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Thursday, June 23, 2011

A tasty week

My crystal ball thinks there's a vegan IHOP in New Orleans' future! Or hopes there is, anyway. At least the brunch at Grit's Bar, organized by Jehan Strouse and chefs John Morales and Paige Vann, seems to be growing in leaps and bounds!

This past Sunday brought us a South American-inspired menu, and it was delish! I was already halfway through my plate when I realized I'd left my camera at home. So, no pics of this one. Sorry! But just imagine a plate with a little of everything on it: an arepa (a Latin corn cake), "guacabello," chorizo tofu scramble, cilantro lime rice (the scent was heavenly!), black beans, chimichurri sauce, a chive spelt biscuit with smoked almond gravy! We had apparently arrived too late to try a couple of the dishes -- fried plantains and slaw -- but even so, we had plenty to eat. And we got dessert: a gluten-free sweet potato pancake with granola and maple syrup!

What's more, Jehan has been talking to the folks with the Let's Be Totally Clear campaign about getting Grit's Bar to go smoke-free. At least for the time being, they have agreed to have Smoke-Free Sundays (till 4 p.m.)! Now we can enjoy uninterrupted wafting scents of vegan brunch. Thanks, Jehan and Grit! (...?)

It's a makeshift operation for the time being, to be sure -- think of it as a party you're invited to, and you just kick in a little money to make it possible. With your support, who knows what it will become?

***

On another subject, I made it to the uptown farmer's market this past Tuesday morning. I was happy to see there were two organic growers selling produce. The first was this table, where the sellers clearly enjoyed posing with vegetables:


I bought some good-lookin' green beans and okra here at the Oakland Organic stand. The girl explained that while they're not certified organic, they use no chemicals at their farm.


Here's the other organic stand:


If I hadn't already had a bunch of tomatoes at home, I'd have loved to get some of these.

And here's (what I think is) the prettiest stand:


So get your shoes on, everyone, because there's lots of foodie stuff for vegans to do these days!

Finally, I just wanted to post a link to a biscuit recipe I made tonight -- can you say UNBELIEVABLE? Try the add-ins described in the comment left by "THE EARTH CAPITAL." That's what I did, and I could've eaten all twelve biscuits in one sitting (but didn't). You'll never miss Popeye's biscuits again! See third line below for link.

Grit's Bar ~ 530 Lyons Street ~ NOLA 70115 ~ (504) 899-9211
http://www.crescentcityfarmersmarket.org/
http://vegnewssavvyvegan.blogspot.com/2010/04/cheap-eats-biscuit-edition.html

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Zeke's Restaurant, heck yes!!

If you've been reading this blog, you know that the most impressive meal I've had in New Orleans was when I lucked out at Acme Oyster. I found out a few months ago that the creator of that meal, Michelle Matlock, had taken an Executive Chef position at a new restaurant called Redemption (the place I reviewed in my last post). Well, life got in the way for about three months, and so by the time we made it to Redemption, she had already moved on from there. But we tracked her down again, and I gave her a call. Much to my surprise, Michelle said that cooking for our party that day at Acme Oyster inspired her to quit her managerial position there! She wanted an executive chef position, one that would allow for creative freedom that wasn't the norm at Acme.

Chef Michelle has finally found a home for her creativity at Zeke's Restaurant in Metairie. Owned by Darryl and Ellen Cortello, this local eatery has a great atmosphere, having just recently had a make-over, and being full of good vibes! Ellen greeted us warmly at the door, and Darryl came out to tell us how much fun it had been to venture into vegan cuisine for once. Our server, Candace, was delightful. And finally, Michelle came to our table to greet us and introduce us to her talented sous-chef, Ben Montgomery.

Knowing it was going to be impressive, my omnivorous parents joined us in ordering the vegan special. Sure enough, Michelle and Ben pulled out all the stops to prepare an incredible three-course meal, which I have the pleasure of detailing for you now.

First Course: Ginger Jalapeno Tofu, Blue Moon Gravy, and Coconut Beignets:


Michelle had told us that her sous-chef, Ben, was incredibly versatile; he even has tofu skills! We got to taste the truth in that, as she had him create the first course. What a decadent start to the meal! First of all, how often does a vegan get gravy at a non-vegan restaurant?! (Answer: pretty much never!) This sensual dish won us all over. In addition to a touch of ginger and jalapeno heat, sriracha sauce was drizzled on top. For someone who likes the idea of hot spice, but can't handle too much of it, I thought the balance was just right.

And those beignets! They provided a welcome crisp sweetness in the midst of the velvety gravy and savory chunks of tofu. I was very grateful to eat something that was so New Orleans-inspired!

Second Course: Charred Creole Tomato, Avocado and Black Bean Relish, Coconut Jasmine Rice, Summer Watermelon Vinaigrette:


In addition to its stunning presentation, the flavors in this dish were stunningly intense! You can imagine the ooh's and aah's, both when the plates arrived at the table, and then as we were relishing every bite. I don't know what was done to that tomato, but along with the black bean filling, it was a flavor masterpiece! My mom said the rice was the best she'd had in her life -- and she is not prone to hyperbole. The watermelon vinaigrette was complex and spectacular! I loved that sauces were such a big part of the meal; I usually have to miss out on them when I eat out.

Third Course: Coconut and Almond Milk Granita, Fresh Berries and Cherries, Pepper Jelly Topping:


The granita was sweet, light, flavorful, refreshing -- what a treat! It was great to have a fancy dessert, since, like sauces, they're usually reserved for omnivorous diners.

My dad commented afterwards that it was nice to eat such a delicious meal and then feel good when we were done -- usually after such decadence, you feel heavy and bleah! Not here.

This is the kind of meal I'm looking for, folks. Food with heart in it (not literally, silly!), prepared with consideration of all aspects of what makes for a great dining experience:

1) Quantity: Just right! We were full for several hours afterwards, but didn't feel overstuffed at any point.
2) Variety: Wow. Every food group was amply represented! As a result, it was hearty and satisfying.
3) Originality: Chock full of it, from beginning to end!
4) Equivalency: Definitely! There was no feeling deprived at this meal.
5) Culinary flair: Amazing.
6) Consistency: Well, there's no vegan meal on the menu...yet. Howsabout heading over there soon to let them know there are more vegans in town? As it is now, Chef Michelle says vegans can drop in and she will cook something up on the spot -- but of course if you can call ahead, that would be even better. Don't you look forward to the day, though, that you can walk into a place like this and order something off the menu, already having some idea of what it will be, whether or not you'll like it, and how much it will cost? I sure do.

The Cortellos are running a classy place and are happy to accommodate veganism and other dietary preferences (Chef Michelle has also accommodated gluten and onion intolerances there). So if you love delicious, NOLA food, and you're tired of "the usual," this is my #1 recommendation! Michelle Matlock works Wednesday through Saturday most weeks... Head over on one of those days for an inspirational meal. And let me know about it when you do!

Zeke's Restaurant ~ 1517 Metairie Rd. ~ Metairie, LA 70005 ~ 504.832.1133

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Redemption

Back when I was a teenager, Christian's in Mid-City was the restaurant we used to go to with my mom's side of the family whenever we visited from our home in Mississippi. I admit my brother and I didn't have too much appreciation for the place back then; going there meant having to politely tolerate way too much boring, adult conversation. Now looking back, I have nothing but fond memories -- in particular, of being there with my now-deceased great-aunts and -uncles -- so, it's been sad knowing that Christian's went out of business with Katrina.

Just this year, though, couple Tommy and Maria Delaune opened a new restaurant, Redemption, in the old Christian's location. Redemption's menu centers around what they call "revival cuisine." In the words of Tommy Delaune (taken from the restaurant's website): "People ask, ‘What is that?’ I say, ‘If you’ve been through a hurricane, if you have to leave your home, if you know what it means to miss New Orleans, if you know what it means to have to rebuild, there’s a gnawing in your stomach to get back to your way of life, to get back to the food that you love.'"

Craving the memories that we knew the place would conjure up for us, we headed there this past Sunday for the jazz brunch. I had called ahead to ask about vegan possibilities, and based on the phone conversation, I was optimistic that we would eat well. When we walked in, owners Tommy and Maria greeted us like long-lost friends! They seemed genuinely excited about Chef Van Pellegrin's deviation from the usual menu in creating a vegan meal for us. Tommy said he'd actually had a plate of the vegan food himself, and loved it. Johnny and I headed to our table where my parents and brother were waiting, and enjoyed a couple of hours of great company, delicious food, and enthusiastic service.

Here's what we had...

Appetizer: a twist on their "Butter Pecan Brussels Sprouts," Chef Van substituted olive oil for the butter, serving the pecans and Brussels sprouts over house-made chili pepper sweet potato chips with a crispy beet garnish (I believe it was beets, but I forgot to ask):
The flavors in this dish were outstanding! Johnny is not usually a fan of the Brussels sprout, but even he gave this an "awesome."

Main course: Corn maque choux with blackened butternut squash, served with plantains and baby yellow carrots:

This was very tasty, too, as well as artistic. The best part was the baby carrots. They were unlike any I've ever had -- a truly amazing seasoning job! On a less exciting note, the plantains were a little bland and dry.

Dessert: Chambord sorbet with mixed berries:

(Yes, that's a bite taken out of the right side of the sorbet. I'm still working on remembering to take pictures before digging in...) This was a fascinating dessert. "Sorbet" is actually a bit of a misnomer, as the chef warned us, because it differed completely in texture and flavor from anything else that goes by that name. It was kind of like a chilled chewy candy! I had to google this, but Chambord is a black raspberry liqueur. The chef explained that he froze the dessert on a sheet pan, scraping it up numerous times to have it crystallize slowly. The end result was a yummy, cold, soft, super-sweet, chewy, berry treat. It was a little too sweet to eat the whole thing, but I enjoyed what I did eat.

Here's how the lunch fares when held up to my six measures of a good vegan meal at a restaurant (see previous blog entry):
  1. Quantity: The appetizer and dessert were just right, but the entree was a little small for its contents (not quite filling enough).
  2. Variety: Vegetables, a few nuts, fruit; it definitely could have used more in the protein department.
  3. Originality: Yes! I've never had it in another restaurant. Chef Van told us that he'd never heard of blackened butternut squash, but figured it could be done! Yay, creativity!
  4. Equivalency: Also yes! First of all, we had a thoughtfully prepared dish for every course. Second, corn maque choux is definitely from Louisiana -- it's something that fit in at this New Orleans restaurant. We didn't feel like we were missing out on homegrown flavor!
  5. Consistency: It's a little early to comment on this, other than to say that there's nothing vegan on the menu -- yet. I wouldn't be surprised, though, if -- especially with a little encouragement from other vegan diners like yourselves -- Redemption were to be one of the NOLA restaurants to make room on the menu for something animal-free. I say this because the owner seemed very interested in doing the vegan thing right. When I asked if they had any vegan bread (the bread on the table looked amazing), he consulted with the chef, and then came back to tell us that while they didn't have any yet, he had told the chef to get working on a vegan bread recipe. He explained, "We're still learning." I think that's a great attitude to have when you're running a restaurant. Or in general!
  6. Culinary flair: Definitely! The meal had the essential ingredients of pride, joy, and love in every dish.
So if you want to impress a date, give Redemption a try. With a beautiful building, golden light streaming through the stained-glass windows, the heartfelt, creative, flavorful food, and attentive service that makes you feel right at home, you're sure to have a memorable NOLA dining experience.

Do call ahead and ask to speak to Tommy. He'll take great care of you!

P.S. In other good news, I have tracked down the chef who made that amazing meal for us at Acme Oyster. We're going to her for lunch tomorrow, so there will be a post on that over the weekend.

Redemption ~ 3835 Iberville Street ~ NOLA 70119 ~ 504.309.3570