new Things I Ate in Cambodia: April 2009

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Lafayette Cemetery: Happier Then You'd Think

It's finals time here at Tulane, and due to a rift in the space time continum...I don't have any. This has faced me with the terrifying prospect of a few days with nothing much to do at all. This might be considered a good thing to most normal, sane people, but you see, I happen to be a bona-fide nut job, the sort of person who gets all squirrely when I can't be off Achieving Crap. No, this week, I'm being forced to wander the streets of New Orleans, take naps, and visit places in town I've never had the time to experience before. You should really be weeping for me right now. Hey, I don't see tears -what is this?


I was walking up Washington Avenue recently and realized as I passed that the gate to Lafayette Cemetary was open. The gate to Lafayette Cemetery is never open, and I made a right-turn and walked right in. It may have been a hot mid-afternoon, but I wanted to commune with the spirit of dead New Orleanians, or at least take some pictures.

Lafayette Cemetery is one old graveyard - it was started in 1833, before the Garden District was even incorporated into the city proper. Once the city of Lafayette was incorporated into New Orleans proper, the little block of land become the city's first incorporated cemetery. It gained its biggest influx of residents in 1841, when New Orleans found itself in the grip of a terrible yellow fever epidemic. 241 burials were performed in Lafayette in 1841, and more then 613 by a second 1847 outbreak. The cemetery didn't get much love in the ensuing years and almost fell into disrepair, ignomy, and hard drugs - but as so often happens in this city, a dedicated bunch of local history buffs got together to fix it up and save it. Lafayette Cemetery is now a super-popular tourist destination, prowled by groups of sunburnt n' sweaty tourists at all times of day (which is their right, god bless em', et all). It is also smack dab across the street from Commanders Palace if viewing all of those crypts gets you a little bit hungry. (Secret: I'm going this Saturday! Secret: Yeehaw!)

So here's what I saw.

open crypt!

What's this?


My god, the zombified corpse of Pere Jacques the Fifteenth is out and about and stalking the city, riding the streetcar, drinking beer out of brown paper bags and god knows what else. Swear I've seen this guy on Bourbon Street. He tried to buy me a Jager and I tittered and said I like em' living and he looked real sad. I feel like I was a little ugly to him.

Rows in the cemetery

The cemetery is laid out rather like the French cemeteries of yore: above ground crypts create the feeling of a "city of the dead." This cemetery is reputed to be Extremely Haunted like pretty much everything else in New Orleans. (There are probably Haunted Public Restrooms in New Orleans). Certainly it's probably more then a little bit spooky here at night.

Good view of white crypts

But during the day, it's a pleasant place to walk around, read the inscriptions, and get out of the heat: plenty of tall trees and sheltering palms and cool granite slabs to rest on. When I was a young and stupid freshman (uh two years ago,) we would on occasion go and drink soda pop in the Great Barrington cemetery. That was fun and all, but the Lafeyette cemetery would be infinitely better. Unfortunately they lock it all up after noon every day, so no opportunities for late-nite naughtiness exist. This also saves the general public from having ghosts eat their souls so I applaud the decision.

Gun carriage

Many of the people in Lafayette died during the Civil War. I believe this is a gun carriage. I wasn't there so I wouldn't know for sure.

Rows from Dupuy crypt

Dupuy crypt

My grandfather's family is French Creole from New Orleans, going way way back. I was walking through the cemetery and thought to myself, "I wonder if any Dupuy's are buried here?" And I rounded a corner and wouldn't you kno w it, there was the Dupuy crypt in living color. I don't know who these people are and I don't know if we're even related, but it did make me sit and contemplate a bit. Someone's keeping those flowers up. I considered hanging around, waiting for the family to come back, and asking them if we were related but then realized that would be eccentric. So I sat underneath the palm next door and contemplated temporality for a bit. Gave me a headache.

Times were hard back in New Orleans early history, and this grave illustrates why: way too many people passing way too close to one another.

Like the way this grave looked.

Overgrown with plants and whatnot. I think it's atmospheric. Other think so too: apparently the grass was being grown out for a movie being shot on the premises.

Connected forever, et all, by symbols of only-in-New-Orleans DECADENCE AND SIN.

This crypt is elderly and is cracking a bit. It's probably due to the vengeful and angry voodoo queen spirit encased within. Or a natural byproduct of erosion, whatever floats your boat.

This girl died when she was 21 years old, probably of the yellow fever. I am not fond of looking at the graves of people roughly my age. Makes me bilious. And/or filled with existential fear.

This obelisk immortalizes a young man who died in the Civil War, and, according to the plaque, "without fear." I liked this.

One of the many angels and evocative statues the cemetery contains. It's a shame how bland and boring most modern cemeteries are - I think unique sculptures and the ornate detailing on many of these graves is very life affirming and pleasant. It strikes me as a better way to while away the hours in eternity.

Finally, there was this cool little grotto - a nice place to duck under and get out of the heat.

Hopefully I'll make it out to some of the city's other historical cemeteries soon, but this was a really pleasant little distraction from a sticky Uptown day. Come and visit.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Cafe Granada Round Two: Crimes Against Vegetarians

Cafe Granada
1506 S Carrollton Ave
New Orleans, LA 70118
(504) 865-1612

Cafe Granada is a Spanish restaurant on South Carrollton in Uptown New Orleans, a small cafe specializing in Spanish food, tapas, and large quantities of sangria. I've eaten there before and thought it was okay - the menu isn't half bad but the kitchen is really down with the oil and garlic - but my latest visit soured me on the place. Well, more soured my friend. I'll explain! (Is to sour a legit verb? I can't figure this out).

It's been hot as hell here in New Orleans this week, and on the whole, I've been loving it. I'm one of those people who shut down and beg for mercy when the mercury dips below 60 degrees, and the return of sticky sun-burn inducing weather has filled me with joy and gladness. However, it was really hot on Sunday, so I decided to stick with Granada's Ceviche of the Day. This turned out to be a combination of salmon, octopus, calamari, and mussels in a tomato and lemon based sauce, served in a martini glass with some plantain chips for regular dipping purposes. Pretty fresh and not half-bad, though they told me there would be avocado in this sucker, and friends and countrymen, avocado there was not. Should call the Better Business Bureau. The ceviche here also made me profoundly nostalgic for the gigantic ceviche goblets big as my damn head I enjoy eating in Sacramento's hot summer. Which is coming up. Joy!

We also tried the olives, capers, and artichoke hearts. Pretty simple stuff here: how the hell do I review a plate of olives and marinated artichoke hearts, Internet? I'm certain there are olive and marinated artichoke heart experts who will sneer derisively at my inability to write glittering critical prose about these things, but I cannot bring myself to care. Certainly they were edible. I like artichoke hearts and go through about a jar a week, working them into everything I eat. It's probably a pathology. (Artichoke heart muffins? Yes? No...?)

Here's where the problem lay. My friend ordered the vegetarian paella. Strike one: the paella took roughly a million years to come out, by which time I had devoured my ceviche, she had finished her (warm) mimosa. Thus we were reduced to eyeing the kitchen to see when the damn thing would come out which just isn't my idea of exciting viewing material. Second, when it did come out, it wasn't that great. It was just Spanish fried rice with way too much oil, a dose of somewhat incongrous truffle oil, and some vegetables that had pretty obviously been pre-frozen. Resounding meh, my friend didn't eat much of it. We paid up, and my friend boxed up the paella and headed on home. No big deal, right? Right?

Well, she texted me today: apparently she had heated up the supposed vegetarian paella and had found meat in it. She was mightily displeased.

If you are a vegetarian, you are probably going into conniptions of terror as we speak. I am, uh, not a vegetarian (just scroll down a little and you will understand) but I am certainly sympathetic to the plight of the herbivores among us. I can understand that those committed to a meat free existence become a teeny bit miffed when some carne finds its way into their lunch. No vegetarian should be subjected to meat where Meat Was Not Supposed to Be, and I am willing to censure any restaurant that would do such a generally lame-ass thing.

So: I censure you, Cafe Granada! I censure you to the depths of hell for putting a meaty product in my innocent vegetarian friend's mediocre paella!

Let that be a warning, restaurant proprietors. If you put meat in vegetarian stuff, I'm gonna censure you so hard you gonna feel it next week. Uh-huuuhh.

I am going to Spain this summer (yeah, should tell y'all about that) and have heard tell that the Spanish like to put ham in everything, including presumably chocolate bars and coffee. This actually fills me with joy and anticipation, and may explain Cafe Granada's failure here. But doesn't excuse them. We in America, yo. Ham does not go with everything here.

Til next time!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Food Frippery

Noodle Waterslide - CNET
The Japanese have now invented a waterslide for noodles - your lucky udon or somen can go on an exciting adventure down a playland invented just for them. I'm not sure what turning noodles into lovable pets does to a child's psyche, but it can't be good. (Yes, I want one. Bad.)

Franklin Fountain, Philadelphia
I've never been here but this is one of the most gorgeously designed restaurant sites I've ever seen. Kinda makes me want to go to Philly and order a sundae. Whoever designed this website deserves accolades and "waffle ice cream sandwiches". (Oh my).

I'll be at Jazzfest next weekend, but I'm already pysching up for the food stalls (purported to be legendary). will be twittering the eats on offer. is eating its way through Jazzfest and the results look most excellent.

Meatcards: business cards made out of meat and lasers. I don't think I even have to describe this to get the concept across.

Donald Link's Real Cajun is out and I want it now. Donald Link has actually personally corrected me on points of difference between Creole and Cajun food and now I want to know the whole shebang. Also, hot damn look at that gumbo on the cover. Just look at it.

Kimchi goes mainstream.
Will kimchi bump salsa off its pedestal as former creepy ethnic food now embraced and loved by all? Who's to say. Seems like that fermented but oh so divine cabbage is gaining new fans (and producers) in Los Angeles. Can middle America be far behind? Will kimchi tacos appear at Taco Bell?

Also: regarding Tom Colicchio's comment that "indian street food" will be the next big sandwich trend: well, duh. Personally, I'm betting on dosas. Look at the popularity of Tabla and Dosa in the bay: I think dosas are endlessly adaptable and will be beloved by all. And chaat needs to get some more love as well.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Lexington Barbeque #1 : Mmm, Pig

Lexington #1 BBQ
10 US Hwy 29-70 South
Lexington, NC 27294
(704) 249-9814

Lexington is one of North Carolina's barbeque meccas, a town whose various and sundry BBQ joints have been operating since 1919. Lexington barbeque is all about slow-cooked pork shoulder, cooked over hickory wood and tended with love and affection by the town's accomplished pitmasters. A "dip" composed of vinegar, ketchup and spices is basted on the pig in lieu of a rub, creating the uniquely flavorful appeal of NC's distinctive BBQ. The finished pork shoulder is served either chopped super-fine, chopped not-so-fine, or sliced. I prefer the version in the middle, served with "outside brown," the crispy and flavorful pork skin still attached. (Some BBQ restaurants in the area make their own fried pork skins which may be ordered as an appetizer or side dish.) Other attributes of Lexington barbeque include tasty, Cheetoh-puff shaped corn hush puppies, "bbq" or "brown" coleslaw, and vinegar-and-spice based sauces (used sparingly and with reluctance by the hardcore).

We went to Lexington #1 BBQ, which is purported to be the best. Area residents seem to be engaged in a constant argument over which Lexington joint reigns supreme: my uncle, for example, swears by nearby Speedy's, whereas my dad is a Lexington #1 partisan. Barbeque is an extremely controversial subject in North Carolina.

Lexington #1 is extremely popular, and the parking lot was packed the day we visited. The restaurant seems to traffic primarily in to-go orders, but we were there to eat in, so we took our places in the swiftly moving line. The dining area is basic but clean, and the wait staff are models of efficiency and professionalism. They've got to be fast.

I chose the chopped pork with outside brown. Lexington #1 serves barbeque in either plates or trays. Plates include meat, cole slaw, french fries, and another side item (I hear the beans are good,) and trays offer simply meat and coleslaw in a handy cardboard holder. Since the tray actually contains more meat then the plate and I am ambivalent to french fries, I chose the tray. The meat was good, if a little tougher then I might have liked - but the pork skin was truly delicious, a thin layer of fat giving way to a crackly, rich exterior layer. I am also wild about Lexington style coleslaw: vinegar and spice is the main player here instead of the gloppy mayo-ridden junk that passes for slaw in most regions of the country. Dee-vine.

The hushpuppies are also a work of art at Lexington #1. Lightly fried corn meal without cloying sweetness, these are an absolute must. They come with pretty much everything at Lexington #1, so you don't need to worry about somehow missing them.

The restaurant offers cobbler and pie for dessert, but I didn't sample those. You pay at the counter and stand in line with your fellow BBQ eaters with your money in hand: it's great fun to watch waitresses dashing food out of the kitchen and the meat choppin' area into the main room. I noticed someone noshing down on a smoked turkey sandwich while I was in line: apparently Lexington #1's smoked turkey is tasty indeed. Have to get a side of it next time. To go with the pork.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Miners: Winston Salem New Southern Cuisine

630 S. Stratford Road
Winston-Salem, NC 27103
(336) 768-2221

I was in Winston Salem two weeks ago, visiting family in the charming burg of Mount Airy, about 20 minutes or so outside of Winston. Mount Airy is referred to as a Charming Burg in every publication ever. This is because Andy Griffith was born in Mt. Airy and based the legendary TV show on the very quaint town he grew up in. For you foodies, Mt. Airy also boasts the mighty Snappy Lunch, a restaurant where one may buy pork chop sandwiches as large as your head, covered in chili, cheese, and coleslaw. I ate one once and it felt like someone socked me in the mouth but in the best way ever.

But this is not about Mt. Airy, this is about the American Southern restaurant in Winston Salem called Milners, which I thought was pretty good.

Milners serves up refined variants on traditional Carolina dishes, hitting on such touchstones are fried chicken, collards, fried green tomatoes, frogmore stew, and other local delights. There is also green papaya salad for the infidels. The attractive stone-finished bar is pretty hopping on weekend nights and attracts what appears to be Winston's beautiful people crowd. (I had not previously known there was one but once again I am proved to be a fool). The small plates menu is extensive and features sophisticated variants on fried things on which one can nibble while hitting on people. This is a good thing.

We began with the baked pimento cheese, Surry sausage and goat cheese, and roasted garlic blue cheese with flatbreads. This was a gussied up and bubbling variant on the pimento cheese all Southerners consume from bith onwards, and was thus absolutely delicious. The goat and blue cheeses were also rich as hell and similarly delicious. They have almost improved on the Velveeta-queso bilge we ritualistically eat on Super Bowl Sunday in my family but not entirely.

I tried the Frogmore Stew with shrimp, mussels, white fish, scallops, sausage, and "aromatic vegetables". Other then the odd addition of baby corn (wtf, yo), this was perfectly cooked and very fresh, and had a nice zingy, tomatoey flavor. I will eat seafood stew wherever it is offered in any place, except for maybe the wilds of Nebraska and even then I will be sorely tempted. I think Frogmore stew, a traditional low country speciality (more native to South Carolina) desperately needs to be on more menus.

My aunt had the yellowfin tuna with a black bean cake, sauteed spinach, tomato butter, and chow-chow. This is definitely Tall Food, much beloved of the eponymous early-nineties chef, but the flavor combos worked. The tuna had a nice meaty flavor that worked nicely with the spinach and the rich tomato butter. The portion was crazy-huge which is either good or not good depending on your opinions on these things. (What ARE your opinions? Giant portions that may be gnawed on delicately for days on end, or dainty portions that may be consumed in one sitting without fear of caloric overload or sodium attacks? Thoughts?)

My uncle sprung for the steak special, the exact details of which I cannot recall so shut up. This was pretty good (if a bit chewy for my preference), although the cheese-infused mashed potatoes were the star of the show here. Putting pounds of cheese and sour cream and bacon (I think) in potatoes instantly makes them incredibly delicious. There is probably something about this in the Bible. Well, not the old Testament, anyway.

We tried the salmon crusted with moravian cookies and it was really very nice: wish the photo had turned out. Moravian cookies are a delicious and wafer-thin variant on the ginger snap. They are produced in Winston Salem by the Moravian community there - Moravian's being a Bohemian religious group that emigrated to the Winston area in the 1700's. Dewy's makes particularly tasty Moravian cookies, in flavors ranging from key lime to pumpkin spice. You can eat ten of these suckers and still feel virtuous because they are very thin.. I suggest you try them.

We also tried the pecan pie with vanilla bean gelato, which was very hot and about what you would wish for in a pecan pie. Which is many great things indeed.

I recommend Milner's highly for a sophisticated meal in Winston-Salem that does not involve chopped barbeque, buffalo wings, or, well, chopped barbeque. I hope to return soon.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Salmon Burgers with Spinach and Ginger = Yum

Salmon Burgers with Spinach and Ginger Gourmet | October 2001

This is a killer little recipe from the big yellow Gourmet cookbook, and it's become one of our easy dinner in a hurry standbys. These salmon burgers are about as healthy as humanly possible without sacrificing an ounce of taste, they're easy to throw together, and they're versatile. They can be served on a bun, open face, eaten on a plate, and tossed into a fritatta or some scrambled eggs. You will love them long time.

Yield: Makes 4 servings (Depending on how hungry you is)
Active Time: 40 min
Total Time: 45 min
1 lb salmon fillet, skinned
4 oz baby spinach, coarsely chopped (3 cups)
3 scallions, minced
1 tablespoon finely grated peeled fresh ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 large egg white
1 tablespoon soy sauce
Vegetable oil for brushing skillet
2 tablespoons pickled ginger

Dice the salmon into quarter inch chunks, then toss it in with the spinach, scallions, ginger, salt, and pepper in a big bowl. Mush it around a bit.

Then, beat together the egg white and the soy in a little bowl and stir into the salmon chunks. Make into patties as big or as small as you like, this is total anarchy.

Heat a nonstick skillet over moderate heat, then toss in some oil. Cook the patties until golden brown: around six or seven minutes. Raw salmon is tasty but raw salmon patties? Enh, not so much.

Serve the burgers with pickled ginger on top. We also like to mix up some wasabi mayo to go on top. I usually just eat these as is but foccacia makes a good bun. I also like to serve these with some teriyaki shitake mushrooms and a quick Asian salad. Add a good adult beverage (white wine!) and you should be a very happy camper.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Dorie Greenspan's Scallops with Grilled Nectarines and Corn Salad

Grilled Scallops and Nectarines with Corn and Tomato Salad - Dorie Greenspan

This is an incredible recipe, published in last August's Bon Appétit by the marvelous Dorie Greenspan. I made it for the first time last summer for my parents, who were incredulous as hell when I pitched the idea. "Try it," I told them, "grilled fruit is not nearly as mysterious as it seems," so I made it and they did. It was delicious. The tender scallops paired perfectly with the tangy and slightly sweet corn salad, and the grilled nectarines developed a divine caramelized sugar flavor. I can think of nothing I'd rather make on one of those crazy-hot Sacramento evenings, when the though of eating anything heavy and fatty is terror inducing.

I admit, dear reader: I made this out of season. Forwith I have sinned and used Chilean nectarines. I am not particularly repentant. I am willing summer to get here desperately. I step outside every day and think "It has got to be summer by now," and New Orleans always keeps me on the hook. I made this dish because although it did not taste as good as it would be in the middle of July, it was good enough. Locavores are politely invited to shove it on this one.

Grilled Scallops and Nectarines with Corn and Tomato Salad Bon Appétit | August 2008

by Dorie Greenspan

Yield: Makes 6 servings
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated lime peel
1/8 teaspoon (generous) piment d'Espelette or chili powder
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Fleur de sel*

24 large sea scallops, side muscles removed, patted dry
3 firm but ripe nectarines (white or yellow), each cut into 6 wedges
Olive oil, for brushing
1 1/2 cups fresh corn kernels, cut from 2 large ears of corn
24 grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
1/3 cup thinly sliced basil leaves
Fleur de sel

Basil Puree:
3/4 cup (loosely packed) fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Fleur de sel

First, whisk together the lime juice, peel, oil, and salt in a little bowl. (I have no piment d' Espelette and am not sure where I might get it.) Cayenne pepper is a decent substitute. Make the basil puree, which is eminently simple. Just chop basil coarsely and puree with oil and salt until smooth.

Prepare a barbeque or grill pan on medium high heat. Brush the scallops and sliced nectarines with oil, add salt and pepper, and grill until the scallops are cooked through. On this occasion, I added some leftover shrimp to the mix, and I think they made a nice addition.

Grill the nectarines until they are a little bit charred.

Next, make the corn salad. Cut the kernels off the cobs, then eat the remnants of the kernels on the cobs (if you are like me). Toss the corn and as much dressing as you feel is required in a medium bowl, then toss the halved cherry tomatoes with the rest of the dressing in another. Season both with salt and pepper. Dorie Greenspan says it is best to scatter the corn around the plated scallops and nectarines. I am lazier and simply tried to arrange them on top. I do not think this would affect dinner in any meaningful way unless you are hosting a Michelin inspector or something.

Arrange the tomatoes and nectarines on the plates, then drizzle the remaining dressing and the basil puree over the plates. Add some more basil and fleur de sel. Serve with a good white wine. Consider moving to an entirely warm climate where nectarines and scallops are magically in season at all times. Take me with you.

I served this with some mixed mushrooms on the side, mostly because I had a jones for them. I think this was not a bad combination, but not by any means necessary either. I love those Mycopia mushroom packs at Raleys. I love getting the sensation that I am eating space aliens.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Perbacco: Northern Italian Awesomeness

230 California Street
San Francisco, CA 94111

Perbacco is a sleek and cool Italian restaurant in San Francisco's Financial District, focusing on the flavor of Italy's Piemonte and Ligurian regions, with a tinge of French and Provencal tastes. With all these diverse influences, Perbacco puts up a long and interesting menu, featuring house made salume selections, a crudo list, and a selection of interesting hand-made pastas. I always appreciate a long-ass and interesting menu, and Perbacco doesn't disappoint.

I am exceedingly fond of our West coast sardines so I couldn't resist sampling the house cured local sardines with salsa verde, celery heart, and marinated egg yolk ($7.00). These were served chilled and had a pronounced and distinctly sardine flavor: you love it or you do not, there is little in between. I found the egg yolks played nicely off the oily fish-ness of the sardines, and the salsa verde gave things a nice herbal flavor.

Next was the roasted red and gold beets with arugula, Castelmagno cheese, and white balsamic vinaigrette ($10.00). This was a simple but successful salad, melding two different varieties of meaty and slightly fruity beets with the peppery bite of arugula and the earthy flavor of a good strong cheese. I have had variants of this dish all over the place in California and this was a pretty worthy (and nicely sized) rendition - and a very attractive presentation to boot.

We flipped for the handcut tagliatelle with 5 hour pork sugo, porcini mushrooms ($16.00 entree size, $11.00 appetizer sized). Perbacco prides itself on its freshly made pasta, and this dish backs all tha talk up: the fresh and tender tagliatelle went perfectly with the rich and meaty sugo, which had a delightfully earthy flavor derived from porcini mushrooms. My mother enjoyed this so much that she had it for an appetizer and an entree, and I suppose that is a fitting testimonial.

My dad went for the Coniglio al civet with Devil's Gulch rabbit, spiced red wine sauce, otto file polenta, and crispy pancetta. This was a face-foward and distinctly wine flavored dish, and the combination of slightly gamey rabbit, powerfully flavored sauce, and crispy, porky pancetta was a successful one. I wish rabbit found its way onto more menus, Thumper-related sentiments be damned.

I selected the special Ligurian fish stew with lobster broth, mussels, fish, scallops, shrimp, and mussels. The meaty and decadent broth was spiced lightly with saffron and had a piquant flash of tomato: it reminded me rather of a highly refined cioppino. The seafood was fresh and perfectly cooked, bypassing seafood stew's common issues with overcooked and rubbery shellfish. It's a light dish, almost too elegant: I would have liked a bit more of that delicious broth.

The sleeper hit of the evening were the side of brown butter brussels sprouts with capers and parmigiano reggiano ($5.00). These charmers flavored the falling-apart tender sprouts with a powerful hit of capers, rich brown butter, and distinctly stinky parmigiano. The overall flavor was that of a decadently rich and interesting casserole, and these were pretty impossible to risk - although the actual flavor of the sprouts was a secondary player here.

For the dessert course, we tried the pistachio panna cotta ($8.00), a straight forward and satisfyingly firm pudding with a nutty, slightly perfumed pistachio flavor. This was not a fancy dish, but it was a good ending to a rich meal.

We finished with a cheese plate, picking from Perbacco's nice selection of artisan cheeses. We settled on Bianco Sotto Bosco, a cow and goat milk cheese infused with truffles, and Caprino Di Riofrano, goat's milk cheese wrapped in chestnut leaf. ($12.00 for selection of two). I am no cheese critic, but both cheeses were earthy and tasty (and it is very hard to make truffled cheese bad.)

Perbacco's dining room is very sleek and contemporary, and those expecting some sort of homey regional Italian experience will be disappointed. The place has the appearance of a restaurant tailor-made for power lunches and important networking dinners: in other words, don't come expecting a romantic environment or overwrought opera music on the sound system. The beautiful people are served by what seemed to be an engaging and well trained waitstaff: our server was friendly and knowledgeable, and our food came out with impressive speed and timing.

We will certainly return to Perbacco soon. It's excellent and interesting regional Italian dining at surprisingly regional prices - there really isn't much not to love.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Shrimp Bhuna with Okra from the Crescent City Farmer's Market Cookbook

Shrimp and Okra Bhuna from the Crescent City Farmers Market Cookbook

New Orleans food activist and farmers market advocate Poppy Tooker has released the Crescent City Farmers Market Cookbook of late, and it's already making a splash around town. 13 years in the making, Tooker gathered excellent recipes from the producers and customers at downtown's Tuesday and Saturday farmers markets, putting together an interesting mix of local favorites, gourmet treats, and international specialities with a particularly Louisiana inflection. Interesting profiles of local producers and farmers market sellers are also included in the text - because it's always good to know the story behind your latest supper. And even better to know that story isn't "factory farmed and dumped into a microwaveable freezer bag with a cartoon character on it."

I've got the book, and I believe that it's a great buy for anyone with a passion for both New Orleans cuisine and local ingredients. I'm very much looking forward to cooking my way through this book in the coming months, and I'm glad to have a fresh and local resource to work from (because the human body can only take so much clarified butter.) Check out the recipes for sautéed drum with spinach, oysters, shiitakes and Virginia ham, Latin inflected chilaquiles en salsa verde, or Gator-Tater salad and tell me you wouldn't like to play around with this cookbook a lot. Didn't think so.

Local Louisiana ingredients happen to go startlingly well with Indian cuisine, and this recipe from the now defunct Shalimar is easy and tasty. Louisiana-India cross cultural exchange? Taste it right here.

Shrimp and Okra Bhuna

1/2 cup yogurt
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon paprika
pinch of turmeric
cayenne pepper
1 pound shrimp peeled/deveined
4 tablespoons corn oil, divided (I didn't use this.)
4 button mushrooms
1 medium onion, sliced
1 medium green bell pepper in strips
1/4 tsp cumin powder
1/4 teaspoon coriander powder
1/4 teaspoons chopped fresh garlic
pinch of turmeric
1 diced tomato
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
1 cup cut okra

In a bowl, combine the paprika, the yogurt, the lemon juice, the turmeric powder, cayenne, and salt. Mix it up then put in the shrimp, then chill for three or four hours. (If in a hurry, 20 minutes or so is acceptable in my experience.)

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a wok or pan over high heat - I used a pan and it worked fine. Toss in the mushrooms, the onion, the bell pepper, the cumin, the coriander, the garlic, the turmeric, the cayenne, and the salt. Cook this and add a little water if stuff starts to get scorching.

When the veggies are done, toss in the shrimp, tomato, cilantro and yogurt. This will create a nice creamy overtone to the curry. Reduce heat and cook for two or three minutes, until the shrimp are pink and complete.

Now, it's time to cook the okra. Heat up your oil until it's hot, then throw in the okra and fry until browned - this can take a bit.

Once the okra is browned,, toss it into the the shrimp and vegetable mixture and stir to meld the flavors. Congratulations, you're done. Serve the bhuna with fresh basmati rice and a cucumber and tomato salad or the tasty pear slaw from the cookbook. Don't forget to put plenty of hot sauce on the table. Crystal will work just fine.

Recipe from the Crescent City Farmer's Market Cookbook

Friday, April 10, 2009

in north carolina, do not pass go, blah blah

Hey there internet...I'm in Mt. Airy North Carolina for the weekend and will be slowing down the blogging. Coming up will be posts on Lexington Barbeque - outside brown and BBQ coleslaw, yummy. Also: Milners in Winston Salem = tasty! (Went there tonight.) Rainy weather out here but it's okay by me. We haven't had any decent thunderstorms of late in NOLA and on occasion you can use one.

Watch this space, et all.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Old Mandarin Islamic Restaurant: Unique Beijing Style Food, Here's the Beef

Old Mandarin Islamic Restaurant
3132 Vicente St
(between 42nd Ave & 43rd Ave)
San Francisco, CA 94116
(415) 564-3481

China hosts a considerable number of Muslims, who have developed their own distinct and piquant cuisine. Centered around beef and mutton, Chinese Muslim food is richly flavored and always interesting - and a refreshing change from San Francisco's more typical Cantonese specialities. The Old Mandarin Islamic Restaurant in the Sunset District fills the gap, serving up traditional Beijing Muslim treats such as beef pancakes, super spicy hot pots, and lamb kebabs, among other favorites. Prices are eminently reasonable, the menu selection is impressive, and quarters are cramped and high-volume- now that's like Beijing!

We fell in love with hot-pot during our visit to China, and we knew we had to have Old Mandarin's version. We selected a hot-pot with two sides: one mild with a subtle garlic-scallion flavor, and one hot with plenty of soy sauce, star anise, and mouth-numbing Szechwan peppers. Hot pot is served with a variety of raw ingredients to dip into the roiling broth, and we selected fresh mutton, prawns, straw mushrooms and spinach. We also tried the garlicky and sesame-infused dipping sauce, apparently composed of fermented tofu. This was just the thing for a fun lunch during a beautiful day in the city. I remain astonished that hot pot hasn't taken off in the USA. It retains fondue's social appeal but is a heck of a lot healthier then the traditional Swiss treat - and I imagine you could easily package an upscale hot pot restaurant with some sort of luxe Western China theme and make it Trendy. Something to consider.

We managed to resist the spicy lamb ribs in a clay pot (though it took some effort,) but we did sample the spicy deep fried lamb kebabs - a flavor that took me right back to Xi'an's muslim neighborhoods. We also tried the onion cake, a deep fried, greasy, and oh-so-Beijing snack. (Admittedly, how can you not enjoy fried bread?)

The Old Mandarin restaurant is almost comically tiny, and a line is pretty much guaranteed on the weekends. It's a family restaurant and it shows, but the servers retain a friendly attitude and food comes out in a fairly timely fashion. You may also be pleased to know that the kitchen is spotless: since guests have to walk right on through to get to the kitchen, it better be. (Trivia: when in China, always look for bathrooms in Muslim run establishments. They will always be the cleanest in town.)

The Old Mandarin restaurant definitely brought back a lot of memories from my visit to Xi'an and Xinjiang, both hotbeds of China's Muslim culture and cuisine, and for your personal edification, I will tell you a little about both places. (Okay, you can stop reading if you want.)

Xi'an, the capital of Shaanxi province and one of China's oldest cities, hosts a large Muslim population. The city's Muslim Street provides an excellent intro to these people's culture and (perhaps most importantly) their cuisine: street stands sell treats like cumin-drenched lamb kebabs, Babaocha or 8 treasure tea with dried fruits, and Yangrou Paomo, a type of mutton soup served with crumbled flat bread. Hand pulled noodles or lamian with beef soup are also a big element of both Xi'an and Beijing's Muslim cuisine - I subsisted primarily on this tasty dish when I resided in Beijing, and I was happy to see it on the menu at Old Mandarin Islamic. (I'll have to make a return visit!)

Xinjiang, China's far Northwestern province, is the homeland of the Uighurs, a Turkic people who follow Islam and are currently campaigning (with little success) for separation from China's Han majority government. Uighur food features lots of meat and lots of cumin, and it's a pretty winning combination for me - and indeed, the kebabs we had at the Old Mandarin were very similar to those that can be obtained just about everywhere within Xinjiang. Other Xinjiang favorites included sesame-crusted and delicious Nang flat bread and saffron-infused pilau, served with a distinctive local variant on honey beer. One Xinjiang delight that seems to be unknown in the USA is Dapanji or Big Plate Chicken, an intoxicating dish featuring chicken combined with potatoes, onions, garlic, green peppers, beer, and a whole lot of chili and Szechwan peppers. Generally served over lamian noodles, it's ridiculously delicious. I eagerly await the day when a Xinjiang restaurant opens near me. Hint, hint.