A trip to New Orleans is always difficult for a food lover. Difficult in a good way, because there are so many talented chefs in the Big Easy, offering wonderful options ranging from Creole dishes to traditional Southern favorites to nouvelle fusion.
N7, labeled the country’s tenth best restaurant in 2016 by Bon Appétit magazine, fits the last description.
The food speaks with a definite French accent, and the restaurant’s name, N7, is a reference to the mythic road that ran from Paris to the border of Italy (now upgraded or replaced by the A77 autoroute).
Finding your way along a French road that was the equivalent of America’s Route 66 might be slightly easier than finding the restaurant N7, tucked away on Montegut Street, off of St. Claude Avenue in the city’s funky, hip Bywater neighborhood.
You might easily pass the entrance if you’re not looking for the red stenciled sign on a wooden doorway leading to N7’s courtyard.
Once inside, you can’t miss the red Citroen taking a prime spot along the gravel driveway.
Much of the seating is outdoors, in a courtyard outfitted with casual style tables and chairs, surrounded by potted plants and vines.
But there is some seating indoors in a structure that at one time housed a tire shop, and long before that, a stable. Sitting at the bar now though, you might be convinced that you were in a bistro in Paris’ Marais neighborhood.
The food whispers with other culinary accents too, like the oysters from Washington State, served with a sauce redolent of soy sauce — not unusual since the restaurant is owned by Japanese born Yuki Yamaguchi, and her husband, filmmaker Aaron Walker.
Nearly half the menu is “can to table” seafood – which could be off putting to many. But in some European countries, particularly Spain, canned fish is a delicacy sought after as eagerly as fresh seafood.
We dug in with gusto to the sardines, swishing our bread through the can to glob on to every last bit of the sundried tomato sauce.
And after a squirt of lemon, the octopus in olive oil was gone in a flash too, accompanied by herb butter and a piquant red pepper paste.
The menu, although limited, does contain a few cooked items, such as the seared scallops with chive oil, pictured in the first photo. It was our favorite dish of the night (recipe below).
Another winner was the pork katsu with beet purée. The pork is dredged in flour, egg and finally panko (Japanese bread crumbs), then fried in hot oil and sliced. It rests on a luscious purée made with beets, apples, chicken broth and a little cream and yogurt.
We also tried the duck breast a l’orange, again prepared with a hint of soy sauce in addition to the more traditional ingredients such as orange zest and orange juice.
Desserts are very limited but seemed just right. Choose either French macaron cookies (not pictured) or the cheese plate, which contained three cheeses – a sweet gorgonzola, a sheep’s milk cheese and a creamy cow’s milk cheese. A few dried figs, cherries and nuts rounded out the platter.
As night descended and the tables filled, lights twinkled around the perimeter of the courtyard.
Is it really the most romantic French restaurant in the world, as Bon Appétit claims?
I’m not so sure I buy that moniker, but it sure won over our hearts and I know we’ll be visiting N7 again the next time we’re in New Orleans.
And if you’d like to take a real trip to Europe and a dreamy part of Italy, join me for a memoir writing retreat at Villa Monastero, in Varenna overlooking Lake Como. Only a couple of spots remain. You don’t have to be a professional writer to participate. Life is short, so don’t delay your dream. For more information, go to www.italyinotherwords.com or email me.
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Seared Scallops with Chive Oil
From N7 Restaurant, New Orleans via Bon Appetit magazine
2 tablespoons chopped chives, plus more for serving
1 teaspoon flaky sea salt or kosher salt
½ cup olive oil
2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled, cut into 2-inch pieces
2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more
½ cup heavy cream, warmed
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
Freshly ground black pepper
Scallops and Assembly
16 large sea scallops, side muscle removed
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Finely grated Gruyère (for serving)
Purée garlic, chives, salt, and oil in a blender until smooth.
Do Ahead: Chive oil can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill. Bring to room temperature before serving.
potatoes in a medium pot and pour in cold water to cover by 1″. Add 2
tsp. salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are
very tender but still hold their shape, 15–20 minutes (boiling will
cause potatoes to become waterlogged). Drain and pass hot potatoes
through a ricer (or use a masher) into a large bowl (do this right away;
cold potatoes will become gummy when mashed). Add cream and butter to
potatoes and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until combined and
mixture is smooth; season with salt and pepper.
Scallops and assembly
scallops dry with paper towels; season both sides with kosher salt.
Heat 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil in a large nonstick skillet over high. Cook
half of scallops, undisturbed, until deep golden and caramelized, about 3
minutes. Turn and cook until barely golden on second side and just
cooked through, about 2 minutes. Repeat process with remaining 1 Tbsp.
oil and remaining scallops.
Top mashed potatoes with Gruyère and drizzle scallops with chive oil.
Just in case you’re planning a multi-fish extravaganza for Christmas eve and are still trying to decide what to make, here are some ideas to whet your appetite. I’ve made all of these in years past, and most of them will be on my table again this year, including this spaghetti ai frutti di mare. It was a favorite last Christmas eve, so it makes the cut again for this year. I’ll serve it following the hors d’oeuvres that will be mostly fished-based, except for a couple of dishes for the vegetarians present. It’s always a juggling act trying to balance the numerous pots on the burners and dishes in the oven, so that none of them is overcooked (or undercooked.)
So I make sure I have a few things that can be made ahead of time, including this favorite of
baccalà mantecato with grilled polenta that we’ll eat before dinner while sipping prosecco.
My dad arrives with these codfish cakes. They reheat very well in the oven, maintaining their crunchy exterior. We’ll munch on these before dinner too.
If you think you don’t like octopus, you haven’t tried my Octopus and potato salad. It’s almost like eating lobster, especially if you peel the octopus and trim away the “suction cups” after cooking. Get the largest octopus you can find in order to get nice chunky pieces.
If I weren’t making the spaghetti ai frutti di mari, I might be making this dish with squid:
Wouldn’t you like to get away from the throngs of tourists following the same old itineraries through the same old well-trodden tourist sites? Sure, if you come to Italy you don’t want to miss the major art cities like Rome and Florence. But if you want to experience something unique, come to Abruzzo and eat on a trabocco, found only in this small area of Italy’s Adriatic coastline.
The writer Gabriele D’Annunzio, who was born nearby in Pescara, described these spindly wooden structures as “a colossal skeleton of an antidiluvian amphibian.”
Regular readers of this blog may remember a post I wrote a couple of years ago here introducing trabocchi (plural of trabocco). This year, I actually got to cook on a trabocco with the owners and enjoy an unforgettable meal cooked in a miniscule kitchen beside the sea.
This particular trabocco, Trabocco Punta Tufano, is owned by Rinaldo Veri and his wife Maria, and was rebuilt seven years ago, following a storm in 2006 that destroyed the former structure. But his family has owned a trabocco on this site, near San Vito Chietino, since 1777. They’re typically made of a wood from trees that grow nearby and are resistant to the weather, called robinia pseudoacacia, commonly known as the black locust, or false acacia. Large nets are lowered from the long wooden arms and fishermen haul in fish that live near the rocks, such an anchovies, squid and octopus.
Inside this wooden building is the kitchen where Maria guided me and a few other visitors in preparing a meal using traditional recipes from the region.
Starting with these anchovies – looking and tasting nothing like what we get in those small cans in the U.S.
Maria showed me the technique used in opening them with one swift move, and removing the skeleton to end up with a fillet.
Then marinating them in vinegar, lemon juice and white wine.
The octopus was cooked in a pot of water, wine, vinegar and lemon juice for about 40 minutes.
And emerged looking like this:
After it was cooled, it was cleaned of some of the suckers and placed in a pot with olive oil, onion, peppers and bits of cherry tomatoes.
Olive oil, garlic, cherry tomatoes and red pepper were also used in the preparation of these tiny clams.
Maria also showed us how to open mussels and mix the ingredients for stuffing the mollusks.
After they’re stuffed, they’re cooked in a tomato sauce and given a few minutes in the oven at the end.
A classic dish of this part of the coast is brodetto, a fish soup made using the catch of the day. In this case, it was scorfano (scorpion fish), merluzzo (cod), and dentice (sea bream or red snapper).
Brodetto is cooked in the traditional terra cotta pots made in the region.
By this time, our group had worked up an appetite and we were ready for a drink of prosecco and an appetizer.
We started with the fresh anchovies that had been marinated and served on slices of bread sprinkled with olive oil, cherry tomatoes, salt and parsley.
We moved on to the stuffed mussels, and octopus served over polenta.
The clams were next, loaded with flavor. We sucked every drop of liquid from the shells, before dipping our bread into the liquid left on the platter.
Then came the pots of brodetto, dotted with clams and mussels above the whole fish.
I’m sure I went back for two and three helpings.
Oh yes, and I can’t forget the marinated mackerel fish, bathed in olive oil and sprinkled with salt.
We had to finish with something sweet, and in this case, it was the classic ferratelle or pizzelle, from Abruzzo. All accompanied by various homemade liqueurs, including genziana, a plant that is omnipresent in the Abruzzo countryside.
Afterwards, Rinaldo demonstrated how the nets are lifted above the sea to haul in the fish.
I want to thank this handsome fellow – Fabrizio Lucci of Italia Sweet Italia, for inviting me and a few other bloggers who attended Let’s Blog Abruzzo to come along for this unforgettable experience. Stay tuned in the coming weeks for more posts on other adventures in Abruzzo, courtesy of Italia Sweet Italia.
Now don’t freak out at the mention of octopus. If I hadn’t told you it was octopus in the recipe, you might think it was shrimp – or lobster. In fact, when cooked properly, octopus not only looks like bits of lobster tail, but even tastes something like it – although more tender to the bite. I’ve eaten it many times, but my favorite octopus memory happened a couple of years ago off the coast of Sardinia when we met Ignazina and Gemi, owners of a fishing boat called “Sampey” and a “Pescaturismo” business.
We were the only clients that day, so rather than give us the full day’s excursion, which included a stop for lunch at a nearby island called Cavoli, they instead invited us out to sea to watch them haul in their catch for free. More tourists were booked for the following day, so Gemi and Igna asked us to come back and they’d repeat the fishing excursion. This time, they’d include an afternoon mooring at Cavoli, a tiny spit of land where Igna and Gemi cooked the day’s catch while we explored the island and swam in the turquoise Mediterranean sea. Since then, I always think of that day when I cook octopus. I don’t thrash mine upon the rocks to tenderize it the way Igna did, but it tastes great nonetheless. Maybe not as good as what I ate that sunny day on that speck of an island, but when you can’t get to Sardinia, hey, you’ve just got to figure out some other way to recapture the moment.
Warning: Octopus shrinks A LOT during cooking, so this will not serve more than a couple of people as a main dish salad. I served it as an appetizer, along with other offerings on Christmas Eve. It was a big hit and was gobbled up in no time.
1 octopus, about 2 pounds (I bought mine fresh, but you can also use frozen.)
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium size potatoes, boiled and peeled
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup minced onion
2 cloves garlic
freshly ground black pepper
dash of red pepper flakes, optional
2 T. minced parsley, optional
The key trick to having a tender octopus is in the cooking. It’s a little daunting the first time you pick up a raw octopus but be brave and dig in. I bought one half of an octopus, already cut by the fish-monger. The next time I make this recipe, I’m going to use a whole one and double the recipe so I can have more to go around.
I have read many different techniques for cooking octopus – from slow simmers in water, to putting a cork in the water to tenderize the octopus. Others say cooking it in water can “seize up” the octopus and toughen it. This method I outline uses no water, but rather lets the octopus cook in its own liquid. It works perfectly and produces a succulent octopus. Just don’t buy baby octopus. They’re too small and chewy and you won’t get large enough pieces.
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
Put the octopus in a pan with the olive oil and no other liquid. Place over low heat, cover and cook for about 20 minutes. The octopus will have released a lot of liquid. Transfer the octopus and the liquid to a glass or pyrex baking dish and cover. Bake for about one hour. Remove it from the oven and let it cool a bit. It will be very purple in color and will have shrunk significantly. Cut off the top of the head and the little pointy sharp beak and discard. Peel away the purple skin and most of the suckers will peel off too. Rinse under cool water and pat dry. Cut into bite-sized pieces and put in a bowl.
Cut the potatoes into small pieces and add to the octopus. Make a dressing with the remaining ingredients and pour over the octopus. Serve at room temperature or slightly warm.