A week ago, I googled "San Diego Cajun restaurant" and learned of the Sixth Avenue Bistro, a joint located in the shadow of Cortez Hill at the corner of Sixth Avenue and B Street. On its website, the place professes to serve "Cajun specialties." Being from Louisiana and, more importantly, being a person whose fetish-like devotion to Cajun food is upstaged only by my fondness of women's shoes, I thought aloud, "So you think you do Cajun food? Well I'll be the judge of that."
I'll shoot straight with you-as far as Cajun cooking goes, I was underwhelmed; but, on the whole, I'm glad I went.
My visit to Sixth Avenue Bistro began with a warm and genuine welcome by a Russian-born accountant who moonlights as a hostess/server on the weekends. Here's a tip: if you get ushered into an eatery by a number-cruncher from Moscow, don't expect the Cajun fare to be very authentic. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
I started with a 12-year-old Laphroaig, a single Islay malt that's hard to spit out. My date had a Fat Tire draft. We ordered the Shrimp Remoulade appetizer and were not disappointed. Had I ordered the same thing in New Orleans, I would have expected a bit more bite to the Remoulade. Notably absent was any hint of cayenne pepper, but the shrimp were perfect. They were of generous size, well-presented in a chilled martini glass atop a bed of shredded lettuce and their texture testified to their freshness.
Next, in lieu of soup, we each opted for salad. It was a smart choice. I had the house salad, she the Caesar, and although talking up an establishment's salads might seem like damning it with faint praise, they were both outstanding. Mine was a blend of the freshest green lettuce you'll ever get and an artful assortment of carrots, mushrooms, olives, cucumbers, tomatoes and pepperoncinis. Hers was a heaping helping of bright, crisp Romaine lettuce with shaved parmesan and a light Caesar dressing. Either of them alone would have made a great meal, particularly a quick lunch.
Skipping past the two-dozen sandwich options, the fish tacos, the burgers and the rest of the standards, we ordered what we came for, Cajun food. I opted for the catfish in sauce piquant, she had the crawfish étouffée, both of which were served over a bed of excellent fluffy rice. Every bit of me wants to write that we had good Cajun food in San Diego, but I can't. I had good catfish, my date had good crawfish, but neither of us had good Cajun food. The fish had a nice texture and temperature, but the sauce piquant had so little kick, I could have eaten it at my father's nursing home. Likewise, her crawfish was fresh and tasty, but the supposed garlic-and-butter sauce that smothered it was notably shy of garlic.
If one aims to serve Cajun food, by God make it Cajun. Whether it's crawfish, or catfish, Cajun food, properly so-called, requires cayenne pepper and garlic, both of which were severely lacking in our two entrées. I found the catfish more to my liking by applying a liberal dose of Tabasco sauce, but I wish there had been some Tony Chachere's spice on the table along with the rest of the condiments. That's exactly what the crawfish required. I suppose catering to the generic taste of downtown diners forces one to tone down the spice, but if one intends to cater to such ilk, then one shouldn't promote one's restaurant as a Cajun place.
Having said all of this, I will still go back to the Sixth Avenue Bistro. In fact, I already have gone back. On my return visit I got the fish and chips and I was quite impressed. Honestly though, the place could serve bologna on toast and I would like it. The place is more about itself than it is about its food. As downtown goes, the Sixth Avenue Bistro, for my money, is one of the most go-to-able joints in town.
The service is outstanding. Beyond that, the ambience is humbly inviting, offering a mix of neighborly kitsch and subtle chic. But what really sets the place apart from every other downtown joint are the regulars, and everyone in the place seems to be a regular. It's that type of place. No matter how unassuming you choose to be, if you belly up to the bar, the people at the Sixth Avenue Bistro will quickly learn your name, your taste in drinks and your disposition. If you have the grave misfortune of living downtown, you should go there every night, unless you're not the sort of person who enjoys a good, intelligent laugh.
I had more fun at the Sixth Avenue Bistro than I have ever had in three decades of downtown outings. From the wait staff to the bartender to the eclectic assortment of oddballs who spill in over the course of an evening, not a single uninteresting person hangs around the place. If you're a boring, uppity, downtown snot, don't go there. You'll ruin it for the rest of us. But if you know how to have fun with some vivacious, likeable folks, by all means find your way to the corner of Sixth and B. But skip the Cajun dishes. Go right to the fun. Open Monday through Saturday, 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Prices range from $7 to $14.