Good food requires no excessive promotion to capture the dining public’s attention. Good food speaks for itself. Satisfied customers, on the other hand, echo the message for their respective social networks to hear or, more properly, to taste. By word of mouth alone, without initially following what our noses tell us and without being hypnotized by some pretty ads, we get to follow the trail of whispers leading to good food, like the dish served at Shrimp Bucket Restaurant.
Our story begins, not with the opening of the first Shrimp Bucket branch in November 2012 at BGC, but with a recent invitation to eat at the UP Town Center, which is found, for the benefit of those who are from the area (or those who came from the area and left during the era when the very concept of a commercial establishment runs counter to the soul of UP), at the intersection of Katipunan Avenue and C.P. Garcia. We’re glad we accepted the invitation and discovered the restaurant named after a shrimp but serves other items like — and these are the only items that matter to us — crabs and mussels. The problem with a good food experience is the urge to try it again (as, uhm, somebody found out when he brought food to a condo).
We arrived way ahead of the expected 12 noon lunch rush. At 11 a.m. the restaurant was still closed. Lights off, white blinds drawn down. The sign on the glass door says “closed,” yet another sign, just beside the “sorry we’re closed” (so, go away) sign, strangely proclaims “OPEN” (come in). Strange.
The original plan was to visit on a Friday evening, except that it was V-Day, and it’s too mushy a day to go anywhere. Maybe, we thought, Shrimp Bucket puts a premium on Valentines Day and allows its crew to rest a day after whatever physically-exhausting activity they engage during Valentines. That policy would be cool and, if true, Shrimp Bucket should receive a Guinness world record award or something for being the ONLY restaurant in the world that closes on the days surrounding Valentines. Really, when one sign says “closed” and another sign says “open,” it’s difficult to decide which one to believe. A 3-member family sitting quietly on the al fresco area told us that the restaurant opens at 11:00 a.m. (we later confirmed that Shrimp Bucket is open daily from 11am to 11pm). At ten minutes after 11, a staff stuck his head out of the main door to say they’ll be ready in a while. The cashier was late, we were told. Captain Jack Sparrow would have that cashier walk the plank.
The dining area of Shrimp Bucket Restaurant is a bit intimate. It comfortably sits around 40 people, elbow-to-elbow. It was full by the time lunch time started (the reason why we arrived earlier to get a table), yet, surprisingly, we didn’t feel that it’s crowded. Maybe it has something to do with the restaurant’s look and feel — a wooden ship reminiscent of the vessels used by United Kingdom when it was in the heights of its naval power. Or the ships used by pirates of yore, which makes the punishment of walking the plank just about appropriate.
Rolled up sails grace the ceiling. Two wooden barrels, just like the ones used by Barrel Roller Zombies in the popular game Plants versus Zombies, playfully stand in the middle of the restaurant as hand-washing area. The logo, which hang on walls of the ship/restaurant, is safely tucked in the middle of a boat steering wheel (helm?). The ship, er, restaurant, gets filled fast with guests ready to embark in a culinary journey. Time to weigh anchor. We now know that “anchors aweigh” is sometimes spelled “anchors away,” and it means lifting the anchor so the ship can go. We bet our salty eggs that you also didn’t know that.
A Salty Eggsperience
One important component of the dish at Shrimp Bucket, as far as we’re concerned, is the sauce. There are six “special sauces,” each available for every pound ordered: The Mardi Gras, Salty Eggsperience, Coco-SOL (South of Luzon), Frenchy Lemon Pepper, The Spaniard, and Coco-Curry. It would have been ideal to try each one, but we got acquainted with only three. Frenchy Lemon Pepper for the bag of shrimp, Mardi Gras for the bag of mussels, and, our favorite, the Salty Eggsperience for the bag of crabs. It’s a matter of mix-and-match, choosing which sauce goes to which bag of seafood goodie.
The choice of sauce for the Bag by the Pound (shrimp, mussels or crabs) is a perfect illustration of the Filipino phrase “sabaw pa lang, ulam na” (care to translate that into English, anyone?). If there’s an option to order only the sauce, we would gladly do it. It’s also tempting to splurge on Salty Eggsperience, which is a rich sauce of salted egg and butter, but, they say, too much of a good thing is bad. The lemon pepper is perfect for the shrimp because we prefer plain, steamed shrimp. Halabos. The Mardi Gras is spicy chorizo that goes well with the mussels.
Some say Shrimp Bucket is the closest experience we’ll get to Boiling Crab. Or “closer” because the distinction of being “closest” to Boiling Crab, according to at least one person we know, is The Boiling Seafood found in the Alabang Town Center. True, maybe, except that we still have to try The Boiling Seafood (so right now, in our book, the Shrimp Bucket is the closest to the Boiling Crab). Some say Shrimp Bucket is a “sosy” version of dampa, like the one along Macapagal Avenue. True, maybe, except that there’s no salty eggsperience in dampa.
Bag of Seafood Goodies by the Pound
Now, this is the best part: the Bags by the Pound. If no transparent plastic bag sits on your dining table, then you’re not supposed to be at the Shrimp Bucket. That’s just an opinion. For us, our trip to this restaurant can be fully summarized in three words — crabs, shrimps and mussels. And it is served in a plastic bag, by the pound. The menu includes beef, pork and chicken, but we thought eating seafood is more proper in a restaurant that looks like a pirate ship (besides, it isn’t called Beef Bucket).
We forgot to ask why the goodies are served in a bag. Quezon City recently passed an ordinance “banning” plastic bags in grocery stores (ever wondered why it’s banned, yet you still get an option to have the plastic bags — but with extra payment?). We guess the plastic bag has nothing to do with the taste. Most likely it has something to do with serving it Cajun-style. Which is just perfect.
No Fun with Clean Hands
The plastic bag is perhaps another sign for the diners to use bare hands when eating the bag of goodies. Like the crabs perhaps. Scoop the sauce and mix with the rice. Grab the crab and attack with the hands, making sure that every morsel goes down the tummy. There’s no other way to clean out the generous volume of aligue (crab fat). Speaking of aligue, we would love to find out the source of crabs for Shrimp Bucket (now, wait a minute, we just realized that this restaurant could very well be called Crab Bucket, which makes total sense because crabs abroad are stored in buckets; here in the Philippines, baskets would take the place of buckets). But there’s already another restaurant named Crab Bucket.
The crabs are fat. Or how should we say that? Fat crabs? In Filipino, a mouthwatering crab can only be described as “mataba,” which literally means “fat”. We have this feeling that “fat” is not the proper way to describe very succulent crabs. So shall we say “healthy crab” then? This, on the other hand, sounds wrong because the crabs, swimming in the buttery sauce, taste sinfully good.
Fun with (clean) hands. It starts with a trip to the hand-washing area found in the middle of the restaurant. It ends with a trip to the hand-washing area. One of the things we noticed at Shrimp Bucket is that which we didn’t experience — the smell of the crabs. Anyone eating crabs with bare hands can attest that it’s difficult to remove the crab smell from the fingers, even with repeated handwashing. No smell here after washing.
In ordinary times, we would have walked away as soon as we’ve learned that the restaurant didn’t open on time. But our visit to Shrimp Bucket was no ordinary time (besides, it opened on time the first time we went there). Neither was it one of those desperate times, which would have called for desperate measures (like having the cashier walk the plank). It was simply a time to enjoy good food. In a bag. By the pound. Crabs, shrimps and mussels. Swimming in rich sauce. Glorious food. Shrimp Bucket.