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).
800 A. Arnaiz St. cor. Amorsolo
San Lorenzo Village, Makati
Another crab dish I love:
Garlic Crab at Casa Armas
My trip to Vietnam