By all standards of reason, Starry Kitchen shouldn't work. The husband-wife duo that is Nguyen and Thi Tran genuinely don't give a care what people think--not about the food, the ambiance, the service--none of it. They played by their own rules from the beginning, starting as an underground pan-Asian pop-up of sorts, serving out restaurant quantities of crispy tofu balls, bahn mi, and chicken feet out of their North Hollywood apartment. When they found a legal kitchen to call their own, they began "4/20 nights" dedicated to the culinary preparation and ingestion of marijuana.
In the latest incarnation of Starry Kitchen, which can currently be found evenings in Chinatown's Grand Star Jazz Kitchen, the Trans continue their defiance of tradition with a "we might have it today, we might not" menu of their pork belly XO rice, pandan churros, and a fantastic Singaporean chili crab that is without a doubt one of the best dishes in Los Angeles. Were this not their favorite dish to prepare and serve, there would be no Starry Kitchen. Thankfully, however, their partiality to this platter of blue crab gumbo means that it is available every night, but only to those customers who specially request it a day or two in advance.
What is it about chili crab that has created such a cult following among all who have been lucky enough to try it? Perhaps it's the fact that it's only available in 9 restaurants on this side of the Pacific. Perhaps it's the silly satisfaction that comes from greedily shoveling the messiest of messy dishes into your mouth without an inkling of inhibition. But I think it's the down-to-a-science, perfect stew of garlic and ginger in a chili-tomato sauce that makes this dish so addictive (although I wouldn't be surprised if marijuana is thrown in the mix). But just when you think you've reached nirvana through perfectly-cooked crab, you'll remember the hearty buttermilk beignets which accompany the dish or you'll notice the white rice that is sitting on the side of the table, forgotten. You'll use the chili sauce as a dip for the bread or as a porridge mix for the rice and you'll immediately be sorry that you didn't reserve another crab for the evening. It's a pattern Nguyen sees night after night, but it's also one that has made a Starry Kitchen fanatic of me and hundreds of other Angelenos.
The day that the Trans decide their restaurant project is no longer fun will be a day of public outrage. In the meantime, though, chili crab fanatics from all over the West Coast will continue to follow this couple from kitchen to kitchen to get their fix of spicy-sweet heaven.