When it comes to Cantonese seafood restaurants, it’s a very good sign when you get to interview each course before dinner. As you enter Sea Empress in Gardena, you feel like you’re walking through the Monterey Aquarium. Except things don’t turn out quite as well for the fish.
Sea Empress is a classic Cantonese fish house. You inspect the cod, crab, shrimp and lobster as they swim freely in enormous tanks. The manager stops as he shows to your table, asking about your preferences. He pulls out a lobster for closer inspection. You nod. You meet the crustacean again 20 minutes later under different circumstances. The tail and claw meat start off the meal in a black bean sauce, with the more interesting lobster bits adhering to large chunks of the shell served with congee (Cantonese rice porridge) as the final course. In between there is steamed whole cod with ginger and scallions, enormous wok-sautéed whole prawns in XO sauce and asparagus with flat rice noodles.
The reputation of Cantonese food has dimmed a little over the past few decades as Californians have had increased access to excellent examples of Szechuan, Hakka, Hunan and other regional Chinese cooking styles. But Cantonese seafood can be a life-changing experience and Sea Empress in Gardena offers one of the best opportunities for that experience in California. The restaurant also serves great dim sum daily, with the selection on weekends particularly rivaling the diverse offerings of the great teahouses in the San Gabriel Valley.
The Sea Empress is located at 1636 W. Redondo Beach Blvd. in Gardena. The web site is www.Gardenaseaempress.com. Phone number is (310) 538-6868.
Sea Empress is recommended on the restaurant web site atLarrys.com by both Jim Tabilio and Lenn Grabiner. Jim’s recommendation is above. You can read Lenn’s at http://www.atLarrys.com