MARIANI’S VIRTUAL GOURMET NEWSLETTER
May 8, 2011
Bounces Back Big Time, Part Two
Corner: San Pietro
Town: The Best Waiter in NOLA
NEWS! Esquire.com now
NEW ORLEANS BOUNCES BACK BIG TIME, Part Two
by John Mariani
Brennan is one of the many family members of the
clan that runs
restaurants in and out of New Orleans, (though the
run's Brennan's itself on Royal Street operates that
Ralph's on the Park
900 City Park Avenue
In addition to the Red Fish Grill, Ralph Brennan also runs this namesake midtown restaurant on City Park, a lovely stretch of dark trees and greenery that partakes of a calmer sense of New Orleans' heritage than what you find down in the French Quarter. You won't find a lovelier spot for brunch, lunch or dinner, the light changing as the weather does every hour in New Orleans, and if you come in out of the heat and humidity, Ralph's seems like shedding a load of wet towels in exchange for a breath of cool air and warm hospitality.
The building dates to 1860 as a coffeehouse and concession stand at the Park, and the veranda is a splendid way to spend the cooler afternoons here. Renovation of the old structure was difficult and long but they finally opened in 2002, with a mahogany bar that is generous in size and in doling out the cocktails. Local restaurant authority Tom Fitzmorris listed Ralph's as one of the "ten most archiutecturally interesting restaurants" in the city.
Chef Chip Flanagan does what he calls a "globally inspired" local food with a high comfort level, evident in dishes like his extremely tender lam spareribs glazed with an tangy-sweet-salty Worchestershire and citrus. Creole country breakfast sausage in cornmeal pancake batter that is then fried and served with sugar cane syrup goes a little too far into sheer heaviness, but I have no such qualms about the chicken and chocolate chip waffles with boneless fried chicken thighs, boudin balls, and red-eye gravy. These last two are brunch dishes.
I loved the Louisiana seafood crepe make with Lake Pontchartrain crabmeat, Gulf shrimp and fish in a smoked tomato sauce with fried shrimp curls--as N'awlins-styled as any dish in town. Also delicious were oozy poached eggs Sardou on brown buttered artichoke hearts with creamed spinach, rich tomato hollandaise with more crabmeat or shrimp and sauteed wild mushrooms. By all means don't even think of sitting down without a plate of buttermilk biscuits (left) or a bowl of thick, deep turtle soup.
People like to dress up for brunch on Sunday in New Orleans, and you'll see some outfits, along with some of the city'ds most beautiful women, starting off the late morning with a lemon basil bloody Mary or a brandy milk punch. Not to would seem unmannerly in a city like this.
Open for lunch Mon.-Fri., for dinner nightly, for brunch on Sun. At dinner, starters range $8-$11, main courses $22-$46; Two-course menu $27.
Loew's New Orleans Hotel
300 Poydras Street
What's the best way to honor a favorite grande dame?
Some cities would erect a statue, others a momument, and others name a street of a stretch of highway after the deceased. But in New Orleans, the best thing you can do is name a restaurant after him or her. Which is the case with Cafe Adelaide, commemorating one of the true doyennes of the Big Easy, Adelaide Brennan, (right) aka "Queenie" and "Auntie Mame" and the kind of effervescent woman who gave New Orleans a good dose of its swagger. As recalled by her nieces and nephew Alex, she was "a striking redhead who marched to her own drummer. No other 'older people' acted like her. They were all much more sensible, while Aunt Adelaide was the definition of glamorous—and naughty," entertaining with equal aplomb the likes of Danny Kaye, Rock Hudson, Raymond Burr, Helen Hayes, Jane Russell, and Bob Hope. No surprise she rarely exited her mansion before three in the afternoon. When she broke a leg, in great pain, she insisted on dressing to the nines before going to the hospital.
Ti Brennan Martin and Lally Brennan opened this tribute to their aunt with verve and no looking back to some nostalgic idea of what Adelaide might have known. With Chef Chris Lusk in charge of the kitchen, everything at this broad, deep, wide-open restaurant in the Loews Hotel is thoroughly 21st century. The Brennans call the restaurant a "Boosted New Orleans Bistro," meaning it's to be enjoyed without fanfare for its easy-to-love food with a distinct Creole accent. Lusk seasons shrimp and rosemary-scented grits with sea salt and Tellicherry pepper to make it sing--or zing!--then ladles them into a lemon croustade and spoons on a New Orleans BBQ sauce blanc. A Parmesan biscuit panéed grouper with summer squash pappardelle, sweet garlic, oven-dried tomatoes and lobster-Prosecco velouté is a masterful tour de force, as great a dish as any in the Big Easy, and there are many levels of flavor and texture to his Cayenne five-spice rubbed Ahi tuna with blue crab fried sticky rice, garlic chips, wilted mizuna greens and Muscadine-ginger jam.
For dessert why not stay simple with hot, fresh "Milk & Cookies" with brandy milk punch ice cream? On second thought, you don't want to pass up the El Rey mocha truffle milk shake made with dark chocolate ice cream and espresso whipped cream, or the buttermilk biscuit pudding with Abita Root Beer caramel and LeBlanc's pepper jelly pecans. No, you don't.
One of Adelaide's favorite sayings was, "Sparkle plenty," and though she was referring literally to her mode of dress, she could just as easily have been talking about the atmosphere at her namesake cafe.
Cafe Adelaide is open for breakfast daily, Lunch Mon.-Fri. and dinner nightly.
Dick & Jenny's
4501 Tchoupitoulas Street
The clapboard came from old 19th century barges. It was once a po' boy shop. The walls are decked out with dinner plates. They don't take reservations, so people happily wait at the outdoors patio bar. Dick and Jenny Benz wanted their Uptwon eatery to be mainly for locals and any tourists who heard about them would be welcomed with open arms. The kitchen would cook easy, the drinks would be generous and cold.
The Benzes sold the place to their employees, Will and Leigh Peters, who have maintained the spirit of what the Benzes set in place. The menu changes every two months and the prices are modest, even in a town where prices are usually more than fair for such top quality. So I can only give a sense of the kind of dishes they might be serving at any time of the year, like crisp eggplant fritters with fresh, mozzarella and balsamic-glazed sweet peppers; fried green tomatoes (a must in the South) and crabcakes topped with a red pepper aïoli; a delectable pain perdu--New Orleans-style French toast--with meaty duck confit, apples, Brie cheese and peach chutney. The gumbo du jour is always a good starter, served with Acadian popcorn rice. Best way to begin, for a modest $27, is the appetizer sampler of corn-fried oysters, crawfish and alligator cheesecake and eggplant fritters.
For entrees go with the flounder topped with crawfish and served with Lyonnaise potatoes, sopjnahc, and lemon aioli, or the Creole shrimp and grits inca garlic-rich tomato jus. For meat lovers the braised lamb shank was wondrously succulent, with goat's cheese, thyme-scented grits, grilled asparagus and a rosemary-sage demi-glace. Seared breast of duck comes with alligator sausage, "dirty" rice with gizzards, greens, and a smoked sage demi-glace.
For dessert I could hardly finish the devilishly good chocolate chip cookie ice cream sandwich sundae, and "Mario's Mom's Famous Pistachio Layer Cake" lived up to its moniker.
Have dinner at Dick & Jenny's and you won't go hungry. For two days.
Open for lunch Tues.-Fri., for dinner Mon.-Sat. Dinner starters $8-$10; entrees $16-$28.
To read Part One of this story, click here.
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NEW YORK CORNER
18 East 54th Street (near Madison Ave.)
A few weeks ago I wrote about Caravaggio, a swank Upper East Side ristorante run by the Bruno Brothers, a family of Campanians who have always aimed for a higher level of cucina italiana than what passes these days for the pseudo-trattoria experience. The Brunos have been around NYC for a long time and watched fads come and go and restaurants open and close, but theirs--Sistina, Caravaggio, and San Pietro have longevity on their side and a faithful clientele that comes back with enough frequency to fill up most of the tables each day and night.
San Pietro, just off Fifth Avenue on East 54th Street, has been happily full since the day it opened more than 20 years ago, and Gerardo Bruno and his chef brother Antonio (below) keep it that way by catering to their guests as guests, recommending the day's specials, bringing their cocktail immediately, and honoring special requests. Over Passover week I even saw a couple at a corner table eating matzoh bread with their food! Wine Director Lubi Kocic, a member of the American Sommeliers Association and the Associazione Sommeliers Italiana, knows just which wines go with which foods on a menu that stresses la cucina alla campania while not neglecting NYC classics like the fat veal chop and osso buco.
Recently two editor friends of mine had a long lunch at San Pietro and left it to Antonio to choose our food, which here comes out in waves and platters. There have been renovations over the years, though the basic bonhomie has always been the Brunos' trademark. These days the decor throws off a warm golden light, and now that the good weather is here, the tables outside are very popular.
Antipasto San Pietro was a combination of seared sardines, zucchini flowers stuffed with mozzarella and goat cheese, and seared baby cuttlefish with a sauce of spicy cherry pepper and cherry tomatoes, all at the perfect temperature. Since this was Easter Week Gerardo set four different classic Southern Italian pastiere rustica, one made with sheep’s ricotta, asparagus and parmiggiano, the other with zucchini flowers, sheep’s ricotta as well and egg yolk; the third was with ricotta cheese, Italian style salami, parmigiano and egg yolk; the fourth pastiera was eggplant, ricotta, fresh tomatoes and parmigiano. These savory pies would have been easily enough for a fine lunch, but Gerardo and Antonio were just getting started.
The pastas began to arrive: penne pasqualine with fresh artichokes, fresh tomatoes and fresh ricotta; linguini con mollica with capers, olives, anchovies, diced cherry tomatoes and garlic with a dusting of bread crumbs; and a creamy, tender risotto alla Salernitana with golden saffron, zucchini flowers and goat's cheese. Somehow we were not yet reeling, so we said yes to main courses, whose considerable leftovers we brought home for dinner. There was a battuta di vitello all’aceto di vino roso e rosmarino, that is, pounded veal that is then pan seared, with red wine vinegar and rosemary. Carrello d’agnello in crosta di erbe was a succulent rack of lamb baked in a crust of fresh herbs and served on a reduction of aglianico wine. Petto di pollo arrosto con pancetta e asparagi in salsa di Barolo was a juicy roasted chicken breast with smoked bacon, herbs and asparagus with a Barolo wine sauce.
Some time went by, giving us a chance to catch our breath as we noticed we were nearly the last people in San Pietro. So the Brunos eased us into a lemon sherbt-and-prosecco called sgrappino, which, said Gerardo, became popular in Italy during the days of La Dolce Vita. We ended with desserts: a classic Easter pastiera di grano made with cooked wheat, candied citron and orange served with blueberry compote and fresh whipped cream. Then we had croccantino of pistachio, hazelnuts, amaretti and pignoli nuts with hazelnut and chocolate. We served it with caramel chocolate sauce and coffee gelato. Last was a lemon napoleon of fragile layers of puff pastry sandwiching lemon pastry cream served with blueberry sauce.
Gerardo and Lupi Wines put their heads together on appropriate wines and come up some dazzlers, all unfamiliair to me and possibly unique in NYC to San Pietro: Furore Bianco 2008 made by Marisa Cuomo in Furore, Amalfi Coast from historic grapes named Fenile, Ginestra, and Ripoli. Second wine was the Greek-sounding Kratos 2007 made by Luigi Maffini from Paestum; third was an unusual Kaid 2007 from Sicily,. And then, as always here, perfect espresso.
San Pietro--which over 20 years has never even been reviewed by the New York Times--sails through the decades, through recessions, through trends as a restaurant that people come to because of its concistency and good manners, delivering on all counts as a ristorante that stays in the top ranks of the city's Italian cuisine and wine.
The city of New Orleans is full of soul and particularly unique in character. Whether it’s walking around Jackson Square with a beer in hand listening to the famous brass bands of the Quarter or sitting along the Mississippi eating beignets at Café du Monde, there is no mistaking what city you are in, “this is ‘N’awlins’ baby!"
The Best Waiter in NOLA
to do with the
of southern hospitality. To get a true sense of what
I’m talking about,
down Royal Street and pop into Brennan’s (see last week's article)
inside, ask if my
good pal Ron Boykins is working, and if so, request
Ron is a 18-year
veteran of Brennan’s yet still claims he is one of the
most of the waiters have been serving for nearly four
To contact Christopher Mariani send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
For more pictures of New Orleans, visit our new FaceBook Page
its staff walked
out of the restaurant in NYC called Gordon Ramsay at
the London, Ramsay's website declared,
"Neither Gordon Ramsay or
[his company] GRH have any involvement with or
responsibility for the operation of the
restaurant, including anything
with human resources, which is entirely the
responsibility of the
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