Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Caffeine clip: Velvet Espresso Bar

Easily the best cup of coffee I'd tasted in a long time - a sinfully delicious cappuccino from Velvet Espresso Bar using a Stumptown blend called "Hairbender." Simply fabulous...

Friday, May 25, 2012

House of the week: Camelback on 2nd Street

Sorry for the slack, but I am back with a new "house of the week" to wow you and make me cry in the corner like a chastened little girl. This week's stunner is located in one of my favorite neighborhoods, the Garden District.

Right off Magazine on 2nd Street lies this beautiful camelback house hidden in the foliage. Build in 1887, this home features 4216 square feet of living space, three bedrooms, two and a half bathrooms, high ceilings, floor-to-ceiling windows and pocket doors. The property also includes a two-story guest house that has it's own, fabulous entryway.

The house is less than five blocks to St. Charles Avenue (a.k.a. parade route), only a couple of blocks away from Coquette or Stein's Deli and a short hike to Juan's Flying Burrito. It all could be mine. It's just a small matter of digging up $775,000.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Manning's sans sports

Admitting you're not a sports fan in New Orleans is akin to blasphemy, but there's really nothing I can do about it. Maybe it was the years growing up with my father who, firmly ensconced on the couch, would command silence when the game was on or the grating voices of the announcers rattling off plays every Saturday afternoon, drilling painfully into my brain even when faintly heard in my bedroom.

Regardless of the underlying traumatic cause, I just don't dig watching sports, so any place touting tons of flat-screened TVs (unless they're planning a Disney marathon) would likely only turn me off. Such was the case with recently opened Manning's.

When I first heard about it, all that really interested me was the knowledge that Chef Anthony Spizale was taking over the helm. After all, to me, it's really about the food.

Last week, John and I caught a cab downtown to the brand new, Fulton Street restaurant for lunch. It was later in the day, so there weren't a lot of people, but maybe it only seemed that way in relation to the gigantic dining room. It almost felt like Disney World or some mammoth Las Vegas resort and everything still had that "new car" smell. Unfortunately for John, I veered away from all the TVs and other distractions (I become invisible when there's a TV in the room) and chose a table on the patio.

We sat outside on that almost uncomfortably warm day, praising the umbrella's shade and sucking down ice cold drinks while we waited. First up, Cochon de Lait "Poutine" and a small, tasty bowl of Brisket Pulled Pork and Red Bean Chili. The mountainous pile of fries, pulled pork and cheese curds drizzled with pepper jelly sounded like an interesting twist on the original and, in all truth, I enjoyed the salty/sweet contrast in the first bite, but it didn't quite work for me on the second. The pork was delicious, as were the hand-cut fries and cheese, but I dreamt of it being smothered in a thick, white gravy made from pan drippings (excuse me while I drool on myself).

For his entree, John kept it simple with one of the lunch specials, an overstuffed fried shrimp po-boy, but I wanted something a little different. I opted for the Cast Iron Catfish, a huge, heavily seasoned filet lying atop a small pile of fried julienned vegetables in a pool of meunière. Although it was a touch salty, I still inhaled the whole dish, swabbing every last bite through the sauce.

For dessert, we slapped down a whopping $6.50 for the most expensive Hubig's Pie I'd ever eaten. A scoop of Kleinpeter vanilla ice cream topped a warm, apple Hubig's and was served with caramel sauce. Though the overall experience was pleasant, I couldn't help feeling like I was on vacation eating overpriced, local dishes in resort designed to mimic the feel of New Orleans...in New Orleans.

Manning's Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Great beginnings at Santa Fe Restaurant

Someone once told me that in order to taste the best a restaurant has to offer, you have to try the appetizers. These telltale "beginnings" often represent the true creativity lurking in the kitchen and hold the promise for a fabulous meal, but sometimes you might want it to be both a beginning and an end.

Last Sunday for Mother's Day, John and I took our good friend Dani (who is also a great mom) out to lunch at Santa Fe Restaurant. Well, we were expecting lunch, but when we arrived at 2PM, they were still serving brunch, and only brunch, instead of their usual menu. We decided to "go with the flow" and taste what was offered at this Southwestern-style restaurant for brunch.

While munching on some jalapeno cornbread muffins drizzled with honey, we selected two "salads" to share around as appetizers. If we had been aware of the size (and quality) we would have probably stopped there. First, there was their wonderful Santa Fe Ceviche with puppy drum, shrimp and calamari topped with a ton of sliced, fresh avocado and organic greens in a tangy lime and olive oil marinade. It was fabulous! The forks were flying, but it still took some time for this huge mound of ceviche to diminish, even under the strain of arduous eaters like us.

But that wasn't all...the other dish we shared was a Seared Tuna Tostada that was piled just as high as the ceviche, only loaded with strips of perfectly peppered and seared tuna, delectably-spiced black beans, shredded lettuce, creamy guacamole, corn relish, fresh pico de gallo, a gob of sour cream and pickled jalapenos all sitting on top of a crispy, corn tortilla. By the time we devoured both of these most excellent dishes, we really could have, and probably should have, stopped right there.

Unfortunately, I also decided to try my luck with a Santa Fe Seafood Omelet with shrimp, crawfish and cheddar and jack cheeses served with a roasted tomato Creole sauce. The resulting dish was nothing like I imagined, resembling a big, flat cheesy mess with tough bits of overcooked crawfish and shrimp as opposed to the fluffy, folded concoction it was meant to be. After the seafood splendor I had experienced with our two appetizers, I was really let down by such a dismal entree.

But, I was alone in my disappointment since my dining companions fared a lot better with their selections. John ordered the Steak & Eggs that featured a petite tenderloin filet topped with a wild mushroom poblano sauce and two, sunny-side eggs. The steak was tender and moist and the sauce had a rich, pepper flavor without a lot of heat. Dani's dish was (in my opinion) the best entree at the table. She chose the Roasted Pulled Pork Burrito that included roasted vegetable and potato hash, black beans and cheese. The meat was tender and well-spiced and the burrito was humongous, covering more than half of the large plate it was served upon.

Finally, for dessert we chose Chocolate Ganache Cake to share, though we were all stuffed to the gills and were unable to finish even half of our entrees. They brought out a huge slab of moist cake topped with fresh sliced strawberry and some of the best whipped cream I have ever tasted. Okay, so I fibbed a little...the end was pretty great, too.

*P.S. Sorry I was so late in posting this blog...everyone has funks now and then...right?

Santa Fe on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Definitely not snubbed at the High Hat Cafe

The first thought that poofed into my head upon hearing the name High Hat Cafe was "So, it's snobbish Southern food?' Was I being hastily judgemental? Did I "get out my conclusions mat" as my loving boyfriend loved to quote from that cult classic film, Office Space?

Last week, my friend Dani and I went to give High Hat a try. Street construction on Freret right in front of the restaurant made me wonder if they were open, but owner Chip Apperson was ready to greet us right as we walked up to the door. Tile floors, diner tables and high wooden booth seats made it feel like a classic neighborhood seafood joint, only before long use by adoring customers stickied the counter-tops and unstabilized tables.

Don't ask why, but while I was dutifully sucking down the city's water supply to avoid unnecessary sugar, Dani got to try some of the house made ginger ale which she deemed delicious. I will definitely need to return under more normal circumstances so I can taste their fresh lemonades and Abita Root Beer Floats.

Dani and I wanted the same entrees, but I had to pick out a couple of appetizers as well. We started with a rich and meaty Chicken Gumbo Ya-Ya that hid chunks of sausage and a small pile of rice. We gobbled most of it, but were also distracted by a plate of fat, juicy BBQ Shrimp swimming in a buttery sauce, my only complaint being that there wasn't nearly enough bread to enjoy it all.

Our catfish platters arrived while trying to keep Posie from eating the remaining shrimp heads. I found it strange that the difference between a "large" catfish plate and a "small" catfish plate was only one piece of catfish...don't you? I mean, shouldn't it at least be two or heck, even three more pieces? Go ahead and charge more, but if I'm going to order a large...

Regardless of my picky pet-peeves, the catfish plates, both large and small, were delicious. Thick fingers of catfish were fried perfectly in a cornmeal/corn flour coating, making them wonderfully crispy and clean, without any greasiness at all. Accompanying the catfish were several hush puppies that Dani said "tasted like they could have come out of her Grandma's kitchen", cool coleslaw and a pile of French fries. I switched out my fries for a taste of their chunky Sweet Potato Salad and was not disappointed.

We were both quite full and had to make a quick exit or suffer the wrath of a tired, unruly toddler. Reflecting on  lunch, I'd have to stand firm and say that my first supposition was correct. Everything was so clean compared to your average plate of Southern food, from the use of super-fresh ingredients to plating style. Plus, even with all the scrubbing and orderliness, the price was a bit high to pay for your average fried catfish adventure, especially quantity-wise. But (oh yes, there is a but) the food is damn good.

High Hat Cafe on Urbanspoon

Thursday, May 3, 2012

A late Sunday lunch at Lebanon's Cafe

You'd think that by now I would have hit almost every restaurant in my neighborhood, but there are, in fact, a few I have had yet to patronize for no other reason than I simply had not gotten around to it yet. Last Sunday, I was able to put another notch in my belt when John and I visited Lebanon's Cafe for lunch.

I can almost hear the anguished cries in my head and hunch my shoulders against the barrage of "What took you so long?!" Many, many, many folks have extolled the virtues of this South Carrollton Avenue eatery to me over the years, believe me, I know it's a popular spot. But, to be perfectly honest, the plethora of "Mediterranean" restaurants in New Orleans make choosing one like looking for hay in a hay stack. In the past, my go-to for this kind of cuisine has often been Babylon over on Maple Street, not only for proximity, but because they make their own bread. It was time to try something different...

The restaurant was packed when we walked in, but seating ourselves, we managed to score a good table by the window up front. Our waitress was friendly and efficient, whipping out our drink and appetizer order in no time flat. We started with some Indian, vegetarian samosas that had a well-seasoned filling of potatoes, peas, carrots and corn wrapped in crispy phyllo. They were served with a pomegranate dipping sauce that was spicy, sweet, sour and delicious! There were only three, but they went fast.

We also got a Spinach Pie which was a triangle wedge of house made dough stuffed with baby spinach, sauteed onions, sumac and lemon juice (For those who don't know, sumac is a lemony-flavored purple spice that just happened to be a staple in the Ranjbar household.) and served with a fat dollop of labna (yogurt & mint).

Not long after the appetizers, our entrees arrived. John ordered the combination kabob with chicken, beef and lamb that came with a huge smear of hummus, the ubiquitous lemon and olive oil floating in the center, and a house salad. The best bite on John's plate was a juicy hunk of ground lamb, that I'll just bet was mixed with shredded onion before grilling.

I also got the hummus and salad, but for my "main meat" I opted for my absolute favorite dish growing up, stuffed grape leaves. I can't tell you how many times I was sent out into the backyard where my father (and his green thumb) had a small grape vine grown specifically for the purpose of having fresh grape leaves. The dolma at Lebanon's were a wetter version stuffed with ground beef and rice and then simmered in a light, tomato-based broth. Although they were quite different from what I grew up on, the dolma were still tasty, especially with another creamy helping of labna.

You know I couldn't leave without trying dessert. Even though Lebanon's do not make their sweets in-house, I thought they were all wonderful...you just can't deny good baklava. I was craving a cup of (berry-licious) Persian tea to accompany the dessert, but it didn't stop me from gobbling down those crispy phyllo and pistachio concoctions drenched in rose water syrup.

Lebanon's Café on Urbanspoon