This is an unusual review in that it's not of a restaurant, but of a specific meal. The whole king crab at The Blue Fish now through the next couple of months is such a treat that keeping it from you would be cruel.
This is the third year The Blue Fish has purchased fresh king crab from a broker who procures them from boats in Alaska -- yes, this is the stuff of TV's "Deadliest Catch." A lucky break has allowed the restaurant to get the massive crabs in this year a couple of weeks before the full season begins, and sales are brisk.
Last year, 112 whole crabs were sold at the restaurant over a two-month period. By the time you read this, at least 74 will have been consumed in just about two weeks.
At $240 a pop and in this economy, that's got to tell you something. If you've only eaten frozen crab -- and while I've eaten plenty of king crab over the years, I'd never had it fresh until a few days ago -- you'll find the difference remarkable.
But first, to the experience. You've got to call ahead and reserve your crab, and remember, the crabs have to be caught before they can be shipped, so you might plan to eat on a Thursday and have to reschedule for a Friday. Stay flexible.
These crabs weigh roughly 6 to 9 pounds (and feed four to six people), so they make for an impressive display when stretched across the server's tray.
Salad and sides come with the crab, and while I'm tempted to classify them simply as "not crab," they do deserve mention.
A nice house salad of mixed baby greens topped with carrot shreds and sunflower seeds comes with house-made dressing of choice and a basket of hearty, crusty bread. It was tasty enough that I ate it all, even though my long-held rule when eating crab is that everything else is filler and should be avoided.
A corkscrew pasta tossed in a light vodka cheese sauce and a platter of excellent asparagus, sauteed and run under a broiler with a bit of Parmesan on top, came next. You take a bit for your plate and then the dishes go away to make room for the guest of honor (if you want more, just ask).
When the crab comes, it's presented in great glory -- legs fully extended, propped up on a plate. The server detaches the legs and places them, steaming hot, on the table. I was delighted to see kitchen shears delivered to each guest; this is how we tackle crab legs at home and it makes the job easier than using crackers or pickers, both generally useless tools in my opinion.
Your server might offer to extract your crab meat for you. But come on -- you can do this yourself. While the server is working on the body of the crab, getting the lump meat ready, grab a leg (use your napkin, because it's hot) and get to work.
The leg has three sections. Grab at the joint between the two largest pieces and gently bend backwards until it breaks. Separate by gently pulling the pieces apart, which will pull out the cartilage and leave the meat intact.
Pick up the largest piece, grab your shears, insert a blade in the opening and cut along the inside, or the softest side, of the shell. Pry the shell open along the cut and extract the meat.
Now, don't touch that butter. We'll get to that, but before you even think about dipping, pull off a piece of that luscious crab and put it in your mouth. I promise you, it will be the most tender piece of shellfish you've ever tasted.
The word that keeps coming to mind is soft. The greatest difference between this crab, just a few days out of the water and never frozen, and all the other king crab I've eaten is the texture. While clearly substantial, it's almost velvety in the mouth. The meat comes apart lengthwise in succulent strips, not in crosswise lumps or stringy shreds. Savor every bite.
I put lemon in my butter, which is available for the asking. But the meat was so fresh, clean and pure that I ate most of it plain.
The lump crab meat was easy to get to, and plentiful.
Four of us ate the crab, which our server said was approaching seven pounds, and there was one leg left. That was just about being polite, as no one wanted to leave that leg -- I tried to wrangle one of those "eat the whole thing and get it free" offers from gneral manager David Meredeth, but didn't succeed.
This is a special event, something anyone who loves crab and can afford it should plan to do every year. When the season is over (and that varies, depending on when the allotment is harvested), it's frozen crab for another year.
Knowing the difference -- having tasted it -- makes the crab at The Blue Fish all the sweeter.
-- Jennifer Biggs: 529-5223
The Blue Fish Whole King Crab Dinner
Address: 2149 Young Ave.
Telephone: (901) 725-0230
Hours: Open for dinner at 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday; reservations accepted until 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.
Take note: This is a review solely of the whole king crab available through the end of the year (give or take a bit). The restaurant's Web site at thebluefishmemphis.com has the full menu, including the small plates available from 5-7 p.m. Monday through Thursday in the restaurant and until closing every day at the bar.
Zero Stars: Poor
One Star: Good
Two Stars: Very good
Three Stars: Excellent
Four Stars: Exraordinary