NOLA Chefs’ Aid for the Philippines and More Restaurant News

Last month Typhoon Haiyan swept over parts of the Philippines and did enormous damage. The scenes are not foreign to residents of New Orleans; I drove through the Ninth Ward yesterday on a mission for my day job, and there are still blocks that bear an unfortunate resemblance to images coming out of Leyte, Cebu and Tacloban. In our case, of course, the immediate need for food, water and shelter is in the past, but that's not the case in the Philippines. They are still in desperate need.

Enter NOLA Chefs' Aid for the Philippines.  On Monday, Dec. 16 at the Hilton New Orleans Riverside, honorary co-chairs Mitch Landrieu, James Carville and chef Leah Chase will preside over a fundraiser for the victims of Haiyan, which will feature food and music. In the interest of my general laziness, here's something from the Mayor's press release:


Guests will enjoy foods from more than 40 chefs from around the state, many preparing dishes with a taste of the Philippines. Jazz Trumpeter Duke Heitger and Friends will provide entertainment throughout the evening, while guests enjoy cultural dance and costumes by local Filipinos and offerings from an extensive silent auction. “The strength of the New Orleans hospitality industry has always been an asset in times of need, whether for another member of our industry or for an entire community,” states Ralph Brennan. “And while it is our business to serve each person that visits our restaurants, it is out of genuine concern for all people that we choose to put our business aside and serve others in situations such as what has happened in the Philippines.”


That looks pretty swell to me. I'm particularly interested to see our local chefs' take on Filipino cooking, because it's a fascinating cuisine. The event is the brainchild of Nina Camacho, though you won't see her name on the event's website. She's done an incredible job of putting this event together, though, and she deserves recognition. Check out the event's website for more details, and I hope to see you there.

In other news, I had lunch at Salú the other day, and based on the very small sample I had of the menu, I'd give it another shot. I ordered the ceviche because I figured it's very hard to mess up, and the crab cake because it's very hard to do right. I was surprised by the results; the ceviche was flavorless, and the fish and shrimp in it had the texture of cotton. The menu described the dish as “shrimp, scallops, mahi, jalapenos, tomatoes, red onions, crispy tortillas.” There were small square pieces of something green in the dish, but if those were jalapenos I don't know what happened. There was no heat in the dish whatsoever, and the only texture came from the slices of raw red onions and the tortilla chips. The latter, at least, were pretty tasty.

The crab cake was crisped on both sides, plated over an avocado sauce, then topped with an aoili that was essentially a ravigote. If that doesn't sound good, then I'm not doing it justice, and for that I apologize. My most common complaint with crab cakes is that I usually have to pick shell out of my mouth with every bite. It shouldn't be noteworthy that the crab cakes at Salú didn't require a toothpick, but it is, because chef Brien's version was better than the example I've sampled at far more pretentious joints.

The ceviche aside, there are a half-dozen other items on the menu at Salú that I'd like to try, which is about a half-dozen more than I would have thought a year ago. The wild mushroom and goat cheese empanadas are one, and the braised pork shoulder with green beans and smoked cheddar gratin is another. Based on my recent meal, I'm pretty confident that both of those dishes, and the majority of the menu, would be really good.

I started the afternoon with the intention of taking some work with me to Basin, but despite my “Restaurant Insider” title, I forgot that Basin isn't open for lunch on Wednesday. So I fell back on Salú, and I'm glad I did. I'd more or less written the place off, and that judgment was premature. It's not trying to be a white tablecloth, high-end place, but there's some very good food to be found in a casual setting, and that's rare.

If you've checked Salú out recently, please let me know what you thought; for that matter, please let me know what you think are some of the better casual restaurants in town that nevertheless do ambitious cooking.

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