Out and About: Jazz Brunch at Commander’s Palace

On the day of our first wedding anniversary, our good friends Farah and Lee brought us to one of New Orleans’ most renowned restaurants for a unique experience: Jazz Brunch.

Commander’s Palace is an institution, voted most popular restaurant by the Zagat guide in 2009. We were escorted to our table by a suited gentleman. We walked through the busy kitchen and by the smell of it, I knew we were in for a delicious treat. The menu was pure decadence. After a quick read, I was completely overwhelmed by the sheer amount of dishes I wanted to try out: Oysters, crabs, cheviche. For appetizers, I decided to go with the quintessential New Orleans treat—and the recommendation of the cordial, animated staff.

Oyster & Absinthe “Dome” – Plump P&J oysters poached with bacon, artichokes, Absinthe and a splash of double cream ~ Presented under a flaky pastry shell.

When Farah’s appetizer reached the table, I was jealous. The shrimps were fresh and spicy, the texture of the remoulade was perfect.

Wild Shrimp Remoulade “Moderne” – Spicy boiled shrimp with Tabasco mousse, crispy brix, Creole remoulade and salt cured lemon zest.

Before we dove into each entrée, the meal took a musical turn. As per tradition, a jazz band goes around the restaurant’s various rooms and plays jazzy tunes. At time, the players invite the customers to join in the fun and that’s exactly what happened to me.

The band came around and I found myself dancing, with my napkin in the air, around the room with Lee.  It’s called Jazz Brunch for a reason! (Yes, that’s me with my friend Lee).

Picking an entrée was like choosing the perfect pair of shoes: You wanted the make the smartest decision. Being in New Orleans, I decided to order something that I would not so easily find in Virginia, so I went with a soft shell blue crab, fried, on a bed of greens with a poached egg smothered with Hollandaise sauce.

The crab was perfectly married with the sweet and tangy Hollandaise. I had never had a whole fried crab before. It didn’t taste like anything I have ever eaten before and the more I think about it, the more I’d love to eat it again and again.

Farah also picked fish: Griddle Seared Gulf Fish – Butter roasted artichokes, asparagus, pequillo peppers, grilled eggplant and tiny tomatoes with brûléed citrus & lemon-thyme vinaigrette.

Francesco went with the only non-fish dish on the menu: A beautiful beef filet adorned with a poached egg and a myriad of extraordinary sauces. The meat was so tender, it blended with the smooth texture of the egg and accompanied white sauce.

As if this wasn’t enough, we still had dessert. Commander’s Palace, it turns out, is known for its bread pudding souffle. Farah recommended it, we listened and agreed: It was insanely good.

The pudding was rich and velvety and the occasional raising gave it an unexpected crunch. Yet, the star of the dish, according to Francesco, was the luxurious whiskey cream—which was carefully served at the table, when the souffle was still warm.

In order to try another specialty, I picked something reminiscent of an American classic—strawberry shortcake with local strawberries and handmade whipped cream. The cake was soft, moist. The whipped cream was light and with a hint of vanilla. The strawberry syrup was rich, but not too sweet.

This was most likely the richest and most satisfying meal of my life. Great food is hard to come by, and good friends are even harder. Farah, Lee and the carefully prepared food made our first anniversary simply unforgettable.

Out and About: New Orleans, beignets and NOLA

It’s really true what they say about New Orleans. It is the ultimate foodie town. Francesco and I got in around midnight on a Thursday night. Our French Quarter historic hotel, Hotel Monteleone, was impeccable—exuberant crystal chandeliers welcomed us into the lobby and the charm of old luxury traveled with us to the seventh floor, to our room.

Sleep didn’t come too easy…I was too excited; I kept waking up expecting it to be morning—time for my first beignets. The alarm went off at 7:30am (I am a morning person and I am sure Francesco resents that), I jumped in the shower and was ready in 4.3 minutes. Our good friends Farah and Lee recommended we head to Cafe du Monde for the best beignets in town. We walked to the Decatur Street location, in the French Market, and I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of people waiting to get their order. I would have waited for eternity. The beignets were out of this world—warm, soft, fried pockets of delicious dough covered in confectioners sugar.

We shared an order and sat in the crowded cafe´and enjoyed the noise. We watched as petite waitresses carried overly loaded trays from the busy kitchen to the even busier dining room. In the midst of a chaotic Friday morning, we were completely at ease with stuffed bellies and happy souls. It’s funny how good food influences your mood.

Of course, as soon as breakfast was over, I began contemplating my lunch options. Francesco and I decided to go all out and chose NOLA, Emeril’s restaurant in the French Quarter.

A sparely lit space, the restaurant had a surprisingly accessible feel—it had a modern warehouse look with metal and brick—and was filled with tourists. The menu was a bit daunting. As appetizer, we picked the Wood Oven Roasted Pocket Bread with Garlic Oil, Fresh Basil and Grated Parmesan, a delicious beginning to an outstanding meal.

For the entree round, we hit a major roadblock. Francesco doesn’t eat seafood. I know, how can you go to New Orleans and not eat fish? Luckily, a brisket dish saved the day. The Hickory Roasted Beef Brisket with Orecchiette Pasta-Brie Cream “Mac & Cheese” and Bacon Smothered White Beans was an impressive feast. Crispy, fried bacon covered the delicious Mac & Cheese, but the star was, of course, the slowly roasted brisket smothered with sweet bbq sauce. Such a simple dish, yet elevated to such culinary heights.

Then, it was my turn. I am an avid seafood eater. My Seared Rare Yellowfin Tuna with Avocado, Wonton Crisps, Cucumber, Wasabi Aioli and Ponzu Vinaigrette was everything I wanted it to be and more. The best Yellowfin Tuna I have ever had in my life. It was rare, fresh and just perfectly sprinkled with Ponzu vinaigrette.

The cucumber was cut into think slices as to resemble soft angel hair pasta noodles. The wonton crisps served as the perfect resting place for the delicate tuna. I still dream about this meal at night.

Our culinary journey was punctuated by moments of pure ecstasy. We walked around the French Quarter and beyond for an entire day and we came across The New Orleans School of Cooking, complete with cooking class (that I wish I had taken) and a vast assortment of various uber spicy—and humorously named— sauces and seasonings.


Headed to New Orleans

Folks, I’m headed to New Orleans. I’ve lived  in the United States for 10 years, and I have never been to New Orleans. Shameful, I know.

But I’ve done my homework, asked friends who swear New Orleans is the ultimate foodie town, and I’ve come up with a list of places I absolutely want to get lost in. After reading Tom Sietsema’s “Postcard” from NE, how can one not dine at Cochon? Just look at these items on the menu:

  • Fried alligator with chili garlic aioli
  • Deep fat fried hog head cheese with field beans and ravigote
  • Smoked beef brisket with horseradish potato salad

And if these delicacies somehow fail to capture your attention, Cochon’s co-0wner and chef Stephen Stryjewski just won the James Beard Award as Best Chef: South.

My friend Wesley also suggested some very interesting spot I can’t wait to try out:

Domilise Sandwich Shop & Bar, which a commenter eloquently characterized as “the Quintisential New Orleans hole-in-the-wall excperience … They emptied the kitchen sink into my shrimp Po Beaux.” Yep. I’m going.

Court of Two Sisters‘ Jazz Brunch. The buffet’s selections change with the season and with the time of day. In the afternoon, for example, one can find Creole jambalaya, turtle soup, Duck a l’Orange and Shrimp Etouffee in addition to omelets and Eggs Benedict.

NOLA, one of Emeril’s best known restaurants. Bam! I’m there.

If you have any suggestions, please send them along.

Gotta finish packing! See you in The Big Easy!

Peter Chang’s China Grill, the second time around

I can’t seem to be able to stay away from this place. It’s that good! This time, I went with three great girls and the night was nothing less than magical. As soon as we walked in, the scent of sizzling veggies emanated from the kitchen. It’s a good thing we had a reservation because the place gets crowded in a heartbeat. We take our seats and inspect the menu, four pages of what seemed succulent entrees. The decision would have been impossible to make, but our waiter’s unit of measure helped out, immensely: As soon as we picked something, he would rate it by an enthusiastic raise-the-roof gesture. If the entree´ was slightly less than exceptional, he would raise his hand only half way.

To start, we picked the famous bubble pancakes and fried eggplant.

These bubble pancakes were fluffy and crispy at the same time. Their companion sauce, we speculated, had a hint curry in it. Although they look so perfect when untouched, it didn’t take much to pop them. This appetizer lasted about 4 minutes.

My problem with this next appetizer was the spice level. Since I am a wimp and can’t handle spice very much (at all actually), the fried eggplants were a bit too much for me, but by the speed with which my Emily, Bradley and Wesley ate them, I’d say they were worthy of a fully extended raise-the-roof rating.

Next, we went with the highlight of the night  (in my humble opinion): braised short ribs!

The ribs were so tender and juicy (here you see them covered in Panko and decorated with minced green onion). Interesting story, this was the dish our waiter rated the highest. He was absolutely right. Amazing.

I picked an amazing chicken dish: Chicken with eggplant in a hot pot.

The eggplants, thinly sliced, melted in my mouth. The chicken was perfectly cooked, and the sweet onions completed the dish. As if these delicacies weren’t enough, we ordered sesame shrimps (a bit too sweet) and duck (excellent).


Here is our glorious feast. I knew I loved this restaurant before, but this visit cemented my appreciation for good food.

Thank you Emily, Bradley and Wesley for making that night a perfect dinner.

Quick and easy: Grilled veggies

I am not a big fan of anything hurried and that goes for food as well. But, if you only have less than twenty minutes to dedicate to dinner, or lunch for that matter, these grilled veggies are the perfect solution. You don’t need a grill to do it…in fact, Francesco and I live in a 650-square-foot apartment with a fake balcony. So what do we use? Well, a grill pan! It works impressively well and without excessive smoke. It all began with my lazy desire to cook something with the veggies that were slowly deteriorating in the fridge. I didn’t want to boil or steam them, so we thought, why not put them on the grill?

We bought some asparagus, one big eggplant and two zucchine (one of my favorite vegetables). After a thorough wash, I cut them in thin slices and let them sit for about 20 minutes. Because the eggplant was fairly large, I adopted my mom’s trick: I slightly salted the slices to get rid of the sour or bitter aftertaste. It works every time!

I turned on the grill pan, placed veggies slices and waited until they were tender, done. Repeat until all the slices are grilled. It’s that easy. I promise. You have time to work on other things: emails, phone calls, blog updates, twitter, you name it.

Once the veggies are grilled, I placed them into a ceramic dish—and you can use a serving dish if you prefer—, I let them cool and later drizzled some extra virgin olive oil, a hint of salt, pepper and some Italian parsley. That’s pretty much it.

The great thing about these grilled vegetables is their versatility and use. I ate some for lunch and for dinner I diced them and made a delicious pasta sauce with just a hint of feta cheese. It’s out of this world.

Vocabulary:

Le zucchine – zucchini

Le melanzane – eggplants

Gli asparagi – asparagus

Olio d’oliva  – olive oil

Il sale – salt

Il pepe – pepper