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Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Familiar Asian dishes meet Southern Cajun cuisine at new restaurant Cajun Feast

UC Davis alumni open student-oriented restaurant in downtown

The formerly abandoned UC Davis bookstore located near the corner of 3rd and A St. is now the sight of an unfamiliar culinary experiment. Cajun Feast combines Southeast Asian cuisine with the Creole-French influenced decadence of Cajun flavors. Co-owner Larry Wong wants to give students the sit-down experience on their terms and within their price range and, as a former student, he may have just gotten it right.

The interior is clean and minimalist, yet warmed with wood and copper accents. The crowd is made up of both students and Davis residents, which speaks to Wong’s intention to reflect the local Davis landscape. Situated on each table is a copper “beer tower” that’s a step up in presentation from a pitcher — a small addition that elevates the dining experience for students. It’s also an interesting way to incorporate tactile eating, as diners can turn the faucet handle to pour themselves a glass of beer. A beer tower starts at $20.

“It’s a casual eating cafe,” said Wong. “There’s nothing fancy about it.”

Wong, a former UC Davis civil engineering major who works in the construction industry, talked about how he came to start a restaurant. 

“I’ve always wanted to invest in the restaurant industry, but every time I had to pass on it,” Wong said. “It wasn’t my time yet.”

He expressed his personal experiences with Asian cuisine and how being introduced to Cajun food inspired his desire to bring together the best of both worlds. 

“I pull inspiration from different areas [of the world] that I’ve been to,” Wong said. 

The first time I tasted the food, I could tell it was clearly Cajun-inspired. The savory smell of garlic and butter in the garlic noodles immediately showcased the French influence that’s a cornerstone of the cuisine. It was topped with fresh cheese and shallots. I admire that the meal was light and creamy at the same time. 

I was supposed to “try” the noodles, but I ate a whole bowl as we spoke. Priced at $5 for a large bowl, good affordable food is their expertise. Wong wants it to be a student go-to — and I’m sure it will. 

“The prices are suited for students,” Wong said. “I was a student once. I’m hoping to be able to make this into a canteen. [Students] can stop by for a quick bite and head out.”

Three large, whole shrimp came next. I’ve never experienced taking apart a whole shrimp, beady eyes and all, so this was a fun first for me. I enjoyed the tactile component. It’s fun to play with my food, but in a mature way. They were served with a peanut sauce that had a tangy cayenne back-of-the-throat spicy flavor.

I went home with chicken skewers that were accompanied by the house peanut sauce. Again, I liked being able to have hands-on experience. The chicken is blackened and juicy and when dipped in the peanut sauce, easily devourable. 

There is a spice-o-meter on the menu, and at the top is “Hell.” I asked about the few people who have tried the “Hell” level, and the consensus is that it lives up to the name. 

 As returning members of the Davis community, the Cajun Feast family wants to include students in their success. 

“It’s very important to me [to hire students] because they want to learn as we want to teach,” Wong said. “One thing about me is that I love to teach. This is a great way to start.” 

The menu and more information are available on their Yelp page and website

Written by: Josh Madrid — arts@theaggie.org

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