It’s become something of a tradition for John and I to dine out for our Thanksgiving dinner, and let me tell you, we’ve had some truly memorable meals. Just off the top of my head I fondly recall watching my friend’s daughter (she was almost 1!) enjoy her first foie gras at Café Adelaide, being blown away by a “Turkey Wellington” at Compère Lapin, and the turkey neck and andouille gumbo with crab fried rice at Cavan.*
We opted for a homemade keto Thanksgiving last year, but I was ready to splurge this time around and it only took a few seconds perusing the menu at Mister Mao to make my decision. For only $65 per person, we would experience a whirlwind, East Asian-influenced tour of Turkey Day. To say I was excited would be an understatement.
John and I each chose different dishes from the prix fixe, three-course menu to be sure we could taste as much as possible. Though I love a good cocktail to celebrate special occasions, I couldn’t indulge that day (yay antibiotics!), so I opted for a coulda-fooled-me non alcoholic “Bubbe’s Tahoe Recliner” from their “Virgins Who Can’t Drive” list featuring Lyre’s Italian Orange (n/a Compari) mixed with grapefruit and passionfruit juices. John, who had no such restrictions, enjoyed “Daddy Issues” or Mao’s version of an Old Fashioned with Buffalo Trace Bourbon, Combier orange liqueur, amaro and a Luxardo cherry. The Tchoupitoulas Street restaurant may only be a little more than a year old, but they’ve already learned to pour with a New Orleans hand.
One of Mister Mao’s most popular snacks pani puri made an appearance as our amuse bouche, but this time filled with cream cheese, fresh mint and an optional shot of habanero sauce. There was also a most-welcome plate of spicy, chilled crab claws just to get our mouths watering for our feast, and after that the plates just flowed one right into the next.
Staying on the crab theme, my blue crab chaat was everything it should be, lots of textures from the soft potato masala and crispy rice pops, and a lot of spicy heat coming from the sauce, a passionfruit “fuego.” Poor me, I was forced to cool my tongue with intermittent bites of John’s dish, a vegan “nam khao” – ie. a Laotian crispy rice salad with peanut, coconut, chia seed red curry and pineapple nuoc cham. While we thoroughly enjoyed every dish we got to try, this is the one we kept talking about after the meal was over. Not only because it was funny watching the servers try and execute a little dinner theater by attempting to break up the crispy rice balls with a couple of spoons (they kept sliding away!), but mostly because it was incredible! Why have I never had this before? Where the hell have I been?
I was thinking about the menu and the other flavors I may have missed out on when serendipity struck. Chef Sophina Uong, in her infinite kindness, sent out a bonus dish of their satsuma tuna crudo with lots of fresh, bright red tuna, juicy peeled slices of bright orange satsuma and grapefruit, crunchy hominy, spicy avocado and a Yucatán salsa/sauce called Xnipek made with habanero peppers.
Our main courses were next to soar out of the open kitchen, and John’s berbere beef short rib made a visual (and aromatic) splash. In case you didn’t know (I certainly didn’t) berbere is an Ethiopian spice blend that includes dried chili peppers, garlic, coriander and ginger, plus ingredients I’ve never heard of before like korarima, rue and radhuni. Regardless, it was deliciously earthy and the short rib melted in our mouths. It was served with mitmita-spiced jam (another Ethiopian blend) atop a bed of lentils and with a side of crispy-fried fingerling potatoes.
If that didn’t get your head spinning, my Turkey Tikka Masala might! Like an Indian version of Thanksgiving dinner, thick slices of roast turkey were swimming in a spicy yogurt masala served in an stainless steel dish along with bright orange, smashed yams, turmeric creamed greens, coffee-smothered chick peas and a pickled cranberry-lime sauce. It was so flavorful, fun and huge!
Because the chef thought we weren’t getting stuffed enough, she also sent out another entree, her Korean deviled shrimp with gochujang, Napa cabbage, shiitake mushrooms and chewy rice cakes or “tteok”. All I can think is chef must have sensed I was hemming and hawing between the Turkey Tikka Masala and this dish. The deciding factor was that I’d been indulging in way too much Korean food lately and I thought I’d change it up. There went that plan! The sweet, Louisiana shrimp almost played second fiddle to the sauce and chewy rice cakes, but they won out in the end.
Because John and I are definitely power eaters, we were able to make it through most of all three entrees, but we held back and boxed what was left in anticipation of dessert. The “Happy Endings” were two totally different kinds of sweet; one a white chocolate and yogurt mousse with yuzu (Japanese lemon) compressed pears, crunchy caramelized basmati rice and lime basil sorbet; the other a layered peanut chocolate bar with salted caramel, sesame oil and roasted grapes. The first was light, bright and refreshing while the second posed a rich and decadent end to a rich and decadent dinner.
By the end of the meal, we were both in a gluttonous haze, speaking was next to impossible and breathing was something of an after-thought. Just when we thought we’d escape to the safety of our foodless vehicle, Chef Uong sent out a plate of almond macarons. Did we eat them? Oh yes, yes we did. Did we regret it? Not on your life!
*Café Adelaide and Cavan are closed.