Alice Waters Gave Me Crabs

November 2, 2006

At Fatty Crab,  we were seated in the tight, bustling dining room, cheek-by-jowl with other customers.  The dining room seems engineered to bring about interplay among the clientelle; most of the tables are pushed together in a continuous row.  Together with the high decibel level this ensures that your neighbor will be asking what you are eating.  Intimate.  In fact the two ladies sitting next to us started a conversation, apologizing for eating so sloppily.  One of the pair pickup up her giant bowl of Chili Crabs ($32.00) and deposited it unceremoniously on our table, declaring she was finished and we should enjoy the rest.  Who were we to protest?  They were delicious, spicy, gorgeous in a large bowl of chili sauce served with toast triangles.  Alas there is no way to eat this dish in a fainthearted manner: one must roll up the sleeves and have at it, emerging spattered and stained a la Lady Macbeth.

Shortly, the ladies next to us left, and there was a bit of a buzz…Josh told me he thought the one that gave us crabs might have been Alice Waters, founder of Chez Panisse in California, and indeed the kitchen staff confirmed it for us.  Kitchen royalty!

Next, we were delivered the Quail Egg Shooters ($5.00): four tiny eggs server raw, their shells punctured so you can suck out the contents like those wax tubes full of sugar-water you bought when you were a kid.  The glutinous raw egg is offset nicely but the chewy, salty sambal.   Pickles Raja Chulan ($5.00) was a spicy assortment of 3 chopped vegs, but the spice was nicely restrained to allow enjoyment of 3 different dressings. 

Next, the Watermelon Pickle and Crispy Pork, which food writers have universally exhaulted; I liked it but didn’t love.  Watermelon just isn’t that interesting, and it  reminds me of bubble-gum.   And although I am a worshipper of pork (the candy of meats), a plate of fat chunks only goes so far.   So this was a dish that was more about texture than flavor in my opinion, and it grew boring after a couple of bites.

The Pork Ribs, however, were outstanding.  They were exactly the correct balance of fat and meat, the sauce cooked to sticky, thick perfection.  These are the Ur ribs.

     P.S. I’ve been back here several times, since, and eaten many other dishes, and none was a loser.  The Assam Laksa is a powerful bowl of spicy, sour fish.  Assam means tamarind and it gives the sour flavor and reddish color.  Hundreds  of tiny, crunchy dried fish (ikan bilis) watch as you devour them.