Inside its walls of windows overlooking Pillar Point Harbor, Crab Landing features sushi, a raw bar, seafood menu, steaks and two cocktail bars.
(This review appeared in South Bay Accent in April of 2009)
The only guests who couldn’t find something to eat at Crab Landing in Half Moon Bay would have to be penny-pinching vegans who disdain great coastal views. For everyone else, this huge newish restaurant overlooking the fishing boats in Pillar Point Harbor and the sweeping Pacific beyond takes a greatest-hits approach to its offerings that is calculated to please the widest swath of diners. Its two levels contain an oyster bar, a sushi bar, two cocktail bars and a wine cellar while presenting a menu of popular seafood dishes from across the country and well beyond — in addition to signature cocktails (the lychee martini is a hit), soups, salads, steaks, prime rib and ubiquitous desserts. There’s also al fresco patio dining, where the edge of renowned surf spot Mavericks crashes in the distance.
In its shellfish-oriented menu and shore-side location, Crab Landing shares some strands of DNA with other view-full seafood tourist traps. Happily, however, the cuisine here is fresher, the offerings more diverse and the modern, glass-walled surroundings more attractive. Part of the menu’s breadth stems from the restaurant background of the extended Asian-American family that owns Crab Landing. Beyond expected dishes like cracked crab, chowder and steamed lobster, you’ll find many items with a Singaporean or Chinese twist.
To reduce hunger pangs while perusing the large menu, warm sourdough bread accompanied by three smears — soft butter, pesto and an olive oil-balsamic combo — is whisked to the table early. The decision-challenged might take this opportunity to nosh on a tasty dragon roll from the sushi bar during their lengthy reading. A combo of smoked salmon, crab and avocado in a spicy dressing with rice in a nori wrapper, this sushi specialty is gloriously over the top, flavor-wise, as are many other menu choices.
Take the firecracker balls, for example, a hit with guests. A spicy tuna roll is sliced, covered with panko crumbs and deep fried, them slathered with pineapple soy with some kick. Another hit-all-the-flavor-centers starter is ahi poke, a version of the Hawaiian dish in which the tuna is “cooked” in citrus and chiles and paired with mango, diced cucumber, avocado and topped with tobiko caviar. To douse the flames, try the rich, cheesy garlic bread with crab, a guilty pleasure for sure.
The clam chowder is upgraded from the norm with fresh whole clams.
Even though many of the dishes are pedestrian, the ingredient quality is not. For example, the clam chowder is very well executed and features fresh whole clams rather than something taken from a can. Fried calamari is given a twist by being tossed in a tangy Asian chile sauce. Even steamed clams and mussels are presented in flavorful broths enhanced with butter, tomatoes, rosemary and thyme.
Diners who like a tactile eating experience and aren’t wearing expensive clothes will love the Singapore chile crab, a popular Asian recipe in which the crab is swimming in a big-flavored sauce featuring tomato, lemongrass, ginger and spices. Since the meaty, in-the-shell Dungeness is eaten in the usual manner, be prepared to have the red sauce splash its way onto everything in its proximity. Similarly messy is butter crab, a super-rich treatment based on an old Eastern Shore recipe called Crab Norfolk in which the crustacean is awash in butter. At least the mess on your clothing in this case isn’t red.
In addition to the expected soups and salads are a couple of Asian-influenced offerings that shine. Tom yum soup puts prawns into a delicious hot and sour base highlighted by coconut milk. In addition, there’s an excellent mango salad in which the fruit is paired with grilled prawns, sliced jicama, apple, pecans and greens and crowned with a sweetish, slightly hot dressing. A lighter iteration has been served as a special in which green mango and shredded carrots garnish the greens and are served with a complementary sesame dressing.
The list of main courses seems endless, hitting all the usual bases – bouillabaisse, cioppino, crab cakes, cracked crab, etc. –but also goes beyond. Emerging as signature dishes are indulgent multi-seafood offerings like enormous butter-sautéed day-boat scallops wrapped in smoked salmon and Loch Duart salmon stuffed with crab, pan roasted and served with nicely tart soy ginger sauce. Delicate petrale sole is stuffed with crab and shrimp, then served with a butter lime sauce.
There’s also swordfish and ahi tuna served in “blackened” preparations as well as meaty local halibut broiled and topped with a caper butter sauce. Given the gigantic servings, a wise choice for lighter eaters is lovely sea bass that’s steamed in a flavorful Asian broth redolent of ginger and sesame oil. Entrees come with a choice of starch (saffron rice, mashed or baked potatoes) and vegetables.
Carnivores aren’t left on the dock at Crab Landing. Besides prime rib au jus, filet mignon, blackened rib eye and a 20-ounce porterhouse steak, the restaurant also offers short ribs osso bucco, rack of lamb with mint jelly and shaking beef. To accompany all these meat and seafood choices is a respectable wine list that cleverly identifies those that have received high points from critics.
Desserts are as rich and familiar as most of the preceding choices. There’s tiramisu, of course, heavy chocolate ganache cake, cheesecake and my personal favorite, a tiny trio of flavored crème brulées: coconut, Grand Marnier and green tea. However, we hit a few squalls on our sail to dessert. Possibly because the restaurant isn’t old enough to have developed its sea legs, we found that dishes showed up randomly, with dubious explanations why. Fortunately, the killer views, classy venue and abundant quantities of fresh seafood made the service glitches easier to forgive.
The main dining room is located on the second level, up a winding stairway.
Crab Landing Seafood & Steak House, 260 Capistrano Rd., Half Moon Bay, (650) 712-1288; http://www.crablanding.com
HOURS: Monday-Thursday, 11-9; Friday-Saturday, 11-10; Sunday, 10:30-9. Reservations suggested.
PRICES: Starters, $10-16; soup/salad, $8-24; entrees, $25-37; desserts, $6-7.