Treme is about 15 miles east of Kenner, where Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport is. U.S. Route 61 will get you there from the airport, but taking I-10 East will shave a few minutes if you're in a hurry. Though if you are, you're in the wrong city. We took U.S. Route 61. Our windows were down and the radio was tuned to WWOZ, which was broadcasting brass band music that we played at a level just loud enough to rival our excitable voices clamoring in the warm breeze. We were on our way to St Ann Street, where Willie Mae's Scotch House serves "America's Best Fried Chicken."
On Apritl 9th, Pete Wells filed a review on two restaurants in Houston: Oxheart and Underbelly, marking the start of a new series for the Times called "Critic on the Road." Today, Wells visits San Francisco, where chef Joshua Skenes and sommelier Mark Bright serve a $298 tasting menu at their restaurant Saison.
Wells ate at the San Francisco restaurant twice, with a year between visits. "During my earlier meal," he writes, "I would have given anything to speed things up." On the food, the critic noted, "A few dishes had a rough, unfinished quality, and some felt repetitive, but others were like nothing I’d seen before." On the service the first time around, Wells "was less thrilled by the attitude of the servers," and writes, "I know nobody asked if I was having a good time, because there were two long stretches when I wanted the whole thing to stop."
One year and a venue change seemed to be the breath of fresh air Skenes and co. needed to hit their stride. Wells found the staff "kinder and less cocky" the second time around, with Bright's wine pairings and desserts from pastry chef Shawn Gawle sharing an elegance that mimics the price tag.
"Saison brings together some of the best and the worst things about tasting menus, but now, I believe, the good has the upper hand. Facing down more than 15 courses, I wasn’t bored once," Wells writes, "and several times I was on the edge of my seat."
In a separate piece written for Diner's Journal, Wells sheds some light on what to expect with the new "Critic on the Road" column. "I think it’s time for the restaurant critic of The Times to cast a wider net," he writes. "The Times has been a national paper for years now, and its Web site is seen all around the world." There are no stars in place for the COTR template, "at least for now" Wells writes. "I don’t intend to skip out on New York City every three weeks," he adds, and explains, "This critic will be on the road regularly, but not that regularly." [NYTimes] [DJ]
View Ate and Drank in NOLA in a larger map
All good things come to an end, and at 11:05 this morning, our time in the Crescent City did just that. Delta flight 2006 hit its cruising elevation shortly after we left the tarmac at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport. At 30,000 feet, the high we had from experiencing one of the country's greatest food cities became a little more literal.
All day Sunday was spent at the New Orleans Jazz Fest, and many of the places from our first map are closed Mondays, but that doesn't mean we didn't have our share of po' boys, crawfish, turkey necks, and muffalettas. We have some digesting to do, but wanted to share our new map of the dozen places we went for food and drink during our three days in New Orleans.
View NOLA [April, 2013] in a larger map
No one ever has anything bad to say about New Orleans. It's one of those cities people just visit and fall in love with, like San Francisco or Portland. We've never been to the home of the Who Dat? Saints, the set of Tremé, or the land of étouffée, but that's all about to change. Our flight leaves tomorrow afternoon. We did a little bit of research and put together the above map, but if you think something is missing, or have any advice for first time visitors, feel free to leave comments. This is gonna be good.
Donde Dinner? wants to make your next dining experience an adventure. So, every Friday, we pick a restaurant and post its address for you. The catch is, that's all the information you get. No name, no type of cuisine, and no Googling. But first, here's last week's address:
241 South 4th Street = Xixa
This week's restaurant follows typical Donde Dinner? fashion. Price, quality, and accessibility have all been taken into account. You won't be waiting at the bar for two hours with $15 cocktails and you never have to worry about a dress code. Just hop on the train, or your feet, or your bike, and head to:
5 Front Street, Brooklyn (map)
Ivan Orkin had been eyeing 25 Clinton Street as the home for his first stateside ramen counter since the end of last year. He was approved a liquor license in January and now the Lower East Side ramen den has a sign up that reads, "Coming Soon... Ramen!"
The Long Island native moved to Tokyo with his wife in 2003, a time he's refered to as, "The beginning of the ramen boom." While living there, he opened two ramen spots, Ivan Ramen and Ivan Ramen Plus. At both locales, his shio ramen (one soup made from two broths) and homemade noodles (uncommon at the time in Tokyo ramen restaurants) were welcomed by the ramen community. Orkin's use of about 60/40 bread flour to udon flour to make the noodles introduced a new texture and unique bite to the array of ramen options - one that will soon be just a subway ride away.
The sauce. That's what got Pete Wells to Randazzo's Clam Bar in Sheepshead Bay. He breaks from filing on the city's hot new restaurants with a review of the 50-year-old Brooklyn seafood shack today.
"Randazzo’s makes any number of tomato sauces," writes Wells, "but only one Sauce. It has two speeds, spicy and medium, but the dark, intense, concentrated, oregano-accented essence is the same," he continues. "A pure distillation of Italian-American cuisine, the Sauce tastes as if a chemical analysis would reveal the blueprint for every great dish in every red-sauce joint in the country."
The restaurant closed after Hurricane Sandy, but was able to reopen just before Christmas. Much of the interior is new, but Helen Randazzo's recipes there are still the same. And with the exception of a stuffed lobster dish, lobster bisque, and corn-and-crab chowder, Wells is pleased by much of what the restaurant has to offer. He gives it one star.