L.A. Seafood Restaurant & Lounge
424 Seventh Ave S, 622-8181
Mon-Thurs 11 am-2:30 am
Fri-Sun 11 am-3:30 am

Food is a vehicle through which one can forget everything, momentarily — isn't that one of its pleasures? In search of this very amnesia, I and a pair of burned-out medical researchers trailed toward the International District to the four-months-new L.A. Seafood. This establishment is in the building previously occupied by Lin Yeun, right near the Theater Off Jackson. Restaurants in this corridor host many late-night dinners-of-thespians.

One thing we began to forget at L.A. Seafood was the fact that we all had previously been vegetarians to some degree. In the face of the provocative, meaty esculence of Chinese cuisine, these former commitments evaporated at some point before, during, or after we ordered half a duck (wonderfully prepared, served with white steamed buns, dark sweet sauce, and a heap of julienned scallions). In fact, L.A. Seafood owner Chef Lee (former chef at the International District's Honey Court Restaurant) presents over 15 vegetarian entrees on L.A. Seafood's menu (all under $8.50), but the focus of his extensive menu are dishes native to his home region in Canton. We did not venture to try the Light Soy Pig Ears, Braised Goose Webs with Sea Cucumber, Double Boiled Superior Bird's Nest in Rock Sugar, or Port Feet in Taishanese Sauce, but our Chicken-Mushroom Soup with Bamboo Pith ($8.95) was delicious and savory (bamboo pith looks like a sponge hair curler, one of the medical researchers noted, and is both soft and crunchy, soaking up the ?avor of the broth as tofu might).

We also tried the Cod with Mushroom and Tofu Hot Pot, which was expertly seasoned, contained chunks of salt-pork, and had ultra-moist fish shut inside batter-fried pockets. The Breaded Salt and Pepper Squid appetizer was a huge and lovely delight, though it would've been prettier with some sort of garnish. A few hot pepper pieces were strewn atop the dish, but other than that, the source of the satisfying, lightly fiery seasoning was invisible; perhaps the spice was melded into the batter itself. The Pan-Fried Prawns with Green Pepper and Black Bean Sauce ($8.95) was also a standout, with the onions cooked noticeably longer than the crisp green peppers, the prawns fresh, and the sauce's consistency and saltiness balanced just right.

Another interesting part of Chef Lee's menu is the "Hometown Specialties" section. These dishes are served in glass pie pans, usually with a bed of rice at the bottom; at $5.95 each, you might want to be adventurous. We skipped the Pork Blood with Pork Skins and went for Steamed Eggs with Dried Scallops, which turned out to be a perfectly silky and smooth egg custard in soy sauce, with the seafood sprinkled across the top of the dish. Other delicious-sounding hometown specialties include Steamed Chicken with Salty Fish, Cold Cut Ginseng Flavor Chicken, and Chinese Broccoli with Dried Fish Meat Floss. Under the heading "Famous Local Dishes in China" comes Beef Short Ribs Cantonese Style, Mongolian Beef, and Old-Fashioned Cantonese Deep-Fried Milk.

Chef Lee also offers more recognizable Chinese fare: Kung Pao Chicken, General Tso's Chicken, and the like. Also, his lunch menu sports a "noodle bar," from which you can pick the type of soup noodles you want and match them to the type of meats, vegetables, wontons, or fish balls you prefer. (All soups are $4.50 and under.) A small section of the menu focuses on other branches of Chinese cuisine, like Peking and Sichuan. Sixteen kinds of congee are available, and so is chow mein.

Chef Lee's menu is worth reading carefully, for inside are gems. Little banners of typeface shout "Welcome! Welcome!" and intriguing dishes like Mixed Vegetables in Portuguese Sauce sound as if they belong to another cuisine entirely. The researchers and I puzzled over what "XO Sauce" and "cucumber muscle" might be. The waiter was slightly arrogant and unhelpful. With well over 100 meals on the menu, it's only possible to get a sliver of the offerings in one sitting.

After eating, we lingered in L.A. Seafood for so long, nearly hours, staring at the elaborate fish tanks roiling in the front windows of the place, the purplish dusk, and the fact that people around us really seemed to enjoy their meals and the opportunity to talk with each other. The researchers, released from the distraction of eating, discussed what they hate about having responsibilities like mortgages, and who they want to get rid of at work. Forgetting Everything is a challenge, yes, and it's not healthy to do it too much, but to do it right, you need other people around you, and you often need interesting, well-made food. This is the great under-acknowledged reason that chefs are so invaluable to society.