Rama Thai Cuisine

Sometimes, well, a lot of the time, I’m in the mood to find authentic hole-in-the-wall restaurants that make Baton Rouge such a great food town.  The Red Stick doesn’t get enough credit in the culinary world due to all of the national chain signs that you see while driving down the interstate and New Orleans being only another 60 miles down the road.  However, if you hop off the freeway and hit a side street, you’ll find some locally owned eateries with some exceptional flare.  One of these quaint places is Rama Thai Cuisine.  The Perkins Road Overpass area Thai restaurant is one of the forgotten gems in Baton Rouge, and it is time I give it some respect on Bite and Booze.  Eusebio and I dined at Rama a little while back, and we couldn’t have left more satisfied!
Rama Thai Cuisine on the Inside and Out
It only felt natural to begin my meal with some Thai beer, so I ordered a Singha and started to get my taste buds ready for some Asian flavor.  Singha is a fairly standard lager with that Asian bite that you’ll recognize from other Japanese beers like Kirin Ichiban.  It is pretty tasty, but I’d rather get to the food.
Singha Lager Beer
To wet our appetites a little more, we ordered a couple of appealing appetizers.  First up were the fried wontons.  These were nothing too special but they were fried to a nice crisp and had pretty decent flavor.  We had the shrimp chips for second app.  The chips were light and delicate with a great shrimp taste.  They came served with a delicious peanut sauce to dip the chips in.
Fried Wontons and Shrimp Chips with Peanut Sauce
The next dish to leave the kitchen and make its way in front of me was the lemongrass soup.  This fantastic soup was sweet and spicy with a citrus flavor.  It came loaded with shrimp and mushrooms, and I ate every bite.  I love a good, simple soup like this!
Lemongrass Soup
For an entree I called on the Rama Duck.  This delightful half of a duck was seasoned with Thai herbs and spices, then roasted until fork tender.  Each bite of duck put a smile on my face as the flavors filled my mouth and tickled my tongue.  The duck still tasted like duck meat should, and was only complemented by the sweet and savory Thai seasonings.  Steamed vegetables were served with the duck, and they tasted alright, but the duck certainly highlighted the plate. 
Rama Duck with Steamed Vegetables
For dessert, Eusebio and I couldn’t decide between the fried apples with ice cream or the fried bananas with ice cream.  So, we did what any good person should do: we got both!  These fried-fruit desserts each came with three scoops of homemade ice cream.  Rama offered a selection of ice cream flavors, of which we ordered all of them: vanilla, coconut, and durian.  Yes, that’s right, that durian! 

Durian Fruit as eaten by Andrew Zimmern in Bizarre Foods on the Travel Channel
Eusebio and I were a little nervous to try it as an ice cream flavor, but it was actually quite good.  The vanilla and coconut icecreams tasted pretty standard.  They were not very rich, but still had a smooth texture and the right amount of flavor to provide a condiment to the fried fruit and something sweet to end the meal with.  The durian icecream certainly had a unique flavor but it was nothing offensive.  I actually think I liked it more than the other two, even if it was just for originality alone.  I wouldn’t hesitate to order it again next time I go to Rama, that’s for sure!

Fried Apples and Banana Topped with Ice Cream, Durian Ice Cream on a Fried Banana
You can also check out the Cuisine Rouge post about Rama to see what they have to say about this little Thai Restaurant!
Rama on Urbanspoon
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St. Charles Tavern After the NFC Championship Game

I happened to be in New Orleans this year for both the NFC Championship Game and the Super Bowl.  Surprisingly, I actually remember both of the games and the good times I had.  I guess I’m growing up… a little.  The atmosphere in New Orleans for the NFC Championship Game against the Minnesota Vikings wasn’t just electric; it was like nuclear-powered energy flowing through the entire city.  While I didn’t get to actually go to the game, I had an amazing time tailgating on Poydras and enjoying the festivities.
Home Sweet Dome
While the day was spent drinking cheap beer, tailgating, eating jambalaya and fried chicken, and general tomfoolery, things settled down when the game came on.  After intense hours of watching a TV outside with static every time a helicopter flew overhead, the game came down to an overtime field goal by Garrett Hartley, and the city erupted into joyous pandemonium!  Below was the scene on Poydras street, just minutes after the field goal split the uprights.  The Saints were going to the Super Bowl!
Party on Poydras
After many more hours of jubulant celebration and following Megan’s pom-pom that led use to Bourbon Street, Brandon, Megan, and I eventually wandered back towards Brandon’s apartment where we made a stop at a local 24 hour joint: St. Charles Tavern.
St. Charles Tavern
St. Charles Tavern sits in the Lower Garden District of New Orleans, just minutes away from both uptown and downtown locations.  The Tavern was established in 1917 and has been serving breakfast, burgers, and New Orleans’ famous poboys ever since. 
Famous Tavern Hash Breakfast
I glanced rather incoherently at the menu and quickly picked out the Famous Tavern Hash Breakfast.  Hey, if it is famous, I might as well try it, right?  The breakfast came with chicken and andouille hash, scrambled eggs, grits, and a biscuit.  Needless to say, I stuffed every bit of that late night snack right now my pie hole, and it all tasted glorious with one exception.  The biscuit truly disappointed me.  It came out already sliced in half, and with an extreme lack of flakiness that makes biscuits so delicious.  As for the hash, wow!  This mixture of potatoes, sausage, chicken, onions, bell peppers, and more was right on.  The hash made me happy on its own, but after throwing in the grits and eggs, I was in gluttonous heaven.  But hey, it’s alright, because the Saints were going to the Super Bowl!  Who Dat?!
St. Charles Tavern on Urbanspoon

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Super Bowl at Cooter Brown’s in Nola! WHO DAT??

Hey!  Anybody remember when the Saints won the Super Bowl?  Well I sure do, although I was pretty hammered when it happened!  It all started at Brandon’s apartment in New Orleans where I had a shot of Wakey Whiskey with him before heading to Cooter Brown’s with Brent and Daniel.  We were running a little late as we wanted to be there when the doors opened at 11 A.M., but luckily Andrew and Megan were there already to hold a spot down.  We arrived before noon and promptly began chanting Saints cheers and “Put on the game!”  Did I mention that this was about six hours before kickoff?
Cooter Brown’s Tavern and Oyster Bar, New Orleans, La
While Brent dealt with his hangover and Daniel drank his water, Andrew and I began sharing pitchers of delicious brew.  I started things off with a pitcher of NOLA Blonde.  NOLA, which is synonymous with New Orleans, Louisiana, in this case stands for the New Orleans Lager and Ale Brewing Company.  NOLA Blonde is a pretty decent American blonde ale with some nice, citrusy hops.  We drank merrily as we downed the pitcher and went back for Andrew’s selection.

NOLA Blonde

Before my beer-induced obnoxiousness got too out of control, I decided it would be a good idea to sample some raw oysters.  After all, Cooter Browns is an oyster bar, and I happened to be in New Orleans.  There isn’t much better!  These salty, slick, fresh Gulf oysters made me extremely happy as I continued with my pregame preparations: more drinking, of course!

Raw Oysters at Cooter Brown’s Tavern and Oyster Bar

The oysters were a true treat.  I mixed up some ketchup, horse radish, Crystal hot sauce, and worcestershire sauce to dip my oysters in.  After dipping them, I placed the mollusks on saltine crackers and then added a special treat.  I placed a few drops of Crown Royal to the oyster and then plunged the entire collection of flavors and textures into my mouth.  It was like heaven on my tongue!  It turns out that whiskey and horseradish are perfect compliments!  Who knew?!

Coonass Special and Cheese Fries

Needing to soak up a little beer for reasons that will soon be disclosed, I went to the food counter and picked out the most famous sandwich that Cooter Brown’s offers: the Coonass Special!  This delightful poboy comes with Mrs. Wheat’s meat pies, provolone cheese, and gravy, served on French bread.  Meat pies on a sandwich is a great idea, and gravy adds so much more!  Oh, and what’s better than cheese fries to help absorb some liquor?
With a little food, Brent’s spirits picked back up and he quickly joined Andrew and I in our inebriation.  The two of them had agreed on a menu of drinks to go through, and being a fan of drink menus, I decided to join in.  On the menu were shots of Jager, Patron, and Timberwolf, a glass of Crown and water, and chugging pints of Abita Andygator.  Rough, yes, to a normal man.

Abita Amber

Sticking with Louisiana beer, I had a pitcher of Abita Amber at some point.  I know that because I have a picture of it.  Also consumed before the Super Bowl was a pitcher of NOLA Hopitoulas.  This IPA is brewed with six malts and six hops, then is polished off with some additional dry hopping.  The name comes from a famous street in New Orleans called Tchoupitoulas, and clearly there is a reference to the amazing hops in the beer.  Hoptastic!  We were joined by Brandon, who had been studying since we left his apartment, Amanda, and Katie in time for more drinks… and then… hours later… THE GAME!
Oh yeah, remember when the Saints won the Super Bowl?!  Somehow I was still conscious for the entire game, and the after party!  Go me!  WHO DAT?!

Cooter Brown's Tavern & Oyster Bar on Urbanspoon

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The 2010 Crawfish Season in the Red Stick

This article has been published in Town Favorites Magazine.  You can visit the Town Favorites website at http://www.townfavorites.com/, follow them on Twitter @TownFavorites, and find their magazines at over 150 restaurants and businesses around Baton Rouge!  Pick up a copy today!
The 2010 Crawfish Season in the Red Stick

By Jay D. Ducote

This year was well on its way to being a banner year for Louisiana crawfish until a hard freeze in early January changed everything.

“The outlook for this crawfish season started out on a very promising note. Any time we get abundant natural rainfall in the late summer and early fall, it bodes well for the survival of crawfish in their burrows,” said Burt Tietje, a crawfish farmer who sits on the board of the Louisiana Crawfish Farmers Association. “I firmly believed that my problem by this point in the season would have been too many crawfish for the early markets and a rapidly dropping wholesale price.”

However, this was not the case at the early part of this season. Burt, who also works for the Jeff Davis Economic Development Office, continued by saying, “This is a true story… so far I have averaged losing $75-100 each time I have run my traps when labor and fuel are figured in. I keep fishing because you never know when the crawfish will turn on and I want to have fresh bait out there when they do.”

In 1997, Southwest Louisiana had very similar wet weather followed by a severe freeze. “I had to break ice out of the traps, but they were full of crawfish and I never missed a lick that season,” Burt exclaimed. “This year is a complete mystery to me and to everyone I talk to. Perhaps the hard freeze came at a time when the young crawfish were particularly vulnerable. I just don’t have an explanation.”

What the Louisiana crawfish industry desperately needs now is some sunshine and warmer overnight temperatures to get the crawfish moving. Mudbugs are cold-blooded creatures and the cooler the water; the less biologic activity is taking place in the ponds and basins. It is estimated that for every 10 degrees of water temperature, activity doubles in the ponds.

Even with a cloudy supply of farm-raised crawfish and an uncertainty about when the basin will have water diverted to it, the demand for crawfish in the Capital area is starting to pick up. Mardi Gras has come and gone and spring is near. Warmer temperatures won’t just bring more crawfish; they will also bring more crawfish boils, all-you-can-eat crawfish specials, tail pinchers, and head suckers. Oh yes Baton Rouge, Crawfish Season is here!

Jay Ducote stands with two batches of live crawfish at Tony’s Seafood. Each basket holds up to 500 lbs. of crawfish!
I recently took a look at the Baton Rouge crawfish scene to see where I could find exceptional boiled crawfish in the Red Stick. My first stop, which should be no surprise to anybody who knows seafood in Baton Rouge, was at Tony’s Seafood on Plank Road. Tony’s is best described as an institution, and is in fact the largest seafood market in the Gulf South. Started as a produce stand by Tony Pizzolato in 1959, by the early 1980’s Tony’s had transformed into the thriving seafood market that we know it as today.
The fine people at Tony’s gave me a tour of the facility including a chance to stand behind the counter, and a glimpse at their gigantic walk in cooler where they keep live crawfish. Tony’s cooks their crawfish in batches of up to 500 lbs. at a time in giant baskets and boiling pots. On a prime day, Tony’s can boil up to 30 pots, or as much as 15,000 lbs. of crawfish! Tony’s has great crawfish for the average palate. While they are mass-boiled, the flavor is great and extremely edible. However, if you are the kind of crawfish eater that wants their lips to burn eyes to water when eating spicy, red mudbugs, then Tony’s “friendly” spice may not be quite what you are looking for.
A large batch of freshly boiled crawfish at Tony’s Seafood is ready to be served.
My next stop occurred down Florida Boulevard at Randy Montalbano’s Seafood and Catering. Randy Montalbano, Jr. greeted me as I walked in to his restaurant and offered a quick tour of his kitchen. Although the scale of Montalbano’s operation is nowhere close to that of Tony’s, their seafood easily rivals that of their larger counterpart. Founded in June of 2006 by Randy and his father, Randy Montalbano, Sr., Montalbano’s specializes in boiled seafood and other Cajun dishes, providing off-site catering and in-store family-friendly dining. During the peak of the season, Montalbano’s averages around 10,000 lbs. of boiled crawfish per week. Randy let me sample some of his crawfish to get a taste of his spice and flavor offering. Let me tell you friends, C’est Bon! Montabano’s crawfish left my lips tingling without feeling overwhelmed by extreme heat. The crawfish had an excellent flavor with a great balance of salt and spice.
Boiled Crawfish at Randy Montalbano’s Seafood and Catering… C’est Bon!
While exploring the Red Stick area for crawfish, I also felt like it would be good to head out to the “suburbs” where I came across Jimbo’s Seafood on Jones Creek Road. Teresa Guerin kindly welcomed me and gave a detailed tour of their crawfish business. Like Montalbano’s, Jimbo’s boils farm-raised and basin crawfish to perfection. Jimbo’s has been serving up fresh and boiled seafood in the same location for the past 16 years and has built a loyal clientele. Teresa showed me firsthand how Jimbo’s hand-picks their crawfish and purges them in salt water to make sure their customers get nothing but the best. After watching preparation, Teresa served me a batch of fresh crawfish. Along side the crawdaddies came beautifully boiled corn and potatoes that are always a perfect complement. Jimbo’s batch impressed me just as much as Montalbano’s. I don’t think they had quite the heat, but they had every bit as much flavor. I wouldn’t hesitate ordering from them next time I wanted a few pounds of mudbugs to go!
MJ sorts through the live crawfish at Jimbo’s Seafood on Jones Creek as Jay Ducote looks on.
Hopefully some warm weather will bring in a bountiful harvest so that we can all enjoy this Crawfish Season like we’ve come to know and love in South Louisiana. I hope you enjoy it as much as I will!
Jay D. Ducote is the author of the blog Bite and Booze, which chronicles his culinary and indulgent adventures around Baton Rouge, South Louisiana, and the world. It can be found at http://www.biteandbooze.com/. You can also reach him by email at jaydducote@gmail.com.
Eric Ducote took all the pictures for this article. Credit goes to Hunter Brown for the graphic design of the restaurant sign collage.
Montalbano's Seafood on UrbanspoonTony's Seafood on Urbanspoon
Jimbo's Seafood on Urbanspoon  
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Good Burger: Riverside Patty

Baton Rouge has a handful of great places to eat fresh burgers so it is a shame whenever somebody thinks that fast food or national chains offer superior patties.  Among the elite burger joints in the Red Stick is Riverside Patty, a staple of the downtown dining scene since 1982. 
Riverside Patty on Third Street
Walking into this place you get the feeling that you’re going to eat something good.  The surroundings make even a relatively young man like me nostalgic for the days of old school burger joints with classic milk shakes.  While Riverside Patty doesn’t quite deliver on the shakes, they still do a fine job with the burgers!  The place is as casual as can be and could certainly use a renovation, but that’s what makes the character so great!
A View of Riverside Patty’s Ordering Counter
On one visit to Riverside Patty with Darrell, I ordered the house special.  This combo comes with a half pound burger patty and all the fixin’s, fries, and a drink.  I ordered mine on a wheat bun with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and honey mustard.  Just for good measure, I opted for a side of sweet potato fries!  The burger tasted delicious, but it lacked the juiciness that I had previously experienced at Riverside Patty.  The burger seemed overcooked and indeed the patty was well done throughout, without even a hint of pink in the middle.  I was rather disappointed, but still ultimately satisfied.
1/2 Pound Combo Burger with Honey Mustard and Sweet Potato Fries
On a future visit with Dana and Becca I ordered a Bacon Swiss Burger on wheat.  With all the other toppings the same, I found this burger to be slightly better, though still overcooked.  What is it with restaurants these days that make them not want to serve a medium rare or even medium cooked burger?  Well done beef is for the birds!  Again, this burger was tasty, but it could have been so much better with a little grease dripping down my forearms!  Next time I visit Riverside Patty I’m going to make sure to note that I want the burger cooked medium, not well done!
Bacon Swiss Burger
Riverside Patty on Urbanspoon

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La Carreta on Government Street

Not too long ago I met Megan for lunch at La Carreta on Government Street.  This local Mexican Restaurant got its start in Hammond, La area before expanding to Baton Rouge and other locations in South Louisiana.  In fact, business has been so good for owner Saúl Rubio that he has recently opened a second location in the Red Stick on Bluebonnet Blvd.  Still, the Mid-City location is easier for me to get to from work, so it was there that I dined!
La Carreta on Government Street
The restaurant recently underwent a renovation that moved the entrance to the patio area that used to be the back of the establishment.  La Carreta actually has one of my favorite outdoor dining spaces in Baton Rouge, so if you are ever in the mood for Mexican food on a nice day, it is a good spot to hit up. 
La Carreta’s Salsa
Obviously one of the best things about Mexican dining in the United States is the free chips and salsa that customarily accompanies every feast.  La Carreta’s salsa has a few chucks of fresh tomato that are mixed in with an otherwise liquidy base of tomato juice and herbs.  The flavor is fairly ordinary but still tastes fine if you like a classic salsa to go with your salted corn tortilla chips.
La Carreta Special: Beef Burrito, Chicken Tostada, Beef Enchilada
I ordered the La Carreta Special for lunch.  It came with a beef burrito, a chicken tostada, and a beef enchilada.  The tostada got buried under a pile of lettuce, sour cream, and pico de gallo while the burrito and enchilada could be found a little easier on the plate.  Unfortunately the ground beef that stuffed the burrito and enchilada was nothing to brag about.  It was plain and bland and I think I’ve honestly been happier with burritos at Taco Bell.  This really surprised me as I’ve had great experiences with La Carreta in the past.  Perhaps the best advice is to stick with chicken or steak and avoid the ground beef.  I’m sure I’ll be back at some point to sit on the patio and enjoy some cerveza.  I’ll just have to be more careful about what I order!

La Carreta on Urbanspoon

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Pork Shoulder Barbeque at the House

While most of the culinary conquests that I write about on this blog consist of restaurant reviews and delightful dishes that other people create, every now and then I do a little cooking myself.  I recently spent an afternoon barbequing for some friends where I experimented with some pork shoulder recipes and also threw in a little bit of grilled chicken, green beans, macaroni and cheese, and some homemade biscuits.  Brent, Eric, Justin, and James all came over to enjoy the afternoon of sports and smoked meats.  Add some beers and few things in life could be much better!

Two Pork Shoulders Ready to be Seasoned and Smoked
I decided to use two different injections for the pork shoulders so I could play around a little bit and see which one came out better.  Since my blog is title Bite and Booze, my first decision was that each recipe should contain some kind of booze in it.  The first injection contained blackberries, honey, and bourbon.  I tried to make this one sweet instead of salty to see how the meat would turn out.  After combining the blackberries, honey, and Maker’s Mark bourbon, I injected the liquid mixture into the pork shoulder and then rubbed the rest onto the meat.  I let the shoulder marinate like that overnight and in the morning I rubbed it down with a blend of seasoning that mostly contained Slap Ya Mama Cajun Seasoning and brown sugar.
Honey, Blackberries, and Maker’s Mark Used to Marinate a Pork Shoulder
For the second shoulder I decided to use more of a salty and spicy mixture to contrast the sweetness of the fruit and honey in the first injection.  I blended together some Worcestershire Sauce, Creole mustard, German-style Kölsch beer, and Louisiana-style hot sauce to create a unique injection liquid for the pork.  Specifically, I used Lea & Perrins which truly is THE Worcestershire Sauce as far as I’m concerned.  For the Creole mustard I used some Zatarain’s that I had in my fridge.  As far as Creole mustards go this is pretty much on the top.  My good friends at Slap Ya Mama supplied provided the hot sauce.  There a lot of options to choose from when it comes to Louisiana-style hot sauce, but you can never go wrong with Slap Ya Mama!  Finally, the beer I chose is actually from Texas, but it is damn good and I have no problem using it with Creole mustard and Louisiana hot sauce.  Saint Arnold’s Lawnmower is crisp and refreshing with good malt and fruit flavors.  I thought it was a good beer to use in this injection because it is full bodied but light enough to not mask the other flavors.  Plus, I got to drink the half that did not get injected!  Like the first shoulder, I let this one marinate with the injections over night and then I rubbed it down with a generous portion of my blend in the morning.
The Second Batch of Injection Ingredients Lined Up, Two Pork Shoulders in the Smoker

The smoking of the pork shoulders took quite a few hours, so there was plenty of time to enjoy the company of my friends, watch sports on TV, and drink some beers.  I smoked the shoulders over pure mesquite charcoal.  I really like mesquite because it brings me back to my childhood days at South Texas deer camps where my father taught me how to grill on open mesquite fires.  Mesquite smoke leaves a unique flavor and spiciness in meats that I’ve never found from any other wood. 

Two Pork Shoulders in the Smoker, Blackberry/Honey/Bourbon in the Back,
Worcestershire/Mustard/Hot Sauce/Beer in Front
While the pork smoked over the indirect heat of blistering mesquite coals, I got to work back in the kitchen to make sure I had lunch ready at a decent hour.  I seasoned a batch of chicken thighs with my rub from the pork that mostly consisted of Slap Ya Mama and brown sugar.  While grilling the chicken thighs over the mesquite, I sautéed some haricot verts in olive oil and lemon juice with a touch of garlic, sea salt, and fresh cracked black pepper.  In addition, I made a smoked Gouda mac and cheese with some grated Gouda and boiled egg noodles.
Lemon and Garlic Haricot Verts and Smoked Gouda Mac & Cheese
I felt a bit adventurous so I took a stab at making some biscuits from scratch.  I tried to use a recipe that I had stumbled upon for Popeyes-style biscuits.  They ended up having a pretty good flavor but they didn’t rise like I wanted and wound up dense rather than fluffy.  Oh well, it will give me something to work on for next time!
Biscuits in the Oven, Plate of Lunch Featuring Haricot Verts, Smoked Gouda Mac & Cheese, Grilled Chicken Thighs, and a Biscuit
After lunch, football, and several rounds of beers the time had finally come to take the pork shoulders out of the smoker.  The anticipation in my mind ran wild with thoughts about how great this pork could be.  While there certainly are some tweaks to make to the recipes, overall my expectations were met with great satisfaction!  The “sweet” recipe could have been sweeter.  The honey and blackberry didn’t shine through quite as much as I had hoped and I found that I could have used even more sweetness in the injection and rub.  Next time I think I will try it with pure maple syrup instead of honey.  I also might use some blackberry preserves rather than trying to put fresh blackberries through a food processor.  We’ll see though.  In the end the pork certainly ended up being juicy and tender, I just think it could have used more flavor.
Blackberry, Honey, and Bourbon Pork Shoulder
I found the salty and spicy shoulder to be the better of the two.  The flavor of this shoulder really came through with the spiciness of the mesquite smoke complimenting the Creole mustard and hot sauce.  If I had one complaint about this one it would be that I applied too much rub to the outside and it became a little bit over salted if you got a big enough piece of the crust.  I’ll certainly need to work on my rub, though I thought it was really pretty darn good considering how easy it was.  All in all I had some really good food with some great guests while I worked on some barbeque recipes.  It is hard to get much better than that!
Tray of Pulled Pork: Worcestershire/Mustard/Hot Sauce/Beer on the Left,
Blackberry/Honey/Bourbon on the Right
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