The crowd at last night's "The New Orleans Table: Return and Recollect" at 5 Ninth had their hands full — literally. The restaurant, which is spread out over three floors of an ancient townhouse, was packed to the rafters with food players and New Orleans culture heroes.
At one serving station, Alice Waters seemed to ponder the nature of the food — thick veal cutlets slowly sautéed in butter, then covered with a buttery white sauce, and served with an even more buttery crabmeat gratin. "Man, why can't we eat like this all the time?" said an older man wearing an enormous diamond ring. The doyenne of the fresh-food movement failed to answer. Elsewhere, a gathering of the New York barbecue elite — "Big Lou" Elrose (read all about the savior of Queens barbecue here), Hill Country pitmaster Robert Richter, and RUB owner Andrew Fischel — pondered Ugelisch's legendary "barbecued oysters." "These aren't barbecue," Fischel said. "They call it barbecue," Big Lou explained. "It's really cooked in a pan." He then got another plate.
Meanwhile, in another corner, Southern Foodways staffers recorded various guests' memories of New Orleans food for an oral-history project. R&B; legend Allen Toussaint, standing with 5 Ninth chef Zak Pelaccio, talked about rebuilding New Orleans. "We are spending a lot of time and a lot of energy," he said, in measured, musical cadences. "It's hard when you are touring." Pelaccio nodded seriously, as he watched waiters give out bowls of poached, slightly pickled shrimp with toasted chiles and pork belly over grits. "There's no place like New Orleans," he said. And there's no place like New Orleans in New York.
Earlier: Free Food at 5 Ninth!