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Swimming With Possibilities

At L.V. Seafood Restaurant, the menu is full of the new and familiar--and they take requests.


The waiter at L.V. Seafood Restaurant scurried over to our table with bad news. The restaurant was out of shark's fin, so no shredded chicken, bamboo fungus and shark's fin soup tonight. No crab meat with shark's fin soup either.

It wasn't so bad. Not only did I save a tidy $12.95, the price of the soup for two, but they gave us the excellent soup of the day for free. It was a homey broth fragrant with anise and pepper and thick with chunks of stewed pork, whole black mushrooms and soft cubes of bean curd.

L.V. Seafood is sparely decorated--a golden Buddha at the front door, a few brush paintings on the walls--but it is exactly the type of Chinese restaurant Long Beach has long needed. The back of the dining room is lined with large fish tanks chock-full of live perch, tilapia, crab, lobster and Santa Barbara shrimp.

You're in luck if you know something about Chinese food. The menu lists more than 150 dishes, and that isn't the end of the possibilities; like Burger King, this kitchen will do it your way. For instance, you can pick your favorite seafood from the one of the tanks and just tell the waiter how you'd like it prepared. I've done that twice, in fact. One evening, I ordered a pound of steamed Santa Barbara prawns lightly dressed in minced garlic sauce, and it was a feast. Another time, I started my meal with two palm-sized abalones served whole in the shell with a powerful black bean and red chile paste. The price was an unbelievably low $2.95 each.

But don't hesitate to let the waiters guide you. I would never have ordered anything from a menu section titled "lettuce bun," but "minced chicken and shrimp with lettuce" turns out to be one of the best dishes I've had this year. The filling is coarsely ground chicken and shrimp, fried rice noodles, minced bamboo shoot and toasted pine nuts. The idea is to smear a lettuce leaf with plum paste, spoon in the filling and then pick it up and eat it burrito-style.

The appetizer list includes the usual complement of Cantonese-American favorites like barbecued spareribs and fried shrimp, but if you order one of those you will be missing more authentic appetizers. Instead of barbecued spareribs, you could have pork ribs with spicy salt--tender ribs breaded in spiced rice crumbs and pan fried. The butterflied frozen shrimp are not substantially different from Mrs. Paul's, so why not try fried shrimp ball? This is four golf balls of pure shrimp meat fried golden brown.

If you order a whole fish, the waiters will recommend having it steamed, but you can also get it fried. (The steamed fish usually comes with a light soy ginger sauce.) Rock cod is a fine choice, though boning this fish, a task you have to perform for yourself here, can be daunting. Sole is less troublesome. You have to take out the large skeletal bones, of course, but the bones near the fins are crunchy enough to chew if you order the fish fried.

L.V. Seafood does the more familiar Chinese dishes well. Peking duck comes with steamed buns and the whole table-side show, but the crisp-skinned, anise-flavored roast duck is almost as good and much cheaper--only $9 for half a duck. String beans are dry-sauteed and get a dash of XO sauce, a spicy (and prestigious) Hong Kong condiment made from dried shrimp and abalone. House special lotus rice is an enormous green leaf stuffed with a wonderful combination of rice, fried eggs, barbecued pork, Chinese sausage and dried scallops. Pea shoots, perfectly sauteed in garlic and oil, come to the table sweet and glistening.

Only a few dishes are disappointing. I would warn you that tai-chi fried rice--a glass bowl of fried rice, half of it topped with a thick cream sauce, the other half with a smoky tomato sauce--is as cloying a dish as you'll ever encounter. The sizzling steak with black pepper, found in the chef's specialties section, is rubbery. Golden prawn, described as marinated prawn cooked with butter in the shell, turns out to be leaden batter-fried shrimp, with spiced salt in the batter.

L.V. Seafood may not be as adventurous as some of the Chinese restaurants you find in the San Gabriel Valley, but it is consistent, user-friendly, relaxed and comfortable. I'm tempted to say that the best things in life are free, but if you've got the extra scratch, spring for the shark's fin soup when they've got it.


L.V. Seafood Restaurant, 4139 Norse Way, Long Beach. (310) 938-8088. Open 11 a.m.-10 p.m. daily. Takeout. Beer and wine only. All major cards. Dinner for two, $23-$49.

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