Tales of the Cocktail 2008
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.

Page last tweaked @ 4:26pm PDT, 6/30/2008

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Vote for change!

Barack Obama for President

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, AllAboutJazz.com

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

"... 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 Amazon.com 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)

June 2008
May 2008
April 2008
March 2008
February 2008
January 2008

2007:   Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.

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
NOLA.com & 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 (in memoriam)
Blogging New Orleans
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.

"We are still heartily of the opinion that decent libation supports as many million lives as it threatens; donates pleasure and sparkle to more lives than it shadows; inspires more brilliance in the world of art, music, letters, and common ordinary intelligent conversation, than it dims." -- Charles H. Baker, Jr.

   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.)

Blogging Tales of the Cocktail

*     *     *

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

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

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

*     *     *

Chuck & Wes' Liquor Cabinet
   (Frighteningly large, and would
   never fit in a cabinet)

Chuck & Wes' Cocktail Book Collection
   (Constantly growing)

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,
   plus new lemon & grapefruit bitters!)

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

Bittermens Bitters
   (Fantastic new small-batch
   bitters company with forth-
   coming products including
   Xocolatl Mole Bitters,
   grapefruit, "tiki" spice,
   and sweet chocolate bitters, wow!)

*     *     *

   (The study of booze with Camper English)

Ardent Spirits
   (Gary & Mardee Regan)

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

Bar Mix Master
   (Brad Ellis, New Orleans)

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

The Cocktail Chronicles
   (Paul Clarke's weblog)

   (Group drinks blog by Vidiot,
   Mr. Bali Hai, Kosmonaut,
   Chico and me).

Cocktail Nerd
   (Gabriel Szaszko)

A Dash of Bitters
   (Michael Dietsch)

   (Lauren Clark)

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

DrinkBoy's Cocktail Weblog

Drink Trader
   (Online magazine for the
   drink trade)

Esquire's Drinks Database
   (Dave Wondrich and
   his forbears)

Happy Hours
   (Beverage industry
   news & insider info)

Imbibe Magazine
   (Celebrating the world in a glass)

Jeff Morgenthaler
   (Bartender/mixologist, Eugene OR)

Jimmy's Cocktail Hour
   (Jimmy Patrick)

Kaiser Penguin
    (Rick Stutz, bringing us cocktails
    and great photographs)

King Cocktail
   (Dale DeGroff)

La Fée Verte
   (All about absinthe
   from Kallisti et al.)

   (Ladies United for the
   Preservation of
   Endangered Cocktails)

Fine Spirits & Cocktails
   (eGullet's forum)

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

The Modern Mixologist
   (Tony Abou-Ganim)

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

Mr. Mixer
   (Hundreds of cocktail recipes ...
   in Hungarian. Well, why not?
   Sajnos, nem beszélek magyarul.)

Nat Decants
   (Natalie MacLean)

Off the Presses
   (Robert Simonson)

Oh, Gosh!
   (Jay Hepburn)

Rowley's Whiskey Forge
   (Matt Rowley)


Spirit Journal
   (F. Paul Pacult)

Spirits and Cocktails
   (Jamie Boudreau)

Spirits Review
   (Chris Carlsson)

   (Beverage Tasting
   Institute journal)

The Thirstin' Howl
   (John Myers)

Trader Tiki's Booze Blog
   (Blair Reynolds)

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 site and weblog)
A Muse for Cooks
The Online Chef
Practically Edible
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:

Lisey's Story, by Stephen King.

The Ghost Brigades, by John Scalzi.

In Defense of Food, by Michael Pollan.

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 Bands.net

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
   Stream the last "Down Home"
   for 1 week after broadcastk

   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:
Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (****-1/2)
Atonement (****)
No Country for Old Men (****)
Juno (***-1/2)

Dominion: Prequel to The Exorcist (***)
Eastern Promises (***-1/2)
Omagh (***-1/2)
Transformers (**-1/2)
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (**-1/2)
Across the Universe (***-1/2)
Sicko (****)
Michael Clayton (****)
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (****-1/2)


Lookin' at da TV:

"Battlestar Galactica"
"One Tree Hill"
"Queer Eye for the Straight Guy"
"The Simpsons"
"Top Chef"
"Father Ted"


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:
AlterNet.org (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.)
Whitehouse.org (Not the actual White House, but it should be)

Weblogs I read:

American Leftist
The BradLands
The Carpetbagger Report
Franklin Avenue
Ghost in the Machine
Hit or Miss
Jesus' General
Making Light
Neil Gaiman's Journal
Not Right About Anything
August J. Pollak
Sadly, No!
This Modern World
Your Right Hand Thief

L.A. Blogs

Friends with pages:

mary katherine
michael p.

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, CNN.com, 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

  Monday, June 30, 2008

Sazerac named New Orleans' official cocktail.   Oh frabjous day! Calooh! Callay!

But seriously ... it's cool, as it's part of the city's history and an acknowledgement of fine cocktails as being a part of the city's culinary fabric. Still though, it's unlikely to affect the number of tourists and frat boys who are going to quaff flammable product like Hand Grenades. I'm hoping that it helps some local bars actually learn how to make the drink properly. I've had a lot of bad Sazeracs in New Orleans, and I even heard through the grapevine about one local bar's "offical" house recipe for the drink -- it's so wrong that it's unsurprising that their Sazeracs are so bad.

(I swear, I'm ready to strangle you people who keep putting an inch of simple syrup in a Sazerac. WRONG WRONG WRONG. Yuck.)

It's not difficult. Listen to Lu Brow, one of my very favorite bartenders in New Orleans, teach you how to make one as she did for Robert Siegel on NPR last week. (Hi, Lu!)

The Top 50 Bars in New Orleans.   According to da Gambit, at least. I've been to 30 out of the 40, and the list is pretty good, more or less. We probably have different ideas as to what makse a great bar (the quality of the drinks doesn't always seem to make a difference in some highly-rated places), but it's a good, diverse list.

I do have to point out one place, even though I've never been there. Pravda, a new place on Decatur in the Quarter, comes in at no. 17 and the list claims that it "could be the hottest new bar in town." One of my bartender friends pointed out that they carry French and Swiss absinthes, which is great, and according to the picture accompanying the Gambit article they seem to have some nice accoutrements. However, the picture also shows them serving absinthe with a liquor-soaked sugar cube perched atop the spoon, on fire. When it comes to serving absinthe, this is just about the dictionary definition of "full of shit."

Lüke.   Chef John Besh's relatively new French-German brasserie with Creole touches has been on my must-do list since it opened, but somehow I managed not to get there until my visit home in May of this year. I did my best to catch up.

Wes and I met my uncle Mike there for lunch on Tuesday of Jazzefst mid-week. I thought it'd be perfect for Mike, as he works right in the CBD and it'd only be a two- or three-block walk for him. We, on the other hand, had to face parking in the CBD, on a day when for some reason they decided to mark every legal parking metered spot on Poydras as NO PARKING. Grr.

As it turned out, it was very much worth the parking hassle. The place is relaxed and casual, service is friendly and very efficient, and I really like the atmosphere, space and decor. They have an excellent bar, and is one of the few places in town still stocking a Spanish anise-flavored liquor called Ojen. In fact, on my first visit to Lüke, which was just for drinks, I had their Ojen Frappé, an almost-lost New Orleans classic consisting of a few ounces of Ojen stirred briskly with crushed ice and tinted with about five dashes of Peychaud's Bitters -- really, really good. (The liqueur is named for the town of Ojén in Spain, where it was once produced. I've heard conflicting stories as to its continued production; it's lost popularity in Spain, and apparently New Orleans is the only place where it's still consumed. One source claimed that it's ceased production and New Orleans' Ojen aficionadoes are working with existing stocks, yet at the bar they said they have no trouble getting it regularly, and it always seems to be on the shelf at Martin Wine Cellar, so who knows?)

The cocktail we did have was an excellent French 75, times three, although as usual in New Orleans it was the odd local version using Cognac instead of gin. It's still a good drink; I just prefer the original version.

We had been advised to get certain dishes to split, along with whatever else on the menu appealed to us, and it's a very appealing menu -- brasserie-style classics also join a fresh Louisiana seafood bar, with oysters, crabs and shrimp. Our eyes all zeroed in on this to start, though:

Flamenkuche, at Luke Brasserie, New Orleans

Flamenküche is a thin Alsatian onion tarte, with bacon, Emmenthaler cheese and caraway -- like a pizza, but with a crisper crust. The bacon was Allan Benton's, one of my favorites and a favorite of local chefs as well. Hoo-boy, this was good. (My French 75 is in the background.)

Crabmeat Maison

Crabmeat Maison is a beloved local dish, one very familiar to diners at Galatoire's. It's our local version of a crabmeat ravigote, combining jumbo lump crabmeat with capers, green onions and a dressing of mayonnaise, vinegar and Creole mustard for that New Orleans touch. Cool and comforting, gorgeous sweet crabmeat and a nice presentation with the frisée on top, too.

We had been told by all of our friends who had been there before us not to miss the burger, but that meant another three-way split. I'm game.

Luke Burger

They had all told us how great this was, and they were not wrong. The Lüke Burger is locally raised Charolais beef (medium rare), Allan Benton's bacon (hello again!), Gruyère cheese with a side of freshly cut and perfectly cooked pommes frites. I only got a third of it this time, but I'm going back for one that's aaaaaaaaaall for me.

This was voted the best local non-fast-food hamburger in the city this year, by the readers of either the Gambit or New Orleans Magazine, I forget which. (Best FF burger would have to be the local beloved Bud's Broiler, of course ... at least I hope it was.)

We were struggling with the extensive lunch menu and havign difficulty deciding, as it all looked so good, but then our server came by and read the specials. Our eyes bugged out at the mention of the lunch special, and we ALL got it. Here's why.

Fried Soft-Shell Crab BLT

This, my good friends, is a Soft Shell Crab BLT. Oh, holy crap. This was the first time they'd ever served it, and we were begging them to add it to the regular menu. A perfectly deep-fried soft-shell crab with Benton's bacon, with lettuce and tomato on toasted brioche. (This is the third dish we had with bacon in it. Are you sensing a motif? Yay, bacon! It was coincidental, though, I swear.)

Here's a closer view/

Fried Soft-Shell Crab BLT, close

This was stupendously good, although the brioche made it a bit too rich. I'd have been happy with this on French, and it's the only change I'd make to the dish.

There was no room for dessert, sadly. That was a lot of bacon. We'd be having more dessert later, though. For now ... we can dream of that burger next time we go.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Tuesday, June 24, 2008

I used to be Irish Catholic, now I'm an American, y'know, you grow ...  

George Carlin, 1937-2008

Since I got my first George Carlin album sometime around the eighth grade, the man's been a fixture in my life. He made me laugh, yet he made me think. Politics, language, society, war, the absurdity of the human condition. Yes, he could do hilarious fart jokes, and then point out:

"The FCC, an appointed body, not elected, answerable only to the President, decided on its own that radio and television were the only two parts of American life not protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution."

Unfortunately, the Supreme Court backed them up. They're terribly afraid of The Words.

Everyone else did this earlier; I couldn't bring myself to do it just yet. What I did yesterday was to take Carlin's entire recorded output (or close to it) and put it in my iPod. I've been listening ever since. Some of it I knew so well I could practially deliver the routine along with him; some of it I hadn't heard in a while and it became fresh again. There's plenty out there -- just go to YouTube and start looking. You can get most of his recorded output, as I did, via digital downloads from eMusic (alas, my old LPs didn't go easily into my iPod).

And yes, I do reach past the first few slices of bread in a new loaf, to get to the good bread.

I don't think it's hit me yet how much I'm gonna miss him.

Shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, mothefucker and tits. Fart, turd, twat. And all the rest ...

RIP Wing.   I'm really goddamn sick of writing obituary posts.

(Photo by Steve Hochman.)

If you've been to Jazzfest you at least have seen this man, if not known his name. This is Wing -- that's how he introduced himself. He was from northern California, living on a ranch he called "Wingspread." He was usually seen in the Gospel Tent, dancing his heart out all over everywhere. Sometimes he'd be at Congo Square and very occasionally at the Blues Tent. He danced, and he experienced joy and spread joy wherever he went. He loved music and he loved Jazzfest and even though we really didn't know him we always stopped to chat. He was a part of Jazzfest.

This year we didn't see him, and we were worried -- we knew he had been ill for the last few years.

It was posted on a thread in the Jazzfest forums that Wing died recently of stage 4 lymphoma. One of the Threadheads posted this email, which had been forwarded to him, apparently by someone to whom Wing had sent it:

there once was a man name of wing,
who decided one last final thing,
it's now time to leave
take rest all bereaved
i'm off to my greatest final fling!

the wingman/ dancerboy has left the dance floor

to all my friends,

by this email know that wing / dancerboy no longer exists in the form you knew him as.

i have chosen to end my life.

my cancer returned in symptomatic form 10 months ago. after a biopsy and series of scans i elected not to receive treatment. once was enough and i figured what the hell, my 2 favorite dancers, sanna and david are gone so who wants to be the lone ranger, kemosabe!

i chose not to share the information for the following reasons:

why upset everybody?
don't have to justify my reasoning to anyone
don't have to listen to everyone's aunt marthe's famous cancer cure
i liked living the quiet life i have led which surely would have changed dramatically (i assume) ie visitors, call, etc etc.

it was just easier to keep on rolling along as life surely does.

now i imagine some of you might have wondered what was up, since there was no jazz fest or travel to the islands for winter dancing and fun. now you know.

The Gospel Tent will never quite be the same.

RIP Wing, 1949-2008

The Cocktail Spirit, with Robert Hess.   A nice combo here -- a wonderfully complex rum drink by Dale DeGroff, and the indulgence of my glassware fetish.

The Añejo Highball

The Añejo Highball was created by famed mixologist Dale DeGroff to pay homage to the celebrated bartenders of Cuba from back in the Twenties and Thirties. Dale says that this drink illustrates how necessary it is for the bartender to understand the role that each and every ingredient plays in the cocktails that they make.

#     #     #


The vessel from which we drink our cocktails should not be overlooked. Whether traditional, iconic or modern the glassware used in serving a guest says a lot about what is inside.

The vessel with the pestle has the pellet with the poison; the flagon with the dragon has the brew that is true! Wait ... was it ... ?

I've got it stuck somewhere in my head that the original recipe for the Añejo Highball contained 1/4 ounce of pimento dram (allspice liqueur), but the recipe had to be adjusted once the Wray & Nephew product became unavailable in the U.S. I checked the recipe in New Classic Cocktails and there was no mention of it, but I can't for the life of me remember where I might have come across this. It sounds good at any rate, and I've made the drink this way too -- it's terrific. If you want to keep the sweet-tart ratio in balance you can add another 1/4 ounce of lime juice if you like.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Mixology Monday recap.   HUGE response this month, so go check out a ton of Bourbon drinks at Scofflaw's Den.

Emeril's.   It had been a long time.

I'd been at Chef Emeril Lagasse's first and flagship restaurant any number of times (and way before he became a T.V. Star), but when Wes pointed out to me that he'd never been there I thought back. The most recent visit was in 1998, with a bunch of friends who were all in town for Michael and Louise's wedding. And they just had their tenth anniversary. Kinda scary, actually ... who knows where the time goes indeed. We'd just tried other places, kept going back to old favorites, and Emeril's -- where I'd never had any meal that was less than terrific, and where I've had one or two of the most memorable restaurant meals of my life -- just kinda slipped to the side. I realized that we were long, long overdue, and I resolved to fix that on this last trip home.

I made reservations for the two of us, but as the date approached and I mentioned it to Mary she said, "Ooh! They've been talking to me about coming back and updating their entry in Frommer's!" Mary, as I've mentioned before, writes the fabulous guidebook Frommer's New Orleans, and the Emeril's entry was several years old (and the one before that was contributed by me, long before my last visit ... so that's old). She asked if we'd mind her and Steve horning in on our dinner for two, and I said, "Of course not! The hornier the better!" (Actually, I didn't, I thought of that just now, but it would have been funny if I had said it at the time. Unfortunately my talent for coming up with great on-the-spot jokes often only works if the spot is two months later. And it's not that funny anyway.)

Of course, Mary coming along changes the dynamic of the meal a bit. She's a travel writer, not a restaurant critic, and doesn't behave as some of these stealthy, wig-and-dark-glasses-wearing, false name-bearing, Double Top Secret writers do. The restaurants know her and when she's coming, the reasoning being, "If I get lousy food and service with them knowing they have a travel writer in the house, how do you think Mr. and Mrs. John Q. Yat are going to be treated?" It usually works, too.

There's a bit of a myth about the whole "Ooh, there's a VIP in the house! Extra special treatment!" thing. The kitchen is generally busy enough such that they tend not to have time to do anything really out of the ordinary -- they might just triple-check the dish at the pass to make sure it's perfect, that kind of thing, but the most likely thing that'll happen is that they just send out an extra dish or two for you to try. There's a whole restaurant full of people for the back and front of the house to keep happy, and that keeps them pretty damn busy. More often than not, nobody has time to make a fuss over anyone. That said, I brightened at the thought of the possibility of an extra dish or two being sent out for us to taste!

So Monday night of Jazzfest week, we finally went to Emeril's. It looked just the same from the outside, a little different on the inside -- the food bar looked bigger, for one. (The food bar's a lot of fun, by the way. If it had just been the two of us I'd have seriously considered eating there.) The major difference we noticed after a bit was primarily in the service.

The service, I have to say first off, was great. Friendly, knowledgeable, embracing without being intrusive. But different. In the past there had been complaints about the service at Emeril's from some people. They found it snooty or condescending, and often felt talked down to if they weren't expert foodies. In many visits to Emeril's I have never encountered this. I found the servers to be excited, zealous and very worshipful of "Chef." They also tended to be young, college-age, culinary school types, many from outside of the city. There were few to none of those in attendance the night we were there -- it seemed that the servers were mostly locals, folks from the neighborhoods, and a lot of really young folks in secondary and training positions like our assistant waiter / busser. I had read that Emeril's has been working with (and contributing lots of money to) an outfit called Café Reconcile, which is both a working restaurant and training school working with at-risk youth to learn "life and interpersonal skills and operational training for successful entry into the hospitality and restaurant industries." It's located in Central City, one of the most blighted and economically depressed neighborhoods in the city, and they work hard to get kids off the streets, away from drugs and teach them restaurant industry skills that will enable them to get jobs just about anywhere. "You worked at Emeril's? You're hired." The Emeril Lagasse Foundation recently gave a quarter of a million dollars to double the working space at Reconcile to establish a culinary learning center, which is fantastic.

Our busser looked as if he still had anywhere from two to four years to go before he was out of his teens, and he was very earnest. He'd been well-trained on the right time to fill water glasses, how to serve bread rolls, and so forth. There was one slight misstep, when he began to clear my plate before everyone else had finished (a major pet peeve of mine), but from behind we heard a distinct throat-clear. It was our waiter, who took him aside and gently admonished him: "Don't clear the plates until everyone's finished." Yeah you rite! It was very clear that there was lots of on the job training going on, but that's good. Throw 'em into the frying pan, that's how you learn. At one point Mary asked him, "Wow, so this is a good job, huh? Are they treating you well here?" or something like that. He smiled and nodded, but then got a look in his eyes that said, "I had no idea what I was getting myself into." I know how he feels. A restaurant like this is a hugely complex operation, and there's a mindboggling amount of stuff to learn. From being with him all night, though, we had no doubt that he'd learn it, all of it, and learn it well. After that solid experience and the chance to work his way up, once he does he'll be able to write his own ticket. That's awesome.

It was a really different feel than before. And it was great. Great great great. It gave me a bit more of a down-home feel in that restaurant that I'd never had there before, but the additional knowledge that Emeril is doing so much for the people of the city, especially the disadvantaged and at-risk population to whom Reconcile is reaching out, really makes me feel good. Emeril took a lot of unwarranted crap right after Katrina for not physically being in the city, but he was keeping New Orleans in the public eye, continuing to pay his staff plus all this great work with Reconcile ... great job, Chef.

Oh yeah, the food.

Amuse bouche: Grilled Shrimp with Crispy Artichoke and Olive Tartar Sauce

They brought out an amuse bouche, as they've always done. This one was simple but very tasty -- Grilled Shrimp with Crispy Artichoke and Olive Tartar Sauce. Great seasoning on the shrimp, perfectly cooked (of course), artichokes om nom nom nom and an unusual flavor component to the tartar that gave it a bit of intensity and character, as tartar sauce tends to be boo-ring.

We looked through the list of appetizers and I saw two that were still on the menu from when I had been there last, which I remembered from years before that and which had probably been on the menu more or less from the beginning -- the Angel Hair Pasta with a Tasso Cream Sauce and Smoked Exotic Mushrooms (a great dish) and the Barbecue Shrimp, his own take, with the yummy little rosemary biscuits. The house-made andouille with house-made Worcestershire was still there too, but joined on the plate by house-made boudin, Southern cooked greens and beer-braised onions -- sounds better than before. Plus the rest of the recent batch of starters, and a list of four salads. We couldn't help but notice that out of the four salads, three of them contained bacon or pork products of some kind. "Yeah," the chef told us later, "we do love bacon around here." Well guh. And you had four worshippers at the First Congregational Church of Bacon right here, bra.

Steve, Wes and I all zeroed in on the same salad, after reading the menu description. "Oh my God," I said. They echoed the same. Here's the menu description, verbatim: "Abita Root Beer-Braised "Fresh Bacon" Salad: Niman Ranch pork belly braised in Abita root beer and seared, with citrus slaw, marinated yuca, heirloom radishes, shaved jalapenos, goat cheese and pork cracklins." Umm ... yes. Yes, we'll have that.

Abita Root 
Beer-Braised "Fresh Bacon" Salad

We had been mildly amused at the euphemistic way that the words "fresh bacon" were placed in quotation marks in the dish's description on the menu. Actually, it was the word "salad" that should have been put in quotation marks. If I may employ an Internetism ... ROFLMAO! (I was truly rolling on the floor, laughing with Chairman Mao.) We laughed like idiots when the dishes were placed in front of us. The aroma coming off the plate was intoxicating. And the sight of it!

This was insanely, insanely good, but again ... salad? There was about four times more pork belly than vegetable matter on the plate. Not that I'm complaining, mind you. Reminds me of what a friend once said the first time I took him to New Orleans: "Leave it to you people to make a salad bad for you." Oh, we enjoyed the little salady bits, which were a nice accompaniment to the FOUR GIGANTIC FECKIN' SLABS OF PORK BELLY, meaty, fatty, crispy, with layers of seasoning, and delicious, and unctuous, and did I say FOUR GIGANTIC FECKIN' SLABS OF PORK BELLYI?! I tried to think of how much more food we had coming, and stopped. No point in that. We cross that bridge as we come to it.

Mary, displaying some common sense unlike the four ravenous, caveman-like males at the table ("OOK WANT MEAT!"), went with her instincts and ordered the FOUR GIGANTIC FECKIN' SLABS OF PORK BELLY as her main course, and got a very sensible, and very lovely starter:

Yellowfin Tuna Tartare with Shallots, Quail Egg, Herbed Creole Cream Cheese and Garlic Crostini

That's a Yellowfin Tuna Tartare with Shallots, Quail Egg, Herbed Creole Cream Cheese and Garlic Crostini. Lovely tuna, bit of a kick to it, nice garnish with the egg, and I could eat Creole cream cheese in any form or fashion, savory or dessert. Here's the kind of dish that allows you to eat FOUR GIGANTIC FECKIN' SLABS OF PORK BELLY as your main and not be Mr. Creosote at the end of the meal. Not only that, I think Mary had a suspicion as to what might happen at the end of the meal, and planned accordingly. Unlike the rest of us.

As usual, when being presented with a menu full of amazing-sounding chioces, I was torn. I had narrowed it down to two, one of the main menu items, and one of that night's specials. I had had pork already in the starter, FOUR GIGANTIC FECKIN' SLABS OF PORK BELLY, in fact, but the pork dish special sounded somewhat intriguing. "Pork breast?" That's how it was described. What the hell's pork breast? I'd never heard that term used before. It was "chile-glazed," accompanied by something called "crispy crab rice" and a jalapeño bok choi "slaw." (Quotes theirs.) Intriguing, maybe. But I dunno.

I asked both our server Herman (who was awesome) and one of the hosts, and they both chose the other dish, with the hostess saying that it was her favorite dish on the menu, and our server praised it as well. Neither of them had had an opportunity to try the pork special, though. Wes also thought about it, as did Steve, but we all ended up going for different things, and here's what we got ... me first.

Atlantic Salmon

Oyster-Crusted Atlantic Salmon with dill-preserved Yukon Gold potatoes, "tuna bacon" asparagus, and a fennel-cauliflower Béarnaise sauce. Thick, gorgeous piece of salmon, pan-seared and then finished in the oven with a layer of oyster dressing -- a bit crispy on the outside, moist and juicy on the inside, and I love oyster dressing. This was amazing. The "tuna bacon" wrapped around the asparagus was interesting. They had taken slabs of tuna and subjected it to the same kind of cure and smoke as they do with housemade bacon, sliced that thinly and wrapped the asparagus with it. Far lower in fat, good flavor and a very creative idea, although I'm afraid I found it to be a bit dry. No worries, though, as it was a minor component in the dish (which would still have shone without it, actually). The Béarnaise was enriched with a purée of cauliflower, and it was delicious. Fantastic dish!

Pan-Seared Filet of 
Beef with Creamy Mascarpone Polenta

Wes went for the Pan-Seared Filet of Beef with Creamy Mascarpone Polenta, Slow-roasted Pork Belly, Wilted Swiss Chard, Tomato Confit and Goat Cheese. Some people just can't get enough pork belly, apparently! Actually it was just a small part of the dish's symphony of flavors, and that was one beautiful, tender and rosy red medium-rare piee of meat. A lot of people criticize filet mignon for having little flavor, but this one didn't skimp in that department. The accompaniments were terrific too, although I only had a bite. Perhaps Wes will elaborate.

Texas Redfish

Steve went for what's probably the most popular dish on the menu: Andouille-Crusted Texas Redfish with grilled vegetables, shoestring potatoes and a Creole meunière sauce. There's been a simliar dish on the menu for ages, and I don't think the clientele will allow them to take it off. What's one of the greatest ways to cook fish? Add some pork to it!

Right after our entrées arrived, Sous Chef Scott Maki (who was running the kitchen that night as Chef de Cuisine David Slater was off that night) emerged bearing one more dish. "Here's a li'l lagniappe for y'all," he said, and set down ... the evening's pork special.

Roasted Chile-Glazed Pork Belly, Crispy Crab Rice, Jalapeno Bok Choi "Slaw"

As written on the specials menu: Roasted Chile-Glazed Pork Belly, Crispy Crab Rice, Jalapeno Bok Choi "Slaw." He was eager for us to try it, knowing that we were foodies. "I just can't give these away tonight," he lamented. "Nobody's ordering it." As the four of us dug into it, we tried to think of why that would be but got distracted, because ... it was a superb dish.

When we read "chile-glazed" we assumed a Latin or Southwestern flavor profile, but this was very Asian -- spicy but a touch of sweet as well. "Pork breast" is, guess what. PORK BELLY! A HUGE FECKIN' SLAB OF IT! Chef was trying to come up with a more creative menu description, as this was a meatier cut than the pork belly he used for the "salad," and he didn't want people to be scared off by thinking it was too fatty. It was amazing, richly flavored, just unctuous enough from the strata of fat in the meat but still good 'n porky. Perhaps the most delightful component of the dish was the so-called "crispy crab rice," the menu description of which having done little to no justice to how wonderful those two little golf-ball-sized balls of rice were. They tasted not like Asian jasmine rice but like the local variety referred to as "popcorn rice," filled with delicate flakes of crabmeat, delicately crunchy when you eat it but you feel the crunch, and it's fun. They were so much fun to eat that we laughed as we were doing it. Wes told Chef Scott, "I don't mean to demean these by any means, but you could separate them from this dish, put them on sticks and sell them at Jazzfest. There'd be lines all the way to the next food area." Altogether it was fun, entertaining, delicious and beautifully integrated dish, and the only reason we could think of why they weren't flying out of the kitchen was just the way the dish was written up on the menu. While the andouille-crusted redfish was indeed flying out of the kitchen, Chef Scott sold very few of his pork special that night. That's a great big shame.

Everything was fantastic.

We were looking forward to being brought the dessert menu and were wondering what we'd get -- Wes was fixated on the restuarant's signature dessert, their infamous Banana Cream Pie, and as we were plotting to get maybe two desserts and split them between the four of us, we saw an unusually large number of wait staff heading toward our table. Uh oh.

Oh no.


Well, it makes sense. The travel book writer is here for the first time in years, to update the long-overdue-for-an-update entry for the restaurant in the book, which is the bestselling travel guide to New Orleans. They want her to taste lots of stuff.

So we were therefore bludgeoned with that longtime Brennan restaurant tradition (which is where I suspect Emeril picked it up, having started his career as an executive chef at Commander's), the Dessert Bomb. If you're not familiar with it, it's when they send out one of each dessert on the menu to your table. In this case, it was nine desserts. For four people.

Along with the squadron of servers was Chef Scott along with a shy-looking young girl from the kitchen. He introduced her to us (I'm sorry that I forgot her name) and said, "She's from our pastry department, and she's going to tell you all about what you're having for dessert tonight." Undoubtedly another Café Reconcile intern / trainee. Wow, more on-the-job-training! She was smiling but clearly nervous but went through each dish, only stumbling once on the word "meringue," which clearly she forgot due to nerves. Chef gently prompted her, and she went on through everything. We applauded and thanked her. This was great, and I remarked that it's kinda like being in the restaurant equivalent of a teaching hospital, although with raspberry coulis instead of blood and a lot less drama. (Well, a little less.)

Shall we begin? Try to keep up.

Emeril's Famous Banana Cream Pie

The restaurant's signature dessert, Emeril's Banana Cream Pie with Banana Crust, Caramel Drizzle Sauce and Chocolate Shavings, developed by Chef Emeril and his original pastry chef, Mr. Lou. The first time I had this I turned into a Hutt. (A very, very happy Hutt.) The first time my brother-in-law Jeff had this he said nothing, just moaned and pounded on the table. It's become fairly infamous for its richness and decadence, especially since a local food writer's analysis revealed that each serving of this pie contains 1,595 calories and 85 grams of fat. For all you WeightWatchers folks, that's 38 points. For one dessert.

Wes ate about a third of it himself.

Peanut Butter 
Chocolate Cake

Peanut Butter Chocolate Cake with a Chocolate Peanut Butter Crunch Cookie and Fresh Berries. This tied for our second favorite.

Creole Bread Pudding 
with Rum Sauce and Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

Creole Bread Pudding with Rum Sauce and Vanilla Bean Ice Cream. Classic Creole, beautifully executed.

Trio of Sorbets, 
Trio of Ice Creams

Emeril's serves a different trio of sorbets and ice creams, all house-made, every night. There have been evenings at Emeril's where I wanted dessert, but all I could manage was their sorbets, which fortuately are always wonderful. This could have been one of those nights, but alas, it was not meant to be. I got my sorbets, and a whole lot more. Tonight's selection? Passion fruit, Chocolate and Raspberry Sorbets. Coconut, Strawberry and Vanilla Bean Ice Creams. All wonderful. This is the only one we completely finished.

Chocolate Truffle 
Torte with Raspberry Coulis

Chocolate Truffle Torte with Raspberry Coulis, Fresh Berries and Chocolate Peanut Crackle.

Hazelnut Creme 

Hazelnut Crème Brûlée with Fresh Berries.

Lemon Tart

Lemon Tart with Brûléed Meringue.

J.K.'s Chocolate 
Grand Marnier Souffle

Finally, their other signature dessert, on the menu since way back when -- J. K.'s Chocolate Grand Marnier Soufflé with Chocolate Sauce. Oh my.

It was worth the wait, although the wait shouldn't have been that long. I had heard criticisms of the restaurant as having gone down in quality, with Chef Emeril himself rarely in the kitchen anymore. I think those were people who might have had an isolated bad night (all restaurants have them) or the type who just ain't happy unless they ain't happy. Chef Emeril's the Emperor now, and he's got great people in the kitchen here running the place for him, cooking with his vision but cooking their food. Chef de Cuisine David Slater's dishes are terrific, and from the time we got to spend with Sous Chef Scott Maki and his own inventive dishes that night, we know this kitchen's in great hands. In the front of the house we've got down-home locals mostly manning the floor, putting kids from Café Reconcile through their paces so that they can get steady work, provide for their families and themselves and contribute to the city and its tourism and hospitality industries (still in desperate need of good people). It's the best of both worlds.

If there was any criticism of the entire experience that night, it was a fairly odd and seemingly minor one, but not as minor as you might think given its importance to sales. The menu was ugly.

Back in the day Emeril's had a very stylized and unique look to its menu, green and beige with a particular font and well-laid out. The menus this time were in generic brown menu folders, and were one dull, drab font from top to bottom, not a very creative layout and actually kind of difficult to read. Nothing caught the eye or led the eye in any particular direction on the page, and those of you who know the restaurant world know how important menu design is. It was fairly bizarre, actually, and although we managed to get a spectacular meal on the table that night others might not fare so well. For Gawd's sake, y'all, hire a graphic designer with menu design experience and get him or her to revamp the look of the menu, pronto!

Once again, a very, very memorable meal at Emeril's. I promise it won't be ten years until the next time.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Monday, June 16, 2008

Mixology Monday: Bourbon.   Wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles, I didn't forget this month's MxMo. By sheer coincidence, the topic happens to correlate nicely with a project I was working on this weekend, too!

Mixology Monday

First off, though, just in case someone else is already doing the cocktail I've chosen for my MxMo entry (and I suspect others will), I'll post as my (I hope) fail-safe entry a longtime favorite of ours -- it's appeared here before, but still isn't known as far and wide as I'd like it to be. I'm still hazy on its origins to this day, although I'm fairly certain that it's fairly old, so if you've got any leads or early references please do chime in.

The Fancy-Free Cocktail

2 ounces Bourbon whiskey.
1/2 ounce Maraschino liqueur.
1 dash Angostura Bitters.
1 dash orange bitters.

Combine with ice in a mixing glass and stir for no less than 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a Luxardo or brandied cherry.

Now ... last week I came across a video on the New York Magazine website about a drink that, if it's successful, might just have to become the new Offical Cocktail of the Fat Pack. It comes from bartender Don Lee of PDT ("Please Don't Tell") in New York City, and as soon as I heard about it I thought it could very well have been created Just For Me.

It calls for a specialty ingredient, an infused Bourbon, which I made last night -- finished just before I went to bed, in fact -- but still haven't tasted, as alcohol right before bed seems to exacerbate my snoring. Nobody wants that.

Oh, what kind of infusion, you're wondering? Potentially The Perfect Infusion for me and mine ... bacon-infused Bourbon.

They do call specifically for Allan Benton's bacon, which happens to be one of our favorite and we frequently have it on hand, as we did this weekend. I cooked four slices in the oven, strained and reserved the fat, then Wes and I ate the bacon. I like this drink recipe already.

It follows the standard Old Fashioned recipe, for me going back to my childhood, just adding the infusion and substituting the syrup. Seems like a natural. Let's make one.

Benton's Old Fashioned
(by Don Lee, PDT, New York)

2 ounces bacon-infused Bourbon.
1/4 ounce grade-B maple syrup.
2 dashes Angostura bitters.
Orange peel.

Combine with ice in a mixing glass, stir for no less than 30 seconds and strain into a chilled rocks glass over fresh ice. Express the orange oil from the peel over the glass, rub the rim with the peel and optionally garnish with the peel.

For the bacon-infused bourbon:

750ml Bourbon (we used Buffalo Trace).
1 ounce bacon fat, strained, from Allan Benton's bacon or your own favorite bacon.

Add the bacon fat to the bourbon in a wide-mouthed jar, shake or stir vigorously and allow to steep for four hours, shaking or stirring periodically. After it's infused for 4 hours place the jar in the freezer for two hours. Strain the bourbon through a fine-mesh strainer to remove the congealed fat.

Benton's Old Fashioned

Okay, here we go ... let's take a sip.

Hmm ... not bad. Very smoky, but not very porky, and a nice balance from the maple. I like it, but ... it needs work. Oddly enough, as much as I like Benton's I think it might not be the right bacon for this, for my palate. I'd like to try this again with a bacon that's less smoky and more porky, maybe a good jowl bacon or something. Grateful Palate and Bacon of the Month Club folks, here I come!

Even after the fall of civilization ...   there must still be bacon. At least for a while.

Ohh, I dunno ... I have to confess that it looks kinda gross. And I'm not willing to buy a case of it to find out. Has anyone tasted this stuff?

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Friday, June 13, 2008

Triskaidekaphiles, rejoice!   Today is our day! I would suspect that the Higher Order would consider this day a prime time for scientific experimentation, and perhaps the decades-long, tireless efforts of this planet's greatest scientific genius, Dr. Momus Alexander Morgus, M.D., at his laboratory in the Old City Icehouse in New Orleans, will solve all of humanity's problems. Dr. Morgus, author of such scholarly tomes as New Hope for the Dead and Molecules I Have Known as well as the famed inventor of "instant people," is also the discoverer of the speed of dark, and despite what annoying Republicans keep incorrectly saying about Al Gore, was the actual inventor of the Internet.

The man, the legend ... with his trusty assitant Chopsley and his supercomputer E.R.I.C. (the Eon Research Infinity Computer) with its cranioskeletal interface:

Morgus, E.R.I.C. and Chopsley

As usual, you must forgive Chopsley for his shrouded appearance ... he was a classmate of Dr. Morgus in medical school, and volunteered for one of the doctor's early, pioneering experiments in face transplant technology. Unfortunately during his recovery Chopsley laughed before he was entirely healed ... ahem.

Here's the doctor again, demonstrating his Talent Machine:

Truly, one day this man will save the world.

Dr. Morgus' experiments would be assisted greatly if you'd turn out all your lights and watch a scary film tonight. But not too scary ...

Father Dougal: Ted! Can I stay up to watch the scary fillum?

Father Ted: Ah, no no no. The last time you stayed up to watch a scary fillum you ended up having to sleep in my bed. I wouldn't mind, but it wasn't even a scary fillum.

Father Dougal: Come on, Ted. A Volkswagen with a mind of its own. If that isn't scary, I don't know what is.

OwwwwoooOOOOOOOOoooooo, scary kids!

Gene's Po-Boys.   Monday of the week between Jazzfest weekends began with us sleeping in somewhat -- I think we deserved / needed the rest. Top on the agenda for that day's eating, though, was a long-overdue revisit to that Pink Palace on St. Claude, Gene's Po-Boys. I'd first found out about them years ago, via my parents from their then-pastor, Father Cyprien. He was a local Creole who knew his food, and they offhandedly mentioned to him one day my love of Creole hot sausage. "Has he been to Gene's?" he asked. My folks weren't sure, and he said, "Ask him, and if he hasn't tell him to go -- they've got the best hot sausage po-boy in the city." He was right. (Thanks, Father!)

The big pink building at 
Elysian Fields & St. Claude
Gene's Po-Boys, in 2004.

Gene's got slammed pretty badly during Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent flood that arrived right afterward, courtesy of the federal government. Not only did the building suffer horrendous roof damage, but the ground floor, where the po-boy shop was, flooded. (It never looked that hot to begin with, either.)

Gene's from above, 
September 2005
Gene's from above, September 2005, a few weeks post-Katrina

They reopened a year later, although ... no hot sausage. "Gene's always made their own hot sausage, but Katrina wiped out our machines," said the owner. No equipment meant no sausage, so in the meantime they stuck to ham, roast beef and burgers. It took another year, but finally the equipment was replaced and Gene's was serving hot sausage again as of August of 2007.

I didn't get a chance to go there during Christmas vacation, so we absotively posilutely had to go back this time.

It looked the same on the outside, only brighter, with a fresh coat of shocking pink paint. The inside looked pretty much the same, only cleaner (no complaints there!). And the po-boy?

Creole Hot Sausage 
Po-Boy with Cheese, from Gene's Po-Boys, New Orleans

I'm not sure how this is possible, but this po-boy is even better than the ones they made before.

The place might look like a dump to some (but a very clean one!), but these folks take more care in making their admittedly limited selection of sandwiches than a lot of the really big po-boy places. Each po-boy goes into the oven so that the bread is slightly toasted, ever so briefly, and the oven's very hot so that the whole thing is piping hot without being too brown. It's a very important touch, and it makes the sandwich even better. The sausage is genius -- I've had lots of Creole hot sausage, and even before nobody came close. This ... this stuff's from another universe. Peppery and complex and so beautifully seasoned ... and yes, goddammit, American cheese. It tastes great on this sandwich. This isn't some fancy fine dining, this is the people's food, and it really doesn't get any better than this. I could eat one of these every single day. (Hmm, Creole's Stuffed Bread for breakfast, Gene's hot sausage and cheese poor boys for lunch ... that's 2/3 of heaven.)

Will the Sazerac be our Official State Cocktail?   The silly but fun effort to have the Sazerac ("History in a glass!") declared to be the official state cocktail of Louisiana, despite all the Baptist legislators from South Arkansas northern Louisiana, continues. Ann Tuennerman, founder of Tales of the Cocktail, said in an email today that we've got "[o]ne more week to go, the bill will come up next week to the full house and I may call you once more for that final vote! The legislative sessions ends on June 23rd so we have to get it done now and then we can celebrate in a few short weeks."

She also sent along this editorial cartoon:

Sazerac in history class!

Too bad my elementary school wasn't that much fun!

The Cocktail Spirit, with Robert Hess.   Don't forget those garnishes, kids, even if it's just you!

Garnishing Basics

Most cocktails are not complete without the garnish. Not only does a garnish add eye appeal but it can be, and most often is, a major flavor component. So, don't discount the garnish when creating cocktails at home or at your bar. They are quintessential in crafting the drinking experience.

Confession to make. I love da li'l umbrellas too.

Another idea -- if you keep some dwarf citrus trees in pots, you'll always have twists or jucies handy if you run out of your main supply of produce.

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  Thursday, June 12, 2008

Yeah, I know.   I'm a lazy bastard.

Awwww! (Cute pig story of the day.)   A piglet in North Yorkshire called Cinders has mysophobia, apparently. This is a fear of dirt, which could be a bit of a problem for a pig as it lacks sweat glands and keeps cool with a nice mud wallow. Cinders' owners' daughter came up with a perfect solution.

LeeAnn was bored at work yesterday and cobbled this up:

The Fat Pack loves Cinders ... 
especially the way her fat crackles between their teeth.

Owner Anderw Keeble said there's "no chance that Cinders would be slaughtered ... She's more of a pet really now and she's going to live a very long and happy life," he said.

Of course, the truth is that the Fat Pack would eat Cinders in a second. We love a cute pig ... especially the way the crisp fat crackles between our teeth.

Jazzfest 2008, Day Three.   We approached the Fairgrounds singing Randy Newman's classic song ... "I think it's goin' to raaaaain today." Actually, we were pretty certain it was going to rain, with predictions of 70-80%. All you can do is either stay home (wimp!) or be prepared -- ponchos, umbrellas and sensible footwear (in my case, a pair of made-in-China Crocs knockoffs that I got on sale for $7.50, which we immediately started calling "Croc-offs").

After the requisite visit to Miz Merlene for Creole's Stuffed Bread and across the road for Strawberry Lemonade, we headed to Economy Hall for the first performance of the day:

Lionel Ferbos, age 96

Lionel Ferbos is, at the age of 96 (and turning 97 in July), the oldest working musician in New Orleans. You can still catch him once a week at the Palm Court Jazz Café, and he was accompanied by the Palm Court Jazz Band. He was fantastic. His tone is strong, his playing joyful, and he can belt out the songs too -- he sounded great on "The Shiek of Araby." Man, I hope I'm still in that kind of shape when I'm pushing 100.

Then it was off to the Lagniappe Stage for jazz of another sort, a brass band mixed with a rock band mixed with a funk band mixed with a dose of Dr. Demento, and you've got Egg Yolk Jubilee.

Egg Yolk Jubilee Egghead!

On the right is a fan, one of many sporting plastic fried eggs somewhere on their person. Eggheads!

Ooh, I'm hungry.

Soft Shell Crawfish Po-Boy

The Soft Shell Crawfish Po-Boy, one of my longtime favorites. A wonderful by-product of crawfish farming, you just clean a little hard bit out of the head when it's in the soft shelled, post-molting stage, batter the whole thing and fry it up. Oh boy. Garnished with fried jalapeño slices, plus a little lettuce, mynez and Crystal hot sauce.

Sweet Potato Pone

For dessert, Sweet Potato Pone, sort of a dense spiced sweet potato cake and really, really good. Mmm, pone. It's fun to say, too. Pone. Pone pone pone. Pone me, baby.

We also had a nice treat from the booth where they make cracklins, freshly-made Sweet Potato Chips with Powdered Sugar.

Next up was my old high school classmate Tim Laughlin (I didn't get any photos, but here he is from the '06 Fest), reminding us all why he's one of the best jazz clarinetists not just in the city, but anywhere. His rendition of Sidney Bechet's "Lonesome" was particularly sweet this year. From there we headed out to the Jazz and Heritage Stage to see Shamarr Allen:

Shamarr Allen

One of the city's best up-and-coming musicians, Shamarr is comfortable playing traditional as well as modern jazz, plus funk and rock and hip-hop as well, and two nights before we had seen him accompanying Paul Sanchez at Carrollton Station, sounding fantastic. His latest album Meet Me On Frenchmen Street was one of my favorites this year.

Wes got hungry, as he only had a bite of my po-boy, and dashed off to the little food area near the Gospel Tent for one of the best dishes at Fest, which a lot of people don't notice as much 'cause it's tucked back there:

Trout Bacquet

Trout Baquet is from Li'l Dizzy's Café, on the edge of the Tremé on Esplanade and North Robertson. It hasn't been around that long, but the Baquet family has been cooking Creole food in New Orleans for three generations, at many restaurants including Zachary's and Eddie's. It's a superb dish -- pan-roasted filet of trout in a butter sauce, topped with jumbo lump crabmeat. As if that's not enough, he got the combo with a bowl of filé gumbo on the side. Eating in New Orleans doesn't get much better than this.

We headed to the Gentilly Stage to catch the Voices of the Wetlands All-Stars, featuring Tab Benoit, Anders Osborne, Cyril Neville, Dr. John, Big Chief Monk Boudreaux, George Porter Jr., Cyril Neville, Johnny Sansone and Johnny Vidacovich. (Wow.) They were great, and we were really digging it, but the sky started getting really dark, and then we started feeling the drops ... eek. A quick deployment of umbrellas and ponchos, and the heavens opened.

During the deluge

We made it through about a half an hour of their set when the stage got shut down -- the wind was blowing the rain into the stage and getting the musicians wet, and with all the electrical cables on the stage it was too dangerous. D'oh.

We wandered away over to the nearby Jazz and Heritage Stage and they were going strong, so we stayed put as the area on front of the stage began to flood.

Midnite Disturbers Brass Band, in the water and mud

The Midnite Disturbers Brass Band is a terrific all-star conglomeration from bands all over the city -- Kirk Joseph of Backyard Groove, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and sousaphonist-at-large, Stanton Moore and Ben Ellman from Galactic, Troy Andrews of Orleans Avenue and everywhere else, Big Sammy Williams of Big Sam's Funky Nation and Elvis Costello's Crescent City Horns, and several more. Fantastic musicians all, each of whom was wearing a t-shirt honoring a great local musician, both living and dead, to encourage people to learn more about that musician. Very cool, and a great jammy/brass band set too.

The rain wasn't letting up, but we were undaunted.

The Fat Pack in the rain

There's nothing like splashing while dancing, although I'm not fond of mud between my toes. Oh well. And the best part of a driving rainstorm at Jazzfest?

The best thing about rainstorms at Jazzfest?

No line at the Cochon de Lait Po-Boy stand. Nor at the Lemon Pound Cake stand. Nor at the Blueberry Cobbler stand. Nor at the Cracklins stand. (Mmm, pig fat fried in pig fat.)


After the Deluge After the Deluge

It let up after an hour or so, and things went back to normal ... well, soggy normal. Meanwhile, the music continued.

Pete Fountain

Back to Economy Hall through what was quite possibly the worst, grossest and foulest-smelling mud at the entire Fair Grounds (the space right in front of this tent has a major tendency to flood and get muddy) to see The Man, The Master ... Pete Fountain. He's 77 years old, has had heart surgery within the last couple of years and is semi-retired -- he doesn't have a club of his own anymore and only plays two nights a week at a casino hotel in Bay St. Louis (near where he now lives). Still such a sweet tone, still a ruler of that instrument. His band this year included a beaming Tim Laughlin, who was visibly tickled to be playing with Pete.

Final performance of the day was a tough call. Typically, there was lots going on. Who to see? I really wanted to see Al Green, but at the same time were BeauSoleil, The Hot 8 Brass Band and Elvis Costello with Allen Toussaint. Jeez. Both BeauSoleil and The Hot 8 were being recorded, so I knew I could at least catch their sets on CD later. I decided that, for better or worse, I'd stick with the combo of one of New Orleans' greatest playing along with one of my favorite alternative rock musicians since I was about 17. Wes gave me a look tinged with pity and left with Diana, saying he wasn't going to be missing Rev. Al.

Elvis and Allen were great. Backed up by Sammy Williams and the Crescent City Horns, they did Allen's New Orleans classics, new and old stuff from Elvis and did several together as well. About half an hour into the set I texted Wes and Diana to ask how Al was.

Wes: "Needs to sing more and showboat less. Off to BeauSoleil with Mary."

Diana: "Done with him. At Hot 8 - Dinerral Shavers Jr with them, abt 6 yrs old. PS - Rev Al sux."

Sounds like I made a good choice. :-)

Everyone's bit criticism of Al Green is that he was doing anything but singing -- he was preaching, he was throwing flowers to the ladies, he was leading the crowds to sing (I don't want to hear them sing, goddammit, I want to hear YOU), he was making it all about Al and not about Al's music or Al's songs or Al's singing. Very frustrating.

We did get fairly close to Allen and Elvis, thanks to the rain-thinned crowds, but the best views at those stages tend to be via the big screens.

Allen Toussaint

It was a long, fun but tough day. We headed home, and I had to stay outside and hose my feet and shoes off for 10 minutes before I dared to go inside. I'm not sure my feet had ever been so dirty.

Yay! Now that's a Jazzfest day!

The Delachaise.   Once upon a time they were a bar. A nice bar, to be sure, with an excellent selection of beers, wines and spirits, and a cocktail list that steadily improved. When they reopened after Hurricane Katrina and the Federal flood, they found that the cook who made their bar snacks had left the city for good, and they needed a new one. Chris DeBarr had been sous chef at Christian's Restaurant in Mid-City, which flooded badly and would never reopen. He applied for the gig, and before long ... The Delachaise was A Destination.

Chris makes some of the best, most fun and exciting food in the city, and it's more than worth braving the sometimes-annoying crowds to get to the bar and eat his terrific food. We missed out on the terrific Spirited Dinner at Tales last year, and we were long overdue for another visit. Of course, I managed to leave my camera at the house, so we'll have to rely solely on my prose pornography skills.

We sat at the bar so that we could commune with our bartender, as we enjoy doing. She was busy and seemed fairly dispassionate at first -- we ordered Sazeracs and she made good ones, but then when we spied the bottle of St. Germain behind the bar and asked her if she'd been doing anything interesting and fun with it, she lit up and said it was her favorite new thing in the bar by far. We gave her bartender's choice and told her we'd love to try whatever she'd like to make us. Cautious, she ran the base spirit by it at least, to which we immediately agreed. "It's kind of a French 75," she said, "or a French 77 maybe. I love this." Gin, St. Germain, lemon juice and Champagne ... quite lovely.

Our starters were excellent -- perfect bistro-style Pommes Frites with both Roasted Red Pepper Aïoli and Spicy Satay Sauce, and a Crawfish and Black Bean Pupusa with curtido and Spicy Tomatillo Salsa Verde. This was brilliant. We live right next to a heavily Latino neighborhood, and we're very fond of Salvadorean food. We love pupusas, and we get the most authentic and delicious pupusas this side of San Salvador right in our neighborhood. Chris' pupusas were beautifully authentic with the addition of a quintessential local ingredient that wasn't out of place in this dish at all; in fact I wish we could get some pupusas with langostinos in them in the 'hood. His curtido, the Salvadorean cabbage slaw that traditionally accompanies pupusas, was perfect.

My eyes bugged out when I saw the two special entrées that night, after zeroing in on the first one -- Pan-Roasted Hake wrapped in Prosciutto with Sun-Dried Tomato Tapenade, Grilled Asparagus, Romesco Sauce and a Risotto of Smoked Boudin, Beer and Crawfish.

Holy shit.

It would be difficult to think of a dish I wanted more than this one after seeing the description, any time in recent memory. Sadly, it was not quite to be ...

The bartender approached us and said, sheepishly, "I'm really sorry, but Chef's out of the fish."

I reverted to being part of a bad Star Wars movie and gave her Darth Vader's anguished "Noooooooooooooooooooo!!!" from Revenge of the Sith. I was desperate for this dish, though, so I began to negotiate. I'd be happy with the risotto, and some of the the other components. In fact, I was obsessed with that risotto. She sent the barback back to the kitchen with my offer, and Chris said he'd wrap the asparagus with the prosciutto and grill it, then top the risotto with that and drizzle with the Romesco. How did that sound? Sounded great. And it was, really really good. Smoked boudin and crawfish in a risotto ... that's mad genius, and a surf-and-turf I can really get behind.

Wes got a dish that was both delicious and adorable -- Crab and Corn Johnnycakes, five little savory pancakes a bit bigger than a Mardi Gras doubloon, loaded with jumbo lump crabmeat and fresh-cut corn, topped with an Avocado-Wasabi Caviar and Lime Cream. I really enjoyed the bite I got, and after a few minutes of OM NOM NOM NOM from Wesly they were gone in due time. A really fun, whimsical and delicious dish.

Chris is famous for being a master of crème brûlée, flavoring not only the cream but also the topping, with fruit syrups and things like pomegranate molasses and other unusual ingredients mixed up with the sugar that's melted and caramelized with a blowtorch. There's a different one on the menu every night, and that night it was ... Bananas Foster Crème Brûlée with Cinnamon-Caramel Sugar. It seems like everybody in New Orleans does crème brûlée, and frankly I get bored with it. Not with this. Chris makes crème brûlée exciting again, and makes you laugh. (That's the hallmark of a great chef in my book, when his food makes you laugh -- not at him, but out of sheer joy.) This version took one of New Orleans' most venerable desserts (which frankly I never get tired of) and melds it with one of its most hoary and snore-inducing ones, making something new and interesting and fun. I loved it.

We had planned to split one dessert (no, seriously, we actually do that quite often ... we do, goddammit, I'm not lying!), but as soon as we got up to see the description of this one on the board, which was hidden by the espresso machine from where we were sitting, we knew that it would be a two-dessert night. Strawberry-Rhubarb-Blood Orange Crumble with Hazelnut Streusel topping and Creole Cream Cheese Ice Cream. Um ... wow. Wow. It's rare that we get not one but TWO desserts containing not a speck of chocolate and are completely happy and without complaints, and this was one of those times.

Great time (the crowd wasn't too bad) and great food. If I ever win a gazillion dollars in a big MegaTeraPetaLotto I'm gonna invest in a restaurant where Chris is the chef. This guy needs his own place.

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  Friday, June 6, 2008

The joys of imbibing properly.   Kingsley Amis, author of one of my favorite books (The Alteration), liked to drink. (Good man.) He liked to write about drinking too, and wrote three short books entitled On Drink, Everyday Drinking and How's Your Glass? I'd heard about them but never read them, as they've been out of print for a long time. Fortunately, they've been republished as one volume entitled Everyday Drinking: The Distilled Kinsley Amis. It has an introduction by the loathsome Christopher Hitchens ("dry drunk Bush's wet drunk apologist"), although I suppose his being a notorious drinker qualifies him for the job if nothing else. The NYT review describes it as "fizzy," which I suppose is apprpriate enough.

These books are so delicious they impart a kind of contact high; they make you feel as if you.ve just had the first sip of the planet's coldest, driest martini.

Amis was an unorthodox guide to the drinking arts. "Not much of a wine man," he nonetheless drank it and wrote about it often and well. He preferred spirits and beer, and complained about wine snobs and the "pro-wine pressure on everybody." Among his essays is one titled "The Wine-Resenter's Short Handy Guide."

Amis mostly wrote about preparing cocktails at home, for one's self and for guests. He stressed, again and again, the importance of making a genuine effort. "Serving good drinks," he wrote, "like producing anything worth while, from a poem to a motor-car, is troublesome and expensive."

While he looked for ways to trim costs, Amis loathed all forms of social stinginess. ("With alcoholic ritual," Mr. Hitchens writes in his introduction, "the whole point is generosity.") One essay collected here -- it deserves to be rediscovered and widely anthologized -- is "Mean Sod's Guide," a tongue-in-cheek tutorial about how to "stint your guests on quality and quantity" while seeming to have done them very well. Among his tips for a host determined not to pour too many drinks: "Sit in a specially deep easy-chair, and practice getting out of it with a mild effort and, later in the evening, a just-audible groan."

Throughout his life Amis was absurdly quotable on almost every topic, but on imbibing especially. On diets: "The first, indeed the only, requirement of a diet is that it should lose you weight without reducing your alcoholic intake by the smallest degree." On why serious drinkers should own a separate refrigerator for their implements: "Wives and such are constantly filling up any refrigerator they have a claim on, even its ice-compartment, with irrelevant rubbish like food." On the benefits of sangria: "You can drink a lot of it without falling down."

A man after my own heart. He'd love our refrigerator -- filled with various vermouths and cocktail-mixing wines, lime cordial, kola tonic, zubrówka and limoncello. Food schmood, that's why we've got two fridges. And I strictly adhere to his dietary guidelines, WeightWatchers be damned.

The book sounds great. It's already on its way.

Dispatching your poultry.   I've never beheaded a chicken before, although I know people who do it routinely. It's not out of squeamishness, really ... it's that we don't have a henhouse in our urban neighborhood, they're mean little feckers ("Poultry is hateful," said Wes' farmer grandma), it's easier to just go to the market and buy one already dead, and mostly because I'm probably just too goddamn lazy to deal with all that plucking. L. E. Leone in Slate recommends getting closer to chickens, and therefore to your food.

Not a bad idea. It'll start looking especially good if food prices get any higher -- I nearly had an aneurysm at the finally tally at the grocery store the other day. Zoning laws prohibit us from having chickens at our house, but maybe we can raise rabbits like my grandpa did during the Depression. Mmmm, rabbit.

Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!!   Okay, I don't usually gush. I live in Los Angeles, and I've had the opportunity to meet and talk to a lot of famous people. You get a bit used to it when you live out here, and I don't generally make a big deal out of it unless it's an interesting story (i.e., chatting with Walter Koenig, "Star Trek"'s Mr. Chekov, while in line for a hot dog at Pink's, going to the new Woody Allen movie and sitting next to June Lockhart, etc.) But last night I got all gushy.

Peter arrived at the radio station a bit early last night, getting ready for their fabulous Broadway show "Two on the Dial" that he does with Miriam, and he said, "We have a very special guest tonight!"

I was eager to hear, as I've also met some terrific, amazing people that they've had on as guests -- Margaret O'Brien (as I was shaking her hand, I thought, "Judy Garland sang 'Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas' to this person when she was just a little girl."), Adrienne Barbeau, Jack Klugman, and many more. "Who?!" I asked.

"Richard Sherman." My jaw dropped. "Do you know who that is?"

"Uhh, are you kidding me? Richard M. Sherman, of Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman? Um, the composer of the sountrack to my childhood?" Holy bejeebies!

Turns out that Mr. Sherman ("Oh c'mon, call me Richard.") has a new show out called "Pazzazz", which he wrote with Milt Larsen. Peter and Miriam went all out, of course, bringing in records and CDs to do a wonderfully eclectic mix of songs from the entirety of his career, including über-rare LPs of Mary Poppins in French and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in German. (He was delighted with the mix of music, too.) Such a kind, friendly, wonderful man, who was geniunely humbled at the praise and gratitude we heaped on him for writing, quite literally, the sounddtrack to all our childhoods. My dad used to sing "Chim Chim Cher-ee" to me, and my mom and I used to sing "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious," to name but two.

I got a chance to tell him about what's probably still my earliest clear memory -- when I was about four my parents took me to see a revival of Mary Poppins (which originally came out when I was two). They dressed me up in a little checkered suit with short pants and a bow tie, and took me Out To The Movies. In fact, it was the first time I remember ever being taken out to the movies. It was playing at the Pitt Cinema on Elysian Fields Ave., back when it used to be a one-screen. (In later years it was split into two screens, with the balcony being its own little tinyawful theatre, and ran mostly foreign and repertory billings.) I remember we were still at the concession stand buying popcorn when the movie began, and when I heard the overture coming through the just-closing lobby doors I flipped out a bit, jumped up and down and shouted, "Come on, come on, we're missing it, we're missing it!!" Fortunately, we rushed in and only missed the first few seconds.

"What a beautiful memory," Richard said. "Thank you for telling me. What was your favorite song from the show?"

Ooh, tough call. Well, I was fond of the two aforementioned songs, but I told him "if I ahd to pick one, I think I'd have to say 'Feed the Birds.'" He clapped his hands and pointed. "That's the song that defines that whole picture," he said. "That one was Walt Disney's favorite." Hey, great minds ... heh.

I remarked that when I was four I didn't know what the word "tuppence" meant, and at first thought it meant buying something for someone, or buying something to give away. "Well, you weren't far off," he said. "The song has nothing to do with the cost of the bag of crumbs, and everything to do with love, and giving of yourself, and giving to others, especially those less fortunate."

I was thrilled, and listened to the Mary Poppins soundtrack in the car this morning, singing all the way to work.

Richard M. Sherman and me! 
It's supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!

Fact Check: McCain Lied about Katrina.   Via AmericaBlog:

From FactCheck.org:

McCain was asked by a New Orleans reporter why he voted twice against an independent commission to investigate the government.s failings before and after Hurricane Katrina, and he incorrectly stated that he had "voted for every investigation."

McCain actually voted twice, in 2005 and 2006, to defeat a Democratic amendment that would have set up an independent commission along the lines of the 9/11 Commission. At the time of the second vote, members of both parties were complaining that the White House was refusing requests by Senate investigators for information.

The McCain campaign accused the Obama campaign of "tired negative attacks" for pointing out and documenting McCain's gaffe.

So in fact, McCain defended George Bush at the expense of the American people. Even McCain's best buddy Joe Lieberman said the White House was playing games and we should support this commission. "The other co-chair of that Senate investigation, Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, more forcefully chastised the White House and other federal agencies for withholding documents, refusing interviews and derailing the Senate's work. Lieberman, Jan. 24, 2006: 'There has been a near-total lack of cooperation that has made it impossible, in my opinion, for us to do the thorough investigation we have a responsibility to do.'"

I'm hoping he doesn't carry Louisiana, although at this point that's a long shot. Here's hoping.

Five reasons Obama won. Five reasons Clinton lost.   Excellent and spot-on analysis by Jonathan Alter in Newsweek -- the points with a sampling of the commentary:


1. Message. Obama's change message was far superior in 2008 to Hillary's experience message...

2. Organization. The tone of every organization is set from the top. A fish rots from the head, but the head is also how the fish navigates. Obama started his professional life as a community organizer. In 1992 he led a drive that registered 150,000 Chicago voters ... Obama's superiority in planning and organization, traits that bode well for his presidency, showed up in everything from astonishing fund-raising to wooing superdelegates to social networking.

3. Cool. One big reason the organization hummed was that "No Drama Obama" let it be known from the start that his people had to be cool in their dealings with each other or they'd be gone. Only two or three staffers have been pushed out, a remarkable number in a campaign. Of course, Obama himself is cool. He just is.

4. Candor. Obama has not been particularly accessible to the media. For a candidate who stressed transparency, he could use more. But at least he's not your basic BS artist. He doesn't lie or even do much stretching of the truth to suit his purposes. Voters sense this, and even if they think he's full of hot air sometimes, at least he doesn't lie to them. For a politician, this is a huge advantage.

5. Respect for the Voters. After Obama won 11 straight primaries in February, the campaign looked as if it was over. (Had Clinton won 11 straight, the political establishment would have placed enormous pressure on Obama to drop out.) Then came the Rev. Wright story, which Obama was slow to respond to. But when the video of Wright's offensive sermons circulated, he gave an important speech on race in Philadelphia. He trusted that voters would take the time to hear his complex remarks in context, and he was rewarded with several million views on YouTube. Later, when Wright went wild at the National Press Club, Obama broke entirely with his former pastor, this time in a thoughtful and well-reviewed press conference. He didn't do well in most later primaries, but that was more the result of unfavorable demographics than fallout from Wright. Had Obama handled that explosive story with clumsy answers, he would have been finished.


1. No Respect for the Voters. The flipside of Obama's respect for voters was Clinton's disrespect. It began with her announcement of her candidacy in early 2007, when she said she was "in it to win it." Why else would someone run? The not-so-secret assumption behind her entire campaign was that she was the inevitable nominee. But voters don't like to be told how they will vote by politicians (or pundits). It's disrespectful. [...]

2. Poor Strategy. Clinton's failure to organize in the caucus states will go down as one of the worst tactical decisions in modern political history. But it was only part of a larger strategic error...

3. Weak Management. The failed strategy is the product of having the wrong people in charge. Mark Penn, the chief strategist, wrote a book in which he describes the country as a series of tiny distinct constituencies.exactly the wrong analysis in a year when the public has a thirst for unity and commonality... Clinton is responsible for personnel decisions; her poor judgment of people, overemphasis on loyalty and testy reaction to anyone delivering bad news made her slow to recognize the need for a management shakeup.

4. Arrogance. The reason Clinton didn't adjust more quickly, alienated many potential donors, antagonized the press and had so much trouble winning over uncommitted superdelegates, is that from start to finish her campaign gave off a distinct whiff of arrogance.

5. Entitlement. While Hillary turned out to be a much stronger candidate as time went on, one thing never changed: the sense that the Clintons felt they were owed the nomination.

Out of all of the issues on the Clinton side, it was probably no. 2 that killed her chances the most. In the Democratic Party's primary/nominating system, it's all about getting the delegates. He did that; she didn't. Those last two issues are two of my major pet peeves in life, too, and they didn't help.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Wednesday, June 4, 2008

History.   My scalp was kinda tingling when I watched this last night.

Barack Obama

For the first time in my entire life, there's a presidential candidate that excites and inspires me, whom I actually believe in. No other candidate I've voted for -- Mondale, Dukakis (pee-yoo), Gore, Kerry or even Bill Clinton made me feel and think and hope the way Barack Obama does. I started out as a John Edwards supporter, and although I did like him at the time I was annoyed with Obama over the inclusion of Donnie McClurkin in his entourage last year. I quickly learned that that was a minor blunder rather than any kind of reflection of his policy (and he's far better on LGBT issues than Clinton, who seems uncomfortable at the mere mention), and he won me over. Big time, in fact. A middle-class, intelligent, articulate, passionate, inspiring progressive candidate who actually knows constitutional law ... who'd'a thought?

And with all our hard work to help him, he could very well win. (Actually, he must win if this country is ever going to recover.) In case you missed it ...

Unfortunately, this speech wasn't so inspirational. Where Obama's speech was "you, we, us," her speech was "me, me, me." She could have had the grace to realize the inevitability of her loss and to immediately concede to, endorse and embrace the candidate who will be the nominee, so that the party's healing can start now and we can focus all our efforts against McCain. So disappointing.

UPDATE: ABC News is reporting that Clinton bade farewell to her staff and will leave the race on Friday. Do it right, Senator. Invite Sen. Obama to come with you, and do it hand and hand with him. We need you to help us unite the party.

Oh, and speaking of McSame ... how 'bout dat train wreck in Kenna? Worst. Speech. EVER. Good lord. First off, I want to paraphrase one of Christopher Walken's lines from True Romance by saying to the GOP, "Your candidate, f*ckhead that he is, scheduled his speech to coincide (*chuckle*) with the networks' declaration of Obama's victory." Sit through it and watch it if you can; every time he flashed one of those creepy smiles it made my flesh crawl. The speech was summarized by AmericaBlog as "Stop comparing me to Bush, you bastards," and the Huffington Post listed many examples as to how it was "widely panned"; even FOX "News" hated it. And that horrid lime-green background ... better be careful standing in front of green screens, you never know what might get chroma-keyed in.

He also began the general election by claiming to stand in New Orleans (but actually in Kenner, one parish and two cities over), then moving up to Baton Rouge and having the gall to stand in our state and claim he voted for every Katrina investigation when in fact he twice voted against Democratic investigations into the government's levee failures. The speech was just sad, but it seriously pissed me off that he's going to kick off with crap like this. Lying bastard.

Shall we remind everyone what Sen. McCain was up to on the day that Hurricane Katrina passed New Orleans, and the federal government's levees failed, and the city was filling up with water?

Nero McCain with his best buddy

Senator McCain, I am not your friend.

Cocktail of the day.   We missed our opportunity this year to have this drink on the day for which it was created, but we celebrated 2008's bissextile day by going to see "Star Trek: The Tour" and having Manhattans at the bar at Tracht's instead. Still, the year is still appropriate, and you don't necessarily have to wait until a leap year to enjoy this.

I haven't posted this one in four years, so it's time for another visit. In his book The Joy of Mixology, Gary Regan says that "[t]his cocktail was created by Harry Craddock, for the Leap Year celebrations at the Savoy Hotel, London, on February 29th, 1928. It is said to have been responsible for more proposals than any other cocktail that has ever been mixed," reports The Savoy Cocktail Book (1930). This recipe is adapted from Craddock's original, but can certainly be enjoyed at any time of the year." Or certainly anytime this year, 80 years after Harry created it for us.

Leap-Year Cocktail

2 ounces gin.
1/2 ounce Grand Marnier.
1/2 ounce sweet vermouth.
1/4 ounce fresh lemon juice.
1 lemon twist, for garnish.

Stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Add the garnish.

Very tasty. I'd like to make this again soon, and try my favorite new orange liqueur, Prunier Liqueur d'Orange "La Lietenance" with it. It's just about as tasty as Grand Marnier but a lot less expensive.

Jazzfest 2008, Day Two.   Okay, back to our Jazzfest porn! Day Two of the 2008 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival was going to be a short one for us, as we had to leave early to get showered and make it waaaaay down on the West Bank for our annual dinner at our friends' Dean and Becky's house. Dean and I have been friends since we were kids, and his wife Becky is a world-class cook who's made meals that rival or surpass meals I've had in local restaurants. Every year during Fest we get together with a bunch of old friends for a culinary extravaganza, with wine connoisseur Dean providing the vino and Porto. First, though, we had to have lunch.

Fried Soft-Shell 
Crab Po-Boy

Mmmmmm ... one of the legendary dishes of Jazzfest, the Soft Shell Crab Po-Boy. It is indeed ne of the best things to eat at Fest. If it weren't for Creole's Stuffed bread, I'd go for either this or the cochon de lait po-boy first thing, although maybe not every day. (That's a lotta fried seafood.) Looka dat, TWO crabs on dat po-boy!

We ended up spending most of the day in the Gospel Tent, primarily because two of our very favorite local gospel groups (in fact, two of our favorite Fest performers altogether) were on the bill consecutively that day. We started off with The Unstoppable Gospel Creators, who were great, and they led right into ...

Sing it!

The Johnson Extension

The Johnson Extension! Yes, that's really what they're called, they're all members of one big extended family whose name is Johnson, and they're all at the same church. Get yer minds outta the gutter. (Okay, we giggled at first too, way back when we first heard of them.) The energy, emotion, musicianship and pure passion behind this group is thrilling. They really get you caught up in the spirit of the moment, as evidenced by this lady in front of us:


Our other favorite is The Electrifying Crown Seekers, featuring at least two lead signers, my favorite of which is this gentleman:

The Electrifying Crown Seekers

I'm a bit embarrassed that after all these years I don't know this gentleman's name, but he's an astonishing singer. These two groups are among the best gospel groups I've ever heard (in fact, they're all world-class musicians), but to the best of my knowledge none of them has ever recorded. You can tell they're not in it for the records, though. It's all about praisin' Jesus!

The weather started getting a bit inclement, and as we sat listning to Eddie Bo with Peter and Sarah, it started to sprinkle pretty vigorously. We fled over to the Grandstand, as Peter and I wanted to hear Bobby Lounge, and we got seats just at the back of the covered area at the Alison Miner Music Heritage/Lagniappe Stage ... just so that the rain ran down our backs, umbrellas notwithstanding. Bobby was fun as always, and joined by the lovely Nurse Pontecorvo to help him with his iron lung and, occasionally, backing vocals. Bobby was great as always ("What'd you call me?" Oh, excuse me ... Mr. Lounge. "Carry on."), and we were treated to an epic rendition of "I Remember the Night Your Trailer Burned Down" as well as the requisite visit from Squirrelsquatch and his appalling "molestation" of some shill er, innocent young girl. Here's an excerpt from that performance, courtesy of NOLA.com:

After this we had to go, unfortunately, so that we could make it to the Westbank by dinnertime. I was superbummed that we'd have to miss Paul Sanchez' performance, as he was going to be playing with John Boutté and Shamarr Allen, among many others. I was comforted by the fact that his set was one of the ones being recorded by Jazzfest Live, but as it turned out Paul's set was rained out about 25 minutes into it (d'oh). Fortunately, I'm gonna get a very special opportunity to see the same bill soon, woo!

Now, time to go across da rivuh ...

JazzFEAST '08!   It was a little different this year.

Dean's a wine man, and not terribly into spirits or cocktails. He really enjoys sharing his wines with us when we come over (and boy, do we enjoy drinking them with him). However, this year Becky asked Wes, our friend Michael and I to do a cocktail hour. I was excited -- I love doing this for friends, and Michael and Louise had just finished building a stupendously fantastic bar at their place, so we were all game.

I wanted to start with something that Dean would enjoy, since he's not a spirits fan, and that probably meant a wine-based cocktail, preferably Champagne. I also wanted to work with a particularly tasty ingredient that's not overpowering and that'd be something exotic and unavailable for New Orleans. At the time St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur hadn't turned up in the city yet save for just a couple of bars (The Swizzle Stick and The Delachaise), and not at all in the best wine and spirits shops (Martin Wine Cellar and Dorignac's).

I ended up making a simple St. Germain Champagne Cocktail, 3/4 ounce of the liqueur in a flute with about 5 ounces of Champagne. Very tasty, and everyone loved them.

JazzFEAST '08! - Welcoming cocktail

From what I've heard, as of now St. Germain and its pretty bottle has shown up at Martin Wine Cellar, so while it's still exotic it's not unattainable. Attain some!

Next Wes and I made our respective signature cocktails, the Footloose Cocktail and the Hoskins Cocktail. Everybody liked mine (yay!), but everyone really liked Wes'; he couldn't help but point out the irony that he wouldn't invent a cocktail like that these days, one based on a flavored vodka. But it's a really good drink, fruity without being too sweet, and a good introduction for folks who might not have tried a whole lot of different cocktails, or whose experience with cocktails is just Cosmopolitans.

Michael's contribution was one I'd never tried before, using a base spirit I'd never tried before, oddly enough -- a Greek brandy called Metaxa. Technically it's not a brandy, as it's not pure spirit, despite its proof of 78-80. It's actually a liqueur, as it's got a strong brandy base but is also sweetened, albeit with muscat wines and not sugar, plus various herbs and spices including rose petals. It's a natural substitution for brandy in a Sidecar, and Michael whipped these up:

Metaxa Sidecar

2 ounces Metaxa brandy (5-star or 7-star).
1 ounce Cointreau.
3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice.

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

These are very aromatic and very tasty. And as with regular Sidecars, I don't care for the sugar rim.

Now, I'm not in the habit of taking photos of incomplete dishes unless I'm doing a step-by-step tutorial, especially when I'm at someone else's house, but this was just so pretty ...

Hors d'oeuvres were tasty as always, including various charcuterie and a lobster salad in endive leaves, plus cheeses and other wines as well (including a 1987 Château Mouton-Rothschild), then it was time for dinner ...


Yep, that's a lotta huge shrimp, with Creole seasoning, and a lotta butta. Mmmmm, butta.

Now, to the table and let the courses come out!

Cream of Cauliflower 
Soup with Duck and Duck Cracklins

First course, Bisque of Duck adn Cauliflower with Duck Cracklins. This is a recipe by Chef John Folse of Bittersweet Plantation, and of many seasons' worth of Louisiana cooking shows on PBS. Chef Folse is brilliant, and so's this dish (follow the link for the recipe). Rich and ducky and rich and rich and rich. All that, PLUS cracklins on top!

Creole Tomato and 
Gruyere Tart

Next up, a Gruyère and Creole Tomato Tart, simple, classic flavors, and a great way to use our bounty of Creole tomatoes. This'd make a great brunch dish too, especially if you throw in a little bacon or sausage.


Now, the star of the show ... Seafood "Napoleon." What we have here is a bed of sautéed spinach, topped with crab cakes, topped with the sautéed shrimp we saw in its raw state above, topped with a pannéed filet of grouper, with a beurre blanc sauce. This was monstrously good. I can't remember where she got the recipe, but she said that all of them were readily available. (For instance, the bisque is on John Folse's website as well as in his gargantuan tome, The Encyclopedia of Cajun and Creole Cooking. By the way, I have an extra copy of that book if anybody wants to buy it for a discount. I think it's out of print, and new copies are going for $66 on Amazon; I'll sell mine for $60 plus shipping.)

I had a hard time finishing this, but I did. Woo!

Chocolate Soup with 
Rum-Soaked Caramelized Bananas

Dessert! (Dessert number one, actually) Chocolate Soup with Rum-Soaked Caramelized Bananas. Oooohhhhhh ... my. Oh my. Oh. My.

The soup, made with top-quality Belgian chocolate, was also adorned with several chunks of pound cake, which of course soak up all the soup. A megadollop of fresh whipped Chantilly cream topped the bowl.

Oh my.

There is, sadly, no photograph of the second dessert, which our friends Kimberly and Guy bruoght and which Kimberly made, a Pontchatoula Strawberry Streusel Pie. Why is there no photograph. Because I took one look at the pie, which looked and smelled so good, and a few minutes of OM NOM NOM NOM NOM later, I said, "Shit, I forgot to take a picture." It was so good that I apparently wasn't willing to let my lifelong avocation as a food pornographer get in the way of my devouring it.

Great friends, great cocktails, great wine, great food, great company. That's the life, baby.

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  Monday, June 2, 2008

Ellas Otha Bates, 1928-2008, RIP.   Mr. Bates, originally of McComb, Mississippi, passed away this morning at his home in Florida. He was widely recognized as one of the founders of rock 'n roll, along with Chuck Berry, Fats Domino and Little Richard, as well as Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis. He was better known by his stage name, Bo Diddley.

Bo Diddley, 1928-2008

While some of you may never have heard one of his songs (although you probably have without realizing it), you've certainly heard what's come to be known as the "Bo Diddley beat", probably about a million times. What's it sound like? Well, here's one you might know ...

"I'm a-gonna tell you how it's gonna be ..."
You're gonna give your love to me ..."


Thanks for everything, Mr. Bo.

The Cocktail Spirit: "Saturated With Sazeracs, Parts 2 & 3." Robert Hess concludes his series on New Orleans' quintessential cocktail.

Episode Two: The "Shirazerac."

In episode two of our special Saturated with Sazerac series, H. Joseph Ehrmann of Elixir Saloon in San Francisco mixes up his modern variation on the Sazerac.

#     #     #

Episode Three

In our final installment of the Saturated with Sazeracs series, Robert takes the helm and shows us how he makes the classic Sazerac.

Thanks for showing them how to do it right, Robert ... although I do like a li'l more Peychaud's in mine. :-)

May Looka! entries have been permanently archived.

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