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