Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Karai Crab heats up the scene

I was excited by the possibility of heat and spice promised in the name Karai Crab, but it's only after I sat down and saw the restaurant's crab logo and that fiery furnace of a mouth that I felt a little scared by just how much heat would arrive.

I like spicy food, and can practically drink Sriracha, but things are a quite a bit hotter here. I slipped in before a media preview Sept. 21, and this half order of "No Mess" (that is, peeled) shrimp nearly killed my tastebuds with its so-called "medium" cayenne-pepper heat. If this was medium, I don't know if I really wanted to explore spicy (habanero heat) or extra spicy (ghost pepper heat).

Luckily, I had ordered mussels with habanero sauce before trying the cayenne, and I liked the habaƱero much more, which here, is more of a glowy, citrusy heat than a burning one like the cayenne.

Nadine Kam photos
No Mess shrimp really absorbed the heat. I and my dinner companion could only manage one apiece, so the rest went to waste.

I was afraid to tackle the ghost pepper heat, but took a tentative bite later on at the media lunch that followed the restaurant's blessing. And I liked that too. Even so, it did have a sting so I had to alternate between dipping pieces of king crab leg in habaƱero and ghost pepper sauces that were served on the side, along with garlic butter.

Before visiting the restaurant, I wondered how it would find its niche, considering its latecomer status as the fourth crab restaurant to open within six months. But, the flavors are delicious and they're working to differentiate themselves from the pack with chef's specials and new sauces that will keep visits interesting over time. And, you can see the clean presentation, sans plastic bags:

Dungeness crab is tasty, if not quite as cute as Karai Crab's logo, top of page.

After a blessing by kahu Cordell Kekoa, from left, Karai Crab manager Garrett Kamei, executive chef Miles Miyamoto and Michael J. Robinson from Kapiolani Medical Center untie the maile lei. A portion of proceeds from food service through Sept. 30 will be donated to Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children.

For a person who writes about food, Lindsey Muraoka of the Honolulu Pulse blog Food La La is really squeamish about pulling a crab apart getting her hands dirty. She tackles a Karai Combo ($25) with crab legs available separately at market price.

Like the other shellfish, you can add one of six seasonings to an order of clams, then add spice, or no spice if you can't take the heat.

I was lucky to be dining on a day they were experimenting with salt-pepper shrimp in the kitchen. Everyone in the restaurant at the time was lucky to get a sample of the crisp shrimp that was just as good, if not better, than the Chinatown originals, though without the sprinkling of green onions, garlic and chilies. If it's not on the menu by now, they'd better add it quick!

An order of corn is $3, and the portion is small, but it's really sweet and not soggy at all.

King crab legs added to a Karai combo bowl.

Bacon-jalapeno cornbread is good for cutting the heat of the chilies.
Karai Crab is at The Willows, with separate makai building and entrance, 901 Hausten St. Call 952-6990.

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