|Stone Soup at Vaughan's Lounge|
You truly never know.
A couple weeks ago at our regular neighborhood watering hole, Vaughan's Lounge, we talked with one of the bartenders. Turns out in addition to serving up Abita Amber on Sunday nights, Sarah Borealis is an anthropologist with a PhD from Tulane, and a filmmaker. After we got to talking, she invited us to check out a screening of her documentary, which was shown at Vaughan's this week.
|The event was sponsored by a Mezcal distributor!|
The fire had been burning since early evening heating the stones. These, I am told, are special stones. They come from the river than flows through San Felipe Usila, because only they have the right minerals to make Stone Soup.
Dining tables were set up on the gallery in front of Vaughan's, with festive decorations that included a Donald Trump pinata.
The gathering was a rather odd mix of grizzled old regulars - the cabinet-maker, the Habitat for Humanity worker, the city Public Works administrator, and other fine folks I'd met during the early evening hours for weeks - and artsy people, hipsters and tourists. There were ladies dressed in Day-of-the-Dead costumes, anticipating Halloween. There were men sporting man-buns and tattoos. There was a woman with bird-feather tattoos all over her limbs - I spoke to her and it turned out she is an ornithologist from Los Angeles, here on vacation.
Chef Cesar began to put the ingredients in each bowl - a dash of salt, a handful of chopped onions, some chopped herbs, some jalapenos. He ladled tomato and chile puree from a plastic bin into each bowl, then followed with a scoop of water. Finally, good-sized head-on shrimps and filets of tilapia went into each bowl.
Then it really got interesting. As Chef Cesar tended each bowl, Victor brought stones hot from the fire. Some glowed deep magenta red. When he dropped a stone into a bowl, the broth immediately boiled up furiously. Chef Cesar stirred and stirred, mixing things up. He repeated this again and again, removing the cooled stone from a bowl only to receive another hot one. I couldn't count how many times this happened; I am not sure whether there was a set amount of stones required, or if there was some condition of the soup that Chef sensed another stone was needed.
Once it was cooked, he served it to the guests. I was so fascinated by watching it that even though I had paid for a serving, I stayed at the edge, taking photos, and so I missed actually tasting the soup. People arrived by taxi and bike, just to watch, or to go into the barroom for a drink.
Well, to be perfectly frank, I had already hedged my bet, food-wise.
I hung out with my friends Linda and Dink, and the secret knowledge Linda had received from our bartender friend Krinkle is that there was a crab boil happening in the back that would be served once all the ticket-holders had been satisfied.
I was holding out for crab.
When it was finally ready, the three of us were the first to pounce. There was a huge steam basket full of crabs, plus a foil pan of corn on the cob. The crabs were seasoned so they were salty and spicy, and the corn was a cool, mellowing contrast.
|She-crab on the left. He-crab on the right.|
|Dink decimating the crabs|
Every time I go to Vaughan's, I swear I meet another interesting person. That night, my friend Linda introduced me to Otter, who is a theatrical impressaria and Bywater real estate wheeler-dealer. It was her birthday that night, so folks were gifting her with dollar bills, which she pinned to her dress as though they were a corsage.
Linda held her own with the crab boil, too. Girl can concentrate!
What a fine night, at a place that has become one of my favorite New Orleans places.