King Crab City: Inside the Fontainebleau's "Water World"
King of the ocean.
Photos by Carla Torres
The Fontainebleau has crabs, and it's exactly the type you're thinking -- king crab. These bad boys are the rulers of all crustaceans and an extreme delicacy not only in the States but also around the world. They make their way from the Nordic and Bering seas down to South Florida and currently reside in the Fontainebleau's underground facilities, dubbed "Water World," where all of the fresh catch from the resort's fishing boat, the BleauFish, lives until dinnertime.
It's more difficult to gain access to Water World than to get into LIV. With good reason -- there's more than $2 million worth of seafood down there. A chef must escort you, and even then another resort staff member has to unlock the gates.
What lurks in the shadows?
The price to enter Water World is similar to LIV's cover charge on its busiest night of the year when David Guetta is spinning. You see, when you dine at any of the Fontainebleau's culinary venues, be it Scarpetta, Hakkasan, Michael Mina 74, La Côte, or FB Steakhouse, you can order a king crab for $600. The upside: Unlike seeing David Guetta, you actually get your money's worth. The multilegged creatures can serve a table of three to five as an appetizer or two to three as a more significant course, which doesn't make it so bad when splitting the cost.
Each king crab order includes a visit to Water World, where guests can choose their crab. On a recent visit, the tanks were full of them. "We started out with a 100 and sold about 35 in just a week," said Fontainebleau executive chef Thomas Connell, who explained weekends are usually the nights when the crabs come out to play. Each fellow weighs just shy of eight pounds -- that's 800 pounds of crustacean. Holy crab.
Because of the resort's relationship with mongers and purveyors, Connell is able to obtain this type of product in such large quantities. "We got well over $25,000 and 800 kilos of crab, which equates to 16,000 lbs," he said. "If we didn't order and fulfill the amount that our restaurants do, there's no way we'd be able to have such a great treat for our customers to enjoy."
When you first see the crabs, you almost feel bad for them as they encircle the 600 gallon saltwater tanks that are kept at 45 degrees Fahrenheit to simulate their natural habitat. But if you've ever had king crab, you know how absolutely delicious they taste and the guilt sort of melts away.
Once you've selected your crab, the rest depends upon which venue you're dining in. "You don't want to do too much to the crab," Connell said. It's a product that's best consumed as natural as possible in order to enjoy the true seafood flavor. The crab is simply steamed whole and chilled. The sauce is what makes a difference. At FB Steakhouse, Connell is likely to accompany the crab with a red wine mignonette or traditional cocktail sauce; Hakkasan might serve it with spicy mustard or ginger aioli. Regardless of the restaurant, prep time is 45 minutes from the moment the order is confirmed till the crab hits your table.
An exception to that rule, however, is Michael Mina 74, which is featuring the crab along with its rolling seafood carts. At MM 74, guests can have a leg or two, half the crab, or the entire thing. Each leg will set you back about $25. Not bad considering you're also paying for theatrics.
The crabs even get their own fog show. Chef de cuisine Thomas Griese uses liquid nitrogen to create a smoke cloud over the elusive creature as it's toured around the room.
A seasonal mango-kumquat salad featured Thai basil, chili, and a lime-Korean gochujang paste for a kick of heat. The ceviche-like preparation showcased the crab beautifully.
"To the best of our knowledge, no other restaurant or property in the country has live king crab," Connell said. Once the 100 crabs are gone, he intends to call in another batch. "Season runs through for 12 months, so as long as we can continue this, we will," he said.
Follow Carla on Twitter @ohcarlucha
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