Archive for the 'Cajun' Category

Oyster Bar – Las Vegas (Palace Station)

Oyster Bar at Palace Station - Las Vegas

Smack dab in the middle of the Palace Station casino floor is an eighteen-seat Oyster Bar with a cult-like following. I was sent here by three pandas, two hungry ones and one that knows kung food. “Get the pan roast,” they all advised. “And make sure to go at off-peak hours,” they added. Never once have these pandas led me and my stomach astray, so I happily did as I was told.

On our second day in Vegas, The Astronomer and I headed to Palace Station for lunch. In the excitement and anticipation of it all, I forgot to heed my friends’ second piece of advice. As a result, we stood in a lengthy line that ultimately took nearly two hours to get through. Eeek!

Oyster Bar at Palace Station - Las Vegas

The unassuming counter serves a diverse selection of seafood offerings, including a handful with a New Orleans bent. While waiting in line, I met a fellow Angeleno who originally hailed from the South. She’s been coming to Oyster Bar for years now and always orders the gumbo with either rice or pasta. Even though I had decided my fate from the get-go, I briefly considered switching it up. People passionate about their food can be so convincing!

Oyster Bar at Palace Station - Las Vegas

When it finally came time to grab two stools at the bar, I let out an enthusiastic squeal—the moment had finally arrived for me to experience the mysterious pan roast.

Every seat along the counter offered a great view of the open kitchen. The steam-powered pots with tilt-able handles were constantly bubbling away, filling the air with steamy goodness.

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Disneyland: Home of the World's Best Corndog

Disneyland Summer 2010

Banh mi has been synonymous with Disneyland for me for as long as I can remember. Growing up, my mom always purchased a couple of sandwiches from the local deli for my brother and me to eat while visiting the park. Bringing our own lunches was not only economical, but also perfectly delicious for our Vietnamese-trained taste buds.

I’ve continued this tradition as an adult because a parade of junk food can’t compare with a taste of home. Or so I thought… All was well in my brown bagging world up until a few months ago when I heard rumblings that Disneyland was a noteworthy dining destination. From the freshly made corndogs on Main Street U.S.A. to the deep-fried Monte Cristo sandwiches in New Orleans Square, the food at Disneyland suddenly piqued my interest.  A full investigation was in order.

Disneyland Summer 2010

It saddened me a little walking into the park without my usual bag of banh mi sandwiches, but one whiff of the Little Red Wagon corndog cart and the matter was completely forgotten. Located just beyond Main Street toward Tomorrow Land, the Little Red Wagon dishes out battered and fried wieners from morning until night. The Astronomer and I made a bee line for the cart as soon as we entered the park.

Disneyland Summer 2010

After enduring a fifteen minute long wait, we were rewarded with the world’s best corndog ($5.79). The exterior was deep-fried to a delectable golden brown, while the hot dog was juicy like you wouldn’t believe. What set this corndog apart was the thick layer of breading hugging the dog that somehow managed to crisp up nicely and yet remain fluffy too. It also had very distinct cornmeal notes that I really liked. Truly, Disney’s creation was  heads and shoulders above every corndog I’ve ever eaten. Even the  grease dribbling down the stick and onto my fingers didn’t detract from the awesomeness.

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Veranda on Highland – Birmingham

Veranda on Highland is an elegant restaurant located in the heart of downtown Birmingham in a restored antebellum Greek revival mansion. Both the restaurants’ executive chef, Tom Robey, and dining room manager, Stanley Reynolds, are alums of Commander’s Palace, a New Orleans dining institution. Robey and Reynolds’ deep Louisiana roots influence Veranda at every turn, from the classic Cajun menu to the impeccable southern hospitality.

Our party of six—Chaplin family plus one—sampled Veranda’s fare during their Sunday Jazz Brunch service. We were seated in a private dining room that resembled a chapel due to the immense stained glass windows. As we perused the menu, we nibbled on sweet southern cornbread and banana bread and were serenaded by the jazz musicians.

When it comes to brunch, The Astronomer and I prefer dessert-y dishes like French toast with maple syrup. We had a hard time choosing what to order because Veranda’s brunch menu heavily favors savory items. Think eggs, eggs and more eggs. At the recommendation of The Astronomer’s parents, we started off with the 1-1-1 ($7)—a selection of three soups.

This morning’s trio included Jambalaya, turtle soup and butternut squash curry soup. Everyone at the table loved the sweet-as-pie butternut squash. It was so sticky sweet that I swore I tasted marshmallows! The Jambalaya and turtle were pleasant, but not traffic-stopping like the butternut curry number.

My entree, slowly braised Muscovy duck on a malt flour waffle ($15), was magnificent. The waffles were light and airy, while the duck was tender and dotted with tart dried cherries. The toasted pecan sugar cane syrup tasted killer atop both the waffle and duck and brought the dish’s two distinct elements together harmoniously.

I asked for an extra portion of the syrup to assure that every bite was doused with sugary awesomeness. Next stop, Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles. It’s pretty clear that poultry + waffles + syrup = delectable.

Since I ordered the menu’s lone sweet item and eggs are far from The Astronomer’s cup of tea, he settled on the crabmeat and Brie stuffed potato Pirogues ($12). We were expecting something along the lines of pierogies or boiled dumplings, but instead we received a plate of potato wedges topped with a green onion sour cream and spun vegetables. Our collective thoughts were, “Huh?”

It turns out that Pirogues are small, flat-bottomed boats associated with the Cajuns of the Louisiana marsh. The potato wedges appeared to be culinary interpretations of these historic vessels. Strange, but true. Taste-wise, The Astronomer was disappointed. The Pirogues were bland and awkward to eat.

Although I’d like to keep Birmingham a secret, their culinary scene is gaining nationwide notoriety. Check out this write up from the New York TimesBirmingham Has a Lot on Its Plates These Days. Shhh.

Veranda on Highland
2220 Highland Ave South
Birmingham, AL 35205
Phone: 205-939-5551

Veranda on Highland on Urbanspoon

Cajun Steamer – Birmingham

I traveled to Birmingham, Alabama on Christmas day to spend part of the holidays with The Astronomer’s family. While the majority of our meals were prepared at home, we also went out on the town a couple of times. Our first meal in the city was at the Cajun Steamer.

The Louisiana-themed restaurant was hoppin’ on the Saturday night we dined. The crowds didn’t seem to mind the long wait, which I hoped equated to excellent food. Our group of six was seated after thirty minutes.

The Cajun Steamer’s bill of fare focuses on New Orleans specialties. The Astronomer’s little bro Dan started dinner off with some fried farm-raised alligator tail meat ($8.95). Dan’s a generous young chap, so he shared his gator meat with the entire table. The batter tasted like classic Southern buttermilk fried chicken, while the meat was similar in texture to chicken nuggets, but tougher due to the abundance of cartilage in the alligator’s tail. The gator nuggets were served with cocktail sauce on the side.

Next, we shared the Cajun Steamer’s specialty—hot boiled crawfish ($10.95). I couldn’t believe that the enormous portion that arrived was only a half order! The crawfish were prepared Louisiana-style—boiled live in a large pot with lots of seasonings including salt, cayenne pepper, lemon and garlic. Do crawfish scream like lobsters?

The “How to Eat Crawfish” guide on the table was a big help since this was my first time digging into these crustaceans.

Say hello to my little friend. Slurping the spicy crawfish juice after ripping off its head was my favorite part. This starter was violent, but tasty. I just wished the crawfishes had more meat in them for me to sink my teeth into.

For his main entree, The Astronomer ordered a Louisiana Crawfish Po’Boy ($9.95), which was served on Gambino French bread and garnished with lettuce, tomato and creole mustard. The sandwich was served with a choice of side; The Astronomer picked the chicken and sausage Jambalaya. The Astronomer commented that the sandwich was a bit dry and difficult to eat because the little fried crawfish kept falling out. The side of Jambalaya contained too much liquid smoke for his palate. Overall, The Astronomer wasn’t thrilled with his entree, but not sorely disappointed either.

My entree, Cochon & Grits ($12.95), rocked the Cajun Steamer party. The dish was comprised of roasted Cajun pork butt with Creole Au Jus served over creamy grits, and garnished with corn and green onions. The tender pork meat was over salted, but the buttery and coarse grits helped to balance it out. Slow cooked, fall-apart-tender meat is one of my all-time favorite foods.

To accompany our entrees, we shared a side of cornmeal battered fried okra ($3.95), which were simple and satisfying.

We also shared a side of Hush Puppies ($3.95), which are small cornmeal breads deep fried in a spherical shape. The hush puppies were sprinkled with green onions and served with ranch dressing. According to Wiki, the name “hush puppies” is attributed to hunters or fishermen who would quickly fry corn meal and feed it to their dogs to “hush the puppies” during cook outs or fish frys. As an all-around appreciator of carbohydrates, I thought that the hush puppies were dense, flavorful and very appealing with or without ranch dressing.

The Cajun Steamer really hit the southern comfort spot.

We returned to Cajun Steamer during our September 2009 trip to Birmingham. This time around, we started with an order of coconut shrimp ($7.95). The large gulf shrimp, which were battered and dipped in roasted coconut before frying, were served with an orange marmalade dipping sauce. The abundant shards of coconut contributed to the shrimps’ outstanding texture. The marmalade sauce was too sweet for our tastes.

The table also shared an order of fried Boudin balls ($5.95), which were described as “hot and spicy pork with onions, rice, and herbs” on the menu. The Boudin balls, a cousin of Italian fried risotto balls, tasted fine but didn’t stand out enough to merit ordering again on a return visit.

My sauteed jumbo shrimp with tasso ham over creamy cheddar grits ($13.95) was really salty, but still quite enjoyable. I liked it more than the cochon and grits I ordered on my first visit because the shrimps offered a nice contrast to the salty bed of grits and ham.

The Astronomer’s Voodoo Chicken ($13.95) consisted of grilled chicken with a creamy reduction of white wine, caramelized onions, bacon, and crawfish. Garnishing meat with additional meat is a damn fine idea, especially when bacon and crawfish are involved.

The fried cheesecake dessert ($5.95) was a huge hit with the entire table. The texture reminded me of French toast sticks, while the melted innards were rich with slight hints of cream cheese. The bourbon caramel sauce was the perfect accompaniment. Plate. Licked. Clean.

Cajun Steamer
180 Main Street, Suite 200
Hoover, AL 35244
Phone: 205-985-7785

Cajun Steamer Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

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