Sunday, August 26, 2007

Parlor Tricks and Bellyaches

Sometimes I think it's ridiculous that everyone goes on and on about a certain breed of New Orleans restaurant. We went out last night to a goodbye dinner for a friend at Clancy's, an old Creole place tucked into an uptown residential neighborhood, the faded sign hanging outside suggesting low-key friendliness, the lack of music and packed tables more about a happy cafeteria than fine-dining. But fine-dining it is, with entrees priced around $25.

Aperatifs were good, and the appetizers were very good, although harbingers of what was to come. Fried eggplant sticks with aioli (the eggplant had little flavor, but the aioli was dynamite), oysters in brie, fried green tomatoes in hollandais, and maybe the best thing, creole tomatoes and a perfect buffalo mozzarella.

Unless you're eating a steak, the quality of which is very high in a place like Clancy's, (and of course I'm not eating steak), then you end up eating something that falls into the category of culinary cheap parlor tricks. Tons of chefs down here are guilty. Take anything, an old rubber ball, cook it in butter and serve it with cream. It would taste great! All of the old creole places do this sort of thing. Antoine's, Galatoire's, you name it. The food tastes good and is masterfully prepared, but shows no culinary artistry.

But the experience of dining is more than eating something that tastes good. It's about anticipation, gratification, and a sort of post-coital food bliss where one should not feel as though one has been punched in the stomach, but simply content. On top of that, good conversation, stimulated by good wine, makes the meal. By the time I got through my eggplant, which reminded me too much of bar-food mozzarella sticks to take seriously, I could only manage a bite or two of a heavily salted/buttered/creamed lobster risotto. Everyone at the table conversed with the person or persons they arrived with. We might as well have had dinner on our own, someplace better and less ungodly expensive, and walked away with a fine food glow.

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