Restaurant Review: Crawfish King, the sassy new Cajun seafood joint in Seattle's International District, offers seafood boils with heaps of crawdads, shrimp, lobster or crab, slathered in a fragrant red stew of herbs and spices. Tie on a bib and get messy. 2.5-star review by Providence Cicero.
I went a little crazy at Crawfish King the other night.
The new restaurant in the former home of Made in Kitchen is owned and operated by Vietnamese-American cousins, James Nguyen and Trieu Dinh. It looks as if it’s been dragged into the Chinatown International District on a barge from some honky-tonk beach town. The zydeco music says N’Awlins, but the fishnet-covered walls and multitude of seaside bric-a-brac could be from Any Coast, USA.
Flippant sayings are everywhere (Dinh is a founder of Bellevue’s What the Pho, after all). Most of the double entendres involve the words peel, suck and eat — which is really what Crawfish King is all about.
Cajun seafood boils are the specialty. Great bags of shellfish come to the table slathered in a fragrant red stew of herbs and spices, a sauce that comes in two variations — The Big Easy packs the biggest flavor punch — and three levels of potency.
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“Are you a Li’l crazy, Crazy or Extra Crazy?” That’s the question cute young servers coyly ask. They are pretty savvy at sizing you up. Ours cast a glance at the youngsters with us and nodded agreement when we set the thermostat on low. Li’l Crazy turned out to be plenty hot enough for the grown-ups, too.
Seasonal availability mostly determines the choice of shellfish. Live prawns weren’t to be had on my visits but Gulf shrimp were, along with crab (Dungeness, blue, king and snow), lobster and, yes, crawfish.
Until about mid-August it’s crawfish season down south, and those mudbugs are almost as big as the Gulf shrimp. Like all of the shellfish, they are boiled and served whole. You must grapple with the slippery, spiny, beady-eyed critters armed only with plastic utensils and a couple of crab crackers. A seafood boil is not for the fastidious, though bibs are issued all around, and the restaurant even supplies rubber gloves if you ask.
Butcher paper covers the varnished plank table; fat rolls of brown paper towels serve as napkins. Apart from the metal bucket used for empty shells, every utensil, cup and container is disposable, which may jolt Seattleites indoctrinated in the three RRRs.
Once you finagle a morsel from its shell — your options are suck, peel or pick with the pointy tip of a claw or leg — dip it into a cup of Cajun seasoning moistened with lime juice, a distinctively Vietnamese touch. The piercing acid mixture slices through the garlic and heat like a sharp cleaver, adding an entirely new dimension to the taste sensation.
The shellfish is priced by the pound from $8.99 (for Gulf shrimp and crawfish) to $18.99 (for lobster). Servers guide you in gauging the quantity you’ll need. A one-pound lobster fed two nicely, and a couple pounds of crawfish go a long way. It doesn’t end up as expensive as it sounds, especially when beers are cheap and sodas are refilled free.
Bags of two pounds or more include an ear of corn and some potatoes, but if you really want some starch, order corn or potatoes on the side. Those in the bag were either mushy or missing.
Beyond seafood boils, the menu offers a fine okra-thickened gumbo and an even finer jambalaya, both packed with tiny shrimp and andouille. Other sides include boudin balls — nuggets of fried blood sausage that one wag accurately dubbed Cajun falafel — and excellent Cajun-seasoned fries.
Fried seafood platters demonstrate this kitchen has a talent for frying as well as boiling. Fat-bellied oysters and skinny catfish fillets both sported admirably crunchy, golden jackets. A po’ boy packed with crispy fried crawdads made a good sandwich, if not a great po’ boy.
Easy, breezy and family-friendly, Crawfish King attracts a youthful crowd who swig long-neck Buds and squirt hot sauce and liquid margarine on their food with abandon. You just might join them and get a li’l crazy yourself.
Providence Cicero: firstname.lastname@example.org