By Ben Adler
Sorry D.C. boosters, but my attempts to be more positive in my blogging are being temporarily sidetracked. Amanda has pointed me to the crabs at Art and Soul, a fancy spot on Capitol Hill. If you click on the link, what’s wrong with the picture? The crabs are covered in some sort of red dust! I first encountered this nonsense at the charmingly rustic Quarterdeck bar and restaurant in Arlington. A friend told me it was a bastion of crabs and cheap beer and we went one day last summer after work.
One thing that the “Mid-Atlantic” region does have to offer is famous crabs from the Maryland Bay, and I’ve had some good crab cakes in D.C., so I thought this would surely be a good experience. I was wrong. The crabs were smothered in a salty seasoning that got all over my hands. It tasted like the powder that comes with Ramen Noodles that you mix in. Except it wasn’t mixed. That, it turns out, is Old Bay, a local Mrs. Dash-like seasoning that Marylanders inexplicably put on all kinds of things. Ben Miller once made surprisingly excellent buffalo wings, and then decided to waste a bunch of wings by putting Old Bay on them. He also likes Old Bay flavored chips. Apparently, if you are from Maryland, using Old Bay is like saying “wicked” if you hail from New England.
While I’m not a big fan of Old Bay chips or fried chicken, I don’t think those things taste that bad either. After all, potato chips are supposed to be salty and dry. Fried chicken wings often benefit from an added flavoring. Crabs, on the other hand, are supposed to be creamy and subtle. When cooking fresh shellfish, everyone knows that less is more. Lobster comes completely unadorned, as do crabs in most places. You get some butter, some lemon, and that’s it. If you are having stone crabs served cold, then maybe you’ll get a sauce to dip it in, sort of like shrimp cocktail, but at least the dipping is optional. Not so with Old Bay, they just shmear it on there like it’s olive oil on arugula. What have they got to hide? If the crabs are so good and fresh why can’t they speak for themselves?