Sunday, April 05, 2009

Quality Seafood - Redondo Beach



As I've said before, I don't usually get off my duff to drive out of O.C. to get my grub on. But there are exceptions. One of them is Quality Seafood on the Redondo Beach Pier. Unless you can prove me wrong, there's nothing like it in Orange County.

It's not a restaurant, but a seafood market located on the hidden bowels of the pier that just happens to steam, fry, and broil your seafood immediately after you pick it out, and usually while the specimens are still very much alive.

Once your chosen ones are ready, you claim a stone picnic table, cover it with newspapers, and then go medieval on the booty with a mallet and your bare hands.

Neither new or trendy, it's been around for, well, probably longer than you and I have been breathing.

On a recent sunny Saturday, we made our almost-yearly pilgrimage.

First stop was the crab monger, where our crustacean comrades writhed and wriggled beneath vats of of water. We picked out two: a female and male Santa Barbara crab ($6.99 per pound), both of whom were plucked out by a worker wearing a yellow rubber smock. Our clawed friends were then weighed, stuffed inside a plastic bag, and thrown in an industrial steamer where they met their demise by sauna.

Then, it was off to the fish counter where a rex sole ($5.64) that I pointed at was lucky enough to already be dead. His fate was the deep fryer.

Last but not least, it was to the sea urchin vats ($6.99 per pound), where we directed another worker to fish one out and lop off the top, so that we can scoop out its brains like a Hannibal Lecter-hosted dinner party.

Holding it by its spikes, he went to work on scalping the wiggling invertebrate with a knife. Don't worry: It didn't see it coming! (Get it? It has no eyes!). With its shell breached, he shook out the inedible bits, washed it, and served it on a Styrofroam plate, where it stuck on since it had darts for legs. The final indignity for the creature? A plastic fork inserted into the gaping hole where his organs used to be.

Still writhing in throes of death, we took our sea Sputnik to our table. And let me tell you: it takes a strong stomach to take the first scoop. It's one thing to eat fresh uni from a sushi bar; it's another to eat a live one, straight from its body while its antennae flails about, like it's looking for a TV signal.

And inside the crevasse, we saw the familiar, yellow, tongue-like lobes. These were the reproductive organs -- our target -- which we tried to extricate without perturbing it or its surroundings. (Yes, it was exactly like Operation). Also in the pit were unidentifiable mucus-y red globs, and a milky white effluence that covered everything and coated every morsel we managed to scrape out.

In each custardy scoop, we recognized the familiar sweetness of uni, but it was soaked in a saltiness we weren't used to. To me, it tasted like if it was drenched in sad, salty tears.

There was less drama and conflicting feelings when we ate the rex sole. Deep fried with a spicy-seasoned coating, the fleshy fish was 98% meat. After a drizzle of lemon juice, nothing but a small heap of bones were left when we were done. The best part? The bony fins that were exposed to the hot fry oil to become crispy, crunchy fish-flavored chips.

Then it was on to our crabs, which my lovely dining companion dismantled like a pro (see the video). We used our mallet, fingers and nails for the rest. The female was stuffed full of salty-sweet-rich orange roe, which we excavated from the main dome and ate with rice. The male had a slightly sweeter meat, less bitter than the female. Both were elevated by lemon.

It was lovely afternoon of picking out scraps of flesh, spitting out fragments of shell, sucking in the sea air -- every moment worth the escape from O.C. and the lives of a few ocean critters.

Quality Seafood‎
(310) 374-2382‎
130 International Boardwalk
Redondo Beach, CA‎ 90277

THIS WEEK ON OC WEEKLY:
Capital Seafood - Irvine

29 Comments:

At 11:07 AM, Blogger Wandering Chopsticks said...

Oh it was still moving. I don't think I could eat the poor uni. I loved that last line. Sad, salty tears indeed.

 
At 6:29 PM, Blogger Marie said...

Wow! This meal sounds glorious. Looks seriously good and I'm trying to imagine what my reaction would be if confronted with such fresh uni! I do love uni, but never had it under such circumstances before!

 
At 8:42 PM, Blogger dumplings said...

Elmo,

Ever thought about visiting the place during September's lobster fest? I always go for the female crabs (for those yummy chewy eggs). It must be a Chinese thing.

By the way, did you eat the urchin while holding it in your hands? Must have felt quit ticklish.

 
At 12:11 AM, Blogger EatTravelEat said...

Ooh. Scary sea urchin! I don't think I could have eaten it when the spiky parts were still moving like crazy!

But it looks so fresh and delicious :). And so do all the other items. I've been looking for fish markets like this and have always put them down on a go to list, but I never end up going to them. You have influenced me. I shall and will go to a fish market next time for fresh seafood to eat on the spot!

 
At 7:53 AM, Blogger Juliet said...

I love me some uni in sushi form, but I don't know if I could eat it the way you did. My heart wept a little for the poor thing. Just a little.
All in all, though, it sounds like a very cool experience I would like to try one day. Forget Red Lobster (and I always do). This is something for the hardcore seafood lover in you!

 
At 8:05 AM, Blogger Bill said...

Glad you didn't get any oyster because those guys can't shuck and oyster worth eating since they tear up the sweet nectar sack of the oyster.Oh there clams are so so so so delicious and sweet. I miss it.

 
At 9:06 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Wandering Chopsticks,

It took all of my guts to eat its guts! Pun intended!

Marie,

It is definitely glorious. Couldn't classify it as cheap, but it's not expensive, and certainly worth it. The whole meal you see set me back $24 for two light eaters. It could've been much more had I chosen a lobster or a dungeness crab! Or much less if I had chosen clams and more fish.

dumplings,

The eggs! Oh the eggs! Apparently very high in cholesterol. But that's probably why they're so delicious!

And I didn't touch the spiky thing. Just prodded at it with my plastic fork, like it was about to attack. If it had the chance, I think it would've speared me like Steve Irwin (too soon for a Steve joke?)...Yes...Too soon.

E.T.E.,

This one's a keeper. Don't miss the fish fry. They charge $2.50 for every pound of fish you ask them to fry, but two sides are included for every pound of fish. I would opt for the fries and the rice (slightly overcooked). The corn on cob is from frozen. The coleslaw and mac salad is from those little pre-packaged individual airplane meal containers.

And if you need a mallet, you can get one from the beer station for a $3 deposit (refunded in full when you return the utensil).

Juliet,

This is definitely Eddie Lin territory. But then he's eaten things that we much more alive...and dangerous! Octopus for one! It'd be a cakewalk for the Deep End Diner.

Bill,

I was wondering about the oysters. I'll have to try the clams next time. They did look fresh and plump!

 
At 9:43 AM, Blogger christoofat said...

Besides "Sputnik" (not a fan of uni, even less so here..lol)sounds like a great meal. Did you have to drive back using rubber gloves so as not to "fish-ify" the steering wheel?

 
At 11:51 AM, Blogger Mark said...

Reminds me of the San Pedro Fish Market.

Hey Elmo, out of curiosity, do you Yelp or is that too redundant?

 
At 12:28 PM, Blogger pink said...

I love that place! I agree, there's no where like it in LA.

 
At 3:23 PM, Blogger 1000steps said...

Elmo,

I don't know how I've never been here. Looks outrageous. Used to go to Ports of Call in San Pedro which is similar I assume, this I admit, looks better. Great review. On a side note I'll be hitting New Orleans in 2 weeks and wonder if you've been there and can throw a recommendation or two?

 
At 7:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

OMG, I'm a South bay transplant and I was just complaining about how the OC (another reason) sucks for not having a Redondo Beach - Quality Seafood. My friends would head down there with our rice, salt, pepper and lemons to crack open those crabbies and go to town.

Oh how the OC lacks....

 
At 8:01 PM, Blogger Eddie Lin said...

Oh Elmo! This is what I get for procrastinating. I went a while ago to Quality Seafood and was ready to do a post on live urchin. You beat me to it! But, thanks for mentioning me in the comment to Juliet! Haha. I guess I'll have to put it up soon... maybe in a month. I'm a loser.

 
At 8:51 PM, Blogger melissa said...

It didn't see it coming!

*Face-palm*

Everything you wrote about the urchin just killed me. Both hilarious and heartbreaking at the same time. I could probably do it. Once.

I can't believe it, but I have actually heard of this exact place. A friend from LA used to say all the time that we needed to get up there and go to this place with him. Then he moved to San Bernardino, the fool.

Want the crab. Very, very much.

 
At 9:45 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

christoofat,

Ahh! Actually I relish having smelly crab fingers. Not that Quality Seafood should sell souvenir scratch-n-sniff stickers or anything, but still, to me, it smells like...victory.

Mark,

It is, indeed, like San Pedro, but in my humble opinion, it's much better, more organized, less smelly.

To answer your question: I don't post on Yelp, simply because, if I'm not mistaken, I've been doing this longer than Yelp's been around.

The analogy is: Why rent an apartment when I've got my own house!?

Besides that, when I write here, I get paid in traffic, comments, and ad clicks (though they are so miniscule as to be non-existent).

But if I write there, the Yelp corporate big-wigs gets paid in traffic and ad clicks.

Not that I have anything against their CEO or executives! I'm sure they're nice people. It's just that I've known me all my life, and I think I'm an alright guy to work with...sometimes.

Pink,

Or OC! Maybe San Diego, but I haven't checked.

100steps,

If you liked San Pedro's Ports of Call (which I've also tried), you'll love Redondo's Quality Seafood.

And Nawlins!!! Lucky! Well, it's been more than a decade since I've been, but I remember having the best etouffee at K-Paul's. It's still there. The place is by Paul Prudhomme, the granddaddy of Creole/Cajun cuisine. The guy predates Emeril!

Anonymous,

The place is, indeed, unique: One of the best things about the South Bay. But hey, I bet you couldn't get decent banh mi for less than $2 there!

Eddie,

I'm eagerly awaiting your post! Surely, this one will be considered the Batman Returns to your The Dark Knight.

Melissa,

As Vincent Vega said to Jules in Pulp Fiction: "You'll dig it the most!"

And yes, just once and you'll have a story for life. Or at least a story for a food blog...which is exactly what I got!

 
At 10:04 PM, Anonymous Edgar D. said...

Great review! I grew up in the area and used to go there with my family. They didn't offer the steam rice in those days and all the Asian families used to bring their own rice cookers. We stopped going when they banned the rice cookers forcing you to buy their rice. It's been a long time, but your review made me want to go back home and give redondo another chance.

 
At 11:18 AM, Blogger Passionate Eater said...

That definitely sounds like my beau's kind of meal! All of that "fresh from the sea" seafood sounds like it was packed with fresh "salty-sweet" flavor! Great post Elmo!

 
At 9:50 PM, Anonymous Marvin said...

"Reproductive organs" and "milky white effluence"? I was all about the uni until that mental image. Eh, who am I kidding, I would've eaten it too;)

 
At 11:34 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Edgar,

Banning rice? Well that's not nice. The rice there now is not so good, but it's included as part of the fish fry service. A few other times I went we took rice in tupperware. No one batted an eye. I guess they're more lenient on that now.

P.E.,

Perhaps not as famous as SF's Fisherman's Wharf (where you are), but not too shabby for So. Cal.

Marvin,

I held back. I had other things I was thinking of describing it with...but I'm not ready to slap an NC-17 rating on this blog...yet.

 
At 11:37 PM, Blogger Sawyer said...

this is an awesome post!!! lovin the pictures. i've eaten at the korean place on the pier, but i don't think they offered the live uni like that. i'll have to make another trip out there sometime

 
At 6:19 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Sawyer,

Thanks! Hope you saw the video too. This place is worth the drive and the parking fee ($2.50 or so for about a two hour stay).

 
At 7:58 AM, Blogger Diamond Dog said...

Has anyone tried the Dim Sum at Capital Seafood in Irvine (Elmo' write up this week in the OC Weekly)?

 
At 1:00 PM, Blogger Apples and Butter said...

So going! I've known about this place, but never been. Now that I know I can get fresh Uni I am so there!!

 
At 10:45 AM, Blogger shavedicesundays said...

Wow, the pier is packed! When we went we felt like the only ones there. Their spider crabs are delicious.

 
At 10:53 AM, Anonymous amourra said...

lines could be long here on the weekends, and very frustrating because of their set-up. Seperate lines for just about everthing...drinks, condiments (butter, lemon, hammer) are all sold in one area. While fish, crab, shrimp in another...and pre-cooked hot foods are in yet another line. Very frustrating, but once the crab melts in your mouth, you seem to forget about the BS =)

 
At 2:35 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

DD,

I've tried the dim sum at Capital Seafood. That Edwin guy doesn't know what he's talkin' about. HAHA!

Apples & Butter,

Fresh and ALIVE! *cue the Young Frankenstein sound clip* "It's ALLIIIIVE!"

ShavedIceSunday and amourra,

Also that afternoon of my visit was their Annual Clam Chowder Cook Off, which took place right at the main store front. Most of the crowd was there for that. Unless there's another cook off or similar event, I doubt it will be as crowded on a normal weekend.

 
At 7:36 AM, Anonymous joanh said...

i remember going there as a kid with my family but i haven't been there in YEARS! thanks for the reminder that it's still good and worth going to.

 
At 9:03 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

joanh,

It still is! And it'll be there long after I'm dead, I'm sure.

 
At 9:08 PM, Blogger Melissa Good Taste said...

Sea Urchin! I have eaten it before!! What an experience...

 

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