They’re partnering with Cajun Deli owner Thien Ly and opening Grand Catch.
“It’s our ode to Cajun seafood boils,” said Sameh Wadi (pictured, above, in a Star Tribune photo). “The idea came to me years ago, when I started hanging out at the Cajun Deli in Brooklyn Park, and I fell in love with the way that Thien — we call him T — cooks. He’s Vietnamese, his wife is Laotian, and their food is so exciting and familiar, but exotic and new.”
Wadi, a spice expert, became obsessed with the spices that Ly was using. “I asked him about the details, and he made it a game,” said Wadi. “You know, ‘What do you think?’ ”
Wadi was flummoxed.
“I couldn’t really tell, and it was really stressing me out. I was going insane,” said Wadi with a laugh. Several days later, the solution dawned on him: black cardamom.
“That has a very distinct flavor profile, one that’s not a part of Cajun food,” said Wadi. “But it’s certainly part of Vietnamese cooking, and Middle Eastern cooking, and that’s how I was eventually able to pick up on it. And that’s when I realized that T had taken a slightly different spin on the classic Louisiana fish boil, by introducing a Vietnamese structure to it.”
He was hooked.
“I spent three years eating in the restaurant, hanging out in the kitchen,” said Wadi. “We finally got to this point where I was, like, ‘I want to open a restaurant with you.’ And that’s when we decided to open a seafood shack. I’m really excited to see how it will grow and evolve.”
At its core, the menu will embrace seafood boil structure. “We’ll have the traditional Louisiana style, with the spices mixed in, and a broth-ey liquid,” he said. “Or a naked version, or a garlic-butter version.”
Specials, too. “I want to be bring in some exciting flair,” said Wadi. “Maybe a chile crab, or crab with fermented black beans, or Hong Kong style with black pepper and ginger, or something Indonesian style, just riffing on things you wouldn’t find at a traditional Cajun fish boil. But the core value will always be that Cajun fish boil, with a bit of a riff on that Vietnamese/Middle Eastern connection.”
Other items will include po’ boys, a few appetizers and some side dishes, with seasonal seafood brought in from Louisiana fisheries, taking advantage of Ly’s work in that industry before moving to Minnesota.
A full bar, too. “I’m excited about creating cocktails and selecting wines and beers that will pair with this spice-forward food,” said Wadi.
The spot? 1672 Grand Av. in St. Paul, in the home of the short-lived Grand Central.
Wadi said that the design will have a “slight nautical theme, but nothing overly kitschy,” and more finesse than the standard fish boil hole in the wall, with the too-bright fluorescent lights and plastic everything.
“It’s going to be a little more ‘young’ than what we’ve done in the past,” he said. “It’s funny, but the older I get, the more I want to do younger things than I’ve done in the past. There I was at 23, opening a fine-dining restaurant [Saffron Restaurant & Lounge, which closed in late 2016 after a 10-year run]. Now, I’m 34, and I want to open something that feels 22.”
They’ll also take full advantage of the “gorgeous” alleyside patio, he said.
As for the opening date, Wadi is saying, “Soon," he said. "Very, very soon. Before summer. Spring. Yes, spring. That sounds good.”