Sunday, June 21, 2009

Po' Boys for a Po' Boy - An Ongoing Saga

I decided last week to study that quintessentially New Orleans sandwich: The Po' Boy. For three days, my lunch date was with crusty french bread and cholesterol, but I couldn't do it for day 4 and 5 as I had planned. Those will have to wait, so I'll add more to this post as time goes by. I have to pen my thoughts before my memory clouds.

1st Po' Boy: A catered work lunch. The sandwich consisted of breaded, fried shrimp, lettuce, tomato, and hot sauce. The hot sauce tasted like Red Hot, but was probably the 'on-every-table' in this town Crystal. I loved it with hot sauce, but the bread was not crusty, and this made for a poor sandwich. The lettuce and tomato - with mayo this is known as "dressed" in Po' Boy country - was weak. But it was free lunch, so what can you expect?

2nd Po' Boy: I was on Bourbon, so I stopped at the first shop I saw knowing full well that I was going to get bad, tourist-trap fare. I believe in calibration, which is why after two straight weeks of eating Tex-Mex in the Southwest, my next stop was Taco Bell.

My guess was right.

The place was Court Tavern Po-Boys. I had roast beef (with gravy, and dressed, obviously). They used standard lunch meat roast beef. The bread was much better than my 1st po' boy. But the gravy was flavorless, and considering I was eating bread soaked in it and mayo, the trade-off for the heart condition did not seem worth it. On a sidenote, the red beans 'n rice were GREAT, the best I've had yet in town, even though the sausage was on the cheap end. So there's something.

3rdPo' Boy: Now this is where things start to get good. I upgraded my standards, and visited Lil' Dizzy's Cafe at their Poydras location. I arrived before the lunch rush, but my order still took 30 minutes (not good). I went with roast beef and gravy, dressed, again, but this time with more success. The beef was from an actual roast, not the pre-sliced, nitrate-filled variety at a cheap shop. This had the texture and feel of homecooked pot roast, was topped with delicious gravy, on great bread, and was beginning to be what I expected from a good Po' Boy. And the sandwich was big enough that I had only half at lunch, and the second half was enough for dinner. Now that makes a Po' Boy feel not so Po'.

Alt spellings of Po' Boy uncovered so far: Poor Boy (the refined version?); Po-boy; PoBoy;

I'm learning toward instituting a politically correct nomenclature: "Working Class Person's Provision."

More to come when I return to NOLA - this week I'm back in my hometown, where my food love began. The home of goetta, chili with spaghetti (please?), and Graeter's: Cincinnati.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Gulf Coast Sushi: Rock-n-Sake

Last year I lived in Houston for the summer, and I learned that despite stereotypes, there are few American cities with sushi that is as good, fresh, and inexpensive as what I was able to find in Texas. Granted, Houston is more "Gulf Coast," a region in and of itself, than Texas proper. And it's that coast that gives it sushi.*

But this post is about New Orleans, also Gulf Coast, so I have high hopes for the sushi here. My first venture into Louisiana raw fish was to Rock-n-Sake. If you can't tell from the name, this is a joint that's as much "drinks at the bar" as it is "sushi bar" (even the website has a soundtrack that can't be turned off). I went for lunch, so the place was toned down, but I could tell that it gets lively in the evenings.

I was with friends, and we shared rolls. The house roll, eponymously-named "Rock-n-Roll" was excellent - tempura battered shrimp, crab, avocado, and shrimp, with smelt roe around the outside. Tempura battered and crunchy rolls are commonplace here, and if that's your thing, you'll love it. Most of the rolls were sprinkled with smelt roe, and that's a nice touch that I enjoy (and it means I don't have to order smelt roe - I love the stuff). One roll, in my opinion, was simply disgusting. That was the Hawaii 5-0: Coconut-tempura shrimp and cream cheese rolled with mangos and avocados on the outside. I'm not sure what they were going for here, but the cheesiness and sweetness did not meld well at all. It was the last roll eaten off our plate out of 6, and the only one with pieces remaining at the end.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the nice drink menu. Rock-n-Sake features "infused" sakes, the manufacturing process with which I'm unfamiliar, but I imagine probably involves soaking sake in fruit in the way that is often done with vodka (or simply combining with fruit juice, making a "saketini" - a past-time of mine). In general this makes cheap sake easier to drink, and probably easier to, um, get the job done. Like I said, in the evenings, it's that kind of place.

Overall, I'd say it's worth a shot for anyone. Try it for lunch if a quieter place is your thing (prices were reasonable for downtown New Orleans), and it would be a great place to party and celebrate with friends in the evening. Be warned, sake carries a kick - infused or not.

*Since I mentioned it, a quick rundown of sushi in Houston is warranted:
Best Value (in my life): Ra Sushi (the sashimi is excellently presented)
Overpriced place to be seen: Sushi King
Worst sushi of my life where the "chef" admitted to being on drugs: Coco's Yakitori Sushi Bar (I wanted to make myself vomit the roll I had eaten - this is the kind of sushi that would make a newbie never consider eating any fish let alone raw fish ever again).

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Demystifying the Mango Lassi

One of the drawbacks of learning to cook ethnic cuisine is that you soon discover that inexpensive restaurants are pulling a quick one over on you, and with a little practice you can do it better, cheaper, and often faster.

Nowhere is this more true than in a city like Ann Arbor, where a cultured crowd craves cuisines of other cultures, but where the captive audience is taken advantage of by a restaurant community that recognizes options are few, and that the undergraduate population often carries parents' credit cards. And in no item is this better represented than the mango lassi. This drink, often unsweetened and salted in India, has become ubiquitous in Indian restaurants catering to American tastes, that is, in a sweetened form. Here I'm going to explain how simple it is to make your own delicious lassi, and never again pay for such a simple drink at dinner.

What you'll need:
1 ripened mango1, cubed
1 cup yogurt2
~1/2 cup milk
1 to 4 t sugar (optional)2
ground cardamom (optional)3

1If you cut into an unripe mango, it's garbage. To tell if it is ripe, simply squeeze the outside and see if it gives easily. Then give it another day to be sure (for lassis you want super-ripe mangos). If you want to quickly ripen it, put it in a closed paper bag (with an apple if you have it - the apple gives off chemicals that help the mango ripen). Here's some directions for cutting mango, but ignore the part about using unripe mango. Also, yellow mangos are nice because they tell you when they are ripe.

2Use plain yogurt, but you don't have to, especially if (like me), you eat the flavored stuff. Flavored yogurt is often sweetened - if so, skip the sugar in the recipe, otherwise use sparingly to taste (maybe 1 tsp). If using plain yogurt, or something like Fage, you'll need up to 4 tsp sugar.

3The cardamom is optional, but is a nice touch, especially for presentation. Personally, I never have cardamom on hand, so I've used cinnamon and nutmeg - any spice you traditionally associate with savory sweets (e.g., pumpkin pie, egg nog), can be used.

Directions: Throw everything in a blender on the smoothie setting (fastest, highest), for a few minutes. That's it. That simple. $3+tax at some restaurants.

If you want you can serve it over ice. I prefer to put my blender carafe in the refrigerator to chill, cook dinner, and enjoy my chilled lassi with it.

As for demystifying ethnic food, living two blocks from an Indian grocery store and sharing an office with an Indian for four years has done it. I'm not an expert on many dishes, but my Dal is better than what I've had anywhere.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

New Orleans for the Summer

For the summer, all of my posts will be about the Big Easy. I'm looking forward to this.

Today I had a business lunch at Palace Cafe, one of Brennan's restaurants. I passed on the Bananas Foster - I had it last year when I dined at Brennan's in Houston, which sadly caught fire around the time of Hurricane Ike, weeks after I was there. But I'll be back soon enough for that.

Instead of going for dessert, I had a hearty lunch entree (from their menu): Andouille Crusted Fish (mine was Drum, and it was excellent) Pan-roasted and served with Crystal buerre-blanc, chive aïoli, rissole potatoes, and vegetable du jour. There was enough cream and butter in this single dish to already have me looking forward to the rest of this summer. There was just the perfect amount of spiciness to offset the other flavors. I was impressed with the thought of having a little heat with such a traditional French preparation - truly a New Orleans taste.

I also had their famous turtle soup (the Wikipedia article specifically mentions Brennan's being famous for it). It was good, but not as good as the last time I had it, primarily because it was tepid. The server brought the soup in a metal cup in a porcelain bowl, and poured the soup from the cup into the bowl after presenting it to me. I don't know if the metal cup is just part of the presentation, or designed to keep the soup hot. It failed on both accounts, but the flavor was not bad despite the low temperature.