On the Table: The Mad Crab
This place is a fun concept: made-to-order boiled seafood served family-style on tables covered in wax paper. The idea is to eat the meal directly off the table with your fingers. In reality, it’s incredibly messy (the food is covered in sauce), and I found myself constantly groping for utensils, which are not provided.
But let’s backtrack. Located on Olive Boulevard in University City, the restaurant is spacious, with somewhat limited decor so as to replicate a seaside lobster shack. The menu consists mostly of highend seafood—lobster, king, Dungeness, snow and blue crabs—steamed in a choice of sauces and spice levels, from zero to ‘I Can’t Feel My Mouth.’ A few combo meals that will serve at least two are offered and come with corn on the cob, sausage and boiled potatoes. These are most likely the best value.
Or you can order à la carte items, most of them at market price. The night we visited, 4- or 5-ounce lobster tails were $20, for example. There is also a smattering of nice sides, from Gumbo ($6.50) to Crawfish Fried Rice ($10). We started with those, both quite tasty. The rice was especially good, with a nice Cajun flavor and plenty of crawfish—which can have a grating oily flavor, but these did not. The bowl of gumbo had a nice smokiness, thanks to some very good sausage (also included in the combo meals), but its texture was a little gummy, probably from too much cornstarch.
Our Angry Combo ($63.99) offered several tempting choices: Dungeness crab, shrimp and mussels, all in Cajun sauce. The ensemble came wrapped in a plastic bag with lots of liquid. You can either reach in and remove the food, or dump it all out on the table. The crab was superb: large (about 1 ½ pounds) and meaty. The shrimp, shell-on, were medium-sized, but there were plenty of them (a pound), and they absorbed the pleasant sauce well. The mussels—about 10—were among the largest I’ve seen and appeared to be a combination of green and black varieties.
The corn in the combo was very good, as it soaked up the sauce. Same for the boiled red potatoes, although I wish there had been more than two! Especially tasty were the four large slices of sausage. They had the right amount of fat and weren’t overly spicy.
We supplemented the meal with extra goodies, including Cajun fries ($4), which I highly recommend. They were thin and dusted with sugar and spices. We also added a pound of Snow Crab in garlic sauce ($22), which was quite good, although the sauce was suspiciously similar to our Cajun sauce. The one disappointment was an order of lobster tail, which twice came overcooked, so we sent it back and just gave up.
This kind of dining is definitely an experience. You need to be prepared for a really messy meal, despite the provided bibs and gloves (which I didn’t use). And, of course, you have to crack, peel and dig out all your food.
the scene | Cavernous restaurant with peel-and-eat seafood the owners Victor and Nam Ho
the prices | $40.99 to $76.99 family-style combos, à la carte seafood market priced
the favorites | Dungeness Crab, Mussels, King Crab Legs, Snow Crab, Cajun Fries, Crawfish Fried Rice
food • ŏ • lō • gy
snow crab | A variety fished in both the northern Pacific and northern Atlantic, but the most coveted come from the latter region, around the Gulf of St. Lawrence in Canada. There are four varieties; the biggest is Bairdi or Tanner crab.
dungeness crab | This tasty shellfish gets its name from a town in Washington state, where it was first harvested commercially. It is native to West Coast waters, where it inhabits eel beds.
green mussel | The coveted green-lipped mussel from New Zealand, also thought to have medicinal qualities, in particular, anti-inflammatory benefits
8080 olive blvd. | 314.801.8698
Photos: Bill Barrett