A Visit to the Gulf
By David Rottenberg
“Laisses les bon temps roulez” is the Cajun way of saying, “Let the good times roll!” Anyone who has walked the streets of New Orleans or Mardi Gras or even just sat in for a set by BB King or other jazz/blues greats in a bar on Bourbon Street understands exactly what the phrase means. New Orleans and, in fact, the whole gulf coast are synonymous with good food, good drink (and lots of it) and good music.
New Orleans, after all, is where Jerry Lee Lewis and Pete Fountain like to perform, where Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse like to cook, and where everyone likes to eat at Brennan’s and at Commander Palace.
Some of those tastes and traditions can be experienced right here in San Diego at a North Park restaurant called Gulf Coast Grill. From the outside, the restaurant likes like a fish shanty, kind of simple and weatherbeaten, just like so many restaurants around the gulf. Inside, it is actually very comfortable, with an unpretentious charm. Large paintings of jazz musicians emphasize the theme.
A full bar divides the street level area from the raised dining area. There is a daily happy hour with excellent food and drink prices that keep the bar busy. The small but select wine menu is very fairly priced. On Tuesdays, wine bottles are half off. The bar stays busy into late night – midnight on weekdays and 1 p.m. on weekends.
The restaurant is owned by the husband/wife team of Seth and Roni Kleier. Seth has good experience in the restaurant and bar business and bought Gulf Coast Grill several years ago. He’s from New York and only visited New Orleans, where he managed to dine at some of the best restaurants (market research) but he has family in New Orleans and gathered some traditional recipes from them. Most of the recipes used at the restaurant came as part of the purchase. They were compiled by experts who relied on old traditions to create tastes specifically for Southern California palates.
“Gulf Coast” incorporates more than New Orleans. It is actually the area from the Gulf of Mexico to the Gulf of Campeche. The styles of food served feature Cajun, Creole, French, Latin American, Spanish & Caribbean influences. There are even a number of fusion dishes. That means that food comes in a range of heat. Every entree served has a “kick.”
One shouldn’t pass up the Hushpuppies appetizer. Corn balls are fried into round dumplings that are crusty on the outside, full of corn flavor on the inside and covered in part with a homemade remoulade sauce that is spicy and tasty. Scallops are another great way to begin a meal. Here they are wrapped in bacon and topped with a coconut rum cream sauce that speaks of soft winds flowing through the trees. The chowder is also excellent. It is stuffed with clams, bacon, potatoes, tomatoes and cream. It is not as white and starchy as so many other restaurants make and really offers more of a taste of the sea.
To me, the three staples of Louisiana cooking are catfish, gumbo and jambalaya. The catfish is grilled and comes with a homemade jalapeno tartar sauce. The seafood gumbo was a spicy stew with large chunks of salmon and shrimp. The jambalaya was a spicy rice dish with shrimp, sausage and homesmoked chicken and crawfish. Crawfish may not look pretty or be easy to eat but they sure taste good.
Desserts include crème brulee garnished with strawberries, bread pudding with sun dried cherries and a bourbon sauce and a delightful peach cobbler in a deep dish with marvelous crust, served with vanilla ice cream.
Gulf Coast Grill offers a unique dining experience at moderate prices. It is open for lunch, dinner and late hours. There is a brunch on weekends. z
Gulf Coast Grill
4130 Park Dr.
David Rottenberg is the editor of Dining San Diego Magazine, a guide to many of the city’s favorite restaurants. He is a member of the Southern California Restaurant Writers Association and vice president of the North American Travel Journalists Association.