I've always been intrigued by restaurants known for one great dish. Is it really that good? How's the rest of the menu? Is it worth waiting in line or making an expedition to unknown territory just to try this one dish?
These are the questions I asked myself when I learned of the crab-fried rice at ABC Seafood in Arlington.
ABC Seafood is tucked into a corner of a strip mall. People spilled out onto the terrace when I arrived; there was a Vietnamese baby shower being held at the other end of the dining room, including a full band. There were only two tables of actual diners; perhaps everyone else was deterred by the cacophony of Vietnamese rock.
Entering the restaurant I was greeted by murky fish tanks filled with comatose lobsters and crabs. Past the tanks, a large banquet style dining room with mirrored walls and large round tables scattered throughout, reminiscent of a club in Scarface.
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The seafood chow mein came out first, a large platter with fish, shrimp, scallops, squid, baby bok choy, mushrooms, and ginger tossed in gravy all atop a bed of crispy thin egg noodles. My favorite part of this dish was the mixture of the outer crisp noodles and a portion of the noodles soaked soft by the gravy. The plethora of seafaring protein makes this dish a bargain at $8.95.
Shortly after diving into the seafood chow mein, the main attraction arrived. It was a bit staggering when the crab fried rice was first brought out; a mountain of fried rice supported various crab limbs all capped off by the fiery red crab body. Fried shallots, garlic, fresh and dried chili peppers were sprinkled all over the dish, falling into the crevasses of crab and rice.
The rice alone was mixed with the aforementioned aromatics, chili peppers, and large pieces of crisp and sweet lump crab meat. After sampling the rice I went straight for the claw, and after some work with the claw cracker, large pieces of luscious crab meat were liberated. The intense flavors in the dish penetrated the thick shell and seasoned the crab meat wonderfully. I especially loved the pieces of exposed leg meat that were made crisp from cooking.
Eating this dish made for slow and dirty work, leaving my face and hands covered in grease and crab-shell shrapnel. It was all so worth it. There was a full-blown Vietnamese concert 50 feet to my right and I would have done it all over again.