Seafood: Asian, Cajun and more
Sacramento, CA 95814
Station 16 feels like the next evolution of the Asian-Cajun trend, a style popularized by the Boiling Crab and seen all over Sacramento’s Little Saigon.
It all began in Texas, where Vietnamese immigrants who had previously settled in Louisiana brought their own spin to crawdad boils in the early 2000s. Now, you can find Asian-Cajun places in much of the country: a new, uniquely Vietnamese-American cuisine.
Station 16 chef-owner Minnie Nguyen also runs an Asian-Cajun seafood boil spot, Firehouse Crawfish, in south Sacramento. But her three-month old Midtown restaurant is decidedly more ambitious—and more high-profile with its location in the former Sapporo Grill space.
Instead of shellfish boiled in a plastic bag, Station 16 specializes in sizzling skillets of roasted seafood, bathed in garlic butter or a zesty Cajun sauce.
They come out steaming and glorious, and going back to that crawfish boil-influence, they’re best shared with a large group. You can get a pre-mixed selection or design your own skillet, with each protein adding another 12-14 ounces to the dish. That means it’s tough to try multiple items unless you’ve got help. It adds up quickly price-wise, too: on the lowest-end, mussels cost $13.99 per serving while Dungeness crab goes for $42.99 per serving.
I tried the prawns ($18.99), which unfortunately don’t include the heads but do still have their skins on, which locks in flavor. Even more impressive, the final prawn on the still-hot platter didn’t get overcooked. For a light meal for two, throw in a side of buttery, dream-worthy garlic noodles ($8).
The bulk of the menu, though, is made up of small plates and more standard mains—the majority seafood-centric. Some lean more Cajun, others more Asian and some purely American: cioppino, ceviche, fried chicken and Korean short ribs all mingle together harmoniously. Confusing? Maybe a little, particularly combined with the restaurant’s neon-colored fish bowl cocktails, industrial aesthetic and sports bar atmosphere. There’s a full bar, oyster bar and about a dozen televisions, which can be somewhat ignored in a partitioned-off dining area. The sometimes too-loud Top 40 music pervades the entire restaurant, though.
Given the bro vibes, you might be surprised that the service is so friendly and professional. You might also be surprised when the blackened salmon ($16)—with an amateurish-looking squiggle of lemon aioli on top—comes out to a perfect medium-rare, with a generous serving of well-seasoned green beans and fluffy, garlicky rice.
In general, there’s a lot of garlic going on at Station 16. It adds to the Cajun pasta ($15), which brought me back to New Orleans with its plump shrimp, sausage coins and pink tomato-cream sauce. It’s also what brings the fries to the next level—like those at Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, but better. They come with sandwiches, including the satisfying lobster roll ($18). The chilled lobster receives the lightest coating of mayo and lemon, which enhances the naturally sweet flavor, and perches above a show-stealing roll: soft, buttered and warm, with lightly toasted edges.
Instead of cooking Vietnamese food, Ngyuen’s dishes with the most Asian flavors actually borrow from Korea. The short ribs ($8) tasted bland and uninspired, but they worked shredded up and tossed with the galbi fries ($10), which also included bits of kimchi, spicy mayo and a fried egg.
Currently, Station 16 is only open for happy hour and dinner, but lunch and brunch are on the way. Now, a serious question: What constitutes an Asian-Cajun brunch?