Soft Shell Crabs vs. Wal-Mart

I ate lunch today at a fabulous Chinese restaurant here in Richmond called Full Kee. I’ve been going there regularly for several months, but today was special because I wasn’t paying. Hooray! This place is one of my favorites because of its authenticity, variety, good service, and corny Chinese covers of 50’s American music playing in the background. What can I say, I’m a sucker for kitsch.

My friend Angela, who sang with me in both the Richmond Choral Society and James River Singers, took me to Full Kee today to introduce me to the summer menu. We had spicy fried soft shell crabs and kong shing tsai, a vegetable new to me. The kong shing tsai reminded me of a cross between a soft celery and spring onions, cooked just enough in light oil and garlic that it was manageable with chopsticks, but still fresh enough to squeak against your teeth. The crabs may possibly have been the best thing I’ve eaten all year. Crispy on the outside and soft and juicy inside…fragrant with peppers and onions that were soaked through with the juices…words fail me. If you’re in the area in the next week or so, you gotta check it out. Angela says the kong shing tsai isn’t on the menu, but they’ll make it for you if you ask. It’s nice to have a friend around who speaks Chinese.

I wish there were more restaurants — and retail stores, for that matter — like Full Kee. It’s obviously a small-time endeavor, run by people who know and care about what they’re doing. These types of places are becoming rarer and rarer as strip malls and chain stores fill up our empty spaces. How many Chili’s and Applebee’s do you really need in a city, anyway? My neighbors and I have been devastated lately as new Circuit Citys, O’Charleys, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and Chick-fil-as have been moving into the area and ruining its unique, small-town feel. I’m proud to live near Ashland, which temporarily repelled an invasion by Wal-Mart last year, but how long can the small-time businessman hold out against big money and bigger lawyers? If we care about preserving a communal identity in this cookie-cutter environment of the bottom line, we should all seek out and frequent places like Full Kee. And tell your friends!