Thursday, October 29, 2009

Classic New Orleans po-boys at Parkway Bakery

Ask a local New Orleanian where to find the best roast beef po-boy in the city and you will get a slew of answers, but one particular neighborhood joint will be named again and again, Parkway Bakery & Tavern.  In the 6 years I have lived in New Orleans, Parkway Bakery has come up repeatedly as one of the best po-boy shops in town, a real original whose building has stood (serving po-boys) since the 1920’s!  Nestled in Mid-City overlooking Bayou St. John, it is difficult to stand in front of this establishment and not imagine it existing in another era.  This is my 11th week and 11th cheat and I am down 37 pounds.

A short aside, I’m sure you’ve noticed that my weight hasn’t dropped this week.  I just can’t seem to get myself in gear again regarding exercise!  How do people do it? My hobbies have always been very sedentary like reading and writing.  The only sport I really enjoy is swimming but I can’t afford a gym membership.  I was trying to do Pilates everyday from some DVDs, but I just can’t seem to motivate myself to turn the damned things on anymore.  It’s only 20 minutes of my life…perhaps I am just going through a slump.  I am following the diet…I just need to get off my ass and move!  I’d gladly listen to any pep talks y’all might have to offer!

Anyhow, regardless of my slump, I was still following the diet and I still intended on cheating this week.  I have been craving a roast beef po-boy, dreaming of the messy, drippy goodness I’ve eaten at Joe Sepie’s and Parasol’s, but I wanted to try a different locale.  As I mentioned before, Parkway Bakery has long been boasted as the best roast beef po-boy joint in the city and I decided it was time I finally tried it out.

John and I headed over to Mid-City after I got off work around 5:30 p.m.  We were hungry and ready for a delicious po-boy.  When we finally found the building (the area around Bayou St. John can be confusing for me at times), we walked into the front that opened up into a cool little bar.  The bartender informed us that we could either eat at the bar, or choose a spot in the dining room to the rear or the patio outside.  The staff was so friendly and everyone in the joint was smiling and enjoying the delicious-looking po-boys and beers in front of them.  I felt welcomed, almost as if the neighborhood was embracing me and inviting me in.  It was an unusual, albeit incredibly warm experience.  It’s not like I haven’t felt the pervading “Southern hospitality” all over this city before, just never so acutely as when we were welcomed to Parkway.

John and I decided to head for the dining room in the back and we quickly ordered our sandwiches and drinks from a counter overshadowed by an old Woolworth’s sign and surrounded by framed, old newspapers and other New Orleans nostalgia.  I ordered a regular roast beef po-boy with gravy, “dressed” with a side order of sweet potato fries.   John got the Surf & Turf: a roast beef po-boy with fried shrimp with regular fries.  We both got Barq’s in a glass bottle and sat and waited for our name to be called.  The restaurant wasn’t too busy (probably due to the early hour) and our orders were up in no time.

Both sandwiches came wrapped in butcher paper and when we opened them, we realized why!  They stuffed fabulously fresh French bread with juicy roast beef swimming in gravy…I couldn’t pick mine up till I had spooned up a lot of the filling!  Both po-boys were delicious and the shrimp in John’s Surf & Turf were quite large and battered to perfection.  Our French fries were crispy and hot, probably the best sweet potato fries I have eaten in a while.

We both wanted dessert and I noticed that they had some chocolate brownies in a small display case on the counter.  John bought them “to-go” with acclamations that they were the “best homemade brownies in New Orleans” and we rolled our way out to sweet “Goodbyes” and “See ya soons.”  How could I not want to go back to such a wonderfully friendly place with incredible food?

By the way, the brownies were awesome!  I don’t know about being the best in New Orleans (I haven’t eaten many homemade brownies aside from my own), but they were certainly gooey, chewy, chocolaty goodness…and I will definitely return to Parkway Bakery again.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Trek to Taco Bell

Ever since John and I began this diet, he has been begging that we spend one of our cheat nights at Taco Bell.  I hemmed and hawed, whined about the delicacies to be found at so many local, non-chain restaurants and this week, I finally gave in.  In actuality, I was secretly stoked to go to Taco Bell as it is my favorite fast food restaurant and it had been so long since I had last been there. Now I had an excuse. So, without further ado, this is my 10th week and 10th cheat and I am down 37 pounds.

As we were considering which particular Taco Bell to visit, I realized that there are no Taco Bells on the East Bank.  None! Before the storm, I remember there was one on Claiborne and there was another over on the corner of Tulane & Broad…but now they’re gone and it seems they aren’t coming back.  So, John and I took a recommendation from Lorin Gaudin (food writer extraordinaire who also is a HUGE fan of Taco Bell) and cruised over to the West Bank to the Taco Bell on Manhattan.

We walked into the restaurant and elected to dine inside due to the overall cleanliness of the establishment.  Is it just me, or are most fast food restaurants places where you wouldn’t ordinarily eat in?  Anyhow, we walked up to the counter and grumbled over what we should order.  I finally decided to have a Nachos Bell Grande with extra sour cream, a Ranchero Chicken Soft Taco and a Volcano Taco.  John got a Steak Super Chalupa, a Mexican Pizza and a Double-Decker Beef Taco.  Due to the bill ($16.78), I knew this would be one of those occasions where my boyfriend would take out his wallet and say “Don’t worry baby, I got it.”  (Just kidding sweetie!)

Everything we ordered was quite yummy, in that fast food kind of way, and we tried each other’s orders.  I was surprised to find I really liked the Chalupa since I had never had one before, and found it quite flavorful.  Eating the Nachos Bell Grande was like stepping back into time when, in college, my roommates and I would hit up our local Taco Bell at 2 AM after a long night of drinking.  The nachos were just as tasty as I remembered and I still scoop up all the cheesy, beefy goop at the bottom of the tray that is left over when all the chips are gone.  After taking a bite of the Volcano Taco, I was shocked to find that it was not spicy.

John took the next bite, his eyes widening, and exclaimed, “This is HOT!”  Confused, I took another bite and, after sucking down half my root beer, agreed wholeheartedly.  Apparently, my first bite did not contain any of the infamous hot sauce that makes this item a tongue-scorcher!

After dinner, we were driving back towards the highway on Manhattan and spotted a Sonic.  Since we didn’t have dessert at Taco Bell, we thought it would be fun to get some ice cream, so we pulled into one of the “slots” and ordered.  John chose a Sonic Blast with M&M’s mixed into it and I got a Banana Fudge Sundae.  We enjoyed our soft-serve ice cream to the sounds of  a songbird singing away in a tree nearby combined with the dulcet tones of AC/DC blaring out of the car a few spaces over.

I have to admit, this cheat was nothing like dining at Le Meritage or Dante’s Kitchen, but we still had a lot of fun.  During our fast food frenzy, I was reminded of being a teenager with not a lot of dough, but ready for a wild and crazy evening and it was surprising that such a simple meal could revive those memories.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Dick & Jenny's

When The Da Vinci Code was published, I remember seeing it everywhere.  Every bookstore I went into had standees and posters designed to heavily promote the novel and increase it’s public appeal.  It worked.  Everyone I knew would ask if I had read it, people on the streets would have the novel in hand.  Finally, I gave into the hype.  Thankfully, a friend lent me a copy because I have never been more disappointed and I would have been upset if I spent upwards of $25 for it.  The writing was sup-par, the plot was weak and the only thing I really enjoyed were the historical and scientific references that were later revealed as inaccurate.   I should have researched by reading reviews and criticisms beforehand and saved a few hours of my life for more interesting endeavors.

To the detriment of my palate and what could have been an exquisite cheat, I re-learned that lesson last night when I dined at Dick & Jenny’s.  This was my 9th week and my 9th cheat and I am down 36 pounds.

I had been considering several other restaurants for my cheat this week and on a whim, I looked up the menu on Dick & Jenny’s website and found myself salivating on my keyboard. Both the appetizers and the entrees sounded absolutely splendid and after conferring with John, we decided it was a go.  Also, for several years I had heard how incredible this restaurant was, and I was ready to “give into the hype” yet again and give it a try.

We entered the quaint restaurant early last night to discover we were the only diners.  The lack of crowds worried me a little because I had read about the long waits on the “porch” due to a no reservation policy, but I chalked it up to the early hour and walked in anyhow.  There were a few people at the bar enjoying cocktails, but otherwise the dining room was empty.  The atmosphere was very pleasant and homey-feeling what with walls decorated with painted plates and our drinks served in mason jars.  There were many changes on the menu from what we had read on the website, but we still were able to select dishes that tempted our taste buds.

We began the meal with two appetizers.  John ordered the “Cuban Cigars” which were crepes stuffed with shredded pork and ham, Swiss cheese, house made sweet pickles, mirliton slaw and black bean coulis. The crepes were pretty thick and I didn’t taste any Swiss cheese in the “Cigars”.  Also, I was surprised that the house made pickles on the plate were dill and not sweet.  Although the meat was juicy and plentiful, the entire dish was rather bland.  For my appetizer, I chose the Fried Eggplant & Crab cake Napoleon with a roasted yellow pepper aioli and my fear of ordering restaurant crab cakes was renewed as there was hardly any crab and much of the cake was filled with chopped bell peppers and breadcrumbs.  The “Napoleon” sauce for which I had high hopes was dismally bland, especially compared with the Eggplant Napoleon appetizer I had a couple of weeks ago at Joey K’s.

Being the optimists that we are, John and I still looked forward to our entrees with high expectations. If you’ve read my blogs, you’ll know I’ve been a huge fan of pork lately, so I was compelled to order the Pork Tenderloin stuffed with goat cheese, pine nuts and basil served with haricots vert, seasoned root vegetables and a balsamic reduction.  John was interested in the Bronzed Atlantic Swordfish served with a blue crab and Parmesan risotto and Bercy sauce (a fish stock-based velouté with shallots, a reduction of white wine, fish stock and seasonings).

When my dish came out, I was a little disappointed by the portion size (this town has spoiled me with excess!) and the flavor of the goat cheese seemed to overpower the pork but the sauce was nice and I enjoyed the crunchy haricots vert.  Also, the stuffing for the pork seemed to lack the pine nuts and basil as was described on the menu.  John’s risotto was tasty (although I didn’t taste or see any crab), but the swordfish was rather dry and for the first time ever, John didn’t clean his plate and left more than half of it uneaten.

Still hungry, we decided to order a dessert.  We chose the Chocolate Chip Cookie Ice Cream Sundae with chocolate sauce, whipped cream and a cherry.  The simple sundae was tasty and for the first time we were able to devour most of our dessert.  While walking back to our car, our hearts were heavy with disappointment.  Due to the hype, we had such high expectations for our dinner at Dick & Jenny’s and it seemed to us our valuable cheat day had been ruined.

Today, while researching the restaurant for this blog, I discovered that Chef James Leeming, who formerly headed the kitchen at Dick & Jenny’s, had left his position there in January to be replaced by Timothy Swepston of Café Atchafalaya.   If only I had known!  It goes to show that a little research goes a long way, especially when cheating’s involved!

Friday, October 9, 2009

La Thai Restaurant

My brother-in-law is enamored of Thai cuisine and would seek out the hidden gems, hole-in-the-wall restaurants that offered the best Thai delights for the best price.  Often, I would accompany him and my sister on his excursions around the Bay Area and I vividly recall my first dinner at a quaint, home-style establishment called Chao Praya.  The dining area was packed with as many tables as they could fit in the relatively small space they had available and each table was covered with a lacy, paper tablecloth that could be whisked away and tossed after each party left the restaurant.  The chairs were rickety and we would be crammed at the smallest table possible for a party of four.  All this didn’t matter a bit when the food came pouring out of the kitchen.  It was true, home-cooked delicacies and we partook of some fabulous curries, ranging from spicy hot to sweet and creamy.  The cha-yen (Thai Iced Tea) was deliciously balanced with a thick layer of condensed milk sitting on top of strongly brewed black tea flavored with star anise and orange blossom water.  I will never forget Chao Praya.

Since I wanted a change of pace from the cheat dinners I had already experienced (and I was craving some Thai Iced Tea), I was sure that La Thai Uptown would fit the bill.  I was curious as to how they would manage a Thai-Cajun infusion.  I had noticed La Thai during my previous cheat when I visited Creole Creamery and thought it would be a good change of pace from the restaurants I had previously visited.  This is my 8th week and my 8th cheat and I am down 34 pounds.

When John and I walked into La Thai, I was a little shocked by the sparseness of the décor.  The entry opened up onto cement floors with an open ceiling with exposed steel beams overhead.  Rows of ceiling fans dropped below the beams and stretched all the way to the back of the long, hall-shaped restaurant.  On the left side of the restaurant, there was a long brick bar with stools running down the length of it and the front of the restaurant had small tables and a couch area for people who might pop in for a cocktail.  There were decorations over the windows that I couldn’t quite place that looked like wreaths of flowers and lace in shades of green and gold.  All they needed was a touch of purple and the Mardi Gras theme would be complete!

The main dining area was separated from the front by a thin, lacy curtain suspended from a beam.  John and I were seated quickly and offered water and drinks.  I ordered a Thai Iced Tea and was pleased to note that it was just as delicious as I remembered from Nipa-Pon, albeit a little sweeter.  After browsing the menu, we decided to order a couple of appetizers. Both sounded too delicious to choose just one, so John ordered the L.A. Oysters made with a pecan crust, artichokes, leeks and a tri-pepper chili glaze and I got the Crispy Coconut Shrimp with a sweet chili soy glaze.  Both dishes arrived shortly after we ordered.  Four large shrimp were served in a large martini glass with the sauce sitting at the bottom.  Each piece was surprisingly crunchy and quite tasty when dipped in the sweet pepper glaze.  Although I enjoyed both appetizers, the oysters were my favorite.  The big, juicy oysters were fried in a delicious pecan crust and the tart flavor of the artichoke and leek went so nicely with the chili glaze…it makes my mouth water as I write this.  There were five oysters and John and I fought over who got the odd piece.

As a side note, I have to ask, why do restaurants serve appetizers with an odd number of items on the plate?  I have witnessed this so many times at so many different restaurants. Have I discovered a culinary conspiracy? They seem to serve an odd number of items on purpose so either you’ll order another plate or so the waiters can be entertained by the squabbling that ensues.  Hmmm…

Anyhow, I am sure our server was properly entertained by the fork wars at our table because as soon as we scraped up the last scrap of oyster and artichoke, she arrived to whisk our plates away to prepare us for the main course.

I was actually really excited about my entrée because I hadn’t enjoyed this particular fish in quite some time due to an overwhelming sense of guilt.  You see, in California it was stamped into our brains that Chilean sea bass is severely overfished and is rated “Avoid.” In addition, most Chilean sea bass in the U.S. market come from boats that are fishing illegally and using unmodified bottom longlines. This unmodified fishing gear hooks and drowns thousands of seabirds each year, most notably endangered albatross.

Since moving to New Orleans, I have doffed several of the “touchy-feely” caps I was forced to wear in California.  Admittedly, I have still avoided eating Chilean sea bass for quite some time, almost 15 years in fact, but when I read the menu and saw the Chilean Sea Bass cooked in a panko crust with veggies, lump crabmeat and spicy coconut green curry, I just couldn’t resist any longer.  Chilean sea bass is fabulous regardless of how it’s prepared, but La Thai created something wonderful!  I especially enjoyed the coconut green curry that, although a tad oily, had such a wonderfully sweet, warm flavor that perfectly matched the tender, almost shellfish-like flavor of the sea bass.  I really shouldn’t recommend this dish (cringing inside) but I have to.   Do try it when you visit La Thai…but not too often!

John decided to order one of the specials, a Seafood Curry with Louisiana crawfish, jumbo shrimp, soft-shelled crab, spicy green curry with eggplant, bell peppers, onions, carrots, basil and Jasmine rice.  His dish was also delicious and so spicy that John sucked down two Cokes and a water to combat the heat.  That’s the spicy Thai food I remember!

Although we were stuffed (no surprise there!), I had to order a dessert.  The Coconut Fried Bananas with Coconut Ice Cream caught my eye when I first looked at the menu and it was just as I imagined it would be.  The bananas were sweet and warm with a tasty, crunchy exterior and the cool, creamy ice cream complimented them perfectly.  I asked the server if their ice cream came from Creole Creamery next door and she exclaimed “Of course!”

Despite the fact that La Thai was not much like Chao Praya , I still completely enjoyed the Cajun-Thai infusion we experienced.  Everything was well prepared and our service was excellent.  As usual, as we strolled down Prytania to our car, I began considering where our next cheat meal would be and already formulated several options.  Thankfully New Orleans offers us so many gastronomic delights to choose from!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Joey K’s Restaurant & Bar

Lonely and hungry, I would often visit Joey K’s when I first moved to New Orleans in 2003.  I lived nearby on Harmony Street and I would walk the few short blocks to the restaurant and enjoy the small community-oriented restaurant that had a knack for making me feel as if I belonged.  Since the decadence of the dinner at Dante’s last week, I have been craving a restaurant with simpler cuisine and a more “homey” atmosphere.  I knew I wanted Joey K’s.  It’s my 7th week and my 7th cheat and I am down 32 pounds.

Driving through the potholes scattered around the streets of the Garden District, I reflected on how much I enjoyed my first year in New Orleans.  I loved living in the Garden District, loved the fact that I lived on a street called “Harmony” and I loved the dining and shopping choices I had while living so close to Magazine Street.  I remember walking my dog from 7th down to 1st Street, looping back around when I hit Camp and making the trek back by winding down random streets on the way.  The homes in the Garden District never failed to capture my awe and envy no matter how many times I walked that route.  Every time I visit Joey K’s, I realize how much I miss the neighborhood that welcomed me to the city.

This time, I wasn’t lonely, but I was definitely hungry and so were my friends.  The corner restaurant was about half full and heavily decorated with art pieces for sale created by local folk artist Simon Hardeveld.  One piece warned us to “Be Nice or Go to China” so we heeded the sage advice in order to enjoy our feast.

We were seated immediately and after a quick consensus, knew what we wanted.  For an appetizer, we ordered the Eggplant Napoleon that consists of three deep fried rounds of eggplant, fried shrimp, a few scattered crawfish tails and a very interesting, yet tasty cream sauce that had a pink tint to it.  I tasted white wine, heavy cream and basil in the sauce, but I couldn’t figure out what created the color or a distinct sweet flavor I detected and the restaurant was reluctant to share its “secret ingredients.” Regardless, the appetizer was very good and we made quick work of it.  We received side salads, that came with our dinner at the same time as our appetizer and it was difficult to know what to eat first!  The salad was simple iceberg lettuce with large slices of tomato and cucumbers.  I had their homemade blue-cheese dressing on mine with deliciously large chunks of blue cheese that melted in my mouth.

For my entrée, I ordered the Seafood Platter which comes with fried catfish, fried shrimp, fried oysters, a couple of hush puppies and French fries.  I requested extra tartar sauce with my order and we were all able to share it.  I must say, I am used to tartar sauce made with dill relish instead of sweet, but I still enjoyed it nonetheless.  The seafood was fried perfectly in a cornmeal-type batter and was not too heavy or oily in flavor.  It was exactly what I had been craving.

My friend Anne ordered the “Trout Tchoupitoulas”; seasoned fish, lightly floured and pan-fried topped with shrimp, crab meat and served with mixed vegetables and new potatoes.  I was lucky enough to score several bites of her fish that was very light (compared to my fried goods) and flavorful, especially with the rich crab meat on top.  John ordered “All-You-Can-Eat Catfish” of which he devoured only one and a half plates.  I was almost sure he’d put away more than that, but I guess since he’s been dieting with me, his appetite has shrunk!

We were extremely full, as intended, and slowly made our way back to the car.  Although we thought we couldn’t eat anymore, Creole Creamery beckoned to us as we passed the bright pink shop on Prytania Street while driving home.  With little deliberation, we decided to stop for dessert.

Still aching from dinner, I knew I wouldn’t be able to handle much, so I chose a scoop of Chocolate Pecan Pie ice cream on a sugar cone.  Creamy and delicious, I could taste cinnamon among the pecans that mingled perfectly with the rich, dark chocolate.  John’s appetite apparently returned with a vengeance when I heard him order the Creamery’s “I Scream Fudge! Sundae”; two scoops of “I Scream Fudge” ice cream served in a fudge-coated glass with chocolate chips, cocoa powder and a chocolate covered cherry.  John also requested whipped cream and nuts…after all, what’s a sundae without whipped cream?  Anne braved the “Café Au Lait Sundae”; two scoops of “Café Au Lait” ice cream, layered with fudge and marshmallow toppings, whipped cream, cocoa powder and a cherry.

I barely managed to finish my scoop (but none of the cone), while John and Anne devoured their sundaes quickly.  I got to taste both sundaes before they disappeared though, and they were both fantastic.  The ice cream at Creole Creamery is…well…really creamy!  Also, the flavors they create are rich and definite; there is no mistaking simple chocolate for fudge or vice versa.

After a wonderful evening and lots of laughs (ask Anne about the “pea” incident), we headed on home.  I was pleased to have had such a relaxing evening in such comfortable surroundings like Joey K’s and Creole Creamery.  I’m going to have to plan something unusual for next week though…if you have any suggestions for where I should try next, let me know!  I am always excited to traverse our fair city for yet another dining adventure.