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Thursday, July 2, 2015

Araña: The Only Spider I Welcome

by Blair "B-Rex" Loup

Generally speaking, New Orleans is a fantastic destination for food. This is not news. There’s so much for your palate to experience, yet so little time.

In the same streets you taste dishes that are new, inventive, and inspiring, you can experience meals that are so old they practically birthed the crescent city. In a place that is so uniquely Louisiana, some of the meals I’ve enjoyed most recently in New Orleans are based around lime, cotiga cheese, and cilantro.

Araña is everything I want in a Mexican restaurant. Their presentation is beautiful, the flavors are on fleek, and it’s simply built for a good time.

When I dine out, I consider three criteria: atmosphere, drinks, and apps & ‘sserts (because you can’t have one without the other).

If a restaurant pulls off all of these elements successfully, they can have my money.

Atmosphere: check.

I prefer when a restaurant is cozy (not too cramped, but not a cave), the design is well thought out, and the seating allows for natural lighting (because I take pictures of everything I ingest). So many restaurants get things wrong: uncomfortable seating, bad lighting, canned, adult-contemporary music playing in the background.

But Araña is a place I could sit and sip for hours.

Drinks: check.

I tried three drinks that were on totally different levels.

First, the Jalapeño Pineapple Cilantro Margarita: the depth of flavor gave me life. The grilled pineapple has a sultry sweetness from caramelizing on the grill, the fresh jalapeño adds just enough back heat, and I live my life thinking that cilantro improves most things. We’ll call this one a win.

The Jalapeño Pineapple Cilantro Margarita
The Jalapeño Pineapple Cilantro Margarita
Next up, the Romera Fresca. This puppy is packed with savory, tart confusion in a great way. Juniper-infused tequila hit with a zing of small batch tonic and finished off with a house-made rosemary syrup can grace my glass any day. Another point to Gryffindor. 

The Romera Fresca: Juniper-Infused Tequila,  Small Batch Tonic, and House Made Rosemary Syrup
The Romera Fresca: Juniper-Infused Tequila,  Small Batch Tonic, and House Made Rosemary Syrup
I’m not into things that are super sweet, so dessert drinks aren’t my jam. I thought it couldn’t be done, but Araña said, “Here’s our frozen, drunken Horchata. Enjoy.”

Enjoy, I did, and to that I say winner winner, chicken dinner. 

Drunken Horchata
Drunken Horchata
Bite and Booze Bonus: If you’re into tequila, Araña has something for you. Joining the Araña Tequilla Society is free. With each tequila you taste, you take another (somewhat more inebriated) step towards rewards ranging from t-shirts to free tequila flights to a free bottle of expensive tequila. Worried about keeping up with your passport? Don’t be—Araña holds on to it for you. They’ve thought of everything!

Apps, shareables, and ‘sserts: Check. 

Apps and ‘sserts is Blair-speak for appetizers and dessert. If I’m meeting up with my friends, I’m all about grabbing apps and ‘sserts. While there are some stellar sandwiches and entrées, if you share more, you taste more. It’s science.

Here’s the lineup:

Atop a velvety bed of milky oaxaca cheese lies a spicy blanket of house-made chorizo just waiting to be spread on warm corn tortillas and drizzled with a magically bold red sauce. Don’t think, just order it. 

Queso Fundido: House-Made Chorizo, Grilled Oaxaca Cheese, and Corn Tortillas
Queso Fundido: House-Made Chorizo, Grilled Oaxaca Cheese, and Corn Tortillas
Tacos are the most delicious way to get your fix without feeling too full, and Araña has some great options. I’m a sucker for tacos Al Pastor: I'm into the savory and sweet juicy pork and succulent pineapple chunks.

Tacos Al Pastor: Shaved Pork, Grilled Pineapple, Cilantro, and Onion
Tacos Al Pastor: Shaved Pork, Grilled Pineapple, Cilantro, and Onion
I’m pretty sure “Your Body is a Wonderland” by John Mayer was written about the Torta Ahogana.

Slow roasted pork on bolillo bread, black bean purée, avocado, crema, cotiga cheese, and cumin pickled onion come together under a waterfall of spicy chili dipping salsa and make for a mountain of flavor.

Mind you, this is literally a quarter of the sandwich that’s on the menu so it’s certifiably shareable. 

Torta Ahogada: Slow Roasted Pork on Bolillo Bread, Black Bean Purée, Avocado, Crema, Cotiga Cheese, Cumin Pickled Onion, Spicy Chili Dipping Salsa
Torta Ahogada: Slow Roasted Pork on Bolillo Bread, Black Bean Purée, Avocado, Crema, Cotiga Cheese, Cumin Pickled Onion, Spicy Chili Dipping Salsa
The art of the classic fajita has been lost, and Araña has found it in the form of their Poc Chuc.

Smoked pork loin, escabecbe (pickled veggies), crisp red cabbage, and a pork-fried onion poblano sauce were meant to live inside of that corn tortilla, y’all. Pair that with a flight of tequila and I’m in.

Poc Chuc: Smoked Pork Loin, Escabeche, Red Cabbage, Pork Fried Onion Poblano Sauce, and Corn Tortilla
Poc Chuc: Smoked Pork Loin, Escabeche, Red Cabbage, Pork Fried Onion Poblano Sauce, and Corn Tortilla
Bite and Booze Bonus: Araña also has brunch (word on the street is that it’s killer). 

Desserts are tricky with me. I can't get more than a bite or two in to a super sweet dessert, but I could get after this Trés Leches cake with fresh berries all day. A little sweet, a little creamy, and totally traditional, it’s definitely worth the caloric sacrifice.

Trés Leches Cake
Trés Leches Cake

I know there's a mess of restaurants to try out in New Orleans, but Araña has something special going on that's worth your money.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Visiting the Donner-Peltier Distillery: Whisk(e)y Wednesday present by Lock & Key

by Blair "B-Rex" Loup

Team Bite and Booze took a trip to Thibodaux, Louisiana, recently. In my mind, there’s only one reason for me to be in Thibodaux, and that’s to visit my favorite spirit manufacturer in the state.

It felt a lot like a “long-time listener, first-time caller” situation for me.

I fell in love with the Donner-Peltier Distillery shortly after I started working for Jay. I tried their full line of products at the time (pre-LA1 Whiskey) and the rest is history.
Barrels of LA1 Whiskey aging in the Donner-Peltier warehouse

My job is to support local businesses and products, and I can’t think of a better way to drink local than to drink alcohol that uses Louisiana rice as an adjunct in their gin, vodka, and LA1 Whiskey distilling processes.

Adding Louisiana rice into the mix gives their products a different, more flavorful taste. It’s something that’s unique and sustainable (they use the broken grains from rice mills that would otherwise be thrown away).

Located next to a sugar cane field, the Donner-Peltier Distillery welcomes visitors to tour their facilities, have a few cocktails, and learn about the different processes that allow them to create their line of LA1 Whiskey, Rougaroux rums, and Oryza gin and vodka. Visitors can also check out the warehouse where LA1 Whiskey is aged.

If you’re lucky and not a lightweight like our Content Sheriff/Warden of the Web, Sydney Blanchard, you’ll get to taste some whiskey straight out of the barrel!

While there are other Louisiana whiskeys available, LA1 is the first aged whiskey to be produced in Louisiana since prohibition.

Currently, the whiskey is highly allocated and can sometimes be found in bars around Baton Rouge.

The easiest way to get your hands on a bottle is to follow the distillery on Facebook and Twitter. When a new batch is ready to bottle, they’ll let you know so you can call the distillery and reserve a bottle to pick up at their tasting room.

Donner-Peltier is currently working on expanding their space for more barrels to age, thus filling our hearts and bellies with more whiskey in the near future.

For more information about tours, tasting room hours, and their award-winning products visit dpdspirits.com.

Monday, June 29, 2015

The Best Things I Ate on My SoCal Sojourn

by Sydney "Brown Nose" Blanchard

Long before I began working for Jay, I had an appreciation for good food.

Fun fact: The cover letter I wrote when applying to intern at Bite and Booze was about my love for specialty meats. 

I attribute this love to two things: my Cajun heritage and growing up in Baton Rouge where eating out is considered weekend entertainment. 

Among my friends, I'm the token "food snob." I don't care how great the drink specials are at Chili's, I'm not paying good money for something that came from the freezer and was heated in a microwave.

Needless to say, when I planned my post-graduation California vacation, my biggest concern was food.

My girlfriend Ryan and I would be flying to A-Camp two days early to explore Southern California a bit before our week-long stay in the mountains of Angelus Oaks.

Check me out on the bottom left with some of my fellow campers on a hike

If movies/media have taught me anything about California, it's that everyone is vegan and that smoothies and fruit-infused water are a primary source of nutrition. 

And that terrified me. 

I'm happy to report we were pleasantly surprised by the food we ate in Los Angeles, Santa Monica and Long Beach.

It's a good thing we got our gourmand on before camp, because the camp kitchen was kosher, and they tried to pass off nachos for lunch one day. We literally starved the whole week.

Without further adieu, here's a list of some of the best things I ate in my two days in SoCal:

Santa Monica | Tacos Por Favor

The Tacos Por Favor spread

Like all great Mexican restaurants, Tacos Por Favor looks sketchy as hell from the outside. Big red block letters spell out the restaurant's name on its teal blue storefront, and mismatched chairs and tables make up the interior decor.

Chorizo and cheese soft taco at Tacos Por Favor
But $30 fed me, Ryan, and our friend/tour guide Michael at Tacos Por Favor. Don't assume their Taco Bell prices mean Taco Bell quality. The tacos were amazing.

We ordered a variety of tacos a la carte: potato, chorizo, and al pastor, all topped with salsa, onions and cilantro. The chorizo and cheese taco was my favorite – seasoned, crispy, and topped with a dollop of guacamole, it made the perfect meal after a 4-hour flight following three hours of sleep.

I highly recommend this tiny, hole-in-the-wall joint for a cheap and satisfying meal.

Los Angeles | In-N-Out

If you've ever scrolled through Tumblr, you've seen the stylized, filtered images of In-N-Out burgers and fries that are ubiquitous among the cool California teens of the blogosphere. 

The chain burger restaurant has made a name for itself by serving nothing but high-quality (for fast food) burgers and by paying their employees a livable wage. 

Fast food burgers don't usually excite me, but when in California, do as the Californians do. 

Burgers and fries from In-N-Out at Signal Hill in Los Angeles
We got a couple Double Doubles and one Animal Style burger (items on their not-so-secret "secret" menu), along with regular fries and a couple milkshakes. I wasn't blown away by the burgers, and the fries were over-cooked and under salted in my opinion, but the customer service and speed at which our food got to us was notable.

Also, they hooked us up with some rad paper In-N-Out hats. Points all around. 

Long Beach | Tee's Donuts 

Fruit Loop topped donut at Tee's Donuts
In Louisiana, it's rare I enter an establishment where I am in the minority.

At Tee's Donuts in Long Beach, we were the only white people in the store. And it was everything we ever dreamed of.

The shop was inexplicably an Asian-Mexican hybrid. They served traditional (and sort of wild) donuts, breakfast and lunch sandwiches, and boba teas and shakes in a huge array of flavors.

I got a decent breakfast sandwich, a donut topped with Fruit Loops, and a Thai iced tea with boba. I'm a sucker for boba tea, and I wish I'd have been able to try the green tea with boba or the avocado shake with boba.

(For the uninitiated, boba, or bubble, tea is a cold tea with sweetened tapioca pearls added.)

Long Beach | Open Sesame

Refreshing glass of Jalab at Open Sesame
After a long day of riding up and down Long Beach on rented cruiser bikes, we'd worked up quite an appetite, although, not a sweat (bless California weather)!

We were desperate for a good meal, and our Uber driver recommended Open Sesame, a trendy Lebanese joint that wasn't too far.

Once we were seated, we understood the hype. The food was the usual Lebanese fare, and we opted for an appetizer of kibbi, and grabbed some chicken shwarma and gyros.

What impressed me most were the beverage options.

I ordered jalab, a rose water and grape syrup mixture infused with incense and topped with pine nuts and almonds. The flavor is nearly impossible to describe, but the words "refreshing," "syrupy," and "nutty" come to mind.

They also offered something called tamarind, an Indian date syrup infused with rose water, and laban, chilled yogurt with dry mint. 

The atmosphere definitely made this spot worth checking out, and the locals are obsessed with it. 

The one thing that surprised me the most about my SoCal sojourn was that the mid-level restaurants in the area were no better or worse than the mid-level restaurants back home. Maybe Baton Rouge lacks those super fine dining experiences, but I'd pit Louisiana food against California cuisine any day. 

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Erin White: Priestess of Pairing

by Blair "B-Rex" Loup

Erin White, sommelier at August in New Orleans
Erin White, sommelier at August in New Orleans
You know that moment when you tell a customer, “If it makes you feel any better, I used to be a man,” because they said they'd prefer wine suggestions from a male sommelier instead? No?

Well, maybe not, but James Beard Award nominated sommelier at John Besh’s August Erin White does.

After over 30 years in the industry choosing and serving wines to some of the culinary world’s most A-list celebrities, Erin is an absolute authority on wine.

The job of a sommelier is one that takes great skill. The ability to pair wines perfectly across each dish and at the right price point for each customer is a dream few dare to chase.

If you watch the documentary ‘Somm’ you’ll learn that the journey through different levels of certifications can leave those that attempt it burnt out and alone.

While some choose to make wine their life, Erin chose to make wine a part of her life; she calls it the “earn and learn,” an approach that started with working at a wine bar, eventually getting an assistant sommelier position, and ultimately landing her where she is today.

At this point in her life, Erin has her priorities in line.

She rides her bike to the restaurant, works long hours on the restaurant floor and in the wine cellar, and then takes home August’s bite-sized, heavenly pralines to her security guard so he’ll let her swim laps in the pool in her building after hours.

“My philosophies about life are very much like my philosophies about wine. I think things need to keep a balance. I think your life needs to be balanced for any sort of longevity,” she said.

There were times in the beginning of her career where she wasn’t given the freedom to exercise that balance. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, Erin explained maître d’hôtels wanted nothing to do with women in fine dining. She was forced to work ridiculous hours with no time off throughout her pregnancy and early stages of motherhood to simply earn the right to come to work every day.

Today, she has astounding relationships with Executive Chef Todd Pulsinelli and Pasty Chef Kelly Fields that foster true collaboration.

When talking about her love for wine, Erin said, “If you make a list of all of the things I love, it all incorporates into wine. There’s an artistic sense of color, fragrance, food, cooking, and people; for me, it all kind of funneled into one category.”

This post is part of a monthly series spotlighting Louisiana women in the business of booze. Previous features include:

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Sweet-T-Sway: Whisk(e)y Wednesday presented by Lock & Key

whiskey cocktail
Sweet-T-Sway at Lock & Key
by Sydney "Brown Nose" Blanchard

Somehow, despite the fact that I've worked with Bite and Booze for 6 months now, I've managed to miss out on team trips to one of Jay's favorite watering holes, Lock & Key. When Blair asked if I wanted to grab a whiskey cocktail after work last week, I agreed, even though whiskey cocktails are generally not my thing.

Blair pointed me to a section of the menu called "Whiskey Doubters," and from there I landed on the Sweet-T-Sway.

Much to my delight, I couldn't even taste the Sam Houston whiskey in this concoction (sorry, whiskey lovers).

But the sweet tea combined with pomegranate liqueur and muddled mint served over crushed ice was perfectly refreshing and brought to mind a mint julep.

Maybe if I try each cocktail on the Whiskey Doubters menu I'll eventually become a Whiskey Believer.

If Lock & Key keeps slinging creative, hand-crafted whiskey cocktails like the Sweet-T-Sway, I'll be converted in no time.

For all you Whiskey Doubters out there, I highly recommend trying the Sweet-T-Sway.