looka, <lʊ´-kə> dialect, v.
1. The imperative form of the verb "to look"; in the spoken vernacular of New Orleans, it is usually employed when the speaker wishes to call one's attention to something.
2. --n. Chuck Taggart's weblog, hand-made and updated (almost) daily, focusing on food and drink, cocktails as cuisine, music (especially of the roots variety), New Orleans and Louisiana culture, news of the reality-based community ... and occasionally movies, books, sf, public radio, media and culture, travel, Macs, liberal and progressive politics, humor and amusements, reviews, complaints, the author's life and opinions, witty and/or smart-arsed comments and whatever else tickles the author's fancy.
Please feel free to contribute a link if you think I'll find it interesting. If you don't want to read my opinions, feel free to go elsewhere.
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"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!
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(99 and 44/100% link rot)
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...
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
NOLA.com & The Times-Picayune
WDSU-TV (Channel 6, NBC)
WGNO-TV (Channel 26, ABC)
WNOL-TV (Channel 38, WB)
WTUL-FM (91.5, Progressive radio)
WVUE-TV (Channel 8, FOX)
WWL-TV (Channel 4, CBS)
WWNO-FM (89.9, classical, jazz, NPR)
WWOZ-FM (90.7, Best Radio Station in the Universe)
WYES-TV (Channel 12, PBS)
New Orleans ...
proud to blog it home.
2 Millionth Weblog
A Frolic of My Own
Dispatches from Tanganyika
Home of the Groove
People Get Ready
Suspect Device Blog
The Third Battle of New Orleans
World Class New Orleans
The Yat Pundit
Your Right Hand Thief
The Internet's most comprehensive
and indispensible database of
authenticated cocktail recipes,
ingredients, reseearch and more.
By Martin Doudoroff & Ted Haigh)
Museum of the American Cocktail
Founded by Dale DeGroff and many
other passionate spirits in Jan. 2005.
Celebrating a true American cultural
icon: the American Cocktail.
* * *The Sazerac Cocktail
(The sine qua non of cocktails,
and the quintessential New Orleans
cocktail. Learn to make it.)
The Footloose Cocktail
(An original by Wes;
"Wonderful!" - Gary Regan.
"Very elegant, supremely
sophisticated" - Daniel Reichert.)
The Hoskins Cocktail
(An original by Chuck;
"It's nothing short of a
masterpiece." - Gary Regan)
* * *Chuck & Wes' Cocktail Menu
(A few things we like to
drink at home, plus a couple
we don't, just for fun.)
* * *Peychaud's Bitters
(Indispensible for Sazeracs
and many other cocktails.
Order them here.)
(The gold standard of bitters,
fortunately available everywhere
worldwide. Insist on it.)
Regans' Orange Bitters No. 6
(Complex and spicy orange
bitters for your Martinis,
Old Fashioneds and many more.
Order them here.)
Fee Brothers' Bitters
(Classic orange bitters,
peach bitters and a cinnamony
"Old Fashion" aromatic bitters.
Skip the mint variety, though.)
The Bitter Truth
(A new brand of bitters
from Germany: orange, lemon,
aromatic bitters and more!)
* * *The Alchemist
Alcohol (and how to mix it)
(Gary & Mardee Regan)
The Art of Drink:
An exploration of Spirits & Mixology.
(Jeff Berry, world-class expert
on tropical drinks)
The Cocktail Chronicles
(Paul Clarke's weblog)
The Cocktailian Gazette
(The monthly newsletter of
The Museum of the
A Dash of Bitters
DrinkBoy and the
Community for the
(Robert Hess, et al.)
DrinkBoy's Cocktail Weblog
(Online magazine for the
news & insider info)
(Celebrating the world in a glass)
Jimmy's Cocktail Hour
La Fée Verte
(All about absinthe
from Kallisti et al.)
(Ladies United for the
Fine Spirits & Cocktails
Martini Republic: Drinks
(featuring posts by Dr. Cocktail!)
The Ministry of Rum
(Everything you always wanted to know)
The Modern Mixologist
Mr. Lucky's Cocktails
Swanky et al.)
(F. Paul Pacult)
The Wormwood Society
(Dedicated to promoting accurate,
current information about absinthe)
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
Chocolate and Zucchini
Mise en Place
à la carte
Chef Talk Café
The Global Gourmet
The Hungry Passport
A Muse for Cooks
The Online Chef
Pasta, Risotto & You
Slow Food Int'l. Movement
Southern Food & Beverages Museum
Southern Foodways Alliance
So. Calif. Farmer's Markets
In vino veritas.
The Oxford Companion to Wine
The Wine Spectator
Zinfandel Advocates & Producers
Wine/spirits shops in our 'hood:
Colorado Wine Co., Eagle Rock
Mission Liquors, Pasadena
Silverlake Wine, Silverlake
Chronicle Wine Cellar, Pasadena
Other wine/spirits shops we visit:
Beverage Warehouse, Mar Vista
Wally's Wine & Spirits, Westwood
The Wine House, West L.A.
Reading this month:
D*U*C*K, by Poppy Z. Brite.
To Marry Medusa, by Theodore Sturgeon.
Microcosmic God: The Complete Stories of Theodore Sturgeon, Vol. 2, by Theodore Sturgeon.
Listen to music!
Chuck's current album recommendations
La Bottine Souriante
The Old 97s
The Red Stick Ramblers
Tom Morgan's Jazz Roots
Miles of Music
New Orleans Bands.net
New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival
Appalachian String Band Music Festival - Clifftop, WV
Long Beach Bayou Festival
Strawberry Music Festival - Yosemite, CA
WWOZ (New Orleans)
Live audio stream
KCSN (Los Angeles)
"Down Home" playlist
Live MP3 audio stream
Bob Walker's New Orleans Radio Shrine
(A rich history of N.O. radio)
Air America Radio
(Talk radio for the
rest of us)
Grateful Dead Radio
KPIG, 107 Oink 5
KRVS Radio Acadie
Mike Hodel's "Hour 25"
(Science fiction radio)
(Irish language & music)
Raidió na Gaeltachta
RTÉ Radio Ceolnet
(Irish trad. music)
WXDU (Durham, NC)
Films seen this year:
In the cinema:
Children of Men (****)
Notes on a Scandal (***-1/2)
Lookin' at da TV:
"The West Wing"
"Six Feet Under"
"Malcolm In The Middle"
"Star Trek: Enterprise"
"One Tree Hill"
"Queer Eye for the Straight Guy"
The Food Network
A Gallery for Fine Photography, New Orleans (Joshua Mann Pailet)
American Museum of Photography
California Museum of Photography, Riverside
International Center of Photography
Paul F. R. Hamilton
Clarence John Laughlin
J. T. Seaton
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
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
by Al Capp
by Emily Flake
The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green,
by Eric Orner
by Walt Kelly
by Greg Peters
by Ted Rall
This Modern World,
by Tom Tomorrow
XQUZYPHYR & Overboard,
by August J. Pollak
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)
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:
The Carpetbagger Report
Creek Running North
Ethel the Blog
Un Fils d'un État Rouge
Follow Me Here
Ghost in the Machine
Hit or Miss
Mark A. R. Kleiman
The Leaky Cauldron
Letting Loose With the Leptard
Little. Yellow. Different.
More Like This
Neil Gaiman's Journal
News of the Dead
No More Mr. Nice Guy!
Not Right About Anything
August J. Pollak
Q Daily News
Real Live Preacher
Respectful of Otters
Roger "Not That One" Ailes
This Modern World
What's In Rebecca's Pocket?
Your Right Hand Thief
Matthew's GLB blog portal
Friends with pages:
The Final Frontier:
"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
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.)
"Eating, drinking and carrying on..." -- Adelaide Brennan
Thursday, June 28, 2007
Impeach Cheney. "The vice president," says Slate's Bruce Fein, "has run utterly amok and must be stopped."
... President George W. Bush outsourced the lion's share of his presidency to Vice President Cheney, and Mr. Cheney has made the most of it. Since 9/11, he has proclaimed that all checks and balances and individual liberties are subservient to the president's commander in chief powers in confronting international terrorism. Let's review the record of his abuses and excesses:
The vice president asserted presidential power to create military commissions, which combine the functions of judge, jury, and prosecutor in the trial of war crimes. The Supreme Court rebuked Cheney in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld. Mr. Cheney claimed authority to detain American citizens as enemy combatants indefinitely at Guantánamo Bay on the president's say-so alone, a frightening power indistinguishable from King Louis XVI's execrated lettres de cachet that occasioned the storming of the Bastille. The Supreme Court repudiated Cheney in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld.
The vice president initiated kidnappings, secret detentions, and torture in Eastern European prisons of suspected international terrorists. This lawlessness has been answered in Germany and Italy with criminal charges against CIA operatives or agents. The legal precedent set by Cheney would justify a decision by Russian President Vladimir Putin to kidnap American tourists in Paris and to dispatch them to dungeons in Belarus if they were suspected of Chechen sympathies.
The vice president has maintained that the entire world is a battlefield. Accordingly, he contends that military power may be unleashed to kill or capture any American citizen on American soil if suspected of association or affiliation with al-Qaida. Thus, Mr. Cheney could have ordered the military to kill Jose Padilla with rockets, artillery, or otherwise when he landed at O'Hare Airport in Chicago, because of Padilla's then-suspected ties to international terrorism.
Mr. Cheney has championed a presidential power to torture in contravention of federal statutes and treaties.
He has advocated and authored signing statements that declare the president's intent to disregard provisions of bills he has signed into law that he proclaims are unconstitutional, for example, a requirement to obtain a judicial warrant before opening mail or a prohibition on employing military force to fight narco-terrorists in Colombia...
The vice president engineered the National Security Agency's warrantless domestic surveillance program targeting American citizens on American soil in contravention of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978. He concocted the alarming theory that the president may flout any law that inhibits the collection of foreign intelligence, including prohibitions on breaking and entering homes, torture, or assassinations...
The vice president has orchestrated the invocation of executive privilege to conceal from Congress secret spying programs to gather foreign intelligence, and their legal justifications...
Cheney scorns freedom of speech and of the press. He urges application of the Espionage Act to prosecute journalists who expose national security abuses, for example, secret prisons in Eastern Europe or the NSA's warrantless surveillance program...
... In the end, President Bush regularly is unable to explain or defend the policies of his own administration, and that is because the heavy intellectual labor has been performed in the office of the vice president. Cheney is impeachable for his overweening power and his sneering contempt of the Constitution and the rule of law.
Given the fact that they tried to impeach Clinton for lying about having sex with an intern as part of a deposition for a civil lawsuit that was eventually dismissed for lack of merit ... it as always prompts the question of what the fuck you have to do to get impeached nowadays?
The Washington Post concludes its series on Cheney's "most outrageous usurpation of power that this nation has seen in decades, if not in its history" with two more pieces: Dominating Budget Decisions, detailing how he made himself the dominant voice on tax and spending policy, outmaneuvering rivals for the president's ear; and an examination of his environmental policy, i.e., how he gutted it, easing air pollution controls, opening public parks to snowmobiles and diverting river water from threatened salmon.
I've heard people say that they pray nothing happens to Bush because it'd mean that Cheney would become president and that'd be scary. They don't realize that he's already president, de facto if not de jure.
And that's really scary.
UPDATE: He's flip-flopping now.
Quotes of the day. From a TPM article linked above:
If the Vice President thinks that there is no authority to which he reports, then he has committed a high crime against this nation and its democracy.
-- Steve Clemons, publisher of The Washington Note.
In that case ...[ Link to today's entries ]
The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.
-- Constitution of the United States, Article II, Section 4.
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
Love is all you need. It was 40 years ago today (well, yesterday actually) ... the world's first global satellite broadcast.
The message is as valid as ever ... for this country, perhaps more so than ever before. (Thanks, Steve!)[ Link to today's entries ]
Monday, June 25, 2007
Cocktail of the day. It was gorgeous but warm on Saturday, and I felt like rum.
My turn to mix, and I was looking for something with rum, but something a bit different. Recalling Gary Regan's excellent tome The Joy of Mixology, I tried to remember if there was a rum-based example of his drink category of New Orleans Sours (base spirit, orange-flavored liqueur, lemon or lime juice). I couldn't, so I looked it up. Turns out that oddly enough, there was no classic cocktail fitting this description, so Gary created one in 2002 and called The Missing Link (heh). It features his favored Margarita proportion of 3:2:1, with light rum, triple sec and lime juice.
Okay, but I was looking for something just as refreshing but a little more complex. I had just picked up a bottle of Rhum Clément's Créole Shrubb, a once-rare liqueur from Martinique that I had tasted at Dr. Cocktail's house but which wasn't readily available in the States until recently. It's an orange liqueur in the same general category of Curaçaos or triple secs, but that's where the similarity ends. This liqueur is drier than most of those, is based on a type of rum called rhum agricole (made from fresh pressed sugar cane juice, not molasses), is sweetened by just a touch of pure sugar cane syrup and has a blend of really interesting Caribbean spices. I had tasted some straight from my new bottle, and was eager to use it in some sort of cocktail. This seemed to be the time for it to make its début in our bar.
I thought of a light rum, perhaps, but decided to pair it with a fellow Martiniquan rum. I didn't have any Rhum Clément on hand, but I did have a Saint James Hors d'Age rhum agricole, which until then I'd only ever sipped and never used in a cocktail. It's got the complexity of a Cognac, and while it might not let the Shrubb shine through quite as much as a white rum would, I thought I'd see what kind of cocktailian-alchemical witches' brew of flavors might come forth.
What kind? A startling kind. Neither Wesly nor I had ever tasted anything quite like this. The best way to describe the flavor would be ... exotic. We were both a bit taken aback at first, with all the flavors going on in here, but decided within two sips that we liked it. A lot.
This is different enough from a Missing Link that I thought we'd give it its own name. "Missing link" is a term given (sometimes inaccurately) to a transitional fossil in the evolutionary line. The first skeleton of Australopithecus afarensis was a key transitional fossil, and it (or rather, she) had a name, which I've lent to this drink.
1-1/2 ounces St. James Hors d'Age rhum agricole.
1 ounce Clément Créole Shrubb.
1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice.
Combine ingredients with ice in a cocktail shaker; shake for 10-12 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Lime wheel garnish.
Next time I make this I'll make it with a lighter rum, to get more of a sense of the Shrubb flavor on its own. If not a Martiniquan rum, then certainly 10 Cane from Trinidad, which has become our standard rhum agricole these days.
Cheney's "robust interrogations" The Washington Post continues its four-part series (here's the first article) about how deeply frightening our vice president is. Today we learn about how Cheney crafted our nation's torture policy, or what he liked to call "robust interrogations." Joe Sudbay of AmericaBlog says, "Reading these articles is intense. As bad as many of us thought Cheney was and is -- he's worse. This man, and the President who has enabled him, have seriously undermined the country -- and the constitution they swore to uphold."
David S. Addington, Cheney's general counsel, set the new legal agenda in a blunt memorandum shortly after the CIA delegation returned to Langley. Geneva's "strict limits on questioning of enemy prisoners," he wrote on Jan. 25, 2002, hobbled efforts "to quickly obtain information from captured terrorists."
No longer was the vice president focused on procedural rights, such as access to lawyers and courts. The subject now was more elemental: How much suffering could U.S. personnel inflict on an enemy to make him talk? Cheney's lawyer feared that future prosecutors, with motives "difficult to predict," might bring criminal charges against interrogators or Bush administration officials.
Geneva rules forbade not only torture but also, in equally categorical terms, the use of "violence," "cruel treatment" or "humiliating and degrading treatment" against a detainee "at any time and in any place whatsoever." The War Crimes Act of 1996 made any grave breach of those restrictions a U.S. felony [Read the act]. The best defense against such a charge, Addington wrote, would combine a broad presidential direction for humane treatment, in general, with an assertion of unrestricted authority to make exceptions.
The vice president's counsel proposed that President Bush issue a carefully ambiguous directive. Detainees would be treated "humanely and, to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity, in a manner consistent with the principles of" the Geneva Conventions. When Bush issued his public decision two weeks later, on Feb. 7, 2002, he adopted Addington's formula -- with all its room for maneuver -- verbatim.
I'm hoping this series of articles does for Cheney (and ultimately, Bush) what Woodward and Bernstein's series of articles did for Nixon, but with a new ending -- prison.[ Link to today's entries ]
Sunday, July 24, 2007
"Somehow, somewhere along the way, faith stopped being used to bring us together and faith started being used to drive us apart," the Democratic presidential candidate said in a 30-minute speech before the national meeting of the United Church of Christ.
"Faith got hijacked, partly because of the so-called leaders of the Christian Right, all too eager to exploit what divides us," the Illinois senator said.
"At every opportunity, they've told evangelical Christians that Democrats disrespect their values and dislike their church, while suggesting to the rest of the country that religious Americans care only about issues like abortion and gay marriage, school prayer and intelligent design," according to an advance copy of his speech.
"There was even a time when the Christian Coalition determined that its number one legislative priority was tax cuts for the rich," Obama said. "I don't know what Bible they're reading, but it doesn't jibe with my version."
You can watch Sen. Obama's complete speech (with introductions) from the UCC's web archive.
I'm not a Hillary Clinton fan (and if she's the nominee I'm afraid that she'll be so disliked that even some Democrats will vote for a Republican so as not to have her), so at this point it's either Obama or Edwards for me. I think Obama has a better chance so far, but it's still early. We'll have to see how they do as they go along.
(I decided to experiment with posting some minor food porn, with or without pics, about daily meals if I think it's warranted. These sandwiches were particularly good, so I thought I'd pass the idea along, and I'll continue to do so.)
The fourth branch of government? The Washington Post begins a four part series (continuing tomorrow, Tuesday and Wednesday) on how Dick Cheney is completely without historical precedent as the most powerful and influential man ever to hold the office of Vice President of the United States, which only became possible because Bush is anxious to get out of the way, because Cheney makes the decision first before Bush "makes" the decision. As Steve Silberman said in MeFi, "Cheney set up his own government within the government of the United States, answerable to none."
One scary passage (of many), describing Cheney's reaction on 9/11:
In a bunker beneath the East Wing of the White House, Cheney locked his eyes on CNN, chin resting on interlaced fingers. He was about to watch, in real time, as thousands were killed on Sept. 11, 2001.
Previous accounts have described Cheney's adrenaline-charged evacuation to the Presidential Emergency Operations Center that morning, a Secret Service agent on each arm. They have not detailed his reaction, 22 minutes later, when the south tower of the World Trade Center collapsed.
"There was a groan in the room that I won't forget, ever," one witness said. "It seemed like one groan from everyone" -- among them Rice; her deputy, Stephen J. Hadley; economic adviser Lawrence B. Lindsey; counselor Matalin; Cheney's chief of staff, Libby; and the vice president's wife.
Cheney made no sound. "I remember turning my head and looking at the vice president, and his expression never changed," said the witness, reading from a notebook of observations written that day. Cheney closed his eyes against the image for one long, slow blink.
Three people who were present, not all of them admirers, said they saw no sign then or later of the profound psychological transformation that has often been imputed to Cheney. What they saw, they said, was extraordinary self-containment and a rapid shift of focus to the machinery of power. While others assessed casualties and the work of "first responders," Cheney began planning for a conflict that would call upon lawyers as often as soldiers and spies.
My friend Steve said in email, "This pretty much confirms something I've thought for quite some time: that instead of viewing the attacks as a tragedy, the Bush Administration saw them as an opportunity." Indeed, Cheney, Rumsfeld and their cohorts in the Project for a New American Century had been waiting for such an opportunity for years.
Regarding Cheney's claim that he's exempt from rules overseeing classified document security because he's not part of the executive branch, Rep. Rahm Emanuel has raised the stakes -- he's entered an amendment to cut funding from the Office of the Vice President from the legislation that funds the executive branch.
"The Vice President has a choice to make. If he believes his legal case, his office has no business being funded as part of the executive branch. However, if he demands executive branch funding he cannot ignore executive branch rules. At the very least, the Vice President should be consistent. This amendment will ensure that the Vice President's funding is consistent with his legal arguments. I have worked closely with my colleagues on this amendment and will continue to pursue this measure in the coming days."
Fair enough.[ Link to today's entries ]
Saturday, June 23, 2007
Cocktail of the day. We hadn't had this in a while. It's yet another luscious creation by The Libation Goddess, Audrey Saunders of The Pegu Club in New York (and we'll be sampling her sacramentally delicious creations at one of the Spirited Dinners at Tales of the Cocktail next month, woo!).
This takeoff on the sidecar turns the brandy into a Cognac-Calvados blend, the Cointreau into an orange-herb blend, and the lemon juice into a lemon-pineapple blend, maintaining the original character of the drink but adding many layers of additional flavors. I like it with the sugared rim, but as Gary Regan says in the next article, "Some folk like to rim the glass with sugar when serving a sidecar. I'm not one of them."
The Tantris Sidecar
1 ounce V.S. Cognac (e.g. Hennessey or Courvoisier).
1/2 ounce Busnel Calvados.
1/2 ounce Cointreau.
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice.
1/2 ounce simple syrup.
1/4 ounce green Chartreuse.
1/4 ounce pineapple juice.
Rub a little lemon around the outside of a chilled cocktail glass and dredge it in the sugar, leaving a nice even stripe of sugar around the rim of the glass.
Combine all liquid ingredients with cracked ice in a cocktail shaker and shake for 10-12 seconds. Strain into the sugar-rimmed glass.
If Calvados isn't on hand, try substituting Laird's Straight Apple Brandy, which is really good stuff.
The Cocktailian. Speaking of Sidecars ... in this edition of Gary Regan's column, Cindy, a substitute for the Professor, our cocktailian bartender (who's in Peru at the moment) creates another Sidecar variation, this time retaining the principal ingredient styles and trying other types of brandy and orange liqueur for a subtly different character.
Ardent Spirits. The new Ardent Spirits newsletter is out, covering a bar crawl in Blackpool, England and a trip to the Beefeater distillery; Gary's presentation at the London Bar Show ...
... Rhum Clément's 2nd annual Cocktail Challenge with the winning recipe (and can I say how great it is to see Rhum Clément's products easily available on the shelves now, especially their wonderful Créole Shrubb liqueur!); and much more!
Mexican liqueurs you've probably never heard of. Yes, we've all heard of Kahlúa, but how many other Mexican liqueurs can you name? The Los Angeles Times Food Section has a nice feature on a lot of really lovely and complex liqueurs from Mexico. I'd always been curious about the Damiana one, which comes in a bottle shaped like a chubby naked goddess statue, and turns out to be "[a] bright yellow liqueur with a voluptuous aroma bright yellow liqueur with a voluptuous aroma -- an explosion of resin, mint and flowers; [t]heflavors are resinous, candied and flowery with a note of lemon leaf."
You can also find ratings and tasting notes of the aforementioned Guaycura Liqueur de Damiana, along with Patrón XO Café, Agavero ("like a tequila-based Chartreuse"), Reserva del Snñor Almendrado, Kalani Coconut Liqueur, Xaica Hibiscus Flower Liqueur ("happy-hour jamaica," which sounds fantastic; I'd tried to do a jamaica infusion with limited success, but my skills have improved since then ... maybe I'll try again with tequila and do a homemade version, or ... maybe I should just try this!), D'Aristi Xtabentun ("Pernod for honey lovers"), and Reserva del Señor Licor de Café. Man, don't some of these sound fantastic?[ Link to today's entries ]
Friday, June 22, 2007
The Pimm's Cup. Continuing this great series being posted in The Times Picayune, master bartender Chris McMillian shows us how to make a Pimm's Cup, a very refreshing cooler for the summer and the signature drink at Napoleon House on Chartres and St. Louis in the French Quarter.
I'm trying to remember where we were recently where the bartender took great pride in his Pimm's Cups, saying that not only did he hate the ones that are made at Napoleon House, but that he was actually offended by them. Wes might have to rememberize for us in the comments.
Oh well. 26th place in that contest thingy. Thanks for all your votes; considering I was something like 79th when I started, that ain't bad.
Screw 'em, maybe we'll go to Napa anyway.
Cheney's latest outrage. I know, it's been a while. The joy of food filled in where my outrage overload burned a hole, but ... for fuck's sake.
Cheney Power Grab: Says White House Rules Don't Apply to Him
Vice President Dick Cheney has asserted his office is not a part of the executive branch of the U.S. government, and therefore not bound by a presidential order governing the protection of classified information by government agencies, according to a new letter from Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., to Cheney.
Let's hear that again.
Vice President Dick Cheney has asserted his office is not a part of the executive branch of the U.S. government, and therefore not bound by a presidential order governing the protection of classified information by government agencies.
Well, exactly what branch of government does he think his office is a part of? The secrecy branch? The ignore-the-law branch? The go-fuck-yourself branch? The hippopotamus umbrella branch?
Oh, he claims that since his only real job is to be the president of the Senate, that makes him a member of the legislative branch.
Horseshit, especially for this vice president. The other 42 of them might have been lapdogs presiding over the senate, but this vice president is most assuredly doing the vast majority of his deeds through the powers of the executive branch. And indeed, he claims executive privilege for things like his energy deal, but is not a member of the executive branch?
Bill Leonard, head of the government's Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO), told Waxman's staff that Cheney's office has refused to provide his staff with details regarding classified documents or submit to a routine inspection as required by presidential order, according to Waxman.
In pointed letters released today by Waxman, ISOO's Leonard twice questioned Cheney's office on its assertion it was exempt from the rules. He received no reply, but the vice president later tried to get rid of Leonard's office entirely, according to Waxman.
Let's hear that again.
The head of the government's Information Security Oversight Office twice questioned Cheney's office on its assertion that it was exempt from the rules. He received no reply other than the fact that the Vice President then tried to abolish his office.
Vice President Cheney's office has refused to comply with an executive order governing the handling of classified information for the past four years and recently tried to abolish the office that sought to enforce those rules, according to documents released by a congressional committee yesterday.
Since 2003, the vice president's staff has not cooperated with an office at the National Archives and Records Administration charged with making sure the executive branch protects classified information. Cheney aides have not filed reports on their possession of classified data and at one point blocked an inspection of their office. After the Archives office pressed the matter, the documents say, Cheney's staff this year proposed eliminating it.
What Cheney is doing isn't some esoteric battle over protocol. He's refusing to let the national security watchdogs make sure that his staff isn't being sloppy with classified information. He is quite literally risking our national secrets during a time of war. These rules exist for a reason, the oversight exists for a reason. People are sloppy, and sometimes they're even evil. When you're dealing with classified information, information that can quite literally get someone killed, you need several layers of protection to ensure that the information doesn't slip out, by intent or neglect. That's why we have inspections of offices and individuals who receive and retain classified information, to make sure that their sloppiness (or worse, duplicity) isn't putting our nation, and our troops, at risk.
That's what this issue is about. It's about protecting our national security secrets during war time. For some reason, Dick Cheney doesn't think his staff needs to be as careful with our national security secrets, with the national security secrets of our allies, as do other officials in the federal government. That's an incredibly dangerous and reckless decision that puts at risk the classified information itself, the sources of that information, and every one of us who rely on America's, and our allies', intelligence apparatus to keep us safe.
This man is dangerous.
What is it about the people in this country that keeps them from where they should be, which is out in the streets mobbing the White House (although not Cheney's actual office, because undoubtedly he's in An Undisclosed Location), demanding his resignation or impeachment? Laziness? Apathy? Self-entitlement?
I'd be out there myself, except I fear I'd be the only one, and I'd end up under Guantánamo Bay.
I won't ask what is wrong with Cheney. He's a power-mad would-be despot who cares nothing for the law, the Constitution or the American people but only in his own power. The question is, why don't they impeach over the long list of crimes, the long list of constitutional violations, perpetrated by this corrupt administration, yet they tried to impeach Clinton for lying about a blow job? The biggest question is, what is wrong with us?
How low can he go? Astonishingly, his current approval rating is even lower than Cheney's.
President Bush registers the lowest approval rating of his presidency -- making him the least popular president since Nixon -- in the new NEWSWEEK Poll.
In 19 months, George W. Bush will leave the White House for the last time. The latest NEWSWEEK Poll suggests that he faces a steep climb if he hopes to coax the country back to his side before he goes. In the new poll, conducted Monday and Tuesday nights, President Bush's approval rating has reached a record low. Only 26 percent of Americans, just over one in four, approve of the job the 43rd president is doing; while, a record 65 percent disapprove, including nearly a third of Republicans.
The new numbers -- a 2 point drop from the last NEWSWEEK Poll at the beginning of May -- are statistically unchanged, given the poll's 4 point margin of error. But the 26 percent rating puts Bush lower than Jimmy Carter, who sunk to his nadir of 28 percent in a Gallup poll in June 1979. In fact, the only president in the last 35 years to score lower than Bush is Richard Nixon. Nixon's approval rating tumbled to 23 percent in January 1974, seven months before his resignation over the botched Watergate break-in.
I think he can beat Dick. Go, George, go! We're rootin' for ya![ Link to today's entries ]
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
Whoring for votes. Last night I got the following email:
Dear Food Blogger,
How were you nominated?
As part of a contest to win a trip to COPIA's "Mastering the Grill" class, our readers were given the option to vote a for food blogger to win the same grand prize -- and, in this case, someone nominated you.
We hope this comes to you as welcome news. The contest runs June 10-21; winners will be announced June 22. There is more information about the contest along with special tools for food bloggers at the GrillMe contest page on Culinate.
Welcome news? Well, sure! First off, whoever nominated me ... thanks! Second, I must confess that I've never heard of Culinate, but hey ... I'll still take a prize from 'em, what the hell. Thirdly, and here's where the "whoring" part comes in ...
Vote for me, and send my ass to Napa! (Click the image to do so.)
Can you imagine the food porn if I manage to score a reservation at The French Laundry? It's been ten years since I've been, and it's about time for a return visit. (Incidentally, the prices have changed slightly since then. In 1997 the five-course dinners were $65, and the nine-course "Chef's Tasting Menu" was a whopping $90. Nowadays it's just the nine, and it'll set you back a cool $225, plus all the "freebie" little bites you get in between courses. It's still a deal.) See, it's all about providing food porn for YOU!
So whichever of you was kind enough to nominate, me, I accept. Everybody, call and email your friends and your momma and your Aunt Hazel and all your relatives, including those cousins you never see (even the drunk one and the one you thought was creepy at the family reunion) and tell them to vote for Looka! so that you can get more cool food porn. Also, and so that Wes and I can get a free vacation to Napa. (Oh, and there's apparently some class too, which I guess I'd go to as long as it didn't interfere with our dining and wine drinking.)
In the long and glorious Louisiana tradition, I say vote early and vote often! Get your dead relatives to vote too! (Okay, just kidding, 'cause all those politicians are pond scum.) Vote Chuck! My platform ... um, bacon forever! Badly made cocktails outlawed! Barq's is ubiquitous AND it's root beer!
I've debased myself enough now. Thank you for your indulgence.
Bayona. Wednesday midweek of Jazzfest, meeting my Uncle Mike for a nice long lunch at a longtime favorite. We started off with a round of Sazeracs, and the Sazeracs at Bayona have been longtime favorites of ours, especially Wes. He's also always appreciated the fact that they break from tradition by serving the drink in a cocktail glass rathe than a rocks glass; not that we don't follow that tradition at home ourselves (in vintage Roosevelt Hotel Sazerac glasses from the 1940s, no less), but it's nice to see someoen putting their own stamp on a traditional tipple. Oddly enough though, this time the drinks, while still excellent, came in the standard rocks glass. Apparently Bayona has a new bartender who's a firm believer in tradition. Well, bless his heart too.
Lunch was lovely, as I expected, although there had to be a quick change of plans from the very beginning. I zeroed in on two dishes that looked really great -- Eggplant Parmesan Soup with Tomato and Tomato Croutons for a starter, and Lemongrass Scallops with Coconut-Lime Broth and Roasted Eggplant for my entrée. I was in the mood for soup, and the scallop dish sounded light and bright and Vietnamesey, with the roasted eggplant tying it in to the starter. How perfect, and the decision took me all of ten seconds. Then our server arrived to take our drink orders and said, "Just a couple of changes on the menu today, gentlemen ... we have almost everything but unfortunately we've run out of the eggplant soup and the scallops." Sigh. "Um, could you take their orders first, please?" Eek! After a few moments of wrestling with indecision, I managed to settle on two dishes, and we were off to the races. For some reason I managed not to get a picture of Wesly's starter, but I've got one of Mike's:
Goat Cheese Croutons with Mushrooms in Madeira Cream, simple but delicious and satisfying.
Grouper Ceviche on a chiffonade of Iceberg Lettuce with Guacamole and Corn Relish. Odd that I'd get this in New Orleans, as it's the kind of dish I can get in California all the time, but ... 1) I like that Bayona thinks outside the Creole box, and B) I've never had ceviche made with grouper, and III) it was cool and light and fat-free (well, except for the guacamole ... and the chips ... but there were only five of 'em) and given what I had been eating and would be eating, it probably wasn't a bad thing. Nicely done, well seasoned. And who knew that iceberg lettuce would end up being one of the trendy new ingredients among chefs for the last couple of years? It's all for the texture, not so much the flavor, but the texture suited this dish well.
We got this for the table, and I kinda wish I had gotten one all to myself. Sautéed Sweetbreads with Potatoes, Mushrooms and Sherry-Mustard Sauce, a signature starter at Bayona. I had sweetbreads for the first time in my life at Bayona many years ago, and became an instant convert and sweetbreads lover. I should get a t-shirt feating Homer Simpson saying, "Mmmmmm ... thyyyyymus glaaaands ..." Come on baby, don't fear the gland. The flavor is deep and rich and creamy and satisfying. If you haven't tried them, do so -- I'll bet you'll fall for 'em just as hard as I did.
My main course was Crispy Skin Redfish with Moroccan Grilled Onion Salad and Yogurt Sauce, an excellent piece of fish atop some sautéed spinach. Mike got this also, and ordered a third one to bring home (Rhonda wasn't able to join us, unfortunately). It's a long-loved Louisiana ingredient, but given a really interesting non-Louisiana treatment.
Wes got another favorite of mine from here, and a longtime staple of the lunch menu -- Smoked Duck, Cashew-Peanut Butter and Pepper Jelly Sandwich, grilled on multigrain bread, which I last had here about a year ago. Slight difference to the usual, as the pure cashew butter became cashew-peanut. I'm sure it was good, and perhaps a bit less rich, but I wouldn't know, as I didn't get a bite. Ahem.
The dessert was the daily special, and I zeroed right in on the chocolate, unsurprisingly. Chocolate Macamia Nut Bavarian with Roasted Pineapple was the only choice for me, although they all looked good. The pineapple inspired me to accompany it was a glass of Zaya Guatemalan Rum, 12 Years Old, one of our current favorites.
Very satisfying and enjoyable, yet not a huge food onslaught, because we had to save room for dinner, ova by my momma's!
Eh, là-bas! Crawfish eh-touf-FAY! Later that afternoon Wes and I stopped at The Swizzle Stick Bar at Café Adelaide, where a preliminary event for the upcoming Tales of the Cocktail was being held. Three rum cocktails would be featured in a tasting prepared by their bar chef Lu Brow, some of the Tales folks would be there, plus Wayne Curtis, author of the new book And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails. Unfortunately we wouldn't get to stay for the whole thing, because we had to head up to the Northshore for dinner at my folks' place. We still had time to meet and greet and chat and sip (although not too much to make me wobbly on the Causeway, but just enough to taste).
I'm trying to remember the three cocktails that were served, which I can't because it's after midnight as I write, and I'm sleepy, and my memory is as keen as a steel colander even at its best, but I do remember that one was this venerable quaff:
1-1/2 ounces white rum.
3/4 ounce Noilly Prat dry vermouth.
3/4 ounce orange Curaçao.
Dash of grenadine.
Combine with ice in a cocktail shaker, stir for no less than 30 seconds and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. No garnish.
Try to use homemade grenadine if you can (it's easy to make from fresh pomegranates, or just use POM pomegranate juice from the store, mixing equal parts juice and superfine bakers' sugar plus a litle extra sugar, and stir or shake until dissolved), or else find a good one like Monin, something made with actual pomegranates. Don't use the artificial crap; even a dash of it will kill a drink. Recommended rums include Myers Platinum from Jamaica or 10 Cane from Trinidad.
We met Wayne and got him to sign a book for us, talked to some Tales people and finally saw Lally Brennan, who runs Café Adelaide (as well as Commander's Palace) with her cousin Ti (hi, Ti!). We chatted for a while, then sadly excused ourselves as we had to leave to make it to dinner on time. "Ooh," Lally said excitedly, "what are y'all having?" My mom's signature Crawfish Étouffée, which is my favorite preparation of that dish anywhere. "Oh, that's wonderful," she said. "You're going to the right place. At the restaurant we couldn't do justice to a New Orleans mother's étouffée."
As much as I love Café Adelaide ...
Lally was right, of course. :-)
Thanks Mom! It was fab, as always![ Link to today's entries ]
Monday, June 18, 2007
Hey, they stole our idea! I have to say that the Fat Pack have been playing with this combination for a while now, although we have never actually enrobed our favorite ingredient in luscious milk chocolate.
I'm a big fan of Vosges chocolate and bonbons, and especially of their "Exotic Candy Bars"; we keep a selection of those in the house pretty much all the time. I got a tip via email (thanks, Mitch!) that they've just released a new one, obvious yet sheer genius -- Mo's Bacon Bar: Applewood smoked bacon, Alder wood smoked salt, deep milk chocolate (41% cacao).
Oh. My. God.
It all makes perfect sense, of course. Salt in dessert is the big thing now, and I've been a big fan of fleur de sel caramels and Vosges' own Barcelona bar (hickory smoked almonds, fleur de sel grey sea salt and deep milk chocolate at 41% cacao) for a while now. And we all know bacon's delightfuly desserty potential, from the bacon brittle I made to the cocoa-coated bacon candy Diana made a while back. Bacon in a candy bar was the next logical step. It's also the first Vosges candy bar I've seen to have a shelf life stamped on it -- 8 weeks. Their truffles have a 2-week life, as many of them have fresh cream ganaches and fillings, but the candy bars generally keep for as long as you want, provided they're stored properly. (We have a closet downstairs, where it's 10-15 degrees cooler than the rest of the house anyway, which we call "The Chocolate Closet," where we keep various kinds of chocolate, and our supply of 18-ounce Abbott's Bitters bottles, wrapped in towels to prevent earthquake damage).
I just had four bars sent out, at horrific expense, thanks to the automated shipping tool in Vosges' checkout that informed me that "Due to warm weather in your shipping location, your shipping method has been changed to UPS 2 Day Air." *cha-CHING!* Well, feck it, I'm getting them anyway. I hope that after I'm done with this first batch, which in a Veruca Salt-like frenzy I had to have NOW, Daddy!, Surfas, who stock these bars locally, will start to carry the bacon ones too.
Devils on horseback! I'm behind on blogs, even on friends' blogs, which is shameful, I know. I'm behind on everything, in fact, as three or two of you may have noticed given the fact that I only made one post last week.
Poppy's husband Chris DeBarr, who's the chef at The Delachaise on St. Charles and who, as she pointed out recently, has transformed that place "from an anonymous wine bar into a destination restaurant since taking over the kitchen there in November 2005, a month after our return from exile," now has a site of his own. In the spirit of the above post, let me offer you a reason why you should check it every day (emphasis mine throughout):
Serendipity found me today at The Delachaise. I actually got ahead on my cr`me brûlées by a good bit (we have Sour Cherry Brulées with Godiva Liqueur Cocoa Sugar now; next it'll be back to the Rose Petal Brulée (made with Lebanese rose petal jam) and Burnt Pomegranate Sugar -- which I prepped today. So we were ahead of the game, and Miles and I were talking about developing a little dessert special to finish off his Dreamsicle Ice Cream. Miles had made the ice cream -- really it's a blood orange semifreddo made with Italian meringue, whipped cream and the juice, zest, and some sugar -- for a cool tart he made with a blood orange compote with strawberries baked into that and a mint streusel on top of that. The semifreddo was scooped on all that. Good dessert, and we had a bit of the semifreddo to use.
At first, I thought of making a French-style ice cream sandwich utilizing tuile batter -- because I had some extra egg whites left from assembling cr`me brûlée -- which only uses egg yolks. Too technically difficult: fragile cookie tuiles, couldn't pipe the semifreddo when frozen, and couldn't risk thawing it much as it will deflate and melt quickly. So I was looking at a bowl of fresh, warm bacon fat from a new sheetpan of Nueske's applewood smoked bacon, when a lttle idea popped up in my brain. Make a profiterole batter using all bacon fat in place of butter. The butter is melted anyway in making pate a choux batter, so there's no problem subbing rendered bacon fat. Throw in some chopped dates because bacon-wrapped stuffed dates -- devils on horseback -- and all the variations on the bacon and date theme kick butt. Put in the orange semifreddo for a classic French take, and don't worry about a sauce -- Miles had a jug of his family's Grade A maple syrup from the coldest, highest maple farm in Vermont. Maple syrup and bacon -- another good combo...
To finish it off, we decided to take a thumbnail's worth of cooked bacon, and grate it, like lemon zest, over the dessert plate , thus making bacon powder. We added a thumbnail's worth of bacon powder to each plate to gild our little lily. It worked out great! It was so fun, yet everything on the plate had prior relationship in taste experience. The bacon was very present, but not at all overpowering. Everybody who tried it, enjoyed it, and I like the fact that it tastes like dessert straight up -- not a maligned savory dessert.
I keep this blog largely to document what's happenin' in my kitchen. This little bacon-date profiterole qualifies as an extremely happy accident. I am tempted to keep running it in some guise or another for a while longer. Poppy and I both think a dulce de leche ice cream would be even better than the Dreamsicle, though we wish for a salty caramel ice cream even more. I could even see butter pecan type of ice cream matched to the bacon-date profiterole.
Bacon is a natural dessert ingredient, even though it seems transgressive, or worse, just wacky in a dessert context. It's sweet and caramelized already. If you can rein in its smokiness, the cured pork flavor is very compatible with all sorts of dessert recipes. Remember, leaf lard from pigs make the best pie crusts, too. Today's motto is, "Bacon -- it's what's for dessert!"
We love this man. :-)
Wesly makes bacon-wrapped dates -- one of two things he can actually make -- all the time when we have people over, and has gained quite a bit of kitchen cachet among our friends (Me: "Wanna come over?" Them: "Is Wes making dates?"), even though he freely admits that he "shamelessly" stole the idea from Suzanne Goins' menu at A.O.C. in West Hollywood. Neither of us had any idea that this combination was called "Devils on Horseback," though! It's our new favorite phrase, right behind ... "Bacon -- it's what's for dessert!"
Sunday Gravy. The Sunday gravy (i.e., a thick, tomato sauce like a Neapolitan ragú, full of meat) I made for last weekend's finale of "The Sopranos" came out great. It was a lot of fun to make too (although a tad expensive with all that meat), but it was enough to feed a big Italian family (or a family of big Italians). We ate well that night, a couple of nights later, and then I froze enough portions for seven more meals for two. So ... it makes a lot, just sayin'.
My take on the Sunday gravy might not be as purely traditional as some -- Mr. Frank Pellegrino of Rao's doesn't put onions or celery or wine in his, but ... well, I do in mine. If you're offended, leave 'em out. You can also alter the meats -- substitute cubed eye of beef round for the veal, or use pork loin instead of the spareribs, or add some braciola toward the end if you're so inclined. It's up to you.
Don't be daunted either -- it may look like a handful, but it's really, really easy.
I'll alter my name-above-the-title on this dish in rememberance of the only "Sopranos" character that shared it, even though he got whacked by Tony for conspiring with Uncle Junior to kill him.
First, the recipe, then the pix.
Chucky's Sunday Gravy
1 pound pork spareribs, separted
1 pound veal stew meat, large cubes
1 pound Italian sausages (hot or sweet)
Meatballs (see next recipe)
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 large cloves of garlic, peeled and halved
1 large onion, sliced
1 large carrot, peeled and grated
6 ribs celery, chopped
1 small can (6 ounces) tomato paste
1/4 cup water
1 cup good Italian red wine
3 28-ounce cans imported San Marzano tomatoes from Italy, crushed by hand and juices reserved (substitute Progresso if necessary)
1 28-ounce can tomato sauce or purée
28 ounces water
28 ounces beef stock or broth
1 sprig fresh oregano
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 small bunch fresh basil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
Spaghetti (2 ounces dry per serving; you'll need at least 2 pounds if you're going to serve all of this)
Rinse the meat and pat it dry.
Sauté the sliced onions in a skillet with a little olive oil, medium heat. After 5 minutes, add the celery and carrot and sauté until tender, about 5 more minutes. Reserve.
Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. ("Then you fry some garlic.") Add the garlic cloves and "fry 'em" until they begin to brown, then remove. (Save 'em to eat on some toasted Italian bread as a snack.) Increase the flame to medium-high. Add the meat a few pieces at a time and brown on all sides, then remove and reserve. Brown the sausages, remove and reserve.
("Then you throw in your tomato paste, you fry it, make sure it doesn't stick.") Combine the tomato paste and water and add to the oil. "Fry" it for about 3 minutes, stirring constantly, and like the man said, make sure it doesn't stick. Once the color has deepened somewhat add the wine and stir to combine.
Then "ya shove in" all the hand-crushed tomatoes with juices and tomato sauce. Stir to combine. Raise the heat and bring to a boil. Then, using one of the empty tomato cans, add one can of hot water and one can of beef stock or broth. Return to a boil. The sauce will seem thin at this point. Don't panic.
Add the pork ribs and veal, season with salt and pepper, add the sprigs of oregano and rosemary and bring to a boil again. Boil for 5 minutes, then lower the heat to a bare simmer and partially cover the pan. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for four hours. The meat will practically fall apart, and fall off the bones.
Add the reserved sausage and meatballs (see below) or braciola if you're using it, return to a boil (carefully, making sure it doesn't stick) then return to a simmer. Simmer for one more hour until you end up with a magnificently thick, deeply flavorful sauce (which pretty much just happens all by itself).
15 minutes before serving, cook the spaghetti (or your favorite pasta) according to the package directions, and drain. In a large bowl, combine the pasta with just enough sauce, maybe 1/2 cup or so, to coat it enough to make sure it doesn't stick together.
Remove the meat from the sauce with a slotted spoon. Serve the gravy over the pasta. If you want to serve it northern Italian style, serve the meat with the pasta. If you're gonna go southern Italian, serve the meat as a second course.
1 pound ground beef
1/2 pound ground pork
1/2 pound ground veal
2 large eggs, beaten
1 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley
1 clove garlic, minced
2 cups freshly made Italian bread crumbs
1 to 1-1/2 cups (or more as necessary) milk, room temperature
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup olive oil (for frying)
Combine ground meats in a large bowl. Add eggs, grated cheese, parsley, garlic, salt and pepper. Blend togehter, using your hands. Add the bread crumbs and blend into the meat mixture. Slowly add the milk, 1/2 cup at a time, and blend in until the meatball mixture is moist but not falling apart.
Wet your hands so that the meat won't stick to them, and roll out 2-inch meatballs.
Heat the oil in the skillet and brown the meatballs in batches (it's nice to get a brown, crisp crust). Turn and brown the other half, then drain on several layers of paper towels. Reserve until needed.
The gathered ingredients
The pork spareribs frying in olive oil with garlic
The gravy starts to get goin'
Now that's a Sunday gravy!
Dessert. Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.
The cannoli were hand-filled for me to order that afternoon, at the Eagle Rock Italian Bakery and Deli, 1726 Colorado Blvd., and are accompanied by cucidate (Italian fig cookies) with chocolate chips and nuts, which are to die for.
Oh, and the ending? (See comments.)[ Link to today's entries ]
Sunday, June 17, 2007
The Martini. So simple, yet so complex ... the King of Cocktails seems to elude so many, but they're really a cinch to make, if you learn the relatively simple technique.
Chris McMillian, of the Library Bar at the Ritz-Carlton in New Orleans (and one of the city's finest bartenders) puts you through the motions in this first of what I hope to be a long series on cocktail making.
The stirring is what gets it for me. My Martini epiphany came courtesy of Dale DeGroff, from whom I drank a perfectly made, stirred Martini, and it was a revelation. That silky smooth texture you get from stirring can't be matched, and can't be beat.
The Times-Picayune article featuring this video is here, and I will interject to say that my own favored proportion for a Martini is 5:1 -- two and one-half ounces of gin and one-half ounce of vermouth -- making for my own taste the perfect balance and drink size.
It's nice of Chris to include a bit on making vodka Martinis, but I have no use for such a thing myself.
The Cocktailian: A bartender's new drink is the cat's meow. In this edition of Gary Regan's fortnightly column, explains how one can create new drinks by taking a classic and replacing a single ingredient. Gary rises to Dale DeGroff's challenge to create a new drink for a cocktail pairing dinner, with a little catch -- "And it must contain Laphroaig 10." To which he replies, "Gee, thanks Dale." You can do it, Gary! And he does.[ Link to today's entries ]
Saturday, June 16, 2007 [ Link to today's entries ]
Friday, June 15, 2007
The Great Boudin and Tasso Sandwich Hunt of May 2007. Wow ... nice lofty title for stopping for boudin, cracklins and a sandwich on the way to a crawfish boil in Eunice, Louisiana. Sure, why not? It was An Event!
Tuesday of the week in between Jazzfest weekends we usually head out to Acadiana for a day or so. There's an annual crawfish boil that day, and we also take the opportunity to hit a few other places along the way too. The first stage of our quest -- boudin, that fabulous sausage of pork, pork liver, rice, onions and spices, "Cajun fast food," and one of the things that makes gas stations and grocery stores some of the best eateries in the area. We have a number of favorite places to get boudin, but this time we were aiming for Don's in Carencro. Why Don's? A reputation for really great boudin, plus ..."They sell t-shirts that say 'Got boudin?'!" Well, okay then! We looked it up and off we went.
Don's Country Mart looked promising, "specialty meats" being advertised on its sign as well. In we went, picked up some cracklins and some good-lookin' hot boudin to go (which they weighed and wrapped, oddly enough, rather than just wrapping it up in butcher paper and handing it to us.
I had to be quick. This was the only photo I could get before the contents of that package disappeared in a feeding frenzy.
We looked around but didn't see any of the anticipated t-shirts. Mary asked the lady behind the boudin counter.
"Oh, we're all out of those right now, I'm sorry," she said. Awww! Disappointed! Well, not entirely, as I had boudin in hand and that means happiness. I wanted a "Got boudin?" t-shirt, though! The lady asked another lady up by the cash register. "Hey, we don't have any of those 'Got boudin?' shirts right now, do we?"
"No, I don't think so," she replied, but looked unsure, and she asked a third lady who had just walked up behind her. "Hey, those 'Got boudin?' shirts are out of stock, right?"
"Yeah, we haven't had 'em for a while... um. Uh ... no, wait. We've never had those, actually. Those are at the other Don's."
The other Don's?
Yes indeed. We had gone to Don's Country Mart and Specialty Meats on Bernard. Turns out what we really wanted was Don's Specialty Meats & Grocery, 2 miles away.
We got directions and a "Where y'all from?", and off we went again.
More pickup trucks in the parking lot ... I knew we were in the right place. This place even had more of the look of the simple, no-frills exterior that tells you they didn't waste time on making a fancy building, that all the effort was going into the MEAT. (Well, something like that, we imagined, no matter how untrue.) The other Don's is more of a grocery store that has a meat section; at this one, it's all about the meat. Oh, and a few groceries too. We knew you're in business when you see the sign out front, with a partial listing of the products they offer.
Ya had to love the logo, too ...
I love it ... every other pork-serving place has these happy pigs, grinning ear to ear at the prospect of being eaten by the likes of me. This one knows the score. But we love and respect him for it. Thanks for the boudin, Mr. Pig!
The other Don's is a paradise for the meat-lover. Boudin, of course, but several other different kinds of sausages; boneless chickens stuffed with rice dressing; cornbread; shrimp or pork dressing; onions, bell peppers and garlic; or boudin. Pork and beef roasts, also available seasoned and stuffed. The list goes on and on, and it made me wish I could bring back a giant freezer full of this stuff back with me.
We settled for boudin, though, accompanied by our cracklins from the other other Don's.
And ... they had t-shirts! We had a fairly large selection, in fact, and the nice lady there, who seemed mildly amused by all the fuss we were making over them. "Where y'all from?" she asked, inevitably. "Los Angeles," said Mary, but she might as well have told her that we come from the Klingon homeworld, "but we have a house in New Orleans." New Orleans, well, that's better. Closer. Like Mars, maybe. 'Round these parts you're a foreigner/alien if your family didn't come down in 1755 after the Acadian exile. Practically.
The verdict in the Don's vs. Don's boudin-off? While this was really good, really A+ boudin -- really meaty, really porky, with great flavor and subtle heat, a few of us actually gave the nod to the first Don's as that one was a little spicier. Me, I loved 'em both, and if I had a choice would defintely go back to the second, Don's Specialty Meats, because of all that other wonderful stuff they've got as well.
After that, we headed to Opelousas for, I hoped, my redemption.
See, exactly one year ago this day we had been driving to the same even, with a slight change of plans. We had found out that due to the uncertianty over the scheduling of Jazzfest after the floods, plus the untimely death of her husband, Mrs. Merline Herbert, she of the heavenly Creole's Stuffed Bread, would not be attending Jazzfest that year for the first time in over 15 years. I was horrified at the prospect of letting another year go by without my having the opportunity to have at least ONE Creole's Stuffed Bread, so I
bullied badgered insistedconvinced everyone that we'd need to make a detour to Creole's Lunch House in Lafayette on the way to the boil. We'd have plenty of time to do it, I surmised, and still get back on the road to Eunice to make it in time.
This meant no other stops, though. I was driving and very single-minded about my destination.
As we turned from I-49 into Hwy. 190 heading west toward Eunice, we drove through Opelousas and passed a gas station that had a big sign below its gasoline prices that said, "TASSO SANDWICHES."
"Oh!! Look!! Tasso sandwiches!!" Mary cried. I was hell-bent (and some would say temporarily insane), so I kept going.
"Chuck," she said, in a tone of voice best reserved for someone who is being given one last chance before his overthrow and eventual exile or execution, "you're not stopping."
"We don't have time. We have to go to the Lunch House and be at Marc's by 3." And so, no tasso sandwiches.
I did not hear the end of this for the next solid year.
This time, I wasn't driving, we had already had at least three Creole's Stuffed Breads in our bellies by then, and by God we were going for tasso sandwiches.
Fortunately, the Mobil station was cooperative, and right where we remembeed it.
Inside it was a typical looking little gas station mini-mart, with the addition of handwritten signs giving us several choices: tasso or smoked sausage, sandwich (on Evangeline Maid white bread) or "po-boy" (on a jumbo-sized squooshy white hot dog bun ... um. Oh well, this is Acadiana after all, and that kinda fits, given the Velveeta-enrobed, crushed Ritz cracker-encrusted covered dishes the Cajun ladies bring to events), barbecue sauce (Jack Miller's, of course) or no. This was going to set us back a pretty penny, too -- the sandwiches were $2.25, and the "po-boys" a whopping $2.65. I decided to be extravagant and got the "po-boy," with tasso and barbecue sauce.
I honestly can't remember the last time I've eaten this well for two dollars and sixty-five cents.
The tasso was tender, smoky, long-cooked, and smothered in that tangy, mustardy, oniony goodness that is our favorite barbecue sauce. This was worth the year's wait.
The sausage sandwiches were excellent too. And the gas was cheap (compared to what we're used to). We had Zapp's new Creole Tomato and Tabasco flavored potato chips as our side dish, and (comically) I drank a Coke Zero with it. All was right with the world, and I was finally vindicated.
Well, momentarily, at least. "Wasn't that great?" Mary said. "I still can't believe you passed this up last year!" And so it went. Well, why not? When you deserve a good ribbing, you deserve it![ Link to today's entries ]
Friday, June 8, 2007
Bombshell. Very, very bad news.
Matt McBride is a New Orleanian, a mechanical engineer and has since the floods been a watchdog over the Army Corps of Engineers. Today he's made a big post on his weblog, Fix the Pumps, and it's not good.
The Corps' internal investigation into the floodgate pumps is out. Big surprise, it comes on a Friday afternoon. But let's move past that bit of PR manipulation... The report is stunning in its breadth and depth. Things are way worse than I knew.
Bottom lines:[...] These issues were very clearly evinced last April and May. Confronted with them, there should be evidence of New Orleans Corps folks moving heaven and earth, but instead there appears to be mostly improprieties and squandering of opportunities. Why did it take General Crear four months to start an investigation? Why has the investigation - by an agency which knows itself better than any outside body - taken over nine months to finally wend its way out to the public? And most importantly, how in the world could there still be critical work to be done, this long after the problems were identified?
- The Corps New Orleans District has lied to New Orleans and the nation for over a year.
- The pumps are far from ready.
- Millions of taxpayer dollars have been misspent or are unaccounted for.
- Multiple cover-ups have taken place.
- New Orleans remains nearly as vulnerable to flooding as it was immediately following Katrina.
Obviously, I'll be writing a lot more about this in the coming days, but let me leave you with this. It appears there have been a few guardian angels inside the Corps watching over New Orleans. Ironically, it appears none of them actually work in New Orleans. The Corps is not some massively evil monolith. It is made up of thousands of people trying to do their jobs. But there are also some bad apples. And it appears we've got them running our work. How this situation has festered for so long, I'll never understand.
Matt was also featured in an article in the Gambit that began thusly:
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers last year decided to forgo industry-standard factory testing on floodgate pumps it installed at the mouths of New Orleans' drainage canals. The pumps are designed to help drain the city of rainwater in the event the floodgates have to be closed during a tropical storm or hurricane to protect against a storm surge -- the kind of surge that broke the Corps' defective floodwalls and flooded New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina.
Instead of testing the pumps properly, the Corps installed defective pumps that did not meet the Corps' original testing specifications. The decision to install the pumps without properly testing them may have been influenced by the condition of the factory testing facilities, which suffered a major fire that killed one man and caused significant damage just days before testing was to begin.
Write AND call your Senators and Representatives ... well, first thing Monday, as they'll be gone 'til then. Demand accountability. Demand an investigation. Demand IMMEDIATE action on giving New Orleans the flood protection it desperateliy needs right now.
Insist that if the Corps can't or won't do their job, that outside engineers from the Netherlands be brought in to do it properly.
And pray that there are no more hurricanes, even Category 1 ones, for a few more years at the very least.
I only come here for the gabbagool ... Actually, we came to "The Sopranos" for the best show on TV, probably ever. And it's all over the day after tomorrow.
Will Tony sleep with the fishes? Will Carmela finally find out about Adriana? The last few episodes have been so mindbogglingly good (we sitting on the sofa with muscles tensed, breathing shallow and hearts pounding last week) that I can hardly imagine what David Chase has in store for us Sunday night, and I kinda don't want to think about it or predict until then.
If you need a little catching up (although it doesn't include the current half-season), a guy named Paul Gulyas edited together a recap of the first 6-1/2 seasons of the show that's both informative and hilarious (reportedly Chase and the entir cast have been watching it religiously ever since it went up on YouTube a couple of months ago) called "Seven Minute Sopranos" ...
On Sunday I'm going to make a good ol' Italian Sunday Gravy, with pork spareribs, chunks of veal stew meat, sweet and hot Italian sausages with fennel and handmade meatballs, and I'm gonna cook that red gravy for about four or five hours. We'll start off with Negronis, then I'll slice up the rest of the Armandino Batali salumi that Gregg and Mike brought us from Seattle, then we'll have spaghetti with Sunday gravy and the meat on the side (although southern Italians would serve the meat later as a second course), finish up with some cannoli from the Eagle Rock Italian Bakery and Deli and maybe some grappa or anisette. Then we're gonna watch and see what happens.
Cent'anni![ Link to today's entries ]
Wednesday, June 6, 2007
The Cocktail Spirit with Robert Hess. I'm a bit overdue posting it, but here's Episode 2 of Robert "DrinkBoy" Hess' series of videos about the world of cocktails. In this clip he advises you on how to put together a well-stocked bar, and teaches you how to make one of my favorite drinks, The Last Word.
Robert also has new short essay up called Cocktails: The Liquid Cuisine, illustrating why he feels that "the cocktail is a long-overlooked component in most restaurants culinary landscape."
Drinky desserts. (Via MeFi, some recipes (a few of them really scrumptious-looking) for cocktails in dessert form.
Gin & Tonic: Gin and Tonic "Opera" Cake (this looks great -- a sponge cake drizzled with gin and tonic syrup, filled and topped with an Earl Grey tea white chocolate ganache, and served in a pool of strawberry puyée).
Mojito: Mojito Cupcakes. (I replaced the link in the original post, because it was to a really nasty-looking vegan recipe with soymilk, and they didn't even include the entire recipe. This Mojito Cupcake looks really good, but includes only a description, not a recipe; if you're a good baker you could easily come up with it, though.)
Mint Julep: Kentucky Derby Mint Julep Cake, a rich pound cake with a minty white chocolate ganache frosting and Bourbon butter sauce, mmmm.
Martini: Blue Martini Ice Pops (this is sort of like the "Commander's Palace Martini," which isn't really a Martini, because a Martini doesn't have blue curaçao in it, but don't get me started). Tesco has a recipe up for a "Martini Sorbet", which is a gin- and vermouth-spiked lemon sorbet, which sounds interesting.
Mai Tai: Two pies, both of which look tasty and tropical but neither of which would taste anything like a proper Mai Tai, which is made with light and dark rum, orange Curaçao, lime juice (the ONLY juice in a proper Mai Tai!) and orgeat (almond syrup). You could probably tweak at least the latter recipe to more resemble the original drink.
Screwdriver: Screwdriver Cake, which naturally leads to ...
Cuba Libre: Cuba Libre Cupcakes.
Mudslide: Kahlúa Mudslide Brownies.
I think I may need to try some of these soon, especially that G&T Opera Cake!
What the World Eats. Here's a really fascinating photo essay from TIME magazine, with images taken around the world of families and the food they consume in one week, with total expenditures as well as well as their favorite meals. Some of them are a bit disturbing, in different ways -- the very little that gets a family at a refugee camp in Chad through the week, and the appalling amounts of processed foods seen on the tables of Americans, Britons and Germans.
I'd like to think a picture like this at our house wouldn't be too shocking. We get a bi-weekly delivery of fresh vegetables and fruit from Organic Express, and we eat very few processed foods -- prepared fresh dishes like meatloaf or stuffed peppers from Trader Joe's is about as close as we get, for the sake of convenience on nights when it takes me 90 minutes to get home from work and I don't feel much like cooking afterward.
What do you eat in a week?
Gypsy Caravan on the Long and Bending Road. I've been meaning to link to my friend Steve's new series of columns on spinner.com, and finally I remembered. This week he talks about a terrific documentary coming soon about an amazing tour of Gypsy musicians, with explorations of their lives and culture.
Oh, and here's a shout out to Steve's dad, who stormed Utah Beach in Normandy 63 years ago today. (Wow.)[ Link to today's entries ]
Tuesday, June 5, 2007
Bud's Broiler. Best burgers in the city of New Orleans, some say. (I wouldn't argue, although Port Of Call and the Camellia Grill do great burgers too.) I hadn't been since the flood, and I'd been seriously jonesing for one. Wes had never even tried them! (My fault, sorry.) So, given the fact that we were likely in for a big dinner later that Monday night after the first weekend of Jazzfest, it was off for burgers we went. A few locations have yet to reopen after the flood, including the really cool one on City Park Ave., but we went to the nearest one, Uptown on Calhoun Street on the lakeside of Claiborne.
I had my longtime usual, the same combo I've been getting since I was a kid. The #4 -- Charcoal Broiled Hamburger with Grated Cheddar Cheese and Hickory Smoked Sauce. Fries. But alas, no fried pie! I remember when my dad would pick me up from music lessons in Gentilly, and we'd have lunch at the now-gone Bud's location on Pelopidas Street, by the cemetery and across from Brother Martin -- I'd always finish my meal with a pie, peach being my favorite The fried pies, piping hot right out of the fryer and dusted with powdered sugar, were out of this world. Sadly, it seems that they're off the menu until further notice. The pies were all made at a central kitchen and fried on the spot at the branch locations -- that kitchen was at the Bud's on Banks Street, which ended up under 8 feet of water and hasn't yet been rebuilt. Soon, we hope!
And now, a thing of beauty.
That kicks the crap outta anything you'd get in a Burger King, bra.
Restaurant August. It's taken us years to get to this place.
Chef John Besh, formerly of Artesia on the Northshore, opened his flagship, Restaurant August (I believe) in 2000, and try though we may it took us this long to get there. Several years back we had a reservation, and I was excited to try it, but the reservation was on the Monday after the second weekend of Jazzfest, and Wes objected. "I can't eat any more," he said. "I'll burst." I had to agree. We were in kind of a food coma by then. We also have a good friend who knows restaurants well, who was never particularly impressed with August and found them overpriced. We were baffled, because we trust her food judgment but also heard lots of people raving about it (but then again, you never know people).
In the meantime Chef Besh has done incredibly well, winning James Beard Awards, acquiring La Provençe and opening a steak house. Also, he's become a local hero -- as soon as he could after Katrina and the flood, he was out on the street cooking for people, folks who stayed behind, people who came to help, whoever. (I also made one of his dishes for a dinner party, attended by a food writer who declared, "THIS is the BEST maquechoux I have EVER had!" So Besh is tops in my book.)
Finally, we had a reservation this year, relatively early in the trip, and weren't letting it go for anything.
The restaurant was hopping for a Monday night, perhaps unsurprisingly as lots of places are closed on Mondays, plus Jazzfest was happening and we even had a few conventions in town. We were told we might have to wait a bit, to which we responded, "Great! More time to drink our Sazeracs!" (Front of the house folks, don't you love customers like us?) I nudged my way up to the bar, which was rather crowded, and got up to the first layer of people, right behind an older lady who was dining at the bar. I strained to see past her, trying to get a glimpse of what I thought was a drink menu on the other side of her.
"What can I get for you, dear?" she asked in mellifluous Garden District tones. "I've been here for hours, and I can make anything happen." Well, thank you ma'am, I'd love to see that drink menu behind you. "I think that's a dessert menu, actually," she said, and beckoned to the bartender. "Miss! Could you please get this gorgeous man here a drink menu?" Aww, shucks ... I'll bet she says that to all the guys. No drink menu was to be had, but at that moment I spied a beautiful and rare beast behind the bar -- a bottle of Sazerac Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey, 18 Years Old. Oh my. I don't see that in a bar very often. Ever, really. I don't even see it much in liquor stores any more. Supplies of that are getting scarcer and scarcer, and only a little bit is released for a brief period late in the year. Bottle prices have gone from $34.95 when was first released to north of $100 now, if you can find it. Feeling extravagant, I asked for two Sazeracs to be made with that whiskey, please. I'm on vacation, we'd saved up, I wanted something nice for us to drink, and quietly prepared myself for when she'd set the bill down and say something like, "That'll be $48.50, sir." Surely a serving from that bottle would end up costing us a pretty penny (or a pile of them).
She returned with the drinks and the bill in an elegant leather folder. "That'll be $17.25, sir."
I'm still not sure whether it was a mistake or a really great deal or if that's what it costs for a Sazerac made with 18-year Sazerac Rye at that bar, but I didn't ask any questions. I left her a Gargantuan tip, bade farewell to my admirer at the bar (who had turned her attention to another gentleman by then) and took the drinks to our table.
They were exquisite.
Back near the lobby we ran into Joshua Pailet from A Gallery for Fine Photography, one of the finest photography galleries in the country and from whom we'd bought a few things over the years. He's a great guy, and a great New Orleanian, and it's always good to see him. That night he was hosting a good-sized party that was to include one of New Orleans' (and America's and the world's) great photographers, Herman Leonard, whom we had finally met when appeared at a book signing at the gallery a few days earlier. Normally I wouldn't bring up meeting someone famous at a restaurant, but this will become relevant later.
We were seated in the midsection of the restaurant, the Wine Room, behind the large main dining room which had a bright, Galatoire's-like atmosphere. This room was quieter, wood-paneled, and lined above our heads with wine storage. Much more intimate. I was glad we managed to score a table here. Menus came out, were opened, and ... oh dear.
It had been a long time sine I'd been presented with such a difficult choice. Everything on the menu that night looked fantastic. We thought maybe a tasting menu might satisfy, and it indeed looked great. Five courses, described in detail, and the price was only $70. $25 extra for the wines. (!) This was an extraordinary deal, and we recalled that Diana had told us that August dropped prices somewhat after the storm. (No kidding.) Although those courses were tempting, there were other things from the regular menu we wanted to try but which weren't on the tasting ... sigh. Then below that was a small box offering Chef Besh's nightly degustation, ask your server for details. Wines included, dinner's duration will be three hours at a minimum, everyone at the table must participate, $150.
Hmm. That's a lot, but when you think about it ... nine courses WITH wine, for about $80 less than a meal with fewer courses, a lot more attitude and a funereal atmosphere cost at Charlie Trotter's, and I bet the food would be way, way, way better given what we'd already seen on the menu. What to do, what to do ...
Our waiter returned. "Gentlemen, what shall it be?" We described our dilemma, and Wesly inquired about the nine course tasting. Can you tell us anything about it, what's on the tasting tonight? The waiter looked a bit pained and said, "No, actually, I can't." Hmm? "There's no telling, really. Not only is it different every night, but Chef does a different one for every table." Oh my. "You just tell me what you don't want, what you won't or can't eat, and Chef takes it from there." We started getting that ... hungry look in our eyes. He replied with, "Well, how hungry are you? It's a lot of food." This also told me that one of the courses wouldn't be a tablespoon of sorbet, like Charlie had so generously provided. Well, we were fairly hungry, actually. "When's the last time y'all had something to eat?" A charbroiled burger with hickory smoke sauce, Cheddar cheese and fries, about eight and a half hours ago, I told him.
He smiled broadly and warmly, and with a mischivous twinkle in his eye closed our menus and took them away.
Oh! Um ... so we're doing it?! Yep, we're doing it, we knew we wanted to do it, he knew we wanted to do it, and that's why he's a really good waiter. And off to the races we went.
Now, here's the thing. We were seated right next to the Herman Leonard party. I could have reached over and tapped Herman on the shoulder during dinner. And it struck me that I was far, far too self-conscious to be sitting three feet away from one of my heroes, one of the world's gerat photographers, popping off the flash for each of these nine courses. I had felt a bit self-conscious doing that in restaurants before, but tried to be as discreet as possible and didn't let it bother me too much (and hoped it didn't bother anyone else). But there was no way, no way I was going to do this while sitting behind Herman Leonard. So ... for the majority of this meal, you'll have to make do with my pornographic prose, as I didn't take any pictures until after Mr. Leonard and party had left.
As it turned out, it was really 10 courses, if you include the amuse bouche that was brought out -- Seafood Sabayon, as it was described. An egg, served in an egg cup (coquetier!), with the end lopped off, filled with a savory sabayon touched with a little reduced seafood stock and a little truffle, topped with Louisiana caviar. Gone in three bites, and absolutely yummy.
1. Gravlax of hake, tuna, salmon and shrimp, with fresh fava beans, fresh dill and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Long rectangular plate with eight thin squares of gravlax, each one of which very different. The shrimp one was fascinating, and looked as if it was half gravlax, half terrine, and filled with herbs. With this came our first wine, a lovely Cristalino Brut Rosé from Spain, crisp and light and fruity with berries and cherries. I enjoyed all the gravlaxes (gravlaces?), and size-wise, this course was nothing to worry about. Eight more to go, no problem.
2. Vichyssoise with lobster tail. Classic, cold potato-leek soup, this time with a half a large lobster tail perched in the center, with a little drizzle of truffle oil. Creamy, lovely flavor, and a great lift from the sweet, tender lobster meat (hmm, wonder if he butter-poaches it). I enjoyed this down to the last drop, and the last scrap of lobster meat. We drank a Domaine Talmard Chardonnay from Burgundy along with, and by the way, the pours were very generous all along. So far so good, very enjoyable, but nothing extraordinary yet.
Chef Besh was about to turn the amps up to 11.
Wes was thinking that a salad might not be a bad thing at this point, and he wasn't wrong. But he wasn't exactly right either. Oh, it was a "salad," all right. A spring vegetable salad, at that. But actually, it was ...
3. Fried soft-shell buster crab atop spring vegetable salad, tossed with bacon vinaigrette. You've gotta love New Orleans, a city where a salad is topped with an entire fried soft-shell crab. Relatively small, but whole. The salad consisted of heirloom baby red and golden beets, green and white asparagus, green and yellow squash and snow peas. The vinagrette was made with Allan Benton's cherrywood-smoked country bacon, one of the best anywhere. The crab was perfect. The dish was outstanding. And I began to get a bit worried.
This was substantial. This was a lot of food. (Well, he told ya!) In fact, back in the days of the late, lamented Cinnabar a dish this size would be my entire dinner at that restaurant (after splitting an appetizer of their legendary No-Ri Rolls). This was dish number three, and we had six more to go. I finished my wine and steeled myself.
Oh, speaking of wine ... I think I may have gotten the wine wrong for this dish -- what I scribbled down looks like Faisey Chardonnay from Sonoma, but nothing came up for that in Google ... oh well.
4. Seared scallop with cauliflower purée and veal cheek sauce, with sliced asparagus and morel mushrooms. This was a fascinating pairing, seafood with a veal sauce. Actually it's a bit of a reversal of local dishes I'd gotten that were veal topped with crabmeat, but this time the seafood was the star. Beautifully seared, slightly crisp on the outside yet still slightly underdone inside -- my favorite way to eat scallops. This was seemed about half the size of my fist too, sitting in a creamy purée, and veal cheeks, veal cheeks! I love love love them, and the dish really worked. Then the wine was set down, and it was a red, matched to the sauce, not the main ingredient -- Acacia "A" 2005 Pinot Noir. This led right to ...
5. Veal ravioli with pan-fried sweetbreads, tête-de-veau (calf's head) sauce, fava beans, white truffle foam and topped with shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano. Oh my. Did I mention how much I love veal? Not just the cheeks, either. Two large ravioli, a generous amount of sweetbreads (did I mention how much I love sweetbreads?), an incredibly rich sauce, as tête-de-veau is pretty fatty, the nutty cheese being an ideal accompaniment, and ... foam. Wes rolled his eyes a bit, because these days many chefs go really overboard with taking ingredients and turning them into foam. ("Here's our 21-course foam tasting menu!") Shades of Poppy Z. Brite's Chef Jaap? Not at all. Foam didn't make itself known until our fifth course, and it was more as a garnish with a little flavor accent than anything else. Actually, a fair bit of a flavor accent, as a little truffle goes a long way. This was an extraordinary dish, as were the two before it. Another Pinot Noir came along with this one, a bit more full-flavored -- 2005 Morgan "Twelve Clones" from the Santa Lucia Highlands in Monterey, spicy and full-bodied with dark berry flavors. I began to get a little worried ... I wasn't full yet, quite, but we had four more courses to go.
6. Sugar and spice duckling over grilled peaches with foie gras "butter." Here's where we almost lost Wesly due to fainting. This was his most coveted dish on the menu, the one he would have ordered had we ordered off the menu instead of getting the tasting. And yet it was different from the menu version, which was still sugar and spice duckling but was prepared and served with different accompaniments. The combination of the sweet, aromatic, medium-rare duck breast slices with those grilled peaches was pure joy ... and then they put soft, barely cooked foie gras on top. We stayed with the Pinot Noir grape but moved to France -- 2004 Domaine Bernard Morey Chassagne-Montrachet Rouge "Vieille Vignes", which was nuanced and fruity and lovely with the duck and the peach.
Right around this time we noticed camera flashes going off, and at the next table the Leonard party had finished their dinner, and some of the folks there were taking snapshots of each other around the table. Well shit, I thought. Maybe I could have gotten away with it. Wes was quick to point out that they were all finished with their dinner, though, and would be leaving soon, so maybe not. Fortunately he understood, and agreed that I wasn't just being a paranoid worrywart all along, but I finally got the huevos to take my camera out of its case, just in time.
Chef had weakened me, and it was time for him to deliver the knockout punch.
7. Olive Oil-Poached Beef Tenderloin, with oxtail sauce and tomato foam. The beef tenderloin was seasoned and quickly seared, then cooked sous-vide, in 140°F olive oil, for eight hours ... and yet never cooks past medium-rare. It was incredibly tender, incredibly flavorful and if you look at the large photo at the link you'll see that none of the fat has rendered out, it's all intact, and the meat is rosy red even at that long cooking time (the sous-vide technique is amazing). Out came a big powerhouse wine to help carry this along -- a 2005 Robert Foley Charbono, which has a touch of Cabernet and Merlot in the blend. My head was spinning. The deeply rich sauce, the hint of tomato sweetness from the foam, and that meat, that meat ... it was quite possibly the most amazing piece of beef I have ever eaten. Absolutely mind-blowing.
And I couldn't finish it.
Defeat! Capitulation! Well, not quite ... I cleaned my plate except for one bite of meat, which Wes was kind enough to dispatch for me; there was no way I was going to waste any of this. But I knew I had two more courses to go, and I knew that if I wanted to even have just a bite of them I'd have to stop. Better to stop early on dish #7 than to be completely unable to eat dish #9.
I know I had made fun of Charlie Trotter for serving a tablespoon of sorbet as an entire course (and making it sound on the menu as if it were something far more substantial), but actually at this point I was kind of praying for a sorbet. Or maybe a light cheese course, a few slices of intensely flavored cheeses in which a little cheese would go a long way. Well, be careful what you wish for. No sorbet, and yes indeed, it was cheese. But it was a ...
8. Fleur-de-Têche Grilled Cheese Sandwich on Brioche, with pine nut honey and a shot of Riesling grape juice. Grilled. Cheese. SANDWICH! He is undoubtedly trying to kill me. With kindness, obviously ... he read our minds and knows we just had three grilled cheese sandwich parties in the last couple of months. Fleur-de-Têche (Flower of Bayou Têche) is made by Chef John Folse's Bittersweet Dairy in Donaldsonville, Louisiana, and is a great local artisanal cheese, triple cream with a layer of ash at the center, buttery, creamy and RICH. Rich. Très riche. So rich you're basically kicking a man while he's down, here. This was fantastic, and that sticky local wildflower honey, full of toasted pine nuts, made it even more so. The genius touch was the tall shotglass of fresh grape juice from Riesling wine grapes, with the acidity and sweetness cutting right through the incredible richness of everything on the other side of the plate. Monstrously good. Here's a shot of the whole presentation.
Sadly, I couldn't finish this either. I shouldn't have had that goddamn hamburger, I should have fasted all day. (Actually, no ... scratch that.) Maybe it's because my habit of eating smaller portions over the last few years has lowered my capacity, which is probably just as well. I did manage to dispatch half of it, though, along with the Riesling grape juice and the lovely glass of Mer et Soleil Late Harvest Viognier, Central Coast 2002, which echoed the flavors in the honey and brought in apricots and pineapples.
Which led right to the next dish, but before that, our waiter came back and asked, "Hey, do y'all like tequila?" Why yes ... yes, in fact we do like tequila very much indeed, why do you ask? "Well, normally you'd get another dessert wine with this course, but with this particular dish that Chef's about to send out, I personally think it really goes better with a chilled shot of Patrón silver tequila, which I'd be happy to offer you instead of the wine. No extra charge."
Well, duh. Who're ya talkin' to here?
9. Pineapple Upside-Down Cake with mascarpone ice cream. Simple, classic, almost something like mom would make (but from scratch, and with fresh pineapple. The mascarpone ice cream gave it a little extra elegance, and although comforting raised it slightly out of the comfort food zone and lent a little luxury.
This I finished. No petits-fours, no bonbons, nothing else afterwards but coffee, thank GAWD. I didn't want a Mr. Creosote incident. What I did want was just a little extra room inside my body to allow my diaphragm to expand and take in somewhat larger lungfuls of air than what I was getting at that moment, given how full my stomach was. I was happy, though ... very, very happy, having just had one of my most memorable meals in many years.
After that, Wes said it all.
"I feel big."
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