Food

#1 Restaurant Review for Gambit Weekly, April 11, 2000

 

Toast of New Orleans

 

JoAnn Clevenger’s charming personality and colorful background shine through every facet of her Uptown restaurant, Upperline.  Inspired by her early days as a florist and gallery owner, Ms. Clevenger decorates with long-stemmed roses and artwork by local artists.  Her later stints in the hospitality business are reflected in professional and courteous service.  And a passion for timeless Southern food has led her to create a menu best described as classic New Orleans with a lively twist. 

 Upperline’s three yellow dining rooms are clearly Ms. Clevenger’s longstanding domain.  But in the kitchen Kenneth Smith has taken over from a small succession of chefs, most recently Richard Benz of Dick and Jenny’s.  No stranger to Upperline, Smith has worked at the restaurant for eight years and is extremely familiar with the menu.

 On the night we dined, the “Taste of New Orleans” menu item - seven tasting portions of a la carte Creole and Cajun favorites - sounded too appealing to pass up.  Ms. Clevenger recommends this selection to out-of-town visitors, but says it is also a hit with locals.                 

 To start, oyster stew and duck gumbo were served on a plate in twin demitasse cups - a charming presentation - along with roast duck and andouille sausage etoufee.  (Turtle soup added to the other two soups makes for the ever-popular trio of soups appetizer.)  A basket of French bread and cornbread squares accompanied the food. 

 The lightly creamed oyster stew was delectable, infused with the fresh spring taste of watercress and a deft touch of Pernod.  A juicy, plump oyster sitting at the bottom of the cup begged to be savored, and it was.  By contrast, the duck gumbo was spicy, rich and complex, with just the right amount of rice to stir in.

 The roast duck and andouille sausage etoufee came not over the traditional rice but over silver-dollar-sized jalapeno corn cakes. The corn cakes were fluffy and light, balancing a perfectly spiced etoufee where earthy duck and piquant sausage flavors were allowed to emerge instead of being overcome by too much heat.  Louisiana pepper jelly on the side added sweetness whenever necessary.

 The second plate in the “Taste of New Orleans” allowed a sampling of two additional appetizers, fried green tomatoes and spicy shrimp, as well as the only entree portion available in this selection, a roast quarter duck.  Roast duck is one of Upperline’s signature dishes.

Fried green tomatoes with shrimp remoulade is another signature dish.  The sliced green tomatoes were breaded in cornmeal, then lightly fried.  Cornmeal is historically a Southern staple and often used at Upperline in lieu of wheat flour.  In this dish, the cornmeal breading lent a sweetness to the naturally tart green tomatoes.  The shrimp remoulade was very good, topping the green tomatoes with shrimp tossed in mayonnaise and Creole mustard.

 In the spicy shrimp dish, onion slivers were caramelized and served with Cajun-spiced shrimp over a sharp garlic aioli.  The underlying jalapeno cornbread square acted as a crumbly pillow, nicely absorbing the various flavors.

 Last but not least, Tom Cowman’s Famous Roast Duck was a wonderfully moist quarter duck served with a ginger and peach sauce on the side.  Again, the hot-honied tastes of the aromatic sauce did not overwhelm the duck.  As a menu entree, this dish - named for an earlier chef - comes in a generous half duck portion. 

 Of course, a “Taste of New Orleans” would not be complete without a decadent dessert.  Two choices are offered, pecan pie or bread pudding.  The honey-pecan bread pudding was denser than usual but very good, accompanied by a bourbon and caramel sauce.  But the Louisiana pecan pie was my favorite.  Chock-full of fresh crunchy pecans, the warm pie wedge was served across flavorful stripes of chocolate and caramel.

 Other than the wonderful “Taste of New Orleans,” menu selections include a three course prix fixe seasonal menu that changes with the availability of Louisiana ingredients.  The bronzed catfish offered this spring was a treat, breaded in cornmeal and lightly fried, then topped with barbecued crawfish and served on jalapeno cornbread.

 Southern sweet potato fries and slow cooked mustard greens, along with a whole head of roasted garlic, are always available as side dishes.  A chef’s seasonal vegetable plate is also an a la carte item for vegetarians.

 Upperline’s menu is not very extensive, but the focus here is definitely on quality not quantity.  Since the restaurant opened in 1983, the dishes have evolved, been tweaked and then perfected.  This fact has not been missed by a loyal clientele that fill the bustling dining rooms nightly with local color.

 Meanwhile, the out-of-town visitors fortunate enough to secure a reservation at Upperline are certain to find the spirit, the charm, and, yes, the taste of the real New Orleans.

 

What: Upperline Restaurant

Where: 1413 Upperline Street, New Orleans, LA 70115 Tel: 891-9822

Cuisine: Classic New Orleans with a lively twist

When: Wed, Thu & Sun 5.30 - 9.30 p.m.; Fri & Sat 5.30 - 10.30 p.m.

 

#2 Restaurant Review for The Florida Times-Union, September 25, 1998

 

Simple, elegant Dolphin Depot serves Low Country with flair

 

The Low Country food of coastal Carolina meets its high cuisine counterpart in Jacksonville Beach’s Dolphin Depot.  The restaurant is housed in a converted gas station decorated with rustic furniture and quirky antiques.  But beneath the quaint facade lies a professional establishment dedicated to fine dining.

Shown to a table on an elevated platform, we found ourselves in an intimate space with a perfect view of the restaurant and the open kitchen.  The regular menu contained limited selections, but our server told us few diners order from it.  Instead, he produced a blackboard with appetizers chalked in block letters and talked us with rapid ease through fifteen choices.  Food preparation details were not spared in his delivery.  By the time he had finished, our heads were spinning.

An excellent memory and concentration skills are necessary for following this well-rehearsed presentation.  Menu prices are not listed. Appetizers include items such as crab cakes, shrimp ‘n’ grits, royal red shrimp cocktail, and a popular oyster and artichoke concoction presented in a home-made puffy pastry shell.  We chose Low Country favorite She-Crab Soup ($3.90 cup; $4.90 bowl), along with Blackened Scallops ($7.90).

While waiting for the appetizers, fresh baked scones and tasty orange muffins were delivered to our table.  Neighboring diners picked at billowing sourdough bread made in terra cotta flowerpots.  Upon their arrival, both appetizers had to be returned to the kitchen for reheating, but they proved worth the wait.

The She-Crab Soup blended shredded Dungeness and Blue Crab meat with a thick cream base.  The tasty soup was laced with sherry and garnished with chantilly cream.  For the other appetizer, three large scallops - lightly blackened and perfectly cooked - were served on ground corn grits topped with a red bell pepper sauce.

The entree menu was on a second blackboard offering close to fifty selections.  We were grateful to our server for narrowing our main courses to Dolphin Depot favorites.  Five fresh fish choices are served either blackened, casino-style, seasoned with horseradish, or prepared Low Country topped with a zesty lemon, artichoke and herb sauce.  Salmon on a Plank is delicious, an award-winning recipe that grills seasoned salmon on a damp cedar plank.  Other entrees include items with Low Country names like Seafood Carolina, Lobster Charleston and Wetland Shrimp.  Though seafood weighs heavily on the entree blackboard menu, there are plenty of meat dishes available such as Beaufort Veal, Pork Tenders and Rack of Lamb.

For us, Floribbean Delight ($25.90) and Flounder Garibaldi ($23.90) proved irresistible entree choices. 

Though neither Florida nor the Caribbean constitute the Low Country, the half Maine Lobster and four plump shrimp that made up the Floribbean Delight were not disappointing.  The succulent lobster chunks were presented on a platter filled with julienne vegetables cooked al dente, including squash, carrot, zucchini, snow pea, and red and green bell pepper.  A touch of champagne cream sauce added tangy flavors and completed the flawless presentation.

Flounder Garibaldi originates from a similar dish served at a landmark Charleston restaurant called Garibaldi’s.  Instead of Garibaldi’s apricot sauce, the Dolphin Depot tops the flounder with a sweet and sour mandarin sauce.  The sautéed flounder came on the bone, and was breaded with cornmeal and herbs.  Fresh tasting and perfectly cooked, the fish was accompanied with a side vegetable dish containing string beans, spaghetti squash and orzo pasta.  The vegetable sides dishes vary seasonally.  On a previous occasion, we had enjoyed collard greens, ground grits and sweet corn on the half cob.

While we savored our entrees, efficient servers ran around with blackboards and reeled off the extensive menu with confidence.  Tables rapidly filled up, as the maitre d’ performed a subtle round of the diners, making sure everything was satisfactory.

Desserts were committed to our server’s memory, as opposed to a blackboard.  Choices include Bourbon Pecan Torte, Key Lime Cheesecake and Old-Fashioned Peanut Butter Pie.  The Chocolate Razzmatazz ($8.90) caught our eye, as did the Blueberry Creme Brulee ($4.90).

The Blueberry Creme Brulee was not as smooth and silky as expected, but tasty nonetheless.   Prepared in a double boiler, the custard had been poured over the blueberries and chilled right away, leaving the fruit fresh at the bottom of the cup.  The caramelized top was browned to a perfect crackle, and garnished with more blueberries as well as whipped cream.

Chocolate Razzmatazz turned out to be a dashing dessert.  A dense, moist chocolate cake sandwiched a thick layer of dark chocolate mousse.  A light chocolate mousse and flaked chocolate topped the dessert, which also came with a small chocolate cup containing a few raspberries.  Drops of Chambord sauce added intensity and balance.  Though expensive, this rich dessert could easily be shared.

After dinner, we agreed the Dolphin Depot continues to serve an interesting variety of food in a simple yet elegant setting.  Taking Low Country cuisine and combining it with gourmet flair is what they do very well.

 

Dolphin Depot

704 N. First Street

Jacksonville Beach

(904) 270-1424

Type of Cuisine: Gourmet-style Low Country and Eclectic American.

Menu: Regular menu, regular & changing blackboard specials.

Hours: M-Th 5:00 - 10:00; F-Sat 5:00 - 11:00; Sun 5:00 - 9:00.

Credit cards accepted: All.

Alcohol service? Yes.

Reservations? Yes.

Separate children’s menu? No.

Wheelchair accessible? Yes.

Price rating: Expensive to very expensive.