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Gustavia, St. Bart

The Blonde Tomatoes

With so many restaurants and bars in NYC, one could easily eat and drink at a new spot every single day for decades. Since we want to save you the time (and money) of trying them all on your own, we'll do the work for you and let you know how it goes. Join us at our table.


February 2008

Sun, Sand, and Dining in St. Barts

By the Blonde Tomato II

A vacation to St. Barts brings thoughts of beautiful sunny days, white sand beaches, and great food. French influences predominate much of the food and menu items throughout the island. (If for no other reason every menu is in French- that's a stab at humor.) Actually French flavors range from very traditional cuisine to newer riffs combined with African, Asian and Caribbean spices. While dining out with the horrific euro-dollar exchange rate can be depressing, it is still possible to experience fabulous food without totally breaking the bank.

During a recent visit to St. Barts, we had the enjoyable opportunity to revisit favorite places and try new dining destinations. Our first dinner spot was in Gustavia at Eddy's a low key, dimly lit, casual spot.Eddy's Restaurant Our meal began with foie gras three ways. However, since I'm not a fan of pates, the restaurant graciously offered me two portions of sautéed foie gras served with "exotic" fruit chutney and toast points along with a macaroon filled with foie gras and chutney. This appetizer melted in our mouths. (Unfortunately, I had to share it with my husband!) My main course was wahoo with ginger, cilantro and other spices. It was served with a delicious assortment of local vegetables and potatoes. My husband had a fabulous, filling, and attractive entrée of raw tuna four ways including sliced, tataki, tempura, and tartare. For dessert we enjoyed the mango and passion fruit samosas served with caramel ice cream.

wahoo tuna samosas

The next evening we tried le Tamarin a relatively new restaurant near Saline Beach. Sitting at our open air table viewing the lush garden, we actually felt like we were viewing the pool or garden bar at a South Beach hot spot like the Sagamore or Delano hotel with couches, lounge chairs, low lights and great background music. The meal began with an amuse bouche of pumpkin fritters and popcorn. Next we were served a delicious assortment of warm rolls (Sometimes I crave a change from the omnipresent French bread.) Our shared appetizer was a dinner portion of tagliatelle with chicken, walnuts, and gorgonzola cheese which was exceedingly, but not unexpectedly, rich. Actually an appetizer sized portion to share would have been sufficient. Alan had baked lobster in a coconut gratin with enormous pieces of lobster meat. I chose the sea bass with a balsamic glaze on top of yummy mashed cauliflower. Having a difficult time deciding on a dessert, we were very pleased with our waitress's choice of a round chocolate mousse cake with a tamarind center which tasted like caramel. The cake was covered with chocolate sauce and accompanied with whipped banana cream.

sea bass lobster chocolate mousse cake

Sunday night was the Giants vs. Packers game which we wanted to watch. We heard that Santa Fé in the hills of Lorient had the game on TV and since the restaurant was on our must visit list this trip, we called for reservations. Evidently, the place had been packed all during the American football playoff season. Fortunately, we arrived early and the owner graciously squeezed an extra table into the viewing section for us. I felt like we were at a Superbowl party at someone's home as the owner and servers catered to our food and drink needs. The other diners were primarily Americans rooting for Giants or Wisconsin (that came as no surprise). My first course evoked a wow! Large goat cheese raviolis encased in what appeared to be wonton skins were served with fresh grilled vegetables on top of salad and accompanied by a pesto sauce. Alan tried a mahi mahi ceviche also served with fresh salad. My main course was a grilled rack of lamb (I was ready for a change from fish) also with grilled vegetables, pesto sauce and, mashed potatoes. Alan hadn't tired of fish so he ordered the tuna filet with a ponzo sauce, seaweed salad, ginger, and wasabi. We definitely plan to return there for lunch to take advantage of the beautiful views of the beaches.

ravioli ceviche lamb

Monday night we returned to Gustavia to sample Au Port, one of the oldest restaurants on the island now under new management. The restaurant is on the second floor overlooking the harbor and the local post office. We were served an amuse bouche consisting of an avocado and codfish dip on a baguette. I went with the 3 course Creole meal. My first course was pumpkin soup served beneath what appeared to be a huge, airy popover. (Definitely a conversation piece!) Alan had a warm goat cheese salad which was probably one of the best goat cheese salads we have ever tasted. The large pieces of goat cheese were drizzled with honey- yum. My red snapper filet came with a mango and passion fruit sauce. However, Alan had to out do me again with a delicious duck magret served with a honey, poached pear and red fruit sauce along with potatoes. For dessert I chose the blanc manger coco (coconut flan) attractively presented in a martini glass. Alan finished with a tasty warm chocolate cake.

goat cheese salad popover pumpkin soup duck

Another constant favorite for us is K'Fé Massaï. We have returned there each trip and have always been pleased with our meal. There are 3 course meals at 3 different price points (29, 42, and 52 euros) as well as an extensive a la carte menu. I began with a yummy and substantial presentation of sashimi, tartar, and Tahitian style raw tuna. Alan began with lobster ravioli in a champagne cream sauce. My main course was a tasty steak with Béarnaise sauce. However, Alan's sautéed breadcrumb-crusted grouper in a fennel cream sauce was absolutely amazing! The thin tender pieces of grouper were incredibly sweet and melted in our mouths. I wish I had gone to the cook for a detailed description of its preparation. I have a feeling that the success of that dish had a lot to do with the fresh fish which I don't recall seeing at home. For dessert, we enjoyed a pain perdu (French toast) with a crème anglais and ice cream and profiteroles with pistachio ice cream. A glass of rhum liqueur left us very mellow.

tuna steak grouper

The Wall House is a well known, consistently good restaurant along the harbor of Gustavia. The chef and owner Franck is a gracious host as he greets newcomers and runs throughout the restaurant keeping track of all the diners and servers. Personal service and tableside presentations are hallmarks of this island culinary institution. This time we sampled their prix fixed menu along with a la carte offerings. I loved the appetizers of homemade gnocchi au gratin, their unique leek salad with a vinegar and beet coulis dressing, and foie gras with fruit chutney. Alan chose the "spit roasted" fish of the day which was red snapper that was filleted at our table while I had the grouper with lemon butter, capers and vegetables. We enjoyed the extra dishes that appear at the table like the vegetable maki roll served with our main course and the refreshing passion fruit gratinee to "cleanse our palates". Choosing dessert from their oversized rolling cart is always a treat and I was very happy with the warm apple tart with ice cream. We leisurely reflected on our trip as we sipped the tasty coffee rhum at the end of our meal.

gnocchi leek salad snapper

For our last night we decided to visit Hostellerie des Trois Forces. The chef and restaurant have been featured in many travel and restaurant articles. The chef, Hubert Delamotte is the Grand Bailly for the Caribbean area of the Confrerie de la Marmite d'Or of French cuisine. I never really understood the significance of this select society until we dined at this private hotel and intimate restaurant. Hubert is chef, waiter, and conversationalist. He is even known to discuss astrology while serving your meal. From articles we read, we were not surprised to find that we were one of only two tables dining there that night. We selected a bottle of wine from 1983 that was very smooth and well priced. He prides himself on offering quality wines at reasonable prices. Dinner began with complimentary cod fritters. Next, the snails in a cream sauce were superb. We each had fish; mine was a tasty grilled mahi mahi with a creole sauce of onions, tomatoes, and pepper while Alan had fresh tuna in a peppercorn sauce. I find it's sometimes the little things that leave the biggest impact. In this case we were taken by the haricots vert. He explained that they were steamed and then lightly tossed with butter, garlic and parsley. (However, I still haven't been able to duplicate this simple recipe at home.) Dessert was freshly made profiteroles with ice cream and homemade chocolate sauce. My dessert crepes suzettes in a caramel sauce were outstanding. We never explored astrology with Hubert, but perhaps we can save that for a future visit.

wine tuna crepes suzettes

Lunch options as always were dependent on the weather and our beach destination. Our first choice for lunch was a beachside picnic with bread and an assortment of cheeses. Another favorite option was a visit to Maya's To Go for quiche and pastry for dessert. Our new find this trip was Le Jardin across from the airport. A long French baguette filled with chicken, apples and curry mayonnaise for only 5 euros was the bargain of the trip. We also enjoyed a large hamburger with tasty fries at Le Bistro overlooking the harbor. Actually, anytime you can eat outside, enjoy the fresh air and admire great views, you're practically guaranteed a great meal while on St. Barts! Bon appetit!

December 2007

Return to Ribot Italian Restaurant and Bar, 780 Third Avenue, NYC

I love visiting restaurants that we have already interviewed. It's always a treat to taste dishes that weren't sampled the first time, and more importantly, eating without being videotaped is always a treat! Last Saturday night I returned to Ribot for dinner with friends. The restaurant staff was as friendly as I remembered and the food was just as fabulous.

My friends and I enjoy going to restaurants where we can taste lots of different things instead of limiting ourselves to one main dish. Since we wanted to order so many items from the menu, we decided it would be best to share several dishes. While we had trouble narrowing down the selections, we were definitely satisfied with our final choices. As noted in my earlier visit, Ribot offers a menu divided into three sections (Traditional, Modern, and Seasonal), and I think we managed to try something from nearly every section of the menu! The ricotta gnocchi tasting course with cheese, pesto and tomato sauces was attractively presented on a long rectangular dish with holes for each of the gnocchi. It actually resembled a giant serving platter for escargot. The pumpkin and mascarpone ravioli with a brown butter, sage, and walnut sauce, as well as the cheese sampler were other hits. We were pleased with our waiter's recommendation to order the pecorino cheese with blueberry honey sauce, the Roquefort crusted goat cheese, and the robiola with chopped black truffle and truffle oil. The lobster salad with avocado, cherry tomatoes , and fresh basil was a refreshing dish to offset the cheeses and pastas. The huge pieces of lobster and avocado combined two of my favorite ingredients into one dish.

Everyone was impressed with my restaurant recommendation, and said I can pick the next restaurant we visit as a group. Of course we all look forward to returning to Ribot again for dinner. Hopefully next time we'll manage to save some room for dessert!

November 2007

Charleston, South Carolina

By the Blonde Tomato II

A trip to Charleston, South Carolina provides a Northerner with an instant education in Southern culture and history. The city is full of sights to see and foods to taste. From haute cuisine to casual joints, and everything in between, Charleston offers a variety of tastes and restaurant settings.

If you're looking for fine dining, head towards the Peninsula Grill. The service, food and ambiance create the perfect spot to celebrate a special occasion. I enjoyed a veal chop served with a mouthwatering foie gras and truffle butter sauce and a side dish of roasted cauliflower with golden raisins. Alan feasted on the benne crusted rack of New Zealand lamb chops with wild mushroom potatoes and coconut pesto accompanied by young green beans with port soaked shallots. The highly recommended coconut cake was a dense, multi layer concoction that lived up to its reputation.

Peninsula Grill veal chopPeninsula Grill lambchopsPeninsula Grill coconut cake

The Charleston Grill at the Charleston Place is another place for celebrations. Charleston Place The atmosphere here is more relaxed and noisier probably due to the business meetings and conferences held at the hotel. My dinner began with a flavorful duck comfit empanada served with a papaya slaw and mango coulis. The Colorado lamb chops were served with a red port reduction and potato galette. An unusual entrée was the duo of Indian inspired veal dishes. A colorful and delicious dessert was the rainbow of sorbets including coconut, mango, kiwi, raspberry and plum.

Charles Grill lamb chopCharlestonCharleston Grill sorbets

Originally expecting to be inundated with fried foods, we actually found it necessary to seek out down-home traditional Southern fare while in Charleston. Two favorite informal spots were Jestine's KitchenJestine's and The Hominy Grill. Jestine's is located on Meeting Street in walking distance of numerous hotels as well as the Market Street Pavilions. We first visited the place for a late night dessert of pecan pie and the even better peach-blueberry cobbler.

Jestine's pecan pieJestine's cobbler

For lunch another day we enjoyed a walnut coated fried chicken sandwich with fried okra. I was pleasantly surprised that the pieces of fried okra were relatively greaseless. My husband enjoyed a cajun seafood dish.

Jestine's fried chicken sandwichJestine's cajun seafood

Hominy Grill was a long walk or very short drive from our hotel. It's mentioned in many tour books and magazine articles as a destination and we were not disappointed.Hominy Grill Locals and tourists can dine on an eclectic variety of salads, sandwiches and entrees. We arrived at 11:15 and were told breakfast was being served but if we waited until 11:30, we could have lunch. We opted for lunch and chose to sit inside although they also had a sunny patio area. In addition to traditional offerings like fried chicken ,pork chops, classic shrimp Creole and Low Country Purloo( a classic rice casserole with chicken, sausage and shrimp), the Hominy Grill also had other interesting options such as a grilled eggplant and goat cheese sandwich or curried chicken salad with apples and toasted almonds. On my quest for Southern food, I selected the pulled barbeque chicken sandwich with slaw. I requested additional sauce and the waitress also brought a spicy vinegar flavored liquid to put on top for an even hotter bite. My husband chose a tasty shrimp and grits plate. For dessert we shared a buttermilk pie, a house specialty which I would call a cross between a custard pie and cheesecake.

Hominy GrillHominy Grill Shrimp dish Hominy Grill buttermilk pie

Hank's Seafood was another place on our list of recommended restaurants to try. The appetizers included a tasty (s)he-crab soup and a disappointing salmon carpaccio with a grainy mustard dressing. Both main courses were hits. My rare seared tuna was served with grain mustard horseradish vinaigrette, caramelized onions, oven roasted tomatoes and goat cheese was good to the last bite. Alan had a seafood bouillabaisse.

Hank's tunaHank's seafood


We also checked out S.N.O.B.SNOB where we were wowed with the appetizers including sesame crusted tuna medallions with house made kim shee, nori rolls, miso, cucumber salad, pickled ginger and wasabi and sautéed gnocchi with roasted pepper salsa, balsamic vinegar and cilantro. The entree of sautéed duck breast, leg confit with orange glaze, butternut squash and goat cheese casserole, asparagus, and a honey thyme reduction was a disappointment. It seemed dry and could stand extra glaze and/or additional sauce. Alan enjoyed the fresh snook special.

SNOB duckSNOB fish

On the advice of some hotel guests we tried The Muse on Society Street. We went with no expectations and were pleasantly surprised. We were told to order the arugula salad with a blood orange vinaigrette, pistachios, and seared Manchego cheese. The cheese was crispy on the outside and warm on the inside (something I tried to recreate when I returned home.)We shared an unusual dish of cocoa-dusted pasta over lemon ricotta with pesto sauce and pine nuts. My entrée consisted of grilled lamb tenderloin with harrisa and served with Merguez orzo and a cilantro demiglaze. We enjoyed our meal very much.

Muse appetizerMuse lambMuse fish

Il Cortile Del Re was a recommendation from a web foodie. The food was enjoyable but I was very disappointed by our surroundings. We arrived early and were seated under a fan with a red light. Il Cortile Del ReThe effect of the fan and light gave a strobe light effect which might be great for a concert or disco club (am I dating myself?) but not for a relaxing dinner. We asked to move and were seated at a tiny table in a very dark corner next to the kitchen. I could understand being punished if we had arrived at a busy hour and they did us a favor by squeezing us in to their schedule, but even by the time we were finished they were still more than half empty! I was frustrated enough to say something to the hostess about the lack of light where we sat and how it was nearly impossible to see the food. She could care less and told me people like that particular location. Of course, no one else was seated up in our section of the restaurant during our meal and the brighter front room was nearly full by the time we left. Therefore, I wonder how many people really like to eat in the dark?

Of course we found that there was more to do than simply eat while in Charleston. (Otherwise, we would have returned home looking like blimps.) The Charleston historic area is extremely conducive to walking. The size is not overwhelming although the uneven stone, slate and brick sidewalks do make it challenging to walk and see everything you pass. Due to stringent historic preservation rules there's a lot to appreciate and learn about the history and growth of the area. Walking tours abound and the buggy rides are another alternative to getting a history lesson and seeing more of the city. Fortunately, our stay coincided with the fall house tours sponsored by the Preservation Society of Charleston. For a donation to the Society, we were able to take a self guided walking tour of 8 houses that are currently inhabited by local residents. The houses were a mélange of architectural styles that reflected the original builders as well as the current residents. It was impressive and amazing to see how lovingly the house are restored and maintained by their owners.

We made Charleston our home base and set out on various day trips. We visited beautiful Savannah and walked and drove our way around the gorgeous plazas as well as the landmarks from The Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil bestseller. Another day was spent playing golf at the Patriots Point Links in Mt. Pleasant, a quick ride over the Ravenel Bridge. A boat trip to Fort Sumter was another opportunity to understand the impact of the War between the States (as the Civil War is known since more than one tour guide commented that "There was nothing civil about that war"). Much of Charleston was described as "before the War" and "after the War" and it is almost possible to feel that you are living in a time warp of sorts when you visit the city. This was a great trip for history buffs and foodies.

February 2007

Visit New Orleans- NOW

By the Blonde Tomato II

It was four years ago that I fell in love with the city of New Orleans. New Orleans was fun, elegant, beautiful, charming, noisy, serene, historical, cosmopolitan, bawdy, homey, and I haven't even started describing the food! When someone you love is hurt you feel the pain and when Katrina hit New Orleans, I was devastated. Slowly but surely New Orleans is coming back to life. But to get this process moving, New Orleans needs people to visit! People, who dine, stay at hotels, drink (hey you can't ignore Bourbon Street), shop, enjoy music, and spend money. Rarely can doing good be so much fun.

I recently returned from another visit to New Orleans and was moved by everything I saw. Like the fable from India where a group of blind men are asked to describe an elephant but each can feel only one part of the animal, descriptions of New Orleans will vary depending on where you look. The top restaurants are beginning to fill up and now require advance reservations to get a specific seating. Yet a walk down Canal Street shows almost as many vacant storefronts as operational businesses. Uptown, the houses look fine and life seems normal until you realize the St. Charles trolley cars are no longer running and many of the local shops and restaurants have not reopened. Many parts of the Ninth Ward and East New Orleans look like ghost towns. Yet, you can see the sherbert-colored homes built by the New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity symbolizing rebirth in these areas of destruction.

Despite the problems, the people are upbeat, friendly, and hospitable. Southern hospitality always existed in New Orleans and it is still there. This is a truly cosmopolitan destination with so much to see and do that I urge everyone to visit the city. After nine visits in four years, I still haven't seen and done everything I would like.

Initially, people equate New Orleans with Bourbon Street. Where else in the United States, in the middle of the afternoon, can you see a variety of people with boas and beads walking along the streets drinking from beer mugs and green grenade shaped glasses? It's like a Disneyland for grown-ups! However, stroll down Royal Street and you'll be immersed in a world of high end antiques and art work. If you walk towards the river, you can stroll along the water or take a steamboat ride. Nearby, you can stop for the famous beignets at Café du Monde or head towards Harrah's for casino gambling.

New Orleans has something for everyone. You can have a wild trip staying up late partying or listening to jazz at the many music venues like Snug Harbor or other places on Frenchmen Street. You can enjoy the museums, historic walking tours of the French Quarter and Garden District or a refined afternoon tea service in the Windsor Court Hotel. If you are traveling with children, you can visit the Uptown Audubon Zoo, go out of town to see historic Oak Alley Plantation, or check out a swamp tour. No matter how many times I visit the city, I always wish I had the time to do and see more.

The food options are endless. You can enjoy traditional New Orleans cuisine Uptown in a converted home at Brigtsen's. Or, you can partake in more contemporary twists on New Orleans flavors at Restaurant Cuvée. In between, you can indulge in po'boys at Mother's, oysters at Acme Oyster House, and rabbit and sausage jambalaya at Coop's Place.

Despite the tragedy of Katrina, you can sense a spirit of hope and optimism. There is vitality throughout the area as businesses and individuals forge ahead to repair the city. They are not waiting for promised funds from the government or disputed payments from insurance companies (although both would be greatly appreciated). Instead, the people of the area are taking it upon themselves to bring back the economy. Each person who visits helps to support the city in its revitalization effort. And each person who visits is guaranteed to have a fabulous time!

Sightseeing, Volunteering and Eating in New Orleans

My most recent trip began with a stop for brunch at Mother's for one of their famous po'boys. The service was fast paced with joking between the patrons and employees. My roast beef po'boy with debris was huge. My husband's grilled shrimp po'boy was hot and spicy .Yet, we still managed to find room for a taste of their bread pudding.

Our first destination was a short walk to the Ogden Museum of Southern Art. First we saw a wonderful retrospective of the art of Kendall Shaw, a New Orleans native who lives and works in New York. Much to my surprise, there was an exhibit of Gee's Bend quilts. Although I loved the pictures of these quilts on stamps issued by the U.S.P.S. last year, I didn't realize their significance. I learned that the quilters of Gee's Bend were the descendants of freed slaves who lived in a small community outside of Selma, Alabama.

Afterwards, we walked around and visited local shops. Everywhere we went the people were welcoming and happy to see us. We walked around the Court House and noticed much construction and renovation of legal offices. I expect that industry to be booming.

CuveeNext we had an opportunity to interview Bob Iacovone of Restaurant Cuvée for . We learned how this Culinary Institute of America graduate discovered and fell in love with New Orleans. His delicious cuisine was also visually satisfying. His unique bouillabaisse with pasta pillows stuffed with seafood under a large lobster tail with a scallop precariously perched on top was as artistic and joyful as the Mardi Gras floats that were beginning to wind their way through the city. His Moonpie and Dreamsicle dessert was another fanciful and fun homage to Mardi Gras time.

kreweThat evening we discovered that we had arrived in time to enjoy some early Mardi Gras parades. Because there are so many "krewes" or clubs that put together parades for Mardi Gras, they need to be spread over a few weeks. Within minutes I had accumulated numerous beads. I was a little perplexed when I was thrown a package of paper cups but I later learned that they were a real special treat. I now know that catching the right Mardi Gras "throws" can provide a year's worth of glassware!

kreweWalking through the French Quarter, we came across impromptu parades or "strolls" as krewes traveled to and from parties. Often announced by sirens from police car escorts, jazz bands were followed by happy and/or tipsy partiers dressed in elaborate, funny, sexy, and creative theme oriented costumes. Despite all that the people of New Orleans have been through, Mardi Gras is the time to show off your sense of humor and enjoy life. (Not a bad lesson for anyone.)

K-Paul'sOur evening meal was traditional New Orleans cuisine at K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen. Advised to request the coconut cake in advance when we made our reservations, we were fondly greeted by the hosts and waitress as the coconut cake people. When we asked why everyone was happy to see us, we were informed that if there were any coconut cake leftovers, the staff would get to eat them! Midway through the meal, musicians came through the dining room. They stopped playing to thank everyone for coming to K-Paul's. K-Paul'sThey wanted the diners to know how the management made sure to feed them following Katrina and they were grateful that we had chosen to eat at a place with a great heart as well as great food. Afterwards, we had to be rolled out of the restaurant stuffed from our meal of Turtle Soup, Fried Green Tomatoes with Shrimp Remoulade, Blackened Drum Fish, Bronzed Swordfish with Hot Fanny Sauce and the infamous moist and delicious Coconut Cake.

Although we had donated money to different New Orleans post-Katrina recovery organizations, we still felt like we wanted to make a tangible difference. Therefore we had signed up to spend a day working at New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity. We were assigned to a location which turned out to be in the Ninth Ward. Not exactly sure where we were going, we drove up to a small development of brightly colored homes and discovered that we were at the publicized Musicians' Village. There were a couple of hundred volunteers who had showed up with us at 7:30 a.m. on a cold Saturday morning. Participants included busloads of employees from different corporations; lawyers and spouses from a legal conference held in the city; students from local universities, grad schools and high schools; and individuals like us who had a need to do something constructive (literally). My favorite volunteers were part of a bachelor party! These great guys, many who were University of North Carolina friends of the groom-to-be traveled from as far as the state of Washington to do some good prior to celebrating their friend's upcoming nuptials. (Unfortunately none of these great guys lived in NYC.)

Habitat for HumanityGroups were assigned to framing, hole-digging, and roofing. Since there were more people than were needed at this location, we were directed to projects in the East New Orleans section. As we convoyed to our destination we came up close to the devastation that we had seen in pictures and from the car. The few brightly painted Habitat houses that were being constructed in this section stood out among the landscape of grey, destroyed shells of homes. Unlike Musicians' Village where a significant amount of land had been acquired to build a group of houses, in this section only a few individual lots had been acquired and worked on. These houses stood out from the other existing homes not only because of their lavender and peach paint jobs, but because they were being built several feet above the ground. Walking from one Habitat house to another you passed homes in a variety of conditions. Some houses were boarded up, some homes were being emptied, and the saddest were those with broken windows and useless doors with moldy piles of personal belongings strewn around the interior. You suspected that those owners had not returned and very likely would not return.

However, despite the tragedy of Katrina, you could sense a spirit of hope and optimism. In some cases you met and worked with the proud owners of these new homes. These residents were determined to make a go of life. The Habitat houses are not free handouts. The owners purchase these homes after putting in 300 plus hours of sweat equity on other homes and paying a price of $75,000 (which covers materials, professional plumbing and electrical work.) To earn the money for their homes, the people need jobs. Therefore the tourism and industry returning to New Orleans are essential to help the citizens support themselves. It seemed to me that most of the rebuilding of New Orleans was not through handouts and government aid (we've all heard enough about FEMA- the butt of many New Orleans jokes). Instead, the rebirth of New Orleans is coming from people who made a concerted effort to open their restaurants, refurbish and open the hotels and bring back local businesses. The Universities like Tulane who made a commitment to reopen their schools as soon as possible and bring back out-of-town students, displaced faculty, and support services did a lot to jump start the economy. As long as there are people in the city, they will need food, clothes, and medical services which in turn open up more employment needs and opportunities for other New Orleanians. As New Orleans residents and families return, they in turn need schools, shelter, food, and other services which bring more employment opportunities and so on and so forth.

After an exhausting day of digging post holes, pouring cement and scraping floors, we returned downtown in time for more Mardi Gras parades. We enjoyed being part of the crowds cheering for the floats and begging for beads. Later we arrived at Restaurant Cuvée for a leisurely meal including an amuse bouche of tuna ceviche; appetizers of foie gras two ways including a heavenly foie gras crème brulée with tart apples and chevre, and a seared sea scallop with celeriac purée and potato rosti; main courses of smoked duck breast and whole confit leg with Cashel Bleu-walnut risotto, mustard and herb crusted salmon filet over lump crabmeat and brie orzo, and Porcini crusted seared yellow fin tuna atop an English green pea puree with a touch of crème fraiche; and finally desserts including a honey and nut pancake with poached pear and cheese and a mocha bombe.

cuvee entreecuvee entreecuvee dessert


The next morning we strolled around the French Quarter and were greeted on Decatur Street by an unexpected stroll featuring a band and pre-parade group of Carrollton Krewe members. The family oriented group was very generously giving away their beads (maybe because there weren't too many other takers at 10am on a Sunday morning.) Next we meandered to Café du Monde for a requisite bag of beignets. I was happy to see a line at the take out window since it was pretty empty during my last visit in August. The lines were tourists as well as disappointed Carnival cruise people who had discovered their cruise had been cancelled due to recent damage to the ship. Bad luck for these vacationers meant more tourists to enjoy New Orleans.

Table One BrasserieOur final farewell to New Orleans was a delicious and friendly Sunday brunch at Table One Brasserie on Magazine Street. A group of us enjoyed a menu of Homemade Louisiana style Boudin Blanc with Poached Eggs, Grilled Baby Drum with a lemon beurre fondu, Fried Scallop Salad, Smoked Salmon Omelette, and Eggs Benedict. The experienced and celebrated New Orleans chef Gerard Maras was there to prepare our entrees and send us home.

As usual, our trip to New Orleans flew by. We didn't have much time to wander uptown. There are still many more restaurants I want to visit and bread puddings I need to taste! I still haven't taken a local cooking class or heard enough jazz. It looks like I need to plan another visit! Hopefully, there will be even more people in New Orleans next time.

September 2006

Land Thai Kitchen, 450 Amsterdam Avenue, NYC

Thai worth trying

I always enjoy interviewing the chefs and owners of restaurants on the website, but it's just as much fun going back and eating at the restaurants on my own. This Saturday, I had the opportunity to revisit Land Thai Kitchen for lunch. I arrived around 2 PM and the restaurant was packed with diners. We were lucky to get the last open table in the place.

When I sat down and looked around, the restaurant was exactly how I remembered it from the time of the interview. The staff was also extremely friendly and attentive, which reminded me of the same service we received on our prior visit. Our waitress immediately came to the table to take drink orders and see if we had any questions.

Besides serving fabulous Thai food, the restaurant also offers an $8 lunch special. The lunch special includes an appetizer and entree from their lunch menu. The portions are generous and this is one of the best deals in town.

I was excited to see that their Drunken Noodles was on the lunch menu since it was my favorite dish from our previous visit. David Banks, the chef and owner, even took me into the kitchen to demonstrate how it was prepared during my prior visit. I was amazed that it only took a few minutes and some simple ingredients to create such a flavorful dish. He made it look so easy! I have a feeling that cooking this dish in my apartment would only lead to a plate of burnt noodles and a screeching fire alarm.

Everyone I was with ordered a different appetizer, and everyone was pleased with their dish. I had the vegetable dumplings, which were filled with vegetables and crushed peanuts. Other appetizers ordered included a papaya salad, vegetable spring rolls, and a fried roll filled with shrimp mousse and vegetables. This last appetizer was a special that day.

The majority of my group ordered Drunken Noodles with varying degrees of spiciness. Unless you can handle the heat, you may want to ask them to kick down the spice level a notch. I witnessed a grown man tear after taking a few bites at the normal level of spice.

We were taught that you handle the heat by washing down your meal with Thai iced tea. This drink is bright orange and consists primarily of coconut milk. It's amazing how the sweetness of the beverage washes away the fire from your meal. The drink is so tasty, that I'd recommend ordering it even if you have a mild dish.

This is also another restaurant with a noteworthy bathroom. Instead of a typical sink, there is a long clear cylinder with holes along the bottom. When you turn on the water, it flows through the cylinder and drips out the holes. The water from the sink then drips into a pile of rocks. If you're reading this and still wonder what the hell I'm talking about, you should just check it out yourself.

Since i don't live or work on the Upper West Side, I rarely find myself eating in this area of the city. However, it's definitely worth the trip.

Nobu 57, 40 W57th St., NYC.

Beats the sushi menu slid under your apartment door

Having heard numerous fabulous reviews about Nobu downtown, I believe that it's one of the places you have to try at least once while you're living in the city. Since time and my budget has keep me from the original, I jumped at the opportunity to visit Nobu 57 through my “real” job. My office is near Nobu 57, and I was thrilled when we were able to get the last available reservation for a 6pm work dinner. We arrived at the restaurant a few minutes early, so we sat downstairs and enjoyed the people watching. The bar area was a typical after work scene – filled with guys in suits and women that were hoping to get picked up by one of them. Most people looked like they were in their early 30's and waiting for the majority of their dinner parties to arrive before heading upstairs.

I was surprised at the layout and décor inside the restaurant. While located in midtown, the restaurant's interior made you feel like you are in another world. The upstairs dining area was a large open space that was lined by the sushi bar on one side. My only complaint with the decorations was that the windows should have been masked to hide the view of 57th St. It was weird to look out the window while eating dinner and notice that someone across the street was starring in at you! Considering that we were told we received the last reservation, I was surprised at how empty the place looked. Of course, who eats at 6pm in Manhattan? When we first sat down it was relatively quiet since diners were just being seated. However, by 7pm the room was packed and you could hear shouts and laughs from nearby tables. The loud roar may have been due to the fact that the crowd downstairs had finished several cocktails before heading upstairs for dinner.

There were a lot of people sitting at the sushi bar eating dinner on their own. However, I think there are other places that may be better to try on your own. While you can get their sushi, a lot of the dishes are meant to be shared. I've grown up in a family that loves to share … everything! We've shared so many dishes that my mom has perfected the skill of dividing an appetizer into three, four, or even five pieces and making sure that everyone gets a little taste of everything on the plate. My advice to anyone visiting Nobu 57 on their own is to quickly become friends with the person at the sushi bar sitting next to you. Maybe if you're lucky my mom can come over and make sure you both get an even amount of everything.

Fortunately, I was with a group that decided to order several appetizers for everyone to share. I've probably eaten tuna at over fifty restaurants in the city and must admit that their salad with sashimi tuna was a big hit. Another popular appetizer was the shrimp with a spicy sauce similar to that of a spicy tuna roll. My favorite shared dish was the Black Cod with Miso. It was amazing how sweet this fish tasted, and I would definitely order it again. For my main course I ordered the Chilean Sea Bass in a black bean sauce which was delicious as well.

Luckily we all managed to save some room for dessert. Since I was with a group of chocolate lovers we decided on the Milk Chocolate Yuzu Cake. Our waitress told us that if we wanted chocolate we selected the wrong dessert since there was not any chocolate in that dish. How can something be described as a milk chocolate cake and not contain any chocolate? While we were still puzzled by her comment we listened to her advice and changed our order. We ended up switching to the bento box and rice pudding instead. The bento box had a molten chocolate cake which was the perfect dessert for what we had in mind. We had it with a scoop of peanut butter ice cream and it brought to mind a gourmet Reeses Peanut Butter Cup. When our waitress brought over the second dessert she told us to enjoy our marshmallow s'mores. We were confused because we didn't order any marshmallow s'mores or even see it on the menu. (Although I have to admit that it sounded much better than rice pudding.) Then she opened the top of the dish and said, “Surprise, here's your rice pudding!” Too bad.

Of course a restaurant visit cannot be complete without a trip to the bathroom. I'm glad that I was the last person in my party to go because it was almost hidden in the wall, and knowing my luck I would have been the person circling around the back of the restaurant not able to find it. I have to admit that I did like their bathroom once I went inside. There was no line, it was clean, and most importantly, I liked the way the soap smelled.

Overall I have to say that Nobu 57 is a restaurant worth visiting. Whether you sit at the sushi bar, have a drink downstairs, or come with a group for a formal dinner, you're guaranteed to have a great experience ... or at least until you get the bill.

August 2006

Sushi Samba, 245 Park Avenue South, NYC

A hot sushi scene

Each month I get together with two former coworkers for our monthly dinner. Since we all work at new companies, we no longer have the time for a daily gossip fest, so we meet once a month to have it over dinner. This gives us an opportunity to visit somewhere “fun” while catching up on all the stories from the past month.

We decided that we had to have a dinner on the roof of Sushi Samba on 7th Avenue before the summer was over. We made a reservation way in advance and were very excited for this little reunion. Of course our designated night took place during the heat wave where you would sweat just stepping outside. Since the weather was not suitable for outdoor dining and two of us lived closer to the Park Avenue Sushi Sambe, we decided to change to that location. So much for our rooftop dining plan!

We were seated in the side room/bar. This section has a more romantic flair than the main dining room, which is probably why we noticed several dates there. One of them was not going very well because the guy at the table spent the whole time looking at the movie screen in the back of the room instead of focusing on his date. The fact that we spent so much time observing everyone around the room is probably why it took us an hour to decide what to order. (Or maybe it was due to the fact that we had so many stories to share that it took us 45 minutes to even open the menu).

Our selections were made and we started with a salad and a Pastel for an appetizer. The Pastel is a crispy empanada filled with shiitake mushrooms, manchego, and cabrales cheese on walnut-corn salsa. While it was be a little too rich to eat the entire dish on your own, it was the perfect item to share. We enjoyed the salad as well, but can you honestly mess up a field green salad?

All three of us ordered shushi for the main course. However, we were surprised that they served us all the rolls on the same plate. Since everyone ordered separate rolls, we would have preferred to be served individually and then share if we desired. My favorite was the Neo Tokyo roll which has yellowfin tuna, tumpura flakes, and aji panca, or in other words, a fancy spicy tuna crunch roll.

Don't worry, I also checked out the bathroom at Sushi Samba. My only complaint is that you have to go downstairs for it. (I don't like going downstairs to the bathroom at dark restaurants when I'm wearing heels). However, I am a big fan of the sink. While it probably is not worth a trip downstairs just to see it, the sink is full of rocks, which is definitely a nice touch. My friends (who are both shorter than me) also complained that the mirrors in the bathroom are too high, so they could not see into them. I guess it's a good thing they weren't on dates!

Despite the warm temperature and the schlep to the bathroom, Sushi Samba Park is a restaurant worth visiting. With its trendy atmosphere, it's the ideal location for a date or girls night out. Whether or not you go there during a heat wave, you're guaranteed to have one hot meal!

Ess-A-Bagel, 359 First Avenue, NYC

What a bagel

As you've already learned from this website, my family is very interested in learning about the best restaurants in NYC. My brother was almost finished with his internship for the summer and wanted to make sure he visited some of the top picks on Citysearch before he returned to school. The top bagel place on Citysearch's 2006 list is near my apartment, so we decided to go there for brunch.

When we got to Ess-A-Bagel, the line was so long that people were waiting outside the door. I guess everyone else must have read the same Citysearch list as well. Luckily, the line moved prety fast, so we only had to wait 15 minutes.

I looked in the glass display at the counter and it appeared that they had at least 20 different types of spreads for your bagel. They even had a cookies and cream spread. While some of them definitely sounded interesting, I decided to stick to the whitefish spread. One reviewer said it was the best whitefish salad in the world. How could I not try it?

While it may not have been the best whitefish salad in the world, it definitely ranks pretty high on my list. It was also one of the biggest bagels I've ever eaten.

Overall, I'd say it's a bagel place worth trying. Good job Citysearch voters! Have any of you visited the bathroom? Sorry I missed it, so I can't fill you in this time.

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