Polymath restauranteur opens Clawdad’s Seafood Boil in Winchester

Clawdad's Seafood Boil owner Anna Chen presents items from the new restaurant's menu as manager Christina Bamberg looks on. Lewis Millholland/Daily

WINCHESTER ­- Anna Chen, 37, has never been able to stick to one style of cooking.

The cuisine at her first restaurant, Ginger Asian in Stephens City, hearkened back to the meals her family cooked in China, plus sushi. About five years ago, she opened the hibachi steakhouse-style Okinawa restaurant on Adams Drive in Winchester.

Chen opened her latest restaurant last month, this time creeping into a new style of cuisine that she says is untapped in the local area — seafood boil.

“I think Winchester needs this type of restaurant,” Chen said, adding that she loves this type of food that she has found only in the Washington, D.C. area.

Chen opened Clawdad’s Seafood Boil at 170 Delco Plaza on Jan. 22 with nine employees. The restaurant has a large, island-esque bar in the front and dining tables along the walls, stretching into the back of the restaurant.

One of Clawdad's signature "Buckets of Boil," with shrimp, crab and shellfish. Lewis Millholland/Daily

A lunch at Clawdad’s costs $10, and po’ boys for just a few dollars more. But the real draw is the “Bucket of Boil,” a series of combo seafood platters that are meant to be shared.

These signature dishes are heaping piles of crawfish, shrimp, mussels, potatoes, corn, sausage, snow crabs, clams or lobsters covered in a juicy Cajun, butter or garlic dry rub.

For Chen, the transition to country cooking was as smooth as the butter on her lobster.

“I know how to cook Chinese food … I know how to cook in a Japanese restaurant,” Chen said. “I like to try different things, to cook different food. I like to learn something different.”

About a month ago Chen sold Ginger Asian to focus on her two Winchester restaurants. Her husband, who used to be her employee but is now both her business and life partner, primarily runs Okinawa, freeing up Chen to make sure Clawdad’s gets off the ground.

“I usually work in Okinawa, but that business, you know, they can run it by themselves,” she said. “So I just pop in whenever they needed help. But now, I’ve got to focus on this one.”

Various kinks in the construction and permitting process pushed Clawdad’s grand opening back by about a month, but during that delay, Chen was heartened to hear customers at nearby stores were asking about the new restaurant.

“A lot of people asked the ABC store, ‘When do they open? When do they open?’ But now we’re finally here,” Chen said. “People have been asking a lot, ‘When do you open? When do you open?’ This type of food, it’s interesting.”

She said the closest thing Winchester had to a seafood boil restaurant before Clawdad’s was an all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant that closed 10 years ago.

Some people have asked Chen if she would consider a buffet option at her restaurant, but that’s not the kind of businesses she wants to go into. The high cost of food, the wasted leftovers, and the unhealthy nature of buffets that make people “eat more and more” turns Chen off from the idea completely.

“I prefer to do it fresh, made-to-order,” Chen said. “I came from China. When I was little, I lived pretty poor, so I don’t waste anything. I don’t really like people wasting the food — they don’t understand how much time, how much money it costs to make a place’s food. I don’t do that.”

If You Go

Clawdad’s is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday  and stays open an hour later Friday and Saturday. It opens at noon on Sunday.