Cajun cuisine exploded in Southern California about 30 years ago, spawning a multitude of restaurants based upon the spices of Louisiana’s back country. After a few years the trend wore itself out, leaving the area with only a handful of restaurants serving any type of Cajun dish. In the last few years a new trend began, based upon the simple idea of the seafood boil. This has become a big thing in Orange County, with dozens of Cajun-themed restaurants serving shrimp, crawfish, crab and more. The Kickin’ Crab is a fine example, serving fresh, seasonal seafood simply prepared.
My love of Cajun food goes back to my teens. At 5 years old my son could eat a pound of fresh cooked crawfish. For a long time, however, there was no place in the LA/OC area to get these things. That’s all changed now, thanks to the vietnamese immigrants who came in through New Orleans and brought their love of Cajun food to California.
The Magnolia Street location of the Kickin’ Crab is easy to access from the 405. A beer and wine bar sits near the entrance, perfect for a drink while you are waiting for friends. That is one of the important things about a place like this——-it is not your romantic table for two type place. Instead, it is perfect for going in a group, a fun type of place where sharing is encouraged.
Appetizers are varied, with fresh-shucked oysters on the half shell being an excellent choice. Served with a basic cocktail sauce, some limes and Tabasco, the oysters are served on a bed of ice.
Gumbo is also available or a Louisiana clam chowder. Other appetizers include Cajun fries, sweet potato fries and hot wings. For the adventurous, there is a dish that is a nod to the area’s Vietnamese heritage. This dish is the coconut sea snails. A plate of sea snails, simmered in a coconut broth with onions, ginger and chilies, comes on a paper plate. The tops of the shells have been cracked, so it is a relatively simple task to suck the meat out of the shell. It is time consuming, but the flavor is worth it. Like Orange County, Louisiana has a large population of Vietnamese residents, so it stands to reason that a crossover dish like this would work well.
Serving is easy here, with the seafood presented in plastic bags and dumped on the table after it has been covered in butcher paper. Shrimp and clams are always on the menu but it is a good idea to call first to see which seasonal items are available. During season, fresh crawfish are the way to go.
They are sold by the pound and contain some incredibly sweet and delicious meat in their tails. It is not unusual to see a small child there with a big pile of shells in front of them. Other seasonal items include dungeness, blue, king crab and lobster. The seafood comes cooked in your choice of seasonings, from a mild lemon pepper to a spicy Cajun style. In addition, you can request the level of spiciness. Beware—–they are accurate on their heat level descriptions. Mild is mild, but spicy is HOT. Another option, and one that produces an incredible depth of flavor, is to order Kickin’ Style, a combination of all the seasonings. Also in the mix you can add items such as corn on the cobs, sausages and potatoes.
These are presented in the bag too, the potatoes and corn soaking up the seafood flavor and seasonings for a delicious side dish. Once the food has been served, it is just a matter of cracking the shells and enjoying. It is not a fast meal and certainly is a messy one, but it is a lot of fun and a great place to go with a group.
Kickin’ Crab is busy, but does not seem to have the excessive waits that some other well-known similar-type places do. The service is excellent with attentive servers who know the menu well. It is a great choice when you want fresh seafood prepared simply and served with an order of fun. It has become my go-to place to bring a group of people for fun and some great seafood. As much as I love to go to Louisiana and Alabama for these treats, it is nice to have a place just as good within a few miles of my house.
1596 Magnolia Street #101