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12 Soft-Shell Crab Dishes to Check Out This Season

By Rina Rapuano
May 27, 2014

Late spring marks the return of soft-shell crab season in the mid-Atlantic, and chefs around the region are busily adding them to menus. We're finding plenty of the recently molted crustaceans prepared in the traditional deep-fried method, and chefs are experimenting with grilling, marinating and roasting the critters. Here's a dozen places to try this beloved summer delicacy:

Where: Bar Pilar 
How They’re Cooked: Grilled
Tasting Notes: The crabs marinate for seven to eight hours in puréed chipotle and adobo peppers moistened with orange juice, then grilled and served with pickled-green-tomato relish and cilantro aïoli.
Cost: $14
1833 14th St. NW; 202-265-1751

Where: Bibiana
How They’re Cooked: Sautéed
Tasting Notes: Chef Nick Stefanelli grew up eating soft-shells and cooks them the simple way his grandfather prepared them: sautéed with braised artichokes and leeks.
Cost: $14 for an appetizer; $28 for an entree
1100 New York Ave. NW; 202-216-9550

Where: Dino’s Grotto
How They’re Cooked: Grilled
Tasting Notes: The local soft-shells are tossed in olive oil and fresh herbs, grilled and served with summer tomato essence, pesto and local fingerling potatoes in olive oil and herbs.
Cost: $27
1914 Ninth St. NW; 202-686-2966

Where: Fiola Mare
How They’re Cooked: Pan-roasted
Tasting Notes: The preparation will vary throughout the season, but chef John Melfi’s current version - served with blood oranges, Catalina sea urchins, Taggiasca olives, Pantelleria capers and a spicy shellfish mayonnaise - has been getting raves.
Cost: $28
3050 K St. NW; 202-628-0065

Where: Fishnet  
How They’re Cooked: Flash-fried
Tasting Notes: Served simply with red-pepper coulis as a platter over salad or as a sandwich.
Cost: $15
1819 Seventh St. NW; 202-350-4350

Where: Iron Gate
How They’re Cooked: Fried
Tasting Notes: They’re offered as a choice on the tasting menu, and the batter-fried crabs are served with Path Valley shell beans, hot-house tomatoes and an anchovy vinaigrette. 
Cost: $60 for the four-course tasting menu
1734 N St. NW; 202-524-5202

Where: Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak and Stone Crab
How They’re Cooked: Fried
Tasting Notes: Tempura-battered and fried local crabs served on a tomato/preserved-lemon salad with frisée, mizuna, chives, basil, fresh heart of palm and dressed with Old Bay/Meyer lemon vinaigrette. 
Cost: $14.95
750 15th Street NW; 202-489-0140

Where: Marcel’s
How They’re Cooked: Fried
Tasting Notes: The kitchen uses Stella Artois in the beer batter, fries them crispy and serves them with a cucumber cup filled with mango-avocado purée and a bit of sweet tomato chutney.
Cost: $21
2401 Pennsylvania Ave. NW; 202-296-1166

Where: Menu MBK
How They’re Cooked: Fried
Tasting Notes: Tempura-battered soft-shells are served with kohlrabi and red-cabbage slaw and black-sesame aïoli.
Cost: $19
405 Eighth St. NW; 202-347-7491

Where: Nam-Viet
How They’re Cooked: Fried
Tasting Notes: The crabs are deep-fried and then sautéed with garlic, ginger, jalapeños and house seasonings and served on a bed of fresh salad with housemade lemon-pepper dipping sauce.
Cost: $26.95
3419 Connecticut Ave. NW; 202-237-1015

Where: New Heights
How They’re Cooked: Fried
Tasting Notes: The crabs are dredged in tapioca starch and fried till crispy. They’re plated with coconut purée, sambal chiles, a fish-sauce vinaigrette and a salad of Thai basil, mizuna, cilantro, baby bok choy and scallion all topped with a puffed jasmine rice cracker.  
Cost: $16 for an appetizer (one crab); $32 for an entree (two crabs)
2317 Calvert St. NW; 202-234-4110

Where: Water & Wall
How They’re Cooked: Fried
Tasting Notes: They will vary throughout the season, but they are currently served as a small plate featuring one cornmeal-tempura-battered crab, Old Bay aïoli, sautéed spinach and pickled ramps.
Cost: $14
3811 N. Fairfax Dr., Arlington; 703-294-4949

Places Mentioned

Bar Pilar

American • 14th Street Corridor

Food23 Decor19 Service19 Cost$20
 
 
 
Marcel's by Robert Wiedmaier

Belgian • West End

Food28 Decor26 Service28 Cost$95
 
 
 
New Heights Restaurant

American • Woodley Park

Food22 Decor20 Service20 Cost$59
 
 
 
Nam-Viet

Vietnamese • Cleveland Park

Food21 Decor12 Service20 Cost$24
 
 
 
Bibiana

Italian • Downtown

Food25 Decor24 Service24 Cost$56
 
 
 
Water and Wall Restaurant

New American • Arlington

Food- Decor- Service- CostM
 
 
 
Iron Gate Restaurant

Mediterranean • Dupont Circle

Food- Decor- Service- CostM
 
 
 
Menu/MBK

Bistro • Penn Quarter/Chinatown

Food- Decor- Service- CostM
 
 
 
Joe's Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab

Seafood • White House/World Bank

Food- Decor- Service- CostE
 
 
 
Fiola Mare

Seafood • Georgetown

Food- Decor- Service- CostE
 
 
 
Fishnet

Seafood • Shaw

Food24 Decor16 Service20 CostI
 
 
 
 
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