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Sea Side Crab House
6799 Wilson Blvd, Falls Church, VA

(703) 241-2722

Gulf Coast dishes—Alabama crawfish, Texas blue crabs, Cajun shrimp, and Louisiana oysters—dominate the right-hand side of the menu at Sea Side Crab House; the left-hand side features a list of wok items, including a number of seafood dishes tossed with garlic and scallions. The idea that Vietnamese would adopt a Cajun specialty like crawfish may seem odd, but owners Tom Vo and Danny Nguyen took their inspiration from the Vietnamese-run crawfish houses on the Gulf Coast. What does that mean for the mudbugs at Sea Side? It means that these specimens, before they ever reach boiling water, are marinated in garlic, ginger, scallions, tangerine juice, lime juice, and fish sauce, that great umami agent of the East. From there, the crawdaddies follow a more traditional Louisiana path, a hard boil with that blast of cayenne we all associate with the shellfish. All told, the recipe makes for the best-tasting crawfish I’ve had, anywhere, even without the array of tableside condiments that the Vietnamese so love. Sea Side’s Vietnamese approach leads to other surprises, some more pleasing than others. An order of raw oysters arrived on the half shell sans their liquor and topped with ice cubes; Vo claims that Vietnamese don’t like “all the dirt and the sand and the flavor from the original shell,” so Sea Side thoroughly cleans its oysters to remove the grit—and flavor. If you like a taste of the sea, just tell someone; they’ll leave the liquor in. My favorite example of fusion, however, is probably not even a blend of cultures at all. It’s a dish of North Carolina soft-shell crab, which is battered, deep-fried, and quickly tossed in blazing-hot wok with sugar, ginger, scallions, onions, jalapenos, and garlic. These sweet, spicy clumps of crustacean are then served on a bed of dressed lettuce and garnished with cooling sprigs of cilantro, the whole thing so tasty, crunchy, and complex that I start to salivate just by thinking about it again. Now, if you’re myopically American and refuse to believe that Vietnamese have a tradition of deep-frying softies, you might call this an East-Coast meets-Southeast-Asia dish. I’d prefer to call it what it really is: A dish in which the Vietnamese school us in how to best prepare one of own signature ingredients.