Crab House, Santa Clara Koreatown - good halibut!
Crab House is a Korean restaurant located in the Kyopo Plaza strip mall. I've been by here many times, but never bothered to stop in because it didn't look too promising -- the sign was fading and I've never seen anybody inside. I've also read hit-or-miss reviews & have not heard too many good things about their crab dishes. Their bulgolgi and kalbi are supposed to be better, but I'm in no rush to go to a place called "Crab House" to get bulgogi.
I finally stopped in for lunch to see what it was about. It turns out it's a seafood specialty restaurant, and there's a small seafood mart attached next door with fish in tanks. There were two people sitting there (I'm guessing they were husband and wife, probably the owners) and when I walked in the husband promptly went to the kitchen and the wife took my order.
I ordered the spicy halibut soup - $10.95 (all-day menu, no lunch special menu). In the soup department they also have spicy cod soup, cod roe soup, and some two-person casseroles (crab), then stir fried beef/pork/octopus dishes, a few types of steamed fish (halibut, anglerfish), raw marinated crab, and live sashimi - halibut, sea cucumber, sea pineapple (which I rarely see) and live octopus (!!!!!!!).
Everything arrived at once - the rice (which is white rice, although a longer grain than most Korean restaurants use, with a few sprinkles of black rice), soup, and 8 panchan. The panchan was above average -- the marinated tofu, which used a extra firm/pressed type, was stellar, as were the sweet potatoes. The seaweed was very good, they had crisp onions and peppers to balance out the wakame. As was the raw cabbage salad which had a light dressing. They also had mung sprouts, soy sprouts, daikon strips, of course napa. She was happy to bring out seconds!
The halibut soup was the best part though. I ordered it medium spicy and it was balanced perfectly -- a hint of the correct spice with every spoon of the rich seafood flavored broth but not overkill. I could probably handle the next step up. The halibut was amazing, there were three decent sized pieces and it was unlike any halibut I've had before. While this type of fish can be painfully bland (especially considering how much it usually goes for) here it had a rich buttery taste and consistency, even in the soup. It wasn't drown out by the spice as I feared it would & it was nice and soft (although it did get tougher near the end as it sat in the hot bowl, so I recommend finishing them up before too long.) My usual one complaint about Korean soups is that they don't have enough fat, but no complaints with this halibut soup.
The waitress explained that they used Korean Halibut, which is more of an oily fish than regular halibut. She said their specialty is the halibut sashimi ($25.99), where they chop up a live halibut and serve it fresh, with a small side of halibut soup. Methinks they should change the name of 'Halibut House,' though that doesn't have quite the same ring. ;) Service was very prompt (of course I was the only one in the restaurant) friendly and gracious.
There are a bunch of solid Korean restaurants in Santa Clara but I think I may have found the first top destination -- though I'll have to go back and try out a few more items before I can declare it that. It's at least solid though. Next on my list are the halibut sashimi and cod roe soup. Not the live octopus though -- I'll leave that to a more adventurous Chowhound!
3395 El Camino Real, Santa Clara, CA 95051
I have gone to Crab House for years to have their live halibut sashimi (and accompanying fish stew) and raw blue crab. Apparently live whitefish sashimi is a done thing in Korea, but this is the only place I'm aware of in the bay area that does this. Really really good, and have been wanting to try the live octopus but it's imported from Korea and it's been out. The owners have said by beginning of October hopefully.