WITH MALLETS AFORETHOUGHT: A bucket of crab claws calls for the right tools at Blue Water in Willow Glen. Photograph by Kristine Bautista

For the first 10 minutes, I couldn’t stop staring at the shark. The animatronic Great White hangs above the entrance at the new Blue Water Seafood & Crab in Willow Glen. On my visit, it was brought to life with each new arrival, whipping around laboriously and baring a full set of teeth.

I sat at the bar next to the oyster case, which displayed five kinds—Kumamoto, Kusshi, Miyagi, Fanny Bay and Chesapeake Bay—harvested from different regions all over the world. Why not, I thought, and ordered an oyster shooter ($1.50). The waitress came over with a bottle of Absolut and a shucked Chesapeake oyster. She filled the shell until vodka floated over the bivalve’s delicate body. As I knocked the shooter back, the vodka and oyster had barely begun their dance of sting and cool when the server took the empty shell and poured me another shot.

The Willow Glen place is the brainchild of Craig Guynes, whose knack for all things seafood stems from a childhood in the Chesapeake Bay, “spending hours cracking blue crab and watching the Redskins lose,” he recounted with a smile. For years, to satisfy his personal cravings, he had been shipping the blue crab to California. Blue crab, of course, is on the menu, along with Dungeness, snow, king and stone, all at market price. I have not seen stone crabs on local menus before; mostly cultivated in Florida, it’s our country’s only sustainable marine resource. The claws are monstrous but also regenerative. Remove one claw and return the crab to the sea, and it will grow another—three to four times. Both its texture and taste resemble that of lobster. The crab cake ($7.99) recipe is Guynes’ father’s, pan-fried with barely a filler. One gets the sense that this is how a crab cake is supposed to taste: feathery at the touch, a bouquet of sweet and robust. “My Dad would make one, turn around and it’d be gone,” Guynes explained. “For me, it’s the best thing on the menu.”

We went for a bucket next ($46.99), which was spilling over with thick snow crab claws, Manila clams, shrimp, corn and potato halves. There was a moment of sheer happiness, followed by a question: “How shall we begin?” It was then that the waitress brought over a bowl of drawn butter. In the end, our table looked like a battle scene: paper tablecloth drenched, crab crackers strewn about, piles of conquered shells. A waitress made a passing comment about how we had finally made a dent in our meal. After tearing open the moist towelettes, I looked at the menu and realized I wanted to try other things—the cioppino, the soft-shelled-crab sandwich. After just one meal, I trust Guynes’ gustatory acumen. There is both confidence and intuition in the cooking, and when all is said and done, natural chemistry is the best ingredient in the kitchen.

Blue Water Seafood & Crab
860 Willow St., San Jose; 408.289.8879