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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

nola, part 2a

So, we flew into Kenner, LA, about an hour and a bit late. We had to take a $30 cab ride into Nola to our hotel. We stayed at the Ambassador on Tchopitoulas. It was cheap. Not the cleanest or the prettiest or the windowiest, but, did I mention it was cheap? We had this very long and skinny window in the corner of the room, so when it was full daylight outside, it felt like twilight in the room. I figured it would be great for catching up on all that sleep we had missed out on the past few days, though. So we pretty much had to check in, take showers, change and get to the rehearsal. We were going to take a cab, because we were running late, but LMF called and said he would pick us up. I guess he figured he's always running late, so what's the difference. They couldn't start rehearsal without the bride and groom.

So they did the rehearsal. It was like 45 minutes. The coordinator wasn't that good. She was snippy and overweight. I'm not sure what the overweight part had to do with anything, but I was just tired, edgy, thirsty, ready for an alcoholic beverage, hungry for a good meal, not wanting to be there.

Finally it was over. We hopped in the big Tahoe cab of LMF and were whisked away to Metry Road. Good ole Metry Road. Of course, the rehearsal dinner was at Vega. Vega Tapas Cafe. The basis for our life in New Orleans. It was my first kitchen job, my first pantry job, my first grill job, my first saute job, my first sous chef job - no, not my first blow job, although I've heard it was some people's first. It was the FP's first chef job in a restaurant.

So we get there, and I go straight to the kitchen to see Big Boy. He was at Vega when I first started. He was the skinny little punk ass (black) dishwasher. If he read this, he would say, why does it have to be about color? That's why I had to point out he's "black". He's gay too. Okay. He's not gay, but he has this famous one liner that he uses for almost every occasion. "You gay." That's his standard response for everything.

"How much risotto you have left?"
"You gay."
"Is that Paella coming up?"
"You gay."
"Did the fish come in yet?"
"You gay."
"How's your mom?"
"You gay."
"How'd you get that big open gash in your hand?"
"You gay."
When asked by a gay guy, "How are you?"

Over the years he's worked his way up. He was chef at a short lived sister restaurant opened by GiGi, but currently he's sous chef. I once made a joke about how he'll be 60 and still there. That may happen for real, though. It happens in a lot of New Orleans dining institutions.

The owner, GiGi is claiming to be the chef. I shouldn't say claiming, because that's just me being a catty bitch. So I'll say, GiGi is the executive chef. (snigger) I'm sorry. I can't be grown up. It's just that I have a low self image, so I always have to put others down to make myself feel better. Sometimes it works. But whatever. GiGi has had be in the kitchen cooking enough, that I suppose a lot of people in the same situation would name themselves chef. It's gotta be way cheaper too, than having a chef that you have to pay.

So, GiGi recently went to El Bulli in Spain, and he also watches Top Chef. I don't think that had any influence on the rehearsal dinner at all. It was boiled crawfish, andouille sausage, corn and potatoes. I wish. That would have been amazing. Everyone all dressed up digging into some crawdads, boy.

So Vega has always had a "feed me". Which is where the guests let the "chef" "choose" their dinner. Which is great for when you have, say a lot of carp roe dip, but not so much white bean dip. So anyway, it's about doing it family style. One plate for the whole table to share. But of course, GiGi had to be different. Most of the courses were plated up individually - one bite per person, one at a time. Did I mention that there were 50 in the party?

Ceviche in a martini glass. Everyone at the table loved it. Except for me. I ate it. I liked it. I guess I'm just a ceviche snob. Everyone's a critic, right? No, my beef is that, I like it when you take the raw shrimp and cook it in the lime juice by marinating it. It's a different texture. A lot of people think this is gross - but it's cooked. I'm always telling people not to call ceviche a raw seafood dish - but who the hell listens to me? Not my bosses. That's another blog topic entirely, though. Anyway, the presentation was nice. The flavor was nice, the ingredients were prepared nicely. I just wasn't blown away. Maybe I'm too close to be a good critic on this subject.

Beef Carpaccio with oyster mushroom and parmesan cheese. It was a nice presentation. The beef was falling apart though. It was so thin that it was kind of shredded. The FP kept going on about how they had frozen it to get it so thin, and then it resulted in a watery pool on the plate just like that guy Stephan on Top Chef did in the final. The FP is obsessed with Top Chef and likes to point out whenever someone does something like someone on Top Chef. So, it's funny to say something was sliced too thin, but in this case, it was! The mushroom was quite bold and more flavorful than the beef. It would have been a great dish if one could have gotten a better taste of the beef.

The Best Dish At Vega. Coriander Tuna with Avocado Relish. It's really an asian dish, but somehow it made it onto the menu years ago and has been at Vega ever since. So this is tuna loin coated in coriander and salt. Then it's seared and served with an avocado, tomato and green onion relish. The cilantro chili viniagrette is what makes the dish a rock star. OMG! People rave about, ask for the recipe, want to buy the dressing to take home, it's really wonderful. Really.

Shrimp, Redfish and White Bean Puree. This one probably the second best dish. The shrimp were nicely grilled. Gulf shrimp are just wonderful. A lot of what we get on the west coast are shrimp from Thailand or wherever. They just don't have anything in common with the gulf shrimp. I have to say. I never realized what great food I had access to growing up and living on the gulf coast. You know, people from other areas told me, but I didn't understand, because that's all I knew of. I thought all shrimp and crabs were sweet. I didn't know.

Getting back to Vega. The shrimp were nice. The redfish had a good taste, but it was kinda overcooked. The white bean puree was very nice, and the olive oil was a nice finish. This came as 2 plates to a table of 8. There were 3 shrimp on the plate and 2 cubes of redfish. It looked nice in the presentation, but I didn't have my abacus with me, so it was hard to divy up the portions in my head - especially after my 2nd or 3rd glass of wine.

At this point, I'm not 100% about the order. But let's pretend this was the exact order that the food arrived. Smoked Shrimp Salad. This was a classic Vega special. I really didn't like it. It was probably very identical to the dish we made when yours truly, the FH and the FP worked there. I think my palate has just changed. Just like how when you start to want music to be quieter the older you get, maybe there are flavors you want to be quieter too, the older you get. Like smoke. Man, we used to smoke the shit out of everything. We went through those wood chips like there were mad beavers after our mesquite or hickory. So the dish is a mixed greens salad with roasted sweet potatoes, candied pecans and smoked shrimp. The sweet potatoes were tender, the candied pecans were fatty sweet yumminess. It was great, except for the smoke. You could smell it off the plate. So acrid. But you know, 10 years ago, that's the way I made it. Let's say this dish was an artifact of my old life.

At this point we were probably almost an hour into the dinner. Everyone was saying how they wanted to order a pizza from Mark Twain's. That's the place down the shopping center. We ate that pizza a lot. Sometimes we would order it during service, pick it up, walk through the front door with it, and eat it in the kitchen. Some restauranteurs frown on this behavior, but hey, it wasn't McDonald's or that crappy chinese place in the shopping center. Although we did order from the crappy chinese and walk through the front door with that too.

Fried Mushroom Risotto. It should have been good. But I think these are hard to execute, because they rarely seem to come out good. It was gluey and kind of flavorless. They gave us 4 to the table, thankfully.

So I appparently didn't take pictures of everything. I used my cell phone to take pictures because I didn't have batteries for my camera. The next course, I believe, was the duck sausage empanada. This was strange. The first bite I had, I didn't like it. It was really sweetish and rich. Everyone else loved it. The second bite had the sauces - pesto and roasted pepper sauce - on it. Those both helped lighten up the deep fried pocket. It was good. I wasn't a huge fan, but everyone else at the table was getting out their foam hands, pom poms and their airhorns to sing the praises of the duck sausage empanada. To each his own. Not everyone has such a discriminating palate as me. (If you don't read this often, then you don't know that the preceding statement was a joke. You can peruse the labels I use, where you will find such fine dining establishments as KFC, Long John Silver's, Del Taco, to name a few.)

So around this time, the speeches started. It was about 1 1/2 hours into the dinner - oh, say 9 pm. The loudmouth lawyer lady started it, thankfully, to move it along. A lot of people spoke. A lot. Some of them were quite long winded. A lot of people. At this point. They stopped serving food for about 20 - 30 minutes. LB, the best man, was the first to speak. He was great. Very funny. He read his speech, but it made it even funnier. Great delivery. So people sucked. Some were inappropriate. Some talked about nothing. Some talked about themselves. Some were sweet and short.

Luckily, at some point, someone thought to start serving the food again. Duck breast with almond cous cous. A common Vega dish. The FP mightily upset that the duck was not rested before being sliced. You know how it gets kind of curled on the plate and the juices are on the plate and its not as tender as it could be? That's because they didn't let all the lovely juices redistribute before slicing. I'm sure they were tired and in a hurry to knock this shit out at that point. Maybe other tables had perfectly rested duck. Maybe. The cous cous was - cous cous. Not too much going on with that.

The next thing was the moorish pork. Another Vega classic. It's pork loin marinated in a dry rub and grilled, served with fried spinach and horseradish cream. I used to really like this dish - the FP never really cared for it, to tell the truth. So the pork was not so good. I'm not going to say terrible, but not good. It was as if it had been curing in the dry rub for a little longer than it should have, then it was overcooked too. Maybe they had cooked it earlier then threw it in the oven to reheat it. But it was starting to shred like pulled pork. God, I have to say, I hate to bash this place and my old buddy Big Boy, but it was not good.

So I guess there were a few more courses that they didn't put out because it was getting late. So they served bread pudding to the few people at tables who weren't outside smoking or clamoring for a drink at the bar. The bread pudding was delicious. Perfect. Really. Warm with a nice rum sauce. Real New Orleans bread pudding.

So finally it was over. We would get to leave Metry and head back into New Orleans. But we didn't have a ride. LMF had to go home to bed. So we ended up waiting another 30 - 40 minutes for a ride back into town. Big Boy was going to take us, but GiGi ended up making him close and we hitched a ride with GiGi.

So here's what I'll say about the rehearsal dinner. GiGi was trying to do too much. He wanted to impress. I think he did. But maybe if they had served more than one dish at a time, it would have kept the pace up. It was a little too formal type of "wow" service that didn't quite play right for a rehearsal dinner. The bride had taken time to set the place cards in a thoughtful way, mixing both grooms' and brides' friends and families together in ways that she thought would be compatible. It seemed to work, but at the same time, the multicourses and teeny individual plates were a bit segregating. We each had to focus on our own plate to get the full food experience, and then we were waiting for the next course.

Also, the Food Pimp's point was that he had been yearning for Vega classics, and we really didn't get that. We got one bite of the coriander tuna - but where was the carp roe dip, the eggplant napoleon, the paella, the sauteed shrimp with capers basil dill white wine and butter, the gnocchi, the crispy sweetbreads with mushrooms, serrano and sherry beurre blanc, the chicken and mushroom phyllo with sherry beurre blanc?

But you know, we all want to make our own mark.

Vega Tapas Cafe
2051 Metairie Rd
Metairie, LA 70005


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