Gurney's Inn
June 20, 2007

Jerry's Ink


What is it with salt?

Why are so many people trying to keep us from enjoying it?

Go into any fine restaurant (mine included) and you can't find a saltshaker on a table. The salt police have done their job well. Ask for salt in a fine restaurant anywhere in New York or Los Angeles and they look at you as if you had just asked for a shaker filled with heroin.

Your steak arrives in a restaurant and it's filled with shiny oozing delicious artery-clogging fat, and yet they put it on your table and expect you to eat it without salt. Ask a waiter or a waitress for salt and they give you a nervous smile and disappear for an hour looking for the restaurant's only saltshaker.

I hear that in Los Angles, the capital of tasteless, politically correct food, it's easier to score cocaine in most restaurants than it is to get a harmless little shaker of salt.

Even the busboy who just came over the border in the trunk of a '49 Chevy with 30 other people already knows how to give a salt-starved restaurant customer, who just wants a few crystals of salt to flavor his food, a look that says, "Salt? Salt? We don't serve no stinking salt . . . the chef knows how much salt this dish should have. You ask for salt and you are insulting him, you are insulting his family. If he comes out of the kitchen and lops your head off with a frigging meat cleaver it will be justifiable homicide."

I say if God had not wanted us to have salt or cholesterol, he/she wouldn't have invented high-blood-pressure medication and Lipitor.

My dad poured salt on all his food until it had a white coating. True, he only lived to the age of 92.

So what is it prompting this latest rage on my part?

It's because last weekend I died and went to food heaven.

I spent a weekend in New Orleans, where salt and fat get the proper respect.

What a place . . . saltshakers in every restaurant on every table like in the good old days. And the food – filled with salt and trans fats and butter and cream and sugar. It was so delicious.

It's a kind of food you can't find anywhere else in this country.

It was a great Father's Day weekend.

My wife, the beautiful Judy Licht, went to Turkey to shoot a fashion show.

So it was my designing daughter Jessie and my son JT and me going to visit JT's new college, Tulane, which is mercifully located in New Orleans – the food capital of the United States.

On our way to New Orleans, at the JetBlue terminal in JFK, we hit the Papaya King stand and enjoyed a snack of spicy hot dogs. I had three hot dogs filled with sauerkraut and mustard. Just the thing to get my sodium count up for the trip.

Excessive? You bet. You can't teach your kids the joys of excess too early, I always say.

We ate our way through New Orleans.

On the first night we ate at a new restaurant named Lilette that was outstanding. I had a delicious seafood gumbo, we had fried eggplant with shriveled yellow tomatoes, basil leaves and salted, tar-like black olives. Then we shared delicious white truffle Parmesan toast with shiitakes drenched in veal glace. And as a side order we munched on fried frog legs with fresh fine herbs.

We shared a great bottle of wine.

The next morning it was a lunch at a restaurant that served chili omelets and grits and the most delicious biscuits. We finished that treat, glanced at the beautiful Tulane campus, and sped to Bourbon Street and drank Hurricanes, which are made up of four different rums and jungle juice. Then we rushed to Café Du Monde where we devoured a pre-dinner treat of beignets covered with powdered sugar.

Then to dinner at another new restaurant, called Herbsaint, where we feasted on salty and delicious Muscovy duck leg confit with dirty rice and citrus gastrique, and a seared Kurabuta pork belly with local field peas and pickled turnips, and sautéed jumbo shrimp with eggplant dressing and jalapenos.

Sunday morning it was breakfast at Brennan's with turtle soup, and poached eggs with a thick rich Hollandaise sauce and chunks of crab meat.

Then I had the thrill of watching my kids taste, for the first time, a Brennan's treat: Bananas Foster, filled with butter and perhaps the world's unhealthiest and most delicious dessert.

As I was driving to the airport, Jessie asked, "What does it mean when you can't get your ring off because your fingers are swollen?"

It means you've had a great weekend.

"What is it that you both enjoyed the most?" I asked.

In this world where an education at a great school like Tulane costs a fortune, it is nice to see that my children still retain their respect for a bargain. With all the great meals and all the fun, clearly there was one thing that truly impressed both of my kids. Jessie summed it up: "I'm so glad we found it!"

What is "it"?

They both agreed. It was when we stopped on Bourbon Street and had Jell-O shots that only cost a dollar a piece.

That's my boy, that's my girl, I thought, as I smiled to myself and burped.

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