I suppose it was a mistake to sit down and watch Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Cooking videos. I realize it’s not the same as sitting down to, say, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IIIIIII, but for a chef, it’s darned close. By the end of 130 minutes of tape I had collapsed on the floor, drooling, and moaning for jambalaya and blackened redfish.
Paul Prudhomme, the dean of Cajun cuisine, showed up on the New York scene a few years back with a Big Apple branch of his world famous K-Paul’s. Excessive lines and nearly as excessive prices made this Village eatery excessive for many of our budgets. But now Prudhomme’s former chef, Frank Krebs, has taken over the reins and reopened on the same site as the Louisiana Community Bar & Grill.
Our quartet descended on this darkened depot of the deep south. A minor error in our reservation was taken care of reasonably quickly, but, although tables were available, we were still asked to have a drink at the bar before sitting. We demurred and hovered around the hostess stand until the hint was taken. Passing through the crowded brick bar we reached our red and white checked table – nestled quietly between the swinging kitchen door and the wait-station.
We began with a perky waitress and a round of Cajun style drinks. The fire of Cajun Martinis and Creole Marys, the smoothness of a Hurricane, and a deep, dark Blackened Voodoo beer whetted our appetites perfectly and dulled the roar of the crowd. Appetites were a definite must as the plates of food started rolling in.
The menu at Louisiana changes daily, with some carryovers. We missed out by a day on the smoked crawfish tails, but settled on a selection of gumbo with chicken and andouille sausage and fresh Louisiana oysters on the half shell. Delicious doesn’t begin to describe the gumbo, and the oysters were superbly fresh and tasty. A platter of alligator fritters with garlic mayo arrived. After a sampling of this off-beat (at least for New York) appetizer, we concluded that alligator tastes somewhere between crocodile and rattlesnake. Not like chicken at all. We also gave close attention to the necessary mound of Cajun popcorn – deep-fried crawfish tails with a sherry-mustard sauce.
We bypassed the selection of salads (most of the lettuce we saw looked like it had been wilting in dressing awhile) and po’ boy sandwiches and moved on to the entrees. No one was in the mood for blackened anything, so we disregarded the yellowfintuna, prime rib and pork chops and moved on to what we hoped was lighter fare. No such luck. We found ourselves swamped with a tasty slab of grilled salmon adorned with a, yes, a, crawfish tail and a scattering of chicken and shrimp “Avery Island” on a veritable mound of pasta. In the end, we had a split decision on which was better, the outstanding fried smoked seafood cakes with tasso hollandaise or the incredibly luscious classic crawfish etouffee.
We topped the whole meal off by splitting a large bread pudding with lemon sauce. All in all, service is a bit scattered, albeit friendly, and prices are a trifle high, but I can heartily recommend the food.
Louisiana Community Bar & Grill, 622 Broadway, 460-9633. Open seven days a week for dinner. All major credit cards accepted. Dinner $35-45.
Okay, pop geography quiz. Where is Afghanistan? Yes, I knew it was in Asia too, but I had to look at a map to figure out exactly where. Starting clockwise from the twelve o’clock position, it is surrounded by Tajikstan, China, Pakistan, Iran, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. If that mix doesn’t have an effect on your cuisine, nothing will. Our favorite place to find out smack in the middle of St. Mark’s Place is Khyber Pass.
Well trodden, bright green carpeting covers the outdoor dining area, an amusing sidewalk spot to sit in warm weather. the rest of the year we enter through the narrow doorway into one of the East Village’s more interesting spacewarps. The dim lighting glows in reflection of silk pillows and highlights intricately woven rugs, tapestries, and yes, afghans. Take a seat in the window and prepare for an exotic feast.
We discovered quickly that our pronunciation of the English transliterations of Pushtu, Dari, and Uzbek just doesn’t make it, and it’s easier to let the waitress select the meal. So I’ll describe what we had instead.
Crispy triangles of pastry stuffed with our choice of pumpkin, scallions or potato and herbs dipped in yoghurt with fresh chopped mint. Savory dumplings, spicy mung bean soup, and herb salads are also around to handle round one.
Moving into the main event, we found ourselves confronted with a selection of “kabobs” – delicious skewered filet mignon, lamb, chicken, or vegetables charcoal grilled to juicy perfection. Vegetarian specialties abound and range from sweet, deeply spiced roast pumpkin to “palau” (pilaf) of fresh vegetables on rice with raisins and nuts. Palau is also available in meat varieties, as are most of the dishes. Lamb is especially prevalent. Among my favorites, the simple selection of buttered noodles topped with a choice of meat, yoghurt, or onion sauces. Though there is that incredible roasted game hen with orange peel, nuts, spices…
We generally pass on the desserts, but the rice pudding with rosewater is good if you are among those who like rosewater. A waitress here once explained that it is traditional to end an evening meal with a steaming mug of cardamom tea, and personally, I like the tradition. For those who want other options, everything from herbal teas to Turkish coffee, thick as mud, are available.
Khyber Pass also offers two prix fixe options – one a $36.00 dinner for two selected direct from the menu, the other, and one we’ll be trying one day, a $200.00 “King’s Feast” for four that must be ordered a week in advance to give the chef a chance to plan something special for you.
Khyber Pass, 34 St. Mark’s Place (at 2nd Avenue), 473-0989. Open seven days a week for dinner, and serves late on weekends. All major credit cards accepted. Dinner, $15-25.
CaB magazine was one of the first publications I ever wrote for. Published by my dear friend Andrew Martin, it covered the Cabaret, Theater, Music and Dining scene in New York City, long before slick publications like Time Out NY and Where NY became popular. We had great fun writing it, and some wonderful writers contributed to its pages. When the magazine folded in the mid-90s, Andrew disappeared from the scene, and rumors had it that he departed from this existence not long after. I was thrilled to find out in mid-October 2005, a decade later, that the rumors were just that. Andrew contacted me after finding my site via that omnipresent force, Google. He’s alive and well and a member of a comedy troupe called Meet the Mistake. Somehow quite fitting!