It was a pouring weeknight, so there was that. No one was eating out that night.
But Crazy Pho Cajun, the new one in the heart of the International District, was a ghost town—a fact made all the clearer by the pulsing fluorescent lighting that renders the place almost radioactively visible from the street. Out of two rooms, our was the only table occupied through an hour-and-a-half of dinner.
From the buzz around town and among my friends, I had the clear suspicion that I’d love Crazy Pho Cajun, which fuses two of the world’s most vivid cuisines, Cajun and Vietnamese. A destination-worthy success in Federal Way, I thought the same would be true in Seattle.
And in fact, I did like it okay. The headliner, Cajun crawfish pho, was solid: a blend of fish and fire, throbbing with hot Andouille sausage to cool with the vegetables and herbs that go on top of pho. If it could have used more complexity, a little more intrigue, I’ve certainly had worse in this town.
(The Cajun vermicelli bowl, or bún, was another story. This one featured sautéed shrimp, crawfish, and Andouille, in a briny sauce that pulled off neither Cajun nor Vietnamese, but an odd flavor hybrid that was just unfortunate.)
I suspect we should have tried the shrimp boil, a straight-Cajun dish (there are also straight-Vietnamese dishes), as I think that the non-fusion items may be Crazy's strength. After all, the straight-Cajun appetizer we ordered, Cajun wings, were a marvel of crispiness and flavor. I would order those again in a heartbeat, if I went back.
But in spite of those terrific wings—I don't find myself eager to go back. And I’m pretty sure it was the tumbleweeds.
The psychology of the crowded restaurant is a well-documented phenomenon, based on what sociologists call social proof. Hungry people walking by a busy restaurant and an echoing one will invariably choose the crowded one, even if they’ll have to wait longer; an evolutionary holdover, no doubt, from when the first Neanderthal decided he could use that scary-looking root as a fragrant garnish for his Bloody Mary only after he spied enough of his buddies doing it and living to see the dawn.
It’s the thinking behind the no-reservations policies many restaurants began implementing a few years ago, as the resultant lines create a visible display of popularity.
So it stands to reason that the converse would pertain; that an empty restaurant would create a negative image. In this case, I have personal experience to attest that that image is not reflective of the quality of the service or all of the food--yet I'm still not eager to go back.
It's enough to make a restaurant critic--or a Yelper, for that matter--think hard about the impressions that go into the making of any given review...and where they came from.
And if they're fair.