Fatty Crab: Gettin’ Down and Dirty with Chilis
Fatty Crab has a lot of hype, especially with the wild and maddening success of her sister restaurant in Brooklyn Fatty ‘Cue. At dinner time, mostly towards the end of the week, it’s mobbed with hipsters, yuppies, and those rock n’roll older folk still firmly stuck in the ’70s. Good luck getting a table without a wait, for the teensy-eensy dining room takes no reservations and the service runs less than smoothly.
Fatty Crab sits on the border of the Meatpacking District and the West Village, almost in the shadow of the towering Gansevoort Hotel. On the same block as a few expensive clothing stores and the shiny new Corsino, the self-described “funky” Southeast Asian restaurant sticks out like a sore thumb with a flaming red awning, emblazoned with bright yellow Chinese characters and the depiction of a Dungeness crab. Inside, the small dining room is painted brick red and adorned with little besides small blinking christmas lights, mismatched chairs, and the requisite exposed brick wall. A tiny bar sits over by what looks like an open short-order kitchen, and a chalkboard nearby boasts a two-hour late-night happy hour between midnight and 2am. The atmosphere is dark and crowded, boisterous and a little bit sweaty. The crowd doesn’t seem to mind getting close and grimy, digging into their food with their hands while chatting vibrantly over beers and bloody marys.
While the decor isn’t necessarily something to write home about, the food is just fantastic. It’s uniformly packed with flavor and hot spice; it’s warm and soul-satisfying, unusual and unique. Start with the fatty sliders, surprisingly spicy bits of minced spiced pork and beef in soft and slightly-charred potato bun; they’re texturally perfect and pack a dynamite flavor punch. The charred squid salad is a little less impressive, falling flat after the thrilling sliders duo. For entrees, the house special, the chili crab, is a requirement, despite the often lofty market prices. Yet, despite the $43 price tag, the massive bowl of addictive tomato chili sauce in which sit two very large Dungeness crabs, rubbed in a thick and pungent chili rub, is an experience you’d be really unfortunate to miss. With just a shellfish cracking tool and what amounts to a small wooden toothpick, you tear apart the crabs, hunting and digging for the golden nuggets of sweet crab meat hidden beneath thin shells and between claw joints. Difficult and time-consuming, the process is frustrating yet worth the immense sense of accomplishment after finding every piece of meat you possibly can. If you’re not in the mood for such a high-intensity endeavor, another excellent option is the chicken claypot, an incredibly delicious stew-broth hybrid with green chili, succulent pieces of chicken, soft and mellow tofu, and the cool refreshing bite of ginger.
Fatty Crab’s food is really something special and good thing for it – the service is pretty much a disaster, despite being impossibly friendly for Manhattan. The restaurant is so clearly understaffed, and the kitchen delivered food at exceedingly strange times (the squid salad being served last? after the gigantic bowl of chili crab?). Our server seemed overwhelmed, confused, and stressed throughout our entire meal, which included long periods of being unable to get our server’s attention through any means shorting of waving our hands frenetically. As I said, luckily, the food is addictively delicious, so delicious that I can’t help recommend Fatty Crab to anyone who even vaguely likes Southeast Asian food.
Perfect For: late night noshing, funky boozy brunch, casual al fresco dining, happy hour, getting down and dirty with crabs, hobnobbing with hipsters, “i’ll have some food with my beer”