Monday, March 29, 2010

Cochon Butcher - New Orleans

After the ISAW South African wine tasting at the Southern Food & Beverage Museum, the only logical thing for Eric, Brandon, Katie, and I to do was find some food to soak up the delightful wine in our stomachs.  Fortunately we were in downtown New Orleans, so there happened to be quite a few dining options for us to choose from.  I heard wonderful things from various sources about Cochon Butcher in the Warehouse District, so we decided to give it a try. 

The first thing we noticed after walking in the door was a sample of bacon pralines that were available for tasting.  Man, talk about great first impressions!  I could have eaten nothing but pralines and been totally satisfied.  They contained the essential balance of sweet, salty, and savory that any good sweet with bacon must attain.  Wow.... wow. 

Bacon Pralines at Butcher

After stuffing my face with bacon pralines, which were like a Louisiana and bacon version of peanut brittle, I noticed that the butcher shop/restaurant had a lovely meat counter matched by a beautifully delicious display of hanging smoked meats.  I've seen very few more appetizing sites in my days.

Assorted Smoked Meats Hanging on Display

I had no clue where to begin when trying to determine which appetizer or sandwich to order, but fortunately I bumped into the Chef Partner, Warren Stephens.  Chef Warren had a few recommendations for me based on what he would order at the time, but certainly noted that everything on the menu is tasty and nothing can be overlooked.  He informed me that Butcher has only been around since January of 2009 and is part of the Link Restaurant Group which also runs the neighboring Cochon and Nola's famous Herbsaint and Calcasieu restaurants.  Butcher specializes in artisan meats and sausages that are made on the premises in the theme of an old world meat market.  I was ready to enjoy.

Jay, Katie, and Brandon Check Out Cochon Butcher

After a good discussion, Warren sold me on the Duck Pastrami Slider from the "Bar Food" menu and I opted to go with the Buckshot Bacon Melt from the "Sandwiches" list.  My excitement level peaked in anticipation of the flavors that were about to hit my lips!

The Menu Boards at Butcher: Bar Food, Specials, and Sandwiches.  They also have Wine and Cocktails!

The duck pastrami slider proved that simple can beat out complex any day of the week.  The sandwich contained delicate, thinly sliced duck pastrami and melted cheese on grilled slices of bread.  The flavor of the duck highlighted each bite and it was hard for me to share the remaining wedges with my friends!  Chef Warren also sent out some house-made boudin for our table to try, which tasted fantastic as well.

Duck Pastrami Sliders

Katie ordered the Cochon Muffaletta with tons of Butcher's delicious meats, provolone cheese, pickled peppers and olives.  This take on a New Orleans special is one of the best Muffalettas that I've tasted in years.  I'm extremely happy that the sandwich was too large for Katie to finish on her own because that meant I got take a couple bites to realize how fantastic it is.  The meats were smoky and complex, tender, sweet, and just plain delightful.  I'm pretty sure that Chef Warren told me that the Muffaletta is one of their best selling sandwiches, and it's easy to see why!

Cochon Muffaletta with Home Made Chips

Brandon ordered the barbequed pulled pork sandwich and Eric gave the Gambino a try.  Brandon's pulled pork (in the background below) came served with potato salad.  It looked great and Brandon ate every bit of it, so I didn't get a bite.  I also didn't get a bite of the Gambino, but it looked like a sensational sandwich.  The French bread got stuffed with Italian-style meats like salami cotto, sopressata, and coppa along with a fresh herb vinaigrette.  Eric also tried a Black Chocolate Stout from the Brooklyn Brewery which tasted rich and delicious.  I caught a hint of espresso in with the chocolate.  I'd drink that stout again any day.

The Gambino Front and Center with a Brooklyn Brewery Black Chocolate Stout

As Chef Warren recommended to me, I went with the Buckboard Bacon Melt.  Yet another simple but astonishingly delicious sandwich, the Buckboard consisted of thin slices of toasted white bread filled with beautifully cured bacon, Swiss cheese, collard greens, and pepper aioli.  Every bite made me think of how much I love bacon.  Each time I chewed and the flavors oozed onto my taste buds my mind rushed into thoughts about how much I enjoy sandwiches.  I do love a good sandwich.  And this, the Buckboard Bacon Melt at Cochon Butcher, is a great sandwich!  Simple yet complex, earthy yet sophisticated, this sandwich should appeal to everybody and leave nobody unsatisfied!

Buckboard Bacon Melt at Cochon Butcher

Not wanting to only explore the culinary aspects of Butcher, I also perused the custom cocktail list and stumbled upon a drink call the Haitian Dark and Stormy.  Thinking this was an interesting name for a drink, especially in post-Katrina New Orleans and after the earthquake in Haiti, I had to know more.  It turns out that proceeds from the drink go to the Red Cross for relief efforts in Haiti, so I thought I might as well do my part.  The drink is made from a mixture of Barbancourt Rum and ginger beer.  Barbancourt is a Haitian rum company that makes traditional Caribbean sugar cane rum in multiple varieties and flavors.  Their distillery is located just outside Port au Prince, where the earthquake hit the strongest.  The Haitian Dark and Stormy itself proved to be a rather interesting drink.  Overall it was little sweet for my tastes with the rum and ginger beer mixed together.  Still, the cocktail was refreshing and quite drinkable, and would have been perfect on a warm summer day on the beaches of Haiti (or walking around in the French Quarter, for that matter).

Haitian Dark and Stormy

My Cochon Butcher experience ended up being marvelous.  I'm sure it was only enhanced by being a little sauced already from the ISAW wine tasting.  I also enjoyed chatting with Chef Warren about the restaurant and the menu.  Still, it all really comes down to the food, and this food is top notch.  The meats were fresh, salty, and marvelous.  The work that gets put into the meats at Butcher is obvious, and should be appreciated properly.  And by appreciate, I mean eaten.  And by properly, I mean often. 

"Bon App├ętit.  That's French for good meal." - Brandon Brown

Thanks to Eric Ducote of the BR Beer Scene for taking the pictures for this post.  Check out his beer and other beverage blog here.

Cochon Butcher on Urbanspoon

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

"Drink Well. Do Good." Tour Coming to New Orleans

Last night I was invited to a wine tasting at the Southern Food & Beverage Museum in New Orleans that the International Society of Africans in Wine (ISAW) graciously hosted. ISAW is an Atlanta-based nonprofit organization with the mission of building sustainable communities through wine (best idea ever!).  They seek to reduce poverty in Africa through viticulture-based training. The South African wine industry is over 350 years old and helped put Cape Town on the map as a trading hub. The industry grew much like the cotton industry did in the United States: on the working backs of slave labor. Today, there are over 3,000 South African wineries in what amounts to a $3.5 billion industry.  However, only two South African wineries are black owned.  ISAW has been able to partner with the black owned wineries, as well as some white owned wineries that support their cause, to develop a Viticultural Training Center.  The center will function as a winery the enables workers to learn and participate in the entire process of managing and operating a winery, from farming to global export.  Workers will experience a vertically integrated education that will provide them with specialized skills to increase their earning potential and add value to prospective employers.  For some, it may even be a stimulus for entrepreneurship or cooperative ventures.

"Dawn," a 2008 Seven Sisters Pinotage/Shiraz

So what does this have to do with my blog?  Well, as I said, last night I got to taste wines from the Western Cape of South Africa.  The tasting was set up by invitation-only for media and press to taste wines and get the word out about the upcoming ISAW 2010 Drink Well Do Good Tour.  The tour is a 14-city, month-and-a-half trek that starts in New Orleans on April 3rd and 4th.  It circles around the United States and into Canada before heading to South Africa right before the World Cup (I know, that must be rough!).  The festive tour will include African wines, cuisine, music, and art at each of their stops along the way.  So while "drinking well" and enjoying the food and culture, you'll also be "doing good" by supporting the ISAW Foundation and contributing to the vision of the Viticultural Training Center.  It is a win/win situation for sure!

Stephen Satterfield and Jay Ducote Discuss the Wines While They Taste

At the tasting, Stephen Satterfield, founder of ISAW, poured my guests and I wine from both of the black owned South African wineries.  I brought along Eric, Brandon, and Katie to experience the event, taste the wines, and help get the word out around Baton Rouge and New Orleans.  We tried four wines from the Seven Sisters and M'hudi vineyards. 

The Four South African Wines from M'hudi and Seven Sisters

The first wine that we sampled was the M'hudi Sauvignon Blanc from 2008.  The wine tasted light and slightly acidic with hints of summertime fruits like honeydew and possibly pineapple.  The wine refreshed the palate but also left a little herbaceous tingle on the back of the tongue.

Next came the 2007 Seven Sisters Sauvignon Blanc, also named "Vivian".  The winery's origins come from a family that actually has seven biological sisters, and each of them has a different varietal named after them.  This wine had many of the same characteristics of the M'hudi Sauvignon Blanc but without quite as bold of flavors or the bite on the finish, in my opinion.

The third wine came from the Bukettraube grape.  The 2009 Seven Sisters "Odelia" is a sweet wine that tastes off-dry and fruity.  Canteloupe came to my mind, though it certainly wasn't the only flavor as I heard other people say things like peach or pear.  The Bukettraube is a grape that originally came from Germany but is now grown almost exclusively in South Africa.  From what I hear, they have a relatively short shelf life and are best consumed quickly, rather than aging them in the bottle.  So I guess drinking the 2009 is a good thing!

Finally, we finished the evening with the only red wine.  I'm a huge fan of red wines, so this is the varietal that really had me excited.  "Dawn," a 2008 Seven Sisters Pinotage/Shiraz, packed a medium-bodied but delicious punch.  Pinotage is a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault grapes, and is one of the classic grapes in South Africa.  "Dawn" presented a fragrant nose and a easy, yet complex taste that began with fruity flavors like plum or dark cherry and then finished with a smoky bite.  Stephen, the ISAW founder, swore he could taste bacon on the finish.  I caught it more with my nose than my tongue, but everyone's tastes are different.

Jay Ducote and Brandon Brown Enjoy the ISAW Wine Tasting

We all thought every wine tasted great, so consumption continued until Liz Williams, the President of the Southern Food & Beverage Museum, offered us to-go cups and politely suggested that the time had come to leave.  Only in New Orleans will a museum president give you a to-go cup for your unfinished wine at closing time!

I'd like to give a special thank you to ISAW, Stephen, Liz, and everyone else that helped put the wine tasting together.  I thoroughly enjoyed each wine, and especially love trying two previously never-before-tasted varietals.  If you are in New Orleans or anywhere in the vicinity, make sure to check out the ISAW 2010 Drink Well Do Good Tour.  The whole event kicks off in Nola on Easter weekend, and you should most certainly not miss it!

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Thanks to Eric Ducote of the BR Beer Scene for the pictures!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Random Bites and Boozes

Here are random and assorted Bites and Boozes that I've had over the past few months that didn't really fit in with a full blog post.  Enjoy, and have a great weekend!

Fuller's London Pride

Ribbit on a Stick - LSU Soccer

Blackened Drum with Crab Topping from Sammy's Grill

Apple Cider Moonshine From Rev

Spinach and Mushroom Stuffed Chicken Breast by Dana

Elk Burger with Cheddar at the Deer Camp

Boudin Shop and Country Store, Gotta Love Louisiana

Bonefish Grill: Lobster topped Mahi Mahi

Carrabas Beef Brasato: melt in your mouth good!

Hunter's Gumbo and Sweets

Jimmy Johns #9 Italian Sub, 10% off for saying Bite and Booze sent you, thanks for the promotion, Kyle

Wags on the Levee Shrimp and Andouille Stew

Waffle Cheese Fries from Walkons

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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Rama Thai Cuisine

Sometimes, well, a lot of the time, I'm in the mood to find authentic hole-in-the-wall restaurants that make Baton Rouge such a great food town.  The Red Stick doesn't get enough credit in the culinary world due to all of the national chain signs that you see while driving down the interstate and New Orleans being only another 60 miles down the road.  However, if you hop off the freeway and hit a side street, you'll find some locally owned eateries with some exceptional flare.  One of these quaint places is Rama Thai Cuisine.  The Perkins Road Overpass area Thai restaurant is one of the forgotten gems in Baton Rouge, and it is time I give it some respect on Bite and Booze.  Eusebio and I dined at Rama a little while back, and we couldn't have left more satisfied!

Rama Thai Cuisine on the Inside and Out

It only felt natural to begin my meal with some Thai beer, so I ordered a Singha and started to get my taste buds ready for some Asian flavor.  Singha is a fairly standard lager with that Asian bite that you'll recognize from other Japanese beers like Kirin Ichiban.  It is pretty tasty, but I'd rather get to the food.

Singha Lager Beer

To wet our appetites a little more, we ordered a couple of appealing appetizers.  First up were the fried wontons.  These were nothing too special but they were fried to a nice crisp and had pretty decent flavor.  We had the shrimp chips for second app.  The chips were light and delicate with a great shrimp taste.  They came served with a delicious peanut sauce to dip the chips in.

Fried Wontons and Shrimp Chips with Peanut Sauce

The next dish to leave the kitchen and make its way in front of me was the lemongrass soup.  This fantastic soup was sweet and spicy with a citrus flavor.  It came loaded with shrimp and mushrooms, and I ate every bite.  I love a good, simple soup like this!

Lemongrass Soup

For an entree I called on the Rama Duck.  This delightful half of a duck was seasoned with Thai herbs and spices, then roasted until fork tender.  Each bite of duck put a smile on my face as the flavors filled my mouth and tickled my tongue.  The duck still tasted like duck meat should, and was only complemented by the sweet and savory Thai seasonings.  Steamed vegetables were served with the duck, and they tasted alright, but the duck certainly highlighted the plate. 

Rama Duck with Steamed Vegetables

For dessert, Eusebio and I couldn't decide between the fried apples with ice cream or the fried bananas with ice cream.  So, we did what any good person should do: we got both!  These fried-fruit desserts each came with three scoops of homemade ice cream.  Rama offered a selection of ice cream flavors, of which we ordered all of them: vanilla, coconut, and durian.  Yes, that's right, that durian! 

Durian Fruit as eaten by Andrew Zimmern in Bizarre Foods on the Travel Channel

Eusebio and I were a little nervous to try it as an ice cream flavor, but it was actually quite good.  The vanilla and coconut icecreams tasted pretty standard.  They were not very rich, but still had a smooth texture and the right amount of flavor to provide a condiment to the fried fruit and something sweet to end the meal with.  The durian icecream certainly had a unique flavor but it was nothing offensive.  I actually think I liked it more than the other two, even if it was just for originality alone.  I wouldn't hesitate to order it again next time I go to Rama, that's for sure!

Fried Apples and Banana Topped with Ice Cream, Durian Ice Cream on a Fried Banana

You can also check out the Cuisine Rouge post about Rama to see what they have to say about this little Thai Restaurant!

Rama on Urbanspoon

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Friday, March 12, 2010

St. Charles Tavern After the NFC Championship Game

I happened to be in New Orleans this year for both the NFC Championship Game and the Super Bowl.  Surprisingly, I actually remember both of the games and the good times I had.  I guess I'm growing up... a little.  The atmosphere in New Orleans for the NFC Championship Game against the Minnesota Vikings wasn't just electric; it was like nuclear-powered energy flowing through the entire city.  While I didn't get to actually go to the game, I had an amazing time tailgating on Poydras and enjoying the festivities.

Home Sweet Dome

While the day was spent drinking cheap beer, tailgating, eating jambalaya and fried chicken, and general tomfoolery, things settled down when the game came on.  After intense hours of watching a TV outside with static every time a helicopter flew overhead, the game came down to an overtime field goal by Garrett Hartley, and the city erupted into joyous pandemonium!  Below was the scene on Poydras street, just minutes after the field goal split the uprights.  The Saints were going to the Super Bowl!

Party on Poydras

After many more hours of jubulant celebration and following Megan's pom-pom that led use to Bourbon Street, Brandon, Megan, and I eventually wandered back towards Brandon's apartment where we made a stop at a local 24 hour joint: St. Charles Tavern.

St. Charles Tavern

St. Charles Tavern sits in the Lower Garden District of New Orleans, just minutes away from both uptown and downtown locations.  The Tavern was established in 1917 and has been serving breakfast, burgers, and New Orleans' famous poboys ever since. 

Famous Tavern Hash Breakfast

I glanced rather incoherently at the menu and quickly picked out the Famous Tavern Hash Breakfast.  Hey, if it is famous, I might as well try it, right?  The breakfast came with chicken and andouille hash, scrambled eggs, grits, and a biscuit.  Needless to say, I stuffed every bit of that late night snack right now my pie hole, and it all tasted glorious with one exception.  The biscuit truly disappointed me.  It came out already sliced in half, and with an extreme lack of flakiness that makes biscuits so delicious.  As for the hash, wow!  This mixture of potatoes, sausage, chicken, onions, bell peppers, and more was right on.  The hash made me happy on its own, but after throwing in the grits and eggs, I was in gluttonous heaven.  But hey, it's alright, because the Saints were going to the Super Bowl!  Who Dat?!

St. Charles Tavern on Urbanspoon

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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Super Bowl at Cooter Brown's in Nola! WHO DAT??

Hey!  Anybody remember when the Saints won the Super Bowl?  Well I sure do, although I was pretty hammered when it happened!  It all started at Brandon's apartment in New Orleans where I had a shot of Wakey Whiskey with him before heading to Cooter Brown's with Brent and Daniel.  We were running a little late as we wanted to be there when the doors opened at 11 A.M., but luckily Andrew and Megan were there already to hold a spot down.  We arrived before noon and promptly began chanting Saints cheers and "Put on the game!"  Did I mention that this was about six hours before kickoff?

Cooter Brown's Tavern and Oyster Bar, New Orleans, La

While Brent dealt with his hangover and Daniel drank his water, Andrew and I began sharing pitchers of delicious brew.  I started things off with a pitcher of NOLA Blonde.  NOLA, which is synonymous with New Orleans, Louisiana, in this case stands for the New Orleans Lager and Ale Brewing Company.  NOLA Blonde is a pretty decent American blonde ale with some nice, citrusy hops.  We drank merrily as we downed the pitcher and went back for Andrew's selection.

NOLA Blonde

Before my beer-induced obnoxiousness got too out of control, I decided it would be a good idea to sample some raw oysters.  After all, Cooter Browns is an oyster bar, and I happened to be in New Orleans.  There isn't much better!  These salty, slick, fresh Gulf oysters made me extremely happy as I continued with my pregame preparations: more drinking, of course!

Raw Oysters at Cooter Brown's Tavern and Oyster Bar

The oysters were a true treat.  I mixed up some ketchup, horse radish, Crystal hot sauce, and worcestershire sauce to dip my oysters in.  After dipping them, I placed the mollusks on saltine crackers and then added a special treat.  I placed a few drops of Crown Royal to the oyster and then plunged the entire collection of flavors and textures into my mouth.  It was like heaven on my tongue!  It turns out that whiskey and horseradish are perfect compliments!  Who knew?!

Coonass Special and Cheese Fries

Needing to soak up a little beer for reasons that will soon be disclosed, I went to the food counter and picked out the most famous sandwich that Cooter Brown's offers: the Coonass Special!  This delightful poboy comes with Mrs. Wheat's meat pies, provolone cheese, and gravy, served on French bread.  Meat pies on a sandwich is a great idea, and gravy adds so much more!  Oh, and what's better than cheese fries to help absorb some liquor?

With a little food, Brent's spirits picked back up and he quickly joined Andrew and I in our inebriation.  The two of them had agreed on a menu of drinks to go through, and being a fan of drink menus, I decided to join in.  On the menu were shots of Jager, Patron, and Timberwolf, a glass of Crown and water, and chugging pints of Abita Andygator.  Rough, yes, to a normal man.

Abita Amber

Sticking with Louisiana beer, I had a pitcher of Abita Amber at some point.  I know that because I have a picture of it.  Also consumed before the Super Bowl was a pitcher of NOLA Hopitoulas.  This IPA is brewed with six malts and six hops, then is polished off with some additional dry hopping.  The name comes from a famous street in New Orleans called Tchoupitoulas, and clearly there is a reference to the amazing hops in the beer.  Hoptastic!  We were joined by Brandon, who had been studying since we left his apartment, Amanda, and Katie in time for more drinks... and then... hours later... THE GAME!

Oh yeah, remember when the Saints won the Super Bowl?!  Somehow I was still conscious for the entire game, and the after party!  Go me!  WHO DAT?!

Cooter Brown's Tavern & Oyster Bar on Urbanspoon

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