Sunday, January 22, 2012

Warming up for Mardi Gras: the "Super Bowl" of eating and partying

Dwight The Wine Doctor

Warming up for Mardi Gras; the “Super Bowl” of gastronomy

Story and photo gallery by Dwight Casimere

-A friendly greeting at Pierre Maspero's

-Daybreak over the French Quarter

-Dwight The Wine Doctor with Chef Richard Tyler (r)

-Barbeque Shrimp

-Fettuccini Corn Maque Choux

-Crescent City Combo of Jambalaya, Red Beans & Rice, Chicken & Andouille Sausage Gumbo, Crawfish Etouffee

-Chef Richard Tyler

New Orleans—Before the coin toss at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 5 at Super Bowl XLVI, another important event of national significance will step off in the Crescent City, the start of Mardi Gras season. Before Fat Tuesday, February 21, revelers here will have participated in dozens of parades, Krewe Balls and celebrations. Once the Twelfth Night Revelers hold their Bal Masque and Phunny Phorty Phellows take their annual ride along St. Charles Avenue, the crescendo of parties begin. The single largest activity that units them is indulging in all manner of food and drink.

Eating is practically a religion in New Orleans. “We wake up in the morning talking about what we’re planning to have for dinner,” said Carol Miller, Director of Training for Creole Cuisine, the parent company to several restaurants located in the French Quarter. That fact was borne out in a behind-the-scenes look at several iconic restaurants in the French Quarter and the burgeoning Warehouse District. A chefs-eye view proved that not only is eating a religion, but food is this city’s Holy Grail and its restaurants are its Temples of Gastronomy, especially during Mardi Gras Season.

“Dieting is not in our culture,” said Chef Richard Tyler of The Original Pierre Maspero’s restaurant on Chartres Street. “We love butter too much.” The combination of copious amounts of butter and that “holy trilogy” of seasonings, garlic, onion and celery and a mix of homemade spices that probably date back to the restaurant’s inception in 1788, may account for the heady mix of flavors and textures that distinguishes such signature dishes as New Orleans Barbeque Shrimp ($9.95) and Seafood Stuffed Pistollettes ($8.95), a creamy mélange of crawfish, shrimp and crabmeat stuffed inside a miniature baguette of crusty French bread with a mixture of onions, peppers and cheese. The sandwich is then flash fried and served piping hot. “”It’s very decadent,” chef Tyler, warned, “but very delicious.

Another house specialty, Cochon De Lait ($11.95) prompted a return visit. A pork roast is marinated overnight and stuffed with jalapeño peppers and garlic and then slow-roasted for 24 hours. It’s then served Po’Boy style, on a crunchy French roll with pickles and lettuce. A healthy dollop of mayonnaise rounds it out for a messy, but mouth-watering treat. A Sausage Trio of alligator, andouille and smoked hot sausage, grilled with Cajun seasonings and With Creole mustard for dipping ($9.95), made for a hearty meal, but local would only consider this a starter!

Moving into the entrees, Fettuccini Corn Maque Choux ($16.95), “we just love to put ‘o-u-x’ after every other word!” Miller exclaimed, proved to be the star of the afternoon. A pasta dished that harkens back to the days of New Orleans earliest settlers, the Arcadians, or “Cajuns” as they were later dubbed, the dish combines sautéed corn, peppers and Tasso, a spicy, local cured ham, in a rich sauce made with heavy cream and, of course, butter, tossed with pasta and then topped with blacked chicken. Whew! I get full just writing about it!

Alternate glasses of Main Street Cabernet and a new arrival, a Pinot Grigio from Italy, from the restaurant’s compact, but well thought out wine list helped the flavors bounce along the palette.

A pre-prandial Bloody Mary ($10) proved a revelation. Made with a house-infused vodka that is marinated with cocktail onion, olives, spicy pickled green beans and sundried tomatoes for 24-48 hours is then combined with a Homemade spice blend (no secrets divulged here), horseradish, Tabasco, Worsteshire, pepper and Zing Zang Bloody Mary Mix is shaken and poured in a tall Hurricane glass over ice and garnished with olives, cocktail onions and a piece of pickled green bean. It’s a nice way to get your veggies in and a hefty buzz at the same time.

Pierre Maspero’s was only the first stop of the day, for lunch. Dinner would be another adventure. As they say in the Vieux Carre, “Laissez les bon temps rouler,” Let the good times roll!

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