Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Next week brings hungry, hungry holidays

Posted By on Tue, Mar 27, 2012 at 4:42 PM

Leah Chases gumbo zherbes is packed with greens and meat.
  • Ian McNulty
  • Leah Chase's gumbo z'herbes is packed with greens and meat.

Next week is a big one for religious observances, and a number of notable New Orleans restaurants are stepping up with special meals to mark the season.

Gumbo Z’Herbes at Dooky Chase

Holy Thursday, April 5 this year, is the one day of the year when chef Leah Chase serves gumbo z’herbes at her Dooky Chase Restaurant (2301 Orleans Ave., 821-0600), and it’s also become the busiest day of the year at this landmark restaurant.

Gumbo z’herbes is a deeply traditional, greens-based gumbo like no other, and its annual appearance at Dooky Chase has grown into a major happening as large parties of friends and family book tables and whole private dining rooms well in advance to partake together. A festive atmosphere rules the restaurant that day, and Chase suspends her regular menu on Holy Thursday to focus solely on serving gumbo z’herbes and fried chicken.

“I cooked 75 (gallons) last year and I knew this year that wouldn’t work so I’m doing 100 gallons,” says Chase. “Usually, people come, eat their gumbo and go back to work, but we have other people, they turn it into a party, decorating their tables and everything.”

The variety of greens used in this gumbo varies from kitchen to kitchen. Chase says she uses nine types, and she stresses that no matter what it’s important to use an uneven number of greens. To use an even number is simply bad luck in the Creole tradition, she says. Further, that tradition maintains that for each different green in the pot you will make a new friend in the succeeding year. Her recipe also calls for quite a lot of meat, including ham, two types of sausage and brisket.

“We serve it the day before Good Friday because that’s our last big meat day before Easter Sunday, so you have this big hearty meal before you start fasting,” she says.

Dooky Chase has planned three seatings for Holy Thursday, at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. Even at this writing, though, the first seating is filled up and the second seating is getting close.

Passover at Domenica

The following day, April 6, marks both Good Friday and the start of Passover, and that’s the day when Domenica begins a special four-course Passover menu. Alon Shaya, the Israeli-born chef at Domenica, introduced the idea of running special Jewish holiday-themed menus at this regional Italian restaurant in 2010 and he has continued it with gusto.

“I was calling it a tradition the first year we were doing it,” says Shaya.

He says plenty of customers have embraced the tradition too, and he’s expecting many of familiar faces this year. Shaya runs similar menus during Rosh Hashana and Hanukkah.

“I have a lot of fun with the menu because I feel I don’t have to do the same old things I ate growing up,” he says.

The menu starts with matzo bread cooked in the restaurant’s wood-fired oven, served with traditional charoset, and moves on to a matzo ball soup prepared with duck instead of chicken. There’s bronzini, or Mediterranean sea bass, with a profusion of traditional bitter herbs, and lamb shank coated in pomegranate and Moroccan spices. Dessert is hazelnut cake.

Domenica is not a Kosher restaurant –in fact, it’s a restaurant with its own cooler of cured Italian pork products on display by the bar – but Shaya says his Passover menu is “Kosher-style,” with no pork, no shellfish and no dairy mixing it up in there. Even the hazelnut cake is made with soymilk.

“It follows the principles of being Kosher without actually being Kosher,” he says.

This Passover menu is available at lunch and dinner each day from April 6 to April 14, and it is $55 per person, plus tax and tip.

An Early Easter Feast, Polish-Style

Many restaurants serve special menus on Easter Sunday to accommodate big family tables, but this year chef Stephen Stryjewski of Cochon is doing something a bit different. In line with his family roots, he’s serving a traditional Polish Easter feast, hosting it at Calcasieu, the private dining facility upstairs from Cochon, and doing it early – on Wednesday, April 4.

At this meal, he’s featuring traditional Polish holiday dishes and edible Easter symbolism, so look for eggs both shelled and elaborately decorated, whole roasted leg of lamb, ham and kielbasa, pierogi, cold beet soup, beets with horseradish, crawfish stuffing and many different pastries.

This dinner starts at 6:30 p.m. and includes an assortment of house-flavored vodkas and Polish vodkas, plus wine. The price is $75, which includes tax and tip, and a portion of proceeds will benefit Chefs Collaborative, a nonprofit that promotes sustainable food. For reservations call Cochon at 588-2123.

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