The Chi family has been an important player in the Central Arkansas restaurant scene for decades. And of course, they’ve played a pivotal role in bringing the diversity of Asian cuisine to our state. With seven area restaurants already under their belt, including three’s Chi’s Chinese restaurants, Oishi in The Heights, two Sushi Cafes, and a Sekisui outlet, some diners might assume they’d “know what to expect” from a new Chi restaurant development. But with the arrival of their most recent venture, Lulu’s Crab Boil, the family is proving that they are still capable of surprising their loyal clientele. And they’re able to bring something fresh and unique to Little Rock, a city with an increasing number of intriguing and interesting dining options. Lulu’s may just be their most exciting establishment to date.
With Lulu’s Crab Boil, owner Lulu Chi hopes to channel just a bit of what the Chi ancestors experienced in Shangdong, China. Her predecessors owned a fishing company, bringing in their catch daily and preparing, serving, and selling the freshest seafood — oysters, fish, lobster, crab, and shrimp. Often, the fruits of their labors were shared amongst their family…large communal dinners, feasting on fresh crab and steamed vegetables, raw oysters, and other gifts from the sea. With their new Heights restaurant (located in the former Haagen-Dazs across the street from Fantastic China), the Chi family are hoping to invoke a bit of that same excitement and enjoyment of pouring over fresh seafood that their family before them experienced in China.
Lulu’s Crab Boil is not a large space, but the size suits it well. It’s comfortable, not cramped. It’s big enough for you to enjoy your space, but close enough for you to easily say a few words to a neighboring table…which comes in handy when you are lustfully looking over their food and you’d like to know what they ordered.
They menu is not excessively large. Of course, the focus is on all things seafood.
Appetizers mean fried crawfish tails, fried oysters crusted in cornmeal, and fried or blackened shrimp. We got a taste of the “Spicy Fish Beignets” —spicy balls of beer-battered whitefish— and after quickly inhaling our plate, we were eager for more. They’re doing fresh oysters on the half-shell, too…which should not be missed. But you certainly need to get in on the “Crab Fingers.” These are lollipop-like morsels of crab meat clutching to the end of a small crab claw, perfect for dipping in their creamy remoulade and sucking clean.
A handful of soups and po’ boys are up next. We got a taste of “Lulu’s Gumbo” and it was spot-on. It’s a dark roux with plump shrimp, andouille, tomato, and okra with white rice. It was lovely and can hold its own in a city already serving some quality gumbo at several other establishments. Po’ boys come in catfish, crawfish, chicken, shrimp, and oyster varieties.
But things really get going with their signature dinners. Here’s the deal: You pick out your seafood, which could be anything from crawfish to whole blue crab, whole lobster or king crab legs, Pacific mussels, Dungeness crab, or Manila clams. (Excited yet?) Next, choose a sauce. They do lemon pepper, Cajun spice, garlic butter, and a “Southeast Asian Chili” blend with pickled radish, cilantro, and sriracha. Then adjust to your desired spice level.
They throw in some corn, potatoes, and andouille sausage. Then they boil and steam everything together in a giant plastic bag. They roll out a large roll of white butcher paper across your table and bring you any required utensils (crab claw crackers, seafood forks)…and a bib, which you’re going to need. They plop the bag in front of you, unroll it, and you go to town. There’s a lot of cracking and dripping, tearing and dipping. It’s messy work, but it’s a wonderful experience.
That’s not all, folks. On Saturdays and Sundays between 11 am to 3 pm, look into what’s going on at brunch. They’ve got a jumbo lump crab meat eggs benedict, fried chicken with toast and syrup, cheesy shrimp and grits, egg foo young, and a seafood scramble with shrimp, crawfish, and crab incorporated into creamy garlic eggs. Plus, mimosas…
Although Lulu’s just opened last weekend, the Chis are already planning a second location for the crab shack…a wise move, as it’s likely this first locale will be a success. Gather up your friends and family and get on over and check out what’s happening at Lulu’s Crab Boil. It’s sure to be one of the tastiest and most engaging dinners you’ve had in a while.