- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 12, 2001

It's an unlikely combination a Thai chef and New Orleans recipes. At Lex Cajun Grill on Connecticut Avenue just above Calvert Street, the cooking is neither truly Cajun nor traditionally Thai. But it works and a new style of cuisine is born.
Lex is the name of the chef who, according to co-owner Young Tatiya, went to New Orleans to study that city's renowned style of cooking. Mr. Tatiya continues to send his chef to Louisiana every now and then to keep up with what's cooking down there. The result is a wonderful combination of traditional Louisiana dishes with an added lagniappe, as they would say on the bayou. (A lagniappe is a delicious something extra.)
On a summer's evening, the sidewalk terrace, one of at least a dozen on the block, is filled with young people enjoying the evening breeze and the hither and yon of the street.
Inside the restaurant, it's cool. The murals are of bayou scenes Mr. Tatiya's young daughter served as a model for one of them, lending an Asian touch with her basket of large crabs (a West Coast species which never saw a fresh-water bayou) the lighting is muted and the waiters are young and friendly.
Start with the truly sensational barbecued shrimp. They're not like Pascal's Manale's famous preparation in New Orleans (which aren't actually barbecued, either, but baked in butter, lemon, garlic and pepper), but they're the right stuff. Six large unpeeled, tender shrimp arrive bathed in a rich black sauce, redolent with spices and tamarind, and burning with pepper and Worcestershire sauce. The shrimp are easy to peel and even easier to eat. It is tempting to sop up the sauce with good French bread except that the bread (not even warmed) at the Cajun Grill tastes straight out of a plastic bag from the supermarket.
Cajun popcorn crawfish, served with a tangy remoulade sauce for dipping a jazzy version of mayonnaise as remoulade is defined in New Orleans, not France, is an excellent dish. The crawfish tails are battered in cornmeal and deep-fried. The Cajun Grill's version is tasty and tender; the little morsels could be a bit crisper, but the dish is a fine one.
Sausage on the grill is another delicious starter. Two large pieces of mild andouille sausage are nicely grilled and served with a fiery mustard, ginger and nut sauce. Another fine blending of two culinary traditions.
Entrees are substantial and very good. Pecan-crusted chicken breast is an excellent combination of textures: the inside is moist and tender, the outside crunchy and crisp with the nut of the South. The mound of green fettuccine with vegetables on which it sits is overkill; a few grilled vegetables would be ample to go with the chicken, but both the pasta and vegetables are well prepared.
Blackened chicken voodoo is essentially the same dish, without the pecans. Thin paillards of chicken breast are coated with a crisp, crunchy crust similar to veal Milanese, except this is chicken. The dish needs the juice of lemon to bring out the flavors. It too is served on a bed of linguine with vegetables. It's a light and satisfying dish.
Crab cakes bayou, although not a Louisiana dish, are enhanced at the Cajun Grill with a spicy green sauce. The crabmeat is free of shell and of good quality. The two cakes, served one atop the other, are separated by a round of breaded and fried tomato. It's an inspired idea as the tomato gives just the right moisture to the crab cakes.
A special of the day, roasted pork chop, proved to be an enormous chop, roasted to the fork-tender point, with a mildly spicy jus. This a new dish which will be kept on the menu if the customers like it. Neither Cajun nor Thai, it's a fine rendition of a substantial meat dish. Served with rice and slices of grilled zucchini and yellow squash, it's a winner.
For lunch, the chef makes an oyster po boy, a sandwich of fried oysters with bacon, tomato and coleslaw, as well as a New Orleans catfish version (fried fillet of catfish coated with roasted pecans). The Cajun burger adds chili and cheese to the standard beef patty.
Louisiana crawfish, either sauteed or etouffee in a rich stew, are served at lunch and dinner (considerably less dear at lunchtime). Pasta jambalaya, a mixture of shrimp, chicken andouille sausage and vegetables in a Cajun cream sauce is another dish served at lunch with penne and in the evening with fettuccine.
To cool our palates after the heat of our meal, we chose a lovely orange-scented creme caramel for dessert and indulged in a rich but not too sweet piece of pecan pie with vanilla ice cream. Both, prepared in house, are first rate.
Lex Cajun Grill serves a variety of imported and domestic beers which go well with the spicy food and has a good selection of wines by the glass. Not everything on the menu is spicy and each dish brings a surprise. This isn't exactly a New Orleans restaurant, but those barbecued shrimp could stand up to Pascal's Manale's on Napoleon Avenue.


RESTAURANT: Lex Cajun Grill, 2608 Connecticut Ave. NW; 202/745-0015
HOURS: Lunch 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily; dinner 4 to 10 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday and until 10 p.m. Sunday
PRICES: Appetizers and lunch salads $5 to $8; entrees $6 to $11 (lunch) and $15 to $22 (dinner)
PARKING: Difficult street parking.
ACCESS: Wheelchair accessible

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