Wookiee Hut Cuisine presents:
Great New York Noodletown for CWAAAAAB!
Bowery & Bayard, Chinatown, New York, NY
212-349-0923
Review by SuSu, Diana, MaceVindaloo, Diasala, Puddly, Zit

Despite the ethic slurriness of "CWAAB!" this is precisely the battlecry which goes around via telecommunications devices among the chosen ... the cry which signals Soft Shell Crab season, and the availability of the delectable crustaceans at the very best place to ever be allowed to cook the beasts: Noodletown!

We know, we know ... we have extolled this place plenty, but it really is a different thing come soft-shell crab season. In summer, bluecrabs molt, and there are diligent men and women who watch for this moment. For as soon as the bugs step our of their tight-fitting shells as they prepare to grow another notch bigger, they are grabbed out of the water and mercifully and carefully murdered, then chilled for immediate transport. Why is this so crucial? Because to re-harden the soft shell, a crab will eat its molt so it has enough calcium and chitin to harden its exoskeleton up again, and make it safe against predators. It takes predators like us to imprison the creatures in a manner which allows us to watch this process, then deny the crab the ability to do anything but taste good!

The gills are stripped out of the crabs, but other than that, it's ready to cook. At Noodletown, they salt-bake them, that venerable Chinese method of salt-encrusting a meat or seafood and baking it at high heat. The result is a perfectly seasoned, crisp-crusted, NASA-hot thing! Here, they can be ordered one at a time, and that's what we do — order one per person, per round, so that the creatures can be savored at the peak of their hot lusciousness ... we aren't prompted to rush because the next crab on the plate will be cooling too fast. And we don't fight over the last one ... for there is one per person, and no hold-outs allowed!

Then we order another round. It's much like ordering beer, and in fact, Chinese Tsingtao beer is a perfect accompaniment to these beautiful things. Of course, this being Noodletown, one of our favorite places to dine (ever!), we also order the Three Jewels (poached chicken with ginger scallion sauce; roasted duck; barbecued pig in soy sauce), Singapore Mai-Fun (a big pile of curried vermicelli noodles with shrimp and vegetables sautéed throughout), and white rice. And lots of hot tea, too.

The crabs are not cheap, but such is the nature of obsession. Though truth be told, at $7 per big crab, you'd be hard-pressed to find an equally economic indulgence elsewhere. Let's compromise and call it an affordable luxury.

One warning — if the crusty bits fall on your clothes, be sure to wipe them off immediately. Part of the secret to cooking these things is to liberally coat them with oil along with the salt, and you might stain your duds. It's deceptive because the crabs aren't oily at all.

Oh, and how to eat them? Start with the very crunchy perimeter of legs and claws ... then work in. If you start at the middle, the delicious juices might squirt out at you and scald you fiercely! Just keep eating around and around, using your chopsticks to change position as needed. Or if you are using a knife and fork, go ahead and cut them in pieces, but you'll want the white rice to catch any of those juices.

"CWAAAAAAB ...!"


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