Monday, April 5, 2010
Fatty Crab on the Upper West Side
The dim red bulb lit up walls of retro pornography while a speaker played out the familiar ping and pong of a distant table tennis match. This was the oddest bathroom I've been in. I was locked in the unisex bathroom trying to wash my hands of the thick red sambal for the third time. But the hearty smell of crustacean wasn't coming off. Alas, I walk back to my table just in time for the check and a delightful dish of complimentary mochi cake dessert.
The crunchy crust and the jelly interior of the cake was pleasant, maybe not pleasant enough to offset the $48 for a dungeness crab. Before I made my reservation, I had set a price goal for myself at $30. I wasn't going to order the chili crab if it was more than that. When the waiter came around, I asked him for the market price and got my meal chilling quote. Sounds a bit high, what the range? Maybe I could justify ordering it if it was usually around $50. Nope. $48 was the highest they've ever charged. I glanced down through the small plates and the entrees. Short rib rendang, watermelon pickle and crispy pork, fatty duck? I briefly considered each of these alternatives, but each time my mind went back to the chili crab. How could I come to Fatty Crab and not order their signature dish? How could I give it an adequate review without it?
Fatty Dog - XO sausage, pickled chili, radish, aioli
I started with the Fatty Dog appetizer/small plate. A completely forgettable dish, I would've been as satisfied with a $5 hot dog than a $13 Fatty Dog. There was a certain sweetness component that was missing from the dog that would've kicked it up a little more towards its price. For a restaurant of supposedly spicy and flavorful dishes, the dog lacked any Southeast Asian vigor.
Chili Crab - crab, chili sauce, white toast
The namesake dish came to the table. Crab, chili sauce, and white toast? The ingredient list on the menu was deceptively simple. The chili sauce could be composed of dozens of ingredients itself. I've been eating crab since I was a kid. I'd proclaim myself a crab eating expert after the countless family meals we'd have gathered around a lazy Susan at various Chinese seafood restaurants around the Bay Area. I could dissect and consume the shelled 8-legged creature faster than some people carve up a crab cake. And being from San Francisco, dungeness was my crab of choice.
I cracked through a leg, plenty of flavor on the shell, but too little penetration into the meat. This normally wouldn't be too big a problem if the crab was fresh, as the sweetness of the meat would be more than sufficient. However, this crab had been frozen a bit too long (as if any freezing was okay). The restaurant could have cracked the shells slightly to allow the aroma to permeate. The best part of the dish was the pool of sauce at the bottom of the bowl ready to be sopped up by the toast or the coconut rice I ordered on the side. Still, I'll save my money for a plane ticket back home, when I can eat crab fresh off the dock. I have high standards for crab and I refuse to compromise.
Upper West Side, NY 10024
643 Hudson St
West Village, NY 10014