A few weeks ago, Mrs. Willtuck, our daughter, a friend and I paid a visit to an American institution: Red Lobster. As a child, the eatery was always a special place, reserved for birthdays and other significant events. I was allowed to order (by myself!) anything I wanted on the menu. This invariably meant flounder, because flounder is exotic when you’re 10 years old, and some clam chowder.
Between 10 and now (34), I’d been to the Lobster a few more times, but significantly less over the years. In fact, I can’t remember the last time. I do remember, however, that the realization that “Red Lobster” is another way of saying “Shit Merchant” was driven home during that last visit.
My special lady, though, had no experience with the chain. Dazzled by the commercials with images of succulent fish and sizzling shrimp getting doused in a squeezed lemon spray like they were competing in a wet t-shirt contest, she once or twice intimated that she might like to try the place out. I tried my best to sway her, but I knew deep down that the only way she would get the message would be to actually pay a visit.
Turns out, our home is almost dead center between two Lobster locations, both about 20 miles away. We opt to go north, to Lynnwood. The alternative was Federal Way. If you’re from Seattle, you’ll understand that essentially, they’re the same. I think I like the drive north more. *shrug*
On the way, we’re discussing our impending doom..er..meal..and I make a comparison that Red Lobster is to seafood what Olive Garden is to Italian food, and that I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re owned by the same company. When we roll up to the restaurant, we see it’s actually neighbors with an Olive Garden. Coincidence? Maybe.
The other thing we notice is the huge amount of people waiting to eat at these shrines to mediocrity. People are sitting on the manicured landscaping outside, some dressed in their fine, special occasion gear. Clearly the Lobster has maintained it’s status as a celebratory dining destination which should make every local restaranteur cry.
We park in the massive parking lot and stroll into the joint. It’s just as I remembered: the requisite tank of smallish lobsters, kitschy sea related crap on the walls, like fishing nets and wooden fish. We get on the waiting list (remember, the place is packed) and wait. Finally we get a table, menus and begin to decide what flavor of ass we’d like to dine on tonight.
I choose a mixed platter that includes a fish filet, some shrimp and some scallops. I tried to avoid fried stuff, which is difficult at the Lobster, and I managed to get away with no battered items. Everyone else made their choices and we munched on the free biscuits until our food arrived.
*NOTICE* The only good thing about Red Lobster is the free cheesy biscuits they provide their guests. Obviously made without love, they still taste great. They do not, however, make up for the culinary heresy Red Lobster perpetrates on a daily basis.
We get our food after a normal wait and after the waiter leaves, a silence falls over our table. We’re looking at our plates and each other, all of us knowing what the other is thinking. “What the fuck is this? Why are we doing this to ourselves?” is running through our heads. Small portions, ridiculously small, grace our hot (careful, hot plate!) plates, looking nothing like the orgy of food they advertise on the teevee. It was embarassing. My fish filet is in no danger of crowding my plate and my scallops are what I can only call “Popcorn Scallops”. They looked more like the small marshmallows you put in hot cocoa. They taste only marginally better.
Oh, I forgot to mention the shitacular dinner salad that preceded our dishes. That’s because it was forgettable.
So in relative quiet, we ate our substandard fare. I could have dropped many massive “I told you so”‘s on my special lady, but I didn’t. It takes first hand experience sometimes to understand things like these. We paid the incredibly overpriced bill when it came and left, vowing never to return.
Red Lobster: For The Seafood Lover in You. Indeed…