New Orleans Dining: Cochon

September 23, 2007

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Cochon
930 Tchoupitoulas St, New Orleans, LA
(504) 588-2123

Web Site: http://www.cochonrestaurant.com/

One of the restaurants in New Orleans I most wanted to dine at was COCHON, a new, Post-Katrina casual fine dining restaurant that was opened by Donald Link, of Herbsaint fame and 2007 James Beard Award Winner for Best Chef, South (click for previous OTB podcast) who I interviewed during my previous New Orleans trip back in April of 2006. At the time, the finishing touches of COCHON had just been done, and the restaurant was preparing to open only days after I returned home. Now, over a year later, COCHON has become one of New Orleans’ top restaurants, and was nominated as “Best New Restaurant” in the 2007 James Beard Awards.

Best described as “Modern Cajun” COCHON incorporates many elements of traditional Cajun cuisine combined with twists from Europe and Asia. Although the food and the restaurant would easily find itself in New York’s hip SoHo and Greenwich Village or among the top fine dining establishments in Midtown Manhattan, it is most definitely a New Orleans restaurant and one of the city’s finest examples at that.

Exterior, Tchoupitoulas Street in New Orleans

Entrance View

Dining Room

Table Closeup

Is COCHON Hillbilly or Haute? I think it’s a bit of both. Click on the “Read the rest of this entry” link below for more.

Read the rest of this entry »


New Orleans Dining: Grand Isle

September 14, 2007

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Grand Isle
575 Convention Center Blvd, New Orleans, LA 70130
(504) 520-8530

Web Site: http://www.grandislerestaurant.com

Despite the huge amount of destruction and displacement caused by Hurricane Katrina, restaurant life is still quite alive in New Orleans. In addition to a number of notable re-openings and renovations of popular and long standing restaurants, there have been a number of notable new restaurant openings as well. One of those is Grand Isle, in the Central Business District located right across from the Riverwalk shopping center and the Hilton hotel, and situated close to the Morial Convention Center.

We had been told about Grand Isle by local food writer Todd Price, who is always looking for good deals when eating out. During the hours between 4PM and 7PM, Grand Isle does a happy hour where you can get a big ‘ol plate of boiled seafood for $3.99. As it was shrimp season, they were offering 1lb plates of boiled Gulf Shrimp with corn and potatoes. That’s all it took to get us in the door.

Grand Isle restaurant on Convention Center Boulevard.

Main Dining Room

Dining Room View

Bar Dining Area

Oyster Bar

Rachel was still a bit under the weather and was in a soupy mood. We got some of their Turtle Soup, which is similar to a Gumbo but has turtle meat in it. It was turtlelicious.

Big ‘ol 1lb plate of Louisiana gulf shrimp, heads on, boiled in Zatarains, with corn on the cob and new potatoes. You can’t beat this deal for $3.99. At these prices, I was inclined to order a few more plates, but I wanted to check out the new Drago’s across the street and we had another dinner appointment that evening.

Shrimp closeup.


Atlanta Dining: Mary Mac’s Tea Room

March 22, 2007

Mary Mac’s Tea Room
224 Ponce De Leon Ave NE, Atlanta, GA
(404) 876-1800

Web site: http://www.marymacs.com/ 

One of my objectives this week was to have a sit down, traditional Southern meal in a classic setting. While I have had some good Soul Food examples in Florida and New York City recently, they were both modern restaurants, and the last time I had a truly exceptional Southern/Soul Food experience that could be considered to be truly classic would be at Willie Mae’s Scotch House in New Orleans, back in May of 2005. Willie Mae’s was destroyed by flooding three months later as a result of the levvee breaches following Hurricane Katrina, and it is in the late stage of being rebuilt — so I probably won’t be able to have another meal in there for at least several months. When I heard of Mary Mac’s Tea Room, a similar, but more upscale (and much larger) Southern/Soul Food restaurant in the Poncey-Highland section of Atlanta, which has been around since the 1940’s, I jumped at the chance to eat there.

Fried Chicken, Cornbread, Okra and Tomatoes. Click on the “read the rest of this entry” link below for more.

Read the rest of this entry »


All About Andouille

January 15, 2007

Related OTB Podcast: Wayne Jacob’s AndouilleCAST

Those of you who are following the New Orleans Saints super bowl aspirations may be considering cooking up a pot of jambo or gumbo this weekend. Andouille, a type of smoked sausage (pronounced ON-Dooey) is a critical ingredient in Cajun cooking, and is an essential part of many Jambalaya and Gumbo recipes.

The content of this post previously appeared on another web site back in 2005, a few months prior to hurricane Katrina hitting the New Orleans area, but I thought it might be timely and of interest to all of you. Go Saints!

La Place, Louisiana is pretty much considered to be one of the key centers of Cajun specialty meat production in the state. For an interesting article on andouille and La Place, read this piece by Pableaux Johnson.

Wayne Jacob’s Smokehouse
769 W 5th St # A, La Place, LA 70068.
Main Phone: (985) 652-9990
Fax: (985) 652-0999.

We arrived to a somewhat ramshackle-looking building that included a small restaurant, and a small counter and fridge where you can buy Andouille, Smoked Sausage, Tasso, and Beef Jerky. Brooks made the place sound like it was a big operation like Poche’s, but it wasn’t.

As it turns out, after discussing all things Andouille with David, the smoke master and butcher at Wayne Jacob’s, that we came to the “wrong” Jacob’s, and he was glad that we did. Wayne Jacob’s Smokehouse is the genuine heir to the original Jacob’s Andouille recipe, and they’ve been producing it for many years. The OTHER Jacob’s Andouille, also located in La Place, which is much more well known and is a much larger operation, uses preservatives and heavy nitrates in order to make their product shippable and thus has a USDA certification. Wayne Jacob’s Smokehouse,on the other hand, only can sell locally, because its goods are highly perishable, even though they are salted and smoked. David encouraged me to compare his product to Jacob’s Andouille, and he invited me to watch him make the product to show me how superior it was. I took him up on it.

Here is finished andouille, after smoking in one of the 4 smokehouses for 10-12 hours.

This is a cross section of a smoked andouille sausage.

Want to see how its made? Click on the “Read the rest of this entry” link below for more.

Read the rest of this entry »


SHAME on Alan Richman

November 7, 2006

Photo: A montage of some of New Orleans’ best culinary delights (Jason Perlow)

The food blogging and professional food writing community is afire (1) (2) (3) (4) in response to Alan Richman’s most recently published cruel, callous, ignorant, poorly researched and factually vacant piece of trash that presents his myopic and predjudicial view of New Orleans restaurants and food culture. Shame on Alan Richman for writing it, and shame on GQ for allowing such a terrible and badly written piece to go to print.

The total sum of Richman’s factual inaccuracies, ignorance and complete lack of research in his article are too numerous to mention.

If anyone wants easy proof to refute every single stupid point in his article, have a look at the New Orleans section of this web site, which has in-depth reviews and photos of the food at many of the city’s top eateries, plus podcasts with several of the city’s most prominent chefs:

Off The Broiler: New Orleans (click for index)

Certainly as a self-admitted and culturally biased and egotistical New Yorker who also believes his town is the center of the universe, I could also have said the same stupid things that Richman is saying. But the difference is I’ve spent a lot of time in New Orleans and Richman clearly has not.

For the past several years, my wife Rachel and I have been visiting the City of New Orleans, because we love the food and have such a strong emotional attachment to the city. We visited the city in 2003, we had a trip in 2005 (just 2 months prior to Katrina devastating the city) and most recently a trip in April of 2006, all of which is detailed here.

I think that while it is extremely important that we remember those lost to Katrina and the devastating effect it has has on the city of New Orleans, that we also rejoice in that New Orleans is rebuilding, and that New Orleans is still a great place to visit in terms of gastrotourism and that the food is still fantastic, and that you really should all be going down and spending your vacations and money there to help bring the city back.

Jason Perlow

Founder, eGullet.com

Blogger of Off The Broiler (http://www.offthebroiler.com)


It’s Satsuma Time Again!

October 22, 2006

Updated 11/3: Welcome Chow.com visitors!

Photo: A supremed Louisiana Satsuma. (Jason Perlow)

It’s the beginning of November, so you know what that means! No, not time to start stocking up with on-sale leftover bags of HFCS-laden industrial confections for last week’s costumed brats. It’s time for Satsumas! Yes, the juicy and wonderful loose-skinned Mandarins that come from Southern Louisiana.

If you’ve never had Louisiana citrus before, it is sensational and a true eye opener, and totally worth the premium of having it shipped to you. Louisiana only produces a fraction of the produce that Florida and California does, but in my opinion the Satsumas that are grown in Louisiana are far superior to mandarins grown in those states and the clementines brought in from Spain. The Southern Louisiana climate is ideal for these fruits, which have a highly aromatic peel that is literally almost falling off in the first place and are absolutely brimming with sweet and tangy juice.

Here’s a bit of interesting info from Charles over at LaLagniappe.com:

“Orange trees will only survive Louisiana winters in the areas near the Gulf of Mexico. Even in those areas, we usually have a severe freeze every 10 years or so that cause major damage to the orchards. But we’re a persistent bunch and always replant and try again <grin>. Most orchards were southeast of New Orleans, along the Mississippi River as it heads into the Gulf. That was the area hardest hit by Katrina. Most of those orchards were wiped out and all sustained major damage from salt water and winds. The oranges we sell come from an orchard also along the Mississippi River, but northwest of New Orleans, just across the river from the New Orleans airport. This area was spared the worst of the storm and the trees were somewhat protected from the eastern winds by the Mississippi River levee.”

And don’t forget to order Red Navel oranges from Louisiana either:

“The best kept secret of south LA citrus is the red Navel oranges. Navels can not withstand as much cold as the Satsumas or Louisiana Sweets, so we lose some every time there is a decent freeze. However, those that survive and the best Navel oranges I have ever eaten. They are somewhat rare and seldom seen for sale since almost all are consumed by the growers or their friends and relatives. They look like a ruby red grapefruit when cut open, but believe me they are *all* Navel! Maybe I am just prejudiced, and maybe it is because you never really get a tree ripened Navel elsewhere, but I really believe they are the best tasting oranges in the world. And I’ve eaten oranges from Israel to California to Brazil.”

Here’s a video I took in November of 2005, where I had a 40lb box of Satsumas sent to me from Simon Citrus Farm.

Simon is going to be selling Satsumas again this year but the trees got pretty beat up by Katrina and are still recovering, so I am going to give them a break this time. This year I ordered two boxes from Charles at LaLagniappe.com, who seems to have trees utterly filled with fruit according to photos he’s supplied me with:

A Satsuma orchard northwest of New Orleans (Charles Copes)

Satsuma fruit closeup (Charles Copes)

Satsumas are picked at this color in the first part of the harvest. The fruit is juicy ripe inside even though the color is a mottled orange-green. Two weeks later, they are bright orange. (Charles Copes)

Don’t be afraid of ordering 40lbs worth. It’s totally easy to eat four or five in one sitting because they are so easy to peel and they are small fruits. The zest is phenomenal for using in cakes and pastry, Chinese stir fries (the most killer Orange Beef you’ve ever had) or for making liquor infusions — just grate up a ton of the zest with a Microplane and then dump it in a bottle of premium vodka for two weeks, then strain out. Best Martini you’ve ever had, I garontee.

And you can make this killer Satsuma Cake too:

Flourless satsuma cake, made with Nigella Lawson’s recipe (Jason Perlow)

This uses whole satsumas, cooked for 2 hours in a pot of water, then
blitzed in the food processor with eggs, almonds and sugar and butter and baked in a springform pan.


Remembering Austin Leslie

September 12, 2006

Austin Leslie was one of the great chefs of New Orleans. Regarded as the father of Creole-Soul fusion cuisine, his death in September of 2005 following the events that destroyed his restaurant, Pampy’s (which was owned by former Marc Morial security advisor Pampy Barré) is a tragedy that has effects that will no doubt be felt for a long time to come.

I miss Austin greatly, and it fills me with tremendous sadness knowing that I will never have his cuisine ever again. I still remember what I now call “The Last Supper” that Rachel, Brooks Hamaker and I had at Pampy’s in late May of 2005, only two months before Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and took away many of our beloved culinary landmarks in that city. Commander’s, Brennans, Dooky Chase and even Willie Mae’s Scotch House will no doubt be rebuilt, and the traditions at those places will continue on, but Austin and his cuisine will never be seen the likes of again.

Jason Clevenger, son of Upperline Restaurant owner JoAnn Clevenger (click for Podcast) has started a memorial bio page on Wikipedia chronicling Austin’s achievements. If you remember Austin and his food, please feel free to contribute.


New Orleans Dining: Drago’s

April 22, 2006

Drago’s Restaurant
3232 N. Arnoult Rd, Metairie LA
(504) 888-9254

Related Post: Drago’s (Hilton)

On the last night of our 2005 New Orleans trip, we visited perhaps one of my favorite spots in the entire city — Drago’s, in nearby Metairie.

Drago’s, like many oyster specialists in New Orleans, excels at raw oysters and many of their customers do like to eat them that way:

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This very nice and highly skilled shucker handed me two freshly shucked oysters to eat just because I was intently watching him work.

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The main event, however, which distinguishes this restaurant from all others in the city, are the char-broiled oysters.

I will state emphatically that under no circumstances, do you leave New Orleans without first having some char broiled oysters at Drago’s. They are by far the single best cooked Oyster preparation that I have ever had in my life. As far as I am concerned you can pass on Cafe Du Monde if you have to, but do not pass on Drago’s.

Drago’s takes big, juicy, freshly shucked Louisiana oysters, throws them on huge fiery charcoal grill, and after cooking them for a bit in their own juices, they ladle a pecorino romano/butter/parsley/garlic sauce on top of them, which becomes sort of like a crust after it cooks. The oysters are juicy, charcoal smoky, garlicky, cheesy, herbal, all at the same time, and the “sauce” that they render on the plate which you sop up with Louisiana french bread is simply mind blowingly good.

Sure, Drago’s is a full service seafood restaurant, and it has an incredible bar scene. The place is hopping with locals, packing the bar and every avaliable table. But we came for the Char Broileds.

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I’m not sure if it’s really possible to completely reproduce these on a backyard grill. But Danno at NolaCuisine.com seems to have done a pretty good job.

The owners of Drago’s, the Cvitanovich family, are good people too. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the restaurant passed out thousands of meals to relief workers and anyone who showed up at their door for FREE. I can’t think of a better way of paying them back than if every person who vists the city shows up at this great New Orleans restaurant and orders a couple dozen of these babies apeice.


Dessert with Dickie Brennan

April 10, 2006

After our tour at Hubig's and our lunch at Elizabeth's, we headed over to Palace Cafe in the Central Business District, on Canal Street, to have dessert with one of New Orleans's most successful restaurateurs.

The Brennan family is perhaps one of the most well known restaurant families in the United States, let alone the City of New Orleans.

It was at Brennan's and Commander's Palace, two of the city's most influential and legendary dining establishments, where Dickie Brennan, one of the younger members of the family learned the ropes and the restaurant business, under the tutelage of his father, Dick Brennan and renowned chef Paul Prudhomme. Today, Dickie Brennan owns and manages one of the largest and most successful restaurant organizations in New Orleans, even by post-Katrina standards. All of his restaurants, Dickie Brennan's Steakhouse, Bourbon House, Palace Cafe and Mr. B's (of which he is a part owner with his cousins) have gotten critical acclaim and quickly became New Orleans institutions after they opened.

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Dickie Brennan, New Orleans Restaurateur.

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The spiral staircase at Palace Cafe.

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Downstairs dining area.

Wrought iron balcony in the upstairs dining area.

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My favorite cocktail in New Orleans – The Bloody Bull, currently found only at Palace Cafe. It's simply a Bloody Mary with a shot of Beef Bullion added, but its more than the sum of its parts.

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The mise-en-place and table setup for Bananas Foster, a Brennan family invention and New Orleans classic dessert. Right now, Palace Cafe is probably the only place you can get a properly made, table side Bananas Foster, as both Brennan's and Commander's Palace are closed for repairs having been heavily damaged by Hurricane Katrina.

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First, brown sugar and butter (and a teaspoon of cinnamon) is heated and melted in a saute pan. Note the shot of dark rum on the side. Not shown is Banana Liqueur, which is also used in the dish. The Brennan Family recipe calls for equal parts dark rum and banana liqueur (1/4 cup each) when using four split bananas, so if its a half portion (as shown) use half the amount of booze.

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The bananas are added and the caramelizing sugar/butter sauce is spooned over them. Then the Banana Liqueur is stirred in and heated for a few minutes

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The liqueur/rum is added and flamed.

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The finished dessert is spooned over ice cream.

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Utter simplicity and yet still out of this world.

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Palace Cafe's White Chocolate Bread Pudding, a delicious variation on the Brennan's and Commander's Palace classic.

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Strawberry Shortcake, made with fresh Louisiana strawberries. Can't be beat.

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Dickie Brennan, being a very down to earth guy, was quite happy to have his Hubig's Pie, freshly baked that morning.

We have quite a bit of interview/podcast material with Dickie here (click)


Hubig Pies / Bywater / Elizabeth’s

April 9, 2006

Hubig's Pies has now been re-opened and has been baking their in-demand deep fried turnovers for a few months now. Not without their huge share of problems getting back up to speed, of course. I got to talk to Drew Ramsey, Operations Manager, at length (he's a really passionate guy and has an awful lot to say about his company's Katrina ordeal) and he gave me a tour of the facilities. And we got to eat some Hubigs right off the line, which has been a dream of mine for some time and its now been fulfilled. I also have some videos of the production process (click!)

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The old neon sign.
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The dough extruder/roller machine.

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Cake flour is used to make the turnover dough.

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The pie filling is made in big steam kettles, where it is cooked and mixed up. Hubig's uses local ingredients when at all possible, such as real Louisiana Strawberries and Blueberries. Today they were doing a run of Apple and Lemon Pies.

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A rotating die punch sandwiches the dough together and cuts it out into turnovers, just after the dough gets folded in with the pie filling.

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After being filled and stamped into turnovers, they are sent down the conveyor into the deep frier.

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Turnovers emerging from the deep frier conveyor.

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After going thru the deep fry, the turnovers are hit with an enrobement of sugar glaze.

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Drew Ramsey, in front of the cooler carousel, where the pies cool down for about two hours before hitting the wrapping and packaging machine. Sometimes you have to force this guy to smile, he and his company have been through an awful lot.

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After cooling down, the turnovers fall thru a chute and a staging area where they are placed on the packaging and wrapping conveyor. The red tray you see there is the rejects/damaged pies box. We spent a lot of time there helping Hubigs do quality control. Don't want customers getting beat up pies, you know.

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Placing the turnovers on the wrapping conveyor.

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Boxing up the pies.

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One of the new Ford delivery trucks. Hubig's old delivery fleet was wiped out by Katrina.

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After eating a few pies, we decided we needed some excercise so we walked around the Bywater and looked at some of the pretty houses. Quite a number are for sale at majorly reduced prices.

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This is a peek inside one of the the Mardi Gras parade storage houses. Apparently this is one of the lewder parades, as you can see.

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We walked past Dr. Bob's studio, a local artist which is heavily featured in Jack Leonardi's restaurants (Jacques-Imos and Crabby Jack's).

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I guess you are not supposed to walk into the studio thru that door.

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After walking about 15 blocks in the heat, we were hungry and thirsty, so we stopped into Elizabeth's for lunch.

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The iced tea at Elizabeth's is great, and like all iced tea in New Orleans, unlimited refills.

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Rachel got a seafood soup.

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We shared an order of the famous Praline Bacon.

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Shrimp Salad for Rachel.

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"Big Ass Hamburger" for me.

All in all, a great morning and lunch.