Shell Shock

Go to Go 4 Food for chilli crab and other shellfish delights

The dining room of Chinatown's Go 4 Food is clean, bright and sparse, save for eight tables, sheets of specials–written in Chinese characters–on the wall, and a fish tank.

The tank isn't there for decoration; it holds ingredients for the restaurant's specials, which are some of Chinatown's freshest and best.

On a recent visit, we were thrilled to find an offering that deviated from the year-old restaurant's usual Cantonese and Hong Kong specialties: Singapore-style chilli crab (market price, recently $25 for a 1½-pound crab). Owner Victor Lee fell for the dish while in Singapore, where it's a ubiquitous special of both street stalls and restaurants.

At Go 4 Food, your crab (currently Dungeness from Vancouver) will be fished from the tank, dusted in flour, wok-fried and then braised with a mixture of fresh tomatoes, onions and chiles. This sauce is lighter than some versions, but it's an excellent complement to the crab's sweet meat.

The only way to attack the dish is with two hands, a crab cracker and a mound of napkins. Says Lee, "It's a rule of physics: If you work harder, you'll enjoy it more."

Less work–but just as enjoyable–are plump steamed oysters ($3 each), their shells overloaded with black beans, slivered scallions and cilantro.

Go 4 Food, 212 W. 23rd St.; 312-842-8688 or go4foodusa.com