New Orleans is equally famed for its Mardi Gras blowouts and its food, which is rarely a simple affair. Louisiana Bistro brings a welcome sense of home-cooking to this elaborate, rich cuisine. The restaurant opened earlier this year in downtown San Jose.

And the Big Easy theme extends beyond the menu: the restaurant features live music on Thursday through Saturday nights. Mardi Gras masks, beads and New Orleans-inspired decorations complete the motif without feeling overly themed.

The restaurant operates in honor of the owner’s mother, Velma Green, whose  recipes come with a serious New Orleans pedigree. The menu does well to encompass the food and drink staples of New Orleans. Catfish appears repeatedly on the menu, a crawfish étouffée as well as the signature gumbo highlight the entree selections and there are several po’boy sandwiches as well.

For appetizers I sampled the crab cakes, fried oysters and bayou beignets. Neither the fried oysters nor the crab cakes were outstanding appetizers. According to the menu, the crab cakes used blue crab, usually sweet and delicious. However, the crab cakes were rather light on crab and heavy on filler. The bayou beignets—pieces of catfish tossed in cajun spices, cornmeal and fried—were tasty and a recommended dish for sharing, even if they mostly just made good carriers for the Creole aioli.

For an entree, I was torn between a po’boy and gumbo but ultimately chose the gumbo, only to enjoy a sizable sample from a friend’s fried shrimp po’boy. The gumbo was incredibly rich, with just the right blend of seasonings that gave the dish a smoky, slightly sweet flavor profile. The dish could have benefited from some larger, juicier portions of shrimp, however. The étouffée, with pieces of crawfish, was rich in flavor, and seemed the most authentic of them all. All entrees were ample portions and passed around the table to be sampled.

The ’Nawlins theme continues on the drink menu with the official New Orleans cocktail, the Sazerac, traditionally prepared with rye and the anise-flavored liquor, herbsaint. (Original recipes called for absinthe. Due to a long, only recently lifted ban on absinthe, herbsaint became a popular substitute.) The sharp flavor of rye whiskey and herbaceous tinge of herbsaint is not for everyone. I would have enjoyed my Sazerac with a pinch more sugar to even out the kick. On the sweeter, yet still boozy side, that old Kentucky Derby standby, the Mint Julep, was enjoyably sweet and minty, while very much remaining a bourbon cocktail.

Photos courtesy of Louisiana Bistro: