Monday, December 30, 2013

House of the week: Creole cottage on Dauphine Street

While I've been biting the bullet and concentrating seriously on a potential future abode, sometimes I accidentally come across a property that I simply can't help getting randy over. I mean, some homes are just so sexy, so alluring, that they can seduce with seemingly-innocent words like "guest house" and "courtyard." This just happened to be one of those times...

Located smack in the middle of the French Quarter, this Creole cottage looks harmless enough from the street, but inside it's a whole other world. Built c. 1825, this house boasts high ceilings, hardwood floors, French doors, a huge courtyard and garden, an in-ground swimming pool, a three-bedroom guest house, an elevator, a kitchen featuring custom-built cypress-wood cabinets and working fireplaces (if you know the fiery history of the French Quarter, then you'll know how rare it is to have working fireplaces).

Although some of the decor is tacky, I've never been a fan of floral wallpaper and fabric shower curtains, the house is a stunning example of the gorgeous properties to be had right inside the Vieux Carre. Yes, I admit it's only a block from raucous Bourbon Street, but I bet you three million dollars, when you are inside that courtyard, it's like you're in another world.

Listed for only $2,995,000, this awesome house will probably be snapped up by some wealthy CEO or movie star. Still, I can't help wishing it was me....

Thursday, December 19, 2013

But, we practiced!

A couple of months ago, John and I were invited to a Speakeasy Dinner at Arnaud's. Neither of us were sure about going, I mean, would we have to learn a secret knock? Would we have to dress in 20's attire? Do we have to stay "in-character," like a prohibition-esque LARP game? Do I have to learn the Charleston? To our relief, the only requirement listed was knowing the, we practiced.

Instead of heading to the century-old restaurant on Bienville Street in the French Quarter, we were instructed to enter at few doors down at The Creole Cottage, a dining room I'd never been in before. Arnaud's took an early 19th century cottage and transformed it into an elegant, yet intimate dining room, perfect for parties...just like this one. We stepped out of the cab and approached the French doors, a doorman with a clipboard asked for my name and after checking us off of his list, opened the door. 

"Don't we have to knock?" I asked. "We practiced!" He chuckled and told us we could if we wanted to, but by that time we were being greeted by another server inside. We were drawn into the elegant room, smiling faces were reflected in gilded mirrors and elaborate patterns of light and shadow rained overhead from the gorgeous glass (or crystal?) chandeliers. Although it was a "speakeasy" dinner, the only cocktail we had that night was a deliciously strong concoction served in ceramic coffee cup and then wine pairings during the of the meal.

The dinner was five courses of classic Creole dishes, my absolute favorites were at the beginning and the very end.  I politely inhaled the first course, a creamy, Crabmeat Ravigote with fresh, local lump crabmeat tossed in a house Creole mustard, mayo and capers. After all the wine (they refilled our glasses if we drank faster than we ate), I am pretty sure I recall clapping my hands in glee when they set the dessert before us, a personal Baked Alaska with peppermint and French vanilla ice cream served with chocolate sauce and a golden, meringue butterfly on top. But, and no offense meant towards the chefs, this dinner really wasn't about the food...

Likely one of the most singular, most recognizable characteristics of this town is its ability to party. People in New Orleans really do love to "go all out" and they aren't the ones you see reeling in a stupor on Bourbon Street. Well, to be fair, most of the drunks on Bourbon aren't local. The really great parties in this city are the ones where folks spend hours and hours, lounging in a dining room, crossing tables to chat to friends, drinking and eating to your heart's content. A New Orleans party, a great one, always seem evoke a 20's-style feeling where people really talk and get to know one another and conversations have their own rhythms that float with the music and the cuisine and the wine, and time doesn't seem to be moving or standing still, it just is...that's what this night was about. Plus, the people at our table were so cool, everyone laughed and talked to everyone... all evening...all eight of us. It was a blast. My only complaint was that we all had to finally get up and go home...oh...and I didn't get to do the secret knock.

I practiced!

Arnaud's Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Monday, December 9, 2013

House of the week: Double shotgun on Annunciation Street

Ever since I moved here, I've dreamed of living in and/or owning a double shotgun house. Why a double? I knew that it could be a good investment, the tenant would be paying the majority of my mortgage and well, they just look cool. Plus, I've seen owners remodel their doubles into singles and the results are most often stunning. I am thinking in particular of one house my friend Shalom used to live in that the Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans transformed in the Holy Cross. It was gorgeous! There were four bedrooms, two bathrooms, a huge kitchen, laundry room and family room plus a massive backyard. I think they paid around $110,000 and even after Katrina, this lovely house is still standing. The new owners added wrought iron railing around the front porch and steps, too.

So, since I am now more seriously considering buying a home, I can't help but eye the doubles even though the price might be twice what I can afford. For example, I found this awesome Victorian shotgun double on Annunciation Street and simply fell in love. Each side is decorated a bit differently (especially the kitchens), but each unit had two bedrooms and one bathroom, original hardwood floors, high ceilings, exposed brick fireplaces, transoms, claw foot tubs, floor-to-ceiling windows and even a nice, big backyard with a pagoda in the corner. This house is so damn cute and so perfect for me, it hurts! It's only three blocks from Magazine Street and restaurants like Lilette and Baru Bistro & Tapas, and only 7 blocks from the parade route and Tipitina's! It's listed at a mere $320,000 and with a 5% down payment, it would set us back about $1600 per month and more than half of that would be covered by a tenant. What do you think? Would you take the risk?

Friday, December 6, 2013

Atchafalaya: Self-fulfilling prophecy?

“Dare to believe in the reality of your assumption and watch the world play its part relative to to its fulfillment.”  -Neville Goddard

Over five years ago, John and I had planned a fun night out, dinner reservations at Cafe Atchafalaya and tickets to see Big Sam's Funky Nation at Tipitina's afterwards. Unfortunately, the night didn't progress as well as we planned. We ate dinner, strolled over to Tips and within minutes after Big Sam started his first number, I was in the bathroom sweating profusely and praying to God that I wouldn't need to ralph in the bar's well-used toilet. Thankfully, I managed to hold everything back till John drove me home, periodically pulling over to the sidewalk when my face turned a peculiar shade of green.

Now, I am not saying that I got sick from the food I ate at what was then called Cafe Atchafalaya. Who knows? I could have eaten something foul earlier that day, caught a stomach bug, or hell, accidentally ate a bug on the walk to Tips, but whatever happened, I have not been able to separate my experience with dining at the cafe and could never bring myself to return.

Well, "never say never" right? Here it is, more than five years after the fact and everything has changed. Cafe Atchafalaya was now simply Atchafalaya, the chef had changed several times and now it was Christopher Lynch (former chef de cuisine at Emeril's Restaurant) and I had changed, as I was willing to give the restaurant, so tainted in my eyes, another try. John, on the other hand, was not willing to risk it and stayed home while Anne and I braved Atchafalaya for Sunday brunch. It was a whole new experience. I thought to myself, "What could go wrong?"

It seems quite a lot.

After we were seated, Anne and I asked the server for more time to peruse the menu before making a decision, but in the meantime, I ordered coffee and Anne made her own Bloody Mary from the DIY Bloody Mary bar. And then we waited...and waited a bit more until we finally were able to flag down the server and place our order. I also had to remind him that I had not yet received my coffee, to which he apologized profusely and ran off to procure. When I did get the coffee, it was poured out of a carafe lukewarm, but seeing as I just need some caffeine, I drank it. At least it was a good French Truck blend, the flavor was outstanding.

To my surprise, our entrees came out in a flash. Anne ordered Eggs Treme which consisted of poached eggs sitting atop boudin "cakes" and smothered in hollandaise and popcorn crawfish. The flavor was wonderful and the sauce was creamy, although I thought the fried crawfish kind of tasted like Corn Pops cereal. I chose the Duck Hash with duck confit, blackberries, mangoes, poached eggs, hollandaise and bacon vinaigrette. I really enjoyed the sweet, fruity flavor against the rich duck, but the whole dish (aside from the eggs and sauce) was rather greasy. I also ordered a side of their house made breakfast sausage patty, but after one bite, I noticed it was still rather pink inside. I have no aversion to pinkish, double thick pork chops, but pink ground pork is a different story.

Finally, we finished off breakfast with a sweet treat of Atchafalaya's Vanilla Chai Tea Crème Brûlée. The custard itself turned out to be delicious, that creamy, eggy goodness with a hint of earthy chai knocked my socks off. It's too bad the crust wasn't the same. Whomever prepared the custard just sprinkled on coarse sugar crystals and made a half-hearted attempt at "burning" the top. Instead of a perfect, caramelized shell, we just had some browned crystals.

As Anne and I were headed home, I started to feel rather warm and a nauseous feeling overwhelmed me. Was I getting sick or had I simply convinced myself I would? Fortunately, I will never know because I am certainly not brave enough to try again.

Atchafalaya on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 22, 2013

Breaking away at Booty's Street Food

Have you ever had one of those nights where everything seemed to go wrong, but somehow ended up being quite all right? A couple of months ago, this exact thing happened to my friend Anne and I. We were all ready to attend a certain free event in the French Quarter and since we were planning on drinking, we decided to take a cab from my apartment. We called for a cab a half hour before the event was to start (6pm) and an hour later, there still was no black & white vehicle outside honking the horn. Grumbling about the unreliability of taxi cabs, Anne and I decided to just get in her car and drive to the Quarter.

Unfortunately, and perhaps unwisely, we were hoping for the best when it came to parking and were naturally disappointed. We drove around relentlessly, trying to find a decent spot, or even a pay garage nearby the event, but all to no avail. By this time, we were very late for the event which was quite close to being completely over.

Frustrated, parched, hungry and dressed up with no where to go -we decided to make a night of it anyhow and headed through the Marigny and into the Bywater to try a restaurant/bar we'd been talking about visiting for some time...Booty's Street Food.

After the bustle of the Quarter, it was odd to drive up to the restaurant and find a parking place right out front on Dauphine Street. We strolled into the mostly empty bar and were told to seat ourselves. (*Warning, the chairs in Booty's are totally awful and uncomfortable for my big booty, so if you're even slightly larger than the average waif, I'd suggest sitting on the bench side of the table.) Our server was all smiles and totally accommodating, especially when she realized we'd likely be sampling one of every item on the menu...not to mention a few drinks.

Since this was an unexpected visit, I didn't bring my camera and had to rely on my crappy iPhone for pics, but while the light lasted, they didn't turn out half bad. We started out with a couple of cocktails, a Cottontail for Anne with vodka, ginger, elderflower, smoked velvet cream soda and lemon, and I had a Joyride with aged rum, house orgeat, cherry bitters, cava and lemon. I enjoyed the flavor of both drinks, but Anne definitely liked her Cottontail better, so much so that she wanted another one, though I encouraged her to try something different later on.

Booty's concept is based on international street food and Anne and I wanted to take the world tour, so we started in Peru with their Ceviche de Coco made with local puppy drum, lime, onion, habanero, cilantro and (my favorite part) coconut milk. The fish was topped with "ensalada de aguacate," basically an avocado salad, and together it made harmonious music in my mouth. I adore ceviche and this is one of the better ones I've tasted...ever...something about the sweet, heat and tang all rolled together and topped off by the creamy avocado. Yum. Yes, I am drooling on my keyboard again.

Next, we traveled east to Puerto Rico for Yuca Mofongo. Although mofongo is traditionally made with plantains (something we are not short on here in New Orleans), Booty's yuca version was just as delicious. Essentially, it was a large, bell-shaped fritter, crispy on the outside and tender on the inside, and stuffed with roast pork. It was also served with their aji panca aioli (a dark red, mild pepper with an almost fruity taste) that our server really talked up for our next dish...

We crossed the Atlantic and landed in Belgium for some French fries served with our choice of two, house made sauces. Anne and I opted for the aji panca aioli and roasted garlic mayo. The sauces were quite tasty and the perfect munchable companions with our cocktails. It seemed a little off that the fries were the standard frozen variety. Don't get me wrong, I am not one to scoff at any kind of fries, I just found it strange in a world where hand-cut seems to have become the norm.

After that, we headed back just a little northwest for some Fish 'N' Chips in England. Booty's beer-battered and fried a local whitefish and served it with some more fries (we overloaded on fries), a house tartar sauce and curry ketchup. The fish was nice and crispy, but I wouldn't have minded a bit of malt vinegar.

By this point, the journey begins to get a little blurry, not because we were drunk (it takes much more than two cocktails to floor me), but because the last three dishes were pretty disappointing. We went to Poland for a pierogi that was only so-so. That could be because this Polish dumpling stuffed with potatoes and cheese is rather bland compared to almost everything we ate before it. Perhaps if we tried it first next time? Anyhow, the follow up in South Korea, a kimchi pancake with pork belly hash would have been fabulous if not for the super-sweet, hoisin-like sauce that smothered everything beyond palatable recognition. To top it all off the dessert, the course I look forward to most, was a major letdown. We flew over to Vietnam for the Banana Sago Cream, a creamy custard with tapioca pearls. Sounds good, doesn't it? Well, it would have been wonderful if the pearls had thawed completely. Yep...they were still frozen.

Good thing I only want to remember the first half of the night, because I'd like to devour the other half of Booty's menu the next time I go. Wish me luck!

Booty's Street Food on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Review: The Southern Po' Boy Cookbook

Before I moved to New Orleans, I had never even heard of a po' boy. There were sandwiches, hoagies, subs, clubs and heroes...but no po' boy. My first po' boy was devoured at a restaurant on Bourbon Street whose name I unfortunately cannot recall. It was my first day in New Orleans and we had been strolling around the French Quarter for a while when we passed an open restaurant on Bourbon and the heady aroma of fried seafood made us realize how hungry we were.

I don't remember what anyone else ordered, but I got a 12 inch Fried Oyster Po' Boy fully dressed and a huge plate of French fries. I devoured almost all of it before I couldn't breathe anymore and went back to our hotel room to change for the night, but I passed out from a severe case of "food coma" because I had never eaten so much fried food in my entire life. For those of you who have never enjoyed the plethora of fried pleasures that can be had in our town, believe me when I tell you to take it slow your first time out. Not even a bucket of fried chicken from KFC will prepare you for the hurt you can experience from a ton of fried oysters on French bread with mayo...not that I'm complaining. I've had many a po' boy since.

Anyhow, all that reminiscing brings me to Todd Micheal St. Pierre's latest, The Southern Po' Boy Cookbook: Mouthwatering Sandwich Recipes from the Heart of New Orleans. This cookbook is filled with a multitude of po' boy recipes, along with gorgeous photos, colorful artwork by local painter Dianne Parks, and of course, Todd's well-written stories and poems. I adore the creative chapter titles like "International Affairs," "The Unusual Boys" and "Boy Oh Boy: If It Swims, Cook It!". Even the fun names for individual po' boys are a hoot like "The Gert Town" which is a pork tenderloin po' boy with Remoulade sauce and "The Who Dat" (Geaux Saints!) which has New Orleans-style BBQ Shrimp. My favorite part, though, was that Todd starts the whole book off with the key ingredient of any po' boy worth its salt, a recipe for "Baby, I Knead You! Homemade Po' Boy Bread."

Considering I am a food writer, I've eaten a majority of the po' boys featured in this book, from "The Kenner," a ham and Swiss to "The Snug Harbor" with fried green tomatoes and shrimp remoulade. But there were a few I'd never seen before that set my mouth to watering as I read on. For example, I'd love to sink my teeth into "The Pacific Northwest" with baked salmon and wasabi mayo or "The French Canadian," a poutine po' boy with French fries and cheese curds.

I think The Southern Po' Boy Cookbook is easily the sexiest, most visually stunning of all Todd Micheal St. Pierre's cookbooks. But, there was just one thing about it that didn't make sense to me. For people who don't live in the Greater New Orleans Area, this cookbook is a valuable jewel, one that can transport you to my beloved city with some fresh, juicy shrimp and a ton of butter. But me? I am lucky enough to live here in this wonderfully unique town and if I want a po' boy, I can walk around the corner and get one anytime I want. Sorry Todd! You know I love ya, but you also know anyone who lives in this town is already spoiled rotten when it comes to po' boy access.

Speaking of around the corner, this Sunday, November 24th, Oak Street will be hosting its annual Po-Boy Festival where restaurants all over the city will offer some of the most unique, tongue-tingling, stomach-satisfying po' boys ever and I couldn't be more excited. Plus, Todd Micheal St. Pierre will be signing copies of The Southern Po' Boy Cookbook from 2-3pm in front of Blue Cypress Books at the fest! See ya there!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

House of the week: Shotgun on Urquhart Street

My dad would rather pay for something useful, as opposed to something frivolous, so instead of a wedding, I'm getting enough for a down payment on a house and to be perfectly honest, I'm as happy as a clam. But, being this close to my lifelong dream of owning a home has made me one tough customer. When I was browsing through house listings before, I could afford to be whimsical and extravagant because I was just window shopping. But now that this could easily become a reality, I have become quite discriminating and want the best for my dollar.

I don't plan on raising a family (kids and me just don't mix), so I don't have to worry about things like being in an "ultra-safe" neighborhood (whatever that means) or close proximity to a good school. What I would like is to be located closer to downtown where I can more thoroughly enjoy the oldest part of the city, the French Quarter. I also would like to have enough room to comfortably house guests who might want to visit.

Although the sale is pending and I'll likely miss out on the opportunity, this pretty cool and affordable house on Urquhart Street is quite close to what I'm seeking. Previous owners have made some ugly changes to this historic property, but I'm guessing a lot of elbow grease and some extra cash could restore this awesome "side porch" shotgun to it's former glory. I'm actually dying to see what's under those vinyl floors and how the house would look with a proper, wrought-iron gate. Plus, I would love to rip out the drywall that changed those transom doorways into octagonal arches from hell and see how the place looks without so much stuff. I'm something of a minimalist when it comes to furniture and the closest I come to knick knacks are lots and lots of books.

The only worry I have, at least from what little I can discern from the listing, is that the house is in a rather sketchy location. It's only 5 blocks from the Quarter and I know the neighborhood is changing, I've seen it transform drastically over the past ten years, but it still leaves a lot to be desired. That's probably why this three bedroom and two bathroom shotgun is listed for a mere $80,000. Oh well, though this 75-year old treasure would be a lot of fun to restore, I guess I'll have to keep looking.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Road trip to Ristorante del Porto

Traveling the country behind the wheel of a car is practically written into my DNA. Ever since I was a little thing, my father and mother have taken my siblings and I out on the road. For family vacations, we would visit my mom's relative in Ukiah and Salt Lake City Utah, not to mention yearly trips to Lake Tahoe and Disneyland. Believe it or not, eating at Denny's, even in my home town, was special because it reminded me of stopping in at Denny's all over California, Nevada and Utah while on the road.

While I realize a short 45 minute drive is not exactly a lengthy road trip, I still felt that tingling nostalgia when Anne and I crossed Lake Pontchartrain to spend the day on the Northshore. We intended to go shopping at The Bra Genie to find the proper equipment to strap down my unwieldy mammaries, but we decided to make a day of it, visiting friends and trying out a new restaurant (new for us, that is) for lunch.

Before I go any further, is it Ristorante del Porto or Del Porto Ristorante? If someone could clear that up for me, I'd really appreciate it! Regardless of the name, Anne, Candy and I enjoyed lunch at...well...the restaurant on the corner of E. Boston and N. New Hampshire Street in downtown Covington.

We got there right around noon and scored a corner table next to a window. I have to say up front that none of us were dressed up, certainly not anything like the groups of "uptown" ladies who came in after we arrived, but that didn't deter the hostess and waitstaff from treating us like the awesome people we were, making us all breathe an audible sigh of relief. After all, there's nothing worse than a snooty waiter when all you want to do is enjoy good food. Am I right?

We ordered several appetizers to share, starting with the stunningly delicious Wagyu Beef Carpaccio drizzled with truffled creme fraiche, shaved Parmigiano Reggiano and a small pile of arugula. This was so good that we could have easily devoured our own plate, perhaps even two. We also shared the warm, house made mozzarella with tomato confit, toasted pine nuts, fresh basil and anchovy. Candy was a bit trepidatious about the anchovy at first, but she quickly discovered how wonderful it tasted and we all made quick work of the cheesy dip.

I also ordered a bowl of their butternut squash soup with pork belly (oh my!), but unfortunately they ran out and offered their lentil soup instead. It was rich, earthy and quite hearty, but I still had to suppress a pang for the missed squash.

For our entrees, Candy had the Maple-Glazed Pork Loin with caramelized onions, baby spinach and garlic aioli on ciabatta bread. I got to taste a bit of the pork and while a tad dry, the flavor was that tempting combination of salty and sweet. Anne got a light shrimp and house made pasta dish with chopped tomatoes and fresh basil that gave a licorice flavor to the delicate curls of pasta and buttery shrimp. I ordered the pan-fried flounder with butter-laden sweet potatoes and steamed spinach. Needless to say, I inhaled every bite even though I was full beyond bursting. you well know...we couldn't possibly leave without dessert! Anne and Candy decided to share a Chocolate & Banana Bread Pudding and while I like bread pudding (especially chocolate), I had my sights set on an affogato, something I'd never enjoyed before. Technically a beverage, this particular affogato was three scoops of caramel gelato (house made of course) topped table-side by a shot of hot espresso. Let me just say that I absolutely loved it and believe there is no better way to drink a shot of espresso...or at least not that I have yet encountered. Being car-less, I can't help but wish that there was a Del Porto Ristorante or Ristorante del Porto on this side of the lake, call it what they will!

Ristorante del Porto on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Caffeine clip: It's everywhere...

Not that I'm complaining, but French Truck Coffee is popping up all over the place! This creamy cup of coffee goodness was had at Atchafalaya. Just looking at it reminds me of its wondrous aroma and flavor. Waiter?

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Oodles of food at Noodle & Pie

I always miss the good stuff. For example, I used to frequent the Circle Bar almost daily and every time I would come in, the bartender would inevitably announce that I just missed some celebrity. "You just missed James Gandolfini!" or "Sean Penn was here less than an hour ago!" or my favorite "Where the hell were you? You will not believe this but Hunter S. Thompson was sitting at the bar." I can't tell you the number of times I have caught people oohing and ahhing over something that just happens to disappear as soon as I look. "Oh! You just missed it!" Being a day late and a dollar short, as they say, should be my motto. The same thing happened when Noodle & Pie was popping up at Coulis on Prytania. Just when I was able to get down there and experience the grub, it disappeared.

Luckily for me, Noodle & Pie found permanent digs and shortly after it opened, John and I headed over to try out the fabled deliciousness that I had heard so much about. We showed up on the corner of State and Magazine Street shortly after the restaurant opened, only to find that several other folks were as anxious as I to get a taste. There were already four tables filled when we walked in, but we were still able to score a two-top near a window, so we could shoot some decent food porn.

I admit, my anxiousness (and hunger) caused me to order at least a fourth of the menu, starting with a slew of small plates and a couple of house-made "shrub" sodas. I chose the Thai-Chili Watermelon and John opted for the Beet special. Shrubs are basically fruit and herb-infused drinking vinegars and soda. Although I liked both, I enjoyed John's more as it wasn't quite as tart. 

The appetizers started pouring out of the open kitchen, starting with King Oyster Mushrooms with pink peppercorn and garlic. As delicious as each skewered morsel may have been, we were kind of shocked to pay a whopping $5 for what couldn't have been more than half of one mushroom. The following dish was equally shocking, a Chilled Duck Breast with basil, shiso leaf (almost like parsley or mint), peach jam and mizuna (mustard green). It was a wonderful dish and we ate every bite, even down to getting all the jam with our fingers, but there was hardly anything there...three or four bites tops. Maybe I am a fat American who expects larger portion sizes or maybe, just maybe, that was not $7 worth of duck. Or it could be a little bit of both? 

Still rather ravenous, we were pleased to see that the next dish was a large plate filled with Shrimp Cracker Fries and a Sriracha aioli dipping sauce. We dove into it with abandon. The fries were crisp, salty and neither of us could get enough of the aioli. We munched on these throughout the course of the evening and it seemed the plate would never empty. 

The next dish was a Thai Spicy Green Papaya Salad that was far spicier than we anticipated, but we both love the heat, so that's okay. It was loaded with crab claw meat piled atop green beans, peanuts, crunchy sticks of papaya, fresh tomato and drizzled with fish sauce. As we were gobbling the salad, the finest dish of the evening (both John and I agree) arrived, a Claypot Pork Belly with rice and salt-cured duck egg yolk. So mouthwatering, so scrumptious and decadent was this dish that I recommended it to the couple who sat down next to us mid-meal, much to John's embarrassment. 

At last the ramen arrived.  John got the special of the day, a Crab Noodle Bowl with a seafood broth, a ton of crab claw meat, mushrooms, nori, fish cake, green onions, a soft boiled egg and hand-rolled, wheat ramen noodles. I chose the "House Bowl" with smoked hen broth, slow-cooked pork shoulder, soft boiled egg, shredded nori, mushroom, fish cake and noodles. Both were quite tasty, but I think John preferred my bowl because his chopsticks kept creeping over and stealing pieces of pork. 

You can't go to Noodle & Pie without ordering pie, and you know I can't go out to eat without ordering dessert, so we selected  a slice of S'More Pie with graham cracker crust, chocolate chunks and marshmallow whipped cream on top. It was a fabulous pie, even though I really wanted to try the mythical Honey & Pine Nut Pie so many folks had told me about. Oh well, I guess I have to go back! 

Noodle & Pie on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 7, 2013

House of the week: Shotgun on Coliseum Street

"If only I could have bought a house ten years ago." This thought keeps running through my brain, especially when I see houses like this one. Located near the corner of Dufossat and Coliseum, this single, shotgun "cottage" is so beautiful and so quaint (only a bit more than 1300 square feet), yet it's listed at staggering California prices. The house features hardwood floors, high ceilings, exposed brick walls, a claw foot tub, antique bead board wainscoting in the hall, plus a cute little porch and bricked courtyard out back. Another great feature of this home is the location, only two blocks from some of the best spots on Prytania Street including St. James Cheese Co., Creole Creamery, Manhattan Jack, La Crepe Nanou and Upperline.

I love, love, love this house but for $470,000, I'll have to look elsewhere...

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The answer at Herbsaint

A little over a month ago, I celebrated my birthday again at Herbsaint. As dorky as it may sound, I was looking forward to my 42nd because for a whole year, I would be the "Answer to The Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything." You see, I had this little pipe dream wherein during this auspicious year, I would find the answer. Perhaps not the answer to everyone's "Life, Universe and Everything"...but maybe, at least mine? A positive self-fulfilling prophecy? We'll shall see...

To be perfectly honest, I've been feeling a little lost lately, like I've been settling into yet another predictable pattern and I need something to shake it up, something to shake me up. But very recently, over the past month, I feel like I am glimpsing bits of possible futures, paths to embark upon if only I'll just take that next step forward and I was reminded of one of those possibilities during my birthday lunch at Herbsaint.  

Instead of our usual table near the bar, John and I chose to sit outside. We ordered a couple of drinks and tried to narrow down our choices to a reasonably-sized lunch, but we still ended up with our own appetizer. John chose the Louisiana shrimp and fish ceviche with cucumbers, fresh tomatoes and crunchy pepitas (pumpkin seeds). It was served in a clay-colored ceramic dish and the morsels were tart, light and far too easy to scoop into your mouth. I picked something equally wonderful (like that's difficult at Herbsaint), smoked salmon with crisp green beans in a creamy sauce gribiche.

For his entree, John really wanted the grilled tuna sandwich on olive bread and he sighed audibly when our server said they were all out. He settled for the cold roast beef on foccacia with horseradish aioli. The roast beef was rare and his sandwich was scrumptious, but I could tell he was still yearning for the grilled tuna. I ordered the crispy goat with curried lentils, cucumber and tomatoes. I was expecting an Indian-flavored dish but from the first bite, I felt like I was tasting home. It was like the chef had raided my childhood memories of Persian and Turkish food and combined it into this dish. Instead of having each ingredient separate like they do with Persian kebab (rice, grilled meat, onion & cucumber yogurt salad), everything was mixed together in perfect proportions.

The reason this dish touched my soul was two-fold. Not only did it remind me of home, but it triggered in me an increased desire to tell my story ... a story I've been tossing about in my brain for sometime. A story about growing up with an odd mix of Southern values, Persian mysteries and American ideologies, and how food played such a major role good and not-so-good ways. I think it would be highly therapeutic, if nothing else, and I finally feel ready to try. Letting the flavors of my youth roll over my tongue at Herbsaint felt like a beginning....and an end.

Well, there was certainly an end to our lunch, and a typically divine one at that. A sudden thunderstorm broke and we endured a few sprinkles while devouring dessert (thank you Rhonda!), a Duck Egg Crème Brulee with Pecan Lace cookies. The sugar crust was perfect, a hard tap of my spoon breaking through to a thick, smooth custard. We enjoyed dipping the crunchy pecan cookies into cups of freshly brewed French Truck coffee while watching the streetcars rumble by.

I realize that neither Douglas Adams nor lunch at Herbsaint Restaurant necessarily hold the secrets of life, but they both make my life feel more fabulous and there ain't nothing wrong with that.

Herbsaint Bar & Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Monday, September 30, 2013

A question of need: Zyliss EasiCan Electric Can Opener

Remember how I said I don't do product reviews? Yeah, well. I needed a can opener.

Not to whine about what's lost, but I used to have strong hands. I had no difficulty opening jars or beer bottles, and I gave a righteous shoulder massage, just ask anyone in my family or my old bunch of friends back in the Bay Area. Unfortunately, typing excessively over the past twenty years has made my hands and wrists unusually weak. I have found workarounds for difficulties like opening jars (thank you rubber grip!), and beer bottles (thank you shirt!), but I still have trouble using a damn can opener.

Ever since the mid-70s, I have used a manual can opener. My mom had an old General Electric can opener for a brief period, but the only person in the house that had the patience to get it to work properly was my dad and we couldn't mount him under the cupboard. Suffice it to say, I have never used an electric can opener (correctly) until now.

When the representative from Zerliss emailed asking if I would review their EasiCan Electric Can Opener, I had just finished failing to open two cans of black beans. John opened them properly after much teasing of yours truly. Naturally, I said yes I would do the review, especially after realizing that I would get the can opener and another product of my choosing for free. As my buddy Shalom always says "If it's free, it's for me!"

I got both the EasiCan Electric Can Opener and "door prize" in the mail a couple of days ago and its arrival was timed so perfectly, that I have used the opener quite a few times since then. Since reviewing products really isn't my strong point, I thought it would be simpler to list likes and don't likes.

  1. The can pretty much opens by itself.
Don't likes
  1. I have to babysit the can opener while it's opening or the whole thing will flip off spraying contents on the can lid everywhere (picture red enchilada sauce in a white kitchen). You also have to stop it in time or it will leave sharp edges, unlike the infomercial's claims.
  2. If you don't rip off the label on the can, there are little shreds of label paper left on the counter.
  3. Draining becomes more difficult, and you can forget actions like squeezing water out of tuna. It's impossible because this can opener cuts off the whole lid, not just the inner circle.
  4. It's bit pricey at $20.00. We'll see how long it lasts.. 

So how would you grade it? It seems like it weighs out pretty evenly considering there is literally no effort expended on your part to actually open the can. If I graded it like a paper, I'd probably give it a B.

Although I'm a bit sad about the can opener, I'm sure I'll use it until it stops working or I do, whichever comes first. Plus, the door prize was totally awesome, I love my new Coated Santoku 7-inch Knife and not only because it's purple.

Friday, September 20, 2013

House of the week: Creole cottage on Burgundy Street

The first apartment I looked at when I was planning my move to New Orleans was on Burgundy Street in the French Quarter. Local realtor Maurice Guillot met my mother and I in front of the "garçonnière" we wanted to look at and took no time correcting our pronunciations. "Baby, if you're going to live down here, you've got to say 'bur-GUN-dee.'" Now, 10 years later, I've been saying it that way for so long, I forgot how I said it before. Anyhow, there's a new Creole cottage for sale on Burgundy (bur-GUN-dee) Street that I certainly can't afford now, nor could I afford it them...but I sure wish I could.

This gorgeous 1830's cottage may not look like much from the front, but it's a three bedroom, two and a half bath beauty with about 2700 square feet of living space. The house features a gourmet kitchen, 18th century chandeliers, high ceilings, hardwood floors and even has the original ceiling medallions and fireplace mantles intact. In the back, a spacious brick courtyard separates the main house from the slave quarters which have been remodeled into a two story guest house with its very own kitchen.

Other than being located in the historic French Quarter, this gorgeous house is less than a block from the Cabrini Playground, an officially unofficial dog park that Pippin (my sweet shih-tzu) absolutely loves. Only wish I could swing the asking price of $1,595,000.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Lunch theater at Peche Seafood Grill

Ever since it opened a few months back, I'd been dying to go to Peche.  As you all know, I am a huge fan of anything connected to Donald Link and Stephen Stryjewski because it seems that everything they touch turns to gold. And I'm not talking gold as in buckets of cash, although they are hugely successful. I am talking gold as in the perfect crust on a pan-fried eggplant round topped with a pile of sweet, jumbo lump crab meat, gilded Louisiana shrimp resting on a honey-colored bed of cream corn or crisply browned potato hash served with succulent pork cheeks, crumbled feta and fresh mint. You know...that kind of gold.

About a month ago, John and I visited the Warehouse District eatery, and when we walked in for a very late lunch that fateful day, Peche still had that new restaurant smell. Since it was so late in the afternoon, but not quite dinner, we had almost the whole restaurant to ourselves aside from a few folks at the bar. I absolutely loved the "distressed" decor which reminded me of seafood joints I've frequented all down the coast of California. You almost expect to look out of the window to see a stretch of the shoreline and pounding waves rather than a busy Magazine Street intersection.

Although it was hard to pick only two, John and I started out with the Crab & Artichoke Fritters and Royal Red Shrimp with garlic butter. When the plate of fritters was set before us, John and I glanced at each other with raised eyebrows. I mean, four rather small fritters with a mini-veggie salsa for $9? Really? I sighed and thought to myself, "These better be the best damn fritters I've ever eaten."

You know what? They were...

Instead of being overloaded with breadcrumb fillers, these little beauties were mostly lumps of creamy crab meat which spilled out onto your tongue after breaking through the thin, crispy crust. They were fritters like I've never had, but always wanted. After that, we just trusted that everything we would eat that afternoon would be splendid, no more doubts, despite uncontrollable cringes at the price. The shrimp were perfectly cooked, huge and juicy, and instead of fighting over shrimp #5, we shared the buttery goodness, happily sucking it from our fingertips.

When the server came over and saw us licking our fingers, he laughed a bit and came back with a small bowl of warm water, a couple of "towel pills" and some lemon wedges. Even though I'd never seen them in a restaurant before, I knew exactly what to do and John watched while I squeezed some lemon into the water, dropped in the "pill" and voila! I think we need to get out more often because this little intermission offered more entertainment I thought could possibly be had from simply cleaning our hands and faces.

The lights should have lowered and the drums rolled because we were ready for a round of applause when our main course arrived. John and I decided to share a whole grilled striped bass ($45...OUCH!) and share it we did. He dug into one end while I attacked the other and we cleaned that wondrous creature from head to tail. If I could have, I would have picked the whole thing up and devoured it myself, like a cartoon cat dipping it into my mouth and pulling out the bones with nothing left but a large grin on my face. I am sure John wanted his own, as well. Next time, perhaps, if we can scrape up enough dough.

After all that mouth-watering deliciousness, I insisted on dessert, especially knowing that one of my favorite pasty chefs, Rhonda Ruckman, created the menu. It's always difficult to choose just one of her amazing desserts, but we finally settled on a Pistachio-Crusted Blueberry Tart served with Atchafalaya Honey Chantilly (whipped cream) on top and drizzled with caramel sauce. What can I say? It was fabulous! Especially the crust which can only be described as a buttery, flaky world of endless wonder.

Peche on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Delicious repast at Rivista

A couple of months ago*, I was invited to a "diva luncheon" with several lovely ladies at Rivista, the new bakery/cafe on Magazine Street opened by a couple of chefs, or a chef couple, Lisa and Chris Barbato. Although I didn't indulge in any pastry that day (Lisa's gluten-free Chunky Monkey Muffins are the bomb!), I did enjoy a couple of items from their ever-changing lunch menu.

I kept it real simple with the soup and salad of the day seeing as I had a lot of eating to do later on in the week and I was trying to play it safe. There were other scrumptious items on the menu like a roasted pork loin panino with Breaux Bridge Fig Preserves and goat cheese or house made stracci pasta with local legumes, a poached farm egg and shaved Parmesan. I took a breath and stuck with my order while sipping on a creamy Illy latte.

The salad was fresh with mixed greens, juicy peach slices, ripe avocado, red onion, crumbled feta, cucumbers, pecans and crispy bacon all tossed in a balsamic vinaigrette. Several of the ladies with me enjoyed the same salad and we all had no difficulty cleaning our plates.

The soup was Chicken Tortilla with lots of pulled chicken, chopped tomatoes, more avocado and a bunch of crunchy tortilla strips in a rich chicken stock. I slurped it all down and contemplated ordering another dish, but I didn't want to be a pig (Me? Never!). Next time for sure...

*You're thinking to yourself...a few months ago? Yes, Kim is playing major catch up, so look out for many more blogs coming your way.

Rivista on Urbanspoon

Friday, September 6, 2013

A light lunch in the burbs at Romano

If there's one thing you know about me, it's that I don't tend to eat healthy when I go out. Since I can't afford to dine out everyday, my weekly jaunts to the outside world are indulgences, mini-events where I can spoil myself rotten and, unfortunately or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, lean chicken or veggie-laden salads are not what I consider "living large." It's not that I think proper nutrition and diet are unimportant, it's just can be rather dull, especially when you try to eat right the rest of the week.

Another thing I don't do is travel out into Metairie often. Not only do I lack a vehicle, but I tend to avoid the suburbs. I spent the first 33 years of my life trapped in a suburb of San Francisco, never really letting myself experience the diversity and culture of the city and I missed out on so very much. Needless to say, all suburbs, whether they be in Southern Louisiana or Northern California, are the same. "Little boxes on the hillside, little boxes made of ticky tacky..." Did you know that song was written about a city in the same county where I grew up? I digress...

So with both of these factors already working against it, when I went to lunch with Casey at Romano Italian Street Food, I wasn't expecting much, aside from the opportunity to hang out with a friend I rarely get to see. 

Located on Veterans Avenue, "Romano's" as its fondly been dubbed, is a cafeteria style restaurant, much like Felipe's that I just wrote about, except Italian-style. Also similar to Felipe's, Romano takes pride in keeping it fresh with salads, wraps, or "Piadinas," and pasta bowls made to your specifications from a long list of ingredients, some of which are sourced from local distributors, bakers and fishermen. For example, the shrimp are caught in the Bayou Segnette and brought in regularly from a Westwego fishery.

My friend Casey got one of their rather popular Piadinas which is essentially a wrap filled with (in her case) grilled steak, angel hair pasta, feta cheese, peppadew peppers, thin slices of pancetta, artichoke hearts and a spicy tomato cream sauce. It looked and smelled wonderful, and I found out, as Italian as this dish may sound, the wraps are actually tortillas (piadinas are quite similar, made with flour and lard) made locally at Hola Nola in Gonzales. I had no idea a tortillaria existed in Louisiana!

From all the different salad options, I ordered a one of their "Chef Selections," a Spicy Tuscan Shrimp Salad (only 320 calories!), letting the experts make it for me. Aside from fresh, boiled shrimp, the salad had mixed greens, eggplant caponata (a cooked-eggplant salad), peppers, onions, roasted garlic, artichoke and shaved Parmesan in a sun-dried tomato vinaigrette...and you know what? I liked it! Not only did I like was really filling. Romano does not skimp on the vegetable, cheese or shrimp and I still was struggling to finish at least half when Casey told me about their new dessert. 

My ears pricked up at the thought of something sinful and they didn't disappoint when I tasted their Gelato Panini. The chef took scoops of Angelo Brocato Vanilla Bean Gelato, topped it with a crunchy, chocolate topping (like a crumbled Nestle Crunch bar) and sandwiched it between a split King's Hawaiian Sweet Roll. It was an Italian, Hawaiian and American sweet fest in my mouth and seriously, I am drooling about it right now. Excuse me, I need a napkin...

Romano Italian Street Food on Urbanspoon

Thursday, September 5, 2013

House of the week: Cottage on Harmony Street

You've probably seen articles and TV shows about the whole "Tiny Home" craze that's sweeping the nation and, believe me, it has not escaped my attention either. I totally dig the idea of not taking up a lot of space to preserve the environment, nature and wildlife. Not to mention that a lot of these little houses are mobile and how cool is that? You could just wander across the country and take your tiny house with you. My only problem is how tiny they are. I mean, could I really function in only 89 square feet of living space? I'm in a 400 square foot apartment right now and I ache for decent closets and a little more counter space in the kitchen would be a dream come true. 

I'm afraid that this next house I found is about as tiny as I could get. Over on Harmony Street in the Irish Channel there's this adorable little cottage for sale. Only a little less than 500 square feet, this house has one bedroom, one bathroom, hardwood floors and a precious, old-timey kitchen with a tiny oven. Other than how cute it is, the best part about this house is it's location. It's only three blocks from Magazine Street, the stretch that includes places like Sucre, La Divina Gelateria, Big Fisherman, Artz Bagelz, Gott Gourmet and much, much more. It's eight blocks from the parade route and so very close to one of my favorite neighborhoods in the city...the Garden District. This little cutie also happens to be in my price range listed at only $119,000. What do you think? Is it worth it? 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Fishes and Felipe's

Although I've been living in New Orleans for over ten years, there are still a quite a few places I've never been. For example, I have yet to dine at Galatoire's for a Friday afternoon lunch, set foot inside the Superdome or seen a Saints' game, for that matter, and until a few weeks ago, I had never been to the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas.

My friend Dani and her 3-year-old daughter Posie just happen to have an annual family membership to all of Audubon's attractions and one day they asked John and I to come along. We strolled through the cool, dark halls and gawked at jellyfish, garfish, turtles and sharks. We visited Parakeet Pointe and tried to feed sleepy, colorful birds $1.50 sticks clumped with what looked like honey and birdseed at one end. But, either the birds weren't hungry or simply sick of sticks, because none of them really wanted what we were offering.

We saw penguins and sea otters and stood inside the pre-fab jaws of a prehistoric shark to take pictures. We experienced what it's like in a subtropical climate (wait...don't we do that everyday?), climbed over a waterfall and saw river creatures like catfish and anacondas, though the snake was hiding in a hole. Shortly after sauntering through a glass tunnel built right through one of the main tanks (does anyone else remember Jaws 3?), we all started to feel hungry and decided that eating in the aquarium's small food court was not an option. As we were heading out to scrounge something for lunch, Posie was waylaid by all the glittering goodies in the gift shop. While she was picking out a souvenir, I hopped onto my trusty smart phone to see what restaurants were nearby and the first name to pop up was Felipe's Taqueria.

So that's where we went...

I'd been to the Uptown location many times and knew what to expect. While Felipe's is not exactly "authentic" Mexican cuisine, as they tout, they always use bright, fresh ingredients and there's some excellent bang for your buck. As we discovered, the French Quarter location was very much like Uptown, although larger with a huge bar area. It's basically like a cafeteria where you decide whether you want -- burrito, nachos, flautas etc.-- and then you choose what you want inside from a large list of ingredients and watch them while they pile it on.

This time, I wanted a taco salad which was a crispy, flour tortilla bowl filled with shredded lettuce, pico de gallo, refried beans, black beans, fried Gulf shrimp, crumbled queso, creamy guacamole and a dollop of sour cream. John opted for a burrito filled with Al Pastor, or caramelized pork marinated in a pineapple sauce, with refried beans, crumbled queso, pico de gallo, rice and guacamole. Posie got a cheese quesadilla and Dani also got a taco salad but with char-grilled chicken. I must have been ordering with my eyes, because I also got nachos with lots of cheese, refried beans and guacamole for us all to share. It turned out to be way too much food. I was only able to eat my salad, not including the shell, and a few bites of nachos. Everything was delicious and we were all extremely satisfied, or so we thought...

As we were leaving the restaurant, Posie decided she wanted to go back to the aquarium, but since we had such a late lunch (almost dinner!), the aquarium was already closed. While she threw a hissy fit out on N. Peters Street, I seriously considered stepping back into Felipe's for a margarita...heavy on the tequila please!

Felipe's Taqueria on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

House of the week: Mansion on St. Charles Ave.

Sometimes it's fun to go to extremes, pushing yourself to very edge, whether it be scarfing down fifteen dozen raw oysters in under an hour or running an "ultra" marathon, Although house hunting (a.k.a. window shopping) is definitely a lot tamer than either of those endeavors, I was thinking about extremes in terms of how the last house I posted floated directly in my price range, whereas today's house is a far-off fantasy. I would have to win the Louisiana Powerball (now at $116, 000, 000), and even then, this house (and it's maintenance) would put a considerable dent in my winnings.

Feel free to start drooling over this four-story, seven bedroom and twelve bathroom mansion on St. Charles Avenue sporting over 14,000 square feet of living space. This monster house is beyond cool with a high ceilings, marble and hardwood flooring, ornate moulding and gorgeous ceiling medallions, stunning chandeliers, movie theater, wine cellar, elevator, ballroom, library, roof-top patio, a huge in-ground swimming pool and a cabana. Plus, the house features cool Smarthome technology with automated lighting, security, etc. Could you imagine the parties I could have at this house? (sigh).

This opulent mansion, this palace, so far out of my reach, it might as well be in Neverland, is listed at the bargain basement price of $6,185, IF!