ABC Seafood Restaurant, Chinatown, Los Angeles

ABC Seafood Restaurant, Chinatown, Los Angeles

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  1. Anyone familiar with LA’s Chinatown has made the rounds through the many restaurants, looking for that one special place. Those who ventured into ABC Seafood probably had the same thoughts that I had when I ate there a few years ago: Next time, we’ll try one of the good restaurants.

    For those who, like me, vowed never to set foot inside ABC Restaurant again, get ready to break that vow, because the place is under new ownership and management, and the first thing that David Lam—the new owner—did, was partner with one of Chinatown’s best cooks, Master Chef Chui, formerly of Full House Restaurant (and their great loss to see him go). The menu prices at ABC remain quite low, affordable for any budget and the quality of the food is now topnotch. The restaurant’s popularity is rapidly growing, so you may want to make a reservation.

     

    The newly renovated dining room is long and narrow, small enough to be intimate, large enough to encourage families. The decor is pretty standard and in good taste, and the acoustics are favorable to quiet conversation.

     

    Soup always starts a meal, and the hot and sour soup was tangier than I am used to but still tasty and robust. This was probably the worst (or rather least excellent) of our courses, and I ate every drop. The seafood soup is basically the same stuff I’ve had at a dozen other restaurants—fish, scallops, shrimp and squid mixed with big pieces of tofu and mustard greens—but Chef Chui does some magical juju on the soup, making it the best I’ve ever had. Another favorite ABC soup of mine is the crab and fish maw soup, which has just enough crab to make it explode with flavor and a thick base stock that satisfies, and that’s about it. (Other than the fish maw, that is. If you know what fish maw is, good for you! If not, maybe you’re better off not knowing. Trust me: you’ll like it.) Some chefs feel the need to crowd every soup with just about anything they have on hand to make it more robust, but this often detracts from one delicate flavor or another. Chef Chui does not make this mistake with his wonderful crab soup.

     

    For appetizers, we had the exquisite fried salty squid, baby squids served with tentacles, crispy on the first bite and tender on the second; we followed that with fried oysters, served with ABC’s own seasoned salt and lemon wedges, and this was about the only disappointment I have had.  I think the chef tried to copy the American version of fried oysters, and failed because he made the batter too thick. Next came the deep-fried sole, which was the best I’ve had: crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside, served with a delicious slightly sweet sauce. Most places cook the sole so much that you can eat the bones, which cooks much of the flavor out of the fish. At ABC you have to be careful, for the bones will gouge you if you try to eat them. But they are large, easy to remove and the fish itself is wonderfully rich in subtle flavor.

     

     The entrees came one after the other, and they were all excellent. We had glazed honey walnuts with prawns (the best I’ve ever had, and I’ve had a lot), the beef filet steak French style in a moderately sweet sauce (my personal favorite), the dry scallop fried rice—a house specialty not found on the regular menu—sautéed snow pea tips in a creamy sauce and Hong Kong style sweet and sour pork spare ribs which are—you guessed it—another item not found on the regular menu. However, you can still order any of these dishes, which simply won’t fit on the already crowded menu, and you won’t be disappointed by any of them. On other visits, we have tried the salt baked pork chops, the Szechuan scallops (one of the spicier dishes) and the broccoli and beef, all of which were splendid and surpassed any similar dishes I had had elsewhere.

    Lastly, for desert we had sweet walnut cream (again, not on the menu), which you have to order at the beginning of your meal, and you should; this sweet, nutty, warm, soup-like treat appeals even to those who don’t care for walnuts, like me.

     

    Something that struck me following our first meal at ABC was that, although I definitely overate, in a big way, I didn’t feel even slightly queasy, as I usually do following a lot of fried foods. The majority of the food we ate was either deep fried or stir-fried, yet not one dish was remotely oily, as I often experience in other Chinese restaurants.

     

          One thing I was surprised to see on the menu is a dish you don’t often see in Chinese restaurants in America, and that is bird’s nest soup. This is one of my favorite soups that I hadn’t had in ages, and it was a distinct pleasure to order a big bowl on a subsequent visit. Along with the abalone dishes, this is one of the few pricy menu items at ABC, for good reason, as the nests are difficult to collect and are imported from Thailand. But if you are one who can ignore the exact nature of the main ingredient (which I will not discuss, lest I discourage you), you will undoubtedly enjoy the experience as much as I did.

     

    ABC is actually two restaurants in one: the main dining room is served by the main kitchen, where quality is the key; the takeout restaurant facing New High Street has its own kitchen, where affordability is the key. While the quality of the takeout food is not quite that of the sit-down restaurant, it still borders on excellence. Try the duck; you won’t regret it!

     

    Master Chef Chui

    David Lam and Master Chef Chui have already redesigned and refurbished the interior of the restaurant, which is no longer grungy and lackluster, but is instead bright, welcoming, homey and classy without any pretension. Work on the exterior is ongoing, but does not interfere with the dining inside at all. The incredibly friendly staff will give you the best service you have ever experienced, will make you feel right at home and will serve you some of the best Chinese food you will ever eat, all for a better than reasonable price, considering the quality. ABC Seafood Restaurant is now our “regular” place in Chinatown. Come on down and see why for yourself.

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