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Tacoma, you’re getting a new seafood boil restaurant

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Cravin' Crawfish

Cravin’ Crawfish, a new crawfish and seafood boil restaurant, plans to open this spring in Tacoma.

Vu and Hana Nguyen will be the owners of the Louisiana-themed restaurant at 5015 Tacoma Mall Boulevard.

Cravin’ Crawfish will operate in the former home of Build-A-Burger, which was operated by Danny Pak and his family until they closed it in 2019. The Pak family also previously operated Cham Garden in Lakewood, which is still rolling on with new owners.

Cravin’ Crawfish is a brand-new project in the early stages of permitting. The restaurant will follow a similar protocol as the county’s two other seafood boil restaurants – Dragon’s Crawfish in Tacoma’s Lincoln neighborhood and Boiling Crawfish in South Hill. For those who never have been to a restaurant of this kind, seafood boil is a style of dining in which seafood is boiled in a flavored broth, dumped in a bowl and brought to your table. You peel the seafood by hand and enjoy the feast communally with your dining partners.

SEAFOOD MENU

Diners will buy seafood by-the-pound with a choice of sauces at Cravin’ Crawfish. The traditional accompaniments of spicy sausage, corn on the cob and boiled potatoes will be served alongside the seafood, along with crusty bread for scooping up all that sauce.

“You’ll have three sauces to pick from. There’s the Cajun sauce, the lemon butter, and butter and garlic,” said Nguyen. “If you can’t make up your mind, we’ll throw all three in there,” he said, joking.

He also has a pretty good sense of humor about crawfish boil restaurants that provide gloves for diners.

Nguyen isn’t a fan of eating seafood with gloves because the shells easily can become slippery projectiles (been there, accidentally done that).

Plus, there’s no finger licking. His family immigrated to New Orleans from Vietnam when he was young and he grew up eating on the bayou before moving to California and then Washington. They don’t use gloves on the bayou, he said. “With the broth, you have to get your fingers dirty. You got to lick ‘em, you don’t need gloves. It’s like eating a bag of potato chips. You don’t wash it off, you lick the flavor off. That’s how you enjoy it,” he said, laughing.

He’s right, people. Just get your hands dirty and enjoy the experience. He’ll bring you extra napkins.

FIRST TIME RESTAURANT OWNER

Nguyen is a self-taught chef, but is not new to being a small business owner. He and his wife Hana Nguyen own Chehalis Nails in Lewis County (they live in Olympia). This is a first restaurant for them both. Nguyen said he plans to use the recipes he’s developed as a home cook, much to the delight of his family and friends.

“I cook it in a special broth,” explained Nguyen. “I let it soak there for 30-45 minutes. A lot of people cook it and let it soak for 10 minutes. The longer you soak it, the more the flavor enhances,” he said.

“The best part of eating crawfish is sucking that sauce out of the head,” he added. “I’ll have people tell me they won’t touch the head. You’re doing it all wrong and if you don’t suck on the head, that’s where all the flavor is at. You don’t have to eat the head or eyeballs, you suck out the flavor in there.”

He intends to serve fresh seafood with market pricing and will keep the selection manageable for the 20-seat restaurant. He plans to offer Louisiana crawfish, shrimp, clams, lobster, snow crab and Dungeness, plus other selections when he can get them seasonally. He’ll supplement the boil menu with a variety of fried food that includes chicken, catfish, shrimp, oysters and calamari. He’ll fry the seafood to order using a seasoned flour-based batter with a heavy kick of his special seasoning blend.

Here’s something really cool for those who are sticklers about only wanting to eat fresh crawfish, not frozen. But first, some background. As longtime diners here know, the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife does not allow for importing of live Louisiana crawfish because they’re an invasive species that will crowd out our native crawfish if they get into our waterways. Those imported Louisiana crawfish are always frozen before they’re shipped here, which some people say dulls the flavor of the crawfish. They prefer crawfish that are cooked fresh, not frozen.

Getting live, native Washington crawfish in a restaurant can be difficult because there are few suppliers here, but Nguyen said he has a supplier who is going to give him fresh Washington crawfish, on occasion. He’ll offer the Washington crawfish at market price when he can get it.

He said he and Hana intend to specialize in Vietnamese fish sauce wings. “My wife has a killer recipe. She dips it in our special seasoned flour, fries it and afterwards puts the sauce on it and stir fries it in the pan,” he said.

He’s about to get started on overhauling the dining room of the spot that once was a Subway restaurant (before Build-A-Burger moved in). There’s seating for about 20 and he wants to build some flexibility into the dining room for larger parties of 6 to 8 diners because eating in a larger group is a big part of seafood boil culture.

For drinks, he’ll have bottled beer, including Corona, Heineken, Blue Moon, Budweiser and Bud Light. “Nothing fancy, but what you’d expect at a crawfish boil restaurant,” he said.

He intends to open serving dinner and might expand the hours later to include later afternoon or maybe even lunch, but he won’t figure that out he said until after he opens.

As I noted above, he’s just getting started on construction and permitting, so it’ll be a bit before he gets the doors open. It’ll be just in time for spring, if all goes as planned.

MARDI GRAS IS HERE AND HERE ARE 2 MORE PLACES FOR SEAFOOD BOIL

Did you catch my story last week about places to enjoy Mardi Gras? Doyle’s Public House has its annual menu featuring gumbo, crawfish etouffee, crawfish dip and a boiled shrimp po’ boy sandwich. I’ve also got the details of where to go for the area’s largest Mardi Gras party the weekend before Fat Tuesday. I’ve also got the ONLY bakery that I can find in Pierce County with a King Cake. And, finally, I’ve got details of the area’s only seafood boil restaurants – one is in Tacoma and the other is in Puyallup. Soon, they’ll be joined by Cravin’ Crawfish. READ ABOUT MARDI GRAS IN PIERCE COUNTY HERE.

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