RESTAURANT INSIDER

I’ve started the New Year hungrier than ever and with this resolution: to enjoy as many of New Orleans’ restaurants as possible in the coming year. There’s always time for exercise … later.

SMOKIN’! To me, a good weekend breakfast has always meant smoked fish (whiting, sturgeon, nova, etc.) on a fresh bagel smeared with cream cheese, a squeeze of lemon juice, sliced purple onion and a sprinkle of capers. With nary a place in town for such fare, I long to recreate those breakfasts and here’s how: Make a trip to Arnaud’s in the French Quarter for a “to go” order of Chef Tommy’s Smoked Pompano Bourgeois – House prepared hickory-smoked fresh Gulf pompano with capers and onions. Couple that with the outstanding golden crusted, light-textured bagels from Laurel Street Bakery and make a big pot of piping hot Community Coffee’s Coffee & Chicory New Orleans Blend; then give me a call – I’ll bring the goods for lox, eggs and onions.

BLOODY GOOD Yes, a Bloody Mary is de rigueur this month (and almost any weekend – see above). Everyone will agree that the barkeeps at the Arena and the Dome make about the best hot-as-you-like and loaded with garnishes (pickled beans, olives, onions, etc.) in the city, but there are other contenders. Those heading to or from Des Allemands (and aren’t we all?) will be pleased to know that Spahr’s Molly’s at the Market has re-opened and the Bloody is as fantastic as ever. Don’t miss out on their catfish chip or sauce piquante plate. Finally, a cocktail-writing colleague reminded me that does a bang-up Bloody Mary that includes a shot of Guinness Stout in the glass.

LETTUCE ENTERTAIN YOU For those who want to get serious about their dietary health, check out the new Vitality Juice, Java and Smoothie Bar, at their newest location on St. Charles Avenue. Fresh squeezed juices, delectable soups (the herby, broth-based mushroom barley is a stand-out), salads, sandwiches and diet-friendly soft-serve ice cream are just a few of the items on this enormous menu. The mini store stashes loads of good-for-you groceries, frozen foods and vitamins. For those who want to look as if they’re concerned about their dietary health, check out the mountainous salads from Café Fresca. A favorite is the Parmesan Crusted Chicken that tops those greens or the chunky chicken salad. Many of the dressings are house-made and ordered “on the side,” are perfect for fork-dipping instead of slathering over top.

GETTING PROPS In the December issue of Bon Appetit, a reader/visitor, having visited Café Adelaide, wrote in to tell of the great meal they had and to request the recipe for Chef Danny Trace’s Osso Buco with Grits. The dish is seriously good and the recipe, totally do-able.

HIDDEN TREASURES The Westbank holds a cadre of dining gems. Cuban food fanatics will go platanos (bananas) for Christy’s plate of cebo (stewed ox tails) served with congris (black beans and rice cooked together) and yucca con mojo criollo (boiled starchy root vegetable doused with a light citrus-like sauce and sautéed onions); Friday and Saturday only. Almost everyone knows about the great Vietnamese food at Nine Roses, but it’s easy to get stuck in a rut of favorites. Here’s one killer dish to consider for your next visit – Tomato and Tofu soup; it definitely beats the canned stuff we all have in our pantry.

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