Off menu with Casian seafood

ByDavid M. Conte

Apr 29, 2022

Photo: Deborah Cameron

Let’s start by stating the obvious: YouTube, cable channels, and streaming outlets have delivered massive amounts of food education content to the masses.

Effortlessly anyone can find a video on 32 ways to cook chicken from Bon Appetit Magazine and follow Guy Fieri in a restaurant or Anthony Bourdain in unknown places. Real foodies can even learn how to turn a living Christmas tree into sugar cookies. Spoiler alert: it involves converting sawdust into flour and, depending on the videodoesn’t taste as dry as one might think.

Now let’s get to the full extent of the power of online cooking shows.

These sources played an almost exclusive role in the success of James Beard’s semi-finalist, Chef Dau Xiong, who goes by the name of Dovi. As he explains, “All you want to learn is on YouTube. I can literally disassemble my Toyota from there. In terms of cooking, there is a whole other world of food,” said Chef Xiong.

He was touched when he discovered his new restaurant, Casian Seafood on N. Public Rd. in Lafayette was named Best New Restaurant. Although he doesn’t expect it, this honor reflects Dovi’s demanding passion for developing unique flavors and his willingness to work with a recipe until he gets what he’s looking for.

As he explains, “Here, we’ve always had our own view of crayfish and that’s what started. I was just playing with it. Use different things. Ginger. Lemongrass. I like to use fresh ingredients and I don’t like my food to sit.

Dovi doesn’t start with a preset recipe and it calls for help when it needs it. “If what I’m playing with ends up being something I want to use, I’ll repeat it to my 16-year-old son. She’ll doodle real quick and write it down for me. Then I’ll try to replicate it again. Add things, remove things.

Since Casian opened its doors during the pandemic, it has slowly built up a following among locals. “We deliberately opened during COVID knowing it was going to be a lot slower so I could get good at what I was doing,” he said.

Photo: Deborah Cameron

This strategy worked. The number of customers increased sharply once the Honor Beard was announced. Diners come for the seafood broths that feature a blend of Cajun and Asian flavors that inspired the restaurant’s name. When we went we sat down for some appetizers and then ordered full boils with sausage, potatoes and corn and, unlike traditional boils, lots of broth.

When my family and I ate there, we tried the Lemongrass and the Spicy Lemongrass. We liked both but preferred the second. The spice rang out, lingering just long enough between bites. We poured the broth like a soup and poured it over sticky rice.

Overall, Dovi’s menu pays homage to the melting pot of food traditions of its Hmong origin. Born in Vietnam, he had two brothers, five sisters and a mother who was often found in the kitchen.

Our conversation turned to what his father did during this time. “He was recruited into what they called the Secret Wars during the Vietnam era. The United States was looking for ways to block the Ho Chi Minh trail and was looking for Hmong people to help them. In the end, his father was honored with a Purple Heart and lost part of his leg to a landmine.

Toward the end of the war, his family emigrated to Boulder County. Once in the United States, Dovi dated Angevine (now Pioneer) in Lafayette and met his wife.

Before working in food, he spent 20 years for the same employer in the region. Then he worked for a company on the food side, opening a Quiznos where he set up a business in what started out as a low rated place. He was frustrated with the lack of ability to express his creativity. This is partly what led him to his own space.

Through it all, Dovi cherished his culture. When we talked about having his picture taken for this article, he asked to take the picture in front of an embroidered wall tapestry depicting daily activities and regional clothing.

As he now works in his restaurant, Dovi relishes his challenge. Although the career change over the years has been dramatic, what is constant is the passion for what he does mixed with an appreciation for his background. Now, all of that has merged with the challenge of meeting an increasing number of diners since his appointment.

As always, he is ready.