Foodie Goes to Ireland–for Indian?

And before you ask, yes, there is a method to this madness. You see, I’ve heard good things about Indian food but living, as I do, in the American South haven’t yet experienced it in a restaurant.

So being jet-lagged, wet, and cold from my day’s travels, when my host gave me a list of nearby places including the Mint Leaf, I jumped on it! My convoluted reasoning went something like this: Ireland close to England; England former occupier of India and popularizer of all things Indian; therefore, Indian in Ireland would be better than Indian I normally ate. Turns out, I wasn’t far off–whatever the cause.

20110910-123027.jpg

I dined from the early bird menu and as it was lunch time back home, dinner at five o’clock seemed like a great idea. For €16.95, there were a choice of appetizers and entrees plus a beer or wine of your choice. I went with the samosas and chicken bhuna (I think) and house red wine. I have no way of knowing whether these were good examples of either dish as I’ve never eaten either before. All I can say is everything was delicious.

The wine was every bit as good or maybe a little better than a $20 bottle in the States. The meat samosas (they also come in veggie) reminded me of really good, Indian-spiced taco meat in the best kind of eggroll wrap, fried in triangle-shapes like spanakopita. There wasn’t a trace of oiliness, the spices gave the lamb stuffing a warmth without overpowering, and the chili sauce was fabulous.

20110910-123048.jpg

The chicken entree was served in a red curry slash brown onion reduction, medium-hot. Definitely a touch of turmeric was present, as it was in the basmati rice side, but other than that, my untrained palate was unable to discern.

20110910-123100.jpg

Beautiful dishes, well-prepared, good service, and decent-sized portions. I was not disappointed (which, sadly, cannot be said for my past encounters with this cuisine). My newly-informed opinion is we Americans in the South should demand more of our Indian restaurants. This is really great stuff it turns out!

Rawr!

——————-

Overall:
Four bones

Food:
Four Bones

Ambiance:
Four bones

(I’ll insert little bone graphics when I get back home. Dammit.)

Big Announcement: Foodiesaurus is Taking You Along on Her European Food Vacation! (You’re welcome.)

Regular readers of this blog may have noticed a recent decrease in the frequency of posts hereto. And there’s a darn good reason for that–and it’s about to change!  The reason is, your favorite dinosaur and mine has been planning a food trip to Ireland and Italy, and she’s taking you along for the ride!

So buckle up ’cause next week we begin with two days in Dublin to find out whether Bobby Flay was really on to something when he suggested Irish food didn’t suck anymore in his Food TV special, “Bobby’s Ireland.”

From Dublin, we take a train to Waterford City to attend the final three days of the newest Irish food festival, the Waterford Harvest Festival. The festival features many Slow Food Ireland and Grow It Yourself Ireland (GIY) events, among others, all designed to increase awareness about locally-grown Irish food. While there, we will attend a tasting of Irish beer and cheese, the GIY street feast, and an open air harvest market.

After that, we travel to the heart of Tuscany: Florence, that is. There we will learn the subtle art of chilling out with locals who do it pro-style. And of course, we will eat. If we happen to trip over some art or architecture on the way to eating, we might even write about that too.

So join me on a food exploration of parts of two European countries beginning with the letter “I.” Oh, and I’ll be doing it all from my iPhone and any WiFi connections I happen to find along the way. Now THAT’S going to be an adventure!

Rawr!

Foodiesaurus’ Uptown Crawl

Yesterday was a day like Foodisaurus hadn’t enjoyed in a long time. Yes, it was hot on this June day in Uptown New Orleans. Yes, it was humid. And yes, the resurfacing of Magazine Street made us long for a nice gravel drive. But the food and locales I discovered on my brief, two meal tour made all of that well worth it.

First, my dining companion and I visited Mid-City and the former J.P. McMahon Funeral Home on Canal Street, now known as Mystère Mansion. Only in New Orleans would people line up out of the door to get married at a slightly post-bellum home, next to a cemetery, across from a mausoleum, which had been most recently used as a mortuary and funeral home.

Rumored to be haunted, the building was stripped to the studs by a corporation which bought the building in 2004 in order to convert it to a day spa. Rebuilding was stopped after the company’s CEO died and the board abandoned the project. Then Katrina struck and the home sat vacant until 2007, when it was purchased and returned to its former glory as a premier events venue and kick-ass haunted house destination during the month of October.

In addition to two bars, a commercial kitchen for use of caterers, a “cake” room, reception room with dance floor and amps for a band or DJ, private theater/meeting room, and VIP guest room, the house also features a séance room (complete with “supernatural” special effects, if desired by client), and an underground “mortuary” which extends under Canal Street and is tricked out with all kinds of theme park quality scary stuff just for Halloween.

Hey, consider it a bonus if your wedding theme is “creepy.” But for other events, you’d never know the house was anything other than a beautifully-restored, traditional New Orleans manor. Fabulous!

Next stop, for lunch was a New Orleans classic—Five Happiness. It’s always nicer to visit a place with friends who have friends at the establishment, so maybe our service was a little more prompt than would ordinarily have been the case, I can’t say. But the food was prepared fresh to order and it showed in the flavor. I had the Twice Cooked Pork.

Mine was served with my choice of a wonderful example of hot and sour soup and shrimp fried brown rice, along with a large, crispy fried wonton (folded but with no discernable meat in the fold). We didn’t order appetizers or desserts, but there was so much on the plate, I was only able to finish the pork from the spicy-sweet (but not overly so) sauce, some of the included green bell peppers and onions, the small but plump shrimp from the rice, and the wonton.

Given that I avoid Chinese food like it’s a religious obligation, I was pleasantly surprised there is still an affordable place left in New Orleans that doesn’t think steamer trays, rapidly-aging “sushi,” and self-serve soft-serve ice cream is necessary for a classic Chinese experience.

After a brief shopping sojourn, we found it was seven o’clock and time for dinner. We decided a salad was in order. Regular readers of this blog may recall my abiding affection for salads at Coffee Rani in Covington, Louisiana. My friend suggested the Uptown location of same (she thought….) on Magazine Street.

As it turns out, though apparently related given the same essential menu, Café Rani clearly was not the same. First of all, there is no espresso machine. “Café” has no coffee. Hmmm. But it has a bar. Okay.

Unfortunately, there was also a weird “wet dog” smell my friend thought was like sewerage. And only two or three tables were occupied at what should have been the front end of the dinner “rush.” Not good. Now, I’ve watched enough Restaurant Impossible to know that sometimes bad smells may mean untold horrors.

Taking no chances, we abandoned ship and embarked on a search for the next place that led us quite serendipitously to possibly the best food I’ve ever eaten. In my life. Ever.

The Delachaise at 3442 St. Charles Avenue is housed in an odd, converted-rail-dining-car-looking building that, who knows, may very well have been one. We stopped because I seem to recall having eaten well in that location sometime in about 1995 or so and because there were diners on the patio facing St. Charles, braving the early evening mosquitoes to eat there. Good sign.

Inside, was a funky bar with a few tables and booths at which were seated casually-attired college students and professions and not a few couples who looked like they might get lucky. The walls were lined with chalk boards bearing handwritten notices of the day’s specials, which were, well, special. Among them the pate du jour. The boards also instructed us to order at the bar.

Along the way, we also found written menu. After some consultation with the Internet to translate the names of some ingredients, chose the Grilled Eggplant “Cannolis,” my second example of twice-cooked pork that day—the Cuban Twice-Cooked Pork—and a lovely Chianti by the glass.

I approached the bar and noticed a row of handwritten chalk boards adorned it as well, listing reasonably priced and very high quality liquor and mixed drinks. Our bartender allowed us to split the check but either payment upfront or a tab was required.

The wine came with a sidecar (bonus!) and the food was a work of art. Nonetheless, we dug right in.

The Eggplant Cannolis was group of three roulade about three inches long filled with ricotta, chevre, and herbs served on a bed of Muhammara with three olive oil drenched and perfectly crisped crostini. Muhammara, it turns out, is a spicy pepper dip originating from Syria. Although the base is apparently ground walnuts, it was reminiscent of smoked hummus, and along with the goat cheese, it elevated this dish to quite another level of awesomeness.

Given the quality and beauty of the first course, we tucked right into the pork entrée and were quickly rewarded.

The cubes of stewed pork were finished in the goose-fat fryer and the result was tender, crispy, slightly redolent of orange mojo, and unbelievably fabulous.

Accompanying the pork were steak fry-like strips of yucca, rendered crispy on the outside and flaky, tender, slightly fiberous and a little sweet by its trip through the goose-fat fryer. The food rested on a bed of top-notch aoili and occupied a good-sized platter. My dining companion and I shared the appetizer and the main but left satisfied.

Unpretentious, affordable, and with totally mind-blowing food—The Delachaise on St. Charles should be a regular stop on any trip through the Big Easy.

Rawr!

—————————————————————————————————————————————

RATING:

Five Happiness on Carrollton—

Overall:

Food:

Ambiance:

Café Rani on Magazine—

Overall:

Food: Unknown

Ambiance:

The Delachaise on St. Charles—

Overall:

Food:

Ambiance:

The Gourmet Shop: Go for Brunch and Stay Awhile….

My introduction to Columbia, S.C., was really one of the most enjoyable Fridays I’ve spent in some time. It all started with many, many, many Mimosas at The Gourmet Shop along with the best petit fours I have ever utterly failed to imagine I would eat imported from another classic Columbia establishment many miles away called Tiffany’s Bakery.

I started with the petit four.  And I am glad. 

Predictably, the petit four was a delicate white rectangle enrobed in a light buttercream glaze with a colored dollop on top.  Unpredictably, the texture inside was firm with a slightly crispy surface that yielded easily to reveal the tender buttery interior.

It was as if the best cake you’ve ever eaten married the best doughnut you’ve ever had and this bit of confection was their newborn baby.  No other petit four will ever compare.  Ever.  Shut up.  Ever.

Then came The Gourmet Shop’s first counter to the greatness of Tiffany’s: Mimosas.  Here that means a really a large bottle of champagne and a small bottle of orange juice for around $10. You get the picture.

For food, I went with the Hot Egg and Cheese Croissant with bacon or turkey sausage (the correct answer: bacon) and a side, in my case, of cottage cheese. (Gotta be healthy, right?) A cup of Illy café au lait also seemed called for. And it was.

The resulting sandwich was a golden bundle of oozy woozy goodness. The croissant was soft buttery flakiness just like it was supposed to be. The cheddar cheese was a tangy melted crown draped over the top of the fluffy egg layer. Bacon was perfectly cooked. The cottage cheese was nothing really special but who cares.

My companions enjoyed the Yogurt-Granola Fresh Fruit Bowl topped with seasonal fruit and served with the ubiquitous croissant, the Breakfast Bowl including a choice of an egg, bacon or turkey sausage covered in grits and topped with cheddar, and the Breakfast Panini filled with either egg, bacon or turkey sausage, cheese and roasted red peppers. I don’t know what those tasted like. I was pretty with my stuff.

And so the day wore on. Just to be polite, you understand, we ordered more Mimosas again and again and again.

At some point, it occurred to me it was lunch time. So out came menus for round two. This time around mine was the Spinach Salad topped with bacon, very fresh, very ripe avocado, sunflower seeds, cucumbers, tomatoes, and mushrooms with celery seed vinaigrette. (Gotta be healthy, right?)

Copious other available choices included: Create Your Own Sandwich with Medium Rare Roast Beef, Hot Pastrami, Black Forest Ham, etc., on breads including pumpernickel, rye, baguette, and multi-grain, among others; salad combinations; bakery items including Scones; Cheese and Pate Plates and other charcuterie; and several specialty sandwiches on wraps, panini, soups, and bagels.

After all of the mimosas, brunch and lunch, I don’t recall anyone having dessert but they were available, and I imagine if the rest of the food was any example, the dessert was likely wonderful.

The service was responsive and patient. (My companions assured me single sitting multi-courses were a fairly common occurrence there.) And as I passed from our outdoor table to the restroom, I noticed that on far side of the building were indoor tables were in the event of extreme heat, which Columbia is capable of, or rain, I expect. Otherwise, the outdoor street scene (featuring a violinist a discreet distance away) was definitely worth getting there early for.

There is also an actual “gourmet” shop featuring a wide variety of interesting kitchen gadgets and gourmet food items as well. Shopping while dining. Awesome!

At the end of the meal(s), the most pleasant surprise was the cost. My tab (we split five ways) wasn’t $75; it wasn’t $55. It was $47, including tip. Top that!

Bon Appetite!
——————————————————————————————————————
RATING:

Overall:

Food:

Ambiance:

Martin Wine Cellar–Still Awesome After All These Years

If you’re like me, every so often you enjoy a spot of wine. Or three. So a few years ago, when I last lived in the Greater New Orleans area, a favorite hangout of mine was Martin Wine Cellar.

Not only does Martin Wine Cellar offer a dazzling array of wine and liquor with knowledgeable staff to go along with it, they also are one of the best places I’ve found in the GNO for salads, sandwiches, and deli items. The sandwiches, in particular, are innovative, exceptionally fresh, and combine ingredients in a way more reminiscent of Hippy lunch counters than a New Orleans deli. And it is good.

On a recent return to my old haunt, I found it much the same as I remembered only possibly better.  I enjoyed a walk down memory lane with the Californian, which is oven roasted, turkey, havarti cheese, avocado, sprouts, cucumbers, tomato, Creole mustard and mayo on wheat or pita. I opted for wheat with a side of Zapp’s Cajun Crawtaters because you only live once and life without Crawtaters isn’t worth living.

Back in the day, when I worked down the street, my lunch alternated between this favorite and my all-time most favoritest sammich in da whole wide world—the Eric (may be a fictitious name) featuring rare roast beef, Creole mustard, and pate. Mmmmm. But as Martin took this delicacy off of the menu many years ago and because I’m sure I remember its actual name, I doubted anyone remembered how to make it and so allowed the aforementioned Crawtaters to soothe my broken heart instead.

My niece enjoyed the chicken tenders and fries from the kids menu. She is a particularly slender 9-year-old, so there was some debate about whether we should select the three or five unit basket. Arguing she had “nothing” for breakfast, I was convinced to go five-piece. She later relayed that the definition of “nothing” does not include a “small” bowl of cereal. So I enjoyed at least one of the delicious, meaty portions of real, tender white chicken breast myself along with what seemed to be house cut french fries. The other we took home with the fries.

After lunch we strolled aisle after aisle of domestic and imported wine, selecting a bordeaux with good reviews for my later enjoyment and a bottle of “Who Dat?” cab for my brother-in-law, a big Saint’s fan. All-in-all a great day enjoying an old favorite that has, if anything, improved with age.

Bon Appetite!

——————————————————————————————————————

RATING:

Overall:

Food:

Ambiance:

Kitchen Stuff We Can’t Live Without—Part 3: Gadgets

Besides the plates, flatware, knives, pots, and such, every new kitchen needs gadgets and lots of ’em. These are the gadgets we believe are critical to the basic outfitting of a new kitchens:

Gadgets.

—Two or three Microplane graters. I have a Microplane 4-Sided Box Grater as well as a Microplane Classic Black Spice Grater and Microplane Grater/Zester. Do NOT buy any other kind. They suck. Trust me. (NOTE: Do NOT put your grater in the dishwasher regardless of any representations by the maker to the contrary. The black plastic “box” of my Microplane box grater cracked immediately, but even so we are still using it—albeit gingerly.)

—Vegetable peelers, both a “vertical” type like the Oxo Good Grips i-Series Swivel Peeler and a “horizontal” type like the Oxo Good Grips i-Series Y-Peeler, preferably this brand Good Grips by OXO.

—A variety of good cutting boards for different jobs. Today, more than ever, cutting boards come in a wide variety of materials from hardwoods, to renewable bamboo, to polypropylene boards you can toss harmlessly in the dishwasher. As to size, you will want a large one with a channel to catch drippings for your cooked meat carving board, such as the John Boos 18″ x 24″ Au Jus Board in Maple or the J.K. Adams 20″ x 14″ Traditional Carver. You will also want separate boards to handle raw meat and veggies, such as the Grande Epicure Polypropylene 10″ x 13-1/2″ by 8-1/2mm Utility Board or the Progressive International 17.5″ x 11.25″ Cutting Board. Be sure to clean them quickly, though, and keep your wooden ones oiled (olive oil will do) lest your apples end up tasting like your garlic. (Learned that one the hard way.)

—As to can openers, I believe going electric for most of us is way overkill—kind of like using a riding mower to edge your patio. I mean, is it honestly THAT much more effort, for those of us without a joint condition, to turn a large cushy knob than press a large cushy lever? As a result, can openers go in the drawer and cost less than $20. I like sideways, smooth-edge can openers, like the Oxo Good Grips Smooth Edge Can Opener, although my sister liked one by Pampered Chef. You won’t regret the extra cost the first time you DON’T have to dig a lid out of a can of tomatoes!

—Pyrex tempered glass wet measuring cups. Two Pyrex Prepware 1-Cup Measuring Cups and one eachPyrex Prepware 2-Cup Measuring Cup and Pyrex Prepware 1-Quart Measuring Cup.

—Set of dry measuring cups, like the MIU Stainless-Steel 7-Piece Measuring Cup Set.

—Set of All-Clad Stainless Measuring Spoon Set. I know, ridiculously expensive compared with any other ones you find, but you really can get a level measurement using these better than any others I’ve tried. 1/4 teaspoon, 1/2 teaspoon, 1 teaspoon, and 1 tablespoon are the only ones necessary. Those “pinch,” “smidgeon,” “dash” ones are stupid.

—Strainers. Who cares what kind. You will only need them every so often so don’t go more than about the size of a “cup” or two, like these Oxo Good Grips Double Rod Strainer. But do be sure to have them ’cause when you need them, you will really need them!

—Colanders. OXO Good Grips Stainless-Steel Colanders are awesome in two sizes, 3-qt and 5-qt steel.

—Pepper grinder. I have one like this one a William Bounds GP TW Pepper Mill, American Black Walnut, and I adore it in my short shelves. The only drawback is how often it must be refilled, but it works very well. I have often heard good things about ones like these, though—Pepper Mill Imports, Atlas 7″ Brass Pepper Mill, Pepper Mill Imports, Atlas 8″ Brass Pepper Mill, or Pepper Mill Imports, Atlas 8″ Chrome Plated Brass Pepper Mill.

—Reamer. To help you squeeze citrus juice and fend off random intruders (not really), the Oxo Good Grips Wooden Reamer.

—Thermometers. At the very minimum, you need a digital meat thermometer like this one, the Taylor Digital Instant-Read Pocket Thermometer and a glass frying/candy making, like this one, the Polder Glass Candy/Deep Fry Thermometer. You may also consider an oven thermometer for monitoring the temperature of your roast without having to actually open the door, like the Taylor Digital Cooking Thermometer/Timer, or just ask Santa to bring you this one in a few months—the Maverick Laser Surface Thermometer. [Please note when researching this entry, I ran across another Maverick Laser Surface Thermometer used by automotive mechanics that was significantly cheaper. I am considering going with the car repair one. I mean, how different can they really be? And, it’s not like you actually TOUCH the food with the thing….]

—Serving platter. You will need one at some point, so get it now and avoid the holiday rush. Try this set—Tag Whiteware Porcelain Dinnerware Serving Set of 3, White Platters .

—Corkscrew. There are basically two kinds of screw pulls that work easily—a cheap, fool-proof one like the Metrokane Two Step Waiter’s Corkscrew that never fails (trust me, go “two-step” on this one); or the expensive, “rabbit-style” that requires first reading an instruction manual like these– Metrokane Houdini Lever-Style Corkscrew or Pinzon Matte Chrome-Plated Corkscrew. I own two of the cheap, “waiter” ones and none of the second.

—Vinturi Wine Aerators. Who needs decanters when pouring wine through one of these brilliant babies will make everything all better in a jiffy? Be sure to get Vinturi Essential Wine Aerators, Red Wine and White Wine, Set of 2—one for red and one for white—and don’t get ’em confused.

And in the optional but really cool category are: (1) a Stone (Granite) Mortar and Pestle, 7″, 2+ cup capacity—useful for marinades, pestos, salad dressing, curries, and more; and (2) an inexpensive carbon steel wok from an Asian grocery store like this one 14″ Carbon Steel Hand Hammered Wok (including wok ring)—useful if you like high-heat sauté and have a very powerful, hot burner that can really make use of it.

Next time, we’ll talk about appliances we can’t live without! Bon appetite!