The Good: Well-prepared food, Friendly servers
The Bad: Expensive, Atmosphere issues, Mediocre service
The Basics: After years of absence, I go back to one of my favorite restaurants from my childhood, Red Lobster, and discover it is a bit overvalued for the experience.
There are very few experiences I have these days where part of my intent going into the experience is not to write a review of it. I am a critic of a wide variety of things and I enjoy that quite a bit. And yet, when I went downstate with my wife for a Red Lobster dinner, it was not at all with reviewing in mind. In fact, it was a very early relationship promise to the woman who became my wife that drove us downstate for Red Lobster. When we were still early in our courting, four years ago now!, we were talking to one another about everything and anything and in talking about our favorite cuisine and restaurants, she revealed that she had never been to Red Lobster. I had not been to any Red Lobster restaurant in over a decade and I promised her at that time that if we were together, we would have to go to one together.
It took me almost three and a half years of being married, but we finally went! The reason I find myself reviewing the experience now is because it ended up being a very different experience than I remember from my childhood. The food was incredible, the prices were exceptionally high, and the service was only mediocre for a restaurant of its quality and expense. That said, it was an enjoyable experience and remains one of the daylong schleps that my wife still speaks fondly of!
Red Lobster is a chain restaurant and they are continually growing, so parts of the U.S. still have very few Red Lobster locations. I have found more market penetration on the coasts than in the MidWest. In addition to freestanding Red Lobster restaurants, Red Lobster is a frequent fixture in American strip malls, usually freestanding there.
Red Lobster locations tend to set themselves apart from most areas they are in by having a classic blue and red color scheme with the red lobster Red Lobster icon on the front of the restaurant. The brand's color scheme is blue and red and it strangely manages to evoke the sea, even in urban Michigan! While Red Lobster has tables and booths, when my wife and I went, we sat at a small table. I felt a bit exposed, because the table was very much out in the open, but as it was crowded when we went (surprisingly so for a recession and a Wednesday night in a place more known for urban decay than people who can afford a meal that ended up at $100 for a couple – including the tip). There are thousands of Red Lobster restaurants in the United States, but they do seem to be centered around major cities, as opposed to found randomly throughout the country.
Red Lobster utilizes a traditional waitstaff. We were seated by a snappily-dressed host and our server arrived within a minute, which impressed us instantly as the place was packed when we arrived. In fact, when we saw the full parking lot, we were convinced there would be a wait, but we were seated immediately. The servers wore black and white classy dress attire and their appearance was universally clean and professional.
When our server visited us the first time, she claimed that she was tag teaming with another waitress, but we never saw another server for us. This only became an issue as my wife stumbled her way through her lobster and needed napkins and more water. Alas, our server (nor her alleged co-server) appeared to provide or inquire about how we were doing. My wife works in the restaurant industry, so she knows how it is to get harried on a busy night, but I still felt for the expense, her glass should never have been empty. Ultimately, I thought the service was much more neutral than worth recommending.
Part of the reason Red Lobster became the subject of my review was that in making it a real experience for my wife, we ended up trying so much stuff that it gave me a well-rounded idea of the restaurant and made me want to discuss it. The food at Red Lobster is exceptionally good. Well-prepared and universally delicious, the cuisine is what would bring us back to this restaurant. Truly for the seafood lover – I find it deeply ironic that Red Lobster’s new advertising campaign is for a number of affordable entre options, only one in the ads is actually seafood! – Red Lobster knows what it is doing when it comes to preparing seafood.
We began our meal with an appetizer. Wanting to try as much of the new experience, we had the Seaside Sampler. This consisted of Parrot Isle Jumbo Coconut Shrimp, Lobster, Crab and Seafood-stuffed mushrooms, and a third option. That third option eludes me for one simple reason: I hate mushrooms. I hate mushrooms with a passion and I have for my entire life. But the Lobster, Crab and Seafood-stuffed mushrooms were such an amazingly-marinated, well seasoned, fishy delight wrapped in mushrooms that lacked an essential fungal quality that they erased that third option from my brain (even though I know I ate more of that than the stuffed mushrooms!). The Parrot Isle Jumbo Coconut Shrimp were fruity, with a citrus flavor that complimented the salty and neutral base of the shrimp. They were prepared exceptionally well, with the shrimp practically sliding out of their shells for us!
My wife, having never had lobster, ordered lobster. It was fun watching her eat it and part of the endorsement of the quality of the Red Lobster lobster has to come from this: she almost never used her butter sauce. She was, however, having seen the tank when we came in, exceptionally disappointed to not be allowed to pick out her own lobster. Whether that was an oversight by our server or not standard practice at Red Lobster, it did change her experience quite a bit.
I had salmon, prepared with a teriyaki sauce and accompanied by asparagus. It arrived sizzling (which is nice, because temperature truly affects my appreciation of food) and was flaky and flavorful. The chef got the balance perfectly; the teriyaki was sweet and salty, but did not overwhelm the flavor of the salmon it coated! The asparagus was well-prepared and none of it was undercooked or woody.
We finished our meal with a fried ice cream (another first for my wife) and it was a delightful way to complete our meal (though it is, by nature – like lobster itself – a little sticky and messy)!
The drink options at Red Lobster are geared around an adult palate. My wife had a Samuel Adams and another beer (I recall her being a bit disappointed that they did not have an extensive dark beer selection). I had a virgin pina colada that was just wonderful.
Red Lobster had universally delicious food, but the overall experience of the restaurant left us feeling we had paid a lot, almost on the border of too much, for the overall experience. Still, the food was universally well-prepared, delicious and remains something my wife speaks of positively, making it impossible to deny that we will go back at some point in the future. For those who want a classy alternative to something like Long John Silver’s (reviewed here!) and who can put up with a family restaurant, as opposed to going someplace more exclusive where children might not be being noisy a few tables away, Red Lobster is a great option for seafood!
For other restaurants, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Moe's Southwestern Grill
For other restaurant and food reviews, be sure to check out my index page!
© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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