Dante’s Kitchen: Again and again and again!

When I started writing this blog, I promised myself I would pick a new restaurant to feature every week, knowing that with over 800 eateries in the Greater New Orleans Area it would take me a very long time to run out of food blogging fodder. Unfortunately, I did not foresee one, essential flaw in my master plan. What if I liked the experience so much, that I simply had to return? Would my readers scoff and click over to another local blog covering new and interesting food topics? Was it unfair to all of the restaurants I had not yet visited? Would I be giving too much love to one place in particular?

Finally, I came to a simple, definitive and sound conclusion to my dilemma…I don’t care!!!

No offense to y’all, but think about it. When you find a restaurant you really love, don’t you keep going back again and again and again? This chosen restaurant becomes almost a family staple, a place for special occasions and celebrations…the place to go to on a Saturday night. Well, now after several years of writing about all these wonderful places to eat around town, I have formulated a few choice spots that I think of when I want a  fantastic meal…guaranteed. So, that’s why John and I ended up at Dante’s Kitchen for dinner on Saturday night. I just couldn’t help myself!

We ambled the 3 1/2 blocks to the restaurant, arriving early in the evening and chose a table out on the front porch. After placing our dinner order, we got a couple of cocktails to enjoy while we waited. John’s Sazerac was possibly one of the best I have ever tasted and my Sidecar was definitely not shabby either. Sitting there sipping away, we spun a little fantasy that we were sitting on our own front porch, watching the dusk settle over our peaceful neighborhood while listening to the train rattle by. One day, the dream house will be mine…oh yes, it will be mine.

We started out with some of the chef’s house made charcuterie, Goat Prosciutto, Salame di Calabria and Coppa (pork shoulder). All of them were incredible, my favorite being the salty, fatty, delicious prosciutto, especially with the crisp, peppery crackers served alongside. A spicy jelly that accompanied our dish was so good, that John used his finger to wipe out every last drop. Thank goodness no one was watching.

I was on the verge of ordering some more cured meats (we were pretty hungry), when our server brought out Dante’s famous spoon bread and everything was right with the world once more. If you have not tasted it, spoon bread is essentially a sweeter, more moist version of cornbread, that at Dante’s is lovingly slathered with honey butter and always served before your entree. How could I have forgotten?

Shortly after the spoon bread was inhaled, our entrees arrived right on cue. John got a pan-fried Redfish on the Half Shell, which in New Orleans means “loaded with crab meat on top.” The fish was perfectly cooked and the lump crab meat on top was tossed with herbs like fresh mint and basil. John wolfed it down in mere minutes. I chose a new item on the menu, Slow Roasted Duck Breast served with roasted and raw apples and surrounded in a brown butter and white balsamic vinegar reduction. The tender duck breast was sliced and served atop a small hill of butternut squash puree and sprinkled with shavings of their own duck prosciutto. It was marvelous!

Instead of us each selecting our own, John and I decided to share a side of Stuffed Eggplant and I know both of us regretted it the end. Thin strips of eggplant were rolled around the most delicious filling of chopped spiced pecans, fresh herbs and walnut oil. It was so yummy that I almost ate John’s piece that he saved on purpose for his final mouthful, savoring every morsel.

Yes, we were both sated and stuffed, but there was no way I was walking home without dessert and I couldn’t resist ordering the Peach Tartlet with a scoop of their own Buttermilk Gelato. It couldn’t have been a better ending to a splendid meal and you know what? I’ll definitely be back! Again and again and again and again and again…

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Healthy and happy at Dante’s Kitchen

All last week, starting on Sunday, I was feeling decidedly ill. Then, after I visited the doctor on Wednesday and was prescribed antibiotics, I experienced an allergic reaction to the medicine and felt even worse (itching from head to foot all night long). It wasn’t until Saturday morning that I finally began feeling like myself again and I knew exactly what would perk me up after such a miserable week….a decadent cheat!

I’d been dreaming about breakfast (read bacon) all week long, so it seemed only natural for John and I to walk a few blocks down the road to Dante’s Kitchen to enjoy what was sure to be an ambrosial brunch. This is my 71st cheat and I am down 79 pounds.

John and I had both been to Dante’s before, but we’ve never visited for brunch mainly due to the fact that on weekends, we are lazy bums who lounge in bed all morning and barely manage to drag our butts out of bed by noon. This Saturday though, I bounced out of bed at 9 am and we were out the door and walking to the restaurant at the end of Dante Street by 10:30. I had heard how popular brunch can be at Dante’s and I wanted to be sure to get a table without too much of a wait.

Though the restaurant was busy when we arrived, there were still some tables left and we were seated immediately. We ordered some coffee while we hemmed and hawed over all the enticing items on the menu. Finally ordering, I took a look around at the dining room which, surprisingly enough, I had never really seen being as I had always sat outside in the past.

Dante’s Kitchen was a cute, old Victorian house in a previous life, which would explain why the dining room is actually broken up into several smaller, multi-leveled areas, each one painted a different color. There’s a bright  lime-green sun room with tall windows on every wall, a dark red room with a bit more of a formal feel with long curtains and subdued lighting and the entry area near the bar, where we were seated, was a sunny shade of orange. There’s even another dining room up a short staircase in the back (which I didn’t really get a good look at) and of course, a huge outdoor patio.

As I was admiring some of the funkier art pieces on the walls and the high shelves featuring endless mason jars filled with all kind of wonderful preserves, our appetizer arrived. Though John foresaw a doggie-bag in our future, I couldn’t help ordering a plate of their house made breads. There were two, sweet, bite-sized scones flavored with fennel that were wonderfully crumbly and dense and got gobbled up almost immediately. Then there were two cornbread Madelines, a thick hunk of banana-nut bread and delicate muffin full of plump, sweet blueberries.

Before we finished the scones, our main dishes arrived and from that moment, we had eyes for nothing else. I chose the Debris (chopped roast beef) and Poached Eggs which were piled on top of a thick, buttermilk biscuit and draped with a demi-glace Hollandaise sauce. When I broke a perfectly poached egg, it’s golden creamy yolk cascaded down onto the rich, spicy roast beef and had me salivating before I even took my first bite. With this mountain of meat, I almost felt bad about ordering a side of thick-sliced, Berkshire bacon…that is until I had a bite. Lucky, I assuaged a bit of my guilt by sharing some with John.

Though he frequently eyed my plate, John’s order was equally fabulous, the Dante’s Eggs Benedict. Two perfect eggs balanced on top of thick slices of roasted, rosemary flavored pork loin served over a split buttermilk biscuit laced with honey and topped with Hollandaise sauce. It was a wonderful combination of sweet and salty and I think I had almost as many tastes of John’s dish as he did of mine.

If there was any of my sickness* remaining when I walked into the restaurant, it was completely gone by the time I walked out. With full bellies and sated smiles on our faces, John and I slowly walked back home. It was the absolute ideal way, in my eyes, to erase the damage of a horrible week.

*By the way, what I had wasn’t catching, so if you were at Dante’s at the same time I was on Saturday, no worries!

Dante’s Kitchen

As Steve Tyler screeched, I am “back in the saddle again” and I am ready for yet another culinary undertaking.  A couple of weeks ago in my Ninja Restaurant article, I mentioned that for my next cheat I was trying to decide between two different restaurants that were right across the street from each other.  Unfortunately, due to illness, I was relegated to ordering in.  This week, however, I elected to dine at Dante’s Kitchen …Brigtsen’s (the restaurant across the street) will have to wait for another cheat.  This is my 6th week and 6th cheat and I am down 30 pounds.

Fortunately, Dante’s is yet another restaurant within walking distance of my apartment, so John and I strolled three blocks and arrived in time for our 6:30 p.m. reservations.  Initially, we were seated inside the restaurant, but a couple sitting at the next table had a screaming infant and we requested to sit outside so we could enjoy our dinner in peace.  The hostess was very accommodating and understood why we wished to move.

Without hesitating, she sat us outside on the porch and turned on the wicker-paddled fan, creating a slight breeze to cool us while we dined.  The sun had just begun to set and the air was sweet with jasmine. The cicadas were humming loudly, muting the traffic noises of River Road as we relaxed on the porch of the quaint lavender and lime house secluded by large banana plants.  It was a very comfortable, and quite romantic setting for our first experience at Dante’s.

We started out with some cocktails, I ordered a Ginger Cosmopolitan featuring house infused ginger vodka and John selected Dante’s Lemonade with house infused lemon vodka.  Both cocktails were very tasty and while we sipped, our server brought out a little lagniappe, a Molasses Spoon Bread with honey butter served in a small pan that was still hot from the oven.  It “smelled to heaven” as my Mom would often say and it tasted even better.

Before we finished reeling from the Spoon Bread, our appetizers arrived.  John ordered the New Orleans Style Barbeque Shrimp made with Abita Turbodog beer, rosemary and garlic and I got Chanterelles and Louisiana Crabmeat with house made bacon, lemon zest, toasted brioche, and roasted tomato vinaigrette.  The shrimp were huge, served with the heads on, although they kindly peeled the tail, and the barbeque sauce was spicy and lemony and, in true New Orleans fashion, there was plenty left over for dipping.  The Chanterelles’ peppery flavor was complimented nicely by the lemon zest, tomato and crabmeat: a wonderful beginning to a fabulous cheat.

Growing up, my mother often prepared pork chops that were thin, dry and practically flavorless.  So, when I decided to brave Dante’s Double Thick Berkshire Pork Chop with Ruston peaches, roasted onions, corn & goat cheese grit cake, I still had a lingering childhood fear of dry, tasteless chops.  My worries were delightfully unfounded after I had my first bite of the juicy pork chop bursting with flavor from the Ruston peaches and fabulous grit cake.  In vain, I attempted to clean my plate but I wanted to save what little room I had left for dessert.  John’s entrée was called Trois Mignons which consisted of three petite beef tenderloin filets served on caramelized onion mashed potatoes and topped with pork debris, Stilton cheese sauce and marchand du vin.  The sauces were tantalizing and rich and a bite of the tender medium rare filets with a dollop of the caramelized onion mashed potatoes soaked in the marchand du vin was enough to make my mouth water for more.

As usual for my cheat meals, I stuffed myself silly and by the time dessert rolled around, I was already hurting.  But, I couldn’t walk away from Dante’s without sampling their sweets, so I convinced John that we should hang around long enough to order a Peanut & Mascarpone Torte with a chocolate crust and chocolate and caramel sauce on top.  The creamy mascarpone smattered with chopped peanuts melted in my mouth and I wish I could have eaten more than I was actually able to consume.

John and I finally waddled off the porch and slowly made our way home.  As usual, I was already considering where our next cheat meal should be, but the flavors from dinner were still rich on my tongue and I found I couldn’t quite concentrate.  All I could do was luxuriate in yet another fine dining experience as we strolled home through the Riverbend, listening to the soft rustling of the night.