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There are only two desserts, one a masterpiece. The extraordinary bread pudding features baguettes soaked to angelic softness in egg custard, with a white chocolate Frangelico (hazelnut liqueur) sauce to pour on at will. The dessert was invented at NOLA's famed Commander's Palace. Luckily for us, a New Orleans newspaper published the recipe and Bud kept it. The lesser dessert is a "Creole pecan pie," a wedge of cheesecake topped with pecan pie. It's a traditional dish and a nice idea (cheesecake being lighter, hence less sickening than a wedge of nut-flecked corn syrup). The pecans, however, tasted like nuts in bulk supermarket bins -- not yet rancid, but flavorless were it not for the added sugars.

With the bread pudding earning five stars out of five, the average rating for the food at Bud's came to three stars. Before I discovered the secret of asking for rice on the side, I was tempted to cut half a star for the sins of serving occasionally second-rate seafood and overwhelming good dishes with excess starch. Bud knows his Louisiana cooking, but he needs to recapture the Louisiana spirit of "lagniappe," the hospitality that gives "a little extra." I wouldn't want to hear from readers who arrive home with their takeout to find they've bought a whole heap of rice and just a tablespoon of flavor. So watch it, Bud.

San Diego loves an excuse for a party and has embraced Mardi Gras (February 8 this year) as a native holiday. Bud expects his tiny eatery to be slamming that day. Other restaurants where you can enjoy Mardi Gras-style dining:

Chateau Orleans, 926 Turquoise Street (at Mission Boulevard), Pacific Beach, 858-488-6744. Their version of Cajun-Creole food bears only a coincidental resemblance to anything you'd eat in Louisiana, but the Southern dishes are decent and their party rocks.

Gulf Coast Grill, 4130 Park Boulevard (between University and El Cajon), Hillcrest, 619-295-2244. Another cool party scene, with some good Southern dishes.

Huffman's Barbeque, 5039 Imperial Avenue (at Euclid Avenue), Lincoln Park, 619-264-

3115. The soul-food menu includes Louisiana Creole-style gumbo and red beans and rice.

Magnolias, Market Creek Square, 342 Euclid Avenue (off Market Street), Lincoln Park, 619-262-6005. (Reviewed last week.) Authentic south Louisiana cooking in a comfortable atmosphere. Try the crabcakes, BBQ shrimp, fried chicken wings, jambalaya.

Mardi Gras Cafe, 3185 Midway Drive (near Rosecrans and East Street, in the mini-mall with a 7-Eleven), Loma Portal, 619-223-5501. If you can cook it, this place has the ingredients from Louisiana, whether you need bottled roux, boudin blanc, or frozen crawfish tails. If you can't cook, they have the major regional dishes to eat there for lunch or take home for a party. If you take home a muffalletta, wrap it in foil and put a weight on it (a skillet or brick) for four hours (the way they do at Central Grocery) to let the flavors meld.

Monroe's, 7404 University Avenue (at Lowell), La Mesa, 619-464-7100. Under new management, the former Aswan offers an extensive menu of dishes from Louisiana and Jamaica (so you can have two nations' worth of Carnival on the same night). I haven't eaten there yet, but it's high on my list of places to try.

Popeye's Fried Chicken and Biscuits (many locations, check phone book). In the City That Care Forgot, some folks get so caught up in partying they give up cooking and live on Popeye's takeout all Mardi Gras week.

Sixth Avenue Bistro, 1165 Sixth Avenue (at B Street), downtown, 619-239-4194. Many Louisiana food choices, including the best oyster po' boy in town, in a location handy to the goings-on in the Gaslamp.

Voyage, 1845 India Street, Little Italy, 619-234-1344. Another new restaurant where I haven't yet eaten, but chef Andre Bellard (formerly at Sassafras) is from Lafayette, Louisiana. His regular menu includes a shrimp po' boy at lunch, jambalaya at any meal, and for Mardi Gras evening, he'll be cooking Louisiana specialties.

Let the bon temps rouler!

ABOUT THE CHEF

Bud Deslattes and his life-and-business partner Rob Adams are Bud's -- Bud cooks and Rob runs the front of the house. Bud was the original owner of Bayou Bar and Grill on Market Street. He and Rob recently returned from Portland, Oregon, and decided to open an eatery more casual than Bayou or any of their other restaurants. "Part of the experiment here is, I'm trying to semi-retire," Bud says. "I just hit my 65th birthday, and I told myself, 'Okay, cut back and don't try to do as much as you've been doing.' We've always done fine-dining restaurants, so we decided to do something casual, where I could cook more and manage less. The space is so small, we realized last week that we had to shut down between lunch and dinner. We don't have the storage space for a lot of things, so we have to keep cookin' it every day."

Most of Bud's Cajun-Creole dishes are spicy, but far from the "fiery food" that was so popular in the '80s and gave so many people the wrong concept of the cuisine. "Authentic Louisiana cooking has become sort of my crusade," he says. "I guess when Paul Prudhomme became so popular, everybody thought, 'Everything Cajun has got to be blackened and spicy hot.' But that's not what real Cajun cooking is like. I'm all about flavor. My mama didn't teach me to put all that hot stuff on the food. Cooking for as many people as we do, you just gotta stay true to yourself and what you do."

Bud was born in the Bayou St. John district of New Orleans and fell into cooking sideways. "I really didn't start cooking until I got a divorce, and I had to learn to do it to survive. But while I was in the corporate world I traveled and ate out all the time in nice restaurants, and I always tried to figure out what I was eating."

He first got into the restaurant business in New Orleans. "I owned another business and I sold it. I tried the corporate route again and I didn't like it," he recalls. "Some friends of mine said, 'You're a good cook, why don't you open a restaurant?' I thought, well, that's a good idea! I opened a little place called Feelings, in the Faubourg Marigny. We were the first ones back in the Marigny in 1979, and that started the renaissance in the neighborhood."

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