The Dish List: The Kickin’ Crab

Tommy Pham | New University

Tommy Pham | New University

The mouthwatering sight of seafood, where mounds of various shellfish are boiled, steamed or baked before being liberally seasoned, seems common in the backyards of the Deep South, but here in SoCal, it is limited to restaurants such as The Boiling Crab, which are normally some distance away from campus. Luckily, students don’t have to travel very far anymore to experience restaurants like this, as The Kickin’ Crab is now open in the nearby Diamond Jamboree retail center. There is finally a close destination for those craving those delectable bugs of the sea, which will likely turn into a new Irvine hotspot and make the parking situation there a greater nightmare than ever before.

Since The Kickin’ Crab is fairly new, readers should prepare for a long waiting time, even if you go as early as 5:30 p.m. for dinner like I did. The restaurant has a seaside vibe with a sports-friendly atmosphere, as evidenced by the sports team flags hanging from the ceiling and ESPN glaring from the multiple TVs lining along the wall.

As intriguing as some of the appetizers and favorites — such as the Coconut Sea Snails — sounded, I knew that the rage of seafood boil restaurants lies in their specialties, which includes shrimp, clams, mussels, king crab legs, blue crab, Dungeness crab, lobster and crawfish. Order these by the pound, and they come to you cooked and seasoned in a plastic bag, along with extra goodies like corn on the cob, potatoes and sausages, should you choose to order them. For each specialty, you get to choose the seasoning and spiciness level.

The availability of all of the specialties, save for shrimp, clams and mussels is seasonal, and currently, only blue crab is unavailable. Given the blue crab’s unfortunate absence and my wish to try the restaurant’s namesake from the menu, I opted for one Dungeness crab (the smallest ones weighed at a pound and a half) with Louisiana seasoning and a pound of crawfish with corn on the cob and sausages, seasoned with the Kickin’ Style spice, which is a combination of lemon pepper, Cajun spice, Louisiana spice and garlic butter.

The Dungeness crab — red, steaming and sitting in a small pool of seasoning — was scrumptious. The soft and delicate white meat inside the claws and legs quivered as I carefully tugged them away after using a crab cracker. The real delicacy, however, is in the crab’s body, as there is plenty of richer white meat in its cartilage-lined channels in addition to the creamy, if not gooey, green-yellow insides under the carapace.

I did find, though, that as succulent as the Louisiana seasoning was, the small chunks of garlic swimming in the sauce weren’t cooked for as long as I would have liked, as they didn’t melt in my mouth and instead needed some bites to break down.

The warm bag of crawfish, corn and sausages proved to be quite lively. The Kickin’ Style spice infuses heat with the contents which it coats, though the garlic chunks here met the same unfortunate culinary fate as those in the Louisiana seasoning for the crab.

Removing the crawfish shells presents a sweet treasure cove combination of minute meats and velvety organs, which are a joy to suck away clean from the body. This nicely complements the small, firm, curled tails. The sweet, perfectly cooked corn contrasts the spice quite well. The sausages, themselves already spicy on the inside, provide an edge to the heat of the seasoning.

The prices that The Kickin’ Crab charge are fairly reasonable. Though one probably wouldn’t be able to afford crab for every visit, there is a wide variety of items on the menu to explore, and the combo specials they offer have portions large enough to last beyond a single meal, justifying the daunting prices. Plus, the service is attentive and more than willing to give advice when needed.

To qualify (or not?), I’ve never been to the The Boiling Crab, so I can’t say whether The Kickin’ Crab is better. I will say, though, that it’s nice to have a seafood boil-specializing restaurant near campus, especially one that serves such mouthwatering shellfish.