Friday, May 24, 2013

Indulgences at The American Sector

“...remember that what has once been done may be done again.” 
-Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo

Childish though it might be, my first exposure to anything New Orleans-esque was at Disneyland. Family road trips to Disneyland in Anaheim are steeped in the memory of my favorite "land" in the park, New Orleans Square. What with the Mark Twain Riverboat, Haunted Mansion (Grim grinning ghosts come out to socialize!) and small, twisting streets lined with wrought iron and curiosity shops, it was easily the best part of the park. I munched on beignets while tapping my foot to a Dixieland jazz band or shopping for beads and masks. The finest moment in my vast, 8-year-old experience in dining occurred when I enjoyed my first lunch at the Blue Bayou.

As New Orleans Square was the finest area of Disneyland, Pirates of the Caribbean was the best ride in the world. What could possibly be better than being trapped in a jolly boat while witnessing a band of singing pirates as they loot, plunder and set fire to a hapless village in the dead of night? Cannonballs bursting in the water, drunken sailors almost falling on your head weighted by an excess of loot...I mean c'mon! It's a childhood dream! Now imagine being able to sit under that same, imaginary nighttime sky in the middle of a swamp with the sounds of crickets and frogs, fireflies flitting in the distance while you dine on jambalaya, gumbo and sweet potato biscuits. Me? I'll have the Monte Cristo.

I've since had other Monte Cristos at a few not-so-memorable restaurants and until recently, they were pretty tough to find in New Orleans...the real one, not Walt's incarnation. So, when John, Anne and I went to The American Sector at the World War II Museum, I knew I what I wanted as soon as I spotted it on the menu. If you've never had one, you've got to understand, Monte Cristo Sandwiches are this fat girl's dreams dipped, fried and sprinkled with powdered sugar.

The restaurant was incredibly busy for a Wednesday afternoon and we had to wait around 20 minutes just for a table to open up. Once inside, I felt like I was on an aircraft carrier (actually toured the U.S.S. Constellation once), everything is very metallic and sleek. The hostesses were sporting 1940's clothing and hairstyles, I almost expected them to bust a bit of "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" instead of smiling and showing us to our table. Strangely enough, it felt like I was back in Disneyland again. The restaurant seemed to smack of "theme-park quality" but perhaps that was only because of all the tourists.

Although our server seemed rather indifferent as to whether we ate there or not, we placed our order and eyed the dishes coming out to other tables with envy. First up, a big bowl of Italian Cheese Fries with burrata cheese and (so the menu said) homemade Italian sausage. Unfortunately, our bowl seemed to be lacking sausage, but the crispy French fries with rich tomato sauce and salty, gooey burrata made up for it's lack.

John ordered another old-time favorite of mine, a classic French Dip with buttery Thomasville Tomme cheese, shaved rib eye and Creole jus. I managed to get a bite only because I agreed to offer a bite of mine. Anne opted for the Perfect Pig Po-Boy with pork shoulder, ham, belly and crisp pickled vegetables. She thought it was a bit dry, but still flavorful and hearty.

Of course, I had the Monte Cristo. Basically a version of the French croque monsieur, this ham and cheese dream is often dipped, in it's entirety, into a thick batter and served with preserves. Instead, this version had Chisesi ham, house-cured turkey pastrami and melted Gruyere cheese between two thick slices of crispy French toast. The whole sandwich was sprinkled with powdered sugar and served with their house strawberry marmalade. I enjoyed it immensely. All of our sandwiches also came with thick, crispy potato chip that were made at the restaurant.

Our server became quite suddenly cheery and polite when offering to bring us the check and we were undecided about dessert. Since we knew there was a wider variety of shakes at the Jeri Nims Soda Shop a block away, we paid the tab and went for a walk. But when we arrived, we were treated quite rudely and told that none of the ice cream flavors we wanted were available anymore that day. We found this strange since we could see the flavor we wanted in the tubs lying open in the chilled case.


Not to be deterred from our quest for a good shake, we returned to the American Sector. This time we were seated immediately and we ordered three shakes; chocolate, strawberry malt and bananas "foster." The chocolate was made using Valrhona and was therefore fabulous, not to mention perfect texture and temperature. John's banana's foster, however, was kind of runny, thin and generally disappointing. Anne's was strawberry-licious but again, not the right texture for a milkshake.  Overall, I must say that I thought everything was quite tasty, but I would hope so considering the quality of ingredients. Unfortunately, it was also rather sloppy, from the missing sausage to the overflowing milkshakes, there needed to be a bit more polish, especially for what I would expect at a John Besh establishment inside the National World War II Museum.

Biggest regret? The restaurant was seriously lacking pirates, buried treasure and the sounds of the swamp...

The American Sector on Urbanspoon

Monday, May 20, 2013

House of the week: Double gallery on 8th Street

"Dreams are true while they last, and do we not live in dreams?" -Alfred Lord Tennyson 

If I could truly live inside my dream, it would likely look like this gorgeous, double gallery home on 8th Street in the Garden District. Can you see me flitting around, traipsing over the gleaming hardwood floors? Standing at the floor-to-ceiling windows? Feasting in the oval-shaped dining room with pocket doors? Lounging in the sun room reading a good book? Swimming in the pool out back? Swinging on the front porch with a Mint Julep in hand? I can...

This stunning house has over 6,600 square feet of living space, five bedrooms, six bathrooms, an elevator and a freaking movie theater. It's located a little over a block from the parade route and only 3 1/2 blocks from Magazine Street where I can indulge daily in deliciousness from Sucré, La Divina Gelateria, Joey K's, Gott Gourmet, Slim Goodies and so much more. Plus, as it turns out, I'd only need a paltry $2,300,000 to make this dream a reality!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Dear burgers at Phil's Grill

I don't know how it is where you live, but New Orleans is going through a burger explosion. Like freaking KA BOOM already with little bits of lettuce fluttering down to the pavement that you can just make out through the grill smoke.  I still have yet to try Smashburger that opened near the Bulldog or Charcoal's Gourmet Burger Bar, the building that now dominates the corner of Jackson and Magazine, visually competing with the colorful flag party across the street. Cowbell, Truburger and Company Burger all burst onto the scene a few years ago, creating some kind of a fever and now three Five Guys franchises are planning on parking in the Greater New Orleans Area including one rather near to me on Carrollton Avenue in Mid City, not far from another recent opening...Juicy Lucy's.

And what about all the burger joints that have been here for a spell. Port of Call...people still line up outside this place on Esplanade and wait for that burger. Let us not forget the holiest of the holy, Bud's Broiler that started on that strange City Park Avenue triangle street in 1952 or Lee's Burgers that started in the early 20th century, closed for a while only to be recently reborn. Oh! Don't even get me started on the number of diners and bars that serve a mean burger in this town; Beachcorner, Clover Grill, Camellia Grill, GBs, and Yo Mama's fall off my tongue without even trying hard. The restaurants that don't focus on burgers, but serve good burgers would only try your patience with my narrative even further and I'm afraid I've already jumped the shark.

Needless to say...because I have made it so patently obvious, that there are a TON of burgers to choose from these days and everyone has their own peculiarities when it comes to what they like on, in, with or around their perfect burger. What I am trying to say, and having a lot of difficulty, is that when I finally ventured into Phil's Grill a few weeks ago with John, Dani and Posie, I had quite a few expectations.

First off, the menu layout is highly confusing. We got the gist after much pondering, but it still caused confusion for the server considering there were missing burger toppings, perhaps a more vertical list as opposed to horizontal? Just a suggestion...

We got an order of fried pickles to share that was served with Ranch dressing. Seeing as we were all hungry and big fans of pickles crisply fried, we gobbled them up just in time for our burgers to arrive. John and Dani both opted for "Philet" meat with assorted toppings like Swiss and cheddar cheese, bacon, avocados and sauces like "Tiger Sauce" or "Avocado Ranch." John even switched out a regular white bun for whole wheat. I opted for the bison meat because I had heard how delicious it was and chose Swiss, avocado, fried egg and bacon and a white bun. Posie opted for a grilled cheese sandwich when she wasn't throwing crayons or a hissy fit. We also shared two orders of French fries.

All of the burgers were juicy, thick, hand-formed and quite tasty. I actually preferred the rich, meaty flavor of my bison patty over John's "Philet." Everyone seemed pretty pleased with their burgers overall. We also ordered a couple of milkshakes, I got Peanut Butter and Dani chose Chocolate. I suppose the biggest shock came when I got the bill which totaled almost $80! I realized that my burger alone was almost $17!

Now, don't get me wrong, I appreciate the "gourmet" aspect of serving ground filet and bison meat, and I did enjoy my burger, but that price is not one I'd pay again. Next time I go to Phil's, I'll probably just stick with Angus, though before any toppings, even cheese, it still comes in at a whopping $9.69. There's just too many other burger joints to choose from...

Phil's Grill on Urbanspoon

Thursday, May 2, 2013

House of the week: Side Hall on Aline Street

Unless I manage to win the jackpot from Publishers Clearing House (which I enter religiously online), I don't see poor little me ever affording a my own home. Until then, I will continue to dream, hope and work real hard...who knows what can happen? Maybe one of these days I'll write a best-selling book and this simple dream will become a wondrous reality. Until then...

There seems to be no shortage of gorgeous homes in New Orleans and I just discovered yet another beauty. Over on Aline Street is this elegant Victorian Side Hall featuring all that I love about local architecture including a large front porch, a double parlor with pocket doors, high ceilings, transoms, ceiling medallions, hardwood floors and floor-to-ceiling windows. The kitchen has been wonderfully renovated while still retaining an exposed brick fireplace, lovely bathrooms with wainscoting, two walk-in closets in the master bedroom, a quaint, well-manicured backyard and an indoor spa.

The house couldn't be better located, only 1/2 block away from Magazine Street and about 5 blocks to St. Charles Avenue. Also, it's mere steps from Martin Wine Cellar and Mahony's Po-Boys, plus only a few blocks from restaurants like Lilette and Baru Bistro & Tapas. Although anything is out of my price range right now, I do think this beauty is overpriced, seeing as it's a two-bedroom home being listed for $625,000. I just gotta keep on dreaming!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

A bread lover's dream: Tartine

While many profess a weakness for things like chocolates, salty potato chips and bacon, my greatest vulnerability would have to be bread. There just nothing like the flavor and texture of crusty baguettes or chewy ciabatta slathered in butter or layered with deli meat. When I lived in the Bay Area, my favorite midnight snack consisted of a thick hunk of sourdough bread with cold butter from the fridge and a tall, frosty glass of whole milk.

I can honestly say I have never met a bread I didn't like from pumpernickel and bagels to injera and lavash. Even the popular (albeit flavorless) American white bread has it's place with grilled cheese and peanut butter & banana sandwiches. Suffice it to say, any excuse to go out and gorge myself on freshly baked breads or sandwiches created from these heavenly loaves are welcome, like when my good friend Anne and I went to lunch at Tartine.

Though I'd been there several times before, I simply had to go again, if only to introduce this wonderful little restaurant to Anne who had never been. We went up to the counter, placed our order and grabbed a table outside to enjoy the spring air while we waited, anxiously, for our meal to arrive.

Anne and I both ordered the soup of the day along with our sandwiches and on that particular occasion, it happened to be a sweet and savory, creamy butternut squash. The flavor was rich and wonderful, the texture was perfectly smooth and we wiped up every last drop with a slice of French bread that was served alongside.

Before we could finish, our sandwiches arrived in all their crusty glory. Anne chose the house pate on a fresh baguette that was served with a fig jam, Dijon mustard and sliced cornichons on the side. I got the Croque Monsieur with thick slices of ham and heavenly, melted Gruyere on crunchy, toasted ciabatta. Both sandwiches were served with a delightful, cold black-eyed pea salad. Anne and I shared the sandwiches, so each of us got half and we couldn't decide which was more delectable.

Ever since we went to lunch at Tartine, Anne has been following their posts on Facebook, urging me to go again and it's been difficult to resist. After all, there are so many new restaurants popping up almost daily that I feel obligated to check out. But, I would love to introduce another newbie to the simple, yet enticing, bread-centered wonders of Tartine. Anyone want to join us for lunch?

Tartine on Urbanspoon