Swooning at Shaya

While I realize that everyone and their brother’s mother are waxing poetic about Shaya, I just can’t help jumping on the bandwagon. After all, Alon Shaya was awarded the 2015 James Beard for Best Chef: South and he is the undeniably creative force behind one of Downtown New Orleans’ most popular restaurants Domenica. So I’m getting on the praise train, not only for the above reasons, but also because Shaya is next in line on my (pitifully delayed) blogging schedule and because the restaurant is, without a doubt, fabulous.  Continue reading

An afternoon tryst at Lüke

I met someone and I think I’m in love. He’s sweet, accommodating, relaxed yet stylish and extremely tasty as I was fortunate enough to discover last Friday afternoon. My friend Anne was there, too and we both enjoyed what he had to offer…I’m pretty sure anyone would.  His name is Lüke.

Now I could keep going with this and assuredly suffer from gales of mischievous and unabashed laughter while writing, not to mention possible castigation from my peers after publishing (suck the heads would take on a whole new meaning). So, instead I’m going to lace it up and talk about the food. I promise, if I start writing that kind of blog, y’all will be the first to know…
Nevertheless, it was still quite a sexy lunch. Anne and I got to the restaurant just after noon, luckily scoring a choice parking spot only a half block away. For those who don’t know, Lüke is located on St. Charles Avenue only blocks from Poydras Street and right, smack downtown. Like any city, finding parking is nigh impossible and it seemed like fate when we slipped into a spot that opened up right in front of us. 

We were seated right away, without a reservation, and ordered a couple of cocktails while perusing the menu. Both of us ravenous, we got a little carried away with our order. Thankfully, our server steered us onto the right path, when he could have just as easily let us order way too much food like a couple of boobs. (really, I’m not even trying…) Anne had a “St. Charles Streetcar” with St. Germain, pear vodka and champagne, which was tasty, but I liked mine better and not only because of its name.  Dubbed “The Riverbend,” my cocktail was of the refreshing, summery type with Ultimat vodka, lemon, basil syrup, blueberries, cucumbers and ginger ale

Almost right away our first dish arrived, a half dozen raw Gulf oysters on the half shell. When Anne saw them on the menu, she just couldn’t resist and I don’t blame her. They were large, ice cold, salty and perfect. I think both of us were a little sad when we slurped down the last one, but we didn’t have time to consider ordering more because our next appetizer showed up just in time. Called “flamenküche,” it was an onion tarte with thick hunks of fatty bacon and a creamy Emmenthaler or Swiss cheese. It was quite possibly the best thin-crust “pizza” I have ever eaten. 

For our entree, we both wanted the “Choucroute Garnie Maison” and thanks to our server, we wisely decided to split it. I had to look this up, but apparently this is a famous Alsacian dish of sauerkraut topped with salted meats, sausage and other charcuterie. Conveniently split in half, our dish at Lüke featured a smoked pork shank, a hunk of Mangalista pork belly and a huge link of bratwurst. Basically, it was a unadulterated pot of meat that while feasting upon it, made me feel a bit carnal…not that I’m complaining.  

While perusing mandatory desserts, Anne was quite adamant about not sharing (dessert can do that to people), so we each ordered our own. Anne chose a “Gateau Basque” or vanilla cake with crème fraîche and local satsuma marmalade and I got a “Belle Ecorce Chevre Tart” – basically a goat cheese “cheesecake” topped with braised celeste figs and honey. Since I shared some of mine, Anne was willing to give up a few tastes of hers and, all kidding aside, both were quite delicious.
In all honesty, I may not be in love with Lüke, but I am undoubtedly in lust.

Lüke on Urbanspoon

My very first Besh: Domenica

Besh, Besh, Besh, Besh, Besh … and more Besh. Everyone wants to talk about John Besh. His restaurants are all over town and so is his face. You see his boyish, mischievous grin plastered on every available advertising venue (though I haven’t seen him at a bus stop yet) and every publication in the Greater New Orleans Area, not to mention his recent launch of a national cooking show airing for the first time this Saturday on WYES.

The fact that his persona has saturated the market is the sole reason I haven’t done a cheat at any of the Besh restaurants. I mean, the last thing this big, super chef needs right now is a review from a small blogger like myself, right? My purpose in writing down my cheats was not only to record my weight loss (and gain) in the hopes that sharing my embarrassment would goad me to keep losing, but to reveal to all and sundry that there’s a plethora of restaurant gems out there in this great city of ours… restaurants and chefs that don’t have their own television show.

For example, yesterday on the streetcar I met a couple of tourists who were talking about the dinner they had the night before and pondering where their next food adventure might be. They were rattling off names we’ve all heard before like Arnaud’s Mr. B’s and Restaurant August.  But I’m sitting there thinking, it’s almost 6 PM, they on their way to the Riverbend, so I opened my big ol’ mouth, butted in on their conversation and recommended Boucherie.

They had never heard of it before and kept asking me to repeat the name and talk about the menu. I spelled it out as they typed in into their iPhones – a light of discovery shining in their eyes. I would be surprised if they didn’t go.

My tediously long point is that Mr. Besh has enough attention…

So why did I go to Domenica for my 79th cheat (still only down 79 pounds)? I guess my curiosity finally got the better of me and I thought it was time to see what the “Besh Experience” was all about.

We arrived at Domenica, located in The Roosevelt at 123 Baronne Street, late in the lunch hour at almost 2PM. There were hardly any other diners in the humongous restaurant whose decor reminded me of an art gallery with dark walls, tons of track lighting and tall, sheer curtains reaching up to a cavernous ceiling. We were seated immediately and greeted by our most gracious waitress who proffered “help” with menu seeing as John and I are complete rubes.

We did our best to simply focus on the food that quickly flowed out of the kitchen shortly after we placed our order. I started with the Gulf Tuna Crudo. Bright squares of fresh, raw tuna were dressed with lemon, olive oil, thinly sliced jalapeno and radish, plus a sprinkling of hazelnuts. It was so light and refreshing, I think John was a little jealous, but you know I shared.

His small plate choice was the Gnocchi in a creamy, buttery sauce with wild mushrooms and thick pieces of smoked pancetta. We both loved the sauce and scooped up the remnants with torn pieces of ciabatta, but the gnocchi themselves were a little heavy and doughy.

Though we were ready for the next course, unfortunately my camera was not and the battery promptly died after a few shots of the tuna. C’est la vie!

I couldn’t help eying John’s dish as it came out, even more so than my own. He ordered the Paneed Louisiana Grassfed Veal at my urging – beautifully thin layers of tender veal, pan fried and accented with just a little lemon and arugula. I ordered the Porchetta Panino with provolone, rapini (a kind of broccoli) and garlic mayonnaise. The sandwich was served with house made Parmesan potato chips that were amazingly thin and crispy.

With plenty of room for dessert, we agreed upon the “Banana Zuppa Inglese,” since I am a sucker for anything banana and John just likes to make me happy. This Italian version of trifle was served in a chilled, sealed glass canister and opened at our table. After the first bite, I knew I could eat at least two of these all to myself, John could get his own! It was a thick layer of a moist custardy, banana-rich cake topped with butterscotch mouse and broken shards of peanut brittle. John enjoyed it just as much as I did and we fought for the last spoonful, scraping the sides of the jar for any lingering morsels we might have missed.

Despite small portions (we actually were able to eat a few hours later) and steep prices ($90 for lunch!?!), I really enjoyed the food. That is what it comes down to, after all…was the food good? You’re damned skippy!