An unassuming storefront in Packard's Corner is now serving seafood that packs a punch.
Holly Crab is the work of Ryan and Rick Kim, and its interior is as simple as the restaurant's menu. The dark wood tables and the whimsical wall decorations provide a welcoming ambiance and accent a chalkboard menu that boasts Holly Crab's range of Cajun seafood options.
"It's more about having freshest ingredients from all of the U.S., and that's why we made it very simple, but all the soups, like the clam chowder and the gumbo, they're all freshly made in the kitchen from scratch," Ryan Kim said. "And fresh oyster, we batter it ourselves. So everything's simple, but there's love to it."
Holly Crab's menu is an array of create-your-own options, beginning with the seafood — everything from Louisiana blue crab to Blue Point oysters and King crab legs from Alaska. The seafood is boiled and served up hot with flavored garlic butter or lemon pepper, or dry, or "Holly Crab" style, with a mix of the flavors. There is also a spice range to choose from: mild, medium, spicy, or Holly X.
On the appetizer side of things, there's the aforementioned clam chowder and chicken gumbo, as well as fried oysters, catfish, chicken fingers, fries, rice balls, and more.
Holly Crab held a soft opening last week, offering a 25 percent discount to customers and getting a test-run setting in return.
"It was good, and we had fun. We're still making the kitchen system very stable, we're still working on it, but sooner or later it's going to be all set," Ryan Kim said. "Once we have enough staff front and back, we should be able to fly."
Ryan Kim initially came to the U.S. in 1999 and ended up in Boston with his parents and uncle. He went to the Culinary Institute of America with Rick, and after they graduated, Ryan moved to Las Vegas to attend UNLV and work in the restaurants there. He said he'd go to class in the day and work 3 p.m. to 11 or 12 at night. In Vegas, he discovered a wealth of flavors and said he wanted to return to Boston to bring a new take on seafood to the already bustling seafood town.
Rick Kim, who spent years developing menus for a company in Korea, had sampled Cajun seafood in California and said he loved the spiciness.
"So spiciness and seafood, what should I say? I started digging out how to make it perfectly, so we just tested together more than 100 times, I guess, and then we just came up with a great recipe and tested with our friends, and everyone loved it," he said.
From there, they decided to launch the concept, nailing down the location at 1098 Commonwealth Ave. (formerly home to a Turkish restaurant called Saray), perfecting their seafood sauce with Cajun seasoning, butter, garlic, and lemon, and figuring out how to give Bostonians delicious seafood that won't break the bank.
"Seafood in this state, especially Boston, it's not cheap. It's expensive. Seafood is always expensive, but if you can take a look at the menu, we're trying our best to provide the seafood with a very reasonable price," Ryan Kim said.
Kim said the concept of Cajun seafood is popular in California and has roots in Louisiana, but it also has Vietnamese influences. Supposedly, he said, when the French conquered Vietnam, there was some ingredient appropriation. Butter, baguettes, and cooking techniques became part of Vietnamese techniques, which came to the U.S. along with Vietnamese immigrants in the 1970s.
"So it's Louisiana spice, but there is a Vietnamese touch to it," Ryan Kim said. "We are actually Korean, but I saw this [as a good move] business-wise. It's really good because we could make it simple, provide good stuff — the freshest stuff, and we're in the right market, so we're very excited." Locally, not too many restaurants offer this style of seafood, aside from the recently opened Shaking Crab in Newton.
Holly Crab is open for dinner seven days a week from 5 to 11 p.m. The team may add lunch service eventually, but for now, they want to keep things simple and delicious.
"When customers are here, we want to provide the perfect service. I don't know if perfect is the right word, but perfect-as-possible service — satisfied service," Ryan Kim said.