Friday, April 30, 2010

Childhood is Calling

When I think of my favorite foods as a child, a few things always come to mind, but nothing can quite measure up to the pure joy that a trip to McKenzie's caused. Home to what many locals consider to be the best king cakes in the city, McKenzie's bakery on Prytania was definitely one of my favorite places for a sweet treat as a kid. I can still remember the sound the bell made when you opened the door, their display of king cakes that seemed to go on forever, and how I thought nothing was cuter than one of their pink petit fours decorated with a little green leaf.

In 2001, McKenzie's closed its doors for good, but not before selling some of its most popular recipes to Tastee Donuts, another local donut chain. Long-time McKenzie's fans were thrilled that they would still be able to enjoy the bakery's best sellers, such as their king cakes, jelly rolls, turtles, and buttermilk drops. The McKenzie's that I used to go to as a kid is now home to Creole Creamery, so whenever I need some sugar-coated joy I head out to the Tastee Donuts on Harrison Avenue in Lakeview. My most recent trip resulted in the purchase of buttermilk drops and turtles (pictured above). The turtles are shortbread cookies topped with chocolate frosting and chopped pecans, and the buttermilk drops are these round, cake-like donuts about the size of a tennis ball, covered in a sugary glaze. No matter if you grew up eating these tasty treats or not, one bite will definitely make you feel like a kid all over again.

Tastee Donuts: "It's a New Orleans Thing!"

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Refuel Cafe

I may have mentioned before that breakfast is my favorite meal of the day. It's the jump-start you need to take on whatever lies ahead and I think we can all agree that there's nothing quite like waking up to the smell of freshly baked biscuits and eggs frying in the skillet. Unfortunately, most days out of the week I find myself settling for cold cereal with fruit, so the occasional mid-week trip to a local breakfast joint to get the good stuff is always welcomed with open arms and a big appetite.

This week we decided to try Refuel, a breakfast/lunch/brunch place on Hampson, just a few doors down from here. Their breakfast menu lasts from 7 to 9 a.m. and consists of the traditional items such as eggs, waffles, and parfaits. I ordered the Garden Omelet with potatoes and my boyfriend ordered the Riser 1, which came with 2 eggs, 2 pieces of bacon, toast, grits, and a small cup of coffee. My breakfast was slightly disappointing because the omelet was watery (probably because of the spinach that was in it) and my potatoes were cold and tasteless. In fact, the absolute best part of the meal were my boyfriend's grits, which came out in a nice sized portion, super hot, and super creamy. Definitely the best grits I've found in New Orleans thus far.

The service was friendly, prices were reasonable, and I liked the clean and cozy atmosphere. So even though my breakfast was a let down, I'll most likely go back to Refuel for their weekend brunch, where they offer things such as a Prime Egg Sandwich, with prime rib and a fried egg, and Huevos Rancheros. Besides, those grits are a good enough reason to go back any day of the week.

Even though Refuel is a small restaurant, they have a lot of windows, making it seem much more open

Garden Omelet with potatoes and wheat toast

The best grits I have ever had

Monday, April 26, 2010

Petit Dejeuner

The summer before my senior year in college I had the amazing opportunity to visit Paris, France while studying abroad. We were there for three unforgettable days, filled with beautiful scenery and delicious French food. We enjoyed wine and cheese on the Champ de Mars at night during the Eiffel Tower's light show, crepes while waiting in line outside of Notre Dame, and the most scrumptious chocolate croissants every morning from the vendor across the street from our hotel.

So when the cravings for authentic French baked goods sets in, it's nice to know that there's a place in New Orleans where I can get those wonderful chocolate croissants and much more. La Boulangerie, literally meaning "Bakery" in French, is located on Magazine in between Cadiz and Valence Streets and is home to some of the best pastries and breads in the city. They have everything from fresh fruit tarts to olive bread, and during carnival season people go crazy for their authentic French King Cakes. We like to get an assortment boxed up to bring home for special weekends when friends are visiting. Nothing says "we love having you here!" like a box full of flaky, buttery pastries filled with fruit or chocolate. Be sure to bring cash because this bakery doesn't take anything else, and don't be surprised if the staff doesn't dish out loads of southern hospitality. They tend to be pretty busy in there and I think it reflects in their unwillingness to be incredibly helpful. So to ease the decision making process, here are some of our personal favorites: Apricot and Cherry danishes, Raspberry and Chocolate croissants, Brioche, and Raisin rolls.

I highly recommend La Boulangerie for a quick bite to eat before hitting up the shops on Magazine, or in our case, when your Saturday morning needs a little something sweet to remind you that the weekend is finally here.

Dr. Bob's artwork is proudly displayed all over the bakery

Croissant and danish heaven

It's obvious that the Sticky Buns are big enough to share, but I'm not sure I'd want to!

Gorgeous fruit tarts and eclairs

Our assortment: Peach, apricot, & cherry danishes; regular, raspberry, & chocolate croissants; brioche suisse (brioche filled with pastry cream and chocolate chips); raisin roll

Friday, April 23, 2010

A Pleasant Surprise

Even though I'm constantly researching new places to eat, I'm always pleasantly surprised when my friends make suggestions of where to go. One of my best friends (and fellow food lover) took some time out of her busy nursing school schedule to slow it down with me over dinner and drinks this week. She suggested Rambla since we could bring our own wine and because their menu is designed for sharing. After reviewing their menu online, I replied to her suggestion with an enthusiastic "Yes!".

Located on Camp Street off of Canal in the Central Business District, Chef Kenneth LaCour's Rambla is a unique blend of Spanish and French cuisine inspired from the popular tapas bars that line the streets of Barcelona, Spain. Both the food and the atmosphere have been designed to inspire conversation and relaxation, using big wooden tables, antique mirrors, candles, and decorative ironwork to create the right aura.

I arrived earlier than my friend and received a very detailed overview of the menu by the maître d’, who was incredibly helpful, so by the time my friend got there with the wine, I had already decided on what we should order. We started with the Medjool Dates which were stuffed with blue cheese and a Marcona almond, then wrapped in smoked bacon. The combination of the chewy date and bacon mixed with the creaminess of the cheese and crunch from the almond made this small plate an instant favorite. Next we had the Applewood Smoked Salmon, served with a dill crème fraiche, corn beignets, and sliced grape tomatoes. We both really enjoyed this Petits Plats (small plate). Smoked salmon and dill are a classic combination and the corn beignet was both unexpected and wonderful. It was crunchy on the outside, sweet and fluffy on the inside, and dotted with plump corn kernels. The sliced tomatoes, though not many, added a nice tang and splash of color to the dish. Next our waiter brought out the Stuffed Piquillo Peppers, one stuffed with Tuna Confit and the other with Herbed Chevré, and the Patatas Bravas. We found the Tuna Confit to be slightly fishy and agreed that sweet pepper paired with the creamy herb cheese was much better. The Patatas Bravas were cubed pieces of potato, much like hashbrowns, that were cooked to a golden brown, rolled in paprika, and then topped with a garlic alioli. Coming from a person who doesn't even like potatoes that much, these cute little carb cubes have my vote for "Most Delicious Potato Put in My Face in 2010". Last we had the Churros with salted caramel for dessert. Let's just say that when my two churros were gone, I definitely dipped my finger in the caramel sauce three... okay, four times.

We finished up our glasses of wine, paid the bill, and thanked our waiters for an excellent meal. It was the perfect amount of food for the two of us, though next time I'm definitely going to try the Galacian-Style Octopus and Rambla Shrimp, which sound too good to pass up a second time. Even with our busy schedules and monthly money saving attempts, my friend and I still manage to get together often to enjoy a nice meal. Food always tastes better when enjoyed with best friends.

We drank our own bottle of wine, but don't these specialty drinks sound delish?

My friend and I both agree that a dinner party around this big table would be so much fun

Applewood Smoked Salmon with Corn Beignets and Dill Crème Fraiche

Stuffed Piquillo Peppers with Tuna Confit and Herbed Chevré

Patatas Bravas with Paprika and Garlic Alioli

Churros with Salted Caramel sauce

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Rum House

When I was 17 I went with a friend and her family to the British Virgin Islands. We chartered our own sailboat, the Fantasea, and every day we would sail to the different islands. We went snorkeling through the reefs, took the dingy ashore to sample some of the local fare, and at night we slept on the boat underneath the Caribbean star-studded sky. It was my very first time flying, my first time living on a boat, and up until then, that 2 week vacation was the longest time I had ever spent away from home. I have the most incredible memories from that vacation; the friendly BVI locals, gorgeous salty blue water and, of course, the amazing food.

So I was super excited when a friend suggested we go to the Rum House on Magazine Street last week while a bunch of our friends were in town for a wedding. The Rum House is a Caribbean Taqueria that serves up food with Caribbean, Latin American, and Creole influences. And as most of you already know, I am a huge fan of the Latin/Caribbean food here, so I'm always willing to try other places with the same cuisine.

We went on a Thursday night, so it wasn't too crowded, and while we waited for everyone to get there, we ordered the Conch and Sweet Potato Fritters. I remember enjoying them in the BVI, but perhaps my memory deceives me because these fritters were pretty horrible. They were sweet in all the wrong ways and had an odd texture and shape. Every fritter I have ever had has been round, so what were these odd-long things on the plate in front of me? The breading was really the only thing I tasted and they were a little too greasy. We ended up leaving a majority of them on the plate for the waitress to take away.

Since the fritters were a bust, we ordered the chips with queso blanco and griddle roasted vegetable salsa. We all agreed that the chips tasted stale, that the salsa was mediocre, and that Superior Grill's queso is definitely better. Although it wasn't looking too good at this point, I still had high hopes for my Taco Trifecta entree where you choose 3 of the 10 tacos and a side. I ordered the Chopped Shrimp taco, which came with black beans, roasted peppers, pico de gallo, onions, and queso; the Brisket taco with chimichurri, barbecue sauce, cilantro, and fried shallots; and the Flaked Fish taco made with charbroiled black drum, asparagus and creole tomato chutney, and a dill tarter sauce. The Brisket taco was odd because of the bbq sauce and the fried shallots, which were cold and chewy. The Flaked Fish was forgettable and the Chopped Shrimp was just one big let down. While my friends who ordered the same thing got lots of shrimp, I only got one half of a shrimp. It was even more upsetting considering that the shrimp taco had the best flavor of the three.

We skipped dessert since we were all pretty disappointed and vowed that we would only go back for nachos and drinks. My "Painkiller" drink was pretty darn good and it definitely reminded me of my time spent in the Islands. Other than that, I'm glad there are other Latin/Caribbean restaurants in the city that do a much better job of satisfying my constant craving for this wonderful cuisine. Because if Rum House were the only option, then my memories would be all I would have.

Conch and Sweet Potato Fritters with Spicy Remoulade Dipping Sauce

Queso Blanco and Griddle Roasted Vegetable Salsa with chips

Taco Trifecta (from left to right): Flaked Fish, Brisket, and Chopped Shrimp with a side of Coconut Mango Rice (which was dry and lacked the big flavor I was expecting)

Friday, April 16, 2010

Noodle Love

Every week I get an insatiable craving for Asian food. Usually I'll satisfy my craving by going out for sushi, which definitely isn't something I'd ever attempt to make at home, and depending on what you order, it can be very healthy. But sometimes I need a change and that's when I usually turn to Thai food.

La Thai, located on the corner of Robert and Prytania, is a great Uptown Thai restaurant that offers an extensive menu of starters, soups, salads, noodles, stir-fry, curry and other entrees to please everyone at the table. I'm fond of the Tom Ka Gai soup, which is a classic Taiwanese soup made with chicken, coconut milk, lemongrass, ginger, and mushrooms, and I also really like the Paht Woon Sen glass noodle dish with shrimp and veggies in a sweet soy-garlic sauce. My boyfriend particularly enjoys the green curry with chicken, which he orders spicy, but you can specify how much heat you want in any of the dishes. Personally, I don't enjoy spicy food, but I find that if I endure a little spice, I have an even bigger excuse to hit up Creole Creamery after the meal :)

Green Curry Mussels - Mussels were decent but the french fries were slightly disappointing (tasted too much like fast food fries)

Paht Woon Sen: Glass noodles, shrimp, scallions, baby corn, mushrooms

Green Curry with Chicken: Coconut milk, bamboo shoots, eggplant, basil

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

An Italian Tuesday

Ever since I had my first taste of John Besh's Lüke burger, I have been eager to try out his other restaurants that are scattered around the city's business district. Restaurant August and Besh Steak are on the pricier side, so this week we decided to go to Domenica, Besh's Italian restaurant, located on Baronne off of Canal Street in the CBD.

Domenica has everything from pizzas and cheese boards to large and small antipasti (no pasta) and primi (pasta) plates. They even have seafood, chicken, and red meat entrees. With all of this to choose from, I was glad that I had already done my research and knew exactly what I wanted to order. To start, we ordered the Calabrese and Wild Mushroom pizzas which were some of the best I have ever had. The Calabrese came with spicy salami, capers and olives and the Wild Mushroom had fontina cheese, bacon, and a cracked egg in the middle. I know, I know, an egg on pizza? Just trust me, it was fabulous.

Next we had the small Wood Grilled Shrimp antipasti plate, and the small primi Stracci plate. The shrimp dish was not my favorite. I found it hard to taste anything except for the burned, woodsy flavor, which kind of ruined it for me. Fortunately the Stracci made up for the disappointment of the shrimp. The Stracci was this beautiful torn green pasta topped with an oxtail ragu and fried chicken livers. I've never really been a huge fan of liver, but the rest of the dish was to die for. The oxtail ragu was tender and had the most incredible savory and comforting flavor that the pasta just seemed to soak up. I think next time I will have to get the larger portion of this dish sans the chicken livers and enjoy it with a big glass of red wine*.

After eating we took a walk through the Roosevelt Hotel to see the famous Sazerac Bar, which was surprisingly full of people at 7:30. It was neat to eat at a fairly new restaurant and then moments later step foot inside a bar that's been around for more than 100 years. Food + History = Just one of the many reasons why I love this city.

*You can bring your own wine to any of John Besh's restaurants and enjoy a waived corking fee.

Domenica was voted Best Casual Upscale Dining Establishment in January 2010

Calabrese Pizza: Spicy salami, mozzarella, capers, and olives

Wild Mushroom pizza with fontina, bacon, and yard egg

Stracci: Torn pasta, oxtail ragu, and fried chicken livers

My plate of the Stracci and Wood Grilled Shrimp with Calamari

Hanging house cured meats

Herb and sesame seed bread sticks that are placed in the center of every table

Entrance to the Sazerac Bar in the Roosevelt Hotel

Monday, April 12, 2010

French Quarter Festival 2010

The city of New Orleans and its faithful dwellers seem to always be looking for an excuse to have a party. Especially when those parties involve copious amounts of food, alcohol, and live music. From Mardi Gras season to Hurricane season and everything in between, this city has got it going on... all year long.

While I'm familiar with many of the parties and festivals this city holds annually, this past weekend was my very first time attending the French Quarter Festival, which has been boosting the city's spirits and revenue for over 20 years. The festival was held from Friday, April 9th to Sunday, April 11th, with food and music happening from 11 in the morning until about 9 o'clock at night. My boyfriend and I went with my parents on Sunday and spent five hours walking around the Quarter, eating from the local vendors, tapping our feet to Dixieland Jazz and Zydeco music, and we even slowed down long enough to relax, or in my dad's case, nap, under the shade of a Magnolia tree (with a bloody mary in hand, of course).

So what delectable goodness did I eat? Well, let me first say that choosing was rather easy, considering I had already printed and highlighted everything on Tom Fitzmorris' "Obsessive Eater's Guide to French Quarter Festival 2010" that had a high rating (like I said here, I am a huge dork). I didn't get around to trying everything that I wanted to, but I did manage to cross off a good number of things on the list.

We started the day by camping out in Jackson Square and the first thing I had to have was Jacques-Imo's Slow Roasted Duck Po Boy, which I had once before at the James Beard Benefit I went to in March. For the record, it was just as fantastic the second time around. Then we hit up Muriel's for the combo plate of the Louisiana Crawfish and Goat Cheese Crepe and the Shrimp and Eggplant Stuffing. The crawfish had great flavor in the creamy sauce poured over the crepe and the stuffing was a savory mixture of plump shrimp and soft eggplant... cornbread stuffing ain't got nothing on this stuff! Next we got the Oyster Bonne Femme over Bow Tie Pasta from Antoine's, which may have been my favorite thing we ate. Because the oysters are cooked in their own liquor, the sauce is like eating one big melted oyster topped with Romano and Swiss cheese. Fabulous! We started craving something sweet so we resorted to Desire Oyster Bar's Bread Pudding with Whiskey Sauce. Even my dad, who is a self-proclaimed bread pudding connoisseur, said that it was "very, very, good".

After listening to the Panorama Jazz band for a while, we decided to move to Woldenberg Park, where we camped out underneath a Magnolia tree. There I had Audubon Nature Institute's Crawfish Bread, which was more like a crawfish pie, boasting a hot and spicy crawfish filling inside a flaky dough. Then it was Emeril's Delmonico's Crawfish and Veal Sausage Po-Boy with Smothered Peppers, which I only had one bite of because I found it to be a little dry. My boyfriend got the Cajun Meat Pie from Mrs. Wheat's Pies, which I snagged two bites of because it was excellent. And to end the eating frenzy I got some of the Gumbo Shop's Chicken and Andouille Gumbo. I was happy it had okra in it, but unhappy that some of the rice grains were not cooked. All in all, once I added a dash of Tabasco sauce, the flavor was pretty darn good.

With the sun beaming down and the cool breeze blowing in from the river, my first French Quarter Festival experience was an incredibly enjoyable one. It was a perfect Sunday full of streetcar rides, live music, food, and most importantly, time spent with family. So until next year New Orleans, thanks for the free music and the long-lasting memories... I'm sure we'll be in touch.

Jacques-Imo's Slow Roasted Duck Po Boy with a Southern Comfort sweet tea

Muriel's Louisiana Crawfish and Goat Cheese Crepe and Shrimp and Eggplant Stuffing

Antoine's Oyster Bonne Femme with Bowtie Pasta. Bad picture, excellent dish.

Desire Oyster Bar's New Orleans Bread Pudding with Whiskey Sauce

Local art at the Pedestrian Mall in Jackson Sqaure

Big crowd at the Abita Beer stage at Woldenberg Park

Audubon Institute's Crawfish Bread

Mom with her strawberry Plum Street snowball

Great Zydeco band outside of Rouse's on Royal

The Gumbo Shop's Chicken and Andouille Gumbo

A sweet end to the day: Café Au Lait and beignets from Cafe Du Monde

Friday, April 9, 2010

Friday Sweet Treat

Once the weather starts warming up in New Orleans, everyone seems to flock to the nearest snowball stand or ice cream shop. Of course, with ice cream shops as good as this one, New Orleanians tend to enjoy the frozen treat all year round. But in an effort to mix it up a bit, I recently paid a visit to La Divina gelato shop on Magazine Street. Their gelato's smooth, creamy consistency makes it a joy to eat, while flavors such as crème brûlée and bourbon pecan make it completely addictive. I even spotted Blake Lively there, who was enjoying an afternoon treat and chatting with some friends. With a menu that offers paninis, salads, coffee, and gelato, I guess even movie stars have trouble fighting the urge to indulge.

Gorgeous baked goods

Two "Bambino's" and an almond cookie

Decisions, decisions...

A beautiful afternoon in beautiful New Orleans