Monday, May 20, 2013

Pesky Crawfish at Cray

Cray Kitchen and Bar on UrbanspoonAfter reading the article in the Georgia Straight about where to get an authentic New Orleans crawfish boil, I went to Cray Kitchen and Bar to try it out. Disaster.

Cray offers three types of Seafood Combos:
  • The Pacific ($20) - Shrimp in the shell, Clams, Mussels, Andouille Sausage, Corn on the cob, and Potatoes
  • Cray-ving Crawfish ($25) - The Pacific, plus Crawfish
  • Crab Combo ($29) - Cray-ving Crawfish plus one BC Dungeness Crab cut in half.
There are three types of seasoning: Cajun, garlic butter, and lemon pepper. You can also ask for a mix of everything, and all the main ingredients do sort of stand out. It's tasty. The soup that's sitting at the bottom of the large bowl of boiled seafood you get -- it's tasty.
I need to emphasize this because when you read the rest of this blog post, you might think I hated my Crab Combo at Cray. That's not entirely true. I didn't really like it, but there's no denying the soup is tasty.
Also, after unlimited crab legs at the Grand Villa Casino it was hard not to be disappointed by the Crab Combo being just one crab, so I'm biased there as well. Basically, +$4 gets you one half of a crab at Cray. You'll have to decide if a few crab legs are worth $4 to you.
With these caveats out of the way, let's talk about Cray's Crab Combo.

About them pesky crawfish... You get a little pamphlet about how to eat it. It shows a remarkably large crawfish the size of a small lobster / large prawn being easily peeled.
Lies. All lies. (Or my manual dexterity sucks). The crawfish we got were smaller than a prawn and their heads were about the same size or bigger than the rest of their bodies. They have lobster-like shells, so they are harder to peel, and for less meat. Not worth the effort. Also, sucking the head didn't really work for me. Nothing came out. Maybe it all melted into goo into the tasty soup.
If you do want to eat it for the novelty, I recommend using scissors to cut the shell open lengthwise on top and open it up  that way instead of peeling off the segments of shell. You might have to bring your own scissors, though.
Or, you can (after you've twisted off the head) dip the whole tail (shell included) in the soup and eat the whole thing. The shell is crunchy and less chewy than prawn shells. Think of it as a cracker.

As for the seafood boil, we made a number of mistakes on how to tackle it, so here's my advice for a hopefully better experience...
  • First, ask for mini-samples of the seasonings to test for heat / spiciness. I found "XXX" to be too much on the bitter side but it was not super-hot. "Spicy" was closer to my expectations for something around Medium or between Mild and Medium, but everyone has their own tolerance. If you like it spicy, I recommend you get a sample of the seasoning first. You can get chili on the side later and you can also get a refill of soup (but this costs extra).
  • The orders come in a large basin for two persons. An order for three persons is possible but there's some sort of complication in measuring (they probably have the items pre-portioned into boiling bags for two persons) and your order could be delayed.
  • Ask them for plates and soup spoons. I would be rather appalled if they didn't give you soup spoons, but I recommend you try it anyway.
  • All that tasty soup with seasoning is AT THE BOTTOM of the basin. There's not enough seasoning on the items. DO NOT start eating. You won't get the experience of the seasonings. When your order comes, take stuff out and put it on your plate. You want to thin it out so that you can get at the soup.
    • For clams and mussels, you can use the shell as a spoon to get some soup to go with the meat you slurp down.
    • For prawns and crawfish, after you peel off the shell, dip it into the soup. Otherwise you're just eating boiled prawn because any seasoning that was on it got tossed along with the shell (duh...).
    • For potatoes, they roughly cut them into pretty big chunks. I recommend you cut them into smaller blobs, maybe about a cubic inch or so, and let them soak some more in the soup. If you cut them into too-small pieces, they could disintegrate. They should peel pretty easily and you might want to do that because the soup won't soak so well through the skin.
    • For the corn (basically one corn cut into two portions about four inches long), they are quite soaked already, but before you start eating you might want to roll them around to make sure its all coated in the sauce.
    • The sausage should be fine as it is, but you might have to be quick to find them. If your partner isn't alert, they might accidentally eat all of the few pieces in there.
  • Because of all that peeling that needs to be done, you probably won't even be halfway through when the whole thing gets cold. You can ask it to be reheated, especially if some of the potatoes are not quite cooked through and still crunchy on the inside.
  • After you're done, you'll probably be asked if you want bread to soak up the soup. Sounds like a super-awesome idea but $3 gets you 5 pieces of nicely toasted bread that barely add up to a single slice of thick toast. Remember I asked you to get soup spoons? Now's the time to use them. (You could, I suppose, use the mussel shells; but they have nice big soup spoons that they hand out for their gumbo and chowder orders). You'd probably need two orders of bread to get at most of the soup in a two-person seafood boil order, and at $3 per order, that's rather annoying to pay.
Cray isn't a big place, so it's probably safer to make reservations. Also, if you are looking for something specific and won't accept substitutions, call ahead for availability. For example, oysters were all sold out on the night I went, and we were in just around 7pm.

Staff is friendly (and cute!) and the place has a nice, relaxed vibe. I suppose the best part of the seafood boil wasn't so much the seafood or the soup, but the fun of getting messy eating. Not the best thing to order on a touchy-feely date night, but it's a great way to share food.

You get plastic aprons, but I still wouldn't wear white. Just sayin'.

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