Yes, Nashville-style hot (as in spicy) chicken is coming to St. Louis. But how about a shout-out to chicken that tastes good long after it leaves the fryer? Or do you think that's gross? Read more about it here, where I ponder the question.
Yes, Nashville-style hot (as in spicy) chicken is coming to St. Louis. But how about a shout-out to chicken that tastes good long after it leaves the fryer? Or do you think that's gross? Read more about it here, where I ponder the question.
"Kinky Boots" seems the offspring of a chance mating of "The Full Monty" and "Priscilla Queen of the Desert". "La Cage aux Folles" was its godmother. The show, a dance musical with more sequins and spangles than a Mardi Gras ball, opened Tuesday night at the Fox.
A struggling shoe factory in the English Midlands is inherited by a very young man who decides, thanks to a drag queen he runs into, that the only way he can save his workers from the dole is to start making high-end, high-heeled boots. For men, of course.
That doesn't sound like very much. But the book is by Harvey Fierstein, which pretty much guarantees a bushel of smart alec remarks that are worth hearing. Even though the time is the present, there's an intermittent feeling of the '80's about some of the music and costumes that reminds you the decades wasn't as bad as we tend to think it was. It's Cyndi Lauper's first Broadway show, which accounts for some of those rhythms. The lyrics might be nice, too, but only the solos and duets are mostly understandable; that dratted Fox sound system left the chorus sound almost totally blurred. Nevertheless, it's impossible to resist any song called "Sex Is In The Heel."
Pride of place has to go to Darius Harper, who plays Lola, who is still, occasionally, Simon. Harper pretty much owns the audience in the musical numbers. Charlie Price,the new owner, is, Steven Booth, a fine portrayal of a guy that young who's in over his head, pleasant, but fairly reserved for much of the show, all in keeping with his Englishness. Craig Waletzko, the factory's accountant George, looks pretty drab but has a great voice. And don't bother checking the program - unlike "La Cage", all the girls in Lola's chorus line are guys.
Logically enough, the show is both directed and choreographed by Jerry Mitchell. And there's a live orchestra, another reason to nod approvingly. A spring evening of laughs and enjoying music at the Fox.
through April 5
Is it technically a Lenten Fish Fry if it's held at a nonreligious institution? En route to the Rep, I stopped by VFW Post 3500 on Big Bend in Richmond Heights. It's a folksy place, reminding me of similar spots where I grew up in outstate Missouri. The bar is smoky, but the food is served in the banquet hall - enter by the door closest to Big Bend, and the smoke doesn't seem to drift in. (Although that's where beverages, both alcoholic and non-, come from.)
Only two kinds of fish, catfish and cod, but plenty of sides on offer. Both kinds of fish were rather tough in their breading, but on offer were tater tots as well as french fries, hush puppies, broccoli-rice casserole, baked spaghetti, and cole slaw. The broccoli casserole was a nice change, and the hush puppies were quite spicy, another well-received alteration to the commonplace - although they were perhaps a tad underdone in the middle. Coleslaw had a nice note of horseradish, not too much, but, like Baby Bear, just right. Baked spaghetti was pretty unremarkable, but at least the pasta didn't fall apart on the fork as some I've come across. Dessert by the time we arrived was mass-produced cupcakes. Have another beer instead.
They start serving at noon and go until 8 p.m., considerably longer hours than about any of the competition in town.
VFW Post 3500
1717 Big Bend Blvd, Richmond Heights
A couple of generations ago, there was an ad campaign in New York City for a local bakery. The ads featured portraits, including an Asian lad, a native American, a broad-faced cop, Buster Keaton each with a piece of bread, a bite taken out of it. On each ad was the slogan, "You don't have to be Jewish to like Levy's Rye Bread". And in a similar mode, let me announce you don't have to like, or even be familiar with Anton Chekhov to enjoy "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike."
The Rep's current mainstage production of the Christopher Durang play is inspired by Chekhovian themes but that doesn't interfere in the least with the acerbic wit of the script. Another Russian, Tolstoy, talked about unhappy families and this seems to be one. Three middle-aged siblings have grown up in a house in a fashionable area of semi-rural Pennsylvania. Middle age has accentuated the sometimes-polite miserableness that inhabits and inhibits their lives. Two of the siblings stayed home to take care of mum and dad, now-deceased academics. The third went on to professional success as an actress and five, count 'em, five divorces. The actress, Masha, has come home for the weekend to visit her siblings, Vanya and Sonia, and to attend a party nearby "at the Dorothy Parker house!" And, oh, she's brought her boyfriend Spike along.
This is a marvelous ensemble, each like a jewel perfectly placed in its setting. Led by Vanya and Sonia, John Feltch and Suzanne Grodner, the weekend proceeds in bursts. The mild-mannered Feltch has a monologue near the end that nearly tears the stage apart. Grodner, what that doyenne of desirability, Helen Gurley Brown, would have called a mouseburger, absolutely blooms. Watch her during an unexpected phone call. Elizabeth Hess' Masha, an aging diva who runs everyone around her, shows just enough fragility to make her believable rather than a caricature. And then there's Spike. Spike, Jefferson McDonald, is Masha's boyfriend - who is officially 12 years younger, but there's ample reason to doubt that, on both ends of the spectrum. He's an airheaded kid, cheerful, but evoking frequent memories of Seinfeld's pal Kramer. Shinnerrie Jackson, the cleaning lady who soothsays about everything, is a delight, and so is Nina, Gracyn Mix, an adolescent almost swanlike in her delicacy, and utterly believable.
The set, the sort of place one might want to visit for a while, is from Paul Shortt. And full credit to Michael Evan Haney, the director, who keeps the pace darn near perfect.
A well-spent evening.
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
through April 12
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
I never thought I'd be one to get misty-eyed over salads, but when I reflect back on the Lettuce Leaf, it's hard not to become nostalgic. I wrote about it in St. Louis Magazine, and here it is on their website.
For those who haven't been around St. Louis theater very long, let us explain that Scott Miller, artistic director and founder of New Line Theatre, pretty much lives for off-the-wall musical theater. It's almost an invasion of privacy to imagine what his shuddering delight must have been like upon discovering "Jerry Springer The Opera".
This is shock art, the way Andres Serrano's "Piss Christ" was almost 30 years ago. There's mention of sex, of course, in multitudinous variations, and other bodily functions, addictions, strange personal, uh, preferences, and antiestablishmentarianism, both political and theological. It's a veritable encyclopedia of offensiveness. What fun!
The opening is a choral work, beautiful music, exquisitely sung Then one begins to pay attention to the lyrics, and there's the contrast. This is the antidote to the classic remark about modern musicals, "No one ever walked out of the theater whistling the scenery." It's a lovely score, it's just that the lyrics - and this is indeed an opera, everything sung except the Jerry Springer role and one speech at the end by another character. - are X-rated. Sometimes XXX.
Another trait of Miller is his seeming habit of casting gifted singers even though they don't resemble television anchors. This reflection of real life is one of his most endearing qualities, and this show is a great example of how that benefits the audience. Many of the cast are New Line regulars, although the warm-up guy, Matt Pentecost, and Steve, the security person, played by Matt Hill, are among the few newcomers. So is Lindsey Jones, in fine voice, playing Zandra and other characters. Anna Skidis looks great in long blonde hair and shows off her pipes, too, as Shawntel, who wants to be a stripper. Luke Steingruby, as transgender Tremont, shows off better legs than...well, I was about to mention a certain female politician, but let's let that dog snooze. And Zachary Allen Farmer, playing God in shades and a sky-blue polo shirt, is a delight to hear and see.
Kudos to lighting designer Rob Lippert and sound designer Benjamin Rosemann. Scott Miller directed the show and deserves the plaudits for this one. And very nice to see an audience of many people who are old enough to remember the Serrano work and "Sister Mary Explains It All For You" and are not shocked by more f-bombs than an Army mess hall.
Jerry Springer The Opera
through March 28
New Line Theatre
Washington University South Campus
6501 Clayton Rd., Richmond Heights
Sometimes the soul cries out for an evening of art that isn't Socially Significant. Laughter promotes endorphin release, like another activity we won't go into here, and it's good for your immune system. One walks out of "Buyer & Seller" at the Rep Studio considerably healthier than one walked in. The only bad news is that tickets aren't covered by your health insurance.
About the sole requirement for enjoyment is that the viewer know who Barbra Streisand is. The play is a fantasy, someone's daydream of what working for her would be like, the whole thing spurred by Streisand's book about her home. Jeremy Webb plays Alex More, an unemployed actor who gets a job at an estate in Malibu working in the cellar of the barn. Not just any barn, of course, and not just any cellar - this cellar has been turned into an arcade of shops to hold Streisand's multitudinous purchases, so she can stroll through, chose what she likes and use it or return it the next day presumably after fondling it a while. The popcorn machine and frozen yogurt machines are also down there, for good measure. We know our hero will meet The Lady Of The House, as she's referred to in his interview, sooner or later.
Our hero announces straightaway he's not going to impersonate Streisand. But of course he does, as well as inhabiting four other characters, morphing back and forth at warp speed but leaving room for the cracking wise we'd expect from these Hollywood types. He's having fun with this - or at least seems to be - while working like mad. Director Wendy Dann has paced things well and Jonathan Tolins' script only sags when Alex' boredom is called forth, just as it should.
A short, brisk piece of work with no intermission, it's as bracing as a double espresso and as relaxing as having it with a pal. They've already extended the run by two weeks, so I'm not the only one who thinks so.
Buyer & Cellar
through March 29
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
This blog began with food and only wandered into theater. Therefore, it's only proper that we begin the review of "Sight Unseen" at The New Jewish Theatre by pointing out that the main character in the play, Jonathan Waxman is not the trombonist who became one of the early and then leading chefs of the California Modern school of American food.
This Jonathan Waxman is a New Yorker, a Brooklyn boy who's become a successful artist. Aaron Orion Baker's Jonathan is polished, well-dressed and -coiffed, no flecks of paint lingering in the creases of his hands. He's in England for the opening of a retrospective of his work. His old girlfriend Patty, or Patricia as she's now called, married to an Englishman, lives west of London, and he's about to visit them. That's the pivot point in the play's timeline, which flashes both back and forward from the visit.
The visit was clearly his idea. Patty, played by Emily Baker, hasn't been back to the US in decades, apparently because of some vaguely-referred-to unpleasantness and married her husband to obtain UK resident status. Her husband, Nick, David Wassilak - is he shy, threatened, manipulative or what? They're struggling financially - he's a working anthropologist, she works on the dig, too, and, oh, here comes the well-off old boyffriend.
Jonathan's Jewish, Patty (as well as his wife) isn't, and his lineage even causes questions about his work when he's interviewed by an art journalist during his show in London. It takes us a while to realize that this woman (Em Piro), who begins by over-complimenting him and ends up playing gotcha in the interview, is German.
But the heart of the story is the relationship between Jonathan and Patty, an example of "Why can't he/she let go of this other person?" She is, by some standards, crazy, not understanding personal boundaries, perhaps setting the men against each other. Does Nick return to see if she's still pining for him? They didn't seem to part on good terms. Is this about ego or hormones or honest affection?
Strong work by all the cast, the two Bakers, wed in real life, showing the smooth and the prickly in painstaking fashion, Wassilak moving from quirky to revealing his hand as an evolving process, and Piro becoming the sort of woman you wouldn't want to meet on a dark night. (Or maybe you would.) Director Bobby Miller's gift for pacing is just what this play calls for.
An interesting piece of theater, not for those who are offended by sex, because there are clear references to it here, but a multilayered story deftly done.
through March 29
The New Jewish Theatre
Wool Studio Theater
2 Millstone Campus Drive
Metro Theater Company, which most of us think of as presenting children's theater, is bringing us "Afflicted: Daughters of Salem", a play that's aimed at "adults and young people age 10 and up", per their website. The Laurie Brooks play is, in many ways, a prequel to "The Crucible", dealing with the group of young women who met together secretly and in defiance of the rigidity of the community of Salem Massachusetts in the late 1600s.
The four young women, a younger cousin and Tituba, a slave owned by the family of two of the girls, are swept up in religious discomfort, rumors and mass hysteria, a combination worthy of today's tabloid topics. The story is a complicated one, and the exposition necessary to bring the audience up to speed tends to drag things sometimes in the first half of the play. This is compounded by occasional difficulties with blurring the dialogue or overriding it with Tituba's drumming.
But the acting is spot on, with a group of young but experienced young actresses. They're led by Jennifer Theby-Quinn as Abigail, an orphan who works in the household of her uncle, a pastor. The pastor owns Tituba - real cognitive dissonance to the modern brain: A minister in Massachusetts that owns a slave. Hmm. The imposing Tituba is Jacqueline Thompson. Ann, Abigail's bestie, is played by Taylor Steward. Samantha Warren is the fearful Mary, the most pious of the gathering, and Alicia Smith is Mercy, a worrier like Mary. The role of Betty Parris, the young cousin who seems to be the monkey wrench in things, is played by Emily Jackoway.
It's a good ensemble, all quite natural and all handling Lou Bird's interesting if drably-colored costumes with grace and enthusiasm .The fine set in the theater at the Missouri History Museum is by David Blake, and the lighting designer Page Seber.
Several matinees on weekdays, to make it easier to see this thought-provoking work whose depictions of what a community depending on gossip has happen is more relevant than we might have realized some months ago.
Afflicted: Daughters of Salem
Metro Theater Company
through March 22
Missouri History Museum
Lindell at de Baliviere
We're about to begin what I always think of as the brunch season. The weather is warmer and there's a string of weekend-ish things that happen this time of year, not just the vernal holidays, Mother's Day and Father's Day, but weddings and graduations, too. We kicked the first warm Sunday in months off with a gaggle of brunchers visiting Katie's Pizza and Pasta in Rock Hill.
It's a fine thing that restaurants in strip malls no longer seem to be made from a cookie-cutter mold. Despite the complaint of one curmudgeon saying that Katie's is full of interesting things, his tone of voice putting quotation remarks around the phrase, it's indeed pleasant to look at. Lots of daylight pouring in from both the north and south sides, and in clement weather, there are outside tables, albeit overlooking the parking lot.
Passing on the blood orange mimosas, not from virtue but from later commitments that afternoon, we shared a plate of the fried artichokes, artichoke hearts topped with curls of cheese and a drizzle of balsamic reduction. They were snapped up so quickly, I didn't get a photo of the plate, just a single, flower-like artichoke heart and a sliver of cheese on my plate. A plate of these delicious guys and a glass of wine would make a fine light lunch or dinner another day.
One of us, in a fit of self-control, ordered the heirloom tomato and burrata salad. Yes, real heirloom tomatoes at this time of year, and for March, they were pretty tasty, nudged along by a lemon-balsamico vinaigrette, and blessed with the burrata, rich and creamy mozzarella-beatified. And absolutely beautiful to the eye, a bonus after this long winter.
A fritatta with mixed mushrooms, some Swiss chard, bits of pancetta bacon and tallegio cheese made good use of the flavorful mushrooms. Alongside came fingerling potatoes in what seemed to be a pan roast rather than the menu's mention of hash, but they were fine, nicely seasoned and certainly no disappointment. Another fritatta, this one with asparagus as well as the pancetta, topped with fontina cheese and a generous dribble of that balsamic reduction, put the spotlight on small, sweet pencil-diameter asparagus, very nice indeed. Potatoes with that, as well, of course, as well as with the 3 wood oven eggs dish, the eggs broken into a small dish and quickly cooked in the pizza oven. It came with a fat link of fiama sausage, un-greasy, well-seasoned with just a little heat and a faint mutter of fennel in it. Alongside were calabrese peppers, little round red guys with sweet flesh and fiery seeds and membrane, who'd been brushed with olive oil and popped in that same oven briefly.
A side order of fennel sausage brought crumbles of meat, its licorice-ish flavor calling out for pizza.
The sweet option was lemon ricotta pancakes, just as tender as ricotta pancakes should be, lightly sweet on their own, making the whipped cream a better topping option, for me, than the maple syrup. Pomegranate seeds sprinkled across the cakes gave a little crunch and some tartness to things. An order of crispy pancetta bacon brought four curled-in-a-circle pieces, very crisp indeed, a tasty option and far lower in fat than four strips of ordinary bacon would have been. It's an idea worth copying.
Service as sunny as the day was, with good attention to enough coffee and of the correct type. Katie's brunch stands out, particularly in this part of St. Louis County where there are few Sunday morning alternatives. And they do it on Saturday as well.
9568 Manchester Rd., Rock Hill
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: Good
Brunch entrees: $8-$18
This week's Lenten Fish Fry (LFF) was at St. Gabriel the Archangel on Francis Park in St. Louis Hills. Now that it's still light when approaching an LFF, if one is not too deeply engrossed in the search for a parking spot, it's a chance to looking at architecture. This is a new part of that particular neighborhood for me, and the church itself is striking, a wonderfully vertical late Art Deco building that looks like it belongs in Los Angeles.
The LFF is in the school, between the church and the gym, and is entered from the parking lot in the center of the block They use the cafeteria, which means not just tables and folding chairs but swiveling stools attached to other tables. The now-ubiquitous cod, either baked or fried, cornmeal-battered catfish, shrimp or what seems to be a fish-of-the-week rotation, this week swai, a mild white fish. (It's St. Louis - surely no one would offer any fish that wasn't mild. Too bad, to my way of thinking, as I have a long-standing love for fishy fish.) Pasta - actually cavatappi - as mac and cheese or with tomato sauce, slaw, green beans or french fries. The dinner check includes bread, drink and dessert - I did see a couple of wine bottles put to one side.
It was very nice to be offered the option of a mixed plate by the fellow serving the fish, The gentleman oveseeing the pastas gave me a generous spoonful and then asked if that would be enough or would I like more. Very hospitable, Gabrielites seem to be. The baked cod, sprinkled with a little Italian seasoning, was surprisingly moist, a nice bit of work, and the fried cod and catfish both were tasty, well-seasoned and un-greasy. Nothing deeply exciting about the slaw, green beans or macaroni and cheese, but all perfectly adequate, as were the squares of cake. Mine was spice cake - there was red velvet, yellow and chocolate as well - with a good cream cheese icing.
Generous servings of well-cooked fish and fine hospitality. I'm sure the archangel would be pleased if he dropped by.
St. Gabriel the Archangel
6303 Nottingham at Tamm
Putting together the Lenten fish fries, whether it's in a church or a civic organization, must be a, uh, whale of a lot of work. I speak as someone who didn't grow up in the world of LFFs, as they will henceforth be called, and it amazes me that they manage to feed so many people so efficiently, a job the participants presumably don't do the remaining 46-or-so weeks a year. There must be a lot of careful annual note-taking, the notes probably kept in a safe deposit box somewhere lest they be lost for succeeding chairpersons and cooks.
All I do is show up, find the door and wait in line, sometimes solo, sometimes with a pal or two, pay my money and eat my fish. Perhaps because I was raised in what was essentially a temperance household, the presence or absence of beer is not a big deal to me. I keep busy people watching. As someone said in the Food Talk forum on stltoday.com, in answer to a querulous remark about why anyone would wait in line for ordinary food like this, "It's what we do here." I liked that answer. It fits right into the Norman Rockwell-ish scenario that an LFF is.
There are always places that will stand out, though, and that's nearly always due to those folks who create the LFFs. I found one at Epiphany of Our Lord's LFF in the Lindenwood Park neighborhood of St. Louis, which is a great deal easier to get to now that they reopened McCausland just north of the Arsenal bridge. There's more selection than I have found anywhere so far, and the pricing is all a la carte, so if you want a single shrimp and three desserts, this is your place. A long, long table of homemade desserts, including giant cubes of angel food cake looking like marshmallows from an old LSD dream. Small containers of jello, applesauce, two kinds of slaw, three-bean salad and pickled beets. Four different kinds of fish - catfish, cod, jack salmon and shrimp. Spaghetti, macaroni and cheese, green beans and corn. Soda, beer, coffee, iced tea - and wine. (Zinfandel lovers, return your heart rate to normal; despite the sign that says red zinfandel, this is the white zin.)
The cod was fairly unremarkable, but I hadn't come for cod. I have a soft spot for jack salmon, no matter what name it goes by. This was almost completely boned, just a few at the larger end, and dipped in cornmeal before being fried. It was, in a word, excellent, the best jack salmon/whiting I've had in several years. I may stop doing LFF rounds and just come back every week for this. Spaghetti peered out of a thick tart-sweet tomato sauce, and I've since been told the mac and cheese is the It Dish of the sides - my pal Gerry the K and I watched a toddler ambidextrously stuff his mouth with it and green beans. Three bean salad was surprisingly good, and the pickled beets, which seemed to have both honey and cinnamon in them, were strong and rich.
What I chose from the dessert table was probably a dump cake - cherries, not cherry pie filling, a gooey layer and oatmeal on top. Definitely not a commercial dessert. You could see giant sheet pans in the back full of more desserts, clearly baked on site or nearby and looking very homemade.
Busy, but not impossible; a 5.30 arrival got us seated by 5.50. They're in the gym at the school - right by the parish bowling alleys!
Epiphany of Our Lord
6596 Smiley at Ivanhoe
Ah, the tea room at your favorite department store. Lunch with an adult, explaining the niceties of dining out. How to dip a soup spoon. Avoiding making noises with one's soda straw. Discovering that ice cream was almost as tasty without a cone. (Visions of peppermint stick ice cream flash through my head. Did I imagine having it there or is it merely the result of too much frozen yogurt?)
Famous-Barr was the primary one I knew, its glamour enhanced by the fact that the gorgeous older sister of a girl I knew modelled there for a while. (Hi, Bonnie and Jane!) When I ventured in, solo, as a young teenager, I was treated with dignity. I wrote about it for St. Louis Magazine.
It's Lent. And that anticipated ice storm drove me from a planned leisurely dinner with friends in the far reaches of the County to a fast run for a fish fry before the precipitation began. Unfortunate, but as my pal put it, there are always more eating adventures in the future.
In the meantime, I made my first visit to an American Legion hall since I was a kid. Rollo Calcaterra Post #15 is on The Hill, near the corner of Bischoff and Edwards - you've probably seen the picnic pavillion on the corner that belongs to them. The actual building is a snug little cottage, and the fish fry line is down some outside steps, past a sign that reminds you to wipe your feet, and into what some St. Louisans still call a rathskeller. (There's more room for dining upstairs on the first floor.)
The menu is a simple one, cod or shrimp. The sides are pasta, of course, and slaw. Two big pieces of fish, total pre-cooking close to a half pound, in a crunchy cornmeal batter, well-seasoned, make this a bargain at $8. (Shrimp is $9.) The pasta, rigatoni in a chunky tomato sauce, isn't overcooked - at least early in the hours of operation - and is surprisingly satisfying. Included are a couple of pieces of St. Louis-style Italian bread, courtesy of Vitale's Bakery, and a piece of cake from Missouri Baking. Buy your drinks at the bar.
I chose the chocolate cake, a square of a sheet cake, and was pretty pleased - there's a little enhancement to it, maybe a faint hint of mint or cinnamon, light enough that it's hard to identify but sufficient to make the cake a step above a Betty Crocker type of thing.
My early arrival turned out to mean that I was probably the first female diner of the day. The room was populated almost completely by guys in caps, mostly older, seemingly members, as they were quietly chewing the fat at the bar and the serving line. The background music fit right in to the feeling of an old Saturday Evening Post cover - Paul Anka singing "Diana" and "Sleepwalk" by Santo and Johnny. And I have to say that as a woman visiting alone, I felt extremely comfortable. No stares, a couple of guys moving a little to give me room at the bar to order, but absolutely nothing to make me feel like anything other than just someone getting their fish. Very nice.
5307 Bischoff Ave. at Edwards
Fridays during Lent
4 p.m. - 7 p.m.
Dine in or carry out
In New York last week, lots of walking, a fair amount of slush, and, as always, chasing down good food (once I replaced snow boots that peeled like a third-degree sunburn). Several good things to report, but the most remarkable came from a trek to the end of the 7 train, the (subway/elevated) line that passes Citi Field on its way to the far reaches of the borough of Queens.
The 7 train is famous for passing through deeply ethnic neighborhoods, and I suspect at every stop once it crosses into Queens from Manhattan, there's interesting stuff. But I had a specific destination this first trip. Through my affiliation with Chowzter the international group of food bloggers, I'd met Joe DiStefano, the Chief Chowzter from Queens, and we'd decided to go Eating the next time I was in town.
The end of the 7 line is Main Street in Flushing, Queens, a very Chinese neighborhood, even more deeply authentic than Chinatown in Manhattan because fewer outsiders find their way there. Joe was aiming for Dongbei food, he said, out of northeast China, more or less what was once known as Mongolia. Dongbei is cold, affecting what they eat and what they grow, so this was going to be different from what we usually find in St. Louis Chinese restaurants.
We went to two different places, both only slightly bigger than holes in the wall. Both of them began the meal with two small bowls of what looked like kim chee, but proved to be milder and far less fermented, quite tasty and less intimidating to anyone who is a little more hesitant of palate. Coarse shreds of cabbage were one of the vegetables at the first spot we visited, Golden Palace, and the other vegetable was potato, in matchstick-sized strips. Potato in a Chinese restaurant? Yes. And it wouldn't be its only appearance. The second restaurant gave us more cabbage, perhaps bok choy, and slices of turnip.
At Golden Palace, we had chicken bones (yes), triple delight vegetable and a small flounder. The bones are an appetizer - my guess is the meat has been stripped from them for use in soups and stock, leaving bits here and there, and they're thrown into boiling oil to crisp up and then tossed with whole cumin, a spice in great abundance in this cuisine, and some chili flakes. They'd make a fine bar snack, although no liquor license at this little spot. Triple delight was eggplant, peppers and potatoes, somewhere between a braise and a stirfry in a brown sauce, rich with soy sauce and oil. Surprisingly tasty for what seemed to be a very simple dish. The flounder was fried whole, and absolutely showered with more of the cumin and chili flakes, extremely crisp because of its thinness, quite delicious.
But it was at Lao Dong Bei, our second stop, that I was blown away. Again, three dishes of Joe Di
Stefano's choosing. The first was called sour cabbage with rice noodle in casserole. The sour cabbage, a common ingredient, is sometimes likened to sauerkraut. But it lacks the funky tang of fermentation, and to me is much more like a pickle. This dish was more a soup with a high proportion of solids than what Americans would call a casserole, but when I took a siip from the soup spoon, I felt my heart lurch. I'd been fighting a cold and suddenly found myself downing Chinese penicillin. Shreds of cabbage, probably Napa cabbage, and wire-thin rice noodles nestled in a deliriously rich broth. Chicken, yes, but what else? The cabbage was silken but had almost none of the characteristic sulfurous odor of cooked cruciferates. What I was tasting was some acidity, perhaps a small dollop of black vinegar, adding to the richness. The closest comparison I could make was the Greek avgolemono soup's liquid, minus the eggs.
The main course turned out to be mis-named in two different ways. Joe refers to them as Muslim lamb chops. The menu at Lao Dong Bei calls them lamb chops in Xinjiang style. But they are not lamb chops at all. Rather, they're lamb riblets, braised, then thrown in hot oil to crisp up, then seasoned with a downpour of cumin and sesame seeds, plus a few chile flakes. Cut between each bone so they're eminently snatchable and snackable, it's a stunning dish, managing by turns to be crispy and meltingly tender, texture and taste joining forces to please the mouth. Alongside was another new dish, tiger vegetables. It's a salad, an honest-to-goodness salad, full of fluffy, fresh greenness. Cilantro leaves and a few tender stems are tossed with shredded green onion and green pepper and just a little fresh hot pepper, the whole thing dressed with a little oil and black vinegar and maybe an eensy bit of sugar. It's amazing, cool and crunchy and the perfect balance to the unctuous lamb.
A stunning meal. (That's Joe's photograph, by the way. Mine only shows the remains of the day, so to speak.)
Joe's a free-lance writer who blogs and does some consulting. He also runs food tours of Queens, so if you're intersted in snooping around off the tourist path, he's just the man for you.
Golden Palace Restaurant
140-09 Cherry Ave., Flushing, NY
Lao Dong Bei Restaurants
44-09 Kissena Blvd, Flushing, NY
Principles. A man has to have principles. He has to stand up for what is right. He has to be, if you will forgive a dip into the Dr. Phil playbook, a moral leader in his family.
Terrence Rattigan's "The Winslow Boy", first produced in 1946, takes place in 1912-14, and at first we feel as though it's Downton Abbey set in South Kensington. A Nice family, a Nice home, that sort of thing - not unlike, in fact, the world in which Rattigan grew up. It's nice, that is, until the youngest Winslow is expelled from a Royal Navy College's junior division for taking a postal money order from another student, and cashing it. It would be worth in today's American currency, four or five dollars. And the lad is 14 years old.
Father, a banker, believes the boy's protestations of innocense, and is further incensed by the fact that this was accomplished, hearing and all, without notifying the family. It's the principle of the thing. But what's to be done? One cannot, after all, sue the Crown. But maybe there's a way, complicated as it might be. The father is determined to follow it through, damn the consequences, although he is, in that British way, very polite and understated in expressing those sentiments.
Jeff Hayenga is the father, less fearsome than his reputation in the family, although we have only their word for it that Ronnie, the expelled one, is the favorite child; there's little in the chemistry between father and Jay Stalder's Ronnie to prove it. The two older children are Dickie, Hunter Canning, having a merry time at Oxford, and Grace, a political progressive who's active in the suffrage movement, played by Carol Schultz. The struggle to clear the family name goes on, aided by Sir Robert Morton, the high-powered attorney who exudes power, carried off well by Jay Stratton.
But the cost, on many levels, is immense. Dickie can't return to Oxford, but must get a job. Grace's fiancee is becoming rather wobbly in his commitment. Only mother, the serene and charming Kathleen Wise, hasn't wavered - yet.
There are some big issues addressed here, to be sure. And yet, the play doesn't seem to have aged well, and it's not just because of the outdated caricature of the "lady reporter" - that's offset by the respectful treatment of the suffragette sister. Some of the necessary exposition is perhaps muffled - early on, in particular, the dialogue was hard to hear. There's a lack of heft in the whole thing that leaves one wanting.
It's a technically beautiful show. The scenic designer, John Ezell, gives us a lovely room. Dorothy Marshall Englis' costumes evovke hints of Downton Abbey. And Rob Denton's lights enhance the moods. But perhaps it's just because everyone is so well-mannered that it lacks passion.
The Winslow Boy
through March 8
Repertory Theatare of St. Louis
One of the pleasures of theater-going is letting go of past experiences, whether it's with a particular script or an idea or one's own history - and that list could continue for probably an entire page. People familiar with "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" are probably more apt to recall the Mike Nichols ground-breaking film which won Elizabeth Taylor an Oscar for her portrayal of Martha, the wife of a college professor - who just happened to be played by Richard Burton, her husband at the time.
But that was then, and now we have St. Louis Actors' Studio's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" The alcohol-soaked play set in the early Sixties still packs a powerful punch, vinyl records and all, a reminder on this Valentine's Day weekend that marriage isn't all bourbon and skittles. William Roth is George, a history professor at a New England college where his wife Martha's father is the college president. After a party at her father's, Martha, Kari Ely, has invited over a young faculty couple. Young, and let us add, unsuspecting. George and Martha, it turns out, fight at Olympic levels.
This being an Edward Albee play, it's all about the dialogue, as sizzling as a bullwhip. Ely absolutely owns Martha-the-termagant, bringing waspish to a whole new level. Roth's George reminds us that George is not nearly as passive as he's sometimes thought of as being, just waiting for the best time to spring, despite his fuzzy Mr.-Rogers-sweatered exterior. Honey and Nick, the young couple, serve mostly as foils for George and Martha, but Betsy Bowman wails with the best of them when the time comes, and Michael Amoroso seems permanently stunned by what he's going through, even when he tries to fire back.
John Contini directed, pacing well and giving room for whatever shreds of humanity Albee has left these souls. Patrick Huber's set and lights include a love seat that necessitates a great deal of cozying-up and perching on the back, a subtle piece of work that's very smart. Teresa Doggett's costumes are close enough to the period that it made those of us who suffered through them, girdles and all, smile.
A good show, but not recommended if you're in the midst of a bad marriage.
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
through March 1
St. Louis Actors Studio
360 N. Boyle Ave.
It's easy to get the idea initially that "God of Carnage" isn't a comedy. One couple visits another in their home. They're there to settle a dispute over a fight between their sons that's occurred on a nearby playground. Not surprisingly, there is a veneer of politeness on all concerned - these are, after all, relatively successful people, an attorney, a wealth manager, a business owner and an author who also works at a book store. And this, after all, is serious business.
Running throutgh February 21 at Stray Dog Theatre, Yasmin Reza's play, translated wonderfully by Christopher Hampton, is a wonder to hear, and to watch as well. While the women, Sarajane Alverson as the hostess and Michelle Hand, begin much of the back-and-forthing, the men soon become part of the increasingly strong flow of dialogue. Stephen Peirick, the visiting dad, is a cellphone-wielding attorney, although not much concerned about the case involving his son, and Michael Juncal, the host, whose weapons include clafouti and rum.
Pay particular attention to facial expression and body language in those who are not speaking - it's almost as much fun to watch as the dialogue can be. Hands slide up in a silent effort to stop a line of thought. A head shakes from side to side as its mouth is asking someone for agreement. And the faces - the faces are saying almost as much as the words. It's a strong cast, led by Alverson, opinionated Mamma Bear defending her wounded cub, but everyone does yeoman work. Michelle Hand's attempts at politeness and consensus-making mask her ursine instincts a little better, but only temporarily. Juncal is, for most of the play, easygoing and willing to go along, but it's clear that he's holding himself back. And Stephen Peirick, loud enough on his phone that he could be heard in New Jersey, is itching - whether it's to get out of there or for a fight, or both.
The timing, courtesy of director Gary F. Bell, is swell, and even the set fits the action like an expensive suit. Good stuff.
God of Carnage
through February 21
Stray Dog Theatre
Tower Grove Abbey
2336 Tennessee Ave.
It was one of those "I had forgotten all about it" moments. Avenue, Brian and Diane Carr's new spot following the closing of Pomme and Pomme Cafe, is on North Meramec. It formerly was Roxane, but more significantly to some of us, it was the second location of Cafe Zoe. I realized what it had been when I walked in, and it's a good heritage.
The entrance has been moved back to where it was, at the north end of the restaurant, with the hostess stand and bar area slightly above the rest of the room. There's something about looking out over a dining room before entering it that creates a nice little frisson of Occasion, and that's certainly the case here. The steps are shallow and wide, but beware the second cocktail if you arrive early.
This time of year, one craves hearty food, although good sense sometimes gets in the way of being an all-out trencherman, and we, sort of, managed to balance that out. Wellfleet oysters kicked things off. Wellfleets aren't huge, but these were particularly big-flavored, cold and minerally and delightful. Mignonette sauce with them carried a little extra oomph from what seemed to be a note of garlic. A simple salad of mixed lettuces, very fresh and perky, wore a red wine vinaigrette - a sweater rather than a coat, so lightly was it dressed, quite properly, and a good thing to scour the maw, as Rabelais said. (He certainly knew about eating like a trencherman, of course.)
And then there were the mushrooms, mixed wild mushrooms sauteed in butter, their unctuous juices spooned over a generous slice of toasted baguette, the whole topped with a ball of burrata cheese. Absolutely delicious it was, and a generous serving that could have been a light lunch.
Is this the only menu in town with a pork schnitzel in town? Thick enough to retain juiciness and only lightly breaded, it's clearly about the meat, not about the bread crumbs. Each pair of schnitzels were topped with a mustardy sauce studded with pieces of French cornichons and fresh tomatoes, just sharp enough to give contrast to the rich meat. Some green beans alongside, plus, interestingly, a different potato on each of the two orders, one roasted potato cubes and the other a square of what seemed to be an oven-baked potato pancake, a nice idea, and quite tasty.
I've always admired Brian Carr's ability to do grandma cooking, or in the French phrase, cuisine grandmere. Grandmas who cook that sort of hearty traditional food are becoming an endangered species, so it makes Carr's work more valuable. On this menu, among other items, there's a daube that could have come from a grandmere in Aix. The traditional Provencal stew has as many variations as there are kitchens it cooks in, but it's nearly always beef cooked in red wine with garlic, various herbs of Provence, carrots and mushrooms over a low fire for hours and hours. Carr's daube is thick, meltingly tender, full of flavor, downright seductive. There's just a little hint of orange, not unusual in the dish, and plenty of black olives, another common ingredient. It's served in the style of the area, over pasta. Yes, pasta in France - it long ago crept over the border from Italy. (Very disconcerting to Anglophones to see written on restaurant windows and menus "paste", its French translation.) It's a fine partner for the dish, of course; grandma knew what she was doing.
One bite of the chocolate mousse and I was thrown back into the much-missed Sunshine Inn. It was probably the first place I ever tasted it, and, in memory, at least, remains my benchmark. This seems much like it, light rather than gummy, nicely chocolate but not so dark that the milk-chocolate fanciers are not put off, a dollop of whipped cream alongside that cuts the richness further, if needed. Bread pudding appeared, studded with pear and sauced with salted caramel, a good match for the pear's honeyed sweetness. Chewy edges and a fluffy interior marked this version of the classic.
First-rate service, well-paced and knowlegeable and pleasant. Noise levels are, for a Clayton restaurant, not impossible, although we were in the smaller dining room. Things emptied out after a while, although we were delighted to see four people march in at 10 p.m. and sit down to dinner, a truly civilized situation. Food and beyond, all good stuff.
12 N. Meramec Ave., Clayton
Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner daily, Brunch Sat.-Sun.
Credit cards: Yes
You never know somebody's secrets. That's the theme of "Bashir Lahzar", currently on the boards at the Kranzberg Arts Center. It is, essentially, a one-man show, although there's a hidden voice in a loudspeaker and a tween-age girl, this weekend Aliyah Taliaferro, also participating, and the fine music provided live by Farsheed Soltanshahi on various stringed instruments.
J. Samuel Davis plays the title character, who we meet as he is preparing to introduce himself to a class he is to substitute teach. The author of the play is Canadian, so the references to the school systems are slightly different, but that's hardly noticeable in the scheme of things. Lahzar has come to Canada from Algeria because of the worsening political and social system there, and is preparing a place for his family who will follow him.
Davis' Lahzar is a man who keeps his dignity about him - not necessarily formality, but certainly dignity. He finally begins to relax in the classroom, and tries to, a little, with a colleague, but that goes awry. Nobody knows the stress he is under in his private life, just as no one knows the stress his predecessor must have been under to leave her job so abruptly.
The could be a play with all the bleakness of an existential novel, but Davis and his warmth with the children saves it from that. He's doing fine work with this role, complicated as it is. Phillip Boehm's tight direction keeps him moving smoothly from one scene to another, back and forth in time, with an office chair almost another actor in the play. The lights, by Steve Carmichael, work just right to carry the changes on the simple set by Cristie Johnson. Good work from all.
through February 15
Kranzberg Arts Center
501 N. Grand Ave.
Someday, Lorenzo's will probably be among the Old Guard on The Hill. It's amazing how little has changed over the years. Here's a review I wrote about it for St. Louis Magazine's Dining blog, quoting something Joe and I said almost ten years ago. (And there's more than just a reprint of the review then, I promise.)
There's a fascinating work on the boards at the Rep Studio for the next two weeks. "Safe House", by Keith Josef Adkins, takes place in pre-Civil War Kentucky. Adkins discovered that his mother's family were free people of color, to use the old legal term, in that area, and started from there.
The Pedigrews, two brothers and their aunt, live together. They make shoes for their living, the elder brother, Addison, seeking out customers and heading up the work. He's a proud man, proud of his work and driven to make life better. The other brother, Frank, is driven, too, but he's not sure what direction to aim. Their lives and that of Aunt Dorcas, are severely circumscribed, not just by the mores of the era but by restrictions placed on them by the sheriff after they were thought to have harbored a runaway slave. (Kentucky, like Missouri, was a state where slavery was legal but did not secede during the Civil War.)
It's a gifted group, inhabiting their roles rather than merely acting. Addison is Daniel Morgan Shelley, Frank is Will Cobbs and Dorcas played by Kelly Taffe. Around them are Clarissa, the love interest, Raina Houston, and an employee of the sheriff, Bracken. Bracken, Michael Sean McGuinness, is - sort of - a friend of the family, despite his whiteness, but there's an awful seesaw between his metaphorical fondness for Dorcas' rabbit stew and "I was only doing my job." McGuinness and Taffe in a scene late in the second act are breath-holding good.
Marvellously detailed costumes from Myrna Colley-Lee, a set that glows in the golden light of memory, by Peter and Margery Spack, and the work from composer and sound designer Scott O'Brien all contribute to the weight of this production. Melissa Maxwell's direction is spot on.
Of course the play is about race. But it's about a lot more - moral choices, ambition, love versus need. It doesn't run long, and this is a small house. Grab a ticket.
through Feb. 8
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
"Imagining Madoff" is the current offering from The New Jewish Theatre. In retrospect, the first word of the title is probably more important than the second. We all remember Bernie Madoff, the Ponzi schemer who wounded a long list of prestigious individuals and institutions with his deceit. Deb Margolin's play appears to be almost completely disconnected from reality.
Bobby Miller is Madoff, Jerry Vogel is - cognitive dissonance alert - an extremely prosperous poet (his balance sheet explained by how much money he's made from translating), and Julie Layton an unnamed secretary. The play begins with a schlubby, gentle-sounding sort of guy trying to remember the punch line to a joke. This is Madoff? Yes, it is, as it turns out.
The script cuts among three scenes, Madoff musing to himself, perhaps from prison, Madoff and the poet in dialogue at the poet's home as the poet tries to woo Madoff into taking him on as a client, and Layton who might, from the set, be doing a news conference but might be being interviewed by police or giving a deposition. There's a voice-over, uncredited, that seems to use lines from the Midrash. But nearly all the dialogue in the 95-minute work seems to drag and much of it feels very unconnected.
Director Lee Ann Mathews' choice to portray Madoff as an unprepossessing man seems an odd one. Madoff, in his photographs, was always immaculately and expensively dressed, but here appears in an ill-fitting and shapeless suit, albeit with an expensive tie. At times, it's difficult to understand Miller's lines. Whether it's because he's mumbling or is facing the other half of the audience is hard to discern, but there's also talking over, whether from the Great Voice or Vogel.
The poet was originally to have been Elie Wiesel, author and concentration camp survivor who had invested with Madoff and lost huge amounts of money, but when the author sent him a copy of the script, he called it "obscene" and threatened legal action. Vogel's portrayal is soft, almost fuzzy, and while he is trying to woo Madoff, as Madoff apparently liked his would-be clients to do, he's never in doubt about who he is and where he stands. Layton's secretary is the most clearly drawn of the three, an onlooker to the scene of the crimes, stunned by what she didn't know she was a minute part of.
The primary culprit in the unfocused play is the script, no question about that. But one's left feeling that it could have been tightened up had that been the choice.
through February 8
The New Jewish Theatre
Wool Studio Theater
2 Millstone Campus Drive
The best news of the flying trip to New Orleans is that one of the great restaurants is back with a bang. Brennan's on Royal Street, the big pink house across from the Supreme Court Building, has reopened. Closed for several years, the result of a family feud that could make the plot for a Masterpiece Theater series, it's been freshened up, to put it mildly. And the kitchen? Ah, the kitchen. After falling to shocking levels on our visit several years ago, the kitchen now will have you dancing in the duck. Other delicious things, too, of course, and we'll get to the duck in good time.
Our group dinner the first night was upstairs near huge portraits of Mardi Gras queens a century ago and smaller ones of entire courts of the various krewes. The meal clued us in that changes were clearly afoot. For instance, in the peak of oyster season, we had oven roasted Gulf oysters topped with smoked chili butter, chives and manchego cheese, just a wee bit of heat and a light shower of the cheese, the oysters still succulently juicy.
Another highlight was a shrimp creole risotto. The shrimp, laid out like soldiers atop a mound of risotto, were surrounded by the creole sauce. The menu said there was ginger in it, but the chowzters around me all thought the tomatoes had been smoked some, so complex was the sauce. It made one regret filling up on the oysters, so hard it was to resist just one more bite. Bananas Foster for dessert, of course, invented there at Brennan's in 1951, pepared for us by Etienne DeFelice, one of the captains.
But the menu is not the same as it was. Some of the old favorites have been retained, viz, the Fosters. But for example, their crepes Fitzgerald, involving fresh strawberries, aren't going to be available until local strawberries are in season. "If they aren't good enough, we're not serving it," was the firm announcement.
Then late Saturday night I discovered that a smaller group of fellow Chowzters were planning a visit the next morning for the meal this house made famous, Breakfast at Brennan's.
With planes to catch, we forewent the famous eye-openers, cocktails like milk punch. But chicory coffee was hot and fresh and good enough to elicit grunts of pleasure. The food began to roll in, a dignified pace, to be sure, in the new downstairs garden room that looks out on the patio. From the pastry chef to go with the savory dishes came huge biscuits, more than 3 inches square and 2 inches high, delicate and buttery.Turtle soup that managed to be both light and very full-flavored, nice notes of lemon coming through. Pan-roasted sweetbreads resting on a mound of truffle-laced grits, a sauce of bacon-laced sherry lightly anointing it. Panfried rabbit, slightly crisp, perched atop a bed of tender creamed collard greens, attended by a couple of over-easy eggs.
More eggs in two of the traditional styles of the house. It's possible to get a divided eggs order, so out came an egg hussarde, housemade English muffin for a base, prosciutto ham, the properly poached egg and both hollandaise and marchand de vin sauce - plus an egg Sardou, my old favorite, a crisply fried artichoke bottom instead of the muffin, very lightly creamed spinach, the egg and a sauce choron, bearnaise with a touch of tomato. Let me point out here that hollandaise in New Orleans is perkier than in France, where it's all about the butter. A little more lemon in the New Orleans style and often just a light, light touch of cayenne or Tabasco, just to put flavors more to the front. Good stuff.
Yes, more food. Grillades, not the usual thin slices of veal, but veal cheek made crispy, with cheese grits and over-easy eggs, all drizzled with a little of the juice from pickled pork, another old Creole dish. And then that duck. The menu calls it duck ham - but to me it was more like lean bacon, strips of breast that had been cured, smoked and fried, a little chewy but not tough, absolutely wonderful. And scrambled duck eggs, cooked over a low heat and stirred almost constantly so they remained creamy, some chives in them, and I suspect perhaps some duck fat for the pan. I nearly called my pal who keeps kosher to shriek, "Get down here!"
And just because it's not a meal without dessert, dark chocolate mousse with the rare Criollo chocolate, enrobed in ganache on a chocolate sable cookie, white chocolate ice milk, and a wonderful chocolate florentine that managed to be chocolatey, caramel-y and slightly salty while remaining as brittle as a light glaze of ice.
The executive chef, Slade Rushing, is a Southerner who's worked in San Francisco and New York. He and his wife, Allison Vines-Rushing, returned to New Orleans just before Katrina hit and decided to stay after the storm. It's quite a story. The Brennans have a history of hiring fine chefs and letting them do what they do best, and it's clear that Rushing falls right into that line. And the service is charming, one step back from formal, accustomed to dealing with long-time local customers and newcomers who stare at the menu and have a dozen questions.
Reservations probably necessary already, so get on the phone.
417 Royal Street, New Orleans
Breakfast and Lunch Tues.-Sun., Dinner Tues.-Sat.
If you're interested in more about Normandy than the D-Day assault, you can't do much better
than stay in Bayeux. It's a small, walkable town on the train line from Paris to Cherbourg, and it was spared almost completely during the Allied landing and German defense, unlike, say, Caen. There's a lot more to it than the famous Bayeux Tapestry. In fact, Mr. T, the Duchess of Escargot and I spent three nights there, went to D-Day sites one day, and were so occupied the remainder of the time that we never got to the tapestry.
And of course, the eating is excellent.
We were there in the autumn, a time of year I'm convinced is very good for much of Europe and the UK. Bayeux clearly must be extremely busy in the summer and get lots of British tourism, a bonus that makes for lots of English-speakers in shops, restaurants and hotels. For others like me who love street markets, the market day is Saturday, on the Place San Patrice, just north of the main thoroughfare.
We ambled into la Table du Terroir for a late lunch the day we arrived. This little spot on the main street, whose name changes every few blocks but here is rue St. Jean, has two dining rooms and outside dining, with a menu that leans toward local food, as the name promises. A first course seafood platter at lunch offered shrimp, mussels and an oyster, all cold and fresh, and some fine onion soup, for instance. Another night, tired and not wanting to walk very far, we wandered in only to be recognized by the waiter from the previous visit - to the point where he recalled where we sat. A fine duck in a red wine sauce satisfied, and an apple tart with ice cream was very nice indeed. And there were winkles - in French, bigorneau, much like snails, but chilled and spicy. (Photo below.) Crowded in the summer, we understand, and despite the fact that it's bigger than it looks, reservations suggested then.
La Table du Terroir
42, rue St. Jean, Bayeux
33 02 31 51 08 85
Lunch and Dinner Thurs.-Tues.
Bayeux's cathedral, despite its considerable size, nearly as big as Notre Dame in Paris, fronts onto a cozy little square. Scarcely a block away is le Pommier, where I stopped for lunch and brought back my pals for dinner. The interior is modern, with rough walls painted over and a long, comfortable banquette in one of the three dining rooms. It's casual enough that a French couple were lunching with their two small children. The young gentleman was discussing the kinds of cheese pictured on his paper place mat with his father, and just hearing a 5-year-old saying "Pont l'Eveque" makes an old chowhound like moi smile.
I had tripes Normand (above) for lunch - I love tripe, and this was cooked with beef shank to make the broth even richer. When we returned for dinner, there was foie gras and and andouilette sausage to begin, pork in a Neuchatel cheese sauce and a steak, among other things. Profiteroles, housemade ice cream and a cheese plate finished things off - as well as a nice view of the cathedral lit up. Smooth service, clearly family-owned, and very hospitable.
The website has an English version, and a way to make reservations.
38-40 rue des Cuisiniers (that's Cooks' Street!), Bayeux
33 02 31 21 52 10
Lunch and Dinner daily
The best, however, was La Rapiere, down an alleyway off rue St. Jean. If you're going, stop reading and go make a reservation now. (They have an English translation on their website, and they, too, let you make reservations online.) It's very small and intimate, a stone fireplace gently sizzling and crackling, the sort of spot with plenty of regulars - but clearly a spot that's serious about their food, serious without what Americans would call an attitude. Ingredients are trditional French, but the presentation and some of the approach is modern. Oysters with a mignonette sauce, yes, but also prawns lolling on a small mound of risotto to begin with. Duck came with what seemed to be a simple pan sauce, but there were notes of thyme, bay leaf, a hit of tartness and just a bit of red currant, absolutely stunning. Pheasant, described as being in the Moroccan style, wore a sauce with notes of onion, cumin, cardamom and just a faint hint of cinnamon, subtle, but able to stand up to the rich dark meat. Almost as good as the duck.
An orb of orange marmalade mousse was glazed in chocolate. A small cheesecake, mild and soft, was topped with a ring of sauteed tart apple and a salted caramel sauce, slightly runny, was lighter than any chesecake has a right to be.
And as a bonus, the prix fixe meals, which run from 29 to 52 Euros, all include an entremet - in this case, a take on the tradition of a trou Normand, a shot of Calvados between courses to "open up the stomach" for more. Here, the Calvados was turned into a wee scoop of sorbet, still soft from the alcohol.
The staff are clearly proud of their food, but the atmosphere is warm, and the farewell at the door felt as though we'd been visiting in a private home. But La Rapiere is very popular, and we were lucky to get a table at all. They've got two forks in Michelin.
This is extraordinary value for the money, and particularly if one follows Pollacks' First Law, restaurants set their own standards by the way they price themselves, Mr. T may have been right when he said he thought this may have been the best meal of the trip. It cerainly hit the trifecta, food, service and decor.
53, rue St. Jean, Bayeux
33 02 31 21 05 45
Lunch and Dinner Tues.-Sat.
Some food stops are non-negotiable. Vivoli for gelato in Florence. McClard's for barbecue in Hot Springs. This last weekend in New Orleans, I had to break one of my rules, though. I've visited The City That Care Forgot more than a dozen times, and I never NOT went to Cafe du Monde for beignets and coffee until this time. Less than 48 hours on the ground for a meeting with other rabid eaters just didn't allow for it.
But I've found a new place that I insist I will never, ever leave New Orleans without visiting. I've been seduced by the fried chicken at Willie Mae's Scotch House.
I admit that most fried chicken doesn't excite me. I was introduced to Popeye's when they had only a few outlets in New Orleans, long before the word "mild" was ever heard on their premises; I feel it's the best of the drive-through poultry palaces, but it's not anything I go out of my way to get. When I come across fried chicken that's notable, I'm happy to pass it on, but as far as downright chicken madness - well, that's not my beat. (Although the attention being paid to the bird here in St. Louis is, overall, a definite improvement on what we've had.)
Willie Mae's is in the Treme neighborhood, totally inundated and much destroyed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. It was touch and go as to whether the restaurant would ever reopen. But finally things came together. It's a very simple place, certainly, a soul food restaurant with a relatively short menu, although seeing veal on it reminds you of just where you are.If you're lucky, you'll walk by the kitchen, where the guys are blasting out stuff like Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing", en route to the second dining room.
Twenty or so of us descended on Willie Mae's from our taxis. They don't take reservations. The staff kept their calm, putting us at tables as they emptied. There is pretty much always a line - they open at 11.30 a.m., and we arrived around 11.40. Under other circumstances, folks like this swarm of food bloggers would have run through the entire menu, but we had another lunch stop after this and two more for dinner, so we stuck to the essentials: Fried chicken and a few sides.
The chicken is battered - what seems to be frequently referred to as a "wet batter" - but it's as light as tempura, but crispier. There's some cayenne in it, but not enough to set the mouth aflame. One dissenter thought it was greasy - but what's on your fingers is chicken juice, not grease. No further sprinkling of salt, pepper, or the New Orleans classic, Crystal Hot Sauce, is needed. The color is magnificent, the bronze of an Arizona sunset. Worth the inevitable wait here, definitely.
Many rave about the butter beans, rather like large lima beans, cooked to creaminess, but I voted for the red beans, more assertively seasoned. Fried okra wears a different batter, this one of cornmeal, but almost as light. Cornbread turns out to be corn muffins, surely the most tender cornbread in the United States, almost angel food cake-ish.
No alcohol - locavores know that the vin du terroir is Barq's Root Beer, a great match. Not a place to go for a light snack, but if there's any leftover chicken - ha - it's probably just as fine cold. There's now an uptown location, but I can't vouch for it, and the menu apparently is more limited.
Willie Mae's Scotch House
2401 St. Ann St. New Orleans
Lunch (through 5 p.m.) Mon.-Sat.
Every once in a while something comes along that's a little bit different. Leonardo's Kitchen and Wine Bar, Rich LoRusso's new baby, is situated in an old gas station, and it's really a working guy's spot. (I use guy in a bi-gender sense, youse guys!) Lots of lunchtime carry-out traffic, picnic benches out front that are an optimistic touch here in the depths of winter, with sandwiches and hand-tossed pizzas the point of the whole thing.
The front room, with a counter for orders and a large cooler for nonalcoholic drinks, has lots of light, and perhaps five tables. There's also an inner dining room on the way to the kitchen, so don't be discouraged if tables look filled up when you walk in.
Happily, Leonardo's is not one of those spots who don't turn their pizza ovens on until evening, so it's a good spot for lunch cravings. One size, a 12-incher, a crust that's medium-thick by St. Louis standards, chewy and pleasantly yeasty. The cheese is a mixture of provolone and mozzarella. I was particularly taken with the Piggy, with bacon, sausage and hot salami, robustly seasoned but not fiery. Less assertive, despite the drizzle of roasted garlic olive oil, was the chic sev, with chicken, artichokes and spinach.
Both hot and cold sandwiches (plus hamburgers, which will have to wait for a return visit), all on hero-style rolls. Italian beef, beginning to get a toehold in this town for good reason, appears, moist and messy and tangy-spicy from its ladle of giardiniera, the olive-vegetable relish and, of course, the beef gravy.
And here is a sandwich whose very name has to evoke a smile: The Yogi Hoagie. This brings forth a stack of beef, ham, salami, mortadella and cheese with lettuce, tomato, a little red onion and some dressing. These vinaigrette dressings being used on such sandwiches are what lift them from snoozers to super - eschew mayonnaise for the zip of acidity, if you're wise. The salami, aged and thinly cut, almost makes one think there's prosciutto in there. It's an excellent take on the classic. Also fun to say, but another choice that had to be skipped was the Three Stooges: Hot salami, Volpi salami and baloney, which is actually mortadella.
Two of the three sides with the sandwiches deserve a little extra attention. The salad della casa, or house salad, is not what one expects to find in a red checkered cardboard container. the lettuce is fresh, there's roasted pepper, artichoke hearts, a little onion and a light dressing, plus a piece of garlic crostini, all very satisfying. And the fries - well, they're swirls about the size of a comma on a billboard, lightly dusted with a seasoning that left us thinking. Salty/tangy/faintly sweet with a light note of - is that maybe cinnamon? The nice woman behind the counter said it was ketchup seasoning, which made sense. However, I will say I don't like ketchup with my fries, and I thought this was pretty darned good.
Yes, there's pasta - hey, it's a LoRusso operation, after all - but everyone was going for pizza and sandwiches. Maybe some evening with a glass of one of the twelve by-the-glass selections, mostly Italian, of course. Daily specials that aren't necessarily from the old country - like soups that were New England clam chowder and chili with beef and hot salami. And, oh, they close at 8 except Friday and Saturday.
Very casual, let me repeat. But tasty.
2130 Macklind Ave.
Lunch and Dinner Monday-Saturday
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: Good
Sandwiches and pizza $8-$14
Last weekend, I was in New Orleans with the North American folks who write for Chowzter - whose logo you can see (partly) to the right. The main purpose was to present the awards for the tastiest food in North America, which happened at a dinner at Commander's Palace Saturday night.
The barbecue winner was our own Pappy's Smokehouse, to my delight. Mike Emerson and his crew work hard and I was happy to pick up the trophy and plan to hand it to him at the first opportunity. It's high time the world realized that Missouri barbecue is first-rate on both sides of the state. I reckon that we're slightly ahead because we have more emphasis on pork, and as I have often said (and been challenged about in parking lots), the Lord created the hog to be barbecued.
Chowzter offers food from four continents curated by bloggers from each area, and it's designed to be very affordable food. Lobster Albanello, pace Bommaritos, is delicious, but it's not what we focus on. It's a world of pizza and sandwiches and noodles and chicken. Go look at, say, Singapore and see what to eat there.
We had more than forty of us attending this meeting, so you can imagine that it was 48 hours-plus of bacchanalian eating. I'll have more on what else I found. In the meantime, congratulations, Mike Emerson.
This photo is of the Minneapolis location, via the Minneapolis Star-Tribune's website, but it sure looks like what I recall ours did. The only thing I'd note is that I originally mean to write about the Friday after Thanksgiving, which was a far bigger mob scene than December 26 must have been back then, say, in the Eisenhower Administration.