Monday, September 14, 2009

We Went for Chinese Food…

so why am I eating Boudin Balls?

The plan was to have a late-ish lunch (2:00 p.m.) one Tuesday at a Chinese restaurant in downtown Visalia that had gotten very good web reviews. We presented ourselves at the front door but were not able to gain admittance. Why? The restaurant wasn’t open on Tuesdays. Time for the ever popular plan B – Crawdaddy’s, a New Orleans themed restaurant that was only a few blocks away, and I knew that they were open for lunch.

Let me begin by indicating that I know New Orleans food and have cooked many a New Orleans meal using traditional Cajun and/or Creole recipes. So I have to tell you that the food at Crawdaddy’s really wasn’t Cajun/Creole. Rather, the food had a California twist on time-honored Louisiana recipes. Still, the food was quite good, and we both enjoyed our lunches.

Our appetizer choices included: Fried Okra with a green onion mayo; Boudin Balls, a mixture of andouille sausage and risotto, stuffed with mozzarella cheese and deep fried; Cajun Popcorn, fried crawfish tails with the green onion mayo; and the Appetizer Sampler. Among the po’ boy sandwich items were: the Grilled Steak Po’ Boy with bacon, tomato, baby greens, and garlic mayo; the Meatball Po’ Boy with red sauce and mozzarella; a Grilled Chicken Po’ Boy with Caesar dressing and romaine and; a Grilled Pesto Po’ Boy with mozzarella and tomatoes.

I am a big fan of gumbo, that dark roux-based soup/stew that is served with rice. Had I wanted gumbo for lunch, I could have chosen the Chicken Gumbo Yaya with chicken and andouille or the Seafood Gumbo with shrimp and andouille. Or, if I had wanted a full meal, I could have chosen from a number of pastas or from among: the Deep Fried Catfish with mirlton slaw (a vegetable pear that is used in a number of Louisiana recipes) and Tabasco mayo, the Natchitoches Meat Loaf (named for a town in Louisiana famous for its meat pies), or Red Beans and Rice with wilted greens and hot boudin sausage.

Call me a snob if you will, but if I want to eat Cajun/Creole food I want authentic Cajun/Creole food. So none of these modified versions appealed to me. So I decided to order the Appetizer Sampler. Chuck ordered the Grilled Steak Po’ Boy, and we shared our meals.

Chuck’s sandwich came on a very good and crisp roll with a most generous amount of thin sliced beef. The menu didn’t specify if this was tri-tip, a cut of beef popular in California because of the superior flavor and because it is a steak built for grilling. But, since virtually every sliced beef sandwich we have eaten since we entered California on July 23rd has been tri-tip, I am assuming this was also.

The meat was grilled medium rare (as Chuck ordered it) and was extremely tender and juicy. The taste contrast of the beef with the bacon was interesting but what really pulled the sandwich together was the garlic aioli. Without it this would have been a good sandwich – with the garlic aioli it became a r-e-a-l-l-y good sandwich.

With the steak po’ boy came a serving of crisp skin-on fries that had been lightly dusted with a Cajun-style seasoning. Congratulations to the kitchen for not overdoing the seasoning. Good potatoes only need a little extra “oomph” to enhance their flavor and too often seasoning is applied with such a heavy hand that the potatoes taste harsh.

My appetizer sample would have fed three or four people. There were four large wing pieces, five boudin balls, two tomato and basil bruschetta, and at least eight large calamari strips along with bleu cheese, marinara, and cocktail dipping sauces. One look and I told Chuck that I would take the smaller half of this sandwich and only a few fries.

The wings were just as I like them. I know that a true Buffalo-style wing isn’t fried with any coating, but I still like the extra crunch that a little flour adds. And the seasonings were mixed in with the flour instead of the wings being coated with a wet sauce. Why go to the trouble of creating a crisp crust if it will get soggy under a sauce? The bruschetta was good but no better than what I make, and Chuck did not appreciate the dusting of parmesan cheese on top.

The calamari was super tender. I still don’t know if most restaurants do or do not pound the calamari meat to make it more tender, but these strips were tender and sweet with only a light batter coating. Dipping the strips in the very good marinara only enhanced the experience.

Now for the boudin balls. They were truly delicious, but they were not boudin balls. Boudin is a soft and peppery sausage that is made from cooked pork (in the early days – pork parts) that is mixed with cooked long grain rice, some of the cooking liquid, and spices – especially black pepper. Andouille sausage and risotto rice do not a boudin ball make. Nor does the nugget of cheese in the center. So not a real boudin ball, but wow, were they delicious.

So here is my problem. I came anticipating real New Orleans Cajun/Creole and didn’t find it.

Still, our food was delicious. So I guess I will give Crawdaddy’s a 4.0 Addie rating and go start soaking some red beans for red beans and rice.

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