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Eats | FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Gumbo's Good but the Rest Gets a Bit Bogged Down in the Bayou

June 05, 1997|RUSS PARSONS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

On a weekend night, the Bayou, a new restaurant on Long Beach's gentrifying Broadway, is packed and noisy with music and chatter. It seems to have so much going for it that you want to overlook the annoying glitches. The problem is, they make that so hard to do.

The first thing that strikes you when you walk in are the swampy murals that have been painted on all the walls, floor to ceiling. Unfortunately, the effect is undone by the lurid Day-Glo quality of the painting, which makes the restaurant look more like the outside of a custom van, or as someone remarked: "It's Pirates of the Caribbean!"

Probably the best thing about the place is the piano player, Bernie Burns, who plays a rolling stride style that fits well with the New Orleans theme. He's there most weekend nights and provides a powerful kick. On the other hand, the room is so harsh acoustically--cement floor, hard walls and ceiling--that the music is often overpowered by bar chatter.

If you're not a fan of din, you can dine on the front veranda, which is actually a very nice place to enjoy the cool of the evening. Thick glass windows manage to filter most of the noise, yet somehow Burns comes through.

When you order, keep in mind that simplest and most traditional are best. Both the "Nawlins' style Gumbo"--thick with rice and accented by spicy andouille sausage and chicken--and the red beans and rice--bolstered by that same andouille and some smoky tasso ham--are recommended. And though they're technically appetizers, a bowl-sized serving of either is plenty for a light entree.

That's probably a good thing as most of the main dishes seem torn between the kind of faux-Prudhomme stuff that blackened the reputation of Cajun cooking in the '80s and contemporary California weird. The blackened swordfish was a waste of what apparently had been a beautiful steak. By the time the kitchen was done with it, all you could taste was burnt dried thyme. The Pacific Rim crab cakes were dry little disks, not at all helped by an overly sweet mango salsa.

The roasted quail showed some promise. The meat was delicious, but the stuffing seemed to be mainly goat cheese, giving it the texture of baby food.

Still, the restaurant is only 2 months old and this could be just a particularly inopportune phase it's going through. With that rocking piano and that good gumbo, it certainly has a promising core to build from.

BE THERE

The Bayou, 2751 E. Broadway, Long Beach; (562) 434-3414. Open Sunday through Friday for lunch; every day for dinner. Major credit cards accepted. Street parking. Appetizers $4 to $12; entrees $12 to $20.

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