Sunday, January 30, 2011

Healthy and happy at Dante's Kitchen

All last week, starting on Sunday, I was feeling decidedly ill. Then, after I visited the doctor on Wednesday and was prescribed antibiotics, I experienced an allergic reaction to the medicine and felt even worse (itching from head to foot all night long). It wasn't until Saturday morning that I finally began feeling like myself again and I knew exactly what would perk me up after such a miserable week....a decadent cheat!

I'd been dreaming about breakfast (read bacon) all week long, so it seemed only natural for John and I to walk a few blocks down the road to Dante's Kitchen to enjoy what was sure to be an ambrosial brunch. This is my 71st cheat and I am down 79 pounds.

John and I had both been to Dante's before, but we've never visited for brunch mainly due to the fact that on weekends, we are lazy bums who lounge in bed all morning and barely manage to drag our butts out of bed by noon. This Saturday though, I bounced out of bed at 9 am and we were out the door and walking to the restaurant at the end of Dante Street by 10:30. I had heard how popular brunch can be at Dante's and I wanted to be sure to get a table without too much of a wait.

Though the restaurant was busy when we arrived, there were still some tables left and we were seated immediately. We ordered some coffee while we hemmed and hawed over all the enticing items on the menu. Finally ordering, I took a look around at the dining room which, surprisingly enough, I had never really seen being as I had always sat outside in the past.

Dante's Kitchen was a cute, old Victorian house in a previous life, which would explain why the dining room is actually broken up into several smaller, multi-leveled areas, each one painted a different color. There's a bright  lime-green sun room with tall windows on every wall, a dark red room with a bit more of a formal feel with long curtains and subdued lighting and the entry area near the bar, where we were seated, was a sunny shade of orange. There's even another dining room up a short staircase in the back (which I didn't really get a good look at) and of course, a huge outdoor patio.

As I was admiring some of the funkier art pieces on the walls and the high shelves featuring endless mason jars filled with all kind of wonderful preserves, our appetizer arrived. Though John foresaw a doggie-bag in our future, I couldn't help ordering a plate of their house made breads. There were two, sweet, bite-sized scones flavored with fennel that were wonderfully crumbly and dense and got gobbled up almost immediately. Then there were two cornbread Madelines, a thick hunk of banana-nut bread and delicate muffin full of plump, sweet blueberries.

Before we finished the scones, our main dishes arrived and from that moment, we had eyes for nothing else. I chose the Debris (chopped roast beef) and Poached Eggs which were piled on top of a thick, buttermilk biscuit and draped with a demi-glace Hollandaise sauce. When I broke a perfectly poached egg, it's golden creamy yolk cascaded down onto the rich, spicy roast beef and had me salivating before I even took my first bite. With this mountain of meat, I almost felt bad about ordering a side of thick-sliced, Berkshire bacon...that is until I had a bite. Lucky, I assuaged a bit of my guilt by sharing some with John.

Though he frequently eyed my plate, John's order was equally fabulous, the Dante's Eggs Benedict. Two perfect eggs balanced on top of thick slices of roasted, rosemary flavored pork loin served over a split buttermilk biscuit laced with honey and topped with Hollandaise sauce. It was a wonderful combination of sweet and salty and I think I had almost as many tastes of John's dish as he did of mine.

If there was any of my sickness* remaining when I walked into the restaurant, it was completely gone by the time I walked out. With full bellies and sated smiles on our faces, John and I slowly walked back home. It was the absolute ideal way, in my eyes, to erase the damage of a horrible week.

*By the way, what I had wasn't catching, so if you were at Dante's at the same time I was on Saturday, no worries!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Antoine's Legendary Cakes & Pastries: It's a conspiracy!

As if there weren't enough incredible eateries in the immediate vicinity of my apartment, I just discovered that Antoine's Cakes & Pastries is opening up right around the corner! Admittedly, I was disappointed when Maurice's up and left their Carrollton location a few years ago, but c'mon! This sign already had me salivating for the baked delicacies to come, I even tried to find out if these are the same folks who have a shop in Gretna...does anyone know?

But what it really comes down to is this: I'm onto them and they're wily ways...they want me to stop dieting and gorge myself on the goodies they wave beneath my nose, I just know it. This neighborhood is conspiring to keep me fat!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

When I was a tourist: Antoine's Annex

Last week I was running errands in the French Quarter with John, when we stopped into Antoine's Annex for a quick meeting and a cup of coffee. Not that we needed the extra caffeine, we were already bouncing off the walls from the three cups we drank earlier, but sometimes you just have to have one more cup.

Located at 513 Royal Street, the Annex is a clean, well-lit little coffee and sandwich joint which is, I assume from the name, affiliated with Antoine's Restaurant around the corner on St. Louis (which I have not yet visited...I know!). The black & white decor with splashes of color coming only from the photos on the wall or the food on your plate is elegant and inviting, not to mention a huge tourist magnet.

For some reason, I started thinking about when I was a tourist to this city. Over ten years ago when I first visited New Orleans with my mother, I recall the awe and wonder on our faces as we strolled through the Quarter with its historic architecture, decadent food and exquisite shops...oh the shops! I am pretty sure we walked into every single store on Royal Street from Esplanade to Canal. I suppose the memories came flooding back because Antoine's Annex was exactly the type of respite we would have sought on that long, 14-block trek. Even as I sat there, trying not to intrude on a meeting I wasn't involved in, I saw several groups of shopping bag-laden tourists stroll inside to buy a bite to eat or pick up a chocolate gator to take home.

I only stayed long enough to enjoy a delicious Butter Rum Latte, but while I was sipping, it was quite refreshing to take a small trip back into my first memories of the city. I realized that my awe of New Orleans had not diminished - only changed into a deeper, richer understanding of the culture and environs I've always loved...even before I was a wide-eyed tourist.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

A taste of Paris in Uptown New Orleans: Tartine

Many years ago, I spent one wonderful week in Paris and it is a trip I will never forget. From the crack of dawn to well past sunset, I dragged my poor mother all over the city to witness every inch possible before returning home. We practically ran through two wings of the Louvre and the entire, impressionist vault at the Musée d'Orsay in one day. A visit to Versailles, an unofficial tour of part of the Sorbonne and dinner on the Seine near the "other" Statue of Liberty filled another. Strangely enough, though most of the trip remains indelibly etched in my memory, I don't recall anything in particular that I ate aside from a fabulous, seven-course luncheon at my friend's house in Auvers-sur-Oise. Oh! I also remember the bread.

Every morning during the weekdays, a huge farmers market would appear on the street in front of our hotel. Since we didn't really have time for breakfast or lunch during our insane, see-the-city-in-seven-days schedule, we would often pick up a couple of  baguettes from one of the vendors and munch bleary-eyed while we waited on the Metro trains to take us to our next destination. 

When I heard about the opening of Tartine on Perrier Street, the first thing that came to my mind was a fervent wish for another taste of those chewy, incredible baguettes...I was not disappointed. A few days ago, Casey, John and I visited Tartine for my 70th cheat. I am still holding steady at a loss of 78 pounds.

The clean, cozy house-turned-bakery was bustling with customers when we arrived, though it was rather late in the lunch hour. The restaurant was so full that, after placing our orders at the counter, we had to choose a table outside on the cute, little wooden patio. Thankfully, it wasn't too cold to enjoy our lunch alfresco. 

Casey and I both ordered a cup of Potato-Leek, the soup of the day and we were served by the talented chef/owner herself, Cara Benson. The smooth, almost perfectly white soup came out steaming hot with a few small rounds of sliced baguette on the side. Now, I make potato soup at home quite often, but it has never resulted in what I experienced at Tartine. 

It was a perfect vichyssoise (a fancy name for potato-leek soup) with a thick, silken texture and a rich onion flavor and a yogurt-tartness at the end. Casey and I "mmmed" at the soup so much, that John finally broke down and asked for a taste. I didn't want to share, but Casey, wanting to save room for her sandwich, gave John the rest of her cup. My only regret was gobbling the delicious, chewy rounds of bread too soon! I didn't have any left to wipe the remnants from my bowl.

As I was considering using my finger to wipe clean my cup, our sandwiches arrived. I ordered the ham sandwich that included thick slices of brie cheese and large, uncut leaves of butter lettuce stuffed lengthwise into a long, thin baguette and slathered with a sweet, fig mustard. The balance of the salty ham and sweet mustard together put me on a cloud and with the added bonus of the freshly baked baguette...I could have sworn I was back in Paris.

John chose the Tuna Nicoise sandwich featuring a tuna-sardine mixture, a boiled egg, butter lettuce and a tomato aioli layered beautifully between two light, almost fluffy slices of brioche. Casey selected the steak sandwich with thickly slices of beef cooked rare covered with a crumbly, blue cheese butter and arugula lettuce on toasted ciabatta bread. I got to taste both sandwiches (lucky girl that I am) and they were both wonderful! My only wish would be that the tuna be seared and sliced as opposed to the crumbled, salad-like mix that was served, though I imagine in a busy shop like Tartine, the latter is a lot simpler to prepare.

All of the plates also featured a small ramekin of salad made from fregula, a small, ball-shaped pasta (if I am guessing correctly) that I thought was colorful and light, a pleasant accompaniment to some incredible sandwiches.

I couldn't leave without sampling some dessert, there was no way I was going to pass up some of her luscious pastry, and I chose a thick, frosted brownie with chopped walnuts. We shared around the appropriately chocolaty and nicely gooey brownie with relish. When talking to my friend Lorin a few hours later, she chided me for not trying "the tartine" assembled with the chef's own house-made pate, onion confit and Dijon mustard on a baguette. Well, you know what they say, there's always next time!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Plight of the fat food writer...

Excited, flattered and flummoxed by the sudden incursion of invitations by local marketing groups who now consider me "press," I find myself in quite an odd predicament. Would I like to attend a cooking demonstration by a first-class chef and get a taste of the finished product? To quote my friend Dani "You're damned skippy!" My eyes light up and my mouth salivates just thinking about it. Only then, I find myself stammering "but, but, but..."

What about my diet?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Deference to the divine: First Free Mission Baptist Church

When taking my dog for a walk, I will often turn down streets I don't recognize in an effort to keep it fresh for both me and Pippin. The other day, we spotted this cute little church at 919 Adams Street. I wasn't able to find out very much information about it online other than its establishment in 1924 and I am not sure if that date refers to the congregation or the building itself.

Essentially, it doesn't really matter because I love the tall, colorful windows in the tower, its crenelated top and how the ferns are already growing out from between the newly painted bricks.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Return to The Green Goddess

Ever since Casey and I lunched at The Green Goddess back in the beginning of August, John has had to endure endless descriptions of our oh-so stellar meal, time and time again. It got to the point where I began to feel truly guilty that I had experienced the Goddess in all her glory, but John had not. Since we had other errands in the French Quarter on Friday, I thought the time had finally come. This was my 69th cheat and I am down 78 pounds.

Parking at the cheap lot on Rampart, we trudged our way through the biting cold (yes, 48 is too damn cold for me!) and made it to the restaurant at 307 Exchange Alley right before my earlobes fell off. Luckily, we scored one of the four tables in the itsy-bitsy dining room even though it was smack-dab in the middle of the lunch hour. We ordered a couple of cocktails while we poured over the menu, trying to decide between all of the fabulous items offered.

Loving the local mythology, I couldn't help ordering the Loup-Garou, a sweetly spicy concoction made from Mae de Ouro cachaça, Krogstad Aquavit, Taylor’s Falernum and allspice dram. Admittedly, that list had my head spinning too, but I knew that basically it was two different kinds of rum and vodka. There were so many spices it made my head spin (not to mention the level of alcohol). I tasted anise, cardamom, ginger, cumin, cloves and lime. Though delicious, I felt like a lightweight because it had me giggling after a few sips.

John ordered the Golden Eye which had us both gawking with what appeared to be a pile of tiny eyes at the bottom of his drink. They turned out to be basil seeds resting at the bottom of a martini glass filled with Tru’s Organic Jasmine Liqueur. Yep, I had to look that one up. Tru's is made with jasmine flowers, green and black teas, fresh citrus and sweetened with organic sugar cane. It was wonderful! Who knew there were so many kinds of booze? Certainly not I...

We were both buzzing about nicely by the time our appetizers arrived, a dish of Truffled Manchego Cheese Grits and a steaming bowl of their soup of the day, Duck & Dumplings. You could see the curled shavings of truffle in the creamy, delicious grits and it was hard not to hoard it all to myself. With a bit of a fork fight, we managed to split it evenly, though we debated whether or not to lick the plate. The soup was wonderful with thick slices of juicy duck and pillowy dumplings floating in the rich, sherry-infused broth. If the drinks hadn't already warmed me up, the soup would've done so with ease.

While we waited on our entrees, I couldn't help peeking at what other diners were eating, what John dubs as being "nosy," but I'm just curious! One table to the left had a huge cheese board and another diner was cutting into what looked like their Apple Cheddar French Toast. Our dishes came out as a few customers were leaving and one woman "oohed" and laughed, teasing herself for admiring other dishes though she had just finished a full meal. See! I wasn't the only one!

What had her goggling was "Little Mummy's" absinthe shrimp and avocado salad. A creamy pile of absinthe-poached, juicy Louisiana shrimp mixed with coleslaw overflowed from a large half of ripe avocado onto a leafy pile of arugula drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with spicy, sliced almonds. As you probably have realized, I am not normally a salad-eater, but when I saw it on the menu, it reminded me of Shrimp Louie salad that I used to eat with my mom, only on crack!

John also had shrimp, a dish called "Mofongo de Camarones." A grilled plantain cake served as the base for five huge, head-on shrimp that were sauteed in a honey-lime mixture and topped with guacamole, pico de gallo, bacon and a tequila crema (similar to crème fraiche). John was extra-careful to pry out every last bit of meat from the heads and the tails. I only took a small bite of the shrimp and cake, reluctant to deny him even a little of this fabulous dish.

For dessert (you know there was dessert) there was much debate, but we finally decided on the Chocolate-Norwegian French Toast and a cup of Union Chicory & Coffee served hot with condensed milk. The French toast was made with buttery slices of ciabatta stuffed with chocolate, caramelized Norwegian goat cheese (gjetost) and drizzled with Steen's cane syrup. I could have eaten the whole plate to myself, but, with difficulty, I shared it with John. Next time I'm getting my own plate or perhaps the Bacon Sundae? Regardless, I'll definitely go back again....and again...and again.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Sooner or later...

I finally broke down and created a fan page on Facebook for this blog. I do hope you like it...especially the beer-guzzling crawfish created for me by my boyfriend John -- who has accompanied me, kicking and screaming sometimes, on this roller coaster ride called "self-employment."

Sunday, January 9, 2011

J'anita's at The Rendon Inn: New location, same great food!

The first job I had in New Orleans was at Kelley & Abide Co. located on Euphrosine Street, a clothing distributor that had been in business since 1910.  Though I thought it odd at first, working in such an industrial setting, the staff treated me like a new member of the family (mainly Abides) and it took no time for me to feel like I belonged.

One difficulty while working there was finding affordable places to go for lunch that didn't consist of the usual, fast-food choices. I mean, how much Popeye's and Wendy's can one really stand? Plus, if we ventured too far from the office, our lunch hour would be compromised translating to a smaller paycheck. I sure wish J'anita's was at The Rendon Inn back then.

A couple of days ago, John and I decided to dine at J'anita's in their new location for my 68th cheat. I am still hovering around a loss of 77 pounds...will this stalemate ever end? Maybe now that all the holiday goodies are gone? We shall see...

The restaurant is located in a strange little triangle on the corner of Rendon and Eve that is a bit confusing to find. Even knowing the area, finding my way there had me scratching my head in confusion. Through a bit of backtracking and driving that certainly annoyed others, we finally made it to J'anita's just a little after noon.

As I was to discover, The Rendon Inn was formerly a bar and that really hasn't changed all that much. A huge rectangular bar dominates most of the room with high, wood tables hugging the perimeter.  There is also a nice, large patio outside that we considered, but thought the day was just a tad too cold. Instead, we settled down inside with some $3 mimosas and ordered.

Our appetizer, hilariously dubbed "Crunchy Hog Balls," arrived fairly quickly. They were six bite-sized balls made from bits of pulled pork mixed with house-smoked pepper jack cheese, rolled in panko and fried. Though I really enjoyed the balls, I didn't really like the sauce which, I have been informed, is a white, Alabama BBQ sauce. Maybe next time I'll ask for some Creole mustard on the side.

John got the St. Chuck Duck with their soup of the day, Tomato Basil. His sandwich was so delicious; duck sautéed in Cabernet and served on grilled sourdough bread with Granny Smith apples, smothered in cheddar and bleu cheeses and dressed with a rich, currant relish. I know exactly what I'm ordering next time...

My sandwich was pretty darn good too, the Swamp Reuben. Toasted sourdough bread piled high with beef brisket and pulled pork dressed with coleslaw and their own, homemade BBQ sauce. I had no difficulty devouring it, along with some perfect potato salad on the side made with red potatoes, onions and "no pickley stuff" to muck it all up.

Though I must come back and try one of J'anita's desserts some time, I had a whole Bavarian cream King Cake from Maple Street Patisserie waiting for us at home. I brewed my favorite coffee, CDM, as soon as we walked in the door and we relaxed with a huge slice of heaven and sighed, sated from another excellent cheat.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Twelfth Night treats at Maple Street Patisserie

There are a whole slew of reasons I am excited about Mardi Gras this year. For example, my weight loss combined with the skills of the most wonderful chiropractor in the world (Ky's Chiropractic Clinic, 2926 Canal Street) has enabled me to walk for a minimum of ten blocks without any back or hip pain.  HOORAY! For the first time in years I will be able to enjoy the parades without being an ornery ass (John is all smiles about that) and without the need for alcohol to numb the pain. Now I can just drink to get drunk!

Additionally, since my work schedule has drastically altered and I am not stuck in an office all day long, I can get out to the route early, save my spot and scream for beads till my voice gives out.

To start the season right, for this week's cheat, I have already planned my dessert! Ziggy Cichowski, the master of pastry at Maple Street Patisserie (7638 Maple Street), has created some gorgeous King Cakes that are already selling off the shelves. I have pre-ordered a Bavarian Cream beauty for this Thursday, but they are also featuring other flavors like cinnamon, praline pecan and some fruit-filled wonders like strawberry and blueberry. Let King Cake season begin!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Sushi and a movie: Kyoto 2

Ever since its release in November, I've been dying to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I. Unfortunately, there was always something holding me back...if it wasn't one thing, it was something else. At long last, John and I planned to see Harry Potter at the Elmwood Theater in Harahan and we decided to hit up a restaurant before the show. For my 67th cheat we opted for Kyoto 2 on Citrus Boulevard and I am back down to a grand loss of 77 pounds.

We arrived at the restaurant almost two hours before the show was to start, giving ourselves plenty of time to enjoy our dinner. In general, dining on sushi never really seemed unhealthy to me. I mean, how bad can it be to eat raw fish? To ensure I got my "cheat-on" properly, we selected some of the big, "fattier" rolls that were fried, loaded with avocado or smothered in eel sauce.

Our start was on the light side, a couple of bowls of steaming Miso Soup and a tangy Squid Salad. The soup warmed us while the salad, loaded with chunks of deliciously pickled squid, just whetted our appetite for more.

Although it took a little while (it was a busy night), our rolls started to pour out.  First to arrive was the Desiree Roll loaded with crispy, tempura shrimp, tempura crawfish, crabstick, spicy tuna and rice wrapped in seaweed and then tempura fried again! Served on the side was a spicy, sweet Cajun sauce for dipping that was so tasty, we wiped the serving dish clean.

The other three rolls we ordered all came out together on one giant dish. My favorite, the Rainbow Roll, looked and tasted so fresh with thick slabs of raw tuna, white tuna, salmon and avocado adorning a seaweed roll packed with a spicy snow crab maki. 

One of John's favorites, the Yum Yum Roll, is similar to the Rainbow, but instead of raw fish, it is loaded with strips of barbecued eel and smothered in that dark, sweet eel sauce. We demolished it in seconds! The last roll, the "Steve Roll", was a little on the lighter side stuffed with tuna, snow crab maki and avocado and topped with a healthy helping of roe.

Everything was wonderful and we left Kyoto 2 stuffed to the gills and ready to watch Harry Potter. Unfortunately, while we were standing in line to buy tickets, the show sold out. What luck? It seems I am doomed to wait for DVD. Instead of hanging out for two hours to see the next show, we headed back home and stopped at Walgreens for some movie candy (purchased at a far cheaper price than what is available at the theater) and watched How to Tame Your Dragon.  I still was able to enjoy my favorite movie candy for dessert (Whoppers) while getting my fantasy fix!