So I had a meeting in Elk Grove Village and entertained thoughts of hitting True World Market on the way back, but wound up having to grab something in a business lunchy type setting (that did not involve asking them to carve off pieces of toro and plop them straight in my mouth-- the suggestion of Japanese was generally rejected, in fact). So we wound up at the place I've always whizzed by while heading to Mitsuwa or something Japanese out there: Pappadeaux's Cajun Seafood Whatsis, at Arlington and Algonquin.
Like so many things in the burbs, it is huge (imagine the Sulzer Library turned into a restaurant) and nonetheless packed to the walls at lunch. It is also aggressively, aggressively ersatz, movie-set-like in its gleamingly modern evocation of a Louisiana bayou crabshack that also happens to be a Lexus dealership.
Calvin Trillin used to joke about the sort of unfocused "continental" cuisine that they served all across Generica at La Maison de la Casa House. But as Americans have become more aware of ingredients and regional cuisines, the problem is no longer that everything is sorta half-French in a regression-to-the-bland-middle kind of way, but that food becomes a bizarre multicultural experience-- the waiter has barely gotten words authentic Cajun out of his mouth before he's telling us about the Alaskan salmon in the tomato pesto sauce with melted jack cheese. It was hard to keep a straight face as every special suggested the collision of two individually respectable dishes into a state of sensory overload in which the only sensible thing to do with a poorboy sandwich is eat blue-cheese-stuffed flounder on top of it in a vodka horseradish bechamel. You know, like they do in Nawlins.
Somewhere around the Death by Chocolate Covered Okra I found it impossible to concentrate on the 64-page menu and was desperately thankful for the revelation that the back page had a simple, 30 or 40 item lunch menu. It took me about ten seconds after that to order crawfish etoufee and be done with the damn thing. Could they screw up a dish like that?
Well, no, it wasn't wretched. Perhaps there's a regional Louisiana airline that serves blander crawfish etoufee. But it was deeply ordinary, a sad end for the several dozen crawdads who died to make my supersized portion. The overall effect I think was like that of a big summer movie like Men in Black II or Pearl Harbor that announces its arrival for months and months at enormous expense and promises a certain sort of excess, and turns out to be neither surprisingly okay (like Spiderman) or memorably ghastly (like Godzilla) but simply... ordinary in a completely unmemorable and ignorable way. Maybe if it had had blue-cheese flavored bok choy pesto and a tamari mole on it, that would have created enough density of flavor that I would have been fooled into thinking I'd liked it; but it was just etoufee, made in the authentic style of the Lutherans of central Iowa. A year from now I will stumble across this post and that will be the first time I remember that I ever even went there.