Melting for Brown Butter Southern Kitchen & Bar

Several months ago, my friend Lorin and I met for lunch at Brown Butter Southern Kitchen & Bar. Located in Mid-City, Brown Butter opened up inside a strip mall early this year and seems to have made quite an impression in the six months following.

The restaurant was already jumping when we arrived, even though it was a bit late in the lunch hour. After saying hello to several people (including food writer Todd Price whom I finally met in person) we sat down and placed our order. Continue reading

Po-Boys to suffer for at Avery’s on Tulane

Ever since I got arrested on Lundi Gras oh-so many years ago, I sort of dread being anywhere near the ominous courthouse at the Broad and Tulane intersection. Fortunately (or unfortunately?) it seems that I need to get over that particular bad taste in my mouth, because there are too many good tastes to be had (and many more to come) in this growing corridor. A little while back, I sucked it up and took John to lunch at Avery’s on Tulane, a po-boy spot that I discovered from a visitor to our fair city who regaled a tale about an incredible roast beef. I simply had to go find out for myself, after all — what would a tourist know about roast beef po-boys? Apparently, he knew a lot…

Located less than two blocks from the dreaded courthouse and prison, Avery’s has been open for three years now and I feel like a failed foodie for not knowing about their deliciousness earlier. John and I stumbled in, incredibly hungry, and grabbed an open table. Avery’s is super casual, a low-key po-boy joint with local art on the walls and a gator mural beneath the counter. After seriously debating our choices, we finally ordered lunch and sat back to wait.

Though it may be odd to order an appetizer at a po-boy shop, we simply had to try their Fried Potato Salad. A large, ball-shaped scoop of a basic potato salad (with bacon!) was breaded with Leidenheimer po-boy bread crumbs and deep fried. We gobbled it all too quickly, which shows how tasty that particular experiment turned out to be.

Then, with a wailing fanfare that was heard only in my head, our po-boys arrived. John kept it simple with a half and half, that is half fried oysters and half fried shrimp, fully dressed of course. The shrimp were delicious, breaded in seasoned flour and the cornmeal-breaded oysters were equally pleasurable, plump and juicy, right out of the fryer.

I went a little different and tried one of their special po-boys called the “Sandbag.” Hot roast beef is topped with fried pickles and provolone cheese to create a po-boy only my wildest dreams could replicate. I’m salivating as I write this, remembering the tangy, crunch of the fried pickles and the heady flavor of the roast beef. Seriously, this is one hell of a sandwich.

John and I both ordered the large (a.k.a. 12 inch) version of our po-boys, but we quickly discovered that there was no way on this green earth we’d be able to finish more than half! So, we boxed up what was left and proceeded to order dessert. John was groaning at me out of over-satiation, but I insisted we at least try something sweet before we left. As it turned out, Avery’s home made bread pudding was just as good as everything else they put out, though it was nothing fancy, just a simple, well-made bread pudding sopping in an added caramel sauce. Were we incredibly full? Yes. Did we inhale every last bite? You bet!

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Alfresco lunch at Pho Cam Ly

A few months back, my buddy Anne and I enjoyed lunch at Pho Cam Ly on Magazine Street. Over the years, I’ve eaten a lot of pho at a lot of different Vietnamese restaurants but there are always a few that can’t help but stand out. Pho Cam Ly is on that list.

Why?
So many reasons! First, Anne and I arrived right after the lunch rush at noon and were able to score a seat on the porch of their gorgeous sidehall-turned-restaurant. After perusing the menu, Anne and I ordered a veritable Vietnamese feast, and settled to sipping sodas and gabbing till our lunch arrived.  
We started with an appetizer of steamed buns (banh gap) stuffed with grilled pork, fresh cilantro and pickled carrots that was flavorful and plentiful, seeing as you got three large buns for only $5.50.  We also ordered the fried egg rolls that were crispy, meaty and pretty much gone about as quickly as you can say “cha gio.” 

In short order, our soups arrived. I chose the pho tai with raw eye of round which was huge, even though it was a regular-sized order. The broth had that wondrously delicious depth present in any great pho, the beef and noodles were tender and plentiful, and the price was happy dance-worthy at only $6.75. I can’t recall if Anne got the pho chin with brisket or the pho bo vien with beef meatballs, but I do recall her devouring it almost as quickly as I did. 

Overall, it was a satisfying, traditional Vietnamese lunch savored at a surprisingly stellar price, and who could say no to that? Certainly not I…

Pho Cam Ly on Urbanspoon

Captivating Coquette

If you didn’t already know, Coquette is easily one of the best restaurants in New Orleans … and in a city where incredible restaurants are a dime a dozen, that’s saying a whole hell of a lot. Like Patois and Boucherie, I try to visit Coquette as often as I can, but the last meal I had was over four months ago with one of my best friends, Lorin Gaudin.

In case you haven’t noticed, I am playing some serious catch-up. I’ve dined at more restaurants than I can write about (or have time to write about) and it’s well past time to get these places all in the hopper. I’m working on it! And yes, I have written about Coquette before, but can a place this stupendous ever get old?

On Lorin’s advice, we started with an appetizer called Buffalo Apples where crisp, green apples were sectioned and deep fried in a tempura batter and then drizzled with hot sauce, blue cheese, celery and walnuts. I’ve probably said this before, but I am not a big fan of Buffalo Wings, but I could eat those apples all day long … and then some.

We also shared a bowl of rich, Smoked Pork Gumbo with mustard greens that was garnished with a soft-boiled egg and crispy, fried pig’s ear. Although not traditional, Coquette’s trumped up version had me swooning and to be perfectly honest, one bowl was simply not big enough for the two of us.

For our entrees, we both opted for sandwiches. Lorin chose the Pastrami with apples and braised slaw on house rye served with French fries. I got Ham Sandwich with huckleberry, cheddar and heirloom tomato.  We shared both sandwiches and both were just fantastic what with house-made pastrami and tasso, how could they possibly be otherwise? I also couldn’t stop stealing French fries from Lorin’s plate. Thankfully, she didn’t seem to mind.

Finally, for dessert (oh yes!), we shared a plate of gingerbread donuts with pumpkin ice cream, house made of course. Is there anything this restaurant can’t do? I’ll most assuredly be back soon …

Coquette on Urbanspoon

What the devil? Lunch at The Sammich

*Update – Since posting this blog a few hours ago, I received a note from the owner concerned that readers would believe this experience occurred recently. So, for those who skipped the first phrase, this happened several months ago in September of 2014.  

Several months ago, John and I decided to quit procrastinating and have lunch at The Sammich, one of the newest restaurants to open in the Riverbend. Previously, The Sammich had been a sort of permanent pop-up inside Chickie Wah Wah, a popular local music venue on Canal Street, and we were excited to see it land its own digs on Maple Street in our neighborhood.

After ordering at the bar, we chose a table outside to be less obtrusive with our picture-taking and to enjoy a rare day of sun (it was still winter, after all). Everything came out at once, but we started with an appetizer of deviled eggs stuffed with Louisiana crab, capers and cornichons (small French pickles). Now I realize, picking the meat out of Louisiana blue crab can be a tedious project and from time to time, shells will get into your final product no matter how fastidious you are. But, on this particular occasion, every single deviled egg had a minimum of two or three shells. It got to the point where we would take a bite out of one, find a couple of shells, and then try a bite of another … only to find more! The wonderful flavor kept us interested, but not for long. We just hoped our “sammiches” would make up for it.

John ordered their “En Brochette” Sammich with fried oysters, bacon, brie and meunière. Though I am not a big fan of mixing cheese and seafood, I really enjoyed this sandwich, enough to dub it a “sammich” indeed. Unfortunately, my order was not. I chose the New Orleans-style BBQ shrimp cooked in Abita Turbodog with blackened avocado mayo. The shrimp were juicy and perfectly cooked, but the Turbodog gave the whole sandwich a bitter aftertaste that I simply couldn’t get past and I ended up leaving the rest, stealing the other half of John’s sammich because I was starving. 

Since I’ve heard fellow foodies rave about The Sammich, extolling everything from their flash-fried escargot to the tempura-fried lobster knuckle sandwich, I will definitely have to give it another go. Only, I don’t think we’ll ever order the deviled eggs again… 

The Sammich on Urbanspoon

Half of the time at The Half Shell Oyster Bar & Grill

Other than food quality and service, one of the most important characteristics of a great restaurant is consistency. The reason I am comfortable recommending spots like Herbsaint, Patois, La Petite Grocery and Coquette, is because every time I’ve eaten at any of those restaurants, the food always rocks … every single time. Consistency is obviously important and it always should be. After all, how can you talk up a place where the food is only good some of the time?

A few months back, I was really excited to try The Half Shell Oyster Bar & Grill. John and I made it on a Wednesday for an early dinner. The restaurant sports a completely casual environment with a short of strip-mall feel featuring a good-sized raw oyster bar and tables both outside and in. We perused the menu, placed our order and eyed the big-screen TVs while we waited.

To start, we tried The Half Shell’s house special dubbed “Voodoo Bleu Oysters.” Freshly-shucked oysters are wrapped in bacon, topped with bleu cheese and grilled. The oysters were plump, the bacon and bleu cheese was plentiful and we scarfed them down with a will, you would have too. It’s almost $13 for only a half dozen of these beauties, but we thought them well worth it, especially since we happened to catch one of their oyster deals that day and got a dozen for the same price.

For our entrees, I got a fried shrimp platter with sweet potato fries and John ordered a fried catfish po-boy with onion rings. Though I thought my platter was a bit on on the small side, the shrimp were fat and crispy with a spicy batter, and my fries featured a bit of lagniappe with a sprinkling of sugar. John’s po-boy was perfect and the onion rings were crisp rounds of red onion that had marinated in Crystal Hot Sauce before being battered and fried, adding a tangy edge to the sweet onion.

I had to try dessert (don’t I always get dessert?), but the only item they offered was bread pudding. We got it anyhow, though it was really nothing special, not even one of the better bread puddings I’ve tasted. No matter, we enjoyed most of the dinner and wrote the dessert off as a minor loss.

Now my issue with the Half Shell is that I’ve returned several times since, and it’s never the same as that first time. Once the Voodoo Bleu Oysters (yes, I HAD to order them again) were disappointingly weak on bacon and bleu cheese content, and another time the onion rings came out as a greasy, fried pile-o-mess that I was tempted to send back to the kitchen. What happened? All I can hope is that they get it together and put consistency higher on their list of priorities, otherwise why would anyone come back? Here’s hoping!

The Half Shell Oyster Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

Insight at Asuka Sushi & Hibachi

A lot of folk claim there is one type of food that they know they could eat every day for the rest of their life. For me, that food was sushi. Since my first taste of salmon nigiri in a tiny, Japanese restaurant off 19th Avenue in San Francisco almost 20 years ago, I was hooked. My friends and I used to hit up Fuji Sukiyaki in San Mateo where we would literally gorge ourselves on the special rolls — from a simple Crunchy Roll to a Dragon Roll and everything in between. (*Note: Remind me to tell you about the time my friend Wilson was dared into eating a huge wad of wasabi.)

When I came to New Orleans and met John, I took him out for his first taste of sushi and he loved it as much, if not more, than I did. It got to the point where if we ever went out for lunch or dinner, more often than not, we’d end up at a sushi joint.

A few months back, John and I realized that it had been months since we indulged in our favorite food, so we went out to try one of the newest Japanese restaurants in our area, Asuka Sushi & Hibachi.  You know that weird triangle between Short Street and Fern on Earhart Blvd., the one with a jeep that looks like it crash-landed into a fake palm tree? That’s where you’ll find Asuka, right in front of the Daiquiri Island Sports Bar. 
When we arrived, the restaurant was empty and kind of dark, but a server quickly came out from the kitchen and offered us a seat at one of the booths. We browsed the menu, ordered several items and sipped iced green tea while we waited.
Since we only ordered rolls and nigiri, everything came out at once. We got a Crazy Roll with tempura shrimp, spicy tuna, avocado and masago (roe) in a soybean wrap and topped with eel sauce, and a Louisiana Roll (the whole thing was battered and fried) with tempura shrimp, snow crab, crawfish, avocado, masago and cream cheese topped with their own “special sauce.” We also got a Crunchy Roll, a Tuna Avocado Roll and Tuna Tataki Nigiri.
Now don’t get me wrong, all of the rolls were delicious and for people who love the big, extravagant, Westernized rolls, they were perfect. But, when it came down to it, John and I enjoyed the Tuna Tataki the most, just simple, seared tuna with green onion and ponzu sauce. Perhaps it was because our palates had developed since our last sushi extravaganza, but the big showy rolls no longer held any fascination for us. In fact, they all started to taste the same. 
In our subsequent sushi adventures, we’ve stuck to simple rolls (like tuna and avocado), nigiri and sashimi, enjoying them as much as we did the elaborate rolls. Why mess with a good thing? We have Asuka to thank for that revelation.

Asuka Sushi & Hibachi on Urbanspoon

Feasting at the Fountain Lounge

Without a doubt, one of the greatest perks of being a food writer is getting invited to media dinners (or lunches, as the case may be). Granted, I tend to not take advantage of this particular perk very often and there are several reasons why. First, I don’t feel it’s fair to report on a meal where I was quite literally treated like royalty, something the average Joe is not likely to experience. Second, the whole encounter doesn’t really feel like my own if I didn’t pay for it. That being said, every once in a while on a whim, I will attend a lunch or dinner that will completely blow my socks off and my luncheon at the Fountain Lounge in the Roosevelt Hotel was exactly that.

Several months ago, my friend Lorin and I were invited to taste the creations of Chef Mark Marjorie at the Fountain Lounge and neither of us had the will to resist. After being seated in oh-so comfortable club chairs, we sat back and let the parade of good tastes begin. 

They started us off with a charcuterie plate, all made in-house of course, featuring thinly-sliced guanciale, citrus-cured strips of salmon and our favorite, foie gras torchon. We gobbled everything on toasted slices of French bread and gluten-free rice crisps. 
Next, we were served two Gulf oysters, one raw and the other char grilled, but both perfect in presentation and flavor. Then came the tuna tartare with grilled avocados, red pepper aioli and toasted nori (edible seaweed). 

Then, almost before we could take a breath, out comes something I had never tried before, a roasted marrow bone split in half, glistening and waiting patiently for me to discover the new-found pleasures contained therein. I was nervous at first, if you’ve ever seen roasted bone marrow, you’d understand. It looks like a slab of fat resting inside a bone when, in fact, it’s likely one of the most decadent and delicious meat products I have ever enjoyed in my life. It was like a rich, delicious meat-butter that you can smear on bread, crackers or simply scarf by the spoonful. 

We also were treated to a pan-roasted sea scallop with fresh peas and pearl barley and a braised beef short rib with Jefferson Stout glace and fried oysters, Lorin and I enjoyed everything that passed through our lips, even the beautiful, hand-made truffles they offered us for dessert. This little media lunch that I wasn’t even sure I’d attend turned out to be, hands down, one of the best meals I had in 2014. Sure hope 2015 is ready to top it!
Fountain Lounge on Urbanspoon

Westbank eats at Perino’s Boiling Pot

Whenever I go over to the Westbank, there’s a few places whose cuisine I tend to crave, places like Pho Tau Bay, Hong Kong Market, Tan Dinh and Perino’s Boiling Pot. It’s kind of like that Sesame Street song, “One of these things is not like the other, one of these things doesn’t belong.” Usually, if I’m on the “Wank,” I’m all for the Asian/Vietnamese joints because, well, there’s a lot of them. But Perino’s drew me in a long time ago, a recommendation from a local on where to get the cheapest oysters, which were at that time only 25 cents each.

A few months ago, John, Casey and I headed for lunch at Perino’s only to find that not a whole lot has changed, except the oysters have jumped in price, but that’s to be expected. We still ordered a half dozen as an appetizer just for the hell of it, even though they now cost $8, approximately $1.30 each. They were plump, briny and delicious, as usual, but they just served to rev us up for our entrees.

Instead of each getting a seafood basket, we decided to split two baskets between the three of us, crab claws and alligator, both of which came with curly fries. It was all crisply fried and just as tasty as I remember, especially the tender alligator, a local treat of which I can never really get enough. I need to get back to feast on boiled crawfish and crab (their specialty), but I’ll wait till the season is right.

Perino’s is super-casual with paper-towel rolls instead of napkin dispensers and huge sodas that come in durable, plastic cups, but that shouldn’t discourage diners one jot. The only thing I found a bit difficult to adjust to is all the wildlife watching you eat. Don’t worry, they won’t steal your food…

Perino's Boiling Pot on Urbanspoon

MoPho-ing tasty…

Anne, John and I visited MoPho a while ago, right in the first week of its opening and yes… it’s taken me this long to write about it. Am I lazy? Am I a slacker? Perhaps, but I only seem to sacrifice my own blog when I’m feeling in the mood to do absolutely nothing.

But this week, this week I am on a mission and I really hope this drive carries on into the following weeks because let’s face it, there’s a lot of stuff I’d really like to get done. So, without further ado…
MoPho is located on that weird corner of City Park Avenue, right behind the Burger King. When visiting MoPho, be warned that parking in the Burger King parking lot will indeed get you towed, so park wisely. But I am sure y’all have been there by now… at least you better have! 
We sat outside because the restaurant was packed full even though it was a tad late in the lunch hour. It was a bit chilly, but we suffered on, determined to enjoy ourselves regardless of the weather. We started out with a couple of appetizers that arrived at the same time. The Crispy Chicken Wings with lemongrass and ginger were incredibly wonderful (and I really am not a fan of wings), the sauce they wallowed in at the bottom of the bowl was so good in fact, I wrote about it’s possible use as a body sauce in another article. We also had a plate of Crispy P&J Oysters with “Mopho mayo” that was equally fabulous, the oysters being rather plump and juicy. We gobbled them both down just in time for our entrees.

Anne and I both had pho. I got beef broth with duck, pork belly and mushroom. I don’t recall what Anne ordered exactly, but I am pretty sure she also chose the beef broth with pork belly. Two things disappointed me about the pho. First, there was barely any meat. I got one bite of duck, one of pork belly and the rest was mushroom. I suppose I could have loaded it up (double that belly!), but still…it made me sad. Second, the broth was lacking the beefy depth and richness I’ve experienced at my favorite Vietnamese spots and Anne agreed with me. BUT! You must keep in mind (and I did) that this was their first week of opening and it’s entirely possible that the chefs still hadn’t quite got the hang of making a great pho broth. Foodie friends of mine thought the pho was perfect, so I will have to return a few more times before my judgement of the pho is definitive. 

John ordered a “sloppy” roast duck banh mi and although it was juicy and overflowing with fresh veggies, the quantity of meat was seriously lacking and it was in no way sloppy. Certainly not like a sloppy roast beef po-boy where you need to wash up afterwards. I’d be surprised if John used more than one napkin on the whole sandwich.

We finished out the meal with dessert, a condensed milk cake with condensed milk caramel served with Vietnamese coffee ice cream. Although it didn’t look very pretty, it was quite delectable, especially the ice cream. We also ordered a couple of hot Vietnamese coffees in the hopes of warming up. 

All in all, though there were some disappointments, almost everything tasted quite good. Not to mention, while we were waiting for our table, we saw all kinds of dishes coming out for other diners that looked and smelled quite stunning, so we will definitely be back to try again. 

MoPho on Urbanspoon