Crazy for Chinese Seafood
The twin black pepper lobsters were $18.99 at Hai Cang when the restaurant first opened—they're $19.99 now, but that's still a helluva deal. The beer-battered lobsters come all chopped up so they're easy to eat, and the sprinkling of black pepper is nicely spicy. Twin lobsters with ginger and scallion are available at the same bargain price. I also sampled the salt and pepper squid, a big plate of crispy fried squid tossed with lots of jalapeño wheels. I put a little dried pepper oil dipping sauce on my plate to kick up the heat level a little. We split an on order of eggplant, cut in spears and perfectly cooked. The kids got a plate of flat noodles with beef and broccoli. The food was pleasant, but not all that remarkable.
Hai Cang Seafood Restaurant
11768 Bellaire Blvd.
There were a lot of aquarium tanks in the front of the restaurant, but only two were full—one with Dungeness crabs and one with the little one-pound lobsters used in the $20 special. By the end of our lunch, the lobsters were gone, leaving only the lonely crabs on display. The array of water-filled tanks with nothing inside except algae-covered PVC pipes didn't do much for the ambiance—or appetite appeal.
The attention and praise that has been recently heaped on Hai Cang, the new Hong Kong-style seafood restaurant in Bellaire Chinatown, by other publications took me by surprise. Confucius Seafood Restaurant on the eastern end of Bellaire Chinatown has been offering a similar twin lobster special for a year or more. Ocean Palace, right down Bellaire a few blocks in the Hong Kong City Mall, has a lot more live seafood on display in tanks. And Fung's Kitchen trumps them all—there's an extensive bank of display tanks there, and they often hold exquisite live fish like turbot and ling cod.
What's the fascination with Guangdong/Hong Kong–style seafood restaurants? Cantonese is just one of the eight great Chinese cuisines (nine, including Manchurian). The hearty Dong Bei fare at Northeastern restaurant seems more appealing in this cold weather, and so do the Jing-style dumplings and noodles at Xiong Cafe.
My theory is that Hai Cang Seafood Restaurant is getting all of this attention because of the brilliant white signage on the front of the building. The huge expanse of white space with little icons of red fish and crabs jumping around seems to conjure up images of fresh-caught seafood in virgin snow—or something like that. However you explain it, you have to admit, the sign is pretty compelling.