TNT Diner

Happy hour on Tacoma’s Ruston Way turns up seafood stuffed into tortillas

Mexican restaurants always have one on the menu. Just about every pub serves some kind or another because they go down swell with beer.

Quesadillas have become so ubiquitous, they hardly ever seem special.

Until you find one with lobster stuffed inside.

I’ve been happy hour-ing around the Ruston waterfront (rough gig I’ve got here, I know), and I quickly spotted a theme: Each seafood restaurant offered a happy hour quesadilla stacked with premium seafood.

At the Lobster Shop and C.I. Shenanigan’s, tortillas held lobster. At Duke’s, halibut was the key ingredient.

Here’s something else each Ruston restaurant did well: Manhattan cocktails for every palate.

LOBSTER QUESADILLA, $7

Where: Lobster Shop, 4015 Ruston Way, Tacoma; 253-759-2165 or wp.lobstershop.com.

Happy hour: 3-6 p.m. and 8:30-close daily in the bar or deck.

Bottom line: My top pick.

Four tortilla triangles were crispy edged and loaded with goo. Hefty lobster pieces mingled with melted asiago and a delicious smear of cilantro-lime mayo, which also topped the quesadilla along with an outstanding salsa in which the tomatoes had been marinated to deepen their sweetness. Lobster could fall out of tune when competing with big flavors, but this quesadilla sang on key. Some care had gone into plating, except for stray pieces of cilantro. As always, servers here are top-notch professionals.

HALIBUT QUESADILLA, $8.60

Where: Duke’s Chowder House, 3327 Ruston Way, Tacoma; 253-752-5444 or dukeschowderhouse.com.

Happy hour: 3-6 p.m. and 9-close daily in the bar or deck.

Bottom line: Best in this series for crunch.

Four stacked wedges, topped with cucumber pico de gallo, provided the sturdiest composition and best texture of any sampled for this tour. Tasty blackened halibut pieces were glued to the flaky tortilla by a cheesy swath of asiago and parmesan. The promised wasabi aioli was missing from the dish, but the spicy verde sauce, served with tortillas chips on the side, injected a dose of heat. For those paying attention to food supply, offer kudos to Duke’s for serving sustainable seafood and explaining its sustainable fish program on the menu. I wish more restaurants did that.

LOBSTER QUESADILLA, $7.95

Where: C.I. Shenanigan’s, 3017 Ruston Way, Tacoma; 253-752-8811 or cishenanigans.com.

Happy hour: 3-6 p.m. and 9-close Mondays-Fridays in the bar.

Bottom line: Best in series for value.

The quesadilla here was stuffed with more lobster than I thought possible for a mere $7.95. The lobster tasted sweet, with the lightest snap, with big pieces tangled up with peppers and mozzarella. A quibble upon closer inspection: The four quesadilla wedges were not fully cooked. Extra cooking time would have created the perfect quesadilla. Exceptional bar service would make me return.

MANHATTANS FOR ALL

Manhattans can be smoky and spicy. They can be sweet and citrusy. They can be slap-you-in-the-face abrasive. The whiskey cocktail made with sweet vermouth, bitters and a maraschino cherry is a classic cocktail that everyone should try at least once.

If you’re new to the drink, the kind of Manhattan you’ll like depends on your palate. I found Manhattans on Ruston for a broad range of tastes. All were made with bourbon (sorry, rye lovers).

Manhattan ordering for newcomers: Ordering a Manhattan “perfect” means equal parts dry and sweet vermouth. Served “up” means chilled and strained into a glass. “Over rocks” means on ice. All cocktails here were served up.

Where: Duke’s, $11.90 (no happy hour pricing).

For: Manhattan snobs.

Duke’s Manhattan is my favorite in Tacoma for its supersonic flavor and premium ingredients. It’s made from small batch double-oaked bourbon blended by Woodford Reserve specifically for the Northwest restaurant chain. Duke’s tasting team, led by founder Duke Moscrip, travels to the Kentucky distillery to select its own custom blend (the last visit was in the fall). The cocktail, on two visits (because I just had to try it twice), opened with deep smoky-maple notes, and finished with a caramel richness that was an outstanding flavor pair for Martini and Rossi sweet vermouth and blood orange bitters. Even the Manhattan cherry was premium. Duke’s uses Northwest-founded Tillen Farms maraschinos. Curious about Duke’s bourbon selection process? Watch a video explaining how it’s made at bit.ly/1xGoouG.

Where: Lobster Shop, $6 (happy hour pricing).

For: Anyone who likes a slap-you-in-the-face classic Manhattan.

Lobster Shop Manhattans and martinis at happy hour always come with an annex pint glass with enough spillover cocktail to nudge the cocktail to a double. The server also pours the cocktail tableside, and will even return to pour the annex glass. Swell tableside service is one of the Lobster Shop’s highest attributes. This was an assertive Manhattan made the way your father likes his: 10 High bourbon, a nudge of the sweet vermouth Noilly Prat Rouge, a dash of Angostura bitters, and a maraschino cherry sunk into the bottom of the glass.

Where: C.I. Shenanigan’s, $10 (no happy hour pricing)

For: Manhattan neophytes who like it sweet.

Here is a Manhattan with training wheels, which will appeal to Manhattan newcomers, but probably not seasoned pros who prefer less sweetener. C.I. Shenanigan’s Ruston Manhattan was made with Woodford Reserve bourbon and an infusion of Solerno blood orange liqueur that notches the flavor to the citrusy side of sweet, with more citrus reinforcement from orange bitters and an orange peel and maraschino garnish. This one’s made with sweet vermouth, too.

Have a favorite Manhattan in Tacoma? Email me at the address below.

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