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.
And so, at 11 a.m., the doors opened and we feasted . . .
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.
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!
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 . . .
THE STEAMED CRABS! Lovely-looking, coral-colored and comparatively large Maryland blues topped with specks of their house-blended seasoning.
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!)
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