Call me an underinformed foodie, but I didn’t know Dungeness crab has a season. Apparently, for many it’s the event of the holidays. People wait all year for crab season to begin, and it usually comes a week before Thanksgiving. Thus, in early November, many loyal Kanaloa customers call in, anxiously checking, “Are the crab in yet?” They place preorders for it, and everyone waits on pins and needles until the fisherman finally give the thumbs up. You already know that we in Santa Barbara like to have tamales at Christmas because…well, why wouldn’t you! But for many, crab for holiday meals is a tradition. Some have it the night before Thanksgiving as a pre-feast, some for Christmas, some just for the office party. Hundreds of pounds of juicy crabs fly out the door at Kanaloa to make the Santa Barbara party circuit.
If crustaceans worry you, don’t panic! I know I am the last person who would attempt to make crab or lobster at home. But Kanaloa is making this as worry-free as possible. The crab is freshly cooked there, and can be ordered by the whole crab, or you can ask for it cracked and already arranged on a plate, ready to eat. Trust me, if you show up with a platter of these beauties to a party, your name will be spoken in a haloed tones.
“So,” I ask Randee with studied casualness, “What kind of dipping sauces do you pair with this?” She mentioned their many tasty homemade options, from tarragon aioli to cocktail sauce to saffron aioli. But when she says “tartar sauce,” my eyes narrow, my little foodie eyes start to gleam. She has no idea she has stumbled into dangerous territory. Tartar sauce, for me, is something akin to holiness, when it is done well, and it is worthy of banishment if it’s bad. And it’s usually bad. I won’t name names, but there are certain brands of tartar sauce that give me the food equivalent of road rage. But Randee is confident in Martín’s sauce-ology, and she brings me a taste.
I try a tentative nibble. Dear heaven. Tangy mayonnaise, finely minced green onions, flecks of parsley, pickles, vinegary capers, a hit of lemon juice, and then that trifecta of garlic, tarragon, and dill. The lemony juniper flavor of capers flies it over the top. I defy you to not eat this directly from the spoon. This is at once the familiar and recognizable flavors of tartar sauce but prepared in such a way that you will want to eat it with literally everything. It is not heavy the way mayonnaise based sauces often are. It feels almost whipped, light, creamy, without being heavy. This is possibly the most masterful tartar sauce I have ever eaten. Serve this with cracked crab legs and you are winning at the holidays.
Angela Borda is a Santa Barbara food writer who is delighted to be blogging about one of her favorite restaurants, Kanaloa Seafood.