Carla Meyer

First impressions: Downtown Boiling Crab offers a mess of a good time

Dungeness crab boil with corn and red potatoes at the new Boiling Crab on K Street in Sacramento
Dungeness crab boil with corn and red potatoes at the new Boiling Crab on K Street in Sacramento

First Impressions visits dining spots that are new or have undergone transitions. Have a candidate for First Impressions? Email us at taste@sacbee.com.

They really push the shrimp at the Boiling Crab.

Our server, a likable young man named Powell, pointed out, without prompting, that his go-to dish at the 2-week-old seafood restaurant across from the Crest Theatre on K Street is boiled shrimp and sauce, at $13 a pound. Unlike other seafood-boil selections at the Boiling Crab, it also comes in an economical half-pound portion, he added.

Another staff member later told us, as we were leaving, that next time we should try the shrimp. She said it is the most popular item at Boiling Crab, the biggest downtown restaurant venture to open, post-Golden 1 Center unveiling, after El Rey/Malt & Mash three blocks to its west.

But we read the sign outside the enormous, 230-seat seafood restaurant that moved into the space at 1000 K formerly occupied by Assembly Music Hall. It did not say “Boiling Shrimp.”

We ordered the Dungeness crab, which was boiled before being tossed, with red potatoes and corn on the cob we had to order separately, in a plastic bag with a heavy spice mix. The crab and fixings arrive at the table still in the bag, ready to be poured directly onto the white wax paper covering the table. The order comes with a crab cracker and scooper but no other utensils.

One picks the flavor of the mix before the crab is cooked. We picked “the whole she-bang,” a combination of Boiling Crab’s three other sauces – Cajun spicy, lemon pepper and garlic. The diner also chooses a heat level from a list culminating in an extra-hot “XXX” option. We chose “mild,” after Powell explained its heat level is similar to that of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, a comparison we immediately understood, and liked.

Powell took my multistep order for the crab boil only after telling/warning me of its $22-per-pound price. Imparting prices appears to be part of the server’s job at Boiling Crab, a Southern California-based chain with more than a dozen locations, including its original Sacramento spot, on 65th Street near Stockton Boulevard. The menu holds many “market price” listings instead of numbers.

The cost of my crab boil was around $50, including $2.50 for potatoes and $1.25 for corn. That’s a lot of money. But it was also a lot of food. And Powell and fellow staff members seemed to be pulling for me to order the far less-costly shrimp. So it’s not like they saw me coming and upcharged me.

Menu: Seafood boil-ready crab, oysters, lobster, crayfish and mussels. Fried shrimp, oysters and calamari served in baskets with Cajun fries.

Price point: Hard to determine precisely, with so many food items listed as “market price.” We also had to inquire about the price of the Rubicon Monkey Knife Fight bottled beer ($5) we ordered, because it was not listed. Prices that are made explicit seem reasonable enough, like a catfish and fries basket for $11, and chicken tenders and fries for $9.

Ambiance: Like El Rey’s, this space seems to have been modeled in the image of the arena, in that it looks big enough to accommodate a full basketball court and at least a few seats for fans.

Polished concrete floors and rustic wood touches hew to the clean, slightly industrial design scheme dominating today’s restaurants. Floor-to-ceiling windows up front offer a nice view of the Crest’s bright lights.

Drinks: Domestic and imported bottled beers. Fountain sodas.

First impressions: We had a thoroughly pleasant experience when we visited on an off-night for the arena. There were plenty of seats available. Noise levels were low, and the service staff’s energy high.

The crab boil hit the spot. The crab’s flesh was supple and sweet and the red potatoes creamy. The seasoning, with its heavy flavor of chilies, cooked garlic cloves and abundant oil, is deeply flavored and hard to stop eating. Adding lime juice (squeezed from wedges that also came, curiously, when we asked for a bib) added dimension. The boil now tasted like Flamin’ Hot Límon Cheetos.

Though we understood a mess as part of the Boiling Crab experience, we wished for a bucket to hold our shells, like Joe’s Crab Shack in Old Sacramento provides, and for Joe’s selection of fruity drinks. We also liked the crab slightly less than the Dungeness at Crab City, a similarly Cajun-themed seafood place on Stockton Boulevard. It comes with a sticky sweet yet earthy sauce and garlic noodles – another item Boiling Crab does not carry.

Try it if: You’re headed to the arena with a group, and want lots of food to share.

Skip it if: You’re a neat freak.

The Boiling Crab

1000 K St., Sacramento, suite 100

Information: www.theboilingcrab.com

Hours: 3-10 p.m. Monday-Friday; noon-10 p.m. Saturday-Sunday.

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