Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Cajun Bangkok's Heaven and Hell

Last week, I convinced my wife that she deserved a treat for carrying our first child for the past five months. On the way home from errands, we stopped in Carytown and ventured into Cajun Bangkok, which replaced the Thai Curry House, which replaced Chopstix. I told Karen, "you and the little boy in your belly should order whatever you like" (big talk from a cheap-skate like me). The subtitle of the restaurant is "spicy cuisine," and that's one of our favorite flavors, despite the queasiness associated with pregnancy. (it's a boy, by the way)

With the unveiling of Cajun Bangkok, Carytown has gone from four Thai places down to three and a half – a babystep toward moderation. The menu seemed to show appetizers and entrees that pulled from both Thailand and the Mississippi river delta region, but the food that we ordered showed the two inspirations represented on each plate, a la fusion cuisine. Considering that there is another branch of this restaurant in Alexandria (where Thai has been plentiful for years), the concept must be successful enough to franchise.

We started with the calamari, which was described as being "southern fried" or something that conjured up a cajun influence. However, what we received were perfectly lightly breaded ringlets (not unlike Mom Siam down the street). The squid was tender and the citrusy Thai chili sauce was finger lickin’ good to say the least. We sopped the stuff up too fast and were fighting over the last drops of dip before the calamari was all gone. Home run.

Next came Karen's bowl of she-crab soup, which was also described with some yee-haw down home verbiage. The soup, however, was stark white opaque and refined. My wife's spoon brought up loads of crab meat and an enormous smile spread across my wife's face. The soup was seasoned with a touch of red curry and plenty of sweet coconut milk. Holy sh*t, was this stuff good! Again, more fighting over the last drops. Folks, go to Cajun Bangkok and order this soup.

Across the room, a couple tables had ordered an exotic looking coconut appetizer that was the day's special. There were 8-10 ingredients spread out on a platter and you had to wrap them all up in a collard green leaf and eat it like a mini-wrap. They seemed happy and I felt pretty jealous as I got acquainted with my entree, which didn't measure up to the previous two items.

My order was a blackened tuna steak, topped with crawfish ettoufee, and served over rice. What came was a big chewy piece of overcooked fish. There were specks of cajun seasoning, but it wasn't blackened or even seared - broiled maybe. All of the pink was gone from the center and most of the juice as well. It gets worse. I think they overcooked the fish because it wasn't fresh. It tasted fishier than any tuna I'd ever eaten before. "Are you sure you want to finish that?" asked Karen after trying a tiny bite. I resolved to take my chances and see what happened. The rice was buttery and delicious and the ettoufee wasn’t bad either, but I felt pretty deflated. Going from ecstasy to revulsion so quickly made my head spin.

Meanwhile, Karen sat in front of a boring iceberg lettuce salad whose pecan vinegrette added only the flavor of sour burnt nuts - a half-hearted attempt to keep in line with the theme of the restaurant. It needed sweetness and spice – maybe they should have gone for a Thai curry prailene vinegrette or something like that. To her credit, Karen knew she wasn’t very hungry (one of the reasons that I said, “order anything”) and so she hadn’t placed much stock in the salad. Instead, both of us were happy to have discovered the two dishes we’d already gone ga ga over.

At the time of this writing, I’m not too excited to be writing another mixed review. Is it realistic to fall for the idea behind a restaurant (or the image I project on it) and expect it to change over time to suit me? Viva Mexico is still garnering negative blog entries on top of the bad RTD piece. They don’t seem to have changed their bland ways. For every homerun she-crab curry soup, there are dishes that fall short – both prepared by the same chef. For every plate of light and flakey squid ringlets, there will be smelly fishy shoe leather. Signature dishes and cutting corners is the name of the game in the restaurant biz. I don’t think that it makes sense to go Gordon Ramsey and verbally abuse and physically shake sense into the chefs and owners of wayward eateries. Personally, I’m just a foodie who wants to spread the word about the best stuff and warn people about the pitfalls.

Don’t let me forget that, yall.

Ps: I did not get sick from the fish. In fact, we went to Ben and Jerry’s where Karen’s appetite picked up again. She got a Hot Float (ice cream in steamed milk) that was served up by a confused teenager who hadn’t quite figured out how to sell or prepare his store’s latest featured item. But, I got to be the gracious big spender, which is sometimes worth more than tasty vittles.



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update: I went back and things went much smoother. Check it out.

7 comments:

  1. We've been to Cajun Bangkok for lunch and just had a couple sandwiches... the cajun chicken sandwich was pretty good... and Jeff had the Carolina BBQ which he loved (and he is from NC)... the fries were good and you really can't mess up a Miller Lite bottle... we were there the day after they opened... Jeff has been back once, no complaints... maybe they will get it all together as business picks up (hopefully)

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  2. Good to hear other folk's Cajun Bangkok experience. Hopefully, more people will chime in and I'll go back for more soup and we'll have a better idea about the new fusion food in Carytown. Cheers.

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  3. Andrew1:08 PM

    We may have been the family that was eating that collard green wrap the other day. It was pretty good. Sometimes the interaction of creating your "own" wraps along with a family conversation makes it more interesting. It was helpful that the waitstaff brought some more wraps out when our proportion of wraps to toppings got out of wack. I ended up getting the "Mudbug Burger." Ummm crawdads in burger formation. To be honest it was very good albeit a touch greasy (not sure where it came from) and may have needed something to hold all of the crawdads together. (They kept escaping from my bun.) It's hard to say though b/c I wouldn't want a filler of any type as in a bad crabcake sandwich. But just something, in my head, to keep it along the lines of a burger if they were to name it as such. I don't know. Does that make sense? The flavor was spot on though. Spicy, but not so much that it overpowered the crawfish. My only thing is that if you call it a Mudbug sandwich instead of a burger it would be closer to what you get. This is just coming from a foodie rookie though.

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  4. I had the exact same experience. In fact, I ordered the same "special" dinner and was extremely disappointed by the execution. My boyfriend got the gumbo, which he thought was pretty good and another friend got the crab cakes, which she enjoyed. Overall, though, I was pretty disappointed in the food and probably won't be returning. And, although I also like spicy food, I didn't think get "fusion" from the menu as much as a restaurant that was unsure of its identity.

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  5. We went there a month ago with my kids - ages 3 & 6 and had the popcorn crawfish, which the kids loved (very close to those I used to eat in coastal South Carolina) and the Toasted Coconut appetizer - which I am STILL thinking about to this day! It was collard wraps with little piles of toasted coconut and peanuts, dried shrimp, fresh ginger, slivers of limes, red onion and green chilis. After you pile it on the leaves, they have this sweet ginger sauce for the top. The flavor combination of this was AMAZING - we all really enjoyed this!
    The kids and I split the green curry shrimp and chicken, which was just slightly spicy and a huge hit with them.
    My husband had a cajun fish and shrimp dish that was in a cream sauce (can't remember which) and he really enjoyed it.
    I am going back there tonight with some friends to get that coconut appetizer again and try something else!

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  6. I've been to Cajun Bangkok about 5 times now and everytime I'm impressed..it has a unique menu and they actually put some time into your entree compared to mom siams..The curry jerk chicken dish is very, very hot, but one of the best chicken dishes I have ever had. Definitely a place to check out.

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  7. I keep going back there. our favorite server, Uno, treats us great. The key is that we have found our favorite dishes. The wife loves the Thai Pesto Noodles and I am addicted to the Chicken Jalepeno.

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