Fresh King Crab at NBC (long)
- David Kahn
Last Friday me and two buddies indulged in a bit of lunch-time decadence by heading out to NBC Seafood (404 S. Atlantic Blvd., Monterey Park,(626) 282-2323) for dim sum and king crab. Been wanting to do this for sometime, and had planned to go with a larger group, but a couple of people couldn't make it at the last minute, so we went anyway.
As indicated in a prior post, I was a bit nervous about ordering a live king crab while dim sum was in full swing, but based upon the collective reassurances of LA's hounds, we gave it a try. It turns out, I think, that my concerns were partially justified, but I get ahead of myself here.
As soon as we walk in, as we're being led to our table, I tell the hostess that we'd like to order a live king crab. I'm not sure she understood us, but she sent one of the supervisor waiters (the ones that add up the check) over to talk to us. We asked for king crab cooked three ways, and he acknowledged our order, seeming to understand. He asked if we wanted the crab steamed or with garlic (garlic please), and whether we wanted fried or steamed rice (fried). A few moments later he returned to the table with a large plate holding a still living, moving, king crab for our inspection. These creatures, btw, are HUGE, and when you order one at NBC, you get some attention from other customers. Definitely not the place to go with your buddies from PETA or those who are upset by the Star-Ship-Trooperesque appearance of live crustaceans.
Anyway, the live crab disappears into the kitchen, and the dim sum ladies begin to ply their goods. As an aside, I've been making a real effort to sample a range of dim sum places in the SGV -- so far, I've tried Mission 261, 888 Seafood, Capital Seafood, Ocean Star, Triumphal Palace, New Concept, and of course, NBC -- and I have to say that NBC remains one of my favorites. Lots of variety, good execution, and friendly (if somewhat bemused) service. Of course, we're all starving, and while we're waiting for the crab, we order way too much dim sum, all of which is excellent.
After about 20 minutes, the crab makes a dramatic (perhaps even flamboyant) reappearance at our table. The legs and claws have been cut up into manageable pieces, split, and cooked, and arranged on a huge platter with generous amounts of a delicious garlic broth/sauce. In the center of the plate (which, seriously, is like two feet in diameter) is the now empty crab body/head, except the creature's eyes have been replaced with maraschino cherries into which red flashing LEDs have been placed, so that the giant red maraschino eyes blink alternately on and off). Like I said, very dramatic (albeit in a camp sort of way), and again, the arrival of this dish attracts some serious attention from other customers. It is also possible, I suppose, that the attention derives from the mind-bendingly wonderful smell of crab and garlic that permeates the entire room as the crab is delivered to our table. Either way, I get the feeling that the people around us are seriously happy to see this delivered to our table (and maybe just a touch envious).
The crab itself is unbelievably good. Piping hot, deliciously garlic infused, and fantastically sweet and tender. I usually like to try to avoid hyperbole in describing food, because, really, what do I know about such things, but it's just not possible to avoid extremes in describing how good this stuff tastes. I think it's the best seafood dish I've ever had. Ever. Plus, our planned fivesome is only a threesome, so there's like a three pounds of crab meat for each of us, and we've already eaten a fair amount of dim sum. Still, the crab is so God damn good, we can't stop eating it, and we manage to finish a surprising amount, maybe about three quarter of the crab, at which point we're all totally stuffed and feeling fairly glutinous. I was actually kind of worried, because, we'd ordered the crab three ways, so I'm expecting another two huge crab dishes.
This is where, I think, the unusual timing of our order (i.e., during lunch) combined with my inability to communicate with our waiter resulted in a disconnect. The other two ways (along with the rice we had been asked about) never appeared, and when I tried to ask our waiter, he seemed confused and a bit alarmed by the inquiry. Not that it mattered that much, because we weren't physically capable of eating much more, but, of course, now that a couple of days have passed, and I'm no longer feeling like I just stuffed myself silly with dim sum and fresh crab, I'm sort of wondering what the other two ways would have been and what we missed out on. Like I said, the king crab at NBC is stunningly good, and I will definitely return to order this again, but next time I need to get someone to tell me how to say (or perhaps write) "three ways" in the appropriate language/dialect. (Seriously, it's only Monday, and I'm already fantasizing about heading back for another try.)
Monetary damage, btw, was modest, at least in my view. The crab, which appeared to be one of the smaller ones in their tank (entirely appropriate given that there were only three of us), was $126. With a not insubstantial amount of dim sum, and a generous tip, the entire bacchanalia came to less than $200. Not bad at all for a meal so extravagantly delicious.
In closing, however, I have two questions for the board:
1. Any suggestions for communicating the "three ways" thing more clearly?
2. Is NBC the best for fresh king crab, or are there other places I need to sample?
King Crab prepared three ways can take a variety of iterations, but usually it's
1. steamed crab legs w/some sort of dipping sauce like mayo, garlic puree or chili sauce.
2. crab body parts stir-fried in garlic sauce (or XO sauce or some other concoction)
3. crab meat w/rice or noodles (OR sometimes you'll get a crab broth or soup)
Remember, it is crab "cooked" three ways -- you don't necessarily get three separate crab courses, presented serially one after another (although sometimes you do). What may have happened in your case is that the three different preparations of the crab were presented in one plate. Who knows, though ...
Other places to sample fresh king (or dungeness) crab include SEAFOOD VILLAGE in Temple City, esp. if you like garlic, and NEW CONCEPT.
Please keep in mind that chefs for lunch versus chefs for dinners maybe different. In chinese restaurants, lunch chefs are more adept at noodles dishes and dinner chefs generally deal with more sophisticated dishes. This is especially true at dim sum houses and seafood houses.
Great report, and very good detail. As to your questions, it hard to say because when I get crab I usually have it one way instead of 3. Maybe the way is to find a Cantonese friend in your network to write crab 3 ways in chinese characters. NBC is one of my favorites.... After watching Deadliest Catch on the Discovery channel, I have been looking for some good king crab myself.
Next time you decide to go...you can take me and I will make sure you get the other two ways! (Just kidding) Maybe they just forgot.