50% More Evil

It’s not bad enough that I have the evil twins to contend with this week, but last night we went out with their fairy godmother, Margaret.

Gail, Margaret and Susan plotting the overthrow of the universe

Gail, Margaret and Susan plotting the overthrow of the universe

Next month, Margaret’s grand-niece is getting married, and because there are no children available, Margaret and the brides great-grandmother have been enlisted to be the flower girls.  I think that’s the sweetest idea I’ve ever heard. Margaret refuses to wear a short skirt, pink tights and Mary-Janes, however.

We had dinner at the Nantucket Restaurant, a cheap ultra casual place hidden on the Carquinez straits underneath the bridge. One of the things I like most about California is the quality of the food in the most modest of circumstances.  Gail began with a shrimp cocktail, the old fashioned kind with tiny bay shrimp:

This hasn't changed in 75 years.  And it's just as good.

This hasn’t changed in 75 years. And it’s just as good.

I had a spinach salad with the thickest, creamiest, gloppiest sauce you can imagine, which is hardly haute cuisine but it sure tasted good.  Gail and Susan both had the calamari steak:

Breaded and sauteed calamari steak with garlic sauce.

Breaded and sauteed calamari steak with garlic sauce.

This restaurant may be owned by a group of cardiologists who want to increase their caseload. The calamari steak is often a commercial product, machine tenderized, battered and coated, but who cares, that just makes it consistent and easy to cut.  The baked potato, drenched in butter and sour cream, is a throwback to the 1950’s, but the tender/crisp steamed vegetables (note the orange cauliflower above) were excellent and tres moderne.

Margaret and I each had the angel hair pasta with rock shrimp.  There is more sauce here than I care for, but I survived.  I’m no fan of spaghetti soup, I like the pasta to be flavored by the sauce, not drowned.

Angel Hair pasta with Rock Shrimp

Angel Hair pasta with Rock Shrimp

 

You know it’s a large serving when I can’t finish my dinner, and that’s exactly what happened here.  All four of us had leftovers.  The food was all good, but the kitchen seemed awfully slow–the place was less than half full and still our dinners took considerably longer than they should have to get to the table.

Fortunately, we had lots to look at.  Sitting under a bridge, Nantucket has an excellent, unusual view.  And we were there at sunset, so I had some fun with the camera:

Panarama from the bay to the bridge.

Panarama from the bay to the bridge.

 

Sunset over the Pacific

Sunset over the Pacific  I like the bright reflection from the life saver.

 

Carquinez Bridge from below

Carquinez Bridge from below

 

But the scenery wasn’t the only thing to watch.  There was a couple sitting outside behind me, where Susan and Margaret could see them.  They were apparently mostly making out, which seemed to disturb Susan.

Not quite so young lovers.

Not quite so young lovers.

 

Susan, as you well know, is in charge of the universe.  Or so she thinks.  She went out to talk to them.

Inviting herself to sit down.

Inviting herself to sit down.

 

The world would be a better place if everyone would just listen to Susan and do things her way.  At least that’s the way she tells it.  I’m not sure her message got through, though.

He doesn't look like he's loving this conversation.

He doesn’t look like he’s loving this conversation.

 

It isn’t likely that Susan achieved any lasting change in anyone’s behavior, but we certainly enjoyed the show.

We took Margaret home, and all had to go inside to meet Spanky, the “chorkie” (chihuahua/yorkie mix) who keeps her company.  Her old wiener dog Louie died after 16 loving years, the last two tended by Spanky.  He barks and cries when she leaves, so Margaret engages one of the women in her complex to dog sit when she goes out.

Making friends.

Making friends.

 

And there you have a pretty perfect evening. Good food, great views, some social engineering and a puppy.  What more is there?
Nantucket Restaurant on Urbanspoon

The Best Bread Pudding in New Orleans Winner

After a vast amount of high calorie research and hours of careful digestion deliberation, I have a winner.  Truthfully, I have two winners.

White chocolate bread pudding.

White chocolate bread pudding.

The white chocolate bread pudding at the Palace Cafe was the by far the most moist, delicious, delectable, all around wonderful slice of heaven I had all week.  The little bit out of the corner above was the result of Sally Woolsey snitching a taste before I could take a photo, which was wise because I just about inhaled the rest of it.

The sauce was rich, sweet and buttery, but it didn’t have whiskey in it.  That leads us to the the co-winner:

Courtyard bread pudding with whiskey sauce.

Courtyard bread pudding with whiskey sauce.

The Courtyard Bread Pudding from the Court of Two Sisters is a very creditable effort, but the sauce is clearly out of this world.  Close your eyes and  imagine what the perfect bourbon sauce would taste like, and that’s what gets served every day at this bread pudding heaven.

In some magical dream world you can order the bread pudding from the Palace Cafe with the sauce from the Court of Two Sisters.  Right after your meal of unicorn chops and rainbow chips, I expect.  And the dessert would be the best part of that meal..

Courting fine food

Our last night in New Orleans, we had dinner at one of the great, old-time NOLA restaurants, the Court of Two Sisters.

Gail, Micky, Linda, Danny and another Linda

Gail, Micky, Linda, Danny and another Linda

The Court of Two Sisters has been around for ages.  The building dates from 1832, it has been a restaurant of some sort since the 1920’s, in it’s present incarnation for about 50 years.  The “two sisters” Bertha and Emma Camors, were born in 1858 and 1860, and operated a notions shop in the space until the 1920’s. They died two months apart in 1944.

The Court is an actual courtyard, outdoors in the sultry New Orleans evening. The tiny amount of rain that fell on us that evening was refreshing, not irksome.  We were with good friends on a beautiful evening, after a day spent sightseeing and looking forward to a night of kibitzing and kicking back.

The menu had your basic Southern favorites, except for crawfish etoufee.  In fact, I didn’t see a plate of etoufee all week long.  Is there a season?  Has it gone out of favor?  I was looking forward to it for months, then was completely disappointed.

Gail had the corn fried catfish:

Corn Fried Louisiana Catfish - Served with jumbo lump crabmeat Napa slaw and green onion & cayenne tartar sauce

Corn Fried Louisiana Catfish – Served with jumbo lump crabmeat Napa slaw and green onion & cayenne tartar sauce

 

The catfish was crispy and delicate, the crab meat was meatier than we expect on the west coast, the slaw was crisp and tart, not creamy–just the way she likes it.”Scrumdy–dow” is not a scientific description, but that’s what Gail said it was.

I had a pasta dish with shrimp and crawfish.  Not fancy or creative, but it made excellent use of the local seafood.

Everybody else had the Veal Oscar–a cutlet served on mashed potatoes and topped with local crabmeat.  It comes with “tasso hollandaise”, which both Lindas and Mike had served on the side, then they completely abjured it.  I tasted the sauce, which is hollandaise flavored with tasso (a cured, hot-smoked port shoulder, highly seasoned and a staple of New Orleans cuisine).  I didn’t like it–no lemony tang of hollandaise, too much dark, salty tasso.   I think they were wise to avoid it.

Not that you care, you’re only here to read about the bread pudding.  It’s great.  Heavy, sweet pudding with a caramelized top, drenched in the best whisky sauce in town.  It ought to be–they put the recipe for the sauce on their website, and it starts with:

1 ¼ lbs. butter
1 lb. sugar
9 egg yolks
½ cup half and half

I realize that’s an industrial size recipe, but it’s still rich enough to block you arteries at 500 paces.  Add some quality boubon and you’ve got a sauce to write poetry about.

The Court of Two Sisters is a New Orleans landmark you really shouldn’t miss. They serve a famous brunch as well as dinner, but have the bread pudding in any event.

 

Court of Two Sisters on Urbanspoon

Be Afraid.

The Evil Twins plotting world domination

The Evil Twins plotting world domination

Susan is in town for a week.  Lock up your valuables, hide your liquor, keep children and small pets inside.  Mischief is afoot, nobody is safe.

Ten years after Katrina

It’s hard to believe that 10 years have passed since Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans.  Life has continued rolling along, lives have been rebuilt and other disasters have come and gone.  Wednesday, Gail and I went to see for ourselves what the storied 9th ward looks like a decade later.

Some houses still stand as though the rain stopped yesterday.

Some houses still stand as though the rain stopped yesterday.

We entered the upper 9th ward, and noticed that every house had a new roof. Mostly the neighborhoods looked pretty good, with neatly repaired houses and just a few derelict homes.

Then we crossed the bridge into the lower 9th, and it looked like an atom bomb had cleared the place.  Block after block of devastation still exists, empty lots, piles of debris, inexplicable mounds of discarded tires.  A church that remains boarded up after 10 years:

Boarded windows and chain link fence

Boarded windows and chain link fence

The building might be sound, but there are no residents to form a congregation,

Entire square blocks are empty.  The debris has been carted away, but the devastation remains.

Cleaned up but not repaired.

Cleaned up but not repaired.

Now the interesting part.  There has been some reconstruction.  A number of new homes have been built, all with similar architecture and decor.  The residences are in a very modern style, built on piers so that flood waters can flow harmlessly beneath, with roofs sloped into the prevailing winds.  Clearly, all these homes are from the same architect/developer.  Private money?  The government?  I don’t know but think it is probably the federales, doing just a small percentage of what is needed to bring this shattered neighborhood back to life.  It’s a great choice of colors, though.

 

The brilliant colors of the new homes are a delight, a bright spot in a dreary urban disaster area.  They can’t overwhelm the bleak emptiness of the dozens of empty lots, the torn up, uneven, barely passable roads, the total lack of stores, churches, gas stations, banks, diners, police stations, fire houses, schools or any other form of modern infrastructure.  I don’t know what was in the lower 9th before Katrina, but there sure isn’t much there now, it’s just a wasteland of broken concrete and lost hopes.

The legacy of Katrina

The legacy of Katrina

Dinner at Dickies

There is  a reason things seemed familiar–we were having dinner at Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse, two blocks from the Marriott, and I noticed that the bread came in a wrapper with the logo of the Palace Cafe and the Bourbon House as well as Brennan’s and another restaurant or two–they are all owned by the same company, all run in the same manner.  The food is different, the service is the same: excellent.

New Orleans is a cosmopolitan place–the restaurants open at 5:30, not 4:00. We had to wait for the staff meeting to finish before we could be seated, then were led into the heavy, dark, quiet dining room with the white tablecloths, well dressed waiters and an air of elegance and seriousness.  Just my kind of place.

To start off, I had the Tomato Blue Cheese Napoleon:

Tomato Blue Cheese Napoleon--a big stack of salad.

Tomato Blue Cheese Napoleon–a big stack of salad.

Slices of very ripe tomato are layered with crumbly blue cheese and then covered in remoulade sauce, which seems to be New Orleans-ese for Russian Dressing.  When I was 6 or 7 I got to make the “Russian” dressing by mixing mayo and ketchup.  They may have a 7 year old in the kitchen at Brennan’s–the taste was the same.  The odd slice of bread on the plate, sans butter, is just a puzzlement to me.

Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse is big on steaks and prime rib, obviously, but for my entree I went for the garlic crusted speckled trout.

Speckled trout, roasted new potatoes and steamed spinach.

Garlic crusted speckled trout, roasted new potatoes and steamed spinach. Yum,

Gail and Linda had the trout as well, so the three of us went back to the tournament reeking of garlic.  Maybe it helped our evening scores. In any event, the fish was cooked perfectly and we all enjoyed our meals.

It may well be against the law to operate a dining establishment in New Orleans that doesn’t offer bread pudding, and Dickie Brennan’s wouldn’t want to run afoul of the authorities.  The version they offer is the combination model, dressing up the dessert with bananas foster.

Bread pudding bananas foster a la Dickie Brennan

Bread pudding bananas foster a la Dickie Brennan

I’m of two minds about this–I’m a purist about my bread pudding, but I like the rum-based sauce from the Bananas Foster.  It was a good dessert, but not great.  Better they should stick to one thing and do it well than try to kill two birds with one pudding.

Dickie Brennan’s is a very pleasant place to have a dinner that will make you feel like you are rich and respected.  The food is good, the service is first rate, the facility just feels like old money and breeding. Yes, you could say I liked it.
Dickie Brennan's Steakhouse on Urbanspoon

Somewhat rowdier St. Pat’s Day

The Marriott Hotel in New Orleans is just two blocks away from Bourbon Street, the biggest party street in the country, possibly the world.  It’s a strange place, combining fine old restaurants like Arnauds and Galatoire’s with skin show, dive bars and stalls where you can buy “huge ass beers” to carry down the street drinking.  There are hotels where your room includes a balcony from which to watch the passing parade and throw bead down on the crowd, preferably to women willing to flash their boobs in exchange.  It’s a fun street.

I took photos on Saturday night:

 

Then I went back on Tuesday night to see if the St. Pat’s crowd was any more interesting, but it was smaller and better behaved. Darn it.

St. Pat’s Day at the tournament

Gail and I are home from New Orleans now, but I have plenty I need to post. Let’s start with a few photos I took of bridge players on St. Patrick’s Day.  Nothing serious here, just enjoy a bit of frivolity.

I’m still on the trail

Not every meal can be a feast.  Mike and I went to dinner Sunday at Cafe Giovanni, right around the corner from the hotel.  It’s an old building, and the brick walls in the dining room make for loud and painful acoustics.

Cafe Giovanni isn’t bad, but it did not impress us as particularly good, either.  Mike ordered his salad with no olives, and there were olives in it.  The waitress was efficient but not overly cordial about taking it back, and a tone was set for the meal.

I had a very nice dish, the Shrimp Monica.  Fusili pasta with shrimp and crawfish meal, a light cream sauce.

Shrimp Monica

Shrimp Monica

 

The portion of pasta seemed small to me.  Pasta is cheap, restaurants should be generous.  The shrimp and crawfish meat were fine, I wanted more food on the plate.

The dining process was slow. There was a table of 4 women behind us who needed to be somewhere and I heard the waitress apologizing and saying how busy they were–except that the place was half full, so I wasn’t buying that story.

There was bread pudding, because this is New Orleans.

Bread pudding bananas foster

Bread pudding bananas foster

If bread pudding is the local favorite dessert, Bananas Foster is number two.  Cafe Giovanni combines these by drenching the bread in the Fosters sauce–brown sugar and rum or banana liqueur.  I liked the sauce immensely, the banana slices and strawberries were perfectly fresh, the bread pudding was heavy, dry and quite likely a day or three old.

It was a meal.  They can’t all be winners, and the only thing really poor was the attitude we felt from the waitress.  We’ve had worse, to damn with faint praise.
Café Giovanni on Urbanspoon

What I saw here

Interesting sights are all around us, you just have to look and be willing to ask questions.

Emelie and Melissa.  Or Melissa and Emelie, I can't tell.

Emelie and Melissa. Or Melissa and Emelie, I can’t tell.

Emelie and Melissa are bridge partners who look alike–they aren’t twins, they aren’t even sisters.  When they both lived in Calgary, people got them confused so often they started dressing alike to add to the fun.

Emelie (or is it Melissa?) has moved to Montana, but they still play together in Regionals and NABC’s, room together and always dress alike. I noticed them in the playing site, the elevator and the lobby, and just had to take their picture and ask the story.

 

It doesn't come in my size.

It doesn’t come in my size.

Then I saw this shoe, and the woman attached.  I think she’s the wife of a bridge player; she was playing games on her phone while waiting for him to finish.   Of course I had to ask about the shoes.  They are from Manolo Blahnik, she says they are so comfortable she walked four blocks in them, which is apparently a significant distance for the rich and pampered.

I have nothing like this

I have nothing like this

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