Tag Archives: Gulf shrimp

RT3: NOLA – Muffaletta & Rib Room

Today, Sunday is our last full day in the Big Easy. We are determined to try a N’awlins classic, the muffaletta sandwich. Research tells us that Central Grocery is the originator of this sandwich. This is highly disputed by Frank’s, an Italian eatery a couple doors down. Since Central Grocery does not feel it is necessary to open on a Sunday, we choose Franks. Who has the best Muff? This is as highly contested an issue as who has the best po’boy, but alas we have time to try just one.

Frank’s has just opened when we arrive. We are eating in and everyone else appears to be taking out. So… we are seated alone upstairs and bathed in sunlight from the 12 foot windows over looking the French Market. The walls are painted with Italianate columns and Venice canal scenes, the ceiling is a peeling, watermarked faux sky. A seventies soundtrack emanates from speakers, the clash of cutlery tinkles from the wait station where a server prepares for the day. The ambiance: think 1960’s hotel ballroom. Our sever is loud and friendly. We ask a few questions about serving sizes. We have been burned before. Southern portions tend toward the large size. In the end we decide to split a half muff…a quarter each and Rob ordered a cup of seafood gumbo and I chose a cup of crab and corn bisque.

Our cups of soup come on little plates  papered with old fashioned lace doilies. Rob’s seafood gumbo was rich in flavour and spice, but was overly salty. My crab bisque on the other hand was fabulous, packed with crab, creamy to the perfect consistency, with a nice intense corn flavour. My only issue is semantic. This heavy, thick soup is a chowder, not a bisque. Seafood bisque is a flavourful broth concocted from roasting or boiling shells and harvesting the essence held within, but results in a much thinner preparation, in my experience.

Our sandwiches arrive unadorned on plates. Muffaletta is prepared on a large round sesame bun created just for this reason. The sandwich consists of thin layers of deli salami, capicolla ham and emmenthal cheese and is then finished with an olive salad. You need to be an olive lover to enjoy a muffaletta. The flavour is intense green olive. Carrots, pimentos, garlic, olive oil and wine vinegar round out the relish. This muffaletta is a wonderful savoury combination, marred only slightly by the slightly dry bun that was at least a day old — perhaps the reason why Central Grocery is not open on Sundays? I will definitely recreate this classic at home. I adore olives.

Frank’s bustling takeout business.
Olive Salad for DYI Muffs.

Frank's Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Full and satisfied, we spend an hour perusing the French Market aka Touriste Trappe Dat. If you need voodoo dolls, mardi gras beads and masks, cheap purses adorned with fleur de lis, or hot sauce, come on down. We were looking for and found Zatarains Crab boil. We intend to recreate a few memories for friends when we get home.

We decide to hop across the street to Margaritaville (warning chain restaurant alert!) for a marg before heading back to the Monteleone’s rooftop pool and bar. We seat ourselves at the bar and order margaritas. “House?” the barkeep asks and, yes, we agree. One sip and I know I have made a grievous error. I already knew by the colour that it was a sody pop marg. I pushed it aside and asked him for a Landshark. “Don’t like the marg?” he asked. “Too Sweet?” He knew. He tells me I want a Perfect Margarita – it’s not on the menu and it’s strong. I watched as he mixed tequila, fresh lime, triple sec and lime cordial, shook it and poured it over ice in a glass with a salted rim. The Perfect Margarita. It was…especially in a bar where a transplant and a true southerner were willing to talk about the only two subjects that matter: the weather…and hockey.

Met this guy walking back to the car. We hope he’s in retirement from his career as “dog put through the wringer”.  He seemed content to hang outside a bar and enjoy the breeze.

Dinner tonight is at the upscale The Rib Room at the Omni Hotel. I don heels at risk of life and limb. If you have ever visited New Orleans you will understand this risk. Foot cramps in hockey skates are the very least of my concerns at this point. Not breaking an ankle on a sidewalk in New Orleans will be an accomplishment.

The Rib Room is a block and a half  from our hotel. We have 7 pm reservations, but on a Sunday the city is emptying out and reservations don’t seem necessary. The restaurant is old school, upscale, white linens and silver. We ask for a window seat and are seated side by side at an oversized widow over looking Royal Street in the French Quarter. Our server is awesome. A New Orleans native familiar with the food and tradition that is N’awlins. He popped in and out of our evening in colourful fashion.

This traveling minstrel show set up across Royal St. from our window view at dinner. Rob would have put money in the hat to PLAY the guitar, not listen to him play.

I am determined to have a sazerac on this the last evening I am to spend in the city.  I have no idea whether or not I will like it. Our server warns us that it’s strong, beware. Forewarned we sip on. Sazerac is a a slightly sweet summer sipping whiskey drink. On this our first encounter, I can understand the allure. It is powerful, but the edge is taken off and you are lulled nicely.

For an app I order crab cakes. Our server announces that they are 95% crab. Rob orders the turtle soup. The crab cakes are among the best I’ve ever had. They are mostly crab held together by possibly a little egg and a bit of parsley, lightly fried and served on a bed of pickled onion, pepper, and fennel salad…sublime. Crab needs to be the unadorned star of a dish. Crab cannot be just a flavouring or it is lost. The turtle soup, a first for Rob, was tomato-based and meaty, enriched by a table-side glug of sherry.

My entree comes with a salad. The salad is a classic iceberg salad dressed with a mild, creamy blue cheese dressing, with lightly toasted croutons. Rob’s shrimp and tasso ham salad is very good. The gulf shrimp are flavourful and the tasso is succulent and perfectly salty. They are paired with young spinach, pickled onions, creole mustard and a light vinaigrette.

 

Our mains arrive, nicely paced. My shrimp and scallop risotto is well executed. The gulf shrimp are plump and tasty, the scallops are lightly sauteed and perfect. The toothsome risotto is the perfect lightly spiced starchy base for the delicate seafood. Rob ordered braised rabbit, prepared with a light cream, thyme and brandy sauce, paired with perfectly prepared southern grits which complemented the meaty, rich sauce.

We choose to share a Bananas Foster Cream Pie for dessert. The flaky crust and rum soaked bananas bedded on a light cream base is a fine finish to the evening. I ask for cappuccino but the machine is not working. I opt for just regular coffee. Our server conspiratorially nods to his favorite coffee: a blend of coffee, Frangelico, Baileys and B and B. The B and B is just for the hell of it he tells me. How can you turn that down?

Rib Room on Urbanspoon

Now I have to get home on heels on the brutal sidewalks of New Orleans with the pleasant burn of Rib Room off-menu coffee making me a little tipsy. Our sweet server refused to charge us for the coffee (which came in a carafe that contained three cups at least) and told us to enjoy his city. Gotta love the south.

A first: a picture that proves we were there. Just don’t get used to it.

Ceviche: Mexico on the Deck

I have always loved the fresh flavours of ceviche. Ceviche is a technique that “cooks” protein with acid. I first had this dish  sometime ago on Shell Island off Turks and Caicos. Our family was on vacation and we went conch diving. Conch feed in waters, ten to twelve feet deep, with a grassy bottom. We dove with masks and snorkels. After we collected a number of beautiful conchs, the boat headed to Shell Island, a tiny island made completely of shell. Here our tour guide prepared a conch ceviche on the beach. He cleaned the conch, cut it into bite sized pieces and “cooked” it with lime juice and hot pepper sauce. A little jalapeno, onion and some salt, and voila! Ceviche! So fresh and so delicious. Our guide also saved the shells for us to take home (they provide an export form and everything). However, don’t say you were not warned: after a flight home they will smell absolutely putrid and you will not be able to get rid of them fast enough. Or the smell in your suitcase. Yes you can boil them as advised, but then your house will smell putrid.

I have since had a variety of ceviches in fine restaurants and in cozy joints. This winter while in Miami Beach, we had a late night snack of shrimp ceviche that was simple, fresh and full of the flavours of the ocean and summer. It has had me craving it ever since, so I perused the web looking for a recipe. The variation in how to make ceviche is astounding with regards to the “cooking” aspect of the dish. I found directions for marinating the fish in acid from 15 minutes to five hours. So without a real guide, I am winging this on my own with my own experience eating ceviche, watching it being prepared and my knowledge of how the process works. Here’s to not killing Rob at dinner tonight!

Ceviche
(It is important in a dish such as this to use the freshest and best tasting ingredients)
Serves 4 (or appetizer for 6)

1/2 pound Gulf Shrimp*
1/2 pound tilapia or red snapper fillet, large dice
1 large jalapeno, finely diced
1 avocado, diced
2 tomatoes, seeded and diced
3 small Lebanese cucumbers, or 1 small garden cuke, peeled, seeded and diced
6 limes
1/3 cup cilantro
Tortilla chips

Dressing:
1 tbsp. hot sauce
1/2 tsp Sugar
1 lime

Method:
1. Boil water in a medium pot. Blanche shrimp for 2 minutes and immediately remove to a prepared ice bath to stop cooking. Peel, clean and chop into bite sized pieces. Cover with the juice of three fresh squeezed limes and chill in refrigerator for 2 hours.
2. Toss jalapeno, tomato, cucumber and onion together in a large bowl.
3. Mix together dressing ingredients
4. 1/2 hour before serving, toss tilapia pieces in the juice of three limes.
5. Just before serving, add avocado and cilantro to the bowl with the jalapeno, tomato, cuke mixture. Add dressing and toss to coat. Salt to taste.
6. Drain fish well and add to the vegetables. Toss and mix well.
7. Serve in dishes or martini glasses with tortilla chips.

*I like Gulf Shrimp because, in my experience, they taste better, seafood from the Gulf of Mexico is currently the most regulated and inspected in the world, and it supports an industry hard hit.

Click HERE for a printer-ready version of this recipe.