Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Thanksgiving apologies...

I know, I know, I know...I suck. I hit a soporific, post-Thanksgiving slump and I haven't written a damn thing, nor have I gone out to eat. After the huge carbohydrate fill I enjoyed in Ponchatoula with John's family, I just haven't felt like doing very much at all. Hibernation mode seems to have set in and I just need to suck it up, plug in the crappy little electric space heater, don my fur-lined Crocs, crack my knuckles and put my nose to the grindstone. Please accept my apologies and I hope everyone had a very, Happy Thanksgiving.

Here's some food porn to tie you over...

Monday, November 21, 2011

When crawling out your front door isn't even an option...

On Saturday, I was invited to a sort of "un-birthday" party where my friends Casey and Brandon blew a $850 gift certificate at the Hookah Cafe on Decatur Street on all of their friends. While the evening started out civilized, some Grey Goose martini's, shots of Patron and vodka cranberries later degraded into an evening where we were kicked out of the All-Ways Lounge on St. Claude, though I don't even recall how we got there or when we left the Hookah. Even when we made it back to my apartment, I ended up drinking beer until I finally passed out at dawn.

When I woke at last around 4pm on Sunday, the last thing I wanted was a po-boy. I had planned on meeting up with friends and pigging out on delights like grits & veal grillades po-boys from Le Citron Bistro, Oyster Rockefeller po-boy from Palace Cafe and vanilla ice cream-filled donuts with bananas foster topping from Blue Dot, but wasn't meant to be. I could hear the music and even smell the food from bedroom (which, at the time, was NOT a good thing). Here's looking forward to Po- Boy Preservation Fest 2012?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

La Macarena Pupuseria & Latin Cafe: Way better than a 90's dance fad

John and I actually went out to eat at two different restaurants this past weekend, but since the first experience was a real disappointment, I thought it would be nice to write about a good experience instead. After all, the bad ones are such downers...aren't they?

So, in an effort to stay positive, we stayed in our own 'hood and walked over to La Macarena Pupuseria & Latin Cafe on Hampson Street only a few blocks away. We got there a bit early for dinner, but we were trying to catch the light for good pictures. Though we felt a bit like old-timers catching the early bird special, we tried to be nonchalant as we seated ourselves to a table by the window in the small, brightly painted restaurant. We placed an order with our friendly server and then crossed our fingers. We both had heard great things about La Macarena, but we were also afraid of yet another not-so-great experience.

We started the adventure with a "Salvadorean" shrimp ceviche and after our first bite, we both heaved a sigh of relief. It was fantastic! The shrimp was plentiful and the perfect consistency, not too rubbery or too soft and everything tasted so fresh and bright from the finely chopped tomatoes and onions to the leafy cilantro. It was served with four toasted rounds of French bread, but I think I would have preferred tortilla chips instead as the bread disappeared way too fast and we found ourselves scooping out bites straight from the spoon. It just wasn't the easiest way to share an appetizer. Thank goodness John and I aren't afraid of sharing each other's cooties!

Shortly after we wolfed down the ceviche, our very similar entrees arrived. We both ordered their "traditional plates" of pupusas, but mine had the addition of three chicken flautas and John got the beef tostada. Anyhow, we both agreed that the pupusas were definitely the star of the whole show; tender, fluffy corn tortilla pillows layered on the inside with ground pork or chicharrón. Both of our dishes were also served with house-made, refried black beans and sweet, plump, fried plantains. I really enjoyed the beans and unsuccessfully tried to sneak a spoonful from John's plate after I had licked my own little bowl clean.

I simply couldn't resist when our server touted their house flan, even though both of us were stuffed full. John waved the idea of dessert away, patting his tummy and groaning with every move, but after I convinced him to take a bite, the competition was on. It had a dense, almost cheesecake-like feel and tasted of a heavenly, buttery toffee. It was awesome to find yet another great restaurant within walking distance of our apartment and you know what's even cooler than that? They deliver...

La Macarena Pupuseria & Latin Cafe on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Craving Cowbell...

Call it an urge, itch, ache or yen, but I had a serious craving for Cowbell. As any woman can tell you, it's best not to ignore these inner lusts too often or chaos will likely ensue and cause unnecessary events like incurable bouts of crying, flying breakables or the ever-dreaded hissy fit. Wisely, John offered to accompany me on the long, four-block walk to fill this desperate need last Saturday around noon.

The restaurant was hopping when we arrived, happy folks filled the benches outside on the patio, but we only had to wait about five minutes before there was an available table indoors. I already knew what I wanted to order (I avidly follow their "specials" tweeted daily from @CowbellNOLA), so it was just a matter of choosing an appetizer and sipping on sodas while we waited for our food to arrive.  

The dish we selected sounded like such a bizarre mix of flavors, we couldn't possibly pass it up. Dubbed "Figgy Toast," it consisted of a small bowl of braised andouille and sweet & sour figs with large, blue cheese croutons. It was such a strange amalgam of flavors and textures that turned out to be utterly delicious and incredibly fun to eat. The rich, reddish brown color of the sweet & sour sauce was so dark, that it was difficult to tell the figs from the sliced andouille until you popped it into your mouth.

As we gobbled the last sweet morsels, our entrees arrived. John went with the Cowbell natural beef burger with an added over-easy farm egg and thick sliced bacon on a toasted potato roll bun. He slathered on the irresistible, mayo based "Agogo" sauce as well as some of their house-made ketchup that features a distinctly cinnamon bite. Not surprisingly the burger was just as fantastic, juicy and flavorful, as it has been every time we've visited. 

I veered from the norm, however, when I opted for one of the day's specials, a most excellent grilled cheese sandwich and a small cup of the soup of the day. Now, this is not your mom's grilled cheese with the ubiquitous, orange slices of American on soft, white bread, oh no. This sandwich featured manchego cheese with thin slices of roasted organic squash (perhaps drizzled with lemon?) pressed between two, thick slices of perfectly buttery and crispy ciabatta. I had died and gone to grilled cheese heaven. Oh and let's not forget the soup, a delightful curry plantain with mango jerk chicken. Yep, I was in soup heaven, too. After all, they're right next door to each other.

With my craving totally satiated, it was just an added bonus when we polished off a slice of their "Chocolate City" or flourless chocolate cake with a large scoop of vanilla ice cream, all made in house, naturally. We rolled out of the door, hefty and happy, John smiling and sighing in the knowledge that he narrowly avoided another craving catastrophe. Now, he just has to keep a sharp eye out for this week...

Cowbell on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 4, 2011

House of the week: Shotgun on Chartres Street

While looking for my first New Orleans apartment over 8 years ago, I found the cutest place in the Marigny. It was half of a double shotgun on Burgundy Street with hardwood floors, 12 ft. ceilings, transom windows, a nice front porch, floor-to-ceiling bookshelves in the parlor and was located right across the street from a corner bar. As if that wasn't enough to sell me, the landlord was asking only $495 per month! Unfortunately, another potential renter beat me to the punch and came up with the first and last mere hours before I could write the check. Plus, my mother was with me and she was reluctant to appreciate the beauty of that up & coming neighborhood. I often wonder how my first year in New Orleans would have been different had I lived that close to Frenchman Street and the Quarter...

Since then, I have often checked apartment and house listings in that area and boy have prices changed. Eight years ago, I could have bought a gorgeous double shotgun in the Marigny for $250,000 or less! Not anymore. Yesterday, while browsing homes for weekly post, I spotted this beauty located on Chartres Street right off of Frenchmen and less than two blocks to the French Quarter. Originally a double shotgun, this gorgeous Victorian has been remodeled into a single, four bedroom/three bath home replete with floor-to-ceiling & transom windows, a huge front porch, gorgeous hardwood floors, high ceilings, fireplace mantles and a cute, enclosed courtyard-type backyard. This Marigny beauty is listed for the low, low price of $499,999. Ahh, what ever happened to the good old days?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Café Degas left an impression...

In case you weren't aware, there is a gorgeous, yet quaint B&B on Esplanade Avenue called the Degas House. Apparently, back in 1872, the famous Impressionist painter Edgar Degas spent almost half a year in this very house visiting his American side of the family. Just a few blocks away lies a sweet little French-inspired restaurant called Café Degas, a spot I have been curious about for quite some time. Maybe it was the change in the weather or maybe it was because I had a hankering for French cuisine -- whatever the reason, John and I headed down to Esplanade Ridge to enjoy a leisurely lunch at Café Degas.

If you've never been, the restaurant is a small affair with most of the seating located on a covered, outdoor patio surrounded by lush greenery that somewhat screens diners from the busy traffic going by on Esplanade Avenue. You'll even find a small tree whose trunk grows up in the front of the dining area and right through the wooden roof that only increases the alfresco experience to be had at Café Degas.

After being seated by our genteel hostess (who sported a strong French accent), we made our choices from the menu over a glass of white wine suggested by our server. I think it was a Pinot Gris that was a bit dry, but very crisp and floral. Luckily, we both thought it worked perfectly with our appetizers that appeared more quickly than we anticipated.

We shared a cheese plate that featured two delicious cheeses, one creamy like a brie and the other very dense. Both were buttery in flavor and we gobbled them down with fresh strawberries, grapes and a fresh, sliced baguette. There was also a lone date on the plate that John and I split in half. I practically grew up on dates, they are a delicacy common in Persian households, but John had never eaten one before.

Have I mentioned how much I appreciate John's adventurous nature? You'd think someone who grew up with a fairly limited choice of foods would be skeptical of trying something new (like his father), but not John. He will try anything once, even two or three times to give it a fair shot. It was as easy as pie to get him to try our next appetizer, a dish of escargot. Even I was wary the first time eating snails, but John had no difficulty scooping the dark meat into his mouth with a shrug and a smile, saying "It's just like garlic and butter!" after his first taste.

For my entree, I chose "L'Onglet de Boeuf" or a medium rare, juicy seared hanger steak with crispy, garlic pomme frites (french fries) and fresh broccoli in a wonderful garlic bordelaise. The sauce was so good that I swirled the fries and florets until they were quite sodden and gleefully delivered the tasty combination to my mouth via fork. John's dish, a pan seared lemon fish, was served with saffron pearl couscous, sun dried tomatoes and sauteed asparagus in a pool of brandy shellfish sauce. His filet was rather thick, but he had no difficulty gulping down his entire dish and coming back to polish off mine as well.

There were quite a few choices on the "dessert wipe board," most featuring cute, spooky names for Halloween, but John and I both settled on the Raspberry Chambord Cake with a nice, hot cup of café au lait. The cake was light and delicious with a thick layer of custard and a thin lining of raspberry between each layer of cake and frosting. I'm sure I could have easily enjoyed my own slice. After enjoying such a lovely lunch at Café Degas, I could easily see returning again for next week too soon?

Café Degas on Urbanspoon