Thursday, March 12, 2015

Overboard at the Deckhand Oyster Bar

The Deckhand Oyster Bar
500 Parker Dr., Round Rock
(512) 368-3379

So last (rainy, wet) weekend I somehow became intrigued by The Deckhand, a seafood shack and oyster bar in Round Rock that has Northern Thai owners. They have a few Thai items on the menu, so I thought that R and I might go and sample a few things for late lunch-early dinner on Saturday afternoon. We were leaning towards a Thai place in Georgetown, but they didn’t open until 5pm and we were both starving, so the choice was made. The Deckhand is technically on Parker, south of TX 45 and just west of IH 35, but when they put in TX 45, it chopped off Parker. So, to get there, you take the La Frontera exit off of the westbound TX 45 or frontage and do the turnaround lane to go back heading east; Parker will be the first big street on the right. You enter the restaurant into a long U-shaped bar filled with neighborhood beer types and a flat screen with a round ball game in progress, and the dining room is a little farther down. Both the bar and the dining room were pretty full when we were there, and the crowd was diverse, from blue collars to techies to a few starched collar types. Oddly, there was an abundance of feral kids. And the tables are all placed way too close together for the bulk of the Deckhand’s generously proportioned customers.

Spring rolls

We started with an order of Shrimp Spring Rolls ($4.99), which presented us with two fat rolls filled with rice vermicelli, lettuce, carrots, cilantro, red cabbage, mint, basil, and split shrimp, all wrapped in rice paper, and served with a rich, Thai peanut sauce. Recommended and tasty.

Calamari strips?...and rémoulade?

We ordered calamari strips with Cajun rémoulade ($6.99) and got a basket of what looked like cheese sticks, but were actually panko-battered logs of what came from either a very large squid body that had been cut into perfectly proportioned strips, or more likely cuttlefish. I was never completely sure that it wasn’t a processed product that had been shredded, compressed, and extruded. It was too uniform in size and batter to not send up frozen food warning flags. I have no idea if this is a Sysco/LaBatt/US Foods frozen heat-and-eat item or not. It was not what I had expected, but at least it wasn’t little tough rings with the consistency of rubber bands, and after all, it did taste vaguely squid-like. I’m certain it was not hog bung, the new faux squid, so we have that to be thankful for. The Cajun rémoulade tasted a lot more like chipotle mayonnaise than any Cajun rémoulade I’m familiar with. So as popular as the dish seemed to be at tables around us, it was not a hit with us.

Moo ping

Moo Ping ($7.99, and listed as Grilled Boar [which it clearly was not]) was plump skewers of tender pork with a coconut milk marinade. All of the moo ping I’ve had before in Thailand was dark and funky (and addictive as hell), and served with a seriously assertive jaew sauce of fish sauce (and maybe a touch of pla ra or nam pu), lots of shallot or garlic and chile, cilantro, palm sugar, and tamarind. The delicious sticks sold by the moo ping vendor that hangs around the Thai Telephone Building, just east of Siam Square in Bangkok, is a classic example of what moo ping should aspire towards. The Deckhand sauce was basically an herb paste, and not very assertive. Pla ra is a funky fish paste made from fermented fresh water fish and salt, while nam pu is a fermented salted paste made from freshwater crabs. Both instantly identify an Isaan dish at first taste. Moo ping dipping sauce should definitely have a degree of intense, umami-laden funkiness. If this was indeed wild boar, it was the most tender, un-gamey boar that I have ever eaten. The dish was okay, but lacked the northern Thai Isaan funk that I was hoping for.

Seafood papaya salad

R ordered the Papaya Seafood Salad ($12.99) which did have a modicum of Isaan funk to it, and I did extract some dark crab legs which could have been from some nam pu that was not pounded-up in the mortar. Hard to say. The dressing was actually very authentic tasting and probably a little spicier than the requested “8 out of 20 total”. The dish was a little shy on the seafood side for the price, but all in all, not a huge disappointment.


I had a bowl of their Seafood Gumbo ($5.99) that was passable. The seafood was diced fish and small cocktail shrimp, the vegetables were the requisite Holy Trinity, there was a dollop of white rice in the middle, and the herbs were right, but it needed some heat and some dark and nasty roux to really submerge the taste into the swampy depths of a true Cajun Creole flavor palate.

Seafood noodle soup

I also ordered a bowl of their Deckhand Seafood Noodle Soup ($9.99) which was billed as rice noodles in a Thai tom yum talay broth, “with rice noodles with shrimp, fish, calamari, fish-ball, yellow onion, bean sprouts, mushroom, cilantro, tomato, green onion in Thai herb lemongrass (tom-yum broth)”. It was huge and contained the promised seafood and noodles, but the broth was a pale imitation of a true tom yum broth. It had little spiciness, and lacked the fragrant kiss of Thai lime leaf and lemongrass. As a bowl of seafood broth with noodles it succeeds, but as tom yum talay, it fails.

Catfish...note bizarre hushpuppy imitation objects, left

I also tried a one fillet plate of fried catfish ($8.99, for three fillets), which came with thin, uninspired frozen fries, and small, bizarre spheres of hushpuppies that had been cut in half before frying. Tiny little things they were, and once again, shaped too consistently to not be a frozen product which had been lopped in half. The catfish tasted fresh, but the cornmeal batter was too thick for my liking.

During the course of the meal we had four different servers, all of whom did an adequate job, but it was a little strange to see a busy restaurant floor that discombobulated. Maybe our table sat in between two sections and they couldn’t decide who got us. Who knows why we were waited on by committee. For a final assessment, I’d call it adequate although uninspired seafood served in large portions, at prices that fall just below the level that could cause alarm. For the residents of the vast apartment and condo land surrounding The Deckhand, it works just fine. For me, not so much.

Mick Vann ©