Happy Mardi Gras from EMC

by Brian

Happy Fat Tuesday to all of our loyal readers.  As promised, I am giving you a fresh review to peruse.  Hopefully you are all having a great time tonight and remember, “laissez les bon temps roulez.”

So in honor of this great party holiday, I set off in search of some authentic Cajun food in the heart of San Diego.  I’m happy to report that I found a spot that’s only 10 minutes or so from my house.  Lucky me… you know how I love my spicy food.

Gulf Coast Grill – On Park Blvd. between University and El Cajon.

There aren’t many Cajun/creole options in the Greater San Diego area.  In fact, besides this place I only know of one other, and it’s in old town.  Since I generally avoid old town and its horrendous parking situation, I was pretty stoked to find out about Gulf Coast Grill.  It’s the perfect location for me, sandwiched right between Hillcrest and North Park.  The easiest way to get there is to take Park all the way up from downtown, which turns into a meandering path leading you by Balboa Park, Museum Row and the San Diego Zoo.  All in all, it’s probably one of the most scenic routes that you’ll find that doesn’t involve the coast.

Anyway, enough about my adopted hometown.  What about the place itself?  Well, surprisingly, it’s pretty large.  They have a decent sized patio up front, a nice little bar area and two large dining rooms.  The larger of the two is set back and slightly darker, providing a nice quiet atmosphere for a hot date.  (Do people still say “hot date”?)  The decor is mostly wood and the lighting is comprised of a lot of those light strings you’d normally associate with Christmas, but without the obnoxious colors.  In short, it’s exactly what you’d expect an authentic Cajun restaurant to look like.

As I walked in, I was greeted at the door by a host/waiter/jack-of-all-trades.  It was the lunch hour and it looked as though he was also doing some of the serving because he and the bartender were sharing the responsibility of seating people and working the phone.  I told him it was just me, and after he’d finished giving me a confused look, I grabbed a seat at the bar and was quickly given a menu.

I knew that I was going to go Cajun with my order, but was stuck deciding between the jambalaya and the gumbo.  The bartender pushed me toward the gumbo when she told me that it was pretty spicy.  Usually, I find jambalaya to be the spicier of the two dishes, so I was intrigued at this abnormality.  I ordered the hush puppies as an appetizer and the 1/2 order of gumbo to follow.

The hush puppies were artfully done, although I must say that nobody is ever going to eat the bit of salad that they put on the plate to make it look this good.  The truth is that hush puppies are simple food.  They’re like a savory donut, and when done right, need very little accompaniment.  The remoulade that was drizzled on them was pleasant enough, but I would have preferred it in a dish for dipping rather than poured by the chef for aesthetic value.  That being said, the hush puppies were cooked perfectly, not too dry with just the right amount of crunch and thickness on the outer layer of corn.  I only had one complaint: that my gumbo came out before I could eat enough of them and, by the time I had returned, the remoulade had made them a little too soggy.  Oh well, it’s a dish meant for two people anyway… eating 4 out of the 7 ain’t bad.

The real star of the meal was the gumbo.  I know it’s not much to look at from the picture, but it was one of the spicier gumbos I’ve had.  I was literally sweating by the time I’d finished the bowl.  On top of the heat, which I loved, I also have to say that they used a ton of seafood.  The dish had an oyster, several shrimp, crawfish tails, little scallops and big chunks of fish (I was told they use red snapper or salmon).  All of the seafood was cooked well.  Nothing was rubbery and the only thing I was disappointed in was the oyster.  Maybe that’s just because oysters aren’t really my thing though, or it could be that the richness of the oyster was a little out of place considering the heat of the dish.

For those of you who like a really thick gumbo, you’re going to be disappointed here.  This one is a little on the thin side, due mainly to the fact that it has less rice and more seafood.  I’d take that trade-off any day.

I was very happy with my meal and look forward to going back.  My appetizer and half order of gumbo (which was plenty), and one Stone IPA came out to be $25.  The service was fast and the bartender was knowledgeable about the food.  I’ll be honest, I didn’t really get a good vibe from the place when I first walked in, and I’d be interested to see how the service holds up when the place gets packed.  But still, I can’t fault them for the service they gave me and I’ve certainly seen worse since I’ve moved down here.

So if you’re in the mood for some authentic Cajun food, give Gulf Coast Grill a shot… and tell ’em EatMeCalifornia sent you.

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Filed under Balboa Park, Hillcrest, North Park, San Diego

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