#214: Crawfish Factory Seafood Restaurant

Tonight I was joined by my mom and grandmother for dinner at Crawfish Factory, Roseville’s newest seafood restaurant.  They opened just a few weeks ago in an old La Bou spot at Baseline and Foothills.  We arrived at 5:30PM and headed in.  The place is pretty big and wide open.  There is a lot of seating without it feeling cramped.  The high ceiling probably helps with that.  Of course, like many casual/family seafood restaurants, the decorations consist of fishing related items like nets and crab pots.  I was immediately reminded of a recent Family Guy cutaway where Peter is welcoming you into his seafood restaurant and says “We got boat parts on the wall so you know the crab comes from the ocean!”

They were not very busy yet, only one table and a handful of seats at the bar/counter were occupied.  We were greeted immediately and sat at a table towards the middle, well away from the other customers (a welcome move that I rarely think much about, but when you are sat next to the only other people in a dining room it’s kinda weird, and it’s happened to me a couple times just recently).  Our server, Haylee, greeted us and gave us a very detailed rundown of the entire menu, how to order and what comes with what. It was one of the most complete and informative intros I’ve had in a long time.  She ran through the appetizers, some basic entrees, specialty entrees and what each one included (rice or bread in some cases), seafood by the pound and the extras you can add to that, the combos and finally drinks.  It was overwhelming to say the least and we definitely needed time to process it all.  We ordered up our drinks, a couple glasses of wine for the ladies and I had a Heineken.  In addition to wine and beer they also offer sake.

We mulled the menu for quite a while, well mostly me.  My mom had quickly picked out the Garlic Noodles with Prawns [$14] and my grandma the Dungeness Crab by the pound which was on special [$11.99/lb.] (more on this in a minute) and a side of sweet potato fries.  I thought I might have the fish and chips but then my grandma gave me a bunch of crap because it was boring for a place like this.  I couldn’t really argue with that and started looking over the combos.  Eventually while they were placing their orders I made a last second decision and went with the Chef’s Mix (Combination of Snow Crab, Clams, Mussels, Shrimp, Crawfish w/ 2 corns & 2 potatoes)[$36.99].  It seemed to have a good mix of things that I wanted to check out.  Both the seafood by the pound and my combo come with a flavoring of our choice (Factory Signature, Fusion Cajun, Lemmon Pepper, Garlic Butter and Cajun Louisiana Style) and a choice of mild, medium or hot levels of spice.  We both went with garlic butter.  I do not recall her asking about the spice level, but based on the receipt we were given mild.  We also ordered the Tempura Shrimp with Mixed Vegetables [$12] to start.

Haylee went to go enter the order into the computer.  A few minutes later the manager stopped by to let us know that the Dungeness Crab special had a little catch which he wasn’t sure was explained thoroughly.  Normally $19/lb (if I recall him correctly) it was on special for $11.99/lb for the start of the crab season.  The catch is that as a whole crab, most weigh in closer to 2lbs, and it’s not something they are going to cut up to make a single pound serving, so he explained (and showed us on the market price board) that the price for 2lbs (or one whole crab basically) is $21.  Although it was more than she planned on ordering it was still a pretty good price and we all agreed that his explanation was clear and appreciated.  Haylee came back to apologize for not letting us know this ahead of time and admitted she didn’t fully understand it herself until now (understandable and yet also surprising given her highly detailed explanation of the menu earlier).

Once we had finally ordered (about 15 minutes into our visit) it took just about 10 minutes for the tempura appetizer to arrive.  As we all agreed when we picked it out, you can’t really go wrong with this, no matter where you order it.  It arrived with the usual tempura sauce and also a pinkish looking sauce that smelled and tasted an awful lot like thousand island dressing with a bit of a zing.  It was interesting, though I found myself going back to the more traditional sauce.  The plate contained a handful of plump shrimp, broccoli, zucchini, sweet potato, and green and red peppers.  It was all quite good.

We had only just started working on this when Haylee came by and told us that our entrees were actually ready to go if we wanted them, so we said bring them on.  Very quickly the table started to get very busy.  First she brought the pasta and side of fries, then followed with the two buckets of seafood.  The seafood was each in a bag.  She came back with several bibs and plastic gloves (that’s new to me).  She then pulled the bags out and placed each one in front of us.  This was a lot to take in.  I haven’t ordered like this in a long time.  I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that I don’t really like eating messy food with my hands, but there was no turning back here.  I suited up and dove in.

Starting with the crab, this was simple enough.  Armed with a fork, a leg cracker and my hands I went to work.  The snow crab was delicious as expected.  Everything in this bag was very hot at first.  Any hotter and it may have been difficult to manage using your hands.  It gradually cooled off but still remained quite warm, especially at the bottom where all the buttery, garlicy juice was.  I didn’t spend a whole lot of time on any one item, instead choosing to grab whatever looked the easiest to pull something edible from.  The mussels and clams were at the top of that list and I went back to them frequently.  I found the mussels to be probably my favorite item behind the crab.  They were incredibly flavorful and all of them were quite large.  The shrimp were huge.  I didn’t really have any idea what I was doing.  I was just pulling heads, squeezing tails and tearing shells and legs.  I felt like an animal.  It was delicious though.

I had less idea what to do with the crawfish.  The last time I remember seeing one of these was when I was a kid, camping with the family and we fished some out of a creek with pieces of hotdog.  I don’t even remember if we ate them or not.  The heads of these came off very easily and had a lot of juices inside.  The meat in the body and tail I had a little more trouble getting to.  Taste-wise there were probably my least favorite.  That’s not to say that they were bad, I just really liked everything else a lot more.  Even the corn and potatoes were pretty good, though I only picked at those a bit.

Eventually I stopped.  Partially because I did kind of feel full, but also because it was exhausting.  I peeled my gloves off which, after handling spiny crustaceans, had been punctured many times over and ended up leaving my hands covered in buttery sauce anyway.  For 2 lbs of seafood I think I did a pretty good job.

Crawfish Factory is a hell of a fun time and everything we had was great.  All the seafood seemed extremely fresh and the flavor was great.  I do kind of wish I had been asked about the spice level because I think medium would have been nice.  That’s about the only thing I can think of that I would have changed.  This was a great dinner.

Website: http://www.crawfishfactoryrestaurant.com

#213: The Monk’s Cellar Brewery & Public House

It’s been very quiet around here lately and the reason is that I was waiting for new places to open! Recently, a couple have done so. The Monk’s Cellar and Crawfish Factory have both opened within the last few weeks and had some time to get settled in. I’ll tackle Crawfish Factory next week.

Monk’s Cellar is a brewery and public house located on Vernon Street next door to Sammy’s Island Bar & Grill. If you have been to any of the downtown events over the summer you may have noticed them giving sneak peaks into the space as it was taking shape, or even sampling their beer at the recent Wednesdays On Tap events. They’ve definitely been putting their name out there for a while and it shows. I met my brother and his wife for dinner on Tuesday and the place was quite busy.

We arrived at 6PM and through the iconic wooden door (a similar door serves as their logo) we squeezed into a crowded entryway. Two groups were before us and soon a 3rd arrived behind us. The first was seated right away and the 2nd was told it would be about 15-20 minutes for a table, so I was ready to be told the same. Instead we were offered a hightop table that seated 6 (my brother and his wife also had their infant in his car seat). I guess the previous group wanted a normal table. We went ahead and took that and spread out with room to spare.

I always forget how far back the spaces on this side of the street go back. Inside it is a long and narrow with most of the normal tables in the back. Up front they have the bar and a mix of different small tables plus a counter/island that faces the main brewery room. Another brewing room is just past the bar where they have open fermentation tanks, although they weren’t using them at the time. As far as I’m aware, all the beer on the menu is brewed here, in house. Our high-top table and one other was directly across from the open-tank room. Past that is mostly normal seating, along with a kind of loungy looking corner with a couch and armchairs. This was filled for all but the moment in-between groups where I managed to snap a photo of it.

We had a little drink menu that was left with us and quickly our server introduced herself, then went off to get us water, a second drink menu and a regular menu as well.  Soon we ordered our beers.  There was a Bier Blanche (Belgian style white.  Light, citrus, fresh), an Abbey Ale (Belgian style dubbel.  Brown, raisin, full) and a London Porter (English style brown porter.  Dark, chocolate, balanced).  All were $5.  I’m guessing the “$3” on the menu refers to happy hour price, which had just ended when we arrived at 6, according to a sign outside.  All three were good.  The Abbey Ale was very flavorful without being overwhelming or having any one particularly potent note.  The Bier Blanche was nice and light with a very clear citrus aroma and flavor.  The London Porter was mine and tasty to the last sip.  It had a bit of a chocolate scent to it but I didn’t feel that carried through to the taste.  It was actually much less sweet than I would have guessed by the smell.  Very drinkable, especially with my fish and chips.

The food here seems like slightly upscale typical pub food.  I say that because I can’t say I’ve ever seen mussels or marinated olives in one before, at least not anywhere around here.  All the fries on the menu are duck fat fries, which I’ve usually only seen in gastropubs or food trucks.

We ordered the olives to start.  These came out in just over 5 minutes.  These were Crystal’s idea, I personally don’t care for olives like this.  I stick to plain old black olives.  These were very, very strong in flavor.  I had one each of the 4 types I saw in the jar and then decided I was done.  Branden & Crystal almost finished the rest and said they enjoyed them.

Our dinners came out less than 10 minutes after the olives, which was pretty quick from order time, less than 15 min total.  I had the Fish & Chips (ale battered, light & crispy, with duck fat fries and house-made tartar sauce)[$9].  Crystal ordered the Moules Frites appetizer (mussels & duck fat fires)[$10-half pound] and Branden got the Brewmaster Burger (spent grain, white bean & lentil burger, arugula, pickled onion, Gruyere, Russian dressing & garlic aioli, served with duck fat fries or salad)[$10].

Crystal enjoyed the mussels.  I didn’t even think to try one myself, I don’t think I’ve ever had one.  Her fries came with the same garlic aioli that came with Branden’s burger.  My fries didn’t so I shared hers.  Branden had actually ordered the salad with his burger but they mistakenly gave him fries.  He had wanted to try some of mine anyway so he just kept and ate those instead.  He said the burger, while obviously a big grainy, was pretty good closer to the center where he got a little bit of all the toppings in each bite.  Around the edges where it was more patty and bread was perhaps a little more boring, but he said that’s pretty normal for a veggie burger anywhere.

My fish was OK.  It was obviously right out of the frier because it was insanely hot and I had to pull it into a few pieces and let it cool off while I worked on some fries.  These duck fat fries are unlike any I’ve had before.  First off, they didn’t have the telltale aroma of duck, and were considerably less greasy than I expected (they’re still a little greasy like most fries, just not to the extreme levels of the duck fat fries I’ve had before).  The color was also very unique.  They were quite dark although not burnt or overcooked as far as I could tell, and the fact that all of ours looked the same seemed to indicate that this is how they make them here.  Flavor-wise they were fine, I honestly didn’t taste much if any duck flavor.  They were pretty good with the garlic aioli, and just fine by themselves.  The fish itself was also just OK.  It was as greasy as it was hot.  My cloth napkin was soaked with grease by the end of the meal.  Texture-wise it was perfect, very thin, crispy batter and buttery-smooth, melt-in-your mouth fish, but there wasn’t much flavor beyond the somewhat bland batter.  Honestly it was the house-made tartar sauce that stole the spotlight.  I don’t even really like tartar sauce that much, but when a restaurant makes their own it’s usually pretty good.  This was no exception.  It was thick and very flavorful.

The service was excellent. Our server came by at just the right moments when we needed something, like when we were ready to order or when we were ready for a 2nd round of beer.  Staff was constantly in motion, including the owners (not entirely sure if I recognized them both, but I definitely saw one of them there).  The noise level was pretty high, lots of hard surfaces for sound to bounce around on.  Overall I thought the food was fine.  The beer is the star here and it’s great that it’s from a local brewery right here on Vernon with a very nice place in which to sit and enjoy it.  I’m sure I’ll be back to try something else on the menu soon.

Website: http://monkscellar.com