Dining out: Boiling over with goodness at Bucket O' Crawfish

Dining out • Seafood boil defines Bucket O' Crawfish, making it a messy delight.

By Stuart Melling Special To The Tribune

Published January 24th 2012 4:06 pm



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Dungeness crab ($10.95 a pound) was a different story. It requires a two-pound minimum order, as the whole crab is delivered to the table -- legs and body, and everything therein. While the legs were adequate, the interior was a mystery. Our server didn't offer any hints or tips on what might be delectable and, in the end, most of the crab was discarded: It was a terrible waste.

Crawfish (market price), too, was a conundrum, especially with little to no guidance. I was compelled to order and sample the restaurant's namesake, but was confused by the "mudbugs" scant offering of meat and finicky shells. Mussels ($9.95 a pound) and blue crab ($9.95 a pound) round out the rest of the items on the boil menu. In addition, a small handful of fried items are offered. A basket of fried catfish ($9.95 with Cajun fries) was good, offering generous chunks of beautifully light and delicate whitefish.

Diners who choose shellfish might want to add some bulk to their meal. A range of "sidekicks" can be added to your boil bag, such as corn (75 cents, half ear) or potatoes ($1.50). My pick was the pork, alligator (yes, you read gator), mango and jalape?o sausage slices ($2.95) which I found wonderfully juicy with just a hint of sweetness. Cajun fries ($3.95) and sweet potato fries ($4.95) also were acceptable. A welcome addition would be complimentary bread for mopping up those seasoning juices and messy hands. As things stand, the $1 surcharge for bread feels chintzy.

Speaking of those boil juices, I found all the flavors perfectly acceptable but after each meal, paper towels were no match for what was left on our hands. The lack of wet wipes felt like a gargantuan oversight and, in turn, meant unnecessary restroom lines at times. Service varied across my visits. On one occasion our server seemed overwhelmed by a restaurant barely at one-third capacity, forgetting drink orders and vanishing on occasion. During another visit, our server was happy to demonstrate the best way to de-construct a crawfish.

If cracking, snapping and slurping sound like words you don't want to associate with dinner, Bucket O' Crawfish probably isn't for you. There is no getting around the fact that this is a uniquely hands-on experience. For some though, getting to know your food in such an intimate manner will be an opportunity not to be missed, and for them Bucket O' Crawfish is worth a visit.

Salt Lake Tribune restaurant reviewer Stuart Melling blogs at gastronomicslc.com. Send comments about this review to food@sltrib.com or post a response at facebook.com/tribremix.

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West Valley City • Restaurateur Mai Nguyen has been serving consistently great Asian cuisine through her two established eateries -- Pho Green Papaya and Sapa. Her latest venture is the playful, and aptly named, Bucket O' Crawfish, which is all about the art of the seafood boil.

This southern (particularly Louisiana) specialty involves one or more shellfish being boiled in a large pot with a smattering of other items such as corn and potatoes. The boil is seasoned before being served unpretentiously on a newspaper-covered table top, ready for the gathered masses to dig in.

The d?cor of the relatively new restaurant -- right across from Pho Green Papaya in West Valley City -- sets the scene perfectly. The interior transports you from the hustle and bustle of 3500 South to a coastal beach. Heavy ropes support swathes of netting which hang from big sturdy wooden "pier" posts. The glass frontage and light wooden furniture contribute to the breezy feeling. There also is a counter with plenty of seating to drink a cold brew or soda ($2.95 for most bottled beers) while watching a game on the overhead screens.

Dinner at Bucket O' Crawfish is a tactile affair, certainly not for the meek or shy. In a nutshell, you order a choice of shellfish, select a seasoning (Cajun, lemon pepper, garlic butter or a "crazy mix" of all three) and finally specify a level of spice on a scale of mild to hot. Your shellfish are then cooked to order (indeed, some items are live up until the boiling water greets them) before appearing tableside in a plastic sack. Guests dig into the sack with bare hands; there are no plates, bowls, etc. A metal bucket receives dispensed shells, claws and other detritus -- and there are plenty of paper towels for messy hands. You might see a shell cracker or crab fork -- but that's where accessories start and end.

Over the course of several visits, the immediacy of this hands-on approach exemplified the highs and lows of the restaurant. Simply put, some will love Bucket O' Crawfish, while others will recoil in terror. Case in point -- there was no denying the freshness of perfectly cooked succulent shrimp ($9.95 a pound). But, dismantling those heads, legs and shells left some of my dining companions perplexed and frustrated; others were positively gleeful. The fact that the shrimp were not de-veined compounded matters for some, others simply gave a nonchalant shrug while sucking spicy juice and meat from the shell.

Snow crab ($12.95 a pound) will probably be the most accessible boil item for many and Bucket O' Crawfish didn't disappoint. The crab was perfectly moist and thoroughly delicious. Clams ($9.95 a pound) too are not overtly radical and those I sampled were plump and tender. Only one or two in several pounds failed to open. [2] =>

Dungeness crab ($10.95 a pound) was a different story. It requires a two-pound minimum order, as the whole crab is delivered to the table -- legs and body, and everything therein. While the legs were adequate, the interior was a mystery. Our server didn't offer any hints or tips on what might be delectable and, in the end, most of the crab was discarded: It was a terrible waste.

Crawfish (market price), too, was a conundrum, especially with little to no guidance. I was compelled to order and sample the restaurant's namesake, but was confused by the "mudbugs" scant offering of meat and finicky shells. Mussels ($9.95 a pound) and blue crab ($9.95 a pound) round out the rest of the items on the boil menu. In addition, a small handful of fried items are offered. A basket of fried catfish ($9.95 with Cajun fries) was good, offering generous chunks of beautifully light and delicate whitefish.

Diners who choose shellfish might want to add some bulk to their meal. A range of "sidekicks" can be added to your boil bag, such as corn (75 cents, half ear) or potatoes ($1.50). My pick was the pork, alligator (yes, you read gator), mango and jalape?o sausage slices ($2.95) which I found wonderfully juicy with just a hint of sweetness. Cajun fries ($3.95) and sweet potato fries ($4.95) also were acceptable. A welcome addition would be complimentary bread for mopping up those seasoning juices and messy hands. As things stand, the $1 surcharge for bread feels chintzy.

Speaking of those boil juices, I found all the flavors perfectly acceptable but after each meal, paper towels were no match for what was left on our hands. The lack of wet wipes felt like a gargantuan oversight and, in turn, meant unnecessary restroom lines at times. Service varied across my visits. On one occasion our server seemed overwhelmed by a restaurant barely at one-third capacity, forgetting drink orders and vanishing on occasion. During another visit, our server was happy to demonstrate the best way to de-construct a crawfish.

If cracking, snapping and slurping sound like words you don't want to associate with dinner, Bucket O' Crawfish probably isn't for you. There is no getting around the fact that this is a uniquely hands-on experience. For some though, getting to know your food in such an intimate manner will be an opportunity not to be missed, and for them Bucket O' Crawfish is worth a visit.

Salt Lake Tribune restaurant reviewer Stuart Melling blogs at gastronomicslc.com. Send comments about this review to food@sltrib.com or post a response at facebook.com/tribremix.

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2.5 out of 4 stars

Bucket O’ Crawfish

Food 2.5 out of 4 stars

Mood 3 out of 4 stars

Service 2 out of 4 stars

Noise • bb

The down-home art of the seafood boil comes to West Valley City. Prepare to get messy and hands-on with your food as you snap, crack and slurp your way through fresh shellfish boiled in the bag.

Location • 1980 W. 3500 South, West Valley City; 801-419-0900

Online • www.bucketocrawfish.com

Hours • Monday to Thursday, 4 to 9 p.m.; Friday, 4 to 10 p.m.; Saturday, noon to 10 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 8:30 p.m.

Children’s menu • Yes

Prices • $$

Liquor • Beer

Reservations • No

Takeout • No

Wheelchair access • Yes

Outdoor dining • No

On-site parking • Yes

Credit cards • Visa, MC, Discover