Thomas R. Lawrence
456 South 10th Street
Opelika, AL 36801
As I See It!
The Newsletter for
Capital Consultants Company
Volume 2, Number 2
In This Issue:
Welcome from Tom
As I Like it!
Okay, I promise this is the last of the football comments until at least next summer. The SEC West put together an overall outstanding 2011 recruiting class. Rivals, one of the recruiting gurus, has Alabama ranked number one in the nation, surviving the strong challenge from in-state rival Auburn, which finished number seven. LSU ranked number six to round out the top ten nationally. Ole Miss and Houston Nutt managed to finish strong at number nineteen and Arkansas came at number twenty-four.
The only Western division team to finish out of the top twenty-five was Mississippi State. The kindest thing that can be said about the Bulldogs recruiting is that they signed a bunch of Mississippi players that seem to fit into positions that needed shoring up. Dan Mullen is reportedly to have said, “Let us sign a majority of the best players in Mississippi and we’ll win championships” or something to that effect. He came close this year by signing fifteen of the top prospects compared to seventeen by those pesky Black Bears from Oxford.
If there is any validity in ranking high school players it will not show up for a couple of years, which gives coaches time to do their magic, for better or worse. There are a couple of schools that have consistently signed top twenty-five recruiting classes and coached them into losing records. Only time will tell.
There is good news and bad news on the business front. The good news is that Capital Consultants managed to craft a hybrid debt/equity proposal for the fashion company that I discussed last month. The bad news is that the proposal was so good for the investor that one of the owners of the company decided to take our structure and fund it himself. I guess this is sort of a compliment in that he clearly felt it was a sound investment in a growing company.
I enjoyed meeting with the principal owner of this well-established and growing company and I have to say that I learned a great deal about the fashion business. I certainly learned that it is no place for sissies or the faint-hearted. The young woman that owns the company grew up in a major fashion house, serving as a designer, as well as, a field representative sourcing products worldwide. She makes the company viable and attractive.
I am currently doing the due diligence on a medical device company that has recently received FDA approval and is seeking growth capital. I will be meeting with the owner/inventor in mid-February and will give a report in my next newsletter.
As I Like it!TM
Last month I traced the origins of New Orleans cuisine to five basic sources: The provincial cooking of seventeenth-century France, the West African influence brought by the Negro slaves, the Acadians from Canada, the influence of nineteenth-century Europe and finally the advent of Americans following the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. I mentioned that the first of the traditional New Orleans restaurants can be traced to the mid-nineteenth century.
One of the first restaurants in New Orleans was opened in 1840 by Antoine Alciatore, a young French immigrant. He opened his new establishment on St. Louis Street in the Vieux Carre. Today Antoine’s is located just one block away from the original location and is under the direction of a direct descendent of Alciatore.
1840 was in the height of the classical French period in New Orleans and cotton was king. The upper-class Creoles demanded the very best of European dining and were willing to pay for it. Antoine’s catered to this demanding clientele and met their every expectation. These families quickly became regulars at the restaurant and each had their own favorite waiter. Soon these regular patrons were guided to a private entrance and seated in a special dining room. This system remained in place well into the last quarter of the twentieth century and there are still New Orleanians who have never had a reservation nor stood in line at Antoine’s.
I first dined at Antoine’s with my parents; my dad had been the sales rep for the Crystal Ice Company in the Vieux Carre before World War II and, as a result, knew everybody in the French Quarter. He had his special waiters at Antoine’s and Galatoire’s until the day he died. I have very pleasant memories of eating in the great restaurants of New Orleans, but I have to admit that my memory may be clouded by the years and nostalgia.
A wonderful gentleman named Lee Brown, a native New Orleanian,and lifetime resident of the Garden District, introduced me to New Orleans cuisine as a young adult. Lee’s family had been dining as regulars at all of the major New Orleans restaurants for several generations and he too knew all of the players. Lee and I dined at Antoine’s regularly in the early 1960’s and I have fond memories of the classical French dishes and the heavy cream and butter-laden sauces that accompanied them. At the time this was the height of Haute Cuisine.
Each summer, when Elaine goes to visit her daughter in Nashville for a few weeks, I take my annual sabbatical. Last year I spent the time touring the River Counties of Mississippi from Tunica to Natchez and a week in South Louisiana, principally in New Orleans. I had the chance to dine in all of my favorite restaurants as well as a couple of new ones. The first stop was my first visit to Antoine’s in over twenty years.
I realize that our minds can play cruel tricks as we grow older and many of our fondest memories tend to have been burnished by the patina of time. I have to say up front that my dinner at Antoine’s did not live up to my expectations. The first thing that I noticed was that the restaurant was less than half full on a Friday evening. I was escorted to a table in one of the more desirable back dining areas and had the feeling that the whole place may have needed a thorough renovation. Floors and carpets were worn and a paint job wouldn’t have been wasted. In 171 years of operation one would expect normal wear and tear, but an occasional redo wouldn’t hurt.
The menu seemed to be essentially the same as on my last visit and I endeavored to the best of my memory to order as I would have back then. The table was served a basket of real French bread and creamery butter, an excellent beginning to any meal. I started with Escargots a la Bordelaise, large snails baked in a red wine and garlic sauce, topped with cheese and bread crumbs. They were delicious and perfectly prepared.
Next I had the Creole Gumbo with crab, oysters and shrimp. As ya’ll already know, I am a gumbo snob. Antoine’s gumbo was pretty ordinary by my standards and if I were to go back I would try the Crawfish Bisque. My salad course was their classic Hearts of Palm with a vinaigrette dressing and it was exactly as I remembered; a perfect palate cleanser before the main course.
My entrée was Tips de Filet en Brochette Marchand de Vin, prime tenderloin tips with Marchand de Vin sauce. The tenderloin tips were accompanied by fresh steamed asparagus with melted butter and Antoine’s signature fried potato puffs. The tenderloin tips were overcooked to my taste and the Marchand de Vin overpowered any flavor that had escaped the skillet. It reminded me of a serving of beef tips at the Murrah High School cafeteria circa 1957. The asparagus and potatoes were average at best. I had the Peach Melba and French Roast Coffee for dessert and both were very good. The service throughout the meal was indifferent and perfunctory. I had to track a waiter down for refills of water and additional bread and butter. The waiters and the staff seemed to be just going through the motions, totally uninspired. This was something less than a grand dining experience.
In Antoine’s defense, let me say that I came into the evening with an inflated expectation based on my fuzzy memory. I also noticed that the tab was not out of line with other top quality white-tablecloth restaurants, even those in little Auburn and Opelika. I think Antoine’s is trapped in a time warp and can’t escape its storied past. The world has moved on while Antoine’s was sleeping. Next month we’ll visit Galatoire’s for an entirely different experience.
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