As this newspaper’s hired belly, I’ve spent a decade compiling my Tacoma restaurant bucket list.
That list includes eating every tableside preparation at the swanky downtown steakhouse, El Gaucho.
The $50 Mai Tai at downtown Tacoma’s tiki bar, Tacoma Cabana.
The annual Pappy Van Winkle bourbon tasting at Smokey Joe’s Cigar Lounge and Sports Bar in Fife.
Now I can scratch this one off my list: Every lobster dish on the menu at Lobster Shop, the Ruston waterfront view restaurant built for celebrations with a menu loaded with surf and turf.
It took four visits spread over several months and about $400 of The News Tribune’s money to eat my way through the 10 lobster dishes designed by Justin Mevs, the corporate executive chef for the family of Lobster Shop restaurants owned by Katie and Denny Driscoll.
Their other restaurants include Tanglewood Grill and Boathouse 19.
Mevs knows a thing or 40 about East Coast lobsters. He grew up in New York and attended the prestigious culinary school, Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island. While it’s a luxury product here because of the difficulty with shipping, lobster is standard everyday eating there.
“I remember going out and getting $12.95 lobster dinners,” said Mevs. “If you go into Newport in the summertime, all the restaurants on the waterfront have billboards with lobster dinner deals.”
Whole lobster dinners are nowhere near that affordable here, but budget diners will be happy to hear there’s a lobster dish for every budget at the Lobster Shop.
Bisque and a delightful, cheesy lobster quesadilla are $7 and $10 respectively on the happy hour menu. At lunch, the $22 carbonara with a modest sized shell-on Maine lobster tail is another excellent deal (the dinner portion doubles the lobster for $35).
While the tail is considered the jewel of the lobster for many, Mevs is a knuckle-and-claw guy.
“I like the texture and it’s a little sweeter. The leg is the sweetest part,” said Mevs. He also enjoys the labor of cracking a lobster. “When it’s a fight and you’re cracking the lobster and it’s a nice firm piece, it’s a reward. The tail is easiest and is good, but there’s not a fight, a lot of work and a payoff.”
Spoken like a chef.
There are a few seasons for cold-water Maine lobster, which is featured on nine of the 10 dishes on the restaurant’s menu (the other dish is a full Australian lobster tail). There’s a long and ongoing Maine lobster season from around fall through spring for fresh lobster and then there’s another season in the summer when lobsters are caught and primarily frozen immediately on the boat, said Mevs.
At the Lobster Shop, there is no live tank in the kitchen. Lobsters are sourced through a purveyor who provides lobster that’s frozen as it’s harvested.
He added, “Most restaurants here sell it previously frozen, but the key is to get them nitro-frozen with no additives.”
Here’s a look at the 10 lobster dishes to try in the order that I liked them. Prices, size and presentation might vary on your visit.
1 and 2. Lobster tails: The most decadent items on the menu — whole lobster tails with fancy trimmings — were oven baked and simply seasoned with a spice-and-salt blend with paprika.
A succulent 10-ounce Maine tail tasted the most delicate with a creamy bite and a pronounced sweetness. The 10-ounce Australian carried a heartier chew, a more mild flavor and was even sweeter tasting than the Maine.
The execution of both was flawless. With melted butter on the side for dipping, both tails were served with still-crunchy asparagus and salted, roasted smashed potatoes. The presentation was simple, in keeping with Mevs’s edict of “lobsters don’t need much work to make them delicious.”
Both arrived tail on, but partially deconstructed for easier shell removal. $45 Maine/$65 Australian. Dinners includes warm bread and a garlic-and-herb heavy dipping oil.
3. Grilled Maine lobster tails: The dinner portion came with two small Maine lobster tails, split in half and grilled with a lick of smoke intensifying the flavor. The tails were dressed with a sharp tomato-tarragon salsa and perched atop buttery mashed potatoes. A side salad was dressed with an outstanding citrus vinaigrette dotted with orange peel. An emulsified brown butter dipping sauce provided complementary flavor reinforcement for that sweet lobster. $24 lunch/$32 dinner.
4. Lobster carbonara: A tangle of al dente linguine was topped with sweet bursts of peas, smoky bacon and a clingy sauce that was an unexpected take. In lieu of an egg sauce, this was a non-traditional cream sauce with a flavor boost from brandy and sherry. A whole shell-on small tail settled on top, perfectly baked. $22 lunch/$35 dinner.
5. Lobster stuffed mushrooms: I can see you bargain diners balking at paying $14 for three lobster-topped mushrooms, but the big pieces of lobster claw will sway you. There also was roasted fennel and a bit of cream cheese. I scooted the three big mushrooms across a tasty pool of lemon beurre blanc.
6. Lobster quesadilla: Perfect bar eating arrived as four tortilla wedges that were crispy edged and loaded with gooey melted asiago. Hefty lobster pieces were threaded throughout, with a sharp tomato salsa to cut all that fat. $10 in the bar.
7. Lobster crostini: This dish also telegraphed Mevs’s preference for pairing sharp acidity with rich lobster. Chunky pieces of lobster claw topped crunchy bread, with a bruschetta style mixture made with sherry vinegar, basil and cherry tomatoes, in between. $15.
8. Lobster bisque: No lobster meat, but a lobster-fueled broth with a sweet flavor and creamy texture, with a boozy thump of dry sherry at the base and a finish of cream sherry tableside, if desired. $8.
9. Lobster melt: This decadent open-faced melt was built on substantial squares of toasted croissants with a creamy spread loaded with lobster claw/knuckle meat, artichoke hearts, shaved onions and Parmesan cheese. Two wedges were topped with broiled cheddar and tomato. A choice of sides. With a rich sandwich, I opted for the salad dressed with that beautiful citrus vinaigrette. $17.50, lunch menu.
10. Lobster dip: The same lobster-artichoke-Parmesan dip as the melt, but this time served in a bowl with crostini for dipping. A kitchen flaw was exposed: The dip arrived with a cold and unappetizing center. $17.
Bonus: The Lobster Claw cocktail, a sweet-and-boozy concoction made with Malibu rum and a trio of juices — pineapple, grenadine and orange juice — was a sly wink with a lobster-colored theme but no actual lobster in the drink. $9.
Where: 4015 Ruston Way, Tacoma
Info: 253-759-2165, lobstershop.com
Hours: Serving lunch and dinner daily. Sunday brunch, 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.