Thursday, May 14, 2015

Louisiana Bistro

Location: San Jose, CA

Food: Cajun

Close To: Tabard Theatre, City Lights Theatre Company, Broadway San Jose

For theatregoers, food lovers, or even people just looking for a night out on the town, there’s no better place in San Jose to find great food at a reasonable rate than the streets around San Pedro Square. Louisiana Bistro, located a few yards away from affordable parking (which they validate), has a big menu of delicious Cajun food, most of which is priced at $15 or less.

The first thing you’ll notice upon opening the menu is the range of appetizers. My recommendation here is the chicken wings ($9.25), which are crisp but have a lot of tender meat inside. The hot sauce on the side is fruity and aromatic, with a powerful kick that comes in later than hot sauces served at other wing establishments. They are bone-in, so those uninterested in that might try the Dixie Chicken Tenders ($9.50) instead. Don’t forget that Louisiana Bistro serves mint juleps!

The po’boy, a signature sandwich in Cajun cuisine, gets an entire section of the menu to itself. Served with a sweet but not cloying Cajun aioli on soft bread that doesn’t interfere with the texture of the meat, these sandwiches are a great choice for diners looking for a fun, casual option. The catfish po’boy ($12.95) can be ordered blackened or fried; my suggestion is to order it blackened, as the flavor of the spices and tender texture of the fish compliments the rest of the sandwich.

Louisiana Bistro’s other entrees include a big bowl of jambalaya ($9.95 for a small bowl, $13.95 for a large one) that, demonstrating the commitment of the restaurant to New Orleans authenticity, comes with two kinds of hot sauce on the side. There are a number of proteins that can be served blackened or fried, like their Big Easy Chicken ($13.95); these come with two sides, which are possibly the best items offered by the restaurant. Go for the sweet yams, which combine the fluffy texture of mashed potatoes with a complex, almost addicting flavor.

When it comes to desserts, you can’t ignore the CafĂ© du Monde Beignets ($6.00). These donut-like pastries are different at every restaurant; Louisiana Bistro’s are big and light. However, like all beignets, they are made for dipping, so dip away in either the chocolate or caramel sauce provided (I prefer the caramel sauce).

With so many excellent dining options in and around San Pedro Square, it can be difficult to choose. However, for great Cajun food, great service, and low prices, Louisiana Bistro stands out.

Hillbarn Theatre: Curtains!

Ensemble. Photo courtesy Mark Kitaoka.

One of Kander and Ebb’s last musicals, Curtains! is a charming metatheatrical murder-mystery that originally starred Frasier’s David Hyde Pierce in its original Broadway run. Hillbarn Theatre’s version is a gutsy, well-choreographed piece that makes use of the house’s intimate venue.

In terms of character, Curtains! is a farce, using a stock collection of larger-than-life goofballs to tell their story. At the center is Lt. Frank Cioffi (played by understudy David Meacham in the production I attended), a competent but dejected Boston police detective, who attempts to solve the case of a murder among a group of musical theatre players. Meacham’s Lt. Cioffi is similar to the original, played with an awkward, lively energy that makes him a protagonist everyone can root for.

A number of other goofy characters round out the Curtains! cast. Christopher M. Nelson plays composer Aaron Fox: His respectable singing voice becomes evident in his rendition of “I Miss The Music”, the best song in the show. The snooty British director Christopher Belling (Raymond Mendonca) is played a little softer than in other productions; while he still blusters and steals credit, in Hillbarn’s production he also truly cares about the welfare of the show.

The most interesting character decision, however, belongs to Boston Globe critic Daryl Grady (Russell Ward). In terms of casting, Grady has a lot of versatility, and I’ve seen versions where he’s played as a nebbish geek with thick glasses. However, Ward’s portrayal is neat, handsome, and charismatic; with a British accent, he could be right at home in an Oscar Wilde play.

Not to be ignored is the impeccable choreography by Jayne Zaban. The show within a show, Oklahoma parody Kansasland, has big, active dance numbers, but just as significant are the more intimate songs. “A Tough Act To Follow”, which stages an elaborate fantasy scene using Hillbarn’s small space, is an especially impressive feat.

Curtains! is not a challenging piece, but if you’re looking for a fun adventure with lovable (or loveably hateable) characters wrapped around a very solid mystery, it’s hard to find a better play.