My childhood dining experiences in the 1970s involved friend seafood from Don’s Seafood Hut, SidMar’s and Bozo’s, meatballs and spaghetti from Mandina’s and chicken cordon bleu from Delmonico.
While all of this sounds glorious now, for a kid constantly on the prowl for new taste sensations this was torture. After school visits for ice cream had me seeking the weirdest thing in the case – like licorice ice cream with bits of bubble gum and hunks of peanut butter cups.
When I was 7, I heard of chicken Kiev and whined until a book with a recipe for the concoction materialized. My father arrived home from work to some bastardization of chicken Kiev for months. I moved on to fettuccine Alfredo, still considered pretty exotic back then. While other kids sat in front of the television watching “The Brady Bunch” and “Speed Racer” I assumed the lotus position on the floor in front of the console television to absorb Julia Child on PBS.
The 1980 opening of Benihana of Tokyo on St. Louis Street gave me my first experience at the communal hibachi cooking table, my first taste of seaweed and my first bite of raw fish. My patient father sat mystified, probably grossed out, wondering whose offspring he had mistakenly carried home from the maternity ward at Touro Infirmary 12 years before.
The past month would have been an adventure to share with him. I unwittingly embarked on a culinary world tour without leaving the area.
When Emeril Lagasse opened NOLA in 1992, Vietnamese food was still uncommon and people swooned for Miss Hay’s Stuffed Chicken Wings ($13). They were just as good when I had them a few weeks ago. Now under the direction of Chef de Cuisine Brian Mattola, the kitchen is still turning out amusing surprises. Of particular delight is a warm Ooey Gooey Cake with moist chocolate cake, marshmallows, toasted coconut and coffee ice cream ($8).
Always a sure bet for a top-rate culinary mash up, Juan’s Flying Burrito recently met the challenge with a Red Chile Chicken and Goat Cheese Quesadilla served with a cumber dipping sauce ($8.50).
I don’t get out to Metairie much, but in one day I experienced two solid reasons to cross the 17th Street Canal more often. Soho Asian Cuisine, a big place offering Fried Intestine, Marinated Duck Tongue (both $ 9.95) and Cold Jelly Fish ($6.95) on the menu along with excellent renditions of Eggplant in Clay Pot and Mandarin Chicken (both $10.95). About a mile away I was able to indulge my passion for ethnic markets at Golden City. I scored red bean cakes ($2.59), Jonggavi hot pepper paste ($3.99) and a tin of French butter made from grass fed cows’ milk ($7.99).
In my month of exploration, nothing trumped my visit to St. Roch Market. Gentrification aside, it’s a microcosm of the food cultures represented in New Orleans today. At Koreole I had a shockingly good Korean beef bulgogi poor boy with andouille, gouda cheese and slaw ($9.50) and an order of sweet sticky chicken wings that stung the tongue with ginger and garlic ($7.50). Ten feet away at La Mezcala my friend Kelly went for fried catfish tacos ($10) and a Jarritos guava soda ($2.74). One stall over, we shared an order of boiled peanut hummus with freshly fried sweet potato chips ($5.50) from PDR Nola.
In this season of gustatory excess, sometimes simplicity should rule the day. New York Pizza is celebrating 35 years in business and the time-tested institution’s “Pint and a Slice” pairs a slice of any one of their standard pizzas and a pint of your choice of draft beers. For only $5, it’s one of the best deals around.
Emeril’s NOLA 534 St. Louis St., 522.6652, EmerilsRestaurants.com/nola-restaurant
Golden City 2712 N. Arnoult Rd., 780.8588, GoldenCityAsianMarket.com
Juan’s Flying Burrito 2018 Magazine St., 569-0000, JuansFlyingBurrito.com
New York Pizza 4418 Magazine St., 891.2376, NewYorkPizzaNola.com
Soho Asian Cuisine 601 Veterans Memorial Blvd., 301-2266, SohoAsianCuisineMetairie.com
St. Roch Market 2381 St. Claude Ave., 609-3813, StRochMarket.com