‘Crabphile’ heaven: all you can eatDining out on crab normally means one of two things: frustratingly small portions (maybe a leg or two) in a course meal full of extra dishes, or a bill that guarantees you’ll starve for the rest of the month. Either experience means enormous stress for us crab lovers, especially in high season.
Our ideal meal would be an all-you-can-eat crab buffet, at a price just a bit higher than that of a typical restaurant meal. Given the market price of fresh crabs, that’s not so unreasonable, is it? But is there such a thing in the capital’s competitive dining market? Yes, there is.
Since Wangdoljam, one of the capital’s better-known crab restaurants, started all-you-can-eat crab buffet meals for 50,000 won ($41) in May, word has gotten around.
“You see, we have no empty tables on Saturdays,” said Choi Kyung-cheol, the manager of Wangdoljam’s Star Tower location in southern Seoul. “We sell more than 300 crabs a day now, and the number is increasing.”
Wangdoljam is known for fancy course meals whose prices start from 50,000 won. Its Gwanghwamun branch (02-783-3331) has a 39,000 won buffet dinner on weekdays and both lunch and dinner on Saturdays, and its Nonhyeon-dong branch (02-3444-3334) offers it on weekends for lunch and dinner.
Inside the clean, spacious restaurant, equipped with Japanese tatami rooms, elated diners scurry back and forth with plates full of bright orange crustaceans. The only bad part of the evening is the two minutes you have to wait in line.
The buffet boasts quite a variety: iceberg lettuce salad with crab dressing; abalone porridge; crabmeat and flying fish roe sushi rolls; Japanese-style crab quiche; gejang, a Korean-style fermented crab dish; steamed snow crabs; seafood ddeokbokki, or spicy crabmeat and rice dumplings; snow crabs baked with mustard sauce; charbroiled crabs; Chinese-style sauteed crabs; Korean-style rib meat and crabs, spicy crab stew and more.
According to Mr. Choi, the restaurant used to serve the more expensive king crab, but because of the steep price and high demand, couldn’t keep it on the menu.
So for now, the restaurant offers only snow crabs. The manager insisted that the crabs were from Korean waters, and that they weren’t frozen but brought in live and fresh every day.
Each diner gets a set of simple tools at the table: a pair of large scissors, a metal pick and chopsticks. A large porcelain jar for the shells is regularly emptied by a very friendly floor staff member.
Once we settle down at the table, crabphiles like myself and my guest get down to business ― shunning, for the most part, the diluted soup or crab-based dishes and sticking to the crabs themselves, eating like there’s no tomorrow.
Most of the crabmeat, unfortunately, tasted more dry than juicy, compared with what you’d get if you cooked at home. That’s the drawback of buffet dining, I assume.
I didn’t like the gejang, which didn’t have the zing of the fermented sauce or the succulence of top-grade crab.
The salad and sushi rolls, however, made for great, light dishes that went well with the meat I’d been extracting from countless crab legs. Our favorites were the very simply prepared steamed and charbroiled crabs.
Eating crabs involves a lot of manual labor ― cutting, twisting, picking and sorting ― which gets pretty messy. A piece of meat or shell might fly away from you (oops) and land on your companion’s nose (sorry).
But if you’ve got good company, it’s just something else to share a laugh over, perhaps with a glass of wine. For buffets, the restaurant offers a small bottle of Chilean Merlot or Chardonnay, for 10,000 won, that can fill two glasses.
Walking out of a restaurant that’s ready to close is always wonderful, but if the restaurant happens to have been a reasonably priced all-you-can-eat-crab establishment, it only feels better.
English spoken: A little.
English menu: Available.
Telephone: (02) 2112-2392.
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. daily, except Sundays.
Location: First floor of the Star Tower Building in Yeoksam-dong.
Subway: Yeoksam Station, line No. 2, exit 2.
Dress: Smart casual.
by Ines Cho