Was wrong about you, Salú!

First impressions can be a bitch. For example, the first time I walked into Salú on Magazine Street, I was pretty disappointed. I only stayed for a couple of beers and some French fries, but the whole restaurant and menu left a chain-restaurant taste in my mouth. There was this unmistakable aura of Chili’s or Applebee’s hanging over the place and I just couldn’t shake it … at least not enough for a return visit.

A few months ago, I was working on a fun little piece about ceviche and saw that Salú offered a bay scallop version on their menu. So, I dragged my buddy Anne with me to go and check it out. When we got there late in the lunch hour, the restaurant was mostly empty. We were seated right away and had a terrific server who was attentive from the get-go. Anne and I chose a bunch of different plates to share, perhaps a bunch too many, but no one was complaining.
The first dish to arrive was their “Ceviche de Salú” with small, bay scallops, pieces of shrimp, tomatoes and cilantro all marinating in a cool lemon/lime mixture and served with warm tortilla crisps. The ceviche looked divine, but had an overwhelming fishy taste that took us aback. We ended up sending it away, but we were still determined to go on with our meal. It was so odd that the dish I went to Salú to try turned out to be the worst item on our list, but, as they say, it can only go up from here … and it most certainly did.

Completely counteracting the disappointment from our first dish, the second came out and wowed us right down to our bellies. We inhaled a bowl of perfectly steamed mussels draped in shaved Parmesan and resting in a pesto broth that was so addictive, we squeaked when the server tried to take the bowl, explaining that we simply had to soak our French fries in the leftover sauce. 

The next dish had us drooling before it reached the table, Broiled Gulf Oysters topped with crispy, house made bacon and swimming in herb butter. These amazing mollusks were so incredibly delicious, we had no choice but to order another round, even though we already had more plates coming out. We did indeed order that second round and no, our eyes were not too big for our stomachs … we gobbled the whole shebang.
Our next two items came out together, a plate of Lamp Lollipops, two small, tender lamb chops that were seared to rare done-ness and drizzled with a mint chimichurri, competed with bacon-wrapped prawns. Both dishes were excellent, the lamb flavorful and juicy and the huge shrimp laden with smoky bacon … I mean, can you go wrong with bacon? I started to feel like I could sit there and keep eating all day.

We finished off the feast with a flourless chocolate cake that was topped with freshly-whipped cream and served with a rich, chocolate sauce. Anne and I both couldn’t breathe too well afterwards and I’m pretty sure the waitstaff was prepared to roll us out on dollys if need be, but we squeezed back into Anne’s car and headed home. All I can say is Salú! Salú! I am sorry I misjudged you!

Salú Bistro and Bar on Urbanspoon

Curd is the word: St. James Cheese Co.

It depresses me to dwell on it, but one of the most difficult decisions I had to make regarding my new eating “regime” was cutting out milk products, even more specifically cutting out cheese.  That meant no more mozzarella, cheddar, jack, brie, Swiss and definitely no more American cheese slices that I’m not sure are even formally recognized as real cheese.   I shed many tears over this dietary omission, but I knew this sacrifice was necessary in order for my weight loss to be a success.  While wiping away my sorrow, a ray of Gouda-hued light fell onto my face and I realized a wonderful truth. My separation from the incredible curd would not be eternal after all . . .I always had my cheats!

On Thursday, John and I visited the St. James Cheese Company for lunch and I was reunited with my dear friends once more.  This is my 33rd cheat and I am down 58 pounds.

Now don’t get the wrong idea, I love cheese, but I know only the basics.  Artisan cheese is as varied and regional as wine and, although I have tried my share of unusual or uncommon cheeses, I know virtually nothing compared with the owners and employees at the St. James Cheese Company.

When John and I entered the trendy, upscale restaurant/deli we decided to try sharing one of their special sandwiches and a small cheese board. The brightly-colored chalkboard menu informed us that the cheeses for the board were “house-selected” so we trusted the gurus to do right by us and sought out a table. 

Looking around, I suddenly felt like I was in a shop located in Sausalido or Napa Valley and I just couldn’t shake the California-esque vibe until we sat outside on the porch.  It was a gorgeous day and we sipped our sodas and watched the traffic on Prytania Street.  Instead of a Coke, we selected some Fizzy Lizzy sodas manufactured in New York that featured interesting flavors like the ones we chose…Mount Fuji Apple and Red Hill Pomegranate. 

The shop was quite busy for the lunch hour and the tables around us were filled with other cheese lovers anxiously eyeing each order that came through the glass door. To our delight, our order finally appeared and although our server told us which cheeses they selected for our board, I can’t for the life of me remember what he said (I vaguely recall geographical locations and European names)!  I realize this is truly a pathetic lapse in my report to you, but let me just say this…it doesn’t matter!

If you simply put your trust into their most capable hands, the folks at St. James Cheese Co. will deliver.  Let me describe what I can and you can just let your imagination take your taste buds the rest of the way.  There were three different cheeses on my board, accompanied by three different preserves, fresh grapes, honeyed walnuts and a small loaf of French bread.  The preserves were apricot, fig and muscadine and I am pretty sure the honey drizzled on the walnuts was Tupelo.  Each one of these “condiments” worked in marvelous combination with the featured attractions…three distinctly different cheeses.

The first one I sampled was the texture and shape of Brie or Camembert, but although the flavor had that familiar buttery aspect, it also revealed a smoky tone that was completely novel to me.  Perhaps it was smoked with a wood I’d never smelled or the rind and short aging process lent the cheese it’s unique flavor, but anyway you taste it, it was still awesome!  The second was a harder cheese, but only just, and it reminded me of a really mild cheddar with a beautiful crumbly texture that practically melted in my mouth.  The third cheese was even harder, but dense and sticky like jack and it was so delicious,  I gnawed the last bits from the rind.

While John laughed at me as I swooned over the cheese board, he devoured a piece of the open-faced sandwich which he selected, a “Salmon and Chevre“, smoked salmon and fresh goat’s milk cheese on toasted rye.  It was absolutely fantastic, fabulously fresh tasting and served with (what looked and tasted like) pickled green figs. 

When we finished our cheese feast, I was strangely light-headed and elated.  I had just experienced some kind of cheese-related nirvana and I wasn’t ready to come back to earth.  I decided to prolong my lactose “high” and visit Creole Creamery for dessert.

Instead of a sundae like our last visit to the Creamery, we opted for a cone this time.  John got a scoop of Red Velvet Cake and I  chose some Salted Caramel.  Both flavors were fantastic and we slowly licked away our ice cream while sitting on the bench outside in the spring sunshine.

As we made our way back to the car, I savored the cheesy sensation that still lingered around me like a cloud of sweet perfume.  Although I knew it would be a while before I was able to languish yet again in that particular pleasure, I knew exactly where I would visit when the jabbing pains of loss wracked me once again.

Indulging at Jackson Restaurant

After overcoming many obstacles this week including a lung infection, incompetent physicians and their assistants, and unintentionally quitting smoking (I couldn’t breathe after all)…I was barely even fazed when I stepped on the scale to discover I had gained four pounds. Obviously, even a woman scheduled to write a weekly article regarding the incredible strides she’s made in weight loss and fine dining is bound to have setbacks. Considering I haven’t encountered a serious setback in the five months I’ve been dieting, I would say I am doing pretty well.

Regardless of my gain, I still was determined to eat my weekly cheat meal. John deserved a great meal too considering his patience with me during this trying time. (Will you ever forgive my irrational tantrums? Pretty please?) After much deliberation, I finally decided to try Jackson on Magazine Street. I’d driven past it many times and have considered dining there on many occasions since it re-opened. The time had finally arrived…

John and I got to the restaurant early and were greeted warmly by Mark Anthony, one of the owners of the new incarnation.  Mark informed us that Jackson often offers a special on Thursday nights featuring a Moroccan-themed menu where you can select three courses and a bottle of wine all for around $50 per couple. Although that sounded tempting, I already had my sights set on some items from the original menu, so I opted out this time, but made a mental note to try their special sometime soon.

The interior of Jackson wouldn’t be out of place in the French Quarter with its exposed brick walls and high ceilings.  John and I were seated at a comfy, romantic booth upholstered in what seemed like a rich, brown suede-like fabric.  The white linen-covered tables all featured flickering candles and familiar strains of jazz flowed through the space at a comfortable level from what sounded like local radio station WTUL.

Our waitress kindly tempted us with a special cocktail dubbed a “Jackson Five” which was laden with several different kinds of rum, peach schnapps and cranberry juice.  We were both in the mood for a drink so we accepted, and to our delight, the drink was fresh tasting and fruity, served with rum soaked cherries and a thick slice of orange.  It was a perfect way to begin our evening.

For our first appetizer I selected another special, Cream of Asparagus Soup that was so tasty and laden with bleu cheese I could have scraped the bowl with some bread if I had any.   Next we had the Gorgonzola Cheesecake served with seeded crackers and topped with cheddar cheese and chopped walnuts.  It was really rich but we had no difficulty scarfing it down before our next appetizer arrived, Oysters Jackson.  These charbroiled beauties were laced with butter, Parmesan and topped with shrimp.  Although the oysters seemed a little small for this time of year, the shellfish was cooked perfectly and the flavor was delicious!

Admittedly, we were already getting full by this time but I was still anxious for my entrée that came out, colors flying, shortly after the appetizers.  My mouth was already watering as she laid the plate of Blackened Seared Tuna drizzled with Strawberry Jalapeño Butter served with my selected side of Whipped Boursin Sweet Potatoes.  The tuna was perfectly seared on the outside with a cool, raw center.  The heat from the blackening seasoning and the Jalapeño combined with the strawberry was a flavor my tongue hasn’t encountered before, but absolutely loved and I will definitely be back for more. Oh, and the sweet potatoes, let’s just say John doesn’t even like sweet potatoes normally, but he certainly couldn’t get enough of mine.

Although he enjoyed some of my plate, John couldn’t help but focus on his own dish, a Béarnaise Burger with a side of shoestring-style Truffle Fries.  The meat must have been marinated in wine and garlic (among other seasonings I couldn’t place) before becoming the delicious burger it was. Also, I love it when restaurants brush their hamburger buns in butter before grilling as Jackson so lovingly did.  The Béarnaise Sauce and grilled onions were just bonuses added to the delicious meat of the burger.  Before I forget to mention it, the Truffle Fries are awesome and, yes, a little truffle oil can go a long way in flavoring something as simple as a French fry.

Finally, because you know I couldn’t leave without something sweet, we ordered their Stuffed Cookies for dessert.  Simply put, they take homemade chocolate chip cookies and slather ganache and hazelnut chocolate between two to make a sweet little sandwich. They were truly divine!

The only thing that disappointed me about Jackson Restaurant was the fact that we were the only patrons there!  Even when we were leaving at around 7:00 p.m., we were still the only people in the restaurant.  What can I say but get your rears in gear and get over there!