COCKLES AND MUSSELS ALIVE AND TO GO
Many coastal cities have a delicious tradition of shore-side dinners, from East Coast clambakes at the beach to fresh cracked crab at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco.
While Los Angeles beaches may be more associated with surfboards than seafood, we too have a long line of fine seaside restaurants. Some have been shore-side since the late ‘40s, but others, riding the tide of seafood’s current popularity, have moved considerably inland.
These places aren’t found in a foodie’s diary, but crowds are often elbow-to-elbow at peak hours. And if waiting is necessary, it is usually worth it. All are dedicated to serving the freshest seafood--often still alive until the order is placed.
Quality Seafood has been under the Redondo Beach Pier since 1953. Wholesaler to many local restaurants, this market displays the most diverse assortment of seafood in Los Angeles: rows of fish from tiny sardines to sleek barracuda or scaly red rockfish “in the round” (cleaned and whole) fill two long rooms. Mongers stand ready to explain each fish and order it cooked for you “any way you want.” For $1.50 extra per person, corn, coleslaw, butter and lemon wedges complete the meal. In another area clams, lobsters or crabs steam in giant vats, ready to be wrapped in newspaper for a feast on a stone table outside.
Borrow a hammer (a $3 deposit is required) to free succulent bites from their shells, buy a pitcher of beer, find a place in the sun or walk upstairs to the shaded tables, roll up your sleeves and eat to the sound of the waves.
Quality Seafood, 130 S. International Boardwalk, Redondo Beach, (213) 372-6408. Open 9 a.m.-8 p.m. daily.
Just upstairs you can dine in a more traditional setting. Tony’s Fish Market Restaurants have been on the pier for more than 30 years. Tony’s smokes many kinds of fish on the premises. Whatever you do, don’t leave without some.
Tony’s Fish Market, 112 Fisherman’s Wharf, Redondo Beach, (213) 347-1442. Open 11:30 a.m.-midnight daily.
The clientele at the Crusty Crab is an international one. Here you’ll see people from many cultures enjoying the charm of feasting in an open-air market. During my visit, a large Brazilian family had spread its feast over two of the wooden picnic tables. Some of the family were in the crab rooms, and after much pointing and discussion they fished several of the crustaceans from their cement tanks and handed them to an attendant who weighed and steamed them. Melted butter and lemon wedges were passed around, and everyone--aunts, cousins and children alike--fell to the serious task of savoring the fresh crab. An Asian couple was intent on selecting a female crab. “Asians love the crab roe,” I was told, “so we make it easy to find by putting the females in separate tanks.”
The live clams and Maine lobsters also have tanks of their own. An attendant will hand you large tongs to fish out the one of your choice. On weekdays, a steaming oven cooks the shellfish, but the huge, brick-lined crab boiler is fired up for the weekend crowds.
Across from the crab room, there’s a fish market and a separate seafood restaurant. You can also buy fish and chips at a take-out window to eat at the waterside tables.
Crusty Crab, Ports O’ Call Village, 1146 Nagoya, Berth 79, San Pedro, (213) 519-9058. Open Mon.-Thurs. 7 a.m.-6 p.m., weekends 7 a.m.-7 p.m.
Just across the walkway from the Crusty Crab, families gather to decide which fish to have cooked at the “Take-Out Food” area. The cooks will grill or deep-fry any fish for $1 per person. A long case in the market’s center displays most of the filleted fish. But the room with huge, noisy bubbling tanks is the most active spot at the market. Lively Maine lobsters, clams, mussels and local and spider crabs can be selected for steaming or to be eaten on the half shell.
The market boasts an inviting deck with umbrella-shaded wooden tables. Friday nights there is an all-you-can-eat seafood barbecue, including a salad bar, for $10.95. People come to enjoy the salty air and to watch the boats in Los Angeles Harbor while they eat. I’d go back again and again for the perfectly steamed clams loaded with butter and garlic and a sprinkling of fresh parsley.
San Pedro Fish Market and Restaurant, Ports O’ Call Village, 1190 Nagoya, Berth 78, San Pedro, (213) 832-4251. Open 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily--till 10 p.m. in the summertime.
On the Los Angeles-Ventura county line, Neptune’s Net in Malibu is a hangout for locals. “If you’ve had too much partying, the clam chowder will really fix you up” a friend told me. Plenty of red cayenne and black pepper impart a zippy character to the creamy clam-filled broth. It’s a do-it-yourself operation here. Choose live local crabs, clams, Maine lobsters or other available shellfish offerings (check the blackboard) from cement tanks and one of the staff will give you a number. When your order is ready, take your plate over to a wooden picnic table on the covered patio and dig in. A sink is provided for washing-up when you’re finished. If you want fried fish, such as the highly recommended clam basket, order it from the kitchen on the other side of the tank rooms.
Neptune’s Net, 42505 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, (213) 457-3095. Open Sun.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-7:30 p.m.; Fri. till 9 p.m., Sat. till 8 p.m.
At Captain Kidd’s, people like to eat their bowls of steamers or green-lipped mussels out on the heated patio while they listen to the sound of the waves. Captain Kidd’s keeps the shellfish live, then cooks them in a savory wine sauce. Live local lobsters are a specialty when they are in season, from September to about May. But fish lovers come in year round for the hearty fish dinners. Whatever you pick from the market at the restaurant’s center can be grilled, char-broiled or deep-fried; for $2.50 per person it comes with two side orders of your choice. Locals often take home quarts of the garlicky cioppino--good for an impromptu party.
Captain Kidd’s, 209 N. Harbor Drive (in the Redondo Beach Marina at King Harbor), Redondo Beach, (213) 372-7703. Open 9 a.m.-10 p.m. daily.
Don’t let the line threatening to creep out the door and onto the patio deter you from your mission: eating some of the freshest fish downtown at wondrously low prices. Fisherman’s Outlet, a makeshift-looking restaurant and fish market in the heart of Los Angeles’ wholesale fish district, grills, fries and packages fish lunches so fast that the line moves at an amazing clip. Many of the surrounding offices send out appointed “runners” who emerge balancing tall stacks of white plastic-packaged meals. On the restaurant’s sunny patio, businessmen rub elbows with factory workers, enjoying the specialty of the day from the char-broiler, one of the seafood salads from the fish market room or the crisp tempura-style catfish strips.
Fisherman’s Outlet, 529 S. Central Ave., Los Angeles, (213) 627-7231. Open Mon.-Sat., 10 a.m.-3:30 p.m.
The spacious Seafood Emporium on Ventura Boulevard may have the largest variety of fresh fish and seafood in the San Fernando Valley. This is the place to find such things as Maryland crab, crayfish, English plaice and fresh Lake Superior whitefish. Since its recent move from Tarzana, the market has added tables and booths.
Revive yourself after consummating a business deal, or a hard day of shopping, with a plate of oysters on the half shell or a bowl of steamed clams. A board posts the extensive selection with daily specials written in red. Prices are modest and the fish fresh and well-cooked. Unfortunately, this otherwise delicious food is served with rubbery microwaved rolls and limp French fries.
Seafood Emporium, 19762 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills, (818) 705-6407. Open 11 a.m.-8:30 p.m. daily.
Cameron’s has all the elements of a slick, well-marketed restaurant. It’s a big bustling place, stylish and still casual, and they do things right. The fish market case holds only a few of the day’s offerings plus shellfish. At the marble, horseshoe-shaped oyster bar, the mollusks are freshly shucked with each order and if you want horseradish, the root is grated on the spot. Linguine with clam sauce is made to order with fresh clams in their shells, and the flavorful oyster stew is properly milky. Meals come with such side dishes as potatoes au gratin or coleslaw made from scratch in the restaurant’s kitchen. From the fairly vast menu, mesquite-grilled fish cooked on the glassed-in grills seems to be most popular. Cameron’s has just opened a second location in Rowland Heights.
Cameron’s, 1978 E . Colorado Blvd . , Pasadena, (818) 793-3474. Open Mon.-Sat., 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Also at 18902 Gale St., Rowland Heights, (818) 810-2799.
Just up the road from the venerable Crab Cooker on Newport Pier, a trendy fish market-restaurant is the new kid on the block. At the Newport Oyster Bar and Grill, you can walk in barefoot for a take-away cup of ceviche or salmon lomi-lomi, shrimp cocktail or a nice little jar of Beluga Triple O malossol. But if you want to dress for dinner, sit at the Japanese-style blond-wood oyster bar and have blue point oysters on the half shell, steamed Manila clams or sashimi. Or try one of the pastas with fresh clams or jumbo shrimp. Prices are modest and the food and ambiance fresh and upscale.
Newport Oyster Bar and Grill, 2100 Oceanfront, Newport Beach, (714) 675-9977. Open 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. daily.
Tony’s Sea Landing is an oasis for Tustin fish lovers. The restaurant, oyster bar and fish market have been quietly doing a quality job for more than 12 years. Fish comes to the market daily in the round and is trimmed and filleted in the restaurant kitchen. The trimmings are tossed into a huge stock-pot that will be the base for chowders and sauces. You won’t find an encyclopedic display of fish in the market--only the freshest available. The least complicated dishes are best here: giant Malaysian shrimp in garlic butter or the Monday-night live Maine lobster feed (1-1 1/2 pound lobsters and all the trimmings are $11.95) or one of the broiled offerings from the daily listing, such as fresh Hawaiian ahi or ono.
Tony’s Sea Landing, 13612 Newport Ave., Tustin, (714) 731-2424. Open Sun.-Thurs. 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat. noon-11 p.m.