In New Orleans, late winter months can bring many things, including an onslaught of king cakes and a seemingly inexhaustible calendar of Carnival events. It’s also the time of year when crawfish begin to appear everywhere, and any backyard get-together feels incomplete without a boiling rig.
Last year, New Orleans saw the arrival of a new way of serving crawfish dubbed “Viet-Cajun” crawfish, which are served with a spicy Asian butter sauce.
At BOIL Seafood House, a casual seafood restaurant on Magazine Street, Viet-Cajun-style crawfish are the highlight.
Diners make three choices. First, they select a seafood “catch” from a menu that includes local crustaceans — crawfish, blue crab and shrimp — and mussels, Dungeness crab and clams. Next, they choose a sauce ranging from a fruity Caribbean blend to Cajun or garlic butter. The third choice is the spice level, which ranges from low to extra high, but even the medium option packs plenty of heat. The BOIL House sauce is the most emblematic of the Viet-Cajun style, and mudbugs arrive doused in an addictive garlicky, buttery Asian-style sauce with a fiery kick.
There is a wide selection of seafood, but crawfish — when in season — seems to be the most popular choice. Rather than boiled, however, crawfish are steamed and doused in sauce before they are served to guests. Diners are presented with plastic bibs emblazoned with crabs, a tacky yet fitting touch.
The restaurant is the second project from Hieu Doan, whose family also runs Namese, a Vietnamese restaurant on Tulane Avenue. BOIL has a beach shack vibe, and its walls are coverd by murals of bayous with luminous sunsets that seem to glow beneath the restaurant’s dim lights.
The bar menu seems reminiscent of a Pensacola beach dive. Big mango margaritas ($10) are served in shakers that hold enough for at least three cocktails. While the serving size is generous, the drink was overly saccharine.
Oysters are available raw on the half shell, topped with caviar and char-grilled with herb butter and cheese. Asian-style char-grilled oysters are similar to the classic New Orleans recipe but arrive bubbling with mozzarella and spicy Asian chili sauce.
The lengthy menu also includes many snacks and sharable options, which enhance the eatery’s causal vibe.
Steamed mussels are served in a basil and coconut sauce with mild curry notes, a touch of sweetness and soft heat. A mixture of crawfish and shrimp fills doughy fried Bayou rolls, which arrive with a small salad and a fiery and funky version of Vietnamese nuoc cham dipping sauce. Crawfish beignets are heavy, and better versions can be found elsewhere.
The classic flavors of a New Orleans crawfish boil — lemon, garlic, crab boil spices — are not going to fall out of favor, but BOIL Seafood House and its Viet-Cajun crawfish are a welcome addition to the region’s time-honored traditions.