Review: Halcyon

18 April 2018

A bit of a headache getting to Charlotte the next day, compounded by unannounced internal construction chaos at my hotel. When you’re tired in your hotel room, the last thing you want to hear is drilling so loud you can’t even use your phone — and I had an important call to make. Ugh… But at least I had a nice trek around the city centre. I won’t mention my weak lunch…

Annoyed as I was, I still headed out to my dinner destination with an open mind. Tonight’s destination is Halcyon – Flavors from the Earth, a restaurant connected to the Mint Museum Uptown. I walked the few blocks and eventually found the restaurant on the 2nd floor and was seated at an odd kitchen’s counter as the bar was busy.

I soon relaxed as my wonderful bartender/server Melissa came by, brought me my drink, and ran through the menu with me. I then ordered and chilled with the good drink..and yes, that is bacon!

1st cocktail

After a little while the two small plates I ordered both appeared. First up the stuffed calamari…

1-stuffed calamari

Not bad, surprised the consistency worked so well. Usually the stuffing flies out when you slice it, but this was done very well. Very tasty, a good start! Then I quickly switched my attention to the scallops and pork belly…

2-scallops pork belly

Oh my…I just closed my eyes when slowly eating this… I’ve had some amazing scallops in Hokkaido and western Norway, and whatever this was, this was nearly as good. The prep was perfect, the cooking perfect, the scallops held that beautiful sweetness you want with just a tiny amount of cooking that’s needed. Lovely, lovely dish. Could easily be on the Top 10 dishes of 2018 list…easily! Oh, the pork belly was prety good too, as were the maitakes!

I slowly enjoyed the two dishes side-by-side as I enjoyed another cocktail. Really enjoying this evening! The place had emptied out a little and would have been nice to have switched to the bar, but I think they were wiping it down already. My excellent bartender came back and asked about mains, and I ordered — and did another of the first cocktail

3-duck tortellini

After a little while the main, duck tortellini, appeared. Perhaps could have been cooked for 10 seconds more, but it was good. The mushroom sauce was excellent, especially with the goat cheese, and the duck egg just added a wonderful extra touch to it all. Lovely and filling!

I was pretty full, especially when the cocktails have a food component! For dessert I could only enjoy some freshly-churned ice cream…

4-ice cream

Mmm, a nice end. I had a rye to close the night and thanked my excellent bartender/server. This was a total surprise to be honest. I did not expect anything close to as good as what I had this evening. Highly recommended for both food and drink. This may bring be back to Charlotte again in the future!

Halcyon
500 South Tryon Street
Charlotte, North Carolina

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Review: Rolf and Daughters

17 April 2018

It was a trial getting out of New Orleans. Even though my flight left at 5.45am, MSY airport was a clustershitshow… Ridiculous queues since the check-in area is so antiquated. No one needs to be unhappy queuing at 4.30am especially extremely hungover… But I then spent the next two days in Tennessee.

I spent the time exploring the east-central part of the state, taking many mountainous windy roads along the way. Part of the fun, even with a wee compact car. Eventually made it back to Nashville late the second day. Before heading out to Charlotte the next morning, I had a dinner slot open. I decided to check out a well-regarded new place called Rolf and Daughters.

I got there and it was already pretty busy at 6pm, thanks to a lively bar. I sat at the bar and relaxed with a cocktail, then placed my dinner order. I enjoyed my drink and soon my starter arrived, and at first I was puzzled…

1-squid

This was supposed to be a squid dish, but in fact it was — just under quite a lot of julienned stuff. The squid itself was pretty good, and the dish generally worked in concert. Just a little too much fluff on top to be honest. Then after a little bit, my main course — today’s pork special — appeared.

2-pork_edited

This was a contrasting dish overall. The loin was utterly fantastic. Perfectly cooked, juicy and flavourful, one of the best pork loins I’ve had in a long time. But only 2 wee slices…that was disappointing. The boudin noir in back was sadly rather ordinary, very meh. I really wish the dish focused on the loin rather than the mediocre boudin. I felt a little cheated here…

Anyway, I was actually still hungry at this point, so I ordered another cocktail and dish and chilled out, chatting with some fine folks around me and behind the bar. Then the third dish appeared, a pasta to close…

3-agnolotti

A good agnolotti dish with ricotta and pea, definitely a good combination. A tasty and hearty dish that definitely filled me up. This worked well as a Mel-style dessert.

I had a last drink and coffee before I departed, thanking the staff for a nice evening. Rolf and Daughters is probably the best food I’ve had in Nashville, but the way the food goes from kitchen to my mouth was the disappointing part. The short-changing on the pork was the biggest disappointment, almost like they mismanaged the kitchen and ran way short of it. Or else they fobbed me off. Either way, it brought down a good dish and a potentially really good night. Good bar, good energy.

I’d recommend this place, but for me this is a once-and-done. Even if on the rare chance I end up in Nashville again, there are too many places in this growing city to try. This was good, but left me feeling that it could have been so much better if they didn’t skimp on things.

Rolf and Daughters
700 Taylor Street
Nashville, Tennessee

Review: Compère Lapin

15 April 2018

I woke up a little groggy having had a few too many in the hotel bar due to the storm, but I also got to sleep in a bit more than I have in the last few days. This morning’s trip alarm at 8am is a luxury… The storm had completely rolled through and it’s a totally clear day. I was heading back to NOLA after a nice night here in Mobile and dinner at Kitchen on George.

I zoomed out of town towards Louisiana before the Sunday traffic got unpleasant. It was a Spring Break ending weekend, so they are anticipating traffic. And I heard the French Quarter Festival had all its events on stormy Saturday cancelled, so there could be more folks heading into town for the closing day.

But not really much traffic, so I dodged it. I had a few things to do in NOLA that was easier with a car. No dealing with stupid useless streetcars today. But then I returned my car and headed to my hotel. I stupidly then went to the rooftop bar, one of the rare ones in NOLA, and drank a bit too much on an empty stomach…oops… Oh, btw that’s the Troubadour Hotel.

I did retreat to my room to rest and to pack…I have a 3am alarm tomorrow. Yes, 3am. Don’t ask me why I do this to myself, but I have a 5.45am flight out of MSY tomorrow, so… Then I headed to dinner at a place I read about, Compère Lapin — a cajun-caribbean inspired place. I thought it all looked interesting.

I should have done more research, but since Sunday pickings are hard to find in NOLA, I went with it. I didn’t realise it was a hotel restaurant first of all… And the service was a shitshow from the initial moment… Utter confusion, but whatever, if the food rates…

I eventually ordered a few small plates and nursed my drink before they started to arrive…all together…

1-arancini

The first was a dirty rice arancini. Great concept, but it was just awfully made. It fell into pieces upon the softest touch and basically ate it like a rice dish. And it was boring flavour-wise. They could have done soooo much with this dish… Then the conch fritters…

2-conch croquettes

A little better, but really boring. All breading, no conch. The food so far has that “chain family restaurant” feel about it, and it was far worse than the hotel lunch I had during the first pass into NOLA. My fear of my NOLA curse is back… The last were the pigs ears…

3-pigs ears

It was seasoned poorly, cooked poorly, and the portion size an insult. At this point I was still hungry, but lost interest in this place. I gave them one last chance tho, and ordered a larger dish. It came surprisingly fast, which is worrisome…

4-pepper pot

The pepper pot. Huh? This lost me. This was smaller than a bowl of soup. Frankly the portions here are just ridiculous. You fry a crap load of stuff, but anything that’s not covered by a ton of breading is minimal. It wasn’t bad, but it was bland. This place is also sanitising the food for the tourism hoardes…

At this point I gave up, and the service collapsed again. I just wanted a coffee to close the night…and guess what? As I wrote in my notes at the time, the coffee was the best thing all evening. Sad…

Took ages to pay for this and I left less than happy. What a waste of a last night, and to have to remember this when my alarm comes on at 3am? Sigh… I think this is the last time I will step foot into NOLA. This town and I just don’t agree…

Compère Lapin
535 Tchoupitoulas Street
New Orleans, Louisiana

Review #2: Kitchen on George

14 April 2018

A bit of a hangover when I was woken up by a Tornado siren…oh the joy. I knew this weather was gonna catch up to me. Last night after that amazing dinner at Parlor Market, I did manage to plan out today. There is no way I was gonna escape this awful weather that was coming through the revion, but I planned it as best as possible to avoid as much of it on the road as possible.

I headed out going straight south on I-55, knowing that I rather be on wider roads when it’s nearly a white-out. Still annoys me how many cars (especially gray ones!) don’t have their headlights on in the massive storm… I rolled into Magnolia and stopped and checked — seems the tornado warning are now ahead of me towards the east, so I can start cutting over eastward. My final destination was Mobile, so I pushed through — although the roads are now local highways and somewhat less safe.

A few hours later, just a few miles into Alabama, the skies cleared…and I rolled into Mobile with the town still dry, feeling like Jackson did yesterday. You can sense it was coming. So instead of doing my exploration as I had planned for Sunday morning, I ended up having a very busy Saturday afternoon.

I also moved up my dinner earlier, as to escape the storm that was predicted to come in during the evening hours. I headed to Kitchen on George and perched myself again at the bar. I had a wonderful meal here last time, and although some things have changed, I was still very happy with the menu.

Nice to chat with a friendly bartender as always, and I ordered as I enjoyed a drink. Soon the starter arrived…

1-corn crab soup

A nice corn and crab soup, worked well. I ordered a smaller starter knowing how big the main could be, and it was…

2-lamb shank

You don’t get lamb shank often in this part of the country, and this was done really well. Good meat, flavours were very strong and worked with the glaze. Lot of volume, so slowly enjoyed this with a few glasses of wine. A nice main. I still had some room, despite this, so went with a dessert…

3-ricotta cheesecake

I couldn’t resist this ricotta cheesecake. Lovely stuff, though I was getting a strange aftertaste. I happily used a rye to clear that away…

A good dinner, perhaps not as good as my first visit, but still shows Mobile is no sloucher when it comes to food along the Gulf. As good as anything you can find in NOLA for sure. Recommended if you are in the area!

Kitchen on George
351A George Street
Mobile, Alabama

PS: The weather held up until I got back to my hotel. Frankly, it exploded about an hour later when I was sitting in the hotel bar, and it was with a vengeance…lucky I planned today so well!

Review #3: Parlor Market

13 April 2018

The previous day my adventuring took me around Louisiana that closed with a nice dinner at Louisiana Lagniappe in Baton Rouge. Today my journey takes me up the Mississippi River into the state of the same name, exploring places like Natchez and Vicksburg. The weather was rather pleasant, but I kept trying to re-work my plans as some nasty stuff was rolling into the region.

I got to Jackson mid-afternoon, back to a city that few visit but I truly enjoy. I think it’s a misunderstood town, especially the slowly but surely revitalising downtown. It’s not been an easy process, but it’s moving the right way. And I returned for my 3rd visit to the anchor of this revitalisation, Parlor Market.

I sat down at the bar on a busy Friday night in the same seat I was my first visit here a few years back. I looked at the menu and noticed hmmm…there were quite a few more Italian items than previous visits. I asked as I got my drink, and apparently the restaurant was sold to new owners — who happens to also own the popular Walker’s Drive-In (which I visited a few years ago and had an excellent meal).

In any case, the place was still nice and busy, especially the bar. I relaxed with a good cocktail and soon my starter arrived — and I smiled.

1-oyster

These oysters were happily accentuated by calabrian chillies. I usually don’t like my oysters messed with, but these were just scruptious! I could have eaten another half dozen of these things, fabulous! That kick is really the best part, perfect with my strong cocktail!

So far so good, even better than my last visit! Then after a little, and another drink, my main course arrived…

2-duck

Oh my was this duck dish fantastic. The confit was very nice, but the breast was one of the best I’ve had in many, many years. It was so tender and flavourful, not a single bit of stringiness you get with ducks sometimes. So a wonderfully sourced duck was cooked perfectly. As a duck connoisseur who consumes a fair bit of these fowls, when I cheer one on so much it’s pretty serious… I’ve had far less good duck at 3 Michelin and World’s 50 Best places, easily.

I was really happy with this evening, and despite all the food, I was having fun, so went with a dessert — a wonderful olive oil cake.

3-olive oil cake

I do enjoy these things despite how some feel about it. Tasty, a little bit of that Italian menu switch that the new owners apparently are putting in. But frankly the duck shows the execution is even better than ever, whatever they choose to do with the menu direction.

I was still having fun, and wanted one last drink before the road…so I got one, and…well…I ordered another serving of the oysters

I just had to… Had a great evening chatting with the friendly staff before I sadly had to head out. The entire way back to my hotel I was thinking of that duck…wow. Usually I’d be going on and on about the oysters because they were good enough for me to have an encore, but that duck… Will definitely make one of the 10 dishes of 2018 (if I ever get to do another one).

Totally recommended, even if you are in NOLA. It’s a few hours drive north, and the food is better and less pretentious. With this place continuing to anchor the downtown revitalisation, I can see a bright future for this place. I know I’d rather come here than NOLA any day!

Parlor Market
115 West Capitol Street
Jackson, Mississippi

Review: Louisiana Lagniappe

12 April 2018

I left New Orleans very early in the morning just as the crowd for the French Quarter Festival started to drift in. I enjoy the French Quarter, but these days I am definitely not a person for crowds. So I hopped in my little rental car thanks to an extremely efficient Enterprise location on Canal Street and I was off to explore the Bayou.

I’ve never really explored that part of Louisiana, so the entire day I was looping around places like Thibodaux and Donaldsonville, eventually drifting up north towards Lafayette before cutting back towards Baton Rouge. I stopped in Baton Rouge after a long day, but still managed to visit the quite interesting Old State Capitol. Quite a beautiful building inside too.

For dinner I had done some research and had several choices, but for some reason I decided to drive a little to the far edge of town for dinner at Louisiana Lagniappe for some cajun food. It’s a place where the well-to-do locals enjoy local cuisine, so why not. It was already extremely busy by 6pm, which is a good sign. I perched at the bar and relaxed with a drink and explored the menu.

It was busy so not much banter with the bartender at first, but the drinks were good. Then soon my starter arrived, a burning set of stuffed mushrooms.

1-stuffed mushrooms

Pretty nice, the seafood stuffing was very delicious — but they totally overwhelmed the mushrooms! An interesting way of doing it I guess, but it was good. Then my main, today’s fish en papillote

2-black drum papillote

Black drum was today’s catch from Lake Pontchartrain, and it was delicious. I rarely get to enjoy this local fish, and this was cooked perfectly en papillote. Only problem — too small! Delicious!

I was able to have a dessert with the sadly-smallish main course, so I did…

3-banana cake

Rich, nice banana treat here. With some nice brown liquor — just one, as I was driving — this was a nice close to a nice dinner. I headed out, thanking my bartender for the nice evening, and headed back to my hotel.

Really nice dinner here in Louisiana’s capital…and since the sun was still up, I dropped by the Capitol and watched Huey Long’s presence over the state…

Baton Rouge is worth a stop, folks. Nice town, nice folks, good food.

Louisiana Lagniappe
9990 Perkins Road
Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Review: Gabrielle Restaurant

11 April 2018

Even with that lacklustre lunch at Trenasse, I managed a little time to catch my breath but also to do a few things I had planned — which was made far, far more difficult by the absolutely disastrously failing streetcar system…how the locals get to work on this useless system is beyond me…

Later that evening I headed out to dinner somewhere I had never expected to be able to visit. I had put Gabrielle on my list back during my first visit to NOLA ages ago, before Katrina. The restaurant was devastated, as much of the region was, and it wasn’t until last year when the project was resurrected. I was certainly happy about that, and made sure it was top of my list this trip.

I got there by Lyft on a quiet early evening and perched my position at the bar, where I had a wonderful evening conversing with staff and fellow patrons alike, especially the jovial bartender Marsh (yes, that’s his name). The cocktails flowed, and soon my starter arrived. And please, do not judge…

1-rabbit belly

Ponce de lapin, a rare treat. The rabbit’s belly is stuffed with rabbit tenderloin. Well, you know rabbits are not particularly fatty, so it wasn’t as interesting as you may imagine. But a nice start, tasting contrasting cuts of a rarely-served meat. And yes, I love bunnies too, but try to compartmentalise!

Another cocktail later and my main arrived — the pork chop.

2-pork

Done very nicely, albeit a little too trimmed. The mash was extremely rich, and the cheese-stuffed fried pepper was quite delicious. Good stuff. By now the place was absolutely hopping and earlier concerns about it being a slow night was consigned to memory.

I was full so decided against a dessert. However, I had a few liquid desserts before I headed out. I thanked the wonderful team there and hopped onto my Lyft back to my hotel. Gabrielle is quite good, not mind-blowing, but it was definitely a good one. As I mentioned I’ve had some bad luck with food in NOLA in the past, so it’s always good when things turn out well.

Wonderful crew there, glad they are back. Recommended.

Gabrielle Restaurant
2441 Orleans Avenue
New Orleans, Louisiana