Sunday, August 31, 2008

Fatty Crab

Fatty Crab logo
Word of mouth - after the Dining and Wine section of the NY Times - has to be the absolute best way to learn about restaurants in New York City. I've been turned on to some real winners by friends and acquaintances in that fashion, and Fatty Crab is no exception. I first visited about two years ago on someone's recommendation and was blown out of the water by the fresh ingredients in the dishes, the intense heat of the chilies, and the casual intimacy of the setting. I've since taken several parties there and the verdict has always been a resounding validation of my first good impression.
Fatty Crab store front
Along with Chef de Cuisine Corwin Kave, owner Zak Pellacio opened Fatty Crab in October of 2005 after stints at 5 Ninth in the Meatpacking district and the Chickenbone Café in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Previously, Pellacio spent some considerable time in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia cooking and snooping around the food stalls for which most of Asia is justly famous. There, his aesthetic evolved with exposure to exotic flavors and ways of cooking. And the rest, as they say, is history.
The back-lit bar at Fatty CrabFatty Crab has a neat interior and an unfussy, eclectic atmosphere. There is a grudging nod to southeast Asian culture with elaborately carved wood chairs, ritual masks, and in the lavatory, aggressively red walls and hung bamboo. The space however can only be described as cramped. If you go, choose your dining companions with care. You'll be knocking knees with them most of the night at the tiny tables. The only relief that I've discovered is a stool at the bar where one can spread out a bit. You get a view of the kitchen and the dishes coming out, and free entertainment from the ever-cordial bartenders. I suspect they're hired not only for their mixing skills, but for their critically chic musical tastes, as you can always count on something interesting yet obscure blasting from the speakers.
On this latest visit, I was stood up by my date, who thought it would be more fun to catch a summer cold. I didn't want to miss the opportunity though, so after making sure my friend had nothing really seriously wrong, I headed out solo instead. It was relatively early for New York dining. Most of the tables inside and out were taken, but there was no waiting list, and I easily found a seat at the bar. I introduced myself to Devon, a bartender unfamiliar to me and we went over the menu. I wanted to capture a good cross section, but with a party of one, it is often difficult not to over do it. I settled on a couple of signature dishes and another that I had seen others order but had never tried myself. Instead of the predictable Asian beer, which can confidently hold its own against fiery dishes, I wanted to find a good wine pairing. Devon pointed out a Sicilian red that I had never heard of before, but since I love taking risks with unknown wines, we agreed on the Valle dell'Acate "Il Frappato". The frappato grape is found only in Sicily and is usually put into service as blending fruit. Standing on its own though, its freshness and acidity stand up admirably to spicier foods.
Watermelon Pickle and Crispy PorkLine cooks John and Jesse brought out my starter. I went with the Watermelon Pickle and Crispy Pork salad. Tender chunks of roasted, fatty pork are tossed with fresh watermelon and pickled rind. They're complimented by a mound of julienned scallions, Thai basil and Vietnamese mint. You simply cannot fathom the genius of combining watermelon and pork until you've tried it. "You got your pork on my watermelon! You got your watermelon on my pork!" Somehow, the sweetness of the melon heightens everything you worship about pork. The herbs and pickling add a complexity that resolves itself into a light, almost sensual finish. It's as if someone were nibbling on your earlobe, only very subtly and in your mouth. (My worst analogy yet.)
Wet Wonton MeeNext was a new dish for me, the wet Wonton Mee, or soup. I say wet, because you can also order the soup without the soup. In Malaysia, evidently, mee, or noodle soup, often times comes dry with a broth served on the side. You can either add the broth to the dry ingredients, or sip it separately. Crazy, right? But then again, Americans smother their meat in A-1 sauce, so go figure. Fatty Crab's mee consists of thin, crispy-fried ramen noodles, steamed shrimp and pork wontons, wilted greens and more julienned scallions. The vegetable broth, seasoned perfectly with sesame and herbs, is added to the dry ingredients just before serving allowing the noodles to remain crisp for some time. On the side is a chili oil which I caution you to use with the minutest care. Just a couple of drops go a very long way. The overall impression of the mee is sesame. The noodles are fried with some sesame oil, and it stands out in the broth as well. Yet here again, subtleties come through as herbs, greens and scallions mix in the mouth. The wantons wontons are very nicely steamed and the mixture of the ground shrimp and pork compliment one another. Were I to change one thing, however, it would be the stock. A lighter liquid, I feel, would allow the other flavors to come forward on the stage.
Fatty SlidersFinally, and since my last post was about burgers, I ordered the Fatty Sliders. Simple, straightforward, perfectly executed. They come sandwiched in a little bun with a fresh slice of cucumber, butter lettuce, and what must be a spicy aioli. Because these mini burgers are a combination of ground beef and pork, they are cooked a little longer than I would normally prefer, but remain very juicy and quite flavorful. There is a wallop of black pepper mixed in the ground meat, and the garlic stands out in the mayonnaise, but not abruptly so.
I've had many of the other dishes on previous visits to Fatty Crab. Most have been exceptionally well thought out and prepared. Some of the fish paste items may initially challenge the palate, and other offerings like the Quail Egg Shooters never come to full effect, but the overall experience is always positive. The confined space and moderately high prices might keep some diners from becoming regulars, but this is a place that ought to be tried at least once. Just cozy up to your neighbors and keep your elbows off the tabletops!
Line cooks John & Jesse
Line cooks John and Jesse
Fatty Crab
643 Hudson Street (between Horatio & Gansevoort Streets)
New York, NY 10014
Open noon to midnight Monday through Wednesday, noon to 2:00am Thursday and Friday. Open for brunch at 11:00am on Saturday and Sunday. Reservations are not accepted.

N.B. (web link), Current prices are way out of line with what are listed on their web menu - almost double in most cases. The curse of overhead and success, I guess.
Thanks for taking the time - Blog.O.Food


Matt said...

Watermelon & Pork.. is genius. Glad to see you avoided the asparagus liquor based drinks as they make you dance like a ballerina in front of minor food network personalities.

Gerhard Reinke said...

You misspelled wonton.

Blog O. Food said...

Blast! I hate being imperfect. But I got two out of the three right. Do I get partial credit?