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Magi Loupe

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Circuit Court New Orleans

R&O Restaurant
216 Hammond Hwy., Metairie, LA
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2/16/02

Severe hunger and lack of funds took my companion and I to R&O's restaurant in Bucktown, USA, 100 yards outside of New Orleans proper. Over a hundred years ago, Bucktown was nothing more than a string of hunting and fishing camps lining Lake Pontchartrain, but is now considered by many the modern Mecca of simple, casual seafood dining. My companion, unfortunately, was Vito "The Legcrusher" Pistonetti, my onetime friend and now bookie, whom I was treating to lunch in hopes that he would lower the vig on my superbowl wager (damn those Patriots). Luckily, R&O's has both seafood and Italian fare.

No surprises here: shrimp, oysters, catfish, either fried or broiled. Big, steaming piles of boiled crawfish. Chicken or veal parmesan, pizza, muffelettas, spaghetti and meatballs. This is roll up your shirt-sleeves eating. The waitresses call you "dawlin'. Environs sparse, yet comfortable. There must be some imaginary line bisecting smoking and non-smoking, since at the very next table in my non-smoking section a large, bespectacled man in a tanktop puffed a large stogie.

After perusing the too large menu we decided on bowls of gumbo and a dozen raw oysters to start, fried oyster poboy, and large pepperoni and mushroom pizza. Mystery draught beer. The waitress disappeared and almost immediately reappeared with our oysters.

There are two types of raw oysters eaters, which I characterize as: The eaters and the pretenders. The pretenders always mix up some gloppy mess to dip the oysters in, usually some amalgamation of ketchup, horseradish, and hot sauce. Even worse, they will place the oyster on a cracker before eating it. The eaters, on the other hand, believe that anything masking the subtle, wonderful flavor of the oyster is a gustatory travesty. The oyster should go from the shell to the mouth with as little delay as possible. I am happy to report that Vito and I fall squarely in the latter camp.

At any rate, the fat, beautiful oysters were magnificent. Big, cold, silvery bivalves that rolled around in our mouths like salty little pillows. We devoured them almost as fast as they came out.

Next came the gumbo. The gumbo at R&O's is, quite simply, some of the finest in the city. A thick, spicy, dark-roux concoction chock full of shrimp and oysters, with just enough rice to bind the flavors together. For neophyte readers, gumbo is divided into two camps. First is seafood gumbo featuring, as one might guess, seafood. Sometimes crab and usually some okra. Next is chicken and andouille gumbo. For the purpose of this review, I refer to the former. There was no bread offered to sop up the last of the gumbo, so we settled for the small wicker boat of saltine crackers.

Almost on cue the waitress brought our entrees.

The poboy looked and smelled fabulous. Plump, meaty oysters stuffed between toasted French bread, filled out with fresh tomato, shredded lettuce, pickles, and mayo. Toasted French bread is, to me, the defining characteristic of a great poboy, and it's a technique practiced far too infrequently. The oysters were fried perfectly, retaining much of their juicy, salty goodness.

I was enjoying my second bite when I heard Vito grumbling. "Ahh, da pizza, it's-a no good!" he pronounced. Alas, after sampling it, I found he was right. The crust was far too thin, and the overwhelming amount of cheese had soaked through the crust, making it soggy. The sauce was also too sweet, the result, I imagine, of sitting in a large pot overcooking. I offered him half of my poboy, which was far too large for me to finish alone. He happily accepted, and we finished our meal as the half-eaten pizza sat and mocked us for having ordered it. Pizza should probably be the focus of a meal, at a restaurant that specializes in it, not slapped on the menu as an afterthought.

Then the bill came. For all that largesse, the total was under $35, not including the beers, and I was overwhelmed to get away for such a small price. As we walked out, Vito looked at me and asked, "So, when is-a your next payment?"

I shrugged, smiled sheepishly and said, "What do you say I take you out for pizza next week?"

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Contact Magistrate Loupe at magistrate@neworleans.com

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