I liked Golden Fish, the Armenian deli-restaurant that occupied the space before Boiling Shrimp. And I spoke to the owner of Boiling Shrimp as he was building it out. “It’s going to be like the shrimp you take to the beach,” he told me. “You know, a big bag of boiled shrimp.”
Of course I didn’t want to appear ignorant, so I nodded and smiled. But I’ve never taken a bag of shrimp to the beach. Although I could kind of envision it, I guess.
And so it was, maybe a year after they opened, that we occasioned a visit to the venerable Boiling Shrimp for a Sunday evening repast.
First of all, it’s now decked-out like The Shack in Playa del Rey. There’s fish netting, a few lobster trap markers, wooden fence siding upon which there is writing in the style of graffiti, but since there are no swear words or noticeable gang signs, I’m guessing this writing was done by the owner’s pals. In general, especially on the patio, there IS a beach feeling right in the heart of Little Armenia.
The menu is divided into sections, with the first being various shellfish you buy by the pound: shrimp, crab, clams, mussels. Then you see the different sauces: Cajun, butter, etc. Next is the fried fish: catfish, cod. Then two token Thai dishes, and some sides like corn on the cob, Cajun fries, rice, garlic bread.
We ordered a pound of shrimp, a pound of clams, Cajun fries, steamed rice and coconut water. The waitress asked how spicy and we responded “medium.” She asked if we wanted the sampler sauce (I’m not sure that’s what she actually called it, but it was something like that), and we said yes.
Once you order, they cover the table with waxed butcher paper and tie a bib around your neck…. a sign of what’s to come.
Now here’s where it starts getting weird. Not weird so much as odd. Well maybe that's not the right word either. It was different.
I was expecting some variation on Killer Shrimp. Wrong expectation. There are no utensils and the shellfish comes in the plastic bag it was cooked in, which is placed in a plastic bucket. So you open the bag and dig in with your hands. And it’s very saucy… read that very messy. Your first decision: To eat the shells, legs and head or not. I have no problem eating the head and shells of the shrimp, but the missus would have none of it. She skillfully peeled each of the large shrimp before eating.
It’s much easier to eat the head, but as you know, the shell on the head can be quite hard. So you have some crunchy chewing to do. And the long tentacles wipe a little of the sauce onto your chin if you’re not careful. The flavor is good in the head, though. So there’s a payoff.
And speaking of flavor, the sauce was not anything like I expected. It’s actually a thick red Thai curry, complete with lots of garlic, red bell pepper, Thai basil and lots of oil…..you’re starting to get the picture of why it’s so messy.
Now here’s the other distinction between peeling or eating whole: If you peel the shrimp, you take off whatever coating it has. This is good or bad: At first it’s bad because you don’t get as much of the Thai curry sauce. But toward the end it’s good because at the bottom of the bag, the shrimp is covered in oil, so much so that the last piece I had almost caused a gag reflex.
So the lesson here is: even if you’re going to eat the whole shrimp, peel the ones at the bottom.
The clams were far less complicated. I mean, what can you do with a clam other than scoop out the tiny amount of meat? Generally the flavor was masked by the pungent sauce, so I’m not sure this sauce was the best choice for the clams. But since we liked the sauce, the shells served as little spoons.
The Cajun fries were battered, or maybe floured and spiced. Obviously they’re made beforehand as some of the fries were hot and some were lukewarm, and not in any particular pattern. I liked these, but it’s not a reason for a special trip. And the steamed rice was….steamed rice.
The real treat here was the coconut water. It’s served in a fresh real coconut shell, complete with the coconut meat. So you get to scoop out the meat as you work your way through the coconut water. And the freshness is a Godsend to offset the rich Thai curry. This combination is highly recommended.
As we wrapped up the meal, consistent with the other tables, there was a pile of shrimp carcasses on the table, along with clam shells. And the ubiquitous red sauce was everywhere, including under the fingernails and around the cuticles. This would NOT be a place to go before a show at the Pantages. We smelled like the sauce even after getting home and thoroughly washing our hands.
The Boiling Shrimp
5112 Hollywood Blvd. (just west of Normandie)