Bayou....a swampland holiday dinner...with fried stuff!
Sure, Christmas and what not are a busy time and you are rushing around endlessly, or it at least feels like it. But you do have to take time to stop and eat something and what better way to do that than dining out with friends! Isn't that what the holidays are about, along with shopping, presents, family, decorations, etc., etc. Me and the SO met up with Ms. O and her L to chow down at a relatively new Mission spot called Bayou Creole Kitchen & Rotisserie.
Like Southern food, Louisiana and Creole food seems to be having an ongoing renaissance in SF. Feels like every time a new spot opens they are doing some variation of either of these, with their own California spin, course. Bayou was actually one of two that opened in the Mission recently showcasing New Orleans food, the other being Albaray's. I had wanted to try both but we ended up at Bayou as it seems to have flown somewhat under the radar as Albaray's has garnered much of the review attention since opening. Befitting since Bayou is located just off the main Valencia restaurant drag on 17th Street making it more of a locals in the know place.
It is a tiny, narrow spot with a small bar down one side and a handful of tables down the other, which is why I would suggest reservations if you are going on popular nights. Otherwise, pick an off night during the week or go when they first open like we did as the place did fill up.
The menu is an array of Southern and Creole dishes that you would expect along with a selection of rotisserie chicken in quarter, half and whole variations. Since there were four of us we tried to get a wide selection of options which means yes, this will be a two part review to cover it all.
What better way to kick off a deep dive into low country food than with green tomatoes covered in cornmeal, deep fried and served with a shrimp remoulade sauce. To be honest, I've never been the biggest fan of fried green tomatoes, I find them tough and bitter. Seriously, it is just an unripe tomato! But majority ruled and we got them. Made to order they did come hot and crispy out of the fryer. They are large slabs with ample crunchy crust covering and only slightly greasy. I still get tangs of bitterness from the tomato which are only moderately offset from the sweet cornmeal. The remoulade adds some notes of spiciness and while it says something about shrimp in ingredients, I can't say I tasted any. As a variation of a classic Southern dish, I will say it is on point for taste and execution and if you are interested in trying them, they are pretty good straight up rendition. I'm still not a fan in general though.
Here's a dish, however, I am totally down with, fried okra. Technically this is one of their side dishes but if they were gonna get those tomato things, I wanted some okra. Cornmeal crisp little bites of sweet and earthy okra, a personal fave from my previous life in the South. I like the crunch from the first bite and the small pops of of the seeds inside as you chew. Fried to perfection, for me, these are like little cubes of tasty fun. These needed a little salt but that's easily remedied. I like these as is or sometimes dipped in a bit of ketchup. Either way, good job.
Nothing says Gulf Coast like a little flounder. It was also a popular fish in the Carolinas and I'd order it up whenever we went to seafood restaurants on beach vacations. It is a bottom feeder fish and is pretty much the catfish of the ocean. Instead of fried (which would have been fun) this version came pan sautéed with lemon, brown butter, Worcestershire sauce and parsley. There was also some variation of Cajun type seasoning with some paprika and black pepper, just not as spicy. The fish was tender and flaky and seasoned enough to balance out the earthy flavor flounder sometimes evokes. A little tartar sauce might have been nice, but seems it's not something they had.
The menu listed rice pilaf as one of the sides but seems it was more just plain white rice. No pi or laf to be found. It could have used a pick me up of gravy or even butter. I mean it is what we do spruce it up in the South with those things or mix it into gumbo or just something! If you can do it to a potato you can do it to some boring rice. The sautéed green beans at least were better with just a hint of crispness and bits of bacon so that was a definite side dish upgrade. I guess two out of three ain't bad right? At least that is what Meatloaf sings though he wasn't necessarily talking about food, I think.
What better way to cap off round one of this meal than with THE New Orleans dessert of beignets. Three quite large pillows of deep fried and puffy dough covered in copious amounts of powdered sugar and served with a side of caramel sauce for dipping. Really, they are just square donuts and who doesn't love a donut?! Really, if you don't, then please excuse yourself as I have no time for you. These soft clouds of sweet dough were lovely bites sugary excess and heft, two fo my favorite things in a dessert. The thick caramel sauce just adds a tasty extra layer richness to round it all out for you in case the powdered sugar wasn't enough. Kind of surprised it wasn't a bourbon caramel sauce to make extra drunk New Orleans, but that is just a quibble. As served, they were spot on and great topper to the meal.
So, outside of some boring white rice (isn't it always?), everything up to this point has been quite good and this was the consensus of all four of us. Considering the disparate tastes at the table, I'd say that's a good sign of what Bayou has to offer. We weren't done yet though as the next round brought more creatures of the water to the table along with the ultimate in tooth achingly sweet desserts. Hmmm, wonder what they could be?