Soft Shell Crabs

The season for soft-shell crabs is brief--and already half over. They're appearing, usually as specials, in a dazzling array of preparations.

* Matsuhisa: Crisply fried soft-shell crabs are one of chef Nobu Matsuhisa's signature dishes, served simply with a choice of dipping sauces (spicy garlic or wasabi pepper sauces). ($15) Matsuhisa, 129 N. La Cienega Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 659-9639.

* Water Grill: For a perfect dinner entree, chef Michael Cimarusti fries soft-shell crabs and serves them with brown butter sauce (bernoisette) with a crisp potato galette, sugar snap peas and tomato confit. ($24) Water Grill, 544 S. Grand St., (213) 891-0900.

* Jozu: Chef Suzanne Tracht makes soft-shell crab tempura and serves it on green tea noodles in a soy-ginger broth with fresh soybeans, roasted shiitakes and bacon that she cures herself. ($22) Jozu, 8360 Melrose Ave., (213) 655-5600.

* Locanda Veneto: With classic Tuscan simplicity, chef Massimo Ormani dips ice-cold soft shells in a beer batter and deep-fries them. The resulting wonderfully crisp crab is served on a bed of arugula and endive with fresh tomatoes and an olive oil and lemon dressing. (Appetizer, $10; entree, $20-$22.) Locanda Veneto, 8538 W. 3rd St., (310) 274-1893.

* Michi: As a pasta course, deep-fried soft shells are paired with grilled jumbo shrimp and served with green beans and fresh tomato over spaghetti "pepperocino." ($14.50) Michi, 903 Manhattan Ave., Manhattan Beach, (310) 376-0613.

* Campanile: At dinner, look for very lightly spiced fried soft shells served with a tart green tomato relish with red onions, lemon, olive oil ($22). Or served as an appetizer fried with ginger butter and kohlrabi slaw ($14). Campanile, 624 S. La Brea Ave., (213) 938-1447.

* Michael's: Featured is an appetizer of two lightly battered deep-fried soft-shell crabs with a cold salsa of corn, red and yellow bell peppers, poblano chiles and cilantro. ($14.50) Michael's, 1147 3rd St. Santa Monica, (310) 451-0843.

* Spago Beverly Hills: Lee Hefter makes a soft-shell crab tempura, served as an appetizer with a cilantro sauce and a marinated cucumber salad. ($18.50) Spago Beverly Hills, 176 N. Canon Drive, (310) 385-0880.

* Sushi Roku: At this pretty, rock-filled sushi bar, soft-shell crabs are dusted with cashews, fried, and served with a chile-lime dressing. ($15) Roku, 8445 W. 3rd St., (213) 655-6767.

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