Two for the Season
Creative lunches and new to the cake scene
JEFFERY JOHNSTON PHOTOGRAPHS
Mother’s Day is traditionally one of the highest-volume days of the year and few properties are more adept at handling such a crunch as those in the Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group. Mom will be impressed with the picturesque views at Ralph’s on the Park and the whole family will be impressed with chef Chip Flanagan’s fun and inventive menu.
After taking over as executive chef three years ago, Flanagan widened the menu’s focus to include more regional and Southern-style fare with an additional flourish of international inspiration. Some of it isn’t for the weak of heart, like his fried chicken, wrapped in country ham and served with collard greens and boudin balls. I probably shouldn’t even mention his TCB Foie Gras: an Elvis-inspired peanut butter, foie gras and banana sandwich. But such weighty offerings are offset by dishes with a far more delicate touch, like his “Visiting” Fish glazed with white miso and Steen’s cane syrup, plated in a shrimp broth enriched with French-style mousseline shrimp dumplings, watercress and seasonal vegetables. “That is by far our most popular entrée,” says Flanagan.
As we move into the warmer months, look for ingredients that reflect the season used in dishes that still employ techniques of which Flanagan is a fan. Braising is an example of this. His cool-weather dish of beef short rib braised in NOLA Brewing’s Irish Channel Stout, a big hit on the St. Paddy’s Day menu, will likely get changed up to include lamb cheeks braised in white wine. “I love lamb,” he says. “I always try to find a new way to use it,” he says. “When it gets hot in this city I don’t want to have that heavy braised dish on there, but I still want to have something braised,” he says. “New Orleans is funny sometimes though – even in that hot weather locals want that hot, thick turtle soup. They’d kill me if I tried to take that off.”
New for festival season is a short selection of New Orleans-inspired small plates, including an alligator strudel spiced up with sauce piquant. Worlds collide in his Foie Gras Funnel Cake, rounded out with some black pepper-infused strawberry jam and pistachio nuts for texture. Other good bets include classics like his barbecue shrimp – in my opinion, one of the best versions in the city. It includes an emulsified broth lightened with Abita Blonde beer and pre-peeled for hassle-free, fine-dining pleasure. The blue crab beignets on the appetizer menu are surprisingly light and get a nice complement from the pepper jelly cream, and Tuna Two Ways – tartare and seared – offers a nod to Japanese cuisine with its wasabi crème fraîche.
Mother’s Day aside, throughout May Flanagan will be offering a four-course Veuve Clicquot dinner special, each course paired with a different Veuve; starting June 1, his popular “three appetizers with a glass of wine” promotion begins. His weekend brunch is perennially popular as well.
If you need a cake to make Mother’s Day extra-special or you just flat-out need a cake for its basically delicious nature, check out Pure Cake. This new start-up on Freret Street was recently opened by business partners Danielle Ross and Monique Landaiche and features a three-tier line of signature confections.
“We are both primarily self-taught bakers who worked in other fields before falling in love with cake design and cake decorating,” Ross says. “We both have a strong belief in doing everything from scratch because we really want to make products that taste as good as they look.”
Standard cakes are three-layer, eight-inch rounds that serve 12-15 people. They stand taller than most, resulting in more cake for the buck.
Flavors range from the classic, like chocolate, to the more exotic, like salted caramel, and there’s a line of top-shelf signature cakes inspired by New Orleans desserts. “The bread pudding cake is one that we are really excited about,” Ross says. Using cake instead of bread, they cut down on the sugar in the custard to level it out, bake it and frost it with whipped cream. For their New Orleans-inspired mocha cream “doberge,” they use a mocha pastry cream in lieu of the traditional chocolate pudding between the layers to make it their own.
Cakes must be ordered in advance, but walk-ins can enjoy the oversized cake pops offered in their display case, which mirror many of their custom cake flavors. “Those have been really popular,” Ross says. “We do those a little differently than other people. Ours are served upside-down, kind of like a candy apple. And we do them a little larger so they are multiple bites – not just a one-bite treat. There is a center in the middle surrounded by cake, which is then dipped in chocolate. We offer filled flavors; for example we do both a white cake with a caramel center that is then dipped in chocolate and our red velvet with its cream cheese frosting center has been popular as well. Cake pops allow us to create a lot of different flavor combinations and give us a palette to play with.”
They also sell four-inch mini-cakes and specialize in wedding cakes, groom cakes and large celebration cakes for any occasion. All this goodness comes out of a space with a total footprint of just 650 square feet. So far the customers’ response has been strong and with this year’s record-setting Freret Street festival, they are well poised to capture the Uptown sweet tooth.