My friend Bev was a real firecracker. She and I bonded over a love of food and often cooked together. In the kitchen, Bev approached everything with gusto. Food could be delicate, sure, but it was also something you experienced with both hands. One of my favorite dishes of hers was cracked Dungeness crab; the crab legs cracked lightly and tossed with plenty of her dried oregano, crushed garlic, olive oil and lemon. I suggested it for a dinner party once and she looked at me as if I had my ears on backward.

“They’re too scared to eat with their hands!” she exclaimed of the guest list.  

Eating with your hands was the mark of a food lover for her. Someone not scared to dig right in and pluck out sweet crab meat from a claw, rip an apricot in half before you even left the parking lot or gnaw on a bone was someone to be trusted, and definitely someone to have over for dinner.

She died in January, but has been on my mind constantly lately, as the harvest season when summer turns to fall was my favorite time of year to cook with her. This past week I was in Shoreline at two spots where it was imperative for me to dig in with both hands, and the lunches I shared with my friends were the kind Bev would’ve loved — full of laughter and conversation that not only centered on the food but about life in general.

The next time you’re faced with a messy plate — dive in with both hands. I don’t think you’ll regret it.

Bag O’ Crab

11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 1295 N. 205th St., Shoreline; 206-546-8988; bagocrabwa.com

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There are 13 locations of this seafood-focused franchise with California roots. The Shoreline location opened just across the parking lot from Costco in February. The menu here — as one could guess — does indeed focus around seafood boils, which show up in a bag. For nonseafood fans, there are fries, chicken wings, garlic noodles and even beef short ribs. There are also fried fish baskets and a lobster roll, but I only had eyes for the seafood boil.

The boils can be customized based on a singular seafood or you can order a combo, which range from basic — Combo #1 features a pound each of crawfish and mussels plus corn, potatoes and sausage slices ($25.95) — to extravagant — Combo #4 has a lobster or whole Dungeness crab plus a pound each of shrimp, crawfish and clams plus corn, potatoes, and sausage ($84.95).

Once you’ve determined what boil you want, pick your seasoning. There’s a plain steamed option, plus Cajun, lemon pepper, garlic butter or Louisiana flavor. We chose Atomic Sauce, which is a blend of Cajun, lemon pepper and garlic butter. Finally, you choose your spice level — anywhere from “Not Spicy” to “On Fire XX.”

My friend and I were hungry, so we went for the Combo #4 with a whole Dungeness crab, Atomic Sauce and a spice level “Mild.” We also got an order of lemon pepper fries ($4.95). The boil arrived in a bag sitting in a shallow metal pan and a basket stuffed with bibs, wet naps, gloves, lemon wedges, salt and pepper, and plastic forks.

We bibbed up and decided to pour the bag of seafood into the tin and use the wax paper-covered table for shells. As I untied the bag the powerful scent of garlic shot out — and as I poured the boil into the pan we laughed at the sheer amount of chopped cloves that covered everything. What must have been at least four full heads’ worth of garlic studded every surface as if the chef had gone out of control with a garlic bedazzler. The melted butter mixed with the Cajun seasoning formed a mahogany puddle at the bottom of the tin for sopping the head-on prawns and fries.

My friend and I both chose to don gloves (I know, I know) at the beginning, but digging crab meat out of a claw with a plastic fork and gloved hand is maddening. Soon the flimsy gloves had holes anyway and what is the point? If you’re going to go all in, go all in.

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While the mild spice level packed a surprising amount of heat — next time I think I’d aim for no spice — the flavor was great. We smacked our way through clams, snapped through shrimp tails, cracked crab legs and even sucked a crawfish head.

The boil was perfect for two. And while it was a very indulgent lunch, I will be back to check out some of the other boil options the next time I’m not quite so hungry.

Pho 99 Authentic Vietnamese

10 a.m.-8 p.m. daily; 19828 Aurora Ave. N., Shoreline; 206-542-3634

I have probably driven by this slip of a restaurant a hundred times over the years but had never stopped. It sits on the corner of Aurora Avenue and North 199th Street (just south of the Costco complex). There is a small parking lot right in front off Aurora as well as around back, with access off North 199th Street.

A friend and I stepped into the smallish mauve dining room just before the lunch rush hit. There are handwritten signs posted throughout advertising new specials, giving notice that the restaurant now charges .50 cents for lychee juice (it used to be complimentary) and to please be patient as it’s short-staffed.

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Yet, even as the dining room filled up, service was prompt, and began with a tall glass of lychee juice, complete with two little lychees bobbing in it. Paper menus are taped to the walls; in addition to soups there are a full range of appetizers, rice dishes, teriyaki, salads and bún bowls.

My friend and I ordered the pork and shrimp spring rolls ($6.25), the short rib pho ($15.95) and the charbroiled pork skewer and egg roll bún ($15).

In short, everything was terrific. The shrimp rolls were tightly wrapped and stuffed with a Goldilocks-ian amount of filling — three shrimp, a paper-thin slice of tender pork, lettuce and rice noodles that held together beautifully despite being dipped repeatedly in our own personal bowls of peanut sauce.

The pho had a deeply fragrant broth and three large shanks of short rib that wasn’t quite falling off the bone. This is where I had to dive in with both hands to inelegantly get at the beef.

Lastly, the pork skewer on the bún was wonderfully heavy with lemon grass and garlic, the eggroll crackly crisp, its filling still moist. The nuoc cham wasn’t too spicy or sweet, but if you’re wanting to amp up the spice level of anything here, each table is stocked with a full condiment tray.

And while I loved the pho — and will be keeping it in my back pocket as we head into the rainy season — the bún and the incredible pork sausage stole my heart.