I finally broke down. Twenty-two months seemed like sufficient elapsed time to try Fatty Crab, a restaurant I was certain would make me grumpy. I first read about this soon-to-open meatpacking eatery while in Kuala Lumpur. Making Malaysian food palatable, nay, trendy to a Manhattan audience would seem no small feat so I was intrigued. But I was bothered by the name (why would you name a restaurant after a popular place that already exists in its home country? I would have the same problem if a Malaysian opened an upscale hot dog joint and called it Gray’s Papaya) and pedigree (Zak Pelaccio’s short-lived Chickenbone Café was one of my most loathed dining experiences in world history).
But I’ve been on a mission to try more new restaurants and not-so-new ones that I’ve intentionally overlooked (like Dressler last night—likeable food, mildly creepy crowd, at least in my section) and Fatty Crab definitely fit the latter category. So, I sucked it up and went in with an open mind. And…it was really, really good, ok?
I could get past the prices. It never makes sense when people complain about reinterpreted street food inflation. Of course in KL nasi lemak costs $3 (or less) not $16. And $3,000+ rentals aren’t normal there either. There’s Chinatown dim sum and Chinatown Brasserie’s version. It’s a choice, and I like both low and high (though I’m inclined to eat the cheapie renditions more often).
I was even able to overcome my severe melon aversion (I will concede that watermelon is the least offensive all melons) in order to try the watermelon pickle and crispy pork salad. Initially, I thought that I could’ve eaten way more of those luscious singed, blubbery cubes but I was quickly proven wrong after two (and about an hour later I developed a serious stomachache—I hope I’m not turning into those killjoy elderly folks who can’t handle anything rich or spicy). The sour rind coupled with the crisp sweetness of fresh fruit was kind of perfect with the meat.
I was bummed to note that laksa was no longer on the menu. I would’ve been good with a bowl of pungent fish and noodles. Instead, I settled for the skate panggang, which was appropriately hot and shrimp pasty (thanks to the sambal udang kering). Shrimp paste is the one ingredient that I thought would be a tough sell for New Yorkers. The first thing I noticed when entering the cramped nearly empty (it was 3:30pm–there was no way I was subjecting myself to a late night wait) dining room was the light perfume of toasty fermented shrimp. I like the odor but it seriously smells up a house (James can’t stand it and makes me keep my block of belacan wrapped tightly in plastic in the downstairs refrigerator crisper drawer).
We really overdid it with the fatty duck, which wasn’t my idea. The soy-based preparation was more Chinese in nature and also came blanketed with strips of pickled vegetable and slivered chiles to offset the poultry’s obvious fattiness. I don’t think I’ve typed the word fatty so many times in short space.
I’ll never be able to understand Zak Pelaccio’s absurd over saturation (Chodorow partnering? London? Ratatouille #1, Ratatouille #2. And I’m still not ok with all those mentions of his parents’ loft in the New York Times last summer) but sambal belecan with a Bloc Party soundtrack? It kind of works.