Sunday, August 31, 2008

One Crab, Two Crabs, Red Crab, Blue Crab...

You must have seen them all…softshell crab, king crab, snow crab, blue crab, even imitation crab stick…but have you seen the Dungeness crab in a sushi roll?

I have seen it one other time.

I was overjoyed to happen upon the first of its kind, years ago, in Ari-Ya Sushi Café (now called Tani) in Pasadena. The item was listed on a “Specials” dry-erase board menu on the wall behind the sushi bar, novel and tantalizing: “Dungeness Crab Hand Roll.”

I gorged myself with one, then another, then another…until I could eat no more of the soft, delicate flakes of white and brown swirled with Japanese mayonnaise and avocado on sushi rice, then wrapped in conical folds of crisp, blackish-green nori.

I returned another day and the item disappeared.

“No more,” barked the grumpy no-nonsense sushi master, as if anything else they offered at the time could have replaced the One I had been dreaming of. I asked if it was gone for good, and he said “Next time, maybe we have.”

When another trip and a couple of “stock-check” phone calls were also made in vain, I had just about given up. Desperately, I thought perhaps I could figure out how to cook a Dungeness crab myself, then hollow out the meat and bring it with me into a sushi restaurant, whereupon I would order avocado hand rolls and stuff them in myself, a sort of bring-your-own-crab feast (BYOC?). Once, I had hidden some chili powder in my purse and taken it out in a restaurant, and the staff stared in amusement as I seasoned the food with my own smuggled-in spices.

The elusive Dungeness, perhaps a personal favorite of mine because it is nearly impossible to find (at least in sushi restaurants), has finally reared its pretty claws. The sighting: Yabu, a small Japanese restaurant on La Cienega Boulevard in West Hollywood. But even on the menu, it’s slickly tucked away at the bottom of the Special Items sheet; you won’t even find it listed in their regular sushi or online menus. There it was, the Creamy Crab Hand Roll, available with Dungeness or King Crab, Seaweed or Soy Paper. The price for my long-awaited Dungeness was a steal at only $7.50, even though the rolls are super slim, and the crab meat meager, dabbed with a little bit of Japanese mayo for the flavoring and creaminess.

The King version of this roll is golden and rich, but just doesn’t have the same texture and isn’t as satisfying as its counterpart. King crab is meaty and chewy; the Dungeness is flaky mincemeat that breaks apart easily and has its own rare, exquisite taste. And unlike Ari-Ya's long-lost original, this one doesn't come with avocado (though it can be added upon request); in my opinion, it is perfect the way it is.

Just the other day (perhaps because they knew I was taking photos of everything), the chef made them especially presentable, serving the rolls in soy paper of various hues. I recommend the soy paper wrap over the seaweed; the mamenori here is unusually soft and buttery (perhaps because their crab—Dungeness, to be sure—is out of this world).

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