Chomp: Three continents of cuisine under one roof at Texas Seafood
By by todd email@example.com
Nov. 23, 2011 at 5:23 a.m.
Updated Nov. 24, 2011 at 5:24 a.m.
When a restaurant of modest means prepares food from three continents, dabbling in dishes that are probably far removed from the chef's expertise, I tend to stay away - far away. Because most restaurants need focus. This means a menu that specializes in a single regional cuisine or, if it's good enough, just one dish. Like a pizzeria. Or a steakhouse.
But when a restaurant shatters this rule, as Texas Seafood does, and succeeds with a variety of foods both exotic and familiar, as Texas Seafood also does, you have to appreciate it all the more. Kudos to the versatile chef whose kitchen can set sail for several destinations overseas and arrive at each one in style, with only a hint of turbulence along the way.
When confronted with such eclectic fare, the challenge for any serious eater is knowing where to start. On the Texas-Louisiana Gulf coast? The rocky shores of Maine? The back alleys of Saigon? Or along the via della Scrofa in Rome? I can't possibly discuss them all, but because since the menu's motto is "Don't let your friends eat import [sic] shrimp," I'll start in familiar waters, with the seafood.
The Grilled Stuffed Red Snapper ($14.99) appears as a row of curled shrimps piggybacking on top of a flat fish, pointing their triple tails at a lemon slice below. The snapper is mild, firm and all the more gentle against the bold, peppery attitude of the crabmeat stuffing.
The jumbo shrimp are jumbo in both size and flavor; the pink tails make the perfect handles to steady your crustacean while tearing through the meaty morsels of its thick, rippled body.
While it doesn't look blackened, the aroma of flames radiates on the tongue.
Broccoli and zucchini, served on the side, are cooked to keep their crisp.
While the fried seafoods arrive with less flair, they make up for it in crispiness. Light on the grease and heavy on the crunch, the fresh oysters, catfish, and crawfish are variations on the same satisfying theme. Alligator, sadly, is no longer available, though my waiter insisted this was because of a temporary shortage.
Having slurped through countless bowls of fish stew while growing up in Maine, I had mixed feelings about the New England clam chowder ($5.99). It's not excessively corn-starched, the cardinal sin of most chowders. But a fishing expedition with my soup spoon yielded just a few tiny clams. A soft, Nerfy log of garlic bread is semi-submerged in the soup, sponging up the creamy broth while adding a note of sharpness.
The gumbo ($5.99) is hard to figure, with its seemingly Asian preparation. The thin broth has a color, consistency and spice mix that's redolent of hot and sour soup. It comes with a side of plain white rice to help moderate the heat. Texas Seafood earns points for originality here, but the chunkier, more traditional offering at P.J.'s remains the Crossroads' gold standard for gumbo.
The Combination Noodles ($8.99), in soft or crisp varieties, are bathed in the closest thing to Indian curry in the Crossroads. Ingredient-wise, it's a kitchen sink sort of a dish, containing slices of chicken, green peppers, shrimp (puny, distant cousins of the jumbo), crunchy corrugated cabbage, broccoli, and a nest of firm yellow noodles that soften as the clock ticks.
When Texas Seafood gets it right, it's one of the best restaurants in the Crossroads. When they don't, it's merely above average. So, more than elsewhere, the trick is knowing what to order. And the answer, for the most part, is to stick with the seafood entrees, grilled or fried.