© Restaurant August
New Orleans star chef, John Besh.
My only complaint after an epic three days of eating in New Orleans earlier this month was the letdown when I arrived hungry at the Louisiana Superdome to watch the Saints' Monday Night Football game. In a city known for great food, I was disappointed by less-than-stellar Creole gumbo and the stadium’s signature red beans and rice with sausage. So I was excited to read a recent Wall Street Journal interview with Saints executive vice president Rita Benson LeBlanc, in which she mused about possible food improvements for the stadium, like dishes from her favorite NOLA chefs John Besh and Emeril Lagasse.
When I asked John Besh what he’d prepare if he had an outlet at the Superdome, he told me he’d cook andouille and chicken gumbo and barbecued Gulf shrimp. Said Besh, “We are on top of our game this year, thanks to the New Orleans Saints. Visitors come to New Orleans not only to support their team, but to enjoy the cuisine and culture of this historic city. In every possible venue, from the Superdome to the New Orleans Convention Center, it is important that we welcome guests in our city with what we are so well-known for—food.”
© Palm Place Hotel
Kerry Simon takes the fried chicken trend retro with TV dinners.
While other star chefs are opening flashy, over-the-top restaurants in Las Vegas, chef Kerry Simon is going the opposite direction and offering TV dinner–inspired comfort foods for room service at Las Vegas's Palms Place hotel. Meals like meatloaf with mac and cheese, peas and carrots, and chocolate cake, and Southern fried chicken and mashed potatoes, are delivered in cafeteria-style compartmentalized trays.
Most treadmills tell you your heart rate and the number of calories you've burned, but apparently in food-obsessed Japan, treadmills flash images of ice cream cones and decanters of sake to show how hard you're working out. In today's New York Times Op-Ed section, Roger Cohen notes his amusement at seeing "an egg-topped sandwich suggestive of a Croque Madame" on a treadmill's screen when he hit the 450-calorie mark in his workout. The question: Were these suggestions of foods to avoid, or ideas for what he could eat later—"a visual projection of a no-pain-no-gain philosophy?"
© Jed Haas
New Orelan's Green Goddess serves a phenomenal brunch.
After a marathon night of cocktail tasting, I started my second morning in New Orleans with a hangover-curing brunch at the fantastic new restaurant Green Goddess. This supertiny spot has a bit of a hippie vibe, but the food is seriously delicious, and surprising for New Orleans: cactus chilaquiles topped with a poached egg, smoky pulled pork, blistered nopales and Creole queso fresco; tea-smoked mushrooms covered in gravy and served with sweet-potato biscuits and orange-honey butter; and a killer roasted-yellow-tomato Bloody Mary with pickled okra and green beans.
Revived, I checked out the farmer’s market until I had worked up an appetite for the legendary Galatoire’s. Here, I was introduced to fried eggplant dipped in béarnaise sauce and powdered sugar (unexpectedly addictive and delicious), tried the signature shrimp remoulade and stuffed myself with oysters en brochette (when I told my waiter I was full, his response was, “Nonsense, you just need a glass of wine to help you finish that off”).
My dilemma of the night was where to take a group of five rowdy guy friends for dinner. The answer: John Besh’s casual brasserie Lüke, where we snacked on house-made charcuterie (and my poor friend Jay learned that head cheese is not really a cheese) before diving into the monster-size burgers topped with Allen Benton’s bacon, caramelized onions and Emmentaler cheese.
© Jen Murphy
Mark Ryden's "incarnation" painting at Art Basel Miami Beach.
I just returned from Art Basel Miami Beach. Here, a food lover’s highlights:
* Jennifer Rubell, daughter of the legendary Miami art collectors Mera and Don Rubell, created an edible installation titled “Old-Fashioned” for the “Beg Borrow and Steal” show. It featured 1,521 Dunkin’ Donuts nailed to a white wall.
*Timothy Thompson’s aluminum cupcakes were on display inside of a 1960s camper van at the Camper Contemporary exhibition’s mobile art gallery.
* Artist Marky Ryden showed his new painting, "Incarnation," (above) at the Paul Kasmin Gallery booth. Ryder has the ability to make raw meat look mesmerizing and, in this case, turns it into a carnivore’s haute couture. The painting sold for nearly $900,000.
The dining room at Domenica, John Besh's new restaurant in the Roosevelt Hotel.
I just made my first trip to New Orleans and after canvassing friends, chefs and cocktail experts plotted an epic eating and drinking itinerary. This is one city where classic spots rival—maybe even one-up—new places. Some highlights:
Saturday afternoon: Shrimp and oyster po’boys (dressed, of course) at Mahony’s, a new favorite of F&W Best New Chef 1999 John Besh.
Late afternoon: Historical cocktail crawl through the French Quarter with stops at Muriels, Old Absinthe House, the bar at Antoine’s and Pat O’Briens (for the essential Hurricane).
Evening: Dinner at Domenica, John Besh’s stylish new Italian restaurant in the recently renovated Roosevelt Hotel. Besh protégé Alon Shaya oversees the kitchen and is a talent to watch. On the menu: crispy-thin, bubbly-crusted pizzas; a salad of thinly shaved tentacles of octopus carpaccio mixed with citrus and fennel; torn sheets of pasta (stracci) in a thick oxtail gravy with fried chicken livers; slow-roasted goat with chanterelles.
Post-dinner: Pre-night-out Sazerac at the Roosevelt’s legendary Sazerac Bar.
Late-night: The Cure is a much-buzzed-about cocktail spot uptown in a renovated 1905 firehouse. Co-owner and head mixologist Neal Bodenheimer opened the place in February and makes everything from the bitters to the cocktail cherries in-house. Bar Tonique lies on the outer edges of the French Quarter on Rampart Street. Bodenheimer also developed the cocktail list for this serious drink spot run by the crew of the Delachaise. It has a quieter vibe than The Cure, but equally excellent artisanal cocktails like the Champagne Cocktail, made with grapefruit bitters.
Super, super late-night: Mimi’s for live music, a night-ending pint of Abita Purple Haze and some tapas-style bar snacks including the "Trust Me”—that night, local braised lamb in gravy.
I feel lucky living in NYC: Some of the country's best chefs work here, and those that don't often pass through the city. But come next fall, many of those same chefs will be heading elsewhere: Lexington, Kentucky
, for the World Equestrian Games
. The James Beard Foundation
has partnered with the Games and the Kentucky Horse Park Foundation
to host 16 nights of dinners, where two guest chefs, like F&W Best New Chefs Christopher Lee
, Marc Vetri
and Nancy Oakes
, will cook meals with local Kentucky talent. The dinners will take place in late September and early October, and tickets go on sale in January.
After a long weekend in New Orleans I'm declaring it the most food- and sports-obsessed city in the country. It felt like half the town was lined up to get po'boys at Mahony's (Prolific NOLA chef and F&W Best New Chef 1999 John Besh's new favorite po'boy spot) in preparation for the Bayou Classic, the legendary college football game that took place Saturday. But the big game was last night's NFL face-off between the undefeated New Orleans Saints and the New England Patriots. I was shocked when my waiter at the legendary Galatoire's covertly undid a few buttons of his dress shirt to reveal a bright red Patriots T-shirt to me while I was there on Sunday eating the famous shrimp remoulade and fried eggplant with hollandaise and powdered sugar (somehow addictively delicious). Yesterday, a NOLA-based friend informed me that Aaron Burgau, the chef of Patois, had gotten "Who Dat?" (the Saints chant) tattooed on his upper lip in a show of team pride. And chef John Currence of City Grocery in Oxford, Mississippi, is a Saints fan and made a special trip into town for the game. "I have been waiting for this night since I went to the game in the 1960s," says Currence. After the Saints’ crushing victory, Currence found himself in the owners' suites for a post-game Laurent Perrier Champagne toast, then retired to Lüke for boudin noir and 25-year-old Pappy Van Winkle. Late night, Currence joined the reverly in the French Quarter and hit up Cooter Brown’s for meat pies and cold beer. "It was late enough that even in New Orleans, the bartenders hated to see us walk through the door," he says. I'm hoping the food-and-football obsession will converge next year and result in the Superdome following the lead of Yankees Stadium and convincing Besh, Burgau and other local talents to create some worthy stadium food.
Late that night after dinner at Vetri, we hit the road towards New York City. I hated to skip over my native New Jersey without even a single stop, but six days was a long time to be away from my wife and newborn son, and I missed them both. It was time to go home.
By way of summing up the experience, it's hard to pick favorites. I learned more than I thought I would on this trip, and was glad I had members of my team with me to share in the experience. We all found fresh inspiration in the people we met along the way, all of them committed in one way or another to good food: whether growing it, catching it, distributing it, or cooking it. I enjoyed the chance to form deeper relationships with Anson Mills and Rappahannock River Oysters, and feel that in Cane Creek Farm, Culton Organics, and Samuels & Son I've discovered new suppliers whose products I'm excited to use in my restaurants.
And so, at the end of this six day journey, there's only one question that remains in the back of my mind. Where should I go next?
© Courtesy of Tom Colicchio
Dinner at Vetri
Editor's note: Tom Colicchio, the head judge on Bravo's Top Chef (and a Food & Wine Best New Chef 1991), will be blogging every day this week about his road trip from Atlanta.
Although I've been friends with Marc for years, this was my first time eating at his acclaimed restaurant Vetri. It was well worth the wait, and I came away thinking that his impossibly thin, buttery pastas and tender baby goat could hold their own against any I've had.
As has been the trend during this trip, our menu featured several of the items we saw earlier in the day at Culton Organics and Samuels & Son. Line caught fluke became an amuse of fluke crudo with Culton Organics' Spitzenberg apples and lemon. Swordfish was mixed in with paccheri pasta and tomatoes, basil leaves, and fries cut from Culton Organics eggplant.
Tom Culton's cauliflower was transformed into a flan, served with house cured guanciale and quail egg. His squash became the filling for agnolotti with amaretto cookies and sage. A side of his Brussels sprouts, charred and served with shaved truffled pecorino cheese, accompanied our baby goat course. Tom's cardoons made it into a deconstructed Bagna Cauda, served in a warm bath of anchovy sauce with baby vegetables and salt cured egg yolk.