Alaskan king crab is the largest crab of these local waters and right now, for a few short weeks, it's in season. I have no idea how expensive it is typically, but if its current price at $8-10 a pound is considered a bargain, I can only imagine what it would normally cost.
Eight of us got together last Friday for a king crab dinner at Sun Sui Wah Seafood restaurant out on Main Street. It was my first time there and one of those restaurants that always gets recommended to visitors seeking a good, authentic Chinese seafood experience in Vancouver. I had always been meaning to visit, so it was a great excuse to go.
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We arrived for our 7:30pm reservation but didn't get seated until after 8. As we stood at the entrance waiting, waiters would rush out of the kitchen carrying live king crabs the size of small children. They'd carry them over to the tables for the guests' approval. Did I mention the crabs were still alive? We gasped. The crabs were massive. The crabs were alive. And all of a sudden, we kind of felt sorry for them but at the same time, were quite excited for our dinner. But seeing all this food go back and worth made us get all that much hungrier.
When we eventually got our table, we ordered some New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc in addition to some Chinese rice wine apératif (that tasted like beef bouillon) and immediately ordered a 10 pound king crab. At $13 a pound, it was an ideal size for feeding 8 people. There were various ways of having it served, but we opted for part of it steamed in garlic and butter, and another part in a cream and butter sauce. We decided against having it deep fried, although there's always next time.
A short while later, our future king crab dinner arrived at our table, very much alive, with its feelers flickering around. We erupted in cheers. The waiter prompted us to take out our cameras. Foolishly, I forgot my camera at home, but the iPhones were snapping away. After the obligatory photo op, the crab got carried away to the kitchen. Poor thing. Poor tasty thing.
Back in our menus, we ordered other dishes - a spicy ginger rice noodle dish with prawns and chicken, steamed gai lan, beef in a deep-fried taro nest, fried rice, and scallops. But it was the crab that came first to the table. Drizzled in butter and covered in steamed garlic, the crab legs were broken down into 4 inch pieces and were lavishly eaten by us all. Everybody had 5-6 pieces each. Next came the secondary crab dish, where the joints of the legs had been cooked int a really glutonous cream sauce, perhaps the least memorable preparation, but still tasty nonetheless. The other dishes were tasty, but despite all the food, despite the succulent crab, we still craved something with substance. We craved more beef. So we asked our waiter if they could make a beef dish that was spicy, but dry, without sauce... something crispy, perhaps. He smiled and knew exactly what we were seeking.
Did I mention that we managed to drink 5 bottles of Sauvignon Blanc by this time? Our waiter reminded us with a nervous laugh. Totally normal for our crew... our international crew representing Vancouver, Montreal, Saskatchewan, Croatia, Jordan, and France.
Our waiter came back shortly after with a large plate of Szechuan-style "popcorn" beef covered in fresh green chilis. Everyone reached for a piece, popped it into their mouths, and started to ooh and ahh. Chinese families sitting around us leaned over and peered over our shoulders to see what the fuss was about. "What is that?" one guy asked us. "Oh, it's sooo good! It's a dry beef with chilis!" "Aaaaaah, it's Szechuan". Or white people Chinese food. ;) Either way, it hit the spot.
For dessert, since it was almost 10pm, they were almost closed, and most of everything was sold out, we were given complimentary jello cubes. Our friend ordered another dessert for everyone to share, and it turned out to be one of my favourite highlights of the meal. Imagine golf-ball sized soup dumplings filled with a sweetened roasted black sesame paste. Now imagine them served in a bowl of pungent but sweet ginger soup. And that was the Chinese dessert from the gods!
It was almost 11 by the time we left Sun Sui Wah, and our tummies were full. The crab was certainly an experience, but our excitement for our experimental beef dish was what really satisfied everyone's cravings. We of course headed back into downtown and somehow, mysteriously, ended up at Section 3 for a night of debauchery. But all I know is that the next time it's king crab season, I know where I'll be heading back!