This weekend has been about food for me. Friday night I went to the Gout et Saveurs Lakay and indulged in Haiti’s traditional food fares made elegant. The night before found me at Presse Café’s twice-monthly Crab Feast. Say it with me now: Crab. Feast. Maybe you’d be more impressed if you lived in Haiti.
For starters, you don’t really see crab in the Haiti marketplace. You can go along just about any beach and find a Haitian fisherman selling fresh caught lobster, offering to grill up the still-alive catch for a minimum price if you’re a local and a moderate price if you’re a blan (kreyol word meaning “white” but used for any foreigner). You can also seek fresh lambi (conch or, um, sea snail… it’s truly delicious) or a variety of local fish. But crab, well, that’s just something you don’t see everyday, or anyday for that matter.
From what I’m told, crab is caught off the southern coast of Haiti, near Jacmel, and is then frozen and shipped elsewhere. I suppose Haitian’s don’t have much of a taste for crab. For starters, it’s not easy to eat. It’s the type of food that invites waste, given that the meat is in tiny threads clung together, rather than one large chunk that can be sucked from the shell. Can you tell I’m hungry?
It’s also a negative-energy, or zero-calorie food. This is not in the scientific sense, of course, but in the only sense that matters. How much energy am I putting into eating this thing versus how full I feel afterwards? The answer is really that you won’t get full off of eating just crab, not after having to go through hell and high water to get the meat from the claws and legs. Still, it’s a delicious treat every once and a while. This is what I presume Presse Café has realized with its offering.
Twice a month, Press Café hosts a Crab Feast, which features an all you can eat buffet of crab, lobster tails, soup, stew, and shrimp au gratin. The restaurant makes a quiet spectacle of all this with its set up. When you walk in, the food is contained within several unassuming chaffing dishes, which you pass by as you’re whisked to your table in the back. It’s here that the showmanship begins. Newspaper is carefully laid out on the table, which is then covered by long layers of butcher paper. The hostess then makes sure you have the proper equipment. Claw cracker? check. Tiny mallet? check. Large hammer? check. Tiny fork-like contraption designed to tease the crab meat from the innermost sanctum of the legs? Check. And most importantly, where’s your lobster bib? You know, the one that they wear in the cartoons just before sitting down to an extravagantly animated feast, much like this one. Ah, there it is. Check. You are now free to feast.
Though I’ve spent most of my life in the southern United States, where shrimp, crawfish, and other shellacious creatures reign supreme in soups, gumbos, or atop a bed of rice, I’ve never mastered the art of eating crab. The claws I can do, especially if it’s a decent size crab. But then, I’ve gotta get the meat from inside the legs? Or should I just crack the legs open and hope for the best? Then, of course, is the question of the head. What’s inside? Do I eat it? What part do I eat? Clearly I’m an amateur. I can tell you though that the claw meat is succulent. Slightly sweet, ultimately savory, and melts in your mouth.
If you’re tired of the puzzle that is a crab, try the tomato soup. It’s savory, warm, and goes great in between tiny forkfuls of crab meat. Or you can shovel through the seafood stew, brimming with potatoes, carrots, and crab meat. A Joe’s Crab Shack this is not. That’s your mother’s recipe on that plate and it’s delicious. The buffet also boasted two varieties of smaller crabs, one in a creamy white sauce the other in a savory brown sauce. If they had been large enough to crack open the claws and legs, I would have gone for them. As I said before, I don’t know how to eat the main part of a crab. Of all the options, the shrimp au gratin was perhaps everyone’s favorite. Maybe because we thought it’d just be potatoes. Who knows, but you couldn’t keep it away from our table.
And for dessert? a simple slice of pound cake topped with Grand Marinier. Divine.
Press Café also sets the entire experience to a soundtrack. The meal is accompanied by a live troubadour band playing wistfully on stage, yet pleasantly in the background, hidden behind mouthfuls of soup and tangled under discarded crab legs.
What really makes this experience, though, more than most restaurants, is the company you keep. Coming to Press Café’s Crab Feast with a group of your closest friends is tantamount to having a private party in Narnia. It’s there, it’s right there, but it feels like only you and the people you like know about it. And that’s what makes it all the more fun. Who wants to spend an hour or two in Narnia with people you barely tolerate? Or worse, who wants to go there alone? No, come to Crab Feast with your friends. Good friends. And enjoy the merriment.