Saturday, September 03, 2005

Thinking of New Orleans

The distant helicopter camera shots of the devastation in New Orleans color them with a distant, surreal quality that makes the city look like a parallel universe filled with alien beings.

I then recall the really nice people I met during a handful of visits, and the devastation becomes more real for me. I wonder if they heeded the warnings to get out before the storm, and how their stores, homes and families fared.

Earlier this year, Anthony and Gail Uglesich retired after 50 years of running their legendary family restaurant and closed up shop, with much ado from its fans around the globe. The Uglesich family had operated their humble restaurant in that location since 1849. Located in the shadow of the Superdome in one of the poorer parts of the city, their menu was priced too high for most of their neighbors to eat there on a regular basis. This is where I learned how good fried green tomatoes with remoulade can be, and where my standard for an oyster po' boy was set.

As soon as you entered the front door, you'd notice a man of impressive stature standing behind a counter, shucking oysters like the champion he was. Michael Rogers loomed over his station and effortlessly opened a dozen oysters using nothing else except an oyster knife, a U shaped anvil of soft metal to steady the oyster and his powerful, well practiced hands. I'd stand in front of him and watch his technique. He'd chatter while he worked, his mouth running as fast and steady as his hands while he'd charm the customers waiting for their food. A plaque on the wall behind him hailed his oyster shucking feats, and he'd gladly relate the finer points of how he'd won these contests.

He'd place an oyster in a dull grey metal block that looked alarmingly like lead, and put the point of the knife in the hinge of the oyster. With a precise push and twist, the oyster would open. He'd slice the meat away from the flat top shell in a flash and serve the critter in its bowl shaped lower shell.

"I never cut into the oyster - knife marks lose you points in competition," teaching me something I never thought to look for on a plate of raw oysters. Most restaurants hire shuckers to work the raw bar and buy buckets of preshucked "cookers" for use in the kitchen. Uggie's relied on Michael to open every oyster they'd use because freshness and quality mattered. That counter was his stage where thousands appreciated his easy manner and performer's charm.

I see the devastated Superdome on TV and know that a half mile away, the flood probably reclaimed the formerly cheery Uglesich building into an otherwise undistinguished and ignominious neighborhood: hip deep in filthy water, and possibly housing catfish that once would have been served there. I think of Michael's magnetic charm, and hope that he can somehow manage that charming smile in the midst of the devastation. Know sir, that you are loved and remembered by a world far bigger than you can possibly imagine, and our thoughts are with you and your family.

# # #

On a more local note, my friend Brian fowarded a press release from a Thai-Chinese restaurant in Anaheim Hills called Spice Delight that's raising money for the flood victims. Brian and his wife took us there for a mind blowing dinner, and I'd say it's easily the best restaurant in the otherwise glum restaurant scene of Anaheim Hills. It compares favorably to Thai Nakorn, a widely praised Thai restaurant in Orange County, minus their focus on the Northern regional dishes of Isaan.

I've been holding off on a writeup of Spice Delight until I've had a couple more visits, and this fundraising effort seems a good time to do it. John Sangsiri is a 20 year veteran of running Thai restaurants in Florida and Southern California, and has friends and family that lived through the Asian tsunami of 2004.

He's giving 10% of the daily receipts to charity from September 18 to September 24. They're open 7 days a week from 11am to 10pm and also offer free delivery within 5 miles on orders over $20.

Spice Delight
124 South Fairmont Blvd.
Anaheim Hills, CA 92808


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just had dinner tonight at Spice Delight, WOW, this place rocks. I had a non-menu item by asking for a tradtional Thai Coconut dish with Lobster, Scallops, Shrimp, Mussels and veggies. The table behind us had some Lamb dish, it looked tasty - next time I'm getting that.

9/17/2005 12:31:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The thought of the terrible tragedy that is New Orleans just breaks my heart, but now that I know Uglesich's isn't there, my heart will never ever be right again. The best seafood I've EVER had.....and I've been a sea-foodie since I can remember. The Acme Oyster House is also VERY good.

9/19/2005 01:35:00 PM  

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