Wife & I got into the Mardi Gras mood today by sampling gumbos at the Gumbo Throwdown (Vineyard Farmer’s Market in Fresno, Saturday 2 February 2008). Here’s a link to the market’s web site; supposedly the winners will be posted on this site at some point in the future. Click on the “events” link.
Six restaurants were serving up gumbo. A $5 ticket bought samples of each. Here are our impressions. Even though these places may not (or may) have gumbo on their regular menus, it was a good way to compare them to each other on things like taste, creativity, presentation, etc.
(Each of the tables had the main ingredients listed, but we were so giddy with anticipation we ended up not looking at the lists, so our list of ingredients is based more on our observations rather than actual lists.)
We were least impressed with Downtown Club’s gumbo. Too much beef taste & I felt it was too salty, as if it were over-seasoned with a beef flavoring or beef bouillon powder or something. Wife thought the beef/meat was too stringy. This tasted more like a beef bourguignon than gumbo.
Surprisingly we were also unimpressed with Pangea’s gumbo. We haven’t eaten at this restaurant yet, but with the fairly positive reviews on Chowhound we had high expectations for their gumbo. Instead, their gumbo was thin & watery. It had little in the way of flavors you’d expect in gumbo & instead tasted more like a bland chicken soup.
The other four gumbos were better. Trelio’s gumbo, for example, was a more up-scale gumbo with lobster, blue crab, organic chicken, & an interesting floater of pearled Crystal pepper sauce (in other words, Crystal pepper sauce formed into caviar-like balls). We appreciated the higher level of ingredients in this gumbo & noticed that it will be served on their Fat Tuesday menu, so clearly it’s a gumbo geared toward service in their restaurant rather than a more down-home, throw-whatever-in-the-pot gumbo. The flavor was good with an intensely flavored broth. Unfortunately the Crystal hot sauce “caviar” did not add much heat to the gumbo.
We also liked the gumbo from Cracked Pepper Bistro. This seemed to be a chicken or poultry based gumbo with good chicken base & including sausage. The broth was a bit thin but flavorful & there seemed to be a fairly clear taste of file (although the more I think about it, it could have been the roux I tasted). We had a hard time deciding whether our 2nd-place favorite gumbo was this one from C.P.B. or the next one from Bistro Rustico.
Bistro Rustico’s gumbo had a deep, dark, rich base (if that was roux than I salute whoever can make such a dark roux that doesn’t taste burnt or overcooked). Didn’t have a lot of seafood in it; we suspect there was an emphasis on pork & chicken, more like an inland Cajun gumbo (as opposed to a coastal Cajun gumbo which is more seafood-oriented).
Our favorite gumbo came from Chef’s Table. Lots of good seafood flavor: shrimp & chunks of seafood in a seafood-tasting broth with okra. But aside from the taste, which was superior to the others, Chef’s Table also wins points for presentation. Their sample cups of gumbo came with a cornbread crouton—which was a nice touch—but the thing that really impressed us the most was that they wiped down the rim & outside of each sample cup before they handed them to us. Yes, eating outside is messy, we expect that, but wiping the cups was a wonderful detail that turned their gumbo sample into a wonderful eating experience.
We noted that none of the typical Cajun/Creole/New Orleans-style restaurants from Fresno were represented.
Anyway, the whole New Orleans vibe got us in the mood for something sweet & French so we finished up our morning with a croissant from Le Parisien Bakery. Laissez les bon temps rouler.