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Resolutions, Schmesolutions

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There’s too much good food out there to consider making one of those!

hushpuppiesI am not, I repeat not, a fan of cookery that calls for hiding vegetables in dishes to sneak to kids or adults. I loathed both the Sneaky Chef and Deceptively Delicious, and yes, I cooked broadly from both books, just ask my son about the chickpea chocolate chip cookie cook-off or the spinach brownie bash. That said, the food world continues to look even harder at how and what we eat, with a decided focus on less animal, more vegetable, and all things local, local, local–when available and reasonable. And though I want to start this New Year with a pledge to dedicate myself to ramping up the vegetable quotient of my diet, I know better. The New Orleans food and drink scene will continue to temp me in myriad ways: more new restaurants, food shops, clever riffs on traditional dishes, doctors getting into the wine biz, chefs into politics … Resolutions? Hah, foiled again.
Vegan Baking
New York’s Babycakes bakery carved an animal free path that allows us to have our cake and eat it too–without wheat, gluten, dairy or eggs. Following its lead and responding to the increase of vegan eating on New Orleans’ culinary landscape, a couple of local bakers have risen to the occasion. Laurel Street Bakery has been handling vegan special order requests for some time. Now there is a regular offering of vegan cakes, cookies, brownies and more. Chef Maribeth Del Castillo (Twitter @ mbnola), who recently made her mark cooking at a local café, has opened her own Internetbased business, www.bettysbakeshop.com Among the many, many incredible edibles in Maribeth’s multifaceted repertoire are her vegan offerings. Always seasonally inspired, the muffins alone will make you a convert.
Lightening Up
Continuing on the theme of culinary consciousness, I recently learned that Guthrie, the owner of Refuel, lost 85 pounds. How? He stuck to a plan of eating about seven small meals a day, never denying himself any food but keeping portion sizes to about a cup per meal. Impressive. As a consequence, Guthrie decided to incorporate elements of his dining regimen into his restaurant. Though Refuel’s main breakfast and lunch menu blends a mix of lighter fare with decadence, the new evening menu is all about dishes that are 500 calories or less. Chef in residence Lauren Jamieson has ramped up and somehow slimmed down boeuf bourguignon, chicken potpie, vegetarian lasagna and more.
Starting January 10, the LGBT Community Center of New Orleans will be sponsoring the citywide 2010 Weight Loss Challenge. Promoting the advancement of good health throughout the greater New Orleans area, the contest kicks off with an initial weigh-in at the community center, 2114 Decatur St. Over the six-month contest period, a number of local restaurants (5FIFTY5, Grand Isle Restaurant, Maximo’s, Oceana Grill, the Creole Skillet and Ralph’s on the Park) will each sponsor a dinner of health-inspired dishes. The contest ends with a closing weigh-in to determine the winner on June 26, and the winner will be announced at an award banquet on July 9 at Oceana Grill, 739 Rue Conti. For more information, go to www.lgbtccno.org/wlc.
Food for Thought
The restaurant and food shop openings keep coming. This month we’ll see the revival of Mike’s on the Avenue, retooled and renamed Mike’s East-West. Vicky Bayley and chef Mike Fennelly are back in the game, and an early peek at the menu suggests global inspiration, a nontraditional sushi concept and good things to come in general. Newly opened is chef Bart Bell and Jeff Baron’s Crescent Pie & Sausage Company. The menu is a fun listing of eats, from a housemade sausage platter of li’l smokies, boudin (and whatever Bart feels like grinding) to ridiculously flaky and delectable meat pies; fluffy beer-battered onion rings and homemade potato chips flecked with fresh dill to fat sandwiches of bratwurst, barbecue pork and smoked turkey. And, of course, there are pizzas, with toppings that range from fresh mozzarella, Roma tomatoes and basil to hot coppa, arugula, peppadews and blue cheese. The Mediterranean pie combines lamb sausage, roasted red peppers, olives, goat cheese crema and a sprinkling of lemony sumac spice.
The group that took over Camellia Grill and cooked up Byblos has a new restaurant called Catch. Housed in the place that once was  Semolina Bistro Italia on Magazine and Pleasant, Catch is well, catching on. Manned by a number of Emeril’s vets in both back- and front-of-house, the restaurant serves an eclectic mixture of homey comfort foods like fried chicken, catfish, fish and chips, along with steak, seared tuna, a burger and even a Monte Cristo panini. The meaty slow-cooked greens are killer and come as a side dish to several of the plates. Apps span classics like a wedge of lettuce with blue cheese, fried artichokes and Asian-style dumplings. The signature kickoff to every meal at Catch is a basket of knobbylooking, fried green-onion hushpuppies drizzled with an addictive spicy tomato glaze.
Madison, Wisconsin, was once the only place to buy the beautiful vinegars, oils and liqueurs of Vom Fass. No more. The first U.S. franchise is here in New Orleans on Magazine Street at Nashville. This is a very special store packed with jars and casks and kegs of “gourmet culinary condiments.” With knowledgeable service and plenty of tastings, its aim is to bring back the lost art of personal touch, and they do. I love getting whatever quantity I want of a product and all the fine details, like buying oils or vinegars in glass bottles that can be brought in for refills.
Finally, some foodie/boozy news: Galatoire’s is under new ownership, which includes a core group of the Galatoire family along with businessmen Todd Trosclair and mayoral candidate John Georges. We’re told that nothing will change, but I think that remains to be seen…. On the subject on politicians and restaurants, chef Greg Sonnier, of the late Gabrielle and currently the Uptowner, has jumped into the crowded New Orleans city councilmember-at-large race. Interesting, yes? And last, there seems to be a developing trend for local physicians to become wine makers/sellers. Dr. James Moises has his Oregon pinot noirs that hit the New Orleans market several months ago, and just joining the fray, Dr. Nicolas Bazan recently released his Oregon pinot noirs labeled Una Vida, Mis Nietos and Haydee. Both doctors’ wines are available in restaurants and top retail outlets around town.
As we dive into 2010 with our Saints doing so well and resolutions on our lips, I wish you the happiest and healthiest New Years. Here’s to much happy dining in the delicious city of New Orleans.