Thursday, March 30, 2006

Like I Like It....

As I travel and dine abroad (last night led me to LA’s Jar, the terrific steak retreat on Beverly) I often think and compare dishes… this leads me to expound in a ranting sort of way about things I love to eat, and where I eat them. In this blurb which I’ll call Andre’s “Like I Like It” , I’ll share some of my favorites meals and where they can be found.

Here we go.

Sushi has become a new passion in recent years as I recently discovered I could put a piece of raw tuna in my mouth and actually eat it without passing out. That said, I now love the stuff. Without question, one of the greatest rolls on the planet can be found in LA at Sushi Katsu-ya on Ventura Blvd.
This roll, now imitated by dozens of sushi bars across the city, is the “crispy tuna roll”. You know its good, almost by the fact that every single table in the joint has a platter of them on the table. What is it? How about a finger sized rice cake, grilled on a smoky grill, topped with a spicy tuna mixture, and garnished with a tiny slice of jalapeno. It is insanely delish and highly addictive.

BBQ has been a long favorite, and without question, the world’s best BBQ is in Kansas City, Missouri at Gates Bar-B-Que. This long standing chain has it’s own “Rib Tech” school, which teaches it’s cooks how to smoke and grill (why didn’t I apply for a scholarship here?). The truth is the food is simply fantastic. The ribs are a solid choice, smoky and tender.,,, but what steals the show is the thinly sliced smoked ham and brisket, resting on 2 slices of wonder bread with sour pickles. Dunk this into the one of a kind Gates BBQ Sauce (original is the best, get it here: ( ) and you start laughing like a giddy school girl. If you were wondering how good the sauce is, well, I can drink the stuff.

There are crab cakes, and then there are crab cakes. And then, there is Faidley’s. Yes, Nancy Devine is the Queen of Crab Cakes, and she shapes her baseball-sized cakes daily in Baltimore. Yes, I said baseball. It is simply the best crab cake in North America… and Nancy has won local and regional competitions for years. She doesn’t compete much anymore because, well, it just ain’t fair. People drive hundreds of miles to get them in person, but you can order them overnight only directly from Nancy. Get ready to pay mucho dollars and abide by her strict shipping rules, but trust me, you have never eaten anything like it… ever. Get them here ( )and invite friends over. You’ll be the talk of the neighborhood.

Live in New York? Feeling depressed? You need Beard Papa’s Cream Puffs. If you haven’t had them, close this web browser, grab your MTA card, and take the C train to West 4th. Steps away at 5 Carmine Street is Beard Papas( ) home of the cream puff. These crispy and chewy shells are baked hot and fresh in house and filled with an amazing vanilla custard… then dusted with a wisp of powdered sugar. Daily specials abound with caramel and green tea custards finding their way into the cream puff as well. Sure, it’s a heart attack waiting to happen, but what a way to go. Oh yea, if ya live in LA… they have an outlet in Hollywood and Highland…..

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Props To Our Friends on the West Coast: Gulfstream Gets it Right

It’s not often a dish moves me to my computer… but a recent trip to Los Angeles dropped me at the doorstep of a mini-chain spot that simply put, pushed my buttons.

The spot is called Gulfstream… a spot created by the fine folks who brought us wonderchain Houston’s. But believe me, this surprising spot doesn’t eat like a run of the mill chain restaurant. This location (one of 3) is located in Century City… the others are in Newport Beach, and low and behold… New Orleans.

On a rainy, cold Los Angeles afternoon, I found myself planted at the bar at Gulfstream… a beautiful green speckled granite and marble creation. Flanked by the obligatory flat screen televisions, I expected a Houston’s type menu and a chain like experience.

Boy, was I surprised.

First, this is a spot that knows who they are. The drinks are perfect, the food is dynamite, and the service is suberb. Isn’t that just about everything?

Chain or not, nailing all of these would bring you back to an IHOP… but when the menu features fresh fish (and I mean really fresh, as in filleted in the kitchen daily), cold fresh shucked oysters and killer recipes, then you have something.

My meal started with a frosty martini (Ketel One, up dirty is the call), mixed to perfection. The menu itself is small, but robust with choice. Fresh fish, a steak, ribs… you get the picture. Throw in a raw bar and few signature salads and you have fun picking a dish.

I started with the peel and eat shrimp… as most Cajuns will. The shrimp were large, firm and full of flavor. You get 12 of the suckers. But what makes the dish are the extraordinary sauces… a homemade tarter sauce that I would swear I had at Mr. B’s in New Orleans, and a homemade cocktail, that was on the mark. Both were out of the ordinary, but so well spiced with fresh herbs and spices, I could have enjoyed them with a slice of bread.

About this time, I asked for a glass of water…. what showed up was a frozen milk glass with an ice cold milk jug full of crystal clear water. It’s all in the details.

The main course was a special, but I later found out a dish so popular, it shows up almost nightly. The dish… a filet of Grilled Red Snapper, resting on top of a mound of buttermilk mashed potatoes, in a Cajun cream with Florida Rock Shrimp. On the side, a heaping helping of fresh cut coleslaw, with a dressing from heaven.

The fish was so fresh, I would guess the poor guy was swimming in the Gulf yesterday. It was seasoned and grilled to perfection. The potatoes were spectacular on their own, and balanced the dish perfectly… supporting a spicy cream that complimented but didn’t dominate our friend, the red snapper. The shrimp are icing on the cake.

I would have loved to had dessert, but after licking this plate clean I just flat ran out of tummy space. I did find room for a double espresso that was prepared in the same way the rest of the meal was, perfectly.

I have never been a fan of chain restaurants, but if this is the new standard, I’ll rethink my stance. Gulfstream was a complete surprise, and I can tell you that I’ll be back….looking for the special of the day.

Having had a fantastic slaw, I thought I would also share on of my very best recipes… I bring this dish to parties and watch people inhale this stuff. Enjoy!

Andre’s Favorite ColeSlaw Dressing

1 tablespoon fresh, finely minced garlic
1 ¼ cups mayo
1/3 cup yellow mustard
3 ½ tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon black pepper

Yield 2 cups


15 cups shredded green cabbage
2 cups shredded purple cabbage
1 ½ cups finely chopped yellow onions
¾ cup finely chopped green bell peppers
2 tablespoons green onions
2 cups of coleslaw dressing

In a large mixing bowl, combine green cabbage, purple cabbage, onions, bell peppers, and green onions. Using hands, toss well. Add dressing, toss and serve.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

NYC: Home of Italian Greatness... "Po"

I knew moving to New York was the right choice when my simple neighborhood Italian restaurant was better than the best Italian restaurant in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Really.

That spot is Pesce Pasta (now an UWS staple) and yes, you'll find me at the wine bar more than a few times a month. It's that place where you can barely get in the door, thanks to a 3 tier table bursting with fresh antipasto... 4 dollar glasses of wine... and the reality that the menu is the menu, but knowing that the kitchen will make you darn near anything you desire.

But when the NY Times travel section had a cover feature on Rome this weekend, my wife and I knew that we'd journey out of the "hood" in search of yet another Italian gem.

We found it, in "Po".

This spot has been on my list even before my move from the south (and west)... and Saturday proved to be the day. It was a cold, blustery day, it was 5:30, and we had no reservation. Perfect.

First, I don't recommend this experience without a reservation, and I am learning fast that New Yorkers make reservations. There are a group of spots that just simply require them... if only because they have so few tables. Without them, surely a riot would ensue.

We showed up promptly at 5:30pm, steps off of the C train. "Po" is located on Cornelia Street in the West Village, arguably one of the most charming streets in the city. Snuggled between West 4th and Bleeker, the area is a gateway to just about any experience you can have in the Village... yet, secluded from Joe Tourist. Nice.

Not having a reservation landed us at the bar, a small, copper topped counter with just 3 stools. Behind the bar was a friendly face... as well as the insanely busy manager, shuffling diners into small spaces in a dining room that resembled the size of a dining car on a train.

As you may know, I'm a fan of bar dining... and often don't mind the bar as the bar can lead to an even better experience. We were offered a table about 5:45... but by that time were so settled into our spots, we decided to have the evening right there.

The food at "Po" reeks of Mario, even though he left the restaurant some time ago. It is now in the hands of the very capable and talented Lee McGrath, who has melted some trademark Mario Batali nuances into his own methods, resulting in a solid and exciting menu.

First, there is nothing ground-breaking here. But don't get me wrong, this is not your run-of-the-mill Italian restaurant. The dishes are robust, fragrant and fresh.... (hence the new addition of pappardelle with baby peas, mint and cream)... but you get the idea that many of the plates have resided on the menu for a long, long time. There is a twist of Babbo here, and hint of Lupa... and maybe a wink to Beppe... but somehow the menu speaks to you and says... "this is who we are, and look around, we're packed".

That said, there was no lack of excitement as we chose our dishes... and struggled with a menu that offered many tempting dishes to a first time diner.

One thing I love here is the playfulness of the kitchen at times, and how they get started. Diners at Po are treated to an "on the house" appetizer... 2 slightly burned rounds of french bread topped with a white bean relish. The result is fantastic. It just takes one bite to realize that the burned toast was intentional as you taste the balance of charred bread against the smooth, creaminess of the perfect white beans. It is a great way to wake up your mouth, and I could have eaten 6 of them. And maybe 4 more after that.

Onto the meal.

We started with 2 apps... a special, asparagus and sweet red peppers with shaved cheese in simple balsamic.... and the polpetta (homemade meatballs in tomato sauce).

The asparagus dish was straight forward and delish. The plate was left clean. The meatballs were spectacular. I have a soft spot in my heart for these, and the combination of veal, pork and lean beef was evident in this dish.... as the dish began to quickly vanish. The sauce was fresh and perfect, and the meal was on.

Instead of going the salad route, we opted for the bold choice of a primi and secondi. Warning, don't do this without a good if not great appetite.

Our pasta choices were the above mentioned Pappardelle, and a Gnocchi served in a light tomato compote. Both featured homemade everything, and it showed. The pasta was truly original and strangely delicious. The thick green sauce revealed small baby green peas and hints of fresh mint leaves... and was a dish you enjoyed in small bites. The homemade (jumbo) gnocchi was light and tasty as well... although smaller gnocchi will often lead to even fluffier bites. That said, both dishes were solid and good choices... although we believe we could have gone one of 5 directions and wound up at the same place.

The main courses were now coming and we were bordering on full... but it was nothing a sip of wine and a little conversation couldn't cure.

Our main courses were tried and true Po staples. The Guinea Hen with fregula pasta ( a dish that has made it's rounds across the city) and my Porcini Crusted Cod.

The hen was a boneless filet, seared and laid across a bed of tiny round pasta, bounding with flavor. The nice thing about hen is it's flavor... not too gamey if that isn't your thing. It is a nice, hearty dish and is accompanied by a surrounding group of flavors and textures that demonstrate to you why it has become a calling card of Po.

The cod is just plain fantastic. The porcini crust is rich in flavor, and unlike other attempts in lesser skilled kitchens, leaves the fish with a crispy outside... giving the dish great texture. The cod is fresh and mild, and the white beans and kale that accompany give the dish true balance. As full as I was, I finished it all... and was happy to oblige.

I was tempted to have a coffee as Po has a nice Italian espresso machine that kicks out Americanos and Cappucinos faster that lightning... but I just simply ran out of room. The dessert menu is tempting as well, with a variety of refreshing options, but again, no room.

I do tip my hat to Po for sticking with what works. I noticed on the salad options a dish that featured warm pancetta dressing... an option Lupa sadly just removed from their menu for the season (the amazing parsley and pancetta salad). Truth be told, it all works at Po... and the wink wink here is that they know it. If only they had 40 more seats.

I highly recommend this experience... and oh yea, bring cash or your Amex... because that's all they take, and there is no ATM in the back.

To celebrate the Tigers trip to the final four, I give you Tiger Jalapeno Cornbread !


21/2 cups yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup flour
2 eggs
1 tbl. sugar
1 tsp. salt
2 tsps. baking powder
8 ozs. cream-style corn
1/2 cup chopped pimento
3/4 cup chopped jalapeño peppers
3/4 cup grated Cheddar cheese

1. In a large bowl, mix all ingredients together except buttermilk and oil. Add buttermilk, stirring in, until you achieve a medium-thick batter.

2. Pour batter into a well-oiled cast-iron skillet and bake at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the center.

Enjoy as a side dish with red beans, white beans, friend catfish, or you name it.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Peter Lugar's... Part II - The Meal

If you missed the beginning, scroll down to read!

The Meal
Getting to the dining room was just about what I expected. A crusty, old German styled room that has the ghosts of a thousand heart-attacks past. The history in the place is so thick you can cut it with a knife… and the thought of those who had come before you to enjoy this meal is good for at least 20 minutes of conversation.

Our waiter, an old Lugarian-type (recognized by one of my colleagues from his childhood visits there) walked up to the table and mumbled… “Hello… do you know what you want”. What happened next was beautiful.

“Yea”, we responded. “We need the you know… with the stuff, and some bacon, too… and the sides of, you know… and potatoes, and the porterhouse for 3”.

That was all that needed to be said.

Keep in mind, looking at menu here is frowned upon, so for god sakes, do your homework. Look at other tables, surf the web… whatever. Just don’t ask for a menu.

Within what seemed like 60 seconds, a group of waiters circled the table, dropping off baskets of bread, a plate of thick sliced beefsteak tomatoes and raw white onions and a gravy boat of yes, Peter Lugar’s very own steak sauce. We launched into the plate, slathered the tomatoes and onions with sauce and went to town. A moment passed, and then arrived what I call the “best slice of bacon on the planet”… this is a mouthful, coming from a southern kid like me, who has pretty much dedicated his life to pork fat.

By the time we sipped a little wine and changed our conversation, the main course was on the table. A bowl of creamed spinach, German style potatoes, and the biggest porterhouse steak I have ever seen…. charred to perfection and sliced for easy access.

Let’s talk steak. Peter Lugar’s doesn’t sell a steak in a pool of brown butter, nor do they kill it with béarnaise. This isn’t a steak you can cut with a spoon, nor is it a steak marbled to perfection. This is a steak with flavor… Lugar’s calling card. Sure, it’s a nice tender cut, but the dry aging of the meat here screams volumes… it is a taste that is unmistakable… and that has kept folks coming back for, well, forever.

Once we began eating, much of the conversation vanished. Simply to much chewing going on to speak. You get the picture.

Dessert at Lugar’s can also be serious, if you aren’t in tremendous pain. After trying the pecan pie (pronounced pe-khan, not pee-can) I can tell you it is in the variety that would make my Lousiana momma proud…. And the apple strudel. Damn. Top it all off with a Jethro sized bowl of homemade whipped cream, and well…. Call 911.

Making sense to you? How do they do it? Is it the food? Partly. The drinks? Likely not. The ambiance? Eh. But when Lugar’s brings them all together… well, you get Brooklyn magic… and one of the most authentic experiences of my culinary travels.

I’ll be back.

If you are planning a trip, make a reservation at least 1-2 weeks in advance, and bring lots of cash… they don’t except plastic, and only take Lugar’s credit card, which can be mighty hard to come by.

All of this talk is making me hungry…. So I leave you with this… this week’s recipe. Enjoy…. and remember… be adventurous!... take the fork in the road….. I”ll see ya there.

Andre’s Smothered Pork Chops

Sides: Put on a pot of white rice, and stew some okra or green beans with bacon and onion. Biscuit would be nicey-nice.

Serves 4 normal people, or Andre and his brother Allen.

4 bone-in rib loin pork chops, cut about 3/4-inch thick
Ground black pepper
1 tbl. olive oil
2 tbls. all-purpose flour
2 tbls. vegetable oil
2 medium onions, sliced thin
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 bell pepper, coarsely chopped
1 carrot, thinly sliced
1 tbl. brown sugar
1 cup chicken broth
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 baked sweet potato, cut into chunks
3 tbls. fresh minced parsley
Cooked rice

1. Season pork chops with pepper and salt.

2. Sear (brown) chops in heated olive oil over medium-high heat. Remove chops, set aside.

3. Make a roux in the same skillet with the flour and oil added to the browned bits left in the skillet from the chops. Cook to a medium-brown color.

4. Stir onions, garlic, bell pepper and carrot slices into the hot roux and stir and turn vegetables until they are coated with the roux. Lower heat and put top on skillet to sweat the vegetables for about 10 minutes as they brown.

5. Return chops and any juices from the chops to the skillet. Mix brown sugar into the vegetables and chops, cover skillet and cook for 5 minutes more.

6. Uncover skillet and add chicken broth, Worcestershire sauce, chunks of sweet potato and additional seasoning if desired. Stir to make sure the vegetables are covered evenly with the broth. Cover again and simmer for 30 minutes or until chops are tender and the gravy has thickened nicely.

7. If the gravy gets too thick as it simmers, add a couple of tablespoons of water to thin it.

8. Sprinkle chopped parsley over chops and gravy and serve with cooked rice.

Note: Sometimes I add a can of good quality tomatoes when I stir in the chicken broth. This dish reheats well, but why not just finish it off?


Homemade Biscuits with andouille sausage and egg

Monday, March 20, 2006

It Really Is All That - Peter Lugars

My night at Peter Lugars... Part 1.

Let me preface this post by saying the following... if you live in New York, you are not a New Yorker unless you've been to Peter Lugar's.

Now that is a pretty bold comment coming from a guy who has now called New York home for 3 months, but I can tell you one thing... I know when I've fallen into a historical black hole, and it happened to me last Tuesday evening.

Getting There
To get the full effect of the magic of Peter Lugar's Steakhouse in Brooklyn, one must take the subway. Yes, it can be a bit "strange" climbing down the winding stairs to the somewhat seedy neighborhood below... but as you walk down Broadway several blocks west, you begin smelling charred Grade A beef. Then, getting mugged seems kinda worth the risk. Yes, it smells that good.

Peter Lugars is a New York instituion. Built on quality beef, no nonsense service and simply great everything else, the store stands proud in it's bleek surroundings. I can only imagine the neighborhood a hundred years ago... when Lugar's was in it's infancy.

Entering the restaurant, the chatter was that of a busy midtown dining locale... not a funky Brooklyn nook.... but the revelry that happens at the bar is certainly infectious. It is not that of a celebratory "you got the job"... or "way to win the Johnson account"... it is that of, holy crap, in a few minutes we get to eat (looking towards the dining room) in there. That's right... the spirit that binds the customers of Lugar's is that of one thing and one thing only. Steak.

The Meal
I happily sipped a tall, dry martini while waiting for our table (reservations are mandatory, mind you) and grinned in the spendor of it all. Then it happened... my first inclination that the evening would be better than even I expected.... a mountain of hot, fried bacon passed inches in front of my face. I asked my colleagues, "oh my god, what was that?"... they simply replied "the appetizer".

Well (I thought).... game on.

for more on the meal itself, check back soon!

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Reservation? What reservation?.......

Live and learn.

Do you really need a reservation to get into many of New York's best restaurants? Yes. Is there a way around this? Yes.

It's called bar dining, and in recent months, I have learned that not only does it offer great experiences... it can sometimes rival that of the table in the back corner. Let me explain.

On a recent trip to Lupa, Mario Batali's gem of a spot in the village... I arrive at 5pm on a Saturday (yes there was a line already there) and asked to be seated at the bar, before the BIG rush arrives. No problems... found a stool, checked my coat... off to the races.

Because the bar wasn't slammed yet, I got very personal attention. The bartenders at fine resturants know as much about the menu as the waiters do, if not more. Not sure about wines?.... my bartender poured me 3 tastes so I could choose what I really wanted.... and because the bar tickets print a bit out of sync in the kitchen, my food came out ahead of most everyone in the place. I love bar dining. My point?... if you walk in and the place is packed.. check the bar. At most places, they will offer the full menu there... and you won't have to wait long for a drink refill!

This week, my NY secret is a place on 53rd and 6th, Del Frisco's Steakhouse. Listen to this.

Sure, this is a fancy schmancy place. A huge bar and dining room share what looks to be a oak and mahogany airplane hanger... with windows that look onto 6th Ave. There are two levels, with two bars, and rich, leather booths. This is that place... the clean, stiff oversized martini, crisp linen tabelcloths, ala carte laden menu, executive stuffed scene. The steaks are good to sometimes excellent.... but not to be confused with truly legendary steak and chop houses that have called NY home for decades.

But the best deal is at the bar. Arrive early, and grab a seat. Order that martini, or glass of wine. Expensive, but you get your money's worth. But here is the secret... order an appetizer. Order the FILET TIPS. Oh yea, they are $9.95.

What you'll get is a plate of 6 huge chunks of grilled filet mignon, done to your liking, placed around a mound of homemade mashed potatoes. If it sounds like a meal, well it is. I am a big guy, and a martini and this plate of food has me ready to skip desert.

Whan I asked the bartender "what the hell"... he shrugged. "It's the best deal in NY, and we can't believe it's $10"..... he exclaimed. "Hell, I order this after work... I can't at this well at a fast food place for the money".....

And he's right. It is the perfect "what do I want I don't know what I want but I want something because I may not eat later and where will I be" dish. And for $9.95, I land on one of these bar stool once a week. Really.

Weather here in NYC turned mild this week... but weeks past have been chilly, which spurred me to cook my first pot of NYC gumbo. After hunting for the ingredients, I was thrilled to find them all (with the exception of white gulf shrimp, but hey beggars can't be choosers).... and I pulled out the 5 gallon Le Cruset and got to stewing. Hours later, I had a pot of homemade Shrimp and Okra gumbo... I think I just finished the last of it a day ago... thank god for the freezer.

I've also made a few pots of white beans, red beans, etc.... but I am waiting to get into the serious stuff until we wrangle some company over to the Central Park West apartment.... I'm thinking a nice trout pecan with dirty rice, shrimp and andouille sausage over charleston style grits, slow cooked butter beans and maple bread pudding with a blackberry cream sauce.

That leads me to my recipe of the week... I hope you enjoy.

Andre’s Gumbo Like I Like It

(Shrimp and Okra Version)

4- 5 Quarts Chicken Stock
4 pounds frozen okra
1 lrg can of diced tomatoes
1 regular can of diced tomatoes
2 large white onions, diced fine
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1⁄2 teaspoon chopped garlic, fine
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1⁄2 teaspoon black pepper
3⁄4 cup all purpose flour
3⁄4 cup vegetable oil
3 tablespoon of lea and perrin’s
2 tablespoons crystal hot sauce (or frank’s)
1 1⁄2 tablespoons of creole seasoning (Emerils or Tony’s)
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon basil
1 teaspoon oregano
1⁄2 teaspoon thyme
2-3 tablespoons Kitchen Bouquet
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup chopped parsley, fine
4 pounds peeled medium shrimp
Chopped green onions

In a separate pot, heat 3 tbl vegetable oil, and sauté white onions. Add garlic, frozen okra and tomatoes, season with salt and pepper, and cook over medium low heat until tender (at least an hour, if not longer). Okra should be very tender and want to break up. In a large stockpot, heat oil (3/4 cup) and add flour to make roux. Stir constantly over medium heat, making sure not to burn. Bring to desired color… peanut butter color is recommended for best flavor. Once desired color is reached, whisk in chicken stock, 4 qts first and save the rest if needed (chicken base dissolved in water can also be used , but NOT bullion). Add seasonings (wet and dry) and kitchen bouquet for desired color. Add okra mixture and bring to boil. Reduce to low simmer, and cook for 1 1⁄2 hours. Last half hour, add shrimp and parsley and simmer and very low temp, not to overcook shrimp. Serve in bowls, topped with a scoop of cooked long grain rice and top with sprinkle of green onion.

Gumbo is best if cooked day before. Make sure to cool completely before storing in fridge.