New Orleans Day 1: Hanging in The Garden of Eatin’with a Few MoPhos

I have heard mixed things about New Orleans.  Some have told me they love the party atmosphere while others say the city was a mess before Katrina and is even worse after. I landed with “New Orleans is Sinking” playing over and over in my head.  The flight from Detroit was decent and was made more exciting by a half dozen drunkish but well-behaved  guys who were on the way to a bachelor party.

My goals for the day were simple. First, I wanted to get accustomed to the weather which  characterized by constant humidity, warm nights and random thunderstorms.  Second, I wanted to explore the city a little and hit up a few DDDs along the way. Third, I was looking forward to ending by going to the James Beard nominated Mo-Pho for dinner.

Once I hit the hotel, I began my trek toward the lowering garden district which is characterized by small shops and some of the hottest restaurants in NOLA.  Among these eateries lie 4 triple Ds. My first stop was Joey K’s, an American restaurant with a cajun/creole flare and daily specials ranging from oven roasted turkey to ham hocks with lima beans. I was surprised how busy it was given the time of day.   I sat at the bar and was greeted by a friendly waitress who promptly served me a frozen goblet of Abita.  Afterwards, I chatted with the waiter and, given I had just landed, decided to go authentic with the eggplant napoleon appetizer ( I was drawn to the crawfish cream sauce) and rice and beans with smoked sausage. He chuckled a bit and suggested I stick with a side of the rice and beans since the appetizer was “big”. It was a good call.  The eggplant was huge and ridiculously delicious.  It was served piping hot and the sauce was the star.  The rice and beans were bona fide belly friendly and I was quite happy I didn’t opt for the full portion.

In the end, Joey K’s has a fun vibe, good service and great food whether you are looking for comfort food or authentic southern cooking.

Food-4.5 Guyz

Service- 4.5 Guyz

Vibe- 4 Guys

Total- 13/15

My second stop was Mahony’s Po’boy which was located just a little down the road in the Garden district.  It wasn’t nearly as busy as Joey K’s but it was a bit later.  Once again, I was greeted by a friendly waitress who recommended a Abita Strawberry Harvest Lager which was the perfect pairing for the heat and humidity.  The Po’Boy is a New Orleans staple which legend says was named after the fact that striking workers were named poor boys and that restaurateurs Benny and Clovis (great names) Martin coined the term for that reason.  The peacemaker is a particular po’boy which at one time contained shrimp and oysters but has evolved (at least in the case of Mahony’s) as a sandwich with one or the other.  After a chat with the waitress, I opted for the fried oyster version.  I realized I’m not really a fan. I love raw oysters and frying them is a disservice, especially when served between a toasted baguette, especially when the condiments are skimpy and the cheese isn’t melted.

mahonys sandwich
The Peacemaker $14.95

Food- 3.5 Guyz

Service- 4 Guyz

Vibe- 3 Guyz

Total- 10.5 Guyz

My third stop in the Garden district was the Creole creamery,a rather unorthodox DDD in the fact that all they serve is ice cream.  From reading the reviews, I was told to expect bold and unique flavours.  Deep down I was hoping for something really cool like rice and beans but that said, there was still some interesting choices.  Even better was the fact they offered a 4 scoop sampler for $4.50 which allowed for a little diversity.  I decided on cream cheese, hibiscus cranberry, thai basil coconut and magnolia flower. When I have ice cream I hope the custard base balanced enough to give great mouth feel but not so overwhelming that it masks the unique flavour of each offering.  CC passed the test.  Each scoop was distinct and recognizable.  The magnolia flower was the best of the bunch; it was subtle but very present. The environment was very American ice cream parlor but the service was quite laissez-fare.

creole creamery ice cream
Croele Cream Cheese, Hibiscus Cranberry, Thai Basil Coconut and Magnolia Flower Sampler  $4.50

Food- 4/5 Guyz

Service- 3/5 Guyz

Vibe- 3.5/5 Guyz

Total- 10.5/15 Guyz

I was hoping that a 15 km walk through the garden of eatin’ would burn some of the food I ate and get me ready for my nightcap at MoPho. Lead by James Beard and food and wine “best new chef” Michael Gulotta, MoPho is best described as Southeast Asia by way of New Orleans. I was excited to see how exactly the two would be fused.

The location is a bit of a hike out of our New Orleans core and the space itself is very stripmally. That said, the interior is a trendy interpretation of a Thai joint and they have a great and nicely cheesy patio out back which we braved along with the normal early summer humidity of Louisiana.

For the most part, the menu was straight forward Thai and Vietnamese with a little Southeast America in the form of Cedar Key clams and P and J oysters.  Other hints of New Orleans included Creole cream cheese (similar to the aforementioned ice cream) roti and  annatto (a condiment commonly used in Latin food sometimes in the Philippines) beignets. They also offer a nice array of local pints which strengthened the local flare just a bit.  

We ordered an array of dishes including the Som Tan salad, mimita brisket, clams, paella, the pork belly bowl, wings, brussel sprouts and the lamb curry. In general, the flavours were very South Asian and one would need to use their imagination a little to fully appreciate any huge gulf coast influence.  That said, the food had good, aggressive flavours and a nice amount of spice. If you are a fan of a delicate pho, “the standard” was a bit heavy compared to most I have had.  The roti and the beignets were delicious.  The brussel were the comfort foodie food and the wings were a decent representation of this seemingly southeast staple.

In the end, I was hoping for more of a Southeast meets Southeast experience but that said, it was still a tasty experience in Thai/Vietnamese fare.  In general, Day 1 was a good day. Traditional food started the day and some Asian fusion ended it.  It was clear I needed a few more days of stuffing my face before I could reach a verdict on the state of the dining scene in a city that the Tragically Hip have assured me has been sinking for almost 30 years.

MoPho Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Salazar: It Seems Only the Hipsters Have Beards in Cincinnati

Cincinnati has long been ignored as one of America’s culinary destinations, especially in the area of finer dining. Sure, there’s Jeff Ruby and he acclaimed steakhouses but other than that most of the regional foods are more pedestrian in nature and include chili, goetta (a German inspired spiced meat patty containing oats) and grilled cheese via Shark Tank.  They are perennially shunned in the annual James Beard awards mostly due to the fact that they are in the same regional category as Chicago.  Take 2016 for example.  Of the 20 James Beard semifinalists for the Great Lakes region,  11 were from Chicago compared to one in Cincinnati. As for the finalists, all 5 hail from the Windy city.

The lone wolf in Cincinnati was Jose Salazar.  Salazar isn’t your typical hometown boy.  He’s originally from Columbia and after coming to the states, developed a passion for cooking, schooled in New York (and was two blocks away from the twin towers when the 9/11 attacks occurred)  and ended up working with icons including Geoffrey Zakarian and Thomas Keller.  He decided he wanted a quieter life and moved to the Queen City.  Since then, he has opened a handful of restaurants including Mita’s ( the tapas restaurant he was nominated for) and Salazar, his first endeavor which celebrates the Over the Rhine region of Cincinnati.  Given the simplicity of the menu and the fact I was with my daughter, I opted for the latter.

Salazar has a modest but pretty interior highlighted by a large bar, brick walls and tiled floors which seems characteristic of the OTR region. We were quickly greeted by a waitress and I started with a Kentucky Penny cocktail, mainly because it is bourbon based and shares my last name (hey…it’s the closest I’ll ever get to a namesake cocktail so I gotta love a little).  Made with  maple, lemon, bitters and topped with ale, it was a shandyish but punchy concoction which I quite enjoyed given the abnormally warm weather.

salazar kentucky penny
Kentucky Penny $10

There’s a handful of nibbles on the menus so we indulged in some brussels finished in a yuzu aoli. They were crispy, fantastic and gave me an idea of how to use my bottle of yuzu vinegar at home moving forward.

salazar brussels
Brussel Sprouts $6

My daughter went with the burger and I chose the sandwich special which was egg salad served with gravlax.  I found it kind of funny that the salmon played second fiddle to the egg but the combination was quite delicious, especially with the toasted bread it was served on. The farm green salad was a pleasant side. The burger was solid even when dumbed down by my daughter’s cheese omission and medium-well patty.  The thick bacon and “special sauce” were both spot-on.

We ended the meal with a dessert which fused three American favorites; sweet potato pie, donuts and smores.  The sweet potato donuts served with chocolate, graham and marshmallow. The earthy and naturally sweet flavour of the potato was a terrific medium for the  sweeter accompaniments and the fact they were served hot out of the flyer was bonus.

salazar donut
Sweet Potato Donut $8

My Take

Jose Salazar and his namesake restaurant prove there is more to Cincinnati than chili and goetta.  It’s modest and economical menu delivered on taste and value without a whole lotta pretension. Even though the Queen City’s culinary scene will likely always live in the shadows of Chicago’s, Salazar growing empire is a reminder that, unlike the Bengals and Nick Lachey, there is hope in Cincinnati after all.

Salazar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

 

 

 

Review:Vancouver:Downtown:The Fish Shack

It was honestly an internet search and a restaurant within walking distance that brought me to the Fish Shack. After seeing it was a creation of the Glowbal group, I was sure it would be far from a shack and even have a few of the gimmicks this restaurant group is renowned for.  The last Glowbal restaurant I went to was Black and Blue. It had a beautiful decor, with a classic steakhouse setup and  highlighted by  a 15 foot high meat locker.  I figured the Fish Shack would be the same.

I wasn’t far off.  The decor is reminiscent of a wooden fishing shack.  Nets hang throughout the place and pictures of fish with interesting trivia line the  wall. It’s bright and clean and the busy waitstaff have a casual look and attitude. The air is filled with the aroma of shellfish, likely  a combination of the bar side shellfish  steamer and the adjacent table ordering the fisherman’s catch, a Cornucopia of mixed seafood strewn across the table in a free for all.

The beer selection is pretty lame, dominated by Molson products. The Whister Bear Paw Honey Lager is a bit of a redemption.  This sad reality led me to the Caesar fleet featuring four offerings laced with vodka, gin, whisky and tequila.  I went vodka, a pretty standard Caesar garnished with prawn and pepperoni.  It was a good Caesar and definitely better than a Coors light.

Caesar
Caesar $8

I like gimmicks, so I opted for buck a shuck oysters (Light house were featured)  and mussels and clams fresh from the steamer. The oysters were fresh and a great deal for four bucks. The $15 steamed shellfish prepared classic style (wine, garlic , shallots and herbs) were good but didn’t rival the mussels at Chambar or the clams at the Pike market in Seattle which were pulled from ocean just minutes away in Puget Sound.

Steamers $15
Steamers $15

For the main, the halibut was calling my name.  Although priced significantly higher than the other fish and chips options, I remembered my experience at Dandelion in Philadelphia and Blue Water cafe in San Diego and hoped for the same in Vancouver.  It was a bit flimsy and although all the components were quite good, nothing was remarkable. The batter was not greasy and had a pleasant taste while the fish maintained a good integrity and decent moistness. The tartar sauce and fries were pretty classic and the creamy horseradish slaw was colourful to look at but didn’t have as much bite as I wanted.

Halibut and Fries $16.50
Halibut and Fries $16.50

I last had the brussel sprouts at Black and Blue last year and ordered them again. I was equally impressed, especially when I hit them with a squirt of hot sauce.

Brussel Sprouts
Brussel Sprouts $6.50

There’s a small dessert menu featuring cheesecake, apple berry crumble and sticky toffee pudding, all for $8.50.  Some may argue you don’t need anymore than that.  I opted for the latter and was presented with a pretty decent offering. The cake was moist, partially helped by the plentiful pool of sauce it sat in.  The traditional chantilly cream and somewhat unorthodox berries were a good finishing touch.

Sticky Toffee Pudding
Sticky Toffee Pudding $8.50

My Take

The fish shack is kind of like Red Lobster, except for people under the age of 65.  Both have a bad beer selection and shrimp garnished Caesars.  Both are decorated with fish and fish paraphernalia.    Both have cheesy slogans like “We sea food differently” and “hook it and cook it”. One can indulge on an array of seafood with the shack’s Fisherman’s catch or Red Lobster’s Ultimate feast, a choice from the fresh daily fresh fish list or non-sea signatures like cheddar bay biscuits (RL) or brussel sprouts (FS).  Both even have a New York style cheesecake for dessert.

The fish shack is pretty; pretty decor and pretty good food.  It’s filled with the little gimmicks like bar side steamers that make the Glowbal group what it is. .  Although none of the dishes blew my mind, the execution of the food was acceptable. and the vibe reeked a little of fish and little of hip. So send Gramma to Red Lobster and suck back some west coast buck a shuck oysters before 6 pm at the fish shack (trust me, Gramma and oysters don’t mix). Afterwards, you can hear about the nice fish and  that dessert cake like Gladys used to make.

As for slogans, I kinda like this one from a famous book that pretty much says it all:

“Fish,” he said, “I love you and respect you very much. But I will kill you dead before this day ends.”
Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea

“Catchy”, isn’t it?

The Fish Shack on Urbanspoon

Fare..Eat..Ales 10 Food Trends That Will Fade in 2013

Much like trends that surge in a given year, there are many that begin to fade away.  Here are my predictions of the Toronto food trends that should curtail in 2013.

1. Beet to Death

Almost every menu offers a beet salad of some kind.  They are cheap, earthy and offer a pretty colour to a plate.  They are however, very distinct.  This uniqueness usually results in a short shelf life. Plus, root vegetables take turns being in favour. Just ask a sweet potato.  They had to step aside for the beet and a new tuber should soon reign supreme.  Perhaps an heirloom carrot, parsnip or even the relatively unknown sunchoke?

2. Doubt the Sprout

Despite its sinister reputation among the young, the brussel sprout  has become the cool cruciferous vegetable in the past few years, offering a perfect marriage with other in vogue flavours  like  hot sauce and bacon fat.  However, with other greens such as collards, swiss chard and  mustard greens gaining popularity, I suspect the brussel sprout will lose some of its spark and go back to being the low point of many a childhood.

3. Pig: The Magical Animal

Pork is no longer the other white meat; it is THE white meat.  Thick chops and pork  belly have dominated menus in the past few years.  Bacon has been used to wrap everthing from steak to scallops to ice cream.  The combination of demand for lighter foods  coupled with expected increases in pork prices in 2013 should see the presence of pork diminish somewhat across the board.  That being said, bacon will be coveted and pork will remain a key component in ramen dishes, but don’t be surprised to see more chicken (in an attempt to gain the white meat status back) and beef options emerge as a replacement to the mighty pig.

4.  Feelin’ Blue

Strong flavours will be replaced  with more mild ones and cheese is no exception. The intensity of the bold blues, including gorgonzola will be replaced by lighter cheeses with more subtle flavour.  The use of blue as a base for rich creamy pasta sauces (especially vegetarian ones) should fall out favour for more acidic, zingy ones.

5. Falling Flat

Flatbreads are pizzas for places that don’t make pizza.  Once a popular appetizer, flatbread is a canvas to display other popular ingredients such as short rib, mushrooms and asparagus with white, red and barbeque sauce foundations.  The novelty has worn off as diners are satisfied with the toppings reconstructed in novel and abstract ways minus the bland and often overcooked dough.

6. Holy Aioli!

Chipotle mayos, basil aiolis and other thick and sinful sauces should give way to vegetables based dips, sauces and condiments.  The trend toward the focus on fresh and local ingredients doesn’t necessarily include mayonnaise and oil but  may favor tangy, tomato jams, spicy chimichurris and vibrant pestos instead.

7.  “Poutin'”

Call me crazy but the life cycle of poutine may be coming to an end.  The classic Quebec dish has evolved to include lobster, brisket and pulled pork as well as modifications to the traditional beef or chicken gravy.  The pendulum is swinging in the direction of lighter flavours. In the end, poutine, regardless of the version,  is a salty and fatty mess to the extreme, one which will soon return to be reserved primarily for the after bar crowd.

8.  Taking a Slide

Despite the number of new restaurants opening promoting sliders of all kinds, in all likelihood they will not sustain the popularity of the past couple of years.  The initial simple slider gave way to newer ideas like pulled pork or beef topped with kimchi, slaw or fois gras. There may be some survival among the many small plate restaurants, but sliders have quickly become an outdated novelty. The advent of competitive burger joints have swung the pendulum back toward the large chin-dripping mains and away from the dainty, often dried out finger sandwiches.

9. “Not”ella

Nutella has gone from  a rare childhood vice to a condiment which recently seems to grace everything from grilled cheese to crepes to burgers. The hazelnut spread has been elevated to iconic levels in the past couple of year with many restaurants going as far as displaying various sized nutella jars in their establishments like some kind of award or trophy.  Not that it will go away, but the jars should come down with diner’s reactions shifting from 2012’s “Cool, this place has nutella” to 2013’s “Oh, nutella…again”.

10. Muffle the Truffle

Truffle oil is not a truffle.  It’s a cheaper, liquid version of the exquisite fungus which has been grossly overused in everything from popcorn to pasta.  Truffle is like fish sauce and saffron; if you use too much once, it resonates to every similar  dish afterwards.   Truffle is meant to subtly complement other flavours, not be the main flavour and too many dishes are offered without this understanding.  Similar to Newtonian law, as the numbers of those who have been subject to truffle oil  abuse increase,  its popularity will decrease.