Friday, January 4, 2013

A Newport New Year Tradition



What gets an average score of 4.5 on Yelp (out of a staggering 1203 reviews and counting), 4.5 score on Tripadvisor (#2 of 87 restaurants in town), a 27 point Zagat rating for food, but is reasonably-priced enough that my entire family of 14 gathers there before every New Year?  For the last four years, we’ve celebrated being together at the end of a year at a place called Newport Tan Chang Seafood Restaurant at 518 W. Las Tunas Dr. in San Gabriel, California (http://www.newportseafood.com/).

Newport is really pretty special to us, but it turns out it’s pretty special to a LOT of other people as well.  So it is wise to show up not much past 4pm on a weekend—especially around New Years…  This year we arrived at 4:30 and waited in an area that was rapidly filling up with other lobster-eater-wannabes.  After about 20 minutes, we got our regular space: a large room near the entrance where we worked our usual magical permutations of space and furnishing to enable 14 chairs to fit around a table better suited for 10.  (Thank goodness 3 of the chairs are for kids 7 years and younger who don't mind being squeezed in so tightly!)


Then pretty immediately the ordering began.  My sister takes care of most of the ordering—she and her husband are our unofficial hosts at dinner (that is, they first introduced us to the restaurant, and they graciously continue to pay the bill)—but she encourages Will to order some dishes as well.  My family has noticed that Will is a bit more adventurous about trying new dishes and that most of those dishes have been huge hits.  Case in point, the Shrimp Salad Vietnamese Style (pictured above).  Since we eat fairly frequently at Vietnamese restaurants in Chicago, we are quite familiar with “Vietnamese style.”  Perhaps Newport’s dish isn’t quite “authentic”—that is, it doesn’t quite pass the Argyle Street test—but it’s excellent in its own way.  Besides, it’s nice to have something that we can pass off as a “salad” amidst so much fried goodness.


But no one’s complaining about the fried food.  At least, I’m certainly not.  If Will’s food motto is “Everything is better with bacon,” mine might well be “Why not have your food deep fried?”  We had two different salt-and-pepper dishes, both fried, and both mouth-watering.  The “Crispy Fried Squid with Salt and Pepper” (pictured above) was nicely battered and deep fried, resembling miniature beer-battered onion rings, complemented by sautéed green onions. 


The “Fried Pork Chop with Salt and Pepper” dish (pictured above) was a marvel of very browned, fried, crispy pieces judiciously seasoned with finely ground salt and white pepper and accompanied by a small condiment dish of lime wedges and extra salt and pepper.  It was a pleasure to behold my 11-year old nephew--lover of bacon and all things salty--chomping through a plate piled high only of fried pork with salt and pepper.  My brother cajoled his 7-year old twin daughters into eating the dish by telling them that it’s just like chicken nuggets.  My 5 year-old nephew ate the pieces as quickly as I was able to tear up into small bits.  Success all around!


Sure, there were non-deep fried items too.  For the kids we ordered Kung Pao Chicken (pictured above) and noodles with seafood (ok, that was also “Fried” but it wasn’t “deep-fried”).  Beef Loc Lac (French Style) was full of meltingly soft pieces of tenderloin beef in a light glaze of brown peppery sauce.  We even had Fish with Black Bean Sauce (pictured below) which periodically deluded us into thinking we were eating relatively healthy.


But, of course, how can the meal be complete without Newport’s House Special Lobster (pictured at top of post)?  At 5pm when we ordered, they had already run out of the large lobster, and we settled for two medium lobsters (and wondered whether there would be any food left for the people already waiting outside our window, if they ever got seated).  It’s not quite clear what all goes into the dish—other than the green onions that are visible—or how exactly it’s prepared—boiled and then sautéed? pan-fried?—since it’s just mysteriously called the “House Special Lobster.” 

Let it suffice to say that it is indeed quite special, and something that we want to ring in the new year with.  Peaceful and prosperous New Year to you!


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