Sunday, December 23, 2007

Crablicious - Artesia

Unlike nukes, the continual proliferation of the Vietnamese-owned, Louisiana crawfish joint is a good thing. A few years ago, short of driving to the gulf states, you could only find them here clustered around actual Vietnamese neighborhoods. There's a particularly dense population of them in Little Saigon, where the trend all started. (See my post on Boiling Crab).

But now, they're likely to pop up anywhere within earshot of a growling Asian stomach. Like mushrooms, they thrive under the shade of other Asian businesses and restaurants. Such is the case in Artesia/Cerritos, where the burgeoning boom of Asian mini-malls has cultivated at least two crawfish joints on a single block of South Street alone.

I went to one last night* -- a place with a name so contrived and gimmicky, it's gag-inducing. When I saw Zach Efron's autograph scribbled on the walls in permanent marker (along with other customer-created graffiti), I became even more suspicious.

You see, in my experience (ahem, Crustacean), the deliciousness of the food is inversely related to the number of celebrity endorsements touted. And if the word "delicious" is somehow worked into the name, well, you also have to take two or three points away, just as a rule.

But oh, was I ever glad to be wrong on this one. Crablicious turned out to be the best Vietnamese Cajun crawfish boil restaurant yet. And actually, it's not Vietnamese-owned.

I saw Korean soft tofu soup, Singapore rice noodle, teriyaki bowls, even fish and chips. I heard Cantonese spoken in the kitchen but our server looked Korean**. Adding to the mystery of its origins, Crablicious also repatriated some dishes from Macau Street, the Chinese-Macanese restaurant that previously occupied the space before it folded. Fitting right in with the new decor of hastily hung fish nets, port holes, and sailboat-print wallpaper is Macau Street's fried crab with chili. Almost every table ordered it. Mallets were provided.

New to my eyes was the Crablicious Noodle Soup ($9.99) -- a simple, chicken broth brew full of shrimp, scallop, thinly-shaved beef, squid, beef and fish meatballs. It's served family-style in pumpkin-shaped ceramic vessel with a choice of ramen, udon, or vermicelli. We took the ramen, ladled the boiling broth into soup bowls, and slurped our way to a warm gut.

The deep fried flounder ($8.99/lb) came next, all covered in bubbled batter. The flesh was creamy, the crispy bones crackled with an oily crunch. First, we went in with forks, but soon ditched them to go primitive, licking our fingers and smacking our chops.

But our digits hadn't seen the best of it yet. The main event had yet to arrive. To prepare for it, butcher paper was laid out. Its purpose: to contain the carnage that was about to occur. Around our necks plastic bibs were tied, intended to protect our shirts.

Then, with the blare of trumpets, they came. Steamed in plastic bags, and served in them, these were the crawfish ($8.99/lb), the shrimp ($8.99/lb) and the clams ($8.99/lb). Each was steeped in its own customizable, lip-throbbing, grease-slicked, cadre of seasonings. We opted for a mix of Cajun and garlic butter for the mudbugs; plain garlic butter for the shrimp; and basil lime for the clams.

Immediately, we took to the crawdads like a marauding medieval army to battle. We twisted off heads, tore bodies apart. We sucked out juices, licked off sauce and gnashed our teeth on flesh with a wanton bloodlust worthy of a Spartan.

To fish out the pasty green tomalley from the crawfish, I shoved an index finger into the upper thorax and wiggled it around. Later, I devolved even further. I held the decapitated heads captive underneath my teeth and bit down with my molars. And like a vice, it squeezed out even more fat from their skulls. The tiny amount of tail meat I savored slowly, noting its sweetness against the backdrop of lethal Cajun spice.

The shrimp -- after it was ripped clean of its tiny feet, its antennaed head and its papery armor -- I dunked back into the shimmering pool of sauce which had the sheen of pizza grease. After that, it came out shinier than an oiled bodybuilder, ready to be consumed. A salty, buttery, garlicky mess of dribbles dripped from my lips; a smile of keen satisfaction cut across my face.

The clams took less effort to conquer. Each quivering morsel was defenseless, nude and beautifully erotic on an open shell like Botticelli's Venus.

For dessert, our victorious palates celebrated with the "Crabzy Icy" ($7.99). A fruit-laced, red-bean-sweetened, ice-cream-topped slush of shaved frozen milk. Sure it's a little girly, thick with irony next to the mound of shellfish and crustacean carcasses that now lay defeated in a pile.

But it tamed our burning gullets and eased us into a more civilized form of eating. That is, until we go back to Crablicious to repeat it all over again. Maybe next week!

Crablicious
(562)809-3891
11612 South St.
Artesia, CA 90701

*Special Thanks to Monster Munching reader Cecile for this tip.

**According to Monster Munching reader Bubo, our server (and restaurant manager) was none other than Turbo Kong, a character actor originally from Hong Kong (not Korea, as I incorrectly assumed), who fought Bruce Wayne at the start of
Batman Begins and has appeared in many other martial arts flicks. Check out his showreel here.

35 Comments:

At 1:51 AM, Blogger Wandering Chopsticks said...

Huh! Didn't the Macau Street down there just open? But I like how they made it pan-Asian instead. :)

I was just at the Boiling Crab in Alhambra last week. Dungeness. Mmm. Good stuff!

 
At 6:02 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Finally got the Dungeness eh, WC? I need to do that. It's worth the extra coin compared to the crawfish.

Isn't that weird that Macau Street didn't even last one year? I guess word never got around.

 
At 9:03 PM, Blogger Rasa Malaysia said...

Ooooh, sounds very delicious and I love it that they have clams since Boiling Crab didn't have clams. The place that I used to buy raw crawfish folded and now I have to rely on eating out to feast my cravings. Thanks for the post, EM and Happy Holidays!

 
At 9:08 PM, Blogger Wandering Chopsticks said...

Well, my brother said that location just wasn't as good as the one in Monterey Park. So that probably didn't help. I always get the chili crab. Is it flat rate $8.95? Not a huge crab, but a goodly sized one for less than $10 bucks keeps people going to the MP Macau Street.

 
At 12:30 AM, Anonymous lonegungirl said...

Man, I can't believe Macau Street closed before I ever got there. I always get nervous ordering things by the pound though--how much poundage does one person usually eat? I have a hard time trying to estimate what the tab might be.

 
At 9:07 AM, Blogger Chubbypanda said...

Elmo,

You're a madman. A wild, garlic butter-loving brute whose Cajun spice-stained fingers need to be kept away from those poor defenseless crustaceans. :)

 
At 1:04 PM, Blogger eatdrinknbmerry said...

Elmo, merry x'mas to you as well. Stay away from Ikea $.99 breakfasts. bad bad bad!

 
At 9:40 PM, Blogger KirkK said...

Hey Elmo - Merry Christmas...man, these Crawfish Boil places a everywhere now aren't they? Though something called Crabzy Icy sounds kinda scary....

 
At 9:50 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Rasa Malaysia,

Happy Holidays to you too! The fact that they have clams also delighted me. Easy to eat, and they're very fresh. And here's another thing Boiling Crab doesn't have: rice! (At least not the last time I went there)

WC,

That's the one thing that has changed. The "Fried Harbor Crab/Deep Fried Dungeness w/dry shrimp, dry scallop, and chili" is now at $12.99/lb. My source, Cecile, says that the owners are the same people that owned Macau Street. Which explains a lot. Least of which is how they got the place transformed so quickly.

lonegungirl,

It's a good estimate to get a pound per person. We had 3 people in my party and we order a pound of the shrimp, a pound of the crawfish, a pound of the clams, a whole deep fried flounder, the noodle soup and spent about $60-$70. We were stuffed.

By the way, they also actually have crab:

Alaska King Crab Legs: $14.99/lb
Dungeness Crab: $10.99/lb
Blue Crab: $7.99/lb.

The best deal, though, is the shrimp. What you paying there is meat. The crawfish is definitely the most expensive thing going, pound for pound, since you get barely an ounce out of the whole animal.

CP,

They had it coming, those buggers.

"They do look like little monsters or something. But they're good little monsters".

--Meg Ryan, in Joe Vs. The Volcano

EDBM,

Matter of fact, I've upgraded to the 1.99 breakfast at IKEA. Nah, not really...I just get two $0.99 ones.

Kirk,

It did at first, but then a cursory check revealed no crab in the dessert. All is well.

 
At 12:35 PM, Blogger Krizia said...

Good glory! I'm back in town until the 17th, and once again, am going to your blog for dining-out inspiration. This place looks like a winner! Happy Holidays Senor Elmo!

 
At 7:47 PM, Blogger Vegasbuff said...

Looks like a good place for some chowing. Course I'm not fond of the mudbugs, but the shrimp and crab certainly whet the appetite.

 
At 7:31 AM, Anonymous Eek the Cat said...

I've been looking for a place like this in the Cerritos/Artesia area for a while, but was disappointed by the "other" new seafood place, the "Seafood Shack" (the crawfish, which are my current obsession, were terribly bland). I stopped by Crablicious to pick up a menu weeks ago, but was scared off my the fact that the menu looked like they were trying to cover too many types of food (which usually means they don't excel at any of them).

So, bottom line for me, how were the crawfish compared to the boiling crab?

 
At 7:37 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Krizia,

Same to you and yours! If you like destroying crustaceans, this restaurant is for you. Forget about Crab Pot, Joe's Crab Shack. This is the place.

Vegasbuff,

The mudbugs are just too much work for too little payoff. The shrimps, though, are money!

Eek,

In my humble opinion, this place beats up Boiling Crab to an unrecognizable pulp. But that's just me. And I love Boiling Crab. The crawfish here seems sweeter, more tender, and all around perkier. And they offer rice (though the corn and sausage you must buy separately -- but who needs em?).

 
At 8:20 AM, Blogger raissa said...

Thanks for this. I should try this since I live pretty close. My cousin has been raving about Boiling Crab only to find out that we have one that is similar and much closer.

 
At 11:53 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Raissa,

Crablicious has no hour-long wait line, it has the same food, and it's close to you...I think you've got a winner here.

 
At 6:42 AM, Anonymous tina said...

This is so off topic, but I have to say that I've stayed up all night to read your reviews...loving them! I also have a suggestion as to where to try next... Favori. Locals rave on the catfish...as do I. It's on the pricey side with romantic ambience.

 
At 11:10 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

tina,

I too have tried Favori and that catfish. Though it was before I started this blog. I'll have to go back soon. Thanks for the reminder.

 
At 11:31 PM, Anonymous Eek the Cat said...

Well, I decided to give this place a shot.. arrived around 5:30p to find it like a ghost town - disinterested staff and nary a customer in sight. But still, based on the words of the great Elmomonster, I went ahead and picked up two pounds of crawfish (mixed flavors) to go. I got home to find that they were absolutely puny (who raided the crawfish pre-school.. and that bag felt suspiciously light). I know they're not really in season yet, but geez... the rest of the crawfish places (yes, I'm slightly obsessed) have em bigger. Now, I'm only complaining because the flavor was... **Amazing**! I really should've gotten some of the other menu items (was by myself though) like the clams or crab, given the great flavor -- and I might do that until the crawfish get up to speed. Thanks again Elmo... you provide (indirectly) good food and (directly) enjoyable writing, two of my favorite things!

 
At 11:52 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Eek,

I was there today too! My second visit. And I was also taken aback with the "disinterested" wait staff. The two people on shift were a young Asian girl and a young Asian guy who were really terrible at providing actual service.

They were more intent on wiping down tables more than they were in taking care of us. At odd times, one would check on us, when we didn't need anything, but then later, when I asked for rice, they basically nodded and went back to wiping down more tables.

I finally asked the owner and he gave it to me.

The sad part was that there was only one other occupied table at the restaurant.

On our first visit, a jolly, heavy-set Korean man served us and boy, we felt like royalty. He catered to our every whim. Without request, he'd refill our glasses, take away empty plates, offered us more napkins. I'm so bummed we missed him today.

The food today, however, was just as good as before. They even had a lunch special of shrimp, which was offered at a flat rate of $6.99.

The fried fish also went for this price.

We did avoid the crawfish this time though, since we were hungry. I didn't mention it in my post, but even at Boiling Crab and other joints, I always feel ripped off at the miniscule amount of meat a crawfish surrenders.

 
At 3:13 AM, Anonymous Bubo said...

Don't be bummed! If you want to see him, go and rent the movie "Batman Begin". You should be able to see him at the beginning who fought with batman. The jolly "Korean" man is actually chinese from Hong Kong his name is Turbo Kong. He does a bit of acting in his free time. Currenty he is setting up another restaurant.

 
At 11:20 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Bubo,

Wow! What an awesome name: Turbo Kong. Sounds like he should be the King of all American Gladiators. In any case, someone you don't want to mess with.

And he's in Batman Begins?! I have that movie...gotta queue it up again. If you know where his new restaurant is going to be, I'd like to know.

 
At 12:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow! I can't believe the taste. It is soooooo delicous that I can't stop. There's also free crawfish when you eat over $38.00.

 
At 1:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

my boyfriend and I had 2lbs of crawfish and 2lbs of blue crab, the french fries, and the mongolian beef fried noodles. the crawfish and the crab was sooooo delicious, perfectly flavored and cooked. we were surprised because we have tried other various crawfish restaurants such as the famed Boiling Crab and have not found anything in comparison till tonight at Crablicious. The mixed flavor was spectacular with the chunks of garlic and leaves of basil. we also found it to be not as oily as the Seafood Shack. I was putting the left over jus/sauce on the noodles and dipping the french fries in the jus of the crawfish. we will definitely go again!

 
At 1:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

PS...i just posted the last comment...and went back to reading the other comments...the staff was great...a young asian girl and guy served us...and the manager/owner even came by to check up on us. it was his daugther (we think) that informed us about this website. we were impressed with the service and the taste.

 
At 4:53 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Anon,

Wow! Free crawfish eh?

Anon2,

That's his daughter? Well, in that case, I shouldn't have been so critical of the service.

 
At 11:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

OMG! When i went 2 Crablicious my family and i 8 over $68 and we got FREE ALASKAN KING CRAB LEGS. theres also shrimp, crawfish, fish, chicken, beef and soooo much more. i think u should go and try. it's the best SEAFOOD place iv'e ever been too.

 
At 9:50 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Anon,

Yeah. I agree with you. It's pretty good!

 
At 11:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

People write more reveiws about the restaurant. I never went there before. Is it a good place?

 
At 10:04 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Anon,

It's good! Try it!

 
At 4:52 PM, Blogger ♥PePoT♥ said...

Hi EM! My friends and I discovered this place by pure accident. I meant to take them to Macau Street, unfortunately we were too late. The Crablicious experience was pretty great though and we've been frequent eaters there eversince. I am your most avid reader EM! 'Hope you write a review for Crablicious one of these days. Thanks and more power!

 
At 4:55 PM, Blogger ♥PePoT♥ said...

Check out Yelp's Crablicious reviews! Thanks again=)

 
At 8:12 PM, Blogger Tan said...

I've been to several crawfish houses and I have to disagree with you on this one.

I went tonight and had the crawfish and shrimp in original and the clams in basil. I have to say both were bland and not very good.

Boiling crab is much better.

 
At 9:55 PM, Blogger Jennie said...

I must agree w/Tan. After peeling off the shell, the meat was terribly bland and overcooked. It was so overcooked that the meat stuck to the shell after de-shelling it. Although the original & basil lemon sauce was tasty, I have to agree that BOILING CRAB beats them all.

 
At 11:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

No... I went to Crablicious tonight with eight of my friends and we all had to agree that it tasted delicious. I went to a lot of crawfish and king crab leg places and this place is number 1! If you don't agree with me then go back and eat then you will see the difference.

 
At 12:01 PM, Blogger nanci said...

I guess Crablicious has closed for good. The reviews were so yummy that I had to go try. I guess I will just have to keep going to the Boiling Crab.

 

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