I hadn’t been to Crustacean in almost 10 years, and although I remember it being pretty good, I also remember it being pretty expensive and not quite worth the money. Since then, I’ve gone to the original restaurant Thanh Long and its newly opened little sibling restaurant in Costa Mesa, An Qi. I actually went to An Qi pretty recently with my family, and I was quite disappointed. However, I have never been disappointed with any of my meals at the original Bay Area restaurants, so when Dine About Town came about, I decided to give Crustacean another try because I was really craving for those famous garlic noodles. Pdho’s friend happened to be in town on a business trip, so we decided to invite her along for dinner.
Honestly, the menu looked fantastic! Half the menu was Small Plates which included a variety of different dishes that looked absolutely delectable. The main entrees looked equally good, so it was quite tempting to go a la carte… but in the end, we decide the Dine about Town menu was too good of a deal to pass up. Unfortunately, the restaurant was poorly lit, so the pictures did not turn out as bright and clear.
We each ordered one of the three appetizers, so that we could give them all a try. I was not expecting much from the Chicken Skewers. In fact, I thought they would be rather dry and tasteless, but much to my surprise, they were quite succulent. I’m suspecting they might have used some corn starch in order to make the chicken taste so tender. The sauce was also quite tasty.
The Rice Paper Shrimp Roll is usually one of my favorite starters, but this version fell a little bit flat. I’m not sure what it was, because it seemed to have all the prerequisite ingredients, shrimp, noodles and herbs. Somehow the roll just tasted very plain in spite of the peanut sauce that came with it. I think the Spring Rolls from Out the Door (another Bay Area restaurant chain from Charles Phan that has taken Vietnamese food to a more refined level) are far and away, the best rolls I’ve ever had.
The best of the appetizers was definitely the Traditional Vietnamese Salad which was a mix of cucumbers, lotus root, carrots, white mushrooms, jicama and poached shrimp sprinkled with roasted peanuts and tossed with a spicy house vinaigrette. The flavors of the ingredients and especially the vinaigrette were spot on. I was surprised not just be how delicious the salad was but also but how authentic it tasted.
Pdho ordered the Shaking Beef which was also surprisingly good. The meat, although not necessarily the most tender, tasted very good. The beef was marinaded in a mix of flavors that was different than what I’ve usually had. It was slightly sweet which surprisingly didn’t offend my taste buds, but it was equally if not more delicious than other traditional preparations.
Even though I knew the specialty of the house, the Roasted Crab, was probably not going to be on the Dine about Town menu, I was very excited to see that the garlic noodles were. They served a pretty healthy portion of An’s Garlic Noodles which were topped with several very richly flavored stir-fried prawns. Honestly, the shrimps bordered on being rather paltry-sized especially in comparison to the amount of noodles on the plate. Even though the noodles were a little bit overcooked, I managed to overlook that because of the delicious buttery garlic-ness infused in the noodles.
I chose the Orange Cream Sorbet as my dessert. I liked the presentation with it being served inside the skin of a whole orange, and although it was a nice palate cleanser, I found the creaminess and tanginess not as pleasant-tasting as I would have liked.
Being battered and deep-fried, the Fried Banana was so obviously Pdho’s choice for dessert. Much to my surprise, I preferred this dessert over the sorbet. The bananas were pretty subtle in taste, and although the batter was a little soft and doughy, it wasn’t too sweet or oily. Not bad really.
Overall, the food was very good and quite surprisingly, pretty authentic in taste and preparation. As I think about how it compares to Slanted Door and Tamarine, two other well-known, nicer Bay Area Vietnamese restaurants, I think that Crustacean is probably the least refined of all of them. Although, it’s advertised as “European Vietnamese”, it actually feels the most authentically Vietnamese particularly in terms of flavors. Also, I’m not sure if it is because it is the oldest of all the restaurants, but the vibe and look of the restaurants feels a little more aged, not as trendy and hip as either of the other ones. All this aside, the food is delicious and definitely worth a visit, but many would argue (and I might agree) that the food doesn’t warrant the high price tag. I would probably say that is true of all of these higher end Vietnamese restaurants. Needless to say, we had a great dinner.
1475 Polk Street
San Francisco, CA 94109
PAFO Ratings for Crustacean:
Price 3½ stars
Ambiance 3 stars
Food 4 stars
Overall rating 3½ stars