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Jan 31, 2009 08:29 PM

REVIEW: Seafood Village, Temple City

Met five people, four of whom I'd never met, for dinner at Seafood Village in downtown Temple City last night. Seafood Village is a trio of Chiu Chow restaurants (also known as Teochew or, in proper Beijing Mandarin, Chaozhou). Chiu Chow is a particular kind of Cantonese cuisine that is known for very delicate flavour (which can be a relief if you're used to Hunan, Yunnan and Sichuan fire, or the unending cumin of Xinjiang). In Hong Kong, if you have been overindulging, you may be urged to eat Chiu Chow food as it is lighter. Oil is used VERY sparingly and you're more likely to eat things that have been steamed or braised in stock, which makes it easier on the calories.

When you are seated you will be given a dish of pickles (in this case, radish and carrot, thick julienne) and a dish of boiled peanuts drizzled with oil. These are meant both as palate cleansers and as something to snack on as you peruse the menu. You will also be given a pot of VERY strong and aromatic oolong tea called tyet kwun yum in Cantonese and tie guan yin in Mandarin (its English translation is literally "Iron Goddess of Mercy"). It is intended as an appetite stimulant and you will notice that the tea cups are a little smaller than you would find at, say, a Cantonese seafood restaurant. Tiet kwun yum tends to 'fade' with repeated steepings a little faster than other tea, which is intended -- you don't need to stimulate your appetite after you've been eating for an hour as much as you do before you start.

Crabmeat and fish maw soup -- this is really a shibboleth. Your typical Westerner, when faced with this, will shrug and say it tastes like nothing (which it does -- the flavour is very subtle and the soup is quite watery). Someone who knows something about Chinese cookery, though, will realise that the point is not the taste but the texture -- soft crab with the unmistakable not-quite-gelatinous not-quite-crunchy texture of fish maw. (Fish maw, incidentally, is the swim bladder of large fish.) Slightly overcooked (the texture of the maw was a bit soft) but generally very well done. I will say this -- the soup texture itself was excellent, with none of the overthickening of which so many bad Chinese places are guilty.

House special crab -- every single table, literally, had this. It is sold by the crab, and most crabs sold are between 2.5 and 3 lbs. Fried, with the usual salty-garlicky-oniony crunchy topping, it was very good and very easy to crack. We kept using the topping to top our rice after we'd finished.

House special pork knuckles -- these were hong-shao (red-cooked, meaning that you re-use the cooking liquid over and over and eventually it gets this deep characteristic of everything that's been cooked in it), or whatever the Fujianese term for it is. Very, VERY tender, very well-cut, very well-cooked. This disappeared first from the table.

Asparagus with conpoy -- this was not on the menu but it is very well-known and is a very common order. "Yau moh loh sawn gohn bui?" (Cantonese) or "You mei you lu sun gan bei?" (Mandarin) will get you the dish, which is bias-cut green asparagus stir-fried with conpoy (dried scallops) in a clear sauce. Absolutely delicious, with the conpoy having softened but still retaining the much stronger flavour of dried seafood. This was the next item gone from the plates and my favourite dish of the night.

Four treasure vegetables: the four treasures were nappa cabbage, gai lan (Chinese broccoli), whole mushrooms and hair vegetable (fat choy) formed into a square with red-cook sauce on it. Delicious -- and the fat choy was real (dark green), not fake (black). I was impressed.

House special chow mein -- shrimp in white sauce over deep-fried thick udon-type noodles, the way it is served in Hong Kong. The sauce softens the fried noodles. Tasty but a bit bland.

Chiu Chow jook -- this is really more like a soup with rice cooked in it until it explodes. It is made of seafood (some fresh, some dried), seafood fumet (stock) and rice. It would have been excellent except that there was grit in the mussels which rendered it pretty daunting to eat.

One hallmark of Chiu Chow cuisine which can be surprising is that they are big eaters of dessert. While we didn't order any of the desserts (the best, incidentally, is the filled rice balls in sweet soup), at the end of the meal a large pot of sweet, vaguely ginger-flavoured soup with various items -- konjac-type jellies, rice balls, black fungus, etc. -- was brought over on the house. Imagine Vietnamese che ba mau without the coconut milk and this is what you would get.

One item I have had there but couldn't convince people to get is the house special fish. It is called "fish pot" on the menu and several tables ordered it -- it is whole fish simmered in fish fumet with various flavours added, and served on a warming tray. Delicious, but unfortunately we were unable to get it. Another thing to try if you have a larger group is oyster pancake -- a glutinous mix of rice flour and egg and oysters. I have only had this at Monterey Park and it was very good; my mussel experience would make me a little bit leery of this at Temple City, though.

Service was Chinese usual -- if you're used to Chinese service, it was exactly normal; if you're used to fawning would-be actors in West LA restaurants, you're going to think it's the rudest service ever.

Are you ready for this? All this bounty of food which we could not finish was a whopping $90. NINETY DOLLARS. If we'd spent $150 I would have considered it not outrageous. Conpoy is VERY expensive; fat choy -- real fat choy -- is VERY expensive; crab is expensive. I couldn't believe it. Eight dishes for $90, most of which included seafood.

At those prices you can afford the gas from West LA or the SFV or the South Bay or OC to go. I urge you to try it. All the best dishes are in pictorial form along the top of the wall -- just point and go, and order the crab.

Seafood Village
9669 Las Tunas Dr, Temple City, CA 91780

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  1. The House Special Fish is the THE dish at Seafood Village in my opinion. Where else can you get a wonderful fish, with great fish broth (ask for extra broth to be added if you want), and one that comes with its own chafing dish and Bunsen burner?

    The desserts really are very good, esp. the mochi. The gratis dessert soup is quite pathetic -- mostly watered down sugar water with bits and pieces of fungus, pearl barley, mung beans, tapioca, etc.

    As always, thanks for the wonderful review.

    17 Replies
    1. re: ipsedixit

      Any preference for the Temple City vs Monterey Park locations?

      1. re: Porthos

        Temple City is larger-feeling and has way better parking. MPK has more stuff in walking distance if you're going to have a sort of moving feast. You decide.

        1. re: Das Ubergeek

          Temple City. Food and service are just better, and more consistent. Better A/C too.

          1. re: ipsedixit

            Done. Will be going Sunday for lunch.

            1. Do the knuckles have a decent amount of meat or are they mostly gelatinous parts (not that there's anything wrong with that, but I need a cholesterol break)?

            2. Any other meat recs? Online search turns up mention of the steamed chicken with wood ear.


            1. re: Porthos

              The knuckles have a reasonable amount of meat on them -- at least half.

              Honestly I usually concentrate on seafood (it is, after all, Seafood Village) so I couldn't tell you about the chicken or other meats.

              1. re: Porthos

                The House Special Chicken is pretty good, but like Das Ubergeek said, it is a seafood joint.

                The best dishes are those posted on pictures that circle the walls at the Temple City location. Just point and order.

              2. re: ipsedixit

                is temple city cleaner?

                also do they have that special after 9:30 when the crab gets cheaper still that I once read about?

                1. re: 1newyorkguy

                  Dunno if it's necessarily cleaner, but the Temple City location is less claustrophobic than the Monterey Park one.

            2. re: Porthos

              Temple City has better parking and is cleaner. The wait area in back isn't all that fancy, but it sure beat standing in the parking lot of the Monterey Park branch. BTW, enter the Temple City branch from the parking lot in the back.

            3. re: ipsedixit

              this sure doesn't sound like "authentic cantonese" food like Paul's kitchen. etc. What was so cantonese about this place???

              1. re: alanjc

                Seafood Village is Chiu Chow.

                And Paul's Kitchen is "authentic cantonese" in the same way that Olive Garden is "authentic Italian"

                1. re: ipsedixit

                  you have a sort of point.......when i think of traditional cantonese or cantonese jewish from 50's.....i think of Wan Q, on westside, man fuke low's and paul's kitchen....depends on what you were raised on...pound for pound in it's day was Gung Hay In gardena....closed early 90's.....alan c

                2. re: alanjc

                  Are you being facetious?

                  Paul's Kitchen is a 1960's American take on Chinese food. It is not Cantonese food. Most Chinese chefs in that era were from Guangdong, but the food they cooked was not like they made in China because a) the ingredients were unavailable and b) American tastes would not deal with real Cantonese food (and, for many, still won't). But since they were Cantonese people, food like Paul's Kitchen and most delivery Chinese here and in New York was called "Cantonese".

                  Chiu Chow food is a kind of Cantonese food, from a particular part of Guangdong Province (whose English name is Canton, hence, Cantonese). SV is very authentic, if the Chiu Chow food I had in Guangdong Province is any guide.

                  1. re: Das Ubergeek

                    Funny, we posted at the same time ...

                    1. re: ipsedixit

                      Weird, huh.

                      I actually love the brown gloppy egg foo young, broccoli beef, noodle mishmosh, egg roll with sticky duck sauce and hot mustard from time to time, but authentic Chinese, in the sense of same-as-in-China, that it is not.

                      1. re: Das Ubergeek

                        I agree. Some of that old-fashioned Cantonese-American food is quite tasty. It's authenticity is irrelevant.

                    2. re: Das Ubergeek

                      My Chiu Chow relatives are big fans of Seafood Village.

                3. Very nice report. I'm not a fan of the technique SV used to cook the house special crab. The last few time I've had it, the crab was dried out from the frying and overly salty. Sounds like your dish came out much better. I agree the toppings do make a good condiment for rice.

                  Love your comment about Chinese service. Unfortunately, good service makes me suspicious of bad food. I've been somehow brain washed to expect bad service when the food is good.

                  Chow on.

                  1. Hi Das Ubergeek,

                    Another great review. :) I love the Crab and Fish as well. BTW, as a side question, was the natural aroma in the restaurant OK? The last 3 times my SGV Hounds brought me there the salt water from the seafood tanks seemed to have created a musty odor near the back of the dining room.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: exilekiss

                      To be frank I went in the street-side door having parked on Las Tunas, so I didn't notice any usual stench, but I was only at the "front" (near the lot) for all of two seconds while I gave the name of the reservation.

                      1. re: Das Ubergeek

                        Great review Ubergeek. Next time, why not meet up with 6 people so that I can be there too? Now I'm gonna head out to give this place a try with the kingkong family soon. kong jr is almost 4 years old now, and he loves him some crab.

                    2. Just got back from Seafood Village. It was quite delicious as advertised.

                      -Turtle soup with ham, chicken feet, some vegetable that translates into "worm grass". The soup was delicious. 1/2 the price of the Sea Harbor version and just as good. The best dish of the meal.

                      -Chiu Chow jook. Our oysters weren't gritty. This wasn't bad but as noted above, the jook is more like rice in soup than cantonese style jook. Not bad, probably wouldn't order it again though.

                      -House special fish. Delicious. The black cod picks up a subtle, almost sweet medicinal taste.

                      -House special crab. As noted, the dish to get here. A great deal. The crab was savory, very fresh and very sweet.

                      -Green vegetables (you chai) sauteed with strips of pork fat/bacon. "Why is this so tasty?" asks my sister. That's pork fat. Ahhh...

                      -Steamed chicken with wood-ear mushrooms, dates, and red berries. The chicken was very flavorful. A bit on the bony side but I think the chicken might have been free range.

                      Dishes worthy of future repeats include the turtle soup, the house special fish, the house special crab, and the chicken.

                      I actually thought service was quite good for a chinese restaurant. A bit surly at times but definitely better than your usual SGV Chinese joint.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Porthos

                        "Green vegetables (you chai) sauteed with strips of pork fat/bacon. "Why is this so tasty?" asks my sister. That's pork fat. Ahhh..."

                        The thing that would come closest to convincing me there's something to this "Intelligent Design" stuff is the fact that pigs and the various edible greens of the Brassica family tend to flourish in the same places. There is not a relative of cabbage that won't be improved by some kind of pork, and the Chinese do it every bit as well as the Germans and Poles.

                      2. i go here quite regularly for the house crab, the deep fried flounder, jelly-fish sautee. i've only been to the monterey location though. also great vegetable dishes sometimes.