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Katie Davis

@PopCultureCuisine

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Archive for the ‘Oysters’ Category

Monday, October 18, 2010 @ 02:10 PM

134Hey PCC’ers…sorry for the long delay between posts, but Adam and I just got back from a whirlwind tour of Central Florida and all the attractions, including its cuisine, so I’ve been a little out of the loop. However, I promise this week’s feature is worth the wait and a place that is a must visit for all you seafood lovers out there, and comes out of our last culinary whirlwind adventure to New Orleans in May. I have already featured two of those restaurants here and here, both of which we were a bit disappointed with. Still, I know there is good food to be had in ‘The Big Easy,’ and this next restaurant proves it.

Casamento’s Restaurant has been feeding the locals and visitors alike at its small but mighty restaurant located on the famed Magazine Street for over 80 years.  Started in 1919 by Joe Casamento, an Italian immigrant, they have been serving up great seafood and other local favorites in what customers have often referred to as a “giant swimming pool”…because of its tiling décor.  Apparently Joe realized tile would be easier to keep clean than various other materials, so he had the whole place tiled…and I mean EVERYTHING.  Still, regardless of the decor, it is the food that keeps bringing people back, especially their oysters, which they are famous for as the best (locally known). 

We first got wind of Casamento’s long after our first trip to the Big Easy.  In planning for our 2nd trip to New Orleans, we happened to catch this clip of Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives” and we were sold hook, line, and sinker…

 

You’ll notice from the video clip that Guy mentions their unusual schedule.  In fact, they are closed June, July, and August, opening back up in Mid September; and although I’m sure this is disappointing to their customers, they do it for good reason…most of their prime seafood is out of season, so they really would not provide a good product. Also, because this place stays so busy, they likely are also in need of a major break!  Lucky for us, we caught them one week before they went on vacation, but we still got to wait in a pretty gnarly lunch line…!

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Pretty unassuming from the front, but you really do get the sense you are in a swimming pool when you enter those doors.  It is a fairly narrow building, much like many of the restaurants in New Orleans (hey…they’re old ;)).  The line you stand in makes its way through the restaurant and right next to the oyster bar.  What is so cool about this is that you are able to watch them shuck hundreds of oysters while you are standing there and you can even order them while you’re waiting. 

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I mean if that is not fresh, I am not sure what is….from cooler to plate in just under a minute if not less.

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…and that there is the same guy who was shucking all those oysters in the clip too. He is not only their best, but an oyster shucking champion! And I will agree he is mighty fast. 

After my last experience with oysters at Acme Oyster House, I have to say I was by no means an oyster lover.  Although I don’t know if I would put myself in the lover category quite yet, the oysters at Casamento’s definitely changed my opinion.  You could literally taste how fresh they were and their cocktail sauce complemented them well.  I happily ate a few while we were waiting and our friend Garrett (New Orleans native) polished off at least a dozen. He said they were the BEST HE’S EVER HAD!  In all, waiting by the oyster bar was a fun interactive experience and really made the time pass while we waited for a table.

When we were seated, I did not really need to look at the menu. I knew I would be getting the soft shell crab sandwich that I saw in the clip above.  I figured I had never tried the dish and I might as well give it a try at a place that is famous for them.  Adam, on the other hand, was still not feeling well, having pretty much not been able to hold down food for a whole day, so he went with the spaghetti and meatballs, hoping that the carbs would help his stomach settle and be bland enough as to not upset it further.  Garrett also ordered the soft shell crab and the gumbo, while Audra got the shrimp dinner.

 

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What is so crazy about the soft shell crab is that you are literally eating the whole crab!  I mean above is exactly how it comes out to you…fried legs and all.  They are all edible of course, which is the large difference between soft shell crab and your typical crab. Soft shell are harvested and cooked before their exoskeleton has a chance to solidify and harden, but it is weird nonetheless.  I must admit I was a bit wary of biting into something like that, but being the good little foodie that I am, I took a big ol’ bite for the sake of PCC… 🙂

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Not the most flattering photo…I know, but it gets the point across.  These are big sandwiches…or loafs as they are called here, because they are made with thick Italian loafs of bread, thus making it a whole lot of effort to get that bite in.  I was pleasantly surprised by the taste, texture, and flavor…but in a good way, and happily ate my whole sandwich.  Garrett informed us that this was not the best soft shell crab he had ever had, so if I liked this as much as I did, I am in for a real treat if I ever get one better. 

SIGNATURE DISH: Casamento’s really has two signature dishes…oysters and loafs. It would seem from both that clip and their website that they are really known for is their oyster loaf, but I guess that is splitting hairs.  Either way, the oysters are fabulous and truly the freshest and best tasting I have had to date.  It is easy to see how their master shucker won an award, because not only is he quick, but he knows the good ones to pick.  I think if we ever return, I will surely try the oyster loaf, because it looks delicious and I believe it must be better than the soft shell crab.

TASTE: I thought everything I ate was delicious and truly fresh tasting.  Too often I have had seafood that is wimpy and does not taste fresh or even good for that matter.  Both the oysters and soft shell crab sandwich were fantastic and I would easily go back for them.  I loved the bread the sandwich came on…so simple yet tasty enough to bring the sandwich together.  As I said above, I want to give that oyster loaf a try, so hopefully one day I will get the chance.

AMBIANCE: It’s truly a unique restaurant and really does feel like the inside of a pool or a restaurant from the 20’s.  It is very small and thus it takes a little while to be seated if you are visiting at a peak time. But still, it is a fun and boisterous atmosphere while you do so.  Their decor is not overly fancy, rather all you need to be comfortable while enjoying a good seafood.

PRICE: This is where things got a little harried…After 2 beers each, the 2 doz. oysters (which are $8.50 a dozen), the soup ($4.25 a cup), the soft shell crab sandwiches ($13.50 a piece), the shrimp platter, and the spaghetti, our bill was quite hefty.  I understand they are serving fresh seafood and these may be market prices, but come on…$13.50 for that simple sandwich was a bit ridiculous in my opinion! Therefore, this is not a place to order a sandwich if you’re on a tight budget.

SERVICE: The service could have been better. It was great while we were waiting at the bar. The men manning the oyster bar were very hospitable and a delight to hang out with. However, that is in major contrast to our waitress, who was actually sort of impatient.  I imagine this had to do largely to the fact that they are trying to get a large amount of people through the restaurant on a limited lunch time, but I still felt she was a little snippy and could have treated us like she cared.

So…although the prices and table-service were definite detractors, I still really enjoyed my experience at Casamento’s, and I would for sure go again, if at least so Adam could actually try some “real” food this time (he wanted the oysters SOOO BAD!).  I give Casamento’s Restaurant 3 ½ ‘Little Piggies.’

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Thursday, June 17, 2010 @ 01:06 PM

008Summer is in full force and it’s hard to believe we are already half way through June. I have a feeling this one is going to fly by.  I have been a crazy person attempting to get settled in our new home. Between the home projects and figuring out my new career path, it’s hard to sometimes think about the other joys in life…like great food. That is why I love it when the time of the week comes around when I get to touch base with you loyal PCC fans and put out good reviews and possibly even feature places you will want to visit on your summer travels.

So, although I am well aware that seafood is available year round, I typically tend to start craving this area of cuisine in the summer time…and I know I’m not alone here.  I think there is something so fresh and light about a wonderful seafood dish that just seems just like summer.  Or, it could be that the dishes I crave (my mom’s dripping in buttery goodness peal n’ eat shrimp) are really ones that don’t require a fuss to prepare and you can just sit back and enjoy the weather and each other’s company.

Now I know many people are angered over the oil spill in the Gulf and the havoc it is wreaking on the wildlife there, and to be honest…I don’t blame you. However, in an effort to shed some light on that area, this week I’m once again highlighting one of our favorite cities and one of its more famous restaurants…New Orleans and the king of oysters in the Big Easy…Drago’s.

Drago’s Seafood Restaurant has been a Louisiana staple as far as seafood is concerned since 1969.  That is was when Drago and Klara Cvitanovich set out to provide good seafood and a fun atmosphere for all their guests. Little did they know then that it would gain the notoriety it has today.  It was at their original location in the “Fat City” section of New Orleans (Metairie, LA) where they invented a dish that would forever write the seafood history books…the ever so delicious dish of chargrilled oysters.  Now many of you may remember me mentioning this dish before when Adam and I first tried them at the Acme Oyster House on our first visit to New Orleans.  You also may remember that we were not overly fond of Acme, however, the chargrilled oysters were the lone highlight. They were absolutely delicious! So after talking to many friends of ours who are New Orleans natives and learning that Drago’s was in fact the originator of this dish, we knew this was a place we had to check out; and we couldn’t wait (especially Adam) to have them at the place that invented the dish.

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On this particular trip to New Orleans we were traveling with our good friends Garrett and Audra. Garrett is a New Orleans native and a great source for what to do and see in the city. He mentioned having been to original Drago’s Metairie location years back and really enjoying it, and that they had recently opened up a new location downtown near the French Quarter, where we were staying.  So, being our first night in the Big Easy, we thought it was the perfect opportunity to try it.

The downtown/French Quarter location is located in the Hilton New Orleans Riverside, which was a little bit of a walk from our hotel, but we didn’t mind after being in the car all day.  However, I did not consider what that could mean “being located inside the Hilton.”  Sadly, it was exactly how it might sound. Instead of being an attached restaurant set apart from the lobby of the hotel, it was literally the whole bottom dining room floor of the hotel, complete with spectacular views of guest rooms, hotel shops and beautiful lobby (sarcasm…drip…drip ;)).  This would not have been so bad, except it looked exactly like any other hotel dining room, even down to the table linens and place settings which were branded as ‘Hilton.’  I guess we were just disappointed because it just didn’t seem very authentic.

Still, one aspect that was extremely unique and I am sure comparable to the original location was their chargrill oyster bar.  Let’s just say it was a charbroiling…smoke and flames galore!

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Yes my friends…those flames are literally the oysters!  They just char those babies until they are buttery and uber-crispy; and seeing as Adam enjoyed that dish so much at Acme, he knew he wanted to try the original creation, so an order for a dozen chargrilled oysters was put into the bar.  I, on the other hand, ordered something more up my alley after perusing a pretty impressive menu… ravioli, which were fried and covered in a creamy crawfish sauce…right up my vacation alley; and being that lobster is another dish they can charbroil and specialize in, Garrett went in that direction (with a starter of chargrilled oysters, of course :)). Lastly, Audra ordered their crab cake.

Now, before our meal came, we were presented with what seemed to be some yummy French bread.  Sadly, we were mistaken.:( Although it was French bread, it was super dry and stale…not a very appetizing way to start off the meal.  Also, to start Adam ordered a cup of their shrimp chowder and my meal came with a house salad, which sadly was just some lettuce tossed on a plate with some dressing…nothing to write home about or even worth photographing.  Adam had the same review of his soup. He enjoyed it, but was kinda disappointed by the lack of shrimp. I think he found 2 in the entire cup that ended up being not much more than a simple bowl of cream soup, not what you would hope from a famous seafood joint.

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So after a lackluster start to the meal, we were very excited and hungry when they presented us with our meals.

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I mean…they look pretty darn tasty don’t they?  Unfortunately, look and taste are two very different things.  My ravioli, although good, were not all that exciting in flavor…pretty bland.  The crawfish sauce barely had any crawfish to speak of and the cream sauce lacked flavor itself.  The fried ravioli were typical or many appetizers of that nature, and the portion, although I did not finish it all, was not worth the almost $20 price tag.

Perhaps the saddest part was the reason we went to Drago’s…the oysters. Adam was not impressed in the least…his high hopes definitely not fulfilled. For this place being the birthplace of chargrilled oysters, it left him very disappointed.  According to him, they were so charred that it was hard to tell if they had any taste at all. All he could taste was butter and charcoal; and to use his words, “You might as well have served me a plate full of charcoal briquettes!”  I tried two of them and considered them to be fairly tasty as far as oysters go…but again, still not my favorite; and for being the originator of the dish, I am not sure I see how they gained the notoriety.  That being said…I guess we still managed to enjoy our time with one another.

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I think what was most disappointing about our trip to Drago’s was that I will always wonder if the experience would have been better if we had been able to visit the original.  There is something to be said about taking a concept that has worked for years and then expanding it to too large of a scale due to popularity.  I think given different circumstance we may have enjoyed our meal better.  Also, it didn’t help that not 24 hours later, Adam came down with a flu-like bug that kept him in bed for much of the remainder of the trip, which so far we have only been able to equate to the two meals prior to his getting sick, this being one of them.  Although it may have not been the direct culprit of his illness and consequent miserable time this trip, you can be sure we won’t be jumping in line to try those Drago’s oysters again anytime soon! 😉

SIGNATURE DISH: As the creators of the first chargrilled oyster, I would say it is definitely their signature.  However, they are also well known in the area for Lobster, and it is one of their signature dishes and restaurant mascot. In fact, one whole page of their menu is practically devoted to just their oysters and lobsters. I would say they make it pretty clear what they want you to order, but not sure if it would make a difference in my case. 🙂

TASTE: This was probably what Adam and I were disappointed with the most.  Maybe it was the high hopes we had, but had I gone to any other seafood restaurant, I would expect that all their seafood dishes would be flavorful, especially if “SEAFOOD” is in the name. Unfortunately, what I got was neither flavorful nor tasty.  As I said, it was not inedible. It simply lacked flavor or excitement.  As for the famous chargrilled oysters…Adam could not get over how “chargrilled” they were and I would agree that if there is no flavor outside of the char…what’s the point?

AMBIANCE: I hate to be “Debbie Downer,” but this was another area where we were very disappointed.  I understand wanting to have a bigger location to cater to more patrons in the tourist section of New Orleans, but at least make it seem authentic or close to the original.  True…I have not been to the original, but based on what locals have told me, I can almost guarantee you it ain’t no high fallutin’ hotel dining room complete with hotel branded china and linens!  That fact alone makes me wish I could have gone to the original instead.  In my view, a location has to fit the menu and occasion. I was expecting a normal backyard down home Louisiana shop and what I got was a staunch hotel setting.  It was void of color or character and just felt off.

PRICE: Their prices are a bit high in my opinion.  I know seafood typically is more expensive, but I am sorry…$18 for cheese filled fried pasta with a sauce that is lacking on the seafood, not cool!  And on top of that, it was not an overly large portion.  Had it been something you might see at any normal joint, I might not object so much, but let’s be real…it was an appetizer masquerading as an entrée for $20…and barely any crawfish!  Their other dishes (including the oysters), were also pretty pricey. It is clear that the name has driven up the cost and that is always a bit disappointing, especially when the cost does not equal the taste. In the end…not worth the cost.

SERVICE: This area of our dining experience I have to chalk up to the sheer size of the restaurant.  Taking up almost the entire base floor of the Hilton, each waitress seemed to have a large station to cover.  So although we were attended to within reasonable amounts of time, we were often left waiting a little longer than we would have like to; and for the prices we were paying and being the type of restaurant they are trying to be, I would say their service was not up to par.

I want to end with a little disclaimer to follow up that review.  There is a part of me that feels bad about panning them so much. I really would have liked to try the original, and feel in my gut that if we had only gone there, the experience would have been more “original,” quaint, enjoyable, and therefore an overall better experience.  That being said, we were unable to venture to that original location, so their sister restaurant will have to take the brunt of my review. So, apologies aside, and until I have the opportunity to try the original location to make up for this Drago’s experience, I accordingly give Drago’s Seafood Restaurant (Hilton New Orleans Riverside location) a meager 1 Little Piggy.

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010 @ 09:03 AM

017 This week we will be taking an adventure to a new city.  I know…finally, right?  I could likely post on just Chicago and Dallas for years, but this week we are traveling to another great culinary city…New Orleans! (or N’awlins for you purists out there ;)). 

New Orleans is a city that boasts history, culture, wonderful sites, and it has some of the best food in the country, both fancy and ‘hole-in-the-wall’ alike.  Lucky for us, New Orleans is a drivable distance (7 hours), which allows for a long weekend getaway; and after we had been talking about New Orleans for months and kept seeing restaurant after restaurant featured on various shows, we just knew we had to take a trip.  So, about a year ago we decided a trip for Adam’s 30th birthday would be perfect; and it was a great gift for him because N’awlins is one of his favorite cities!

 

As I said, we had been seeing tons of features on various spots throughout New Orleans, some well known…others maybe not so much, and we had a list of our must-try places.  The first restaurant I want to share with you is one of the most famous eateries in the city (if not country), and was actually the very first place we ate upon arriving…the world famous Acme Oyster House

Opened in 1910 and located in the legendary French Quarter, it has been successfully shucking as many as 3.8 million oysters a year for its guests.  As famous as this place is, of course it has been featured on just about every television program about food and travel, and we’ve seen a number of them.  Most recently, Acme was featured as #25 (of 101) on Travel Channel’s ‘Chowdown Countdown,’ and perhaps their most famous appearance was as Adam Richman’s challenge location on Travel Channel’s ‘Man vs. Food.’  Needless to say, with this kind of notoriety, we knew Acme was a place we really had to check out and see if it was all it was shucked 😉 up to be.  Plus, neither of us had ever eaten an oyster; and if Adam Richman of “Man vs. Food” can dominate and destroy their oyster eating challenge at 15 dozen in 30 minutes, we had to have at least 1…and yes, I said 15 DOZEN!  That’s 180 oysters in one sitting!  The following clip proves it…

Crazy right?…and to think that I had never even tried one. :)  They always looked too slimy and gooey to be any good.  But I said that in the name of being a “foodie,” I would have hat least have one; and since Adam had never tried them either, I was in good company :).  So, after rolling into New Orleans late our first night, quickly checking into our hotel and freshening up, we headed out to this famed hot-spot. 

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We knew we wanted Acme to be the spot to kickoff our trip and subsequent culinary adventure; and needless to say that based on the clip from “Man vs. Food” and other shows we’d seen, we had high high hopes and expectations for this place.  We figured we would be able to get in quick, decompress, and enjoy some great food after a long car ride; and being that it was well past 9 in the evening (almost 10), we were both pretty hungry, drained, and ready for a great experience.  However, I will be the first to admit that I should not just take what a television show portrays as being totally accurate.  First, let’s just say that when we arrived at Acme, I was shocked at how small it was!  Television has done wonders for making it seem like a larger than life, hopping establishment with plenty of space.  I was quickly disappointed when we entered to see it was very narrow and, to be honest, did not have much seating.  It was hopping in a sense, because it was completely full and there was a line out the door.  Then again, I feel this was simply due to the lack of space.  Still, we did not let that deter us, and being the good little patrons we are, we patiently waited our turn (which in truth was only like 5 minutes ;)).  Unfortunately, I was once again disappointed when, after waiting, we didn’t even get a seat in the front of the house by the “shucking bar,” but rather were seated in the very, very, VERY back…right by the back-alley door, almost in the walking path where they KEPT walking trash right by us; and because they kept opening the door to take out the trash, our seat was regularly breezy and kind of smelly.  I honestly felt like we had gotten shoved back there; and because of its location in the restaurant, this shouldn’t even be a place to seat people. 

Ok, so after 2 bad hair days (yes I posted that picture above that shows a bad choice of stylist to try and save a buck (I know…stupid me), where my hair pretty much was on the verge of falling out and criminally stripy ;)) a long car trip, and having high hopes for this place, Acme was not off to a good start with me.  I would like to say my feelings changed, but sadly, not many did.  After ordering a couple of beers and perusing the menu, we knew a few of the items were definitely jumping out to us.  We knew we had to order their famous oysters on the half shell.  Also, to get a different angle on oysters, we ordered the chargrilled oysters, as well, which are basically oysters grilled in the shell with butter and cheese…I mean come on, yum!; and even if I don’t like oysters, I do like butter and cheese…, so why not? :)  Finally, for a traditional seafood taste, we ordered the fried shrimp basket which came with fries and hush puppies (and Adam LOVES him some hush puppies!).  So although my mood did not start off good, I was hoping all these dishes would turn it around.

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There is my man trying his first ever raw oyster! :)  We both agreed they were not our favorite thing ever, but Adam kinda liked them and said he’d have them again under certain circumstances.  Plus, Acme does have a wonderful homemade cocktail sauce that has horseradish in it, which is out of this world!  For me, the sauce mixed with lemon juice and ladled over the oysters made them just edible.  I am sure that if I were a raw oyster lover, I may have a different opinion and would likely think these were the freshest ever, but being that I am not one, I have trouble recommending these to anyone.  The cocktail sauce, on the other hand, was the bomb!  That stuff would be good on cardboard…haha :).  013The chargrilled oysters, in contrast, were pretty tasty.  Although still an oyster (and still slimy :)), I could swallow it much easier with all that butter and cheese. ;)  The butter and cheese infused a ton of flavor into the oyster itself, and absent was the fishy river watery flavor of the raw oysters.  Now Adam will say he LOVED these, as they meet his “cheesy-goodness” quota :), but I just thought they were ok.  I enjoyed them, but I am not sure I would ever order them again.  I just didn’t enjoy them enough. 

Finally, last but not least…the fried shrimp platter (which I unfortunately do not have a picture of; but let’s just say they were not even good enough to photograph).  Little did we know that it was not shrimp season, so we honestly never should have ordered them.  They were puny, heavily breaded, and not tasty…AT ALL!  There fries and hush puppies also left a little to be desired; and that being our final dish to arrive, I did not end the meal of a good note. 

Overall, I was disappointed with Acme.  I’m not sure if this was due to how much great anticipation I had from television, but it simply wasn’t good.  This restaurant is a prime reason for why I write ‘Pop Culture Cuisine.’  It’s a perfect example of a “hot spot” that gets rave reviews and has been featured on show after show is all hype and falls flat in person.  First off, I was not impressed with the ambiance or the service.  Aside from where we were seated, we rarely saw our waiter (I think he forgot about us in the back) and the hostesses were really short with us at the beginning.  Of course, they did have a signature dish…duh oysters.  As I said, I thought they were good, but they did not blow me out of the river water ;).  They are not a dish I crave to this day or really care to try again; and to be fair, not just at Acme. 

As for taste, besides the chargrilled oysters, the other items we got were just plain awful!  And while we are discussing things we didn’t like, we were shocked when we got our bill!  If you remember, we ordered a pitcher of beer, 2 appetizers, and one platter to share.  I would say that does not sound like a whole lot of food, but when our bill came it was almost $70.  This, if you ask me, is ridiculous for what we got.  I hate to say it…, but I really was not impressed with Acme; and we will not be revisiting there when we head back to New Orleans in May (which won’t be hard seeing that our New Orleans native friends that are joining us also think that Acme is not very good).  So although I’m happy to be able to uncover the truth and reveal those places that television has put up on a false pedestal, I’m sad that one of these places had to be Acme Oyster House, and I regret to give them a pitiful review of 1 1/2 Little Piggies 🙁

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