The Red Crawfish sign confuses me. I don’t understand how they chose which letters would be red and which would be black. It doesn’t really matter, I just thought I’d mention it. So, Red Crawfish! It is right next door to Bodega Bistro. I can’t remember if it was just a regular Vietnamese restaurant before they went all Bayou, I didn’t notice them until they changed their signage to advertise their buy 2 get 1 free special. That’s buy 2 pounds of crawfish, get 1 pound free. That’s what Steve and I got the first time we went there. The crawfish came to our table in a big plastic bag; they were steaming hot and difficult to crack open. We finally got shucking technique down but not without a good deal of hurting. We both agreed the crawfish weren’t worth the work. We wrote off Red Crawfish. Then, I started reading reviews in the local papers. And they were unequivocal RAVES. People LOVED this place. I’ve seen a lot of small neighborhood places like Red Crawfish open that I thought were really great that didn’t get covered in the media like this, so I figured maybe I’d gotten it wrong. Steve was intrigued by shell on shrimp and garlic noodles and was game to give it another try.
Things were different. First off, the place was hopping. We got one of the last tables that wasn’t reserved. The menu was different as well,
Generally the same cuisine, but with a few additions. We were planning on getting just shrimp, but we decided to go wild and get the Combo Special, which had crawfish, mussels and clams as well as shrimp. We also ordered salt and pepper squid to start and garlic noodle to sop up the liquid from our seafood. And of course, a tsing tao.
Because that’s how I roll.
Our squid came out first:
I love love love squid. I love the texture, I love the taste, I like it fried, I like it braised, I like it raw. I just really really like it. It’s hard to disappoint me when it come to squid, I’m not picky about it, but I know when it’s good as opposed to OK and this squid was AMAXING. That’s right, so amazing I had to spell it with an X. Excellent crispy stuff, excellent tender squid. It was accompanied by a sauce that I was scared of at first glance (I thought it was going to be syrupy), but turned out to be well balanced between sweet salty and spicy. Mmmm, it makes my mouth water to think of it.
So we’re getting excited now, we’re thinking, maybe we got this place wrong, maybe it’s the best restaurant we’d unfortuitously written off, it’s jampacked full of people and it smells terrific, we’re filled with anticipation, we’re tying on our bibs…
Here it comes, this time we get a bowl instead of a plastic bag, which is heartening. There’s a nice garlicky aroma wafting towards me, the dish looks impressive, I’m excited to try sucking the brains (or whatever) out of the shrimp heads. I eat a clam; it’s good, well cooked and juicy. I eat a mussel; it’s good, usually I don’t care too much for mussels but I can deal when they are prepared properly like this one was. Finally I go for the hard stuff. (FYI, that corn is for Steve, I do not eat that shit on the cob.)
Thank goodness I’m wearing a bib. Unpleasantly flavored blood colored stuff sprays all over the place as I wrestle with a crawfish. I wasn’t sure if you were supposed to eat it…I think probably some people do, so I wanted to try it…I found it gross. I finally tugged the single tiny morsel of meat this crawfish possessed out of its tail…wow. So underwhelming. Possibly even less enjoyable than on my first visit. Next I tried the shrimp. In my past experiences with whole shell on shrimp I’ve been successful in ripping the little legs off then pulling off the rest of the shell like a wee skeletal bathrobe. These shrimp weren’t making it so easy on me. The legs were not coming off clean and the shells were sticking to the flesh. There was another thick, dark liquid coming from somewhere. I finally got a clean bite and it was totally not worth my labor. The flesh had an odd cornstarch like texture on the outside, and was extremely bland throughout. I tried sucking…something out of the shrimp head but all I got was the sensation of trying to use a straw with a hole in it and a faint bitter taste. Ugh. I guess I made a mistake.
I tried to make things better with the provided salt and pepper and lime wedges, but nothing doing. I enjoyed the mussels and clams, but the strong garlic flavor started to get funky after a while. Also not helping were the garlic noodles, which were gummy and an odd attempt at Vietnamese-Italian fusion, as they were topped with parmesan cheese. Steve liked them and I might have enjoyed them too if I wasn’t already experiencing garlic overload, code red.
The aftermath. It’s not pretty, is it? I’m not averse to getting my hands dirty (I love BBQ ribs!) but this was a little ridiculous. At the end of the day, I have to accept that this (this being steamed tiny crustaceans) is just not my thing. I’m glad the place is doing well, I’m all for a diverse selection of restaurants, and I hope they stay open, but if they do it won’t be because of my patronage. Sure, I was pretty impressed with their squid and have heard that some of their other Vietnamese dishes are tasty. I just can’t imagine being that close to Bodega Bistro and choosing Red Crawfish instead. Bodega Bistro is the superior restaurant on all fronts; food, service and ambiance. So, that’s strike two Red Crawfish.