Anyone who hangs out with me has to be adventurous when it comes to eating. Which means they also have to be okay with the fact that sometimes things are going to get weird.
And speaking of weird, let's talk about a Portland restaurant called the ďRockiní Crab.Ē One of my favorite things is being surprised by a restaurant thatís much better than I think it will be; maybe even better than it needs to be. I discovered the ďRockiní CrabĒ last winter and ate there again last night, which is why Iím thinking and writing about it now.
First of all, I think we can all agree that ďRockiní CrabĒ is a terrible name for a restaurant. Itís the kind of name that makes you wonder if itís even safe to eat there. And if that wasnít bad enough, when you walk into the restaurant the walls are covered with the sort of faux nautical tchotchkes (nets, ropes, shells, etc) that used to adorn dubious seafood restaurants in the 1970ís. This is not good.
To put it as diplomatically as I can, the Rockiní Crabís initial impression doesnít exactly generate high hopes. In fact the first time I went there we nearly walked right back out of the place. To be honest I canít even remember why we didnít. I suspect it had something to do with a combination of hunger and laziness.
Or maybe we stayed just long enough to look at the menu, because thatís when things there get interesting. The food they serve is not at all what you would expect at a place called the ďRockiní Crab.Ē There are three main things on the menu: Chinese hot pots, Asian clay pots, and Cajun boils. Chinese, Asian and Cajun. I shit you not.
The Cajun Boils are what first sparked my interest. The way it works is that you order seafood by the pound, and they boil it in Cajun spices and then serve it to you in a bag. Boiled seafood served in a bag? Doesnít exactly sound tempting does it? Trust me, itís so good you would plotz.
There are anywhere from 6-8 seafood items on their menu at any given time, and last night we ordered a pound of shell-on shrimp, and a pound of crab legs. We also had them throw some corn on the cob into the shrimp bag. If you want theyíll also put some potatoes or hot links in there too, but we didnít bother with that. Instead, we got some sweet potato fries and crusty French bread to sop up the sauce.
When they bring the seafood to you itís literally in a big, HOT bag. You turn the contents out onto a plate and go at it with your hands. Shrimp has to be peeled, crab has to be cracked into pieces and pulled apart. And suffice it to say, if youíre even slightly sensitive about getting messy or touching food with your hands, you canít eat at this place. Really, if you canít handle that and you happen to find yourself walking by - just keep walking.
However, for those of us to who donít mind getting up to our elbows in good eats or looking like we fell into a cow that exploded, this place is both fun and delicious. As for myself, by the time I was done eating I had a pile of used, sauce-covered napkins that was so big it looked like I had just finished eight hours of trauma surgery.
My friend Jill on the other hand employed a completely different strategy. She knew from the get-go that things were going to get nuts, made her peace with that, and decided to not even bother wiping her hands until she was completely done. I have to say, it was an impressive display of battlefield bravery. And as you can see in the attached picture, she paid the price. Thereís more goo on her hands than youíll find in the average zombie apocalypse movie. Delicious Cajun-sauce goo. But stillÖ
When we were done and asked one of the employees if there were any wet naps he just laughed and pointed at the washing station for customers. Which is not something you see at most restaurants, but at this place it makes a lot of sense. The Rockiní Crab is way past mere wet naps.
And by the way, I know itís a little odd that I pixilated Jillís face. But I did that for three reasons: 1) at the point I took this picture her face wasnít far behind her hands. It was a slasher movie with Cajun spicing. 2) I knew I was going to post this shot anyway. I mean, címon. 3) If she found out that I posted the original unedited image on my Facebook feed for thousands of people to see, my life might have been in actual danger.
AnywayÖthis place is not just good. Itís unexpectedly good. And I donít know where you stand on such things, but thatís a pretty big deal to me.
Because good food brings me joy.
- Michael Arnovitz on fb