Sunday, March 10, 2013

Tender Crabs at the 'Loin

I've been obsessed with eating crabs since I was a child. Maybe it's instinct or perhaps I was an otter in a previous life. Whenever I hear there's good crab to be had some place, I'm there. Last night we were in a prime neighborhood for crabbing. San Francisco's Tenderloin neighborhood is crowded with Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Thai immigrants who also love eating crabs. It is reputed that  Kim Thanh Seafood Restaurant in the gritty neighborhood's safer reaches near Union Square serves the best crab in the city. I'm always suspicious of such claims, but my interest was peaked. Is this place crab heaven? I'd even settle for something close to it.

The wait for a table to free up was a tease. I lusted at the prodigious tanks teeming with mouthwatering crustaceans. The crabs looked ripped and moved about with grace. And my eyes widened even more at the sight of the large spot prawns floating behind the glass, their legs doing tiny scissor kicks. At that moment I knew the schlep to the Tenderloin was worth it.

Coincidentally, the La Paulee celebration was going on at about the same time in New York. To join the celebration remotely, I brought a white Burgundy, a modest 2010 Pierre Matrot Bourgogne Blanc made by the brilliant Thierry Matrot in Meursault, where the original La Paulee is held every November soon after the harvest. A perfect wine with the crab and all the other dishes we ordered. Sharp, mineral and bone dry, it has very good body and depth for a Bourgogne. At just $20 always overachieving, and perfect for a casual place like this.

Our whole crab order arrived on a large plate already broken down in pieces, even the tomalley was scooped out of the shell ready to just be put in the mouth. Seemingly crispy fried, the menu described the crab as salt-baked. Indeed there's no glistening oiliness. This is a well-cooked crab and very tasty, full of sweet meat. Flavorwise it is not on the same level as Thanh Long's but a much better value at about $30, compared to Thanh Long's almost $50 price for a whole crab.

However, the plate of garlic noodles we ordered was disappointing, lifeless with a dominating taste of cooking oil. A far cry from Thanh Long's famous garlic noodles.

Good restaurants have overlooked gems on their menu, overshadowed by the signature dishes. At Thanh Long's I find it's the New Zealand green-lip mussels served with garlic rubbed crostini. At Kim Thanh, on this night at least, the huge spot prawns outperformed the crab. This was the largest spot prawns I've laid my eyes on. I just had some a few days before, but I can't let the opportunity for these godzilla prawns pass us by. They may not be this size next time. I insisted on ordering just a half-pound sampler fresh from the tank. They were stuffed with juicy sweet, firm meat. Several sips of the Matrot white Burgundy went down beautifully with it.

Kim Thanh Seafood Restaurant
607 Geary Street
San Francisco, CA 94102

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