Thursday, April 7, 2011

Do Cajuns Give Up Dancing For Lent?

It’s Saturday night at Randol’s Restaurant and Dance Hall, and Sheryl Cormier (known as the queen of Cajun Accordion and Cajun Music) is performing. Although the restaurant is three-quarters full, only a handful of dancers dot the floor. What gives?

Yesterday, we told you about Prejean’s, a restaurant that left us unimpressed in the 1980’s, that we loved in 2008, and about which were rather ambivalent on our recent visit. Today, we flip that scenario. In the 1980’s, I had my first encounter with boiled crawfish at Randol’s and ate an extraordinary version of New Orleans style BBQ shrimp. During our November 2008 visit, the music was uninspired and the food was uninspired. But, since we wanted to hear Sheryl Cormier, we would give the restaurant another chance.

“Remember a time, not so long ago, when things were a lot simpler than they are now. When everything we put in our mouths nourished us with the love and attention put into the food by the farmer, the fisherman, and the cook. When having a good time meant getting together with friends (kids and old folks, alike) to eat and dance the night away.... The spirit of Randol's is deeply rooted in the values and traditions of Cajun culture.... We believe that as food nourishes the body, so good times and good friends feed the soul. As soon as the fiddler starts tuning up and the first dancers hit the floor, no one's a stranger at Randol's” (Frank Randol on the restaurant’s web site).

The restaurant, a large open space set with red and white checked plastic table covers, is separated from the band and dance floor by a glass window on one end which mutes the sound of the music. After we were finished eating, Chuck went to take photos of the band and discovered that we should have asked to be seated in the bar area where one can hear as well as see the band. And there are two closed circuit TV’s in the front of the dining room. Only one problem. The band and dancers you see are not the band and dancers that evening. Very disconcerting.

The menu seems to have been updated since our last visit. While you can still order boiled crawfish and crabs, gumbos, etouffees, and fried fish and seafood platters, there is what appears to be a new selection of dishes known as Randol’s Signatures.

Some of the signature items were: Redfish Randol—seafood stuffing between fresh fillets of blackened redfish, topped with crispy fried onion rings and set over shrimp etouffee and drizzled with remoulade sauce; Thai Snapper—panko-crusted gulf snapper served on sautéed sesame cabbage and topped with lump crabmeat in a spicy curry cream; Tuna Sesame—sesame-crusted yellow fin tuna and jumbo gulf shrimp, set on an eggplant medallion, served over Asian cabbage, and coated with a cane glaze; and Saigon Softshell Crab—panko-crusted soft shell crab set over sautéed sesame cabbage and topped with lump crabmeat in a spicy curry cream.

But we had come with the intent of sharing three appetizers and a dessert. We eliminated the gator bites, stuffed mushrooms, spinach and artichoke dip, and crab fingers along with a dish entitled White Lake Dreaming, which are lump crabmeat and béchamel cream crab cakes served on a parmesan Alfredo sauce. The latter did sound wonderful and should we return may warrant consideration.

Our choices were made. First, we had an order of boudin balls which came with a small dish of seafood butter for dipping. As with the side sauce with the crawfish boudin balls at Prejean’s, this sauce did little for the dish. The boudin balls were average. They were mildly peppery and had a nice crisp exterior shell. Still, the boudin balls we bought at Mike’s Corner Store and reheated at home were far superior.

Next up was a dish of Seafood Fondue that contained fresh crawfish tails, crab, and shrimp smothered in seafood butter cream, topped with a blend of Italian cheeses and baked. This was ultra rich, creamy and cheesy and bursting with seafood. This was wipe-the-dish-clean-with-a-piece-of-bread good. And here is my complaint. I wish the bread hadn’t been garlic bread. The garlic almost masked the sweet flavor of the seafood.

Last came the Ginger and Cane Glazed Shrimp, and they were wonderful. Five jumbo shrimp had been crusted with panko crumbs and then tossed in a ginger and cane syrup glazing mixture. These were set on a bed of sautéed sesame cabbage and sprinkled with almond slivers. The combination of sweet cane syrup with ginger with the sesame slaw combined the tastes of Louisiana with the tastes of Asia. I don’t know who developed this dish, but I salute his/her genius.

We had left room for dessert and had our choice of cheesecake, a brownie sundae, sweet potato pecan pie, and the cinnamon bread pudding. We shared the bread pudding which was fragrant with cinnamon and was drenched in a warm rum sauce.

This was certainly a more enjoyable dining experience than the one we had in 2008 and deserves a 4.0 Addie rating.

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