I’m not usually fazed by celebrity deaths. Usually at the most I think, “That’s a shame. He or she was very talented.” I call to mind movies or songs by that person. And then I usually move on with my day. After all, I didn’t know the celebrity personally. Of course, we always feel like we know them because of the familiarity on our TVs and radios.
I was walking somewhere when I saw the headline that Robin Williams had passed away. I stopped. I paused. I started walking again, mechanically, and a few minutes later I realized that something was different.
Robin Williams was a huge part of my childhood. I know I’m not alone in that. My social media feeds have exploded in ways I’ve never seen before. With him gone, childhood feels so much further away.
I think the reason his death feels so real and painful isn’t because, like all deaths, it’s a reminder of our mortality. The reason is because, in some ways, his passing represents the passing away of our collective childhood. The word “childhood” is the one I’ve seen associated most with this brilliant man in everyone’s tributes.
His filmography is so vast I won’t even try to mention every role. But I will mention the ones that come to mind, for me, most immediately.
Despite being a great comedic genius, a lot of his work felt heartfelt and genuine. Maybe it’s because most of my friends are my generation that I’ve seen so many postings on Facebook and Twitter about him.
Robin Williams, through his characters, was a surrogate parent for many of us. He was a father figure… and famously a mother figure as well.
In Aladdin, he was The Genie, a ‘90s update of a Fairy Godfather in essence. His impact wasn’t the fact that he granted Al’s three wishes—The impact was that he genuinely wanted Al to be happy. (Images of Genie and Aladdin hugging are all over social media right now, unsurprisingly.)
He was the therapist in Good Will Hunting and the teacher in Dead Poets Society. In Jumanji, he was the grown version of a young boy trapped in a board game… And he came to the rescue of two children playing a game they didn’t understand. In this way, simultaneously a child and a leader—Sound familiar yet? In Hook, he was Peter Pan grown-up… a man out of touch with his past and his children. He rescued them, of course. Perhaps most poignantly, he was a recently deceased man searching the afterlife for his wife and children in What Dreams May Come.
He also took on roles that in less capable hands would’ve been completely farcical or downright offensive. Not many actors could have brought both the camp and sincerity to the gay father in The Birdcage. (I suppose all those years ago Robin Williams taught us that you could be a gay icon without actually being gay or a diva.)
And don’t pretend you could imagine anyone else in the role of Mrs. Doubtfire. A key part of a good disguise story is—If you met someone you knew and loved and they didn’t recognize you, would they grow to love you? Would your appearance matter, or would they connect with the person inside?
I’m rambling, but Robin Williams through his characters sent any kid who watched these movies an important lesson. His characters, those surrogate parents, would love their children unconditionally and despite any odds: I will encourage you to follow your dreams. I will trek through the jungle or fly across the island to save you. I will disguise myself as a British woman just to be near you. I will help you win the princess’s heart. I will pretend to be straight so you can marry the princess. I will go through hell, literally, to find you and reunite our family.
This is why people are so touched by his passing. I think the more movies you’ve seen him in, the more heartwrenching this is. A man who brought such great joy to so many might have passed away in such a tragic way. His death is confirmed but what is suspected – not yet confirmed – is that it was a suicide. Please, if you are facing depression, don’t go through it alone. Seek help from your loved ones or professionally if necessary.
I know I’m not the only one watching Robin Williams movies this week or searching clips on YouTube. He has left us. But he has left behind so moments of joy and laughter, and in those, we can take comfort. Thank you for everything, Mr. Williams.
I moonlight as the cocktail writer for Where Y’at Magazine.
Tonight I judged the Cazadores/Cointreau Margarita Mix-Off.
We had over 130 applicants.Congrats to our finalists: Al Martin of Red Fish Grill, Kenny Thompson of Grand Isle, and Matthew Steinvorth of Sazerac Bar!
See y’all at Fulton Alley for the Finals…
SPOILER ALERT: Square Root’s entire opening menu revealed, dissected.
Sixteen seats. Open kitchen. Square plate settings. Chef Philip Lopez and GM Maximilian Ortiz’s Square Root is a beautiful space inside what was once a bakery for the Irish and Italian catholic communities and was most recently a furniture store. Their first restaurant, “Root,” opened in 2011, and yes, sometimes the sequel is better than the original. The restaurant clearly takes its inspiration from the late El Bulli but at a mere fraction of the price.
Upstairs houses “Root Squared,” a bar that serves small plates and functions as an excellent waiting/pre-game area as well as a lounge for once you finish your dinner.
You have to give a credit card to hold your reservation, but the charge includes tax and tip. Beverage service is separate (with no gratuity included). Your beverage service is a pairing menu of wines, fine wines, cocktails, non-alcoholic beverages, or “mixed drinks,” which means a combo of wines and cocktails. Should you choose either wine tasting option, you end up drinking (in total) the equivalent of a bottle of wine. I settled on the mix pairing because I enjoy both wines and cocktails.
Seating is done four times a night in staggered waves. If you’re anyone but the first seating, you get to see several meals in progress. The open kitchen brings every dish to life in front of you. So you get to see a taste of things to come (the future), other diners enjoying courses you’ve already had (the past), and your own meal (the present). As an alum of an open kitchen, I am so impressed because the chef and his team are literally cooking in the middle of a circle, um, SQUARE, of diners.
I don’t usually recommend going to a restaurant the first night. Having worked service industry in several capacities, I know how many things can go wrong at the beginning. I even told a cook at one point, “I can slow down if you want to serve me and the other two [diners seated at the same time as me] all together.”
His response: “We need the practice.”
Practice makes perfect, and it’s showing this team has practiced a lot.
The menu was ~16 courses with a variable number of pairings. (Also, all the plates and bowls are different for each course. They must have at least 50 different sets to accommodate future dishes.) Sit down and get comfortable. This recap will take a while.
The meal starts off with an unapologetic blast of flavor. Lobster Mousse atop a “Lobster Chicarron” (like an elevated Asian prawn cracker) topped with tarragon caviar. Way more salt and flavor than I’d expect for a first dish. Definitely not a mild amuse bouche. A surprising amount of flavors, textures, and temperatures kick in motion a meal that will continue to provide those and more surprises. Pairing: Summer Shandy.
Nduja Spread on flatbread cracker is up next. Clearly a throwback to Root’s housemade sausage program. Pumpkin seeds garnish it.
The next dish is a play on “Southern Fried Chicken,” inspired by Chef Kelly English, a southern picnic, and Tennessee? Lots of great flavor and texture but I was not impressed with the surprisingly hard cracker(?) on which everything else balanced.
Oysters, Charred Bone Marrow Tartare, blood orange mignonette, buttermilk horseradish “ice.” Beautiful sight and blend of flavors and textures. Yes, I tasted the seaweed underneath the shell. Pairing: An exceptionally smooth Sake I can’t pronounce but that star sommelier Liz Dowty can.
Soup of Seared Potato, Potato Crisp, Truffle-Pickled Peaches, Smoked Caviar, and Vermouth Gelee in a creamy but light broth. This is also the first course to include a utensil! One note: More liquid would make it easier to spoon the solid components. Pairing: Carpano Bianco Vermouth. (The savory/sweet contrast is brilliant.)
Petrified Leafy Greens, toasted coriander lime spuma, pea puree, compressed cucumber, pickled seeds. A vegetarian dish? Now we’re somewhere in the east. The spuma calls to mind yogurt, and the cucumber and coriander do the rest.
PAUSE: Palate Cleanser Cocktail – Gin, hibiscus, coriander, pink peppercorn. Stop reading. Stretch. We still have a ways to go.
Tendon Two Ways: Pickled and Chicharron. Tabouleh. Radish gelee. Calabaza squash oil. Togarashi. Showing off how a protein can be insanely different based on prep. More international flavor blending. Pairing: Greek wine that especially complimented the oil.
“Faux Gras.” Umebashi? Strawberries made into an amazing (dipping-dots-like) dish. A thin marble rye crouton for texture. And yes, there is a bit of actual foie gras in it. Is anything more French than foie gras and cognac? Pairing: Dessert wine from the cognac region of France, with nice thornbush/almond notes. This cold dish and cold drink bring a rush of energy.
Duck Breast seared in black pepper and allspice. Duck Tortellini with fennel fronds in the pasta dough. Mushroom stock and dashi infused with aromatics laboratory-style. Japan! (All things I love, by the way.) A fork, knife, and spoon. Multiple utensils! Pairing: Lambrusco
PAUSE. Intermezzo of Compressed Granny Apples and Passion Fruit Granita, microgreens, and a hint of lemon juice and zest.
Now we’re in the Mediterranean. Honey-poached Sablefish. Dates. Sunchoke. Roast chutney. More honey to finish. Pairing: Suave of Gargano-Trebbiano.
A dish inspired by Chef Lopez’s mother: Chilaquiles with sous-vide Lobster finished in butter, citrus and coriander. Lobster Mole. The meat was a tad chewy so perhaps a lean lobster, but every other component on the plate was fantastic. “When I was growing up, we couldn’t afford lobster,” he says with a smile. Pairing: Grüner Veltliner.
Roasted Pheasant Roulade, medium rare. Johnny Rock Cake. (Dehydrated) Corn Kernels? Shaved truffle. A corn velouté to finish. A bird-and-corn inspired dish. I hope next time they serve Cornish hen to complete the wordplay. Pairing: Chenin Blanc with sweet corn notes. Of course.
Wagyu Beef covered in miso and seared. Bone marrow emulsion. Iced-blanched squash. Hazelnut. Balsamic vinegar drizzle. Made for the meat lover. Served on dishes made out of burnt wood, in a Japanese method. And the wood came from Root. Back to Japan! Pairing: Green Flash West Coast IPA.
PAUSE: Now that those courses are done, the silverware is replaced with gold spoons for the desserts. Chef Lopez is a rare type who can do pastry as well.
Granny Smith Apple Sorbet. More Granny Smith apples dehydrated, powdered, and baked into meringue. On a bed of puffy grains. Tarragon. In a weird/good way, this reminded me of Apple Jacks cereal from childhood. Pairing: Basque Region Cider.
That egg picture up top? Did you guess what it was? I used to spherify ACE juice into an “yolk,” place it in the middle of banana yogurt, sprinkle raw sugar around, brûlée the sugar, and call it a “fried egg” dessert. I thought I was clever…
Chef Lopez has upped the ante by serving an “Incredible, Edible Egg,” laid no doubt by the golden goose that gave those dessert spoons the Midas Touch. These are brought out in six-pack egg cartons. The egg is then placed atop candied almonds. Inside the egg is a cold, caramel-like toasted-egg-yolk curd. The shell is cracked in front of you, and it’s made of invert sugar (to withstand NOLA’s humidity). The “shell” is edible. The only remotely minor flaw is the one other component on top. Not sure what it was, but it was sticky and chewy and definitely not for anyone with sensitive teeth or dentures. Pairing: Valdez Amontillado Sherry.
Some people might balk at the price ($150 per person) but for 12-16 courses, that is a steal. A diner who’s never worked in a restaurant might think ingredients make a meal expensive. (For the record, the ingredients alone would be worth the price tag.) But it’s the time and effort that a kitchen puts into dishes that make them expensive. Every dish could have its ingredients chopped in half (size wise or variety wise) and still be delicious. If you have the money to spend on a long, leisurely dinner, this is a steal.
The excellent service is a bonus. The staff was running on adrenaline yet pleasant, making small talk with customers and learning their names. More importantly, should you have any dining restrictions, the staff will accommodate them.
Randomly the soundtrack is just as eclectic as the menu, and even the upstairs bathroom is engineered to impress. You literally cannot run out of toilet paper. If you go, you’ll see what I mean.
I was hesitant and skeptical. Square Root is an experience and, nitpicking aside, the most impressive opening I’ve ever seen a restaurant do. Easily one of the top five best fine dining meals I’ve had in New Orleans. Thanks for reading ‘til the end.
1800 Magazine Street
New Orleans, LA 70130
Tuesday – Saturday: 6:15pm to 8:45pm
BY RESERVATION ONLY
So the other night I made a long overdue return to La Petite Grocery. LPG is helmed by Chef Justin Devillier, who worked in a other New Orleans kitchens before ascending the ranks of LPG and, after Hurricane Katrina, purchasing ownership of the restaurant with his wife and general manager, Mia. Although the menu changes seasonally, Chef Devillier’s talent for flavorful, technique-savvy yet non-fussy cuisine is consistent. Here’s a recap of my dinner:
Blue Crab Beignets, like most of his dishes, reflect Chef Devillier’s love of seafood and attention to detail. They’re served with a pleasant malt vinegar aioli (read: actual whisked aioli, not just mayonnaise with garlic chopped into it) and are pretty addictive.
Steak Tartare is prepared in the classic French style with the addition of ghost pepper bowfin caviar on top and crème fraiche on the side, a nice touch which allows the diner to control the spicy and creamy by simply pushing them away with knife and fork. For the record, I finished everything. Also, ghost pepper caviar seems a bit trendy these days. In less capable hands, it overpowers every other flavor in a dish, aka a mess. This is the correct way to use it.
The restaurant often serves an assortment of chilled seafood from the gulf with a mainstay side item of pickled quail eggs. (Try those, they’re great.) But one special of this particular evening was a Crudo of Wild Striped Bass dressed with celery, pickle brine, and fresh dill. I could probably eat an entire bass prepared this way. Simple. Delicious. Not fussy.
The pasta special was Lobster Roe Fettuccine, meaning the roe had been kneaded into the pasta itself—LPG handmakes all of its pasta in-house. This not only tasted good –How could it not?– but looked especially nice, topped with Florida bottarga, red Russian cabbage, and a garnish of beautiful, little onion flowers.
I had one entrée, which was recommended. And I’m glad it was recommended because I’d never have ordered it otherwise. Chicken Breast. Unless it’s a restaurant’s specialty, I almost never order chicken in restaurants. Safe. Boring. Something I could cook at home. This menu item is a winter dish that’s lasted into spring because it’s spectacular. The breast is roasted to juicy, fork-tender perfection. No one needs to sous-vide anything. The skin is crispy with the fat practically rendered off. I love fried chicken as much of the next person, but this is an argument in favor of roasting being a debatably superior and certainly more difficult technique. Also there was fluffy, airy cornbread dressing which tasted (bear with me) like the best corndog you’ve ever had. And fried sage and tasso jus finish off the dish. I’ve never seen a more elegant plate of poultry and stuffing. I’m done now.
Dessert was Cane Cream Puffs with candied peanuts and chocolate syrup. Simple, not too sweet. Basically a really good sundae and a nice way to finish a great meal. LPG has a nice wine list also –I sipped on an easy Vietti Barbera D’Asti through dinner– and makes killer Manhattans.
If I haven’t convinced you, Chef Devillier is a repeat nominee for the James Beard award for Best Chef South. I expect great things in the future. Wish him luck this year, and go try the place. You can thank me later.
4238 Magazine Street
New Orleans, LA 70115
Lunch: Tuesday-Saturday 11:30-2:30
Dinner: Sunday-Thursday 5:30-9:30
Friday-Saturday 5:30 – 10:30
Sunday Brunch 10:30-2:30
I’m going to open this review by admitting that it’s difficult for me to be objective in it. Being Filipino-American, I spent a great deal of my childhood wondering why there existed no successful Filipino restaurant in the DC metro area, where I grew up amidst a thriving Filipino-American community. The past few years have seen an influx of Filipino restaurants in New York, California and other parts of the country. There exist plenty of excellent Filipino restaurants in the Philippines —obviously— and it’s hard to picture a major city that doesn’t have Chinese, Japanese, Thai, and Vietnamese food. So why has Filipino food taking so long to catch on in a country that has so much history and maintains such close, amicable political ties with the Philippines? The Philippines is the most westernized (Americanized?) country in Asia and utilizes American English as a second language, but our food hasn’t been big in the food scene. Until now.
I’m not going to answer the riddle of “Why aren’t there more Filipino restaurants?” That could be its own post. But I just wanted to say that, having grown up with the cooking of my family, I’m a pretty hard sell when it comes to Filipino food. If I can make it better and for cheaper, I probably won’t be impressed with a restaurant.
That being said, I’m so proud of Chef Cristina Quackenbush and her team for what they’ve done with Milkfish, taking it from a pop-up that’s travelled across the city to its new home in MidCity. Chef Cristina (no H… a very Filipino spelling of the name) has spent two years recreating and finessing her menu, and the hard work is showing. Dishes have gotten more beautifully plated. Vegetarian (perhaps vegan?) options have been added to a menu accurately reflecting a country’s love of pork and seafood.
Chef Cristina also devoted time and effort to fundraising for Typhoon Haiyan victims with both proceeds from her pop-up and from a Christmas gala last year with other local chefs. Money, I must add, that a more selfish person would have put toward opening her restaurant. Having patronized Milkfish in all its incarnations, I can bring you a full review of their current menu. Let’s start with the small plates:
Lumpia is the Filipino equivalent of an egg roll. Filipino cuisine has many influences—Malaysia, China, The USA, Spain… You can also find some influence from other countries like India (e.g. curry) but I’d say those are the four primary sources. The “Lumpia” at Milkfish comes in “regular” form, in the shape and size you’d expect and also in “Shanghai,” named after an obvious influence, which is meat-heavy and a little smaller than a pinky finger.
Lechon Kawali is pork belly that’s cut into cubes and deep-fried until crispy. Not for those watching their cholesterol but a great treat, especially with beer.
Kinilaw is the equivalent of ceviche, but think of coconut milk, green mango, and fresh chili. Island flavors. Extremely refreshing, it will make you think you’re on a beach. It always makes me want a rum cocktail.
Sinigang is another signature Filipino dish. It’s a tamarind broth soup that can contain pretty much any protein—in this case pork—and always comes with some form of cruciferous greens—in this case bok choy and spinach. If you like Tom Yum, it’s that kind of sour flavor but without being (as) spicy.
Bagoong Fried Rice. Bagoong is fermented shrimp paste and, to me, the signature flavor of southeast Asia. No other cuisines really use it outside of the region. I happen to LOVE it since I grew up Filipino-American, but it has a very potent smell. The deep umami taste would probably convince other people to like it. The rice is fried in bagoong and has pork, garlic, egg, and green mango. I could eat a whole pot of this.
Spam Fried Rice. Any island involved with the United States has a love affair with Spam—I think American soldiers brought it over maybe? Also, it’s an import, so it’s obviously a delicacy. (Like the way we used to think of Nutella as being exotic and European until it became a grocery staple.) So just like Hawaii has Musubi, the Philippines has Spam Fried Rice. Onion, garlic, more egg. A great dish – as long as you like Spam – that reminds me of Filipino breakfast.
Veggie Fried Rice. I’m not going to explain this one.
Pulutan Sampler. A mix of lumpia and kawali with the addition of grilled chicken and crispy pig tail.
And for the Entrees, which almost all come with coconut rice or garlic fried rice:
Adobo. This is the Philippines’ signature dish. Like every Indian family has a unique curry recipe, every Filipino family has their adobo recipe. It always involves vinegar, garlic, black pepper, and soy sauce. It’s incredibly balanced, which is why I think everyone loves it. It’s available with chicken or pork (its two most famous proteins), but in the Philippines you can find endless versions involving everything from squid to lamb. Chef Cristina stews pork ribs until their meat is fork-tender. If you want to eat adobo the way my family does, order a combo of Chicken and Pork together.
Kare-Kare is my favorite. Oxtails stewed in peanut butter with eggplant, bok choy, and green beans. Think of it like a curry but without spices. It’s a wonderful dish that’s usually served with bagoong on the side, but chef incorporates it right into the dish. Beefy, hearty, and satisfying. If you want to be a difficult customer, order the “Andrew Special,” which is Kare-Kare served OVER Bagoong Fried Rice. Two birds. One stone.
Sisig is a dish born on American bases, when someone got creative with the leftover pig heads and concocted a sizzling mess of pork face, chicken liver, garlic, and calamansi (a tropical citrus similar to lime). It comes with a sunny-side up egg, that in truth I’ve always received with an accidentally solid yolk at Milkfish, but I’m not complaining. It goes very well with cold beer, and in Filipino lore, it’s supposed to be a hangover cure.
Bistek (“beefsteak”) is a beef dish that’s sautéed with onions and soy sauce. It comes with a side of tomato salad, which a lot of Filipino families use to supplement meat or fried fish dishes. Easy to like.
Diniguan, nicknamed “chocolate meat” for its color, is a pork stew made with pig’s blood and no chocolate. Chef makes one of the best versions of this dish I’ve had, but it’s not really my thing. (That’s just a personal opinion.) Lots of Filipinos love it, so it’s something for the adventurous diner.
Pancit is like Filipino chow mein, thin noodles with vegetables and your choice of meat or shrimp. Pancit Malabon is similar but with pork belly, seafood, and much thicker rice noodles. A Filipino superstition is eating this on your birthday for long life, so I ate it during Milkfish’s soft opening and wished them the same luck.
Pinakbet is pork and shrimp sautéed with bagoong and veggies. This dish doesn’t get as much love in most Filipino restaurants or kitchens, but I’d say it sums up the country nicely in terms of signature ingredients.
Tosilog is a portmanteau of tocino (cured Filipino bacon), sinangag (garlic fried rice), and itlog (egg). Filipinos refer to lots of breakfast dishes as ___silog. The Tocino, a sweetened pork, is cured in house, and this is a fantastic “breakfast for dinner” or Sunday Brunch suggestion.
Milkfish, or “Bangus” as we call it in Filipino, is the namesake of the restaurant and the Philippines’ national fish. It’s easily the most popular fish in the country. (There’s a whole chain of restaurants in the Philippines named “Bangus.”) Chef Cristina changes the preparation of this regularly, but I most recently had it in Ginataang Bangus, which means braised in coconut milk with slices of red cabbage and coconut rice. It’s fantastic, and the fish is sought for its visibly fatty belly. Definitely worth a try if you’re a seafood lover.
I admit I don’t know the dessert menu by heart, but Turon is plantains and jackfruit wrapped in lumpia wrappers and deep-fried. It’s not too sweet, thankfully. Maybe someday she’ll serve it over coconut ice cream, like a Filipino Bananas Foster.
Well, that’s all I have for you. I hope you go give Milkfish a try. I was worried I wouldn’t like the finished restaurant and nitpick everything to death and have to write a half-hearted post, but the team has done an amazing job. Things weren’t always so pretty—I’ve had overcooked pork belly and oily pancit in the pop-up past, but it looks like they’ve worked out all the kinks. I had the pleasure of dining with my friend Nina and her son Dan. As three Filipino-Americas of different generations, we were all satisfied… impressed even.
Milkfish is BYOB until they get their liquor license, but you should definitely take advantage of their freshly squeezed tropical juices. Bring some Batavia Arrack if you have it lying around.
125 N. Carrolton Avenue
New Orleans, LA 70119
Thursday – Tuesday: 11am – 11pm
I wrote #whyIhateNOLA for my friends. But more people than I expected read my little April Fools’ joke. I appreciate the outpouring of support and hatred from both locals and visitors. Thank you for all the feedback. It’s been a week since publication, so I decided to round up some of the most memorable commentary made on here, Facebook, and Twitter. Enjoy.
• i liken new orleans to an old comfy couch… once you sit down, you wont wanna get up…
• wtf? fasting growing city in the nation? this man must be frequenting the all night bars and smoking good weed.
• I’d introduce you to my niece but you would probably hate her too.
• If hate could be bottled it would be bottled in NOLA!
• F*** you ya little piece of c*** licking, ass**** sucking, c** juggling down your throat p****!!
• I’m confused. But it’s clever.
• Hate your title and refuse to read
• I couldn’t read it. The headline offended me.
• You’re a Nola cutie
• Now I can understand your life there, in the sub-tropics
• do you know what it means… to hate new orleans?
• Typical NOLA masochist.
• When he dies, he will be reincarnated @ least 4 times in…
• I hate he has a Tulane degree and hate was the best pun he could come up with to be witty. I hate that this dumb ass article will be popular.
• Proud of what? What does New Orleans has that is so much better then California?
• “it is better to live here in sackcloth and ashes than to own the whole state of Ohio.” ― Lafcadio Hearn
• And don’t forget to read the comments left afterwards.