It's not your fault you skip over something like bean dip on a menu. For one thing, bowls of the pasty business show up a lot (there's likely still an iffy container of the stuff in your fridge from the Super Bowl), and for another, if it's your one evening out with babysitting, finally sharing adult conversation and eating with two free hands, pureed food is the very thing you do not want to see. So you drag your finger down the menu at Robert Goodman's Machine Works restaurant (937 10th St., Arcata) and skip right down to something fancier.
But the Tuscan white bean dip, which arrives looking very much like a wide bowl of pale soup, is the thing you want ($10). The cannellini beans are whipped smooth and thinned out with cream and melted Parmesan cheese. There is sautéed kale (but not enough to make you feel righteous), herbed breadcrumbs and a swirl of truffle oil. Fancy. The half-dozen slices of grilled bread are lovely swiped in the stuff, but you will need more of them. Order extra in advance (unless you want to get some fries? What?) so it doesn't get weird when you're out of bread and waiting to see who at the table is going to lose it and dip a spoon or a finger in first.
In the same way that pumpkin-spiced everything shows up in the fall, in winter legions of crab specialties hit our county like Attack of the Crab Monsters, which maybe you caught during the Crab Festival. The overwhelm — not to mention the underwhelm — is enough to send you straight back to cracking your own. Retreating into reactionary crab fundamentalism is safe enough (when has the boiled or steamed dungie ever let you down?), but you'd be missing out on the possibilities.
Take a chance on the fettuccine with crab ($29.95, $24.95 a la carte) at Sea Grill (316 E St., Eureka). Firm pasta is tossed in a seriously creamy Alfredo sauce and fresh crab meat. The sauce is rich with cream, not gluey, but neither it nor the sprinkle of Parmesan overpowers the crab's sweetness. It will, however, seize up a bit if you let it go cool, so pause your conversation and eat. A dining companion declared this decadent hybrid the best way to eat crab besides plain. Purists who refuse to eat seafood with cheese may find themselves lured by the aroma into joining the Philistines. We welcome you.
Geography vs. Destiny
The Bering Strait, scientists speculate, could have once been a land bridge between Asia and North America. Just a hop, skip and a jump across some glaciers, and yet we've had to wait thousands of years for that hybrid of Asian and Mexican cuisine, the Korean taco. It's a schlepp to the Creamery District parking spot of the Taco Faktory truck on L Street between Ninth and 10th streets in Arcata (Richard's Goat Tavern & Tea Room at 401 I St. in Arcata has the tacos on occasion), but not when you consider that hike across the Bering Strait.
Or when you get your $4 pair of Korean barbecue beef and pork tacos. (There are whispers about a Thai burrito, but it only shows up on Wednesdays.) The warm corn tortillas are heaped with pyramids of smoky-sweet, juicy meat seasoned with deep-red Korean chili paste and topped with cilantro, lettuce and onion. Instead of brooding impatiently over a table-top grill and pretending to follow conversation with your Los Angeles friends while you wait for your next bite of meat to cook, get instant gratification. A squeeze of lime and you're there.
You're not the boss of me, changing sea levels and shifting land masses. Mere geography cannot stop destiny. Or the Korean taco.
What food discoveries have you made in your travels around Humboldt? Email Jennifer@northcoastjournal.com and share your finds.