How many times have you heard (or perhaps, said) that there are not any good Chinese restaurants in Boca Raton? That mantra has to change now that Chili Crab opened its doors this past January. Located on the corner of Dixie Highway and Glades Road (in the former location of Troy’s BBQ), the restaurant is easy to find and provides plenty of free parking. The decor inside favors typical Oriental red and gold hues, and simple but well spaced dark wooden tables with plates that have chopsticks resting on them, ready and waiting to be used. This simplicity belies the complex work that goes into making this, mostly likely, the best Chinese restaurant in the area. We cannot say enough about the signature dish—the Chili Crab. You simply must try it. It is the restaurant’s “showpiece”—an unforgettable 2 lb. Dungeness gem that comes from the deep, cold waters of Oregon and then bathed lightly in a special homemade sauce that makes it a masterpiece “to die for.”
Owner and Operations Director, Allen Huang, oversees the management and the cooking, along with a chef that he taught. Allen brings a great deal of experience in owning, running, and cooking in restaurants. In the 1990’s he owned a restaurant in Town Center of Boca but then he moved to Miami and worked in restaurants such as P.F. Chang’s, Benihana, and the elegant Mandarin Hotel in 2001. He also learned from Celebrity Chefs while working at Bambu, the South Beach hot spot co-owned by silver screen superstar Cameron Diaz, who enjoys eating at her own place when visiting Florida. Allen also mentioned Novikov on Brickell Avenue in Miami and managed Hutong, also on Brickell in Miami. But Allen prefers less glitzy, more traditional decor, choosing to focus on his delectable dining creations that swing back to authentic recipes and sauces.
Allen left Miami and came north, scouting locations from Boca Raton to Palm Beach. “I didn’t find one real Chinese restaurant that wasn’t ‘Americanized’,” he said, referring to standard, typical dishes such as Moo Goo Gai Pan and General Tso’s Chicken. “I like Boca,” he added, and, so, he decided to bring Chili Crab here since it is so popular throughout Asia, with chili crab for sale on every corner. He explained that there are two styles of chili crab: the Singapore version and the Szechuan version. Szechuan is more spicy, oily, and peppery derived from a liberal use of garlic and chili peppers. Allen said, “I have many guests from Singapore and yet, they ask for the Szechuan style I serve here.”
Allen clarified that though his cooking is Szechuan, it is really Hong Kong style which is as authentic to home cooking as you can get. “We cook like we eat, “ he said, explaining that his 3 most popular dishes ordered are Chili Crab, Dim Sum and Peking Duck. Chili Crab is what keeps bringing the customers back. During the dinner hour, almost every table is being served chili crab and it’s no surprise that his restaurant typically goes through 80 to 100 pounds of Dungeness Crab each week. Unlike the new restaurant trend, the “Cajun Boil’, customers come here instead because the seafood is not frozen. Allen will even bring a live crab out to the dining room so people can see how fresh it is, and that it truly is “from tank to table.” “It’s quality,” Allen said, “and the people in this area understand that this is simple home-cooking and yet also a culinary experience—and they are willing to pay for the top quality. Allen said, “The chili sauce we use to make the crab, for example, is our own special, proprietary recipe. We make it ourselves and use no canned vegetables, only fresh. There are 24 different Chinese herbs and we heat this sauce for 2 1/2 hours, layer by layer, carefully taking our time.”
Though the star of the show is the Chili Crab, there are many other treats in store. Try the Shrimp Dumpling for an appetizer. It’s a wonderful contrast of silky dough on the outside with a firm shrimp tucked inside, with 4 of them served in a traditional bamboo steamer. It can be dipped in sweet soy sauce or a spicy sauce that can be raised from a bold kick to hot enough to call the fire department. You can cool it down nicely with Chili Crab’s most popular Signature Cocktails, the Lychee Martini and the Fuji Apple Martini. The first is a sweet concoction that has vodka, lychee puree, a touch of sake and guava juice among other ingredients, served with 2 skewers of little round Lychees laid across the top of the glass for decoration. The Fuji Apple Martini also has vodka but contains apple sake and apple pucker liqueur that makes it so ‘apple-y’ it’s like an orchard in your mouth.
If you like it spicy, you’ll love the Ma La Beef Prime Tenderloin. The meat is Wok-seared, then sauteed with Longhorn pepper and Sichuan Peppercorn sauce. The sauce isn’t too sauce-y, it’s more like glazing but you’ll like the heat in your mouth, and it’s not just the temperature. On the milder side, a nice starter is the Zhen Jiang Ribs in Sweet Soy. These are bite size pieces of pork rib braised in a sweet herbal soy. The meat is tender and the sauce is so incredible that you’ll want to lick the plate if no one is looking.
But wait! You simply cannot leave without trying their specialty Peking Duck. This is another triumph to behold! The tantalizing platter is served with generous pieces of duck, along with little dishes on the side that contain slivers of scallion, fresh cucumber and hoisin sauce (with a secret: they add a few drops of truffle oil.) A separate small bamboo container holds super thin, homemade pancakes. There is a method to preparing your pancake. First you spread some hoisin sauce on the pancake, add some duck pieces and the other ingredients, roll it up and then savor the delightful flavors. Allen said, “The skin on the duck must be very crispy, and the meat must be very tender. Then just roll it up like a burrito.”
Chili Crab has already started a buzz around town. Allen said, “I have not spent a penny on advertising and yet, we are busier and busier everyday. We have customers who drive here from Jupiter, Parkland, Palm Beach, Coconut Creek and more. We also have regulars from the elegant and exclusive Sanctuary of Boca Raton who come 3 times a week and order double orders each time, one to eat here and one to take home.” Allen also has regular guests from Hutong who follow him. How lucky are we to add Chili Crab to the roster of new restaurants in our area! It is truly a most remarkable and exceptional destination for authentic Chinese cuisine. It’s hard to believe that such a divine place exists right here in Boca Raton. No longer can it be said that there are no good Chinese restaurants in our area!