This is Nina Compton’s joint, from the New Orleans season of Top Chef. My wife got us a reservation here and we were all pretty excited to try it.
The cocktails here are awesome, and I’m now firmly of the belief that New Orleans is one of the best places for cocktails in the world. Their take on a mule is served in a brass rabbit, and they can only serve 14 at a time, since that’s how many brass rabbit vessels they have.
I had a Louisville Slugger, which was basically a vanilla smoked old fashioned. Delicious.
Now onto the food. First was this board of amazing biscuits with two kinds of butter (sweet and maple bacon).
We started with a nice round of small plates and apps.
Crispy Pig’s Ears
These were awesome. Great Caribbean spice flavor (Nina hails from St. Lucia), crispy outside, and a little chew inside. Just right.
Another nod to Nina’s background, these Caribbean conch fritters were soft inside and perfectly crisp outside.
This was so good. The spice level was nice, but the flavor and quality of the tuna was exceptional. Not to mention that it’s beautiful to look at. My favorite of the apps, and that’s a big win considering what came next.
The meat was nicely minced and served with a skim-coat of smoked beef fat. Amazing! My buddy, who is a big steak tartare aficionado, loved this. This shit was way better than the garbage we had at Dickie Brennan’s.
Now onto the main courses.
Jamaican Jerk Drum
Drum is a fish that’s local to the area. It’s white and flakey, kinda like a halibut. This had a nice crisped coating of jerk spices on the exterior, and a super tender and flakey interior. I loved it. What made this dish really pop, though, were the drops of citrus custard that dotted the plate. When you got that pungent hit of lemon curd in with a bite of all the rest, it really came together.
This homemade spaetzl-like pasta was perfectly cooked and served with some high quality shrimp and clams. We really liked it.
I didn’t get a photo of this, but I did get a bite of my friends dish. It was so tender and flavorful. Nina really nailed it.
Dessert: Soursop Semifreddo
Very rare to see the exotic soursop fruit on a menu stateside, so my wife and I jumped at this. It was served in a log shaped semifreddo form, with shaved celery, meringue and shaved cucumber. Really well balanced.
This was easily one of the best meals we had in New Orleans. I highly recommend this joint.
The Old No. 77 Hotel & Chandlery
535 Tchoupitoulas St
New Orleans, LA 70130
My wife and I primarily came here because I was frantic to try the Thanksgiving ramen that was recently added to the seasonal menu. We ended up trying the kimchi ramen too, as well as a few other items, because, well, we think Dale Talde is pretty awesome from the handful of times we’ve met him and from his kickass appearances on the Top Chef shows.
I started with a massive 33oz Asahi beer. Manly.
Then we had some wings. These were sweet and spicy. They had a nice batter but that got soggy due to too much sauce without enough crisp underneath. The flavor was excellent with the cilantro and peanuts on top, and the buttermilk ranch dipping sauce, but I was hoping for a bit more crispiness.
The Thanksgiving ramen was a turkey stock filled with wavy egg noodles, sliced turkey, sliced stuffing, cranberries, mushrooms, and spinach dumplings. It was then that was topped with gravy.
The flavor was unique and definitely Thanksgiving-ish. The tangy cranberries gave it a burst of brightness that you typically get from pickled items in a traditional ramen dish, and the dumplings were a nice bonus that was not expected. I just wished there was dark meat along with the sliced white meat.
The kimchi ramen was spicy and bold. The pork was tasty, and the kimchi was pickled spicy style. A nice bowl of noodles (also wavy egg noodles). However this bold flavor may be a bit overwhelming to have an entire bowl for yourself.
Last was the Filipino pork dish. Essentially this was thin sliced pork meat, non-expertly grilled and served in a clay pot that wasn’t hot enough to get the rice crispy, yet just warm enough to sap the liquids out of the wet pork to make a puddle of meat juice on the bottom. That made for wet, soupy rice. The “6 minute egg” (aka poached egg) was nice but it only made for an even more soupy bowl of rice. We decided this dish would be better if we took it home and fried it up in a hot cast iron pan to try to get some texture into the rice. Not a successful dish. Sounded so good from the menu description though.
My wife has this really cool credit card from Chase called the Chase Preferred Sapphire Gold-Trimmed Special Sparkly Platinum Elite Card. Among other cool perks, it entitles her to get discounted, exclusive and advanced-entry/VIP-type tickets to things that regular people would not normally be able to get (for example, our tickets were cheaper and we were allowed in early at 7pm for this event).
One thing we’ve been privy to in the past was the Top Chef Masters Premiere Party. This season’s re-imagination of the Top Chef brand is called “Duels.” We had a lot of fun last time, and got to meet all the chefs, so grabbing hold of my wife’s perks this time too was a no-brainer. I love my wife’s perks.
Top Chef Duels is set up to be 10 one-on-one battles of the masters, where the chefs actually choose their own challenges for each other, and the dishes are then judged to see who is the winner. Cool concept. I like a good fight!
So they had the place set up with three major battle stations, featuring six of the chefs and the dishes they dueled with. The main station was Marcel Vigneron vs. Richard Blais.
The challenge: Lobster Roll.
The winner according to me: Marcel Vigneron’s “Open Face Knuckle Sandwich”
While I enjoyed Richard’s lobster roll, I felt like the filling itself was too watery, and yet the bread was dry. Go figure. I was really pulling for Richard too, because he was one of my favorite contestants to watch, and he’s a fellow Long Island native. It was still way better than any regular old lobster roll you may find in the northeast, but Marcel’s was just really nicely executed. I think the potato roll was a big plus, and the addition of pickled onion really made all the flavors pop.
We wandered around a bit, taking in some free booze, when we stumbled upon the second battle station. The chefs featured here were Dale Talde, who I met at the Dynasty Project Casino Night event, and Tiffani Faison.
The challenge: Ribs
The winner according to me: Tiffani Faison’s “Spicy Sticky Thai Ribs”
Dale served up some Korean style short ribs, which I absolutely LOVE in general. However, he served them in lettuce cups as if they were de-boned and ready to pop in your mouth without any additional work. I took a bite and came right down on the bone. No worries though. Once I knew what was up, I put the lettuce cup down and used two hands to pull the meat off the bone.
If you have any familiarity with Korean style BBQ short ribs, you’ll know they are a very fatty (and sometimes gristled) cut of rib meat where the bones and meat are cut on the bias, so that you have cross-sections of bone connected to the surrounding meat. Often times you will get two or three circular rib bones per slice of meat. My first exposure to this was with my wife’s family. My wife isn’t Korean (she’s Vietnamese) but the style of BBQ and the actual cross-section cut of rib meat is popular in many Asian cuisines.
So anyway, Dale’s dish had just one bone circle with the surrounding meat attached, so I thought it was boneless when I picked up the lettuce cup, especially since the bone piece had toppings on it and was not readily visible in the dim lighting. In any case it was very tasty, but I think Tiffani nailed it with the layers of delicious sticky sauces she had going on her traditional style rib cuts. She even sprinkled some fried shallots on top to add some crunch and texture. All the familiar Southeast Asian flavors were there. This was a perfect rib in every way.
The last station was Kevin Gillespie vs. Art Smith. I saved this for last because I think the winning dish here was probably the best of the night.
The challenge: Fried Chicken.
The winner according to me: Kevin Gillespie’s “Closed On Sunday” Chicken Sandwich.
One thing I appreciated about Art’s dish was that it was a nice, full piece of fried chicken on the bone, readily identifiable as such, like Tiffani’s rib (and unlike Dale’s). In typical southern style, Art’s dish contained a hint of maple syrup to throw your taste buds back into breakfast mode. It was good! But Kevin’s sangwitch was masterfully created. He was working like a powerhouse all night, didn’t mix and mingle too much. He just kept right on working his station. Amazing. And his passion for cooking shines through his food, because that chicken slider was one of the best poultry-based dishes I’ve ever eaten. People were going up for seconds and thirds. Even Top Chef alumnus CJ Jacobson asked me to run and grab him one while he was stuck in the cattle pen pretending to be interested in talking to, and taking pictures with, obsessed fans. I earned a solid fist bump from that human beanstalk for being his sandwich bitch.
Anyway back to this fucking juicy, delicious sandwich… I mean let’s be honest here: it doesn’t look like much. But the taste… Holy fuck. Look at the list of flavors you’re getting!
Okay so that’s it for the battle food. The passed hors were nice too, but I didn’t shoot pics of them and I don’t remember all the details about them. They weren’t prepared by the chefs (they were catered or made in house). One notable item was the mini-mac – a miniature McDonald’s-esque Big Mac in slider form, donning the special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickle, and even stacked two-high on tiny sesame seed double buns. It was everything you love that’s delicious about the McDonald’s version, except for the ammonia bath and fake-ass, grade-F beef.
And last but not least, here are some other pics from the night, mostly me or my wife with other chefs, and various famous and quasi-famous people from the TV food world. Enjoy!
My wife has some friends who are involved with the Dynasty Project. From their mission statement, the Dynasty Project creates and supports innovative programs that enrich local Asian communities through athletics and the pursuit of athletic endeavors. They look to build a culture of athletics in Asian communities as part of a complete and healthy lifestyle while providing the resources to maintain that culture for future generations. Through athletics, they seek to promote important life skills such as teamwork, leadership, the value of hard work and sacrifice, discipline, and healthy living all while getting exposure to programs and resources that might not otherwise be accessible to Asian American communities.
As you may recall, my wife is a baker (The Cake Dealer). She often will donate her baked goods for various events that the Dynasty Project hosts. This last event was in collaboration with Dale Talde, Top Chef allstar. They held a casino night with cool auction prizes. I donated my photo services and got to taste some of Dale’s food. Check out the pics below. The food consisted of veggie samosas, fried dumplings, soba noodles, sticky rice, shrimp, and broad flat noodle rolls with pork. Really great stuff, and a fun time.
With heavy hitters like David Burke and Bryan Voltaggio on the roster for this season’s competition, we were both really psyched to try their food. We were a bit disappointed to learn that Voltaggio would not be in attendance (he just had a baby), but we still had the pleasure of eating some of the best bites of food in the biz.
The way it worked: we were tasting the dishes that were presented in the elimination challenge at the end of the first episode.
I’ll start with what was by far our favorite dish of the evening, which has ended up being the feature of this article. It was masterfully created by Jennifer Jasinski, Executive Chef and Owner of Denver’s Rioja, Bistro Vendome and Euclid Hall Bar & Kitchen, and her sous chef Jorel Pierce. Check out the pics below and let your mouth water like a hungry, rabid dog.
They prepared an orange and ginger caramelized skirt steak with roasted mushroom-fregola salad and preserved lemon yogurt.
The citrus really popped when you bit into the meat, giving it a bright contrast to the usual warm and earthy flavors you associate with good skirt steak. The caramelization gave the meat a nice crunchy and savory element, almost like a course sea salt, which contributed great textural dynamics.
I was curious, though, as to how the meat was butchered, because each piece of steak was sliced to a perfect little round circle, which is not normal when you think of skirt steak (usually sliced in strips on the bias). When I had the opportunity to speak to Jennifer and her sous chef Jorel about how the dish was prepared, they explained that several skirt steaks were “meat-glued” into a terrine form and shaped to look like sausages, then the terrines were cooked to a perfect medium rare before slicing into rounds (I think with a sous vide bath). I was blown away. I had seen this terrine technique used before, but never with skirt steak, and never had I seen it executed so perfectly and elegantly.
After watching the first episode, I realized that she sincerely took the judges criticisms to heart, because their critique was that her original dish was too clunky with large unshapely pieces of steak taking away from the dining experience. So by forming the steaks into terrines and slicing the newly-formed meat into perfect bite-sized rounds (and still cut on the bias), she and Jorel erased that problem completely. I guess that’s what happens when an expert chef has the luxury of using a kitchen and a sous chef. In the first episode she had to cook outdoors with a very basic set of tools, all by her lonesome, so making a terrine or using a sous vide machine was out of the realm of realistic possibilities.
Bravo Jennifer and Jorel, for impressing this carnivore connoisseur with a really amazing dish!
Another highlight of the evening: a Vietnamese style pork dish whipped up by chef Sang Yoon. This was the only other dish that I kept eating more and more of. It was sweet and pungent with the familiar, fresh, herby and spicy flavors commonly associated with Vietnamese cuisine (chili, cilantro, fish sauce, etc). Plus it was nice and juicy as well.
And, finally, here’s a little photo dump for all you bastards out there who want to see more: