St. James Cheese Company (New Orleans)

In case you were not aware, cheese is essentially one of my favorite creations on this earth. I managed to live on it (with a baguette) throughout my summer in Paris, and I could definitely manage living on it (with traditional accompaniments, of course) if ever stranded on a deserted island. When introduced to St. James Cheese Company last weekend in New Orleans, I quickly reconfirmed my love for the food group. IMG_2405

The Uptown restaurant, which takes orders at the quaint counter, lined up regulars against the overwhelmingly wonderful cheese displays and counters. I couldn't fathom the variety; but I loved it! Local and regional jams, honey, cheese boards, crackers, spices, and olives filled the walls. A large chalkboard describes the menu in its entirety...The Croque Monster and macaroni and cheese sounded out of this world, but I needed lighter fare to get me through the New Orleans weekend.



I ordered the parmesan reggiano salad with artichokes hearts, scrumptious black olives, Fra Mani salami, walnuts, dijon vinaigrette, and plenty of parmesan. The portion was mighty generous. If St. James were situated near me, I'd entitle this salad my new "go-to." I don't think I could ever get tired of the desirable flavor combination.


Riley ordered us a cheese board -- I love how St. James simply asks if you'd like three, five, or seven cheeses. We opted for three: a bleu, a brie, and a gouda. And that cherry compote...Perfection.

I typically vow to only try new restaurants in new cities. Here, I am declaring an exception. I will be going back to St. James during my next New Orleans road trip, and I could not be more excited for it!


District Donuts (New Orleans)

It's brisk mornings like these when I wish I could bundle up and take a quick drive over to District Donuts for a cup of iced coffee and an "extra fancy" wedding cake donut. Or it's the rare worry-free afternoon I had yesterday (on our snow day -- insane, I know) when I craved a brew on tap with a shrimp slider loaded with cucumbers and jalepeños. If only New Orleans wasn't an eight-hour drive away, because this "donuts-sliders-brew" joint is surely one-of-a-kind.

On New Years morning, Alex, Hannah and I munched on a fantastic first meal of 2014 at District. I needed caffeine to get me through the gloomy drive back to Memphis, so an iced soy coffee was in order while we waited for sliders to arrive. I took a homemade cheddar biscuit to-go for the drive -- it's typical, though, that I ate the entire buttery delight before we even crossed over the Louisiana-Mississippi border...

The sizzling sliders, made-to-order, were the perfect size to fit in the palm of your hand. Two was plenty for me and Hannah, but Alex went for three types and was equally satisfied! I tried the renowned fried chicken slider and the special fried shrimp slider that cleverly outdid a classic po' boy. My only misgiving was in the chicken slider -- I bit into a small bone, unaware that I was being served a dark meat thigh instead of white meat breast. But alas, I finished it anyway (including the awesome cole slaw) without regretting my order!
District's concept is brilliant, taking three of America's favorite food/drink items and adding original style in every direction. The new spot has quickly become a hot spot! I'm looking forward to my next trip down to the Big Easy during Mardi Gras. I'll be sure to make that Magazine Street pitstop again, too.

Domenica (New Orleans)

If you have not yet noticed on the Caramelized critiques tab under "New Orleans," I'm a John Besh fan. His Southern roots and charismatic approach to cooking express an unusual variety in both his cookbooks and restaurants. Domenica in the historical Roosevelt Hotel proves Besh's authenticity and ability to go beyond the New Orleans norm.

When you think of New Orleans, you're quick to assume that creole is the only way to go. And sure, our first night at Mr. B's Bistro was nothing short of memorable and classic; Brenna and I were wearing bibs as we peeled the famous barbecue shrimp with Ashley's help, and the girls sipped dirty martinis while Alex and Spencer washed down their gumbos with whiskey on the rocks. Yet John Besh takes you out of the box, introducing modern Italian dishes that stray from typical New Orleans fare and simultaneously impress your taste buds.

Our New Years Eve dinner at Domenica was magical from start to finish. After photos in the gorgeous Christmas-lit lobby, we toasted to 2014 and ordered a wild mushroom pizza to start with tomato, bacon, sweet onions, and yard egg. The restaurant is known for its wood-fired pizzas, and I now see why. The thin crust saved us room for entrées, thankfully.
The highlight of our meal was a visit from Executive Chef Alon Shaya, who introduced himself and kindly made the connection with my and Brenna's visit to Austin's Luke pop-up last Spring on the roof of Whole Foods. He was a great, great guy; I always appreciate the gesture from a clearly busy staff, especially on New Years Eve!

All four of us were pleased with the main course. I tried a bite of everyone's: Alex's classic rigatoni, Spencer's garganelli with pork ragu, and Brenna's wood fired eggplant antipasti with tahini (presented beautifully). I appreciated Domenica's option to order either a full or half order of pastas, a rare but brilliant concept for eaters like me who want to try more than one dish. My squid ink tagliolini half order, pictured above, was fabulous. Blue crab and a light herb butter sauce melted in my mouth. I could've had the second half, but my sequin New Years skirt was glad I did time!

I wasn't crazy about the Affogato dessert of vanilla gelato, sugared doughnuts, and an espresso shot poured tableside. I think it was missing a taste of chocolate or caramel, but the presentation was delightful. 
Thank you, Domenica, for a wonderful final meal of 2013; what a fantastic icing to the cake. I look forward to trying more of Besh's work in 2014.

NOLA Food + Wine Experience


I just had to get back to New Orleans. My roommate, who is from Nola, spent her Spring semester in Sevilla, Spain, and a reunion was much needed. Little did we realize that the New Orleans Food & Wine Experience would coincidentally lie on the same weekend as my visit!

Before I arrived, Ashley and I already established that the weekend had to revolve around really good New Orleans food. And oh, did we keep that promise.
Friday night was spent at Liuzza's, a hole-in-the-wall local treasure. Ashley's family assured me that they're known for their frosted beer mugs and po boys. So, of course, I ordered both. Plus a cup of gumbo. The meal was authentic, simple and satisfying! My favorite part of dinner was learning that our waitress worked at Liuzza's when Ashley's dad was in high school. Talk about dedication.
Brocato's was calling our name for dessert. I got half salted caramel and half stracciatella (Italian chocolate chip) gelato. Yum.
After a morning shopping on Magazine Street the next morning, we had an unbelievable lunch at Borgne, which I just critiqued here.
Before our evening out, we grabbed a drink at Oak Wine Bar. Seriously, hand me a cocktail and a cheese plate, and I'll be your best friend.
The highlight of our New Orleans weekend was the Funkin' It Up with John Besh event featuring celebrity chefs and top-of-the-line food. I was invited through a fun food blogger connection and felt so honored to be included in such a prominent event for the New Orleans Food & Wine Experience.
Ashley and I traveled from station to station around the Hyatt Regency to taste impeccable dishes by renowned chefs from Miami and New York to New Orleans and Oxford, Mississippi. We even snapped photos with Chef John Besh of Luke and Borgne and Chef Aarón Sanchéz, a judge on Food Network's Chopped. Yes, I was and still am starstruck.


Beautiful asparagus gazpacho


Borgne (New Orleans)

After attending Chef John Besh's nola takeover in austin, he instantly became a culinary favorite of mine. Besh knows French creole cuisine. And he does it well.
Borgne is John Besh's newest of nine restaurants in New Orleans. Besh worked with Executive Chef Brian Landry, whom I both met over the course of the weekend (still starstruck!). Their talents merged a few years ago, and Borgne was born.
Ashley and I received incredible service by the Borgne staff as soon as we walked through the doors. We were coincidentally seated by a Memphis high school acquaintance of mine and immediately introduced to our lovely waiter, restaurant manager, and Chef Brian Landry himself.
I loved the Louisiana oyster columns that anchored the restaurant's open structure. The bar area created a sports-bar feel with flat screens and LSU baseball playing behind our table. But the large booths and natural sunlight also added to a casual dining experience.
Borgne's menu is "a celebration of all that the local waterways have to offer" with sustainable seafood and artistic preparation. The playful, handwritten comments along the menu margins add to Besh and Landry's personal touches on classic dishes. After ordering GIANT bloody marys, we decided to keep the meal on the lighter side by ordering primarily appetizers instead of entrees.

We began with a warm rosemary baguette wrapped in a brown paper bag with the Borgne logo. Loved that extra touch!

The appetizers were top-notch. I ordered half a dozen oysters on the half shell...and I am 100% serious when I say that these were the largest oysters I had ever eaten! If you thought that oysters were supposed to fit on a saltine cracker...well, you're wrong. These were twice the size of the cracker. I was in heaven.
Garlic clove shrimp arrived next in a small cast iron dish with piquillo pepper, sherry, cherry tomatoes and herbs. The shrimp fell out of their shells effortlessly. The crostini tasted burnt instead of toasted, but I took the rosemary baguette instead to soak up the garlicky broth.
The staff additionally brought us the top-selling appetizer on the menu: duck poppers with jalapeño and bacon on a bed of fresh groat cheese. I would have never, ever ordered this dish since I'm a seafood gal. But it was damn good. Smoky, rich, and a popper of flavor!

The jumbo lump crabmeat and beet salad was divine. The simplistic ingredients went super well together...who woulda thought! And sesame chips, placed beautifully across the plate, were the perfect size to scoop up the salad's ingredients. While the horseradish dressing was creamy, it was tangy and refreshing.

I still cannot believe they brought us complimentary dessert. I was so stuffed by that point! But this chocolate hazelnut pudding with condensed milk sorbet and baby meringues was too good to pass up. The pudding was perfectly smooth, and I enjoyed the crunch from the nuts and meringues. Plus, how cute is the mason jar presentation...
Although I knew before my lunch that I'd leave satisfied, I never imagined such exceptional service and dishes. This meal goes down in my New Orleans visiting history. I cannot wait to come back down.

Chef John Besh Takeover (Austin)


I'm so thrilled I got a taste of Austin's infamous Food & Wine Festival that takes place every Spring at Butler Park. I'm saving up the big bucks for next April as my last Austin-y event before Graduation, but last night was a perfect introduction to the conglomeration of culinary talent here in Austin.

As you all know, I'm a huge fan of New Orleans. I cannot wait to visit next month. Somehow, Chef John Besh's PR rep came across my blog due to my constant chatter about New Orleans and my membership in the Austin Food Blogger Alliance. John Besh is the owner of over half a dozen restaurants throughout the city of New Orleans (including Domenica in the Roosevelt Hotel and Luke). I recently learned that he opened a second Luke Restaurant on the San Antonio Riverwalk, which I cannot wait to try when my friends and I road trip in the fall.

The event Saturday night celebrated and promoted John Besh's newest culinary appearance in the state of Texas. His Luke menu was presented in food stations on the roof of Whole Foods and, man, was it fabulous. A New Orleans band in the background, super friendly staff, a breezy April sunset, and addicting cajun food...I could not have asked for a better last Saturday night in Austin before Summer.

Enjoy the photos (sorry there are so many!) and check out John Besh's skills. They're pretty unbeatable in this cuisine.

shrimp, cucumber, dill appetizer

shrimp boil with snap peas, potatoes, mushrooms and artichokes

peelin' em and eatin' em

great band.

freshly shucked oysters with crawfish potato salad, crawfish pasta

bananas foster masters