Monday, December 26: “I’ve had luck with Syrah and Zin. The more acid and fruit, the better,” says Jeff Kundinger, Cuvée’s sommelier. “Flabby, oaky whites, no.” I’m meeting GW Fins’ PR rep Danielle Boyce Batten and her husband Mike at their ruined home to rescue their wines. First I go to Bourbon House for a wild alligator soup. I’ve been tasting my way through swamp creatures. New Orleans fries frog legs and serves them as finger food with some sort of sauce. Bob Iacovone does them Buffalo wing-style, glazed in his signature “sweet heat” and sided by blue-cheese dip. Tenney Flynn plates them with a Creole aiöli, and Donald Link of Herbsaint finishes them with an Asian-style sweet-and-sour drizzle and fragrant fines herbes. I ate Link’s frog legs with Brett Anderson, the Times-Picayune restaurant reviewer who hasn’t reviewed a restaurant since the storm. Given the present circumstances, he doesn’t think it fair.
Bourbon House’s alligator soup is spiked with sherry and lemon juice. The reptile’s meat is ground like sausage. It’s chewy and mildly gamey. Dickie Brennan, Bourbon House’s owner, is frustrated. He’s kept his staff on payroll and benefits, but he’s lost folks to a lack of housing. Half of Bourbon House isn’t seated because the staff is stretched so thin. Dickie’s proposed a trailer village for hospitality workers, but hundreds of FEMA trailers line parking lots, as yet unused. Plans for the village are sitting on some city official’s desk.
At her house in Lakeview, Danielle Boyce Batten keeps up a running commentary. “This coffee table was in the other room with the door closed. . . This was our art-deco bar. . . There’s my wedding dress.” Everything has been hurdled, smashed, torn, sunk. The wine cooler sits ajar, its bottles caked in muck. We grab what reds we can. Outside, Danielle points to the houses. “Eula lived there. She was 93 and still drove herself to the casino. . . The lady next door was a Marine nurse in World War II. . .The Rumigs’ house has a sale sign. They lived here 57 years.”
I follow Jeff’s instructions for the bottles: a bleach bath, let them dry, wipe carefully with Dawn. At Cuvée, Jeff peels the whole foil off a 2002 Rexhill Pinot Noir. He wipes the cork before pulling, pulls it halfway and wipes again. He sniffs, sips, swishes, spits, sips again. “There’s some funk on it, and it should have more fruit. The alcohol is a little out of whack.” The wine was immersed and then sat in 100-degree weather; “the alcohol and acid became disjointed.” Still, Jeff deems it drinkable. “It would’ve been a helluva lot better if it hadn’t gotten hot.”
The 2003 Ponzi Pinot Noir has had some seepage. “There’s lot of fruit initially, but it stops short mid-palate. You salivate, swallow and where did it go? Then that tinny thing comes back.” We try the 1996 Mondavi Cab. “The Napa oak and alcohol are falling apart.” The 2001 Edgefield Merlot has some hard tannins but it’s drinkable; Oregon is cooler, which produces more acid to hold the wine. Out of 14 bottles, we find four to drink and, of those, two that are tasty. “My advice?” Jeff concludes. “Take the wine. Don’t throw it away. If you find three bottles out of 50 that are good, that’s three out of 50 you don’t have to buy. At the very least, you can tell your buddies, ‘We’re drinking a wine that went through my cellar in Katrina.’”
I take one of the tasty bottles – a Montepulciano missing its label with no vintage noted on the cork – to August. It’s gotten me in the mood for steak. But you can’t very well order steak at August. John Besh’s foie gras trio comes smoked in cognac with a seckel pear brûlée, wrapped in a five-layer sponge cake with champagne gelée and 25-year-old balsamic, and seared on brioche with a raspberry vinegar. The frisée teeters on Serrano ham and goat cheese between salty tapenade and sweet sour cherries. Besh’s sourcing is local – or it was before the storm -- but the only Creole thing I eat is the Père Roux Christmas cake cribbed from a recipe from a North Shore abbey. The Montepulciano isn’t exactly a match for this complex meal. But Octavio Mantilla, Besh’s partner, takes a few sips and raises his eyebrows. “Maybe I shouldn’t have thrown out so many of our wines.”