leave your inhibitions at the door
I’m still waiting for Food Network, Travel Network, Bravo – heck, even QVC – to call me about my show idea. That’s the one where I’d have major foodies like Bourdain, Batali, me, and Zimmern going to restaurants that Joe Sixpack considers to be “gourmet”. Can you imagine the hilarity of seeing Martha Stewart throwing back a bunch of Whoppers? Or Anthony Bourdain at a Cracker Barrel? Heck, I’d even go back to Outback Steakhouse for the show.
A couple of years ago, Boom Boom and the kids went away for Valentine’s Day weekend. It wasn’t a big deal for me, because we rarely ever do anything for the occasion. I texted a buddy to see what he was up to and this exchange happened –
I didn’t follow through with seeing 50 Shades alone, but I did think it’d be funny to have a romantic dinner for one somewhere. Instead that pesky dignity thing got in the way.
Fast forward to my birthday later that year and The Winegetter gave me a gift certificate to Red Lobster as a gag gift.
I held onto it waiting for Valentine’s Day to cash it in – not realizing that there would be a 2.5 hour wait for a table. Dead serious. I figured it was because of the occasion, so I tried again a few weeks later and the wait was only an hour. WTF?!?!
I then proceeded to misplace the damn gift card.
Well, I found it again and was able to get in for dinner a few weeks ago. It was a weeknight so I wouldn’t have to deal with the huge Red Lobster dinner crowd. (I hope it was as weird for you to read that last sentence as it was for me to write it.)
Let’s Get Started
Whatever culinary adventure I was about to embark on would necessitate my being well-lubricated. So I took a look at the wine list and saw it populated with several wines we used to sell as “everyday” wines – ones that topped out at six bucks a bottle back in the day. Of course, with inflation, those are probably up to $7 now. Wines such as Cupcake, Ecco Domani, Sutter Home, and Beringer White Zinfandel.
The beer list was equally bleak, but they did have this –
Not a bad start to the night.
I was getting excited when I saw the waitress coming towards me with a basket of their biscuits.
Mainly because…. well, BISCUITS. But I’ve also seen the boxes of their biscuit mix at Costco and have overheard people raving about them. And now I know why – they’re fucking awesome. Sorrynotsorry for the profanity, but there’s no other way to convey how good they were. They were like falling apart on me because of all the butter. Or lard. Or polyhydrogenated, exmogrified, trans-fat margarine. I don’t care.
That momentary euphoria went away quickly as the Caesar salad came out.
I wasn’t even sure if the romaine lettuce even had any dressing on it. Hell, I wasn’t even sure it WAS romaine. And the shaved cheese on top definitely wasn’t Parmesan. It tasted like cheddar.
For an appetizer I ordered the Sweet Chili Shrimp which was described as “hand-battered shrimp prepared to order and tossed in a sweet spicy chili sauce.” How can I get a job coming up with descriptions like that?
So I waited. And waited. And waited for a whole 20 minutes for it to come out. What the hell – were they out on the damn boat with Forrest and Captain Dan catching the damn shrimp?
Ok, I can STFU now. The shrimp were perfectly cooked – crispy, well seasoned, not overcooked one second. At first I was a little underwhelmed by the sauce, but the heat built up gradually. I really, really liked it.
Is it possible? Was I getting a good meal at a place I had previously vowed not to ever set foot in? Sure, the wine list and salad were wholly underwhelming but the IPA, biscuits, and shrimp more than made up for things.
The Main Event
I wasn’t sure what to order, but thought, “How hard could it be?” I mean, it’s a seafood restaurant so I should steer clear from the chicken, right? And whatever I ordered should probably include lobster in some form – perhaps even a red one.
The menu had pages and pages of all manner of ocean creatures cooked in every way possible – steamed, fried, broiled, blackened, grilled. So I went with an entree that had everything.
The Grand Seafood Feast boasted “wood grilled Maine lobster tail with white wine and butter sauce, a crab hollandaise-topped lump crab cake, a garlic-grilled shrimp skewer and our signature hand-crafted garlic shrimp scampi. Served with mashed potatoes and choice of side.”
With the two biscuits I ate and all the shrimp before this (I didn’t bother with the salad) I thought I ordered too much and would probably take half of it home.
Wrong. I didn’t take anything home. And it wasn’t because everything was so delicious and I cleaned the plate.
While the Brussels sprouts were pretty tasty, everything else on that plate was all forms of awful. The shrimp skewers were cooked properly, but didn’t taste like they had any garlic on them. The crab cake tasted like an inedible pile of mushy ground carp topped with a Hollandaise that I wrote in my notes was “an unspeakable crime.” And the lobster was…. was…. actually, I don’t know how they mucked that up. It was bland and limp.
Most of the items on the dish had simple preparations. There wasn’t a whole lot to mess up on them yet they successfully managed to do so. And the one thing that they put a lot of effort into – the crab cake – had me crying for humanity because I knew someone somewhere listed it as their all-time favorite dish.
So while things started out pretty strong, the bottom fell out rather abruptly. Thanks, Red Lobster, for restoring my faith in shitty chain restaurants.
PS – I lied about one part. I did bring home some food….