Chef Simon Chow plays with his food
Chef Simon Chow plays with his food
Jonathan Ho

At King Lobster Place in Orange, Chinese Seafood As Good As Any San Gabriel Valley Joint

Rockin' Lobster
Chinese seafood as good as in the SGV

There's no substitute for a trip to the San Gabriel Valley when you really want to dig your chopsticks into something authentically Chinese. That the valley is the epicenter of Chinese cuisine in Southern California is a fact no one disputes. But this isn't to say OC restaurants aren't accomplishing amazing things.

Take King Lobster Place, a new Chinese seafood restaurant in Orange molded in the same image as those eateries that seem to exist on every corner of every neighborhood in the SGV. The nightly scene is familiar. Groups of families gather around tables, lazy Susans crammed with colorful dishes. Frail-looking Chinese grannies, tykes barely old enough to chew and everybody in between eat together, enjoying one another's company and, of course, the food.

At King Lobster Place, almost every serving plate is lined with a decorative garnish of meticulously sliced orange and lime, an attention to detail typical during a new restaurant's honeymoon phase, when first impressions count and the plants (gifts from well-wishers) are still tied up in red ribbons. The most elaborate presentation is reserved for the most expensive dish offered: the House Special Lobster.

Quoted on the menu as "market price," each pound of it hovers from $12 to $14. You'll need at least a three-pounder if your party is larger than two. And when it arrives, it will look like an epic send-off worthy of a king.

At the forward section of the plate, a carved cucumber sculpture and a maraschino cherry act like a crown for its decapitated head—a gaudy but fitting salute. The rest of the giant crustacean's carcass is chopped into tidy segments small enough to pick up with chopsticks; each piece is deep-fried with flecks of batter, coated in a sauce studded with scallion, and topped with fluffy pork rousong.

Not only will it be the best, most melt-in-your-mouth lobster you'll ever eat, but it will also be the easiest to handle. No mallets, claw crackers or bibs are required; the kitchen preps the shells with access points for effortless extraction of the meat. The tail is child's play, but even the flesh from the claw slips out with a gentle tug of a fork.

The rest of the seafood selection rivals an aquarium exhibit, with the abalone and sea cucumber commanding their own sections of dishes, as do the scallop, shrimp, clam, squid and fish. If you're a Greenpeace-hating spendthrift, shark's-fin soup is sold at close to $50 for a bowl large enough to feed four.

For everyone else, there's the ever-popular banquet dish of honey-glazed walnut shrimp, done exceptionally well, even by San Gabriel Valley standards. The shrimp are as big as golf balls, with every millimeter of their frames crunchy and lubed in perky mayo. The candied walnuts that give the dish its name crumble into sugary shards.

But don't stop with the seafood. The French beef steak (that's bo luc lac to you Vietnamese) is impossibly tender; seared in a wok, the beef is cooked to a medium rare before it's sauced and served on top of sliced, raw onions. Counter the protein and refresh the palate with an order of vegetables; I recommend the sautéed snow pea tips with garlic or the ong choy. Both maintain a crisp verdancy after a quick toss in a rocket-hot wok. After the feast, a complimentary dessert of tapioca soup— a warm, sweetish concoction that's rich, thick, and starchy—is served.

In the mornings, the dim-sum carts are rolled out. Though the shrimp har gow was a bit pasty and the tripe was cut into unwieldy hunks on my visit, the pork spare ribs were just as luscious and the egg custard tarts just as flaky as those you'd find north of Highway 60. For now, prices for the morsels are discounted by 20 percent.

But here's another reason to shun the SGV for Orange: King Lobster Place's service staff is actually warm and friendly. They'll dote on you, refill glasses without asking and always smile. Attribute it to its newness, if you like, but perhaps it's because this is Orange County.

King Lobster Place, 2045 N. Tustin St., Orange, (714) 282-9788. Open Sun.-Thurs., 10:30 A.M.-9:30 P.M.; Fri.-Sat., 10 A.M.-10 P.M. Dim sum, $2.60-$6.60 before the 20 percent discount; Lunch specials, $7.95-$13.95 per dish; Dinner prices vary largely.


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