The Food Almanac: March 25, 2011

Staff Writer
Facts, notions, and trivia about eating and drinking for today.
The New Orleans Menu


In The Food Almanac, Tom Fitzmorris of the online newsletter, The New Orleans Menu notes food facts and sayings.

Annals Of Famous Restaurants
Either yesterday, today, or tomorrow can be considered the anniversary of Emeril's. I was there today in 1990, the second evening of pre-opening dinners. The restaurant opened to the public March 26. Things went wrong, as they always do in new restaurants. But Emeril's former employer, Ella Brennan of Commander's Palace  told him, "Change nothing." He didn't, and the place took off. It's hard to believe now, but that was not a foregone conclusion at the time. Emeril had not even begun to achieve the stardom he now enjoys outside New Orleans. It wasn't quite just another new restaurant. And openings with more ballyhoo go down the tubes.

Emeril's, as we know now, joined that rarefied list of restaurants whose influence caused major changes in the dining scene. Antoine's in the 1880s, Galatoire's in the 1900s, Arnaud's in the '20s, Brennan's in the '50s, LeRuth's in the '70s, Commander's Palace in the '80s, and Emeril's in the '90s. No restaurant has joined the list yet in the new century, in my opinion.

Deft Dining Rule #200
If you need predictability from a restaurant, find one where the chef has been there a long time. If you want novelty, find one with a history of hiring young chefs who stay a year or two and then open their own places. You can't have both.

Eating Calendar
Today is International Waffle Day. Waffles seem special because they're not often made at home. Waffles are often associated with restaurants, probably because of the many added touches that often accompany them. Real whipped cream, fresh fruit, and real maple syrup can take a lot of time and trouble in your own kitchen. Restaurants also keep their waffle irons on all the time. That gets around the First-Waffle Problem. For reasons nobody can seem to explain, the first waffle you make is much worse than all the ones that come after.

The best waffles are made with a thick batter containing a good bit of egg and butter. Because butter can be heated much hotter than water, it gives the waffle not only its fine flavor but also a crisp exterior. The other ingredients are milk, self-rising flour (I find that works better than using baking powder), a pinch of salt, a dash of vanilla, and a generous sprinkle of cinnamon (not enough to taste, but enough to add a certain something). A really fabulous waffle comes from separating the egg whites, beating them until they foam, and gently stirring them into the batter.

An overlooked possibility is making non-sweet waffles with ingredients like onions and herbs. They are excellent bottom layers of savory dishes. Small oniony waffles carry caviar and sour cream marvelously well. At the street level, restaurants are popping up all over the country serving fried chicken and waffles.