Les Bon Temps

114 S. 12th Street
Center City
(215) 238-9100

I went to New Orleans for Mardi Gras once,… ONCE. Cachinnating drunken men are seen making plangent and crude requests of equally ululating and intoxicated women, so that the latter will expose their breasts for brusque throws of beaded accoutrements by the former. The crowds are raucous, groping, puerile and ill-scented. At some points, you are unable to move either your arms or your feet, and are dragged, appendages pinned, to wherever the people pull. Puckish and Stygian all at once.

Thankfully, I also visited the Lake Pontrechain waterfront restaurants and first gormandized upon plates of andouille, jambalaya, and among renegade remoulade sauces.

Les Bon Temps is a delightful reminder of Cajun delicacies. I’m here because brilliant chef-owner John Mims is in the kitchen. I’ve followed his career and talented toying with trademark Creole creations from his former Havertown storefront shebang, to a more spacious neighborhood nook in Narberth (sold), and now (along with a Bryn Mawr jazzy junket), to an “Almost Grand” setting on 12th Street, north of Sansom.

“Grand” is explained by the entrance level area’s highest of ceilings, most mirrored walls, and pompously polished mahogany woods on long-bar, balconies, floors and one extremely wide staircase. The latter resembles, in size and scope, the stairway up which an inebriated Rhett took a (until then) less-than-sexually-active Scarlett to her semelparous pregnancy in Gone With The Wind. “Almost” is explained because the painted walls are art-bare; the lighting albeit dim, nevertheless illuminates the second floor’s walls; and the paint on those walls is the color of a wet Sweet & Low packet.

John Mims is as fit as ever. He’s most likely to be wearing, inter alia, a black T-shirt and a silver-buckled belt. His hair is combed closely back. Muscular arms jutt out of the T’s high sleeves to wrists adorned by a mandatory watch on one and a bracelet on the other. He’s trimmed off what had been a slightly graying beard, so that nothing presently rests upon his handsome face but his always earnest gaze. His attentive visage often awaits a roux to thicken or a scallop to sizzle in its cornmeal breading.

You may wish to begin with Crab Claws immersed in a broth of white wine, garlic and grated Asiago cheese ($12), or Crawfish Spring Rolls ($11). The dozen or so bountiful claws are coated and submerged. They rest upon an underlayment of toasted slices of French bread, especially savory and soggy. They donate to your inhaling nostrils the aroma of rich butter. The crab claws’ pincer-shelled ends are easily picked up to have their perfectly pearly white flesh sucked dry to the cartilage with one’s pursed lips. Your tongue curls in anticipation of its next clawing. That same tongue then relaxes to allow entrance to lap up the sopping bread. The golden sauce congeals upon your breath while you decide which claw is to be chosen next.

The Crawfish Spring Roll is redolent of soy and ginger. Its skin’s color resembles that of a cigar, crackling as you slice through it, toward its innards loaded with red crawfish chunks and fresh vegetable stuffing. The sauce adds a delayed flame to one’s larynx as you ask anyone nearby to fill your water glass. The rolls are carved in half, and parleyed with a pile of carrot slivers in between. If you adhere to the philosophy that your eyes must water and nose must run in order that a meal be acceptable, then just keep forking down those orange carrot slivers in between bites of crusted crawfish. Front teeth bite at the mixture first, as it moves invariably backwards toward coddling molars mashing and splashing in the heated flavors. Swallow with sordid sanction, as demonic blasts of salivary juices make your mind wonder if you can bring another scoop as quickly as your cerebrum and taste buds require.

You should also treat yourself to the cold Creole Crab Salad appetizer ($12), a trio of creamy crabby reductions centered over three thick carved herb-roasted tomatoes covered with Tabasco Dijon dressing. I defy you to say you’ve ever had a tastier crab-clumped mélange. Each mouthful is going to heaven, via New Orleans.

The Crispy Duck and Braised Pork Shoulder entrée ($25) is a slowly roasted and browned duck half, with thick-sliced andouille sausages, strips of wide pork shoulder slices, and a pair of benefic fried oysters. All are provided over jambalaya cajoled by smoked bacon gravy. Moist and mollifying, the duck simply slides off its bones and onto your palette. The sausage pieces are as garlicky as the spicey peppered jambalaya below them, with the bacon bolstering a ticklingly tardy tempo as the ingredients meld. Huge portions prevail.

Finalize the meal with a Creamy Sticky Bun or piece of Pecan Pie ($8). You shall have discovered singularly southern soothing treacles.

For a quieter, conversation-able dining experience, arrive before 8:00 p.m. After that, you may be relegated to communicate through written correspondence. Mims the word.


Copyright 2008 Richard Max Bockol, Esq. Back