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…

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Dining bucket list for 2014

Instead of posting a reminiscent blog about the year that just passed, I thought that I would post about what I want from the future. While it can be fun, nostalgic and even sometimes educational to revisit the past, I find that I spend far too much time considering what could have been. In an effort to step away from that mindset for a change, let’s look at what delicious experiences I would like to have in the coming year.

Believe it or not, although I have been living, and eating, in this wondrous town for over ten years now, there are still quite a few restaurants I have not experienced. Some are brand new, so I kind of have an excuse, but some have been around for ages and I have yet to poke my head in the door. So, here is my “bucket list,” for lack of a better descriptor, of ten restaurants (off the top of my head) that I would love to visit (and why) before 2015 rears it’s mewling, newborn head.

#1. Galatoire’s – I know, I know. Don’t start throwing rotten garbage at me, but it’s true, I’ve yet to dine at one of the city’s oldest and most venerated restaurants. Yes, I have sampled some of the cuisine Galatoire’s offers at festivals and foodie events, but I have never experienced a meal inside the restaurant itself. Unfortunately, I have grand expectations of this place and I am afraid to dine there for three main reasons; I have nothing suitable to wear, I might not like the food and I can’t afford a true “Galatoire’s experience.” I’ll just have to get over myself, bite the bullet, hock some jewelry and go.

#2. Gautreau’s – To be honest, I have been literally dying to dine at Gautreau’s. Sue Zemanick is easily one of the top chefs in the city and to miss out on experiencing her cuisine is simply bonkers, especially for a food hound like myself. But, there are two drawbacks to dining at Gautreau’s. Like other eateries on this list, money is a huge issue and this place is definitely expensive. I usually solve that problem (and the issue of natural light for proper food porn) by going for lunch. Unfortunately, Gautreau’s only offers dinner. I’ll find a way to make it work…

#3. Mariza – Why? I love great Italian cuisine and this brand new Bywater restaurant has been rumored to fit the bill. Plus, I was fortunate enough to interview the chef, Ian Schnoebelen, and he is one cool guy who loves his work. Plus, have you seen the menu? If Fried Polenta or Quail & Pancetta don’t excite you, I’m not sure what will.

#4. Dooky Chase’s Restaurant – My two reasons for wanting to try Dooky Chase’s place may be silly, but at least I’m being honest. A – I need to try her Gumbo Z’herbes and B. – well, everyone else has been there…why can’t I?

#5. Willie Mae’s Scotch House – Two words: Fried Chicken.

#6. La Boca – Reputedly among one of the best steakhouses in the city, La Boca is one of Chef Adolfo Garcia’s first restaurants and it has been recommended to me time and time again. One fellow foodie, let’s call her JAG, has suggested I visit La Boca so many times, that I am beginning to think it might be her favorite restaurant. Regardless, I really should go, even if for no other reason than to get over my fear of menus that don’t list prices.

#7. Mizado Cocina – Growing up in the Bay Area taught me to appreciate all different types of cuisine, especially Latin American. That’s why when Mizado opened just recently in Metairie, going out to try this restaurant has continually been on my mind. What with three types of guacamole, seven different salsas and five ceviches, I’m surprised it’s taken me this long. Lunch date anyone? Tomorrow? Day after? C’mon!

#8. Restaurant August – I know, just slap me. There is no excuse for why I have not yet been to August and numerous reasons for why I should. I liked Luke and and love Domenica, it’s way past time for me to visit the Beshist Besh restaurant in the city. It’ll happen.

#9. Kermit’s Treme Speakeasy Restaurant & Bar – All I can say is Kermit is a very cool cat and he loves to BBQ almost as much as he loves playing his trumpet. Although I am unsure about the hours at his restaurant, the Facebook page is always reporting dishes like Southern Fried Catfish, Mustard Greens and Butter Beans & Rice, and it all sounds fantastic. Plus, I’ve heard that on occasion he’ll serve stranger fare like squirrel and nutria. I’m willing to take that risk!

#10. Grill Room at the Windsor Court – Easily one of the highest of the high end restaurants in the city, it’s obvious as to why I haven’t yet graced the Grill Room with my presence, but I have had opportunities to sample the cuisine and I would still love to try. Not to mention the fact that the restaurant itself is absolutely gorgeous and I worry that my shabby self would definitely stand out.

Granted, money might be the biggest reason I will miss out on these restaurants again in 2014, but I will do my best not to let those nasty dollars stand in my way of experiencing another stellar, New Orleans meal.

Post-gym binge at Maurepas Foods

Other than swimming, exercise and I really don’t get along. My knees and lower back are a complete mess, making any strenuous activity an effort in sheer masochism. Like Buddha, I must embrace the pain simply to tolerate a walk to the bookstore around the corner. I do adore swimming, though. It is great exercise with an absolutely no pain involved, unless you count the warm, tingling soreness I experience after an hour or so in the pool. The only problem is that unlike sweating on the elliptical, doing a weight-lifting routine or even 90 minutes of yoga, swimming makes me ravenous. Seriously…I could eat the whole gym.

Instead of crunching down on stationary bikes, Anne and I decided to have lunch at Maurepas Foods. Keep in mind, this luncheon occurred a few months ago seeing as Maurepas has recently changed their hours to include brunch and dinner and lunch no longer exists. No big deal really, it’s not like they closed (heaven forbid).

We arrived at an odd hour (around 2 pm) and the restaurant was pretty empty, but as we sat next to the window overlooking Burgundy Street, people gradually filed in for afternoon drinks, snacks and early dinners. Anne and I decided to share a couple of appetizers and the first to arrive was the Crab meat Calas with papaya and Hoisin syrup and a pile of crisp, grilled snap beans. Although the calas were savory, delicious fried balls of happiness, the snap beans really blew me away with their “fresh-from-the-garden” look and bright green flavor.

The other appetizer arrived as we were still scarfing down the first, Crowder Pea Pupusas with crowder tapenade and crowder hull syrup. This dish was so cool in that it displayed three different ways to use crowder peas, not to mention it was awfully tasty and incredibly filling. Anne and I were both a bit worried about managing our entrees after wolfing down the pupusas.

For my main dish, I chose the ever-popular Goat Tacos with pickled green tomatoes and cilantro harissa. Three piles of shredded and well-seasoned goat meat were heaped inside of house made corn tortillas and I enjoyed the rich flavor both with and without the garnishes. Anne, who was new to goat, decided to play it safe with a Roasted Pork Shoulder served with pickled squid, romesco and a mustard green vinaigrette. It seemed so strange to pair squid and pork together, but Anne thoroughly enjoyed the dish and I certainly wasn’t complaining after sampling a few bites.

In an effort to completely negate our earlier workout, we also ordered dessert. Anne desperately wanted the Pumpkin Pot de Creme with caramel, creme fraiche and popcorn ball pieces, and I wanted the Cookie Sandwiches with mint chocolate ice cream, ranger bites and chocolate syrup so instead of coming to a compromise, we each had our own dessert. I have to say, neither of us regretted our decision because both desserts were fabulous (we shared anyhow), but we probably should have headed straight back to the gym after lunch.

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Lunch theater at Peche Seafood Grill

Ever since it opened a few months back, I’d been dying to go to Peche.  As you all know, I am a huge fan of anything connected to Donald Link and Stephen Stryjewski because it seems that everything they touch turns to gold. And I’m not talking gold as in buckets of cash, although they are hugely successful. I am talking gold as in the perfect crust on a pan-fried eggplant round topped with a pile of sweet, jumbo lump crab meat, gilded Louisiana shrimp resting on a honey-colored bed of cream corn or crisply browned potato hash served with succulent pork cheeks, crumbled feta and fresh mint. You know…that kind of gold.

About a month ago, John and I visited the Warehouse District eatery, and when we walked in for a very late lunch that fateful day, Peche still had that new restaurant smell. Since it was so late in the afternoon, but not quite dinner, we had almost the whole restaurant to ourselves aside from a few folks at the bar. I absolutely loved the “distressed” decor which reminded me of seafood joints I’ve frequented all down the coast of California. You almost expect to look out of the window to see a stretch of the shoreline and pounding waves rather than a busy Magazine Street intersection.

Although it was hard to pick only two, John and I started out with the Crab & Artichoke Fritters and Royal Red Shrimp with garlic butter. When the plate of fritters was set before us, John and I glanced at each other with raised eyebrows. I mean, four rather small fritters with a mini-veggie salsa for $9? Really? I sighed and thought to myself, “These better be the best damn fritters I’ve ever eaten.”

You know what? They were

Instead of being overloaded with breadcrumb fillers, these little beauties were mostly lumps of creamy crab meat which spilled out onto your tongue after breaking through the thin, crispy crust. They were fritters like I’ve never had, but always wanted. After that, we just trusted that everything we would eat that afternoon would be splendid, no more doubts, despite uncontrollable cringes at the price. The shrimp were perfectly cooked, huge and juicy, and instead of fighting over shrimp #5, we shared the buttery goodness, happily sucking it from our fingertips.

When the server came over and saw us licking our fingers, he laughed a bit and came back with a small bowl of warm water, a couple of “towel pills” and some lemon wedges. Even though I’d never seen them in a restaurant before, I knew exactly what to do and John watched while I squeezed some lemon into the water, dropped in the “pill” and voila! I think we need to get out more often because this little intermission offered more entertainment I thought could possibly be had from simply cleaning our hands and faces.

The lights should have lowered and the drums rolled because we were ready for a round of applause when our main course arrived. John and I decided to share a whole grilled striped bass ($45…OUCH!) and share it we did. He dug into one end while I attacked the other and we cleaned that wondrous creature from head to tail. If I could have, I would have picked the whole thing up and devoured it myself, like a cartoon cat dipping it into my mouth and pulling out the bones with nothing left but a large grin on my face. I am sure John wanted his own, as well. Next time, perhaps, if we can scrape up enough dough.

After all that mouth-watering deliciousness, I insisted on dessert, especially knowing that one of my favorite pasty chefs, Rhonda Ruckman, created the menu. It’s always difficult to choose just one of her amazing desserts, but we finally settled on a Pistachio-Crusted Blueberry Tart served with Atchafalaya Honey Chantilly (whipped cream) on top and drizzled with caramel sauce. What can I say? It was fabulous! Especially the crust which can only be described as a buttery, flaky world of endless wonder.

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A light lunch in the burbs at Romano

If there’s one thing you know about me, it’s that I don’t tend to eat healthy when I go out. Since I can’t afford to dine out everyday, my weekly jaunts to the outside world are indulgences, mini-events where I can spoil myself rotten and, unfortunately or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, lean chicken or veggie-laden salads are not what I consider “living large.” It’s not that I think proper nutrition and diet are unimportant, it’s just can be rather dull, especially when you try to eat right the rest of the week.

Another thing I don’t do is travel out into Metairie often. Not only do I lack a vehicle, but I tend to avoid the suburbs. I spent the first 33 years of my life trapped in a suburb of San Francisco, never really letting myself experience the diversity and culture of the city and I missed out on so very much. Needless to say, all suburbs, whether they be in Southern Louisiana or Northern California, are the same. “Little boxes on the hillside, little boxes made of ticky tacky…” Did you know that song was written about a city in the same county where I grew up? I digress…

So with both of these factors already working against it, when I went to lunch with Casey at Romano Italian Street Food, I wasn’t expecting much, aside from the opportunity to hang out with a friend I rarely get to see. 

Located on Veterans Avenue, “Romano’s” as its fondly been dubbed, is a cafeteria style restaurant, much like Felipe’s that I just wrote about, except Italian-style. Also similar to Felipe’s, Romano takes pride in keeping it fresh with salads, wraps, or “Piadinas,” and pasta bowls made to your specifications from a long list of ingredients, some of which are sourced from local distributors, bakers and fishermen. For example, the shrimp are caught in the Bayou Segnette and brought in regularly from a Westwego fishery.
My friend Casey got one of their rather popular Piadinas which is essentially a wrap filled with (in her case) grilled steak, angel hair pasta, feta cheese, peppadew peppers, thin slices of pancetta, artichoke hearts and a spicy tomato cream sauce. It looked and smelled wonderful, and I found out, as Italian as this dish may sound, the wraps are actually tortillas (piadinas are quite similar, made with flour and lard) made locally at Hola Nola in Gonzales. I had no idea a tortillaria existed in Louisiana!

From all the different salad options, I ordered a one of their “Chef Selections,” a Spicy Tuscan Shrimp Salad (only 320 calories!), letting the experts make it for me. Aside from fresh, boiled shrimp, the salad had mixed greens, eggplant caponata (a cooked-eggplant salad), peppers, onions, roasted garlic, artichoke and shaved Parmesan in a sun-dried tomato vinaigrette…and you know what? I liked it! Not only did I like it…it was really filling. Romano does not skimp on the vegetable, cheese or shrimp and I still was struggling to finish at least half when Casey told me about their new dessert. 

My ears pricked up at the thought of something sinful and they didn’t disappoint when I tasted their Gelato Panini. The chef took scoops of Angelo Brocato Vanilla Bean Gelato, topped it with a crunchy, chocolate topping (like a crumbled Nestle Crunch bar) and sandwiched it between a split King’s Hawaiian Sweet Roll. It was an Italian, Hawaiian and American sweet fest in my mouth and seriously, I am drooling about it right now. Excuse me, I need a napkin…

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Screaming for New Orleans Ice Cream: Mardi Gras Pie

To me, the combination of marshmallow. graham cracker and chocolate means S’mores. But, it seems that in the South, this magical combination also equals the ever-popular Moon Pie. Don’t roll your eyes, but I have never had the pleasure of enjoying a Moon Pie, and even though there are Mardi Gras krewes that are known for throwing this treat out to avid parade-goers, I’ve never caught one either. 

Regardless of this lack of Moon Pie experience, it doesn’t mean that I like this combination any less. In fact, I could easily devour S’mores (at home or in front of a campfire) until the proverbial cows finally make it back to the homestead. That is why when New Orleans Ice Cream Co’s owner Adrian Simpson offered to drop off a couple of pints of his newest flavor for me to try, I jumped at the opportunity.   
Dubbed Mardi Gras Pie, this heaven-in-a-cardboard-pint consists of creamy marshmallow ice cream (yes, I said marshmallow ice cream) with an extra marshmallow swirl, thick dark chocolate flakes and soft bits of graham cracker. Could you imagine this throw at the next Mardi Gras parade? Better practice shouting “Throw me something, Mister!” because I’ll definitely be your competition.