Taste Test

Are the Ooma X 8Cuts Soft Shell Crab ‘Wiches All They’re Cracked up to Be?

April 18, 2017

The Moment Group of Restaurants’ dining establishments are a steady favorite among the food-inclined in Manila, with a roster that spans both the casual and the upscale, and both the foreign and the familiar. Among them, on one hand, is 8Cuts—their no-frills burger joint for anyone looking for some good ol’ American grub. On the other hand you have Ooma—the hip, fiery sister that takes visible inspiration from the Land of the Rising Sun and puts it in a modern light. Both are successful in their own right, but have such different personalities that it might not even occur to most that the two could ever cross paths. Until last month, anyway, as the Moment Group introduced a new, Lent-friendly treat that takes the form of 8Cuts’ sandwiches and the more East Asian flavor profile of Ooma: the Soft Shell Crab ‘Wich.

The use of East Asian elements in Western comfort food isn’t exactly new—think Japadogs, or kimchi in mac and cheese—and it generally works, because the bold flavors of the former liven up (and balance out) the typically latter’s heavier character. In this case, the website lists a moderately long list of components, some likely from 8Cuts (brioche buns, mozzarella) and from Ooma (unagi sauce, aligue a.k.a. crab fat mayo, herb aioli, mango salsa, crisped up salmon skin—which brings to mind a cross between their Soft Shell Crab- and California- Taco Maki). Individually they make sense, but all together there does not seem to be a coherent unifying theme. Did they just throw together any and all leftover condiments from the pantry?, I initially feared. Wouldn’t all those sauces just clash and backfire?

There was only one way to find out.

original Soft shell crab ‘wich

This much-hyped baby arrives at the table and it strikes us as a beaut—it’s difficult to resist taking a photo). Draped on the bottom brioche half is the beer-battered and fried soft-shell crab, topped with all the fix-ins—a glob of melted cheese, the sauces, the salsa, and the other bun half. Fillings come so generous that picking it up from the plate is a messy ordeal. (Pro tip: get it at 8Cuts and you get a paper liner to line the bottom and make this task much easier, unlike with the bare-bottom—shall we say ~minimalist~?—presentation it gets at Ooma.) But take a bite and you’ll find that the elements come together in a wonderful way.

There’s the brilliant contrast of texture: pillowy-soft brioche that immediately yields as you sink in your teeth; crisp, warm crab, which offers just enough of a light crunch before revealing its succulent interior; creamy, saucy mayo; and juicy salsa. The flavors, too, form a wonderful symphony: the flavor of the crab is amplified by the aligue mayo, for obvious reasons; tartness and zing come via the salsa and chives; sweetness and depth come courtesy of the unagi sauce (a natural pair with seafood); and the bread is properly buttery, which makes every bite that much more decadent. Most interesting is the addition of the crispy bits of salmon skin, which not only give a light crunch, but a pop of seafood-y umami that goes great with the crab.

Admittedly, the addition of mozzarella cheese felt odd at first—an aversion I’ll admit may have more to do with having been conditioned to think seafood with cheese is a no-no—and it could probably be done without. No worries if it’s on your sandwich already though—it does does not offend, and even contributes a milkiness and oddly satisfying gumminess that feels like a comforting break from the more dominant flavors of everything else.

Spicy soft shell crab ‘wich

There is little to complain about with the original, but earlier this month the Moment Group also introduced its spicy counterpart. Is it better left as is, or is it worth the spicy upgrade? The answer is a resounding DO IT. In this case, heat comes in the form of a spicy mayo the waiter describes as having gochujang, ginger, and garlic in the mix, and it is brilliant. With its fruity-pungent-peppery profile, it really brings out the best of the salsa (and the heat-phobic need not worry; the sweet unagi sauce is there to cool you down). It’s spicy enough that it tingles the tongue (definitely pair this with one of their beers!), but not too much that it overpowers everything else.

I do have to point out, though, that the bottom bun on both sandwiches can get soggy as it soaks in the juices and sauces in the filling, making it difficult to hold with your bare hands (which is why, again, 8Cuts’ paper liner is everything). Be prepared to be wiping down your fingers and your chin. But for all the mess, it does make for one damn tasty handheld meal.

The verdict

What makes a great sandwich great, anyway? As much as we adore sandwiches for their simplicity, you can’t just throw anything and everything between buns and expect it to turn out great a hundred percent of the time. Without going too in-depth, the nature of eating a sandwich means you’re striving to deliver its essence—taste, texture, soul—in each individual bite. Which is why it’s important to consider contrasts, and this sandwich hits all the right notes: sweet vs. salty vs. tangy vs. umami; spicy vs. crunchy vs. soft vs. creamy; equal parts of indulgence and zing. It’s the kind of treat that caters to the Filipino yearning for a high-impact, in-your-face eruption of flavor, but with good consideration of balance and harmony. That, plus flawlessly fried seafood at the forefront—it is hard to go wrong with this baby, and the chefs of Ooma and 8Cuts did a good job here.

As for the initial concerns: what does it matter, really? Maybe the combination was meticulously planned out and every component was carefully selected for a purpose; or maybe this actually was just a way to make use of the odd bits and ends in the inventory (not that this is necessarily a bad thing, if it were the case—consider how many of the world’s greatest dishes were born out of leftovers). Either way, the end product works, and the resulting Soft-Shell Crab ‘Wich, both regular and spicy iterations, deserve a permanent spot on the menu.

Patricia Baes SEE AUTHOR Patricia Baes Trish thinks too much about everything—truth, existence.....and what’s on her plate. Her ongoing quest for a better relationship with food has led to a passion for cooking, gastronomy, and a newfound interest in its politics. She is a cheapskate in other aspects of her life, preferring to use her savings on specialty vinegars and degustation menus. While she admits to eating out too much, cooking and baking remain her first love, and she's always looking for quirky new ways to use up seasonal produce. Thanks to her obsession with (unnecessarily) making everything from scratch, she is now desperate to clear her fridge full of homemade condiments. She dreams of perfecting the art of making soufflé with her crappy toaster oven.
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