Shout out to Brigtsen's

I came across this article on one of my favorite restaurants from my time in New Orleans. Their Creole cuisine is on par with the fine dining restaurants in the city but served in a cozier setting. I would compare the experience to attending a dinner party at a personal residence ( where your host also happens to be a world class chef). Brigtsen’s is a perennial top 10 New Orleans restaurant and well worth the trip uptown to Dante street. They are closed on Mondays but would recommend eating there any other day of the week. I have included their contact information below.

723 Dante St., New Orleans, LA

Dinner Tuesday - Saturday 5:30 - 10:00

Please call 504-861-7610 for reservations

Lagniappe: I recommend the bread pudding for dessert

Source: https://www.tripadvisor.com/LocationPhotoD...

Where has all the Nuance gone?

With so much of our news content being distributed in short clips and 140 character tweets, it is becoming more difficult to find nuanced information on the topic du jour. Below are few articles that I think add some gray to some current black and white headline issues.

  1. Bryan Caplan opines on the hypocrisy and hyperbole that is rampant in public policy discussions.

  2. Jeffrey A. Tucker highlights the limitations of interpreting US trade deficit data in an economy with international supply chains and large service based sector economies in his recent AIER post.

  3. Mike Munger compares capitalism and democratic socialism in both their ideal and corrupted forms as systems for coordinating production and cooperation in his recent AIER article.

Please use the comment section below to share articles that you feel offer a fuller discussion on a topic that you find interesting.

ECS on Operation Varsity Blues

I, like many of you, have already reached peak saturation in the “Operation Varsity Blues” college admissions scandal. With celebrities, and other members of the elite 1%, paying up to $1.2M to help their children gain admission to their school of choice, it has all the makings of a Hollywood movie. Personally, I am eagerly awaiting the Ben Mezrich book that will eventually come from this story. However, I came across an interesting article by Tyler Cowen that was worth a read. I have included my favorite excerpt below.

First, these bribes only mattered because college itself has become too easy, with a few exceptions. If the bribes allowed for the admission of unqualified students, then those students would find it difficult to finish their degrees…What does that say about standards at these august institutions of higher learning?…Alternatively, you might think it is rather arbitrary who is admitted to any given university, and that many of those denied admission could get through the program competently, even if classes and grading were made harder. 

Personally, I cannot fathom admission to a desired college is worth $1.2 million over State U. Also, the people who can afford to pay this ransom probably have strong personal networks that can be leveraged to help their children. I imagine that former PIMCO CEO Doug Hodge could help his child get a competitive summer internship with a simple phone call. I also imagine that Lori Loughlin, or her agent, could get her daughter an audition without a degree from the USC School of Cinematic Arts.

Please use the comments to share any other novel/interesting opinions on the story. I am hoping somebody will read the entire FBI investigation and come up with an article discussing the market based price of a degree from institutions involved in the story. So far, $1.2M for a degree from Yale seems to highest valued degree.

Marginal Revolution's Top Non-Fiction books of 2018 List

As an aspiring inforvore, I am always on the lookout for non-fiction book recommendations. After coming across Marginal Revolution’s Top Non-Fiction Book of 2018 List, I have added a couple more to my list. I have read and enjoyed Nassim Taleb’s Skin in the Game. Victor Stebestyen’s Lenin, the Man, the Dictator and the Master of Terror is already on my reading list.

Please use the comment section to share your thoughts on any books on the list or to make recommendations for other non-fiction books.

ECS on Tipping

As my mother's de facto tipping expert, I initially wanted to discuss tipping after listening to an EconTalk podcast with Anthony Gill on the topic last November but was unsure of what I had to contribute on the subject matter. However, after a lively group text about whether I tipped enough for a surprisingly cheap haircut at the VA barbershop, it was clear that we had divergent tipping practices and I felt compelled to share my thoughts.

When used optimally, tipping should be a reward for providing better than expected service. It can also be used by the customer to signal that she is willing to pay more for premium service. A couple of dollars in the tip jar while ordering at a food truck can go a long way towards making sure you get a stacked sandwich or larger than normal sack of fries. I am not sure when it became a social norm to use tipping to subsidize restaurants that underpay their staff. My preference would be to pay higher food prices and not be expected to tip for average service. Because people do not openly discuss their tipping practices, there appears to be significant variation in how individuals tip.

I have included some of my tipping practices below. Please comment to share your tipping habits or resources that have influenced your behavior.

  1. Takeout/fast casual: 10% or $1/entree
  2. Dine-In: 15% for bad service or 20% for everything else (% of total bill tax included)
  3. Haircut: $5 (haircut for me under 20 bucks)
  4. Alcohol: $1/beer or unmixed drink, 15-20% cocktail
  5. Coffee: $1 (I drink black coffee)
  6. Crowded Bar: tip upfront for anticipated number of drinks
  7. Bell Boy: $1-2/bag when I drop off my bags off
  8. Street Musicians: $1-2 if I stop to listen
  9. Extraordinary service- my discretion 

REK

I came across this great Jeff Gage article about Texas Singer-Songwriter Robert Earl Keen and felt compelled to share it.  I remember listening to REK on Red Dirt Radio Hour as a teenage boy growing up in Tulsa, Oklahoma and continue to enjoy his music to this day.  As a fan of Red Dirt and Texas Country music, I cannot count the number of shows I've been to where the headliner, after covering one of his songs, would then tell their own Robert Earl Keen story about how they met him and what an honor it was to play on the same stages.  I have always thought of him as the musical equivalent to a Comic's Comic and think this article does a great job of expounding on this idea.

The first time I saw Robert Earl Keen in concert was at Cain's Ballroom in Tulsa, Oklahoma back in August 2005. It was the Monday before I was heading off to college and decided to go with my remaining friends as a last hurrah before we departed. Because it was a midweek show, the crowd was small and they had set tables up on the historic dance floor in front of the stage.  While I was initially disappointed about the tables and the small turnout, I would not have had the fortunate experience of buying him a beer and chatting between sets without it being a more intimate show. I still enjoying sharing that story every chance I get.  

I soon became one of those Texas fraternity boys mentioned in the article. Whether we were cooking hamburgers at the house, out at somebody's ranch for the weekend, hanging out at an apartment complex pool, or enjoying a hot summer day on the Green Belt or Hamilton Pool, Corpus Christi Bay and Gringo Honeymoon always found their way onto our playlists.  We even made the pilgrimage to Texas Country Mecca to see Robert Earl Keen play at Gruene Hall. 

Most recently, my wife and I got to see him in concert with Lyle Lovett in Albuquerque, New Mexico in February 2018.  We were not sure what to expect seeing him at a performing arts center rather than a beer joint/dance hall. The banter between the two of them and the stories of their musical careers between songs was every bit as entertaining as the music they played.  They told stories about touring with artists they admired like Guy Clark and the late Townes Van Zandt. It was very similar to the way Randy Rogers, Cory Marrow and Pat Green talked about Robert Earl Keen when I used to see them in concert.

My top 5 Robert Earl Keen songs (in no particular order). Please use the comments section to share REK stories, as well as, your favorite songs that didn't make my top 5.

  1. Gringo Honeymoon
  2. Corpus Christi Bay
  3. Feeling Good Again
  4. Think It Over One Time
  5. I'll Go On Downtown

Friday Lunch At Galatoire's

4 Hours, 3 Cocktails, 2 Desserts, 1 of a Kind Experience

Photo:  Central City Millworks   (they did all off the millwork for remodel in 2012)

Photo: Central City Millworks  (they did all off the millwork for remodel in 2012)

Having lived in New Orleans for several years in my mid-20s, I indulged in many of the unique experiences that the city has to offer. When I knew that I would be relocating for work, I made a bucket list of all the restaurants that I wanted to visit before my impending move.  One meal that I was unable to cross off my list was Friday Lunch at Galatoire’s. Upon learning that my wife would be traveling to New Orleans for a conference, I decided to tag along and try to get a seat at the table.

Getting a Seat at the table

While most popular restaurants in New Orleans require a reservation, Friday lunch at Galatoire’s is the exception. Tables in the first-floor dining room are reserved on a first-come, first-served basis. A staff member will appear outside the restaurant door around 8am and will begin taking names for the 11:30 seating.  With only 41 tables and 132 seats, the list fills up between 8:30-10am on most Fridays (notable exceptions: the Fridays before Mardi Gras and Halloween when tables are auctioned off for charity.) There are also professional line sitters that will show up early and put your name on a list for a fee. For those who are unable to get a seat during the 11:30 seating, there is a second seating following this (whenever tables open up) and reservations may be made for the upstairs dining room. However, my local friends stressed the importance of eating downstairs with the first seating to really get the full experience.

Unfortunately, I underestimated the impact of the line sitters and did not get to the restaurant until 8:45am.  By the time I reached the front of the line, the list for the first seating downstairs was full, and the host was taking names for the upstairs dining room. So after the crowd dispersed, I went into the restaurant to see if I could grease some palms to get my name on the list. The host declined my gratuity but offered to put my name on the list for the second seating. He instructed me to return around 1:30 and hopefully we’d get seated around 2pm. Seeing that this was my next best option, I put my name on the list and left the restaurant.

 I cursed myself for staying out too late the night before and texted my wife the disappointing news.  She walked over from the conference early anyway to kill time while we waited for our table. After we had made it only a few blocks, I received a text from the restaurant that our table was ready just a few minutes after noon. We raced back to restaurant and the host informed us a table no-showed and that we were the next duo on the list. As the second to last table seated, and having defied the odds of getting a seat without paying a line sitter, we walked into a packed dining room and eagerly awaited our turn at the Friday Lunch experience.

Packed Dining Room taken during our lunch

Packed Dining Room taken during our lunch

The Ambiance

The best words to describe the temperment of the room are jovial and energized. With patrons dressed in their Sunday best, multiple tables with large birthday balloons floating above, and a large table of rowdy groomsmen helping send off an expectant groom, everyone in the dining room appeared to be celebrating something.  Throughout the meal, servers would clang glasses to get the restaurant’s attention so that everyone could participate in celebratory birthday toasts and singing "Happy Birthday." The entire dining room participated with the same enthusiasm for each toast as if it were for one of their tablemates.  People were up and about tablehopping, drink in tow, saying hello and catching up with friends who serendipitously happened to be at Galatoire’s as well as visiting with strangers.

It was impressive to watch the staff navigate through the chaos. They had an unbelievable knack of appearing when needed then disappearing to let you enjoy your meal. Plates were cleared as soon as the last bites were finished, and new drink orders were taken as soon as glass bottoms were raised for the last sip. 

With tables placed closely together, you cannot help but interact with the neighboring tables.  We quickly learned that the table next to us consisted of a middle-aged couple treating their college age daughter and her boyfriend to lunch to commemorate the boyfriend’s first trip to the Crescent City. They were regulars at Galatoire’s and wanted their daughter’s boyfriend to have a quintessential New Orleans experience.  When they asked what we were celebrating, I told them about my bucket list and not getting to cross it off during my time living here. They welcomed me back to the city and informed us that we were in for a treat. My wife mentioned that she was here for a conference and that, if we had to celebrate something, she had celebrated a birthday last week.  After discovering we were from out of town, they proceeded to inquire about all the places we had eaten and the sights we'd taken in during the week. We also traded suggestions of books to read, places to eat around town and made friendly conversation.  The only breaks in the conversation were the birthday toasts and eating as the food arrived. However, the conversation would pick back up between courses.  At one point during the meal, the wife snuck off to tell our waitress about my wife's recent birthday so that she could also get her own birthday toast. They were our de facto tour guides for the duration of the meal and definitely enhanced our dining experience.  We ended the meal by exchanging emails and well wishes.

The Food

While my wife and I enjoy a good meal, neither of us are very familiar with traditional French Creole cuisine. However, we are generally adventurous eaters and enjoy sharing so we get to try everything on the table. Luckily, the table next to us told us close our menus and let our waitress guide us through the meal. Our server, Martine, quickly appeared and took our first drink order.  When she returned, she recommended we start off with the soufflé potatoes and the Galatoire Goute (pronounced goo-tay), which consisted of shrimp remoulade, Crabmeat Maison and a crawfish salad. She instructed us to either dip the potatoes in hollandaise sauce or to stuff the potatoes with the Goute.

Next, we ordered our second round of cocktails and proceeded with the duck and andouille (pronounced an-doo-ee) gumbo and the iceberg wedge salad with apple smoked bacon that was sweet enough to have been candied.   

After letting our food digest and enjoying our cocktails, our server returned to take our order for the main entrees. After telling Martine that we wanted both a fish and a meat entrée, she suggested that we order the redfish with the crabmeat Yvonne garnish and the petite filet cooked medium rare with béarnaise garnish. For sides, she recommended the cream spinach and asparagus hollandaise.  We ordered our third cocktail and eagerly awaited out meal.  When our entrees arrived, Martine had noticed that we had been trading plates mid-course and had the entrees split in half before arriving at the table.

Redfish with Crab Yvonne and Medium Rare Petite Filet with béarnaise garnish

Redfish with Crab Yvonne and Medium Rare Petite Filet with béarnaise garnish

As a self-proclaimed bread pudding aficionado, I was looking forward to trying the house bread pudding with their banana praline sauce. My wife was also eyeing the black bottom pecan pie with an oreo crust and whiskey caramel sauce. After consulting Martine, we ordered both.  Our new friends at the table next to us also recommended that we try the café brûlot (pronounced bru-low) which he described as a brandy spiced coffee drink that is set on fire.  With an endorsement like that, we were unable to say no. Both desserts were delicious, but we both agreed the pecan pie was the superior dish.

Left: Black Bottom Pecan Pie  Right: Bread Pudding with Banana Praline sauce

Left: Black Bottom Pecan Pie  Right: Bread Pudding with Banana Praline sauce

The Drinks

While neither my wife nor I routinely order cocktails with lunch, we decided that Friday Lunch at Galatoire's would be an exception.  I started off with the Kentucky Reserve which consisted of Woodford bourbon, tuaca liqueur, Angostura bitters and a brandied cherry served up in classic coupe glass. The drink was well balanced with a boozy base and a sweet finish.  My wife’s first round was the Old Fashion, which was made in the classic style, with bourbon, Peychaud’s bitters, house made simple syrup, orange and a maraschino cherry in a rocks glass. 

 

My wife with her Old Fashion and my Kentucty Reserve in the coupe glass

My wife with her Old Fashion and my Kentucty Reserve in the coupe glass

My wife’s next round was the Galatoire’s Milk Punch, which consisted of bourbon, milk, vanilla, simple syrup, and nutmeg.  It honestly tasted like a boozy milkshake. I went for the Galatoire’s Specialty Cocktail which was essentially a Sazerac with bourbon instead of rye whiskey.

For round three, I ordered a Sazerac which was made up of rye whiskey, Herbsaint, Peychaud’s bitters, simple syrup and a lemon twist.  My wife, who was warming up her palate for dessert, went with the house’s take on the Classic Daiquiri. They used Louisiana’s own Rougaroux Sugarshine Rum, lime juice, simple syrup, lime, shaken and served it neat. The 101-proof rum with the lime juice gave the drink a kick and acidic bite that made the drink much more palatable than the sweeter versions of the drink I have previously encountered. 

Farewell

After eating an incredible meal, imbibing in delicious cocktails and saying farewell to our new friends that we made over the past four hours, we settled up with our server (after taking a selfie together) and made our way out of the restaurant. While I had high expectations for our Friday Lunch at Galatoire’s, the experience exceeded them all.  People often say that outside of New Orleans, Mardi Gras is just another Tuesday, I think the same sentiment can be applied to Friday lunches not at Galatoire's.

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Lagniappe: While waiting in line, I chatted up some of the hired line sitters and got a phone number that I can use the next time I want to eat at Galatoire’s. Contact me and I will share the contact information.

Fats Domino (1928-2017)

New Orleans Music Legend, Fats Domino passed away October 24th, 2017 in his home in Harvey, Louisiana.  Having personally lived  in New Orleans,  I experienced the impact his music had on the local music scene more than 50 years after the apex of his fame.  The city will pay tribute to him by holding a Second Line Parade on November 1st. 

Below are links to some of the obituaries that I personally enjoyed reading. And for Lagniappe, I have also included the link to one of my favorite Fats Domino songs.

Venmo Socialism

While CNBC's Ali Montag's weekend article warns readers about Venmo Socialism as it pertains to rising brunch cost, the impact of the economics lesson extends beyond the table. 

Water consumption, corporate tax code, taxpayer funded private stadiums, and large itemized personal income tax deductions are a few pertinent examples where costs and benefits are not divided equally. Even worse, they create a perverse incentive to increase consumption to further maximize the benefit for the recipient at the expense of the larger group.

However, splitting the bill is not inherently flawed. Paying back a friend for buying concert tickets next to each other, roommates pooling their money to buy a larger TV, a town using tax dollars to build a park are examples where pooling resources allows the group to increase their benefits without increasing their individual costs. Just like at brunch, it gets harder to evenly distribute the benefits as the size of group grows.

I hope the next time you come across a special interest asking for special consideration through the tax code, it raises the same ire as paying "your share" of your brunch-mate's two extra mimosas.