Monday, April 30, 2012

Caffeine clip: Lilette

This delicious cup of rich coffee with an almond sugar cookie reminds me that I need another cup this sleepy Monday morning....and I also need to go back to Lilette and order at least three dishes of Alaskan king crab claws with passionfruit butter.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The art of food

Last Thursday, I was invited by representatives of Highland Park Scotch Whiskey to attend the "Rising Stars" event here in New Orleans, honoring some amazing local chefs and mixologists who "represent the vanguard of the contemporary dining scene in America."

Aside from giving serious props where props are due, I loved that the whole "culinary exhibition" took place at The New Orleans Museum of Art. As cheesy as it might sound, I truly believe that creating excellent food is, indeed, an art form. Chefs are able to stimulate your senses and stir your passion with elegant presentation and unique flavor and texture combinations, changing the everyday, necessary act of eating into an experience to truly appreciate.

Quite a few of my personal favorites were lauded including Aaron Burgau of Patois, Nathanial Zimet of Boucherie, Phillip Lopez of Root and Alon Shaya of Domenica, but every single dish I tasted (and I almost tasted them all) was utterly delicious. If I had the time (or the stamina) to go back and sample them all again, I would have...every single one.

John and I raced along with Emily Smith to capture a few pictures of what we tasted before the sunlight faded to dusk in Cafe NOMA's courtyard. Chef Nathanial Zimet prepared some incredibly tasty Fried Chicken Sausage with pickles, Hawaiian-style bread and chicken liver mousse.

Chef Bart Bell from Crescent Pie & Sausage made his killer "Bad Bart's Black Jambalaya" with his own smoked sausage and braised pork. (Tangent: Why didn't I notice that big, black bag before?)

Pastry Chef Rebecca Cohen from Stella! created the most fabulous dessert, Frozen Chevre Parfait with poached pears, financier (French tea cake) and a Caramel "Croquant" that just about killed me. The worst part being that I will likely never taste her desserts again unless I win the lotto.

Chef Michael Stoltzfus of Coquette and Sweet Olive made one of the best salads I have ever tasted...and I'm not a salad kind of girl (in case you haven't noticed), dressed with a cashew puree and citrus vinaigrette. In fact, it was so tasty that attendees voted it "favorite dish" of the evening and Stoltzfus won a Jade Plancha!

With no offense to Chef Stoltzfus, I had to vote for Emeril's Chef David Slater's dish, Sorghum-smoked Duck Breast with "dirty" fregola sarda (pasta), choucroute and truffle pate. I was dreaming about this one days later...

Although we lost the light soon after taking that last shot, we still enjoyed some wonderful cuisine, most memorably Alon Shaya's Octopus Carpaccio (never tasted suckers that good) and Phillip Lopez' Aloo Gobi (the only good Indian dish in New Orleans). 

How I love edible art...

Monday, April 23, 2012

Friday, April 20, 2012

House of the week: Victorian side-hall on Carondolet

I've been feeling a little too extravagant with my house of the week posts lately, so I decided to dial it down a notch this week and look for something more in my price range and something miraculous happened. I fell in love...

While ho-humming my way through some seriously boring homes, I happened upon this one and I swooned. Maybe it's some kind of funky fate thing because I fell in love with this house before I knew any of the details, just looking at the facade made stars appear in my eyes and violins started playing in my head. I don't merely want this house...I need this house!

This Victorian side-hall built over a century ago boasts a sweet front porch, heart pine hardwood floors, floor-to-ceiling windows, stained glass, transoms, fireplace mantles and 12ft ceilings. There are three bedrooms, two bathrooms (one with a claw foot tub!), a large brick patio in back shaded by a huge oak and is located a block away from St. Charles Avenue (a.k.a. parade route), not far from The Columns Hotel

I don't want to tell you what it's listed for because it's a good deal and I don't want anyone else to buy it out from under me. Hands off...IT'S MINE!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Spring cravings: Panchita's

Perhaps it might seem odd, but when the weather starts getting warmer and daylight stretches into the evening, an itch comes over me that cries out for tangy guacamole scooped up by warm, crispy tortilla chips and an icy margarita made with fresh lime, the glass supporting a thick rim of salt. I swear, in the months between April and August, I make Mexican food almost exclusively at home; Fajitas, enchiladas, taco salad, quesadillas...even huevos rancheros! The cool, fresh vegetables, spicy meat and seafood are literally synonymous with warm weather in my eyes. So even though we've seen a deluge of rain in the past week, the times in between were bright with sunshine and muggy warmth and that's when we visited Panchita's.

Since it opened a few years back, I've been to Panchita's many, many times. The eye-popping pink restaurant on Carrollton Avenue is not only close to my house, but their food is also quite tasty and affordable. It's become a popular spot in the neighborhood, even considering the competition that surrounds it. But then again, it is also the only authentic Mexican joint in the area, not to mention one of the very few in the entire city. 

My friend Dani and her daughter Posie joined me for lunch and between perusing the menu and keeping a two-year-old occupied, it took some time to order. We were rewarded with a large basket of fresh tortilla chips and salsa after we finally made up our minds. We munched on the chips and enjoyed the red and green chile salsas, both of which were pretty mild. 

All at once, our dishes arrived and I think we did pretty good overall. Dani ordered one of the house specialties, Chilaquiles with steak. Chilaquiles are quartered tortillas that have been fried and then stewed in (this case) a red chile mole sauce (kind of like dumplings) and then topped with black beans, queso and crema. It was also served with two, over-easy eggs and a nice portion of strip steak that was so tender and flavorful, it was difficult to steal just one bite.

I ordered their Carnitas that came to the table sizzling on a hot plate with enough steam to double as a facial treatment. There were tender, mildly seasoned chunks of pork and sauteed onions that I ate with their house made flour tortillas, fresh guacamole, pico de gallo, refried beans and seasoned rice. 

Even Posie made out like a bandit with a simple, delicious oaxaca cheese quesadilla that came with sour cream and guacamole, both of which she thoroughly enjoyed, as was evidenced by what was left on her hands and face. Unfortunately, she couldn't eat all of the quesadilla, though, fortunately we were there to help her...

Panchitas on Urbanspoon

Monday, April 16, 2012

Caffeine Clip: MiLa

Wishing I had a cup of MiLa's rich, dark coffee, a blend made especially for them at the Orleans Coffee Exchange...

Friday, April 13, 2012

House of the week: Palace on Third

From totally epic to just so-so, I'm pretty sure I could live in any of the dream houses I've posted so far. Then I saw this listing...

Amidst an entire neighborhood of historic properties lies the Robinson House. It was built by Irish-born architect Henry Howard in the mid-19th century for Walter Robinson, an American from Virgina who came to New Orleans and struck it rich growing and selling perique tobacco. This palatial residence on Third Street in the Garden District has two stories, nine bedrooms, ten bathrooms and over 12,000 square feet of living space. It is described as a "spectacular display of Italianette Neoclassical architecture" including double galleries and 16ft ceilings with frescoes by a local artist, Dominique Canova. The grounds include a pool, several fountains, garden walkways and a carriage house. You can own this slice of history for a mere $12,500,000...

As awesome as this property is, I really don't think I could live there.  I mean look at it...not only is it humongous, it looks like a freaking should be a museum! I'd be afraid to touch, sit or (God forbid) lie on anything! Knowing my klutziness, I'd probably end up out in the carriage house, too paranoid to even walk through the main house at all...except perhaps to show my friends...who also can't touch anything...

I can still dream about it though...

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The whole fam damly

Okay, it wasn't the whole family, but it was a fairly decent slice of the Ranjbars (and Mangewalas) that came to visit me last week. For Ray Ranjbar (my dad), Rob Mangewala (my brother-in-law) and Arissa (my super-cool niece), it was the first trip ever to New Orleans. Nancy (my mother) and Mina (my sister) had already been here before and I am pretty sure they love it almost as much as I do...almost.

Needless to say, I spent much of last week playing tour guide and when they started feeling a bit peckish, steered them in the right direction. Before they arrived, I had a lot of options to offer them regarding things to do and places to see, but you know how family vacations go. It was kind of strange seeing as I wasn't even on vacation...

Anyhow, they still managed to fit in some pretty cool adventures...the ladies in the group got a little taste of carnival in New Orleans at Blaine Kern's Mardi Gras World while the fellas had an interesting time chasing my dad (who uses a walker, by the way) around Harrah's.

I think what we saw was far cooler, but I suppose that's a matter of opinion. Since it is my blog, here's another peek...

How about one more?

Afterwards, we all went back to the French Quarter...

... and ate some delicious food at Stanley. This was my sister's salad with fried, soft shell crab...

...Arissa debated how many toys she wanted while walking in Jackson Square and tried to convince her mom and dad that it was mandatory the toy came from that particular shop...

Another highlight included going on a Cajun Encounters swamp tour where John once again showed his prowess in capturing excellent nature shots including this hawk with a fish wriggling in it's talons,

a proud blue heron,

.a too-close-for-comfort look at a marshmallow-loving gator,

and the wind-blown affect on our hair after a swamp tour.

Though they did eat a lot of delicious food at several of my favorite spots around town (including Dante's Kitchen and Green Goddess) I was unable to get decent pictures because it was all at night. But seeing as I have provided plenty of porn from both restaurants, I'm sure y'all can use your imagination.

It was really wonderful to see them all again, as it had been more than two years since I last visited California and they all seemed to have a great time while they were here. There was so much more to see and do, but sharing all of the splendors that New Orleans has to offer would take almost a lifetime...maybe I could convince them to move?

Monday, April 9, 2012

Friday, April 6, 2012

House of the week: Cottage on St. Phillip

I often use the word "cute" to describe some of the houses I have found, but this one had me "awing" with my head tilted to the side and a blissful smile on my face, a reaction that only got more pronounced  that as I watched the visual tour.

Right on the edge of the French Quarter on St. Phillip Street lies this adorable little cottage that almost looks like a child's drawing from the facade. All that's missing is a cotton ball tree, some "w" shaped birds and a big, smiling sun in the sky. Built in the 1800's, this house is so precious it hurts...seriously...and features all of the classic New Orleans architectural goodies I love, plus a really cool extra. It's is a cozy, one-bedroom affair with high ceilings, original mantles, hardwood floors and exposed brick walls, but there is also a delightfully charming courtyard that separates the main house from an irresistible, two-story guest house! This addition is even more precious than the main house, if that's even possible, complete with a spiral staircase leading to the bedroom and it's own kitchenette and bath! I think this house is a steal at $515,000 because it's just that damned cute...but that's just me.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Sweet Olive

Sometimes, you just can't come up with a good introduction. No matter how hard you stare at the blinking cursor, your brain feels just about as empty as the pristine white screen in front of your face.  Strange thoughts run through your mind occasionally like "Did I brush my teeth this morning?", but nothing that has anything to do with the topic at hand. This is one of those times and it was not for lack of you will soon see. So, without any introduction and lacking a bunch of ado, John and I had lunch at Sweet Olive last week in the newly remodeled Saint Hotel.

The restaurant is located in what feels like part of the main lobby. I realize this is a fairly common practice in many hotels, but I still don't really like it. On the other hand, the decor was funky, fun and even a touch risque with lots of sheer white drapes and an eclectic collection of furniture featuring a laced bustier-like chair with an hourglass figure and deep, tall, solid white booths tucked against the back wall.

Although there was somewhat of a strange delay before we ordered, it was smooth sailing after our first course arrived. John had selected the three-course lunch special and so started with a thick, rich gumbo with lots of ham and collard greens, which was new to both of us and absolutely delicious. I chose from the regular menu (and I am so glad I did) because I had to try the Louisiana Crab "small plate" that surprised me in both presentation and flavor. Arranged horizontally in layers were sweet chunks of crab meat, two boiled and halved quail eggs, sliced red potato, micro greens and hidden among each layer, there was drizzled what tasted like a creamy Remoulade. John was lucky to get a bite!

I almost forgot to tell you, probably because we gobbled them down so fast, but we also received a trio of mini-biscuits. Seeing as how I absolute loved the bread at Coquette, I had high hopes for some tasty creation at Sweet Olive and was not disappointed. We made quick work of two cream cheese biscuits, two cornbread muffins and two pimento cheese pinwheels as only we can, in a blur of crumbs and softened butter laced with Steen's Cane Syrup. 

Excuse me while get something to wipe the drool from my keyboard...

Okay! Back and ready to keep rolling! Our entrees were just as wonderful as everything we had thus far. I chose the Southern Picnic which turned out to be a wooden cutting board loaded with a pile of a creamy chicken salad, house made pickles, deviled eggs and a hefty scoop of pimento cheese served with these lovely, buttery cracker strips. I stole several bites of John's dish, a moist Duck Confit served with fennel and peeled orange slices, with his reluctant consent. 

Finally, I was just going to share John's dessert, a tasty Chocolate Pecan Tart with a bourbon Chantilly cream, but I opted for my own after taking a glance at the menu. I couldn't resist the Velvet Elvis, three scoops of ice cream - banana, peanut butter and bacon - surrounded by crunchy pieces of red velvet cake. Yeah....I'll be back.... 

Sweet Olive (The Saint Hotel) on Urbanspoon

Monday, April 2, 2012