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.
130 International Boardwalk
Redondo Beach, CA 90277
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