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TOTALLY HOT!

<i> Compiled by Jane Greenstein</i>

Cajun chef Paul Prudhomme wears a button trumpeting that slogan most of the time. And his native cuisine IS hot right now, and not just in flavor. These recently reviewed restaurants all feature Cajun food prominently on their menu s. All prices exclude drinks. Let the good times roll!

BAYOU SAINT JOHN (320 Main St., Seal Beach, (213) 431-2298). You can taste real Cajun food at this low-key, unpretentious little restaurant. Only one thing on the menu gets blackened, and that’s redfish. The gumbo is great, and they make their own hot link sausage. The oysters are good, the desserts seem to be limited, and there’s not much to the decor beyond a quiet Dixieland sound track. Open for lunch Mon.-Fri., for dinner nightly. MC, V, AE. Dinner for two: $10-$30.

BOURBON STREET (17970 Ventura Blvd., Encino, (818) 345-2830). Bourbon Street is pretty and pink, with a patio that is swell this time of year. The food ranges from astonishingly good (a crawfish pie in puff pastry that feeds four) to terribly disappointing (watery, greasy gumbo). All the old Cajun favorites are here--shrimp remoulade, baskets of muffins, alligator and blackened redfish. Open for dinner daily. MC, V, AE. Dinner for two: $30-$50.

GHAFFARI’S CALIFORNIA AND CAJUN CUISINE (24921 Dana Point Harbor Drive, Dana Point, (714) 661-0188). The swampland is far away at this restaurant--Ghaffari’s is Californian through and through. The Cajun popcorn--bits of deep-fried seafood--is pretty good. And, of course, lots of things get blackened, including shrimp, beef filet and red snapper. The desserts, many of which are on the French side, are wonderful. Another plus--Ghaffari’s has a nice view of the rest of the Dana Point Harbor Pavilion. Open for dinner Tue.-Sun., brunch Sat. and Sun. MC, AE, V. Dinner for two: $26-$57.

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HOMER AND EDY’S BISTRO (2839 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 559-5102). One of the first Creole restaurants in Los Angeles (they opened in 1975), Homer and Edy’s serves a pretty uptown version of Cajun cooking in a room adorned with white tablecloths, fresh flowers and wrought-iron grills. The menu includes bouillabaisse, cheese grits, dirty rice and ribs with BBQ sauce. The gumbo is a dark depth of many flavors. Other standouts are oyster loaf and rice, which is prettily striped with file . Not so good is the shrimp (tasty but dry) and crab cakes (honest but dull). Open for dinner Mon.-Sat. All major credit cards. Valet parking. Reservations advised. Dinner for two: $35-$65.

NASH’S SEAFOOD RAGIN’ CAJUN (18685 Main St., Huntington Beach, (714) 841-9911). This is another restaurant cashing in on the Cajun rage. On the one hand, it’s a decent seafood restaurant. On the other hand, the Cajun part of the menu is unconvincing. Nash’s serves “California” gumbo--the kind without seafood and/or wild fowl, the kind with braised beef, bell pepper and shrimp. The New Orleans remoulade gets only halfway to New Orleans. Two Cajun dishes are almost perfect: Cajun popcorn (deep-fried bits of crab in corn meal) and the chicken-and-sausage jambalaya. Open for lunch Mon.-Fri., dinner daily. MC, AE, V. Dinner for two: $22.

ORLEANS (11705 National Blvd., West Los Angeles, (213) 479-4187). What was once the dignified Williamsburg Inn has been stripped down to bare walls, hung with patchwork quilts, bare floors and noise--the better to accommodate the gusto of gumbo and all the rest. The rest at this restaurant includes excellent breads, blackened redfish and blackened prime rib. The place is lively and a lot of fun. Open Mon.-Fri. for lunch and dinner, dinner only on weekends. Valet parking. MC, AE, V. Reservations advised. Dinner for two: $30-$55.

PATOUT’S (2260 Westwood Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 475-7100). The real thing. This soft and pretty Cajun cafe seems filled with the spirit of the Bayou; just about everybody who works here, from chef Gigi Patout to the busboys, is straight out of Louisiana. So is the food: The portions are immense. Crawfish is fried into a particularly irresistible version of Cajun popcorn. The gumbo is the real thing and the Cajun stuffed eggplant impossibly rich. For dessert: homey, heavy bread pudding and a fine pecan pie. Open for lunch Sun.-Fri., for dinner nightly. Full bar. Valet parking. MC, AE, V. Dinner for two: $30-$55.

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RITZ CAFE (9320 W. Pico Blvd., West Los Angeles, (213) 550-7737). Unlike many Cajun restaurants, this one serves traditional Cajun-Creole food in the traditional look of the place it came from. High ceilings, side booths, cream-colored walls and etched glass add a New Orleans flavor to the decor. The menu includes Maryland soft-shell crabs, jambalaya and Creole gumbo. It also includes an incredibly good Cajun black steak. Open for lunch and dinner Mon.-Fri., dinner only Sat. and Sun. MC,AE,V. Dinner for two: $35-$50.


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