The Early Word -- Fatty Crab [Uptown]
Saturday evening, just thinking about dinner before heading out to a rock club, I got a text from Zak Pelaccio: "Come up for some eats tonight," and later, by way of further incentive: "I have some baby lamb and some other fun." The carrion call of roast flesh was irresistible. I knew I couldn't review the place - Zak and I have been outer-borough eating buddies for years, since around the time he founded Chickenbone Café in Williamsburg - but that made the invitation all the more carefree for me. I could sit and enjoy a meal like a culinary civilian (or maybe I mean civil culinarian).
I'd looked in the window during the interminable months while the place awaited completion, and had been somewhat put off at how large the place was. Of course, part of the appeal of the downtown original Fatty Crab lay in its roiling intimacy, and the idea that the small staff was cooking just for you. "This place really isn't that big," the affable chef said, sitting down across the table from me, the first time I'd seen him in chef's whites in a while. I looked through the hole punched in the brick wall at the other dining room, and had to admit that the seating was really only about double that of the original, but there was also a large bar, which lay at right angles to the northernmost dining room. When I arrived around 7, the bar was mobbed with patrons waiting for tables. I saw Upper West Siders looking curiously at rabbit nuggets fried and doused with green garlic and chile (a special), and Singaporean black pepper mussels (a regular selection).
It turns out that the old bill of fare has been retained but pushed toward the back of the menu, while the front page lists "Fatty's Specials," which are apparently recipes in the experimental stages. Naturally, I wanted to sample all the new stuff. A dish named pork skin and mackerel nam prik turned out to be one of those meat-laced dips - almost the color and texture of chunky peanut butter, but with a pork flavor as intense as a tactical nuke - that I associate with Cambodia. Ranked alongside a saucer of dip were little hanks of dipping veggies, including raw jicama, poached haricots vert, and a half-dozen others.
The aforementioned lamb was more in a entrée vein, with several body parts stacked in a plum-red sauce that might have qualified as a Thai curry except for a certain non-sweet subtlety. The long ribs, delicately rimmed with fat, were the best. Finally, after eating those two dishes and feeling about as full as I could be, along came the fatty dog. "We make the XO sausage ourselves," Zak said, referring to a spicy and fishy flavoring that originated somewhere on the Malay peninsula, but become beloved of Hong Kong cooks. The dog was dressed like a Chicago red hot with rabies, featuring hot pickled chiles, pickled radish discs, and a French aioli.
"Man, this is good," I exclaimed as a little nugget of dog shot out of the bun and landed in my lap.