Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Claws Restaurant - restaurant review

A group of friends met Sunday night at Claws Restaurant to celebrate one person's birthday, and I was excited to go because the menu looked fabulous to me. I love seafood, and this just looked like a seafood paradise.

From the address, I had figured out that the restaurant was in a mini-mall, but it wasn't so much a "mini" mall but rather a fairly large outdoor mall, and the restaurant itself was a bit inset and not easily seen from the street, so as I was looking for the right street number, I ended up driving right past the entire huge complex. Once I got to the residential district, I knew I'd passed it and so turned around - and then missed it again, spotting the sign above the restaurant just as I passed the correct place to turn into. Another u-turn later, I finally figured out that turning into Pavillion Way was the right place to go. One nice thing about the location is that there is plenty of nearby parking.

I was very surprised when I walked into the restaurant to see that it wasn't quite what I had expected. From what I'd seen on the website and of the menu and what I'd read on yelp, I had thought the restaurant was bigger and a bit more upscale. Instead, it was basically a one-room (though not a tiny room) restaurant, and it was very casual, which was actually quite nice. The restaurant was decorated with a distinct pirates theme, and there were a few flat-screen televisions mounted on the walls. We laughed because the television nearest our tables was set on the Food Network. I joined my friends who at the tables, and all the tables were set with butcher block paper put down. That was an indication to me that lots of people order things that require having the butcher block paper. It was the nice butcher block paper too - the heavy kind with wax on the backside.

The biggest problem I ran into was figuring out what I wanted from the menu - it all sounded so good. There is one thing that's indicated on the in-restaurant menu that's not reflected on the on-line menu - the Captain's Catch selections are referred to as seafood in a bag when you're in the restaurant, so my friends pointed this out to me, and we wondered what that meant. We asked the waitress, and she said that they actually boil the seafood in the bag, and they also serve it to you in the bag. We later saw some at another table, and sure enough, it was a huge heavy-duty plastic bag with whatever seafood item that was ordered inside.

The regular entrees looked pretty good, but I managed to narrow my choices down to the Captain's Catch options. I couldn't decide on one thing, so I decided to just go for broke and try the Under the Sea Bag, which was a combination of clams, mussels, crawfish and shrimp. It was market price, and when I ordered it, the waitress mentioned that it was $30 and was about 4 lbs. I figured, ok, it's all in the shell, so that would probably account for a lot of the weight, and I decided to splurge, so I said fine. You can choose among three different seasonings (cajun, garlic butter and lemon pepper), or you can choose the "cannon ball", which is a combination of all three. You can also choose the spicyness - mild (which isn't actually printed on the menu), medium, spicy and "fire in the hole" (extra spicy). I asked the waitress how hot the spicy was, and she said it was very spicy, so even though I do like spicy, I decided to just try it medium. I had also been intrigued that fried okra was on the menu - I love okra, but they also had gumbo, which I also love, so I was trying to decide which to have. When I expressed my dilemma to the waitress, she said that they were actually out of gumbo so my decision was made for me - I ordered the fried okra as well.

One of the other people at the table had ordered the fried okra as well, and when she got her order, a few of us wondered if they had combined both of our orders because the appetizer order was HUGE. We thought it would have been weird for them to just decide to combine our two orders into one, and we only realized they hadn't when they then brought my order. Oh my goodnes. The fried okra was amazingly tasty. It had a light, seasoned breading, but you could still taste the okra and feel the texture as well. De-lic-ious. But it's definitely an order you can share with one or two other people. I took quite a bit home and had it the next day. I often don't heat up leftovers because most leftovers taste good to me cold. That was the case with the fried okra. Obviously, they weren't crispy anymore, but they were still very tasty.

One of the other people at the table had the clam chowder, which looked good, so I'll have to go back and try that sometime, and I'd like to try the gumbo as well.

We did find it odd that one of the items on the menu was "extra condiments" at a cost of $.50. We joked that they would charge if we asked for ketchup or salt and pepper (since there were no shakers on the table), but we never figured out what they would actually charge the $.50 for. I'll have to ask next time.

And then they brought the main courses. And I got a HUMONGOUS bag. It was definitely much more than I had expected. Apparently, I had no conception of what four pounds of seafood would be in actuality. It sure smelled great though. Both the clams and mussels were not of the small-shelled, very-little-meat variety - instead, they all had very healthy pieces of meat inside each shell. The shrimp were also very large, and they were generally very good quality, though they weren't the best I've had. While some of them were easy to peel, some were much harder to peel, which generally indicates that they're not the absolute freshest they could be. But they were still very good. And then there was the crawfish. I'd only had crawfish once before, quite some years ago, and I really liked them. They do look like mini-lobsters, and I think some people might find them off-putting to eat because of that since they arrive whole, but I had no problem ripping various bits off and biting into the head and body and getting the meat out of the little tail. I'm glad to know that when I'm craving crawfish, I know exactly where to go.

The menu hadn't indicated such, but there was also apparently half a corn on the cob in the mix as well as one piece of potato and a couple pieces of andouille sausage, which were very tasty indeed.

I ate my full, but there was so much still left, so I decided to take the rest home. The waitress tied the knot in the bag and put it inside a clean bag of the same type and then into a big paper bag. I joked that it looked like I'd just gone shopping at Costco.

I had decided to have the leftovers for dinner on Monday night, but I apparently underestimated exactly how much I had left over. Because cold seafood isn't necessarily a good thing (unless it's really meant to be cold), I did reheat the seafood in the microwave, and it wasn't exactly as good as the night before, but everything was still very good. But after I'd had my fill again, there was still quite a bit left, so I'll be having the rest of it for dinner another night this week. The serving could easily serve three people, and while I still think it was a great deal for the cost, it's not something I would order again unless I was sharing with at least one other person.

So having a bagful of wonderful seafood was terrific. There was one thing I didn't count on though. The "medium" spicyness level was actually *very* spicy. You could taste the heat from the very beginning, and the more you ate, the more it accumulated, so I wasn't eating very fast mostly because my lips and mouth just started to burn more and more. Water helped some, but only temporarily. Considering that was what they called "medium", I can't even begin to think what "spicy" or worse, "extra spicy" would be like. Just go ahead and bring a blowtorch and set my lips and mouth directly on fire and just bypass the middle-man of the food itself. I didn't really know exactly what was accounting for the spicyness. I thought maybe it was a combination of the spicy and the cajun. I love garlic, and it was definitely extremely heavy on the garlic, so I'll probably still have the garlic butter next time. I'm generally a fan of lemon pepper, so I'll probably still have that as well. I'm thinking I'll try the cannon ball but mild instead of medium and see how that works. If that's still too spicy, then I'd go for mild with the garlic and lemon pepper and leave off the cajun. After I reheated everything the second night, I think I figured out where the incredible spicyness came from. Whereas the sauce had been completely mixed when I had it at the restaurant, it separated some after being reheated, and you could see the layer of chili oil. Everything was just as spicy on Monday night, and I had a lot of water to cool down my mouth while I was eating. Even with as spicy as everything was on both nights, you could still taste the other great flavorings, so the spicyness didn't completely overwhelm everything else.

On the website, there's a link to this review that was apparently written last October when the restaurant first opened. In that review, you can see what the bag of seafood (in this case, crawfish) looks like when it's served on the butcher-block-ladened table. There are also pictures of an individual crawfish, the gumbo and the fried okra.

I am curious about one thing though - the following picture is included on the main page of the restaurant's website.

I didn't see any item on the menu that included a mixture of shrimp, crawfish and corn, which sounds really good to me. Maybe it's a combination they had previously or something you can order where you can mix and match. I'll definitely have to ask next time.

The service was generally good, except that our waitress disappeared for a while toward the end of our meal, so we sat around for some time before we could get the bill. However, it wasn't anything that would deter me from going again, as she was generally very nice and helpful and friendly.

As you can see, I definitely plan to make return trips to the restaurant to try various dishes. I like the more casual atmosphere and the almost family-style feeling. It actually makes a lot of sense to me because if you're ordering any of the seafood in a bag, it's going to be a fairly messy dinner, and you wouldn't want to be wearing nice clothes. They did offer bibs, but they weren't very thick or big, so they don't necessarily cover up as much of you as you might need, even if you're not an extremely messy eater. But this is a restaurant that I would highly recommend.

Claws Restaurant
12093 Brookhurst Street, #E
(just south of Chapman Avenue)
Garden Grove, CA 92840
(714) 590-1295

Here's the official website.

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