By Suzanne Parker
If you’re a gastronome, always on the lookout for the next new taste thrill, Crazy Crab ought to be on your list.
The Burmese owners specialize in seafood and an ad hoc conglomeration of Burmese, Southeast Asian and Yunnanese Chinese fare.
I saw no reason to question the sanity of the management or the crabs, so perhaps the “crazy” appellation refers to the décor, which is a random collection of artifacts that range from Asian handicrafts to a “welcome” sign spelled out in horseshoes with a six shooter superimposed, a “never trust a skinny chef” bas relief and an aggressively iridescent map of Mexico.
Or maybe it’s the unique style of consumption. Signs implore you to eat with your hands. Upon ordering, a server ties a plastic bib around your neck and hands you plastic gloves, like the deli man is supposed to wear. Seafood is presented in disposable aluminum pans lined with plastic bags. Plastic plates, paper napkins, and replacement plastic gloves are generously dispensed.
I wasn’t crazy about the crab. We ordered king crab legs, the most expensive item on the menu. It was reminiscent of the crab claws they put on sale at the seafood counter of my local supermarket every so often. Meh. The sauce was great, though. There is a choice of sauces: Cajun, garlic butter, or lemon pepper.
We were encouraged to order a blend of all three, and magically, all of the conflicting essences seemed to harmonize. The crab served mainly as a vehicle to collect the delicious sauce.
With all the other delights awaiting us, it seemed like too much trouble too peel the fully intact shrimp immersed in a plastic bag of sauce. The plastic gloves made the task even more daunting. We discreetly took them “to go” and peeled them in our own sink for lunch the next day. Peeled, returned to the sauce, and nuked, they were wonderful. If only they weren’t so much work when served intact.
Everything arrived at our table more or less simultaneously. It was a dilemma deciding whether to remove our gloves to use utensils, and then replace them when returning to the seafood, or to just leave them on. In the end, we wound up grabbing handfuls of dishes we otherwise would never have dreamed of eating with our hands. Everything but the soup became finger food.
Speaking of soup, Yunnan rice noodle soup with vegetables, a daily special deviating slightly from the menu version with pork, was a symphony of all the flavors of Southeast Asia. It was redolent of cilantro, lemon grass and curry, with a pleasant tartness, and not overly spicy. A palate pleaser in every way.
Burmese tea salad is a classic of that country that is getting the most buzz for this eatery. It is a glorious mishmash of salty, fishy, garlicky, peanutty, flavors with a hot chili kick. Trying to deconstruct it is hopeless, but we’re pretty sure of fermented tea leaves, chopped peanuts, cilantro, cabbage, shrimp paste and beans. Yunnan pork salad had that citrusy sweetness often found in Thai dishes. The pork itself was sliced paper thin and had a slightly leathery texture and sported two rows of black dots. When we asked the server what part of the pig it came from, he referred us to the chef who came out from the kitchen, and pointed to the back of her shoulder. I don’t think so, but it was sooo tasty.
Three vegetable dishes we tried were all winners. Burmese fried cucumbers were more like zucchini tempura with a Burmese dipping sauce. Fried Yunnan yellow tofu was similarly tempura-like, but made of strips of yellow tofu. Yellow tofu differs from regular tofu by being made of yellow lentils rather than soy beans. It has little flavor, but a slightly different texture. Okra belacun (spicy shrimp paste) was so good that it even passed muster with my okra-adverse husband. Dry frying dissipated the sliminess that some people find objectionable in okra.
The Bottom Line
If you’re looking for something exotic and delicious, and don’t mind less than elegant surroundings, this is your kind of place. The staff is helpful and attentive and do everything that they can to make you comfortable.
Suzanne Parker is the TimesLedger’s restaurant critic and author of “Eating Like Queens: A Guide to Ethnic Dining in America’s Melting Pot, Queens, N.Y.” She can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
40-42 College Point Blvd. (between 40th Road and 41st Avenue), Flushing
Price Range: Various seafoods by the pound: $8.88—23.99, Other dishes: $6.99—16.99
Cuisine: Seafood, Burmese, eclectic Asian
Setting: A small jumble of influences
Service: Helpful and attentive
Hours: Breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days
Credit cards: Yes
Noise level: acceptable
Handicap accessible: Yes