Saturday, May 29, 2010

Ruth's Chris at Harrah's New Orleans

Last night I hit the Ruth's Chris here in New Orleans with the girls for an evening out to celebrate the end of the school year and wish bon voyage to a friend moving elsewhere.

Normally, I'm not one for sit-down chain restaurants. Here in New Orleans, there are so many great places to eat that it seems a shame to eat someplace that's not local, but Ruth's Chris was established here originally, so I'm willing to bend the rules a bit on this one. The one at the Harrah's is quite nice. It's very richly appointed, with touches of art deco style and large mirrors throughout that let you spy on the people around you.

I started with a wedge salad. To me, that's a pretty good measure of a traditional steakhouse. When I talked about Antoine's, I mentioned its OVER THE TOP blue cheese dressing. I am a fan of the blue. Ruth's Chris is sort of on the other end of the spectrum. Its blue cheese is quite mild, and the bacon they topped the lettuce with was sweet, a smidge smoky, and not too salty. The lettuce itself was crisp and fresh.

Next I moved onto a New York strip, straight up with sizzling butter. I shared it with another lady at my table, and I still didn't eat my entire portion. But the chef cooked the steak perfectly, and the sizzling butter definitely adds a fine touch to the flavor of the meat.

We shared three sides at the table. Mashed potatoes -- pretty standard, but nothing to complain about -- creamed spinach which could have used a dash or two of Tobasco, and the onion rings. Generally, I'm a fan of the thin cut, battered, and fried en masse onion ring. This order of rings came with about six on the plate. Each one was about an inch and a half wide. The tempura batter was a bit heavy and tended to overwhelm the onion -- in my view anyway -- but the rest of the table loved them.

For dessert I had a couple bites of my friend's cheesecake -- which really was an entire personal cheesecake. The filling was really light. I think they folded in whipped cream to give it that consistency. I also had a Ruth's Chris coffee, which -- if I remember right -- contained Irish cream, Franjelico, and brandy, topped with very rich whipped cream and chocolate sauce. It was a delicious end to the meal.

Being the carnivore that I am, I love going out for a steak. Ruth's Chris is a great alternative if you have the money to burn or you are somewhere where there are no great local steakhouses. Me, I'm glad I went once, but in the long run, I'm probably more suited to Crescent City or Charlie's.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Sazerac Academy

Last night, I attended one of the Sazerac Academy dinners put on by Tales of the Cocktail. Upon arrival, I first noticed all the necessary accouterments for mixing my own drink laid out at my place settings. This included a bottle of Sazerac Rye and a bottle of Herbsaint.

The menu we were offered included gumbo or a salad, redfish or chicken or veal schnitzel, and bread pudding or a strawberry sampler. I went with the salad, veal, and strawberries. The dinner was excellent. The dressing on the salad particularly reminded me of how Caesar salads are supposed to be.

During dinner, we got a lovely presentation on the history of the drink and the ingredients involved. We even go to sample a bit of a bottled Sazerac cocktail that hasn't existed for several decades.

After dinner, one of the excellent bartenders -- who is also a member of the Roosevelt Hotel's heritage group -- walked us through the creation of our own Sazeracs. I'm not really fond of them in general, but I do have to say that I am more apt to drink it the way I had it last night than how I generally get them in restaurants.

All of this only ran us $35; if we hadn't spent about $100 on sidecars at the bar, it would have been quite a steal. I recommend any of these dinners or other events put on by Tales of the Cocktail. I have yet to be disappointed.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Having one of those days...

I wouldn't call it writer's block, exactly. I know what I'm supposed to write. I know how the story goes, who does what, what happens in the end, but I just have no motivation to get it down on paper. I usually work better under deadlines, but not this time.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Doing the Happy Dance

I got my first invitation to join an anthology today. Only about half of the stories submitted will probably make it into the anthology, but having 50/50 odds is pretty keen for me. Although it's something of a cliche to say "it's an honor just being asked," that is definitely the truth. It shows me I've been doing a few things right. These things are:
  1. Act professionally and courteously.
  2. Turn contracts and edits around quickly.
  3. Keep your name out there.
The editor who asked accepted something of mine in May of 2009, so it's been nearly a year. An editor can work with a lot of writers in a year, so I'm quite I happy he remembered me. I love the theme of the anthology, and the little gears in my head are aleady turning, trying to come up with something. I just hope it is good enough.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Stein's Deli

So, after taking the morning at the jury pool to find out which two weeks this year I will be on-call for jury duty, I was ready for lunch.

I think I've blogged about Stein's on Magazine Street near Jackson Avenue before, but here it is again. Last time I focused on the tongue sandwich. We had that again. It is quite good. In fact, for the first time visitor to Stein's, I would recommend this sandwich: tongue, seeded rye (toasted), swiss, mustard. If you go in and order it just like that, you won't have to have problems remembering all the choices. It's a delicious sandwich, and the tongue is prepped and sliced in such a way as to not scare away the first-time consumer of this wondrous muscle.

The real reason we went today is because Friday is Cuban sandwich day at Stein's. I've had a few Cuban sandwiches in the city -- Margaritaville, Butcher -- and a few elsewhere -- Puerto Rico, the bar at the Paradise Inn in Pensacola Beach. I sort of consider myself a growing expert, much like one of my favorite fictional characters, Dexter Morgan. Of course, while New Orleans is considered by some to be the most northern of the Caribbean cities, we are lacking in Cuban influence, completely unlike Miami. But I do believe the Cuban is becoming something of a sandwich and deli standard across the country, given to its excellent balance of two meats, melted cheese, mustard, the sourness of the pickle, and the spice of the peppers that are supposed to be present.

Today's sandwich had very high quality ingredients; that can't be denied. The bread was the perfect combination of a crust that is just crunchy enough, but not hard, and substantial enough to hold up to the juices of the pickle and roast pork. Unfortunately, a flavor profile was missing: the peppers, and to me, these are totally necessary. I don't know if they left them off by accident or they were out or that's just how they make them at Stein's, but I needed them on that sandwich. Without, it's just a lot of meat on a bun, and I prefer more bite and heat to my food.

So, as of right now, in my limited Cuban experience, the sandwich that reigns is the Cuban at the Paradise Inn Bar in Pensacola Beach. I will continue my quest, and keep you updated. If anybody would like to sponsor my trip to Miami to do further research, please don't hesitate to contact me!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Anniversary and Food...

Last night my husband and I celebrated our sixth wedding anniversary. We consider ourselves foodies, and are on a mission to eat at all the best restaurants in New Orleans. FINALLY we took down the granddaddy of them all... Antoine's. Antoine's was opened in 1840.

The ambiance is old school: huge dining rooms, white table cloths and napkins. The walls of the dining room we ate in are covered with celebrity photos, letters, newspaper articles... I got to eat with Katherine Hepburn watching, which was great.

So here's the rundown of the meal.

I opened with a French martini (here's a recipe at Drinks Mixer). I love these. However, the one I had last night had clearly been mixed with amaretto instead of Chambord. Did I complain? Not at all. It was still delicious, though I'm not normally a fan of amaretto flavored things. One lesson I've learned in my travels and in eating is that unless you are sitting at the bar and discussing drinks with the bartender, then you should stick to a standard that most bartenders know. That way, there's no room for confusion or mixed signals. I didn't follow that rule last night.

Next, we shared Oysters a la Foche. The description on the menu doesn't quite gel with what arrives at your table. I expected a small round of dry toast spread with foie gras mouse, a fried oyster on top, and a drizzle of the sauce. When it arrived, one slice of toast sat on the bottom of the plate. Fried oysters were scattered about, swimming in a dark, almost purple sauce. The sauce reminds me a great deal of coq au vin. So dark as to think it will taste burnt before you first try it, but then you are surprised by the taste. Whoever fried the oysters did a perfect job, and he'd picked just the right size for my taste. This was definitely a great appetizer.

Then we went on to a combination salad: lettuce, hearts of palm, artichoke, asparagus (steamed slightly), tomatoes... This was pretty standard fair, but we got the Roquefort dressing. I've never had a dressing as pungent as this! I would say -- next time -- to ask for it on the side, and maybe cut it with a little vinaigrette too. It's definitely not suited to those who only like a little blue cheese flavor. This is full-on, in your face, cave-musty goodness.

After the salad we ordered a bottle of wine. What is really impressive about Antoine's is their willingness to have so many reasonably priced wines on the list, and the list is huge and quite varied. They don't limit themselves to old standards, as you might expect from an older restaurant. We settled on a nice 2008 Zolo Malbec, which was really decently priced and excellent.

Our entrees... Well, I think you can definitely judge a restaurant by their lamb chops, especially an old school, ala carte menu place like Antoine's. For many of the dishes, you even have to order your sauce separately here. So I went with the chops. They came with a small serving of mint jelly on the side -- bright green and everything -- but I didn't touch that. The chef had only used a little salt, pepper, and a sprinkling of parsley on the meat. It was cooked perfectly, and the chops are twice as thick as any I've found at other local restaurants. More like two chops each, with only one bone. Very impressive. Simply, this was great meat cooked perfectly with no flourishes or pretense. If you want a lamb fix, definitely try these.

My husband had the Chicken Rochambeau. Rochambeau sauce is not described in Antoine's menu, but from what I can gather poking around other sites, it's essentially caramelized onions, stock, roux, and cane syrup. This goes on the bottom of the plate. Then add a slice of ham, a grilled chicken breast, and top with Bearnaise. The combination tastes outstanding. Salty, sweet... The ham compliments the chicken. It's also quite rich due to the Bearnaise. I don't usually go for chicken at restaurants, but I would definitely order this myself in the future. Don't be shy ordering the cheapest thing on the menu; it's excellent!

With that, we shared an order of soufflĂ© potatoes. These are fancy french fries, and quite tasty with even just a little bit of salt.

Finally, dessert. Antoine's signature dessert is the Baked Alaska (see the picture at Antoine's site; it really does look just like that when they bring it). Here's the deal. I went in thinking, well, we should order it. It's not something you can get just anywhere, it's not something I'll ever make at home, and it's our anniversary. Warring with that idea was this: How great can it really be? Vanilla cake, vanilla ice cream, vanilla meringue? All one flavor: no fruit, chocolate, nuts... It's great. I do recommend, however, that three or four people should only order a two-person size. Neither of us could finish our half. The entire dessert dwarfed an NFL regulation football. The meringue on this thing is unlike any I've had. It's so light and fluffy and smooth. Definitely save room for this!

That was our meal. On the walk back to the neighborhood, we stopped in at Tujaque's (another old New Orleans institution), which has an excellent bar. My mom always likes to stop in for gin fizzes here. I blew my last drink of the night on a shot of whiskey when I should have had something outstanding from the very competent bartender that was working.

And next time I visit Antoine's? Well, first they invented Oysters Rockefeller, so we'll go with that. Then definitely the Chateaubriand. I saw that go out to a few tables, and it looks outstanding. Then I think the Peach Melba, another old dessert that doesn't show up very often anywhere.