Didn’t realize that it’d been four months (?!) since my last post here.  Terrible I know.  But I’m back!  Now that it’s (almost) too cold for me to gallivant in the streets, I have a TON of new culinary experiences to share.  Read on!

The hippest of hot new eateries downtown, courtesy of the genius behind Stanton Social, Beauty and Essex delivers on the hype.  All your favorite comfort foods served in sexy surroundings (by only the hippest of designers), a setting made explicitly for beautiful-people watching.  A dramatic entrance through what appears to be an antique jewelry store unfolds into a lobby with a grand spiral staircase.  A gray-ish bar area leads into a dark, sparsely lit dining room, with no detail overlooked.  A trip to the powder room reveals a complimentary champagne bar and lounge (sorry, guys).  Ladies, this place was *made* for your red-soled shoes.  Break ’em out and hightail it over here.

I had the great luck of being invited to a surprise birthday dinner for a dear friend hosted there…  5 delicious courses, family style.  I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.  The biggest surprise was the hominy; down south, they cook it like grits/oatmeal until it’s gross and tasteless.  This hominy was crisp and refreshing.  The battered fried lobster tacos were a bit overcooked for my preference, but tasty nonetheless.  The baby back ribs are worth going back for alone, but everything was remarkably done.  Service outstanding.

Of course, I would expect no less, as Stanton Social is one of the more consistent mainstays of laid-back luxury in the Lower East Side.  One can only hope the rooftop opens soon!

Growing up in New Orleans, everything we ate was saturated in grease, salt or sugar.  Most times, the best tasting things included all three. (Hello, beignets and french fries!)  Vegetables?  Cooked down in some sort of fatty pork (picklemeat, in our house) until unrecognizeable.  Good for you?  Debatable.  But boy was it delicious!  Yet at the same time, a familiar refrain echoed through my ears between meals (never during, curiously):

“Don’t get fat.” ~Mom

“Don’t get fat like me behbeh” ~Grandma

“Don’t be gettin fat now, yahear” ~Dad

And the list goes on.  Of course, during meals, it was always:

“Clean your plate.”

“I want you to eat this ENTIRE plate of food.  Eat it!”

Or a more cloying, “What’s the matter baby?  Are you not feeling well?  Why aren’t you finishing your food?”

Or the standard, “Lord, these ungrateful children…  there’s children starving… DYING! In Africa today, and these kids don’t wanna eat this food…”

To which a “Why don’t you ship it to them, then?!” response would end in a swift smack to the cheek.  Or a longer, more protracted battle would ensue (depending on the grossness of the vegetable in question), ending in angry stomping on my part toward some corner or another for a time out.

At any rate, I was enrolled in dance classes at the age of three. By the age of 10, I could already down 5 chocolate glazed McKenzie’s donuts in a single sitting and polish off a man-sized plate of my grandma’s red beans and rice. Every Thursday after dance class, I had a McLean combo meal (because I preferred – and still do – my burgers with lettuce and large onion slices) from McDonald’s. I cried when they discontinued it, and switched to Quarter Pounders.

By the time I got to middle school, I was eating McDonald’s every day after school. I hated school lunch and used to tide myself over until Mickey D’s by eating plain Lays potato chips, hot pickles, and Cokes for lunch, sometimes substituting the hot pickles for plain M&M’s. I was enrolled in an after school dance program at New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA, a wonderful institution) and would eat my #3 combo on the way to ballet 3+ times a week. I continued with private training as well as training at NOCCA, eventually abandoning them both to focus on my academic studies at more traditionally rigorous magnet high school. “You can be a dancing doctor,” they all said, “you need a stable career. Dancing is a hobby.” Meanwhile, when I transitioned schools, I rejoiced because my daily fast food fix became Wendy’s, where burgers and chicken sandwiches dallied among salad pitas and baked potatoes, always topped with fries and shakes of course. But because I was dancing four or more days a week for three or more hours, I burned through the calories like it was nothing. Not to mention I was growing like a weed.

All this fast food activity was, of course, in addition to the huge breakfast my mother fed me every morning and the huge dinner my grandma would serve every night. A typical weekday would start with fruit bowls, homemade biscuits, grits/eggs/bacon, and sandwich the fast food binge with stewed chicken, yellow rice, and stringbeans cooked in picklemeat. I tried to “go vegetarian” when I was about 15 (which consisted of me eating meatless Wendy’s pitas and french fries daily), but my grandmother *never* took the meat out of her veggies, and would ask me if I was ill every single time I would pick around the meat in any dish. It lasted about 8 months, and ended when my resolve crumbled in the face of a Port of Call hamburger.

Regardless, I never dreamed that I would ever gain actual weight, because I assumed that I’d be dancing for the rest of my life. So I never denied or learned to deny myself anything. I could eat half a chocolate cake or half a pan of brownies without blinking. Other girls my age had started dieting or developing eating disorders. The only diet I knew was the see-food diet.  Not to mention the attention that I was already getting from men was anxiety inducing.

To be continued…

It had been two long years since I returned home to New Orleans, and I yearned for home.  The sights, sounds and flavors called to me more distinctly with each passing day, reminding me in detail of all the things that New York City could not offer.  The stifling heat there dictates an easy pace of life that I simply cannot recreate, regardless of how many lazy afternoons at the park or the beach I fight for.  People in New Orleans live more slowly, absorbing the lush surroundings and each other, appreciating singular yet often banal moments in a way that can only exist when people don’t rush around in their own heads, and take time to smell the proverbial roses (or more likely, magnolias and live oaks).

One of my major fears was that the destruction of the local seafood industry by the BP oil spill disaster would ultimately lead to the demise of the restaurant industry, and that New Orleans would be catapulted even further down a spiral of economic disenfranchisement.  More importantly, I wondered, “Whatever’s gonna happen to all those poor poor shrimps, ersters (oysters), and crawfish?!”  I booked a ticket as fast as I could muster, determined to eat as many shellfish as possible before any local reserves were depleted for good and all was lost!  Desperate times called for desperate measures.  In training, and for comparison’s sake, I took a visit up to City Island for some fried shrimp and clams after a day at Orchard Beach.

bon manger – loosely translated as v. to eat well

For as long as I can remember, the kitchen was the centerpiece of our family life in New Orleans, and all social activities revolved around eating and food.  Celebrations of birth and death, good news, bad news, sublime and mundane, our lives migrated from kitchen to kitchen, then to restaurant, church, festival, party, parade and beyond, only to circle back again.  Amidst a blur of activity in the passing of time, food was the constant thread that connected each experience.

Yet, not just “food” in the sense of sustenance…  Great food, amazing food.  Food that was lovingly prepared to elicit an emotional response.  Food that danced around your tastebuds and made you hover around for seconds and thirds.  Food that both created and complemented the memories that accompanied them.

Thus food has colored and shaped my entire existence, and influences my entire life: personal, professional and most importantly social.  Food is an experience, not merely a means to an end, whether that end is good health and mental clarity or indulgence to excess.  I tend believe that life is far more fulfilling when both ends of the spectrum are fully explored.

I therefore invite you to join me in the experience of Good Eating – consuming delicious and thought provoking food surrounded by memorable company, conversation, and atmosphere.

Let me feed you!


© 2011 Bon-Manger Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha