Sunday, February 8, 2009

Ernest's Orleans Restaurant

So my trip through the confederacy is over.  It was a long drive through dixie with none but Charles Dickens and Rudyard Kipling as company.  I'll try over the next few days to relate some other adventures along the way, but here is the first.

On the second day the road took me through Shreveport, LA.  Having never been to Louisiana I was eager to try some bayou food.  I exited Interstate 20 in what I figured was downtown Shreveport and my search began.  I stopped at a gas station and asked the attendant where a good restaurant was, she told me to go to a nearby casino and look around at the "Louisiana Boardwalk."  I found the board walk, which is anchored by a "Bass Pro Shops."  The food there looked like typical corporate, touristy garbage, so I took off again.  My GPS pointed me to "Ernest's Orleans Restaurant
."  I was getting hungry and I had already driven around Shreveport too much so I followed its prompts.

From the outside Earnest's looked like exactly what I wanted.  A steel building with limited parking in a dirt lot.  It looked a little run down from the outside, so I figured out that I had found a perfect local place.  After parking I noticed a white 1980s or early 90s, but well kept Cadillac limousine sitting under an awning in front of the entrance.  I was wearing my road clothes and was in need of a shave.

When I opened the door and stepped in I immediately felt like I'd come to the wrong place.  I stood in a dark hallway with gold and white wall paper, and gold and white linoleum tile.  Awards and newspaper articles adorned the walls these contributed to the baroque, gawdy tackiness that was just understated enough to be serious.  A maitre' d greeted me from a little table at the end of the hallway.  I told him that I felt underdressed and that I was just looking for some good cajun food.  He assured me that I was dressed just fine, and that they had the best cajun food in all of Shreveport.  (I realize that Shreveport is not the best place for Cajun food, but it is much better than my hometown.)  I apprehensively asked to see a menu.  The food was expensive, but I was hungry and in a hurry.   I asked for a table.

The Maitre' d, who wore a black suit with a vest but no tie, showed me to a table in the bar and begged my patience as the place wasn't quite opened.  I was the only customer there, but several staff were lounging at the bar.  As I took my seat and looked around I felt like an extra in a Wes Anderson movie.  Everything was top of the line twenty years ago.  It didn't feel like a theme bar, those places are always over the top.  It felt like they hired the most tasteful of decorators and spared no expense a long time ago, and then did nothing to update the look. One wall was adorned with mirror tiles speckled with harvest gold, just like the ones in my parent's dining room until I was in high school.  I do not mention a specific time period because the motif did not belong to a certain era.  It really did look like something out of The Royal Tenenbaums.  

When I sat down several waiters jumped up and finished putting on there uniforms, which were similar to that of the Maitre' d.  My waiter handed me a menu and served me a Dr. Pepper.   I really felt that I had missed out on the experience by not getting a cocktail, but I had a few more miles to go that day, and wanted no sleepiness.  I ordered the seafood gumbo.  While I waited for my food. the other waiters prepared the room for the evening.  I think that I might have had gumbo only one other time in my life so I really have no way of telling good gumbo from bad.

The gumbo was not all that good.  It was served in a huge bowl.  The shrimp and the crab was a little overcooked and I had to put a lot of tabasco in it to make it more tasty.  The sausage seemed a little mushy, and the rice was overcooked.  In Ernest's defense I was the very first customer of the day and was probably served Gumbo from the previous night.  The entree' came with a delicious garlic bread which I only ate a portion of.  Eventually I took up a conversation with some of the waiters, who were surprised that I wasn't Cajun.

While the main entree was a little lacking, the rest of the food was delicious, and the atmosphere was truly unique.  The service was superb and I really felt like they went out of there way to give me a very pleasurable experience in Shreveport.  If you are ever there I would highly recommend Ernest's.  Tell them that you're from out of town.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Wine Review: Poggio Vignoso 2007 Chianti

Friday night I was the recipient of some bad news regarding my weekend, so, in order to cheer myself up, I went to a wine tasting near my home. There was a distributor there from "Small Vineyards," who was showing some of their Italian wines. Number two on the list was Poggio Vignoso 2007 Chianti. I can't remember the tasters notes for the wine but I don't pay much attention to them anyway.
For me the first thing I notice about a wine is the price. I think most Americans pay way to much for table wines and am loath to pay more than $10.00 for something that is just going to complement a meal. There are exceptions, but for the most part I try to keep my wine purchases under $10.00.
Now that that's established I try to stay away from wines that have a perceivable tannic effect. When I drink a wine I don't want any burn associated with a sip. Usually this comes in the after taste, most (cheaper) wines have it and wine drinkers know what I am talking about. I think the effect is a result in the tannic acids present in grapes, good wines are able to mask the burning sensation associated with it.
This Chianti did well and only a slight hint of burn was noticed. It was a robust wine, but not one that would overpower more subtle foods. Fruity tastes were present, but not overpowering. The wine was by no means sweet, but it wasn't bitter either. I appreciated the oak aging as the wine was not overpowered by wood, but did not have a generic steel taste either.
Overall this is a nice wine that will compliment a wide range of dishes, but will not steal the show. I purchased a bottle for $8.79. Then took it home and prepared Macaroni and Four Cheeses, along with some sausage that I simmered in a splash of the wine. The wine did not hide any of the four cheeses, and it brought out the flavors in the sausage rather than diminish it. Consequently, I would be somewhat confident pairing this with something even more delicate like trout or salmon. (I don't care for white wines). I like this wine for everything from a casual dinner party, to a hum drum Friday night.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Trout Fishing on the Guadalupe River

I spent this Christmas in Austin, Texas with my wife's family. I was excited to be there in the winter time because there is a tail water trout fishery about an hour and a half south of where I was that supposedly fishes very well in the winter months.

There is a dam on the Guadalupe river that forms Canyon lake. The water that comes out below the dam is cold enough for trout despite being at 30 degrees latitude. Texas parks and wildlife keeps the area for fly fishing only, and in the best area the rules are for catch and release with one exception over eighteen inches. Perfect conditions for a peaceful day on the river. I borrowed a vehicle and drove down on the Sunday after Christmas to entertain the southern trout.

My first stop was at Action Angler. A wonderful little fly shop owned and operated by Chris Jackson. Chris would please Izaak Walton himself. He welcomed me as a visitor and told me that the inspiration for his shop came from a little shop at Lee's Ferry. He sold me a few local flies and I paid $5.00 for access to the river from his private land. We chatted a little more and then it was time for me to get on the water.

I set up my 7'9" 3wt rod (which was probably too small for the river, but it travels well). And walked up from the bridge where Chris's trail hit the river. Texas is full of limestone and the river bed was no exception. At first glance the Guadalupe seemed to shallow and tame for trout, but there are several grooves and channels cut into the soft rock that make excellent places for fish to hide. I cast into and around these groves with a copper beadhead trailing under an elk hair caddis with a gray hackle.

I like to move quite a bit as I fish but I quickly found that the only way to move up and down the river was by walking in it. This was difficult as I had no waders or wading boots. Off came my shoes and I rolled up my jeans. The water was painfully cold, but not unbearable. The outside temperature was around 55 and I think the water was at about 45. The limestone river bed was covered with ridges, and these hurt my feet as I walked over them. I was able to move up the river for a painfully slow quarter mile or so, fishing the channels as I moved.

In the channels and grooves I got a number of non-committal strikes on the beadhead. Most of these strikes came in unlikely places where the water was still and where no one would suspect a fish to be. I came to a place where the water got more swift and trickled over some rocks. This a more likely trout habitat I fished here for about an hour, but only got a few soft strikes. I talked to another fisherman who had a very pretty cast while at the rapids. He had had a similar time, but had seen a good sized fish up the river a ways. I fished a little more, then walked back to where I had left my shoes and broke down my rod.

There is nothing like time on a river to quiet one's heart and so I spent another half hour there praying. The canyon where I fished was most beautiful and it was very nice to get a mid-winter fishing trip in. I think better of Texas after my trip and look forward to another winter trip to Austin for some time on the peaceful Guadalupe river.


Every Christmas my family celebrates on Christmas Eve with a Mexican feast. It was for this feast that I began making salsa several years ago. It took me a few years to perfect this recipe. Some friends have requested it, so here it is.

Dave's Salsa
2 (14.5oz) cans of whole or diced tomatoes.
1/2 bunch cilantro
2 cloves garlic
1/2 to 1 whole onion (to taste)
a few green onions
2 JalapeƱos (taste these before putting them in to gauge their spiciness. You don't have to use Jalepenos, my favorite peppers are the ones from my neighbor's garden).

Put the tomatoes into a blender. Chop all fresh ingredients and place in the blender. Add salt and pepper to taste. Puree using the blender until all ingredients are very finely chopped. Check the taste and add more ingredients as needed. Remember that the salsa will taste a little more spicy at first than it will after sitting for a few hours. Pour in a container with a lid and refrigerate for a few hours before serving. As time goes on the flavors will blend together and the salsa will taste better and better. When refrigerated and sealed the salsa will keep for over a month, but it will separate so shake well before serving.

Home made salsa is a sure bet to impress your guests, and it is so easy to make. I hope that you won't feel the need to buy generic canned salsa ever again after trying and perfecting your own salsa. Enjoy.