Taste: She Sells Soft-Shells

Sweet crabs are the first taste of summer. It's soft-shell crab season! Well, sort of. When restaurant coat

It's soft-shell crab season! Well, sort of. When restaurant coat checks are still doing brisk business in mid-April, you know it's far too early for the blue crabs of Chesapeake Bay (where 90 percent of the country's softies are caught) to be shedding their shells. But Center City BYOB Matyson has sourced the first of 2007's soft-shells from points south. Last week they were coming in, live, from Florida; now they're as close as North Carolina. And it's a good year for these early shedders — they are tender, not leathery, and abundant, unlike last year's sparse crop.

In Matyson's kitchens, the crabs are pan-fried at lunch, perched atop housemade brioche; at dinner, they're sometimes tempura-ed spring-like aside an avocado-grapefruit salad, and other times turned Asian with toasted peanuts and ginger. Sure, they are a little pricier than the ones you'll find at restaurants all over the city in the waning weeks of May, but they are a sweet, briny promise of summer — priceless in the face of city's still-brisk temps.

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