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

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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

Review: Trenasse

11 April 2018

I headed to the airport at what my friend Simon Majumdar would often call “stupid hour” for a flight to New Orleans, which first stopped in Houston. At least that allowed me to catch up on a little sleep, but it also brought me into NOLA quite early. My room wasn’t quite ready at the InterContinental, but kudos to them for making it easy and actually gave me a room earlier than I expected. Maybe it’s time to quit Hilton…

But as I waited, I dropped into the hotel’s cajun restaurant for lunch, Trenasse. It got quite busy quickly, which is quite interesting. I ordered a few small plates and soon a tasty sazerac was in my hand. Yeah, early, but… Then the food appeared quickly…

boudin ball

The boudin balls were pretty lame to be honest… Then the buffalo frog legs…

buffalo frog legs

These were pretty good, though not sure where they source these frogs as they are quite neutral. I really miss the froggies in Cambodia… Then the last item was chilli shrimp.

chilli shrimp

Again, very boring. But what can you expect from a casual hotel restaurant that’s full of tourists and locals needing a quick lunch? But as I was finishing my coffee the front desk called me to say the room was ready, so I guess it did its job! Can’t ask for much more at this point…

Trenasse
InterContinental New Orleans
444 Saint Charles Avenue
New Orleans, Louisiana

Review: Grbić Restaurant

27 March 2018

The next day was the final full day on this trip, and I was glad, because I’m running on empty here even with that filling prime rib at Kreis’. Ironically, my foot has almost healed… I had a lot to do this long day, but I managed to stop for lunch at Big Momma’s BBQ in East St Louis (yeah…). Unfortunately it was not as good as my previous visit

I headed back to my hotel and had a bunch of stuff to deal with, from packing to mundane stuff like online check-in and things like that. Had to figure out tomorrow’s schedule before I headed out to dinner. And tonight’s destination is somewhere I’ve wanted to try for many years.

Everyone remembers the horrific war in the Balkans when Yugoslavia fell apart, and many of the refugees that the US accepted from Bosnia came to St Louis. In fact, there is a very large Bosnian population, the largest population of Bosnians outside of Europe. It’s always puzzling when such a large population do not open many restaurants, but the one everyone knows is Grbić.

I arrived on a drizzly evening and it seems they were winding up already this Tuesday evening. Took ages for a server to come and seat me. I chilled and had a glass of wine from Montenegro and ordered. Chilled out and soon the starter arrived.

1-trhana

Well, doesn’t look much, but this bowl of trhana wasn’t bad. Nice flavour, a good portion. Then after a rather tedious process of trying to flag a server, any server, down to get another glass of wine, my main arrived…

2-sarma

Sadly this sarma dish was pretty awful. I so much prefer a Polish gołąbki, because the sarma’s cabbage is often so sour it just destroys any enjoyment of the stuffing. And today’s stuffing was nothing to write home about, so perhaps the level of pickling was necessary. Plus it look like it’s sat around for quite awhile. A really sad dish…

Anyway, this wasn’t the Bosnian meal I wanted by any means. Most of the menu was not Bosnian; in fact, these were pretty much the only Bosnian-ish dishes on the menu. Extremely disappointing. Plus it took another 15 minutes to settle up. Just terrible…

A sad last meal to this lengthy trip. Tomorrow, after a planned hike (finally healed enough to do one!), am heading home…

Grbić Restaurant
4071 Keokuk Street
St Louis, Missouri

Review: Kreis’ Steakhouse and Bar

26 March 2018

Well, it’s been an adventure since I headed out of Japan. I had a quick stop in the LA area, but had to fly out of Ontario at some ungodly hour — after already being time-zone-challenged with the trans-Pacific flight. Then a few days in Phoenix to unwind, I headed to Missouri for my last stop before home.

I had to go to Mizzou for something, so the long drive from St Louis, where I landed in the early evening. Barely made it thanks to an argument with a clueless and rude rental car agent…this city… I headed back the next afternoon via the rarely-visited capital of the state, Jefferson City, and was basically running on fumes. I needed a good meal.

Dinner this evening was at Kreis’ Steakhouse & Bar, which is one of the more old-school places. When it comes to steak I prefer them old school. I got there and they put me at a really awkward table. In fact, the dining room was so squished with these square floating tables that it made it rather uncomfortable for everyone. I don’t know how many times my chair was kicked by a passing server…

Anyway, a martini in hand, I relaxed… Not bad. I didn’t bother with a starter as I knew what I wanted. And just as I drained my martini and asked for some wine, it arrived…

prime rib_edited

A big ol’ prime rib. Not bad, bone in, temperature was right. But it may have been sitting around a little, as this is a relatively late hour for dining in the Midwest. So it could have been much better, but it was good enough. With a side of veggies, I finished off this beast with the help of a few glasses of red.

I was full, but for some reason I went with a rare dessert, and tonight’s choice was apple strudel.

apple strudel

Well, bad choice. Was talked up by the server, but was pretty ordinary. A coffee and a whisky later, I thanked my server and headed out. I really need to catch up on some sleep, but got another long day tomorrow…

But damn, I miss Japan already…

Kreis’ Steakhouse & Bar
535 South Lindbergh Boulevard
St Louis, Missouri

Review: Akasaka Kikunoi

21 March 2018

I enjoyed the walk during the short but pleasant snowfall on this first day of spring in Tokyo. I was still enjoying the excellent lunch at Akasaka Tantei, but I was getting soaked so I headed back to my hotel. I had to finish packing and sort out some logistics for after getting home, as I would be making multiple stops when I get back to the US.

In any case, my final dinner of this Asia trip is near my lunch location, the 2-Michelin kaiseki restaurant Akasaka Kikunoi. It’s a bit of an odd place, looking like a traditional house from the outside, but a slick production inside. Multiple dining areas, and I see the young chefs behind my counter with earpieces. Hmmm…a little LA’ish for me…

I sat down and relaxed, hoping for a good dinner. Immediately I was annoyed by the annoyance of cigarette smoke, but it wasn’t too overwhelming, so I brushed it away and enjoyed some sake that came soon. I looked at the menu presented to me and was quite fascinated by it — you’ll see why. Soon we start with the first snack…

01-umeboshi

Hmmm, this plum dish was hard to eat to be honest. The roe cream was interesting, but just tasted odd together. Didn’t work… Next, a set of snacks…

02a-shirauo

Interesting stuff, from the shirauo (icefish) sushi to the squid and bamboo salad. Then to the octopus in shaved roe…

02b-octopus

A good selection, lovely flavours. Then we move into the first sashimi course…

03-sagoshi & tai

The sagoshi (young spanish mackerel) was excellent, as was the tai (red bream). Little additions here and there I didn’t really care for, especially the ponzu jelly. I’m not a ponzu fan… Then the next sashimi made me smile.

04b-koshibi

Koshibi, or baby tuna, was just fantastic…lovely rich and tender, it’s one of those things you can just keep eating… I enjoyed a bit more sake as we move towards the next dish, a rich green broth…

05-clam dumpling

There’s a wonderful clam dumpling under all this, with some nice root vegetables. Really nice, lovely flavours. Another excellent dish. Then I suspect they made a mistake with the menu as what came out was definitely not abalone…

06-amadai

Turns out it’s a substitution of amadai (tilefish), crusted in karasumi (bottarga). I can see chef wanted to see my reaction as he came out from the back to see what I thought. Pretty good, worked well with the karasumi. I think he approved my approval before wandering away to another section of this large establishment…but what happened to my abalone?

I shrugged as I had a bit more sake as we shift to a palate cleanser, a strawberry and wasabi sorbet…

07-strawberry sorbet

OMG I wish they mass manufacture this, so good…so good… A perfect combination!

A wee break as we then start round two of this dinner, with a huge selection of small dishes…

08-hassun

It’s hard to describe all of these, all very different and interesting. The onion and cuttlefish was a good one, as was the asparagus and wheat gluten. The prawn and egg sushi was nice, as was the seaweed and ginger buds. But the best two were the baby squid in egg yolk, and the sea cucumber roe with mountain yam. Wow… It took awhile to eat this as I went dish to dish, but it was a treat… A little too busy, but good.

I enjoyed more sake after finishing this massive selection as they set up a hotpot set…wow…

09b-hotpot

A saffron broth with spiny lobster, clams, bream, scallops, and vegetables… Just wow…

Took awhile to finish all that, lovely stuff. I wish they made it easier to drink that wonderful broth though, instead of just taking it away. But with the lobster my “chopsticks fatigue” was really setting in. When you don’t use chopsticks anywhere except twice a year in Asia, your hands get very tired fighting for food sometimes…

At this point the cigarette smoke was getting really annoying, and was really interfering with my enjoyment of the food. So much of what we enjoy is the aroma, and cigarette smoke just destroys that enjoyment completely. I was not amused… And are they bringing back my broth in some way?

Anyway, we now move to the close with the rice with crab…

10a-rice

A underwhelming closer, but there seems to be massive confusion with service at this stage. I was still puzzled on what happend to the broth, but I guess it’s gone. But suddenly service just went cluster like something fell off a cliff… I couldn’t get anyone to fill up my rice, but then they brought my out a tea…and the cup was so hot I ended up with first degree burns on my hand…

I was livid…how can they be so careless as to do this? They had to bring out ice for me. Fuck, it’s already a different colour… I’m done…what a shit way to end this!

By the time my counter guy came back (as mentioned, this looks more like a Los Angeles production as they have earpieces and shit) and offered to pack the rice for take-away. Fine. Then the dessert…

11-dessert

Toasted barley ice cream, not bad. But my mind was out the door already as 2 of my fingers are starting to really smart from the burn. Not happy about this at all. I headed out unhappy, as they made no effort to see if I was okay or anything else. They all seem so robotic here. If there ever was a kaiseki place that could have staff replaced by robots, it seems this is the place…

Frankly it was a mixed night. Some very good dishes, frankly the first part of the dinner after the initial plum mess was excellent. The second part started well, then it seems all went ropey quickly. So many annoyances, the primary one being the overwhelming smoke that hit and lingered… The counter guys getting orders from backstage on their earpieces just adds to the annoyance factor for me. If Ichi last night is about tradition and elbow grease, this place is the worrisome direction kaiseki is going.

Some love it, but for me it was clearly a once and done place. It’s a great place to woo clients for sure, but for a single diner like me, being in a factory setting is not what I want in a kappo kaiseki meal. It’s almost like despite the very traditional exterior they’re trying to be too modern inside. Again, some may love it, but for me, I’ll pass. And I’m sore about the burn — in both senses of the word. And I’m still coughing…

Too bad this was how my Japan trip ended, but at least I had a snack for later…the aforementioned leftover rice…

Sigh…gotta avoid these 2-Michelin places…

Akasaka Kikunoi [赤坂 菊乃井]
6-13-8 Akasaka, Minato-ku
Tokyo, Japan

Review #2: Akasaka Tantei

21 March 2018

I woke up a little groggy on this final full day in Japan. Last night’s dinner at Ichi was absolutely wonderful, and that’s going to keep me going for awhile. Today is a national holiday in Japan, the first day of spring, but it looked rather like winter outside.

I headed out to lunch as it was sleeting rather heavily. Didn’t help I had to walk for about 15 minutes in that mess, and my umbrella did little to keep me dry. I arrived at my lunch destination, Akasaka Tantei, just as it opened.

Ever since my previous visit here to enjoy wonderful Okinawa cuisine, I’ve wanted to come back. I reckon it’s the only Michelin-starred Okinawa restaurant in the world? I was seated in the same wee private room as before and I relaxed. The menu was on the table and it looked fantastic. I of course ordered some awamori, the rather strong Okinawa spirit, to keep me going all meal… And soon the first set of starters arrived…

01-snacks

Oh my was this nice! You have delicious sazae (turban shell) on the top right, cauliflower in a chilli sauce that has a real good bite, more of that excellent ainame (fat greenling) grilled with tumeric and miso, jellied pigs ears under the leaf, and some stir-fried green papaya at the bottom right. What a nice spread!

I enjoyed all of the items with the awamori and when I was finished, my server returned and brought the next dish, a very green soup…

02-itoyoridai

In fact there’s a wonderful egg and itoyoridai (golden threadfin bream) roll in the tasty green soup, which is also accented with arrowroot, mushrooms and more. Really lovely flavours here. Then we have the sashimi spread for the day…

03-sashimi

An excellent selection of shima-aji (striped jack) and shimadai (beakfish) here. Nice clean stuff. I asked for another awamori as the next dish arrived, and I certainly need it…

04a-stewed pork

Mmmm…the most lovely stewed pork, one of the most classic Okinawa dishes. Lovely quality pork from the archipelago, cooked just perfectly. So rich, so damn good… I wasn’t supposed to but I actually drank the thick sauce here…oh my! This needed a big swig of awamori!

I relaxed a little as this was so nice… But then we have another classic Okinawa dish, peanut tofu…

05-peanut tofu

It’s very similar to soy tofu, but with a little more texture and the unmistakable taste of peanut. For some an acquired taste, but for me it’s quite a nice treat. Beautiful ferns there too… Then next may surprise you…

06-ribs

Ribs…it doesn’t look like it, but it’s there. And again Okinawa’s fabulous local pork shines here, lovely stuff. The bamboo was an added treat. Again, solid dishes that show off Okinawa’s culinary traditions! Now having been to Okinawa since my last visit here, and had that fabulous dinner at Akatafu, I can say this place does a fantastic job of bringing the islands here to Tokyo!

I asked for one last awamori as the final savoury dish appeared — soba.

07-soba

Another beautiful piece of Okinawa pork crowns this fabulous dish. Broth is lovely, especially when you add these things…

condiments

That Okinawa chilli oil was just fantastic…and crazy spicy! That helped me to drain most of the last awamori as I finished off the broth. Damn that was good! Then finally, the dessert…

08-dessert

Passion fruit with its gelato, and a few pieces of delicious Okinawa fried pastry…a great way to close this excellent lunch! Relatively affordable for this quality and volume as well! I am so glad I came back here, and will think about returning next time again! I think I’m getting to that stage where I will just do mostly my favourite places when I’m in Tokyo next…and this place has earned its spot on the permanent to-visit list!

I headed out after thanking my server, only to notice that on this first day of spring the heavy sleet earlier has turned into snow…I laughed as I walked to the metro station. Finally the weather is turning my way — just as I’m about to leave Japan. Go figure…

But all that awamori and the excellent food will keep me fuelled and warm for the rest of the day! Highly recommended!

Akasaka Tantei [沖縄懐石 赤坂潭亭]
6-16-11 Akasaka, Minato-ku
Tokyo, Japan