Thursday, July 28, 2011

House of the Week: Sidehall on Dauphine Street

During my weekly perusal of available homes, I came across some property for sale from the Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans. Why I had forgotten that this organization has been responsible for the restoration and invigoration of many properties and neighborhoods around town is beyond me. In fact, one of my best friends actually purchased a house through the PRC before the '05 floods in the Holy Cross. It was (and still is) a gorgeous double shotgun that was converted into a large single with three bedrooms, a living room, dining room, kitchen, two bathrooms and a HUGE backyard. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), she was forced to sell the house only months before Katrina hit.

Anyhow, when I saw this Sidehall for sale on Dauphine Street in the Holy Cross, all the memories came flooding back. The PRC has done a wonderful job remodeling this huge, 1,300 square foot home replete with a front porch, back porch and side gallery, central air and heat, new bamboo flooring and Berber carpets in the two bedrooms. Apparently, this structure had completely collapsed during the storm and was rebuilt using salvaged material from the original building. The best part is that this brand new/old house is selling for...wait for it....$164,900! Three cheers for the PRC! Hip, hip, hooray!

Monday, July 25, 2011

A late lunch at The Camellia Grill

Open since 1946, The Camellia Grill has been a landmark New Orleans restaurant located near the end of the St. Charles Streetcar line in the Riverbend. Almost every time I have wandered past this ubiquitous diner, there has been a line of tourists patiently waiting to experience the food, and especially the unique brand of service, only to be found at the Camellia Grill. Though I've been to this restaurant many times in the past, I thought it was about time I blogged about it, so John and I visited the famous local diner on Saturday. Neither of us had been to Camellia Grill since before the flooding in '05...apparently some things have changed.

We arrived at an odd hour, between lunch and dinner, so that we would (hopefully) get the full attention from our waiter and so that our picture-taking would annoy the least amount of people. Amazingly enough, there was no line and we walked right in and plopped ourselves down at the counter, which is the only seating at Camellia Grill for those not "in the know."

Wanting to give the diner every opportunity to impress us, we ordered a couple specials from the modest menu and waited patiently while being entertained by the server/line cook banter that makes Camellia Grill so unique. Do understand that we weren't expecting anything mind-blowing from our lunch, we know this is greasy diner food we are talking about here. But, we did expect or hoped for a luncheon experience similar to ones we'd experienced in the past.

I started by ordering a chocolate "freeze" seeing as I desperately needed a cocoa fix. John just got a Coke knowing I would be ordering another dessert later on.

Our sandwiches came out rather quickly, John ordered the Camellia Muffaletta with corned beef, sliced ham, Swiss cheese and olive dressing on toasted rye. It was actually pretty tasty, but thought it was a tad small for the $8.50 price tag that did not include a side.

My sandwich, the Harry's Yankee Special was roast beef, melted Swiss and grilled onions on a "special roll" and served with a mushroom sauce, the whole production being reminiscent of a French Dip. It bugged me a little that the sandwich was served on a plastic plate and the au jus was literally slopped into a plastic cup, most of which missed the cup and landed on my already highly disarrayed plate. Plus, I'm not quite sure what kind of "roast beef" they used, but it tasted strangely like the meat I found on a sandwich served to me in the Orleans Parish holding cells one misguided Lundi Gras evening years ago (another story for another time). The mushroom sauce saved it just enough for me to ingest (I was really hungry), but I later regretted doing so.

Finally, for dessert we shared a slice of Chocolate Pecan Pie which, surprisingly, was a decent pie. Much better than some Sysco versions we've been faced with in the past, but also not a slice of homemade happiness that never fails to wow me.

All in all, I was kind of hoping for something a little better, maybe next time I'll just stick with the chili-cheese omelet or a burger and not set myself up for disappointment.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

House of the week: Altered shotgun on General Taylor

For quite some time now, there's been this listing for a house on General Taylor that looks like a remodeled single shotgun. From the photos, it looks super-cute on the inside with two bedrooms, high ceilings, hardwood floors, claw foot tub and a fabulously renovated kitchen. Also, this house apparently comes with a swimming pool! There is no information as to whether the pool is an in-ground or above-ground type, but any kind of pool would make me a happy camper.

Aside from the pool (did I mention it has a pool?), this cute little house is only one block from Magazine Street and only six blocks from St. Charles Avenue. Yep, another affordable find within walking distance of the main Mardi Gras parade route. YES!

The house is going for $217,000 which seems about right considering the amenities (A POOL!). I'd really, really dig living here, been wishing on a star for a financial windfall...where's that damn cricket when you need one?

Monday, July 18, 2011

So good I went nuts at Blue Dot Donuts

A little over a year ago, I posted a blog (a mini-bitch fest really) about the strange lack of donut shops in Orleans Parish. I just couldn't understand how the city, especially all the suits downtown, had survived this long without a really great donut shop. Thankfully, back in April of this year, three New Orleans Police Officers opened Blue Dot Donuts at 4301 Canal Street. I'd been wanting to try their fried goodies for months now and have endured many posts by other foodies singing their praises, but what finally pushed me was a Twitter post I responded to last week. "CurlyEmmy" was struggling fruitlessly to resist the donuts in her office break room and the conversation snowballed, resulting in endless exaltation about the goods to be had at Blue Dot. 

What's the Borg catchphrase? "Resistance is futile." I decided it was finally time to visit. 

It was pouring rain when we arrived at around noon. The clean, brightly lit shop was empty of customers, but that's to be expected, surely most of their patrons arrive in the morning to take a dozen in with them to work. There were still plenty of pastries to choose from and after a little debate, John and I decided to get a full dozen. With sporadic input from John, I went through the rows and picked out some flavors I thought would be the most interesting, along with a few "tried and true" for comparison sake. 

I chose a few cake donuts (blueberry and strawberry), but the blueberry donut with blueberry glaze was my favorite. It had a delicious fried crust that I gobbled so fast, I only remembered just in time to save a small bite for John. We both chose filled donuts, I got the Bavarian cream while John enjoyed apple. Both were wonderful with a perfect "donut-to-filling" ratio.

Since everyone was raving about it, you know I had to try the Bacon Maple Bar...and it was fabulous, though it was so rich, I had a difficult time eating much else afterwards. Good thing I tried the other ones first! It was surprisingly simple, an airy fried dough iced with a Maple glaze and sprinkled with a healthy layer of chewy, smoky bacon. 

Though we couldn't do it in one sitting, we polished off the entire dozen during the course of the day, culminating in our last filled donut, Peanut Butter & Jelly. Again, such a simple idea that was well-executed, a jelly filled donut iced with peanut butter. 

I definitely need a serious break from donuts after that level of deep fried indulgence, but I have to go back for one more thing, their version of an ice cream sandwich - a cake donut split in two and stuffed with New Orleans Ice Cream Co. ice cream (Creole Cream Cheese, Chocolate City). Thank goodness they aren't located closer to my house...

Thursday, July 14, 2011

House of the week: Shotgun on Derbigny Street

I've seen this house in the listings a few times now and I am still shocked it hasn't sold. It's a cute little shotgun that has been beautifully renovated with hardwood floors throughout, granite counter tops and energy efficient appliances in the kitchen, a gorgeous brick driveway (off street parking in New Orleans?), French doors to the backyard and a walk-in closet in the bedroom! It's located in the Esplanade Ridge, on the lake side of I-10, an area that is slowly going through revitalization...and truth be told, still needs a lot of work.

But hey! When I moved here 8 years ago, people were saying the same thing about the Marigny, and now that is one of the hippest neighborhoods in town! Anyhow, the house seems like a truly great deal with an asking price of only $183,137.  Did I mention it has three bedrooms, two baths and over 1,400 square feet of living space? The dream continues...

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A rainy afternoon at Le Meritage

About a month ago, I got a press release announcing "Start Your Dinner at Noon" promotion at Le Meritage and I screamed aloud in ecstasy. John turned away from his computer to ask what the hell was wrong with me and when he spotted the new lunch prix fixe menu open on my desktop, he smiled at me and asked "So, when are we going?"

The first time we visited Le Meritage, which seems oh so very long ago, was one of those perfect dining experiences that remain permanently etched in our memory, something we continue to measure future meals against. The only difficulty that I could not overcome with this particular restaurant, was that of price. Now I'm not complaining really, I believe that the whole concept is a worthwhile experience, especially for the "wine noobs" like myself. Only, it's something I simply cannot afford to indulge in on a daily basis, or even weekly...monthly? Then I see this new menu offering three courses for $21! Naturally, the wine pairings aren't included in the cost, but still!

Last Friday John and I arrived for lunch rather late, around 2PM, right as a heavy summer rain started to fall.  We sat off to one corner next to the window and it was very private, though there were only two other tables occupied at this late hour. I got so excited about the prix fixe, I asked if I could add another course (cuz I'm a little piggy) and the server was totally accommodating.

Just before John took way too many pictures of the cutlery laying in different patterns on the linen tablecloth, our first courses arrived. John had the Tuna Tartare Napoleon served in a neat cylindrical shape with bright green guacamole on top, a second layer of crisp kernels of corn and finally, a thick layer of seasoned and citrusy raw tuna all balanced on a crispy fried tortilla square. It was paired with a Santa Barbara Chardonnay. I greedily eyed his plate while quickly slurping my own, velvet vichyssoise with a tasty little heap of sweet crab meat in the center. Our server suggested I have California sparkling wine or "blanc de blancs," which was tasty, but bubbly always goes straight to my head.

Good thing my next course was a bit heavier. Along with my soup, it was one of the day's specials and my most favorite crab the world. Seriously. It's a small tower constructed entirely of jumbo lump crab meat and big, luscious crawfish tails topped with a fresh wedge of avocado. The whole creation is held together by some mysterious force of nature because it is almost entirely devoid of breadcrumbs. You know that ingredient that seems to overwhelm most other crab cakes, thereby making them almost inedible? To me at least...

Being a bit obsessed with salads lately, John's second course was a baby cabbage salad with golden raisins, Parmesan, sliced almonds and truffle vinaigrette. It reminded me of coleslaw, but with a stronger bite and not as much "juice," but still delicious.

For our next course, I actually chose a Malbec, all by myself. The funny thing was, John got the same wine, but when they brought both glasses to the table, one tasted distinctly deeper and more layered than the other. According to the server, they were from the same bottle...was I trippin'? I may never know. Regardless, the good glass was wonderful and paired nicely with our dishes. John had the braised beef short rib and kept mumbling something about sauce as he licked his plate clean and I enjoyed the sauteed puppy drum with a fried green tomato balanced on top. There was also a citrus-laced lima bean succotash that I think I might have enjoyed more than the fish.

At last, it was time for dessert. John had a thick, chocolate "pot de creme" and I had Georgia peaches & cream. As basic as that dessert is, I had never actually eaten it before and I was amazed at it's simplistic fabulousness (yes, that's a word...just go with it). Paired with a rich, syrupy Moscato and a light, fruity Sauternes, they practically felt like two desserts for each of us!

Was it a coincidence that the rain stopped just as we stepped outside after yet another memorable meal at Le Meritage? I don't think so...

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Deference to the divine: St. Mary's Assumption Church

A few weeks ago, I had the divine pleasure of attending a wedding at St. Mary's Assumption Church on Josephine Street. A co-worker and friend whom I've known for the past seven years finally tied the knot with his lovely girlfriend, a woman he'd been dating for the past several years. I believe Leigh and Bevin are currently floating around Europe on a cruise ship for their honeymoon - I wish them nothing but the best...

...and the best is how their marriage began. St. Mary's is the most elaborate, most ornate and most awe-inspiring church I have been in since visiting the cathedrals in Paris many years ago.

Built in 1860, this cathedral was constructed for the overwhelming influx of German immigrants into New Orleans. It is also home to the largest shrine built in dedication to the Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos, a German priest (and missionary) who died while serving the local congregation. While caring for victims of Yellow Fever, Father Seelos contracted the disease and passed away in 1867. Many years later, he was beatified by Pope John Paul II in April of 2000.

Stepping inside and gawking at the soaring ceilings, huge columns, aged wood pews and glorious altar, I felt a strange sense of familiarity. It wasn't until later while researching the church that I discovered local author, Anne Rice, had actually referred specifically to this church in one of her novels (and my favorite book by her), The Witching Hour. The two main characters in the novel get married at St. Mary's Assumption and Rice is not shy with colorful detail. No wonder it seemed familiar!

One particular detail (among so very many) that caught my eye was this elaborate pulpit that seemed to hover high above the seated guests. To be completely honest, at first I thought it was simply another column, made more embellished by its proximity to the altar. It wasn't until one of the speakers climbed the steps behind it and appeared above the colorful statues that I realized its real purpose.

In 1974, St. Mary's Assumption was dedicated as a National Historic Monument and, as I understand, they often give tours and I think I might just have to check it out. I would love to know more about the cathedral's history, not to mention the massive organ that dates back to 1861...

Monday, July 4, 2011

Feelin' Caribbean at Baru Bistro & Tapas

I've never been on a Caribbean vacation. The closest I've come to warm, tropical water and white, sandy beaches with shady palm trees is Destin...and that was only once. The other day, I was having a serious yen for all things "tropical." I pictured myself with a colorful cocktail in hand, complete with mini umbrella and excessive amounts of fruit, laying around in the balmy shade and picking at tasty finger-foods at an extra-leisurely pace. That's when I decided that John and I should finally visit Baru Bistro & Tapas on the corner of Amelia and Magazine Streets for my 92nd cheat. I gained three pounds from last week (am I giving up?), of course I went anyhow...

Though the corner bistro's interior was dim and cool, I wanted to sit outside. Yes I know there is still roadwork being done on Magazine, but all the boys were eating their lunches in the shade and their machines were quiet. I was all but rubbing my hands together in delight as I pictured the "fruit-tastic" cocktail I was about to order when I spotted a small, paper sign in the window. It is still BYOB at Baru, but this didn't stop the table next to us who picked up some wine on the way over...something to remember next time.

No matter, I really wasn't missing the booze all that much while sipping on a couple of fresh fruit spritzers. We guzzled our way through mango, strawberry and (my favorite) pineapple, but all were delicious. John thought we should just order a whole mess of tapas, and I agreed on the plan, selecting five different dishes to share and saving a spot for dessert.

The special that day just sounded too irresistible to pass up and I am oh-so glad we didn't. The mejinllones en escabeche or cold, marinated mussels were plated in "cake" form with a small dice of mangoes, peppers, chives and cilantro, and served with thick slices of toasted french bread. As we guzzled and scarfed, another plate of "atun tartare" - Yellow fin tuna, creamy avocado and coconut oil -  blessed the table, complete with warm, white corn tortilla chips.

Other diners might have thought the pace of the kitchen was a bit hurried, but we were having no trouble keeping up. The next two dishes, two hot tapas items, arrived just as we crunched the last chip. The croquetas de pascado or white fish potato croquettes were fried to a golden brown and each was nestled in a spicy pool of tartar sauce that reminded me of deviled eggs. The other dish, arepas con lechon, was a marvelous, layered creation featuring a thick, black bean spread sandwiched between two, crispy white cornmeal cakes and topped with a neat pile of pulled, marinated pork and creamy queso fresco. Both dishes had three items per plate and instead of splitting the last one, we had to choose which item we wanted two of. I couldn't resist the fried balls of bliss though and John was happy gobbling down some more of that juicy, pulled pork.

Selected due to it's reputed popularity, I was a little bit nervous about the final dish. But after the first bite of  mazorca - freshly roasted corn kernels of floating in melted "salao" cheese and "pink sauce" and topped off  with crunchy potato sticks - I was sold. For the life of me, I knew not what was in the pink sauce (I want to guess there was palm oil involved), but I had no clue about "salao." It was simply delicious and we had inhaled more than half before our server arrived with the proper utensil for the job, a spoon.

[Side note:   At home, I looked up both Spanish terms. Mazorca, as far as I can tell means "ear of corn," but it is also slang for "smiling from ear to ear" and salao means "salty," but it also means to have terrible luck. Is there a joke I'm missing here?]

It was time to put a cap on our feeding frenzy, even though I was sorely tempted to add the ceviche to our order. Heaving a sigh of relative regret, I chose our dessert, Baru's Quatros Leches cake. An extremely airy version of pound cake was soaked in the usual three; condensed, evaporated and heavy cream. Plus, there was a thick layer of foamed crema for the icing and fanciful drizzles of a fresh berry puree. It was incredibly delicious and is playing a close second to my favorite Tres Leches from Maya's on the other end of town...but on the same street. The only disappointment at Baru came with the check. It just seemed a little too big a bite out of the wallet for an "alcohol-free" tapas experience.

By the way, doesn't it seem like everything is on Magazine these days? Perhaps I need to make a greater effort to branch out.