The last few weeks have seen me take gastronomic hedonism (read: happiness) to new heights. As a writer (often about food) living in New York, I'm lucky enough to experience many culinary discoveries and mind blowing meals. However, this recent stretch of foodie fortune was largely spent outside of the city, with a visit to Washington D.C., a mini-vacation in New Orleans and a wine and cheese party at my apartment in between.
I've worked in restaurants and eaten at many of them, from truck stops in India to tasting menus here in New York. I fall asleep reading food magazines and dream of what I'll cook next. From performing violin at my parents dinner parties to hosting elaborate brunches in my studio, entertaining is in my blood. Whether it's your birthday, half birthday, or parents anniversary, I'll make a cake, always from scratch. Here are the most terrific dishes I tasted from New York to New Orleans.
#1 Chicken and Waffles with house cured bacon & hot sauce butter. (Evening Star Café, Alexandria VA) After noshing on decent (but far from great) Chinese food for dinner, a tasty afternoon repast was a high priority. Avoiding the mayhem of D.C. brunch, we ventured to quaint Alexandria for some rib-stickin breakfast goods. While all of our dishes were great, my brother hit the jackpot with the Chicken and Waffles. Marinated in buttermilk, the chicken was moist and tender, encased in a sheath of beautifully browned crunchy crispiness. With a slathering of hot sauce butter and a bite of chewy waffle, it did the dish's tradition proud.
#2 Carrot, Orange Mint and BBQ Lamb Seasonal Jar with Homemade Crackers (Lincoln, Washington, D.C.) Lincoln specializes in that ever-original concept "seasonal small plates." We ordered a wide array of things, including crab hushpuppies and deviled eggs which arrived on a chicken-shaped egg scale. The seasonal jar, with its unique flavors and colorful presentation, was the clear winner. As we scooped from top to bottom of the Mason jar, spreading the contents on crackers, the herbal note of the mint, bright sweetness of the puréed carrots and rich, flavorful lamb worked perfectly; entrée flavors translated into a compact appetizer.
#3. A Glass of Some Sort of White Wine (My Apartment, New York, NY) I've been raised to know that entertaining really means excess. I take this very seriously, especially when cramming 20+ people into my studio apartment with bottles of wine on all surfaces and enough cheese to rival most Parisian fromagiers. I wish I could be more specific about the glass of wine, but I know only that it was accompanied by a deep exhale, after my baked brie exited the oven, charcuterie and salads were on the table and the apartment cleaned. A close second were the pâté sandwiches I was eating for three days after the party.
#4. Tall Boys & Beignets (Café Beignet, New Orleans, LA) Undoubtedly, deep fried dough and a dearth of open container laws are two of the best things about New Orleans. A warm afternoon enjoying jazz, beer and beignets in a French Quarter courtyard was a delightful start to the weekend. Steam emanated from the piping hot beignets and powdered sugar stuck to our hands, faces and belongings. Although warm from being toted around, my Miller HighLife tallboy only added to the experience.
#5. Roasted Broccoli & Green Bean Salad w/ BBQ Pecans and Poblano Ranch (Cochon, New Orleans, LA) It seems sacrilege to select a vegetable dish as my favorite at a meal comprised largely of pork products at a restaurant named "Cochon." But this dish was unbelievably tasty, with the creamy-spicy poblano ranch coating the crunchy broccoli and springy green beans. It was the first dish we got, and I fought to keep it on the table, even after I'd scraped up every last bit of sauce and BBQ pecan crumbs.
#6. Crawfish (Lucy's Retired Surfer Bar & Restaurant, New Orleans, LA) Although I'd pre-planned most of our dining, this taste was something we simply happened upon. Parking the car, we encountered a crawfish boil, and after chatting with the chefs in charge (and photographing the process), we sat down, cracked open some crawfish tails, and dug in to the flavorful and succulent meat. Nawlins at its finest.
#7. Pickled Shrimp & Deviled Eggs (Root, New Orleans, LA) This was my third incidence of deviled eggs in one week, both at Lincoln in Washington and in a gumbo at Cochon. However, this dish trumped the others. The shrimp were pickled to tangy-sweet succulent perfection. The eggs were stuffed with chopped shrimp and topped with truffled egg yolk mousse, perfectly tying the two components together. While I'd be remiss if I didn't mention other amazing parts of the meal--including smoky scallops that arrived in a re-fashioned cigar box and housemade duck prosciutto with pickled Brussels sprouts and strawberries--the eggs and shrimp were the ideal end to two weeks of Southern goodness.