Fried Chicken & Barbecued Shrimp: Snapshots from New Orleans

Fried Chicken with Macaroni and Cheese @ Willie Mae’s Scotch House, New Orleans.

I’m back. Maybe you hadn’t noticed, but I’ve been on a long blogging hiatus, partly because of my annual trip to New Orleans, which I usually take in early April. Here’s a couple of food pics from that trip, and dozens more can be found on my Instagram feed (located in the sidebar at the right). Overall, New Orleans is a tough town for photos, and many of my favorite places had poor lighting, so I just used my iPhone camera in those situations. When I did find good lighting, I used my camera.

After assaulting my arteries for a week, I returned home to Napa to begin an ebook, which I have been diligently photographing for the last month. That’s the main reason why I haven’t been blogging. My publisher and I are pushing [… read more …]

Photo Essay: Backyard Crawfish Boil, New Orleans Style

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Crawfish, Stage 1: Still living, but not for very long.

Despite the abundance of great restaurants in New Orleans, there’s nothing quite like a backyard crawfish boil to really capture the spirit of Cajun culture. I have a theory that the less silverware present at a meal, the more the conversation can flow freely. And really, what can’t you talk about when everyone is circled around a newspaper-covered table with crawfish juice running down to their elbows? I would have to say that the highlight of my visit to New Orleans last week was the crawfish boil I attended in the neighborhood of Bayou St. John, where 40 pounds of the Gulf’s finest mudbugs met their delicious end. The following snapshots highlight the preparation. The beer-fueled conversations that followed must remain strictly off-record.

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Crawfish, Stage 2: A quick rinse with the garden [… read more …]

Seasonal Eats: The Soft-Shell Crab Po-Boy @ The Galley, Metairie, LA

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Hermit Crab or Sandwich? The Soft-Shell Crab Po-Boy @ The Galley, Metairie, LA

During my five-day visit to New Orleans last week, I was fortunate to catch the beginning of soft shell crab season, which typically runs between April and October along the Gulf Coast, when the waters remain the warmest. I do love a soft-shell crab po-boy — there’s nothing quite like a sandwich that looks as though it might crawl off the plate — and the claws themselves serve as a built-in appetizer, which can be detached and snacked before devouring the sandwich. For the latter reason, I always recommend ordering soft-shell crab po-boys with a side of remoulade, or whatever seafood sauce the restaurant might offer.  The sandwich depicted here was the last meal of my vacation. It proved classic, quintessential, and delicious.

Reverse Angle: The Soft-Shell Crab Po-Boy @ The Galley, Metairie, [… read more …]

The Oyster Po-Boy @ Hog Island, Oxbow Market, Napa Valley

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Technicolor sandwich: The Oyster Po-Boy @ Hog Island Oyster Company, Oxbow Market, Napa Valley.

This is the last po-boy I’m going to eat for quite a while. It’s funny, I spent all of last week in New Orleans eating as many po-boys as I possibly could, only to return home to the Bay Area to eat a few more. Normally, on principle, I wouldn’t even follow a New Orleans po-boy with a California po-boy (at least not so closely), but I have an upcoming review for Pinchit, where I’ll cover a few of the Bay Area’s better po-boy options. So even though I felt like I hit my personal po-boy quota while I was in the Big Easy, I battled through three more California po-boys earlier this week. And so that’s gonna be it for a while. Gimme a pizza.

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I actually covered [… read more …]

The Fried Chicken @ Willie Mae’s Scotch House, New Orleans

Possibly the best fried chicken ever.

Possibly the best fried chicken ever. Click the photo to almost taste it.

Don’t you just love it when something exceeds your expectations? How often does that even happen anymore? Perhaps cooking professionally has jaded me just a bit. Ever since I’ve been held to high culinary standards — Michelin-star standards — mistakes tend to glare at me, especially when I know that they’re easily fixable. Over the years, I’ve developed a list of pet peeves, but the most common transgression, at least for me, is unseasoned french fries. After all, what are french fries without the salt? Bland, greasy potatoes, that’s what. I know there’s usually salt at the table, but here’s my problem: Any cook who sends out a batch of french fries without seasoning them either just doesn’t care, or they just don’t know any better. And then I jump to ugly conclusions. Well, if [… read more …]

You should date a girl who eats.

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The Chocolate-Almond Croissant @ Bouchon Bakery, Yountville. Once recommended to me by a girl who eats.

Date a girl who eats. Date a girl who spends her money on fancy cheese instead of clothes, who has problems with refrigerator space because she has so many variations of mustard (and don’t even start with all the hot sauces). Date a girl who keeps a list of faraway restaurants she wants to visit, who has been eating foie gras since she was twelve.

Find a girl who eats. You’ll know that she eats because she will always have a half-eaten bar of artisanal fair-trade chocolate in her bag. She’s the one lovingly looking over the produce at the farmers market, the one who quietly cries out when she finds the first morels of the season. You see that weird chick sniffing the leaves of vine-ripened tomatoes at the supermarket? That’s the girl [… read more …]

Book Review: “Hungry Town” by Tom Fitzmorris

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I’m headed to New Orleans a week from today. It’s a spiritual journey that I try to make at least once a year, just to recalibrate my taste buds with true American cookery. My point, before I get too carried away with thoughts of New Orleans cuisine, is that I discovered a discounted copy of “Hungry Town” by Tom Fitzmorris last week, which seemed like a fortuitous coincidence. What better way to get into the proper New Orleans mindset than by reading the culinary memoir of one of the Crescent City’s most important food critics? A native of New Orleans, Fitzmorris has authored countless magazine articles on New Orleans cuisine, as well as a comprehensive restaurant guide, and a weekly newsletter, The New Orleans Menu, that spans more than 30 years (the newsletter is now published online). Fitzmorris has also hosted a radio show in New Orleans since 1975, [… read more …]

Vintage Cajun: “The Justin Wilson Cook Book” by Justin Wilson

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Being in my 30s — and not being a native of Louisiana — my first exposure to Justin Wilson was from a Ruffles commercial in the mid-1980s. For better or worse, that was also the first time that I’d ever heard the Cajun dialect, a quirky easygoing patois that now has many associations for me, having lived and cooked in New Orleans since then. During the same few years that Wilson was landing these national ad campaigns, his Louisiana-based cooking series began to appear on California public television stations, and Wilson himself began doing cooking demos on several morning talk shows. At least that’s how I remember it, growing up in Northern California.

As a semi-serious collector of vinyl LPs, I would later discover Wilson’s comedy albums from the early 1960s, languishing in the dollar bins, alongside so many copies of “Staying Alive.” Although I never purchased any of [… read more …]

Breakfast on Mardi Gras Day @ Stanley Restaurant, New Orleans

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Softshell crab po-boy: Looks like it could crawl right off the plate. This was a friend’s sandwich, but I had a great version at the Galley in Metairie.

It’s now almost two weeks since Mardi Gras, but I have a few photos left from New Orleans. These pictures were snapped at Stanley, which is a relatively new restaurant in the French Quarter. The name,  I assume, is an homage to Stanley Kowalski, the main protagonist of “A Streetcar Named Desire.”

Bananas Foster French Toast: Ice cream for breakfast. After the gluttonous week that lead up to Mardi Gras, I had clearly stopped caring.

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Chocolate Malt: What better chaser for Bananas Foster French [… read more …]

Food Pictures from New Orleans

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The Cheeseburger @ Port of Call: For me, a trip to New Orleans just isn’t complete without a visit to POC. Known for its large tropical drinks and its scaled-down menu, Port of Call offers only burgers and steaks, although I’ve only ever ordered the cheeseburger. Fries are not an option either — just baked potatoes. I could criticize the fake bacon bits, but they serve as part of the charm for me. Plus, the vibrant contrast of yellow and red give the plate a distinctly feng shui appearance.

If you still have a dial-up connection, you might want to close your browser and come back once you’ve entered the 21st century. I’ve uploaded most of my decent food photo from New Orleans, although this collection only represents a slight fraction of what I actually ate during my 10 days in the Big Easy. It was [… read more …]