Newport Seafood isn’t a good place to bring somebody who’s indecisive. The menu at the Vietnamese-influenced Chinese restaurant offers a whopping 131 options, with entire blocks of print devoted to elephant clam, frog and abalone/sea cucumber. However, you’d do best just to stand by the seafood tanks near the entrance, point and pick. That’s where the prized sea creatures reside.
The tanks feature massive Alaskan King crabs that looked like they would be able to hold their own when dinosaurs still roamed the earth and menacing monsters patrolled the deep. We also spotted lobsters who were totally oblivious to their impending fate. It’s probably little consolation to the crustaceans and Nemo-loving fish friends that thanks to the chefs, they didn’t die in vain.
Ly Lee opened the original Newport Seafood in 1984 in Santa Ana, sold it in 1989 and opened in San Gabriel in 1996. He and his family followed up with a Rowland Heights outpost in 1999. The second San Gabriel location, which is where we ate, moved down the street two years ago. It occupied the sprawling former home of a Marie Callender’s, and still looks the part, though some of shelf ornaments would have to be considered upgrades.
Our table included opinionated, knowledgeable bloggers like Pat Saperstein (Eating LA), Esther Tseng (e*starLA) and John Colletti (Social Domain), so it didn’t make sense for one person to dominate the ordering process. Instead, everybody at the table called out a different dish, which worked out very well, and even resulted in some green things making it into the mix.
The only unanimous selection was the Newport Lobster ($87.73, 5.5 lbs, $15.95/lb), a massive beast that was systematically dismantled and wok-fired in a sauce of garlic, scallions, black pepper and more. If we were running and the sauce were a hill, the spice level wouldn’t be steep, it would be gradual. The lobster meat was sweet and tender, infused with the “special” sauce. We also found clumps of red roe that were a little mealy, but still flavorful.
Even though Newport is known for its seafood, we found some of the night’s best success with Bo Luc Lac ($11.95), better known to Anglos as “shaking beef.” The peppery chunks of seared tenderloin were recommended on Twitter by Starry Kitchen. They appeared on a sliced tomatoes and onions and really popped when squeezed with lime and dipped in the dish of salt.
The only dish that failed to deliver was the Sea Trout ($33, 2.75 lbs, $12/lb), a whole fish that featured crispy skin, but sported dry, pasty and meager flesh. If not for the sweet and spicy sauce, the fish would have been better left in the tank.
We ordered exactly the right amount of food for the eight people at the table. There were no leftovers, the meal kept cost less than $30 per person and the menu kept us wanting more (well, maybe not more trout). One thing’s for sure, the next visit will involve crab with tamarind sauce. Those crabs got off easy this time, but we know where to find them.