Monday, May 23, 2011
The Crab Cooker
I grew up in the San Gabriel Valley, have lived here almost all of my life. I love seafood but I've always been extremely disappointed in the options here. There is a national chain that once gave me the worst food poisoning of my life. There is another, even bigger chain and whenever I tell people I loathe it, they always want to talk about how good the biscuits are, as if that should forgive the lousy seafood. There is a restaurant in Pasadena that people seem a little too eager to like; I often get the feeling they could be fed a rotting fish corpse and they would say "Oh, that's good, what an interesting presentation."
I'm not saying I've never had a good seafood meal in town. I have. But, on the whole, 19 times out of 20 I would much rather get an order of fried shrimp at Popeyes than waste ten times the money on an inevitably inferior meal at one of the seafood restaurants scattered about town. (I once ate at a Sizzler on the Oregon coast - don't ask - and had a platter of fried shrimp better than any I have had in the San Gabriel Valley.)
It's become something of an annual tradition, it seems, for me to write about the Crab Cooker. And I never get tired of it. I could spend several paragraphs, several thousand words perhaps, just sharing memories of the place. But I won't. I will simply paraphrase what I wrote about the Crab Cooker one year ago: when everything comes together, there is no restaurant I have been to anywhere in the world that I love more. Would I call it the best restaurant I have ever been to? Not even close. The best seafood restaurant? Still, no. But for many reasons, it is probably my favorite restaurant. It's all relative.
My parents offered to take me and Elizabeth there over the weekend to celebrate her birthday and we jumped at the chance. Down on Newport Blvd on the Balboa peninsula, the Crab Cooker is always crowded. I try to encourage whomever I dine with to arrive there on the early side, not just to avoid the wait, but to avoid one of the too-cramped tables they sometimes stick you at when the restaurant is packed. On this occasion we arrived just before noon and it was not yet too crowded, although there were still plenty of customers already there, some even finishing up their meals.
"I never have a problem with that," I said. "But this is for your birthday, so that's cool."
That being said, the Crab Cooker's tartar sauce is the best in the world.
Crab Cooker's crab cakes are fantastic, probably the best I have ever had in Southern California. They are golden brown - never too dark - and crispy on the outside but filled with sweet crab meat inside. You get three to an order and I always spread tartar sauce on one of them. The cakes are so good that they need no condiments, but the tartar sauce is so good it's always nice to eat one crab cake with it.
an especially grumpy one for members of his college class (UCLA '69).
But here's the thing: I noticed it, too. Even just from the past few years, the pile of crab that he receives on his plate has gotten much smaller. It still looks cool when it's all rendered and the shells are sitting on a plate. But the portions of this are nowhere near as large as they used to be.
The sweet, tender lobster meat melts in the mouth. There may be something I have eaten at some point in my life that I have loved more in the moment, but I can't think of it. Feel free to zoom in on any of the pictures, and see if you do not want to lick your computer screen.
I love the Crab Cooker, obviously. I may not make it back down there for another year, and I will probably get the same items I always do. But I will probably photograph it all again next time, too. I hope you won't mind.
Posted by JustinM at 12:16 PM