently after a tipple or three.)

Charles was also the title character of what's got to be one of the best hours of television I've ever seen, the episode of The X-Files entitled "Jose Chung's From Outer Space."

"And though we may not be alone in the universe, in our own separate ways, on this planet we are all alone..."

I was also very fortunate to have seen him at the Falcon Theatre a few years ago in the career-defining one-man play he wrote and performed during the last decade of his life, the phenomenal "Save It For The Stage: The Life of Reilly," which I just discovered was made into a film; I can't wait for its DVD release. It was funny and touching, hugely entertaining and enlightening as well with regards to his career. While some may dismiss him as just some guy on a game show, he's been a respected Broadway theatre and opera director for decades, directed Miss Julie Harris ("The First Lady of American Theatre") in 15 productions, and was a longtime acting teacher. (His acting school classmates, under the tutelage of Uta Hagen, included Jason Robards, Geraldine Page, Hal Holbrook, Charles Grodin and Jack Lemmon, and in later years he taught at the same school; his students included Lily Tomlin, Christine Lahti and Bette Midler.) Watch some clips from the film, especially the one called "Television.

One of my favorite CNR anecdotes (which I wish I had seen) involved one of his many appearances on "The Tonight Show" with Johnny Carson. Another guest, who was talking about Shakespeare, "dismissed Reilly's attempts to join the conversation," according to the Los Angeles Times. "He silenced her by delivering Hamlet's 'the play's the thing' monologue straight, with depth and passion." Charles recreates the moment here, in another scene from "The Life of Reilly."

"The world is a slightly less funny place now," said Paul Linke, Charles' friend and the director of his one-man show. "He made people laugh along the way, and that's a legacy that lives on long after the game shows."

But speaking of the game shows, last night Wes and I watched tons of clips from "Match Game" and laughed and laughed.

I grew up watching Charles Nelson Reilly, who he made me laugh a lot, sometimes every day, and I'll miss him. Thank you, Charles! We love you! (And by the way Charles ... while many headlines indeed reported your passing with the phrase "'Match Game' Regular", I think more of them led with "Tony Award winner." So there ya go.)

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Friday, May 25, 2007

Good food news!   I got an email (thanks, Carolyn!) with great news ... the Bistro at Maison de Ville is reopening! They had a special reopening celebration yesterday and are now taking reservations for a an official reopening on May 29. Woo!

[...] The Bistro at Hotel Maison de Ville will reopen on Thursday, May 24, 2007 under the direction of prior long-term chef Greg Picolo who survived being stranded during Hurricane Katrina and emerged determined to reopen his beloved restaurant. [...]

Chef Picolo's signature Creole style cuisine will still be the type of food served at the restaurant, but the menus will be updated and revitalized. The new menus include tried and true Bistro favorites, as well as new ever-evolving ideas and a more casual menu for Lunch. [...]

Previously, The Bistro was owned by Hotel Maison de Ville and thus the establishments share the same charm and commitment to making guests feel at home. After Hurricane Katrina, the hotel could no longer sustain the restaurant but is delighted that Chef Picolo has taken over the business along with a partner.

Picolo, a native of New Orleans was executive chef at The Bistro for 12 years, during which time the Bistro earned international acclaim, received distinction as a Gourmet magazine top table and honors from Zagat and The James Beard Foundation.

After Hurricane Katrina, Picolo was stranded in his home for almost a week as his home was surrounded by six feet of water. He and a neighbor survived by rationing their water supply and keeping their spirits up by creating gourmet meals and dipping into Picolos wine supply. Because they feared looters, they did not even light candles during this time. Heavily armed police offices and firemen who came finally rescued the pair via boats and jet skis.

Picolo temporarily relocated and worked in a hotel in Louisville but dreamed of returning to New Orleans and The Bistro. The only people who may be more excited about the reopening than Greg are loyal diners and the staff at Hotel Maison de Ville who realize how important the Bistro is to many guests experiences at the property.

That's fantastic news! The Bistro has always been one of my favorite restaurants in the city, and the prospect of its not returning was depressing. I wonder if they'll be able to coax back their longtime maitre'd Patrick van Hoorebeek from his new gig at Peristyle? That'd be the perfect finishing touch to this great restaurant's return.

JazzFEAST 2007!   It's become somewhat of a tradition over the past several years for Wes and me to get together with a bunch of my oldest friends during Jazzfest, hang out, drink wine and have a sumptuous meal. The venue has always been the home of our friends Dean and Becky -- Dean and I have been friends since our tender teenage years. We both worked at Da Show (i.e., the Village Aurora Cinema 6 in Algiers) and the rest is, as they say, history. Dean's wife Becky is a fabulous cook, so this is generally one of the highlights of our year.

Wine fan that he is, Dean's cellar is always full of tasty stuff. This year was no exception.

1981 Chateau Mouton Rothschild

Acquired at a charity auction, this 1981 Château Mouton Rothschild, a very intense Bordeaux, officially became the oldest wine I've ever tasted. (In fact, if I recall correctly, it came from the same year I met Dean.) I'd never tasted anything quite like it. There was a lot going on in there -- oak and leather in the nose; dried plums, toasted spices and flavors of coffee and tobacco and even a little bitter chocolate on the palate. Wow.

Some Champagne came out too, and cheese, and sausages, and pâté ... and the meal was as fabulous as we expected.

"Oysters Becky"

I'm not sure this dish had a name, so I dubbed it "Oysters Becky" -- fried oysters and creamed spinach atop artichoke bottoms, with Hollandaise sauce and crispy bacon. Yay!

Cream of Portobello & Garlic Soup

Next, Cream of Portobello and Garlic Soup, with goat cheese and a drizzle of truffle oil. The goat cheese had a tendency to sink, so it's not terribly visible in the picture, but boy did it taste good in this.

Filet of Beef Tenderloin with Veal Demiglace

Main course -- Filet of Beef Tenderloin with veal demiglace, oyster mushroom cream sauce and haricots verts. That demiglace had reduced all day. Oh my.

Louisiana Strawberry "Jelly Roll"

Finally, dessert! Louisiana Strawberry "Jelly Roll" and homemade Angel Food Cake drizzled with Chambord. Becky made the cake (which was a great idea -- a lighter dessert after a big beefy creamy buttery meal), and Guy and Kimberly brought the jelly roll, which was super-good. She also brought us each a jar of her homemade Louisiana strawberry preserves, and I'm currently debating whether to save it for a special occasion or just, maybe, pig out on it this weekend.

We're already looking forward to Jazzfest '08!

Sigh.   I've been feeling a growing dissatisfaction with my food photography lately. It's overly documentary -- yes, there's the meal, but taking a flash picture of a plate looks flat and awful, and I feel pretty self-conscious popping off a flash in a darkened restaurant (you'll hear lots more about that when I tell you about our meal at Restaurant August). I need some better equipment, for one -- a little table tripod that'll allow me to keep the camera still for long, low-light exposures. A camera with far greater low-light sensitivity than mine (just setting the effective ISO speed at 400 introduces boulder-sized "grain" and noise, and unwanted artifacts). The ability to actually SEE through the lens and FOCUS images myself! Although my camera is considered "prosumer", it is not a single lens reflex. I despise autofocus. I come from a 35mm still photography background, and if I'm going to get serious about digital photography I need serious equipment, not what's basically a point-and-shoot with a few bells and whistles on it. I've also been doing some reading about food photography, which is a beast unto itself.

All this to say, I'm going to start working on improving the quality of my food photography as soon as I can. I hope this means that the dishes will look even tastier, and the food porn even more gloriously obscene.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Jazzfest '07, Day 2.   It was a comparative lazy day and a short one as well, as that evening we had been invited to the home of our old friends Dean and Becky for the annual event we're now calling JazzFEAST -- good friends, lots of wine and great food. But we did manage to eat a lil' bit to eat at Fest though (natch).

Fried Soft-Shell Crawfish Po-boy

The Fried Soft Shell Crawfish Po-boy is one of the Jazzfest Food Areas' many works of art. It's a very different experience from the soft shell crab po-boy, and yet another food item that I must not miss. Farm-raised soft-shell crawfish, battered and fried in their entirety, dressed with a little hot sauce and scattered with battered, deep-fried jalapeño slices ... all on perfect French bread, of course.

Then there was ... The Eclair.

We had actually had this yesterday on Fest Day 1, but I was so flummoxed by it, so flabbergasted, so gobsmacked, so astonished and delighted that I just stood there right in front of the stand (probably in the way) until it was gone, allowing myself no time to photograph it. The mistake was not repeated today.

The Eclair

The eclair was a new thing this year, from an old vendor -- Angelo's Bakery in Metairie, who'd had a booth at Jazzfest for over 15 years selling brownies, coconut macaroons and other baked goods. This year, though, they introduced two new products -- the chocolate eclair and the cream puff. Both perfect, classic French pastry, with textbook pâte à choux iced with chocolate ganache and filled with pastry cream ...or so I thought.

The inside of The Eclair

No, my friends, not pastry cream ... but chocolate bavarian cream! And the whole thing ice-cold out of the refrigerator. I had one of these almost every day this year.

Later on at the Gospel Tent we met up with Michael, who'd be at dinner with us that night. "I just talked to Dean, and he gave me the rundown on what Becky's fixing tonight," he said. "If I were y'all I'd stop eating now." Uh-oh ... but, but ... I was still hungry! There were more dishes to try! But the last thing I wanted to do was "sperl my appetite," as my Granny would say. This dinner gathering is one of the highlights of our Jazzfest. So we decided to try one thing big enough to share among four, and got some help from Sarah and Peter.

Trout Baquet and Crawfish Bisque

A combo platter from Li'l Dizzy's Restaurant on Esplanade up by Claiborne, the latest joint run by the well-known Bacquet family who've been cooking locally for years. Trout Bacquet, a classic going back to Eddie's Restaurant on Law Street, is a nice, big, well-seasoned piece of trout pan-roasted in butter and topped with lump creabmeat. (Oh my.) Accompanying it was a bowl of Louisiana cuisine's most labor-intensive dish, Crawfish Bisque, a thick stew dotted with stuffed crawfish heads (the stuffing made from chopped crawfish meat, onions, bread crumbs and seasonings) served over rice. There were four heads in there, and four of us eating it ... the ideal dish to share!

We did hear some music that day, although we had to leave early in order to get showered and changed and deep into the Westbank by 7:00, starting with another of our don't-miss acts at the Gospel Tent:

The Johnson Extension
The Johnson Extension

This is The Johnson Extension. (Okay, okay ... go ahead and giggle, you sixth-graders! To be honest, we giggled too, first time we heard the group's name). They're all one big extended family called Johnson and they all sing together, get it?! They're one of THE best acts at Jazzfest. Interestingly enough they're Catholic, which I didn't know until this year; I like seeing the inclusion of black jubilee gospel music into Catholic tradition, thinking of the dirgelike, soporific music at the church I grew up going to). We never miss them.

We trudged down to the cursed Gentilly Stage to catch some of the Charmaine Neville Band set, of which we caught about 2/3. It was mellower than last year's set, more jazzy and bouncy and with less of the passion and anger she expressed a mere eight months after the flood. Oddly enough Jazz Fest Live recorded this year's set for release on CD, when last year's would have been the way to go. We relaxed on the blanket and under the umbrellas clipped to Peter and Sarah's chairs, and could hear well but couldn't see a thing -- we were way, way in the back.

We did manage to get a little closer for the next act that I had been hoping to see ... and hoping would actually show up. Bobby Charles, whose big hit was "See You Later, Alligator" and who wrote piles and piles of great songs in his career. There was some question as to whether he'd make it, though; he's a notoriously reticent performer and private person, and he's been suffering from debilitating back pain over the last several years. They'd pretty much had him talked into it, his pain situation willing, but then he started feeling bad and to deliver the death blow had a dream in which he showed up to perform at Jazzfest and got shot. (Um ... okay.) So, sadly, no Bobby Charles when we arrived at the stage.

But what we did get was a Bobby Charles Tribute, featuring Marcia Ball, Sonny Landreth, Dr. John, Shannon McNally, David Egan, Parker James and Pat Breaux playing a bunch of Bobby's songs.

Marcia Ball and Sonny Landreth

It was mighty good. Keith Spera has a few more details.

It was at this point when we picked up our trout and bisque, did a little bit of shopping and heard part of Steve Riley & the Mamou Playboys' set, and then headed out to scrape the Jazzfest muck off of us and head to dinner. (And we ain't seen nothin' yet muckwise.)

JazzFEAST post tomorrow, I think. :-)

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Sunday, May 20, 2007

Mr. Go, you've got to go!   FINALLY! "The Army Corps of Engineers plans to recommend the immediate closure of the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet, a corps representative told a cheering crowd of about 100 at a town hall meeting Saturday in Chalmette."

But the closure won't be as immediate as some would like, and residents still voiced frustration and concern about how the corps is handling the project.

Greg Miller, the corps' project manager for coastal restoration, said a definitive start date cannot yet be set for work on closing the ship canal.

Miller said the corps' report on options for closing the channel will be completed and available for congressional review in the fall. The project team still must compile an environmental impact report, design a structure to close the channel and award a contract to a construction company.

In response to concern about how long all that will take, Miller said the team has worked on the report on an expedited basis, and after it is submitted, the project's timeline will be in the hands of elected officials in Washington.

Miller said it would take about 170 days to construct a dam.

"When Congress approves, we will implement the plan as soon as possible," he said.

But for some at the meeting, "as soon as possible" isn't soon enough. "Why are we still having studies?" Meraux resident Jamie Shultz asked. "What more proof do we need to have that it needs to go?"

Miller presented three alternatives for closing MR-GO, a channel that many think contributed to flooding of St. Bernard and Orleans parishes during Hurricane Katrina and that is blamed for the destruction of 27,000 acres of wetlands since the 1960s.

The three alternatives are part of the report the corps will present to Congress. All the options include deauthorizing the channel so that it would no longer be a commercial waterway, plus continued work to restore the nearby wetlands.

The first option -- the one the corps is recommending -- would close the channel by constructing a permanent rock dam near Bayou La Loutre. This would require Congress to authorize the money to build the dam, after which its design would have to be completed and a contractor hired.

The second option would have a dam built in the same place, but a portion would be left open to allow vessels to use MR-GO until natural sediment movement makes the channel no longer navigable. If this option is selected, Miller said, it would likely be seven years before the corps would return and fill in the remainder of the dam and permanently shut off the channel.

The third option the corps will present is for the federal government to cease all maintenance work on MR-GO. This option would mean the channel would no longer be dredged or maintained, so it eventually would become unusable, but it would not be dammed.

Options 2 and 3 are completely unacceptable. Option 1 is the only way to go, and it must be done ... yesterday. But do we trust the Army Corps of Engineers not to screw it up?

Bonsoir, Bois Sec.   Creole accordionist and singer Alphonse "Bois Sec" Ardoin has passed away at the age of 91.

Alphonse 'Bois Sec' Ardoin, in 1971

The last remaining legendary figure from a small number of Creole musicians who were the first generation to record their music and define the tradition, Bois Sec Ardoin died May 16, 2007, at the age of 91. Together with Canray Fontenot, his musical partner for more than 50 years, he took the music of the rural Creole people of Southwest Louisiana and brought it to a worldwide audience. Bois Sec and Canray have had a major influence on the development of both Cajun and Zydeco music (even though, when asked if he ever played Zydeco, Bois Sec gave a wry smiled and replied, "Le zydeco? Moi, je mange les haricots."). Bois Sec Ardoin's music lives on through his children and grandchildren and through the many musicians whom he helped to learn to play and the many, many more whom he inspired through his performances and recordings.

I was very fortunate to have seen Mr. Bois Sec (a nickname which means "dry wood," which stuck to him as a young man due to his penchant to being the first guy on the farm to head to the farmhouse when it started to rain) play on a number of occasions, with his longtime musical partner the late Canray Fontenot (who had the brightest smile in the world), alone or with Balfa Toujours. (Here's a photo of him performing with Balfa Toujours 5 years ago, and here are a bunch more.)

Merci bien, Monsieur Bois Sec, pour toute la bonne musique.

Fats is back!!   Yay, Mr. Fats!

Fats Domino took the stage before a sold-out crowd of hundreds in a New Orleans nightclub Saturday, marking the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer's first public performance since Hurricane Katrina.

Dressed in a snappy white jacket, the 79-year-old New Orleans icon was crisp and energetic as he sang and played the piano. The crowd jumped and screamed when he belted out "Blueberry Hill." Domino was accompanied by his longtime friend and musical partner saxophonist Herbert Hardesty. The pair have been playing together since the mid-1940s.

Fans who for years longed to see Domino perform such hits as "Blueberry Hill,""Blue Monday,""Ain't That a Shame" and "Walkin' to New Orleans" finally got their wish. [...]

The Tipitina's Foundation, which put on Saturday night's show, is working with such artists as Elton John, Tom Petty, Bonnie Raitt, Willie Nelson, B.B. King and others to record a tribute album of Domino's songs.

Proceeds will benefit the foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to providing the city's public schools with musical instruments and helping artists recover from the hurricane. Roughly 25 percent of the proceeds will go toward the restoration of Domino's home, said Bill Taylor, the foundation's executive director.

So far, the house's interior studs and beams have been rid of mold, and workers have begun installing new drywall. The back end of a pink 1959 Cadillac that for years sat in the living area and served as a couch is being restored. The room's walls will be painted to match their pre-storm pink color.

Domino's house is still surrounded by blocks of abandoned homes -- many untouched since Katrina. For more than a year, he has been living in a gated community in a New Orleans suburb. Domino is expected to move back into his 9th Ward home later this year -- a sign of hope for many in the heavily devastated neighborhood, which some have said shouldn't be rebuilt.

Well, some can go fuck themselves, and should be asked if they would so easily declare the same for their own neighborhoods should they become similarlly devastated.

Keith Spera in the T-P points out one detail that the AP story left out:

Fats Domino didn't show up for very long, but at least he showed up. Until the very last moment, neither the audience nor the organizers of Saturday's concert at Tipitina's -- Domino's first public show in more than two years -- knew for sure if the reclusive and stage-shy 79-year-old star would in fact perform.

The rock 'n' roll founding father arrived onstage at 10:45 p.m., and was gone by 11:15. But for those 30 minutes, he made clear that both his every-sunny voice and barrelhouse-influenced piano playing are undiminished. [...]

They barrelled through 11 songs or medleys: "I'm Walkin'," "Blueberry Hill," "My Girl Josephine," "I'm In Love Again," "Blue Monday," "I'm Ready," "Ain't That A Shame," "Shake Rattle and Roll," "Valley of Tears," "Jambalaya," "So Long." After that final farewell, Domino barely paused long enough to accept a proclamation declaring May 19 Fats Domino Day. With that, he hustled offstage and was gone.

So what, though? I would have cherished those 30 minutes. I saw Mr. Fats at Jazzfest several years ago, and he was fantastic.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Thursday, May 17, 2007

KCSN Pledge Drive!   In case you hadn't noticed, it's been going on since last Friday, and we need to raise us some money! I'll be fundraising during my "Down Home" shift tonight, plus playing more great tunes from Jazzfest, more great New Orleans new releases and throwing a few other things into the gumbo as well.

You can call during my shift tomorrow, 1-800-795-5276 (that's 1-800-795-KCSN), or pledge online at I've got a nice little pack of CDs to offer as a thank-you gift for your pledge as well; a pledge of $120 gets you all five (or you can pick one or more for lesser amounts). Here's what we've got:

Niall Vallely, Paul Meehan, Caoimhín Vallely - Buille from Compass Records (Irish)
Bob French - Marsalis Music Honors Bob French from Rounder Records (Traditional New Orleans Jazz)
Dr. John - The Definitive Pop Collection from Rhino Records (New Orleans Fonk)
Ry Cooder - My Name is Buddy from Nonesuch Records (American roots music)
Old Crow Medicine Show - Big Iron World from Nettwerk Records (A modern spin on old-time and bluegrass)

Public radio, especially internet radio, needs your help now more than ever. If you've ever listened to "Down Home" or any of the other programs on KCSN, it's time to do your part. We give you the best music on public radio for free; all we ask is that you help us keep doing it. Pledge today! And tell 'em your favorite show is "Down Home"!

One Restaurant and Lounge.   On every trip back home to New Orleans I want to try at least one new (to me) place, and I had been reading about One for a while now. Open at the Riverbend for a little over two years now, it's been a big hit both in the neighborhood and beyond, packing in folks from inside and outside the neighborhood, and getting a "Best New Restaurant" nod from both New Orleans Magazine and the Gambit in '05. That, plus co-owner/executive chef Scott Snodgrass was the former chef at Clancy's, one of my favorite restaurants ... good enough for me.

One is in a former residence on Hampson Street, just a few buildings behind the newly-reopened Camellia Grill and walking distance from where we've been staying in town. Its atmosphere is neighborhood but upscale -- it's definitely a destination restaurant, but casual and friendly and a really great place to walk to from anywhere in the Riverbend area. Well-stocked bar and talented bartender to boot; we asked for Harold Lloyd Cocktails, as they call them at Lucques in West Hollywood but probably nowhere else, and they're easy enough to ask for. A Hendrick's sweet martini, about 5:1, garnished with a cucumber slice. Our server offered that chef had come up with a cocktail for a regular that involved a huge rosette of thinly sliced cucumber in the bottom of the glass, and would we like to try that instead of a slice? Sure! You get a great perfume of cucumber as you're sipping, and I think we'll try that at home soon.

Now, on to the business at hand.

One Restaurant and 
Lounge, Riverbend, New Orleans:  Sauteed Sweetbreads on Collard Greens

Being the sweetbreads fanatic that I am, I started out with what was perhaps the most unusual sweetbreads preparation I'd ever seen: Sautéed Sweetbreads on Collard Greens with a Buttermilk Biscuit. This is far more of a "down home" treatment for those luscious little glands than I'd ever seen before; I do love this ingredient, but it sometimes lends itself to haughtier preparations. This could've been a smoked ham hock with greens and a biscuit (and I'd have loved it), but that extra level of creaminess and intensity took this dish to another level. (Hmm, I wonder if anyone's cold-smoked sweetbreads before sautéing them?)

Taking a brief detour for others' dishes ... here's what Robin had to start:

Char-Grilled Oysters with Roquefort Cheese

This looked tempting, but I was too tempted by the sweetbreads and I thought I'd be having plenty of oysters elsewhere. Char-Grilled Oysters with Roquefort Cheese and Red Wine Vinaigrette, a bit of a variation on the more Italian-seasoned charbroiled oysters you see around the city (and especially at Drago's in Metairie), but with a French twist here. I didn't get a bite, but they sure smelled wonderful.

 Fried Soft Shell Crab & Escargots

This was Wes' entrée: Fried Soft Shell Crab & Escargots on Herbed Risotto with a Bacon-Leek Meunière Sauce. Wow! This was just ... nuts. Crazy good! Wes tends to fixate on soft shell crabs and duck while we're in New Orleans, and as soon as I saw this on the menu I knew he'd get it. Soft shell crab with snails, who'd'a thunk it? I'd never seen this combination before, and it worked really well -- it also shows a chef who's not afraid to take some chances. And that sauce ... omigawd, I could smell it from all the way in the kitchen; I could tell as soon as they sauced his plate!

Now, back to me me me ...

Cochon de Lait

"This is why I came!" shouted Harrison Ford in the film of Paul Theroux's Mosquito Coast, and while I wasn't making ice in the jungle, I sure as hell was eatin' me some pig. As soon as I read about this dish I knew I wanted it. Cochon de Lait and Fava Beans on Stone-Ground Grits with Pork Cracklins and Sweet & Sour Red Cabbage is Chef Scott's signature dish, and when someone's signature dish is pig I want it. It did not disappoint. In fact, as I recall, it made my eyes roll back in my head for a bit. This was the best cochon de lait I'd had in the city, better even than what's served at Jazzfest (which is really, really good). Almost butter tender, intensely porky, nicely smoky and full of juice ... I was a happy boy. I understand that One uses whole suckling pigs for this dish, instead of smaller cuts of older pork, and it makes all the difference. The large slice of cracklin provided a porky and crispy counterpoint to the meltingly tender pork, the grits rooted it even more firmly in the South and gave you a little starch with your protein, and the crisp acidity of the cabbage gave a bit of balance to the creamy richness of the other ingredients without asserting itself too much (it's mostly a garnish). Yep. This is why I came. This is why you should go too. (Well, and the other stuff ain't chopped liver.)

Louisiana Strawberry Shortcake with Caramel Sauce
Flourless Swiss Chocolate Cake Vanilla Creme Brulee

Desserts were very conventional, as they can be at a number of local restaurants. The Louisiana Strawberry Shortcake with Caramel Sauce was superb, though ... due in no small part to the fact that Pontchatoula strawberries are some of the best anywhere. There was also a Swiss Flourless Chocolate Cake and a Vanilla Crème Brûlée that were fine but nothing to write home about ... and I have to say that unless something really interesting is done with crème brûlée I'm not terribly interested in ordering it anymore. But you don't come here for the dessert, you come here for everything before it. As one local reviewer said, "A strong cup of coffee would make an excellent dessert here," and I agree. Next time we go, though, I want to make sure we get the number of people in the reservation right ahead of time, so we don't get stuck at tall bar tables in the bar area (not the world's best seating; I definitely want a table at our next visit), and I'll have to struggle over whether I'm going to try something else or get that magnificent pig again.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Our coast to fix -- or lose.   Read this article by John Barry, then send it to everyone you know, then send it to every idiot Congressman and Senator you know of who's blocking or stalling on legislation to protect the Louisiana coastline.

There has been much debate in the past 20 months over protecting Louisiana from another lethal hurricane, but nearly all of it has been conducted without any real understanding of the geological context. Congress and the Bush administration need to recognize six facts that define the national interest. [...]

Fact 1: The Gulf of Mexico once reached north to Cape Girardeau, Mo. But the Mississippi River carries such an enormous sediment load that, combined with a falling sea level, it deposited enough sediment to create 35,000 square miles of land from Cape Girardeau to the present mouth of the river.

This river-created land includes the entire coast, complete with barrier islands, stretching from Mississippi to Texas. But four human interventions have interfered with this natural process; three of them that benefit the rest of the country have dramatically increased the hurricane threat to the Gulf Coast.

Fact 2: Acres of riverbank at a time used to collapse into the river system providing a main source of sediment. To prevent this and to protect lives and property, engineers stopped such collapses by paving hundreds of miles of the river with riprap and even concrete, beginning more than 1,000 miles upriver -- including on the Ohio, Missouri and other tributaries -- from New Orleans. Reservoirs for flood protection also impound sediment. These and other actions deprive the Mississippi of 60 to 70 percent of its natural sediment load, starving the coast.

Fact 3: To stop sandbars from blocking shipping at the mouth of the Mississippi, engineers built jetties extending more than two miles out into the Gulf of Mexico. This engineering makes Tulsa, Kansas City, Minneapolis, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and other cities into ports with direct access to the ocean, greatly enhancing the nation's economy. The river carries 20 percent of the nation's exports, including 60 percent of its grain exports, and the river at New Orleans is the busiest port in the world. But the jetties prevent any of the sediment remaining in the river from replenishing the Louisiana and Mississippi coasts and barrier islands; instead, the jetties drop the sediment off the continental shelf.

Fact 4: Levees that prevent river flooding in Louisiana and Mississippi interfere with the replenishment of the land locally as well.

Fact 5: Roughly 30 percent of the country's domestic oil and gas production comes from offshore Louisiana, and to service that production the industry created more than 10,000 miles of canals and pipelines through the marsh.

Every inch of those 10,000-plus miles lets saltwater penetrate, and eat away at, the coast. So energy production has enormously accelerated what was a slow degradation, transforming a long-term problem into an immediate crisis. The deprivation of sediment is like moving a block of ice from the freezer to the sink, where it begins to melt; the effect of the canals and pipelines is like attacking that ice with an ice pick, breaking it up.

As a result, 2,100 square miles of coastal land and barrier islands have melted into the Gulf of Mexico. This land once served as a buffer between the ocean and populated areas in Louisiana and part of Mississippi, protecting them during hurricanes. Each land mile over which a hurricane travels absorbs roughly a foot of storm surge. [...]

Fact 6: Without action, land loss will continue, and it will increasingly jeopardize populated areas, the port system and energy production. This would be catastrophic for America. Scientists say the problem can be solved, even with rising sea levels, but that we have only a decade to begin addressing it in a serious way or the damage may be irreversible.

Despite all this and President Bush's pledge from New Orleans in September 2005 that "we will do what it takes" to help people rebuild, a draft White House cuts its own recommendation of $2 billion for coastal restoration to $1 billion while calling for an increase in the state's contribution from the usual 35 percent to 50 percent. Generating benefits to the nation is what created the problem, and the nation needs to solve it. Put simply: Why should a cab driver in Pittsburgh or Tulsa pay to fix Louisiana's coast? Because he gets a stronger economy and lower energy costs from it, and because his benefits created the problem. The failure of Congress and the president to act aggressively to repair the coastline at the mouth of the Mississippi River could threaten the economic vitality of the nation. Louisiana, one of the poorest states, can no longer afford to underwrite benefits for the rest of the nation.

Can you get that through your thick skull, Senator Coburn, and all your ilk?

John Boutté's music is therapy for listeners and singer.   Good article in the Baton Rouge Morning Advocate about the best singer in New Orleans, and how his music, wonderful before and even more powerful since the flood, is healing and cathartic to himself as well as his audience.

Easter weekend in New Orleans. It's early evening at d.b.a., a Frenchmen Street bar and music venue. John Bouttée and a trio of musicians are playing an intimate show for a rapt audience. Sitting in a chair on the small stage, the intense Boutté is singing and shaking a tambourine. His adds a second line of percussion with his boot.

Despite New Orleans' reputation for good times, the scene at d.b.a. is serious. This is a place of healing.

Many of the songs Boutté sings contain layers of meaning they didn't possess before Aug. 29, 2005. The singer tweaks lyrics, too, making them pointedly relevant to his city's post Hurricane Katrina troubles.

"You don't know, you don't know, you don't know how I feel," Boutté exclaims during his rendition of Annie Lennox's "Why."

"Six feet of water in the streets of the Lower Nine," he sings in Randy Newman's "Louisiana 1927." "Twelve feet of water in your mama's house and mine. I feel like they're gonna wash us away."

He also sings "City of New Orleans," featuring the line, "Don't you know me? I'm your favorite son." And Stevie Wonder's "You Haven't Done Nothing," Allen Toussaint's "All These Things" and the classic hymn, "Amazing Grace."

"Everything is just a different shade to me, a different color," Boutté said later. "My rose-colored glasses have been broke. Now, I have X-ray vision. I can see through all the BS and, boy, there's too much of it."

Amen, bruh.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Jazzfest '07, Day 1.   It was good to be back at the Fair Grounds. A perfect sunny day, the entire Fat Pack converging (as well as my sister), and as is my tradition (which I missed last year), I made a beeline for the first thing I eat at Fest -- Creole's Stuffed Bread:

Creole's Stuffed Bread, to kick off Jazzfest 2007!

Surely one of the most underrated foods at Jazzfest -- it's rarely if ever mentioned in the best-of coverage of the food in the local media -- yet Miz Merlene sells enough of them every Fest such that it's pretty much the business highlight of her year. Little baked buns filled with a savory, spicy mixture of meat, sausage, cheese and peppers. I could eat one of these every day for the rest of my life.

We accompanied that with one of the handful of dishes at Jazzfest that are actually good for you.

Jama Jama

Jama jama (or "njamma njamma" as I've sometimes seen it spelled) is an African dish of seasoned sautéed spinach topped with an incendiary hot sauce that some would call optional but I would call essential. All washed down with a cool strawberry lemonade, a Fest favorite.

We were keen to see some music and to save a lil' bit of room for dinner that night (remember, we kept repeating the Jazzfest mantra, it's a marathon, not a sprint), so we waited until after we saw four musical acts before eating again. Our next stop was when we were on our way to Food Area I with a definite goal in mind, but passed another booth that had something new. I was so astonished by it, and so amazed by it, and so revelled in eating it IMMEDIATELY that there was no chance whatsoever for a picture. Fortunately, I had another one the next day (and the day after that), with camera ready, so I'll tell you about it when I cover Day 2.

Where we were headed was for one of my favorite things to eat in he world -- Creole hot sausage. There are spicy sausages available around the world, but not only is this one of the best (well, THE best for my money) it's also incredible comfort food. I grew up with this stuff. The famous Vaucresson family has been making and serving hot sausage to Jazzfesters since 1970 (and to the Seventh Ward and New Orleans in general since 1899), and despite the theft of their custom-made workhorse grill they were still at it on the Fair Grounds as always. I had to support them and get me some good sausage, so, after a brief pause for the afore-not-mentioned food item (let's just say that it was a case of "Life is short; eat dessert first"), I made a beeline for a Vaucresson's Hot Sausage Po-Boy.

Vaucresson's Hot Sausage Poor Boy

I generally prefer hot sausage in patties rather than in links, bt I make an exception for Vaucresson's, 'cause it's just so damn good. I considered getting a crawfish sausage po-boy too, but thought that might be a bit much. It's only first day, podna ... there's plenty o' time.

We split up after a while, as couples or groups inevitably do at Fest, 'cause I wanted to try to catch some of Van Morrison but Wes wasn't interested. On the way there I thought I'd grab one last thing for the day, before our big dinner. Soup or bisque would be perfect, I thought ... not a filling gumbo but something a bit lighter.

Oysters Rockefeller Bisque

Oysters Rockefeller Bisque was just the thing -- four or five plump oysters, perfectly cooked, a hint of anise and Herbsaint, butter, spinach, tarragon ... oh my. Where else on the planet can you be dressed in a t-shirt and shorts and sandals, walking to hear Van the Man (or any musical performer for that matter), holding a styrofoam cup and plastic spoon via which you dine on a five-star restaurant-quality dish? Only in New Orleans, baby.

Lest I make Jazzfest sound to the unititiated as if it's only a food festival (which for some people it is; our friend Sarah opined that she'd go even if there were no bands playing), we did see plenty of great music this year, and Day 1 was no exception. I'll keep the descriptions brief, and you can seek out more about these musicians via the links.

Cedric Watson Wilson Savoy
The Pine Leaf Boys

The Pine Leaf Boys kicked off our musical Jazzfest, which ended up being very Cajun music-heavy for me this year ... so what a better way to start? This young, bi-racial Cajun/Creole band with touches of zydeco are the hottest thing in Cajun music right now, incredibly dynamic and creative and innovative yet traditional, reverent yet tons of fun. Their second album, Blues de Musicien on Arhoolie, is even more brilliant than their first. Go get it. (First row: Cedric Watson, fiddle; Wilson Savoy; accordion. Second row: Cedric; Drew Simon, drums; Wilson; Jon Bertrand, guitar.)

Eddie Bo Zachary Richard
Francis Cabrel & Zachary Richard

We headed to the Gentilly Stage next, excited to see legendary Cajun musician Zachary Richard, a favorite of mine for many years and his first Jazzfest performrance since 1999. He was also bringing French acoustic musician Francis Cabrel with him for performances here and later on at Lafayette's Festival Internationale de Louisiane (maddeningly overlapping with Jazzfest). Conveniently, Eddie Bo was playing at that stage first, so we'd get to see his set too. Except ... horrendous technical problems which seemed to plague the Gentilly Stage for the entire Fest got them all off to a badly late start. Eddie's set was cut down to a bit less than 30 minutes, then after a promise of a quick turnaround ("We'll be back with more music in six minutes, y'all!") it took nearly an hour for Zachary to start, his set actually starting 50 minutes late. Consequently his set, including a bit of solo performing by Francis, lasted barely 40 minutes. Musically brilliant and very much worth the wait, but still very disappointing. It had been a long, long time since I'd seen problems this bad. (First row: Eddie Bo, Zachary Richard. Second row: Francis Cabrel and Zachary Richard.)

This was also the year that I resolved that my camera is completely unsuited for long-distance shooting, bright sunlight shooting and in fact any kind of shooting in which I cannot look through the lens or focus the camera myself. The Canon PowerShot G6 can be a terrific camera, but as a longtime 35mm still photographer who's only recently made the leap to digital, I cannot stand not having a single lens reflex camera. The positionable external screen can be great for composing, but it's nearly impossible to see in bright light, and I'm sick to death of slow, cronking autofocus screwing me out of what otherwise might have been great shots. The camera also has only a 4x optical zoom, and as you can see from most of these pictures, when they're taken with the digital zoom engaged they look like absolute crap. I'm done. Time to start saving my pennies for a Digital Rebel EOS.

Kirk Joseph and The Houseman Trombone Shorty
Troy Andrews and James Martin Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue

Off to Congo Square for two great bands in a row. Sousaphonist Kirk Joseph, formerly yet still occasionally of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and currently heading his own ensemble, Kirk Joseph's Backyard Groove, is the master of "sousafunk," and he tore it up with the Groove and guest vocalists including ex-Galactic singer Theryl "Houseman" DeClouet. Following that was another great performance by Trombone Shorty and his band Orleans Avenue -- these kids just keep getting better and better, and Troy Andrews has been an amazing musician since he was a little kid. He's still finding his chops as a big-stage entertainer (a trip into the audience resulted in a fall from the stage in which he might've broken his neck, but instead brushed off his white suite, adjusted his glasses and kept going ... that was cool), but he's also still young. Another few years and he'll completely rule, with his stage presence as well as his adventurous music that takes in everything from century-old traditional jazz to recent funk and hip-hop. I'm also getting to be a big fan of his tenor player James Martin, who was absolutely smoking during this set (and who is easy on the eyes to boot). (First row: Kirk Joseph, Houseman; Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews. Second row: "Freaky Pete" Murano, guitar; Troy; Joey Peebles, drums; James Martin, tenor sax. Troy and James.)

Mark Mullins Chris Segura
Kristi Guillory and Yvette Landry Randy Vidrine

I wandered toward the Acura Stage with my Oysters Rockefeller Bisque, listening to Van Morrison on the way and as I approached the stage ... or rather, got as close as I could to the stage area, which was not much. It was one of the most jam-packed acts I'd ever seen at that stage, with the crowd spilling so far out onto the sidewalk that the stage area was almost completely impassable. There were two rows of people trying to squeeze through, one going forward and one going back, and there was barely even room for one. I got to listen to about two songs while I fought my way past it, then said feck it. I headed back to join Wes at the Fais Do-Do stage for Bonerama, and fortunately got to see almost all their set. These guys are fantastic, a four-trombone frontal assault of brass funk, rock and jazz, backed by Matt Perrine's sousaphone and fronted by Mark Mullins' vocals and electric trombone (for several songs he had his trombone miked and fed through a fuzz/wah-wah pedal like an electric guitar; it was freaky). Definitely get their new album Bringing it Home, recorded live at Tipitina's, which features several originals from various band members, two Beatles songs, Thelonious Monk, George Porter and a guest appearance by Galactic drummer Stanton Moore.

After the boys were finished we relaxed a bit and took in the stage's closing act, whom I'd never seen live before. The Lafayette Rhythm Devils were a lot less crowded than Van Morrison, and brought today's Cajun music full circle. They were excellent -- Kristi Guillory was a child prodigy on the accordion, now all grown up, and Chris Segura's also the fiddle player of the wonderful young Cajun band Feufollet. Nice way to finish up the Fest ... although I did really want to see Van Morrison, I just won't fight crowds like that anymore. I'd rather stay somewhere else and hear someone local.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Monday, May 14, 2007

We interrupt this regularly scheduled program   of New Orleans food porn for some Los Angeles food porn.

Tom and Greg invited us to come out to Wat Thai, the Thai Buddhist temple in North Hollywood, for lunch. Every weekend they set up food stands were you can get amazing Thai food for very little money (tokens are sold to be exchanged for food and drink, and proceeds from token sales benefit the temple). It had been ages since I'd been to Wat Thai, so we jumped at the chance.

Wat Thai, Los Angeles Food stands galore

I started with moo ping (barbecued pork) and Thai sausage. I love moo ping (ping me, baby), and this Thai sausage is very different from the Chinese sausage you tend to get in Thai restaurants (which I love too) -- fat and juicy and well-seasoned without being spicy, and a tad less sweet than Chinese sausage.

Tom and Greg each had chicken noodle soup, the Thai name of which I forgot. Tangy chicken broth spiked with lime and chile, noodles, fish balls and scallions. Fortunately Greg didn't finish his and I got to lap up the rest.

Moo ping (barbecued pork) and Thai sausage Chicken noodle soup

Wes and I split one of our favorite dishes, som tum, shredded green (unripe) papayas with long beans, tomatoes, peanuts, chile and dried shrimp (bah, no blue crab this time!), in a dressing of lime juice, chiles and fish sauce.

Then, curry puffs ... a little fried pastry not unlike a samosa -- kind of the Thai and Malay version thereof -- but not vegetarian, as they usually have chicken in them as well as savory, slightly spicy potatoes.

Som tum - Spicy green papaya salad Curry puff

I love Thai desserts, especially those based on coconut, and we had two. We started with Khao Neow Ma-Muang, sticky rice with mango, perhaps the most well-known Thai dessert. This version also topped the sweet glutinous rice with a slightly salty coconut cream (hey, salty desserts are all the rage now, but Thai people have been at it for ages), a slice of coconut custard and some crunchy toasted mung beans. Then Wes and I noticed the coconut custards cart ... yay! We used to see custards like this for sale outside Sanamluang in Hollywood, but that cart has been gone for ages. These custards were a little different -- smaller, crispier on the outside and a touch less sweet, with the addition of scallion tops inside.

Khao Neow Ma-Muang - Sticky Rice with Mango They look like little clams, but ...

These were fantastic. I liked them much better than the ones we used to get in Sanamluang's parking lot, plus they're prettier on the inside:

Coconut custards

All this for about six bucks. Not bad.

Of course, this was only a prelude to the culinary delights that lay in store for us, after an email alerted us to what was to be had in this city on Saturday. We'd been looking forward to it all week, and it made coming home from New Orleans a little bit less bad ...

Bacon Caramel Ice Cream.   Yes, you heard me.

We've been fans of Scoops Ice Cream for a while now. They've been open for about 2 years now, just north of Melrose and just east of the 101 Freeway. It's a tiny little ice cream shop run by a mad genius of ice cream named Tai Kim, and his combinations of flavors are legendary. Also, with a few exceptions, once he makes a particular flavor he never makes it again. We'd heard about what one of his special flavors would be this past Saturday and we, the Fat Pack, United in Pork (Fac meum involutum in lardo), nearly fainted at the prospect of bacon caramel ice cream.

Sure enough, there it was ...

Bacon Caramel Ice Cream

Right next to the nicotine (!) ice cream, and to the left of the mint, lime and pear sorbet. I didn't notice any actual bacon bits in it -- in fact, it looked like plain ol' vanilla ice cream with a caramel ribbon running through it. Tai was happy to tell me how he did it. "I fried a lot of bacon," he said, "and strained the bacon fat. I used the bacon fat to make both the caramel and the ice cream base." Makes sense ... to make a caramel sauce you melt and cook sugar, then add cream -- just enrich the cream with bacon fat for flavor. Same goes for the custard base -- it's eggs, cream and milk, and you can add the bacon fat to taste while it's still liquid.

I got a double scoop for the princely sum of two dollars.

Best.  Ice cream.  Ever.

Oh. My God.

Though some may recoil in horror at the prospect of something like this, I can assure you that this was one of the best things I've ever had in my mouth. Every flavor was in perfect balance -- the cream, the touch of vanilla, the sweetness, the porkiness, the smokiness, the caramel ... Tai Kim deserves a Nobel Prize. If they have one for cookery, I'm voting for him.

I went back for more, and since "refill" double scoops are only a dollar (!), here are the other flavors I tried: Guinness Tiramisu (the flavor was primarily Guinness stout, with a touch of espresso and, somehow, a background flavor of ladyfingers), Juniper Berry and Tonic Water Sorbet (tasted like a non-alcoholic gin and tonic), Black Tea and Prunes (amazing), Raspberry Basil, Pistachio and Orange Blossom Water and Mint, Lime and Pear Sorbet (okay, I made a bit of a pig of myself).

Ones that I had little tasting spoons of were Coffee & Irish Cream, Vanilla & Whiskey (he used Jim Beam Bourbom), Chocolate & Cognac, Lime & Rosewater, Strawberry & Balsamic Vinegar, Saffron & Date (which reminded me of Mashti Malone's; they should totally steal Tai's idea of adding dates, although I don't know how authentically Persian that would be, but you'd think it would be) and ... Nicotine.

The only one that wasn't successful (indeed, the only one that wasn't insanely good) was the nicotine ice cream. I applaud his daring, risk-taking and creativity, but this one was just ... weird. It wasn't bad, it was just weird. "I used nicotine gum," he said. "After you let the initial taste of the gum's flavoring fade, you get a definite taste of nicotine afterward." Presumably it's also addictive, I said. "Well, how much of this ice cream are you going to eat?!" True. Not much, really. I bet he'd have much more success with a tobacco ice cream -- Chef Thomas Keller made a tobacco-infused coffee custard for him, to indulge his love of coffee and cigarettes, and it was supposed to be very good. Maybe Tai can head in that direction for the nicotine next time.

He also does theme weekends -- Saturdays are the days he does his most adventuresome flavors. We missed the ones he did with cheeses while we were away at Fest (like gorgonzola and pear ice cream ... oh my God). Next weekend he's doing wines. Woo, can't wait!

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Saturday, May 12, 2007

Cocktail of the day.   We both made drinks last night (it's been one heck of a week), and I started the evening with my interpretation of a drink that appears on the cocktail menu at Commander's Palace in New Orleans. The two ingredients were listed (or the main two at least), and I made an educated guess as to the proportions. I also spiked it with a little bit of the local bitters for some extra complexity and mystery.

The drink is named for one of the co-proprietors of Commander's, the genial and charming Lally Brennan. This might not be exactly what you'll get at Commander's (I had Old Fashioneds and Sazeracs there last week, not this one unfortunately, and you'll hear about our breathtaking meal there soon enough), but we sure enjoyed these last night.

The "secret ingredient" in this one is a Spanish liqueur I'm glad to see popping up in more drinks -- Licor 43, or Cuarenta Y Tres. It's supposedly a centuries-old recipe, has 43 essential ingredients including fruits and herbs, but its primary flavor profile is citrus-vanilla. Works great with tequila too, unsurprisingly.

Goodnight Lally
(Interpreted / adapted / wild-guessed-at by Chuck T.)

2 ounces Cognac.
1/2 ounce Licor 43.
1 dash Peychaud's Bitters.

You know the drill. Stir, strain, enjoy.

Hey, incidentally ... if any of y'all dine at Commander's anytime soon, ask the bartender if I was at least close.

After dinner Wes made Rusty Nails (big ones, using 12 year old Dalwhinnie whisky, no less) and we continued to slog through our 2-week TiVo accumulation -- gotta get caught up on "Lost" and "The Sopranos"!

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Friday, May 11, 2007

Photo of the day.   Seen on Canal Blvd. in New Orleans, near the cemeteries, during the second line for Jessie Hill on April 26, 2007.


Pretty much sums up just about everyone's feelings these days.

Second line for Jessie Hill.   On Thursday, April 26, a memorial second line for the great New Orleans R&B musician Jessie Hill ("Ooh Poo Pah Doo") was held, starting at the Banks St. Bar & Grill, heading up Banks and across to Canal and then the cemetery where he's buried. Jessie passed 10 years ago, but his grave only recently got its headstone, and that day was declared to be Jessie Hill Day by the city. Here's a sampling of photographs (full set here).

Second Line for Jessie Hill

The second line was led by Jessie's grandson James Andrews...

James, Craig, rubboardist and drummer

and, riding ahead of the second line in a car, Mac "Dr. John" Rebennack and Dorothy Hill, Jessie's widow.

Mac and Dorothy

The second line finally arrived at Holt Cemetery, near the cemeteries at Canal but tucked out of view; most people aren't even aware it's there. It's almost but not quite a potter's field, but it's where poor folks who can't afford "standard" New Orleans above-ground burial are buried, one of the few below-ground cemeteries in the city.

Holt Cemetery

"This is where you end up," said James, "when they steal all your royalties."

Jessie's headstone

Jessie's recently-installed headstone, presented by James Andrews and the Jessie Hill Foundation.

Just a closer walk with thee

Please support organizations that provide financial assistance for New Orleans musicians: The New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund, The Tipitina's Foundation, New Orleans Musicians Hurricane Relief Fund, The New Orleans Musicians Clinic (most local musicians have no health insurance), The Backbeat Foundation (set up by the Backstreet Cultural Museum in the Tremé), The Jazz Musician Emergency Fund (from the Jazz Foundation) and more.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Home again, home again, jiggity jig.   Home from home. I'm glad to be home, and I miss home. It's the classic dilemma of the expatriate ... I've gotta figure out a way to have a home back home too. Unfortunately right now that probably means suddenly becoming independently wealthy, which is unlikely. But I digress.

As we were getting out of the SuperShuttle in front of the house yesterday evening, one of our neighbors drove by and greeted us. "Did you go somewhere cool and comfortable?" she asked.

"We just spent two weeks in New Orleans," I replied, "So, in a word ... no. But we had a great time!

"Well," she said, "Welcome back to bone-dry air, record-breaking temperatures and fires."

Yeah, no kidding. We saw thet huge plumes of smoke as soon as we got on the 105, and as we were heading up the 2 to our exit we could actually see the flames on the hills. This is the closest a wildfire has gotten to our home since we've been living in northwest Los Angeles, and it gave me the willies. They actually evacuated part of Los Feliz, which isn't far from where we live. Last night our eyes burned from the smoke and particles in the air, and I woke up with cracking-like-the-desert-floor nasal passages a sore throat from the dry, irritant-laden air. (I have never gotten used to the lack of humidity in Los Angeles, in all the years I've lived here.)

This morning my car was covered with ash.

But we're home, envious of our friends who have a house in New Orleans and actually had the beginnings of the hypothetical talk of how we could live part-time in both places (lack of income in New Orleans would be the major stumbling block). If I did return home to New Orleans for any major chunks of the year, though, I'd have to resign myself to either controlling my diet or being a big ol' fat guy.

Net weight gain in 13 days -- 9 pounds. Oy.

Wanna see why? Let us begin.

Cuvée.   I guess it's a tradition now, since we've done it two years in a row -- first night back home we drive from the airport to the Riverbend apartment where we've been staying, drop off our stuff, jump into some decent clothes and fly to Restaurant Cuvée so that Chef Bob Iacovone can make us happy. Nettie and Robin, first of the Fat Pack to arrive, joined us this year. Sazeracs went around, a few glasses of wine, and then our attentive and friendly waiters got to business:

Restaurant Cuvee, Amuse Bouche

I love the amuse bouche they serve at Cuvée -- some might say, "Aw, I had that last time," while I say, "Yay! Another Peppadew Pepper stuffed with boursin cheese, wrapped in Serrano ham and flash-fried!" You know those little cream cheese-stuffed, breaded "jalapeño poppers" that you can get at just about every chain restaurant in the world and are seemingly all made in the same factory? These are about eleventy million times better than those.

Spiced Shrimp Napoleon

While I did enjoy having the peppadew again, I wanted to try dishes that were new to me rather than return to others, given that I don't get to eat here as often as I'd like. I love their signature appetizer, the Spiced Shrimp Napoleon, with rémoulade sauce between slies of fried mirliton with a cayenne beurre blanc, but Robin got it this time.

Charcuterie Plate

Wes got the chef's daliy charcuterie preparation. I'll have to ask him tonight what it was, because I don't exactly remember, but my, don't it look good?

Deux Foie Gras

Okay, I lied a little bit ... I did return to an appetizer I'd had before. My excuse is that this particular appetizer, Deux Foie Gras, the chef's two different daily foie gras preparations, changes all the time. So, ooh ... what's it gonna be this time?! It was, in fact, a foie gras crème brûlée with boursin cheese, and a slice of seared Hudson Valley foie gras with wild mushrooms, goat cheese and duck cracklins. He almost always does a crème brûlée, constantly varying it, and it's always amazing. I'm beginning to wonder if New Orleans will be one of the last bastions of foie gras, with absurd bans popping up here and there; if it is, I'll make sure Chef Bob's one of the ones I go to for it. (And if you're itching to click the comments box to call me a monster for eating foie gras, just save it. It's inherently cruel to spike a cow in the head so that we can butcher it for food, too. Sheesh.)

"Chicken and Waffles with Bacon"

My entrée made me laugh. This is a good thing. "Chicken and Waffles with Bacon" was the name of this dish, and it's not exactly what you'd get at Roscoe's House of Chicken and Waffles. This was coq au vin blanc, along with a chicken breast pounded flat with crispy pancetta, and a Belgian waffle split and spread with herbed boursin cheese. This came with a gravy boat filled with rosemary-infused Steen's cane syrup. Oh my GOD ... this was good. Great, in fact. I so rarely order chicken in restaurants, but I think I need to start making exceptions to that. I asked for a spoon to get every drop of that sauce, and the syrup was such a simple touch (heat the syrup and steep some rosemary branches in it) that was amazingly delicious, and an idea I'm stealing immediately. The whole dish was clever, whimsical and just gorgeous.

The Duck

And then there was ... The Duck. This was Wes' entrée, and I knew he'd get it as soon as I saw it on the menu. He's quite the duck fancier, and from the bite I got he was swooning over this dish, which was duck three ways -- Steen's cane syrup-cured duck breast, confit of duck leg and seared Hudson Valley foie gras with walnut and blue cheese risotto and pear glace.

Ricotta Cheesecake with Huckleberry Sauce

"Would y'all care for some dessert?" That's a silly question! Not only did we get the desserts we ordered but the very kind kitchen staff, hearing from our very kind waiter about our indecision about what to have for dessert, sent out an extra one as lagniappe -- Ricotta Cheesecake with Huckleberry Sauce.

Triple-Stack Chocolate "Moonpie"

This one was mine, the Triple-stacked Dark Chocolate "Moonpie" with "Dreamsicle" Ice Cream. One more layer of whimsy to my meal, and lemme tell ya, I'd never had a Moonpie quite like this one (or caught one like this from a Mardi Gras float in Mobile ... then again I've never been to Mobile for Mardi Gras (why should I?), but I digress yet again.) The bright orange-vanilla ice cream was a great accompaniment ... Moonpies and Dreamsicles, mmmm.

Candied Macadamia Nut-Crusted Espresso Bombe with Dark Chocolate Sauce

Robin had their signature dessert, which has been on the menu for well over a year now: Candied Macadamia Nut-Crusted Espresso Bombe, which is what I had on my last visit to Cuvée last year. Needless to say, being ourselves, we had the dessert plates orbiting around the table until they were empty.

A fine, fine way to kick off this year's Jazzfest visit, yes indeed.

Big John speaks for the levees. has a new PSA featuring adopted New Orleanian John Goodman that's airing soon, and it's up on YouTube now.

Watch it, rate it, and let's see if we can get it bumped up to YouTube's front page. Send it around, and remind everyone that New Orleans was destroyed by bad levees and not bad weather.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Monday, May 7, 2007

Levees already failing?   Great, just great. This is one of the levees that destroyed my parents' house, their entire part of the city west of the Industrial Canal, plus St. Bernard Parish.

Levee flaws at MR-GO

Some of the most celebrated levee repairs by the Army Corps of Engineers after Hurricane Katrina are already showing signs of serious flaws, a leading critic of the corps says.

The critic, Robert G. Bea, a professor of engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, said he encountered several areas of concern on a tour in March.

The most troubling, Dr. Bea said, was erosion on a levee by the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, a navigation canal that helped channel water into New Orleans during the storm.

Breaches in that 13-mile levee devastated communities in St. Bernard Parish, just east of New Orleans, and the rapid reconstruction of the barrier was hailed as one of the corps' most significant rebuilding achievements in the months after the storm.

But Dr. Bea, an author of a blistering 2006 report on the levee failures paid for by the National Science Foundation, said erosion furrows, or rills, suggest that "the risks are still high." Heavy storms, he said, may cause "tear-on-the-dotted-line levees." [...]

The most revealing of the photographs, taken from a helicopter, looks out from the levee across the navigation canal and a skinny strip of land to the expanses of Lake Borgne. From the grassy crown of the levee, small, wormy patterns of rills carved by rain make their way down the landward side, widening at the base into broad fissures that extend beyond the border of the grass.

Corps officials argue that Dr. Bea is overstating the risk and say that they will reinspect elements of the levee system he has identified and fix problems they find. [...]

Hurricane season begins again next month.

Can we please for Christ's sake finally fire the goddamn Army Corps of Engineers and just hire the Dutch?

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  Sunday, May 6, 2007

:-(   Just read in Da Online Papuh that local jazz clarinetist Alvin Batiste passed away in his sleep early this morning; he was supposed to perform and be honored at the Jazz Tent today.

Obligatory disgusting food post of the day.   Because I should probably make y'all suffer just a little bit before the food porn starts rolling in next week. (Up early, Wes still asleep and still to stiff to walk for coffee ... hey, why not post?)

There have been some horrific stories about adulterated food in China, but the latest (and perhaps apocryphal) tale is of fake chicken eggs made from chemicals being sold as real. (Um, ick.) That said, an American living in China who commented on a related post said he smelled a hoax -- eggs in China are apparently cheap, about 40 cents a pound. Could manufactured eggs really be cheaper than that to sell? That said, food poisonings have drastically risen in China over the last few years, and this is one of the scarier quotes from the article: "Businessmen and farmers will do anything for profits even at the expense of public health and interest."

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  Friday, May 4, 2007

Master of the Mint Julep.   Two great cocktailian pieces in the New York Times this week, including this one which Lally Brennan showed me at the lovely Tales of the Cocktail event at Café Adelaide Wednesday evening (met several lovely people, including Wayne Curtis, author of and a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails). New Orleans' own Chris McMillian of the Library Bar at the Ritz Carlton is back behind the stick, working his magic on Mint Juleps:

"Then comes the zenith of man's pleasure. Then comes the julep ... the mint julep."

Chris McMillian's gravelly baritone -- which calls to mind Tom Waits moonlighting at the Metropolitan Opera -- echoed through the dark-paneled Library Lounge at the Ritz-Carlton hotel here as he gently plucked leaves from a bouquet of mint and pushed them into a sterling silver julep cup.

"Who has not tasted one has lived in vain. It is the very dream of drinks, the vision of sweet quaffings."

Many thousands of juleps will be poured at Churchill Downs during the Kentucky Derby this weekend. Yet those made by Mr. McMillian at this bar a block from Bourbon Street are by many accounts among the most skillfully mixed in the country. Without doubt, they are the most lavishly presented. Each order is served up with Mr. McMillian's recitation of an ode to the julep written in the 1890s by J. Soule Smith, a Kentucky newspaperman.

[...] While most bartenders thrive on quick pours and matching tips, Mr. McMillian plies his trade at a leisurely pace, without modern shortcuts. He muddles sugar and bitters for every Sazerac instead of pouring simple syrup. He cuts and squeezes every drop of citrus juice seconds before it goes in the glass. He carves individual slivers of orange and lemon zest for garnishes on sidecars and martinis.

"At this bar, I concentrate on the classics and make them the old way," he said. "The way made them classics to begin with."

Ohhhh, yes. I have never actually sampled one of Mr. McMillian's juleps, which I aim to remedy very soon.

Cocktail of the day.   Of course.

The Mint Julep
Adapted from Chris McMillian, Library Lounge, Ritz-Carlton Hotel, New Orleans

12 to 15 fresh mint leaves, plus one sprig for garnish.
1 ounce peach syrup, like Monin or Torani.
2-1/2 ounces Bourbon whiskey.
Superfine sugar.

Place mint and 1/4 ounce peach syrup in julep cup or 8- to 10-ounce old-fashioned glass and gently crush leaves with a wooden muddler, working them up sides of glass.

Loosely pack glass with finely crushed ice, then add Bourbon. Drizzle remaining peach syrup on top and garnish with mint sprig lightly dusted with sugar.

I gotta work on my ice-crushing technique ...

"Since the Storm: Between Here and Rebuilding"   Nancy Scola continues her three-part series on the current state of New Orleans:

I found last week in New Orleans that you only have to drive about a half mile from the French Quarter, down Decatur Street and past Cafe Du Monde, making a left on Elysian Fields Avenue, to find single-family houses boarded-up and still bearing the spray-painted markings that are the hallmark of Katrina-affected homes. The question in my mind becomes, in circumstances such as these, what needs to fall into place in a city to bring people back home?

Incicentally, there's an encouraging tidbit in this morning's Times-Picayune: New Orleans' population is up by 14% since July 2006, especially in very hard-hit areas like Gentilly and New Orleans East.

The 80-Martini lunch.   Oh, what a crap job those New York Times folks have. Sampling 80 Martinis to determine which gin works the best in that classic cocktail has gotta be right down there with digging sewer ditches. (Of course not.)

I'm glad the get The Truth out front right away:

Before we discuss the findings, though, we need to clear up a little matter. It's come to my attention that some people believe martinis are made with vodka. I hate to get snobbish about it, but a martini should be made with gin or it's not a martini. Call it a vodkatini if you must, but not a martini. Gin and vodka have as much in common hierarchically as a president and a vice president. Vodka can fill in for gin from time to time and might even be given certain ceremonial duties of its own, but at important moments you need the real thing. Vodka generally makes a poor substitute for gin in a martini or any other gin cocktail.

Yes, indeed. I particularly loved Libation Goddess Audrey Saunders' comment that this is "a generation lobotomized by vodka."

More of The Truth:

A martini is also not a martini without vermouth. What is a cocktail but a blend of disparate elements into a harmonious new whole? We used Noilly Prat Original French Dry vermouth in a proportion of five parts gin to one part vermouth, perhaps a bit more gin than might have been ideal (try 4-to-1), but we wanted to make sure that the gin was featured prominently.

This whole "just wave the bottle of vermouth over the glass" thing? Run along, son.

Continue with the article, and you will find the results educational and edifying. I was pleased to see my beloved Plymouth Gin coming out on top.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Wednesday, May 2, 2007

WAG THE TALE at the Swizzle Stick Bar!   Taking a little break amidst the madness (all good, of course) of Jazzfest for a public service announcement from the Museum of the American Cocktail!

Tales of the Cocktail comes around just once a year so hurry over to the Swizzle Stick Lounge and get Tales wagging! Join us for a Sign Up party as Rum Wizard Wayne Curtis and Cafe Adelaide's Lu Brow present a delicious sampling of cocktails to early-bird registrants for Tales of the Cocktail seminars. Sign up now for the July 18th Museum of the American Cocktail presentation and RECEIVE A FREE MOTAC MEMBERSHIP. Door prizes for first arrivals!


See y'all there!

"Since the Storm: No End to Katrina in New Orleans"   Nancy Scola of has been down to NOLA and observed the state of the city and the rebuilding process (or lack thereof) and tuned into it really well. She begins a three-part story here:

I've been back from New Orleans for a few days now and have gotten a chance to sort through my thoughts, notes, and research. I went down with the intention of focusing on the rebuilding process and it seems to make sense for me to chop up what I have into three posts. The first up is this post, on the scope and impact of Hurricane Katrina in post-storm New Orleans. The second will look at major factors in the rebuilding process. The third will be a report on the day I put down my pen and camera (mostly) and picked up a crowbar to help ACORN gut a house in the Lower Ninth Ward.

It doesn't take long back in New Orleans to figure out that Katrina is embedded in every fiber of this city's being. It's all "storm," all the time, some 20 months since the storm.

Here's what I mean. On the radio, for example, were advertisements encouraging applications for the HUD-funded Road Home program championed by Governor Blanco, an interview with locals starting an ambassadors program that just sent its first envoy to Boston, and pitches for home demolition services. Actor/write/HuffPo blogger Harry Shearer does ads for and proposing a 9/11-style commission on levees. Talk show hosts discussed how useful local bloggers were in keeping the community updated in the days and weeks after the storm. (The local New Orleans blogosphere -- including honorary New Orleanians like the bloggers at First Draft -- is vibrant and active. More on that later.) Then there were local celebrities promoting the need for New Orleanians to have a voice in the national discourse and talk show hosts ruminating on the importance of New Orleans as an American city.

It just did not end. You hear updates on progress from neighborhood rebuilding projects, talk about wetlands reclamation, and ads from banks encouraging residents to restructure their debt, saying "you survived the storm -- now start your financial rebuilding." One show discussed new reports on post-storm depression rates, especially in kids but in everyone, really -- stemming from lost photos and from parents and grandparents moved away. This isn't right, a woman says. In southern Louisiana, she says, you're supposed to live by your family for life.

Two commentators debated Mayor Nagin's dig on the comparative cleanliness of Philadelphia, with the lead-in, "Ray Nagin is at it again." Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard took questions from callers and Army Corps of Engineers officials delved into where the levees stand now, about six weeks before the start of 2007 hurricane season.

In the French Quarter, "Make Levees, Not War" is emblazoned on mousepads and t-shirts for sale, alongside shirts showing an outline of a FEMA trailer and offering a twist of the New Orleans slogan, "Proud to Call it Home." Then there are "Proud to Swim Home" bumper stickers and t-shirts offering new takes on what FEMA stands for: Fix Everything My Ass or Find Every Mexican Available. Tchotchke shops sell copies of storm books: 1 Dead in the Attic, Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?, Waters Dark and Deep and Not Left Behind: Rescuing the Pets of New Orleans. The gorgeous Times-Picayune Katrina photo book is for sale in cooking stores in the French Market.

On late night television was a compelling program that offered a comprehensive take on the storm, covering everything from how the levees broke to mold remediation techniques. Between segments, quotes from the House "Bipartisan" Select Committee on Katrina's final report flash on the screen.

Of course, once you spend time in the city, all this is no wonder.

I'd correct one thing -- it's not so much "the storm" but "the flood." We survived the storm just fine. We just didn't survive our federal government's feeble promises that we'd be protected from the storm's surge.

April Looka! entries have been permanently archived.

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