Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Off the Map: You Don't Know How to Eat Crab

Hot and Spicy Crab -- Penang Garden, San Francisco, CA
Penang Garden

Tyler Florence got it wrong when he put Penang Garden's crab on the HOT AND SPICY episode of Best Thing I Ever Ate.  Instead, this thing deserves to be the top feature on the MESSY episode.
Because It's a MESS
We arrive at Penang Garden mere hours before we are set to depart San Francisco, and with decidedly less pep in our step.  
The Fact That "Bar" Is the Word Falling Apart Here Is Not a Good Omen
Luckily for us, not only is there no line to reach the hostess stand of the restaurant, but there are hardly any customers at all.  Of the patrons, all but us and a man armed with a giant camera (who we assume is a food blogger but could just be a creep) are Asian, and it is fairly obvious that the workers know there is something up with us.
Their First Clue? We Are Here Only for the Crab
"How many of the places we've been to do you think knew we were up to something?" Vodka asks Ginger as we take our seats.

"I think they mostly just thought we were weird," Ginger answers.  
Whatever San Francisco. We're Not the Ones Sporting Buildings Straight Out of a Third-World Country
As if to hammer home our own point, we flip through the giant, picture-laden menu haphazardly, unable to locate the "hot and spicy crab."  This circumstance is especially sad, considering Penang Garden took out a full page "ad" on the dish in their own menu, labeling it as "Recommended by Television Food Network," and we glazed over it multiple times.  
Context Clues Fail Us So Hard Sometimes
At first, we are panicky, because it says the word "seasonal" next to the crab, and we didn't come all the way to the Vietnamese outskirts of Chinatown just to be turned away.  
Do You KNOW How Crowded the Sidewalks of Chinatown Are?
We place our order for one crab while holding our breaths, and the waiter nods at us knowingly.
Commentary: "These Girls Are About to Die"
"So I guess it's in season?" Vodka asks.

"The price must be seasonal," Ginger surmises. "Not the crab."

We're such geniuses.
Hand Over Your Tax Forms, America - We'll Take Care of Them For You
As soon as our waiter departs, Vodka lifts the teapot to pour us (note: US) cups of tea.  Ginger scrambles to turn her tea cup over in order to be served first with so much haste that we're surprised she didn't topple the whole thing over.  "Was that passive-aggressive, too?" she asks as Vodka pours her tea.  
You Would Think Ginger Were the Only Child Among Us
A giant plate of crab -- about four times the size that we had envisioned -- is placed before us in next to no time.  This crab is covered -- DRENCHED -- in a thick, chunky red chili sauce, and we assume that this is the component that is about to scald our taste buds to death.  
Not Looking Forward to This. Not Looking Forward to This At All
Ginger, hailing from New England and thus not afraid of a shellfish, picks up her shell cracker enthusiastically and gets to work.
The Tools of a True Crab Master
Vodka, being from New Jersey and thus not accustomed to having to work for her food, goes about the process much, MUCH more slowly.
Ginger Might be a Crab Master, but Vodka Is Just a Crab
Indeed, this crab is almost identical to the lobster process ("I DO like lobster meat.  I just like when someone else gives it to me") with one huge exception: the shell is so thoroughly soaked with sauce that it is nearly impossible to hold still, let alone crack.  
Vodka all but abandons the entire process after two pieces of meat, being that her lips are burning, her fingers are covered with sauce, and she thinks this whole thing is way too much work for too little reward.
Yeah, No Thanks
Ginger, however, pioneers on.  By the end of her meal, sauce has splattered her clothes and face and thoroughly disguised her hands, and she has requested a bowl of white rice to help combat the tongue-burning temperatures.  
How to Conquer a Spicy Crab, Ginger-Style
All it takes is one glance at the piles of napkins before us to know who had better success with the crab: "Well, that's a defeatist's plate if I ever saw one," Ginger quips about Vodka's full platter.
"BUT AT LEAST I'M CLEAN" --Vodka's inner retort
Overall, not only did Vodka dislike the sauce ("I'd prefer butter"), but she sees no reason why it had to be placed onto the crab directly, instead of just served on the side.  This presentation would have made the crab ten times easier to manipulate, rather than the laundry disaster of this monstrosity.  
A Very Valid Point, No?
Ginger is obviously more forgiving of the crab than Vodka, but she is not over the moon about it either.  If we both had our druthers, we would have given this dish 1 and 3 stars respectively, which settles down to a compromise of 2.
Fortune Says, Penang Garden, That You Fail
Our waiter comes to clear our plates and points to the remaining claws and legs which scatter the landscape.

"Lots more meat in there," he tells us.

"We don't want it," Vodka says, which makes the waiter hone in on "the defeatist's" plate specifically.

"You don't know how to eat crab," he tells her.

"Nope," Vodka answers with no shame, proving once and for all why she will never be a true foodie.
She Will Also Never Grow Shrubbery In Her Dining Room, So There
Our check is placed before us, and we learn that the "seasonal" price for this hunk of palate-ruining seafood is $38.  $38!  Rest assured that if Vodka wasn't crabby about this place before, she most certainly is now. 

And she puts her burning lips together into a pout just to prove it.

Penang Garden's Hot and Spicy Crab: 2 stars

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