Thursday, June 3, 2010

serious sweets: sucre

Remember when I drifted off into a sugar trance a few weeks ago, all gaga over macarons?  I've been thinking about them ever since--looking up YouTube videos on how to make them (it's a little more complicated than I was wanting it to be), scouring the Web for recipes (like David Lebovitz's chocolate macarons or this extremely intriguing flavor from Tartelette), and just spending all my regularly allotted daydream minutes on them.  So when I just happened to find myself on Magazine Street last Monday, driving through a light summer shower with Paul, I couldn't think of a better place to stretch our legs and spend some money than at Sucre.

I've been seeing Sucre's macarons (and their awesome chocolates) praised in national and local food magazines and on Web sites for the past two years.  Like I've said before, I'm not really that big a fan of sweets, but I will spend money on them, and devour them, when they're particularly time-consuming and/or "uh-licious."  That's what my grandmother used to call something that tasted too wonderful to describe: uh-licious.

I love the emphasis they put on using high-quality ingredients:

The texture of Sucre's macarons is so interesting and delicate, from the glossy outer layer that crackles ever-so-slightly when you bite into it, to the slightly chewy inner cookie, to the very soft and light filling holding the two cookies together.  I've sampled nearly all the flavors now, and I still think that lemon is my favorite.  It's like the most elegant and elusive lemon bar possible.

And Sucre's chocolates are a thing of mystery and beauty...I've never tasted any chocolates as serious as these, and I've certainly never seen any decorated more artfully.  Some look like marbles, some like mandalas.  I doubt that any are less than fantastic--I mean less than uh-licious.

Kalamansi:  dark chocolate ganache with Indonesian lime coated in dark chocolate

Avery:  caramel milk chocolate ganache coated in dark chocolate and topped with sea salt

I can't imagine a more perfect shopping spot for birthdays, anniversaries, or mother's day.  It just doesn't get any specialer than this.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

in need of comfort: pan-fried catfish with black-eyed pea salsa

I have to be honest:  I'm a little down these days. It's normally a great time to be in this wonderful city--festivals, sno-balls, seafood everywhere you look--and of course, that's the reason for the blues.  The seafood.  No fried oyster po-boys, no raw oysters.  Fishing folk shuttling executives out to the rigs instead of pulling in hundreds of pounds of shrimp.  It's a crying shame.

I haven't even felt much like cooking lately, though I've been desperate to eat something homey and comforting.  I just couldn't think of what that was.  So yesterday I started scribbling, doodling, trying to get down to the basics of what would make me feel better, and I came up with one of my favorite childhood meals:  fish sticks, peas, and mac and cheese.  Have you ever had this, or something like it?  With a little ketchup on the plate, it looks beautiful, in a Crayola kind of way:  crunchy golden fish sticks, a big splotch of red ketchup, bright green peas (cooked from frozen in nothing more than salted water), and orangy-yellow mac and cheese from the blue box.  Every time my mom pulled the ingredients out for this feast, I got so excited.  It was happiness in one of its purest forms:  looking forward to something.  Plus, I liked the challenge of getting one of those straight macaroni on each of my four fork tines before I took a bite. 

I have to be honest again:  Paul and I have had this exact dinner pretty recently--the kid version.  We both enjoyed the thought of it, and then when we ate it...well, it was less than satisfying, as so many foods enjoyed by our younger palates become.  But yesterday, I needed to recreate the heady anticipation of a meal much like that one, and I think I came up with a keeper:  pan-fried catfish, cool and crunchy black-eyed pea salsa, and serious mac and cheese (coming soon).  This is a comfort plate my taste buds can agree with, and it truly did help me go to sleep happier.  I hope it helps you too.

pan-fried catfish with black-eyed pea salsa

for salsa:
  • 2 15-oz. cans black-eyed peas, rinsed and drained
  • 1 small red onion (or half a large one), minced
  • 1 bunch scallions, sliced thinly
  • 1 clove garlic, minced (optional)
  • 1 red bell pepper, minced
  • 2 jalapeno peppers, minced (leave as many seeds in as you like for heat)
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup minced fresh cilantro
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
  • Tabasco, salt, and black pepper to taste
  1. Combine all ingredients, and season with Tabasco, salt, and black pepper until it tastes really good.
  2. Cover and chill for about an hour (or longer is fine).
for catfish:
  • 4 fresh catfish fillets (cut them into smaller pieces if you like)
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons of seafood seasoning, like Seafood Magic, or Creole seasoning, like Tony Chachere's
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup masa harina*
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil (olive oil is too strongly flavored)
  1.  Rinse fillets and pat dry.  Season both sides well with seafood or Creole seasoning.
  2. Combine flour and masa in a shallow dish; add about 1 tablespoon of the same seasoning to the flour (or you can leave the seasoning out, if you think it will be too strong or salty--you know your seasoning!).  Dredge fillets through flour mixture.
  3. Heat oil in a large frying pan over medium heat, until the fish sizzles when you start to add it to the pan.  If the end of a fillet touches the oil and it doesn't start sizzling, put the fillet back on a plate and wait for the oil to heat up more.  You may need to adjust the heat throughout the cooking to prevent burning but keep the sizzle.
  4. Fry in hot oil for about 5 minutes per side, until crispy at the edges and golden.  The thickness of the fillets will determine how long they need to cook, and the color of your seasoning will determine how dark the final product is.  If you're unsure, just try flaking into the thickest portion with a fork.  They'll be fork-tender, juicy, and almost pure white when they're done.
  5. Serve black-eyed pea salsa on top of or alongside the fish (or together inside a taco shell--yum).
Serves 4.  Actually, the salsa serves more like 8, but it's a great healthy snack for the next day.

* Masa harina is corn flour used to make tortillas, tamales, and pupusas, and I recommend buying some so you'll be more inclined to make all of those!  It's very inexpensive and sold in the baking or Mexican foods sections of supermarkets, or in specialty markets.  But if you can't find it or don't feel like buying it, you can substitute an equal amount of regular old cornmeal, and the fillets will have a crunchy texture (as opposed to crispy), but they'll be oh-so-southern.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

You Are My Sunshine

Last Sunday, we went to the Gulf Aid benefit concert with some dear friends. It was an enchanting, oh-so-New-Orleans kind of event: walking through Mardi Gras World, where hundreds of floats and float adornments are created and stored; sampling soundly delicious seafood creations by some of the city's best restaurants and caterers; watching the tugboats and barges troll along the Mississippi; listening to heartfelt, intensely dedicated performers like Tab Benoit call us to attention, lest we forget whom we need to help; chanting "Who Dat?!" spontaneously, like a family, because we are a family.

Singing "You Are My Sunshine"--our state song--a capella, at the tops of our voices.  You hardly ever hear the final Louisiana-specific verses, and we didn't sing them either, but here they are, in all their sweetness:

Louisiana, my Louisiana
the place where I was born.
White fields of cotton.
Green fields of clover.
The best fishing
and long tall corn.

Crawfish gumbo and jambalaya,
the biggest shrimp and sugar cane.
The finest oysters
and sweet strawberries
from Toledo Bend 
to New Orleans.

I think you hear people sing more about food than about love here, but that's probably because food IS love here, and music is the way we keep our feet as happy as our mouths.  And as you can tell from these lyrics, seafood and fishing are woven tightly into that net.

Welcome to Mardi Gras World!

Ya-Ka-Mein and the story behind it.

Allen Toussaint

Crab and shrimp dressing.

Chef Tenney Flynn of G.W. Fin's and his delicious fish tacos.

Dr. John with the Voice of the Wetlands

Alligator sausage sliders from Phil's Grill

Tab Benoit and Cyril Neville with Voice of the Wetlands

Ani DiFranco; and below, singing with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band

Cupcakes from Kupcake Factory

Shrimp & grits and John Folse's crawfish bisque

Bourbon House's blackened catfish with creamy maque choux, and Lenny Kravitz


Sunday, May 16, 2010

my green heaven

Creole tomatoes are in their green state these days, which is fine with me.  For one thing, I know that the ripe red creoles are just weeks away; for another, I love fried green tomatoes.  Love them.

The use of green tomatoes on a BLT has been a bit of a lunch trend in the city--La Petite Grocery offered a BLT with green tomato jam last spring, for instance, which was outstanding.  The tarter, "greener" flavor of a green tomato plays well with smoky bacon, and just feels like spring, to me.  At last week's Saturday market, Paul found baby green creole tomatoes, about the size of limes.  They were so cute, and their slices so perfectly round, that they just seemed to be crying out for the starring role in a BLT.  So that's what we had--cocktail-sized fried-green-tomato BLTs.  Hooray!

For our mini-wiches, I used Pepperidge Farm ultra-thin sliced white bread; the slices are square and small, and look really cute when they're toasted.  Frying the tomatoes in butter gave them a little sweetness and richness, and the use of iceberg lettuce?  What can I say--I was brought up that way.

The recipe below is for normal-sized green tomatoes, but just leave the amount of breading ingredients and eggs the same if you've got babies.  Green tomato babies, I mean.

Fried Green Tomato BLTs
  • 1 firm green tomato, cut into 4 slices
  • 1/2 cup cornmeal
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 t. Creole seasoning (like Tony Chachere's)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • for sandwiches: toasted bread, mayonnaise, crisply cooked bacon, lettuce (iceberg, romaine, or green leaf)
  1. Combine cornmeal, flour, seasoning, and salt and pepper in a medium bowl.
  2. Dip tomato slices in egg, then dredge in cornmeal mixture, pressing to help it adhere.
  3. Melt butter in a medium nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.  Add tomato slices and cook, without moving them, for about 4 to 5 minutes, until light golden brown on the bottoms (lift up an edge to peek at them).  Turn them over and cook on the other side for another 4 minutes, until light golden brown.
  4. Build your sammiches and enjoy!
Makes 2 to 4 sandwiches, depending on the number of slices of tomato on each.

In about a month, we'll have intensely red and juicy creoles to eat out of hand, like apples.  One of the best ways to celebrate the ripening is at the Creole Tomato Festival, held at the French Market June 11-13, which is combined with the Louisiana Seafood Festival and the Cajun & Zydeco Music's a wonderful time to be in the Quarter.  

Blt Sandwich


Monday, May 10, 2010

for love of shrimp

The oil spill outlook has got us all worried these days.  How will our fishing families adapt?  How will the restaurant industry fare?  It's still too soon to tell.  But plenty of fresh, local seafood is still available right now, at the west bank wharf, in supermarkets, and at farmer's markets.  Paul went last Saturday to the Crescent City Farmer's Market downtown and bought several pounds of gorgeous, perfect shrimp from Clara Gerica of Gerica Seafood.  Her husband, Pete, shrimps in Lake Pontchartrain and sends his evening catch to market with Clara, who says their lake shrimping is unaffected at this point.  So to celebrate that fact, and to celebrate shrimp in general, I concocted a tapas-style menu of two iconic recipes (barbecued shrimp; shrimp and grits (pictured at left)) and one newcomer (the shrimp taco).

I strongly believe that tapas is a style of eating befitting to New Orleans cuisine.  It's basically bar food, having originated in Spanish bars where people used small plates of food to keep flies off of their sherry glasses, and let's face it, we have a few bars here.  Also, there are so many great New Orleans and Louisiana flavors to taste--hundreds of them!--and smaller, tapas-sized servings provide an easier-on-the-stomach way to sample more of those flavors.  And what may be most important is the fact that some of our most delectable dishes are extremely rich with butter, cream, or both, and are best enjoyed in smaller portions.  Case in point:  New Orleans-style barbecued shrimp.

If you've never heard of New Orleans barbecued shrimp, let me explain:  it's not barbecued.  At least, not in the sense that most Americans will consider it barbecued--it's not cooked outside, it's not covered in a tomato-based sauce, it's not skewered.  It is bathed in a spicy, rich sauce, though--of BUTTER.  It's all about the butter, here.  I've read countless recipes for New Orleans barbecued shrimp, and they all have these common ingredients:  head-on shrimp, butter, Worcestershire sauce, rosemary, butter, garlic, black pepper, and butter.  Unless you've just received an "All clear, go ahead and live life with abandon until you're 100" blessing from your G.P., it's probably best to enjoy New Orleans barbecued shrimp in small quantities (hence the tapas).  But by all means, enjoy it.  It's one of those wonderful things in life--you just haven't lived until you've tasted shrimp baked in a butter bath.  And eat at least one piece of French bread dipped in the sauce.  It's just heaven.

I like a strong lemon flavor in the butter sauce, and a little cayenne (the photo shows the shrimp, covered with sauce, about to go in the oven).  Here's how I've been making it:

New Orleans-Style Barbecued Shrimp
  • 1 1/2 pounds head-on, shell-on fresh jumbo shrimp
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter (for reals!)
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary (really mince it, so it's like a powder)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 to 1 1/2 teaspoons cayenne pepper, to taste
  • salt and black pepper to taste
  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. In a small saucepan, melt butter over medium-low heat.  
  3. Grate the zest (the outer, yellow peel) off the lemon using the smallest holes of a cheese grater.  Cut the lemon in half and thinly slice one of the halves (no need to remove the seeds).
  4. Add the lemon zest from the entire lemon, the sliced lemon, Worcestershire, rosemary, garlic, and cayenne pepper to the melted butter.  Add salt and black pepper to taste (I use about 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon black pepper--some recipes make it even more peppery).  Reduce the heat to low and let everything cook together for about 5 minutes.
  5. Rinse, but don't peel, the shrimp.  Place them in a baking dish, in a single layer if possible.  
  6. Pour the butter sauce over the shrimp, stirring a little so it has a chance to seep inside some of the shrimp shells.  Most of the butter will go to the bottom of the dish, which is fine.
  7. Bake for 10 minutes, then turn shrimp over and bake until done.  Depending on the size of the shrimp, this could take 5 to 15 more minutes.  They're done when the head is opaque inside its shell--the head is the densest part of the shrimp and takes the longest to cook.  Keep checking them.
  8. Let cool for at least 10 minutes before attempting to peel and eat them.  Pass some French bread!
Servings: The shrimp we bought were very large, so 1 1/2 pounds gave us about 12 shrimp.  For tapas, this recipe serves 6 people--2 shrimp per person, plus one or two pieces of bread to dip in the sauce--oh, my.  

Notes: I always keep the pan in the kitchen and just have people come in there to eat it, standing up, because everyone wants to wash their hands right away.  It is super messy.  To peel, pull the head off with a little twist--if it doesn't come off easily, the shrimp may be underdone.  Then open the shrimp up along the belly side, where the legs are.  Pull all the meat out of the tail shell, and drag your naked shrimp through the butter sauce.  I also like to eat the baked lemon slices.

* * *

Shrimp and grits is one of my favorite dishes to make...and I love to use bacon in it.  Bacon and shrimp have a beautiful relationship.  Bacon's all crispy, smoky, and high in fat, and shrimp's all light, springy, and virtually fat-free.  We all know that opposites attract, and when bacon and shrimp meet, the romance is so high that they elevate each other's star qualities like the perfect couple.  I like to cook the bacon first, then use the drippings to saute the vegetables.  I get a darker sauce from the browned bacon that sticks to the bottom of the pan, and it's rich with that smoky flavor and a big dose of herbs.  

I don't cook grits with milk or cream--I just don't see the need.  Chicken broth gives them a ton of flavor, and after a little butter and cheese are added, they really do taste like they've been cooked with cream.  For tapas, I thought it would be nice to have the grits in a compact, square shape.  I poured the finished grits into a wax paper-lined baking pan and chilled them in the fridge for several hours.  When they were cold and firm, I took them out and cut them into 3" squares, kind of like brownies.  I tried frying some of them in bacon drippings--bad idea!  Cold grit cakes added to a hot pan are kind of like little grit volcanoes waiting to spit grits everywhere, and the bacon drippings added a LOT of fuel to that fire.  Plus, I don't think the cakes knew what to do with that extra fat--maybe they should be breaded first?  If anyone knows, please tell me.  I ended up browning the cakes in a dry nonstick skillet, and although there were still a few grits popping out, they turned out pretty well.  You can certainly just serve the grits soft and free-form, though, which is what I usually do.

Shrimp and Spicy Cheese Grits

For the grits:
  • 4 cups chicken broth or stock
  • 1 cup stone-ground grits (I like to use these more rustic, yellow grits, but you can use regular grits and just cook them for a shorter amount of time)
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese with jalapeno peppers
  • few shakes Tabasco sauce
  1. In a medium or large saucepan, bring chicken broth to a boil.
  2. Stir in grits.  Cook and stir for a few minutes, then reduce heat to low, cover, and cook slowly for a total of about 30 minutes.  Check and stir every 5 minutes or so to ensure that they're not sticking to the bottom of the pan.
  3. When the grits are getting creamier and softer (taste a little bit), add the butter, salt, and pepper.  Turn off the heat and add the cheese.  Taste for seasoning, adding Tabasco and more salt or pepper if needed.  You can hold the grits, covered, on the stove for up to an hour--just reheat over low heat, possibly adding a little stock or butter to loosen them up, when it's time to serve.
For the shrimp:
  • 4 slices thick-cut smoked bacon, cut into 1/2" pieces
  • 1 cup diced red onion
  • 2 large red (or green) bell peppers, diced
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup sliced mushrooms (I used baby portobellos)
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 cup sliced scallions (green and white parts)
  • 2 10-oz. cans diced tomatoes with green chiles, undrained (I use original Ro-Tel)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • Tabasco, Worcestershire, cayenne pepper, and salt and black pepper to taste
  • 2 pounds shrimp, peeled and deveined
  1. Cook the bacon in a large saute or frying pan over medium heat.  When crisp, remove to a paper towel-lined plate to drain.  Reserve 3 tablespoons of drippings in pan (add extra-virgin olive oil if you don't have 3 tablespoons).
  2. Raise heat to medium-high.  Add onion and bell pepper to pan and saute for about 6 minutes, until they begin to soften.  Add garlic, mushrooms, and cooked bacon and saute for about 5 more minutes, stirring.
  3. Add thyme, scallions, and tomatoes, stirring up the browned bits in the bottom of the pan.  Stir in sugar.  Bring sauce to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for about 10 minutes, to meld the flavors and concentrate some of the liquid.
  4. Taste sauce, and add salt and pepper to taste (I usually start with a teaspoon of each of these).  If you want more spice than the Ro-Tel tomatoes gave it, add a few shakes of Tabasco or a little cayenne pepper.  Add Worcestershire sauce if it needs a sweeter, smokier flavor--a tablespoon would be good to start.
  5. Add the shrimp to the pan, cover, and simmer the shrimp in the sauce for about 8 minutes, checking and stirring often.  The shrimp are done when they are opaque and curled.  
With grits, makes 8 to 10 tapas servings, or 4 main-course servings.

Note:  If you're not serving this right away, leave the shrimp slightly underdone and cover the pan until serving time.  They'll continue to steam in the hot sauce and be just right when you need them.

* * *

In a dedicated effort to offer at least ONE lighter dish, I made shrimp tacos with a maque choux salsa.  Maque choux (say "mock shoe") is a traditional smothered-corn type of side dish said to have been introduced to French and Spanish settlers by Native American tribes, who were great users of corn.  Plenty of maque choux recipes turn the dish into a main course by adding crawfish or shrimp, so I figured a maque choux salsa would work well with a shrimp taco.  I basically just took standard maque choux vegetables (corn, bell pepper, and onion), and didn't cook them, and added jalapeno, cilantro, and some typical salsa ingredients.  The corn was so sweet and tender I didn't even blanch it.

I cut the shrimp in half lengthwise so they wouldn't be so fat inside the little taco shells, but you could also leave them whole.

Shrimp Tacos with Maque Choux Salsa

For the shrimp:
  • 1 1/2 pounds large shrimp, peeled, deveined, and halved lengthwise
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • few shakes Tabasco
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  1. Combine the shrimp and remaining ingredients in a medium bowl, cover, and marinate in the refrigerator for one to three hours.  
  2. When ready to cook, remove shrimp from the refrigerator and let come to room temperature for about 15 minutes.
  3. Heat a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat.  Add shrimp and marinade, and saute for about 10 minutes, stirring, until shrimp are cooked through.
For the salsa:
  • 1 cup sweet corn kernels (cut from 2 ears freshly shucked corn)
  • 1/4 cup minced red onion
  • 1/2 cup sliced scallions (green and white parts)
  • 1/2 cup minced red bell pepper
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, minced (take out seeds for a milder heat)
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • few shakes Tabasco
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • salt and black pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • juice of one lime
  1. Combine corn, onion, scallion, bell pepper, jalapeno, olive oil, and vinegar in a medium bowl.
  2. Add Tabasco, cayenne pepper, and a little salt and pepper.  Taste and adjust seasonings.  
  3. Cover and refrigerate for a few hours to let flavors meld.  Or, if you don't have time for that, let sit at room temperature for as long as you can.
  4. Just before serving, stir in cilantro and lime juice.  Taste and adjust seasonings again.
For tacos:
  • 16 small corn tortillas (3.5" diameter)
  • optional garnishes: sour cream, shredded lettuce, diced tomato
  1. Heat oven to 350.
  2. Stack tortillas and wrap them in foil, sealing tightly.  Place them in the oven for about 30 minutes to heat through and soften.
  3. Use two tortillas per taco (the outer tortilla is a safety net in case the inner tortilla breaks; some people like to eat both).  Add a few warm shrimp to each taco, top with a couple spoonfuls of salsa, add any additional toppings you like, and eat!
Servings: makes 8 tapas-sized tacos, or 4 normal-sized.


Sunday, May 2, 2010

high standards, surpassed expectations, and getting a little awesome

I was talking to my friend Chana the other day about dining in New Orleans, and we have the same philosophy:

1. If you charge $5 for something, it doesn't have to be fantastic. Kudos to you if it
is fantastic. 

2. If you charge $40 or $50 for something, it better be awesome. It better
not be something that I can taste and say, "You know, I think I could make this better." 

We're just trying to get the best dollar-to-awesomeness ratio that we can, and in a city where the prices can be as high as diners' expectations of the food, that's important.

We went to
August the other day for a celebratory family lunch (see #2, above). I've only been to one other John Besh restaurant, Luke, but I've been there a few times and enjoyed it. The food at Luke is not fine dining, but it's quality. August is in a different league of dining experiences, along with places like Stella!, Herbsaint, and Bayona, where you arrive expecting a fantastically prepared meal and usually leave shaking your head in disbelief of how good it truly was (see #2, above, again).

They served an amuse bouche of a fish fumet over a savory custard, topped with caviar, in an eggshell, with a brioche crouton.  I should just tell you right now, things are only going to get better here, so go ahead and laugh, or curse, or book your flight to New Orleans, or whatever you gotta do to get through it.  

Kathy's salad:  artichoke hearts, pretty greens, crawfish tails (I forgot to get a menu, so the exact descriptions of dishes are missing--oops!).  The crawfish are kind of camouflaged/hiding under the leaves, like they're in a natural does look a little like a terrarium, doesn't it?

My appetizer: potato gnocchi with blue crab and Perigold truffle. It was hard to decide what to order, of course, but I rarely turn down gnocchi--especially when crab and truffles are involved. The sauce was light and buttery, and the truffle was just enough to scent the crab, so its delicate flavor came through. They look ginormous in the photo, but I was just in really really close.

John Besh arrived at the restaurant during our lunch to do some filming for one of his new television shows.  Of course, we blushed and asked if we could meet him.  He graciously stopped by our table and chatted (and posed), right as the main courses were coming out.  I was still a bit giddy when the server was explaining my dish to me, so I have more impression than fact to tell you about it--and we have no photos!  But that's okay, right?  It was a bass fillet.  Crispy skin.  I honestly don't remember what the pureed sauce underneath was.  It had a vegetable-ness to it, a little legume-ish.  I remember cardoons in the menu description.  There was roasted red pepper in the "relish," and other than that, I can only say there was a combination of herbs and flavors that were coming from some unidentified, invisible source.  I kept thinking that I would figure it out by the time I finished it, but it actually got more elusive with each bite. I like this kind of tasting, this shock that happens when food is expertly prepared.  It keeps your mind active and a little drugged at the same time.

I recommend, wholeheartedly and pounding my fist on the table, that you order the "breaded" speckled trout (again, no photo--sorry!).  At least one person in your party should order it and let everyone taste it.  It's too good to describe in words, but I'll try.  It's like they build a rich, buttery cracker from scratch and lay the trout on it.  Then bake it or roast it--who knows these things?--and the cooking crisps those cracker ingredients into a crunchy, toasty, ever-so-sweet-with-butter anchor for the fish and its toppings.  What are the toppings?  Oh, just some lump crabmeat and hollandaise.  You know.  Just the tastiest stuff on the planet.  When I think of how this tasted, I shake my head "no," like I do when things are getting a little awesome--like a winning touchdown, or a second line parade of Elvises.    

My dessert:  chocolate crepes filled with ricotta, blackberry sauce, bitter chocolate ice cream.  I was torn between the strawberry ravioli and the crepes, but our waiter suggested the crepes.  The ricotta was sweet and fluffy, and I think some blackberry puree was mixed into it.  The ice cream was really dense--almost chewy with chocolate.  Is that possible?  And not very sweet, which I like.

Martha's dessert: a collection of local cheeses, with accompaniments of house-made apple jelly, fig preserves, and other things I don't remember.  They were served with super-thin rosemary crisps, which provided a nice salty counter to the sweet and rich cheese.  We sampled a couple of these pairings, and they were spot on.

The macaroons and salted toffee were endments--final treats from the kitchen.  The macaroons:  imagine being a little girl attracted to all foodstuffs pink: strawberry-iced doughnuts, Hostess sno-balls with the pink coconut, Dolly Madison raspberry zingers.  My favorite treat, when I was eight-ish, was raspberry zingers.  They were so pretty, with their velvety pink coats and feathery coconut, and they smelled rich and fruity.  They tasted of more than raspberry, too--a little vanilla, a little coconut, a little whipped cream-like something...satisfyingly ladylike.  The macaroons!  They looked like tiny hamburgers (a little disc of chocolate peeked out from some of them), but they tasted just like pink.  They tasted so, so pink.  I felt like Marie Antoinette.

So I'm sure you've sensed this coming, but I sincerely recommend visiting August whenever you can.  Build a whole vacation around it--you won't be sorry.  Or go for their prix-fixe lunch: 3 courses for $20.


jazz fest '10

The day we chose to go (to see Van Morrison) was a wet one, but we still got in some good eats.  Plus some Juvenile and some awesome music in the gospel tent.  Here are some photos of folks enjoying the food--including some damp, dedicated crawfish peelers.

We got the combo on the sign below: potato salad, creole stuffed crab, and catfish almondine.

Next, a soft-shell crab po-boy...mmmmmmmmmmmmmm.

Below is Bennachin's stand.  I've never been to the restaurant, so I was happy to taste some of their festival food.

Bennachin's platter:  poulet fricassee (chicken on a stick); fried plantains; and jama jama (sauteed spinach).  I love those sweet plantains mixed with the spinach!

Dedicated crawfish fans.

So many choices, so little room in the stomach.  Until next year: good-bye Jazz Fest.  Hello plenty of parking in the neighborhood.