Tag Archives: Sazerac

NOLA: K-Paul’s Kitchen

Tonight we headed down the street, a 5 minute stroll to K-Paul’s. Paul Prudhomme’s beautiful, warm Cajun kitchen. You want to be here as soon as you enter. Friendly staff, exposed brick walls, an open kitchen and original pop art works greet you.

K-Paul's Outside

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We had perused the menu online before coming and hoped something would finally say, “pick me.” K-Paul’s short menu has too many choices that jump out. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? I don’t know. Just as I think I have it nailed, our knowledgeable server Nicole relates the special. Surf and turf which basically combines two fan favorites. I’m in. I order the fried green tomatoes and shrimp creole to start. Rob orders the rabbit starter and stuffed pork chop. We intend to really explore the native sazerac and so we start here. The cocktail arrives and is VERY generous, about a triple. It is classic. Hints of absinthe and citrus and warm, soft rye. Excellent. We also order a “Cajun” gin martini to try with pickled chayote, which they call mirliton.  Again an excellent cocktail, spicy and crisp.

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Appetizers arrive. My shrimp creole is rich and succulent. The tomatoes are lightly fried but unnecessary. The creole is divine. Rob’s rabbit is crisp and delicious. The dark meat is nicely cut with a sweet orange marmalade. Two truly excellent apps.

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Our mains arrive shortly after. I am having the recommended special, Drum fish, a light flakey white fish, pan fried with blackening spice and beef tip also blackened and served with rich, debris sauce, a roast beef jus that is reduced for four days in the kitchen. K Paul’s is a kitchen which takes their sauces seriously. True French influence on the Cajun scene. My main came with perfect broccoli and heavenly mashed potatoes. My only complaint would be the overall saltiness. I am hesitant to berate a kitchen on this point because my tolerance is low, but this was at the peak of my tolerance.

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Rob’s pork chop was blackened and stuffed with exotic cheeses, and served with a spiced and sauced potato with sautéed bok choy. The pork chop was tender and flavourful and it’s sauce was meaty and rich with mushrooms, red wine and prosciutto. The potato was outstanding with a rich and creamy, spicy sauce. This food was set apart from the more typical New Orleans fare because of the clear mastery of ingredients and sauces.

K-Paul's 008

Dessert was a shared piece of pecan sweet potato pie. Perfect – not too sweet and chock full of nuts, it was wonderfully balanced between the sugary nuttiness of pecan pie and the Christmas-spiced sweet potato filling, to make the best of both worlds.  The lightly sweetened whipped cream was a true compliment.

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K-Paul’s is a stand-out. It is clear why Paul Prudhomme was among the first celebrity chefs in a world without Food Networks and mainstream food culture. This flagship restaurant exhibits the best of Creole-influenced food and sets the standard for what it can aspire to be.

 

RT6: to Saratoga Springs

Today, day seven, we leave Rhode Island for upstate New York and a three and a half hour drive.  At 10 am it is already blistering hot and muggy. We skip breakfast and hope to find road food.  Gulf stations and McDonald’s have the Mass turnpike locked up. We make do with cheesy crackers and red twizzlers and decide to wait until we arrive in Saratoga Springs.

An uneventful fairly dull drive, alleviated by The Bugle podcast with John Oliver. Eventually the highway starts to get hilly and we can see the Adirondacks in the distance. Arriving in Saratoga Springs we are already impressed. Exit 14 takes us right by the racetrack and horse stalls, as well as along a street lined with large, stately Victorian manses. Lovely. We head downtown to Broadway, a very pretty avenue lined with shops, one-of-a-kind boutiques, restaurants and outdoor cafes.

Parking is competitive but we luck into an unmetered street spot and head off in search of a late lunch. We don’t go far before we spy Cantina. Hmmmmm….Mexican this far north? Bound to be crap. We have done no advance research for this town, so are really winging it here. Rob checks out the posted menu and notices Mexican street corn on it. He says this is the real deal and in we go. Inside the place looks like it was a British pub in a former incarnation. Add some Mexican pottery and some fake fiesta flowers and bam! Mexico.

Our young waitress, tattooed from neck to foot with gauged ears, all very tastefully done, brings fresh, homemade tortilla chips (the thick kind which are not my favorite) and good, finely diced fresh salsa. She answers our many questions about the menu, and the town. We are particularly intrigued by what may be going on today because we have, no joke, weeks ago by telephone, secured the very last room available in town. Even tiny outlying motels in this town of beautiful resorts proudly display NO VACANCY signs. Our young server informs us that it is the anticipated yearling horse sale, and the town will be full like this for the next five weeks.

We order well made margaritas and Verduras guacamole, fresh made avocado guac topped with lump crabmeat, mango and pistachio crumbs. Creamy and fresh. The crab is excellent and the mango lends a little sweet. Excellent. Traditional guacamole is also offered.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For mains I ordered the chile relleno and Rob chose the spicy shrimp tacos. Both entrees came with refried pinto beans and well made Mexican rice in reasonable portions instead of a huge platter of filler common in so many Mexican joints. My chile relleno, a large roasted poblano pepper, stuffed with Mexican cheeses, spicy ground beef, coated in cornmeal, baked and then covered in a fresh red tomato sauce and accompanying crema.

 

Rob’s shrimp tacos (three) come on soft, spectacular, house made corn tortillas filled with sauteed shrimp, jalapeno, shallots,  chipotle mayo,  shredded cabbage and pickled onion. Very good tacos.

Cantina on Urbanspoon

Bellies full, we think we should head to our hotel and secure our reservation so we don’t have to sleep in the car. The Hotel Calif – I mean Roosevelt Inn is at the edge of town. We check in and find our “suite”. Mmmmm…smells cottagy. It is very dark but has the basic necessities. The carpeting is dark forest green and is probably hiding a multitude of sins. You could murder someone in here and the blood would not show. It’s fine though….really.

Not much point hanging around the “resort” which I have noticed is up for sale. We drive into town to Union street to go backtrack at the Saratoga Racetrack to take some pics. Traffic is mental. Saratoga is an extremely well done town. We pass a beautiful park with a carousel and fountains. Would love to stop and photograph many points but parking although mostly free, is hard to get today.



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After tooling around a bit backtrack, we head over to Hattie’s for dinner. Hattie’s dates back to 1938 and is down home New Orleans cooking. On this particular unrelenting evening Hattie’s was more like Hades, cooled by a few ceiling fans, and perfectly recreating the steam bath that is New Orleans in August.

You enter through an ancient screen door and make your way to the front to ask for a table. The small dining room is packed so this takes some effort. We are informed there is a 15 to 20 minute wait and are sent to the bar in the rear, which is really a mardi gras tent over a patio. Coloured lights and chandeliers, masques and beads and dolls all contribute to the cheerful party vibe. We order Purple Haze beer from Abita which we first had at Coop’s Place in New Orleans.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Soon as we drain our beers we are seated in the homey dining room, with cobbled together cupboards, red checkered picnic table cloths and handmade curtains. Hot sauce, vinegar with sport peppers and tiny lamps decorate the table. Fresh cornbread, biscuits and butter are brought over.

We order the fried chicken which we have seen being carried by because it looks amazing. It comes with two sides. I get the mashed potatoes and cucumber salad, Rob gets the cranberry coleslaw and butter and sugar corn. It takes some time to get our order. Everything is homemade. Shortly though our heaping helpings arrive. We will be taking half back to our room for breakfast.

The chicken, a wing, a leg, thigh and a breast, is crisp, crunchy, deliciously moist and succulent inside, and not the least bit greasy. Thin slices of cucumber, vinegar and a little sugar make a very tasty salad. The mashed potatoes are classic, creamy mashed spuds. Rob’s corn is sweet and not over cooked and the cranberry slaw is tasty and unusual, a nice balance of sweet and sour,  with dried cranberries and a nice vinegar bite.

I finished the evening with a perfectly made sazerac and then we literally melted away into the evening.


Hattie's on Urbanspoon

Dinner Party: Southern Classics

Rob and I wanted to share some of the great southern food we have experienced on our road trips and so we sent out an open invite to fans of Happy Mouth via our Facebook page. We have done this once before and it was a great success and this time was no different. Seems people who enjoy good food and travel just naturally fit together.

Tonight’s menu did not come together until the very last minute. Here’s the menu we arrived at:

Southern Classics menu:
Sazerac
Lee Brother’s Pimento Cheese Dip with Stoned Wheat Crackers
Bonefish Grill’s Bang Bang Shrimp
Dr. Pepper-Braised Rib Tips in on Cheesy Grits
Green Beans sauteed with Onion, Bacon and Pecans
Homesick Texan’s Hatch Chili Pepper and Apple Cobbler with Vanilla Ice Cream

We wanted to share our new-found love of grits and what better to serve on grits than rib tips. Oh, but try and find these little scrumptious morsels in Ottawa. A call out to several area butchers was fruitless. They simply do not cut pork that way here. Then Rob got the brilliant idea to try T&T, an Asian grocer, and we lucked out. So, rib tips in hand we decided to serve rib tips braised in a Dr. Pepper BBQ sauce over cheesy grits. Southern sides present a bit of a problem because they tend to serve two or three starches and meat. Rob managed to find some inspiration on the web and come up with something greener and crunchier to serve but still with an eye to the south, green beans sauteed with bacon and pecans.

The evening began around 4 pm when our guest began to arrive. Rob prepared sazeracs as a starter cocktail while guests nibbled on pimento cheese dip and crackers and I prepared bang bang shrimp. The sazerac is a New Orleans institution and bars, establishments, restaurants and foodies argue over who makes the best one, same as they do over the po’boy sandwich,or almost any famous New Orleans dish. The first time we visited NOLA we were informed that Clancy’s had the best sazerac. Clancy’s closes (smartly) during the heat of a New Orleans summer, so we didn’t have one. This past trip I was determined and so I ordered one at the Rib Room.

Making a sazerac is a ritual. The glass is chilled with ice. The ice is dumped out and the glass is seasoned with a swirl of absinthe which then too is dumped out. In another glass, a sugar cube is muddled with Peychaud bitters. Whiskey is added and then that is strained into the seasoned glass and a twist of lemon is tossed in. Peychaud bitters are apparently essential but are utterly unavailable in Canada. We substituted angostura bitters which are a bit more spicy. The drink is a softened slightly sweet whiskey with a hint of lemon, cinnamon and clove. Our sazeracs didn’t taste as I remembered them in the Big Easy, but part of that may have been the missing French Quarter view.

With our drinks we served a couple of appetizers, pimento cheese and bang band shrimp. Pimento cheese is a simple and thrifty dip that can also be used as a spread for sandwiches. It’s essentially a mixture of roasted red peppers, mayonnaise, cream cheese and sharp cheddar, along with some chile flakes and salt and pepper to taste. It’s very good with come simple crackers.

Our other app, bang bang shrimp is an intriguing Southern take on an Asian dish. It’s a cornstarch battered, deep-fried shrimp in a spicy, sweet chili sauce with the mandatory Southern addition of mayonnaise. It’s all tossed together and served as toothpick food. We’ve had this as the centerpiece of an main meal at Myrtle Beach’s excellent Mr. Fish.

For the Rib tips, we didn’t really follow a recipe, but here’s the basic blow-by-blow description:

  • Dredge the tips (we used about 4 pounds of these) in seasoned flour (add your favourite BBQ rub and black pepper, the rub is salty enough) and brown tips all sides in a hot braising pot with a couple tablespoons of oil. Do this in batches until complete. Set aside in a bowl.
  • In the pot with the leftover oil, sauté a chopped onion. When translucent, add about a litre of Dr. Pepper (not DIET Dr. Pepper), about 1/2  a bottle of your favourite non-smoky BBQ sauce and a teaspoon each of dried thyme, oregano, pepper, chili powder and about 1/2 tsp of cayenne pepper. Stir, bring to a boil, add the rib tips (they should be almost covered by the liquid), reduce heat and simmer for 3 hours. The cartilage in the rib tips will dissolve into the liquid and thicken it, and you’ll be left with tangy, sweet, saucy morsels that are perfect to sit upon rice, potatoes or in this case, beautiful, creamy, cheesy grits.

And then we come to the raison d’être of the evening’s meal – to introduce frost-bitten Canadians to a true treasured staple of the South, grits. Most Canadian’s who have tried grits, have tried bad grits, usually lukewarm, unseasoned, clumpy grits at a breakfast buffet when they were vacationing in Florida. Those grits are to real grits like a McRib is real BBQ.

Dessert on this crisp fall evening was the Homesick Texan’s Hatch Chile Pepper and Apple cobbler, with vanilla ice cream. I’ve made this before and it is  sweet and spicy and different. Once again, an essential ingredient was unavailable to us. Hatch chillies are grown in New Mexico and are the most famous chili in the Southern US. We substituted poblano peppers, which are nice and provide a little green zing. The only problem using poblanos is that the heat level is unreliable. They can be mild to medium in heat.

All in all the recreations worked and we had a great evening entertaining our friends, reminiscing about our travels, and despite several major and minor kitchen disasters, including a pitcher of boiling water for iced tea exploding and the resultant flow shutting down our electric starters on the gas stove (blow dryer to the rescue!) and a broken wine glass, and forgetting the awesome, flaky, cheesy biscuits in the microwave, the night was a great success. Thanks to Barry, Terry, Brad and Carole!

 

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.