[DFW] Crawfish Etouffee in Dallas
I recently went through several Dallas Cajun/Creole restaurants, tasting etouffees. Here's a summary of the results, with more details and photos at the link below.
Alligator Cafe. I was interested in trying this place after positive word on Charles Kemp's East Dallas Restaurants web page. (DMN was also high on it.) The crawfish etouffee was unusually tomatoey, with an appropriate heat level and an aftertaste of brown roux. The crawfish (frozen) came out rubbery. Not the most traditional preparation or the best execution, but a reasonable value at $8 (lunch or dinner).
Nate's. No lunch portion was available, so I ordered a combo of etouffee and fried tails off the dinner menu. The fried crawfish had an off taste (possible freezer burn). That taste wasn't noticeable in the etouffee, largely because the seasoning was so overwhelming. Onion and cayenne were so pronounced that it was hard to taste anything else. Imbalanced and unpleasant. Texturally, it looked like it had been thickened by pureeing, rather than by cooking it down (or using roux). One of the pricier versions I tasted (+/- $16), but among the worst.
Dodie's. This etouffee was similar in character to Nate's, in that onion and hot pepper overwhelmed all other flavors. This was the most watery etouffee sampled. The tails were cooked just right. Not as bad as Nate's--and, at $8 ($10 for dinner), it was much cheaper--but it reminded me of why I rarely bother with Cajun outside of Louisiana.
Pappadeaux. The dominant flavor here was brown roux--so much so that it tasted more like a gumbo than an etouffee. It placed in the middle of the pack, not because of its virtues, but because of the vices (e.g., gross imbalance of flavor) of the poorer performers. Not a bad dish, but not one I'd order again. This was the most expensive etouffee tasted.
Vermilion. I didn't expect to find a great etouffee in Dallas, but here it is (pictured below). The traditional components of etouffee--onion, celery, and bell pepper--are combined in perfect proportions, so no one overwhelms the others. Heat is at an appropriate level (i.e., subdued). Tails were tender. Excellent flavor, overall. The chefs, alumni of Prejean's in Lafayette, LA, know their stuff.
Of the etouffees I sampled, only Vermilion's was a genuine pleasure to eat.
I had the Gumbo of course, which, you are quite right, must have been strained. That's just cheating. No amount of rice can fix that! I was trying to have the Osyter Rockefeller and Beinville, but they were having such a hard time explainig the "white" and "yellow" sauce, I couldn't be asked.
Instead, I had some type of shrimp dish. They called it BBQ I think, but it was really just sauteed, which was fine, but the sauce was really thick, and flour-tasting with an odd taste. Almost like saffron, but not really. If they had taken that sauce and added it to the gumbo, it would have improved both dishes!
I skipped dessert as by then I'd had enough and they already hated me. I jut don't see the whole four star thing. And to think I defended Dotty to Nancy in the whole Il Mulino DMN star ratings debacle. Maybe star ratings ARE evil!
I find that many etouffees in some cajun restaurants taste very similar to Gumbo. For example, when I ordered Gumbo and Etouffee at Sambet's in Austin, they looked exactly the same. After I got it to the table, I asked which was which, and the guy said that the one with sausage in it was the gumbo (he couldn't tell by looking either).
The trick for restuarants, besides simply giving a damn, is to find a good crawfish supplier that is fresh and comes with all of the fat - that's what is supposed to make it yellow (not turmeric, for christ sakes).
My mom and I used to make it by parboiling the crawfish (just enough to kill them), peeling them all, saving all of the fat in a separate bowl, making a stock from the shells, making a light roux, sautee the vegetables in butter, add the fat and tomato concasse, stew, then finishing by completing the crawfish cooking at the end (i.e., no rubber). I don't have the time to do all of this now, so I'm a victim of whatever crawfish I can get. They are completely cooked when you buy them prepackages, and even just warming them up can make them rubbery. And I have to use Lobster Base (better than bouillon) to try and recreate the flavor. It seems that most restaurants use water instead of stock, make the roux too dark, over spice it, and use too much tomato product.
If you come to Austin, try Gumbo's and let me know how you like it. I'll try to get there and try it myself, as it has been over a year.
I will - sometimes I can get to the North location for lunch for business. The only time I went to the downtown location, it was horrible (that was after the original owner sold the concept to that group). I've had seafood gumbo and crawfish gumbo at teh north location since the change. The seafood was good - the crawfish was excelent...I was actually licking the bowl after.
When I go back, I'll try etouffee. I've gotten out of the habit of ordering it b/c it is usually substandard at restaurants.
That's a surprise as I did not like Vermilion at all. The Gumbo is really runny, as notd by Dotty, but then she also gave it 4 Stars. Perhaps my thing was the service as the asian staff are so unfamilair with the cajun food, it's pointless trying to ask questions about it. Having said that, one of the chef's did explain a few things to me, but the food was just not that good. Of course, I did ot have the etouffe so maybe that's the best thing on the menu. Maybe I'll go back if somebody else is paying, but I can't justify it right now. IMO, some of the best gumbo is at Nate's and perhaps Fish City Grill even edges out Nate's in this regard. FCS should not be overlooked when looking for cajun/ creole fare.
I agree with you entirely on the service issues. As I noted in italics at the bottom of the report, I've consistently had service problems in every visit to the restaurant. After my last visit--in which only two waiters were hopelessly trying to serve over 50 customers--I wrote a letter to the management detailing the glitches. Since the owner was present on each of those occasions, I'm concerned that he doesn't *recognize* the problems that are occurring all around him. And, if he doesn't recognize them, how can he ever rectify them?
As for the food, everything I've had so far at Vermilion has been very good. The gumbos appear to have been strained (with the prime bits added back in), which accounts for the more soup-like (rather than stew-like) consistency. (Griffith noted that characteristic, but did not complain about it.) After multiple visits for different menu items, I have not found the etouffee to be an anomaly. Across the board, Vermilion's food is closer in spirit and quality to what I get in southwestern Louisiana than the offerings of any restaurant I've been to in DFW. I'd feel a lot better about going back, if they'd improve operations in the front of the house. But, even so, I'll be back, because it's a heck of a lot closer than Lafayette, LA.
Out of curiosity, what did you get that wasn't good? What, specifically, about the dishes displeased you?
Thanks for the heads-up on Fish City Grill. From their online menu, I see that they don't have etouffee. Their menu is pretty eclectic, rather than strictly Cajun or Creole. But, if they're good, I'm interested in giving them a try. Any dishes, other than their gumbo, that you'd recommend?
(Nate's etouffee is pictured below.)
Thanks for the update on Vermillion. I was very surprised when the 4 star review in DMN came out on Vermillion since my one and only experience there was very poor.
We went right after it opened and the two appetisers and two entrees were so mediocre that I walked out shaking my head. I think I estimated the life of the restaurant at less than 3 months. To be fair I don't rememeber now what we had but across the board it was not good. I am really stunned that they have turned it around. I'll be glad to go back now and with an open mind.
Once again Scott, you have saved the day.