In yesterday's Cooking section of the LA Times, there was an article about the fabulous Dungeness crab. Of course, the clueless LA Times had to leave out the one great place you can get Dungeness crab in Southern California. But, then again, this place is ethnic - owned and frequented by a majority of non-white folks - so the LA Times wouldn't cover it unless they were focusing on ethnic restaurants. Even in those cases, the LA Times is so dismal at it that, way before anything is written up about the ethnic neighborhoods in LA in the LA Times, the NY Times would have had its writers on the scene. Moreover, the LA Times article had the feel of a stock story that they recycle season upon season to unsuspecting readers. So when M suggested that we go for crabs for dinner, I thought it an occasion to let people know of the fabulous crab experience at the Redondo Beach Pier.
Like so much of Southern California, the pier is ethnically segregated. In general, the white folks go to places like Old Tony's or Kincaid's and the rest of the folks go everywhere else. Within the latter, the Koreans have their crab places, Oceanside Seafood and Pacific Fish Center, and the Latinos have their own places on the other side of the pier for seafood and arcade games (lucky kids). And those who love women with curves go to Club Moxie. As M and I live rather closely to the pier, we often go for walks on it and we see that the ethnic segregation in the clientele is pretty solid. Of course there are many adventurers who brave into the new world of the restaurant next door but, for the main part, people tend to stick to their own kind (whatever that means). The Korean American presence on the pier is noticeable as they own most of the small ice cream joints on the main pier alongside the shops that cater to tourists. And without the foot traffic of the Koreans eating crabs on the pier, the pier may look pretty empty. The Koreans don't hang around the pier, though. They come, eat crab, (drink) and go. For Koreans, the pier exists for the sole purpose of meeting their appetite for crab. I say Koreans, because it seems that many, if not most, are Korean tourists from Korea. In fact, the crab-eating on Redondo Beach pier was even mentioned in a very popular Korean soap opera a while ago.
So here's the dish on the Pacific Fish Center. The other crab place, Oceanside Seafood, is really no different from the Pacific but I prefer Pacific's decor. Oceanside is reminiscent of a casual beachside joint but the Pacific has wooden tables with a somewhat cozier ambience. Some people swear by one or the other, mostly on the taste of the Korean hot fish stew served after the crab but on that score I find both fish stews pretty bad, except their spiciness is the only antidote to the cholesterol of the crab meat. The only reason to go to these places is to have crabs, live shrimps, and sashimi.
As it is winter, there were few people in the place. In warmer weather, there's usually a long line out the door. Before you are seated, you place your order at the counter but you can always add at your table. We ordered one steamed crab and a plate of steamed clams. We weren't that hungry. The service is fast and minimal by waitresses who look ready for a jog or a brisk walk at the least. And why wouldn't they: All throughout their shifts they run from table to table, from kitchen to table, filling orders. All orders come with a small quantity of Gochujang (hot pepper paste) and melted butter. I asked for Tabasco. Before, they used to give a small dish of seaweed salad and kimchee, but perhaps it was the season or the small amount we ordered, we didn't see any of those. A note here: if you have to have butter with seafood, then you don't qualify as a sophisticated gourmand. Not in my book.
The steamed crab comes ... steaming. The waiter(?) brings it to your table whole, takes the shell off and procedes to cut in quarters. I'm one of those people who actually like the inner lining of the large shell. I know people who wouldn't touch that stuff, such as M. More for me. In about 20 minutes, we had a mound of empty crab shells in front of us. It was just the right amount for two of us. We could have eaten more but the momentary euphoria of more crab meat would have led to a more permanent state of queasiness and bloating. Instead, M opted for an ice cream dip. If you go to the pier and get ice cream, go to the store directly in front of the Pacific. M's ice cream from another place tasted old. We took a short stroll around the pier before we hopped back in our car. There were few fishermen on the pier. Must not be bonita season yet.
Pacific Fish Center
131 Fisherman's Wharf
Redondo Beach, CA 90277