I pondered my first post in Haute Plates while enjoying a "Bäron von Bourbon" mixed by Veronica at Bronx Bar (part of New York Pizza on Magazine). I had meant to spend it introducing myself, but I was beaten to the punch by the column’s esteemed veteran Mr. Robert Peyton (to whom I tip my hat for so graciously allowing me to fill in). I was pleased to learn that I already possess one of the two credentials necessary to author such high prose on the New Orleans food scene (a law degree). The other credential–an actual background in the restaurant industry–belongs to my co-columnist Jenny Sklar.
My personal skill set lies in consuming some of the finest (and not so finest) food in the world and wearing loose enough clothing to avoid embarrassing myself in the aftermath.
A Mano, an Adolfo Garcia restaurant on Tchoupitoulas in the CBD, is (to me) the most authentic Italian restaurant in New Orleans. This is not to disparage the many, many other Italian restaurants here which are great in their own rights: Adolfo’s (no relation to Mr. Garcia so far as I know), Impastato’s, Vincent’s, Irene’s (in no particular order of importance) and continuing to a list that numbers in the dozens. My only knock, if it can described as a knock at all, is that these are New Orleans Italian restaurants. They feature red sauce, cheese, massive portions, not bad qualities–but it is not what you find in Italy. A Mano most definitely is what you find in Italy, from the house-cured meats to the hand-made desserts, this place is what you should expect to get from an Italian restaurant.
My favorite dish at A Mano is the burrata bruschetta, an appetizer. Like a bell to Pavlov’s dogs, the very mention of this dish sets me salivating. Burrata cheese is what heaven would taste like if it were fermented from milk. It‘s fresh mozzarella on the outside as a shell around mozzarella curds and cream in the center that spills out as you cut into it onto whatever you’ve perched it on (in A Mano’s case, perfectly toasted bruschetta with pickled beats, balsamic and sprigs of greens–and, as I recall, I’ve also had tomatoes on mine). It is as lovely to look at as it is to eat, the bright colors contrasting gorgeously. I would go to A Mano just for this dish.
The second dish is the "Pancetta Mac ‘n’ Cheese" at Cochon Butcher, tucked between Cochon and NOLA Grocery on Andrew Higgins in the CBD. It is billed as one of the “bar foods,” but that classification does not do it justice. Donald Link took an American classic, upped the ante with the best cheeses and decided, “you know what, this doesn’t have enough calories, let’s add fucking Italian bacon we make in house.” I’m roughly paraphrasing him here, and by that I mean I am completely fabricating the quote, but it’s certainly what goes through my head as I’m eating it. The creamy, full textured mac ‘n cheese is salty but melts away to a savory finish of perfectly cured and finely chopped fatty bacon. It contrasts wonderfully with the flavors of the duck sliders, the mint of the pork belly sandwich or whatever other ridiculous entrée you’ve happily settled on at this most hip of lunch places (I’m sure you all went there while it was still an unknown hole in the wall, you know, before it was cool and blah, blah, blah). The one problem with the Mac is that it makes me angry that I’ve eaten regular macaroni and cheese for years when this, this beauty, could have been on my plate. All those wasted meals…the tragedy. If you eat there for lunch and you don’t get this, slap yourself. Hard.
The last dish to round out this most perfect of meals is the beignets dessert at Coquette, on Magazine in the Garden District. This dish spaced my wife out for entire minutes of unadulterated bliss (or, if you like, adulterated bliss, feel free to go there). We’ve been getting it for years and thought it was most the perfect dessert there was. It is comprised of six round beignets from their personal recipe in house with a coffee crème sauce that melted ambrosia-like in your mouth as dirty thoughts ran through your mind about what you would like to do to the beignets behind closed doors. We were wrong, though; it was not the most perfect dessert, because this past year they changed it to add a salted caramel sauce. The joy that jolted through my body the first time I tasted the steaming beignets dipped in the cool, salty caramel was almost as quickly replaced by a desire to do violence to all other beignets that were not Coquette’s. If you finish a meal with these beignets and you don’t feel like curling up in a fetal position of primeval happiness to sleep off your diabetic coma, you just aren’t doing it right.
About Aaron Weidenhaft:
Aaron loves coffee. He also loves beer, wine and fine food, but coffee is his real obsession. I mean really, the guy should get another hobby or something. Oh, he’s also a native New Orleanian, unabashed parochial homer and when he occasionally gets to travel he tries to set the record straight about what’s going on in the 504.