Saturday, August 16, 2008
Zea Makes This Alice (Delight) in Chains
As a kid growing up in the parched and remote deserts of Arizona, I grew up on an all-American, completely processed, and preservative-laden diet. I survived on anything and everything in the (1) Lay's potato chip family and (2) Banquet frozen dinner family. I wholeheartedly count Shake-n-Bake pork chops and instant mashed potatoes as one of my all-time favorite dinners. Yes, you read that right: "instant." Finally, all of our fresh produce was transported in from trucks coming from California, so we eagerly took what we could get (mainly lettuce, potatoes, apples, and oranges). That should illustrate the kind of food I grew up with.
Therefore, when our family went out for dinner, we went "big time." Meaning, we hit up the chain restaurants that were the only restaurants available. My all-time favorite restaurant in the world was Sizzler, and Jerry's was a close second. I am sure those of you who are familiar with rural Arizona will immediately guess where I lived, because Sizzler and Jerry's were the only two "big time" restaurants in my town.
However, when I moved to Los Angeles, and then to San Francisco, I developed an air of haughtiness--a sense of unrequited entitlement--to what I thought were the finer things in life. I eschewed chain restaurants because they were for the common, unrefined, and uninformed proletariat. Rather, I visited the ethnic mom-and-pop restaurants and patronized fine dining establishments recognized by food critics around the world.
And then I moved to New Orleans. And then I woke up from my ignorance. And then I happily went back to my roots. Yes, I still love the mom-and-pop and upscale restaurants, but I can't say that chains are all that bad.
Yes, admittedly, I surreptitiously visited California Pizza Kitchen on several occasions when living in California. But now, in New Orleans, I am a repeat offender. I am utterly infatuated with the Zea restaurants on Saint Charles Avenue and in Clearview Mall, and don't care who catches me in the act!
Let me give you some recommendations on what you must order at Zea. First, if you don't get their signature rotisserie chicken, I will have to disown you from my family. You absolutely must try Zea's immaculately juicy 1/2 rotisserie chicken, which is seasoned with the perfect blend of peppery and crimson colored Creole spices. NASA needs to find out what rotisserie machine that Zea uses, because their tender, fall-off-the-bone chicken retains more moisture than humanly possible. They need a patent on that process so it can be used on the next trip to Mars!
Oh, and "what are those twin peaks of deliciousness mounded next to the chicken," you ask? Those are their (1) much-talked-about roasted corn grits and (2) mashed and buttered sweet potatoes, my friend. Butter pervades throughout (or should I say, is the predominant ingredient in) both of those sides.
Another delicious selection is their premium rack of St. Louis Style spare ribs, that are allegedly wood fire roasted and grilled (don't ask me how to "roast" and "grill" at the same time, but they say that in their menu). The ribs are appropriately in drenched in a sweetened Thai sauce, just as good ribs should be. And in addition to the sweet potatoes, those are their Thai snap beans, as a side treat. (That is what we call vegetables where I come from, a "side treat.")
And though they laud themselves as a rotisserie restaurant, their pastas, sandwiches, and salads are my favorite lunchtime splurge. My favorite pasta on their menu has to be the shrimp breaux bridge penne pasta, which is saute-tossed in a spicy and garlicky cream sauce made with herbs and cheese. Heart attack-inducing? Yes.
Finally, since I mentioned their "sandwiches," here is a gratuitous picture of their wood fire hickory grilled chicken breast sandwich with jack cheese, chipotle aioli, and a side of dirty rice. But I would actually not recommend you to order this sandwich. Instead, I would direct your attention to their Sedona chicken panini. That sandwich is maddeningly mouthwatering. It is a panini-grilled sandwich stuffed with their rotisserie chicken, grilled onions, roasted garlic, roasted corn, chopped cilantro, and topped with a slice of jack cheese and a smearing of chipotle aioli. Okay, I just regurgitated what was on their menu with regards to that sandwich, but it was way worth it if I gave you an idea that the sandwich is heaven.
Oh, and I know this post title makes no sense, but I just wanted to say "Alice in Chains," since my sister was a fan of theirs in the 80s. Go heavy metal and rock!