There are perceived seasons and there are real seasons. Chefs will tell you that customers start wanting fall things—roast chicken, duck confit—on September 1, even though in the kitchen it’s still the time of the year for fresh tomatoes and soft-shell crabs. But while we're trying to shed the dog days of summer, crabs are still shedding their shells. Unum’s Phillip Blane gets his stock from Maryland-based Baxter Soft Crabs, and says the company ensures him soft-shells will be around into September this year.
Over at BLT Steak, however, chef Jon Mathieson and his crew recognize that for many diners, soft-shells are like white pants: not okay after Labor Day. So they’re putting together a celebration of the symbolic summer seafood with a special menu from August 18 through 31 that features five rotating soft-shell preparations: pan-seared with a spring vegetable ragout of yellow wax beans, favas, ramps, and fiddlehead ferns; polenta-crusted with marinated white asparagus and ramp pesto; fried with warm chickpea hummus and a za’atar emulsion; in a brioche sandwich with Sriracha aïoli, smoky bacon, and roasted tomatoes and accompanied by Old Bay fries; and roasted with a caramelized tranche of veal, grilled jumbo asparagus, and morel sabayonne. The restaurant will also be hosting a soft-shell cooking class on August 18 from 12:30 to 3 PM. It’s $100 per person; call Lindsey Greenbaum at 202-689-8989 to reserve.
Read on for five more spots currently serving up delicious soft-shells.
At the wee Georgetown restaurant he co-owns with wife Laura Schiller, chef Blane serves a crunchy soft-shell crab fried in rice flour atop a sweet and tangy apricot-and-green-tomato chutney. Bonus: the dish is gluten-free.
Maple Ave Restaurant
This little Vienna spot loves to deep-fry stuff, and soft-shells are no exception. Two crawlers are quartered, fried to a crisp, and served with a tasty yellow curry, crunchy slaw, and a side of jasmine rice. A fine lunch if you can get it.
Blacksalt Restaurant and Fish Market
They’re not on the menu, but if you’re dining at Blacksalt and have a hankering for some fresh soft-shells, take up the matter with your server. If they’re in stock at the adjacent market, the kitchen will be more than happy to prepare them for you. A call to the market today brought news that a delivery of softies is due in “a couple of hours.” So: go tonight, eat crab.
Try fried soft-shell crab with scallion, avocado, and sesame sauce at Daisuke Utagawa’s elegantly casual sushi restaurants.
Among the best of chef Robert Donna’s pasta dishes currently on the menu at this New Mexico Avenue trattoria is house-made spaghetti studded with soft-shell crab, basil, tomato, and garlic—it’s the sort of simple dish we could dine on weekly, and for as long as the season allows.