A friend of mine invited us for live king crab at Irvine's China Garden. It's close to home, and I go there when I want good dim sum without schlepping to the San Gabriel Valley. For the usual Hong Kong style dim sum, it's the best choice in Orange County. We ordered the usual suspects: the very white-peppery hot & sour soup; a couple variations on har gow (steamed dumplings w/ shrimp and greens); a couple potsticker iterations; steamed and baked char siu bao (BBQ pork buns); etc.
Today, we splurged on live king crab and live giant clam, which showed me another side of this restaurant that I'd taken somewhat for granted as my local dim sum joint. Color me spoiled.
The 5+ pound crab was brought to our table for approval, and sent to the kitchen to meet it fate in two ways. The legs were steamed and shocked in ice water. After this, it'll be hard to go back to frozen king crab ever again.
The joints around the body were prepared "house special" style: coated first in cornstarch and fried, then sauteed in a sweet / tart sauce along with green onions and hot peppers. I'm not sure of the Chinese name for this preparation. Westminster's Seafood Cove offers crab, lobster, shrimp, calamari, even mussels in this way, and they're all delicious. I'll have see if China Garden's menu covers the same items.
Even though we were pretty full, my friend, a known instigator, asked if we should order a live giant clam. I'll pretty much agree to jump off any bridge, so the kitchen prepared it for us in two ways: sashimi style, and sauteed with asparagus. If you order giant clam at a sushi bar, two little pieces will run about $8. We got an entire clam prepared two ways for $50. Not a bad deal if you look at it that way, but not cheap.
Oh - ask about prices on the live seafood before you order at any Chinese seafood house. Things get pricy real quick on live items.
We saw other tables ordering something resembling a frou frou pot pie, so we jumped off of that bridge too. It turns out to be an almond "souffle," and takes 20 minutes for the kitchen to cook to order. Creamy, mildly sweet almond milk fills the ramekin about halfway, and as it bakes, the steam raises the elastic puff pastry to form the pale golden dome. Inside the almond milk lurked 5 gingko nuts simmered until tender. A pleasant end to a lunch filled with new surprises. I'm looking forward to more new discoveries from China Garden.
14825 Jeffrey Rd
PS - Same writeup with more photos on my blog, click below.