Double Happiness

Finding inspiration at Ten Ten

Photo by Myles RobinsonBlame it on Buddha. Most Chinese restaurants seem to strive for a certain harmonious conformity that, when combined with Western décor, creates an eyesore like no other. Bamboo-motif etched glass, cascading crystal-teardrop chandeliers, and walls upholstered in red velvet with gold-tone dragons—offset by lots of mauve and sea-foam draperies—seem to come standard. These accouterments alone wouldn't be so bad, but it's the vending machine selling plastic mini ninjas and the photos of each dish—or, better yet, food facsimiles under Lucite—that take the whole works over the top.

Ten Ten Seafood Restaurant in Anaheim is just this kind of place. But their dragons are larger and look feistier on account of the big red light bulbs screwed into their eye sockets. This bit of rugged individuality seemed to be an omen of dishes to come. I got Ten Ten's card from a flight attendant on an LA-Orlando redeye. Once everyone was asleep, she holed up in the galley with an order of "double happiness" fried rice. She did seem more cheerful than the usual surly lot. I asked her where she got it, and she pulled Ten Ten's business card out of her purse—the sign of a loyal regular. We still had three hours to go, but I couldn't wait to get back and try the dishes she recommended.

As soon as I arrived at the restaurant, a steaming pot of oolong was whisked to my table along with a hot-mustard caddy. Well past lunch time on Thursday, the place was busy—another good sign. Usually, lunch specials in Chinese joints come with minuscule won tons and stone-cold, paper-wrapped chicken. Instead, the Ten Ten specials came with piping-hot jumbo tempura shrimp and hearty egg rolls.

I started with the minced squab, which comes as an appetizer or a main dish. You wrap the delicate combination of chopped water chestnuts, mushrooms and tender dark meat mixed with hoisin sauce into large lettuce leaves that are served on the side. Ten Ten specializes in seafood, so skip less exciting dishes like the ordinary tangerine chicken. If it's your first time, order the honey-walnut shrimp, which comes with a large portion of above-average fried rice. A dozen or so large shrimp are sautéed, dabbed with a butter-mayo concoction, interspersed with walnuts cooked in a hot honey concoction, and sprinkled with sesame seeds. The flavors and textures of this unique dish—sweet, succulent, crunchy and savory—make it far more special than its $5.25 lunch-time price.

Indeed, the quality and price of the lunch specials at Ten Ten make it possibly the best Chinese thing going countywide. Yet at dinner, all you can get for $5.25 is an order of fried rice. The entrée prices are higher, but they do deliver. Almost every type of fish and shellfish can be made with black bean sauce, but I found their version below average. Instead, order the Szechwan shrimp: nearly two dozen rosy tails braised and flecked with red-hot chile peppers on a bed of tender sautéed greens. I didn't even need the double happiness fried rice.

Ten Ten Seafood Restaurant, located at 669 N. Euclid St., Anaheim, is open Mon.-Fri., 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 10 a.m.-10 p.m. (714) 991-9272. Beer and wine. Dinner for two, $20, food only. MC, Visa accepted.
 
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