Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Special Foodventure #125: The Hungry Cat (Hollywood) Crabfest V

I can find two things wrong with The Hungry Cat's name; there are no cats at the restaurant, and no one leaves hungry. Case-in-point: CrabFest this past Sunday, an annual crustacean-ladened tradition five years running that's simply good summertime fun.

Exterior
Knowing how fast reservations for this once-a-year event get filled, the day it was announced I just made a reservation for a table of six without even knowing who I'll be eating with. And it didn't take long for those empty seats to be filled with blogging friends Mattatouille, Choisauce, Gourmet Pigs, and ConBon -- as well as Gourmet Pig's +1 and Rickmond of Rameniac (yes, that's seven total -- thankfully I was able to up my reservation by one without much trouble.)

And so, at 11 a.m., the doors opened and we feasted . . .
Black Eyed Plum
The Hungry cat is well-known for their farmers-market-driven cocktail program, so I indulged in a brunch time Black-Eyed Plum made with cachaca muddled with plum and basil with a splash of lime. It's like summer in a cup, wistfully refreshing with clean, balanced flavors; I can taste the individual components -- the bright limes, the sweet-juicy plums, aromatic basil and edgy nibble of the cachaca -- without any single one dominating the drink. Definitely one I look forward to recreating at home while the weather's still warm and stone fruits are still in season.
Crab Roll
Our meal began with a crab roll amuse, a simply-dressed lump crabmeat salad on top of a toasted butter bun. A little bit messy to eat with the crab on top of the bread as opposed to being stuffed inside, but nicely made -- it wasn't overly mayoed-up so the sweetness of the crabmeat still shone through, with little acceptable pops of pepper, onion and celery notes. I could've done with a little less bread but the ratio isn't too off-sync.
Crab Soup + Cornbread
Next came the "Pride of Baltimore" crab soup with grilled bacon-fat cornbread: given its near-ruby, somewhat-opaque color I was initially afraid there's gonna be too much tomato in the soup, but that turned out to be not the case. The soup is very stock-driven, as the photo show, has lots of crab meat merrily swimming in it. The actual vegetal notes were mild and a nice complement, as were the occasional salty bacon pieces floating within. The grilled corn bread is wonderful on its own or soaked with the soup, and I actually liked that there were pieces of chile pepper embedded within for an ever-so-slight hint of heat.
Roasted Soft-Shelled Crab
Moving onto more substantial crab dishes, our third course is a whole pan-roasted soft-shell crab on top of a bed of haricot verts, pancetta and corn. Again, going with the "less is more" theme, there wasn't much in the way of seasoning and sauces, which let the quality of each ingredient come forth: the crispy, meaty crab to the hearty pieces of bacon and the sweet corn and beans. Towards the end though, I felt the dish was a bit too heavy as the roasted crab juices and grease got soaked up by the veggies -- thankfully, having finished my cocktail, I got a glass of Port Brewing 3rd Anniversary IPA -- a refreshing, hop-forward brew that really cut through all that fat!
Marinated Tomato & Pecorino Salad
Potato Salad
We were also served side dishes of jean's marinated tomato & pecorino cheese plate and their potato salad at this time. Even though originally they were meant to accompany the steamed crabs, I think it's great they came out now while we still can use utensils as opposed to having to switch back-and-forth when we go hands-on with the steamy suckers. Again, overall it was nice -- the potato version is again easy on the binder so not too heavy, and I loved the super-juicy, super-flavorful marinated heirloom tomatoes that the semi-soft, mild-flavored pecorino foiled nicely against.

And three course later (and I'm already feeling satiated), the main show . . .
Steamed Crab Served
THE STEAMED CRABS! Lovely-looking, coral-colored and comparatively large Maryland blues topped with specks of their house-blended seasoning.
Steamed Crab 2
We wasted no time grabbing our mallets and tearing these babies apart for their succulent, sweet flesh and the fatty, flavorful innards (which, like a good uni, yields a "taste of the sea") accented wonderfully with Chef Lentz's version of Old Bay Seasoning. I also liked these crabs much more than the one from CrabFest two years back, possibly because they are not doing all-you-can-eat this year, so Chef Lentz can pay a little more attention to them and not hurriedly trying to steam and whip out as many as possible (us having an early reservation there also helped before the restaurant got packed with crab cracking customers!) And even six crabs a person were plenty enough (and more than enough for a few of us, who wound up doggy bagging the uncracked leftovers.)

And if you're not squeamish and truly interested in the carnage we wreaked upon those crustaceans, click here. (And that's after our table was partially-bussed!)

Peach Crisp
More-than-full from more than seven crabs, I was actually happy to see that the dessert is a modest portion of peach crisp. The dessert, surprisingly, is only "not bad" -- It would've been better if it was served warm instead of chilled, though given that they had to pre-prep the sweets given their small kitchen and large number of attendees, I could've overlooked the temperature; however, the peaches were a bit overcooked to nearly mush-like consistency, and it was oddly spiced like a pumpkin pie, a marked departure from the purer tastes of earlier dishes. The crumble part, however, was great.

Despite the lackluster last note, we had a splendid three hours with good food, great conversations and just a fun time really getting messy without having to worry about the table cleanup (though we did spill quite a few glasses of water!) Definitely worth the $60/person pricetag (plus $10 for the cocktail and $6 for the beer) as I am thoroughly stuffed for the rest of the day and even skipped dinner no problemo!

I am already setting aside my June 2010 Sundays aside for its much-anticipate return!

What Do Others Say About the CrabFest?
- Eater L.A. thought it was "total summer perfection" in 2008
- Oishii Eats & Co. had "a gluttonous victory" (back when it was all-you-can-eat) in 2007
- TasteBuzz got to "keep on crabbing" at 2007, wound up eating eight steamed ones before "rolling out"

The Hungry Cat
1535 North Vine
Hollywood, CA
323-462-2155
Website

Hungry Cat on Urbanspoon
Hungry Cat in Los Angeles

8 comments:

Diana said...

I can't believe all that food! No wonder you were tweeting about smelling of crab for the rest of the day! Looks really spectacular though -- I'll have to book a reservation next year.

Gastronomer said...

You've totally sold me on attending next year's festivities. I can definitely see how not having an AYCE affair bumps up the quality.

tallgirl said...

I am SUCH a fan of their cocktails. I tried the black eyed plum, just a sip, and the Bali Hoo and the Southern Tea. SOOOOO good.
I am impressed that you were able to eat all those crabs. So stuffed.
I agree, though, the cobbler did leave a little to be desired. The whipped cream was yummy, though. :D

burumun said...

I think I still feel full =P But that was soo good! All the hard work peeling was worth it too.

Thanks again for the reservation, and remember me next year ;)

H. C. said...

@Diana & @Gastronomer, look forward to seeing you there next year!

@tallgirl, I tasted Gourmet Pigs' Southern Tea and it came on a little strong for me--much better a couple of minutes later when diluted by the ice. But otherwise, great drinks indeed.

@burumun, you betcha. CrabFest VI will roll back before you know it.

Khoi said...

Shoot, this article is seriously the next best thing to actually being there and tasting everything! You could even say that my not going makes me feel... crabby...? Is this usually on Father's Day? Bah! ...I'll have to plan ahead next year if it is. :)

Charles said...

What a small world! Choisauce is a friend of mine from San Diego. She used to by old roommate's girl friend.

take care,
Charles (Lady Jenn's friend)

Aaron said...

Alas, Crabfest at Hungry Cat was the first event I missed out on after leaving LA. What a disappointment. I guess I'll have to go down to Miami one year for stone crab season. Though the dungeness in SF is superb

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