For the Funnel of It
Vietnamese Cajun crawfish with funnel cake for dessert? Today, Q Restaurant. Tomorrow, the world
Have you caught on to the Vietnamese Cajun-crawfish craze yet? If youNve read these pages or the LA Chowhound bulletin board over the past few years, youNd know it started sometime in the past decade in OCNs Little Saigon at a place called CafN Artist, which is generally recognized as the first Vietnamese restaurant around these parts to serve it.
Since then, others have taken the lead, most notably Boiling Crab, whose hour-long wait times at its two Garden Grove stores are as consistent as their nautical theming is cheerily cheesy. And as with any successful idea, more jumped on the bandwagon. These days, you canNt go a mile on Bolsa without seeing a “live crawfish” sign somewhere; the phrase is second only to the word “pho” in frequency.
But I think I just might have seen the next mini-trend rising like a deep-fried golden sun over the horizon of the bubbling crawfish cauldron. When every Vietnamese Cajun-crawfish joint is serving funnel cakes for dessert, remember that you first heard about the phenomenon in these pages and that I witnessed its humble beginnings at Q Restaurant.
This hole-in-the-wall mom-NnN-pop seems to be the first to attempt the disparate pairing. I hope it isnNt the last because if there were two more unrelated foods that should be seen on a menu together, they are crawfish and funnel cake.
Upon first hearing about it, the very concept struck me as absurdly fun. After all, it takes the same zeal to attack a mound of cayenne-covered crawdads as it does a whipped-cream-topped disc of deep-fried cake batter. And if you could chase the celebratory food of a New Orleans Mardi Gras with the classic county-fair dessert, why wouldnNt you?
ThatNs precisely what is possible at Q Restaurant. But you wouldnNt think so at first. The place is more well-appointed than a food-to-go bánh mì shop, but not by much. There always seem to be middle-aged men—who may or may not be associated with the restaurant—milling about and chain-smoking outside.
Inside, a flat-screen TV is tuned to some Vietnamese variety show featuring either ballroom dancing, singing or comedy skits non-Vietnamese-speakers wonNt understand. But as soon as you arrive, a diminutive but outspoken Vietnamese woman—who is unmistakably the proprietor—will greet you brightly, give you a sticky laminated menu and tell you to sit wherever you like at one of her few tables.
If you ask her how much of her crawfish you should order, sheNll proudly state that she can consume 2 pounds by herself and suggest that you buy at least 3 pounds to feed two. And when she goes back to the kitchen to prepare it, you will be puzzled when you detect the distinct clangs of a wok and smell the sizzle and scent of a stir-fry. ItNs then that you wonder: Is that our crawfish boil sheNs cooking?
It is, indeed, your crawfish. Moments later, the woman will return with an arm-wide platter of the crustaceans, now billowing steam and coated in a spicy sauce. To be fair, the term “crawfish boil” is never used here. And though the interpretation leans more toward the Chinese than the Cajun, all the traditional Nawlins components are honored . . . sort of.
She employs roughly cut russets instead of red potatoes. And yes, thatNs sliced hot dog subbing for the andouille. But the seasoning still smacks of lemon, butter, garlic and ZatarainNs, all “kicked up a notch” (to borrow a term) with a hint of sugar, a smattering of sliced onions and chopped scallions.
This nuanced brew, slightly brownish and hellishly hot, seeps deepest into the corn on the cob and leaves your lips throbbing for hours. You must ask for rice, even if it will cost you a buck extra for a bowl. ItNs required to blunt the scorching effects of the sauce. The mudbugs, however, will be the focal point of your efforts and the relentless bringer of the burn.
Budget about a half-hour per pound for twisting off crawfish heads, puckering your lips around the thorax to suck out its swampy pea-green innards and extracting the sweet, succulent, precious money meat from the tail. Take your finger-licking good time.
If youNre still hungry—entirely possible since crawfish are notoriously light on meat—you can order from the regular menu, which includes noodle soups, a few rice dishes and appetizers such as banh khot, thick but tiny popovers topped with shrimp and served with the requisite herbs and lettuce to wrap them in. None of the other dishes is as revelatory as the crawfish, but the funnel cakes are.
Ask for it when youNre almost finished with your crawfish mound. That way, when the confection is ready, you can enjoy it while the lacy edges still crackle and the powdered-sugar dusting hasnNt yet clumped.
YouNll also notice that the funnel cakes are advertised to be only $2.99, but thatNs just for the plain. Splurge the extra few bucks for the fruit toppings, especially the mango. Immaculately juicy and sweet at the optimum point of ripeness, it is the natural foil to the crunch of the funnel cake beneath. Not used to seeing mango on a funnel cake? Well, 10 years ago, youNd have said the same thing about Cajun crawfish in Little Saigon.
Q Restaurant, 15454 Beach Blvd., Westminster, (714) 889-1580. Open daily, 8 a.m.-9 p.m. Crawfish, $6.99 per pound; funnel cakes, $2.99-$6.99.
Before becoming an award-winning restaurant critic for OC Weekly in 2007, Edwin Goei went by the alias “elmomonster” on his blog Monster Munching, in which he once wrote a whole review in haiku.