Cracking into CA’s newly opened crab season

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Source:   —  April 03, 2016, at 9:21 AM

The four-month of California’s commercial Dungeness-crab season – prompted by toxic algae bloom associated with El Niño and warmer Pacific waters – dashed many a dream of newspaper-covered holiday tables laden with sweet, juicy Dungeness legs, or of nuanced takes on crab and corn chowder at high-end restaurants.

Cracking into CA’s newly opened crab season

Fall and winter left a crustacean-shaped hole in Sacramento food lovers’ hearts.

The four-month of California’s commercial Dungeness-crab season – prompted by toxic algae bloom associated with El Niño and warmer Pacific waters – dashed many a dream of newspaper-covered holiday tables laden with sweet, juicy Dungeness legs, or of nuanced takes on crab and corn chowder at high-end restaurants.

Granted, such dreams still were achievable during parts of winter. Though elevated domoic-acid levels in crabs (linked to the algae bloom) also delayed Oregon’s and Washington’s commercial seasons, crabbers in those states were cleared for business in early January – or about three months before their CA counterparts, . Local fishmongers and restaurants brought in crab from those states and from Canada.

So Dungeness – sourced from not that distant away, when one considers most lobster comes from Maine – remained on proposal locally. But love a lot of consumers, I was armed with just sufficient information, gleaned from seeing “toxic” and “Dungeness” together in headlines, to form a prejudice and act accordingly, by avoiding the crab altogether.

Food – and particularly food subject to a health scare – is too elemental and intimate a topic to engender entirely rational thought. So I close the door on Dungeness as I'd Chipotle, after E. coli and norovirus outbreaks were tied to that fast-casual chain.

Then common sense prevailed. As I walked by a Chipotle in early March, I figured: If food inspectors are allowing this space to be open, who am I, as a devotee of Sofritas burritos, to argue? I ate a burrito, and was fine.

Emboldened, I then ate a bunch of Dungeness crab at Sacramento restaurants, and was fine. Happy, even, since any dining action involving a bib feels love a party.

My regional Dungeness tour preceded the CA commercial season’s opening. But that aspect of it mightn't have mattered anyway. Nguyen Pham, owner of Sacramento’s Sunh Fish, which supplies seafood to many of Sacramento’s top restaurants, said much of the crab caught off Northern California’s coast never gets past San Francisco. “You always necessity the other states to supplement the supply,” he said.

Sunh Fish has carried Dungeness, mostly from Canada or Washington, throughout winter, though at times at the sky-high price of $13.99 a pound because of Ltd supply (latest week, the price was $5.99). Pham said late latest week, when the first hauls of CA crab were being brought into the Bay Area, that he'd adhere with product from farther N for a bit, “just because those areas were deemed secure a while back,” he said. “If everything checks out, I'll bring them in following week,” he said of CA crabs. In general, he prefers seafood from colder waters, he said, because it’s frequently more “pristine.”

He’s on to something, since our crab tour, which featured crustaceans from parts N of California, yielded nary a fishy tasting nor tough morsel. Here are the spots we visited:

thirty-third Str Bistro

This E Sacramento restaurant’s crab and artichoke dip ($14.95) is a local classic. Served warm, its texture alternates between chunky and smooth and its taste between creamily soothing and slightly tangy, thanks to its mayonnaise, onion and Parmesan components. Co-owner and executive chef Fred Haines gets his crab from Coos Bay, Ore., which makes sense, given his restaurant’s Northwest theme.

Dungeness also is abundant in thirty-third Street’s crab Louis salad ($17.95), which is lent literal bite by crisp cucumber chunks that carry out a crouton-like function, and figurative bite by the dressing’s chili sauce.

three thousand three hundred one Folsom Blvd., Sacramento. www.33rdstreetbistro. com, 916-455-2233

Crab City

This is one of those Asian-Cajun seafood places, on or close Stockton Boulevard, that have grown so favorite in the past few years, although this airy restaurant sits so distant down Stockton – close Mack Road – that it’s edging toward Elk Grove.

We tried its medium-size “house special” crab dish ($46.99), which serves two people and consists of a two-pound crab that’s chopped up, deep-fried and, finally, stir-fried in a secret house sauce and served over garlic noodles.

The crab meat is tender and succulent, but the shell sections holding it can obtain sticky (we detected plenty of sugar in the secret sauce). Crab City solves the stickiness issue by handing out moist wipes, and offsets the sauce’s sweetness with the noodles, which proposal sufficient sufficient garlic to register strongly without overpowering.

(Note: We never threw caution entirely to the wind. We ordered our Crab City crab “cleaned out” of butter, or viscera, because though the crab came from parts N of California, we'd skimmed sufficient stories about CA crab to know state health executive still warn against eating viscera).

seven thousand eight hundred thirty-seven Stockton Blvd., Sacramento. www. crabcitysacramento. com, 916-647-3172

Joe’s Crab Shack

This enormous, nautically and rustically themed chain restaurant in Elderly Sacramento offers spectacular views – of the Sacramento River, Tower Bridge and groups of grown men in bibs competing to look who can construct the biggest piles of shells, in the buckets Joe supplies, on all-you-can-eat Wednesdays.

We visited on a Wednesday, but the “endless” crab was snow, not Dungeness. So the two of us made do with a Dungeness “bucket” (eleven/four pounds of crab, plus potatoes and corn, for $34.49) and a “Ragin’ Cajun Steampot” ($27.99), which came with Dungeness and Queen crab, shrimp and andouille sausage.

Though the crab was kind and sweet, I’ve had livelier cobs of corn at KFC. Ultimately, though, Joe’s delivered what we desired for that evening: a staycation tourist experience featuring fresh-tasting seafood, a convivial atmosphere and fruity drinks in Mason jars.

Our favorite was the sweet-tart “Strawberry Comfort” ($10.39), made with strawberries and Southern Comfort, the latter of which was Janis Joplin’s liquor of choice. Two more tidbits about Joplin: one) She was born in Harbour Arthur, Texas, close the seafood-rich Gulf of Mexico and not distant from Joe’s Houston headquarters; 2) She never would've set ft in a Joe’s Crab Shack.

one thousand two hundred ten Front St., Sacramento. , 916-553-4249

Thunder Valley Crab Feed Fridays

On Friday nights, Thunder Valley’s buffet ($31.99 adults, $16.99 children ages 5-12) holds shrimp cocktail and abundant Asian, Italian and Mexican offerings. But you'd not know it from many diners’ plates, which are stacked so high with Dungeness or snow crab that there’s number room for anything else.

This crab season’s edition of the seafood buffet didn't comprise Dungeness until February, chef Seamus Collins said, because costs were prohibitive before then. Since Collins broke out the Dungeness, attendance is up fifteen to twenty percent. On Excellent Friday, the buffet served 1.900 people, he said.

Thunder Valley’s steamed Dungeness is plenty flavorful, particularly if one uses the drawn butter or spicy garlic vinegar available for dipping. Moreover, it’s all you can eat, which fulfills the “feed” quotient so closely tied to Dungeness, which Californians historically have viewed the same way Mainers view lobster – as less a delicacy than God-given right.

3:30-11 p. m. Fridays. Thunder Valley Casino Resort, one thousand two hundred Athens Ave., Lincoln. , 916-408-7777.

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