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Next stop is Pico's Mex-Mex. Although I still mourn the closing of Pico's convenient (to me, anyway) Kirby location back in '95, when crabs are at issue I'm easily willing to make a pilgrimage to the current Bellaire location. I try to get a seat in their funky little parking lot palapa, where I can kick off my shoes, lean back in a plastic chair and pretend I'm at the beach.
Prompt the waiter, if necessary, to find out if the crabs are in, since they often neglect to mention their very creditable, but off-the-menu, choice. Pico's sautees a pair of impressively-sized soft-shells in garlic-infused oil, then liberally sprinkles fresh garlic chunks over the top. Most visits are rewarded with succulent, golden perfection, though occasionally the oil isn't hot enough and the crabs get a little squishy. I eat them anyway, and swab the drips with the sleeve of my shirt.
Houston, TX 77003
Region: East End
The moment I recover from stuffing myself at Pico's, I loop back into town to Goode Company Seafood. No Houston seafood survey could be considered complete without a layover at Jim Goode's silver railroad car just off lower Kirby, festooned with fishing trophies, rods, reels and campy family fishing trip photos.
By this time, most of my dining companions have dropped by the wayside, no match for my dogged devotion. Fortunately, Goode Company is great for unselfconscious solo eating at the chummy counter. I'm happy to sit there in solitary splendor, an oasis of culinary calm engulfed in diner clatter, and meditate on the fine line between the brusque and the brisk that's trod by the waitstaff.
At Goode Company, soft-shells are on the menu under "Fried," of course. The restaurant offers its soft-shells deep fried; but unlike other entrants in the Southern fried seafood parade, these are very lightly breaded and crisped to perfection.
I try to overlook the faux pas of serving dark red cocktail sauce with the soft-shells; it's simply too heavy for the delicate flavor of the crabs. I focus instead on their lighter, tangy tartar sauce. The seafood rice is a good pick for a side dish, and I always plan on a slab of rich, dark pecan pie for dessert.
Starting at Kim Son's around Memorial Day weekend each year, it takes me until the end of June to close my ritual round of restaurants at Goode Company. By the Fourth of July, I'm ready to start again, although with a certain doleful awareness of a looming deadline. Though the soft-shell season in more northern climes extends well into the fall, this ephemeral pleasure disappears from Gulf Coast menus by the end of August. Labor Day on my calendar marks not only the last day to tastefully wear white shoes, it signals the bitter end of the soft-shell crab season. It's then that, as I put away my pale pumps, I slip into my own form of hibernation, biding my time, waiting again for that first full moon of May.
Kim Son, 2001 Jefferson, 222-2461; Floyd's Cajun Shack, 1200 Durham, 862-3326; Pico's Mex-Mex, 5941 Bellaire, 662-8383; Goode Company Seafood, 2621 Westpark, 523-7154.
Kim Son: soft-shell crabs, $10.95.
Floyd's Cajun Shack: soft-shell poor boys, $10.95; soft-shell crab dinner, $13.95.
Pico's Mex-Mex: soft-shell crab dinner, $17.95.
Goode Company Seafood: fried soft-shell crabs, $13.95.
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