Great crabs, if you’re in a pinch“I’ve got crabs” isn’t the kind of confession one makes in polite company. Especially in a profession as respectable as investment banking.
Which could explain why Sam Chi (Chi Jeong-sam) left JP Morgan for the racier fields of sports marketing and restaurant ownership. This leaves him free to state not only, “I’ve got crabs,” but, “I’ve got big crabs. Lots of them. I got ‘em in Sri Lanka.”
Those crabs are found, thankfully, in the kitchen of his brand new restaurant, Krazy Krab, in Cheongdam-dong.
It’s a big, bright, two-story establishment on the main Cheongdam strip. Upstairs, there’s a balcony, complete with candlelit tables in the evening. A giant airbrushed crab lurks on the wall next to the stairs, and the overall ambiance is somewhere between Mediterranean and Southeast Asian.
How cool is it? Well, this building used to house the Versace store, and the night we were there, there were several ostentatiously beautiful backsides parked on the seats next to us. Balancing them out was a table full of distinctly unbeautiful ssireum wrestlers. (Perhaps crab improves the grip?)
Fortunately, you don’t need to be a celebrity, sports star or supermodel to get in; Mr. Chi is casually dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, and there’s not a hint of pretension that we could detect.
The menu lists crab and fried rice. That’s it.
Sam got the idea when he was on a business trip to Singapore, where he was blown away by the hawker stalls selling crabs.
However, the 65-year-old crab chef he approached on three occasions refused to come to Korea. It was only after a mutual acquaintance made an introduction that this chef accepted the invitation ― and hired two more Singapore proteges to join him.
But enough history. Let’s get down to business. We start with black pepper crab (35,000 won) and soft-shell crab (38,000 won).
Before you shriek at these prices, rest assured that other crab restaurants in this neighborhood retail crustaceans at around 30-50 percent more. Sourcing from Sri Lanka allows Mr. Chi to sell his crabs cheaper.
The black pepper crab’s sauce is a mix of black pepper, oyster sauce, Chinese wine and butter, sprinkled with chopped green onions. It’s dark, rich, substantial and full of character.
The soft-shell crab is deep-fried and is served with a honey sauce and a Southeast Asian sweet chili sauce. Great stuff. The texture is a joy and the sauces are terrific.
(Mr. Chi insists that soft-shell crabs are good for men’s “stamina” and for women’s skin.)
We also order Curry Crab (35,000 won). This comes in a thick, creamy, coconut sauce; smooth at first, but with a fair kick in the aftertaste.
The crustaceans themselves are medium sized ― one crab will serve two moderately hungry diners ― and taste fresh and sweet.
The side dishes are also authentically Southeast Asian; sweet roasted peanuts and lightly spiced, caramelized anchovies.
Finally, the fried rice (7,000 won) is dry, light and fluffy, served with shredded egg, shrimp and chopped green onions. Commendable.
Indian-style breads are in the pipeline. These will be excellent to mop up the sauces. And, by the time this article appears, the breads may be on the menu.
For drinks, there is a range of canned tropical fruit juices and a decent selection of beers.
With the black pepper and soft-shell crabs, we recommend a Chinese Tsingtao (one of Asia’s better lagers). With the curry, a Belgian Hoegaarden (a white wheat beer brewed with coriander and lemon) is more appropriate to quench the flames. Beers are 7,000 won a bottle.
Service is young, efficient and wears a smile ― it’s that kind of place.
Verdict: If we said, “This is as good as most Seoul pojangmaja,” we would reasonably expect the chef to come after us with his cleaver aloft.
Instead, we’ll say, “This is a good as any crab we have eaten on the streets of Singapore, Malacca, Kuala Lumpur, or Penang.” As anyone who has visited those cities will know, that is praise indeed.
As for Mr. Chi, he quit high finance for mud-dwelling marine life. Good choice, if you ask us.
Telephone: (02) 3448-5691
Address: Between Nanta Theater and the Galleria Department Store, almost across from the entrance to Rodeo Drive
Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily
Credit Cards: Accepted
Parking: Valet parking
by Andrew and Jinny Salmon