A Few Recent Meals

I’ve had a few meals recently that are worth discussing, any of which could be the sole topic of this blog. Unfortunately other demands on my time –– some imposed by my parole officer (I’m innocent; I swear!) –– have prevented me from devoting the time required for a full review of each restaurant. Think of the following as sketches of three meals, rather than “half-assed reviews,” won’t you?

I don’t get to Emeril’s very often. It’s not because I don’t like the place; I do, and I’ve long since come around on Emeril himself. He’s had a tremendous impact on the local and national dining scenes, and he’s a very generous man. I was lucky enough to attend Carnivale du Vin this year, a function that combines great food with an entertaining auction to benefit the chef’s namesake foundation, and that’s hardly the limit of his charity efforts.

I had lunch a few weeks ago at Emeril’s flagship restaurant at 800 Tchoupitoulas, and it was very good. I started with rabbit rémoulade, which is served with fried green tomatoes, bacon, a citrus salad and a horseradish gastrique. The gastrique didn’t make much of an impression, but overall the dish was excellent. The rabbit was tender, the kitchen showed some restraint with the bacon, and the citrus added enough acid and sweetness to balance things nicely. My dining companion started with a duck and andouille gumbo that was dark and rich if a bit over-salted.

There’s an option for a fixed-price menu called the “lunch crunch” that promises three courses served in 30 minutes. That seems a bit rushed to me, but for $19.50 it also seems like a pretty good deal. I didn’t go that route, but I did get one of the entrée selections from that section of the menu –– saffron grilled Gulf shrimp served over pearl cous cous in a sweet-tart sauce –– as my main course. The shrimp were sweet with just a bit of char on the exterior, and the cous cous was studded with chopped hazelnuts, a nice textural contrast.

My friend had the salmon “pastrami,” which was served open-faced on a bagel with thinly sliced red onion, tomato and mascarpone cheese combined with capers. The salmon was nicely flavored, though again with a bit too much salt for my taste, but the mascarpone was a nice touch in place of the traditional cream cheese. You can call Emeril’s at 528-9393 for reservations.

Not long after my meal at Emeril’s I went with some colleagues to Bistreaux New Orleans, the more casual restaurant in the Maison Dupuy hotel. The restaurant shares a kitchen with Le Meritage, and the food I’ve had there has been of the same quality. It’s a nice space, with windows opening onto Toulouse and Burgundy, backed by a long bar.

The restaurant is just down Toulouse from P&J oyster company, and their bivalves are on the menu. They’re expensive, as all oysters on the half shell are these days, but I couldn’t pass up having a dozen to start the meal. Served with mignonette and cocktail sauces, they were excellent. I followed the oysters with beef carpaccio from the “first bites” section of the menu. The beef had been barely cooked on the exterior before it was thinly sliced and layered on a large plate. The meat was striped with a horseradish cream and garnished with peeled grape tomatoes and a salad of arugula and Parmesan cheese. Call 522-8800 if you want more information.

Most recently I checked out Brack May’s new restaurant, Cowbell, at 8801 Oak St. I can only report on two dishes from the menu –– the lime grilled chicken served with beans, avocado salsa and fresh tortillas and the grilled Gulf fish tacos that come with black beans, arroz verde and a cilantro-lime cream. Both were really, really good. The chicken breast was grilled skin-on, juicy, and the beans, studded with pork, were a great base for it. The fish tacos also came with an excellent slaw and some guacamole, and combined with the fish and the fresh tortillas, they were a hit. I have a feeling I’ll be returning fairly soon to Cowbell to check out the rest of the menu, including the burger and the skirt steak. The place hasn’t been open long, but May has wisely kept the menu fairly short, and it’s the kind of upscale comfort food that’s right in his wheelhouse. At this point they don’t have a liquor license, so bring your own if you want to imbibe. Call 298-8689 to learn more.

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