Edwin Caba may be of Dominican heritage.
But he sure knows his Big Easy cuisine.
Indeed, he’s been cooking up New Orleans-style dishes at CreoLa in San Carlos for more than 16 years.
He was hired at the restaurant as its sous chef, having trained at the owners’ other New Orleans-inflected establishment in San Diego. When they were ready to retire, Caba bought the place.
Creole-Cajun cooking is so distinctive that it often gets lost in translation when it’s transplanted elsewhere, with chefs mistakenly substituting fiery heat for complexity.
Not so here, as I found out recently, when I was invited in as a guest of the restaurant.
Caba goes the extra mile, as is evident from one taste of the seafood gumbo. There is a rich, depth of flavor you can’t miss. It’s the result of the TLC put into the roux. In fact, the gumbo roux is going on three years old, Caba says. Similar to a sourdough starter for bread, a portion of the roux is saved each time it’s made, and added to the next batch. A bowl ($8) of it is deep and dark with a few bay shrimp, chunks of crab, slivers of andouille sausage and rice at its center.
You might drive by CreoLa easily on El Camino Real. The low-slung A-frame building looks like an old time-y coffee shop or motel restaurant. Inside, it’s cozy with ceiling fans in the main dining room and friendly waiters who chat easily with regulars and newcomers.
From March through summer, Caba flies in about 75 pounds of crawfish weekly from Louisiana. When they arrive, he sends out an email blast to regulars, who crowd in, primped to get their hands messy.
That’s why my husband and I were there. We shared a 1-pound bowl of crawfish ($12) that had been boiled in a proprietary spice mix of celery salt, crushed bay leaves and plenty of cayenne. It’s savory, spicy and one of the most flavorful crawfish boils I’ve had. Chunks of corn on the cobb and red potatoes offer relief when you need to douse our taste buds.
We also shared an order of the buttermilk-brined fried chicken ($19). The chicken, mildly seasoned, was super crisp. Even the white meat was moist. The plate comes with a small mound of mashed potatoes, smoky collard greens and a fluffy little corn muffin with the sweetness of kernels.
For dessert, there are beignets ($6), of course, showered generously in powdered sugar just as they are at world-famous Cafe du Monde in New Orleans. A fluff of whipped cream, mango coulis and fresh fruit complete the plate.
To accompany the doughnuts, the restaurant offers its own blend of real Creole chicory coffee ($2.50). It’s available in decaf, too.
El Camino Real might not be the obvious choice to find a taste of New Orleans. But look hard enough for CreoLa, where you’ll discover its robust flavors alive and well.
(Note: Crawfish will be available again starting next week, when Chef Caba returns from a family trip.)
Another San Carlos Place to Try: Cuisinett