Mardi Gras Kitchen is smaller than a Shurgard storage space, but its owners, Rob Adams and chef Bud Deslatte, dish up a giant lunchtime taste of the Bayou.

Wedged under a parking garage by the U.S. Bank Tower, this tiny to-go titan--187 square feet and five barstools in all--loads plates to the tipping point with andouille gumbo and luscious crawfish etouffée.

Mardi Gras opened last month with its own Cajun fan club clamoring for a westside version of the eats at North Fremont Street's Acadia, Adams and Deslatte's last restaurant project. In January, the pair sold the upscale New Orleans bistro to another pair, chef Adam Higgs and his wife, Sarah.

These entrepreneurs enjoy the creative chaos of planning a restaurant concept--Mardi Gras is Deslatte's seventh project--as much as its day-to-day upkeep. "We sell to younger people who have the desire and skills to run a restaurant, but don't have the cash to do it so soon," Adams says. "It's our version of 'paying it forward.'"

These days, Deslatte is happy to be back in a kitchen, frying up po' boys in Mardi Gras' three-foot workspace--his back against the freezer and his belt buckle hovering dangerously close to an induction burner. Just an arm's length away, Adams multitasks, manning the cash register while employing a squeeze bottle full of the white-chocolate Frangelico sauce he uses to top off the restaurant's killer creamy bread pudding. For these guys, it's not size that matters--it's spicin' up your life.


Speaking of prime corner lots: Who will brave the curse of 500 NW 21st Ave.? That's the real estate that until recently housed Zinc Bistrot, which some folks think still harbors the ghostly waft of the toughest dining act to follow in this town, Bruce Carey's Zefiro.

Luca Viola, Italian traditionalist, that's who.

Roman-born Viola is a former software engineer and soon-to-be sommelier. He's determined to exorcise the corner's cuisine demons with Basilico, an upscale, old-school feast Italiano. That's right, another Italian trattoria on Northwest 21st--bringing the total to five in the same number of blocks.

"It's kind of the principle of why Burger King builds next to McDonald's," Viola says of his decision to join boot-country row. "Choice is power. We know that the foot traffic will be people who already like Italian food."

Basilico's ace will be its staunchly traditional, seasonal menu, the owner claims. "Some restaurants take food from a certain area and mess it up with a French influence, trying to cater to the local palate. Instead, we want people to say, 'Oh, this is exactly like the food I had in Naples, Rome and Pisa.'"

Viola and his wife, Basilico co-owner Sharon De-Mayo, are still hunting for the perfect chef to rule their kitchen, which will open this June.

Mardi Gras Kitchen

, 600 SW Pine St., 525-8477. 11 am-3 pm Monday-Friday. $ Inexpensive.

Italian Cooking Class with chef Eugen Bingham of Il Piatto and Sala at Sala, 3200 SE Milwaukie Ave., 235-6665. 6:30 pm Tuesday, March 30, April 13 and 27. $55 fee includes a three-course dinner and two glasses of vino.