Were it not for the yearly arrival of crawfish, Louisianians would likely enter a deep depression during the spring. Football season is over and won’t return anytime soon, Mardi Gras has come and gone, and summer is too far away for us to travel in order to forget our worries. So, like an angel descended from heaven, the crawfish swoops in to relieve us of our boredom.
Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind is that crawfish are one of the few foods that are always better when cooked at home. Most of the crazy Cajuns between here and Lake Charles have family recipes that eclipse anything a restaurant can put together. Sure, you can find great crawfish at a restaurant. But it won’t come close to anything you’ll eat that’s cooked by someone whose last name ends in “-eaux.”
Even so, Brooke and I were anxious to try Clesi’s since they opened last year. Their operation is simple, and simple is best when it comes to crawfish. They’ve got tables. They’ve got chairs. They’ve got a trailer where they boil a hell of a lot of crawfish, as well as one of the smallest kitchens you’ll ever see. That’s about it.
As this was our first outing to eat crawfish in 2016, we were more than ready to dig in to a platter. Which made it all the more agonizing when we were forced to wait about 20 minutes between placing our order and receiving our food.
I understand that this is a tiny operation, as I only saw about five guys working on a Saturday night. Between all of them, they had to boil the crawfish, take orders, run the food to the tables, make the non-crawfish items in the kitchen, and clean the place up. Maybe the solution to the slow service time is simply to hire more bodies, but whatever the fix, it needs to happen, as I saw every single guest waiting as long as we did, if not longer, for their food.
When our food finally did arrive, we were a bit bummed to see only sausage and potatoes as the sides. This might be a nitpick, but both Brooke and I love eating sweet and spicy corn along with our crawfish. Despite this, we were still excited to eat our first crawfish of the year. So I separated the tail from the head, peeled and deveined the tail, and was ready to be overwhelmed by flavor.
But I wasn’t overwhelmed by anything. Moreover, I hardly tasted anything. I knew something had to be wrong. So I ate another. Ah. There was the spice I was used to. Cayenne, garlic, the slightest bit of citrus for brightness. Delicious. This went on as I ate the next few crawfish, but then that pesky lack of seasoning popped up again. This happened throughout my entire platter, and I’d say that about 40% of my crawfish were plagued with blandness.
Likewise, Brooke didn’t find her crawfish to be seasoned at all after eating the first few. However, as she proceeded to eat, the heat began to linger and build, eventually building to a level of spice she liked.
It’s easy to figure out how this happened. Clesi’s boiled more than one pot of crawfish at one time (duh) and simply didn’t season one as much as the other. The two were mixed when being poured into an ice chest to be kept warm, and bam, just like that: inconsistency.
Webster’s Dictionary defines inconsistent as a 12 letter word for one of the worst traits a restaurant can have. OK, the book doesn’t actually say that. But it may as well, because it’s true. I’d be willing to bet that the majority of restaurants don’t close because they’re bad. They close because they’re inconsistent. Cooking good food is incredibly easy. Cooking good food over and over, night in and night out, is difficult. Hell, we’d prefer for a restaurant to be out-and-out bad. At least then we’ll know to never eat there.
Clesi’s was certainly not bad. It doesn’t hold a candle to our favorite crawfish restaurant in Baton Rouge, but it wasn’t so horrible that we won’t return. Truth be told, we live one block from the place, so we’ll likely be back at least once more this season. But the inconsistency is a problem that needs to be solved.
Food: Fair. About half of my crawfish were good, about half weren’t. Meanwhile, Brooke found that she had to get through half of her crawfish before she tasted any spices.
Service: Bad. Before anyone complains about my complaining, understand that I do not expect to be waited on hand and foot when going to a place like Clesi’s. But a 20 minute wait for crawfish that was already boiled and is just waiting to be scooped out of an ice chest is inexcusable. Additionally, during our meal we were continuously bothered by a man walking around the outside picnic tables asking everyone if they would give him a few crawfish. Brooke and I, along with a few other patrons, alerted the restaurant to this, and all of us were told they would handle the situation. But that never happened, and we continued to be approached by a guy who expected us to share food we’d just paid $6/lb for.
Atmosphere: Good. To its credit, Clesi’s does quite a bit for its atmosphere by doing nothing at all. The outdoor picnic tables and proximity to a neighborhood bar reinforce the feel of a family crawfish boil, almost making you forget that you’re at a restaurant. Just be sure not to sit downwind of the trailer on which they boil crawfish. Once you smell the carcasses, you’ll understand.
Overall: Again, we’ll almost certainly be returning to Clesi’s. We really do hope they’ll step up their game next time, as we desperately need a good place in New Orleans to eat crawfish. If every one can be as good as the seasoned ones on our platters, we’ll be in heaven.