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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Find Fresh Seafood at Shuckers Crab House

Fun, casual spot brings Polynesian touch to Milwaukee

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Polynesian restaurants rose to popularity in the 1960s—in the Milwaukee area alone, there were places like Leilani, Paradise Garden, and Judges’ Beyond the Reef. But by the late-’70s, all of those places were gone. In actuality, those restaurants were as much Chinese as Polynesian, along with a few Japanese touches—sweet and sour pork meets chicken teriyaki.

Albert Yee, owner of the Chinese carryout restaurant Pacific Orient, recently revived the Polynesian format with a new place called Shuckers Crab House.

The décor fits the bill for both maritime and tiki, with fishnets, a large, mounted shark, tiki torches, palm trees and, in the center of the dining room, a fiberglass replica of a moai (a stone Polynesian bust). Fish tanks fill the space as well, but not just for show. They hold live menu items like lobsters, oysters, Dungeness crabs and tilapia—the freshest seafood possible.

The menu includes multiple influences. The Hawaiian theme naturally lends itself to Asian dishes. Hawaii is also known for its love of Spam—the islanders are one of the world’s largest consumers of this canned pork product—and not only does Spam appear in an appetizer, Polynesian nachos, but also as a meat option for fried rice, egg foo young and Singapore noodles. Though the restaurant has only been open for a few weeks, the menu has already been revised. Expect more changes next month when a sushi bar is installed.

It’s a shame that the menu did away with its appetizer of spicy pickled jellyfish ($9), since so few Asian restaurants dare to serve it. The jellyfish, which was all about the crunchy texture, got its flavor from sesame oil and seeds, and its spiciness from a few slices of jalapeno pepper. It has been replaced by Manila clams ($8) and sautéed mussels ($8). The mussels, from Chile, are black in color. They are more meaty than usual and are cooked with a very Chinese preparation of garlic, ginger and a hint of hot red chile pepper. This is a fine way to prepare mussels.

Also consider some Hawaiian seafood soup ($3-$4), which offers a white broth with a swirl of egg. The seafood includes scallops, crab and shrimp, and the flavors are delicate. The order of gyoza ($5) seems more like Chinese pot stickers. The attractive serving of six fried dumplings sits on a bamboo leaf in a bamboo tray. An orchid blossom and a cup of sweetened and thickened soy sauce accompany the dish. The dough wrappers are light in texture, not leaden.

Some of the meat items are smoked, which replicates the effect of Polynesian cooking pits. One such meat is unagi ($15), or eel, and another is tiki hut barbecue ribs ($12-$19). These pork ribs are large, so the smaller serving size should satisfy most diners. The ribs are smoky in flavor and coated in a suitable dark sweet sauce—fine eating. The island volcanic beef ($12) offers a dramatic presentation. Pieces of flank steak with green pepper and onion arrive in a metal plate, and then the server ignites it with cooking liquor. Ultimately, it is just Chinese pepper beef. Malaysia curry chicken ($12) is served the same way, minus the flambé. Pieces of chicken breast come with the same vegetables and a mild yellow curry sauce. It is the same as chicken curries found in Chinese restaurants.

Entrees include a choice of two side items. Choose form Korean kimchee, fried rice, sweet potato fries and Polynesian slaw.

The bright orange chairs and dark green tablecloths may not provide an elegant setting, but Shuckers is a fun, casual place. It is not a restaurant for a hurried meal, but your patience will be rewarded with fresh kunomoto oysters, Dungeness crabs and those garlicky mussels. This is a rapidly evolving menu, subject to change. The tiki restaurants of the 1960s have returned.

Shuckers Crab House

7835 W. Burleigh St.

(414) 871-2722

$$

Credit Cards: All Major

Smoke-Free

Handicap Access: Yes