If you live in the Bay Area or the Greater Los Angeles Area, I am sure you have heard of–and most likely dined in–the famed Thanh Long Restaurant and its better known sister property Crustacean. Their signature garlic noodles and roasted crab not only won over food critics, foodies, and aficionados alike, they also help launched a multi-million restaurant empire (counting 3 and growing!) for the An’s family who hailed from Vietnam. The legacy lies in the “Secret Kitchen”–a completely enclosed kitchen within the main kitchen, off limits to all employees, where the family members churn out the legendary garlic noodles and roasted crab, using secret recipes that were passed down for three generations.
I had dined at Thanh Long in San Francisco many years ago and really enjoyed the garlic noodles and roasted crab, but it’s not until this week that I reacquainted myself with them. This time, the location was Crustacean Beverly Hills; the dishes ordered were roasted crab, grilled tiger prawns with garlic noodles, and Maine lobster with garlic noodles.
The taste of the garlic noodles was exactly what I remember. In my honest opinion, their roasted crab was too dry for my taste (I think the crab was boiled and then roasted in the oven hence it lost all its juicyness). The lobster garlic noodles was good, but not spectacular. The best dish was definitely grilled tiger prawns with garlic noodles. The sweetness of the grilled prawns complemented the garlic noodles perfectly. Everything ordered that night was also a tad too salty. Anyway, I was still smitten by their foods, and most importantly, intrigued by their “Secret Kitchen” and secret family recipes.
I resolved to figure out the secret recipes, using none other than my taste buds and keen eyes. I examined the remains of the roasted crab dish–cracked black peppers, check; coarsely chopped garlic, check; butter, check; exotic spices, maybe but I couldn’t find any evidence. I also packed a box of garlic noodles to go, for further examination at home.
I think I’ve got most things figured out. Maybe.
So, I spent hours in the kitchen yesterday, perfecting my version of Crustacean’s garlic noodles and roasted crab. I added the seasonings little by little, trying to get as close to the original taste as possible. I have no doubt that my recipes and techniques are somewhat different from the secret recipes, but there are really not that many “secret” ways to prepare garlic noodles and roasted crab. I think my garlic noodles and roasted crab are as good as they get compared to the originals at Crustacean, at a fraction of the cost/price! (One order of garlic noodles cost US$11.50 and the roasted crab is US$41.95.)
As to the myth of “Secret Kitchen,” I will say that it’s more for smart marketing than its practicality.