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 V.23 No.36 | September 4 - 10, 2014 

Restaurant Review

Fresh Fish by a Ghostly Sea

Down N Dirty Seafood Boil

Eric Williams ericwphoto.com
New Mexico harbors its share of ghosts—native people ghosts, mushroom cloud ghosts, dinosaur ghosts—not to mention our ghost ocean. I’m sure you all know that New Mexico was once covered by a shallow sea. If you don’t know it explicitly, you can feel it in your bones. It haunts us with little imprints of sea creatures in limestone, strange drowning sensations and plains that are distinctly oceanic on moonlit nights.

And yet the sea’s material pleasures (seafood, ummm ... water) are nowhere to be found. Why must you torment us, Ghost Ocean?!

Thank God for small mercies like Down N Dirty Seafood Boil. Nothing instantly siphons the sea inland like sticking some steamy crustaceans in your face. And nowhere can you stick steamy crustaceans in your face with such abandon as Down N Dirty.

Thank God for small mercies like Down N Dirty Seafood Boil. Nothing instantly siphons the sea inland like sticking some steamy crustaceans in your face. And nowhere can you stick steamy crustaceans in your face with such abandon as Down N Dirty.

Why? Because it’s not one of those fish restaurants trafficking in white platters, tinkling silverware and smooth jazz that only serve to remind us just how not at the shore we are. Instead it’s just you, your hands, a napkin dispenser and a knotted clear plastic bag of shellfish drenched in seasoned butter. Down N Dirty perfectly captures the sort of no-muss, dive-y nautical-kitsch you would find in a small town somewhere on the coast.

The strangest thing about the place is how quietly (buzz-wise) it has existed for the first year of its opening, even while it has carved itself such a unique niche—the beach party boil and its primal carnivorous pleasures. Maybe it’s the low-visibility location on north Fourth Street. But I also suspect some people are a little freaked out by the word “seafood boil” (which doesn’t sound appetizing if you don’t know any better) and any suggestion of either getting down or getting dirty.

Just how down and dirty you want to get is up to you—for the shell-shy/sadly squeamish, there's scallops and rock shrimp that involve no peeling. For the rest of us, tie on your sexy, plastic, crab-printed bib because there are crustaceans to be dismembered.

No, I'm serious, put on the bib—this food is wet and messy and plateless, and you will be handling it mostly with your bare hands. (Besides, everyone is wearing bibs—a merry scene we may not see again until the nursing home.)

Here’s how it works: You order your shellfish by the pound ranging from $9.88 (clams) to $32.88 (colossal king crab legs). Prices and offerings flux with the market. The lobster and blue crab are served whole or in pieces over a pound, so you will have to do some price-per-pound math to figure out how much you’re spending.

Our server claimed that most people can down two pounds at a sitting, and while I respect the expansive and patriotic American appetite, this seems excessive. My friend and I couldn’t finish three pounds between us. And I wanted to. The sweet-succulent Down-N-Dirty sauced crab claws ($23.88) we devoured, the deliquescent mussels in garlic butter we barely polished off, but the colossal Cajun-butter jumbo shrimp, we could not conquer. So consider the actual meat content of your chosen victim before ordering.

Down-N-Dirty offers baskets, such as fish and chips, in addition to its seafood boil choices.
Eric Williams ericwphoto.com
Down-N-Dirty offers baskets, such as fish and chips, in addition to its seafood boil choices.
From there, you select your decadent butter-based sauce of choice (garlic butter, lemon pepper, Cajun or Down-N-Dirty), specify spice-quotient (mild, medium or hot) and decide if you want anything else in the bag. Options include a whole potato, a partial ear of corn (skip it unless you have a weird penchant for overly-soft, cafeteria-grade corn) or a whole sausage (the andouille is good).

The landlocked may find it a little backwards to toss a turfy-pig product in with all of that surfy shellfish, but chucking in sausage is a long-standing boil tradition all along the East and Gulf Coasts. Just think about how you’re mixing and matching. The andouille is the perfect complement for an order of meat-skimpy crawfish in Cajun sauce for instance, but I wouldn’t boil it with my scallops.

Sides include sweet potato fries, onion rings, coleslaw, bread (a white bolillo roll) and white rice. If you think it’s wise to pair butter-drenched sea meats with fried food, by all means make it happen, but I recommend ordering the rice so you can soak up your extra sauce. The sauces here are all quite good (but you should venture outside the “cleaner” ones and try either the Cajun or Down-N-Dirty—an addictive slurry of spices and chopped garlic). And “hot” is still very eatable.

A few caveats—1) don’t upgrade to the more pricey jumbo shrimp. Our server told us all of the shrimp is good, but we found some of the jumbos a little rubbery. 2) Conspicuously missing from the menu is beer, so you’ll have to wash that lobster (once considered poor man’s food) down with a coke or iced tea. 3) Be forewarned this is a pricey meal without the usual pomp and circumstance of a pricey meal—that’s because you’re not paying for atmosphere (there’s a drop tile ceiling) or the royal treatment (though the service is fast and friendly) or haute cuisine. You are paying for the raw materials—the abducted little sea creatures themselves.

So, yes, I love this restaurant. It’s unstuffy, delicious, primal and fun. There are bibs and tin buckets, the gratifying sound of cracking and peeling shells, and enough butter and garlic to drown a sailor. There’s nautical tchotchkes and a crab tank and piles upon piles of sea-sugared flesh found only in shellfish from actual oceans. Oh lordy! No more eating phantom crab legs at home alone! Bless you, Down N Dirty for saving us from that one indignation, on top of our other indignations in this diaphanous, beautiful, ghost-stricken land.

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Down-N-Dirty Seafood Boil

6100 Fourth Street NW
345-0595

Hours: 11am to 9pm Monday through Friday
12pm to 9pm Saturday
12pm to 8pm Sunday
Price range: $13-$50 for fish alone
Vibe: Coastal blue collar
Vegetarian options: Umm ... no.
Extras: Bibs and buckets, animal pleasures

The Weekly Alibi recommends: Mussels, crab of any sort or smaller shrimp in Down N Dirty sauce, tall cherry coke, side of rice
 

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