Friday, February 22, 2008

Is it really that hard?

Ok, so...I'm a sucker for a good review. I'll spend days obsessing over which digital camera to buy. I'll obsess for months over a new television. It took me 2 years to decide on the last car I bought. I’m a firm believer in reading about other people’s experiences before committing to experience something for myself, and in my opinion there is no more important subject to critique than a restaurant. I know it’s all subjective and that tastes will most certainly vary but you can usually get a pretty good idea about a place just by reading some reviews.

Now, with that being said, let’s suppose for a few moments that from time to time you’re going to completely disagree in every way with every good thing you’ve ever read about a particular place. This is the case with today’s lunch spot, The Jumpin’ Catfish at I-35 and Antioch. This being the season of Lent and my wife being the devoted Catholic that she is, I thought it would be a good idea to try a little seafood for lunch today. I’ve read the glowing reviews, I thought I knew what to expect. I have to admit, I was excited. I’ve been driving by the building for years, never thinking much of it. Finally the day had come for me to try it.

When we walked in we were greeted by a lovely display of death: bears, opossums, you name it and it had been stuffed and posed in the lobby. “Ok, no big deal”, I thought. I was raised in a hunting family; it was going to take more than some stuffed wildlife to keep me away from what I’ve been looking forward to all week. We get to the table, talk, order. She has the “Jumbo” butterfly shrimp. I go with the jambalaya. I’m told that the jambalaya doesn’t come with the standard sides, which excites me a little since at this point I’m thinking it must be good if it stands alone.

Now, a little back-story is in order here. For the past several months I’ve been on a mission, a kind of food safari, if you will. I’ve been searching all over Kansas City for a decent plate of jambalaya. I tried The Power Plant, I tried the little Cajun place on the square in Liberty (which, not surprisingly is closed now). Always walking away disappointed I thought I’d give it just one more shot at the old Jumpin’ Catfish.

Moments of conversation pass and the server brings out the standard appetizers that I’ve been reading about. What would probably be a salad at a different restaurant are a bowl of white beans and a bowl of cole slaw at The Jumpin Catfish. Now, I’m pretty excited by this point…I mean, who serves a bowl of peppered white beans as a standalone precursor to a meal? This was going to be awesome and I knew it.

Fast forward another 10 minutes or so and our meals are brought out and sat before us. In front of my wife is a plate of medium-sized butterfly shrimp on a bed of decent looking potato wedges. However, to my dismay the server apparently misheard me when I said “Jambalaya” and instead brought out a smallish bowl of what looked like a ricey crap in its place. I’m not usually one to criticize but…wait a minute…what am I saying? This plate of stinky slop in front of me reminds me why I enjoy writing about food so much. I get to string together all sorts of words that I just couldn’t fit into my vocabulary otherwise. Grainy rotten cat food. Mushy fish throw-up rice stew. Maybe I’m going out on a limb here, but all the successful jambalayas I’ve tried in the past had a certain something…what was it? Ah yes, taste. Flavor. Something to mask the fish-musk emanating from the plate. Ok, in all fairness this is a seafood jambalaya. Some fish smell is to be expected and even enjoyed but this was more akin to the smell from the fish-cleaning station at the lake. Maybe a pond turning over.

I’m torn between condemning the small portion size and being thankful that they only saw fit to punish my lack of judgment with a smaller serving. Honestly though, if you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to eat little pieces of shrimp-flavored leather, you should check it out. In the interest of second chances though, I do plan on going back to The Jumpin’ Catfish sometime soon. As I regretfully tried to stomach my plate of sandy slop I happened to see someone sitting in front of a massive pile of fried catfish and was immediately very, very jealous. Maybe it was my fault. Who goes to a place with “catfish” in the name and orders the jambalaya?

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