It might have been gloomy and drizzling outside, but inside of BLT Fish, at the first annual Crab Festival to benefit City Harvest, the mood was festive and the crabs were plentiful. Three floors of crab dishes as far as the eye could see -- crab legs from the BLT Fish raw bar, a Peekytoe Crab Salad from Bouley, a Crab Summer Roll with Chilled Crab Soup from Riingo, or Aunt Rae's Blue Crab Soup from City Crab, and many more.

2006_05_food_crab2.jpgAnd of course, there were crab cakes. In fact, there was a crab cake showdown -- an esteemed panel of judges gathered around a long table in the center of the room and proceeded to taste some of the best crab cakes that the city has to offer. The panel consisted of Laurent Tourondel, the Chef/Owner of BLT restaurants; Katie Lee Joel, host of Bravo's Top Chef (pictured at left; we wanted to ask her who will win tonight, but held back); Kelly Choi, from NYC TV's Eat Out; Aryln Black, Food, Wine and Travel Writer, Susan Stockton, Vice President of Culinary Productions for Food Network; Andrea Strong, author of the Strong Buzz and NY Post food columnist; John Curtas, a Las Vegas critic; Konrad Uri, a lifelong crab fisherman from Alaska; and two lucky audience participants (how do we audition for that job?). One by one, the crab cakes came out and were judged based on what appeared to be a very complex matrix of qualities and characteristics. The judges tasted them all; and seemed to take their jobs very seriously. The winner? Gypsy Gifford from Rain took the top honor this time around.

But next year, the competition and the event will heat up, as BLT Fish is planning on having its Second Annual Crab Festival outside along 17th Street from 5th to 6th Avenue, which will give them room for more chefs, more tastings, more crabs, more contestants for the crab cake contest, and more benefit to City Harvest. We're already looking foward to it!

Full photo gallery on Flickr.