There is something deeply frustrating about chef Zak Pelaccio’s peregrinations. Fatty Crab in the West Village was a much deserved hit (our review here), but nearby Five Ninth (which he has since left) was always uneven, and Chop Suey (where he consulted) was a joke. Heaven knows how his next venture, Fatty ’Cue, will turn out.
Last year, he opened a second branch of Fatty Crab on the Upper West Side. Unlike the downtown branch, it takes reservations, and it is more than double the size (70 seats vs. 30). Fatty UWS looks a bit nicer than Fatty WV, but it’s still über-casual. We saw a few diners who, perhaps deceived by Frank Bruni’s two-star review, looked surprised by the gritty surroundings that are atypical for a purportedly serious restaurant in this neighborhood.
The servers look like college students, but fortunately they know the menu well and give good advice. The cuisine is vaguely Southeast Asian, but much of it is filtered through Pelaccio’s American perspective. In that respect, he reminds me of David Chang, who actually claims to be serving American cuisine at his Momofuku restaurants, despite the obviously Asian roots they sprang from.
The Fatty menus in both locations are similar, down to the way they are delivered—loose sheets on a clipboard. The UWS location has a few more selections, but those in common are the same price at either place. There are several categories—Snacks, Noodles/Soup/Rice, Specialties, and Vegetables—but these divisions hardly matter, as everything is served family-style, for sharing. Most items are between $10 and $20. If you order three to five dishes for two people, you’ll spend between $50–80 before beverages, tax, and tip. We ordered four dishes, and felt stuffed.
It didn’t help that the food was practically thrown at us, as if we were contestants in a speed-eating contest. As I’ve noted before, these family-style restaurants generally want to turn tables. The food comes out when the kitchen is ready, not when you’re ready. Everything we had was at least suitable for sharing—not always the case at such places—but a couple of dishes were practically impossible to eat without knives, which aren’t part of the default place setting. When we pointed this out, a server most oddly brought out just one knife.
Wanton Mee, or Wet Wanton ($17; above left), was a delicious mix of noodles with shrimp and pork dumplings. Fatty Duck ($17; above right) was a bit challenging to eat, but worth the effort.
Bacon ($15; above left) was unexpectedly spicy; Short Ribs ($25; above right) a bit bland. Actually, those short ribs were the exception: most of these dishes deliver plenty of heat.
There is a wine list, but we felt that beer would pair better with this food. We each had one, and would have had a second if it had been possible to flag down a server.
Most of the food is very good—quite a bit better, in fact, than the surroundings and the service. But this restaurant isn’t actually near anything, and it’s annoying to travel this far, only to be rushed through the meal.
Fatty Crab (2170 Broadway between 76th & 77th Streets, Upper West Side)