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Help--Vietnamese-style Dungeness (This Far Out of Season?)


I have a friend who's in town from the East Coast for one more night who would like to try dungeness crab. I know, I know, that it is about as far out of season as you can get, and I'm not even sure if they fish it at this time of year up north. BUT, she has never had it, and not only is she returning to the East Coast tomorrow, there's a chance she'll be leaving the country in the not too distant future. So. This is it. The problem is, I've never looked for crab at this time of year, and I'm never really paying attention to whether or not it's around in the tanks.

So, my question is this: are there restaurants around, preferably good Vietnamese restaurants that serve the traditional roast crab and garlic noodles (but Chinese might be OK too), who actually have live, kicking crabs in the tank at this time of year from some far-off locale? I was thinking of La Vie or PPQ (we live in the Richmond), but, like I said, I have no idea if the crab would be live, which would a least give her a sense of the real thing, or frozen, which is unacceptable. (As a backup, we're thinking about Tadich, for a dose of old-school SF and cioppino, but I'm not sure, for her, that it will be as much fun.)

Thanks for your help!

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  1. I know that the crab tank at Lotus Garden is empty (or at least it was on my last visit two weeks or so ago), so no help there. Have you thought about driving by one of your choices to see if there are crabs in the tanks?

    1. I noticed crab in the tanks at a Vietnamese place in Oakland this week, so it is possible. I agree with Susan that you should go by (or call) some places and check.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Ruth Lafler

        Thanks--I guess I wanted to see whether or not it was a possibility at all before I started driving around... (and if someone had seen them somewhere recently, so much the better.)

      2. I used to frequent Thann Long out on 46th & Judah. Vietnamese Roast Crab and Garlic Noodles to die for. That said, it's been quite a while since I've made it out there. They have a sister restaurant Crustations at California & Polk that has the same dishes.

        1 Reply
        1. re: trhirsh

          Thanh Long and Crustacean went downhill, but some recent reports suggest that they might be back on track, e.g.:


          They've got a third restaurant in LA and are opening a fourth in SF.

        2. Our standard is R&G Lounge in (near?) Chinatown. It specializes in Cantonese seafood, which means if they have it, it won't be frozen. Try their salt and pepper crab if they have it.

          1. I saw a coffin-size tank full of "Dungeness" crabs at 99 Ranch in Foster City yesterday. I put that in quotes because the crabs, while large, had a light bluish and white shell. Is that correct for a Dungeness this time of year? I normally see them live as a kind of black-brown/orange/burnt umber.

            4 Replies
            1. re: orezscu

              At the bottom of this page there are drawings of Dungeness and Blue crabs.


              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                Interesting. 99 Ranch was calling a crab with a blue carapace and upper leg a Dungeness. I guess this was just another case of debauched fishmongering, like when you see the guys at Andronico's offering "dover" sole for $7.99 a pound.

                1. re: orezscu

                  Or they just threw crabs in the crab tank and didn't bother to change the sign.

              2. re: orezscu

                I see them all the time at my local 99 Ranch in Newark.

              3. You can get dungeness crab all year round. I just had a garlic stir fried crab at Asian Pearl, Millbrae last Sunday. I also saw some in the tank at Marina Market, San Mateo, $4.99lb. I suppose they are from up north...

                1 Reply
                1. re: peppatty

                  At 99 Ranch, I asked where they were from. The answer was Alaska.

                2. Thanks everyone for your suggestions--I just wanted to report back that we ended up at La Vie, which had crabs in their tank (as did PPQ). We've eaten here a few times, but it had been a while. Here's what we ate:

                  Veggie spring rolls: Fine, nothing outstanding, the wrapper was a little on the thick side.

                  Salt and Pepper Calamari: These were the surprise of the meal--I wasn't really expecting much, but this dish was fantastic. The squid were well fried and not greasy, there were plenty of hot peppers, and the best part was the crunchy carmelized garlic that was liberally sprinkled over everything. Yum. Came with a sweet-ish dipping sauce that wasn't really necessary. This was on the specials list, so I don't know if it's always on the menu.

                  Lemongrass Squid and Prawns (I think this is the name of the dish...): My husband had this, and he seemed pleased with it. I had a piece of squid and thought it was OK, but not great--a little sweet, and the squid wasn't especially fresh (although not gone off by any stretch).

                  La Vie Roast Crab with garlic noodles: My friend and I shared this, which serves 2 and is $45. This was an interesting preparation--the crab was filled with a deeply browned stuffing that was made from crab, garlic, butter I think, and I'm not sure what else. It was the best part of the dish, but was too sweet for my tastes--I'm not sure I'd order that style again. As for the crab, well, what can I say, it was crab out of season. It was passable. The real disappointment for me, though, were the garlic noodles--they can out barely covering a salad plate. It doesn't seem like noodles are the place to cheap out on that kind of a dish. And yet, when I tried them, I realized we wouldn't be needing another order--they were bland, with not enough butter or garlic. Although I haven't been to Than Long in a long time, and I know they've gone downhill, my memory of their garlic noodles is that they were chewy, buttery, garlicky, and addictive. These noodle, sadly, were none of those.

                  Overall, it was a nice meal, nothing but the calamari was really a stand-out, though. The service was very friendly but, as others have said, poky. I'm not sure this is the place to go if you're looking for great value--our meal, including 2 apps, 1 crab, 1 entree, 2 beers, and 1 soda water, was almost $100 after tax, but of course, that included the crab. Prices here seem to range quite a bit--the spring rolls were $7, while the calamari was $13 (but I'd gladly order it again!).

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Emily Hope

                    Interesting - the reason I prefer La Vie's noodles is because I found Thanh Long's overseasoned and excessively garlicky - for me, the crabs themselves are so highly seasoned that they need something slightly bland to counteract them, and all the garlic on butter on garlic at Thanh Long made me slightly nauseous (this from someone who loves both butter and garlic).

                  2. I'm not sure if it's fair at all to judge crab right now, but the crab at Thanh Long tonight was the worst crab I've ever had (was not my idea to go there). It was totally dry, bland, no sweetness, served on a plate of bland butter with a bit of pepper. It was most likely frozen and reheated, my SO noted that it wasn't very hot when it came to our table. How can the kitchen put something out like that, for $36/crab?

                    Back in June, we went to PPQ, and although that was out of season as well, I remember the crab being fresh and juicy.