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Tom Fitzmorris

Tune in to "The Food Show" for fun talk about restaurants, recipes, reviews and more!

Weekdays on 3WL 1350am 3-6pm
Saturdays on WWL Noon-3pm
Email: Tom@nomenu.com

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Tom: New Orleans' 12 best hotel restaurants

Hotel restaurants go in and out of vogue, and this is not an especially good time for them. Tastes in restaurants these days are in the very casual direction, while the strengths of hotel eateries focuses on atmosphere and service. Too often, corporate hotel management has no good idea of what New Orleans eating is about. The greatest hotel successes have come from partnerships between hotel operators and well-known local chefs. (The Brennans and John Besh have led the field in that regard.) When that chemistry is right, we get some very tasty and beautiful places to dine.

1. FleurDeLis-4-ForListsR’evolution. French Quarter: 777 Bienville (Royal Sonesta Hotel). 504-553-2277. One of very few fine-dining restaurants to open in recent years, R’Evolution’s premises are spectacular and the food is impressive. The menu doesn’t quite fit together, and the lack of tablecloths in this expensive dining parlor is curious. Still, you can’t help but leave the place happy.

2. FleurDeLis-3-ForListsLüke. CBD: 333 St Charles Ave (Hilton Hotel). 504-378-2840. The most successful of John Besh’s properties (enough so that they opened another location in San Antonio), Luke calls itself an Alsatian-French bistro. This is credible, but so too are the downtown-style daily specials, the raw bar, and the belt-driven ceiling fans and tile floors.

R'Evolution dining room.

R’Evolution dining room.

3. FleurDeLis-3-ForListsCriollo. French Quarter: 214 Royal (Monteleone Hotel). 504-523-3341.Dining at the Monteleone Hotel was dreary for decades. A few years ago the management completely rebuilt the Iberville@Royal corner, adding big windows and handsome, comfortable furnishings. The menu manages to be both traditional and adventuresome in its decidedly Creole tastes, with striking presentations.

4. FleurDeLis-3-ForListsBorgne. CBD: 601 Loyola Ave (Hyatt Regency Hotel). 504-613-3860.Chef John Besh has hit nothing but home runs in his partnerships with hotels. There’s no better example of this than Borgne, whose mostly-seafood menu covers a wider spectrum of Southeast Louisiana cooking than any other hotel bistro.

Rotisserie at the Rib Room, with a table set for 20.

Rotisserie at the Rib Room, with a table set for 20.

5. FleurDeLis-4-ForListsDrago’s. CBD: 2 Poydras (Hilton Riverside Hotel). 504-584-3911. The most successful Hilton Hotel restaurant in the world (yes!), this is an exact copy of Drago’s in Metairie. Oysters are at the center of the menu, of course: big, beautiful bivbalves on the half shell, or the famous, original char-broiled jobs. The entire range of local seafood is here, from gumbo to fried platters to grilled fish. And it’s one of the very few New Orleans restaurants with credible lobsters worth going to for lobster.

6. FleurDeLis-4-ForListsCompere Lapin. CBD: 535 Tchoupitoulas (Old #77 Hotel). 504-599-2119.Chef Nina Compton hails from the Caribbean islands, growing up in Santa Lucia. But her menu blends American Southern, Creole, and Cajun flavors, as well as those of the islands. The specials should be explored first.

CafeAdelaide-DR

7. FleurDeLis-4-ForListsCafe Adelaide. CBD: 300 Poydras St (Loews Hotel). 504-595-3305. One of the first restaurants to take bartending seriously, Cafe Adelaide begs you to have a cocktail, then investigate an abbreviated list of local eats. The branch of the Brennan family that owns Commander’s Palace is here, and the influence is clear.

8. FleurDeLis-4-ForListsTrenasse. CBD: 444 St Charles Ave (Hotel Inter-Continental). 504-680-7000. A spinoff of a funky, wildly successful Gulf Coast seafood eatery, Trenasse comes across as a standard hotel cafe. In fact, it can stand up to the fare offered by even the best local seafood houses, with five or six species of fresh local finfish every day and a stridently excellent oyster bar (for raw and cooked oysters.

Trenasse.

Trenasse.

9. FleurDeLis-4-ForListsDomenica. CBD: 123 Baronne (Roosevelt Hotel). 504-648-6020.Leading the New Orleans pizza revolution when it opened in 2009 with a big wood-burning oven from Naples, this is a perennial crowded hangout with a short but impressive selection of pizza, Italian dishes, and house-cured salumi. It’s another John Besh place, in partnership with Chef Alon Shaya.

10. FleurDeLis-3-ForListsRib Room. French Quarter: 621 St Louis St (Omni Royal Orleans Hotel). 504-529-7045. For most of the last fifty years, the Rib Room has been one of the top two or three hotel restaurants in New Orleans. After a long period of uninspired mangement and chefs, it’s now in the hands of Chef Tom Wolfe. Too soon to say whether he will return the place to its glory days when locals filled the dining room at lunch daily. But we’re hoping. The famous prime rib is the least interesting part of the menu.

11. FleurDeLis-3-ForListsThe Grill Room. CBD: 300 Gravier (Windsor Court Hotel). 504-522-1994. The best part of the Grill Room these days is the meat-and-three lunch offering, which is brining many locals back to the beautiful dining rooms. The dinner menu needs further development. But it’s atmospherically hard to beat on a special evening. Live music of high quality most nights.

Dining room at the Bourbon House.

Dining room at the Bourbon House.

12. FleurDeLis-3-ForListsBourbon House. French Quarter: 144 Bourbon (Astor Hotel). 504-522-0111. The Bourbon House is not obviously allied with the Astor Hotel, but it is. Operated by the Dickie Brennan wings of the Brennans, the Bourbon House is the seafood balance to Dickie’s steak house up the block. When it good, (and it usually is), the food is reminiscent of what COmmander’s Palace served in the 1980s. Which is a good thing.

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Tom: Every single dish you can eat at Jazz Fest, rated

The food scene this weekend is dominated by the Jazz Festival, where the eats are as good as the music, and in exactly the same way. In the past few years of the Jazz Festival, the food offerings seem to have reached a plateau. A few new vendors appear, but they fade into the familiar array. It’s a long time since anything alarmingly new and different has turned up.

But isn’t this what we want from the Festival? It’s certainly true of us Baby Boomers, who were just reaching the age of majority at the time of the first JazzFest in 1970. It’s a ritual, with our strange kind of hippie nostalgia. Enough other things have changed in our lives without the Jazz Festival’s becoming unfamiliar, too.

Here’s our annual list of all the food being served at the Jazz and Heritage Festival at the Fair Grounds. I have annotated it with ratings on a scale from zero to three notes. Here’s what they mean:

MusicNoteRating1Recommended. Try it if the dish appeals to you.
 

MusicNoteRating2Outstanding. Taste this even if if you wouldn’t ordinarily do so.

MusicNoteRating3Essential. Not to be missed.

These are my own recommendations, based on past years. Your mileage may vary.

JazzFestivalEatGuide







Burks and Douglas Food Area I

MusicNoteRating2Red beans and rice, sausage
MusicNoteRating2Vegetarian red beans and rice*
MusicNoteRating2Blackberry cobbler

Cajun Nights Catering Food Area I

MusicNoteRating1Alligator pie
MusicNoteRating2Crabmeat stuffed shrimp
MusicNoteRating1Fried green tomatoes

Catering Unlimited Food Area I

MusicNoteRating3Cajun jambalaya
MusicNoteRating1Fried chicken

Crescent Catering Food Area I

MusicNoteRating2Cajun duck po-boy
MusicNoteRating2Cajun shrimp & duck pasta

Dimartino’s Food Area I

MusicNoteRating2Muffuletta
MusicNoteRating2Vegetarian muffuletta*
MusicNoteRating1Roast beef poor boy
MusicNoteRating2Turkey giardiniera poor boy

Fireman Mike’s Kitchen Food Area I

MusicNoteRating2Alligator sauce piquante
MusicNoteRating3Shrimp and grits
MusicNoteRating2Shrimp and okra gumbo

Gallagher’s Grill Food Area I

MusicNoteRating2Pecan catfish meunière
MusicNoteRating2Seafood mirliton casserole
MusicNoteRating3Fried crab cake, smoked tomato and jalapeño tartar

Joyce’s Lemonade Food Area I

MusicNoteRating3Lemonade
MusicNoteRating2Fruit salad

Love at First Bite Food Area I

MusicNoteRating3Cochon de lait po-boy

Ms Linda’s Catering Food Area I

MusicNoteRating1Ya ka mein
MusicNoteRating1Vegetarian ya ka mein*
MusicNoteRating2Fried pork chop sandwich
MusicNoteRating2Bread pudding, rum sauce

Panaroma Foods, Marksville Food Area I

MusicNoteRating3Crawfish bread
MusicNoteRating2Shrimp bread
MusicNoteRating2Sausage and jalapeño bread

Papa Ninety Catering Food Area I

MusicNoteRating3Boudin
MusicNoteRating2Boudin balls
MusicNoteRating2Shrimp and lump crab ravigote
MusicNoteRating3Crawfish remoulade

Patton’s Caterers Food Area I

MusicNoteRating2Crawfish Sack
MusicNoteRating2Oyster Patties
MusicNoteRating2Crawfish Beignets

 

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Tom's 100 Best Restaurants for Easter dining

Easter used to keep us at home with family dinners and Easter egg hunts. But n the last twenty years or so it’s become a big day for dining out. Even those who cook at home on Easter are using the day as an occasion for some serious cooking–although it usually remains a buffet well supplied with kidfood. On Easter, with the warm weather finally here, we’re grilling. Or having a crawfish boil, because crawfish have finally begun to get good.

But more people are heading out to their favorite brunch, breakfast and dinner places to celebrate. That change in direction came quickly, so much so that demand for Easter brunch restaurant reservations outstrips the supply. The demand is such that the bad dog of special holiday menus has come out of its usual confines of New Year’s Eve and Mother’s Day. The special holiday menu is special only in that it’s more expensive, and offers fewer choices. This is not pure greed on the part of the restaurants, but a strategy to help the kitchen can get the food out.

EasterToon4If you can find a good Easter brunch, or even a good Easter dinner, it can be very pleasant indeed. The weather tends to be nice, so if you’re in the French Quarter a stroll around is inviting. Even the most ambitious restaurants make themselves friendly to families and their children, so that’s not a problem.

Below is a list of restaurants open for Easter that have a good track record from past holidays. Most–but not all–will be serving a brunch menu (not necessarily a buffet, though) at midday. Most will also be open for dinner. They are listed in order of goodness. Our rating system,for only this survey, awards between one and three Easter eggs to restaurants we think will be good bets for Easter. They are listed in order of goodness.

EasterToon5It’s impossible to determine which of these are fully booked, as I’m sure a few of them are already. Which brings up an important point: You should make reservations now. As in right now.

To find out more about the restaurants, click on any restaurant name. That will take you to a detailed, rated review of the place.

Revised March 2930, 2015. This list is a free service to restaurants we feel good about recommending. If you know of any other restaurant that you think should be on this list–or if you manage such a restaurant–please alert me at news@nomenu.com. (Restaurant owners, please feel free to nominate your own places.) This list doesn’t include every restaurant open on Easter Sunday–just the ones that seem appropriate for a special Easter dinner. For all Sunday openings, go here.

 

3RatingEasterEggsCommander’s Palace. Uptown 1: Garden District & Environs: 1403 Washington Ave. 504-899-8221.

3RatingEasterEggsEmeril’s. Warehouse District & Center City: 800 Tchoupitoulas. 504-528-9393.

3RatingEasterEggsLa Petite Grocery. Uptown 2: Washington To Napoleon: 4238 Magazine. 504-891-3377.

3RatingEasterEggsArnaud’s. French Quarter: 813 Bienville. 504-523-5433.

3RatingEasterEggsLa Provence. Lacombe: 25020 US 190. 985-626-7662.

3RatingEasterEggsPelican Club. French Quarter: 615 Bienville. 504-523-1504.

3RatingEasterEggsRestaurant August. CBD: 301 Tchoupitoulas. 504-299-9777.

3RatingEasterEggsAnnadele Plantation. Covington: 71518 Chestnut St. 985-809-7669.

3RatingEasterEggsAntoine’s. French Quarter: 713 St Louis. 504-581-4422.

3RatingEasterEggsApolline. Uptown 3: Napoleon To Audubon: 4729 Magazine St. 504-894-8881.

3RatingEasterEggsGallagher’s Grill. Covington: 509 S Tyler. 985-892-9992.

3RatingEasterEggsAtchafalaya. Uptown 2: Washington To Napoleon: 901 Louisiana Ave. 504-891-9626.

3RatingEasterEggsBrennan’s. French Quarter: 417 Royal. 504-525-9711.

3RatingEasterEggsBroussard’s. French Quarter: 819 Conti. 504-581-3866.

3RatingEasterEggsCafe Adelaide. CBD: 300 Poydras St. 504-595-3305.

3RatingEasterEggsCafe Giovanni. French Quarter: 117 Decatur. 504-529-2154.

3RatingEasterEggsCafe Lynn. Mandeville: 2600 Florida St. 985-624-9007.

3RatingEasterEggsCoquette. Uptown 1: Garden District & Environs: 2800 Magazine St. 504-265-0421.

3RatingEasterEggsDelmonico. Uptown 1: Garden District & Environs: 1300 St Charles Ave. 504-525-4937.

3RatingEasterEggs

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St. Patrick's recipe: Tom's corned beef and cabbage

Corned beef is brisket that’s been cured with seasonings and brine for several weeks. (The expression “corned” comes from the seasonings, which resemble wheat grains. (“Corn” means “wheat” in the British islands. What we call corn they call “maize.”) Trust me: it is more work than it’s worth to corn/cure beef yourself. Doing so involves the use of nitrites and nitrates, which are not easily available to the home cook. They create the unique brown-orange color we expect in corned beef, as opposed to the grey meat you get when you leave those curing agents out. Buy a nice corned brisket at the store and just boil it.

I do have a trick for you, however: add crab boil to the mixture. It will not taste like crabs or be noticeably spicy–just good. The cabbage component will be better if it’s boiled it all by itself. Also, you need some salt in the water for the cabbage, but the corned beef will get tough if you cook it with salt.

  • 1 corned beef brisket, about 4 lbs.
  • 1 Tbs. black peppercorns
  • 1 tsp. marjoram
  • 1/2 tsp. mustard seeds
  • 1 medium onion, quartered
  • 2 Tbs. liquid crab boil
  •  
  • 1 head green cabbage, quartered
  • 2 Tbs. salt

1. Wash the seasonings that were in the vacuum-pack bag off the corned beef, and put it in a large pot of cold water.

2. Put the seasonings, the crab boil, and the onion into the pot. Bring the pot to a boil, then lower to the barest possible simmer. Simmer with the cover on for three and a half hours.

3. Boil the cabbage separately in about two gallons of water with 2 Tbs. salt.

4. When the corned beef is cooked, drain it from the water and let it stand for about 20 minutes. Slice it against the grain, noting that the grain in brisket has a way of changing directions as you slice it. The thinner you slice it, the better.

Serve with Creole mustard on the side.

Serves four to six.

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Lent recipe: Tom's barbecue shrimp

Barbecue shrimp, one of the four or five best dishes in all of New Orleans cooking, is completely misnamed. They’re neither grilled nor smoked, and there’s no barbecue sauce. It was created in the mid-1950s at Pascal’s Manale Restaurant. A regular customer came in and reported that he’d enjoyed a dish in a Chicago restaurant that he though was made with shrimp, butter, and pepper. He asked Pascal Radosta to make it. Radosta took a flyer at it. The customer said that the taste was not the same, but he liked the new dish even better. So was born the signature dish at Manale’s.

The dish is simple: huge whole shrimp in a tremendous amount of butter and black pepper. The essential ingredient is large, heads-on shrimp, since the fat in the shrimp heads makes most of the flavor. Resist the urge to add lots of herbs or garlic. This recipe is largely based on the new recipe created by Chef Gerard Maras in the early 1980s at Mr. B’s. The butter emulsifies into the other liquids, and gives not only a bigger flavor but a nicer-looking dish.

The amount of butter and pepper in my recipe seem fantastic. Be bold. This is not a dish you will eat often–although you will want to.

  • 3 lbs. fresh Gulf shrimp with heads on, 16-20 count to the pound
  • 1 Tbs. lemon juice
  • 2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 4 Tbs. black pepper (or more!)
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 3 sticks butter, softened
  • 2 tsp. paprika
  • 1 loaf French bread

1. Rinse the shrimp and shake the excess water from them. Put them in a large skillet (or two) over medium heat, and pour the lemon juice, wine, Worcestershire, and garlic over it. Bring the liquids in the pan to a light boil and cook, turning the shrimp over with a spoon every two minutes or so, until all the brown-gray color in the shrimp is gone. Don’t overcook! At the first moment when you think the shrimp might be done, they will be: lower the heat to the minimum.

2. Cover the shrimp with a thin but complete layer of black pepper. You must be bold with this. When you think you have enough pepper in there, you still need a little more. Add the paprika and salt.

3. Cut the butter into tablespoon-size pieces and distribute over the shrimp. With a big spoon, turn the shrimp over. Agitate the pan as the butter melts over the shrimp and emulsifies into the liquid at the bottom of the pan. When no more solid butter is visible. Remove the pan from the burner.

4. Serve the shrimp with lots of the sauce in bowls. Serve with hot French bread for dipping. Also plenty of napkins and perhaps bibs.

Serves four to six.

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Lent recipe: Tom's Creole oyster patties

Oyster patties are very popular at New Orleans parties as pass-around appetizers. They have a problem, however: most are terrible, because the sauce is too thick and rarely has a flavor much better than library paste. This recipe creates an oyster stew thick enough to stay inside the pastry, but with some flavor, too.

There’s another issue: where to find the “patty shells” in which this concoction is baked and served. For generations, one went straight to McKenzie’s for these. McKenzie’s ain’t dere no more, but fear not: Dorignac’s bakery makes then, as does the Swiss Bakery on St. Charles Avenue downtown and quite a few other places.

  • 1 pint heavy whipping cream
  • 2 cups oyster water
  • 1 Tbs. mixed peppercorns (green, white, black, and pink), cracked
  • 1/2 tsp. dried thyme, or leaves from two sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 stick butter
  • 4 dozen oysters, chopped coarsely
  • 8 oz. crimini or “Baby Bella” mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 4 slices bacon, fried crisp and crumbled
  • 1 bunch green onions, tender green parts only, thinly sliced
  • 6 sprigs flat-leaf parsley, leaves only, chopped
  • 1 Tbs. grated lemon peel
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 36 small (two inches across) vol–au-vents (patty shells), center part pushed down to leave a hole

1. The first two steps will take about a half-hour, but need no constant attention. In a small saucepan over low heat, bring the whipped cream to a boil and reduce by half. (be careful that the pan doesn’t foam over, as cream has a way of doing.)

2. Into a second small saucepan, strain the oyster water. Add the cracked peppercorns and thyme. Bring it to a light boil over low heat and reduce to about 1/4 cup of liquid. Strain.

3. In a skillet, heat the butter over medium heat until it bubbles. Add the oysters, mushrooms, and bacon. Cook until the mushrooms are soft–about two minutes.

4. Add the reduced cream and the reduced oyster water to the skillet, along with the all but about 1/4 cup of the green onions, plus the parsley and lemon peel. Stir lightly until combined and cook over medium heat about another minute

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

5. Using a slotted spoon, spoon the oyster mixture into the vol-au-vents on a baking sheet or pan. This will leave a lot of sauce in the pan. Bake the vol-au vents for twelve minutes.

6. Meanwhile, bring the sauce in the pan to a light simmer. When the vol-au-vents are ready, remove them from the oven and add a teaspoon or two of the sauce. Top with a sprinkling of green onion and serve immediately.

Makes 36 oyster vol-au-vents.

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Topics : Hospitality_Recreation
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Locations : New Orleans




 

Lent recipe: Tom's crawfish pie

I don’t really like crawfish pie the way it’s usually made–as a thickened crawfish etouffee baked in a little pie shell. This version is a bit richer, more herbal (with an up-front garlic tinge), and less red-peppery. It’s also folded into a triangle of phyllo pastry, and comes out looking like a Middle Eastern spinach pie. That eliminates the worst part of the standard crawfish pie–the fat-logged crust. You can also make these using small vol-au-vents (“patty shells”).

Crawfish are running low at the end of the season, but picked crawfish tail meat is in good supply now. One more thing: resist the temptation to add cheese of any kind.

  • 2 cups Louisiana crawfish tails
  • 1/2 stick butter
  • 4 Tbs. flour
  • 1 tsp. fresh, finely chopped garlic
  • 3/4 cup half-and-half, warmed
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 4 slices bacon, fried crisp, drained, then crumbled
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice
  • 10 sprigs flat-leaf parsley, leaves only, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp. dill
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. cayenne
  • 1 tsp. paprika
  • Phyllo pastry sheets
Crawfish pie in phyllo pastry (vol-au-vent).

Crawfish pie in phyllo pastry (vol-au-vent).

1. If the crawfish tails are very large, cut them into two or three pieces.

2. Heat the butter over medium heat in a saucepan until it bubbles, then stir in the flour and make a blond roux. Don’t allow the roux to brown.

3. Add the garlic and stir for about 30 seconds. Lower the heat to the lowest setting and add the warmed half-and-half. Whisk until the sauce thickens to the texture of light mashed potatoes. Add half of the beaten egg and whisk until blended in.

4. Add add the crawfish and all the other ingredients except the phyllo and the remaining beaten egg. Simmer, stirring once or twice, for about two minutes. Remove from the heat.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

5. Unfold the phyllo pastry and separate ten sheets. Wrap the remainder and return to the box and the refrigerator. Cut the phyllo sheets into three strips, four to five inches wide and twelve to fourteen inches long. Dampen a clean towel and keep it on top of the phyllo you’re not yet using to prevent its drying out.

6. Spoon about two tablespoons of the crawfish mixture onto one end of two thicknesses of phyllo strips. Brush lightly with egg at the other end. Fold the phyllo over the filling at a 45-degree angle, and keep folding over till the end. Seal the edges with your fingers. Set the finished triangles on a greased baking sheet and continue making more until all the filling is gone.

7. Bake the triangles in a 400-degree oven until browned and crisp. Serve immediately, or keep warm for an hour or less.

Serves eight to twelve.

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Lent recipe: Tom's Crabmeat and Corn Bisque

Crabmeat and corn bisque is a big hit anywhere it’s served. This is my own version, distilled from recipes learned at Commander’s Palace, Vincent’s, Dakota, and a few other places. It’s delicious and rich.

The recipe begins with instructions for making crab stock. If you already have it (or shrimp or crawfish or lobster) stock, just plunge ahead. This recipe can also be made with a similar amount of crawfish tails when they’re in season.`

Corn and crab bisque

 
  • 6-8 gumbo crabs or picked crab shells
  • 1 onion, cut into chunks
  • 2 ribs celery, cut into chunks
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 tsp. thyme
  • 1/2 tsp. black peppercorns
  • 1 stick butter
  • 4 Tbs. flour
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1/3 cup white vermouth
  • 2 ears fresh corn, stripped from the cobs
  • 1 cup chopped green onion tops
  • 1 pint heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. Tabasco
  • 1/2 lb. lump crabmeat, carefully picked

1. Put the crabs or the shells into a large heavy saucepan over high heat, and cook them until the edges of the shells brown a little.

2. Add two quarts of water, the onion, celery, bay leaf, thyme, and peppercorns. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Hold at a simmer for 30 minutes.

3. Strain the stock and discard all the solids. Return the stock to a boil and reduce to two cups of liquid. You can make this ahead and freeze it. (You can also make and freeze more than this quantity for use in other recipes.)

4. Make a blond roux with the butter and the flour. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant–about a minute. Add the vermouth and let it come to a boil while stirring it into the roux. After another minute, add the crab stock and bring to a simmer.

5. Simmer about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add corn and simmer five more minutes. Add cream, green onions, salt, and Tabasco. Stir until smooth and bring back up to a simmer.

6. Add crabmeat and gently blend in, so as not to break the lumps. Check seasoning and serve hot.

Serves four to six.

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Lent recipe: Tom's Crab Cakes

Crab cakes are not native to New Orleans, but you would never know that to look at menus or recent local cookbooks. They moved in from Maryland in the early 1990s, replacing the good old stuffed crab, and igniting the issue that rages wherever crab cakes are found: Which restaurant makes the best? Interestingly, every single place that makes them at all claims its are self-evidently superior.

Most people will say that a great crab cake will contain as high a percentage of jumbo lump crabmeat as possible while still sticking together as a cake. But clearly there should be other things in there, too. I like green onions, parsley, a little garlic, and a little red bell pepper. I use béchamel to hold the crabmeat together, and and a light dusting with bread crumbs so the things can be browned. (I got the idea from Charley G’s, whose crab cakes were among the best in New Orleans when it was still around.) Crab cakes should fall apart at the touch of a fork, not hold together like a hamburger.

 

 

  • 6 Tbs. butter
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup warm milk
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. white pepper
  • 2 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp. chopped fresh tarragon (or 1/2 tsp. dried)
  • 2 lbs. lump crabmeat
  • 1/3 finely-chopped red bell pepper
  • 1/2 cup plain bread crumbs
  • 2 tsp. Creole seasoning
  • 2 oz. clarified butter

 

 

  • White remoulade sauce:
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 Tbs. Creole mustard
  • 1 Tbs. lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. Worcestershire
  • Dash Tabasco
  • 1/4 tsp. granulated garlic

1. Heat the butter in a heavy saucepan over low heat. Add the salt, white pepper, and flour and make a blond roux. Whisk in the milk until the blend has the texture of very light mashed potatoes. Cool to room temperature. (You have just made a béchamel.)

2. Pick crabmeat of any shells, trying to keep the lumps as whole as possible. Combine it in a large bowl with bell pepper, green onion, and tarragon. Add a scant cup of the cooled béchamel. Mix everything well with your fingers, being careful not to break the crabmeat.

3. Season the bread crumbs with Creole seasoning, and spread them on a plate. Using an ice cream scoop, scoop up balls of the crabmeat mixture. Gently form them into cakes about three-fourths of an inch thick. Press them gently onto the bread crumbs on each side, and shake off the excess crumbs.

5. Heat the clarified butter in a skillet. Sauté crab cakes until golden brown on the outside and heated all the way through. (The way to test this is to push the tines of a kitchen fork into the center of the cake, then touch the fork to your lips. That will tell you whether the heat has penetrated all the way through.)

6. Mix all ingredients for the white remoulade and serve with the crab cakes.

Makes twelve large crab cakes.

 
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33 best and most unusual New Orleans seafood dishes for Lent

#1
Oysters Ooh-La-La
La Provence
Lacombe: 25020 US 190. 985-626-7662.

This sounds like something the Chris Kerageorgiou–the late chef and founder of this classic North Shore restaurant–would have thought of. Not just the recipe, but the name, too. The dish is a total original by chef Eric Loos, joining the many baked oyster dishes restaurants serve. Here, the shell and its oyster are topped with a mixture of crab fat, Parmesan cheeese, a little bit of bread crumbs, and seasoning. They come out bubbling–an effect Chef Chris always loved. Rich, but in a unique way.

#2
Fish In A Bag
Borgne
CBD: 601 Loyola Ave (Hyatt Regency Hotel). 504-613-3860.

Until Katrina, one of the most famous fancy restaurant fish dishes in New Orleans was pompano en papillote. Fish cooked in a paper bag. It was fancy and terrible, at least the way Antoine’s was doing it. But Antoine’s wisely chose to let the dish die in the flood, and unless you ask for it in advance you won’t find it there any more. But it was the recipe, not the concept that was flawed, and a few other chefs have tried their hands in reviving the dish. The best of them is so good that it has become a signature dish at Borgne. Chef Brian Landry reworked the dish by removing the heavy, gloppy seafood sauce of old and replacing it with some savory vegetables and crabmeat. This keeps the fish flavor as the top note, and releases enough steam inside the bag (that’s the idea) to keep the fish moist. The exact species varies, of course, with the market.

Fish in a bag.

Fish in a bag.

#3
Pan-Seared Halibut
Gautreau’s
Uptown: 1728 Soniat St. 504-899-7397.

Halibut is not a local fish, but we can forgive it that. It’s one of the best of the exotic species we find on New Orleans menus. Chef Sue Zemanick at Gautreau’s features it as often as she can get it fresh (usually and best from Alaska). She cuts thick rectangles from the enormous fillets, and either sears them or roasts them under an herbal crust. It has become a signature dish at the Uptown bistro.

#4
Oysters Giovanni
Cafe Giovanni
French Quarter: 117 Decatur. 504-529-2154.

Chef Duke Locicero won a big cooking contest years ago with this dish, and it’s easy to see why. It starts out with money in the bank: fried oysters, crisp with cornmeal at the exterior, still bulging. A bunch of those are arrayed in a circle on a plate spread with a unique brown sauce. It tastes like nothing else I know: sweet, gingery, savory, a little peppery–hard to describe, but perfect with oysters. In that sauce three colorful fruit-flavored sauces get swirled in to make a stained-glass effect. My first impression was that this was too much fooling around, but the sauces actually add quite a nice flavor. It’s such a terrific dish that it’s hard to go to Café Giovanni without starting dinner off with these. At the very least, get an order to pass around the table.

CafeGiovanni-OystersGiovanni

#5
Lobster Dumplings
GW Fins
French Quarter: 808 Bienville. 504-581-3467.

These are a staple on GWFins appetizer list. In appearance they’re reminiscent of Chinese steamed dumplings, but in every other way they are much more elegant, stuffed with lobster and fish mousseline. A lobster butter sauce finishes it off. Sometimes this is the first course in a four-course lobster dinner that Fins runs in season. It’s almost always available otherwise.

Lobster dumplings.

Lobster dumplings.

#6
Oysters Foch
Antoine’s
French Quarter: 713 St. Louis. 504-581-4422.

The sauce is where the main action is, although the rest of the dish is pretty good, too. It’s a variation on hollandaise, which will come as a surprise to those who like it, because it doesn’t resemble hollandaise at all. It’s so dark that it looks as if it’s made out of chocolate. The flavors of tomato, sherry, and pepper come through, too. There’s nothing like it in any New Orleans restaurant (or any other restaurant anywhere, to my knowledge). The sauce goes over the top of cornmeal-coated fried oysters, placed on foie-gras-slathered toast. It’s supposed to recall the horrible battles in World War I led by Marshal Ferdinand Foch, but the less you know about that, the better. It’s a fantastic and unique appetizer. Antoine’s also uses this sauce on breaded trout or soft-shell crabs to brilliant effect, too. In Antoine’s Hermes Bar, they serve an oysters Foch poor boy–something I’ll bet the waiters have been eating for fifty years at least.

Speaking of Antoine’s, next week (September 30), they’re holding another of their Historic Dinners. The guest chef this time around is Billy Oliva, the current chef of Delmonico in New York City. Delmonico introduced the restaurant as we know it to America, in the 1820s. Antoine’s opened only twenty years later, in 1840. Antoine’s has Delmonico beat in continuity, though: Delmonico closed its doors for extended lengths of time and management changes over the years. Still a grand place to eat, though. The Historic Dinner, consisting of six courses with wines, tax, and tip, is $130. It also includes a lecture about the history of Antoine’s and its world. Reservations are available at 504-581-4422.

#7
Seafood Martini
Pelican Club
French Quarter: 615 Bienville. 504-523-1504.

This appetizer has lately stole my allegiance from the Pelican Club’s still-excellent scallops-and-artichokes arrangement. Big lumps of crabmeat, big shrimp, and chunks of lobster come together united by an herbal, piquant ravigote sauce. The martini aspect is only in the glass used to hold all this. It’s big enough that Chef Richard Hughes deemed it necessary to add some potato salad at the bottom, to prop up the main items.

PelicanClub-SeafoodMartini

#8
Salt-Baked Crab
Kim Son
Gretna: 349 Whitney Ave. 504-366-2489.

The dish, a Vietnamese specialty, is a misnomer. There’s more pepper than salt. And it’s not really baked, but stir-fried and finished briefly in the oven. It is, however, really made with crab–good lake blue crabs cut into quarters, cooked with a tremendous amount of garlic and pepper. It’s a major mess to eat–along the lines of boiled crabs. But once you start eating this, you’ll find it impossible to stop, particularly during the best months of crab season (early and late summer). Also good are the scallops and shrimp done in the same style. At a significantly higher price, Kim Son also does salt-baked Maine lobster. There’s always someone in the dining room eating that. All if it is lusty eating.

#9
Crabmeat Sardou
Tommy’s Cuisine
Warehouse District: 746 Tchoupitoulas. 504-581-1103.

The idea is simple and good. Remove the poached eggs from the classic breakfast dish eggs Sardou, and replace it with a pile of warm crabmeat. Everything else remains the same: the artichoke bottoms, the creamed spinach in them, and the hollandaise sauce over everything. All those flavors are great together, as long as there’s enough crabmeat to be the main ingredient. The dish was created at Galatoire’s a long time ago, but their long-time chef Prudence Milton is at Tommy’s now, and so is his great crabmeat Sardou. It works as a light entree or a heavy appetizer.

#10
Crabmeat Cheesecake With Pecan Crust
Palace Cafe
French Quarter: 605 Canal. 504-523-1661.

This first time I encountered a savory cheesecake was at Commander’s Palace, during Emeril Lagasse’s chefdom. Interesting idea: you combine all the standard ingredients for a cheesecake except the sweet ones. Then add an interesting savory ingredient or two. In this case, those are crabmeat and wild mushrooms. Surprise! What sounded like a really stupid idea emerges as a brilliant new flavor ensemble. When the Palace Café opened, crabmeat cheesecake was one of the specials on the original menu. It quickly became one of the most popular and best first courses at the P.C. The core of the dish is certainly good enough, and the pecan crust adds textural contrast. Wild mushrooms in an old-style brown meuniere sauce completes a delicious little plate of local flavor.

#11
Oysters Amandine
Mr. Ed’s Oyster Bar & Fish House
Metairie: 3117 21st Street. 504-833-6310.

After eighty-five years of serving simple but meticulously cooked seafood, the elderly owners of Bozo’s restaurant found the perfect person to carry the torch into the future. Ed McIntyre is not only an excellent operator of neighborhood cafes, but also a big fan of Bozo’s for his entire life. When he bought Bozo’s in 2013, he kept a lot of the old menu, but tripled it in size with a wealth of new dishes. The oysters amandine may be the best of them. They’re fried, topped with an old-style meuniere sauce, and then finished with toasted almonds. They come out of the half shell after a pass through the broiler. They’re not only delicious but very appealing to the eye.

Mr. Ed’s is also close enough to Lakeside Mall for it to be a good place to stop for lunch before going back to shopping. (If they open, which I think they are.)

#12
Crawfish And Goat Cheese Crepes
Muriel’s
French Quarter: 801 Chartres. 504-568-1885.

This appetizer (made with shrimp when crawfish are out of season, with no loss of goodness) first appeared on Muriel’s menu during the chefhood of Erik Veney. Two subsequent chefs made many changes to the food during their times, but the crawfish and goat cheese crepes remain inviolate, a classic dish for which it’s hard to imagine an improvement. The goat cheese is inside the crepes, softened by an admixture of cream cheese and sharpened with chives and shallots. The crawfish are in the sauce, with butter, a little tomato, and bell peppers. It’s a wonderful taste with which to begin a meal–rich, but not too. Muriel’s recipe for this is here.

#13
Scallops With Fennel And Orange Emulsion
Rue 127
Mid-City: 127 N Carrollton Ave. 504-483-1571.

One of the lightest but also one of the best dishes from this small, brilliant bistro is a trio of enormous diver scallops, seared top and bottom but bulging. The flavor of the sea that releases on the first stroke of the teeth gets slowly ramped up by the orange and fennel flavors. The presence of oyster mushrooms lends a meatiness that satisfies.

#14

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