Dessert Comes First

An obsession with dessert and other unabashed opinions of a food writer

Magnum White King
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The Naked Crab

posted by in Asian, Restaurants

It’s de-clawed, denuded (!) and best of all, de-shelled.

This is a crab dish for lazy eaters. Yeah, you know the type – those who use a fork and knife to eat shrimp and burgers and (horrors!) even pizza. Frankly, I’ve always been suspicious of these folk: they’re what I call “closet sensualists”, eaters who won’t admit that they like, really like the food they’re eating and are just dying to get their hands dirty but won’t for some reason or another. Eh.

Me, I’ve got no problem getting down and dirty with my food by using my hands – they’re my God-given tools after all, and they follow the lead of my mouth since I take on the world mouth first.

This “lazy crab” dish is found at Aquaknox, a restaurant with a rather unfortunate sounds-like-a-disco-name. In the pantheon of Manila’s Vietnamese restaurants made up of Zao, Ba Noi’s and to some extent Pho Hoa and Crustasia, Aquaknox gets short shrift. Don’t disregard this place just because it sits on the neglected side of Pasay Road (A. Arnaiz Ave.).  I come here when I crave for ambience that’s just this side of mellow and want to be served by staff who know the dance of serve and stay away.

Chef Danny’s Garlicky Crab is this restaurant’s specialty and it comes in two other versions, Hanoi Fire Crab and Coconut Crab (both of which I’ve not tried). In the price column is the word “Varies” but for good reason. Market price rules for this ingredient and it changes daily. When I order the Garlicky Crab, the waiter’s first question is always, “What size?” There’s usually medium, large, and jumbo and because it’s just me and my Bin today, we order the large (P1,500). “More garlic or more oil?” Is the follow up query. I choose the former. “Shelled?” is the final question. If so, it’s a mere addition of P100.

When faced with a filleted fish or peeled shrimp or in this case, a de-shelled crab, there’s always that initial momentary rush of relief and gratitude that the hard work has been done for me. However, this feeling lasts but briefly and I can’t help but feel that what I make up for in hands-on work, I lose in flavor.

Still, my Bin is very excited about this Garlicky Crab. A large crab (although to my eye it seems small) perches on a plate, its claws very much dislodged but arranged to imitate its natural form. The crab’s beady eyes – or what’s left of them – are now positioned at wayward angles but even from here, I can’t help but feel their incriminating stare. “Lazy ass!” The crab seems to say. “Haven’t got it in you to crack a crab?” I can practically feel its sneer. At times like this, it’s best to just eat.

Upon lifting the crab’s shell, its treasure is manifested, a mound of meat scattered with an unbelievable amount of minced, toasted garlic its golden hue making inroads against the white meat. Lashings of black pepper remind me of pepper and garlic’s natural partnership – garlic pepper crab! The crab meat is soft, bland really, making it the perfect vehicle for the garlic. Its crunch captivates, its heat sears, and odoriferous breath becomes an all too clear reality. “I think next time we should ask for more oil too,” my Bin says in mid-crunch as I hear him bite down on an errant bit of shell. Agreed. This crustacean could use more lubrication.

Obviously, when the grunt work has been done for me, it’s all too easy to make quick work of demolishing a dish. So I order more dishes. At Aquaknox, I appreciate their selection of Bun Thit, cold vermicelli noodle bowls and my favorite is the Combo (P195) that comes with a choice of satay (beef or chicken or pork) and a crispy roll (their fried spring rolls, essentially). I ask for two servings of their nuoc cham, that highly habit-forming condiment of fish sauce, chilies, lime, and vinegar and I drown my Bun Thit in it. Another dish I like is the Grilled Pork Belly with Lemongrass (P275), a true tribute to that herb’s complexity and is wonderful eaten with lots of hot rice.

It also goes without saying that my meals at Aquaknox begin with the Prawn Spring Rolls (fresh not fried, please; P100) and end with the Vietnamese Coffee with Condensed Milk (hot, please; P85).

~~

Aquaknox
800 A. Arnaiz St. cor. Amorsolo
San Lorenzo Village, Makati
(02) 894.3380
www.aquaknox.com.ph

Another crab dish I love:
Garlic Crab at Casa Armas

Related Post:
My trip to Vietnam

13 Responses to “The Naked Crab”

  • I loved the crab in aquaknox but I went to their greenhills branch (closed already) and now after reading this post, I think I’m going to makati for another round!

    [Reply]

    Lori Reply:

    chef_d-
    Very worth it but if you’re as a big an eater as I am and you’ve got other people with you, go for the jumbo crab.

    –lori

    [Reply]

  • I betcha if we get that crab dish we ain’t gonna split that. Just like the steak heeheehee

    [Reply]

    Lori Reply:

    MellowMarco-
    When have we ever shared *any* food? It’s not something we do as friends. :P

    –lori

    [Reply]

  • Crab looks good. Seriously, give me a bucket of crabs and I will demolish it. But honestly I like picking out the crab meat myself. I feel like I deserve it more after all that work haha.

    [Reply]

    Lori Reply:

    anonymous paul-
    Yeah, and you work up quite the appetite after all that peeling. Good seafood picks are a must though, in order to do the job efficiently.
    –lori

    [Reply]

  • Was cracking up at the part where you were talking about feeling the crab sneer at you! Your imagination is wonderful, Lori! Don’t ever lose that.

    The crab looks bitin for one if it’s the only dish I order, no?

    [Reply]

    Lori Reply:

    Pam-
    Thanks, Pam! I do try my best to feed my imagination :) And yes, do order something other than the crab.
    –lori

    [Reply]

  • i’m a loyalist. staring at the pic above, I can’t help but compare to the plain joy that is Crab Maritess. Given the popularity, I am pretty sure that you have tasted this dish. Crab Maritess is a huge *ss crab covered in an avalanche of garlic, and in a sea of olive oil. that’s why when they asked you “more garlic or more oil” i can’t help but think, why not both?

    [Reply]

  • So far, the best crab I have ever had was the crab from Zamboanga, from Alavar’s. Sweet, succulent, delicious crab dipped in Alavar’s sauce.

    So good. Mmm….

    [Reply]

  • ohmy. i LOVE crab. it is my favorite food ever. i like the whole ritual of cracking the shell, using my fingers to take out the sweet meat, putting it in my mouth… then repeating the whole thing. eating crab without the whole “interaction” seems less of an experience somehow. which, comes to think of it, is similar to how i love eating ribs. i think i like interacting with my food :)

    my absolute favorite crab in the metro is this hole-in-the-wall chinese resto’s crab. it’s called yue lai in malate. have it fried with salt and pepper, with vinegar on the side. ohmy. now i am getting myself hungry at 1 in the morning.

    [Reply]

  • we tried something different…. mix the crabmeat and garlic toppings with the sticky rice in aquaknox :) yummmm

    [Reply]

    Lori Reply:

    frannywanny-
    Sounds like a winner!

    –lori

    [Reply]

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