Sunday, January 31, 2016

2016 Crawfish Boil Bands

            At this year’s DGA Family and Friends crawfish boil, we’ll be featuring two bands: one new, and the other a crawfish boil staple. Benny Turner and the Real Blues have played the crawfish boil before and dazzled us with his showmanship. And we’re also excited to welcome a new band, The Mighty Pelicans, all the way from Austin, Texas.

Benny Turner and the Real Blues featuring Sam Joyner

Benny Turner is a veteran of the New Orleans, Chicago, and Texas blues scenes.  His brother was legendary blues artist and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, Freddie King. For many years, Benny performed with his brother, but largely stayed out of the spotlight. Over his career, Turner also collaborated or performed with blues legends like Mighty Joe Young, Memphis Slim, Gladys Knight, and Otis Clay. In New Orleans, he worked as the band leader for legendary blues singer Marva Wright. In recent years, Turner formed his own band, The Real Blues.

This will be Turner’s third consecutive year playing at the DGA Crawfish Boil. We’ve liked him so much the past two years we just had to have him back for a third.

The Mighty Pelicans

            Kerry “Kingfish” Blackmon (drums and vocals) and Chuck Doyle, Louisiana natives, first met in college in the 1970s at LSU. In the 1980s, after both men moved to Austin, Texas, they began playing together in blues, R&B, and zydeco bands. Together all with Kerry’s son, Michael and guitarist Johnny Blue, they formed the Mighty Pelicans. While all of the men originally played in a variety of bands, including a zydeco band, in 2011, they committed themselves to the Mighty Pelicans and have been playing in the Austin area ever since.       
            The Mighty Pelicans draw from the sounds of New Orleans, but include Cajun and zydeco influences as well. We’re really excited to hear them play at this year’s boil (and we hope you are too). 

Hotels: 2016 Crawfish Boil

          Just a reminder, the crawfish boil is being held at Maison Lafitte in Mandeville, Louisiana on Saturday March 12, 2016. Maison Lafitte is only about twenty minutes from our office.  So we won’t have to travel far, but most everyone else will. With that in mind, we figured it would be a good idea to make some hotel recommendations for our out of town guests.

         Mandeville is on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain. So we’ll divide the recommendations depending if you want to stay on the north shore or the south shore. For any one unfamiliar with the Greater New Orleans area, getting between the two is easy thanks to the Causeway that spans across the lake.

First, we’ll cover some accommodations in the Mandeville/Covington area. Covington has the standard range of visitors’ hotels, but we thought it would be better to recommend some places for guests who prefer a quiet location, close to the boil.  

In Covington, one of the best B&Bs is Annadele's.  Annadele's is a lovely plantation home near Old Covington.  The grounds are charming and the rooms nice. Doug’s eldest daughter had her wedding at Annadele's.  The restaurant is also usually pretty good, and would be a nice place for breakfast if you stayed there.

Maison Reve Farm is another lovely B&B about twenty minutes north of Covington in Folsom.  It is quiet, tasteful, and out of the way while still being close to the boil and New Orleans.

Meanwhile on the south shore, New Orleans boasts a bevy of great places to stay. We recommend that visitors make their accommodations in the city as much of the trip to Covington is on the Causeway. And if you’re going to stay in New Orleans, you may as well stay in the French Quarter (especially if you’ve never been to New Orleans before). Staying in the Quarter is a unique experience and puts you right into the action.  Most of the city's tourist attractions are easily accessible and there’s always something going on nearby.

Cafe du Monde in the Quater: beignets are good any time of day. 

The Royal Sonesta Hotel is a good place to stay in the quarter.  It is right on Bourbon Street which is a plus in many ways, although you will find it to be bustling, especially in early March.

Jamie likes the W New Orleans - French Quarter hotel.  She and her husband have stayed there before and recommend it highly.  Its restaurant, Bacco, is good, and the hotel is in a quieter part of the Quarter down on Chartres Street, but still only a couple of blocks from Bourbon.

The Omni on St. Louis is also good place to stay, and a bit more luxurious.  You'll find rooms with a lovely view of the St. Louis Cathedral.

The JW Marriott is on Canal Street, and is very close to the Quarter.  Here you can be within easy walking distance of the Quarter without being surrounded by it.

For the wedding of Doug’s younger daughter the guests stayed at the Courtyard Marriott, down by the river walk.  It is not in the quarter, but still close to the action. 

Thursday, January 28, 2016

9th Annual DGA Crawfish Boil!

The 9th annual DGA Family and Friends Crawfish Boil is right around the corner!

Saturday, March 12th

This year’s boil will be at Maison Lafitte in historic Mandeville, Louisiana. We are excited for another awesome crawfish boil jam packed with some of the best food, music, and fun you will have all year!
The home of this year's boil. 

 The DGA crawfish boil has really taken off.  Every year the boil has been bigger, more exciting, and more fun than the year before.  The 2015 boil is going to be hard to top, but we are pulling out all of the stops to make our 9th crawfish boil the best one yet!  Formal invitations are going into the mail, so keep your eyes peeled and don't forget to wear your wristband.

 If you are planning to come in from out of town, please let us know ahead of time and we will make sure to get you taken care of.  We can help you choose the right hotel, pick the best restaurants, and find the best places to visit before and after the boil to get the most out of your trip to the Big Easy.

We have invited Benny Turner and the Real Blues with Sam Joyner back to the crawfish boil.  Benny and his band have been such a fantastic addition to the boil that we had to bring him back for a third straight year. I am eagerly anticipating the show, and we are having them play a longer set this year.

The second band is The Mighty Pelicans out of Austin, Texas. They draw primarily from New Orleans musical influences but also mix in zydeco, southern blues, and R&B. We’re excited to see what they have to offer.

Stay tuned for updates on the blog. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

February Movie Preview

            All industries have their peaks and valleys throughout the year. The baseball season runs from April to October before taking the winter off. The NFL dominates the airwaves on Sundays, Mondays, and now Thursday nights before disappearing before winter ends. Summer blockbusters and fall Oscar contenders highlight the heights of Hollywood’s film season. February, traditionally, has largely been a dumping ground for bad or unusual movies. It’s the lull between Oscar season and the start of the blockbuster season (beginning even earlier this year with the Man of Steel sequel due out at the end of March). With all this in mind, let’s take a look at February’s meager offerings.

February 5
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: The film adaptation of Seth Grahame-Smith’s 2009 novel stars Lily James as Elizabeth Bennet, a young English woman in search of love and with a taste for killing zombies. Grahame-Smith’s novel mashed-up Jane Austen’s social commentary on early 18th century England with the tropes of modern zombie fiction. The result was a twisted, hilarious, and respectful take on Austen’s famous novel. Whether the film can live up to the novel’s cleverness remains to be seen.

Hail, Caesar!: The latest picture from the Coen Brothers (The Big Lebowski, Fargo, Miller’s Crossing, No Country for Old Men) seems like the quintessential Coen brothers movie. The movie tells the story of a 1950s Hollywood fixer played by Josh Brolin who must investigate the kidnapping the studio’s most famous and dimwitted star (George Clooney). The film’s impressive cast includes Scarlett Johansson, Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, and Tilda Swinton. The film has impressive credentials, but its release date makes it suspect.

Clever? Maybe, but it makes its point. 

February 12
Deadpool: Do you like smart-ass superheroes? That’s Marvel’s Deadpool. Every single piece of marketing for the movie (and it’s been hard to avoid) suggests that Deadpool is the cool kids superhero movie. The film gives Ryan Reynolds a second shot at the superhero world after his disastrous turn as the Green Lantern. The question is, will snark be enough?

Zoolander 2: The original Zoolander came out in 2001. Why anyone wanted a sequel, 15 years later, to a movie that has a 64% on Rotten Tomatoes only raises a host of questions. Are Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson in need of money? Does anyone really remember what the first movie was even about? Why now? Why ever?

February 19
Risen: I saw a trailer for this movie last weekend while seeing The Revenant and, at first, I thought it was a joke. Turns out it’s not, it’s just another movie in the ceaselessly ending parade of explicitly Christian films that appeal to a certain white, evangelical audience. This one deals with a Roman soldier tasked with guarding Jesus’s body to prevent his followers from claiming he was resurrected, lest they become even more dangerous radicals. Only (SHOCKER) Jesus’ body disappears and the soldier wonders whether this prophet might have been different. Please.

This is the cast of a movie about ancient Egypt... 

February 26

Gods of Egypt: If Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings wasn’t enough whitewashing of Egyptian history, try Gods of Egypt. This time a common thief joins up with the various gods of Egypt and high jinks ensue. This is a movie that tries to pass off Gerard Butler (that guy from that terrible 300 movie) and Geoffrey Rush (one of those old white guy British actors) as powerful Egyptian gods. Pass.  

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Fixing the Saints Salary Cap: 2016 Edition

            Thanks to the failed Junior Gallette contract and years of bad free agent signings, the New Orleans Saints once again head into the offseason in salary cap hell. According to the figures available at the indispensible Over the Cap, New Orleans sits about $10 million over the estimated salary cap for next season. So the question for Saints general manager Mickey Loomis—who made this mess in the first place—and head coach Sean Payton is how to clear it all up?

            The good news for the Saints is that next year they only have about $90 million in cap obligations, but that only includes 30 (of 53) players on the roster and does not factor in a new contract for starting quarterback Drew Brees. Taking all of that into account, the Saints financial future looks brighter than it has in the past few seasons. So unless Loomis and the Saints front office screw this up again (a possibility), this will probably be the last year of desperate cuts and renegotiations.

Saints fans hope that Payton and Loomis have a good plan this offseason. 

            There are two strategies the Saints can employ for getting themselves under the cap: renegotiating contracts or simply cutting players and their salaries. There’s a downside to each. Renegotiating the contracts of underperforming players lowers their salaries, but also means you’re still obligated to pay players you admittedly don’t think are very good. The other approach is to cut these underperforming players. While getting rid of bad players is good, you still need to replace them, but since you’re over the salary cap, you have very little money with which to do so. And good replacements generally aren’t available for pennies on the dollar. Every now and then you can hit gold, but that shouldn’t be a key component of your offseason plan.  With all that in mind let’s look at some of the Saints biggest cap hits.

Cap Hit
Dead Money
Drew Brees
Cameron Jordan
Jairus Byrd
Jahri Evans
Keenan Lewis
Brandon Browner
Max Unger
Dannell Ellerbe
Marques Colston
Zach Strief
David Hawthorne
CJ Spiller
Thomas Morstead
Mark Ingram

So let’s get a few things out of the way first, the Saints aren’t cutting Cameron Jordan, Jarius Byrd, Keenan Lewis, or Mark Ingram. Releasing these players would cost money against the salary cap, so that’s not happening. Could those players renegotiate their contracts? That remains a possibility, but Jordan, Byrd, and Lewis all renegotiated their deals last offseason, so they’d need some incentive in which to do so. Jordan and Lewis are two of the best players on a moribund defense, so they’re not going anywhere. Brees carries the biggest cap hit on the team at $30 million. The Saints could release him and get themselves under the cap by about $10 million, but that would leave them without a quarterback. What will likely happen is the Saints will sign Brees to an extension, lower the cap hit by about $10 million and then have further cuts to make. So let’s look at some likely cuts or renegotiations.

Jahri Evans—an unlikely cut as he would only save $1.1 million and leave the Saints without their starting right guard. Although he missed 5 games with injury last year and is on the downside of his career, expect Evans to hang around.

Brandon Browner—another unlikely cut with only $950,000 in savings. Although it may be worth it just so Saints fans don’t have to cower in fear or scream in anger every time an opposing QB throws deep down the field and a yellow flag goes flying.

Max Unger—releasing Unger would free $4.5 million in salary cap space, but Unger was the centerpiece of the Jimmy Graham trade last offseason and anchors the offensive line. He might receive an extension in order to lower his cap hit, but Unger isn’t going anywhere.

Thomas Morstead--$4.5 million is a lot to pay for a punter, especially one who was hurt last year. It’s unlikely the Saints will cut Morstead, but they might ask him to renegotiate his contract down to something more palatable.

Dannell Ellerbe—cutting the aging and oft injured linebacker would save the Saints $4.5 million. Seems like a no-brainer.

David Hawthorne—for a team with a historically bad defense, Hawthorne barely saw the field as the Saints played Ellerbe in front of him. New Orleans will cut him and take the $2.25 million cap savings.

Zach Strief—cutting Strief won’t save the Saints a ton of money and Strief has indicated that he only wants to play for New Orleans. So the two sides could make an agreement to lower the cap hit and bring Strief back to provide some depth on the offensive line.

Marques Colston—this would be the toughest cut of all. Colston is the Saints career leader in most receiving categories and has been a reliable offensive weapon for Brees and Payton since 2006. Brandon Coleman and Willie Snead, however, have passed Colston on the depth chart and a $5.9 million cap hit for a 3rd WR is too high a price for a team like the Saints to pay. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

What To Do About Drew?

            The Saints wrapped up their season with a 20-17 victory over the Atlanta Falcons. While Saints fans always savor a victory over the division rival Falcons, the game did little for a team that has finished three out of the past four seasons with 7-9 record and out of the playoffs.  Even before the final snap, rumors abounded in New Orleans regarding the fate of head coach Sean Payton and franchise quarterback Drew Brees. Payton announced last week that he would be returning for the 2016 season and made it clear that he wanted Brees to remain the quarterback.

There certainly is a lot of appeal for Saints fans to keep the Super Bowl winning tandem of Payton and Brees together. Throughout their time in New Orleans, Payton and Brees have always had an above average offense as measured by Football Outsiders DVOA rankings (a reminder: DVOA means Defense-adjusted Value Over Average, and compares offensive performance to league average, so 10.5% means they were 10.5% above average).

Offensive DVOA (Rank)
10.0% (8)
6.6% (12)
16.3% (4)
24.3% (2)
6.4% (11)
33.0% (2)
16.0% (5)
10.6% (7)
10.5% (7)

Despite all the changeover in personnel since 2006 (and especially with the trade of tight end Jimmy Graham last offseason), Payton and Brees have kept the team competitive.

            Now let’s explore how the Saints can keep Brees and whether that is a good idea. Brees carries a cap hit of $30 million heading into the 2016 season. With a salary cap expected to be somewhere in the $150 million range, the Saints cannot justify spending 20% of their cap on a single player. The Saints have two options, cut Brees and absorb a $10 million dollar hit or extend his contract and spread his current and new salary over the life of a new contract. ESPN’s Saints’ reporter Mike Triplett recently explained how the Saints could lessen the strain on the cap by signing Brees to a three year extension worth $60 million dollars (a reasonable rate for an aging franchise QB). They could then take the total cap hit ($30 million for 2016 + $60 million for 2017-2019) and spread it out over the next four seasons, allowing the team to hold onto its prized quarterback and provide some breathing room with the salary cap. The Saints currently sit $10 million over the cap with only 41 (out of 53) players under contract for next year.

The Saints will need to get creative to keep Brees in town. 

            The downside of this decision is that Brees is entering his age 37 season and the contract would run through his age 40 season. Brees accumulated 14 AV (approximate value) last season according to Pro-Football Reference (AV was developed by PFR to compare players across position and eras). Let’s use 14 AV as the baseline for Brees’s performance—meaning he has to produce 14 AV to be worth his extension. The chart below lists the number of quarterbacks since 1920 who have generated at least 14 AV in their age 37-40 seasons.

# of QBs with 14 AV or better
Age 37
Age 38
Age 39
Age 40

Now this sample has a self-selecting bias, you have to be really good up until your age 37 season in order to be playing into your late 30s. The chart also reveals that the quarterbacks who make it this far into their careers fall off (performance wise) very quickly. And once they’ve done that, their careers are over. By extending Brees through his age 40 season, the Saints will be betting that he can beat the aging curve.

            Last offseason, the Saints traded away Jimmy Graham and wide receiver Kenny Stills in order to accumulate more draft picks and restock the defense. This was the first of many necessary steps to remedy the team’s deficiencies. Letting Brees go is the next step, but one that the Saints may be unwilling to make. 

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

No. 9 Park

            Barbara Lynch’s restaurant No. 9 Park in Boston is nestled under the shadow of the Massachusetts State House and overlooks Boston Common. The atmosphere inside the converted townhouse is comfortable and welcoming. There is a small bar with tabletop seating and a waiting area. The livelier of two dining areas sits immediately to the right of the bar. The
second lies in the back of the townhouse, more suitable to larger parties and those looking for a quieter dining experience. Named after its Beacon Hill street address, No. 9 Park conveys a certain casual elegance, both in the service and the food. This is a restaurant to go to celebrate anniversaries, birthdays and other special events. It offers the diner the chance to revel in Lynch’s French and Italian cuisine and expansive European wine list—making No. 9 Park well worth its high end price point.  

The interior of No. 9 Park 

            No. 9 Park opened in 1998 as the first restaurant in what would become Lynch’s burgeoning culinary empire. Born in South Boston, Lynch worked in restaurants in Boston and travelled to Italy before serving as executive chef at Galleria Italiana where she was named one of Food and Wine Magazine’s “Ten Best New Chefs in America.” In 1998, Lynch opened No. 9 Park and in 2003 won the James Beard Award for Best Chef Northeast. Also in 2003 she launched B&G Oysters and The Butcher Shop in the South End. Soon after Lynch founded a catering company, a produce company, and from 2007-2008 created Stir a demonstration kitchen, Drink, a cocktail bar, and Sportello, a modern diner. After opening its doors in 2010, Menton supplanted No. 9 Park as Lynch’s flagship restaurant, specializing in modern French-Italian cuisine. In 2014 when the James Beard Foundation named Lynch “Outstanding Restaurateur” of the year, she became only the second woman to win that coveted honor.

The Beacon Hill Exterior 

            No. 9 Park offers an ala carte menu as well as a chef’s tasting menu with wine pairings. The tasting menu is 6 courses with options for three additional courses including Lynch’s famous prune stuffed gnocchi. Below is the menu from our recent visit minus a dish of Colorado Lamb.

Fluke Crudo
blood orange, celery root, trout roe
NV Simmonet-Fèbvre Crémant de Bourgogne Brut Rosé

Atlantic Swordfish
salmoriglio sauce, red cabbage, romanesco cauliflower
2012 Le Vigne di Eli Etna Bianco

jamon royale, aged balsamic, burgundy truffle
2014 Trediberri Nebbiolo di Langhe

Prune-Stuffed Gnocchi
foie gras, almond, vin santo
NV Veuve Clicquot Demi-Sec Champagne

Hudson Valley Foie Gras
semolina, pistachio, satsuma
2014 Domaine de Fenouillet Muscat de Beaumes de Venise

chestnut, brussels sprout, sunchoke
2012 Dei Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

Pignoli Financier
chantilly, almond, basil
2008 Dei Vin Santo di Montepulciano

            One of the most impressive things about eating at No. 9 Park was that there was not a clunker in all eight courses (we skipped a cheese course). The standouts of the meal were the handmade Bigoli, a long thick tube pasta, and prune stuffed gnocchi. The gnocchi were almost translucent while encasing the gorgeously sweet prunes. A small piece of perfectly seared yet buttery foie gras pushed the dish over the top. Other courses like the swordfish, Poussin, and lamb were all testaments to simple and well executed preparations. The wine pairings for the meal were stellar. Unlike most wine pairings where the food and alcohol don’t necessarily add much to one another, the wines selected from the restaurant’s award winning wine program added depth of flavor and complexity. In tasting the wines before the food arrived, it wasn’t always immediately clear why or how they matched up until that first bite and sip of everything together.

The menu also featured reasonably sized tasting portions. In other tasting menus, especially those of 6-9 courses, by the end the richness of the meal starts to overwhelm your stomach so that by dessert you’re ready to explode. This was not the case at No. 9 Park where the meal where everything was filling, but not overly so. This was especially impressive in a meal that featured foie gras twice. The meal was well paced, but not rushed. The servers were friendly and attentive, but not overwhelmingly so. The waiter took the time to explain each wine, where it came from, and why it was selected to pair with each dish. The education was enlightening but not pretentious—a difficult line to walk in fine dining. Overall the service was professional and comfortable, something that only comes after years of training and fine tuning.

The food, service, and atmosphere made eating at No. 9 Park a wonderful and memorable experience.