My Katrina Before and After

I was sitting at the bar of the Dave & Buster’s on Rockville Pike attempting to “celebrate” my brother’s birthday, and it was not happening. My parents, busy minding him and his friends, had left me to my own devices. He and his best friend both came up, separately, and put a hand on my shoulder asking if I was alright. Of course I was. “Don’t worry,” I said. “Go have fun.”

Hurricane Katrina made landfall in Louisiana on August 29, 2005. If you know Adrian, please greet him this Saturday. Anyone whose birthday is eclipsed by national tragedy knows the feeling of guilt for celebrating yourself and the feeling of being forgotten by your friends. (Sidebar: Apologies to my friend Katrina, whose name was appropriated by the hurricane.)

I was sitting at the bar – mind you I was 20 at the time – watching the coverage of Hurricane Katrina, drinking rum mechanically. I was trying not to burst into tears. I felt selfish and stupid. I was safe, evacuated, surrounded by family. Why was I upset? “You’re not even from New Orleans, you just go to school there,” I kept telling myself.

After a few rounds, the bartender, prepared to hear about school or a girl or some other mundane problem, asked me what was wrong.

“That’s my city,” I barely whispered. I felt the words escape my lips as if someone else said them. It was the first time I referred to New Orleans as something that was mine.

I kind of sat there, drunk and stupefied, so naturally she said “Wait, are you even 21? Let me see your ID!”

Eyes glued to the TV screens above her bar, glass of rum firmly in hand, I reached back with my free hand and gave my wallet to her.

She looked at the ID, sighed, and slid the bottle of rum over to me. “Just don’t tell them I served you, okay? I’m sorry about New Orleans. It’s a great city.”

I left her a cash tip, obviously.

Katrina changed the way I felt about New Orleans. Katrina made me realize how I felt about New Orleans. For real.

If you ever want to know how someone feels about something or someone, deprive them of that thing or person for four months, and see how they react.

As a dumb teenager in college, I looked at New Orleans as a playground. Coming back from four months away opened my eyes to the reality of the city.

I knew that bars stayed open late. I didn’t know that some bars stayed open through the storm, serving beer out of coolers by candlelight, to give their customers physical and emotional shelter, a feeling of safety and familiarity during chaos.

I knew that locals were kind. I did not know that some locals, after boarding up their houses against invaders, boarded up their neighbors’ houses and sat on their porches, ready to protect their neighborhoods.

I knew that New Orleanians let the good times roll. I did not know that New Orleanians stand by their city through the bad times, blinded by love, fighting not to leave and always, always fighting to return.

I was talking to a friend yesterday about the decade anniversary of the hurricane, and he finds it funny how everyone gets involved now because it’s 10 years. “People who live here live with the reality of Katrina every day. I see it in my neighborhood. Every day.” He’s right.

As a city, NOLA had problems. C’mon, NOLA still has problems. I happen to prefer its problems to the problems of other cities. And I respect all the solutions, however haphazard and harebrained, that citizens attempt to solve those problems with.

My barber and friend once told me I was New Orleans. I laughed, thinking he was mocking me. I told him he was New Orleans. He grew up in The East, and he went to Marion Abramson High School. I grew up in the DC metro area, and I went to what would be the equivalent of Jesuit.

I’ll never forget this. He paused the haircut, looked me square in the eyes and said, “Drew, New Orleans isn’t just the people who grow up here and never leave. It’s also the people who come here and stay. A melting pot. A gumbo. That’s New Orleans.”

I wanted a glass of rum on that flight in January 2006, but the flight attendant wouldn’t serve me. I wanted it to celebrate the return, to drink to those who had been lost to the storm, and to relax myself because I wasn’t sure how I’d feel seeing New Orleans again.

Looking down at the city from the plane, I saw the familiar streets and trees and something new… a blanket of blue tarps over almost every roof. “They’re going to fix this,” I thought.

The thought shifted. “We’re going to fix this.”

When that flight touched down at MSY, I heard myself say suddenly and permanently: I’m home.

How to survive a hangover

Ice Bucket Challenge

Make your donations at or #TeamGleason #NoWhiteFlags #IceBucketChallenge #StrikeOutALS

Why Robin Williams’s Passing Affects Us

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 their movies or songs. 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.

"O Captain! My Captain!"

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 a ‘90s update of a fairy godmother, Al’s genie godfather. 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. He came to the rescue of two children playing a game they didn’t understand. In this role, he was 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 with 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.

"Think one happy thought, and you'll fly like me..."

“Think one happy thought, and you’ll fly like me…”

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 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.


“Help is on the way, dear!”

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 many moments of joy and laughter, and in those, we can take comfort. Thank you for everything, Mr. Williams.

You ain't never had a friend like me.

You ain’t never had a friend like me.

Margarita Mix-Off Finalists!

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…


Square Root

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.

Guess what this is. I'll tell you later.

Guess what this is. I’ll tell you later.

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 CocktailGin, 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.

How they infuse their broth

How they infuse their mushroom stock

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.

Square Root

1800 Magazine Street

New Orleans, LA 70130


Tuesday – Saturday: 6:15pm to 8:45pm


La Petite Grocery

Blue Crab Beignets, photo courtesy of Blake Killian, instagram @blakemakes

Blue Crab Beignets, photo courtesy of Blake Killian, instagram @blakemakes

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.

La Petite Grocery

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