The only way I have ever enjoyed soft shell crab is plainly fried at a seafood restaurant, never at a sushi bar or Japanese restaurant. So finding out that Kata Robata Chef Manuba Horiuchi had created several dishes featuring soft shell crab instantly intrigued me.
In advance of my visit, I couldn't resist taking a peek at what Chef Hori had posted on Kata Robata's Facebook page.There's a soft shell crab and salmon roll, which is also on the Happy Hour sushi menu, a Maryland soft shell crab, Texas peach and Japanese cucumber salad complete with an avocado yogurt dressing, and the hand-made spider roll, featuring a crispy fried soft shell crab, cucumber, spicy mayo and masago.
From the photographs of the fried soft shell crab claws sitting atop a creamy avocado yogurt dressing, thin slices of crisp cucumbers and juicy slices of Texas peaches, I decided that this was the dish I had to try. Unfortunately, the first time I visited Kata Robata, a lot of people thought the same thing and the special was no longer available. But, the soft shell crab and salmon sushi roll was, so I went ahead with that.
If you're a fan of tempura-fried shrimp in a sushi roll, then you'll like the crab and salmon roll. The flavors and textures are crunchy, sweet, spicy, soft -- and all of a sudden you taste a hint of barbecue sauce. But, there isn't any barbecue sauce.
Instead, Hori has coated the tops of the roll with Korean BBQ powder, which plays up the natural sweetness of the crab and tempura batter. It's an extra bonus having this sushi roll on the Happy Hour menu, too.
The spider roll, not on the Happy Hour menu, is also an excellent choice if you're looking for something that is simple, but still makes the soft shell crab shine (say that ten times fast). A seaweed wrapper encases the perfectly sticky and soft sushi rice that holds on to the crunchy cucumber and masago, spicy mayo and most importantly the crispy, fried crab.
The outside pieces of the roll are a little bit more difficult to eat in one bite because the legs of the crab stick out of the roll more so than the other rolls, but that one bite is spectacular. Spicy mayo balances with the natural sweetness of the fried crab and your mouth is cooled by the sushi rice, seaweed, cucumber and masago. Definitely save the outside pieces for last.
Because I was still craving the Maryland soft shell crab salad, I had to go back to Kata Robata. I walked in, sat down in my booth, slowly opened the menu, hoping and praying it was on the list of daily specials, and beamed with joy. I quickly ordered before there was any chance of Kata Robata running out.
The plate was painted with an avocado-yogurt spread, sprinkled with Korean BBQ powder, with dollops of a peach jelly-like sauce. On top of the sauces sat pickled julienne slices of cucumber, red onions and cherry tomatoes, and the star of the show, four pieces of crispy, beautifully fried soft shell crab.
I decided to taste each component separately, then took a bite of soft shell crab dipped in the avocado-yogurt spread, peach sauce, along with a few pieces of the pickled cucumber salad. The soft shell crab is crispy and sweet on the outside, but soft, delicate and savory on the inside.
Hori will be unveiling new soft shell crab creations throughout the soft shell crab season, but for now the Maryland soft shell crab, soft shell crab and salmon roll and the spider roll are the stars of his show.