Deep fried dishes and seafood galore is what you would expect in Louisiana and now also what you can expect in Vancouver at Cray Kitchen and Bar.
The restaurant, which prides itself in its casual vibe and Louisiana inspired grub is a fair representation of something you would find in The Big Easy, with a slight Vancouver essence.
Owner Jennifer Phan explained to me how it all began. “We have family out in Louisiana and when they came down to visit, they made crawfish/seafood boil for us to try. We loved it! We realized Vancouver was missing something like this so we had our family from Louisiana fly out here again to teach us the concept and help us set up. We’ve been working on this recipe for over a year and now, finally, Cray is born.”
Their menu boasts items such as lobster, king crab, shrimp, deep fried oysters, cod nuggets, calamari, andouille sausage, cajun fries and of course crawfish. If you’re not a seafood lover but still want to check it out they also serve chicken nuggets, crispy chicken wings, and even a Cray hamburger.
Although being tempted by many items on the menu I was ultimately there to test out the Van Eats CRAY-vings package.
With the package comes a 1/2lb of crawfish and a 1/2lb of shrimp with your choice of sauce.
I like things with a little heat and also like to test out restaurants’ “specialties” which is why I opted for their Cray Mix spicy sauce. The Cray Mix is a combination of fresh garlic (there are chunks still in the bag) butter (of course!), lemon, pepper and cajun spice. It’s like a swamp water in the sauce word; throw everything in to create something special that ignites all of your taste buds. I didn’t find that it was actually very spicy at all so if you like some punch opt for the spiciest and ignore the no refunds disclaimer on the menu, I’m sure you’ll be fine.
I’ve had crawfish in New Orleans and so remember being told to twist, pull and suck. There we peeled 10 lbs of crawfish no problem and here I struggled to peel a 1/2 lb. Maybe it was because I lost my touch, or maybe now I just can’t get over the idea of ripping the thing apart.
The deep red color of the sauce reminded me of blood, making me feel very barbaric and almost put off by the idea. Rest assured that it is in fact sauce, and a delicious one at that. The meat itself was boiled to perfection and was tender but still firm. It still amazes me that the decent sized crustacean only provides a tiny amount of food; you seem to do a lot of work for such a little reward.
The shrimp on the other hand, as I am exposed to them on a regular basis, were a piece of cake and seemed to offer more value for the effort involved.
Despite saying this and my comparison of the too, it’s nice to have a combination of something you may be more familiar with and something that seems alien to you. It’s easy to fall back on what you know but it’s more fun to step outside your comfort zone and experience something new. The package allows you to do that without making you feel that you broke the bank if you can’t make it through them all, which was the case for my friend.
Next on the menu was the deep fried portion of the night, complete with three cod nuggets, two deep fried oysters and cajun fries.
The cajun fries were fantastic, nicely salted and spiced with a crispy outside and a potatoey inside despite the fact that they were skinny fries. Those with a sensitive palate, be wary, as my friend struggled with them and went through four glasses of lemon water while eating them.
I was impressed with the cod nuggets as the cod was still moist and the batter was light enough that you could still taste the fish. Dipped in the chipotle aioli it was a nice alternative to being coated in tartar sauce (like most deep fried fish is served) although it was tasty with either of them.
The oysters were not my favorite to no surprise as the texture of them just doesn’t do it for me. Still, I ate them, satisfied with the combination of the thicker, uber crispy and salty batter with the tangy tartar sauce.
To finish off the meal, although not included in the package, we tasted the Rootbeer Float. I hoped that they might have some classic NOLA treats such as beignet’s but with the small size of their kitchen they are limited to what they can and can not have back there, which eliminates (at this time) the possibility to make them. Fortunately, I wasn’t disappointed by the alternative. The “straw” was a hazelnut rolled wafer (Pirouette style) and was a nice touch to the creamy, real root beer float. It was not overly sweet like you’d find at A&W, but with a unique flavour from their choice of ice cream and root beer. It was a nice way to finish the meal with the sweetness telling my tastebuds the meal is over and the coolness calming my mouth down from all of the spices.
In a city where people seem to like things handed to them on a plated both physically and figuratively, comes an unusual experience where you have to do the work yourself. It’s neither a pretty sight or a glamourous experience but an interactive, refreshing and memorable dinner out on the town.
For more high resolution photos check out my CRAY collection on Flicker.