It’s Chain Week here on the Food & More blog.
Yes, every day this week I will visit one branch of a multi-unit restaurant. Food writers tend to stay away from chains (with one notable exception). When they do venture into the land of vibrating buzzers, you can usually smell the agenda in the writing like a cheap cologne.
I will try to get through this exercise not as a vinyl-banquette sociologist but as a restaurant reviewer who wants nothing more than to show people where to dine well and warn them about places to avoid. I will pledge not to take any potshots at foodservice corporations, American eating habits, other customers and menu lingo. I’m just looking for good eats.
Can you find them at Red Lobster? Specifically, the Red Lobster on Candler Road in South Dekalb?
Most likely, if you get this meal:
Give into the temptation of the Cheddar Bay biscuits. Yes, they taste like dried spices, salt, butter flavoring and Bisquick. They also offer that crunch-puff sensation that makes a certain kind of biscuit craveworthy, here punctuated with pinpricks of cheese. And salt. And buttery badness.
Get a Caesar salad: many shreds of mild cheese, not too much dressing, romaine that’s clean and crisp . Then move on to that pound-and-a-quarter lobster pictured at top. The kitchen cleans out the carapace, which is a bummer if you like to eat the tomalley, but a bonus if it freaks you out. This lobster costs $26.49, which is less than you’d pay at Chequers Seafood Grill ($32.50) or The Oceanaire Seafood Room ($40.95). Add in a baked potato rolled in a bit of coarse sea salt, and you’ve got a satisfying meal.
But what about that other side of Red Lobster — the one you see in the commercials, where the prices are low, the shrimp endless and the lemon wedges burst in mid-air? Well, it looks like this:
This plate of coconut habanero glazed shrimp with a shrimp skewer is featured on the $14.99 four-course menu currently on offer. It’s a good value that comes with soup, salad and dessert, but one that comes at the expense of good ingredients. That habanero shrimp is coconut-cake sweet, while the skewered shrimp have no flavor beyond char.
Though I had to wait too long at the host stand before being greeted, service was great once we got to the table. The kitchen screwed up the temperature on my friend’s sirloin steak, part of his combo platter. Our terrific waiter (newly transferred from a Red Lobster in Dallas) was on top of it. The kitchen prepared a fresh steak while he ate his snow crab legs. The second steak came cooked to order and wasn’t bad at all. The manager came over, comped the steak and offered a round of desserts. Whenever a restaurant handles a problem with this kind of class, it builds loyalty.
- by John Kessler for the Food & More blog