Wednesday, November 3, 2010

No Pink Tomatoes Here

Any good New Orleanian judges a restaurant on the quality of the bread served there. Our bread is distinctive: a thin, crisp crusted French bread with a dough center so light as to be ethereal in taste and texture. Across the country, other bakeries have bragged about their replication of French bread. They are misled. New Orleans bread, baked in brick ovens, and risen against a certain degree of humidity, is exceptional and unique.

Having left the city of my youth, I have since adapted other rules to restaurants. Last night, my husband and I discussed this over a very nice meal at a local wine café. While the recipe for the meal itself was wonderful, I was disappointed over the quality of the fruit cup, and I began to muse about the melon and cantaloupe in my bowl.

Restaurants often offer a fruit cup and the medley in the bowl is almost always the same. Cantaloupe and honey dew serves as the foundation for this side dish. You might be lucky enough to get a strawberry in there, maybe a few blueberries. Considering all the fruit available, why do we always have to have melon? I wouldn’t complain if it was actually tasty. Someone who orders the produce for commercial kitchens is failing to do a routine taste test. In all my years of restaurant fruit cups, I have seldom had any melon that tastes the way it is supposed to taste. Most of the time, it is bland. It is a pointless fruit, served as a filler, and makes the hunt for the magic slice of strawberry more urgent than necessary. Why? I have only had one restaurant-offered honey dew that was exceptional. The sweetness and smooth flavor was indescribable. Surely, this melon was picked and served at the height of its own natural ripeness. Since then, I have ordered fruit cups in hopes of experiencing this sublime tasting again. I should have known better last night: it’s October. I suppose it is best to hunt for wonderful melon at the local farmers’ markets and street stands during season.

Serving bad tomatoes is another restaurant sin. If a pink tomato arrives with the meal, the complete taste experience only slides downhill. No wonder many people hate tomatoes. Garden fresh maters are explosive, tangy, and rich. They have a firmness and depth that is like nothing else in the produce department. A good tomato tastes, well, like the color red (as opposed to the washed out, bleachy green of an under ripe, poorly chosen melon). The average tomato served at the average restaurant has the lure of cardboard and little aroma.

If it isn’t good, it should not be served. There are wonderful places to eat that have served their produce right out of the garden that grows behind the restaurant, but for those places that really don’t have the space, the time, money, or the philosophy to support that, the produce should at least be sampled, sliced, tasted, and tested before routinely ordering it from a supplier. And regular taste tests should be run across the week.

All right, now that I have gotten that diatribe out of my system, it’s time to make my own lunch here at Café Catiche… a sandwich of leftover roasted pork loin with a diced vegetable and Creole mustard marinade, homemade pumpkin bread (with fresh pumpkin puree that I made myself), and maybe there is one last plump, sliceable sandwich-challenging tomato in the drawer. Mmm!

1 comment:

  1. The bread from NYC that I'm still craving - long years after the bakery closed - came from Zito's Bakery on Bleecker Street, in our old neighborhood.

    They baked every kind of Italian loaf you've ever seen in a coal-fired brick oven. It was a family bakery that had been continuously operated for about a century and some of their loaves at least were minor masterpieces.

    The fad for low-carb diets - Atkins, chiefly - killed it dead in our fashionable neighborhood.


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