Sunday, April 5, 2015

Disappointing. Or Worse.

Bourbon Street Seafood Kitchen
2815 North Loop 1604 East
(at Redland Road, on the west-bound side)

After reading many of the reviews of this restaurant on its Urbanspoon page, and looking over its web site, we decided that this would be our new favourite Cajun/Creole restaurant in San Antonio. Not a big competition, I grant you: the best thing you can say about most such restaurants hereabouts is that they Used To Be Good. One still is, but in a downscale, almost apologetic way; and it closes early. But this one had a very persuasive website, and some really appetizing pictures, and the reviews on line said all the things I would look for in evaluating the opinions expressed.

Hmmm. Seems now that I need to re-evaluate how I evaluate the opinions of strangers.

After driving to the very edge of Civilisation, way out by the Death Loop, I thought things were looking pretty good. Got a parking space very close (I lead a charmed life, when it comes to parking spaces) and the wait was only a few minutes. The room was comfortable, if a little on the loud side; the hostess was cheerful and welcoming; and the server seemed to know what she was doing. Another staffer brought three excellent rolls hot from the oven with a tasty pesto in lieu of butter. None of us wanted wine, so we started to query the waitress about the beers they serve.

She admitted that she was "not a beer drinker," and reported things about the beers that others had told her. Ordinarily, that's sufficient to provide adequate info to a customer, but not, it turns out, this time; specifically with regard to the Abita beers. They offer four different Abitas (the product of a brewery in Tangipahoa Parish, across the lake from New Orleans, and very much an iconic Louisiana thing), two of which I was familiar with, but two of which were new to me. I ordered an Andygator, which turns out to be a "doppelbock," the kind of beer brewed for spring festivals in Germany. If the waitress had known --- as she should have --- that it was a bock beer I would have been more comfortable placing the order, but bock beer is good, so I was happy enough. The other was a Purple Haze, which the waitress had no information about. My wife, trusting soul, ordered that. It turns out to be ... raspberry-flavoured. It tasted to me like grape Nehi soda.

That's the kind of thing a table-service staffer ought to know, even if not a beer drinker. Not everybody would have been happy with that kind of surprise. I sure wouldn't have.

The meals we chose from a fairly extensive menu were crawfish étoufée for me, and eggplant "bayous" for my wife. The former is a Cajun classic dish: crawfish tails with peppers and onions smothered in a rich sauce and served over rice. Bourbon Street offers it over dirty rice, a variation that would be anathema to a snobby purist (like me, sometimes) but which sounded appealing to me. I demurred, though, intent on sampling the orthodox version on this first visit to the restaurant. The eggplant dish is, as far as I know, something developed in-house by the chef. On the menu it appears as "eggplant stuffed with scallops and shrimp in a creamy saffron sauce." On the plate it appeared somewhat differently.

But first, the crawfish. The first, and essential step in making a good étoufée is to make a roux, the simple blend of flour and bacon fat or oil that is the foundation on which all good Cajun dishes is built. A cook who cannot do this successfully should not be allowed to operate unsupervised in a Louisiana kitchen. Young children from Calcasieu to Plaquemines spend most of their formative years learning to get this right. Many never do, and I must count myself among them. Still, I know the formula if not the art, and I certainly know enough to appreciate when someone's gotten it right. The kitchen at Bourbon Street have not gotten it right. The roux was pale and thin and utterly, utterly flawed, and even if all the ingredients added to the roux were fresh and well-prepared (and they were), and even if all the seasonings were in place in proper amounts (and they were), the dish could not pass muster any more than could a battleship made from paper. It was a failure, not even an average example of crawfish étoufée.*

What's that mean?
Last city inspection: Dec 16, 2014
21 demerits
The "eggplant bayous" was a more interesting and successful accomplishment, though once again the information provided to the customer was inadequate. This dish is not eggplant stuffed with scallops and shrimp; it is a slice of eggplant, breaded and pan-fried, topped with scallops and shrimp in sauce. There were three shrimp of a moderate size, quite enough to satisfy; the scallops were actually only two, sliced horizontally to appear as four. That, too, is enough, even if a little duplicitous in presentation. Appearance seems to matter more that substance in the kitchen, while at the table substance was satisfied despite noticing the attempt at deception. The sauce --- was there saffron in it? Who could tell? It didn't look the bright yellow colour of saffron, nor could either of us have identified the flavour, but the flavour of the sauce was good.

My wife ordered her eggplant bayous with the dirty rice. What it came with looked nothing like the dirty rice I've had in innumerable restaurants across Louisiana and Texas, and certainly nothing like the dirty rice I fix at home. It looked and tasted like a bland Spanish rice, but without the colourful additions. It was orange and bland and uninteresting.

The ambience of the place is good enough, with a slight suggestion of New Orleans about it. There are some vaguely old-world looking miniature street lamps, and towards the front some nice Mardi Gras themed decorations -- masks, beads, and such. The dining room is dominated by a very bad painting covering the entire back wall, which shows a view that someone who had never been there might have taken as a Vieux Carré street scene: one building decorated with wrought iron, another with a few café tables on the banquette, and a dozen or so unadorned buildings that would be more at home in a dodgy neighbourhood in Garden City, Kansas. The attempt at trompe-l'œil plaster fade was done exactly backwards, the "exposed" bricks being raised above the fake plaster, making it look as though it was the brickwork that was crumbling. At least the colours were suitable to the Crescent City theme.

As far as value, there's not much to say. The prices were in the range of what you would expect for what you expected to get.
Bourbon Street Seafood Kitchen on Urbanspoon
* There was plenty of crawfish étoufée on the plate, and I took it home in the hope that it would taste better the next day, the flavours having magically matured, or something. It did not; it was, in fact, worse.

Friday, November 21, 2014

A Couple of Good Lunch Spots

China Star, on Babcock at Callaghan, is a nice little place for Chinese food on the northwest side. We stopped in on a whim the other day & found it had excellent service and above-average food. The dining room may not have been updated since the 1970s, but then neither have the prices. For five bucks apiece, we each got enough food for two good meals.

The hot & sour soup had an unusual sweet hint to it, and the fried noodles were crisp and not greasy. The beef & broccoli had a nice sauce, thicker than average, with a slight suggestion of ginger that gave it a complexity not usually found in Chinese-restaurant lunch specials.

Last city inspection: October 2014
6 demerits
(a tremendous improvement)
What the Ratings Mean

China Star Chinese on Urbanspoon

Yesterday, we went over to Garibaldi's on North West Military, in Castle Hills. We've been fans of the restaurant's Fredericksburg Road location, but sometimes this is a more convenient place. The food is as good as in the other location, plus the dining room is brighter and has a cleaner feel to it. I had the beef fajita nachos. A large order (12) was more food than I really needed, but I managed to lick the plate clean. Good service. Prices seemed a little high for Rick's tacos, but not outrageously so.
Castle Hills doesn't disclose
restaurant ratings on line, but the
restaurant posts the results by the door
What do those ratings mean?

Garibaldi Mexican Restaurant on Urbanspoon