>> Sunday, September 16, 2012
Price: $14.99 per pound of lobster, $8-14 other per dish
Location: 4411 W. First Street, Santa Ana, CA 92703
The Quick Bit
+ great lobster
+ other dishes are also prepared well
Δ parking lot could be larger
Δ could accept credit cards
Δ service could be more "above the board"
When people ask me for a Chinese restaurant recommendation in San Diego and I am unable to (in good conscience) make a recommendation, the followup question is usually, "why not?" Tan Cang Newport Seafood in Santa Ana epitomizes what I would expect from an equivalent Chinese restaurant in San Diego.
First, let me start with this; the food tastes absolutely amazing. There are a lot of problems with this restaurant. It's crowded and a little dirty, the service is typical of Chinese restaurants, the parking lot is too small for the crowds, and they only accept cash. However, let me end with this; the food tastes absolutely amazing.
|zhao pai lobster - lobster, ginger, scallions, chili|
I set aside the live seafood as a section because any self-respecting Chinese restaurant will have a great selection of live seafood. These selections can include lobster, crab, spot prawns, geoduck, and fish. Tan Cang is known particularly for their lobster, but the other seafood is good as well.
The lobster was prepared in the "zhao pai" style, which is to say it is fried and then sauteed with ginger, scallions, and chili. The succulent flavor of the lobster is really complemented by the aromatics. While American lobster is usually enjoyed with clarified butter, the Chinese preparation of lobster imparts a rich and complex flavor throughout the entire lobster. This is partially due to the lobster being chopped into pieces first so that the sauce can permeate through the entire animal. However, the lobster is still cooked to perfection and the meat retains a nice delicate yet chewy texture.
To eat the lobster, the waiters gave separate plates for the shells, which were removed at an appropriate pace as we accumulated shells. This was actually quite excellent service compared to the typical restaurant.
|clams in black bean sauce - onions, bell pepper|
While Tan Cang usually nails this dish, this particular evening did not go over too well. There was too much cooking wine used in the sauce that a large alcohol taste permeated throughout the dish. This marred an otherwise excellent preparation of clams.
|pea sprouts - garlic|
The pea sprouts dish was another setback on the evening and an example of the "typical service." We wanted to order the "big pea shoots" but were informed that they only had the sprouts. When I tried to change the order, the waiter had already closed the ordering process and walked away.
There was nothing wrong with the preparation of the pea sprouts except that we didn't want the dish. They were perhaps slightly overcooked but were flavored well.
|kung pao chicken|
While you may ask why I order kung pao chicken, it is Tan Cang's best non-seafood dish. The chicken is incredibly flavorful and is cooked to maintain a nice tenderness in the center. The kung pao flavoring is spot on and has the exact balance of sweet with spicy.
While Tan Cang Newport Seafood has a variety of "typical Chinese" issues to sort through, the quality and flavor of the food was excellent. They were so good that one actually can ignore all the problems. With the relatively cheap price of the lobster compared to the quality, Tan Cang delivers an extremely satisfying meal.
For the lobster and kung pao chicken that I just can't get out of my mind, Tan Cang Newport Seafood receives the megabyte award.