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.
9669 Las Tunas Dr, Temple City, CA 91780
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