Bayou opened a little over two months ago, and I was drawn to it because I already knew Chef Arthur Wall’s food. Wall has been the executive chef at Garçon, the French bistro on Valencia and 22nd , for the last six years. When Wall started cooking at Garçon, I started going back to eat there, because the food just leapt in taste and quality. So I knew I had to try one of the Mission’s two newest New Orleans-themed restaurants. Yes, there are now two in our neighborhood – the other is Alba Ray. Chef Wall hails from NOLA, so he is steeped in the cuisine, and some Creole elements even found their way into the bistro fare at Garçon. Accompanying Wall from Garçon comes Chef Jerome Rivoire, who brings with him his wine cred, among other things.
The space is cozy and intimate, with quirky little touches. There is seating at the bar overlooking the kitchen and a smaller bar by the door. The vibe is friendly and relaxed.
They take no reservations, and a few minutes after we were seated there was a waiting list at the door. On our first visit, it took a little while to get our order taken, but they’ve only just opened, so small service issues can be a given. After that, the attentiveness was palpable, as Chef Wall stopped by to chat with us and others in the restaurant. For Bayou, he confided, he’d wanted a simpler, homier place, with a lower price point and without the cocktail atmosphere.
We sat at the little bar under Chef Rivoire’s nose, and he offered me a taste of a Rive Sud Limoux, a beautifully flowery rosé that I loved so much I had three glasses. THREE.
We started with perfect fried green tomatoes…
Topped with a super fresh shrimp remoulade, they were fabulous – crunchy, salty, juicy – hit all the notes.
I asked Mssr. Rivoire for advice on my entrée: shrimp and grits cakes or crawfish etouffee? He paused and thought about it, and said he really, really liked the grits….
So did I! They’re not your typical shrimp-and-grits, but more like a polenta dish, with the grits fried into little crispy triangles so you get the creaminess inside but a lovely crunchiness outside, too, and perfectly cooked plump shrimp in a delicious sauce with tasso ham and spinach. Excellent.
The BF got the hangar steak with frites in a mushroom sauce.
I loved his, he thought it was “fine.” The buttery mushroom cream was great without being overpowering, the steak was beefy, tender and juicy, and the fries were perfectly hot and salty. I think he just doesn’t like his steak sliced, and I say phooey on him. It was good!
We also ordered a side of fried okra…
Fun and crunchy orbs, tasty when dipped in the sauces, but a little too much with all our food. Because, we uncharacteristically ordered dessert, too…
Beignets with dulce de leche – to die for, as you would imagine. And to top it off, Chef Rivoire poured us each a glass of Pommeau de Normandie on the house. Pommeau is an apple cider blend made with Calvados and fresh apple juice that I instantly fell head-over-heels in love with. Not too sweet, with a touch of bitterness, and perfect with dessert. Because of course, what would be better with dulce de leche than boozy apple cider?
What a nice touch. Made us feel so welcome.
Our second night’s visit began with oysters gratinee…
…oysters on a bed of sweet caramelized onions, topped with butter, parmesan, and breadcrumbs before going under the broiler. Perfectly rich and funky mouthful! I’d have had a dozen of these.
We split a pretty standard Caesar salad that came with some very nice white anchovies, which the BF gave all to me, yay….
The BF ordered a roast beef po-boy with au jus for his main meal:
He won this round. I thought the roast beef might be dry (I often think that about roast beef) but even without the au jus it was super tender and flavorful, kicked up nicely with their kicky remoulade. Good crusty yet squishy roll, too. He also got an order of their hot, crispy fries on the side. I can’t wait to try all their other po-boys now.
Trying to get a second chance of a classic NOLA flavor, I ordered crawfish etouffee:
It was a homey dish, but i don’t know if I’d order it again. I perhaps do not know enough about this cuisine to judge it fairly, but I found the etouffee a bit one-note, and the crawfish in scarce supply. It was tasty, but I was full enough to leave about a third of it on the plate.
We did, however find room to split a small espresso pot de crème….
A very solid yum. The espresso had nice notes of cinnamon in it.
Throughout both visits I saw people picking up take-out orders, and Chef Wall said that takeout was a big portion of their business. I imagine this would be true in an area with young techies who perhaps don’t cook much and long for something more like a home-made meal. So, I picked up dinner on my way home a week or so later. I was dying to try their ribs as I’d seen them glistening on the rotisserie.
I ordered a cup of the chicken & andouille sausage gumbo over rice to share… (These are all on our own plates, and the restaurant was thoughtful enough to put our order in just before I picked it up. I had to wait a few minutes, but they ensured that most of the meal was nice and hot even after my 4-Mission-blockwalk home.)
I have to say the gumbo was a bit of a puzzle. I loved the smoky darkness of the roux, but the andouille sausage’s texture was a bit… flabby. The BF asked if it was a hot dog! I told him no, and he said that using hot dogs in gumbo was actually a local practice. I don’t know if I believe him… Nonetheless, this was andouille, and while I am not sure if this is what happens to andouille when cooked in a gumbo, we both would have preferred a little more firmness.
And, I had to do it: I got the frog legs. I haven’t had frog legs in over 35 years, and I remembered them being bigger, and not having the little feetsies attached….
These froggy gams may be a little off-putting at first glance, and I admit that they were a bit of a challenge to eat (basically, you’re just trying to suck off as much meat as you can from the miniscule skeletons.) But the garlicky, browned butter and Tabasco sauce was fabulous, and I dragged potatoes through it when the teeny amphibians were gone.
The ribs platter came with a red cabbage slaw and the above-mentioned roasted potatoes. They also sell ribs by the pound, but I’m glad we got the dinner as I really loved them taters. They probably weren’t as crispy as they’d been when I left the restaurant, but they were delicious, and went well with the sauces they’d packed us: remoulade and Crystal. The ribs themselves were tender, just about fall-off-the-bone, in a sweetish bbq sauce that tasted a little plummy. I enjoyed them quite a bit
The quarter rotisserie chicken (we asked for dark meat) supper came with the same sides.
This was the BF’s favorite, and I liked it too – crispy skin and a good clean flavor. You can also get a whole or half chicken without sides.
All in all, we preferred our meals in-house, but it’s nice to have the option. And Bayou’s casual atmosphere and mostly quite well-prepared food – with touches of true excellence that I feel certain will spread to the entire menu – makes me want to go back and bring friends. Thankfully, there’s lots more to try.
Bayou – Creole Kitchen and Rotisserie
3412 17th St, San Francisco, CA 94110