A Bug's Life Cut Short - Typhoon. Santa Monica Municipal Airport. Santa Monica, CA.
"The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out.
The ants play pinochle on your snout!
One of the worms that’s not so shy,
Crawls in one ear and out one eye.
They call their friends and their friends’ friends too,
They’ll make a horrid mess of you!"
– A charming excerpt from a children’s 19th century folk song about decomposition.
We will all end up as worm food one fateful day – a gory but inevitable reality that must be confronted at some point in life…and certainly in DEATH!! Mmmmwahahahaha!! However, this Halloween, and in the true spirit of Deep End Dining, we will turn the tables on the worms and the other creepy crawlies that torment us on earth and gobble us when we are six feet under it. This time we’re biting back. We shan’t be the Tomb-town Buffet for greedy grubs and their insatiable icky ilk any longer. Tonight, yes, this night, on All Hallows Eve we will have the bugs piled in hair-raising numbers on our dinner plates. If we spy a six-legged creature scaling our mound of noodles we won't scream for the manager. Au contraire! We will slurp them, munch them and suck them up!
But aside from digging up the yard and snapping up anything that squirms and scurries, where do we find a place that actually serves bugs? Also I won’t eat bugs just anywhere. I need low lights and high concept while indulging in my vodka martini with cricket stuffed olive. I want novelty married with class when I sip cicada soup. I demand top-notch service intermingled with a fabulous clientele as I playfully nibble on stir-fried crickets with my fashion forward friends. Okay, I admit that I become a little high-maintenance when my meal starts to feel like Joe Rogan of Fear Factor is haranguing me to do dozens of maggot shooters or else I lose the game. I just need decent ambience to make the medicine go down easier. A tall order, you say? No kidding, Sherlock. (And I’m not referring to your Halloween costume.) Impossible, you assert? Not necessarily. There is such a place. Albeit not an obvious place to find bug cuisine; that is, unless you make it a habit of dining on insects at the local airport. Yes, I said airport.
WHITE SEA WORMS APPETIZER
The most unlikely of culinary Magellans to navigate me to this wonderfully eccentric eatery was my filmmaker friend Steve who normally would categorize anything not on the Subway Sandwiches menu as barbaric. During a phone call with Steve, I discovered that a feast of crickets and beetles and ants (oh, my) was practically (not literally) in my backyard. This exotic meal was only a fifteen-minute drive away. If that wasn’t strange enough, this tony restaurant, Typhoon, is located at the Santa Monica Airport, a small, municipal airport that services single engine planes and small private jets. And to sweeten the deal, they offer a special Halloween menu – one night only.
It was a dark and stormy night. (It really was.) The moon swelled with a muted glow and clouds shaped like dragons would obscure it momentarily as they floated by. The blustery Santa Ana winds kicked up a path of whirling leaves as if trying to block my party’s entry into Typhoon. Undeterred, we forged ahead. There would be no turning back. It was time to feed.
STIR FRIED CRICKETS
My crosshairs were locked on to anything insect related. The rest of the menu really was of no interest to me, although Typhoon does offer a wide variety of very creative Pan-Asian fare by a talented head chef from Thailand named Eid. She and owner Brian Vidor would have to be geniuses or, perhaps, just plain mad to offer up such taboo food.
To start this adventure right, we kicked off the night with the restaurant’s specialty elixirs. My poison was in the form of a vodka martini “up” with a cricket stuffed olive. Diane was bold enough to go for a Margarita on the rocks with an ant-coated rim. Sensible Steve had a Vietnamese beer from Hue logically called Hue Beer. Most patrons of Typhoon don’t get liquored up for social lubrication or anything conventional like that. No way. They drink so they can eat their dinner without passing out or throwing up. They drink for strength and courage. They drink so they can look their food in the eye and antennae and thorax.
The first dish up was my soup – a consommé with green onions and cicadas. The soup was a basic light chicken broth. The cicada, however, was far from basic. The Magicicada septendecim is a frustrating beetle to devour. It seems to be all armor and no flesh. Chewing on cicada is akin to chewing on a shrimp’s shell with no meat. It’s very difficult to swallow and, when it finally goes down, it is irritating to the throat. The one interesting but subtle aspect about the broth is the bitter aftertaste from the soaking cicadas – perhaps bitter from seventeen long years underground with just a few short weeks to get laid, but tragically ending up in my soup bowl. What’s there to be bitter about?
Next up were the white sea worms appetizer – tiny deep fried white worms seasoned with ginger, Thai chili peppers, peanuts and lime then placed on willowy lettuce leaves and served with a Tamarind dipping sauce. This dish was not nearly as startling as I had imagined. From a distance it looked like butter lettuce with a bunch of crispy potato shreds on it. But the real surprise was the taste and texture. The minuscule worms were a doppelganger for Chinese baby dried shrimp. This appetizer is essentially your basic Vietnamese lettuce wrap…um, only with crunchy worms.
The final bug dish was the most anticipated one. Stir-fried crickets. The visual shock value was on par with opening an Alphabet City cupboard and suddenly being bum rushed by a band of cockroaches with bad attitudes. The fried crickets were peeking out of every nook, cranny and orifice conceivable from within the pile of Taiwanese fried noodles. The noodles, pan fried with chili peppers and Asian basil then topped with raw garlic slices, were full of vibrant and distinct flavors. Salty and quite spicy, it’s the perfect companion for many rounds of beer. As you might imagine, the crickets themselves were crunchy. But unlike the hollow cicadas, they were slightly fleshy but not in a slimy way. The crickets were seasoned just like the noodles. After a while it felt like I was popping regular salty bar snacks into my mouth which is precisely what the Taiwanese consider fried crickets – as a bar snack. They were generally easy to eat with only the occasional jumping leg getting stuck in between my teeth.
By the way, the owner Brian would love for everyone to understand that the insects only make up a small fraction of the ample menu. Typhoon’s everyday dinner menu has only four insect choices, two of which we tried and one of which was on the special Halloween menu. Moreover, a dinner consisting only of insects doesn’t fill the belly very well. Our meal had to be supplemented with some excellent Asian stand-bys like Kal-Bi which is Korean BBQ short ribs and Chap Chae, a Korean glass noodle dish.
Another caveat: all this insect exotica doesn’t come cheap but it’s not going to break the bank either. So, young guns, go for it. You only live once. Like I tell my two vegan acquaintances, it’s either you eat them or they’ll eat you. And you can take that to the grave. "The worms crawl in. The worms crawl out…"