Gumbo should be smoky, made with a good, long-cooked roux, and possessed of deep, long, soul-warming heat.
A proper étouffée should be made with a slightly lighter roux, that allows the taste of the holy trinity of Cajun food (bell peppers, celery and onions) to reveal themselves.
A crawfish étouffée should possess a hint of red (usually achieved with the use of some tomatoes and/or paprika. Some étouffées start with butter in their roux, and some (like Paul Prudhomme’s) like the lighter, less intrusive flavor that comes with vegetable oil as a base. The point is to “smother” the main ingredient while still allowing the subtleties of the individual ingredients to shine through.
All Cajun/Creole food is spicy, but not in the hallucinogenic, electric, shock-to-the-system way Thai food is. The pepper heat should build over time in your mouth (and soul) and should never obscure all the other ingredients nor be the main point of the dish.
Properly cooked Cajun/Creole food is one of the most distinctive things in American gastronomy. Some may find its patois and recipe canons to be somewhat formulaic, but like dancing the tango, there is a right and a wrong way to do it, and the fascination comes from watching great craftsmen operate (and create) within those strictures.
Which brings us to Rhythm Kitchen – place ELV had visited but once, several years ago, and been underwhelmed to the point that he mentally checked it off his list — wanting neither to hurt nor help its business. At the time, the whole place seemed too big, and the menu so unfocused, it seemed a sure bet to fail.
By way of example, Thai and Hawaiian food (along with a Caesar salad) shared space on an all-over-the-map menu with steak house fare as well as…wait for it….pizza!
“The jack of all trades is the master of none,” we thought to ourselves, and vowed never to return. (If you’re a fan of Gordon Ramsay’s “Kitchen Nightmares,” you know this is his mantra, and the first thing he does is cut down the menus at struggling places.)
But something seized us last Saturday night, and serendipity being what it is, we strolled back in. And who should stroll right up to us at the hostess stand than food and beverage pro Paul Ellis — the same Paul Ellis we had just had lunch with two days earlier (at Booming Spot Mini Pot, but more on that later).
Ellis explained he was now acting as a consultant for RK and quickly reassured us the pizzas were coming off the menu. Then, again proving great minds think alike, he asked us what we were going to have. “Gumbo, jambalaya and etouffee?”
“You betcha!” ELV answered, “because those are the measure of any southern Louisiana kitchen.”
And then we were off to the races….but not before some superb grilled oysters showed up (another litmus test), covered in spinach, but not overwhelmed by, a good cheese sauce.
Suffice it to say, we were blown away by the carefulness of the cooking and the quality of the ingredients. The gumbo hit all the right flavor notes, and the étouffée and jambalaya would’ve been right at home in any N’Awlins restaurant.
If ELV wanted to pick some nits, he’d have wished for a touch of Pernod in his ersters (a la Rockefeller) and a bit of a heavier hand with the hot pepper, but those are minor quibbles indeed.
The beignets are also things of beauty…and took us straight back to the Cafe Du Monde, minus the humidity (which is a good thing).
Now, if they’ll just dump the Thai salad, ahi poke tacos, Memphis spareribs and pepperoni pizza, this place will be all set to be your go-to Cajun place.
Those oysters cost $10, the gumbo $8, and the étouffée and the jambalaya are $17 each. ELV’s meal was comped.
Take it away Buckwheat Zydeco:
6435 South Decatur Boulevard
Las Vegas, NV 89118