tablehopper
table of contents This week's tablehopper: the big easy does it.

the chatterbox
the word on the street
the jetsetter
get outta dodge

the wino
in vino veritas
the socialite
shindigs/feasts/festivals
the bookworm
another place for your nose
the starlet
no photos please

the sponsor
this round is on me

Green Zebra

FEBRUARY 26, 2008 | SAN FRANCISCO Hey gang. It's like my month of anniversaries—last week marked tablehopper's second year, and this is the 100th issue! (I know, there should be 104, but a few interruptions came up over these past two years, like Coachella and Burning Man.) So I got a hare-brained idea on how to celebrate: 100 drinks! Kidding. Actually, at four of my favorite watering holes around town, Alembic, Absinthe, Cantina, and Presidio Social Club, they'll be serving up their version of a special tablehopper cocktail for the next week, starting today.

All will be bourbon- or rye-based, of course. I hear Daniel at the Alembic is making one up with Kentucky Bourbon, and calling it the stablehopper, clever lad. And Absinthe is calling their version "100 Tuesdays." Brill. And Tim Stookey over at Presidio Social Club is calling it 100 Reasons Rye. (Guaranteed to make you slur your words.) Collect all four! LOL. For any of you fellow tablehoppin' cocktailians out there, if you hit any of these bars this next week and take a (phone) camera shot of you enjoying a tablehopper drink, send me the pic(s) and I'll enter you in a drawing to win a copy of Jeff Hollinger's fab book, The Art of the Bar: Cocktails Inspired By the Classics. Have fun hoppin' out there—maybe I'll see ya! Cheers yo.

Hey, have you been thinking about coming to the tablehopper supper this Sunday at Piccino? It ends up a party of folks had to cancel, so we have some seats available! The dinner is going to be scrumptious—I always have memorable meals here—everything is so fresh, and we'll have a little something special added to the already-stellar line-up of Donnafugata wines that will be poured. I'd love to see you there! Are you worried about flying solo? Don't fret—everyone is super friendly and social. Let's cin cin over some cena! See you Sunday!

Congrats to the winners of last week's giveaway—thank you all for entering! This week I have a pair of tickets to give away to the Artisan Marketplace at the Artisan Cheese Festival, on Sunday March 9 from 11am–4pm, in Petaluma! The four-day festival has all kinds of cheese-related events, from demos to seminars to tastings. All you have to do is reply to this email with the name of the next restaurant in San Francisco you want me to visit and write about—I'd love to hear what you're interested in! Deadline to reply is Sunday, March 2, at midnight.

Lastly, this week I'm doing a jetsetter recap from my trip last summer to New Orleans for Tales of the Cocktail (more on the event in the socialite), plus Jeff Hollinger wrote a piece on absinthe in the wino. This recap has been a particularly tough one to write, and a lengthy one, but here we are. I dedicate this issue to all the brave, strong, beautiful, and spirited people in the Crescent City who have tragically had to endure one of our federal government's greatest missteps, a tremendous atrocity, really. Those poor people—it's simply unfathomable what they have had to go through. Our government may have failed them, but we need to show them that we as a population have not abandoned them. The waters may have receded, but that magic city could really use our help rebuilding.

Yours,

~Marcia subscribe
the chatterbox
Green ZebraFEBRUARY 26, 2008 | SAN FRANCISCO First, some news. I know this is going to make some soul food fans happy: ~HARD KNOX CAFÉ~ in Dogpatch is going to be opening a second location in the Richmond by the end of March, possibly early April! They are moving into the former Greco Romana space that sadly closed due to a fire a while ago. The menu will mostly be the same, with a few potential additions since the space will be twice as large as the current location, about 85 seats. There will be a mezzanine, and the plan is to keep the rustic roadhouse look. Their fried chicken is so good. Ditto on the spicy chicken sandwich! 2448 Clement St. at 26th Ave.

Since we're talking barbecue and the like, I thought I should update you on ~AL'S BACKYARD BBQ & GRILL~, the joint that's opening next to the Transfer Market on Divisadero. Timing is now looking like May, so sit tight for the slow-smoked brisket! 853 Divisadero St. at McAllister.

Hello fisheads. I got this interesting email from ~SEBO~ last week, so I thought I should share what they said about Kindai Honmaguro, "We have been, over the past couple of years, making efforts to be responsible and conscientious with regard to acquiring our product while at the same time maintaining the quality and authenticity of our food. We are now one of a very few restaurants in the US that are receiving bluefin tuna that has been cultivated from the egg by Kinki University in Japan. Unlike other methods of cultivation, this method has no impact on natural populations. They are raised in low population density and are far superior to other cultivated bluefin that we have tried. Not only is the feed organic and pretty close to what the tuna would eat naturally, they also log what the fish eat and what water they are living in every day of its life. Additionally, the fish benefit from the low population density by being able to swim more naturally, as cage free chickens taste better than caged. By controlling where the fish swim/live the university is also able to significantly reduce exposure to bacteria and other contaminants resulting in a fish that is free of chemicals, hormone and antibiotics. We feel this is the only practical solution in maintaining the bluefin population around the world. We are hoping to receive this tuna every Friday as there are only 2 to 3 fish sent to the U.S. At this stage the university is still developing and refining the cultivation methods and are not a profit seeking venture. If you haven't tried it yet, you should definitely stop by and let us know what you think, we are working indirectly with the university to provide them with feedback, questions or concerns. Also for a short period of time we will have kanburi, which is the largest and oldest (=fattiest) stage of the yellowtail. It's only around for a couple months at most in the winter." Sounds good, no? Yes! 517 Hayes St. at Octavia, 415-864-2122.

It's the month of openings! Last Wednesday I attended the ~FIFTH FLOOR~ opening party at the Hotel Palomar—leave it to the French to have one of the better cheese spreads that I've ever seen at a soiree. (Although someone needs to tell the chick on the temporary website how to hold a wineglass.) We had some tastes of items from Laurent Manrique and chef de cuisine Jennie Lorenzo's menu; a fave was the chestnut soup with a brunoise of prosciutto and pistachio and a supple quenelle, a homage to Jean-Louis Palladin. Looking at the menu, the oxtail and eel main braised in Bordelaise sauce is not something you see on most menus around town—I'm also keen to try the squab crusted in sugared almonds, with braised celery, smoked fingerlings, and lemon confit-flavored squab jus. The Gascony-inspired menu is not surprisingly running on the higher end: $12–$22 for apps, and mains for $29–$39, plus a rib eye for two for a whopping $90. Desserts include baba, gateau Basque, and canelé, all from $11–$14. Emily Wines has quite a spiffy new wine room—big congrats to her for passing her Master Sommelier exam, woot! The Puccini Group did a spiffy redesign—it all felt kind of chic Paris atelier to me, with sleek club chairs in white leather with metal legs, red glass overhead lighting fixtures and mod sconces, hardwood floors (alas, the zebra carpet is no more, kidding), and whoa, you can actually look out the windows now? Nice touch! Open for dinner Mon–Sat, 12 Fourth St. at Mission, 415-348-1555.

Opening today in SoMa is the much-anticipated ~ORSON~ from Elizabeth Falkner (this being her third restaurant) and her partner Sabrina Riddle. Had a chance to hit the opening party last night for a bit when I should have been home writing this thing, but I had to see it! Duty called! The restaurant is in a spacious and historic warehouse, with tall ceilings and trusses, and sexy darker lighting (and cool clubby art too—it works well with the space). What a gorg marble bar, with room for 30—it's bar manager Jackie Patterson's new cocktail island, where she's dreaming up drinks like a celery gimlet that went down way too easy—dangerously so. I look forward to seeing the furnishings, and tasting more bites from the menu of "edgy California cuisine." Which according to the website can include razor clams a la plancha, with violet, parsley, lemon and chicharrones; wood-fired pizzas; tempura egg with shoyu and spice; and samosas, raita and chutney sorbet. The reservations line is open. Dinner Mon–Sat 6pm–11pm, bar menu served Mon–Sat 5pm–6pm and 11pm-midnight. 508 4th St. at Bryant, 415-777-1508.

It's been over a month, and no one from ~CHAPEAU!~ ever calls me or emails back (I'll leave out my own word with an exclamation point) to discuss the changes at ~CLEMENTINE~. So, here's what I do know: a while ago Philippe Gardelle of Chapeau! took it over from Didier Labbé, who is off to Rio de Janeiro—in fact, you can still hear Didier's goodbye message on the old answering machine. (Uh, time to change it, don't ya think?!) And after a brief closure, it sounds like the new menu is supposed to have some differences from the Chapeau! menu, plus there's a full bar. My info is derived from this helpful blogger's post (thanks Fuzzy Chef), who also mentions, "a green color scheme with a copper bar." That's all, folks! 126 Clement St., at Second Ave. 415-387-0408.

So, to recap the big shifts in four-star land: ~CAMPTON PLACE RESTAURANT~ just keeps promoting people. Now we have Srijith Gopinathan as executive chef—he was formerly the restaurant's executive sous chef de cuisine. When the previous executive chef, Gavin Schmidt, returns from Mexico, I'll let you know what his next steps are. Gopinathan's two sous chefs, Perfecto Rocher Battaller and Chett Bland, will be working with him to roll out the new dinner menu, and there's a new lunch menu in the works. Hopefully Perfecto lives up to his name, and Bland isn't afraid of Maldon salt—sorry, lame joke, couldn't resist. A native of India, Gopinathan's background includes working as the executive sous chef at the Deep End, the fine-dining restaurant at Taj Exotica Resort and Spa in the Maldives, and a stage at Le Manoir Aux Qaut' Saison in Oxfordshire. Some new menu items include sea bream sashimi wrapped in avocado and enoki, with dashi essence, endive, and Perilla foam; and Tellicherry pepper-crusted ahi tuna, seared artisan foie gras, and ginger linguine and cuttlefish broth. I'm going to check out the new menu in a couple weeks, will report back! 340 Stockton St. at Campton, 415-955-5555.

Meanwhile, over at the ~RITZ-CARLTON SAN FRANCISCO~, after 17 years, executive chef Jean-Pierre Dubray is leaving—he is now the executive chef of The Resort at Pelican Hill, a luxe resort in Newport Coast. 600 Stockton St. at California, 415-296-7465.

So, someone else is having an anniversary: Rachel and Ben of ~LUELLA~ are celebrating three years in business, and starting March 3, all of their wines by the glass will be available for $3 each, Mon–Thu, until the end of March. Cheers darlings! 1896 Hyde St. at Green, 415-674-4343.

Yet another anniversary, and this might really get you and your liver in trouble: the ~R BAR~ is turning five on March 7. Tod asked me to send out a big thanks to everyone, especially the "bar/restaurant/hospitality/liquor biz folks who have gotten us to this point and made us what we are." Yeah, the biggest Fernet account in the City. Anywho, the anniversary party will be on March 16, starting at 8pm—the night before St. Paddy's Day, so consider it basic training. 1176 Sutter St. at Polk, 415-567-7441.

Also in the Polk Gulch neighborhood: I was wondering what was moving into the Café Ya-Bon space when I saw the windows all papered over some weeks back. Behold: less café, more restaurant! Now it's ~ZITOUNA~, and according to the fine folks at Thrillist and Eater, it will have an expanded menu of homemade Tunisian-Moroccan eats. Gotta check it out. Sadly the 24 hour action is gone: Mon–Thu and Sat –Sun 6am–10pm, Fri 1:30pm–10pm. 1201 Sutter St. at Polk, 415-673-2622.

SoMa workers: did you know ~PRANA'S~ lounge is open for lunch and bar service (helpful in case you are suffering from the DTs at 2pm). There is a global menu of sandwiches (braised short rib), wraps (the much healthier portobello mushroom wrap), and some entrées like ginger-garlic prawns with soba noodles, plus salads, and naan pizzas. Hours are Tue­–Fri 11am–3pm, and happy hour is 4pm–7pm. 540 Howard St. at First St., 415-247-9911.

As if all this food and wine isn't enough punishment: are you aware of all the Italian winemakers who will be descending on San Francisco next week for the ~GAMBERO ROSSO/TRE BICCHIERI TASTING~ event on March 5? Look for a bunch of special winemaker dinners at your favorite Italian places around town. Shelley Lindgren of A16 let me know that for a week, all of their 40 wines by the glass will be Tre Bicchieri winners. They will also be highlighting two Italian winemakers: Sabino Loffredo from Pietracupa, on Thursday, March 6, and then Gunther Di Giovanna from Di Giovanna winery in Sambuca di Sicilia on Wednesday, March 12. 2355 Chestnut St. at Divisadero, 415-771-2216.



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the jetsetter
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FEBRUARY 26, 2008 | SAN FRANCISCO New Orleans, LA

When I was invited to attend the annual Tales of the Cocktail event in New Orleans in July of 2007, I was beyond thrilled. I hadn't been to New Orleans in years, and to visit the birthplace of the cocktail was like a trip to Mecca for me. Yeah, it was going to be hot and humid, but that's what sundresses and air conditioning are for.

Before I left, I asked some former Nawlins residents for recommendations, like Brenda Buenviaje of Brenda's and Jan Birnbaum of Epic. I barely made a dent in my lengthy list, but boy, did I try.

This trip was so moving, and downright bittersweet—most of the conference events were held in the ever-atmospheric French Quarter, which really gives you a weird semblance of normalcy, and that everything in the city is fine. No. It. Isn't. As soon as I took my first trolley ride up Canal Street, and a ride out to Mid-City, everything in my chest got tight.

You see entire first floors of office buildings that are boarded up, and residential streets with houses elevated, eerily vacant, and so many for sale. Countless homes still have those cryptic symbols that were spray-painted on their front doors that only the National Guard or recovery efforts could decipher. I couldn't believe how many people I saw still living out of their FEMA trailers. You still see the telltale water line on so many homes and buildings… like some naughty child went around to thousands of homes and drew a big fat line across them. Each line is like a bleak horizon of sadness, measuring the amount of tears on each house. Still. Still. Still. It's like Katrina happened six months ago, but it didn't.

Ask people about "the storm," and everyone has a story to tell, each and every one heartbreaking. It just makes you want to hold people, hug them, make the hurt and suffering go away.

I had a chance to speak with chef-owner Donald Link of Cochon (many know him from his years here in San Francisco), and I also spoke with his staff at Herbsaint, his first restaurant. I was so touched with their tales of reopening Herbsaint. The story they told of cleaning up the restaurant, and the walk-in, after weeks of not being able to access it were harrowing to say the least. The hard-working folks at Herbsaint managed to reopen five weeks after Katrina, and they said you have no idea how powerful it was for them to be able to host guests at the restaurant, with white tablecloths, and nice stemware… their customers were just thrilled to be in a restaurant, like it was the first time they ever ate in a nice establishment—they said the excitement was just palpable. Guests could pretend things were normal for a little while, at least for the time they were dining there.

My last morning in New Orleans, I was taken out to the Lower Ninth Ward by a friend and former resident who had a car. It was beyond haunting… like a ghost town that nature is slowly and steadily taking over, weeds climbing high, with people's clothes and personal effects blending in the soft soil. The backsides of houses were ripped open, spilling their guts, a jumble of destroyed furniture, torn curtains, broken dishes. Homes were picked up by the water, and then dropped off blocks away. The elements that remained steadfast were front stairs, now to nowhere, and a few brick houses. A school bus lies on its side like a carcass, cars nosedive under houses. It's now a neighborhood of chaos, none of it makes sense. It makes you feel sick. I am also posting a link here to some of my pictures so you can see—words sometimes aren't enough to accurately portray the awful.

One of the most important things we can do to help New Orleans in their efforts to rebuild is to support their local economy. Restaurants are trying to open, or staying closed, or closing, businesses are struggling… each and every business that manages to open, or stay open, is a major victory. If you are at all considering a trip somewhere, I can't encourage you enough to visit New Orleans. You'd be able to afford it more than you might think.

I was blown away with the true Southern hospitality I encountered, the kindness, the helpfulness, the warmth. It really resonates. People call you sweetheart and darling and ma'am there (even if you should be "miss"). It's a beautiful, old, and mysterious city, with such interesting history, and character. This city is special, and unique, and we need to preserve it and appreciate it like the national treasure it is.

I haven't had a sense of local and regional cuisine like I did in New Orleans in a long, long time. The food there has such a sense of place; talk about terroir. The history runs deep—heck, it's not every day you meet a daughter of the woman who created Bananas Foster (be sure to visit Brennan's for the original!). At one of the Tales of the Cocktail events I attended about the history of New Orleans's regional cuisine, the irrepressible Poppy Tooker, the founder and leader of the NOLA Slow Food convivium, said, "Eat it to save it." So here's how I did my part in saving it. I ate. A lot.

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Napoleon House
500 Chartres St.
Cross: St. Louis
504-524-9752

Let's start with a visit to the ~NAPOLEON HOUSE~, famously the home of the Pimm's Cup, which reinforces the timeless importance of a place having a good signature drink. It's one of the most atmospheric bars I've ever been in, with spinning fans, wood tables, old-school bartenders, and a dusky, intimate feeling—the building dates back to 1797. I would have a drink here every afternoon if I could. In fact, Dave Wondrich called it, "A New Orleans day spa." Some folks don't know they also serve one hell of a muffuletta (which I heard pronounced as "muff-ah-lot-a"), a ridiculously stacked (and warm) sesame-studded sandwich of Italian cold cuts, plus cheeses like provolone, and the famed chopped olive salad. I tried a bunch of these while I was in New Orleans; this was one of the best. You can even rent out the apartment upstairs, formerly the living quarters of Joe Impastato who bought the Napoleon House in 1914—his family runs it still. This place is pure class.

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Liuzza's
3636 Bienville St.
Cross: N. Telemachus
504-482-9120

Since we're on sandwiches, one of my passions, I also made the trek one day out to ~LIUZZA'S~ to try their Frenchuletta (they grill the meat while the French bread toasts)! This place was the picture of a neighborhood restaurant, with the same family running it for almost 30 years, and a great mix of folks hanging out in the cute vintage space that dates back to 1947. The sandwich was big, my schooner of Abita amber was ice cold, and the fried green tomatoes with crawfish remoulade, simply delish! Another amazing story: they were under six feet of water, but managed to renovate and reopen in July, a year after the storm. Good people, here.

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Mother's Restaurant
401 Poydras St.
Cross: Tchoupitoulas (say Chop-a-TOO-lis)
504-523-9656

A lot of people talk about ~MOTHER'S RESTAURANT~ in the Quarter for po' boys, good home cookin', and breakfast (served all day). I will say the incredible baked ham po' boy I brought to go on the flight home with me was the envy of the plane—so good with their Creole mustard. They are also famous for their "debris" sandwich of all the yummy bits that come off when you carve a roast, and the Ferdi special of ham AND roast beast. They did win for my favorite picture of the trip (seen here). If you have a chance, you should read their account of reopening after Katrina—they impressively managed to do so on October 15.

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Parkway Bakery & Tavern
538 Hagan Ave.
Cross: Toulouse
504-482-3047

My po' boy mission also included a trip to the much-adored ~PARKWAY BAKERY & TAVERN~ in Mid-City. Talk about a local hangout. I learned this place was pivotal in keeping people fed in the area after the storm, especially the throngs of construction workers, who were still ordering lunch when I was there in 2007. The famous hot roast beef with gravy po' boy here was as scrumptious as it was messy, ditto on the golden shrimp and oyster combo version (just ask for it 50/50), served on a Leidenheimer's roll, heaven with a few shakes of sauce picante (either local Crystal or Tabasco), plus Zapp's chips on the side, a Barq's longneck to drink, and Hubig's pie for dessert! Make the trek to eat here!

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Cochon
930 Tchoupitoulas St.
Cross: Andrew Higgins Drive
504-588-2123

The smell upon entering ~COCHON~ was bliss: meat and oven. Come and get it! Clean industrial style, with brick walls and a concrete floor, plus wood slat chairs and booths that made me feel a little like a pig in my own (very happy) pen. We loved the spicy fried alligator ($10), fried boudin balls ($7), supple and creamy head cheese ($6) with house-made mustard, plus smoked ham hocks and grits ($16), and the namesake Louisiana cochon with cracklins ($18). Dessert was $6, if you can make it that far. I'm putting the prices in so you can see how affordable it is to dine well here. Loved, loved, loved. Co-owners and chefs Donald Link and Stephen Stryjewski kick (pork) butt.

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Herbsaint
701 Saint Charles Ave.
Cross: Girod
504-524-4114

One of my favorite evenings was dining at the bar at ~HERBSAINT~, Donald Link's first restaurant, which turned seven years old in October 2007. The menu was the picture of appetizing, with a stunning gumbo of the day with andouille and a touch of brandy, braised beef shortribs on a crispy potato cake, house-made spaghetti (!) with crispy guanciale and a fried-poached farm egg, and remarkable jumbo shrimp from Dino the shrimper, whose motto is "If it swims in the water, place yer order!" (I think I love Dino), served with scallion spoonbread and roasted corn salad. Oh, and the dirty rice is Link's family's rice. Don't miss some absinthe service at the end of dinner, natch. Killer cocktails, classy wine list, too.

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Mandina's Restaurant
3800 Canal St.
Cross: N. Cortez
504-482-9179

What on earth were we thinking? We weren't. ~MANDINA'S RESTAURANT~ took us down. We got excited. This is what happens when you have a legit Creole-Italian menu, full of things to order like turtle soup (be sure to request a light pour on the sherry), seafood gumbo, crab fingers in wine sauce (read: a ton of butter), a half and half (oyster and shrimp) loaf (a po' boy), and fried chicken with onion rings. Ouch! This honest family joint dates back to 1932, and as it says on the website, "There was a concern that Mandina's wouldn't come back after the storm. [Fourth-generation owner] Cindy Mandina insisted on it. 'It was a financial risk, but I had to reinvest in my city.'" The pictures on their site of the post-storm damage are intense to say the least (be sure to slide your cursor over them).

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Lilette
3637 Magazine St.
Cross: Napoleon St.
504-895-1636

After killing myself at Mandina's, I experienced a first: I was too ill to eat dinner. Seriously. I sat at the table, but upon my first bite, both liver and stomach said, "Hells no!" All I could bear was to sip soda and bitters while my dinner pals ate—we called it DBP (Dining By Proxy). Big shame, because chef-owner John Harris's ~LILETTE~ in Uptown was darling—a former drugstore, with tiled floors, a painted tin ceiling, rust-colored walls, creamy booths with black piping, a jazzy/bluesy soundtrack, all in a neighborhood that exuded pure Southern charm—cicadas included. Here's what the table raved about: marrow toasts with mushrooms and veal glace ($9.50), cool corn soup with avocado and crab, gnocchi with sage brown butter ($8.50), and a roasted poulet breast ($21). Licorice ice cream for dessert was brilliant. Charmed, you will be.

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Café du Monde
800 Decatur St.
Cross: St. Anne
504-525-4544

How can a place this famous, and this overloaded with tourists, still remain so cool? I treasured my breakfast at ~CAFÉ DU MONDE~ of wondrous eggy and spongy beignets in a pile of powdered sugar and my chicory coffee au lait (with half and half and hot milk), so creamy you don't need sugar. You will end up with powdered sugar on you, no matter how hard you try to avoid it, as if you were partying up late with Pablo Escobar. Adored the vintage 50s-era chairs in olive drab with chrome legs, the jazz trumpeter playing over the hubbub of people, the cheerful green and white striped awning… you can take it all in for $1.59 for three beignets, and $1.59 for coffee ($2.73 for an iced one). Open 24 hours!

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Croissant D'Or Patisserie
617 Ursulines St.
Cross: Chartres St.
504-524-4663

I also adored my croissant at ~CROISSANT D'OR PATISSERIE~. Charming place. The croissant, was quite legit. Buttery goodness. And warm, yay! Check out the old separate entrance for ladies, what a trip.

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Coop's Place
1109 Decatur St.
Cross: Ursuline St.
504-525-9053

Sometimes you need a dark, cool, shady hideout, especially the day after, when you require some sustenance, but no sunlight—yet. ~COOP'S PLACE~ totally hooked me up one afternoon—it's a divey little bar complete with pool table and Ozzy the lazy brindle bulldog sacked out on the brick floor. It's all about their spicy rabbit and smoked pork sausage jambalaya. Of course I made mine "supreme," with crawfish, shrimp, and house-made tasso (smoked Cajun ham). $9.25, done. Oh, and a salad with thick house-made green goddess dressing with a little kick from their house pepper blend. And naturally, a cold Abita. Loved this place—the bar means business (complete with menacing signs like "Be Nice or Bleed"), and the food means business too, with the local scene here tucking into fried fish, jambalaya, po' boys, whatever makes you feel better. Open late too.

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Elizabeth's Restaurant
601 Gallier St.
Cross: Chartres St.
504-944-9272

My final send-off meal (thank god, because after five days I was going to keel over) was brunch at ~ELIZABETH'S RESTAURANT~ a down-home little joint with a bit of a hippie vibe. It's just a tiny bit in the outskirts, in the Bywater. And famous for their praline bacon (as good as it sounds, oh yes), callas (an obscure type of beignet made here with rice flour, waffle mix, nutmeg, cinnamon, and powdered sugar), grillades and grits (steak and a tasty gravy with peppers and celery), and all kinds of things covered in hollandaise and cheese. As they say, "Real Food Done Real Good." Uh huh.

A big thank you to Harrah's New Orleans for generously hosting me as a media guest at their hotel on this trip—and they had one of the nicest doormen I've ever met.

Some great places for drinks:

Alan, the bar maestro who was presiding over the tiny bar at ~IRIS~ restaurant set me up with a memorable cocktail of cilantro-infused triple sec, tequila, and watermelon, with chopped cilantro and a salt rim, yum, more please! All kinds of unique and refreshing culinary cocktails here, like kaffir-cayenne limeade, and a blood orange and basil martini. The menu looked good for dinner too—a sweet little space.

Don't miss some of the expertly made cocktails at the ~SWIZZLE STICK BAR AT CAFÉ ADELAIDE~. The huge block of ice behind the bar says it all. (I also had a wicked brunch here, blue crab scrambled eggs with oyster mushrooms and leeks, with buttered brioche toast and Brie fondue, yes, it knocked me out, and I can't blame it on the eye-opener of brandied rum milk punch, good morning!)

I enjoyed the gentleman's club atmosphere of ~THE BOMBAY CLUB~—the drinks were fine, it was more about having a nice place to relax, tucked away in the Prince Conti Hotel.

Here's an extensive list of places to drink in NOLA from Difford's.

 A few things to know:

Most of the clocks run slow in New Orleans. Hotels can even miss your wake-up call.

Po' boys get their name from the 1927 streetcar strike, when Martin's Grocers wanted to offer free meals for the "poor boys" who were striking. The owner sat down with the baker to determine what would be the correct size to feed a family. Hence the huge size of po' boy sandwiches. If you order one "dressed," that means yes on mayo, lettuce, and tomato. Oh, and no giggles when you hear mayonnaise pronounced "my-on-ezz."

There is a strong Italian population and presence here, partly because it was the second port for immigrants besides Ellis Island back in the day (that's what I was told—guess who hasn't fact-checked this!). A muffuletta sandwich is a perfect example of the Creole-Italian style of cuisine that has developed here. Genius, that sandwich.

In the summer, thunderstorms and crazy rain can come out of nowhere—total downpours. Carry a small umbrella in your bag if you want to be prepared.

Next time:

~A muffuletta from Central Grocery, the reputed home of the darned thing—I tried to go once but the lines were long and my time was short. (Vegetarians: you can get one with just olive salad and cheese!)
~Have a Café Brulot at Arnaud's French 75 Bar
~Visit the Crescent City Farmers' Market
~Oysters Rockefeller at Antoine's—the oldest continuing restaurant in the US, with six generations of the same family running it since 1840, and many waiters have been there for forty years.
~Café Freret (I had a bite of their muffuletta, I think it was the best!)
~Bayona for Susan Spicer's acclaimed cuisine
~Restaurant August, a high-end resto from John Besh
~Lüke, a brasserie from John Besh
~Peristyle—Tom Wolfe's casual yet classy Creole outpost
~Brigtsen's—James Beard award-winning chef, restaurant is in a cool old shotgun house way uptown
~Li'l Dizzy's for gumbo and authentic southern cooking
~Cafe Rani on Magazine for some healthy eating (shocking!)
~Bon Ton Cafe for their combo fried crawfish and catfish with remoulade dipping sauce, and crawfish etouffée
~Johnny's PO-Boys for classic po' boys
~Domilise Sandwich Shop & Bar for famed po' boys—everyone has their favorite place!
~Casamento's for oyster loaf
~Surrey's Juice Bar for breakfast—healthy stuff too!
~Galatoire's, a classic since 1905—to order: pommes soufflé, crabmeat maison, broiled pompano with crab on top
~Camellia Grill—a popular landmark diner dating back to 1946, reopened in 2007
~R&O's in Bucktown for a ham, roast beef, and turkey po' boy (a Donald Link favorite)—216 Metairie Hammond Hwy., Metairie, 504-831-1248

Music/bars:
dba bar
Spotted Cat
Vaughn's
Saturn Bar in Bywater
Snug Harbor
Maple Leaf Bar
Tipatina's
Tujague's

How to help:

Donate/volunteer/help with their wish list: commongroundrelief.org/

Contribute to Slow Food's Terra Madre Katrina Relief Fund to Benefit Gulf Region Food Producers: slowfoodusa.org/katrina_relief.html

Support the New Orleans Food & Farm Network, helping to provide access to fresh food to neighborhoods: noffn.org/

Become a member: museumoftheamericancocktail.org

Book a trip: neworleansonline.com 

Go to Jazz Fest (April 25–May 4) or Tales of the Cocktail (July 16–20)

Read 1 Dead in Attic: After Katrina by Chris Rose

More thoughts, and quotes:

You know it's time to stop eating when the waitress at Mandina's says she's impressed.

I overheard people talking about the evacuation while sitting at a bar, "Really, it only took you four hours?"

"It can be sweet, but sometimes you hit some minty pockets." –Camper English on the Starfish Cooler, the official cocktail of Tales of the Cocktail, 2007

"Without the cocktail, how would we have jazz?" –Ti Martin

 
the wino

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Green Zebra

 

FEBRUARY 26, 2008 | SAN FRANCISCO Jeff Hollinger on Absinthe

Jeff Hollinger is a co-author of The Art of the Bar–Cocktails Inspired by the Classics. Currently, he works as Manager of Restaurant Operations at Absinthe Brasserie & Bar, in San Francisco. At Absinthe, he continues to contribute to the innovative cocktail program, teaches home bartending classes, answers questions about absinthe, and is continuously experimenting with new and inventive ingredients for seasonally based cocktails.

In the ten years that Absinthe Brasserie & Bar has been open, I don't think a single day has gone by when someone hasn't called the restaurant, sat down at a table, or bellied up to the bar and asked, "Do you actually serve absinthe?" Until recently, our answer followed the lines of, "No. Unfortunately, absinthe was banned in the United States in 1912, making it illegal to produce, import, or sell."

If the person inquiring about absinthe was actually sitting in the restaurant, we would generally follow the "no" answer with a short history lesson about absinthe's role in café society during France's Belle Epoque era (think Paris in the late 1800s until World War I), provide a synopsis about the "illicit" chemical components found within a bottle of absinthe (specifically thujone), and finally, offer our hypothesis on the effects of consuming absinthe (are you going to be enlightened by dainty and beguiling green fairies, or are you going to lop your earlobe off at the suggestion of an evil green demon?).

As I said before, this was all the case—until recently. In May of 2007, absinthe once again became legal to produce, import, and sell in the United States. The change seems even more recent for those of us on the west coast, considering that it wasn't until October that the first shipments of legal absinthe arrived at our doors. That's right, absinthe is legal once again.

What is absinthe? Simply put, absinthe (often referred to as "the green fairy" or "la fée verte") is a distilled product made from a base spirit and various herbs. The base spirit and herbs can, and do, vary from brand to brand, but there are some similar elements. The most famous and controversial element is grande wormwood, scientifically known as Artemesia absinthium, which gives absinthe its bitter qualities (not to mention its name), and also releases an essence known as thujone, which until recently was thought to cause hallucinations. The other two most common elements found in all absinthes are anise and fennel, which lend to the spirit's licorice-like flavor and aromas.

Absinthe as we know it today was originally crafted sometime in the late 18th century. It is traditionally said that a French doctor named Pierre Ordinaire, who was living in Couvet, Switzerland, after fleeing his country's revolution, developed the spirit in 1792. Like many of the distilled, herbal spirits created during that period, absinthe was intended as a cure-all liquid remedy. In time, the recipe made its way into the hands of Henri-Louis Pernod, who would eventually produce the spirit commercially in Pontarlier, France.

Absinthe gained much of its popularity when it was issued as a fever and dysentery preventative to French troops who were fighting in Algeria between 1844 and 1847. When the troops returned home to Paris, they had acquired a taste for the anise-flavored spirit, and by the end of the 19th century, the city would be embarking on a "great collective absinthe binge." Cafés filled with people between six and seven each evening, and Paris became host to l'heure verte (the green hour), during which time aromas of anise perfumed the city streets.

Artists such as Vincent Van Gogh (for the record, there is no reasonable proof that he cut his earlobe off as a result of being on an absinthe bender), Paul Marie Verlaine, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, and Pablo Picasso, all absinthe drinkers, helped create the legend of the green fairy muse through their work.

By the early 20th century, the devilish qualities of absinthe were also legendary. It was thought that absinthe had the power to land an imbiber in an asylum because of its heavy alcohol content and the supposed mind-altering qualities of thujone. These suspicions grew stronger when, in 1905, a Swiss man murdered his wife and two small children, and unsuccessfully attempted to take his own life, all after consuming two glasses of absinthe. However, mention was never made that he consumed the absinthe in the morning before going to work in the vineyards, and throughout the day he also managed to consume at least two bottles of wine, several glasses of brandy, and an assortment of other booze, all before murdering his family. Nevertheless, the demon absinthe was blamed as the cause for his actions, and the stage was set for the eventual ban of absinthe in most countries around the world.

Now absinthe is back. How is that possible? Well, to be honest, it's a story that is appropriately hazy, as are many of absinthe's tales. But let's cut to the quick and simple. In 1912, absinthe and any food or beverages made with wormwood were banned outright by the Department of Agriculture. Then in 1972, the FDA changed the tune of the regulations by banning all products which contained a concentration of thujone higher than 10 parts per million (10 milligrams per kilogram). It had always been thought that traditional absinthes had a much higher concentration of thujone than the allowed 10 parts per million.

However, thanks to the research of people like Ted Breaux, a New Orleans-born chemist and absinthe producer/historian, it was discovered that the best vintage absinthes actually had thujone levels that fell closer to federal allowances. Armed with this information, as well as the recognition that a cult absinthe following had been brewing throughout Europe for nearly ten years, Lucid Absinthe was created (with the help and consultation of Ted Breaux) and presented to the FDA; in early 2007 it became the first legally approved absinthe in the United States in ninety-five years.

Since Lucid's approval, more absinthes have come on the market, the two most prominent being Kübler, a Swiss-style "blanche" absinthe, and St. George's Absinthe Verte. Over time there will definitely be more, but it is hard to say what we'll see next, considering that the laws regulating importation, sales, and labeling are incredibly convoluted, and approvals are given on a singular case-by-case basis.

Perhaps the most talked about and recognized cocktail seeing a rebirth coinciding with absinthe's return is the Sazerac. This New Orleans classic is a combination of rye whiskey, sugar, Peychaud's bitters, and a pastis- or absinthe-rinsed glass. Bars all over the City are now featuring Sazeracs with absinthe.

However, if you come into Absinthe Brasserie & Bar, and order a Sazerac, it will still be made with Herbsaint, instead of absinthe. Why haven't we reverted to the "classic" absinthe? Well, in our eyes the Sazerac is a cocktail that has evolved over time. When it was first created it was made with Cognac, not rye, and there was no absinthe in the drink at all. However, when a phylloxera scare hit France, and Cognac prices skyrocketed, bartenders quickly changed their Sazerac recipes and used locally available (and affordable) rye instead.

Then, later on down the historical line, a creative bartender decided to add a couple of dashes of absinthe to his Sazerac recipe, and the addition caught on throughout New Orleans and beyond. Yet again, the Sazerac was forced to evolve in 1912, when absinthe was banned in the United States. In its place, Herbsaint, a style of pastis created in New Orleans, was developed specifically for use in the Sazerac. The switch to Herbsaint is the last in a series of changes that have ultimately defined the essence of the Sazerac's history, and it is this history that we've chosen to honor behind our bar.

Don't worry; we've still got a number of absinthe cocktails tucked away in our mixing glasses. In fact, one of our favorites is a virtually unknown drink called the Lawhill Cocktail. It is a beautiful combination of rye whiskey, dry vermouth, maraschino liqueur, absinthe, and Angostura bitters. The recipe is below just in case you're feeling inclined to get up and mix one for yourself. Better yet, why don't you come to the bar, enjoy an absinthe drip, and then follow it up with a Lawhill? Because, to answer the question one more time: yes, we do serve absinthe!

Lawhill Cocktail

1½ ounce Rittenhouse 100 proof Rye
¾ ounce Dry vermouth
¼ ounce Maraschino liqueur
¼ ounce Absinthe
1 dash Angostura bitters
Flamed orange peel, for garnish

In an ice-filled mixing glass, combine first five ingredients and stir for 20 to 30 seconds, or until well chilled. Strain the drink into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with the flamed orange peel.

Cheers!

~Jeff

 
the socialite

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Tales of the Cocktail
July 16–20, 2008

New Orleans, LA

website

FEBRUARY 26, 2008 | SAN FRANCISCO This annual event is a great excuse to visit New Orleans (like you need one). ~TALES OF THE COCKTAIL~, a culinary and cocktail festival features award-winning mixologists, authors, bartenders, chefs and designers in the New Orleans French Quarter at five days of cocktail events such as dinner-pairings, cocktail demos and tastings, seminars, mixing competitions, design expos, book-signings, and more.

Last year I attended presentations on ice (learn how ice "laughs" at you as it moves on the top level of your drink), the history of the cocktail, I took a walking cocktail tour through the Quarter and the Napoleon House, a seminar on drinks and dishes born in NOLA, the history of the mint julep… great stuff. You get to meet a bunch of folks in the industry, from all over, and the parties and dinners are a good time.

The event is hosted at the Hotel Monteleone, one of only three literary hotels in the US (the Algonquin and the Carlyle are the others); you can get a room for only $99 a night during the event.

Tickets go on sale April 1.

 
the bookworm

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FEBRUARY 26, 2008 | SAN FRANCISCO Mixing New Orleans—Cocktails & Legends
By Phillip Collier
To purchase copies, contact Ann Rogers at 504-343-4285 or email ann@talesofthecocktail.com

I loved reading the stories and checking out the old pictures in this book, ~Mixing New Orleans—Cocktails & Legends~, that offers a historical review of the cocktail. You can read up on Sazeracs, Hurricanes, absinthe, and the famous places where to get them—the recipes mean you can learn to make them at home, too. A must-read for anyone heading to New Orleans who is planning on having a drink somewhere. It tends to happen there.

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Southern Cocktails: Dixie drinks, Party Potions & Classic Libations
By Denise Gee and Robert M. Peacock
purchase

Another useful book in case all this cocktail talk has you thirsty is ~Southern Cocktails: Dixie Drinks, Party Potions & Classic Libations~. It might make you start integrating the cocktail hour like a true southerner. There are some recipes for nibbles as well, in case you have company calling. Your next Sunday is awaiting a Creole Bloody Mary.

 
the starlet

FEBRUARY 26, 2008 | SAN FRANCISCO 10 people from the X-Files sequel that's being filmed right now were having dinner at Perbacco on Saturday night. Among the cool people in the group were Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz (writers) and Dave Duchovny and Gillian Anderson.

 

All content © 2008 Marcia Gagliardi. I am more than happy if you want to link to my reviews and content elsewhere (thanks, glad you dig it), but republishing any part of them in any way, shape or form is strictly prohibited until we talk first. Please take a look at my Creative Commons license for more detail.To subscribe to this list, please visit http://www.tablehopper.com/lets_talk/subscribe.html

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