Mila Thursday, Apr 21 2011 

Last night I had my second recent meal at MILA.  This time I sat at the bar.  Why?  Because my friend Cassie was behind it!  I really just stopped in for a glass of wine, but decided to have dinner as well.  I haven’t been posting lately because I’m on a low carb diet and have found that eating out is a bit of a struggle.  I’m happy to report that I had no problem finding something to eat at Mila and will be continuing to try and find restaurants that will accommodate me.  You should be seeing lots of new posts!

There were several appetizers to try, but the scallop entree came recommended so that was what I decided to try!  On a previous trip I had the Beef Tartare appetizer.  It was absolutely wonderful.  The egg was perfectly cooked and the beef was well seasoned and flavorful!

The kitchen provided me with a no carb amuse of goat cheese mousse wrapped in cucumber topped with mustard seed and olive oil!  It was very tasty as well as being thoughtful!  I truly appreciate kitchens that are willing to work with dietary needs!

Next up was my main course, which I paired with a French Chard that was recommended.  It was lovely and I was beginning my second glass when the food arrived.  There were three scallops arranged in a bowl on top of sunchokes and mushrooms and a cream foam.  The scallops were perfectly cooked and I just love sunchokes.  The entire plate worked well together, sauce, veg and seafood!  It is something I will return to eat again, and again!  I have to say that I am consistently impressed with Mila!

Mila is located in the Renaissance Pere Marquette Hotel on Common Street.  The Chefs are a married couple AND James Beard Award winners!  One hails from Mississppi and the other Louisiana–hence the name Mi-La.  They offer full dinner service at the bar and in the dining room.  Appetizers are also available at the bar in the lobby of the hotel.  The chef offers a nightly tasting menu with wine pairings, to which I can attest is a lovely meal and a good value!

Jack Dempsey’s Monday, Nov 1 2010 

Ok I’ll admit it, I grew up in New Jersey, home of the Greek run diner. I’ve been searching New Orleans for 12 years looking for something similar. I think I found it, if the “Parking for Greeks Only” sign hanging up in Jack Dempsey’s in the 700 block of Poland Avenue is any indication. It looks nothing like a traditional Jersey diner. There is no chrome to be found and no cozy booths, but the food and service seems to come pretty close to fitting the bill. I’m excited!
The exterior of Jack’s is nothing special. It’s an old white building that looks like it might fall down at any minute, but honestly most of the Bywater looks like that. The interior is comprised of the necessary video poker machines and the bar is off to the right as you enter. The dining room is lit entirely by the neon signs that hang on the walls advertising dozens of different beers. There are roughly 25 tables, all covered with red plastic table cloths and each table comes preset with a bevy of condiments.
The lunch menu is host to a variety of different fried specials including shrimp, catfish and veal cutlet. There are a couple of salads featuring more fried seafood and poboys as well.
The dinner menu is divided into fried and broiled selections. The highlight of the dinner menu seems to be the 16oz hand cut rib eye and several surf and turf choices.
I just missed lunch the other day, which runs from 11am until 2pm and I decided it was too early for dinner. I decided to order some appetizers as a good middle of the day meal. The portions are gigantic, which I was not really prepared for, considering how reasonable the prices are. I started with a cup of gumbo. The soup was dark and rich, exactly the way it’s supposed to be. The rice was perfectly cooked and all of the spices were in line: not too hot, not too mild. I could have ordered a bowl and stopped right there. I would have been more than happy.
Instead, I plowed onward with an order of stuffed mushrooms, the fried eggplant appetizer and a side of potato salad. I took more than half of it home with me. Or rather, I took it to my roommate at work for his dinner.
The mushrooms were stuffed with a breadcrumb and crab mixture and covered with mozzarella cheese then broiled. The result was a lovely browned top and a tasty center. The mushrooms themselves were enormous and the four that came with the order would have been enough for a meal!
The eggplant appetizer came out on a huge platter and looked like it was designed to feed a family of six. The eggplant was cut into this rounds, fried hard and topped with a sprinkle of mozzarella cheese. The twelve or so pieces came with a side of “red gravy” for dipping. I’m in love. I could eat this one every day and die happy. The red gravy was a much more traditional Italian marinara than is usually found in New Orleans Creole Italian cooking. It wasn’t spicy, or smoky. It just tasted like well cooked tomatoes and typical Italian herbs. YEA! I came nowhere near to finishing the plate.
Now about that side of potato salad. Honestly, I was stuffed at this point. I took a bite or two and tasted just the right amount of mayo, mustard, salt, and egg. It might have needed a bit more pepper. I boxed the rest up and the portion took an entire small to go box. This, again, was intended to be a family size portion. The other side options are french fries and baked macaroni. I’ll be trying that baked mac and cheese on a future visit!
Dempsey’s also offers a full bar and about 12 beer selections. I have to warn you that the wine list is sadly lacking. This would be a major criticism at dinner. The labels run to Yellowtail and Berringer. I cannot imagine sitting down to a hand cut rib eye steak without a decent glass of Cab . . . say one that costs more than $5 a glass. In fact, all of the wines by the glass are $5. I don’t remember seeing anything about a corkage fee. I’ll be sure to ask the next time I venture to the Bywater for a bite. If it’s allowed I would advise going to the next block and picking up a decent bottle at Bacchanal before dinner.
I’m very tempted to head back to Jack Dempsey’s on my next day off to try the surf and turf dinner. It will be interesting to see how it fares next to other steak houses in town!

Mandina’s Needs a Fresh Look Tuesday, Oct 26 2010 

Down Canal Street from the French Quarter and the Central Business District, in the heart of Mid-City you’ll find a New Orleans institution: Mandina’s. Mandina’s does it old school. You seat yourself at one of the 20 or so wooden tables in the restaurant, the bar has no stools, the waitstaff all appear grumpy, and they only take cash. The menu is pretty typical New Orleans: fried seafood, some Italian dishes, and a few plates like strip steak and pork chops. Unfortunately for Mandina’s this is one of the worst examples of this style menu I’ve tasted recently.

On this trip I ordered the Turtle Soup. The broth was rich and spicy, but the meat in the soup was a bit odd. There were large chunks of a rubbery white substance in my bowl. I did a little research after my meal and discovered what was wrong. Mandina’s turtle soup has two strange qualities: they don’t use real turtle and the unidentifiable white pieces were hard boiled egg. In a city that loves turtle soup you really can’t substitute the main ingredient and the egg was just strange. I believe that without the egg the soup would have been fine, but it really ruined it for me. The soup came out with about 5 pieces of greasy grilled poboy bread. I could have done without the bread at all, as there was a basket of crackers already on the table.

I also ordered the chef’s special off of the blackboard in the dining room. This special was in addition to the five or so daily specials that are the same every week. It being Monday, most of these involved red beans, which didn’t interest me. I ended up with Eggplant Creole. This turned out to be a seafood and eggplant casserole with a side of spaghetti with “red gravy.” The eggplant casserole had a good flavor and was full of shrimp, crab and sausage. It would have been just fine if someone had bothered to pick the crab before putting it in the mix. I spent a good deal of time picking shell and cartilage out of my teeth. The spaghetti itself was fine, but I’m not a fan of the tomato sauce at Mandina’s. Either someone burned today’s pot or they used smoked something–either tomatoes or peppers, in the sauce. It had an overpowering smoky flavor that made it, for me, inedible. In short, I think the kitchen at Mandina’s has gotten lazy. The menu, in general, needs to be refreshed and the cooks need to put a little TLC into their food!

In addition to being not such a great meal, my lunch was expensive for the quality of food. I spent $30 on a cup of soup, a subpar entree and a glass of iced tea. I think the tea was the best part of the meal.

The service was about average. It took quite awhile for someone to greet me after I had sat down. Food and drinks came out promptly, but my server left in the middle of the meal and was replaced by someone else. I find that generally unacceptable. If you begin a table, you should stay to finish it. This may have been a management decision to cut a server in between the lunch shift and the dinner shift, but I don’t think its the right decision.

I don’t think I’ll be back to Mandina’s any time soon. There are many other restaurants in New Orleans serving the same type of menu with better food and service. If you are going to serve the ubiquitous New Orleans menu, you need to do it well–all the time. I think next time I feel like a Creole Italian lunch plate I’ll head out to Rocky and Carlos in da Parish . . . which is probably what I should have done today!

Louisiana Pizza Kitchen Friday, Sep 3 2010 

This report is upcoming tomorrowish

Special Feature: Gene’s Po-Boys Thursday, Sep 2 2010 

Today is Take-Out Thursday!

There must be several hundred places where you can stop and get a po-boy in New Orleans. Almost every other corner has a gas station or corner store hawking fried chicken, po boys and/or Chinese food. Some of them are good, some of them are terrible, and some are just missing one thing or another.

Gene’s falls into the last catagory. Gene’s Po boys has been located in a somewhat wretched looking bright pink building on the corner of St. Claude and Elysian Fields Ave for as long as I can remember, although it did take a little while for them to get back in business after the storm. The inside of the building is just as sorry looking as the outside. There is literally no decor at all. The only things in the room are a questionable looking counter, beyond which you can see the short order kitchen, an ice machine, and a soda fountain. Oh, and I almost forgot the required video poker machines, which are located behind a “wall” so as to separate the gambling area from the rest of the room. This allows minors inside. This is decidedly NOT a pretty place–there isn’t a single table in the place, only a window ledge to perch on while you wait.

This afternoon there were three people working at Gene’s: one woman at the counter, who looked grumpy until the construction workers waiting started joking around with her. (And me and everyone else who walked in . . .) There were two short order cooks working the flat top. One of the things Gene’s earns bonus points for is the people who come in for food; everyone is friendly and the atmosphere is indicative of the surrounding community. Everyone asked the cashier how her mama was. Four guys were talking about the upcoming Saints preseason game against the Titans. Three out of four of them were wearing Saints garb.

Gene’s claim to fame is that you get a free soft drink with every po boy order. (Just in case you were wondering Gene’s serves fountain Pepsi products.) The menu is only 8 items long. Two of those items are only available at breakkfast and two others are slight variations on other menu items. Breakfast at Gene’s is either hot sausage, egg and cheese or ham, egg and cheese. Both of these items sell for $6.50. Breakfast is available until 10:30.

Lunch and dinner provide 6 options: Ham, Roastbeef, Philly Beef, Hamburger with grilled onion and gravy, Hamburger with lettuce and pickles (ketchup and mustard), and Hot Sausage (with or without cheese on most of these folks).

Gene’s has definite ideas about how their po boys should come–they specifically tell you what comes on them on the menu squares posted on the well. I decided to let them have their way and just ordered my hot sausage with cheese. ( I was getting ready for my fantasy football draft–hot sausage seemed appropriate and roast beef is usually too messy to eat at the computer.) I also ordered a roast beef, no mayo, for someone else at home. I have zero input on the roast beef because I was busy preparing my draft order and had my headphones on.

Gene’s has one HUGE thing going for it—the bread! Gene’s does not use the ubiquitous Leidenheimer po boy bread. Instead you find a much crustier French bread being used here. It really makes a difference. I much prefer this version to the softer that you find everywhere else! It crumbles slightly as you bite into it and adds a nice crunch!

I discovered two things on consumption of this sandwich: hot sausage does not ever need american cheese on top of it–it was just too much and hot sausage really does need pickles, but Gene’s doesn’t come with them. (Pickles do come on the roast beef.) The sausage itself was pretty standard, not super high quality, but that’s what you find in every single one of these joints. It was spicy enough, but not enough to require Tums. It was a pretty decent sandwich. The other thing I have to note is the size . . . it’s a pretty big sandwich. I only ate half and put the other half away for dinner. I think its larger than 12 inches. That makes it a pretty good value for $6.50. I ate my sandwich about 7 minutes after I picked it up and it was still temperature hot enough to burn the top of my mouth! (That’s a good thing people!)

Oh just a little itty bitty warning: Gene’s is not in the best neighborhood–many of my favorite counters aren’t. Its fine during the day, but be careful at night. There are almost always people hanging around outside–there’s a bus stop on the corner. Gene’s does have a small parking lot on the side of the building. There is also a bar attached to the building.

Will I be back? Probably, it’s right around the corner. Does Gene’s make the top 10 list–a decided no. Just the teeny tiny menu is enough to keep it off that list. However, if you are in the neighborhood and need something to go, it’s not a bad option! Just make sure you ask for pickles on your hot sausage!

Getting Motivated Thursday, Sep 2 2010 

It isn’t that I haven’t been eating . . . I’ve just developed a need to get some more motivation to write. I’ve got several restaurants to review–so I’m going to put myself on a feature schedule. My goal is to get you three reviews a week, whenever I’ve got restaurants that meet the requirements. I’m going to start with a Monday, Wednesday, Friday format.

Monday will either be a breakfast blog or a special feature on a bar. This is an either or because I rarely get up for breakfast, but frequently visit bars–I’ll be highlighting both hotel bars and local establishments in the French Quarter and surrounding areas. Other special features might include special food, wine, or cocktail events, whether I’m going or just as information for my readers.

Wednesday will feature lunch. You can expect to see reviews of diners, plate lunch joints, po boy shops and places that close at 3pm in this catagory. I’ve got a couple of these floating around in my head already!

Friday, of course will be dinner. I’ll also try and fill in with special events going on during the weekend coming including shows, music picks and sporting events!

Its now Thursday so I’ll get going with my new format starting tomorrow!

As a teaser you can expect to see, in the next couple of weeks: The Pelican Club gets 5 stars . . . do they really deserve it? Oh wonderful wine parings at Le Meritage! Yes the President called them “shrimps” . . . lunch at the Parkway, Look what I found in St. Bernard, and Did you think Festival Season was almost over?

I’m also more than happy to take suggestions for blog topics and would love to hear your feedback!

The Store Wednesday, Aug 4 2010 

Today I tried an eatery that has become a staple for the Central Business District work force: The Store. The menu is pretty simple: soups, salads, sandwiches and burgers, plus a daily special! The Store serves breakfast and lunch. Its only open until 2:30 in the afternoon.

I walked in at 2pm today and the restaurant was empty except for one other single diner, who was seated at a table reading something on his Kindle. I perused the menu and decided to order The Deal. The Deal is a cup of soup, which turned out to be a bowl and a half a sandwich, either the BLT or the Classic. There are several options for the Classic including turkey, ham, and tuna fish. I opted for a cup of potato soup and half a tuna sandwich on toasted sourdough bread. Soup was hot and yummy. My sandwich came dressed with lettuce and tomato. The tuna was pretty standard and could have used more mayo. I also ordered a diet coke, which came in a can with a glass of ice on the side and an order of sweet potato french fries. The fries were a little soggy and I wondered if they had been sitting for a bit. I’ll remember to order them extra crispy next time.

The best part of this meal was that it was a fantastically inexpensive! My total was just over $10 and I threw a few dollars in the tip jar. I will certainly entertain lunch here again and I’m looking forward to trying their blue cheeseburger!

The Store is basically a sit down deli. I ordered at the counter and choose a table. Someone brought my order over to me, but I imagine that when it is busy you need to pick up your own food. When I finished the staff was busy getting ready to close–someone was mopping behind the counter–which is always a good sign and most of the rest of the staff had disappeared. I didn’t see anywhere designated to put my dirty baskets so I brought them over to the bar.

The every day special, in addition to the daily special, is shrimp and grits, which I have heard wonderful things about–I just wasn’t in the mood today! If you work in the CBD and haven’t discovered this gem on Gravier St just off of Carondelet-I suggest you give it a try!

Domenica Pizza Take Out Tuesday, Jul 13 2010 

Domenica might be my favorite restaurant at the moment. The food is fabulous, I particularly love the brussel sprouts!
However, we’re not here to talk about dining in the restaurant. We’re here to talk about John Besh capitalizing on the fact that there aren’t very many places to pick up a good pizza to go in downtown New Orleans. Ok there aren’t any. Yes, Dominos your sauce has gotten better, but you are still not good pizza. Uptown you’ve got Slice and Theo’s . . . downtown you have to go ALL the way to SugarPark to get good pizza takeout.
John Besh is a genius.
Let me tell you why: You can order your pizza online at http://www.domenicapizzeria.com/
You pay for your pizza with Paypal!
How awesome is that?
I filled out my order form, ordered my pizza and headed over to the CBD to pick it up. I will tell you that the order time does not take as long as they say it does and my pizza was only luke warm when I picked it up. That’s okay–into an oven set at 125 degrees and the pizzas perked right back up! We ordered two of the pizzas to share between four of us–and that seemed to be about right. Pizza is one size fits all at Domenica. I think one is just enough for two people to share. Pizza is picked up from the bar. The poor bartender had no idea what was going on, I think this was his first online order!

We had the Proscuitto pizza with tomato, mozzarella, and arugula. This is one of my favorite flavor profiles and the pizza was nice–not too much sauce, not too much cheese, and crispy crust. We also ordered the Pepper and Goat cheese pizza, which was good, and seemed to be the preferred pizza of my dining companions, but I like salt so proscuitto is right up my alley!

Pizzas are about $13 each. A big step up from any of the downtown delivery options! If you haven’t been to Domenica yet, go . . .if you can’t afford Domenica pick up pizza! Come on . . . you know you are dying to have an anchovies and mortadella pizza or perhaps the wild mushroom, fontina, bacon and yard egg. I believe the last is my favorite!

Johnny’s Po Boys Thursday, Jul 1 2010 

Right off the bat I’m going to say that Johnny’s is the best place to get a Po Boy in the French Quarter.  I don’t think I’ll give them the whole city, because there are several other contenders for that title, but in the Quarter . . . for sure!  Johnny’s is located on St. Louis between Chartres and the River and is open for breakfast and lunch.  I did a little research and it turns out that Johnny’s is the oldest family operated Po Boy shop in the city of New Orleans.  They opened their doors in 1950 at a smaller location on Chartres street and moved to the 511 St Louis location in 1959.

Walking into Johnny’s it looks like a deli with a few tables and that’s pretty much what it is, but they aren’t slicing just deli meat in here!  The enormous menu hangs above the counter and if you can put it between two pieces of bread Johnny’s puts it on a a Leidenheimer roll.  I was saddened to see that the cost of seafood poboys have gone up considerably since my last visit.  Thank-you very much for pricing oyster poboys out of the market.  I believe the formerly $7 oyster poboy is now $11.50.  The website menu: http://www.johnnyspoboy.com/m_Po-boys.aspx tells me that seafood items are now being sold at Market Price.  I imagine the prices will go up even further in the future, thanks BP, Horizon and Haliburton, we do not love you too!  A side note: we’re seeing this all over the city, Susan Spicer recently filed a lawsuit against BP because she is unable to get gulf fish for her restaurants!

When you enter Johnny’s, we managed to get there on this day before the line stretched out the door, you wait in line to order at the counter.  Just a note folks, like many other family owned French Quarter small businesses, Johnny’s is cash only, but they do take traveler’s checks.  There are several bank ATMs near by, the closest is the Regions Bank at Chartres and Toulouse.  You place your order and are given a receipt with an order number on it, while you are waiting for your order you should be checking the back room and scanning the front room for an available table or a group that looks like they are almost finished.  The biggest problem with Johnny’s is the size–it’s absolutely tiny.  There are a handful of tables in the back room, maybe four or five.  There are a few more tables in the front room, perhaps 8-10.  The size of the restaurant is nowhere near large enough to handle the amount of volume they do every day.

The good news is that Johnny’s also provides two other options for diners.  They will pack your order to go, which is what we opted to do the day we ate there.  Johnny’s also delivers to addresses in the French Quarter.  (This is becoming a pet peeve of mine, I live 1 1/2 blocks outside the Quarter, but can’t get anyone to deliver to me.)  If you are lucky enough to live or be staying in a French Quarter Hotel you can look at the menu online, avoid the madness, and have it delivered directly to you.  We took our order to go and ate in Woldenberg Park, which overlooks the Mississippi River.  It’s really a great option!

The breakfast menu at Johnny’s is pretty basic: english muffin sandwiches, biscuit sandwiches, omelets, and plated eggs, grits and bacon.  I do like that catfish and eggs is an option here, that again is market price.  However, you will find that you can also get an egg poboy.  There is nothing better than a 3 egg poboy dressed with lettuce, tomato and mayo for breakfast in my personal opinion.  Unless, of course, you add ham or bacon.

The poboy menu at Johnny’s is vast.  On this particular trip my dining companions ordered hot sausage and bbq beef.  Both were immensely pleased with the results.  I ordered 1/2 a soft shell crab poboy that came with a cup of gumbo.  It was on the special board–it usually is when soft shell is in season.  I was delighted to discover that Johnny’s is also now offering sweet potato french fries as a side item, so I ordered them as well.  That was a mistake I won’t make again.  The fries were not crisp–kind of soggy and very under seasoned.  There wasn’t enough salt and I like cayenne and a little brown sugar on my sweet potato fries.  I honestly think they hadn’t been seasoned at all.  The gumbo was wonderful–it always is.  It was chock full of shrimp and whole, still in the shell, crab.  It was just spicy enough.  People think I’m crazy ordering hot soup in the New Orleans summers, but I can’t help myself and I’m always cold.  The soft shell crab was wonderful, fresh, no fishy taste at all.  Crunchy and wonderful and dressed with lettuce, tomato and mayo, it’s something I have a hard time not ordering when soft shell is in season.  In hindsight, I probably should have ordered oyster because I don’t know how long we’re going to be able to get them, but I didn’t want to have to compare it to the oyster at Domelise’s, which is currently my favorite.

The only other thing I have to mention about Johnny’s is that there isn’t much room to wait for your order.  It gets very cramped in their small space.  I really wish that they had a larger location!  That being said, it’s a New Orleans must do if you are visiting and staying downtown.  Don’t forget to put Crystal hot sauce on your poboy!

Up Next . . . take out pizza from Domenica and Angeli on Decatur.

Port of Call Monday, Jun 21 2010 

Wow! All I can say is Wow! I’d forgotten that a cheese burger could be so good. That being said Port of Call, located on Esplanade Avenue between Bourbon and Dauphine, is a dining experience and you need to allow several hours of time. Why? Because you will wait . . . and wait . . . and wait for every single aspect of this meal.

Unless you arrive when they open at 11am you will wait for a table! Sometimes the wait is short and sometimes its over an hour! We waited about 40 minutes for a table on our most recent lunch visit. It was a Saturday, but it was about 3:30 pm–sort of in between lunch and dinner–we thought it might not be too bad. Incorrect! The place was still jam packed and waiting outside was not so pleasant because it was about 90 degrees and 90 % humidity. It did start raining at one point during our adventure.

After we were seated we waited about 15 more minutes for our server to come over for our order–we still had drinks from our wait at the bar. Then we settled in to wait for our food. We waited quite awhile–of course we did–if the restaurant is busy, the kitchen is busy! It was worth the wait.

The menu at Port of Call is pretty limited: steak or burger, both of which come with a baked potato that you can have loaded any way you like. Potato options include butter, chives, sour cream, cheddar cheese, bacon bits, and mushrooms. Burgers are with cheese or mushrooms. Adding toppings adds a few dollars to the cost of your meal, but what is a baked potato without sour cream?

I ordered my burger with cheddar cheese and medium rare. My potato came out with everything but mushrooms! Everything was perfect. The only bone I have to pick with the food at Port of Call is that they need to use a sturdier bun! The burger bun starts to fall apart about 1/2 way through the juicy goodness and by the time you are down to the last bite or two you are actually holding the burger! Burgers, btw come dressed with lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle. Mayo, ketchup, yellow mustard, spicy brown mustard, and bbq sauce are on the table if you need to add them. (This burger is so good you might not need to!)

After we finished our meal we went back to the waiting game, waiting for the waiter to bring the bill, grab the cards, run them and bring them back. That was probably another 15 minutes. Still worth it . . . and I have zero patience for slow service–none, except in the face of a supremely good cheeseburger. For that . . . I’ll wait–you can even have my first born!

Coming up tomorrow: Johnny’s Po Boys!

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