Crab Fest 2008 @ The Hungry Cat
I'm a Chesapeake Bay kid so Maryland blue crab holds a special place in my heart. Not even 100 degree heat (and 1000 miles of air travel) could keep me away from the annual crab fest at my favorite restaurant in LA. The crabs themselves need no explanation, but the Hungry Cat outdid themselves this year by serving *soft shelled crab po' boys*. I've often said that such a dish would be my last death row meal, and the Hungry Cat rendition only helped reinforce that idea.
The rest of the meal was great, too. The heirloom tomato salad was a pleasant surprise, not only in its simplicity but awesome flavor. Its sweetness and acidity played so well against the aggresive seasoning of the crab.
I thought the crab this year was excellent. The crab last year were a little bigger, but I thought they absolutely nailed the preparation for the 2008 version. Whereas last year the saltiness became overwhelming, it feels they toned it down a tad, and with fantastic result.
The turnout was huge. The expansion obviously gave more seats inside, but there was a larger outdoor setup. (Fortunately, the shade of the adjoining apartment complex kept the direct sun away by early afternoon.) I still haven't been able to fully wash away all the Old Bay from my hands, and I'm already counting down the days for the next one.
I was there, too, with wife and Mom (her birthday) and Dad.
Being from Virginia, and growing up with Blue Crab, we were really excited about Crab Fest.
We had a great time, even though we were seated on an outdoor table (the inside was full) and the heat was OPPRESSIVE.
To be frank, we thought that the whole crabs were good, but not great. Every single other dish, however, was FANTASTIC.
The salad of tomatoes, onions, provolone, and light vinaigrette was perfect on a hot day. The grilled corn on the cob with paprika butter (and the Old Bay Seasoning I added) was as good as any I've ever had, and the strawberry cornbread shortcake was delicious.
But the crab soup was an A+. When the server placed my bowl in front of me, and it was steaming, I was certain that I wouldn't be able to eat morethan a bite or two. But, sweating and drinking beer, all four of us drained those soup bowls. It was terrific.
The star of the day, however, was the softshell crab sandwich. I've probably eaten softshells 30 times in restaurants, and this was, hands-down, the BEST softshell I've ever had. Honestly, I felt like the $50 pp price tag was worth the soup and sandwich alone. Everything else was (very nice) cherries on the top.
As a side note: Of the 5-6 times I've eaten at HC, our service today was hands down the best we've had there...
Suzanne Goin was there, chatting with Nancy Silverton...pretty cool.
re: Dave and Stuff
Totally agree with you D&S, Crab Soup and SS Crab Sandy rocked, Rocked, and ROCKED!!!! It may be because we were the latest party served (and got the last few crabs they had) but the crabs were of ho-hum size and lacked for spice. The strawberry dish was also gone. But it was really fun.
re: Dave and Stuff
I went with a friend (she is from Maryland, I'm from Florida) to the Crabfest and we enjoyed the overall event. We both agreed that the crabs were tiny, but well seasoned. I also got a couple of bad crabs (mushy inside) which is disappointing. I have to disagree with Dave and Stuff on the soup, which I found to be just okay. We were there really early (in the high heat), so the soup had to be really special to make an impression. I did enjoy the cornbread in the center of the soup. The soft shell crab po boys were EXCELLENT (my favorite part of the meal, even over the actual crabs)!! The tomato salad was refreshing and we both really enjoyed the corn. The strawberry dessert was a big thumbs down for me and my friend, which was disappointing.
On another note, I have to agree with the comment on great service. Our server anticipated our every desire and even brought us a bowl of lemon water to clean our hands after the crab massacre!! And, the mint lemonade soda we got was very tasty and appropriate for the hot weather!
One last thing, though. Me and my friend had some laughs at the expense of people who had no idea how to eat crabs. I even saw a woman trying to use a knife!!
One of my dining companions was a crab newbie, and it was a pleasure to show her how to crack the thing open (belly up, apron towards you, hold the shell "wing" and push up on the joint near the hinge). I was so glad they didn't offer nutcrackers as they did last year, because you really shouldn't need it, though they did provide a mallet to get into the claws.
Among four diners, we consumed about thirty crabs and only had one bad one. That sounds fair to me.
I ordered a cocktail (the General Lee, a rye-based drink) when I first sat because it is, after all, Hungry Cat, but in the end I just kept getting shorties of Craftsman. Hey, just because it's crabfest doesn't mean I have to drink Natty Bo.
The softshell crab sandwich was my favorite part of the meal. I would have happily eaten another one of those in lieu of the crab, it was that good! Loved the grilled corn and tomato salad as well. Many of our crabs were on the small side but I was quite full by the time they came out after filling up on the soup, salad, corn and po'boy. Although they were small, the crabs were full of flavor and many of them were bursting with delicious roe.
Overall, I thought the meal was an excellent deal for such fantastic food and such a fun way to spend an afternoon.
I must commend the staff on the wonderful service provided all afternoon. Even though they were slammed, everyone was highly attentive and made sure that we were all very well taken care of.