Though seedier and more touristy than ever, New Orlean remains a great town for food lovers. The problem: choosing from among the Creole, Cajun, French and American restaurants and the various celebrity chefs who ply their trade there.
On a recent visit, I opted for Emeril's, named America's best new restaurant in John Mariani's Esquire magazine survey last year. Its personable and talented proprietor, Emeril Lagasse, serves what he calls "real food, food that reflects the best the city has to offer."
That translates as innovative Creole-American dishes such as crawfish over jambalaya cakes, lemon and pepper catfish with spaghetti squash, smoked rabbit with andouille turnovers, hickory grilled chicken with dirty rice and red bean sauce, Creole corncakes with Louisiana caviar, and his signature banana cream pie, goat cheese cheesecake and peanut butter pie.
Although Mr. Lagasse hails from Massachusetts (his backgrounPortuguese-French-Canadian), he cooks like a New Orleans native after a 7 1/2 -year stint as executive chef at Commander's Palace. While there, he made even better the famous traditional dishes with his quest for the freshest ingredients and his "everything from scratch" style.
Now he combines these high standards with irrepressible inventiveness at his own restaurant, a renovated factory in the gentrifying Warehouse District. To obtain the best products, he employs his own farmers (for herbs, vegetables, hens, rabbits and quail) and fishermen (for crawfish and fin fish). Breads such as seeded rye, whole wheat, white, jalapeno corn muffins and fruit muffins are baked in-house despite New Orleans' notorious humidity. And he makes his own andouille sausage, tasso (seasoned smoked ham), goat cheese and even his own Worcestershire sauce and hot sauce.
Emeril's food rates with the Jazz City's finest, thanks to Mr. Lagasse's personal philosophy of "building excitement by getting up every day and trying a little harder than the day before."
EMERIL'S NEW ORLEANS STYLE BARBECUE SHRIMP
pounds shrimp (16-20 count)
5 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon cracked black peppercorns
1/2 tablespoon finely ground black pepper
1 tablespoon paprika
1/2 tablespoon garlic powder
cayenne pepper to taste
1/2 tablespoon onion powder
1 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon thyme
salt to taste
3 lemons, peeled and quartered
1/2 cup white wine
1 cup Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup heavy cream
4 tablespoons butter
Peel shrimp. Combine shrimp shells with garlic cloves, crackepeppercorns, ground pepper, paprika, garlic powder, cayenne pepper, onion powder, oregano, thyme, salt, lemons, wine, Worcestershire sauce and water. Bring to a boil and simmer until liquid is reduced to 1 cup. Strain. Heat oil in a skillet, add shrimp and saute. Add cream and 6 ounces of the reduced sauce. Simmer 2-3 minutes. Stir in butter and heat. Serve with biscuits.
EMERIL'S HOMEMADE BISCUITS
1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
6 ounces shortening
3/4 cup milk
Blend flour and baking powder. Cut in shortening until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add milk and mix until soft dough is formed. Turn out onto a floured board and knead until smooth. Roll out 1/2 inch thick and cut with a floured 1-inch cookie cutter. Place on greased baking sheet and bake in a preheated 450-degree oven 12-15 minutes. Makes 2 dozen 1-inch round biscuits.