Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The City That Made Me Indulge


Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday is a feasting day before Lent; indulgence before penance. The weeks leading up, known as Carnival, are celebrated with parties, masked balls, parades and calorie dense food. It’s a time to be a bit naughty—and so I had good reason to devour New Orleans’s finest fare.

My husband and I, along with good friends- the Granfield's, make an annual pilgrimage to the Big Easy -- Jay and Gary belong to a krewe and ride in a parade. Our itinerary always includes a visit to Arnaud’s Restaurant in the French Quarter. The 90-year-old landmark features a Creole menu and a reputation that never disappoints.

We start with gulf shrimp covered in a spicy Remoloude sauce, just on the edge of too hot.

Then move on to Pommes Soufflé- a house specialty, served as an appetizer or a side. Forget heart health because this dish, a fancy version of French fries, involves frying the potatoes TWICE. They magically puff up to look like helium-filled fingers, except toddler sized. If that's not enough to clog the arteries, they are served with Béarnaise sauce.

Warning -Don’t try making these at home, unless you have an industrial deep fat fryer. The second frying calls for the oil to be 450 degrees.

Entree suggestions include Trout Almondine, Pompano en Croute, Roast Louisiana Quail Elzey – filled with Foie Gras mousse or Filet Charlemond- steak with more Bearnaise sauce. This year I chose Veal Tournedos, covered in wild mushroom gravy, simply melting on my tongue.



Dessert is the finest show in the city (and need I mention, there are many competing shows). Café Brûlot requires an expert and head waiter, Charles Abbyad, performed the honors. The cinnamon citrus coffee mixture, prepared tableside, smells better than any Starbuck's. There is no need for dessert, but if you are inclined (and I was) Bananas Foster can’t be topped.

During my group’s weekend escapade, we also consumed spicy Po’Boys at Felix’s, (mine was soft-shell crab), enjoyed a succulent steak at Emeril’s NOLA restaurant, and munched beignets at Café du Monde.

Café du Monde, is a no frills coffeehouse, the place I most look forward to revisiting. Their beignets are world renowned and coated my black jeans with powdered sugar, unquestionably worth the whitewash. You never know who- Rod Stewart- or what you will see- like a lady clad ONLY body paint who sat down to order!


And, of course, we squeezed into crowded Pat O’Brien’s to down their signature cocktails called hurricanes. They were called that before Katrina, but like the wicked storm, these drinks can wreck havoc. Sip, don’t drink and sing along with the dueling pianos.

Yes, Mardi Gras put an end to calorie counting. Indulge in the Big Easy, she’s never been better. As of Ash Wednesday-- I gave up unhealthy fare- right?



ARNAUD’S CAFÉ BRULOT
From Arnaud's Restaurant Cookbook by Kit Wohl; Pelican Publishing Company, 2005.


1 whole orange with a continuous curl of peel, studded with cloves*
Two-inch stick of cinnamon
6 whole cloves
3 Tablespoons slivered orange peel
¼ cup slivered lemon peel
3 sugar cubes
½ cup brandy
2 Tablespoons Curacao, Grand Marnier or Cointreau
3 cups, hot strong coffee
Long fireplaces matches

*Cutting the orange peel in one intact piece takes practice. Have about a half dozen oranges available.

Instructions:

In advance, prepare the orange, peeling only the skin and membrane, avoiding the inner white pith. Stud with cloves.

In a copper bowl, chafing dish or saucepan, combine the cinnamon, cloves, slivered orange and lemon peel and sugar cubes. Place over medium heat and crush together with the back of a ladle.

Add the brandy and Curacao to the ladle and light with a long match. Spear the orange with a long fork. Slowly pour the flaming brandy onto the peel, so it drizzles down the spiral into the bowl. Stir thoroughly and simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar.

As the flames begin to die out, gradually add the coffee. Ladle into cups, leaving the spices behind.


* At home, this dish is a two man operation. Always make sure your work area is clear to avoid catching anything else on fire.

For more information about Arnaud's Restaurant: www.arnauds.com