There’s a moment of excitement when a dish is presented at a restaurant table. There’s been anticipation, and now comes the payoff. When the presentation is particularly good, and possibly novel, one takes a moment to appreciate it before scanning what other diners at the table have received. Then comes the fun of digging in.
In the case of Nauti Cajun Crab, a new restaurant in Metuchen, the main course reveal is a shared experience for the table. The seafood restaurant specializes in buckets built for a crowd. Teeming with crab and lobster, potato and corn, plus the addition of shrimp, mussels, or crawfish, the steaming, colorful, and salty combination is sure to elicit a grin.
Opened in October, the restaurant strives to walk between two different worlds, says owner Ryan Mai. “We wanted to create an ambiance that is upscale but also where they can get a little messy while eating,” he says.
Indeed, digging into a bucket that requires a claw cracker and a seafood fork (both conveniently placed on the table upon arrival) can get a little messy. It might have felt out of place amid the red leather chairs and white and gold flecked tiled walls, but that’s actually part of the charm. No one says a seafood boil needs to be consumed at a place with anchors on the walls and shanties playing over the speakers. The refined atmosphere is fitting for both the importance of the fresh seafood and the prices. The sea festival bucket, which can easily feed up to four guests, runs $149.00. A shared bucket is $75. Still, it’s better than most of the tourist traps you’ll find up and down the Shore.
At a lot of crab shacks and boil houses there’s often an air of grease hanging in the air and while that can be part of the charm, it can also weigh down the whole experience. Nauti Cajun Crab has none of that, but that’s not to say you can’t get fried food, because of course you can.
From fried shrimp with a wonderfully flaky batter, to Cajun spice-dusted French fries that have a little heat and a helping of salt, the appetizers are delicious. Folks will fight over the last fry. Order two. The wings are plump and slathered in a sauce of your choice (we suggest the garlic butter) and the bang bang shrimp tacos are spicy, bright, and lively.
For those who don’t want to use their hands to eat, there’s plenty of fork-ready options, including two house specialties: seafood fried rice and garlic noodles. The noodles are crispy and have enough garlic to repel a vampire from down the block, and the fried rice is filled with succulent chunks of crab and lobster and accented by plump mussels.
Juices are pressed fresh in house and, since Nauti Cajun Crab is BYO, guests are encouraged to top them off with rum or other spirits. On their own, they are refreshing and sweet and a great compliment to the salty, savory nature of the dishes.
The restaurant is located on a diverse restaurant block just off Metuchen’s Main Street which includes sushi, a Greek restaurant, an upscale Italian place, and the lots of fun Lotsa Balls. Nauti Cajun Crab demonstrates that you can have all the fun and flavors of the shore without leaving the suburbs.
Nauti Cajun Crab, 7 New Street, Metuchen; 848-229-2956. Open daily at 11:30am. BYO