I'll give it to the Red Lobster for their TV ads, which capture the moment of squeezing lemon onto a steaming lobster tail in such up-close slow-motion really does make their food look appetizing; and they had my wife hooked like Homer Simpson to the Frying Dutchman. The problem being that those sailors that eventually dragged Homer out of the Dutchman (Season IV, Episode 8) would have to find me and drag me in to a Red Lobster.
'Tis no man. 'Tis a remorseless eatin' machine!
And my poor wife from Mexico misses her seafood so --especially shellfish. But as smitten as she was by those entrancing drops of citrus floating slowly across the TV screen toward glowing red crustacean, in the end I decided that what she was really telling me was: "Take me to eat some fabulous shellfish in this dry, far-from-the-ocean town you dragged me to." I crossed my fingers and made a reservation for us and 12 of our close friends at Denver's own The Red Claw.
Normally for a husband to take a wife's very clear and literal words and try and interpret them otherwise in order to avoid something he definitely didn't want to do--on her birthday-- would be like getting her the proverbial bowling ball (once the Simpson's analogies start, I can't stop). I admit, it was a bold move. But I had to. Friends--not to mention spouses--don't let each other eat at Red Lobster if they want really good seafood and have never been to Red Lobster so aren't going for the nostalgic factor. Especially when places like Red Claw are around.
The Red Claw is very much on the opposite speccturm of mass-produced and commonplace. If Red Lobster is Kenny G being played in a hotel elevator, then The Red Claw is the Gorilla Biscuits playing at CBGBs in the 80s. A mix of the spicy hot Vietnamese and Cajun-style cuisines, The Red Claw is a unique concept that I have been meaning to try for some time.
The idea of mixing Vietnamese and Cajun cuisines makes sense and it isn't a new one. With enough Vietnamese putting down their roots in our country's South, it was only a matter of time before they started cooking the food from that region. The propieter of The Red Claw is a first-generation Vietnamese man from Arkansas who learned to cook Cajun in New Orleans. He moved to Denver not long ago and with him brought this new tradition.
We kept it pretty simple being our first time there and started with some grilled mussels. This typical Vietnamese dish was a little dry but flavored nicely with things like spring onions and lemongrass. It had a subtle flavor that allowed the mussel flavor to stand out.
Next up was a plate of Vietnamese spring rolls. In addition to typical meats like chicken, shrimp and beef was a delectable and respectable serving of deep-fried softshell crab.
These do-it-yourself rolls were good with that lovely crab, though were missing the fish-sauce dipping bowl that I am used to from the neighboring restaurants like New Saigon and Saigon Bowl. Still, once I rolled up that rice paper around mint, lettuce, carrots, cucumber, rice noodles and blue crab it didn't matter so much--but it would have made these good rolls great. And if I learned anything in college, it was how to roll a fat, tight--but not too tight-- er, spring roll.
I believe we got ours with the house cajun blend. We eventually tried four or five of the six flavor options and they were all good. What really mattered was that this crab was amazing, and amazingly well-priced at $2.95 per crab.
At this point, I will say, my wife was beaming with happiness as she sucked succulent flesh from claw, and gutted her poor, delicious crab until it was nothing more than a shell. We were all feeling quite gluttonous, what with our plastic lobster bibs and feast of meal. And I, for some reason sitting at the head of the table, felt like a king, especially given that the nights main course was set down very literally at my feet: two large buckets of freshly boiled crawfish.
The crawfish were the highlight of the night. The crawfish tail is remarkably flavorful; and there is nothing quite like sucking out whatever encephalonilike miscellany comes out of the head. In a word they were amazing, and their limp shells piled up with amazing quickness on my plate.
By the end of the meal I was dripping in sweat. Not only because the sickly AC unit in one far-away corner did little to cool this west-facing building on another 100-degree afternoon; and not just because of the fire-hot cajun blend--no, I was still waiting to hear my wife's words of approval for bringing her to the Red Claw instead of the much plainer Red Lobster.
And of course I did get it (or I wouldn't be writing this today). And in the end she really just wanted to crack claws and suck flesh from shells. And she did, much more deliciously than she could have at Red Lobster. The Red Claw proved to be excellent in every way--from the friendly, helpful servers to the fabulous food. We will be back again and again to work our way through their extensive menu--especially the interesting and inviting "Drinking Food" section.
The proverbial melting pot of the great United States does not always turn out well, but The Red Claw and its broader concept reinforces the idea that two far away cultures can come together very easily and work together very well. And just like that a new tradition is born. Authenticity is re-defined. I love this country. Happy belated Independence Day. Hope you celebrate with something as uniquely American as The Red Claw.