Sarah Anne Lloyd, 2011.
(TV Dinner is a new weekly column that will attempt to feature the most notable take-out joints in Seattle and seek>"/>
Sarah Anne Lloyd, 2011.
(TV Dinner is a new weekly column that will attempt to feature the most notable take-out joints in Seattle and seek out a television show that, for better or for worse, corresponds closely with the brown bagged meal. Aimed at the blog-reading shut-ins or the perpetually exhausted amongst our dear readers, TV Dinner will hopefully serve those who want to experience the most delicious and eclectic tastes of our fair city without having to deal with all of that bothersome "atmosphere.")
The Night-In: The French Quarter Sampler (Jambalaya, Crawfish Pie, Shrimp Gumbo, Salad) with Bread Pudding and Fried Alligator from Marcela's Creole Cookery to be eaten in front of HBO's Treme.
The Cuisine: Marcela's Creole Cookery rests on Yesler Way and James Street, beckoning tourists and locals alike just off Pioneer Square proper with New Orleans jazz standards piped out into the streets. I have to say I admired the restaurant before I had any idea what they served, if only for the fact that, if only for a few hours a day, the Square now had a soundtrack that wasn't just ambulance sirens or droning Led Zeppelin covers emanating from the J&M Cafe. If that weren't enough, the man behind the counter was so wonderfully accommodating throughout taking my order that I almost felt bad hoarding all his delicious food back to my dreary loft. Almost.
The gumbo was of potent, tangy stock and brought out a really great tenderness to the abundant shrimp, but the real guts of the French Quarter Sampler lied in the sausage jambalaya and crawfish pie. I couldn't get very far into the bitter crust and chewy crawfish filling, but I think that might have mostly been because of the rich jambalaya gutbomb that made me feel positively brimming with spicy rice and sausage upon only finishing half of my serving. I even came back to the leftovers a few hours later and experienced the same immediate fullness -- and that wasn't even the entire spread.
The fried alligator chunks had a perfect bite to them, served with remoulade and cocktail sauce for my dipping pleasure, making me wonder how I could ever go back to boring old chicken tenders or clam strips. Even the relatively paltry starter looking salad had a hearty backbone from its sharp and chunky bleu cheese dressing. Finally, the bread pudding powered through its reputation as one of the best in Seattle, offering a consistent firmness down to the last buttery, whiskey sauce-laden bite. I immediately knew that this had been a great choice to start the column, as I couldn't possibly conceive of my body being able to do anything after that meal besides give out in front of a television.
The Entertainment: Treme is one of HBO's latest entries in an increasingly prolific wealth of amazing television dramas. David Simon, who you might also know from producing the nigh-universally acclaimed The Wire, brings his mastery of ensemble-driven storylines to the titular New Orleans neighborhood after the cataclysmic fallout from Hurricane Katrina.
While the decision to set The Wire in Baltimore was intended towards presenting a more general vision of America inner-city life as opposed to a neighborhood as iconic and storied as New York City or Detroit, Treme is distinctly New Orleans from beginning to end, even when its characters wander out of city limits. Episodes and character arcs are positively loaded with references to native food, music and tradition that will come as a little esoteric to most anyone who isn't closely familiar with the city, treating the city's more mainstream fixtures like "When The Saints Go Marching In" and Bourbon Street with palpable annoyance. Despite Treme hitting the ground running with The Big Easy's seemingly inexhaustible body of customs, there are no shortage of helpful locals online to hold your hand through the visual narrative.
What should immediately jump out at the viewer is how Treme is one of those delightfully rare shows that's nearly impossible to watch without being righteously outraged. I don't mean that in the broader, more nihilistic sense of a show like Jerseylicious or Real Housewives of Wherever that causes one to lose any hope or even interest in the fate of the human race -- but one that sets fires under the asses of involved viewers as efficiently as a pyro with lapsing property insurance. Whether it's raging against the federal government's outrageously insufficent response to the crumbling city's infrastructure, showing more unsettlingly personal destructive forces within the tightknit community or detailing random acts of tragedy that have no conceivable scapegoat, Treme covers a wide, infuriating spectrum in a fair, articulate, and always compelling manner.
However, true to the indomitable spirit of New Orleans, the show never gets too bogged down with self-indulgent rants or pity parties, and is never hesitant to bookend moments of extreme duress with animated celebrations in the city's battered streets, businesses and homes. The soulful music of New Orleans is kept central throughout the entire series, no matter how dire the surrounding events. The series' conflicts follow suit, keeping careful to have victories as pithy as paying a water bill or stealing back a consigned jazz album put into enough emotional detail for audiences to perk up and follow along with more vigor than vinegar.
Of course, Treme's vivid reproductions, bewitching soundtrack and poignant character arcs might fall flat if not for the strong performances by the likes of John Goodman at his most oafishly erudite, the mindbogglingly underutilized simmering outrage of Khandi Alexander and Steve Zahn as a slightly more stoned version of Steve Zahn (whose musical talent is utilized in far greater stride here than a mercifully brief Neil Diamond impersonation in 2000's Saving Silverman). The depth of the show's many characters never rests on being based on victims of a disaster still tender in most viewers' memories, which is crucial for audiences to actually care about these people rather than just feeling sorry for them.
While a certain short-sighted critical element doubted that Treme could sustain itself as it got further and further away from the 2005 disaster, the show's second season is perhaps even tighter and more addictive than its first. In a well-publicized coup for the show's writing staff, foodie demi-god Anthony Bourdain was brought in to provide story insight into the new episodes' foray into the New York restaurant scene. The introduction of opportunistic, out-of-town developers (who just HAVE to be slimy, come on) and a closer, more sympathetic focus on the officers of NOPD also promise to provide more depth and tension as the people of New Orleans grapple with exactly whose vision of the city should be rebuilt.
The Pairing: Treme's cast is a group of far-from-perfect people in a far-from-perfect situation. As HBO continues to bring out high concept longform dramas that take place in the bullet-riddled boardwalks of Prohibition-era New Jersey or towering fantasy worlds wrack with swordplay and ghouls, Treme's relentlessly current battles with finding identity and doing whatever it takes to preserve it come as a breath of fresh air amongst most of our media's attempts to escape it at all costs.
Similarly, Marcela's doesn't back down from strong seasonings and exotic proteins just to play nice with a more sensitive palate. You might not like crawfish after a belt-busting round at the Creole Cookery, but I have a good feeling you'll at least respect it. There's just a lot of great new tastes here you're simply not going to be able to find in your average timidly cajun-themed restaurant's one-note jambalyas or neutered gumbos.
It's perhaps naive to say there is any meaningful understanding that can be gained of New Orleans and its natives by propping yourself in front of a screen and chowing down, and downright criminal to insinuate any understanding for the totality of the destruction left in Katrina's wake. However, between David Simon's blistering hot setpieces and Marcela's heavenly bread pudding, this crash course beats the hell out of anything you're likely to get out of a textbook.