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[First Bite] Ruijin Cajun: Southern Heart Attack Food At The End Of The World

Jul 10, 2015 | 14:38 Fri
Ruijin Cajun -- the "good food by terrible people" Southern American heart-attack food concept -- has moved up from the fair and festival circuit and taken over the kitchen at Kangaroo Bar, a ten year-old dive on Yongjia Lu, near Constellation 2. Here we find two worlds colliding: the mostly-foreign followers of Ruijin Cajun, and the local university students who patronize the bar. They are united by the fact that everyone is raging hard. Think of this as a high-end Perry's, with good, terribly unhealthy Cajun food, party vibes, and high-octane drinks.

This is not a spot for serious conversations, marriage proposals, or job interviews. Ruijin Cajin is a place for merrymaking, or starting a night or week that turns into a total bender. It's like a Shanghai remix of New Orleans. You could bring your loudest friends here, and no one will mind.

A big part of the charm is the two guys running the kitchen, Nathan Power from Ann Arbor and Matt Rea from Louisiana. For the last six weeks, they've been there seven days a week, holding down the kitchen and staggering around merrily feeding customers free shots and creating loyalists with their winsome ways. Some new upstarts just don’t cut it, but they excel at creating welcome amongst the revelry . Coming from the south, Matt provides the soul of the menu -- let's get into that.

An étoufée is to Louisiana cuisine as curry is to India. Their crawfish étoufée (60rmb) has a solid balance -- not too heavy, not too light, with a richness of Cajun flavors in a brown roux. This fare is a bit lighter than other options, and gets served with white rice.

The swamp dog (45rmb) is by far the star of the menu, and napkins are a must. Their house-made andouille sausage is juicy, and smothered in a combination of shrimp étoufée and a house remoulade placed in a fairly soft dog bun. Yes. They also do Swamp Fries, for further artery damage.

The Surf & Turf Po boy (65rmb) sounds spectacular, but lands a bit more on the “meh” side. Then again, I’ve never really been a fan of fried shrimp on sandwiches / burgers. A bit too bready. But then again, this is a Cajun restaurant, so it’s not like you’d expect grilled shrimp.

The Eggplant Sticks (40rmb) are good, too. What makes them that way is the marinara-ish Creole tomato gravy. It’s not spicy, but a touch of hot sauce is the secret ingredient giving it that “kick” which makes you wish they’d sell jars to take home.

As for the bar, beer starts at 30rmb and they're doing New Orleans classics like Hurricanes and Hand Grenades. The latter has five shots, costing 60rmb, and hits harder than Katrina.

Later in the night, as punters get filled with these, the place can descend into madness reminiscent of C's Bar at it's wildest -- like it's really la fin du monde. Which type of madness, again, depends on whether the crowd is more Ruijin Cajun or Kangaroo. In the case of the latter, the music is more like "WHO LET THE DOGS OUT!?" But if Nathan is controlling the tunes, it's New Orleans funk and '50s rockabilly cuts. The music can be a bit loud at times, but the atmosphere remains fun.

So, we're getting decent Cajun food -- a novelty for Shanghai at this point -- with upbeat party vibes and what seem like high quality ingredients… at 2008 prices. The average menu item price is 41rmb. Two people could have a wild night for under 300rmb, including food to share, cocktails and shots each. Word on the street is they may bump their prices after they introduce their full menu, but +5rmb here or there is reasonable for what you get. Overall, a solid, messy, and unpretentious addition to Shanghai, and the swamp dogs are a must.

-- Jacob Flowers


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