Saturday, August 25, 2012

A Foodie Honeymoon: Tuesday Lunch at Borgne

Okay, I will be frank: of all the Besh restaurants that we were going to be visiting, Borgne (pronounced "born") was the one I was nervous about.  I eat some seafood, but I am certainly not one of those people who are, like, "Hey! Let's go out for SEAFOOD!" Eww.  No.  If I happen to order seafood at a restaurant--great.  But there are very, very rare moments when I will actually look to do so.


Because most seafood just sucks.  It smells.  It's slimy.  It tastes like I'm sucking out of a tide pool.  With seafood, I always have a difficult time not imagining (vividly) what I am eating, and that strikes a squeamy type of fear into my gut.  Kind-of like with eating an animal's organs.  No, okay, that's way worse.  But anyway.  It's just not how I want to treat my taste buds, spend my money, or impact my psyche.

I kept telling myself as we walked to Borgne that this, of all places, was the place for me to eat something that I was afraid of.  If I didn't try something here, I'd be selling myself short.  I determined to do so and took a big breath as we entered into the restaurant.

Borgne in New Orleans, LA

The decor was quite cool, modern without a hint of boat or dock paraphernalia, and the atmosphere was pretty casual.  Huge chalkboards displayed whimsical artwork of Lake Borgne and jazz players.   The building columns were wrapped with wire mesh and filled with oyster shells.

Here was a seafood restaurant that made eating seafood seem like it was the coolest and most natural thing in the world to do, and if I didn't do it, I was seriously missing out.

But I was still nervous.  And then up walked Billie.

Billie was one of those waitresses that as soon as you met her, you were relieved.  She knew everything.  She knew the beers.  She knew the food.  She knew what was in the food and where it came from and what it tasted like.  When she discovered that she was waiting on two foodies on their honeymoon, she really started to warm up.

To start, Chef Reiton ordered the local Abita IPA, and I went for Abita's farmhouse ale.  I was so excited to hear that they had one! And when it came to the table, I got even more excited.

At this point I went to check out the bathroom (beautiful), and when I returned, Chef Reiton was discussing an appetizer with Billie: broiled Louisiana oysters on the half shell with spicy garlic butter, bread crumbs, and a bit of Parmesan.  I gulped.  My only oyster experience had been 1) at a friend's home in ILLINOIS, 2) raw, and 3) disgusting.  But again--here we were in seafood country at a restaurant that is renowned for its cooking of seafood...AND these oysters were cooked.  Hmmm. We looked at each other and said, "Let's do it."  

We decided to wait to order the entrees until we knew if we liked the oysters, so in the meantime, Billie brought us a bottle of water, a paper bag of warm fennel bread, and a dish of softened butter.

We munched and drank and talked and took pictures.  And then Billie appeared again--this time with a bowl of gazpacho.  "I want you to try this," she said, and placed a brilliantly hued soup in front of me.

I had never had a cold soup before, and this one was created with yellow tomatoes.  I believe there may have been a bit of yellow pepper in it as well; but what I loved the most was the flavor added by the watermelon chunks at the bottom of the bowl.  What a deliciously light way to get the stomach ready for what was to come:

(My picture isn't very good and in no way does the flavor of this dish any justice.)

I have to admit, my first bite was timid, but within the five seconds of my first few chews, my fear was gone.  Roasting had taken the slime that I was afraid of and eliminated it.  What was left was a delicate softness that slowly melted into nothingness as I chewed.  Being Gulf freshwater oysters, there was not a hint of brine, thank God.  The butter and pepper added some depth, and the breadcrumbs added some body.  I found myself actually enjoying them.

I glanced at Chef Reiton.  He looked to be enjoying them, too.  "I can't believe I'm eating oysters," I said.  "These don't taste anything like what I had before."  

He nodded.  "They are good."  As we were each going for the last one, we suddenly remembered: we hadn't taken a picture! Imagine missing out on our experience!

When Billie returned to clear our shells, we exclaimed at how surprised we were at the flavor, the texture, the complete absence of our preconceived notions of what these oysters would be. She smiled and nodded.  "So what do you think you'll have for your main course?"

Chef Reiton decided to go for an Abita Andygator Helles Dopplebock and another oyster dish with the oyster spaghetti.  Billie told us that it was Besh's favorite dish on the menu.  I was sold on the Tuesday lunch special: cochon de leche (pork braised in milk), served over garlic mashed potatoes and roasted veggies; Billie was very excited about that choice.

Because we love to cook, which is truly a scientific art form, Chef Reiton and I analyze everything that we are served.  We try to pick out the combination of flavors used in what we are eating and strive to educate ourselves when we aren't sure what something is.  

The oyster spaghetti was spaghetti tossed with steamed oysters in your typical butter/oyster juice/wine sauce, but here, cream was added, coating the pasta and oysters and settling into a delicious little pool in the bottom of the bowl.  Scattered on top were shavings of parmesan, purple basil, and--little green things???

We weren't sure what they were.  They had a very bright, green taste, almost like a bean, but yet they looked a bit like seaweed.  Upon consulting with Billie we learned we were half correct on both analyses.  What we were eating were sea beans, an aquatic plant of the succulent family that grows in salt marshes and on beaches (see Wikipedia:  They were delicious and added a brightness to what could have been a heavy dish.

My dish was so not a summer dish, but I could not believe how happy I was as I ate it.  Piled on top of a bed of roasted eggplant, mushrooms, carrots, and white cubes that I didn't know were the smoothest garlic mashed potatoes I had ever eaten, lightly interlaced with herbs and olive oil.  Spooned over the potatoes was pork that had braised in milk until it completely fell apart, the juices and milk marrying into a gravy that surrounded tender shreds of meat, mild in flavor and almost sweet.  Chives and baby beet greens were scattered on top.  

Our forks kept intersecting as we reached for tastes of the other's dish.  "I can't place the flavors of my pork," I mumbled between mouthfuls.  "I feel like it's maybe nutmeg? Or pumpkin pie spice? Something that's in baked goods, and it's reminiscent of something sweet." Chef Reiton agreed, but we just couldn't put our finger on it.

Billie once again came to our aid.  Her eyes brightened when she heard the word "nutmeg" come out of my mouth; you could tell she was enjoying having someone who was appreciating the food for what it was.  "There is nutmeg in there," she said. "And the other spice is clove."

"Clove!" Chef Reiton and I both exclaimed together as I banged on the table.  "I couldn't get it!" I told Billie.  "I knew something in baking, but I could not place it.  Everything is just so perfectly balanced and hinted at.  It all compliments each other so well!"  Ohhh, the art of proportions--that's something that I need work on.  I'm slowly learning that I need to back off on things.  Just because I like it doesn't mean to put a shitload of it in my food.

"And what are these?" I asked, poking a white rectangular cube.  "Is that turnip?"

"It's fennel," Billie answered. 

"Fennel!" I like to repeat things when I am surprised.  I'd never had roasted fennel because I couldn't imagine it, but roasting completely changes the flavor; it loses that licorice-y taste.  So yummy.  I am now going to roast myself some fennel for Thanksgiving.

When we could eat no more, Billie came to clear our plates.  "Dessert?" she asked, and we groaned.  "How about coffee," she suggested, and so we conceded.  I don't think either of us wanted to leave just yet.  

A few minutes later a delightful little coffee set-up was placed on the table.  As we prepared our coffees and continued to talk about our meal, Billie reappeared and placed two tiny glasses on the table.  "It's honeyed rum," she said.  "It's absolutely delicious."

Chef Reiton looked at it and turned green.  "I don't know if I can drink that," he said.  (One very bad rum experience long, long ago...)

"It's really mild and mellow," Billie said.  "It doesn't taste anything like what you'd expect."

I eagerly grabbed my glass.  I'll drink anything, but you all already knew that.  A tilt of the tiny glass sent a thrill down my throat.  "Dear God, that is so delicious," I said, wide-eyed.  Chef Reiton looked at me dubiously.

"Just try it," I said.  "It really doesn't taste like rum.  It doesn't even taste like alcohol.  It's amazing!"

I don't think I've ever seen anyone take a tinier sip, but within two minutes, it was gone.  Delicious, we both concurred.  Unbelievably so.

And, so, our first seafood experience and second Besh excursion was wrapping up.  We sat in complete content for a few minutes before thanking Billie profusely and wandering towards the front door.  There we were met by the manager, who got an earful of how great our Besh experiences had been so far. When he found out our trip goal and that we were going to Besh Steak that evening, he said, "The general manager for Besh Steak is right over there eating lunch.  Go introduce yourselves!"

We quickly declined, wanting the man to eat his lunch in peace.  So the manager asked for our names and said he would pass them on.  We thanked him and headed out into the New Orleans summer heat.  As we walked down the sidewalk, sighing with pleasure and looking forward to a swim back at the hotel, I couldn't help but feel a happy premonition of the evening to come.

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