On a Wednesday a few weeks ago, responding to a mild urge for adventure and wanderlust, I decided to strike out from my usual haunts in the Financial District and SoMa and search for dinner. I got on a N/Judah Muni train at Embarcadero station, and rode out towards the ocean stopping often to let out the folks returning from work. The Outer Sunset is not the brightest and most cosmopolitan part of the city, and it was with a bit of caution that I got off at 46th and Judah in front of a convenience store and looked around for Thanh Long. It was on the corner only one-half block away, and was warm, welcoming, and bustling inside.
At the table, a nut/crab cracker was lying on the linen tablecloth like a surgical instrument. There were two of us, and we ordered two Roasted Crabs, a plate of Garlic Noodles, and a bottle of 2002 Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc. Shortly, the waiter came back with supplies for the coming event: a stack of empty bowls for discarded crab shells, a great pile of paper napkins, and a plastic bib for each of us which was expertly installed with professionalism and a touch of deference.
The crab arrived, with the legs broken off and arranged, life-like beneath the empty carapace shell. There is butter everywhere; although it is really more than just butter. There is also garlic, coarsely ground black pepper, salt and other mysterious spices. But this is a LOT of butter. I wonder if somehow, instead of Roast Crab, we got the Crab poached in butter, by mistake.
We begin, tentatively cracking the legs and picking out the sweet meat. Eyes open wide. It is Delicious! After a few bites of the noodles, and a bit more civilized cracking and picking, a frenzy starts to set in. I cant decide what to do! Should I crush more crab limbs? Find a claw and suck out the meat? Suck and lick the crab parts already gone over? Suck and slurp the butter and spices from my fingers? Take a bite of garlic and butter infused noodles? I know, Ill take a sip of wine, sigh contentedly and then do every single one of these things -- again and again.
There is nothing refined about this experience. It is expensive, it is messy, it is slightly embarrassing and you will hate yourself in the morning. Eating roasted crab at Thanh Long is the closest you can get to pure animal pleasure in public and not get arrested.
When we are done, the waiter brings a heated damp washcloth to use in cleaning up. We are sated. Pure animal satisfaction.
We left the restaurant and walked west, across the Great Highway and across the wide sandy beach. It was dark as we stared out at the black ocean beyond the frothy white surf. Somewhere out there was Alaska, Siberia, Japan, China, Vietnam, Korea, Australia, and New Zealand. Do all of those people eat Crab? Is eating crab a universal experience?
We caught the train back. Back along Judah, back from the oceans edge, back to sushi, and granola, and salads, and pasta with marinara sauce. Back to normal. I fell into a happy and contented drowziness on the Muni ride back to the Embarcadero, and contemplated just how good of a meal this had been.