Thursday, August 7, 2008

ISO the Perfect Crab Cake

We've been back from San Diego for more than a week and I can't believe I haven't done a food write up about it. San Diego Comicon is as much about eating as it is about comic book business, as far as I'm concerned. All we seem to get to do is eat and do business, often at the same time.

We stayed at the Marriott right next to the Convention Center. While the rooms are a bit more shabby each year, it is convenient for almost everything. It also has a nice breakfast buffet, which is a good choice for meeting friends before hitting the convention floor. I think we had breakfast there three of the five days we were in San Diego, one morning with Len's friend Stan and his wife Ruth and their son, another with Connie Willis and her daughter Cordelia, and one with Ray Feist.

Taking tea in San Diego was a washout this year. Because of Len's schedule at Comicon and the wonderful things I wanted to attend (do you think I would miss being hugged by Hugh Jackman in order to go to tea?) I couldn't commit to being away from the Convention Center for an afternoon.

Instead of tea, the quest became one for crab cakes. It didn't start that way, but it did evolve over the course of a few days. We got to San Diego around 2 on Wednesday afternoon, so we were able to check into the hotel, get our badges and those of our guests, and run out to get a quick lunch at Dick's Last Resort, just a couple of blocks away in the Gaslight District.

Dick's is a place we've eaten at a number of times, more for convenience than anything else. The food is o.k., but depending on whether you are seated outdoors (recommended) or indoors (not recommended) you will find the waitpersons friendly or mock-surly and the noise-level bearable or beyond noisy. As it happens, we ate at Dick's twice that day, and got the full Dick's experience. Afternoon out doors was fine, dinner indoors, with a loud (not so great) band and the screaming waiters was unacceptable. It was a toss-up as to whether Peter David, Melinda Snodgrass, or I would be the first one to deck one of the waitpersons. Peter wound up screaming back for them to shut up.

I ate crab cakes for both meals at Dick's, or, more correctly, crab cakes for lunch and crab balls for dinner. They were o.k., more filler to crab ratio than I like, but better than having to settle for grilled chicken (since I don't eat red meat.)

On Thursday, we gathered up a group of friends including Gillian Horvath, Bob Skir, David Wise, Audrey Taylor, and Melinda Snodgrass to go to Harbor House along Shoreline Village, a short walk from the Convention and Hotel. There the crab cakes were part of the appetizer menu, so I had a salad to go with them for my meal. The crab cakes were almost all crab with a crunchy coating, which I liked very much. I don't understand why crab cakes aren't an entree at more fine restaurants, since I think they make a perfectly good main course.

In addition to the food, the other plus for Harbor House was that we could carry on conversations with each other and not have to shout. There were almost a dozen people in our party, but that wasn't a problem. And there was enough light to actually see our dinner (granted, we got there while there was still plenty of light coming through the large glass windows, but it was dark when we left) which seems to be a rarity these days (see below.)

On Friday night, we didn't actually have dinner. We went to the Eisner Awards, since Len was nominated for the Hall of Fame and had been asked to hand out some of the writing awards. There were appetizers, from which we wound up making a meal. Good thing, because the award ceremony didn't end until almost midnight, leaving no possibility for an actual dinner.

Saturday involved having two dinners: the annual Writers Guild Animation Writers Caucus reception (there were crab cake bites) and dinner at Cafe Sevilla, a tapas restaurant in the Gaslight District, with the Bloodfire Studios crew. The restaurant had a few items which aren't traditional Spanish dishes, including, I suspect, the crab cakes which I ordered (photograph below.) They were made with lump crab meat and a small amount of filler, and were quite good. The problem with Sevilla is that it is so dark it is almost impossible to read the menu and pretty difficult to actually see your food. It is another restaurant which is ruined by decor which amplifies sound, rather than muting it. I'm just not a fan of excessive noise with dinner.The best place to go for crab cakes--and crab in any other form--has got to be Baltimore, with Seattle a close second. I suppose it depends on what kind of crab you want to eat. I would run into Phillips' Harbor Place Restaurant anytime I had to make a trip to Baltimore, especially if it was the season for soft-shelled crab sandwiches. I may have eaten those sandwiches for lunch every day the last time the World Science Fiction Convention was in Baltimore.

Road Tasted, with Bobby and Jamie Deen did a segment on the Market Inn Restaurant crab cakes which made me want to get on an airplane. The Market Inn is located in southwest Washington, D.C. and, fortunately for those of us who are flight-impaired, offer a mail-order service for its crab cakes. By going to the link, you can also watch the segment on the Road Tasted show.

I have a recipe for crab cakes from The Junk Food Cookbook by Lydia Saiger, which I really like and which aren't all that hard to make. I don't know if the cookbook is still in print (my copy is almost 30 years old) but it has recipes that approximate a number of fast food places with healthier ingredients--in so far as that is possible.

Maryland Crab Cakes from The Junk Food Cookbook

1/4 C. Butter
1 small onion, minced
2 T. green pepper, minced
1 pimiento, minced
3 T. flour
1/4 C. clam juice
1/4 C. cream or milk
1 egg yolk
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
Dash Tabasco
8 oz. crab meat
1 1/2 C. bread crumbs
1 tsp. chopped parsley

Heat 3 T. butter in frypan; fry minced onion, green pepper, and pimiento until soft. Add flour; cook and stir for a couple of minutes. Pour cloam juice and cream or milk into pan. Cook until thickened, stirring constantly.
Mix egg yolk in well, blend in Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, crab meat, 3/4 C. of the brad crumbs, and parsley. Chill for at least 2 hours, then shape into 4 cakes, each about 3" in diameter and 1" thick. Roll in remaining 3/4 C. bread crumbs. Heat remaining 1 T. butter in frypan. Brown cakes on both sides; lower heat and cook for about 6 minutes. Serve with Tartar Sauce.

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