Friday, March 13, 2009

Ragin' Cajun

The original Ragin' Cajun on Richmond inside the Loop is over 30-years old. Although the Mandolas have turned it into a small chain, the original doesn't feel like a chain.

I first discovered RC as a Rice student. It was where I had some of my earliest tastes of boiled crawfish, cajun red beans, and oyster po boys.

When my Rice-friend Lizzette suggested RC for lunch last week, I had not visited it in ages. We found that in the past 20 years, the prices have gone up -- and there are a few new rooms. But the restaurant feels the same.

The walls are covered with faded college sports posters and Louisiana paraphernalia. And on a Friday, during Lent, it was full of customers.

Red Beans

RC's red beans is a classic Louisiana dish. It looks like a beautiful work of art, or rather folk art:

RC's red beans make an interesting comparison with Treebeard's, where I had eaten a few days earlier. RC covers the beans with white onion. Treebeards uses green onions.

But the bigger difference is flavor. Treebeard's beans taste a little more complex. RC's beans have a pastier texture and taste one- dimensional.

In cooking beans, I have found that complexity comes from using ingredients like onions, celery, green pepper, and bay leaves. I suspect that both restaurants use all those ingredients But Trebeard's may just use more -- or cook them longer. I also think Treebeard's beans may have more fat, which smooths the texture and spreads the flavor.

Still, complexity doesn't matter much when you eat red beans like I do -- covered in tabasco sauce. After a liberal dose, I didn't notice a difference.

Boiled shrimp

Lizzette ordered the better dish -- shrimp with cajun seasoning and a remoulade. Fortunately, she was not hungry enough to eat them all:

The spice mix tastes like the same spices that go into RC's boiled crawfish. It is fairly hot.

But these shrimp stood out more because of their quality. I had two bad batches of shrimp earlier in the week -- a shrimp dish at Dharma Cafe and some shrimp I cooked at home from Central Market. Both had an overwhelming flavor of iodine and little fresh-shrimp flavor. But RC's shrimp had that distinct flavor of shrimp straight from the ocean. And the flavor stood up to the heady spices.

Given the nearness of Louisiana, I am surprised Houston doesn't have more Louisiana restaurants. But we do have the Ragin' Cajun. And for casual cajun food, it's pretty good.


Powergirl said...

I ate at Ragin Cajun for the first time this week. It was inedible. I left very hungry. The gumbo was awful - so salty I couldn't eat it. I was in NOLA the week before and ate two bowls of amazing gumbo. The "frnch bread" was an awful tasting bun of some sort. Yuk!

"Bob" said...

After a long hiatus, I was pretty disappointed in Ragin Cajun last time I was there a few months ago. Gumbo seemed thin, and oysters were small and mean. Even the po-boy bread did not seem as good as I remembered. I've been happier with all those more recently at Mardi Gras (f/k/a Floyds)on Durham. Glad to hear the shrimp were sweet & fresh on your visit, although perhaps your issue with iodine relates to Robb Walsh's contention that local shrimp simply has that flavor attribute vs other locales?

"Bob" said...

Here are the links to Robb Walsh's posts from the Houston Press blog in Oct 2007 expressing his difference of opinion with Alison Cook re iodine flavor in local brown shrimp:

Which is not to say that un-fresh shrimp might also produce a truly unpleasant iodiney taste!

Alice said...

I use to eat crawfish at Ragin Cajun until I found Boiling Crab. Now I'll never go back.

personalcheffy said...

RC's red beans is a classic Louisiana dish.

Um. People in Louisiana DO NOT put cheese and onions on their red beans. I never saw this until I moved from there to Houston. Red Beans and rice are not chili people. Please get that straight!

Anonymous said...

RC is over priced for what you get. I prefer Mardi Gras Grill on N. Durham.

Anonymous said...

I'm a Louisiana native, grew up in Lafayette. I've eaten at RC several times. I have to agree with one of the previous posts. We do not put cheese and onions on red beans and rice where I come from. I also noticed that the red beans at RC seem to have chili powder or something to that effect in the beans which is perhaps why folks treat this stuff like chili.

The gumbo there is average at best. When I go, I get the po-boys. Those are decent if you need a quick fix (not nearly as good as what you get in New Orleans but it will do in a pinch). I was kind of excited when I moved here and found the place because I thought with all of the old USL stuff it would be original but I've been underwhelmed.

anonymouseater said...

Cheese and onions on chili? You must be joking. That would ruin it.

In Texas, we only put them on red beans.


Anonymous said...

i second alice's opinion - boiling crab's "whole shabang" is amazing!