Gulf and Garden Fresh Taco Sisters

So, if Taco Sisters is one thing it is fresh and it is good. And it is aesthetic. The mixed baby lettuce and greens. The house smoked gulf tuna. The cheese in the salad. The tomatoes and apple. It was all refreshing. Flaky, subtle, tasty. The tin roof stand, the bright paint, the beautifully flowered picnic area, the big bright shade umbrellas. All almost too much simple beauty to take in. Taco Sisters brings a California ethic to food. The ingredients are simple and, importantly, you feel good after eating them.

A couple weeks ago, and I was hoping to bribe my wife into going out to Lafayette so I said we’d make it out there for the taco stand she’d been talking about. She bit the hook and I reeled us out just in time for her to get the last garden salad of the day. Though not typical, she rightfully didn’t pass up the chipotle-adobo shredded brisket salad.  The shredded brisket had a good bite to it, yet was understated and simple. The rest of the salad combined a rich, sharp cheese, tomatoes, apples, greens, and homemade dressing. Beautiful raw contrast to the monotony of serially cooked meals.

Fresh smoked pico de gallo is made up daily, though out on our visit. I had the home smoked gulf yellow tuna taco. Again, fresh, flaky, and tasty. I only regret it wasn’t double the size. I could have easily enjoyed a big ole taco. As it is, I’d have to say go with the salads where you get the beauty of the meat with the quantity of the salad for close to the same price.

Now for my story of contempt, that explains why it took me so long to make my way out to Taco Sisters after being told about it for so long by a reliable yet often dismissed source:

My wife has been mentioning for over two years that she’d heard of this taco stand in Lafayette that she thought would maybe be really good. That’s code for saying she knew I’d love it. I often forget to decode what she says. I listen to her exact words said softly. I didn’t listen too much. I imagined her innocence in believing in a magical taco stand out in Lafayette.

I, being from near the Hispanic mecca of Waukegan, Illinois with some of the best Mexican food in the country, was contemptuous for a long time of my wife’s appreciation of american style tacos. I could’t really imagine finding noteworthy tacos out at a little stand in Lafayette. So I didn’t exert myself to get out there and I regret it. Once again, I learned to give my wife more credit and to have a little humility. The same lesson, no doubt, I will have to relearn many more times.

Taco Sisters on Urbanspoon

The Best Muffaletta in New Orleans

So I’d have thought a city brimming with people who eat, sleep, and breathe food would have every last little corner scoured ten times over, leaving nothing new, much-less magnificent, to be discovered.

Well, let me do my little part put THE BEST muffaletta in New Orleans on the map. I’m saying it right here and now: Majoria’s Commerce Restaurant in the Central Business District has THE BEST muffaletta in NOLA. If I get a smudge of the credit for their amazingness, so be it. Such crosses I am prepared to carry.

Commerce is THE place for Muffalettas. For that matter, it is THE place for any standard New Orleans fare, minus the pomp and circumstance. Great red beans, great po’boys, wonderful salads, gumbo, breakfasts, everything. Plus, your guaranteed to be surrounded by locals. Come ready for the camaraderie of the working class and ready to pay cash.

In New Orleans, you have to find a good muffaletta sandwich. A New Orleans muffaletta is generally a gigantic sandwich that can feed three or four people sold by the quarter, half, or whole. It’s made outta thinly sliced genoa salami, ham, mortadella and provolone cheese, and the make-it-or-break-it olive mix. The ironic thing about New Orleans is that most muffalettas are terribly underwhemlming, if not downright bad, and most places known for their muffalettas, don’t make a good muffaletta. Luckily, there is Commerce. Despite their great everything, go for the muffaletta. You won’t regret it.

At Commerce, it’s a single person 5″ sandwich served warm and delicious. The sweet potato fries are awesome and can vary from thinly cut with a delicatessen flaky flour breading to the pictured, straight-cut fry with a solid center. Anyway they come, they’ll be good. Everything will be good.

So, make your way out to the corner of Camp and Gravier for hands-down THE BEST muffaletta in NOLA.

Technical note: muffulettas seem to be normally spelt with a “u” but it varies and in Louisiana they seem to be said with an “a” so that’s what I went with.
Commerce on Urbanspoon

My Post-Modern Gelato Fix

So during our last Saturday taking it easy running errands in Baton Rouge day, we made a cute little stop at my swanky little gelato place I’ve been to once before. I went for the chocolate and name’s sake milk and honey gelato along with an americano. It was a beautiful fun relaxing aesthetically pleasing mid-day stop. At night its a much swankier, see-and-be-seen scene. I definitely approve no matter the time. Enjoy.

Latte e Miele on Urbanspoon

St. John’s at Last, St. John’s at Last

So I made it to St. John’s Restaurant. I’d viscerally hoped this was going to happen last August when a charming state worker at the Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site recommended we try it for their crab cakes. Well we were with semi-friends from out of state and they were worn out and Louisiana fooded out. So to my great disappointment, we ened up calling it a day and heading home.

Like McArthur, I vowed I would return. Return I did. I invited my happy-to-travel mother to drive out to cajun country and see if we couldn’t find my long anticipated restaurant. We got to St. Martinville, and I didn’t know what or where the place was but imagined I could ask around for the place known for good crab cakes.

I struck out with the couple I asked visiting from New Iberia. But the lady in local boutique said it was probably St. John’s I was thinking of and told we had a half hour until the restaurant close til dinner. We cut across the old catholic cathedral grounds to St. Johns and found ourselves in charming, yet a little uneasy close quarters with a full two rooms of lunchtime dinners.

It was pleasant, diverse, and very Louisiana. Conversations were going on in English and French and the owner naturally made his way around over the hour or so we were there checking in with the tables. At the same time I felt an outsider, I also felt a bond in that existed in that time and place.

Then came the food. We shared an order of catfish plantation and crab cakes. I’d meant to get it blackened rather than fried but forgot. I’m okay with it though because the catfish came like no catfish I’d ever had before. It was fried like chicken-fried-steak. Meaning a rich flour breading with almost rue undertones and not a bit greasy. It was topped with shrimp and lump crab sauce and served with grilled vegetables.

The crab cake was good. But I guess though I love crab, so far I’m just not a huge crab cake fan. I appreciated the texture of the cake’s golden outer shell that yielded a softer almost semi-doughey inside. In a welcomed break, seasoning was largely forgone allowing the flavor of the meat and cake to stand alone.

All-in-all I was happy to have made it to St. John’s. I was surprised to learn they opened in 2010. For how well integrated St. John’s is in the community and geography, it could as well have been a staple dating back to the area’s establishment. Kudos, St. John.

St. John Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Easter in the French Quarter

So we intended to make it out to the Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival and tour the Abita Brewery last Saturday before making it down to New Orleans for the French Quarter Festival. Well, we were still so tired from running all over Cajun country that we ended up taking Saturday easy in Baton Rouge and made it down to New Orleans on Easter and stayed through Monday.

We grabbed a bite on Jackson Square at a little europeanesque cafe, reminiscent of one in Paris or along Avenida Santa Fe or Corrientes in Buenos Aires, I’d been hoping to enjoy for the aumbiance since I’d first seen it a few years ago. We had the Korean BBQ, Oyster, and Club Stanley Po’Boy sampler. The first two fell short of our hopes but the Stanley more than made up for it. We will be back and go straight for the Stanley.

It just happened to be Easter, but it was amazing. People were out and happy. I got the dates wrong and we were a weekend early for the French Quarter Festival. But it turned out well. We saw a side of the French Quarter we’d never seen before. So many musicians were out performing in the streets it was amazing.

Previously my wife had usually dreaded going to New Orleans. Hesitant to to visit and eager to leave. I’d be captivated by the architecture, food and people. So our visits had been more for me than her. She, however, has a weakness for music and this time she saw the music and the music and the music and all the other music lovers and she was entranced.

I enjoyed most a little pick-up cajun group out of Lafayette, Louisiana. I was surprised to learn one was from France, one from Puerto Rico, and the other somewhere else I didn’t catch. I’d have never known they weren’t from the cajun triangle. They were good. My wife really enjoyed the trumpet player in the jazz band. Easter on Royal was such a treat. One we’ll be crossing our fingers to replicate soon.

Simple Home Crawfish Boil for Supper w/ Purple Potatoes

So backstory. My mom came down to visit for a week from Illinois. It was the perfect week for her to come as the weather was ideal and I was off work ready for us to put some miles on the car and eat our way around the state. We did well. Just shy of 1,000 miles (1,610 km) in seven days plus some time at home. As my mom would say we painted the town in Baton Rouge, New Roads, St. Francisville, St. Martinsville, Lafayette, Breaux Bridge, New Iberville, Metairie, and the French Quarter. It’ll take me a while to mull it all over, but I can easily start with our crawfish.

We crawfish boiled Saturday night. We wanted to eat in, so I picked up some live crawfish to cook a little for my wife, mom, and myself. I also got baby purple potatoes, mushrooms, a lemon and two limes. I made a side salad of diced cucumber, tomatoes, red bell pepper, basil, and ripe mango. Something fresh was nice to offset the potato carbs of the boil.

I boiled the potatoes and mushrooms first because my pot was too small to do everything at once. To do: boil a squeezed lime and two lemons with a bunch of cayenne pepper, paprika, and garlic powder. I generally make the seasoning to avoid the salt content of purchased seafood boil seasoning which can be well over 2,000 times your daily limit, not that you end up eating all the seasoning in the water, but anyway. Add your potatoes and mushrooms and boil until soft.

As for the crawfish it gets a little gruesome. Turn away now if you don’t really want to know. You have to purge the crawfish prior to boiling. Take the live crawfish and place them in cool water with a bunch of salt to make them throw up everything they’ve recently eaten. After 15 minutes, rinse them well to wash away the salt. Then throw them into your seasoned pot of boiling water and let them boil awhile.

You have to balance two considerations. Boil too long and the meat falls apart making it difficult to get the tails out of the shell. Boil it too little and the seasoning doesn’t get to the meat. This time I fell far toward the latter but it was nice to get to taste the meat of the crawfish, which doesn’t really happen when they’re really spicy.

Our meal was nice. A little meat with crisp, colorful potatoes and a super fresh little salad. Nice all the way around. Well, except for the crawfish. To eat, I found it nice to cut-flat a couple of brown paper bags for each person and then each pour out a pile of crawfish. We enjoyed.

Couchsurf Atlanta

So I was down in Atlanta for a conference a couple of weeks ago and couldn’t pass the chance to see the Georgia Aquarium for the second time. I enjoyed it solo last year while my wife was attending a writing conference in Decatur. I was just getting into discus at the time and got to see an amazing planted aquarium with discus, rummynose, and cardinal tetras. It was fuel to the fire. It was fun to go back. Last time I knew a little about discus and this time I’ve learned about ’em and have a few. So that was nice.

I highly recommend finding your way down to the Georgia Aquarium at some point. They have a six million gallon aquarium with four whale sharks and four manta rays that you can sit and watch through a hundred foot long, thirty foot high, two foot thick, viewing window. It is absolutely incredible and quite zen.

A little ethical cloud weighs on the experience, though. The whale sharks were captured from the wild and based on precedent they may be expected to live under twenty years in captivity, likely far short of their ocean-roaming counterparts. They’re fed krill instead of their ocean diet of plankton, to what effect is unknown. Perhaps, the hope is a glimpse of the grandeur of the ocean will serve as a bulwark for conservation.

My work partially covered the cost of my conference so I thought I’d only finally decide to go for sure, if I could find someone local to stay with in Atlanta to partially offset the cost of the trip. I asked an amazing lady if she’d be willing to host me, and she was, so I was off.

I had my own room, with my own cute little bathroom, with a little view, in the cutest modern loft, with a breezy view of downtown from the balcony. I hope to apply some of the lessons from the life’s experience of my soon-to-be-retiring baby-boomer host. It seems the progression of having kids and needing to provide for them can take you down a course you hadn’t set out for. Damn money.

I asked if we could go to an Atlanta gem. We did. We went to locally known pizza-nazi place. They’re amazing but I guess they can be a little rigid. Wood fired ovens, quality, and a communal atmosphere. Try it out, Antico Pizza at 1093 Hemphill Ave.

My last night I wanted to flex a little home cooking muscle and express my gratitude to my host so I ran over to a nearby Trader Joe’s and grabbed some supplies for a Thai Green Curry. Always read your ingredients, the number two ingredient for a jar of the red curry sauce was soybean oil, so I went with simple healthy green curry. It turned out good, we watched In Bruges with Collin Farrell. A movie I’ll have to watch again with my wife.

Salmon Jerky, So It Does Exist

So I tend to really remember some things. They lie dormant in some cranny of my brain only to resurface on down the line. In fifth grade we learned a little about different Native American traditions. I remember learning about how the Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest dried salmon for the winter. I loved beef and venison jerky and thought that the idea of dried fish sounded amazing. I didn’t know if it was a long lost art or whether it could be done today.

Now over my wife and I’s trip out to Oregon this past Christmas, we were told we had to go see the redwood in Northern California. We rented a car and headed down the coast where driving though a little town I saw large sign on a little store that proclaimed Salmon Jerky. I stopped with the excitement of long dormant unanswered questions thrusted to the forefront of my consciousness. I had learned already that salmon jerky existed at least in some form.

My wife, not being a fish fan, stayed in the car and I ran in through the rain. A kind lady offered me a sampling of one type of salmon jerky and five different types of smoked salmon. I asked if the salmon came from there and she said it was straight from the Klamath River pointing to the large river visible out the back window of the store. The salmon jerky was smoked two days and she said what made it jerky was that it had more salt. The texture was indistinguishable from the smoked salmon. The smoked salmon was smoked anywhere from two to five days with various spices or glazes.

It was good, I appreciated it like each piece was sacred, but I was a little disappointed to learn that salmon jerky, at least here, was almost the same as smoked salmon. I’d grown up salmon fishing on Lake Michigan and had regularly smoked salmon growing up, so it wasn’t as exciting as I imagined it might be back in fifth grade.

I appreciated the experience. Got a package of the jerky for later, a piece of three day smoked salmon that had just come out the smoker, and piece of maple glazed salmon for kicks and dessert. I still have unanswered questions and will definitely be experimenting with my own dried salmon jerky in the future.