RESTAURANT INSIDER

THE TACO TRAIL It seems there are a never-ending number of taco trucks, stands and taquerias all over New Orleans. Raves are rampant for El Gato Negro in the French Quarter and I can’t go one week without a stop into Tacos at San Miguel (Elysian Fields at Claiborne avenues) for a plate of tacos – stewed pork, barbecued meats, liver and onions, etc. – topped with fresh chopped cilantro-onion salsa and served with sides of creamy refried beans, comforting carrot and potato-studded rice, a heap of sautéed onions and jalapenos and an icy cold Mexican Coke; for under $10, this is a deal of a meal.

CHOP CHOP There is a definite return of the simple and simply delicious chopped salad – a slush of greens, raw or blanched veggies, chopped small and tossed with a light, flavorful vinaigrette dressing. All over town, renditions are popping up on menus including Restaurant August, Wolfe’s, Cuvée, Vizard’s on the Avenue and Gordon Biersch. Chef Bob Iacovone (of Cuvée) and I marveled over this salad phenomenon and have no solid theories on the subject, except to say that this year the culinary attitude seems to be K.I.S.S. (Keep It Seriously Simple).

TAKE THE CAKE … AND PIE, TOO Executive Chef Gerard Maras may have the toehold on cuisine in the kitchen of the smashingly good Table One, but at dessert, the chef’s daughter Sofia rules the roost. Sofia’s Soft Chocolate Cake is an airy cloud of chocolate all on its own, but Chef Gerard guilds the lily by dressing it up with a drape of dark-chocolate sauce and liquor-macerated cherries. More chocolate fun can be had at Cuvée, where Chef Bob Iacavone, right, has on his dessert menu a dark chocolate, orange-spiked, soft, crunchy and ethereally light “Moon Pie” that I suggest he call “Lunacy” (those Moon Pie folks are known to be quite protective of their name). Chef Iacavone’s version is “the dessert of the moment.”

SHAKING THINGS UP AT THE SHACKS The River Shack Tavern has always been about beefy burgers, crispy fries, cold beer and wacky decor, but there’s a decidedly smart shift in the menu Post-K that is piquing diners’ interest. The fresh tuna steak served atop salad greens or on a soft, sesame seed bun is a hit, as are the chalkboard “specials” – menu items that have included Cassoulet with Duck Leg Confit and Coq au Vin. The young chef in residence was a protégé of über-French Chef Rene Bajeux and brings with him a bit of Bistro to go with those burgers. For fried onion rings, no one can beat the basket of crispy, golden, super-thin rings at The Shimmy Shack; order some for munching pre-meal and save a few to top the hamburger steak and real mashed potatoes … heavenly.

MARCHING AROUND It’s time for St. Joseph’s cookies on the 19th (if you don’t eat them all year long as I do). Angelo Brocato has an awesome mixed cookie bag and I’m a fool for the Italian cookies at Guillory’s Grocery in Metairie. The best kept secret ‘til now is B&J Courier Service cookies. Each year at holiday time, they gift their clients with the most delectable chewy, rich, iced and sprinkled, not-too-sweet, cucciadata (fig cookies) I’ve ever tasted. I’m working on getting the recipe and I’m good at sharing. Don’t forget that March 17th is St. Patrick’s Day. Skip the green beer and have a pint (or two) of Guinness Stout or some good Irish Whisky at Finn McCool’s before settling down to corned beef and cabbage or Irish beef stew. Oh, and check out the Crystal Hot Sauce billboard, westbound off the I-10 at Claiborne Avenue; it’s fleur-de-lightful.

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