IN THE KITCHEN A meal at Shaking Crab in Newton is an experience. As you sit down, the waiter unfurls a disposable paper covering for the table. Next, lobster bibs and plastic gloves appear, as well as a plastic "discard" bag. Your interest piqued, you start to wonder, "What am I getting myself into here?" Well, you're placing yourself in the capable culinary hands (claws?) of a restaurant inspired by the New Orleans-style seafood boils served by a restaurant in co-owner Kevin Duong's native San Jose, Calif., area. Shaking Crab's two chefs are brothers, boasting both seafood-restaurant and food-truck experience in Boston.
THE LOCALE The restaurant is on Adams Street in Newton's Nonantum neighborhood, in the former longtime home of Francesca Pizzeria. The brick-walled, 47-seat space opened in mid-December, trading traditional Italian cooking for Cajun-style seafood.
ON THE MENU First, select your seafood mix. Most are served in 1-pound portions; choices include succulent, head-on Argentine shrimp ($11), Alaskan king crab legs ($33), crawfish from New Orleans ($10), littleneck clams ($10), mussels ($10), snow crab legs ($16), Dungeness crab ($48 per crab, which weigh 2 to 2½ pounds) and lobster tails (two for $25, one for $13). Corn on the cob ($2), potatoes ($2), and sausage ($3) can also be tossed in.
Next, choose your sauce. "We did a lot of experimentation going into this. We infuse our personalities into the sauces," Duong said. Each starts with a base of butter, loads of freshly chopped garlic, lemon juice, pepper, cayenne, and a few other spices.
The smoky house Cajun "Shakin'" sauce adds Worcestershire sauce and chili peppers. The heart of the "Seoul" sauce is gochujang, the Korean sweet chili-miso paste. The "Gulf" sauce is rich and tangy, infused with a touch of cream and Louisiana hot sauce. A "Simple" butter-and-garlic version rounds out the options.
Finally, pick your spice level, from mild to medium to hot to "Shakin' Hot!" which layers habaneros atop a mix of fresh chili peppers.
In our Gulf sauce, even "medium" spice delivered a potent, sinus-clearing punch.
Your seafood selection is boiled, drained, tossed in a sturdy plastic bag with the requested add-ons, then given a vigorous shake to coat all of the ingredients.
Still steaming, it's whisked to the table — not on a plate, but in the plastic "shaking" bag. "You're going to be making a mess anyway, so why take up valuable table space with plates?" Duong reasoned.
The approach lends itself to an engaged dining experience. Duong said diners frequently photograph their food, but then tuck their phones away as they embrace the joyful messiness of the meal. Most diners dive into their bags hands-first, deshelling their seafood and nibbling on corn cobs, their fingers quickly scented with garlic and slicked with the bright, flavorful sauces.
Several side dishes can accompany the boils. Garlicky ribbons of collard greens ($6) are prepared with butter, salt, and lemon juice, a lighter take on what is frequently a meaty dish. Baked macaroni and cheese ($6) smothers fresh Cavatappi pasta with a creamy blend of cheddar, Monterey Jack, and pepper jack cheeses; it's delicious, although I might have welcomed a bread-crumb topping for some "crunch." Stretchy garlic egg noodles ($5) with butter, garlic, and a little soy sauce can nicely absorb any leftover sauce from the boil. French fries ($5) dusted with Cajun spices are also popular.
Desserts are diverse; the restaurant's manager is also a baker and rotates sweet treats such as fried cinnamon rolls with ice cream and mochi.
Canning-jar mugs of brewed-in-house sweet tea are $2. The restaurant has a full liquor license; early cocktail experiments have included the Shakin' Sweet Tea, the Southern Summer, and the Southern Mint.
Shaking Crab is at 203 Adams St. in Newton; 617-795-1630, shakingcrabnewton.com. Dinner: Monday-Saturday, 5 to 11 p.m.; Sunday, 5 to 10 p.m. Lunch: Saturday-Sunday, noon to 3 p.m.