Friday, April 30, 2010

Testing your willpower

I ask you now, is this fair?

"Girl time" at the Delachaise

It seems inevitable for girlfriends go through periods of distance, not because of any flaw in the friendship, but because we become busy with our own lives and romantic involvements. But, one thing is for sure, you'll always know who your true friends are because true girlfriends always check back from time to time as a reminder that nothing between them has changed, to let the other know that this friendship is still important, still valued.  So you'll understand, why after a year of sparse contact, I needed to spend some serious "girl time" on Wednesday afternoon with my close friend Dani at the Delachaise.

The Delachaise Restaurant rests on one of the shortest blocks Uptown, a strange stretch of property that juts out towards St. Charles Avenue in the familiar guise of a streetcar...a streetcar with an awning and a patio fashioned from police barricades out front.  As odd as that sounds, the interior of the Delachaise is much more sophisticated with a long, elegant bar and comfortably cushioned booths at both the front and rear of the "car".

Dani and I wandered in and sat down at the bar.  I looked up at the chalkboard drink menus and saw that the Delachaise offered not only an amazing variety of wines, they also carried some interesting labels for beer, as well as hard liquor.  Handwritten lists for a variety of vodkas, gins, scotches, tequilas and more stood above his head, but when I asked the bartender for his "signature" cocktail, he told me "this is a wine bar, " and handed us menus.

When he walked away, Dani and I gave each other a knowing look, eyebrows raised, but I figured if the man only wants to pour wine, so be it. We decided to try a glass of '06 Alonso Vidella Malbec from Argentina.

Although the man that made a name for the Delachaise as a fine eatery in New Orleans no longer graced it's kitchens, I still couldn't help being curious about the food options.  Dani and I both wanted the Pomme Frites fried in goose fat and served with a malt vinegar aioli and spicy, peanut satay.  Now I realize, this is not a cheat night, but how often does quality girl time come along?  It was time to indulge a little. The wine was really wonderful, heavy and rich with the odor of blueberries and violets.  We warmed to the spirit quickly and conversations old and new transpired until we were awed by the aroma of our appetizer.

Brushing aside the slightly sloppy service, we found some fries drowning in the aioli sauce dish, the food was pretty tasty and we made quick work of it.  Still a bit hungry, we decided to order another wine, a glass of Grenache, a 2004 Domaine Cuvee de Beaume and their Grilled Eggplant "Cannolis" with Chevre and ricotta piped into the rolls of eggplant served with a "Muhammara" sauce.  Although Muhammara is supposed to be a spicy pepper dip, the sauce tasted suspiciously similar to the satay we ate earlier with the fries.  I have to admit the "cannolis" were tasty though, and we had no difficulty polishing them off.

The second wine (which we chose at random, I might add) featured a lighter, fruitier flavor with a higher alcohol content and I actually enjoyed it more than the Malbec as it reminded me more of the season, more appropriate for the warmer weather.

The warmth of our conversation mixed with good wine and tasty bites made for a lovely afternoon that I won't soon forget. The atmosphere of the Delachaise made a perfect location for us to re-ignite our friendship and give us both a chance to step away from our responsibilities for a short while and be carefree, giddy girls again.  I only wish it could happen more often...

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Babylon: Exalting in clean clothes and delicious cuisine

Laundry day can be a long period of dull-as-dishwater drudgery for someone without a washer and dryer in their home...someone exactly like me.  Sure, you could catch up on some light reading or master the latest NYT crossword puzzle (I never could get past Wednesday), but most of the time you sit twiddling your thumbs while you watch the clothes go round and round in the dryers for what seems like an eternity.  I have this theory that time actually DOES move more slowly when forced to watch the timers tick down on the machines and that, only when you walk away or become busy with another errand, will the timers return to normal and even pass more quickly. But what does one do?

I believe I have found a solution.

On Maple Street, there is an interesting old building that houses a laundromat and a restaurant both with the mystical, magical name of Babylon.  I discovered that if I can get my seven loads started and swishing, I can go next door, enjoy a delicious lunch and be back in time for the drying cycle with a smile on my face and full tummy.

Although it doesn't look fancy (how fancy could a place be while attached to a laundromat?), the food at Babylon Cafe (7724 Maple Street) is simply wonderful and the price is perfect for those dining on a budget.  The last time I was there, I enjoyed their combination appetizer plate that featured stuffed grape leaves, Tabuleh (similar to a Greek salad), falafel. Baba Ghanoush (eggplant dip), hummus, yogurt and cucumber dip and a large basket of bread.  You server will ask whether you desire pita bread or their own fresh, homemade bread...I highly recommend you select the latter.

The stuffed grape leaves are cooked perfectly with leaves mildly tart and tender enough to cut with a fork.  I also really enjoy their hummus, the garlic-flavored chick peas mesh so nicely with the fresh warm is truly difficult to not eat the entire basket.

I always enjoy quick, friendly service during the lunch hour and before I know it, I am back on the other side shoving my clothes into the dryers and left with only 25 minutes to while away.  After dining next door, it is nice to relax and zone out on the other patrons furiously folding their laundry while my fantastic lunch digests.  Next thing I know, I am folding my dry clothes and packing them away for my return trip home.

Until next laundry day...

Monday, April 26, 2010

Confessions of a Happy Talk Band groupie

Before I moved to New Orleans, the only way I'd ever seen a band perform live was at a huge venue like when Pink Floyd played the Oakland Coliseum for their Momentary Lapse of Reason Tour or when Jimmy Page & Robert Plant played the San Jose Arena.  I had no conception of what it was like to watch musicians work so close to the audience that we could just reach out and touch them, not to mention buy them a drink after the show.  So you can imagine how awestruck I was when I witnessed, for the very first time, a live band in a small New Orleans venue.

Shalom and I had dropped into the Circle Bar for a few beers one afternoon when our bartender, a handsome, red-headed man named Luke, handed us a flyer.  "Just a little shameless self-promotion," he mumbled with a grin.  We looked down at the flyer advertising the Happy Talk Band, with Luke Spurr Allen singing lead, playing at the Dragon's Den the following night.  It was only a $5 cover and due to our current state of employment (we didn't have jobs yet), we had foreseen nothing in our busy schedules that would prevent us from attending.

So that following evening, Shalom and I drove just past the French Quarter and miraculously found a parking space on Esplanade Avenue only a couple of blocks from the Dragon's Den.  Although the flyer said the music would start at 10 p.m., we climbed the seemingly unstable staircase only to find the band was still setting up.  We would soon learn that when going to a show in New Orleans, 10:00 really meant 10:30 or 10:45... 

We wandered around the darkened bar, checked out the balcony overlooking the street, bought a couple of beers at the bar and sat down.  Before long, more people came in and got their hand stamped and milled around with a casual air, waiting for the band to begin.  Suddenly the lights were lowered and Luke said a few words introducing himself...then the music began.  Through the acoustic guitar and upright bass, Luke Allen, the man we knew simply as our bartender, began belting out the first few stanzas of  "Ash Wednesday":

"There's gunshots down on Franklin Street
Eleven forty five
Two boys from the Lower 9
the coroner arrives

There's a blind man reading tarot cards
over there in Jackson Square
He says the future is uncertain
but he don't really care

From that moment on, I was entranced. Shalom had experienced seeing live bands before when she lived in Austin, but for me...I was completely stunned.  The part that fascinated me the most was that after the show was over, we could go and say "Hi!"   We could tell them all how much we enjoyed the show, face-to-face!  Hell, we could even discuss it with Luke (and the rest of the band for that matter) the next time we were at the Circle Bar.

Seeing Happy Talk perform became an obsession with us.  We became regulars, followed their act all over town and I found myself distraught every time I was forced to miss one of their performances. Friends back home in California were forced to listen to my constant raving about this new mania.  When they had their CD release party at One Eyed Jacks, I was there with friggin' bells on and $20 clutched in my hand to buy their first album, Total Death Benefit.

When I look back on those days now, I realize I had become a Happy Talk Band groupie and I am kind of embarrassed to admit it.  Not because Happy Talk isn't an incredible band, but because I was 33 years old!  Who becomes a groupie at that age?  I thought I had left that kind of idolatry behind me when I turned 18.

It was only after several months that my fixation began to pass and I found other bands and other venues that I enjoyed all over New Orleans, from Gal Holiday and her Honky Tonk Revue at the Banks Street Bar to Big Sam's Funky Nation at Tipitina's. Over time, I have been exposed to some of the finest musicians in the world (in my opinion) and I have been able to tell them, face-to-face, how wonderful I think they are.  I get to show my appreciation by dropping fives and tens into their tip jars and by dancing my heart out to the incredible rhythms they create. 

Believe it or not, I attribute all of these moments to that first infatuation...that first love I had with the Happy Talk Band and I will never forget it.

Just in case you've never heard them, you can catch the Happy Talk Band this Wednesday, April 28th at Chazfest along with a bunch of other fantastic local musicians like the Hot 8 Brass Band, The Geraniums, My Graveyard Jaw and more.  You might just see me there, swooning to the sounds of the Happy Talk Band once again and who knows?  You might just fall in love too...

Sunday, April 25, 2010

A wealth of creativity at the Arts Market of New Orleans

On the last Saturday of every month, the Arts Council of New Orleans organizes an Arts Market in Palmer Park located on the corner of Carrollton Avenue and Claiborne.  Palmer Park is very close to my apartment and I can't tell you how many times I have driven past the bustling, open-air market, wondering why I haven't taken the opportunity to visit yet.  Well, this weekend, I decided to finally go and I am so glad I did.

John and I managed to get out of the house and to the park by 10:30 a.m. this morning. The sun was shining brightly and the market wasn't very busy yet so we were able to stroll past each booth and take our time. We admired colorful jewelry created by Richard Milazzo of Mod Wood Studio, hand-painted silk clothing and purses by Traci Batchelor, Alphabet photography by Amy Marquis, and "pulp" paintings by Ellen McCord.

I couldn't help but stop to admire the large metallic bugs created by Andrew Bascle from Jefferson.  He explained to me how each piece was assembled with very little glue.  Creatures resembling mosquitoes, frogs, dragonflies and beetles were miraculously created using simple household objects like tea infusers, hair clips and bobby pins!

Another cool booth featured Barbara Roberds' "Screen Door Art."  She incorporates her photography of iconic New Orleans images with salvaged architectural wood, creating pieces that would appeal to both tourist and local alike. One particular piece caught my eye, a triptych of shotgun houses set in an aged window pane...gorgeous!

When I turned around, I spotted glass pieces by DebiDeaux Designs...she offered an array of handmade glass beads, sculpture and jewelry.  Being a huge fan of glass jewelry, I scooped up her card and discovered she was very local, living just across the river in Algiers Point.  All of her pieces were super fun and colorful, but I especially liked the glass pendants symbolizing the Goddess...they were truly stunning.

Suddenly we found ourselves in the center of Palmer Park where four walkways merged into a circle.  One corner featured the New Orleans Public Library "booth" where tables of books were set up for sale and behind it was the children's stage, setting up for singing, storytelling and crafts.  Opposite the library booth stood a table featuring literature from the Louisiana Humane Society.  They were asking for donations that entered you in a drawing for a basket full of dog treats!  I spotted many pet owners signing up to help with their four-legged friends in tow.

Delicious food aromas wafted towards us as we headed towards the "food court" area of the market featuring Crawfish Beignets from Geaux Daddy Catering and Woody's Fish Tacos.  The Girl Scouts were there taunting patrons with their addictive cookies and Crepes a la Cart was offering freshly stuffed crepes just in case you skipped breakfast.

We narrowly avoided being drawn in by the food (it wasn't our cheat day after all) and dove back into the art vendors lined along a path we had not yet trodden.  Right away, I was pleased to see the aluminum hangers and skateboard decks created by Jeffrey St. Romain.  I love his drawings and the hangers were fun, creative and totally affordable.  You can find his work online at to mention the next Arts Market at the end of May!

There were tons of other vendors offering clothing, hand-made purses, jewelry, wood craft, metal-works and more.  It is truly dizzying to realize how talented our local artists are and because of the Arts Council, there is one place you can find them on the last Saturday of every month. Although I was unable to purchase anything this month, I will be saving my dollars for the next market on May 29th at Palmer Park!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Curd is the word: St. James Cheese Co.

It depresses me to dwell on it, but one of the most difficult decisions I had to make regarding my new eating "regime" was cutting out milk products, even more specifically cutting out cheese.  That meant no more mozzarella, cheddar, jack, brie, Swiss and definitely no more American cheese slices that I'm not sure are even formally recognized as real cheese.   I shed many tears over this dietary omission, but I knew this sacrifice was necessary in order for my weight loss to be a success.  While wiping away my sorrow, a ray of Gouda-hued light fell onto my face and I realized a wonderful truth. My separation from the incredible curd would not be eternal after all . . .I always had my cheats!

On Thursday, John and I visited the St. James Cheese Company for lunch and I was reunited with my dear friends once more.  This is my 33rd cheat and I am down 58 pounds.

Now don't get the wrong idea, I love cheese, but I know only the basics.  Artisan cheese is as varied and regional as wine and, although I have tried my share of unusual or uncommon cheeses, I know virtually nothing compared with the owners and employees at the St. James Cheese Company.

When John and I entered the trendy, upscale restaurant/deli we decided to try sharing one of their special sandwiches and a small cheese board. The brightly-colored chalkboard menu informed us that the cheeses for the board were "house-selected" so we trusted the gurus to do right by us and sought out a table. 

Looking around, I suddenly felt like I was in a shop located in Sausalido or Napa Valley and I just couldn't shake the California-esque vibe until we sat outside on the porch.  It was a gorgeous day and we sipped our sodas and watched the traffic on Prytania Street.  Instead of a Coke, we selected some Fizzy Lizzy sodas manufactured in New York that featured interesting flavors like the ones we chose...Mount Fuji Apple and Red Hill Pomegranate. 

The shop was quite busy for the lunch hour and the tables around us were filled with other cheese lovers anxiously eyeing each order that came through the glass door. To our delight, our order finally appeared and although our server told us which cheeses they selected for our board, I can't for the life of me remember what he said (I vaguely recall geographical locations and European names)!  I realize this is truly a pathetic lapse in my report to you, but let me just say doesn't matter!

If you simply put your trust into their most capable hands, the folks at St. James Cheese Co. will deliver.  Let me describe what I can and you can just let your imagination take your taste buds the rest of the way.  There were three different cheeses on my board, accompanied by three different preserves, fresh grapes, honeyed walnuts and a small loaf of French bread.  The preserves were apricot, fig and muscadine and I am pretty sure the honey drizzled on the walnuts was Tupelo.  Each one of these "condiments" worked in marvelous combination with the featured attractions...three distinctly different cheeses.

The first one I sampled was the texture and shape of Brie or Camembert, but although the flavor had that familiar buttery aspect, it also revealed a smoky tone that was completely novel to me.  Perhaps it was smoked with a wood I'd never smelled or the rind and short aging process lent the cheese it's unique flavor, but anyway you taste it, it was still awesome!  The second was a harder cheese, but only just, and it reminded me of a really mild cheddar with a beautiful crumbly texture that practically melted in my mouth.  The third cheese was even harder, but dense and sticky like jack and it was so delicious,  I gnawed the last bits from the rind.

While John laughed at me as I swooned over the cheese board, he devoured a piece of the open-faced sandwich which he selected, a "Salmon and Chevre", smoked salmon and fresh goat's milk cheese on toasted rye.  It was absolutely fantastic, fabulously fresh tasting and served with (what looked and tasted like) pickled green figs. 

When we finished our cheese feast, I was strangely light-headed and elated.  I had just experienced some kind of cheese-related nirvana and I wasn't ready to come back to earth.  I decided to prolong my lactose "high" and visit Creole Creamery for dessert.

Instead of a sundae like our last visit to the Creamery, we opted for a cone this time.  John got a scoop of Red Velvet Cake and I  chose some Salted Caramel.  Both flavors were fantastic and we slowly licked away our ice cream while sitting on the bench outside in the spring sunshine.

As we made our way back to the car, I savored the cheesy sensation that still lingered around me like a cloud of sweet perfume.  Although I knew it would be a while before I was able to languish yet again in that particular pleasure, I knew exactly where I would visit when the jabbing pains of loss wracked me once again.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

"Pure Silk" at the Whiskey Blue

The only time I ever recall visiting the Whiskey Blue, I was short on funds and decided the best way to appreciate my circumstances was to blow credit I couldn’t repay on some expensive cocktails.  Shalom and I wandered into the hotel bar wearing jeans and flip-flops, plopped down onto the stools and ordered a couple of Mojitos…that turned into four.  I remember that later that night, we roamed around the city trying to find one it’s equal and although there were some runner-ups, we still craved the fresh, crisp flavor of first one we had at the Whiskey Blue.

Yep.  It was that good.

When I returned to the Whiskey Blue a few days ago, I have to admit I was tempted to get a Mojito and relive old memories through a couple of sips.  But, I decided to live in the now and ask the bartender for a special.  If you ever meet her, I’d advise you go with Ashley’s suggestions. This time, she recommended a drink from the bar’s menu dubbed Pure Silk.

Showing her local colors, Ashley will tell you she was raised in Destrehan and attended Archbishop Chapelle High School in Metairie while effortlessly composing the perfect mixed drink served with a little flair and a lot of love.  After one sip I deemed this cocktail my new replacement for the Mimosa. 

Pure Silk is an ethereal synthesis of St. Germain Elderflower liqueur, Belvedere Vodka, basil and grapefruit juice.  I loved the distinct herbal, honeyed nose from the Elderflower liqueur merging delicately with the pungent aroma of freshly muddled basil.  Tangy, freshly-squeezed grapefruit juice adds the needed element to lift all the flavors together into a light, refreshing cocktail…perfect for summer mornings in the Crescent City.

As I sipped the end of my cocktail, I was thinking about all the things I had to get done that afternoon, all of the chores in front of me.  I was in the midst of getting my things together when Ashley smiled brightly at me and asked if I would like anything else.

I just wish Shalom was there with me when I drank that incredibly perfect Mojito…

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The pain of a penniless foodie: 2010 NOWFE Grand Tastings

At the end of next month, one of the most spectacular dining events of the year will take place in the New Orleans Superdome and I can't go.  From May 25th-29th, this city will be steeped in the throws of a Dionysian celebration of epic proportions for the 2010 New Orleans Wine and Food Experience, a singular celebration that will have attendees and their taste buds dancing through a whirlwind of epicurean excellence with wine dinners all over town hosted by the finest restaurants the Crescent City has to offer.

There will also be "Vinola" wine tasting events at the Harrah's Theater, a "Wine Lovers Musical" at Le Petit Theatre, a variety of food and wine seminars, the ever-popular "Royal Street Stroll" combining art, music and wine on Royal Street in the French Quarter and last, but definitely not least, there will be the Grand Tasting events held at the Superdome.

In May 2007, I was fortunate enough to attend NOWFE's Grand Tasting event where over thirty different wineries and about the same number of restaurants participated in one of the most delicious events I have ever experienced.  I will never forget the fabulous grilled shrimp from the Rib Room, almost large enough to constitute an entire meal, the endless variety of wines I tasted and, lucky us, our table was situated right next to the New Orleans Ice Cream Company where Adrian Simpson, the Ice Cream Man himself was scooping out samples of Chocolate City and Ponchatoula Strawberry.

This year, the Grand Tastings will be offering wine from almost fifty different vitners and culinary delicacies from about fifty different local restaurants including  Commander's Palace, GW Fins, 5 Fifty 5, La Cote Brasserie, Le Meritage, Luke, M Bistro and much, much more!  My mouth is watering in anticipation of an event I won't even be able to attend!  What is a girl to do?

Due to lack of funds, I am throwing a virtual hissy fit because I wanna go!  I am totally jealous of all you folks who are able to attend and you know what?  I don't want to hear about it!  Don't you even dare rub you good fortune in my face while I sit at home on the nights of the Grand Tastings, crying my eyes out in despair and pounding my head against the wall.  Don't you dare come tell me how delectable the wines will be, how perfectly executed the cuisine...don't you even think about it!

That'll take me with you?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Revelations at the Piazza d'Italia

Both locals and transplants alike are going to cringe en masse at what I am about to say, but since this is my blog, I feel the need to be perfectly honest. I loved the movie The Big Easy. Now before you start throwing tomatoes at your computer screen and deleting me as a friend on Facebook...please just hear me out.

My passion for this particular film is not due to the weak storyline, Dennis Quaid's terrible accent (what the hell was he thinking?), or the fact that they turned Tipitina's into a restaurant.  What really turns me on about The Big Easy (aside from the really hot sex scene with Ellen Barkin) is that it allowed me to see glimpses of New Orleans before I had moved here or even had the opportunity to visit, and that was really significant to me.  Seeing streets of the French Quarter in the scene where Ellen's character gets mugged or getting a sneak peek into Mardi Gras World where a lot of the wonderful floats are created offered a view into a city I had only read about. So, as strange as it may sound, the most influential New Orleans landmark, for me, became the Piazza d'Italia, the setting for the opening scene in The Big Easy.

This piazza, this structure that holds nothing honoring the traditional architectural elements of New Orleans, became even more significant to me when I first visited this city with my mom back in August of 1993.  Was it purely coincidence (or possibly fate?) that my mother happened to book a room at a Holiday Inn (now the W Hotel) on Poydras Street that just happened to be right across the street from the Piazza d'Italia?

I will never forget it.  We arrived in town late at night and went immedieately up to our room.  The next morning, I opened our curtains only to look down directly into the piazza.  I started to laugh and my mom asked me what was so funny.  "Did you know this hotel was directly in front of the Piazza d'Italia?" I asked.  She just looked at me with a question in her eyes and said "the what?"

So this Post-Modernist structure designed by Charles Moore in 1978 became the very first New Orleans landmark I visited.  Right after dining on a delicious breakfast, my mom and I crossed Poydras Street and wandered around the fountains of the brightly colored piazza. The whole experience felt like some kind of sign telling me that this is where I need to be, that I should finally come and make New Orleans my home.

Then, after living here for a few months in 2003, my friend and I wandered into the Piazza d'Italia after having too many margaritas at Lucy's down the street.  It was a typical steamy evening in New Orleans and we went to dip our hot toes into the fountain and ended up spending several hours laughing and daring each other to hop over the small pools of water, posing like statues in the many niches throughout the piazza.  I felt like I had finally made it, I had finally crossed over into my dreams and made them a reality.

So, locals can poke fun at The Big Easy all they like and poke fun of me for loving it too, but I don't care one bit.  If it wasn't for that awful film and the opening scene in the Piazza d'Italia, I might never have taken the leap that brought me here and for that, I am eternally grateful.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

What's in a name? Panchita's Mexican Criolla Cuisine

Although disappointed by the disappearance of Big Shirley's on Carrollton Avenue, I have to admit when a new Mexican restaurant took it's place, I was intrigued. You really can't miss this new addition with a building painted a bright pink-orange color and large, white letters exclaiming Panchita's Mexican Criolla Cuisine.  I was amazed at the use of the word "panchita" considering, in California, I had mostly heard that particular term used derogatorily.  Additionally, I had never seen "Criolla".  I thought perhaps it was a way of saying "Creole" in Spanish, but upon further investigation, I discovered that "Criolla" is a term applied to a specific cuisine born in Puerto Rico heavy with Spanish, Caribbean and African influences.

Though I have enjoyed plenty of traditional Mexican food, I have had yet to try Puerto Rican cuisine and was excited by the prospect.  On Thursday night, John and I decided to visit Panchita's (1434 S. Carrollton Avenue) for my 32nd cheat.  I am down 57 pounds.

As anyone living in New Orleans right now can understand, traveling on Carrollton Avenue these days can be a serious pain in the butt.  It's not that I don't appreciate the sudden effort to improve our roads and sidewalks, but did they have to do it all at the same time?  Folks living off Carrollton are certainly not the only ones suffering from crazy traffic delays, excessive concrete dust in the air and improvised obstacle courses...but sometimes it certainly feels that way.  At any rate, through patience and perseverance, John and I managed to find our way to Panchita's, sandwiched between the Basil Leaf and GNO Cyclery on Carrollton Avenue.

When we stepped inside, the first thing I noticed was the oddly shaped chairs.  "My behind fits perfectly in this chair!" I exclaimed to John as we sat down.  We both laughed but agreed, they were among the most comfortable wooden chairs we'd ever sat on. Our server came straight away to bring us a basket of tortilla chips and four different types of sauces before handing us menus and taking our drink order.  We looked over the menu while munching on the fresh, crispy tortilla chips and sampling the sauces.

Of the four sauces I only recognized one, a spicy green chile salsa.  The others were unfamiliar to me but all of them were delicious and ranging from mild to very hot on the Scoville scale.  The spiciest sauce turned out to be a creamy chipotle sauce, full of flavor and most certainly fire. The menu was sort of a mixed bag of items, which included dishes that would serve for any meal of the day; breakfast, lunch or dinner.  All of the prices seemed more than reasonable and John and I were easily able to come to a decision.  I selected the Enchiladas de Mole and John chose the Entomatadas.

Before we managed to demolish the entire basket of tortilla chips, our entrees came out on brightly decorated plastic plates.  My enchiladas contained shredded chicken seasoned and then wrapped in fresh corn tortillas and smothered in a delicious Mole sauce.  The dish was also served with rice and refried beans.  The sauce was very flavorful, rich and dark and I was easily able to detect the signature chocolate and cinnamon flavors common to most moles I have tried.  At first glance at the plate, I was afraid it wouldn't be enough food, but by the time I finished, I was quite full.

John's Entomatadas were still crispy and warm from frying and the tomato sauce it was soaked in was light, but really flavorful with garlic, onion and a hint of jalapeno.  This particular dish could be served with fried eggs or steak and John had opted for the steak.  There were only two small strips, but the meat was so moist and delicious, it tasted like it had been marinated quite some time before grilling.  John was equally surprised when he found himself full when he finished his plate.  We figured our diet is definitely working since it has been taking a lot less food to sate us.  But you know me, I still wanted dessert!

Panchita's offered basic Mexican desserts like flan, but they also touted a "Mexican Fruit Snoball" which featured a selection of fresh fruits like mango, tamarind, melon and watermelon.  Unfortunately, the server informed me that they only had a Tres Leches Cake and Flan Napolitano available that night, so we chose the Tres Leches.  If you've read my cheat blog on Mayas, you'll know that Tres Leches cakes are thick butter cakes soaked in three different kind of milk; condensed milk, evaporated milk and heavy cream.  Although the cake at Panchita's was lighter and more porous than what I am used to, it was still quite delectable.

Because our meal was so tasty and so very affordable, I couldn't help but change my negative connotations for the word "panchita."  Now when I think of it, Panchita's will mean a savory sneak peak into the world of Puerto Rican's all about perspective after all!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Pure torture....

I realize the big gossip surrounding yogurt these days concerns Pinkberry, the California born franchise that is making a big splash in the Uptown community, offering samples of their nonfat goodies even before the real opening day which just happens to be tomorrow, Friday, April 16th.  Choosing a location right across from Whole Foods on Magazine Street was a stroke of genius...who wouldn't notice a healthful dessert shop so close to the only healthful grocery option in town?

I suppose if I lived in that neighborhood, I would be more jazzed about Pinkberry, but what has me all a flutter is the new yogurt shop opening up in my 'hood, Pure Yogurt Culture.  Among the many new eateries throwing wide their doors in the Carrollton neighborhood, Pure Yogurt Culture is attempting to succeed where others have failed by opening yet another dessert option within one block of Camilla Grill.  The competition is stiff in this neck of the woods where you can find a Cold Stone AND a Baskin Robbins within walking distance of its intended location on Hampson Street...not to mention the ever popular New Orleans Original Daquiris.

The suspense is killing me and I find myself frantically rubbernecking every time I drive past, trying to get a glimpse of their progress.  Ever since the signage went up for Pure Yogurt Culture, the windows have been covered in large sheets of thick, white paper...making a view inside impenetrable even to my snooping eyes.  At night I can see dark silhouettes moving behind the papered windows and my angst grows even more, knowing the owners are growing ever closer to opening their doors....but when?

To be perfectly honest, I hope Pure Yogurt Culture leans away from the "skinny" trends and leans more towards full fat, full flavor frozen yogurt with lots of healthful, and not so healthful toppings.  As you know from my "cheat" blogs on, I have no interest in seeking out dessert that is good for me..  I look forward to trying a new dessert spot in the Riverbend as I have definitely exhausted all the rest.  After all, why should Magazine Street have all the fun?

Until, the opening of Pure Yogurt Culture on Hampson Street, you'll probably catch me trying to sneak a peek in their window from time to time, tapping my fingertips on the glass, chanting "Open, open open..." like the woman in that annoying Mervyn's commercial.  Who knows?  Maybe I won't have to wait that much longer, therefore lessening the chances of making a fool of myself...or not!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Absolutely unforgettable: The Circle Bar

It's really hard to miss, but a lot of people don't notice it.  It appears as if it's ready to collapse, but has unbelievably withstood Katrina, Rita and Gustav and that's only since I've lived here.To Mardi Gras revelers, it might just be forgettable (that tiny club on Lee Circle where we stopped for a drink after Bacchus?), but I just can't stop myself from remembering.

It's the Circle Bar.

My very best friend Shalom and I were cruising down St. Charles Avenue late in the afternoon almost seven years ago and as we made the turn into Lee Circle, we spied the ramshackle building on the corner with a large sign bearing the word "bar".  I distinctly remember Shalom saying, "We gotta check that place out."  Shalom had an uncanny itch to explore every dive bar in the city and I knew it was only a matter of time.

As it turns out, the Circle Bar became our "bar of choice" and most of our drunken adventures would begin, and even end there.  In the time that I spent there, I enjoyed incredible local music from the Happy Talk Band, Clockwork Elvis, Big Blue Marble, Alex McMurray, Gal Holiday & her Honky Tonk Revue and so much more.  Because of our frequent appearances and blatant love, DC (lead singer of Clockwork Elvis) serenaded Shalom and I a Capella not once, but twice while standing on top of the bar...singing our all-time favorite Elvis tune, "Suspicious Minds."

There is just something so comforting about sitting at the bar, sipping on a cold glass of Guinness, whiling away the hours chatting to the bartender or listening to your favorite selections on their most excellent jukebox.  I have never come across another jukebox with such an awesome selection of oldies from artists like Patsy Cline, Ottis Redding and The Animals.  You could even lounge under the glowing K&B clock mounted on the ceiling, relaxing on thrift store chairs while watching the traffic flow around Lee Circle.

I've munched on grilled peanut butter, banana and bacon sandwiches in honor of Elvis Presley's Birthday, enjoyed Caroline's (an excellent bartender) fabulous spicy Gazpacho that she always makes during the summer months and it was the first place I tried some fantastic beef jerky brought all the way from Lafayette for their signature Bloody Marys.

Things have changed a lot since the Circle Bar was my preferred hangout. But from what I hear on Facebook, things have just been getting better. They are featuring live shows from The Geraniums, White Colla Crimes, Shannon McNally, Glasgow...and like in the "good ole days" most of their shows have no cover charge!  Also, I am pretty sure Caroline still works behind the bar, offering good advice, a warm smile and if your really nice, she might even make you her signature drink, the "F**k me up." I can tell you from experience that is not a misnomer. 

So, even though you must have driven past it hundreds of times, tonight might just be the night you pull over, stroll into the darkened bar, order a cold drink and just let the atmosphere wash over you.  This is the neighborhood bar you've been looking for even though its been here, all along, right underneath your nose.

Monday, April 12, 2010

You sucked the head!

Back in March of 2004, I was invited to my very first crawfish boil at the Hi Ho Lounge, a dive club on St. Claude Avenue just a block away from Elysian Fields. Casey and Brandon, a sweet couple I met in the first months after moving here from the Bay Area, brought me to the Hi Ho quite often to imbibe while enjoying the magical spinning talents of DJ Proppa Bear (now found at the Dragon's Den most nights).

A large pot was set up in the back of the building, boiling furiously, enclosing the hungry in a warm scented vapor of garlic, onions, cayenne pepper and special mix of seasonings that I was not privy to at the time. The helpless crawfish were struggling fruitlessly in a huge Styrofoam cooler next to the bubbling pot. Casey explained to me how they have to be purged in salt water, which cleans them out before they are boiled.  These were already purged and ready to was only a few more minutes before they would be sacrificed to the boiling depths of the pot.

We strolled back into the bar, trying to act like we were patient, like the aroma wasn't maddening.  There were at least 15 other people anxiously awaiting the first batch, all coveting seats near a large table in the center of the room covered in layers of newspaper.  We sat in a booth nearby with a stack of plastic trays in front of us just waiting, pulling long draughts from icy bottles of Abita Amber and Red Stripe.  Sweet strains of Bob Marley trickled out from a stereo somewhere behind the bar as it was still too early for anyone to be spinning, only 4:30 in the afternoon.  Heck, technically the bar wasn't even open yet...we were the lucky ones because Brandon had brought this delicious haul of crawfish all the way from Ville Platte.

Finally, the man of the hour came staggering in with a large strainer filled with bright red crawfish, dripping red tinted water behind him onto the concrete floor.  Everyone immediately crowded close as the cook dumped his bounty out onto the table, already grabbing handfuls and piling it onto their trays.  I scooped up some of the crawfish along with some other choice bits like a hunk of andouille sausage, garlic and a few red potatoes and then sat back down at our booth.

Casty and Brandon were patient with me, smiling as they showed me how to twist off the curled tail to remove it from the rest of the body.  Right after I pulled my first crawfish in half, I put the head portion to my lips and sucked on it.  The strong, spicy flavor of the boil hit my tongue along with the golden, delicious fat that was left over in the head.  I had closed my eyes to savor the experience and when I opened them again, everyone at the table was staring at me with wide eyes and mouths open...their own feasts lying forgotten in their hands.

"You sucked the head!" Casey cried in astonishment. "No one sucks the heads!  At least, people who aren't locals don't!"

I looked at their surprised faces and laughed. I felt like perhaps I had broken some cardinal rule about first-timers eating crawfish.

They explained to me that, although they had brought tons of tourist/transplant friends to boils before, not one of them ever was willing to suck the head without a lot of encouragement and even then, it was very rare.  They just laughed and shook their heads as we continued to eat the incredible bounty before us.  From time to time they would call over one of their friends, repeatedly exclaiming how I had "sucked the head" without encouragement.

Even though I had told them before, I guess they didn't remember my story about why I was even in New Orleans in the first place.  You see, ever since I was little I have been fascinated by this town.  I had read books, seen movies and had researched  (for fun) what life was like down here in the Crescent City.  I had asked my parents on many occasions to come here on vacation.  After graduating high school, I sought colleges in the area because I wanted to come here so badly...but my family resisted me, they wanted me to stay in California.  I understood that they just wanted me near, but this was my dream, something I had been aching for, something I had set my sights on and I didn't want to back down but, unfortunately, I did.

After succumbing to their wishes, I went to school in Northern California and ended up settling down after graduation, moving in with a boyfriend and finding a steady job only minutes from where I had grown up, where I had spent almost my entire life. I wasn't happy but I tried my best to do what everyone wanted me to do and stay close to home.

My unhappiness filtered into my relationship and after dating for almost five years, my boyfriend and I broke up.  Then, not a year later, I got laid off from my job.  I kept thinking that all this happened for a reason and that now was the time, now I will go to New Orleans.

Within a month I had flown into Louis Armstrong Airport, put my first month's deposit on an apartment on Harmony Street in the Garden District and returned to the Bay Area to pack up my apartment and get ready to drive across country, over 2,000 miles, to New Orleans

That last night before I left California, I was so elated!  I was finally doing it.  I promised myself that I would absorb all the wonderful things that makes this city so incredible, so very unique.  I would wander her streets, embrace her music and last, but certainly not least, I would eat her food. 

So when Casey and Brandon asked me why I "sucked the heads,"  I simply responded, "why not?"

Sunday, April 4, 2010

An excellent suggestion: Slice Pizzeria

Every week I ask John where he wants to go for our cheat night and every week I turn down his suggestion.  Some might say I am being inconsiderate to my boyfriend’s needs or that I am selfish and uncaring, but you naysayers have it all wrong.  Thursday cheats are mine because I am the one who really needs to diet, not John.  Therefore, I think where we dine should ultimately be my decision.  John could cheat every night and still weigh the same. He was blessed with the “super-metabolism” gene and is as thin as a rail weighing in at 175 pounds, standing 6”4.  He also is caring and understanding, which is why he lets me get away with shooting down his suggestions each week…either that or he really doesn’t care where we go.

Anyhow, this time John suggested we eat at Slice Pizzeria on St. Charles Avenue and much to his astonishment, I agreed.  This is my 31st cheat and I am down 55 pounds.

Both John and I have been to Slice many times…as a matter of fact, before I began this diet you would probably find us there for lunch at least twice a month.  Suffice it to say, I really dig this particular pizza joint and when you work downtown, it is one of the best places to go for lunch regularly without getting bored with the selection. The pizza is always tasty, served in 14 and 16-inch pies as well as by the slice.  Best of all, you can order a half-salad and slice of pizza and walk out spending approximately $8, not bad for consistently delicious, fresh food and a great atmosphere…not bad at all.

When we walked in at around 5:30 p.m., there were already a few tables taken for dinner and at a wave from the hostess, we helped ourselves to a small booth towards the back.  I resisted ordering what I would normally, a slice of pepperoni and half of a spinach salad, with much difficulty.  I really love their spinach salad, it is always fresh tasting with organic baby spinach leaves, mushrooms, shaved red onion, toasted pine nuts, roasted tomatoes and pepperoni bacon.  Served alongside the salad is a creamy Gorgonzola Crostini and I always select their very different, yet tasty bleu cheese vinaigrette.

Since I wanted to try something new, I steered away from my favorites and selected (with John’s approval) their Barbecue Shrimp as an appetizer and John selected our pie, a 14-inch Meat Lovers’.

Now, I’d heard friends rave about their Barbecue Shrimp before, so I knew I was in for a treat.  The menu says its “Chef Paul’s take on a New Orleans tradition,” and from what I tasted, he’s interpreted it well.  The shrimp were cooked perfectly, popping when I took a bite and the sauce was heavenly.  Seven large pieces of shrimp were served on two large hunks of fresh French bread that caught most of the spicy, garlic-laden sauce, a good thing too or John and I would have been fighting over what was left on the plate.

Almost as soon as our appetizer plate was whisked away, our server brought out our piping hot pie, and even John and I realized we ordered too much.  Although we selected the 14-inch, “small” pizza, the toppings were so plentiful, we knew we’d be stuffed after one slice.

Slice’s Meat Lovers’ pie is overflowing with pepperoni, meatballs, Italian sausage, Chisesi ham and smoked bacon.  The quality meat they use is so very delicious (normally, I do not like Italian sausage at all), not to mention the excellent mozzarella cheese and flavorful, crispy dough, these folks really know how to do pizza right…even the sauce is perfect and, if you’re familiar with my fear of red sauce, you’d understand why that is so important to me.

John and I ate two slices each (the second piece being purely gratuitous) and we both decided to skip dessert.  Neither of us could really breathe as we were walking out, but I did manage to eek out a thank you to John for his astute dining suggestion, it was exactly what I wanted.  Perhaps I should listen to him more often?