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Aug 13, 2011 03:12 AM

Red Crawfish and Sweet Orchid, San Mateo

Having endured a 40 minute wait (at 3:30 on a Wednesday afternoon, after a 40 minute drive) at Boiling Crab in San Jose, I was fully expecting that Red Crawfish would not be nearly as good. How could it be, since it was a mere 10 minute stroll from home? Good things don't come that easily.

But sometimes one gets lucky. Three of us sat down at half-past noon the other day with no wait and were promptly and professionally served. We had the dinner combination 1: garlic bread, sweet potato fries (we asked for these instead of the cajun fries), 3 lbs crawfish with 2 pieces of corn and 6 pieces of sausage, garlic noodles, and 2 beignets.

The garlic bread was served nice and hot, the garlic butter evenly spread on the slices of french bread, an auspicious sign, The garlic noodles were not earth-shaking, but quite good. And the sweet potato fries were nicely crisp on the outside. The crawfish, sausage, and corn arrived in a large plastic bag, soaking in the Red Crawfish original sauce, medium spicy. The crawfish, sourced from Louisiana, were fresh and sweet, and seemed larger than those at Boiling Crab; and I'd say I definitely prefer the sauce at Red Crawfish over Boiling Crab's equivalent. The sausage slices were quite tasty, too. Only the corn. which was the tough-skinned frozen variety was disappointing. The beignets, which the restaurant kindly increased to 3 pieces without extra charge, were a bit dense but tender.

How long this place will go before the crawfish-sucking hordes turn it into another Boiling Crab ordeal, I do not know. Probably another week.

After 2 hours of peeling crawfish, we were ready for dessert, so we rolled over to Sweet Orchid, another fresh new face on the San Mateo restaurant scene, and what I'd call a Eurasian patisserie. They have an intriguing and changeable selection of gelati. That day it included among others, salted caramel, cilantro lemon, amarena, coconut, white chocolate macadmia, and pandan. We went for the pandan and the salted caramel. I loved the pandan: too often it tastes like a chemistry experiment, but this pandan gelato was expertly done and captured that sweet, slightly musty vegetal aroma.

Sweet Orchid also has very good macarons. I've tried the rose, pistachio, and taro, of which I enjoyed the taro best. The macarons have a delicate crisp shell, slightly chewy interior, and nicely flavored buttercream fillings. Though I'd say Paulette's (as it was then known) macaron was better, Sweet Orchid's is good enough to save me a trip to the city.

We also got to sample the mocha cake, flourless chocolate cake, cheese cake, and chocolate mousse torte. I think we all liked the mocha cake, thin layers of chocolate and genoise, layered with mocha buttercream.

In all, a very rewarding afternoon.

Red Crawfish
401 E 3rd Ave., San Mateo
(650) 347-7888

Sweet Orchid
134 S B St., San Mateo
(650) 342-6700

The Boiling Crab
1631 E Capitol Expy, San Jose, CA 95121

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  1. Interesting... Viet-Chinese-Cajun fusion....we sure get some weird combination restaurants around here...

    1 Reply
    1. re: lrealml

      Don't miss their perfecty fried crisp, bronzed Oysters fried in corn meal with a little heat. The side sauces were commerial style tartar sauce, weak cocktail sauce.

      The boiled dishes, shrimp etc are good if the spicing isn't down home NOLA.

    2. An enjoyable lunch for sure - I think I finally have the garlic/sauce out of my fingernails... Love those mudbugs! They tasted very fresh to me. Fun to sit and visit while working our way though that bag of goodies. 3 lbs of crawfish with all the sides and dessert came to $21/pp including tax and tip and was plenty of food for the 3 of us.

      I too am glad to have this place so close to home and look forward to sampling more of their menu. Noticed the gumbo at the next table - looked good - wish I could have tasted it!

      1. After reading here about Red Crawfish I made the trek to San Mateo yesterday to check them out. First, a bit of context. I'm an admitted crawfish freak. With more than a couple dozen trips to wander around Louisiana, I've chased after great crawfish for years, eating them in rundown shacks and windowless cinderblock buildings on dirt roads in the middle of swamps. That said, I no longer bother eating crawfish in New Orleans. You just don't get the same size and quality that is readily available out in Cajun country.

        So, how does Red Crawfish stack up? Two of us split three pounds of "spicy" crawfish along with a side order of garlic noodles. The waiter told me that they aren't getting their crawfish from Louisiana any longer (may be a seasonal thing) but now source them from Sacramento. They were somewhat small but fairly fresh. The size was similar to what is generally found in New Orleans, which is less than half the size of what you can find in areas south of that city or heading west towards or beyond Lafayette. The spicing at Red Crawfish was not at all what I expected. I'm used to Cajun spicing, with an emphasis on peppers and heat, with the spiciness of the peppers playing off of the sweetness of the plump crawfish tails. Red Crawfish's version is almost entirely garlic based, with plenty of chopped garlic clinging to every crawfish. The garlic pretty much masked any flavor from the crawfish. Now, clearly, garlic and seafood can work well together and I liked the garlicky sauce but I would have liked to taste more crawfish. Meanwhile, the garlic noodles turned out to be an almost perfect side dish, as the garlic level in the noodles was quite similar to that of the crawfish. A more subtle take on the noodles would have gotten lost completely.

        So the bottom line is that if you want an enjoyable, garlicky lunch of mudbugs and noodles, Red Crawfish is a fine stop. Just don't expect it to rival the best of the Atchafalaya basin. For truly great crawfish, you've still got to make the trip to Louisiana.

        Red Crawfish
        401 E. Third Ave, San Mateo, CA 94401