I came for the powdered sugar and the butter.

Last night, my husband and I dined in the kitchen of the wonderful French restaurant and bakery, Artisan Bistro. http://artisanbistroaustin.com/  We weren’t alone. There were ten of us who signed up for a cooking class on a night when the restaurant is normally closed. Seating was set up around the wrap around bar facing an open kitchen. The area was intimate, cozy and romantic, with low lighting and beautifully arranged place settings. Most importantly, we all had a bird’s eye view of the chef at work.
The Executive Chef, Cesidio d’Andrea, is also the receptionist, chef, owner, sommelier, waiter, and busboy. I’ll get back to the reason for why Chef Cesidio is wearing so many hats in his restaurant, but for now, just know that he can multi-task as efficiently as any soccer mom caring for a family of five.
As our group arrived, D’Andrea was quietly taking care of final preparations, cutting slices of bread, bringing out bottles of chilled water with slices of lemon or fennel, checking off people’s names from the reservation list, all while we took seats at the bar and obediently waited to find out what was happening next. I was beginning to think this was going to be a mime performance, but, finally, he broke the silence by asking if any of us wanted to order wine. Expressions of relief appeared on everyone’s faces.  (No one likes a mime.) Continue reading

Don’t Call Me Darlin’ Unless You Mean It.

Just back from New Orleans. Note to self: Make sure it isn’t spring break when you go any place, and especially if it is a town like New Orleans, where tourists, who have vocations like a pharmacist in rural Iowa or a seamstress in Spokane, turn into loud, obnoxious party animals the moment they land.

Aside from that, the city has definitely bounced back. Locals could probably point out failings that a tourist misses, although some things never change in Louisiana: The roads are still as silky smooth as any highway in war-torn Syria.   One thing that really resonated with me though is that architecture is being preserved at a level I’ve never seen before.   From the looks of it, this town must have superb craftsmen/women. St. Charles Street has always been a shining star in the town, but dive into the side streets and you will see houses being brought back to their former glory.

MenuThe food scene is bursting at the seams.  (Literally.  I had to let my belt out.)   There’s real talent out there and picking a place to dine is difficult if you are only there a few days.  I made reservations weeks ahead of time for lunch at Commander’s Palace. Our friends, Bruce & Kincey from Annapolis, had met us for this trip and I wanted them to experience Old South atmosphere, the best gumbo, and 25 cent martinis, Monday-Friday (lunch only). I prefer mine low down and dirty (which means a lot of olive juice with glistening slivers of ice). There’s a three-drink-per-person limit, which would be a disappointment for the  pharmacist from Iowa, but suited me just fine.  And, unless you have been living in a Louisiana pothole for the last couple of decades, Commander’s Palace has won enough awards that it could rest on its laurels for twenty years, but it isn’t that kind of place.   http://www.commanderspalace.com/awards

We went to Mother’s on Poydras Street, a local and tourist favorite, but honestly, my memories of it were much more favorable last visit. You are paying for nostalgia, like the servers who I bet started working there when the “big storm” then was Hurricane Betsy (1965), and not Katrina. You can’t go into that place without someone calling you baby, honey or darlin’.  Our server bounced from one table to another, always peppering her  conversations with darlin’ this and darlin’ that.  I suspect tourists eat that up (the more darlin’s – the better the server’s gratuity.)   There is a charm in it all, but I can’t help questioning the sincerity, like the boyfriend who starts calling you “my precious”, then you notice he calls his dog, the neighbor’s parakeet and his pet cactus “my precious”.  Is the food good?  Yes, but I wouldn’t say it was remarkable (or even memorable), although I will say going there is going back to the New Orleans I remember as a kid.  Go for just that, but in all likelihood, expect to stand in line. (more…)