DINING OUT:

Maybe it is too soon to mention Mardi Gras. After all, it is the traditional over-the-top celebration in New Orleans right before Christians begin the holy Lenten season culminating with the Easter holiday.

On a cold winter night with my Christmas shopping nowhere near complete and my holiday cookies burned to a crisp in an oven that heats up only one side, give me a tropical drink and a big, hot bowl of gumbo.

Michael’s Bar and Grill in Burbank serves the best Louisiana-style Cajun cooking in Los Angeles. And its Mardi Gras menu is perfect for any day of the year.

This six-year-old restaurant with Executive Chef Arnold Gonzalez commanding the kitchen serves some of the best food in town at reasonable prices in a comfortable, fun atmosphere.

The décor is sophisticated, with a hint of that Bourbon Street vibe. Order a Hurricane or other tropical drink in a tall glass, and all you need is some jazz band tunes and a string of beads to feel like you are in the heart of New Orleans. Turn off your cell and leave the world outside while you take a comfortable seat in the dining room or at the bar.

The menu is based on Cajun-style cooking, which is a mix of French, Spanish, African and Indian influences. Centerpiece dishes of this cuisine, most celebrated in Louisiana, include jambalaya, gumbo and étoufée. Other signature dishes and sides have definite southern influence, such as catfish, spoon bread and po’boys. Even the desserts, such as sweet potato pecan pie and beignets with powdered sugar, send your heart back to New Orleans.

My friends and I started with drinks and appetizers. My absolute favorite are the crab cakes served with a spicy gumbo on top or the fried gator with the hot Cajun dipping sauce. For an even hotter start to your evening, try the jambalaya with shrimp, chicken and sausage in rice. But there are more than 20 choices, and most are less than $10, so there really is something for everyone.

When I stop by Michael’s for lunch, I like an appetizer and a bowl of gumbo. Now, I am not like President-elect Barack Obama, who insulted the owner of a Creole restaurant in New Orleans by pouring hot sauce over his bowl of gumbo. Personally, I think Michael’s seafood gumbo is hot enough to warm you especially on a cold winter’s day, but I don’t think you will offend them if you ask for a bottle of hot sauce.

Of course, you cannot go wrong with any of the main entrees at lunch or dinner. Although I stress this is a Cajun menu, they do have pastas, salads, steaks, chicken and even pizzas. The kid’s menu has dishes sure to please even the finicky eaters and includes ice cream for dessert.

My favorite entrees are the traditional Cajun and southern specialties. I think they really do compare with what I have enjoyed in New Orleans and throughout the South. I love the alligator étoufée, a rich stew packed with thick pieces of alligator meat, vegetables and rice served with spoon bread. Spoon bread is corn bread that has a softer, more moist texture and really should be eaten with a fork or spoon.

Other dishes that stand out include the blackened catfish, craw fish, po’boy and the stew-like shrimp Creole. Of course, I never have room for dessert. Do yourself a favor, especially during this holiday season, and take an order of beignets to go. The next morning, enjoy the beignets and coffee for breakfast. Trust me, you are guaranteed to get that holiday shopping completed.

While Michael’s Bar and Grill in Burbank is probably not the first place you think of when it comes to a holiday dinner, it definitely puts you in a celebratory spirit. So, this year while the neighbors leave out those milk and cookies, I’m treating Santa to a tall Hurricane and a plate of crab cakes from Michael’s. Something tells me that I won’t be disappointed when I wake up on Christmas morning.


 CHRISTINE PUTNAM’s book, “But the President Wants Meatloaf!” is about the favorite foods of the U.S. presidents from George Washington to George W. Bush. It is available for purchase at buybooksontheweb.com or amazon.com. For more information, visit her website at christineputnam.com or e-mail her at christine@ christineputnam.com.  CHRISTINE PUTNAM’s book, “But the President Wants Meatloaf!” is about the favorite foods of the U.S. presidents from George Washington to George W. Bush. It is available for purchase at buybooksontheweb.com or amazon.com. For more information, visit her website at christineputnam.com or e-mail her at christine@ christineputnam.com.

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