Question: When I go up to San Francisco, I always try to stop by the Swan Oyster Depot on Polk Street for their delicious Crab Louie. I know Crab Louie is probably not as cool as the cold cracked crab, which is good too, but I can’t help myself. The Thousand Island dressing, or whatever it is that they put on the crab, is just too good. I seem to remember eating Crab Louie as a little girl in Los Angeles, maybe even at the old S.S. Princess Louise, but I don’t remember having seen it on a menu for years. Where would you go?
Answer: Crab Louie, ideally made with freshly picked Dungeness crabmeat and a dressing mounted from old-fashioned chili sauce, mayonnaise and grated onion, is one of the great West Coast specialties, its origins variously ascribed to Seattle, Portland and San Francisco. In the ’60s, it was probably served at half the serious restaurants in Los Angeles — a random look at a sheaf of elderly menus implies as much. It does appear to have been a specialty of the Princess Louise. The dish is rather harder to find these days, but it does exist. The Musso & Frank Grill, that repository of culinary antiques, has always had Crab Louie on the menu, although the crab is not as sparkling as one might wish it to be. The McCormick & Schmick chain tends to keep Crab Louie around. When Dungeness crabs are at their winter best, the Grill on the Alley in Beverly Hills makes a terrific version, resolutely old-fashioned but vibrating with chile. And just last week, I had a really fine Crab Louie at Smitty’s Grill in Pasadena, a fistful of lump crabmeat barely glazed with pinkish dressing and arranged over a heap of finely slivered lettuce that had been tossed in its own powerfully tart vinaigrette. If I had stayed away from a plate of the flash-fried potato chips that I manage to order with just about everything at Smitty’s, it would have been a perfect light lunch. Smitty’s Grill, 110 S. Lake Ave., Pasadena; (626) 792-9999. Got a burning culinary question? Ask Mr. Gold by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
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