Red Lobster

Categories: Casual, Chain, Eat-in, Seafood
Comments: No Comments
Published on: August 19, 2008

My wife and I keep late hours. We both work late into the evening. Many nights, especially in the winter, we go home for dinner, where she whips up something great. I think in 20 years of being together, she’s made maybe half a dozen dishes I really didn’t care for, and 3 I couldn’t possibly choke down. Before you bash me on being sexist, women’s rights, etc. let me tell you – she loves to cook. She just spent an absurd amount of money on re-doing “our” kitchen, in which I am not permitted.

And obviously, we like to dine out as well. So one recent Thursday night, we met at the Red Lobster on Rt 31 in Clay. At 9:30, it’s one of a handful of dining spots nearby that’s open late. Also, as a matter of disclosure, we own stock in Darden – the umbrella company which owns Red Lobster and Olive Garden, and recently sold off Smokey Bones. So we essentially were putting money back in our own pockets (it hurts less to think of it that way).

Let’s get the negative stuff out of the way first. Yes, it’s a chain. We find many of the dishes over-salted, including all the apps, the rice pilaf, and the shrimp scampi.

Prices are high, and many of the dishes have probably been frozen until moments before they appear in front of you. Late at night, they like to seat everyone in this little alcove by the kitchen, so they don’t have to walk too far (and so they can clean the rest of the place, to be fair).

Our biggest complaint? 9:30 is “late night” in Central New York!

That night, we had the lobster, spinach and artichoke dip as an appetizer. For a place with “lobster” in the name, there are precious few dishes that actually contain the critter. I ordered the Harborside Lobster & Shrimp for $27, while the missus got jumbo shrimp with lobster butter for $14.75 . I asked for soup instead of the salad, and was told it was a buck upcharge, which I agreed to, but it never made it onto the bill (although I did get the NE clam chowder).

The cheddar biscuits, which I so loved as a twenty-something with arteries as open as an eight lane highway on a Sunday morning, no longer appeal to me. Maybe I’ve convinced myself that they’re not healthy, but I think they taste like cardboard – salty, of course.

Not that the meal itself was bad, but the best part of the meal was our server, Beth. They recite something about “making your experience exceptional” when they seat you. Frankly, I think they’re over-reaching on that particular promise, but the staff we’ve had at the RL in Clay has been exceptional. There was another gentleman that used to wait on us in another section and, as with Beth, I felt he truly did care about how our dinner went. That night, we called a friend of ours on my cell from RL, and even though we were acting like Ugly Americans, Beth spoke quietly (when needed) to the one who wasn’t on the phone. I don’t know if she practices in front of a mirror, but the smile she had for us each time she returned to the table looked genuine to me. If she was faking, she was doing an Oscar-winning performance.

There are a few TVs hanging around, but the sound is down. There may have been music but, if there was, in was unobtrusive, which is good as far as I’m concerned.

Our meals came quickly, but we didn’t feel rushed. The wife wasn’t real thrilled with the lack of lobster in her lobster butter, and mine was just a tad reluctant to fall apart under my butter knife, but it tasted fine when I popped it in my mouth. My grilled shrimp were fine, but the scampi was swimming in buttery brine. I didn’t touch the pilaf, but the broccoli was fine, especially when dipped in the butter for my lobster. The only lemon on the table was the slice my wife ordered in her water. Looking back, I’m not sure I missed it, but it would have been nice to be offered. Was it an oversight? Or a way of cutting costs? No clue.

Frankly, our favorite seafood restaurant i the area is the Clam Bar in North Syracuse. RL really cannot compare. But there we were. . .

So the final verdict is this: it *is* seafood, but not nearly the best. However, the place is large, it’s open later, and the wait staff seems exceptional. While it was just the two of us that night, I know by personal experience they do a good job with larger parties. It ain’t Maine, and don’t go if you’re on a reduced sodium diet or allergic to dairy. For a special occasion, it’s not a bad night out. The service and cleanliness elevate it above merely average – but just barely.


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