Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

The Lost Kitchen – Freedom, Maine

Posted 21 Aug 2016 — by S.E.
Category Fine Dining, Full Service, Travel, Uncategorized, Warms My Heart

IMG_1339Tonight I was surprised – blown away actually – by my experience dining with Chef Erin French at her restaurant The Lost Kitchen way up in Freedom, Maine. This is a restaurant run by a team of women so dedicated to the cause that you can feel the restaurant’s heart the minute you enter. This is more than a dinner, it’s time spent in a family members home where the food and wine is incredible and the hospitality hangs on you like a warm blanket on a cold night. It’s a vibe so comforting and laden with hospitality that it’s hard to leave after dessert is served. Erin and her team of farmers, mothers, sisters, and friends has achieved the nearly impossible – an emotional connection with guests that strikes at your heart and palate. This place is incredible.IMG_1380

The restaurant is 200 miles north of Boston and just a half hour north west of Belfast in the rolling Maine hills some miles adjacent to the ocean. This is mid-coast Maine which remains a place suspended in time economically and one where people have learned to survive the hard way. Many spend the year working fingers to the bone while enduring summers that are all too short and winters that last too long. Freedom is typical – its small (very small) and has seen better days. We find our way down Pleasant Street and over the culvert to the parking lot on the other side of Sandy Stream. After parking the car and a quick walk back across a foot-bridge over the stream we enter the Mill at Freedom Falls.

Inside the warmly renovated post-and-beam dining room the welcome is deep and authentic – each barn-board table perfectly set. The menu is served banquet style and consists of four courses along with additional courses and amuse bouche.  The food is not precious or contrived – instead it dwells in the realm of elegant simplicity. French maintains a light touch and her dishes aren’t overly seasoned or salted. It almost feels like a certain level of restraint flows under each item – and I love her delicate touch. SheIMG_1407 serves 50+ guests a prix fixe menu with just one seating per night. During service she and two assistants prepare every item in a wide open kitchen – cooking on a 60 inch LaCanche range from France. There is no hiding in this kitchen – the kitchen and dining room are one. And French isn’t the type to hide. During the meal, often while foods are searing on the range, she personally visits each table in the restaurant offering warm greetings. She hauls ass – dressed in high heeled clogs, tailored jeans, a black blouse, and white kitchen apron. Her team exhibits care and great joy while floating through the restaurant during service. It’s easy to tell these folks truly appreciate those of us who make the trip deep into the woods for such a great meal. These women (the moms, sisters, aunts, cousins, friends, and farmers) are reviving the town of Freedom through sheer willpower and hard work and we are, in part, the beneficiaries. This is more than a restaurant, it’s a community movement of the best kind. Pure hospitality flows freely here and this is rare indeed. It’s now one of my favorite restaurants. Heartfelt congratulations Erin.

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Local Cucumbers, Radish, Butter, Cheese, Gougères, Olives, Cornichon, Marcona Almond

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Pemaquid Oysters with Blueberry Vinaigrette

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Mussels, Rosemary, Lime

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Cold Wild Blueberry Soup, Buttered Croutons, Cucumber & Dill

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Heirloom Tomato Salad, Many Basils, Smoked Ricotta

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Local Lamb Chop, Whipped Feta & Lemon Butter, Fingerlings, Fennel, Tarragon & Peach, Baby Arugula

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Sweet Corn & Vanilla Pot de Cream, Really Ripe Blackberries, Husk Cherries

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LaCanche Range in Full Force

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Plating Heirloom Tomato Salad with Many Basils

The Lost Kitchen

22 Mill St, Freedom, ME 04941

(207) 382-3333

 

Osteria Francescana, Modena, IT

Posted 09 Oct 2012 — by S.E.
Category Fine Dining, Uncategorized

It has taken almost a year but finally we are on our way to Osteria Francescana after several days of floating with the crows in Florence. The mid-day drive up the A1 is gorgeous, lots of sun flowers and clear roads cruising at 130kmh. We make it to Modena in record time, park along the Viale Vittorio Veneto and walk to Via Stella just a few minutes away. Culinary curiosity sends waves of thought through my mind as we feel our way toward the restaurant with high anticipation after being invited for a visit nearly a year earlier. Massimo Bottura and I met in New York at the 2011 Starchefs conference at Park Avenue Armory. I had been tracking him since Osteria Francescana broke the top ten of Pellegrino’s 50 Best Restaurants in the World. In 2012 the restaurant is ranked 5th (behind Noma, Roca, Mugaritz, and D.O.M. in Brazil).

When Bottura spoke at the Armory he waxed poetic about the food of his youth, of Cotechino sausage and chicken embryos. His deep rooted connection to the culture and foods of his native Emilia Romagna radiated authentically while he spoke. Behind him his assistants used syringes to drain chicken embryos while keeping the exterior membrane intact and refilled them with warm ham broth forming gorgeous little yellow ham juice bombs, a new take on an old favorite. My first impression then was that of a mad scientist evoking culinary emotion; the core theme of Starchefs in 2011. And now we are walking toward the restaurant.

The entry is tucked down a narrow side street and is subdued enough that you could walk right past it if it not for the polished brass signage. Inside the dining room is divided into two rooms with wide spacing between tables and lots of natural light. The first room is small with six tables and seating for twelve. Further back is the main dining room with seating for approximately forty.

Tables are double draped with pressed white linen and napkins and silver tubular single stemmed bud vases. A fair amount of thought must have gone into the design of the dining room particularly the scale and lighting. Light from south facing windows is diffused through frosted glass in some places and white muslin draping in others softening the glow in the room to a bright but muted glow. Chairs are upholstered in black leather and the walls decorated with framed black and white photos.  It feels more like an art gallery than a restaurant interior.

From the moment we enter the front of the house team enrobes us with comfort. They know we are visiting for the first time, that we are American, that we met Massimo in New York, and that we have come to eat. Menus are presented as a formality so we can explore and discuss each item. Curiosities are explored, philosophy discussed and preferences defined. The quality of the food at Osteria Francescana would exceed my word limit but Bottura does a masterful job applying modernist techniques and interpretations to the traditional foods of the region. However the real surprise was the quality of service and the staff’s ability to draw us in and put us at ease. A defining moment came when we were asking questions about the menu and our options and our server stated “we are three Michelin stars but we are not a museum. We can make anything you like in our kitchen and would be glad to make what you want. It would make me very happy if you truly enjoy yourself.” We truly did enjoy ourselves and it was worth every ounce of effort it took to get to Modena. My favorite dish: Five Ages of Parmigiano Reggiano…put this dish on your bucket list.

Here’s a photo record of the 15 course menu we enjoyed!

1.      Memory of a Mortadella Sandwich with Garlic Cream

 2.      Sardine with Eggplant, Olive, Crispy Cracker

 3.      Razor Clam Reconstructed, Essence of Razor Clam Broth, Rice Cracker Shell

 4.      Plate of Salt Cod with Bread Crumbs, Green Tomato, Olive Broth

 

5.      Spaghetti with Brown Squid Broth and Caviar

 6.      Saba Lacquered Adriatic Eel with Mother of Balsamic, Polenta, Green Apple, Burnt Onion

 

7.      Tortellini with Veal and Pork, Parmesan Sauce

 

8.      Tagliatelle with Ragu

 

9.      Pork Ribs with Jerusalem Artichoke and Potato Puree

 

10.   Vegetable, Porcini, Black Truffle

 

11.   Five Ages of Parmigiano Reggiano in Different Textures and Temperatures

 

12.   Compression of Pasta and Beans

 

13.   Wood Pigeon, Red Turnip Sauce, Fresh Radish

 

14.   Foie Gras Crunch with Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena

 

15.   Oops! Broken Fruit Pie

 

16.   Friandise

 

 

 

 

Osteria Francescana

Via Stella, 22

41121 Modena, Italy

059-210118

Osteriafrancescana.it

Top 4th of July Seashore Dishes

Posted 03 Jul 2011 — by S.E.
Category Uncategorized

 

Cottages by the Seashore

We live in a great country; one whose ideals are worth celebrating and certainly worth protecting. Each 4th of July communities small and large fly the stars and stripes, shoot fireworks into the air and gather together. For me a classic gathering on the 4th of July involves one of a short list of options; a ball game with fireworks, a hike in the mountains or a trip to the seashore. With each comes a specific set of food choices linked directly to the type of  festivities and surroundings we choose. The Culinary Arts are always central to daily life!

This year I opt for the seashore and a menu featuring lobster, fresh shucked oysters, steamed clams, traditional New England clam chowder and an emerging favorite; steamed mussels with Panang Curry and Sweet Red Chili sauce.   

Lobsters at Woodmans – Essex Massachusetts: Woodman’s is an institution. The food is simple, the setting rustic and the food delicious. A 4th  of July mainstay: grab-and-go steamed lobster.

Raspberry Point Oyster, Prince Edward Island: You have seen these before on this blog and you will see them again. These are such wonderful oysters with a deep flavor and perfect brine. I have been eating oysters like these since I was five years old and every time I eat them I am reminded what a joy life is!

Home-Made Bowl of Steamers: Toss a couple chopped green onions into the pot when they are steaming. Serve with broth and drawn butter. If you can’t dig them yourself, buy them online from American Mussel Harvesters. During the summer, I will go through 15-20 pounds eating them as a snack.

New England Clam Chowder:  This is a modification of a family recipe. We use Nueske’s apple smoked slab bacon instead of salt pork and a good bit of celery. Rhode Island little neck clams are the best choice for maximum flavor. Good chowder takes time to make and doesn’tinvolve anything from a can. The results are worth the effort.

Steamed Mussels with Panang Curry, Sweet Chili Sauce and Sauteed Fennel: Not your typical seashore selection but the flavors in this dish burst. The mussels and their brothprovide savory depth to this dish and eliminate the need to use traditional Thai fishsauce. Serve over jasmine rice.

I never take for granted how blessed we are in this country. We are the beneficiaries of the best form of democracy on the planet not withstanding some issues from time to time. With a table set with food, a chilled bottle of white wine ready to pour and smiling faces engaged in warm conversation, I am reminded what freedom means.

American Mussel Harvesters, North Kingstown, Rhode Island

Posted 05 May 2011 — by S.E.
Category Fine Dining, In Case You Missed It!, Travel, Uncategorized

When Bill Silkes approaches me he is smiling and, as a shellfish lover he has much to smile about. Silkes is president of American Mussel Harvesters, Inc., and he’s a fish guy. More specifically, Bill is a shellfish guy whose office window view is the pristine waters of Allen Harbor just off Davisville, Rhode Island. American Mussel Harvesters, Inc., is one of the largest producers of mussels in North America and a major distributor of oysters and clams as well. In addition to farming mussels, oysters, and clams, Silke’s company also markets and distributes nearly three dozen varieties of oysters from the east and west coast of the United States and shellfish from several provinces in Canada. The company is headed toward total sales of over 10,000,000 pounds of shellfish.

A dozen workers in orange colored rubber overalls are working to pack pallets of oysters and mussels as we tour the cold and damp packing floor. Although the room is chilly, the sweet, clean aroma of fresh shellfish gently touches my nose. I too am a shellfish lover (and a fish guy at heart) and the smell of such pristine, high-quality shellfish is more than enticing; it’s intoxicating. Slikes shows me the massive hydraulic pumps that drive the fresh seawater circulating in the thousand pound totes full of shellfish stacked at one end of the floor. Although American Mussel doesn’t grow every product it sells, it does prep and purge a good portion of its inventory on any given day.

As the oysters and clams sit inside these massive totes full of circulating salt water they filter and purge while gaining strength. Silkes has designed the system so that circulating water passes through a massive ultra-violet sanitizing process assuring that the sterile salt water arriving out the pipe at the top of the system is absolutely free of bacteria. In turn, the shellfish in the totes become happy little buggers, plumping up to peak freshness while purging sand, grit, and trace bacteria prior to being packed and shipped as “restaurant ready” product. The process is brilliant and a perfect example of the food-safety solutions so needed in the global food supply-chain.

Now we are sitting in Silkes conference room with a big pile of fresh shellfish (Raspberry Point Oysters from Canada and Quonset Point Oysters from Rhode Island, mussels and little-neck clams from Narragansett Bay, )

Raspberry Point Oysters, Canada

These meaty, briny, cold water oysters are farmed in the shallows off the rocky coast of Prince Edward Island. It’s not unusual for icebergs broken free from the arctic to float buy in sight of where these oysters are grown and the cold water (along with other factors that Silkes can share) are why it takes 5-7 years for Raspberry Points to grow to market size. They have a beautiful briny flavor with an above-average  saltiness, good density and texture, and an outstanding clean, sweet aftertaste.

Quonset Point Oysters, Rhode Island

The Quonset’s are a bit saltier than the Raspberry Points and have a meatier texture and composition. They grow faster than their cousins from Canada and take just 2-3 years to reach market size. According to Silkes the plankton levels in the bay are high right now and this impacts the flavor and texture of the Quonsets. I guess we came at the right time because the taste  is perfect with an almost crunchy texture they are so fresh.

Little Neck Clams, Narragansett Bay Rhode Island

If you are a clam lover, there is nothing like a perfect Narragensett Bay little neck clam that is ice cold and just shucked. The ones I sampled were perfectly pale orange in color, plump, healthy and fresh with a mild saltiness, great clam flavor and minimal iodine aftertaste (which I like by the way). These clams are what put the “Ocean” in Ocean State.

Restaurant Ready Whitewater Mussels, Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island

For years I have been spiking the sauces I serve over fish with reduced mussel broth. There is nothing nicer than the rich, deep, seafood flavor of mussel broth when the salt level in the mussels used to make the broth is mild. These Whitewater Mussels were mild in salt, sweet and, like the other products I sampled, distinguished by their ultra-fresh state and perfect flavor. Makes you want to pull this photo off the screen and eat it doesn’t it!

American Mussel Harvesters, Inc.

Salt Water Farms, LLc.

165 Tidal Drive

North Kingstown, Rhode Island 02852

 

USA

MIT Food + Agriculture Collaborative: Local Haddock Brandade Tart with MSC Certified Red Crab

Posted 01 Apr 2011 — by S.E.
Category Uncategorized, Warms My Heart

 

Haddock Brandade Tart with Red Crab, Pea Sprouts, Lemon Rind, Salmon Roe, and Pickled Red Onion Brunoise

I had the pleasure of demonstrating this item at the MIT Food + Agriculture Collaborative today. As a professional chef, my concern for food integrity and sustainability is deeply rooted as is the case with most chefs worth their salt. Of the many food issues associated with sustainability, sustainable seafood is my passion and I had sustainable seafood in mind when I created this item (a riff on an item orignally created by Charlie Trotter).

The recovery of haddock due to expanded use of the Eliminator net, a net that reduces by-catch when harvesting haddock off shore, is an amazing story. Fisherman and net designers in association with the Rhode Island Sea Grant Institute figured out that haddock, while being caught, tend to swim up toward the surface while codfish in similar circumstances swim down. The Eliminator is a net with not bottom and a tightly designed top. Haddock get caught in the top, cod and flounder escape through the bottom. The numbers are staggering. Cod by-catch is reduced by 81% and flounder by-catch by 95%. What a success story; one that chefs and others need to celebrate. Now professional chefs have a much more sustainable source of haddock in the Gulf of Maine than ever and cod stocks are actually recovering.  

Let’s also celebrate the sustainable fishery that Red Crab has become in the northeast as certified by the Marine Stewardship council (MSC). The folks at the Atlantic Red Crab company spent the time and resources to properly certify though the MSC their sustainable approach to harvesting red crab, a species that can live up to 15 years at depths of up to 2000 feet. Slow growing deep water species like red crab require and deserve careful handling and harevsting and MSC has validated that this is the case (at least for now).

The recipe below, supplemented by line-caught Norwegian salt cod, is a celebration of sustainable seafood done right! The recipe follows:

  

Local Haddock Brandade Tart with MSC Certified Red Crab and Leek Emulsion

 Ingredients: Brandade

1          Cup     Salt Cod (line caught, Norwegian)

6          Ea        A.P. Potato (PEI, Organic, peeled, cooked*)

2          Ea        Eggs

¼         Cup     Shallots (roasted whole, pureed)

¼         Cup     EV Olive Oil

Ingredients: Haddock Puree

1          Lb        Haddock, Gulf of Maine (MSC Certified)

2          Ea        Eggs

¼         Cup     Heavy Cream (steeped in Red Crab shells, strained)

1          Cup     Red Crab (MSC Certified, cooked)

¼         Cup     Dill, Fresh Chopped

Salt & Pepper

 *Cut 3 whole potatoes into 1/8 inch slices and reserve to line the tart. Use trim pieces in brandade.

Method: Brandade

Soak the salt cod for 24 hours, changing the water every 4-6 hours. Place the salt cod in a sauce pan and cover with cold water. Simmer for 10 minutes until fish is tender. Lightly simmer fish, don’t boil. While warm, place the cod in a small mixer fitted with a paddle and slowly beat it on medium speed until it starts to fluff. Add the warm A.P. Potato bit by bit until fully incorporated. Add eggs, shallots, olive oil. The mixture should be light and fluffy while holding together when scooped. If mixture is too thin, add a bit more potato. Add roasted shallots. Drizzle in the olive oil and mix until smooth.

Method: Haddock Puree

Cut the haddock into 2 inch chunks and chill. Place the haddock into a food processor and pulse, add the eggs, heavy cream and puree until smooth. Keep chilled.

Tart Dough:

1          C         All Purpose Flour

½         C         Whole Wheat Flour

1          t           Kosher Salt

1          C         Butter, cold, diced

1/3       C         Water

Place the flour, salt and butter in a bowl. Using a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the flour until fine in texture. Add the ice water and mix until combined. Form dough into a ball and wrap tightly. Refrigerate for one hour.

For the Tart:

Dust a ½ sheet pan with oil and flour and line pan with 1/8 inch of tart dough. Place an even layer of sliced cooked potatoes on the tart dough. Fill in gaps in potatoes with a small amount of haddock puree. Top the potatoes with a ½ inch layer of brandade. Add a layer of haddock puree. Seal with a layer of dough, glaze with egg yolk and bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until done. Cool, slice and serve.

Oil & Flour a 1/2 Sheet Pan (cookie sheet)

Line Pan with Whole Wheat Dough

 

 

Add a layer of sliced cooked potatoes

Fill in teh gaps between the potatoes with Crab and Haddock puree. Smooth it out with a spatula.

Spread a 1/2 inch layer of brandade onto the potatoes, be sure it is even.

Add the final layer of red crab and haddock puree. Be sure to spread it evenly.

Add the final layer of dough.

Oven ready tart. This is a rustic dish, it doesn’t haev to be perfect. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes, cool and serve.

Butcher: Smart Casual in New Orleans

Posted 30 Nov 2010 — by S.E.
Category Food Alert Trends, Full Service, Uncategorized

Sometimes I stumble upon a great restaurant without intending to do so. This was the case recently when I wound up on a bar stool in Butcher, Chef Donald Link’s sibling restaurant to Cochon in the warehouse district of New Orleans. Butcher was not my destination, I had originally set out to find the National World War II museum on Magazine Street. After a couple of wrong turns I ended up in the vicinity of the museum but three blocks further west than intended.  Looping back around the block I wound up in a maze of one-way streets woven through warehouses, condos, and restaurants that make up this side of the city. Within minutes I was back at the corner of Tchoupitoulas Street and Andrew Higgins Drive where I originally started feeling frustrated.  Andrew Higgins was the founder of Higgins Industries in New Orleans during the 1920’s. His Higgins Boats, light military landing craft designed to deliver troops directly from ship to shore, are widely acclaimed as one of the crucial innovations that helped the allies win World War II. That I  am on Andrew Higgins Drive indicated that I was in the right vicinity and that it would make more sense to park the car and walk over to the museum than continue wandering.  Thats when I found Butcher.

Fate would have it that I parked the car diagonally across the street from Chef Donald Link’s famous Cochon restaurant. Approaching on foot curious and hungry for lunch it was disappointingly clear due to inactivity that the main restaurant was closed. However, there was activity further down the block at small shop called Butcher.  Although reasonably well informed when it comes to restaurants, I hadn’t heard of Butcher prior to spotting it up the street. The customers seated at each of the two small tables on the sidewalk and group of people standing just outside the entrance are what caught my eye, the entrance being otherwise pretty ordinary.  

Once inside my perspective completely changed.  Although small in size, the seating area in the café was packed and there was a line five deep at the counter. Butcher was humming and the food being served looked excellent.  Customers at Butcher cue up just inside the entry and place their orders at a counter with two cash registers at the back end of the shop. The lines form up against two massive refrigerated deli cases filled with homemade charcuterie and fresh meats on the left side of the room.  A small hot kitchen is just on the other side of the cases.

I am in line now staring into the first deli case on the left which is packed with a selection of sausages, bacon,  long brown links of house made Andouille sausage, packages of Boudin Sausage (four links per pack), fresh pork loin, skirt steak, and ribeye, even a Jambalaya stuffed fresh chicken.  The line moves and I shift forward several feet where there’s another case with gorgeous house-made Pork Rillettes, Duck Rillettes, Duck Terrine, head cheese, Mortadella, Salami Cotto, and Duck Pastrami. I am in hog (and duck) heaven. The quality and craftsmanship on display in these cases is outstanding bordering on inspirational. A fan of all things Garde Manger, my mouth is beginning to water.

The line moves forward again and now I am next to the small butcher block countertop that serves as the pass for plates coming off the hot line. Studying the kitchen for a moment I am quickly distracted by a plate of braised duck on cornbread with poached eggs and mushroom gravy that comes up off the line. It is absolutely gorgeous and a perfect brunch item. A server passes by grabbing the poached eggs and another couple of dishes, forces his way through the line and runs them to a table. Starving, my attention shifts to the three large menu boards hanging above the cash registers and I start to narrow down my order. There are too many interesting items on the menu for me to choose just one so I order a Cubano sandwich, a duck pastrami slider, and a pancetta mac and cheese. The cashier hands me a number and I turn back toward the seating area to the right of the cue to find a place to sit. Seats vacate just as I start to move away from the cashier and I grab a bar stool up against the wall and to wait for my order.

It’s just around noon time on a Sunday morning and Butcher is packed with a mixed bag of late morning revelers, brunch seekers, and folks that strolled over from local residences. Based on the steady stream of food coming off the hot-line it’s clear that these people know how to eat; smoked country sausage with two eggs, house-made biscuit and Steens syrup,  fried chicken and biscuit with caramelized onion and cheddar cheese, BLT of house made bacon, arugula, tomato, and onion. It feels good to be in this restaurant.

The sun is shining brightly through the south-facing storefront and a handsome couple enters and takes a small table up front next to the window.  Glancing over at the couple as they settle in, I consider how warm, pleasant, and comfortable this place is compared to what it must have been like just after hurricane Katrina. Donald Link opened Cochon in 2006 after six months of delays due to the hurricane. In early 2009 Link added Bucher to his growing list of restaurants and the New York Times promptly dubbed it a “smart-casual” restaurant. I like the idea of a place being smart and casual.

Duck Pastrami Slider $6.00

My food arrives and I dig in. The mac and cheese is rich, creamy and full of savory richness from the pancetta. My Cubano is made with slow roasted pork loin (cochon du lait), smoked ham and cheese and grilled golden brown.  I splash a bit of Link’s sweet potato habanero sauce on one half of the sandwich and the sweet spicy flavor of the sauce adds a nice contrast. My favorite item however, is the Duck pastrami slider. A generous portion of sliced duck breast pastrami is grilled with cheese between two slices of bread until crispy and golden brown. By the time the plate gets to me, the cheese is just barely oozing out of the sandwich. It tastes delicious.

Pancetta Mac & Cheese $6.00

 I can only imagine the vision and perseverance required to withstand the challenges of Katrina and the BP oil spill in New Orleans. And yet the city lives on in places like Butcher due to people like Donald Link. Smart, casual, and sated…

 

Cochon Butcher

930 Tchoupitoulas St.

New Orleans, LA 70130

504-588-7675