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Dining

Finding its beat

Rhythm Kitchen can improve, but some sensational dishes make it worthwhile

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Bacon-wrapped shrimp at Rhythm Kitchen
Photo: Beverly Poppe

Most of the time, if I see an ambitious new restaurant, I pull for it consciously and subconsciously. And since Commander’s Palace and the greatly underappreciated Louis’ are both gone now, Rhythm Kitchen is currently our only upscale restaurant with a New Orleans theme that doesn’t belong to Emeril. That makes me pull for it all the more.

The thing is, even with its wainscoting, wrought iron balustrades and dark glass front, Rhythm Kitchen is still a work in progress. The restaurant, a freestanding building just north of the 215 on a lonely stretch of Decatur Boulevard, belongs to Scotty Gorman, a member of the family that owns the Hush Puppy on West Charleston, sort of a populist version of this place.

You’ll be greeted by a hostess at a front podium and led to either a plush booth or a spit-and-polish lacquer table in the main dining room. The lighting is a bit harsh during the evening, and Dixieland is a little aggressively played on the sound system. Still, this is a handsome, elegant room. Once seated, you might start with a mint julep or a Dixie, to go with your basket of the wickedly crunchy hush puppies and warm rolls, accompanied by honey butter.

The Details

Restaurant Guide
Rhythm Kitchen
6435 S. Decatur Blvd. 767-8438.
Open 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Monday-Friday, 4-11 p.m. Saturday
Suggested dishes: lump “bleu” crab cake, $12,29; Thai salad, $7.99; Seafeast Platter, $17.79; New Orleans Seafood Delight, $15.29.

I had two very different meals here, one terrific, the other not so. On my first visit, I hankered for a bowl of the house seafood gumbo, and a plate of jambalaya. Both dishes let me down. First off, the gumbo was too floury. This is a roux and okra gumbo, and the stock can’t be mealy; it must be broth-y and flavorful. And though the soup was stocked generously with oysters, crab and shrimp, the entire effect was like eating thick gravy with seafood dumped into it.

The jambalaya was equally problematic. The menu description reads “chicken and andouille sausage sautéed with onions and peppers in a spicy gravy,” and that’s what you get—basically, a Cajun-style stir-fry. The thing is, jambalaya is a poor man’s rice dish, where rice is used to extend the little shrimp or meat a Cajun housewife has, and is also a traditionally slow-cooked dish. Gorman says that you can have your jambalaya baked in. That’s what I will do next time.

Now that's a seafood delight.

But the first visit finished brilliantly, with a delicious dish called New Orleans Seafood Delight—blackened catfish blanketed with a terrific shrimp sauce—and, for dessert, a great, classically egg-rich bread pudding. So I looked forward to a return visit.

And happily, that turned out to be nearly perfect. This time, though, I ignored the hush puppies, which are total (if tasty) filler, and was glad I did. We started with Thai salad, a delicious combination of mixed field greens, red onions, red peppers and noodle crisps, in a sesame oil-flavored cashew vinaigrette. Then came lump “bleu” crab cakes, three crunchy cakes with the same good cornmeal breading used to roll the hush puppies before deep-frying. Each crab cake had nice texture, and came topped with perhaps a surfeit of a creamy remoulade.

That set the stage for one of the best dishes I have tasted this year, the Seafeast Platter, a steal at $17.79. Picture four deep-fried oysters, three shrimp, breaded catfish and a pair of huge, breaded chicken tenders, flanked by (for an extra $1.50) a mountain of red beans and rice. Health food? Not exactly. But a friend and I split one Platter and left quite a bit over, so when you consider that, the price seems even more than reasonable. Furthermore, the plate came with four sauces on the side: a barbecue sauce for the chicken, something they call their Cha Cha relish (based on green tomatoes, and completely addictive) and the tangiest cocktail and remoulade sauces in town.

Hey, I biked 20 miles this morning, and that probably didn’t even burn off my bananas Foster desert—slices of banana sautéed in a dark rum sauce, spooned over vanilla ice cream.

Rhythm Kitchen still has to work out a few kinks. The kitchen is slow, even when the restaurant isn’t crowded, and the bread pudding needs some booze to kick it up a notch (apologies to my friend Emeril). BAM!

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