Mardi Gras-by-the-Bay

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With Mardi Gras coming March 8, and the likelihood of going to Carnival slim-to-none, I realized the only way to celebrate the holiday was with some New Orleans-inspired fare.

Mardi Gras, which means “Fat Tuesday,” actually refers to the last night of eating rich, fatty foods before fasting during Lent, which starts on Ash Wednesday. Obviously, fasting wasn’t on the agenda, but consuming Cajun-style cuisine definitely was.

After a little research, Chris and I discovered that among the hundreds of Italian, French, Mexican, and Japanese restaurants to choose from, there’s only one – I repeat, one – restaurant in all of Newport that serves up such traditional standards as Jambalaya, Louisiana crawfish, and Gumbo. That’s JackShrimp.

The JackShrimp sign has always been a landmark for me when driving along Coast Highway, so – considering they just celebrated their 21st anniversary – it’s pretty pathetic I’ve never eaten there before. Needless to say, I was ready to make amends.

As soon as we walked in, the sounds of jazz and blues greeted us, and took hold. Now I understand why there’s such a fascination with Bourbon Street and Mardi Gras.

JackShrimp’s interior is simple and unpretentious, but when it comes to food, it’s all about spicy attitude. With that in mind, we ordered two Dixie Blackened Voodoo Lagers. With a name like that, how can you resist?

“You must order the peel-n-eat gulf shrimp in Jack Sauce,” our waitress told us, as she placed the beers down.

“Really?“

“Trust me,” she said, “It comes with French bread and most of our guests lick the bowl clean.”

“We’ll have a full order,” Chris stated emphatically. “I’ll also have the Spicy Creole Pasta.”

“Since that Old Black Magic has me in its spell,” I grinned, “I’ll have the Voodoo Chicken Pasta.”

“Ooh, ooh, Witchy Woman,” Chris added.

“That’s ELO’s E–Evil Woman, to you,” I threw at him, just as our shrimp arrived, which Chris and I devoured lickety-split.

“That was devilishly good,” he commented, mopping up the last of the sauce.

“What did you think?” our waitress inquired, eyeing the spotless bowl.

“Sinful,” I admitted.

“Two more Voodoo lagers, please,” Chris ordered.

“Yes, do do that voodoo, that you do so well,” I laughed.

“Someone’s on a roll,” he chuckled.

“Just playin’ Devil’s advocate,” I shrugged.

“And you think I’m corny.” Chris shook his head.

Our pastas arrived, thoroughly satisfying our Creole cravings.

JackShrimp is offering a special Mardi Gras menu through March 8, with no corkage fee and half-price bottles of wine on Tuesdays. Now that’s Fat.

As we left JackShrimp, I noticed another restaurant – Garlic Jo’s – next door.

“Is Jo’s part of Jack?” I asked Chris.

“No, separate restaurants,” he said. “I’ve passed it countless times but never tried it. My guess is garlic’s the main ingredient.”

“Ya think?” I laughed. “We should go, but I don’t have time this week.”

“I’m happy to take one for the team.“

 

GARLIC JO’S

Since Stasha’s schedule was in flux, I went solo to Garlic Jo’s, checked out their cuisine and reported back.

“Garlic is indeed the prime ingredient. It’s in every dish,” I told her.

“So it’s an Italian restaurant?”

“No, it’s Japanese.”

“A sushi restaurant with a focus on garlic?”

“No. It’s also American, Italian, Mexican, Chinese …”

“I don’t get it,” she said, perplexed.

“I talked with manager Kikuo Okutsu, who told me Garlic Jo’s started in Yokohama, Japan, 20 years ago,” I explained. “The first restaurant had three tables and three employees, but soon became very popular. Eventually, more Garlic Jo’s opened in Japan, and seven years ago they brought the concept to Newport Beach, which now boasts the only Garlic Jo’s in America. The Newport Beach menu is identical to the Japanese menu, and Kikuo should know, he’s the original chef at that first Garlic Jo’s, and most of the menu items are his recipes.”

“That’s one of the more unusual culinary tales I’ve heard,” said Stasha. “But how was the food? What did you have?”

“Their Original Garlic Bread, Sautéed Mushrooms and Garlic Ice Cream. That’s not your average garlic bread. They take a French baguette, slice it down the middle, top it with creamy garlic sauce, then bake it so that the outside is crispy and the inside is moist. When they serve it, you push the garlic butter into the center and eat it like a sandwich.”

“Sounds good but heavy.”

“It was packed with flavor, yet surprisingly mild,” I replied.

“Since I wasn’t in the office all week, we’ll never know,” she countered.

“Good one,” I conceded. “But wait, the mushrooms arrived sizzling in its sauce, with a side of French bread for dunking. I wiped the pan clean.”

“No surprise there,” she grinned. “But Chris, that’s a lot of bread. Where’s the beef?”

”According to Kikuo, they have a steak with garlic sauce that makes guests swoon. Plus, if we go back on a Thursday night, you can choose from 20 different martinis for $5 each.”

“They don’t put garlic in their martinis, do they?”

“No, the bar is a garlic-free zone – unless you count the garlic-stuffed olives.”

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