It was a rather balmy 33 degree day. The sun was still beaming at 6pm and I-Hua and I warmed up with a glass of wine (actually served in a latte glass) at Ponyfish Island before getting slightly lost on the way over to My Mexican Cousin. What for? A crash course in Creole of course!
My last visit to My Mexican Cousin was on it's launch night, when food was sparse, Maurice Esposito was still the head chef and alcohol was flowing like blood through veins. It was of course, an excellent night, but more food to at least sample would have been very much appreciated.
But then, before I could manage a second trip to actually try out the food, if you were in the twitter-sphere, an outcry from Burger Mary/Jess was heard. MMC was just capitalising on trends and their menu was not authentic or properly considered.
And with that, they brought her on to consult the menu and a menu change was made…pretty quickly!
It's so interesting how social media affects the way feedback is received, considered and turned over these days isn't it? Or just how instantaneous the whole feedback system has become in general!
Regardless, I was excited to see a Fringe Food Festival dinner, 'A Crash Course in Creole' come out of this and keen to see what this was all about. Or maybe, I just saw praline bacon on the menu and no other word existed in my vocabulary for a while.
So when I-Hua and I did get to My Mexican Cousin, we were greeted with a rather delightful gin cocktail, a Southside, with West WInds gin, fennel and blackberry jam (!), fresh mint, gin and citrus. I loved that it wasn't an overly sweet cocktail, but still a bright and refreshing start to the evening.
I'll say it first, openly. I don't know Creole food. I don't know what's considered 'authentic'. I'm not going to pretend I do. So my thoughts on the dishes, are what I thought of them, as they were put in front of me, although I did try to keep in mind the history and the education we got from Jess as each dish came out. I kept my mind and my mouth open, to whatever came my way!
Popcorn excites me. It was on our table. That excited me. There is literally one night I think I dreamt about popcorn, woke up and bugged Brad all morning about wanting popcorn.
The package was labelled 'Creole popcorn. Spicy and sweet', I can vouch for it's flavour profile, having happily demolished the pack the next day. Loved the bitey spiciness that had me chasing for water and the subtle sweetness, apparently they will be serving this on the tables, in place of bread I assume?
Before we got our food, we got the lowdown of why, what and how the menu came about from Jess.
My notes are a bit rough on this, but what I got is that 'Creole' cuisine is a bit of an umbrella term and within that umbrella, there are lots of different styles of Creole cuisine.
With Jess being most knowledgable about New Orleans Creole, that is now what shines on the My Mexican Cousin menu. New Orleans Creole was typically more inspired by the fine French dishes and flavours, but nowadays, it has been mixed with cajun style cooking, coming from the 'country bumpkins' which is how the fatty sausages and spices came about. And this mix between the two cuisine styles, is what we were going to be served. All the dishes we were informed, are all from the menu too, so if you like what you see here, you know where to go!
And with that, the night was off to a roaring start with the highly, highly anticipated praline bacon that I-Hua and I had been babbling about all night in the lead up to dinner. I mean, it's bacon strips, candied with brown sugar and pecans. What's not to get hyped about about? The very neatly portioned (one strip per person!) bacon reminded I-Hua and I a lot of the Chinese 'bakkwa', which is a salty-sweet dried meat, similar to jerky (but that's for another post…maybe…).
It honestly was not as sweet as I was anticipating, but I did enjoy the pure sinful crispness of it, just like a wafer! So crunchy and fun to munch on and the sweet subtleness did come through over all the salt.
With barely the last nibble of bacon sweetness, licked off our lips, the Boudin fritters came out. A deep fried pork and rice sausage mix seasoned with Creole spices. I really enjoyed these, could have come out a bit hotter, but great flavours. I found them to be quite herbaceous and not as meaty as I expected. Was quietly hoping to have 'Boudin Noir' and have some blood thrown into the mix, but I suppose that's not everybody's cup of tea…
I've now discovered something that's just as hard to photograph as curry.
I tried. Really I did. Damn brown saucy things!
Gumbo is a roux-based soup with sausage, chicken and rice. I've never had gumbo before, but in my mind, gumbo just makes me think of something hearty and stewy. New Orleans gumbo is also supposedly generally 'stewier', whilst outside of the city, it tends to be a bit more like a broth.
I thought the gumbo was a bit thinner, and a little oilier than I expected it to be, but it was quite nice when had over the 'dirty rice', with ground seasoned pork. Another dish with a peasant background, the 'dirty' just comes from the meat breaking down in the rice and creating the colour. I quite enjoyed the rice, nice and fluffy, something a little different. I would have liked it a little hotter, although I do understand that serving so many tables all at the same time is quite an effort though!
Oh ho! PoBoy's ahead! With deep fried prawns, mayo, cos lettuce, creole seasoning all on a baguette. Whilst it is apparently impossible to get the exact same bread that they would use for PoBoy's in New Oreleans, with a very distinct and particular texture to it, they've opted to use baguettes used for banh mi in Melbourne. Which is as close as we're going to get apparently.
I really enjoyed the flavour of the PoBoy, but I found the texture of the prawn a bit bizarre. The batter I really loved, light and crispy, but I thought the texture of the prawn itself, a touch soft for my tastes, it made me think I was eating fried fish, rather than fried prawns!
After a good dose of deep fried goodness, the green beans were a refreshing reprise. Seriously. Perfectly cooked, crunchy and…just yummy.
Our last savoury, the pulled pork and cornbread skillet was…well, a bit of a beast. It's a huge portion! Pork in dark roux gravy served with a baked cornbread crust, this probably was my least favourite dish of the night. I didn't mind the cornbread, but the pork I found a touch vinegary. But by this point, I was getting so full anyway, I don't think I could have finished all they served us!
There's always room for dessert though. ALWAYS.
And at My Mexican Cousin, it came in the form of a bourbon pecan pie with vanilla bean ice-cream. Nice and nutty, I quite liked the crunchy texture of it.
Although I would like to say more about the pecan pie, dessert number two, kind of stole my (and many other's I'm sure) heart.
The 'Beignet', fancy name for a traditional Louisiana "French" yeast doughnut, covered in powdered sugar and served with a salted caramel dipping sauce.
Salted Caramel dipping sauce.
As always we all thought we were full, but once that came out…well, second wind! Haha! The beignet itself was lovely and fluffy, I loved how light it was. This made it the perfect thing to slop up the caramel sauce with…although we didn't have enough beignet's for the amount of caramel sauce we had! Was tempted to bust open the popcorn and start dipping it…or take a spoonful, but decided against it….this time…
Yeah. After all that, I was rolling home. Was still full the next day until I met Bryan for lunch at 10am!
Overall, it was a good night, the food was well paced, the company was excellent and the atmosphere was lively. There were certainly a few things that I really liked and a few things I didn't enjoy as much, but you can't please everybody all the time right? I still find the location of My Mexican Cousin a bit of an odd choice, but I think it's an interesting move and curious addition to the Melbourne dining scene.
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