In case there are any readers who will be in Santa Fe tomorrow, I thought I'd point out what should be an enjoyable show: Todd and the Fox, at the original (2nd St.) location of the Second Street Brewery, at 6 PM (June 16th, 2012). You can check out some of their music here at Reverbnation. Todd Eric Lovato plays a mean electric banjo (and some guitars), while simultaneously providing the bass line with a foot-pedal keyboard. Erik Sawyer's drumming is excellent and he's found the perfect sound for this kind of folk/bluegrass/psychedelic-rock Americana thing these guys have going. What's that you ask? Yes, of course they even mix in a little reggae at times ("Bad Friend"). Plenty of humor in the music and a really enjoyable groove. I heard them at the Cowgirl Café last year. You can probably decide whether or not you'll like the show by asking yourself how you'll react to Pink Floyd's Shine On You Crazy Diamond covered on electric banjo. If the idea puts you off, you're too uptight for this show. (It's a gas, although I can't guarantee they'll play it.) The house-made beer on tap and the food at Second Street are pretty good too (we're talking hearty somewhat pubbish fare, not foodie fussiness, of course, but it's on the fresh and carefully cooked side for such fare), so it should be a good time all around. If you aren't in Santa Fe, you can get a taste of the music as mentioned above, though sadly, not Shine On. Their Soundcloud page has a few more tunes, and their myspace page doesn't completely overlap (check out the live-at-Santa-Fe-Sol guit-boogie "Cougar", and the humorous doo-wop of "Cruise Line" ("I know that you you drive a muscle car / '69 Chevy Malibu / and me girl / I drive a Subaru Outback / but that doesn't matter girl / because I love you"), either. The newgrass blues lament "I Miss My Girl", on most of these pages, is pretty nice too. Overall their stuff is a nice mix between some more serious moments and good clean (er, if you edit a couple of the lyrics slightly) fun.
El Meson has excellent tapas and excellent live music, often jazz, in its bar and jazz room, ¡Chispa!. (I've never eaten in the main dining room.) For a long time Thursdays were given over to local pianist John Rangel (who moved to Santa Fe a few years back from Los Angeles) playing duets with different guest musicians. I've enjoyed John's playing in a variety of settings, and I heard him with Albuquerque-based guitarist Michael Anthony (another LA transplant with lots of film recording credits to his name) last Nov. 17 (2011). It was a very enjoyable evening of jazz, with the musicians playing close attention to each other and creating different moods and interludes on the fly. Exchanges of "fours" and such were especially interesting. I didn't take notes, and a run-through would be pointless anyway, but the repertoire was a lot of standards, jazz classics, some bossa and samba, and blues. Fairly straightahead bop and post bop, played with a sophisticated harmonic sense and plenty of chromaticism on the part of both players, but nothing too far-out. I definitely recommend going to any gig John is playing on... he is frequently to be heard with the Tribute Trio (w/ Michael Glynn on bass, Cal Haines on drums), either on their own or with guest horn players.
Tapas at El Meson are often superb---the Cordoban style fried eggplant ($9.50) is very fresh-tasting, almost sweet, and practically melts in your mouth---it is especially good in late summer when eggplant is in season, but always worthwhile. House-roasted peppers in a little earthenware terrine with Spanish goat cheese ($7.50) are also superb. I like fried oysters with Romesco sauce ($9.50) as well. Setas a la Parilla ($9.50), oyster mushrooms grilled with garlic, parsley, and olive oil, are also excellent, if less exotic. The sherries by the glass have all been excellent as well.
Highly recomended for both food and music.
A relative newcomer on the Santa Fe scene is the Indian restaurant, Raaga, owned by Paddy Rawal. It's in a one-story arts-and-crafts style bungalow on Agua Fria street (a few blocks west of Sanbusco Center, where you can park if the restaurant's lot is full), that housed the excellent Asian-Pacific fusion restaurant Mauka a few years back. (Mauka's chef, Joel Coleman, now heads an "Asian tapas" place, Koi, that gets good reviews---I haven't tried it.) The old Mauka decor is still there, with the exception of some photos of India on the wall. It's casual but reasonably elegant.
The food is some of the best in Santa Fe, of any type. Food at Indian restaurants is often very oily and garlicky---which can be fun, but can be a bit much. The food at Raaga does not have this problem---the lack of excessive oil gives a much clearer, cleaner impression on the palate, and there's plenty of flavor. Much more like home-cooked Indian food. The stuffed pepper appetizer was a hot green chile (the menu says it's a Poblano) with a filling of potatoes, peas, and spices that's standard for samosas, thinly covered with a cornmeal batter and fried. Delicious ($4.95). The Chole Amritsari---chickpeas with a sauce featuring pomegranate, chiles, and ginger ($13.95), was superb. Bombay fish masala curry, at $17.95, was also excellent. Naan was topnotch as well. Some of the best Indian food I've had in a restaurant, and the prices are quite nice for food of this quality. Two appetizers and a split main dish would easily make a meal---the main dishes are quite large.
Let's hope that, unlike the equally excellent Mauka, Raaga makes a go of it at this location. It's a bit off the main tourist and business streets, but it's a short and very pleasant stroll, full of Santa Fe atmosphere, from the busy Guadalupe street area down Agua Fria, so check it out.
Was recently in Bergen Norway as part of the FQXi conference Setting Time Aright. (I didn't know it had gone awry...). Since Norway seems to be one of the world's most expensive travel destinations, I figured I would take full advantage of the hotel breakfast, skip lunch, and have dinner at a really good restaurant---most restaurants in town are nearly as expensive as a really good one anyway.
Hanne på Høyden turned out to be one of the best places I have ever eaten. They tend toward Norwegian, and local, ingredients where possible. Nice, casually elegant location in the former Brun bakery. (Frederick Brun is gone, but his business now has branches in various parts of Bergen---just not the original building. Prices deterred me from sampling.) A large, high-ceilinged room with plenty of windows on the street holds most of the diners; a half-level higher, but open to the main room, is a small bar with counter looking toward the kitchen, and a couple of high tables, and also a cool, semiprivate room, with photos of Brun and the building in its old incarnation as bakery, on the walls. I ate at one of the high tables in the bar area (probably lucky to get the chance without a reservation).
The complimentary amuse-bouche was a mousse of creme fraiche and crabmeat topped with a little herring roe. Light and airy and flavorful, the herring roe a perfect intensely flavored salty complement to the crabmeat. Perfection. Rye bread with local butter was a perfect accompaniment to this and the rest of the meal. The house-made wheat beer was slightly floral, not as sweet or alcoholic as some wheat beers can be--very refreshing and tasty.
Starter was a cold tomato and raspberry soup, described by the waitress as like a gazpacho. Which indeed it was---a light, somewhat foamy gazpacho, very intensely flavored, with some herbs that looked like very tiny and tender parsley, shavings of parmesan, and ripe raspberries and half cherry tomatoes sprinkled on top. Raspberry and perfectly ripe, sweet tomato turn out to be an inspired pairing. The soup tasted like there was an intense olive oil swirled in, but also something minty that perfected the flavor combination---it turned out to be not olive oil, but birch oil. This was as good a dish as I've eaten anywhere.
The main course was "Fjordfe med grønnkål og ramsløksaus", which I understood to translate as "Fjord beef"---a relatively rare kind of cattle raised in pastures by the fjords of Norway's west coast---with green kale and wild fennel sauce. I think it is "Fjordfe" in Norwegian. It was superb---cooked medium rare, just as I asked, it did not have a red-meaty taste at all, but was rather mild and nutty, sliced into pieces in a delicious sauce of cream, wild fennel, and "Viking garlic", which I take to be some local wild tuber. I'd ordered a glass of Tuscan Sangiovese to go with the beef, but it turned out the wheat beer was a perfect pairing---without the red-meaty taste, red wine was unnecessary (although it was a tasty enough glass). The roasted small potatoes accompanying the dish were superb, though perhaps the salt encrusting them was a bit much. Another great dish.
Dessert was "Sesongens bær på fløtepudding", a half-inch layer of a pudding (somewhat like a thick, smooth creme anglaise) generously studded with seasonal berries: blueberries, raspberries, fat, ripe gooseberries, red and black currants, possibly some melon if my memory isn't confusing me, all perfectly ripe and tasty. Simple but perfect---a fabulous end to a fabulous meal. Well, not quite the end---a glass of intense house-made raspberry liqueur was the finishing touch.
Not cheap but worth it---a truly memorable meal, one of the best restaurant meals I've ever had. Michelin doesn't seem to have paid much attention to Norway (I think there are five restaurants it has starred, all in Oslo)---but Hanne på Høyden is obviously the kind of restaurant that deserves a star--or two.
Another home run hit by the Perimeter Institute Bistro's crack team of chefs. A not exactly Kosher lunch, last Tues. or Thurs.: milk-braised pork with ricotta gnocchi. Deeply flavored, tender, savory pork. The milk wasn't really identifiable as such but must have contributed to the tenderness, and maybe in some way to the intensely flavored bit of concentrated jus (that's, like, Français for juice) that coated the little bits of slightly spicy, slightly bitter greens and the delicious ricotta gnocchi. A few bits of purple watercress, or sorrel or something, provided another perfect garnish. Made me feel like I was staying in a nice Italian farmhouse someplace in, maybe, Emilia, or perhaps eating on the patio of a really good trattoria. So maybe I should have said "sugo" instead of "jus". In any case...Bravo!!!
Perimeter's bistro is amazing. The rice-wrapped seabass with Puy lentils I had yesterday at lunch was perfection. Nice, thick piece of fish, cooked perfectly. Flaky. Firm. Moist. Flavorful. Swathed in a rice wrapper and lightly browned, ending up covered in a crisp, savory golden sheath. Thin slivers of red and yellow peppers and suchlike veggies encased with the fish. The whole atop a generous bed of tiny, dark, earthy, intense Puy lentils, larded with and accompanied by more bits and slivers of veggies---carrot, more peppers, and so on. A drizzle of excellent olive oil. Karla, Steve, Frank, and the rest of the chefs and kitchen staff at PI get a big salute, or in Japanese style, a deep bow of acknowledgment, for this and many other unfussy but elegant, intense, and satisfying creations. Food like this relaxes and rejuvenates mind and body. I think we all work better---prove better theorems, achieve better philosophical insights, find more efficient ways to make the institute run or keep the building in good shape, and so forth, after a meal like this. Not that that's the point---like a piece of music, a painting, or a good theorem, such a dish is its own best reason for being.
I was put off by my first Sazerac a few years back. I tried one from someplace listed in a guidebook as a "must"---selling them out of a window on Bourbon Street, if I recall---plastic cup, lots of ice, not much whisky---confirmation of rule no. 1 for a visit to New Orleans ("stay away from Bourbon Street").
But I finally decided to risk it again, and it turned out OK. Actually better than OK. Mr. B's Bistro is not my top restaurant in New Orleans, but I end up there fairly frequently if the crowds on d'Iberville make oysters at one of the places there impossible, especially if I'm with a bunch of colleagues who just want to eat and aren't going to be into a long meal at someplace like Bayona or Stella!. And sure enough, my meal there this time was highlighted by the excellent company---pragmatist quantum mechanic Chris Fuchs, category-theoretic quantum sculptor Bob Coecke, and epistemic game theorist Adam Brandenburger---rather than the food. (My shrimp and grits were decent, but the grits too garlicky and over-flavored and the bacon-wrapped shrimp nowhere near as flavorful---except for the bacon---as the ones at Herbsaint, while an appetizer of fried oysters on the half-shell with beurre blanc would have been better as just a straight pile of fried oysters. Bob liked his barbecue shrimp, though (which I've also thoroughly enjoyed there on other occasions), and Adam his fish. But anyway, while waiting for dinner, an extremely tall, distinguished Southern gentleman bartender made me a Sazerac---the drink identified with New Orleans, made from Sazerac rye whisky, bitters, simple syrup, the glass rinsed with Herbsaint liqueur or some other Pernod-like liqueur, or absinthe in the old days. Truly tasty---no skimping on the high quality whisky. I had two decent Sazeracs over the next few days---the better of the two at the Napoleon House bar, a more mediocre but still quite drinkable one at Pravda (standard bar for Bob Coecke and crew on their New Orleans visits, slightly odd Soviet/Goth decor, but quiet enough for conversation). So, if you too end up seeking refuge in Mr. B's from the roiling masses queueing for oysters or for a seat at the Redfish Grill, just have a Sazerac and enjoy sitting or standing at the long wooden bar with brass rails---then try the barbecue shrimp, complete with bib, if you're staying to eat. "Barbecue shrimp" isn't barbecued---it comes in a bowl full of butter, spicy sauce, and you eat it with your hands, soaking up the sauce with bread. I don't think I've had it elsewhere for comparison, but Mr. B's was plenty tasty both times I had it there.
After a late dinner at Stella! on Chartres (yeah, do it, Papa Scott!! Cook that funky tasting menu thang the way you do!), I headed for nearby Frenchmen Street to catch the James Westfall Trio which was playing for free at one of the better jazz venues in the Crescent City, Snug Harbor. Free means playing for tips, of course, but you don't often find a combo of such quality playing for tips. But at a place like Snug Harbor you do (or the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park, where they played the previous afternoon, presumably paid a decent sum by the NPS and relieved of the need for a tip kitty though you never know)---and they were excellent. Westfall on vibraphone was fast, precise, creative---reminded me somehow of McCoy Tyner's piano playing. He put a lot into his playing and he got excellent support on bass and drums---the bass player in particular played some excellent solos (and I'm no automatic fan of bass solos). Afterward, I hit the Apple Barrel across the street for a small blues/country/rock/folk combo that was pretty darn good for another playing-the-late-show-for-tips band. Even one of the two Dylan covers was good. Then hit the Cafe Negril for a solid reggae band. I guess I was making up for a week of evenings spent hanging out with quantum types in bars that didn't feature live music. Actually, Friday night Jamie Vicary (postdoc at Oxford in Samson Abramsky and Bob Coecke's group), Johnny Feng (postdoc at NRL in Keye Martin's group) and I finally left Keye and friends at the Napoleon bar in the quarter, and went on over to Frenchmens only to find it blacked out and everyone hanging out on the street waiting for the lights to get turned back on. We waited too, for 45 minutes or so, listening to an excellent trombone/sousaphone/banjo trio sitting in the doorway of a closed cafe playing some pretty traditional-sounding New Orleans stuff quite well, and then left. Bottom line: if you're in New Orleans, check out the music calendars at:
but if you don't know what else to do head for Frenchmen and see what's going down at Snug Harbor. Other places to check out include (for jazz) Sweet Lorraine's; and whoever's playing at the Maple Leaf is always worth checking out online to see if you want to go down and hear them. On Saturday, I decided to eat at Stella rather than spend the evening at the Maple Leaf, but was strongly tempted to go for the blues band that was playing, Jason Ricci and New Blood.
Herbsaint is an excellent restaurant on St. Charles street in the central business district of New Orleans. I have good memories of eating there a few years ago, and I had dinner there twice this week. It has a bit more casual and hipper vibe than some of the top foodie meccas here, with white mosaic tile floor with black accents in the bar that looks like it might be original from the 20's, cracks and all, large storefront plate-glass windows, a thick semigloss paint job on the walls and woodwork, off-white with the faintest avocado tinge, some dropped down lighting boxes hung from the ceiling, white tablecloths and comfortable oak chairs with a 20's/30's feel as well. The place was packed on a Monday night---good sign. I went with three friends. We ate in the back room, not quite as nice an atmosphere as the main room, but fine. My duck gumbo was intensely flavorful and hearty. Olive oil seared Louisiana shrimp with tomato confit and breaded fried eggplant were delectable. These were the best shrimp I've had on this trip to New Orleans---flavorful, extremely fresh, touched but not overwhelmed with some spices reminiscent of the New Orleans "barbecue" shrimp (but basically a grilled or sauted preparation, not swimming in the mildly spicy "barbecue" sauce). The tomato confit was too sharply vinegary for my taste; the eggplant was quite good, though. We drank a bottle of wine from Chateau de la Liquiere, at Faugeres in the Languedoc, recommended by the waiter over my initial choice of the Chave "Mon Coeur" Cotes du Rhone. It was a good solid wine, reasonably tannic but not overbearing or rough, and fairly smooth---well flavored, with some golden leafy notes (reminded me of a California oak forest for some reason), but not complex. My dinner companions raved over it more than I did---perhaps a bit of a sniffle was preventing me from fully appreciating it, or it maybe it was the $55 price tag. It complemented the food well. For dessert, I took one of the waiter's top recomendations---the warm banana tart. It was advice well taken---high-end and homey at the same time, with a delicious, well browned, thick crumbly tart crust, firmish, delicious filling somewhere between pecan pie filling and banana-flavored marzipan, and delectable seared glazed banana slices and mint leaves on top. This and the shrimp were seriously delicious culinary achivements, the sort of stuff Michelin stars and such are made of.
Too tired to walk far from my hotel, the next night I went back thinking I'd have a small dinner. I ended up getting the special Italian tasting menu (one each week, for the month of October), for $45. This one started with a small antipasto of thinly sliced, excellent hard (but not tough!) salame, and some marinated diced eggplant (nice but not as good as the salame). The Crab Gnudi were superb, gnocchi-like balls of crabmeat held together with ricotta and grilled or seared, served on swirls of delicious, intensely flavored olive oil (and some other delicious sauce that was a pale orange (something citrusy, perhaps?)). The dish was less delicately flavored than I expected, but superb. Herbsaint seems to have a style of "high-end heartiness"---perhaps it's a Cajun-food influence: they tend toward big flavors, smokiness, searing along with a little innovation and fusion. The main course certainly followed that model: baked striped bass with tomatoes, fennel, and basil was served in the paella pan it was baked in, and featured a chunk of firm, flavorful, skin-on bass in a smoky, thick tomato sauce in which big slices of fennel had braised to tenderness. It was a lot for one person to eat, and if it had a flaw it might have been a bit of excessive smokiness, but was an extremely tasty take on what might be a pan-Mediterranean tradition of cooking fish over wood fires at sea's edge---it called up stories of pine-smoke-scented bouillabaisses on the Riviera, and images of the Ligurian coast. The server mentioned "a white cake" when I ordered the menu---the menu said Cassata Siciliana, usually a cake of ricotta and candied fruit flavored with liqueur---but it was indeed a square of white cake---high end Sara Lee, basically, with a bit of a caramel syrup and some tasty toasted hazelnuts on the cake. The cake was velvety and fresh but not too special. The chocolate salame, however, was excellent.
A Baumard "Cuvee Ancien" (a botrytized sweet wine, presumably a Chenin Blanc from the Loire, as Baumard also produce a Cote du Layon) was a good accompaniment to (and more interesting than) the cake, mellow and sweet but not cloying, and with nice flavor notes of dried orange peel, hints of brown sugar, and botrytis, though not a complex standout. The main course went perfectly with a very good Commanderie de Peyrassol Rose 2007 from the mountains of Provence, though I suspect my other potential choice, a Barbera from an excellent producer, would also have gone well with it. The Chateau d'Epire 2006 Savennieres, a firm, slightly steely and minerally Chenin Blanc based wine from the Loire, with a hint of honey and a balanced, smoothness, went perfectly with the crab (though it should have been served a touch colder).
For someone dining alone, the tables in the front window by the bar are a bonus---good seats from which to watch everyone having fun at the bar and in the restaurant, as well as a pleasant view of the outside seating and St. Charles street.
Overall, a very reliable, enjoyable place, well-appreciated by lots of locals, and with a very long and well chosen wine list, much more interesting wines by the glass than many places have, and a menu that is likely to deliver, if not guaranteed constant perfection, hearty, interesting, imaginative food and at least several dishes on each visit that will put you "in the zone."
Arrived at New Orleans yesterday for the 2nd annual Workshop on Informatic Phenomena at Tulane, organized by Mike Mislove of the Math department and Keye Martin of the Naval Research Lab. What with a half-hour wait for the Airport shuttle, and a slow ride past the Superdome as the Saints-Jets game was letting out, and some time to decompress and check the jazz listings before going out for dinner, it was around 8 before I was ready to eat, and most of my favorite New Orleans restaurants (Bayona, Herbsaint, Stella!, Lilettte) are closed on Sunday. Rather than the old standby of oysters and a glass of white wine at the circular bar in the Bourbon hotel, I decided to check out Bacco, on Chartres a few blocks into the French Quarter from Canal, as it had looked promising from the outside on earlier visits, and the menu looked interesting online. It's run by Ralph Brennan of the famed New Orleans restaurant family (Dickie Brennan's, Mr. B's Bistro, etc.., etc..., etc...). Although I've enjoyed Mr. B's in particular, this gave me slight pause, as I'd generally expect the ne plus ultra in foodie bliss to be found in a place owned by a lone chef pursuing his or her passion, rather than associated with such a dynasty. And I've seen Bacco advertised in the New Orleans airport, another question mark. But I wasn't necessarily looking for the ne plus ultra, I was looking for an enjoyable low key dinner.
Perhaps it was a mistake to mention I was walking over from a hotel, and call from an out-of-state cell phone, for despite my being fairly smartly dressed, and the warm and elegant front rooms with windows on Chartres street appearing far from full, I was put in a less-elegant though OK back room with the trainers and tee-shirt crowd. An artichoke, oyster, and cream soup was excellent and different from expectations---smooth and buttery, but larded with bits of fresh artichoke and greens. The New Orleans/Brennans' touch was definitely showing in the richness and smoothness of this dish. I wouldn't want to eat food this rich every day, but it was a treat. It went well with a glass of 2006 Maso Canali Pinot Grigio from the Trentino region of Italy---an honest, fresh, grapey, not-overblown glass of wine with some finesse and a restrained fruitiness and perhaps a hint of bitter almond. Possibly this might have gone better with my next course, and the 2007 Nozzole Chardonnay "Le Bruniche" from Tuscany that I ordered to go with it, or the Chateau St. Jean Chardonnay (usually reliable, if not always exciting, with hints of butteriness, yeastiness, and lemon, and good balance) that was also on offer, would have gone better with the soup. The ciabatta bread was tasty, not too soft, although very fresh plain butter would have been better than the lightly garlicked butter they served with it.
The Chardonnay turned out to also be a nice example of Italian white winemaking. A bit racy, maybe even slightly grassy, it, like the Pinot Grigio, avoided the overbearing, high-alcohol impression that's all too common in lower-end Chardonnays with some pretensions, and had a little complexity to boot. (I didn't boot it, though.) I had it with a grilled black drum (that's a fish...) on a bed of risotto flecked with wild rice, the whole topped with thinly cut caramelized onions (or something from the onion family, anyway) and balsamic half-grapes. The grapes were a highlight, little sweet-and-sour flavor packets bursting in the mouth. The fish was good, done just right, and very mild. The dish was good overall but not a knockout. Unfortunately, perhaps because it was getting toward closing time on a Sunday and the kitchen was ready to close, the risotto was definitely underdone (no, I am not one for mushy risotto). The rice was tasty and large-grained, probably a high-end Louisiana risotto rice, but although edible, a bit too crunchy. It's possible---but not certain---that with perfectly-cooked rice, the elements of the dish would have melded into something sublime, but in the event, that didn't happen. Still a tasty dish. (Incidentally, the waitress' top dish recommendations had been the Maine lobster and gulf shrimp ravioli with champagne butter sauce and caviar, and the Bacco shrimp, so maybe I'll try one of those next time.)
While pondering whether to add unneeded calories by having dessert, I was offered dessert on the house. I had a chocolate panna cotta, with a raspberry sauce (or was it a coulis? Is there a difference?) and a bit of chocolate sauce, topped with a large curl of thin dark chocolate. I've had quite a few panna cottas in Italy, and the flavor and texture can vary quite a bit. This one was excellent, on the firm side but still light enough, with a slightly granular texture that for me was not a flaw, but added interest. Good strong chocolate flavor, but restrained enough to be able to taste the creaminess; the chocolate curl on top was high-quality and the raspberry sauce fresh-tasting. With decaf coffee (black), a perfect end, and a dessert I'd come back for.
The service was friendly, and very efficient. One of the waitresses topped up my water glass several times when it was nearly full, but that was the only slight misstep and it certainly beat letting it run dry.
Overall, the food blended traditional Italian elements with a bit of New Orleans influence and international trendy touches successfully. I didn't think it was quite on the level of Bayona, Stella!, or Lilette, but I'd go back, and ask for a table in one of the front rooms or---if one can dine there as well as drink---just eat at the large semicircular bar which, in an open, well-lit but warm room, looked comfortable. The food balanced tradition and imagination well, the style was a bit different than expected (more Creole-influenced smoothness and unctuousness) but in an enjoyable way; the wines available by the glass were interesting and well-chosen.
Update: The 310 Chartres street location in the French quarter closed in January 2011; the owner, Ralph Brennan, hopes to reopen Bacco somewhere else in 2011, but I'm not sure if it will happen, or has happened.