#253: Old Port Lobster Shack

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Tonight I went to the new Old Port Lobster Shack.  They soft opened about three weeks ago near Mikuni and Century 14 on Eureka.  Soon they will have their full menu, but at the moment they don’t have beer or desserts (possibly a couple other items).  I’ve been looking forward to this one for quite a while.  I had thought this was actually a much more widespread business, but they only seem to have a few other locations; two in the bay area and one coming to Portland.

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I was joined by some family members a little after 5:15PM and we were one of the first customers for dinner.  The three-person staff were very friendly and greeted us right away.  The menu is on a chalk board to the let when you walk in.

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I have been curious about what the prices would be like.  My only experience with lobster rolls has been from various food trucks, and they tend to charge about $15-$17 for a small roll.  I was a little taken aback when I saw that their rolls were $24.75, but I had to see what it was all about here.  I’ve recently been hankering for some clam chowder, so I also ordered a cup of that [$5.75].  A bottle of Mexican Coke finished off my order [$2.50], bringing the total with tax to $36.28.  There are lots of less expensive items to choose from.  Pretty much everything with lobster (except the bisque) is going to set you back $25 though.

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We took a seat in the dining room and didn’t wait very long, less than 5 minutes, for our food to start coming out.  For the rolls there were two choices, Naked and Maine.  The Naked was just lobster with butter, served cold or warm with sides of mayo and warm butter.  The Maine was served cold, mixed with Hellmann’s mayo, green onions, salt & pepper.  Both were serve with fries and coleslaw.

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The slaw was fairly sweet and had some raisins mixed in.  I’m not really a coleslaw guy but I’ll usually eat it anyway.  I thought it was fine.  The fries were good, crisp and hot.  They didn’t need any salt or ketchup; a great fry in my book.  The lobster was served on a soft, buttered and toasted roll.  Based on memory, I would say there was about 50% more lobster on these than on the rolls I’ve had from trucks.  The naked roll was pretty straightforward.  I had the Maine roll and it was very good.  The mayo, very light amount of green onions and salt/pepper seasoning helped transform it into something a little more interesting and tasty.

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My cup of chowder came out in a literal cup.  It tasted pretty good, but unfortunately was not very hot.  The clams were small but plentiful, as were the  potatoes, which made it a somewhat smooth chowder.  I think if this were hot it would have been much better.

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The last item we had was a basket of fried shrimp [$13].  This also came with fries and coleslaw.  I think this was the absolute best value of everything we ordered.  It had a ton of giant shrimp that were delicious.  They had a light batter to them and it came with lemon slices which added some nice bright flavor to them.

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Admittedly, lobster is never particularly inexpensive.  Still, I find the price to be a big downside and tough to justify when you can get tons of great food for much less than I spent on my roll & chowder.  I’ll really have to be in the mood for lobster to return.  That said, the food was good (chowder temperature aside), I cannot deny that.  It’s worth a visit, even if it’s not going to be a place I expect to frequent.

Website: http://oplobster.com

(Scanned) Menu: Click Here

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#214: Crawfish Factory Seafood Restaurant

Tonight I was joined by my mom and grandmother for dinner at Crawfish Factory, Roseville’s newest seafood restaurant.  They opened just a few weeks ago in an old La Bou spot at Baseline and Foothills.  We arrived at 5:30PM and headed in.  The place is pretty big and wide open.  There is a lot of seating without it feeling cramped.  The high ceiling probably helps with that.  Of course, like many casual/family seafood restaurants, the decorations consist of fishing related items like nets and crab pots.  I was immediately reminded of a recent Family Guy cutaway where Peter is welcoming you into his seafood restaurant and says “We got boat parts on the wall so you know the crab comes from the ocean!”

They were not very busy yet, only one table and a handful of seats at the bar/counter were occupied.  We were greeted immediately and sat at a table towards the middle, well away from the other customers (a welcome move that I rarely think much about, but when you are sat next to the only other people in a dining room it’s kinda weird, and it’s happened to me a couple times just recently).  Our server, Haylee, greeted us and gave us a very detailed rundown of the entire menu, how to order and what comes with what. It was one of the most complete and informative intros I’ve had in a long time.  She ran through the appetizers, some basic entrees, specialty entrees and what each one included (rice or bread in some cases), seafood by the pound and the extras you can add to that, the combos and finally drinks.  It was overwhelming to say the least and we definitely needed time to process it all.  We ordered up our drinks, a couple glasses of wine for the ladies and I had a Heineken.  In addition to wine and beer they also offer sake.

We mulled the menu for quite a while, well mostly me.  My mom had quickly picked out the Garlic Noodles with Prawns [$14] and my grandma the Dungeness Crab by the pound which was on special [$11.99/lb.] (more on this in a minute) and a side of sweet potato fries.  I thought I might have the fish and chips but then my grandma gave me a bunch of crap because it was boring for a place like this.  I couldn’t really argue with that and started looking over the combos.  Eventually while they were placing their orders I made a last second decision and went with the Chef’s Mix (Combination of Snow Crab, Clams, Mussels, Shrimp, Crawfish w/ 2 corns & 2 potatoes)[$36.99].  It seemed to have a good mix of things that I wanted to check out.  Both the seafood by the pound and my combo come with a flavoring of our choice (Factory Signature, Fusion Cajun, Lemmon Pepper, Garlic Butter and Cajun Louisiana Style) and a choice of mild, medium or hot levels of spice.  We both went with garlic butter.  I do not recall her asking about the spice level, but based on the receipt we were given mild.  We also ordered the Tempura Shrimp with Mixed Vegetables [$12] to start.

Haylee went to go enter the order into the computer.  A few minutes later the manager stopped by to let us know that the Dungeness Crab special had a little catch which he wasn’t sure was explained thoroughly.  Normally $19/lb (if I recall him correctly) it was on special for $11.99/lb for the start of the crab season.  The catch is that as a whole crab, most weigh in closer to 2lbs, and it’s not something they are going to cut up to make a single pound serving, so he explained (and showed us on the market price board) that the price for 2lbs (or one whole crab basically) is $21.  Although it was more than she planned on ordering it was still a pretty good price and we all agreed that his explanation was clear and appreciated.  Haylee came back to apologize for not letting us know this ahead of time and admitted she didn’t fully understand it herself until now (understandable and yet also surprising given her highly detailed explanation of the menu earlier).

Once we had finally ordered (about 15 minutes into our visit) it took just about 10 minutes for the tempura appetizer to arrive.  As we all agreed when we picked it out, you can’t really go wrong with this, no matter where you order it.  It arrived with the usual tempura sauce and also a pinkish looking sauce that smelled and tasted an awful lot like thousand island dressing with a bit of a zing.  It was interesting, though I found myself going back to the more traditional sauce.  The plate contained a handful of plump shrimp, broccoli, zucchini, sweet potato, and green and red peppers.  It was all quite good.

We had only just started working on this when Haylee came by and told us that our entrees were actually ready to go if we wanted them, so we said bring them on.  Very quickly the table started to get very busy.  First she brought the pasta and side of fries, then followed with the two buckets of seafood.  The seafood was each in a bag.  She came back with several bibs and plastic gloves (that’s new to me).  She then pulled the bags out and placed each one in front of us.  This was a lot to take in.  I haven’t ordered like this in a long time.  I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that I don’t really like eating messy food with my hands, but there was no turning back here.  I suited up and dove in.

Starting with the crab, this was simple enough.  Armed with a fork, a leg cracker and my hands I went to work.  The snow crab was delicious as expected.  Everything in this bag was very hot at first.  Any hotter and it may have been difficult to manage using your hands.  It gradually cooled off but still remained quite warm, especially at the bottom where all the buttery, garlicy juice was.  I didn’t spend a whole lot of time on any one item, instead choosing to grab whatever looked the easiest to pull something edible from.  The mussels and clams were at the top of that list and I went back to them frequently.  I found the mussels to be probably my favorite item behind the crab.  They were incredibly flavorful and all of them were quite large.  The shrimp were huge.  I didn’t really have any idea what I was doing.  I was just pulling heads, squeezing tails and tearing shells and legs.  I felt like an animal.  It was delicious though.

I had less idea what to do with the crawfish.  The last time I remember seeing one of these was when I was a kid, camping with the family and we fished some out of a creek with pieces of hotdog.  I don’t even remember if we ate them or not.  The heads of these came off very easily and had a lot of juices inside.  The meat in the body and tail I had a little more trouble getting to.  Taste-wise there were probably my least favorite.  That’s not to say that they were bad, I just really liked everything else a lot more.  Even the corn and potatoes were pretty good, though I only picked at those a bit.

Eventually I stopped.  Partially because I did kind of feel full, but also because it was exhausting.  I peeled my gloves off which, after handling spiny crustaceans, had been punctured many times over and ended up leaving my hands covered in buttery sauce anyway.  For 2 lbs of seafood I think I did a pretty good job.

Crawfish Factory is a hell of a fun time and everything we had was great.  All the seafood seemed extremely fresh and the flavor was great.  I do kind of wish I had been asked about the spice level because I think medium would have been nice.  That’s about the only thing I can think of that I would have changed.  This was a great dinner.

Website: http://www.crawfishfactoryrestaurant.com

#76: Fins Market & Grill

For dinner on Thursday I met my dad at Fins Market & Grill, located in the far back corner of the Safeway shopping center at Sierra College & Douglas.  From what I understand they have had a location in Fair Oaks for around 20 years and opened two more locations, including this one, in’06-’07.  Besides sushi and the occasional fish and chips I don’t really do seafood that often, which is odd because I really enjoy it.  I suppose it’s because seafood restaurants aren’t nearly as common as burger joints out here.

The first thing I noticed when we walked in was the smell.  It wasn’t off-putting but it was a quick reminder that they had the market side of the business in addition to the restaurant.  It’s somewhat hidden behind a divider wall that is just high enough to effectively isolate the dining area from the counter.  It was only a few minutes before I had forgotten about it completely.  In the display case I could see big slabs of different kinds of fish waiting to be taken home.  To the right and a bit before you reach the counter they also have a small tank where I saw a few live lobsters hanging out.  We were seated in the lightly occupied dining room and given a moment to peruse the menu before our waitress came to take drink orders.  I hadn’t quite gotten that far and quickly looked at the beer list which was very short.  I ended up going with a Mr. Pibb which was a bit on the weak side.  The beers consisted of two draught and five bottled, none of which I was too excited about.  The wine list was more more extensive.

After looking over the menu for a bit I decided I was going to go with the sea bass.  My most memorable seafood dinner was an order of sea bass on a Disney cruise well over ten years ago.  It was just unbelievably delicious and pretty much melted in your mouth.  I’ve tried sea bass a few times since then and it’s just never lived up to the memory.  We also wanted to get an appetizer.  I wanted to pick something I normally wouldn’t get, or wouldn’t be available, elsewhere and chose the steamed clams.  When I was giving my order to the waitress she had to tell me that unfortunately they were out of the sea bass (as well as something else I can’t recall).  She apologized and said she realized she should have opened with that news.  It turned out that my dad had also planned on ordering the sea bass and we took a few more minutes to look over the menu again.  Finally I settled on the swordfish, which I don’t think I’ve ever had.  The waitress asked if I would like it grilled or blackened, which I hadn’t really thought about.  Sensing my hesitation she recommended blackened and I went with it.

Shortly after placing our orders we received a small basket of bread and butter.  The bread was room temperature and the butter was quite cold.  I went to work clasping my hands together around a butter packet to get it warmed up and spreadable.  By the time it had softened up, our clams arrived.  As soon as they were set down in front of us I realized I had been thinking oysters when I ordered them.  I’m pretty certain I’ve never had steamed clams before so I didn’t really know what to expect.  We were each given little forks to remove the clams from their shells.  Removing them from the shell was extremely easy, in most cases they slid right out with little effort.  I’m not sure what they use to steam them, and we weren’t given anything else aside from a piece of garlic bread each.  They were just a slight bit chewy, but less so than in some clam chowders.  The subtle flavor was hard to nail down, but the thing I kept coming back to was a hint of crab legs.  Like I said I’ve never had steamed clams before, so I can’t say if they were any good or not compared to others, but I enjoyed them for the most part.  The garlic bread was very good, which is probably because it was pretty drenched in garlic butter though still crunchy.  They should just serve this instead of their normal bread in my opinion.

After the steamed clams we were served a Caribbean style cole slaw which consisted of an oil, vinegar and sugar type dressing.  There was quite a bit of it, and I had actually eaten a good 1/4th of it before I realized I had forgotten to take a photo, so hopefully that should give you an idea of how much it was.  I gave up about 1/2 or 2/3rds of the way in because I didn’t want to fill up.  I’ve never really been into cole slaw until just recently, when I had the Capastrami at Capriotti’s in Vegas.  It’s kind of turned me around and I’m willing to give it a solid try when I encounter it now.  This was interesting but I think I might prefer the more traditional, creamier cole slaw.

On to the swordfish.  As a side I had a choice of Maddie’s Patties, scalloped potatoes, rice pilaf or vegetables.  After asking what the Maddie’s Patties were I went with those.  They’re basically mashed potatoes with paprika, garlic, cheddar, parmesan and maybe something else I’m forgetting.  The fish was wonderfully crisp on the outside, most and creamy on the inside.  The oils and spices they used to blacken it were very rich and flavorful.  I found myself on several bites just leaning back and savoring the peppery flavors.  There was a bit of spice on the back end that felt like it might build up if you didn’t pay attention.  Switching off to the Maddie’s Patties every couple bites kept it at bay though.  They were almost a kind of rest stop in that they were nice and mild and gave my taste buds a break from the intense flavor of the swordfish and it’s spices.  The clearly recognizable flavor there was the cheddar, but there were hints of garlic and parmesan as well.  They were very good.  The tartar sauce looked like it might have been house made.  It was very good, and in any other situation I might have used a lot of it, but I felt that the fish was so good on it’s own that I didn’t want to cover it up with sauce.

So overall, a very good visit I think.  The opening was a bit rough with limited drink options, no sea bass and mediocre bread, but the swordfish was absolutely incredible and really made me forget all of that as soon as I was eating it.  I would very much like to come back some time and try the sea bass when they have it to see if it can live up to that one I had so long ago.

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