IFES Crab Fest

A few months ago, I had a crab craving. I looked for a good crab restaurant in the area and found a few candidates like Boiling Crab in San Jose and Banana Leaf in Milpitas. However, there was one interesting entry: this once a month all you can eat crab event right in Mountain View at the IFES Cultural Center. We finally got to experience it last night. I think that crab itch has been scratched for the rest of the year or so.

We had arranged to go with a few friends. We ordered our tickets in advance for the second seating at 6pm (the first one was at 4). During the day, I went on a quest to find crab zippers (those plastic utensils you get at Bob Chin’s or Red Lobster for opening up the shell). I went to the Asian knick knack store, but didn’t find them, so I settled for a set of crab crackers and combo fork-spoons at Bed Bath and Beyond. Then I had to pick Lola up since she’d biked into town and we made our way over. I had looked up the place beforehand, so I didn’t bother putting the address in the GPS: just drove to the Safeway on Shoreline and I saw a big banner that said “CRAB FEST” and pulled into the first full parking lot. We walked up and saw signs but none of the lines that other reviewers had mentioned. “Maybe they’ve sorted out their issues,” I thought. We saw tons of tables inside and a band playing up on stage, but none of our friends. I checked where they were on Latitude and it looked like they were trying to find parking to the south. We high fived each other for being on time and then waited…

And waited…

Finally we called and asked where they were. “We’re in a massive line, where are you?” Then I put 2 and 2 together with the signs at our building and the lack of IFES branding anywhere: there were competing crab fests within 1 block of each other. Our was run by the Rotary Club. We ran down the street to the real location to find an immense line snaking back through the plaza area. And then we waited.

And waited…

We got to the real place at 5:55 for the 6pm seating… we didn’t get into the hall until close to 8pm. In that time, I kept worrying about my car in the parking lot at the other place so I managed to go grab it, pull some illegal U turns and run back to the line. The line was pretty well behaved, although maybe that’s because there were a bunch of security hired for the event. Finally the line started to move and we slowly made our way into glorious warmth (glad the drizzle held off until then). We got seated at the end of a table and immediately set to the salad and garlic bread laid out there. “Don’t fill up on this stuff,” I heard voices in my head say, but I needed to get some sustenance into my system right then and there.

And then:

Bam: gigantic bowls of crab in a spicy cioppino sauce were laid out in our midst. It was game time. We cracked shells, squeezed lemon, peeled back the armor and scraped the shells clean. The first bowl disappeared pretty quickly. My mouth slowly became used to the sauce, and I don’t even really need to drink much because everything was swimming in it. It was still kinda chilly in the place, and the steam rose out of the bowls. At first, I went fishing for certain bits (claws, etc), but soon I was just taking hold of any piece I could find.

The second bowl came and the quality dipped a little bit. I think this batch had been lying around a bit longer in the sauce. Lola topped out around this point. I felt myself slowing a bit and drinking more of the table wine to cleanse the palate a bit and taking some garlic bread for a change of pace. Conversation had slowed down by this point as everyone else hit the same point. But then, as the shell plates got cleared and the volunteers (who were awesome, I have to say) came by to ask if we wanted any more, John said, “Yes please.” And the guy came back with a massively full bowl of incredibly great crab: so much that it was piled high above the sauce line. We three who were the last ones standing realized that we had about 2.5 crabs each to eat if we were going to declare victory.

My place at the table was drenched in sauce. Juice ran down my arms. I reached for my first piece of the finale, even though I still had some of bowl #2 on my plate. I really wished bowl #3 had come before. And yet, I was happy to go out on a high note. I made my way through 3 more pieces and then ended the night with a claw. We had originally invited everyone back to have cupcakes and play Kinect, but everyone demurred as we realized that merely standing up was going to be a bit of an issue. I went to get a last cup of soda to wash things down and I felt drunk on crab. We washed our hands with orange and lemon juice from John and Myra’s garden and then gingerly made our way out the door. There were still people going as we left.

So, glad I went? Yes, totally. It was a great experience just working my way through epic amounts of crustacean on a Saturday night. Could I handle going next month? Probably not… but maybe I could be convinced for the last one of the year. My advice: do seating 1 so you don’t wait in line too long, wear crappy / loose-fitting clothes, bring lots of lemons, both for the meal and for fighting crab odor on your hands, bring your own wine rather than relying on the table stuff, bring a large group, make sure to have crab utensils, and finally… make sure to eat your heart out: this is more of a journey to remember than a meal to remember.

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