I first attended “Art for Art’s Sake” back in the late 1980s, when I was a punked-out teenager. The event was centered entirely around the Contemporary Arts Center. Arthur Roger had just moved his eponymous gallery to Julia Street in a brilliantly prescient move and he offered libations and a few snacks as a way to extend the party down the block a bit. I recall a boy glam hair band somewhere in the mix.
Today the annual event attracts 30,000 and sprawls throughout the Warehouse District and down Magazine Street. I am entirely too uncool to brave the throngs but welcome the uptick in foot traffic frivolity the stroll brings my West Riverside neighborhood. Every year we gather a group for an evening of sipping, grazing and gallery hopping. Most places have their doors open and there’s plenty of live music right on the street, sidewalk or a front porch.
There is a good chance that come, October 7 at 6 p.m. our first stop will be Tito’s, a newly opened Peruvian place for ceviche, tiraditos and pisco-based cocktails. Small plates for sharing are the way to go. The Classico Triadito combines hamachi crudo with leche de tigre and aji limo sauce. With roasted potatoes, Andean cream and olive salsa, the Papa a la Huacincaina and Anticuchos de Corazon (grilled veal hearts, Aji panca and chimichurri) are both bargains for $6. For something more substantial, the Arroz con Pato combines beer-braised duck confit, cilantro rice and salsa criolla.
Nearby Tal’s Hummus has inventive Mediterranean offerings and the complimentary condiment bar near the check-out counter allows for customizing light meals and snacks. A recent favorite was a dish of smooth, creamy hummus spread around a pile of fresh grilled vegetables served with plenty of warm pita bread pillows. An Israeli salad with a bracing lemon and fresh parsley dressing was the perfect accompaniment.
Superstar chef Isaac Toups recently kicked off an intimate off-menu dinner series, Counter Club, held exclusively at the exhibition kitchen counter at Toups’ South on the third Thursday evening of every month.
“I go out of the box, ditch the menu and flex some of my off-kilter ideas,” Toups says.”
The monthly four-course themed dinners are $50 per person (excluding beverages, tax and gratuity) and start with a gratis amuse bouche and welcome cocktail. The themes for upcoming dinners are “The Hunt: Game Time” October, “Boucherie on a Plate” November and “Cheese: A Grate Adventure” December. Seating is very limited and reservations can only be made by calling the restaurant directly. Be sure to specify which Counter Club you wish to attend and share any dietary restrictions.
Our group may stop for a full, seated meal on the other side of Napoleon Avenue at Nirvana, a favorite since 1999, with an extensive menu ranging from vegan and vegetarian to poultry, seafood and lamb. Favorites are chicken tikka masala, lamb goa (coconut lamb curry), mali kofta (cheese dumplings with vegetables and cream sauce) and sabji kali milch (vegetables in peppery cream gravy). The peerless hot, unsweetened chai is blended in-house and goes perfectly with an order of gulab jamun (balls of fried milk solids soaked in honey syrup flavored with green cardamom and rose water).
If the decision is made to just pick, graze and share before we keep on walking we will probably fall back on the Flag of India, a tasting selection of butter chicken, malai kebab (boneless chicken encrusted with cashews and grilled) and saag paneer (chunks of farmer’s cheese sautéed in curried spinach).
We usually continue our walk to the other side of Louisiana Avenue, making Sucré our last stop, where the few of us with room left for more will finish off the evening with a couple of double scoops of gelato or sorbet before waddling home around the nerd-friendly hour of 9 p.m.
Nirvana Indian Cuisine
4308 Magazine St., 894-9797
3025 Magazine St., 520-8311
4800 Magazine St., 267-7357
Tito’s Ceviche & Pisco
5015 Magazine St., 267-7612
1504 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd. (inside the Southern Food & Beverage Museum), 304-2147