Spring Break 2008 Part II
I just finished the second half of a spring break sandwich that started in the South Louisiana swamps of Cajun country and ended in the French Quarter of New Orleans.
My wife, son, daughter, and I had fun during the first leg of the vacation, but the trip to New Orleans might be my best visit to the city in 46 years.
The cottage at The Soniat House provided the perfect home base to make quick jaunts into the city with the kids in tow. The weather was perfect and we were able to keep the French doors that led into the private courtyard open during the entire visit. It was certainly a departure from the hot and stifling summer’s we have spent walking and dining below sea level in the French Quarter.
The Soniat House is perfect. It feels like New Orleans ought to feel. No other hotel in the city provides as much authenticity and service while, at the same time, exceeding their guest’s expectations at every turn. And it’s all done in a very low-key and understated manner. I can only think of one other hotel in the country that I have enjoyed more than The Soniat House.
The culinary leg of this New Orleans weekend can be split into three chapters:
Chapter One: The Cajun Master— During the previous weekend we spent three days in Cajun country, but never once ate anything that came close to the dinner we enjoyed at K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen on our first night in New Orleans.
Paul Prudhomme is the master of rich and complex stocks, and as all cooks know, ground zero for superior cooking is in the quality of the stock. No one makes better stocks, period. The sauces and soups that are served from the K-Paul’s kitchens are unmatched in their depth of flavor.
Make no mistake; Paul Prudhomme is still the master. He might not be as visible as he was in the early 1980s, but he is still the man.
Chapter Two: Oyster Heaven— For the last several years I have answered the what-would-your-last meal-be question with the answer, “My grandmother’s leg of lamb.” I haven’t changed that answer, but I have modified the meal after this weekend. I would still request my grandmother’s leg of lamb, but I would have Drago’s charbroiled oysters as a last-meal appetizer.
For 20 years friends and acquaintances have urged me to visit Drago’s in Metairie. It has been on my culinary to-do list for a long time, but I never found myself in the suburbs during recent visits.
One year ago Drago’s opened at the Hilton Riverside. We stopped by the restaurant after an Audubon Aquarium of the Americas and adjoining IMAX Theatre visit. I ordered a dozen charbroiled oysters. They were devoured in a matter of minutes. I ordered another half dozen and soon they, too, were gone. I ordered another half dozen and could have kept going if my kids hadn’t gotten bored watching me make a pig out of myself.
Drago’s invented the charbroiled oyster and they do it better than anyone. The oysters are placed on the grill, doused with pepper and garlic-spiked butter, then topped with a mixture of parmesan and romano cheese, and doused with the butter again. The flames of the grill rise up and surround the oysters every time the butter is applied. The shells become charred and the oysters, smoky. Simple. Flavorful. Excellent.
Charbroiled oysters from Drago’s are my favorite seafood dish. Period. End of discussion.
Chapter Three: North Shore Authenticity— Last year Chef John Besh bought his former mentor’s— Chris Kerageorgiou— North Shore mainstay, La Provence. It was the perfect place to spend Easter lunch. Windsor Court Grill Room veteran chef, Rene Bajeaux is manning the stoves and overseeing the kitchen garden and hog and chicken-raising operation out back.
Besh is the leader of the locally grown movement in Louisiana and, along with Restaurant August, La Provence is reaping the results. It takes a lot of time and effort to forge relationships with local farmers and ranchers. It takes even more time and effort to raise hogs and chickens on your own. Luckily for us, La Provence believes in making that extra effort.
If you don’t have the time and resources to travel to France at the moment, don’t worry. Head down Highway 190 in Lacombe, Louisiana the next time you’re within 90 miles of the area and you’ll get to experience the flavors and ambiance without the jetlag.
We drove home with renewed spirits and full stomachs, dreaming of charbroiled oysters and spring lamb. A few miles across the state line, I noticed my wife thumbing through her pocket calendar. I can’t be sure, but I’ll bet she was beginning to schedule our next Louisiana culinary adventure. I can only hope.
Grilled Leg of Lamb with Raspberry Mint Sauce
1/2 cup Roasted Garlic Puree
1/4 cup Olive Oil
1 Tbl Fresh Rosemary, chopped
1/4 cup Fresh Mint, chopped
2 Tbl Sherry Vinegar
1 Boneless Leg of Lamb, 3- 31/2 pounds, butterflied
1 Tbl Black Pepper, freshly ground
2 Tbl Kosher Salt
Place the garlic, oil, rosemary, mint and vinegar in a mixing bowl. Blend together using a wire whisk.
Trim any excess fat and sinew from the lamb. Lay the lamb on a flat surface, and spread half of the garlic mixture over one the surface. Roll the lamb tightly into a cylinder. Tie the lamb with butcher’s twine so that it maintains the cylinder shape. Rub the outside of the lamb with the remaining garlic mixture, and sprinkle the surface with the salt and pepper. Allow the lamb to sit at room temperature 30-40 minutes before grilling.
Prepare the grill. Sear the lamb for 15-20 minutes over medium direct heat, turning every 3-4 minutes. Once the lamb has browned on all sides, continue cooking over medium indirect heat until the lamb has reached desired doneness, approximately one hour and fifteen minutes for medium rare. Remove the lamb from the grill and let rest 15 minutes before carving. Cut away the twine. Using a carving knife, cut lamb against the grain into 1/4-inch thick slices.
Serve with Raspberry Mint Sauce.
Raspberry Mint Sauce
3 Tbl Olive oil
2 Tbl Shallot, minced
1 cup Raspberries
1/ 2 cup Sugar
1 cup Red wine
1 1/ 2 cups Veal demi glace
3 Tbl Cold Unsalted Butter, cut into small cubes
1/2 tsp Kosher Salt
1 Tbl fresh Mint, chopped
In a saucepan over medium heat, combine raspberries, sugar, and red wine and simmer until most of the liquid is gone. Purée mixture and pass through a fine mesh strainer.
Return the strained mixture to a small sauce pot and add the demi glace. Bring the mixture to a simmer. Add the butter cubes while whisking briskly. Stir until all of the butter is incorporated. Remove the sauce from the heat and add salt and mint. Store in a warm place until needed.