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The Kickin' Crab Joins the Crustacean Nation

A new Santa Ana Vietnamese-Cajun seafood joint joins the trend and tries to break the curse of its location

From the looks of the location, the low-slung building on Bristol Street near Macarthur Boulevard in Santa Ana ought to be a prime spot for an eatery. A decent amount of parking surrounds it, and street visibility is good; South Coast Plaza and its surrounding office towers stand one block south. An In-N-Out routinely snarls traffic one block north. But the reality is the site has stunk of failure for years. A sushi bar called Bluefish didn't last long. The one that came after that, a California Fish Grill copycat named Fish Grill Factory, went belly-up before anyone noticed. Even as the latest tenant, the Kickin' Crab, moved in, whispers labeled the place as cursed.

But so far, so good. This newest contender seems to be on steadier sea legs than those that came before. The Kickin' Crab might just stick around awhile, breaking the spell and proving that something, anything, can survive here.

We've seen the likes of the Kickin' Crab before. It aspires to replicate the success of the Boiling Crab, the undisputed Vietnamese-Cajun crawfish pack leader that now boasts the longest waits for seafood in the county. In fact, in addition to this Santa Ana outpost, the Kickin' Crab is opening a second location in Garden Grove to challenge the Boiling Crab on its turf. Like others, the Kickin' Crab is born from the same gold-rush mentality that always spurs the why-not-me entrepreneurs into opening frozen-yogurt shops, cupcakeries and gleaming luxe loncheras during the heat of the craze. The drive of the Kickin' Crab's owners and others like them should be examined as case studies for business schools: What motivates these people to enter a crowded market full of also-rans when the best they can hope for is to be considered just-as-good? Other crawfish competitors are already subjects of online reviews summarizing their entire existence as the lack of lines

In truth, the Kickin' Crab has it easier than most. The previous tenant, being seafood-focused itself, left behind nautical theming and surfing motifs, something the Kickin' Crab is more than happy to exploit as its own. And the recipe for the product it peddles—spicy-sauce-steeped seafood—is hardly a closely guarded secret. It's a formula the Boiling Crab all but gives away. To taste the Kickin' Crab's shrimp and crawfish is to taste the same amalgamation of butter, garlic, lemon and Cajun seasoning the Boiling Crab has proven to be magical when applied to an entire subphylum of crustaceans. The sauce is also marvelous when dribbled over rice.

No matter what sea critter you choose, to opt for anything but the sauce that has all of the above components would be like cheating yourself. No one I know bothers with the plain lemon pepper. The Boiling Crab calls its concoction "The Whole Sha-Bang," but the Kickin' Crab simply goes with "Kickin' Style." Both serve seafood soaked in the sauce and packaged in plastic bags. A bib is tied around your neck and wax paper laid out to protect tables from the eminent crab-eating carnage. The first thing to get is the shrimp. Its high meat-to-effort ratio is the best value for the buck. Since you're actually paying for the part you throw away more than the part you eat, choose the lower yields of the fresh crawfish second. For sauce, asking for mild is sufficient; dare to go hotter, and OSHA-approved goggles should be required, lest the caustic stuff splash into your eye and render you blind.

At the Kickin' Crab, as at the Boiling Crab, the fun is in getting your palms thoroughly greased with the red-tinged sauce and your fingernails jammed thick with garlicky gunk and crab innards. This, I think, is the reason why so many young people flock to such places, as well as why they are staffed by youthful types. It plays to our basest kid instincts, indulging us the urge to eat with our hands before Emily Post-imposed manners got in the way. You feel empowered when you're decapitating each shrimp and crawfish. Then you feel naughty squeezing them like tubes of toothpaste, sucking the fatty goods from their skulls, disrobing the shells and taking the sweet tail meat for one last dunk before consuming and repeating the whole process. And it's a cheap thrill, too, one for which you needn't spend a fortune on the lobster or the overpriced king-crab legs to experience.

Those squeamish and without the manual dexterity to navigate a shrimp's anatomy will have a few easy-to-eat alternatives. The clams come practically served on their own individual spoons, squiggly, sweet and so fresh they seem to squeak when you scrape them off their shells with your teeth. Boiled red potatoes and thickly sliced andouille sausages also taste better when soaked in that sauce. But those who'd rather not get a speck of hot sauce on their pretty little hands can eat the offerings provided by the deep fryer. Cajun red-pepper seasoning crunchy with granulated sugar covers the fried-chicken hot wings. Breaded fish triangles that could easily be classified as nuggets and limp, fast-food-style fries dusted with the now-familiar Cajun seasoning become worthy fish-and-chips proxies. Lemon and cocktail sauce rescue raw Gulf oysters from boredom and flatness. And though watery, the Kickin' Crab simmers a surprisingly fresh gumbo, with more of those sausages, shrimp and celery that manages to maintain its integrity.

So is the Kickin' Crab as good as the Boiling Crab? Damn straight. And yes, for now, there are no lines.

 

This review appeared in print as "Crustacean Nation: A new Vietnamese-Cajun seafood joint joins the trend and tries to break the curse of its location."
 

 
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9 comments
SoTiredOfTheStupidity
SoTiredOfTheStupidity

I like the sauce at Cajun Corner better but the crawfish are more plump at Boiling Crab

Bsquared
Bsquared

Do they serve cupcakes and frozen yogurt? Maybe they could have a crawfish-frozen yogurt-cupcake food truck?

I'll always be loyal to Boiling Crab. The food is good and the service is very friendly. Of course I just went to the new one in Koreatown and the wait was an hour (ouch!).

Devinf65
Devinf65

Group of us headed here to have a birthday grubfest. Pretty much had the place to ourselves midweek in the evening. Here's what I noticed... Loose the house music dance track. It could be that none of the servers seemed to be over 21 and were clued into their cellphones, but that needs to be saved for the club, not dinner.

Started with a few oysters and it it the spot. Food was good but they messed up on a very simple order and on the one thing I was looking forward to - crawfish. We finally got the replacement crawfish and were very disappointed. They were small and unclean. I don't think they realized you can't take a crawfish straight from frozen to the pot. They need to be flushed clean, beacuse these crawfish were the muddy-est nasty things I've seen. Thank God for the abundant shrimp. And I wouldn't have minded seeing a bit more sausage - felt kinda skimpy.

I'd go back sure. But most definitely stick to shrimp and beer and don't expect too much of the waitstaff.

Alfredm
Alfredm

I went there not long after they opened with a couple chef friends, and we pretty much ordered one of everything on the menu Kickin Style. Were'a a fan of the Boiling Crab's flavors, and were generally disappointed with the taste of the sauce at the Kickin Crab. It's not garlicy/spicy like the Boiling Crab... everything tasted a bit bland, so we ordered extra garlic and seasonings to kick their sauce up. The quality of the crayfish & crab were not comparable either, although the shrimp was great. Even though we were generally underwhelmed with our meal, I'm willing to give the place another shot.

Brian N.
Brian N.

- Thanks for the informative reports.

Below is my report from Yelp! as 'Brian N.' when I had a chance to visit my family in Orange County in December 2010.

Here's ..

"Well, it's a pleasure to write a short report about my experience at the Kickin Crab.First of all, I gave the Kickin Crab five stars and here are the reasons.

1. Heard a lot about the Kickin Crab from my friends in Orange County, and finally I had a chance to go to the Kickin Crab to see how really good they are. I went there in a group of 10 people (4 nephews, one niece, one older brother and sister, one sister-in-law, my wife, and finally myself) on the raining night of Saturday, Dec 25, 2010 around 8:30 P.M. Even though, we already ate at home, but decided to go out to have some fun because we haven't seen each other for over a year and this Christmas will be a fun time for all of us. My nephews and niece ordered 4 lbs. of spicy crawfishes; my older brother, sister, and sister-in-law each ordered 1 pound of crawfish along with their order of Louisiana clam chowder; my wife and I ordered 2 lbs. of spicy crawfishes and two orders of Louisiana clam chowder as well. For drinks, we ordered Fat Tire (imported beer) and soft-drinks (drink refills).

2. Food and drinks were served reasonably fast and we are very happy about that. When our food came, we started to cheer each other and wanted to see who would eat the most. Yup, one of my nephews was a winner because he's the last one eating the last crawfish while he got a lot of sweating on his face. Yes, he got what he wanted 'SPICY'.

3. Overall, we are very pleased with the food and enjoy the pleasant atmosphere at this restaurant. We laughed. We smiled. And we're teasing each other. Yup, that's how we should get when we enjoy our food. The waiters are very nice and polite. They often check on our tables to see if we need any things else. Yup, my nephews and nice wanted their drink refills, of course.

4. For my own eating crawfish experience, I like the Kickin Crab better than The Boiling Crab on Capitol Expressway, which located in San Jose, and the main one at Euclid, in the city of Garden Grove. I admitted their foods tasted good, but I like the Kickin Crab better because of the better sauces and seasonings, well mixtures of Cajun ingredients. And most importantly, I didn't have 'MSG' side effects.

5. Last but not least, I don't like waiting and we don't have too much time for that. That's why I gave the Kickin Crab five stars of better services, very nice environment for a large group of hungry stomach, and very tasty food. If you don't believe me, then just give it a shot with opened mind.

6. For the above reason, I did come back on the next day, Sunday (Dec. 26, 2010), and Wednesday (Dec. 29, 2010) to try on other foods like Fish n Chip with Cajun fries and Cajun shrimps. Their food came out very consistent cooking, which tastes pretty much exactly like I had eaten before a few day ago, which is good. And finally, I'm back to San Jose.

7. Well, that's all folks! And thank you for reading my short report. I would definitely come back to this restaurant again and again because I love eating 'Seafood' .. It's just like "I love Kung Fu" from watching 'Kung Fu Panda". By the way, this restaurant is about a few blocks away from 'South Coast Plaza' shopping center."

Viviankimca
Viviankimca

Wow I must say I'm thankful to find a place to get my seafood in a bag without the ridiculous wait at Boiling Crab. This place is simply great! I came here on a Friday night, found parking as soon as I turned in, and was seated right away. This was already a huge plus, because finding parking and waiting at BC sucks.

Anyways got in ordered a Sam Adam's and my friend ordered a Heineken. Only $2.50 for domestic beers, and $3 for imports! Steal! Next we ordered, we both had a pound of shrimp each. We both ordered it Kickin Style, which is pretty much everything, similar to the whole shebang. I ordered Spicy, and my friend had Spicy-Spicy...Koreans and their spicy needs. We also ordered a basket of their Cajun Fries. I actually loved the fries, they were thin and crunchy with a good texture and the perfect amount of Cajun spices.

The food came out in a timely manner, and it smelled delicious. Peeled my first shrimp and went in for the kill, it tasted just as good as it smelled. I will admit that it doesn't taste exactly like BC, however I liked it better than BC! It has a very nice spicy creamy note to it. The sauce actually goes into the shrimp and feels like its been marinating for a while. At BC whenever I peel the shrimp I feel like it lost 70% of its flavor. I also really like the fact that they had something in between medium and spicy-spicy. It was the perfect amount of spice for me.....Read the rest of the review by Allen P. on Yelp

Alliance
Alliance

The Kickin Crab is one of the newest dining experiences among the vast collection of dining found in South Coast Metro. South Coast Metro includes north Costa Mesa and south Santa Ana. You'll want to try the newest addition soon.South Coast Metro Alliance

Danthekc
Danthekc

this is totally untrue!at the kickin crab, they only served fresh crawfish - never frozenwanna frozen crawfish plz go somewhere else!!!

Devinf65
Devinf65

OK. maybe it was fresh. whatever it was, it was not cleaned and they were small. do they soak their crawfish before cooking? by the taste of dirt, I'd highly doubt it. Did not have a bad time/meal, but did have bad crawfish.

 
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