Friday, October 19, 2012

Exceptional Dining | Restaurant August

My friend Toma was in town from Juneau, AK last week. She had never been to chef John Besh's flagship restaurant Restaurant August. It was time to remedy that. I made the reservation and gave the chef a heads up that I was bringing a friend for her first meal there.

Kathy and Toma arrived just before me and were already seated when I arrived. Obligatory Sazeracs graced the table. August offers a prix fixe, 3-course lunch menu for $20.12. We all took advantage of this terrific deal.

The team that waited on us was engaging, knowledgable and fun. We placed our order and tore into the hot, fresh-baked french bread slathered with soft, room temperature butter. 

First out was an amuse bouche of thinly sliced bresaola - Italian air-cured beef topped with finely chopped apples and other goodies. I was so busy admiring it that I didn't hear the entire description as it was placed in front of me. I also didn't take a picture of it. It was sumptuous.

Next out were our appetizers. Toma and I got the velouté of acorn squash and apple with Gulf shrimp. The soup was rich and velvety ... it was divine.

Kathy ordered the pate of local pork (the Besh Group raises its own pigs in Lacombe) with house made pickles and marmalades with toasted brioche. It's a big serving so we all got to have a taste. C'est si bon!

While we were totally engrossed in our appetizer course, the waiter brought out a plate of sashimi grade fish topped with cucumbers and mandarin oranges. Light, fresh, crisp, and sweet flavors. 

We devoured every morsel of the food in front of us! Once those dishes were cleared, the chef sent out his version of alligator sauce picante. Small pieces of tender alligator with chopped tomatoes and thinly sliced fresh assorted hot peppers. The peppers had just a slight crunch and just the right amount of heat. Wow! Folks, this is not your mama's sauce picante!

At this point we were 4 courses into the meal, and hadn't gotten to our "entree" yet. As entrees, Kathy and Toma ordered the Manchac softshell crab “BLT” with garlicky bread pudding topped with  tomato and bacon vinaigrette. Lightly battered, perfectly fried buster softshell crab - does it get any better than that? I don't think so. Luscious and decadent.

For my entree, I got the grilled Two Run Farms beef sausage with salsa verde, purple hull peas, peppers and grilled mustard greens. The sausage was tender with a bit of crunch to the exterior. Nice contrast of textures and flavors in the peas, peppers, and grilled mustard greens. 

Now for dessert. We ordered coffee - perfectly brewed coffee & chicory. Then the very talented pastry chef, Kelly Fields, sent out a pre-dessert - her version of PB&J: a small cube of cake topped with chopped peanuts with a taste of house-made peanut butter and muscadine sorbet. Delicious!

Finally, it was time for the official dessert course. Kathy & I ordered the creme fraiche panna cotta with muscadine consomme and hazelnut cake. Perfection!

Toma got the crispy herb gougeres apple compote and warm gouda for dessert. She loved it. I didn't get a picture. Don't hate - at this point I was struggling to sit up.

I'd like to thank chef Michael Gulotta and pasty chef Kelly Fields for the lagniappe that made the experience all the more exceptional for the three of us. Without a doubt, this was one of the best meals I have ever had!

Restaurant August on Urbanspoon

Saturday, October 13, 2012

"Vietnamese Cuisine in New Orleans"

New Orleanian Suzanne Pfefferle was always fascinated with Vietnam and dreamed of visiting the country. In 2010, that dream came true when she traveled to Vietnam with two former Mt. Carmel classmates for a three week adventure.

Once there, Suzanne immersed herself in the culture and cuisine. She took cooking classes in Saigon; ate from the street food vendors; and rather than stay in hotels, she stayed in family-owned guest houses where she dined with the Vietnamese families.  Suzanne said she became a pho fanatic, eating the local staple twice a day.

Suzanne also spent time on the coast of South Vietnam, where she sampled fresh seafood from large, open markets.  To the north, in the Central Highlands, she enjoyed food with a French influence in Da'Lat, known as the mini-Paris of Vietnam. 

Upon her return to New Orleans, Suzanne began compiling research to write a travel article about her adventure. On a whim, she contacted local chef John Besh by e-mail and requested an interview. Within a day or two, chef Besh's team responded and agreed to a meeting with Suzanne.  That meeting changed Suzanne's life. Chef Besh and his colleague, chef Brain Landry of Borgne, have close ties to the local Vietnamese community. They took Suzanne out to New Orleans East where they introduced her to Vietnamese farmers, restaurant owners, fisherman, and Fr. Vien The Nguyen, pastor of Mary Queen of Vietnam church.

By chance one day, Suzanne ran into longtime WYES cameraman Lenny Delbert in her Lakeview neighborhood. She mentioned the article on Vietnam she was writing, and Lenny encouraged her to collaborate with him to make a television show on the subject. Peggy Scott Laborde also encouraged Suzanne to produce her very first production for WYES. And, the rest, as they say, is history.

Suzanne interviews on camera chefs John Besh, Brian Landry and Dominique Macquet; host of Louisiana Eats, Poppy Tooker; and food writers Ian McNulty, Rene Louapre, and Peter Thriffiley, and others.  Tune in on Sunday, October 14, 2012 at 7 p.m.on WYES for "Vietnamese Cuisine in New Orleans." 

An avid traveler, Pfefferle has also visited India, Jamaica, and Egypt. Cuba is her next stop.

Pfefferle attended Loyola University as a Communications major and graduated from Our Lady of Holy Cross College in Liberal Arts, with a concentration on English and art. After graduation, she worked in the Promotion Department of Pelican Publishing Company.  

* All photos provided by WYES & reprinted with their permission.