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What's Cookin' Behind the Curtain - Blimey, Thar Be Some Cajun Grub to Pillage

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Every Friday, LAist is taking you on a trip down to Orange County to uncover the unique dining experiences that await adventurous eaters willing to explore beyond the county line.

Every week, we present you with a unique OC dining experience. Sometimes that means excellent food at an underappreciated local spot. Other times that means an interesting atmosphere or eating environment.

And then there’s Claws Restaurant. A newly-opened pirate-themed, Vietnamese-run Cajun joint. In the heavily minority city of Garden Grove.

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What’s interesting is that Cajun restaurants have become big business around Little Saigon and Garden Grove over the last couple of years, perhaps owing to the similarities in the French cultural roots of both Cajun and Vietnamese cooking (just think how perfect Sriracha sauce would be with your fried catfish). The gold standard is The Boiling Crab, which also just opened an Alhambra location a few months ago. But there are several imitators, of which Claws happens to be the latest.

So when I heard about Claws’ grand opening less than a month ago, I didn’t really take notice. Another place with an $8/lb crawfish boil. But then I heard it was pirate-themed, and went on the website and saw management promoting itself with statements like “if any pirate shall offer to run away without drinking beer shall be marroon’d [sic] with one bottle of diet coke, and pinched by the captain.” Oh yes, I’m there. I’m thinking this could be a real-life enactment of that Fresh Prince episode where Will works at that pirate restaurant to pay for his homecoming dance (OK no one got that last reference, but you can YouTube it here, here, and here).

And indeed, the restaurant looks like you walked into the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland, with life-size pirate figures, paintings of vessels, and skeleton-decorated banners strewn across the ceiling. About the only thing it was missing was the costumed help with a parrot on the shoulder (if Hot Dog on a Stick employees can be convinced to wear those ridiculous multi-colored, big-hat getups, why not make them wear eyepatches and peglegs). Of course, the eight tracks of Timbaland, Justin Timberlake, and Kanye West that were on blast didn’t exactly fit with the “Yo Ho” atmosphere.

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The menu is pretty standard fare, with all types of fried seafood, as well as crab, mussels, oysters, and clams. Traditional Cajun dishes like etouffee, jambalaya, and gumbo are available as well. However, given that these restaurants are known for their crawfish boils, I had to oblige (though Claws only serves crawfish from NorCal and not Louisiana). After having had fresh stone crabs in Miami last weekend, eating crawfish was kind of like downgrading from a Ruth’s Chris filet to a Norm’s T-Bone steak and eggs. Still, there’s always something primitively enjoyable about reaching your hand into that plastic bag, pulling apart those little crawfish and gnawing at the innards. Suck the head, eat the tail, right? I ordered a pound, spicy, with Claws’ cannonball flavor (a mixture of Cajun, garlic butter, and lemon pepper seasoning). The spices were robust, and after about three crawfish, all I could feel was burn, and occasionally garlic. But the spice mix was tasty, and even today I’m getting hungry smelling the remaining residue on my fingers that I haven’t been able to get rid of overnight. As far as the crawfish meat was concerned, the choice tail pieces had the familiar crustacean taste, though prying them open killed my fingers. I even went all out and sucked up the body meat, with the uncomfortable combination of chewy, liquidy, and crunchy comprising the various textures of the body and organs, and that unmistakable flavor (for lack of a better word) of those components. And anytime I my taste buds got too overwhelmed, I had my trusty friend Sam Adams there to give me a hand.

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I also ordered the gumbo, which was a perfectly good pot of shrimp, andouille sausage, mussels, and fish mixed in a brown roux with okra, celery, bell peppers, and onions. After some Wikipedia research, I determined that the inclusion of tomatoes in the roux made it more Creole-style than Cajun-style. Either way, I’ll gladly have me some more of it. You have the option for with or without rice, but interestingly enough, the rice was mixed into the gumbo like a jambalaya as opposed to served on top of rice.

And since I needed something to help absorb the spices of my crawfish, I picked up an order of fried okra (bah health, save the corn for another day). Lightly breaded, and served with a side of ranch, the okra made a nice little bite-size side. In fact, I think bars should serve fried okra; they taste lighter than fries and give you the juiciness of a green vegetable, as opposed to the starchiness of a potato. The okra were simply seasoned with salt and pepper; certainly nothing gourmet here, but good old-fashioned finger food.

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If you happen to hurry down there this weekend, Claws is finishing its grand-opening promotion which features 20% off your ticket, free soda, and $2 domestic beers (please remember to drink responsibly, drinking six beers is still not going to put out that fire on your tongue). And they even hooked me up with a little portion of coconut jello for dessert.

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Yes, it seems a little counterintuitive to make a trip to Westminster/Garden Grove and eat anything but Vietnamese (or Korean) food. I’m not one to vouch for the authenticity of Cajun food, but I think you could do much worse. And there aren’t even any pirates holding a sword to my throat to make me type this.

Claws Restaurant
12093 Brookhurst St. #E
Garden Grove, CA 92840

All photos by Ryan Young for LAist