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CHARLES PERRY ON RESTAURANTS

Chinese Seafood At Its Best: A Double Pleasure

January 09, 1987|CHARLES PERRY

I've been looking for the great Orange County Chinese Restaurant, and maybe I've found it. At least, Seafood Paradise, or let's be precise: Seafood Paradise 1 and Seafood Paradise 2, across the street from each other in Garden Grove, are pretty darned great.

Even on a Monday night, both restaurants are filled, their waiting areas positively crowded and more people standing around outside just waiting to wait inside.

For starters, both Seafood Paradises are fun. The color scheme is not the oppressive old Mandarin red and gold routine but a light, frivolous shade of pink, bandbox pink, with geometrical accents of pale, flashy-fake gold. Instead of carved lions and dragons on the walls they have cartoony Chinese landscapes painted on backlighted glass.

Though Paradise 2 is a big, brightly lit jungle of tables, Paradise 1 does have some of the traditional red banquettes. This may have to do with the story I've been told that Seafood Paradise 2 opened when the original Paradise had a fire, but management finally was obliged by public demand to reopen Paradise 1, a narrower L-shaped room where I guess banquettes make sense.

Chinese culture is not all landscape paintings and delicate nature poetry. It's also fireworks and acrobatics, and this is the style the Paradises suggest. Everything seems lively and vivid and full of contrast.

A lot of attention is paid to variety of textures. In the Five Star Special platter, you get some good familiar items such as drunken chicken, salty duck with the usual hacked bones for exploring with the tongue and five-flavor beef like corned beef with a whiff of star anise. But along with them, you get slightly hot, just-chewy shredded tripe and slightly sweet shredded jellyfish, amazingly crunchy with an undercrunch to follow. Fun for the teeth. (The Winter Plum platter has the same ingredients painstakingly laid out, and consequently they don't like to do it at the busiest hours.)

Then there's the sea cucumber in rich, mild brown sauce, as soft and jellylike as the jellyfish is crunchy, accompanied by a palette of contrasting textures: bamboo tip, spiced beef, soft but subtly resilient cuttlefish that practically flutters in the mouth. The subtlest texture experience of all is the only dessert that Paradise offers, almond gelatin that disintegrates in the mouth like a sort of watery cloud.

The sauces are also full of variety. Just take the hot ones. Kung pao dishes have the very blackest blackened pepper pods I've ever seen, and they are substantially hot. The sauce on hot braised crab is milder and a little sweet, with green onions and ginger (the crab itself is perhaps a little overdone, but you'd eat anything with this sauce), and the sauce on spicy diced chicken, loaded with celery chunks, is basically somewhat tart as well as hot (and plenty garlicky).

Speaking of garlic, consider the garlic sauces. Shrimp with garlic sauce is faintly sweet and sour with harmless bits of red pepper floating around in a sauce with a distinguished aroma (is it the floppy cloud ear mushroom caps, or is it fish sauce?). But the sauce on the eggplant-with-garlic seems to be mostly ground pork.

The Paradises feature some exotic ingredients, though they've been out of elephant clam and yellow leeks whenever I asked, and Three Flavored in Bird's Nest turns out to be made with a potato basket rather than a real bird's nest (thank God, I guess; it actually does look rather like a nest, though). It's filled with chicken, shrimp and beef--actually, a meat and potatoes dish, complete with a meaty gravy and vegetables to round out your Four Food Groups: carrots, snow peas, broccoli, mushrooms. There is also a Three Flavored in Noodle Basket where the noodles themselves are said to be peppery.

In short, everything seems exceptionally pleasing here. The only dish I am at all dubious about is the Kung Pao Squid, where the love of exotic texture may have gotten out of hand. Some of those tentacles could be used to patch truck tires.

This is a fairly sizable menu. To give an idea of the prices, appetizers are $2.95-$4.95 ( pu pu tray has most of the familiar Cantonese appetizers: $7.95). Cold platters like the Five Star Special are $13.95-$35. Soups and entrees are $3.95 to $13.95 (except for duckling: $7.50 to $20.95). Set lunches are $3.25-$5.95, and family dinners $7.55-$11.95 a person. There are also apparently a number of fancy dinners with prices ranging quite high, all spelled out in several pages of untranslated Chinese text.

SEAFOOD PARADISE I 8547 Westminster Blvd., Garden Grove

(714) 895-7964

Open for lunch and dinner daily. MasterCard and Visa.

SEAFOOD PARADISE II 8602 Westminster Blvd., Garden Grove

(714) 893-6066

Open for lunch and dinner daily. MasterCard and Visa.

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