The terrific Singapore chili crab banh mi Chef Tin dishes up at his Manhattan Beach restaurant, Little Sister, bursts with soft-shell crab, tomato relish and pickled garlic. You could split it, but then you would immediately regret your generosity of spirit: Recall the brevity of the season!
“The soft-shell is the blue crab in its molted state. The molting process means an abundant supply of soft crabs from late spring to early fall, with May through September ranking as the most productive months. Primes—4 1/2 to 5 inches—are the best, which we use,” says Chef Tin Vuong definitively.
Of Chinese descent, but born of parents who were forced to flee Vietnam during the war before landing in America, Chef Tin has had a myriad of influences. His first memory of soft-shell crab skews Asian: “It was in a spicy red curry form with Asian herbs, steamed sticky rice with pork.”
As it turns out, Little Sister forms a sort of sublime triangle for soft-shell crab dishes, with MB Post and Fishing with Dynamite right across Manhattan Avenue. These three restaurants offer up very different versions of the petite crab but each with singular flair.
MB Post’s blue crabs hail from Maryland. Battered and fried, the little guys are elegantly presented, a dollop of pickled mustard seeds and capers brightening up the dish. Underneath, the addition of buttery, grilled potatoes turn this small plate into a swanky version of fish and chips.
For a Mediterranean bent, choose Fishing with Dynamite, just next door. Chef David LeFevre (also behind MB Post) sautees his crabs—rather than deep-frying them—just like his grandfather used to do. Chef David populates the plate with chopped up tomatoes, capers, lemon and herbs. Delicate, yet still crunchy, the flavor of the shellfish comes through beautifully.
If Manhattan Beach is not your bag, pop into the new Catch & Release in Marina del Rey. Chef Jason Neroni embraces the classic New England flavors of his childhood summers in Maine—with a few twists, of course. The soft-shell crab comes as a sandwich at lunch, nestled on a housemade Parker House roll. For dinner the crab arrives sans bread, tarted up with pickled ramps, house made ranch (a sort of updated tartar made with yogurt and tarragon), tomatoes, and cucumbers. Don’t miss the Surf Report, a cocktail conjured out of anisette, vermouth, and “salt air.” Waiter Bill Giering says the drink is “like a day at the beach.”
Not a beach person? Or even a Westside person? Plan Check, E.P. & L.P., Blue Plate Oysterette, Butchers and Barbers and Hamasaku all celebrate soft shell crab with their own takes on the seasonal shellfish. Why not partake in a crustacean crawl?