When in Rome...?

Who goes to New Orleans for Italian food? I mean, really... who does that? Oh, riiiiight. We do.

When we took our first trip to NOLA about a year ago, our friend Linda and her son Aidan recommended several John Besh restaurants, including Domenica, a restaurant (according to their website) as "inviting as a traditional Sunday supper in a rural Italian village."

Thanks to Mark for this photo of Domenica's interior.
By “traditional Sunday supper in a rural Italian village” our friends were not speaking of the decor – which is chic and modern – but of the extraordinary flavors conjured from simple ingredients.

My first thought was, "Am I really going to go all the way to New Orleans and eat in an Italian restaurant owned by this handsome, always-smiling, blond, blue-eyed celebrity chef?" (I was told in a Facebook comment that I should have mentioned how beautiful his hair is, too!)

I considered the source of the recommendation (both Linda and Aidan are total foodies) and my answer was an unequivocal, "Yes!"

I made reservations online using Open Table and made sure that I put my garlic allergy into the notes for the maitre d'. I checked online and saw that chef Alon Shaya has received many accolades and awards for his innovative cuisine.

Domenica was the first restaurant we ate in on that trip and, after that first meal, we almost canceled all other reservations to eat there every night! The food and service were truly excellent.

That first trip, Mark and I did what we love to do: order a lot of different dishes and share them. We had lardo with savory beignets, squid ink pasta with blue crab, risotto made with blood sausage, and Brussels sprouts with guanciale. It was all wonderful.

For our return to New Orleans just a few weeks ago, we made reservations there for two nights. I stupidly waited till the last minute and we almost didn't get in.

This time we enjoyed a salumi and cheese board; garganelli with lobster; a burrata and pear salad;  redfish with celery root purée; brown butter and preserved lemon tabbouleh; wood oven roasted goat shakshuka-style with an egg; and great wines, specifically the Yarden "Odem Vineyard" 2010 Chardonnay. We simply didn't have room for desert either night.

One item we enjoyed perhaps more than any other was the whole roasted cauliflower served with whipped feta on the side. This is truly an inspired dish, and I mentioned to our server that I was going to go right home and try to recreate it.

"Oh, you don't have to recreate it. The recipe is somewhere online - you just have to Google it!" What a wonderful thing it was to find the recipe on Bon Appétit's website. And I'll save you the trouble of searching BA's website - the recipe follows!

So, when in New Orleans, make sure you do take in some of the finer Cajun and Creole places, but don't rule out this Italian gem!

~ David

Whole Roasted Cauliflower with Whipped Feta Cheese
Courtesy of John Besh and Alon Shaya – Domenica

2 1/2 cups dry white wine
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup kosher salt
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon sugar
1 bay leaf
1 head of cauliflower, leaves removed
4 ounces fresh goat cheese
3 ounces cream cheese
3 ounces feta
1/3 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons olive oil plus more for serving
Coarse sea salt (for serving)

Preheat oven to 475°. Bring wine, oil, kosher salt, juice, butter, red pepper flakes, sugar, bay leaf, and 8 cups water to a boil in a large pot. Add cauliflower, reduce heat, and simmer, turning occasionally, until a knife easily inserts into center, 15-20 minutes.

Using 2 slotted spoons or a mesh spider, transfer cauliflower to a rimmed baking sheet, draining well. Roast, rotating sheet halfway through, until brown all over, 30-40 minutes (It took 30 minutes for me).

While cauliflower is roasting, blend goat cheese, cream cheese, feta, cream, and 2 tablespoons oil in a food processor until smooth; season with sea salt. Transfer whipped goat cheese to a serving bowl and drizzle with oil.

Transfer cauliflower to a plate. Drizzle with oil; sprinkle with sea salt. Serve with whipped
goat cheese.

Serves 6. (or 2…)

Note: I freeze the leftover brine so that I can use it several times.

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