Posts Tagged ‘Lobster’

ELA’s Blu Water Grille – Hilton Head, SC

Friday, August 1st, 2014 by virginia


Since our annual Hilton Head trip is fast approaching, I better catch up on last year’s restaurant excursions! ELA’s Blu Water Grille was a new restaurant for us last year (in 2013). It’s right on the water at Shelter Cove and has amazing views of the harbor. We were such a large group that they gave us a private room on the third level that had big windows on three sides, and we arrived just in time to watch the gorgeous sunset.

Sunset in Shelter Cove

Sunset in Shelter Cove

The meal started off with baskets of hush puppies and garlic bread. The hush puppies were a tad dense, but whenever we got freshly fried batches, they were pretty delicious, especially slathered with butter. The garlic bread was lackluster in comparison, with not enough garlic flavor and a poor crust, so we mostly focused our attention on the hush puppies.

Basket of hush puppies

Basket of hush puppies

The menu looked incredible, with seafood obviously being the star, and we had a hard time choosing what to eat. Josh and I ended up ordering a crab cake for our appetizer, and we also got a few orders of fried green tomatoes to share with the table. The crab cake was a pretty decent size for an appetizer portion, and there was definitely a lot of crab in the cake with not much filler. It had a nice crispy crust on the outside, and the crab was fresh tasting and flaky inside. I was intrigued by the accompanying key lime aioli, but it didn’t really have much key lime flavor to it. I also wish there was a bit more of it, as I think some sauce always help to prevent a crab cake from being too dry. Nevertheless, it was a good crab cake and well prepared.

Crab cake

Crab cake with key lime aioli

The fried green tomatoes were also nicely prepared, with a light, crispy coating. They were served with a zingy creole sauce that added flavor and seasoning but didn’t overwhelm the slight tartness of the tomatoes.

Fried green tomatoes

Fried green tomatoes

The entrees, however, were nowhere near the same level of execution as the appetizers. Josh and I shared the scallops and the grouper. The scallops had a beautiful sear on top and were cooked correctly, but they were over-seasoned. I have a pretty high salt threshold and this was maxing out my limit. The accompanying crab risotto with truffle butter, which is what inspired me to order the dish to begin with, suffered from the opposite problem – under-seasoning – and tasted neither of crab nor of truffle. It was just muddy in both flavor and texture, although I would get whiffs of truffle oil here and there, but not the fragrant earthiness that I was seeking. The risotto itself was oddly lumpy and wet, like bad oatmeal or rice pudding, not toothsome or creamy.


Pan seared diver scallops with crab risotto

Even so, the scallop dish fared better than the grouper, which, despite its lovely presentation, was cold, dried out, and totally bland. The lobster butter noted on the menu, which certainly would have helped, was virtually non-existent. All of the fish we had on the table suffered from the same poor execution.

Pan roasted grouper

Pan roasted grouper

My mom, who loves lobster and bacon, had to order the lobster carbonara. The menu I think was a bit misleading, as it described the dish as “1 1/2 lb steamed lobster over creamy fettuccine”, and she definitely did not receive a whole 1 1/2 pound lobster. The head was there, which is her favorite part, but it was for show only – the innards were completely removed. The claws were there, already out of the shell, but the rest of the legs and body were missing, including the coveted knuckle meat. At least the tail was there, cleaned up and ready to eat. I guess at a nice restaurant such as ELA’s, people aren’t really expecting to break out a lobster bib and crack their way through an entire lobster, but the amount of meat seemed a bit paltry to me when you’re advertising the weight of the lobster on the menu. And I get that a lot of people don’t like lobster roe or tomalley, but keeping some of that in the dish would have helped it tremendously, taste-wise, as the carbonara itself was devoid of any flavor. I don’t know how they managed to snuff out the bacon in the dish, but they did. The sauce on the noodles was pasty, unseasoned, and just plain terrible.

Lobster carbonara

Lobster carbonara

Up until this point, the meal had been wonderful. We were enjoying the view, the lovely room, the great service, and the tasty appetizers. Once we got the entrees, however, our dinner definitely went downhill from there. All the plates were beautifully presented and pleasing to the eye, but definitely not to the palate. We were pretty stunned by the poor execution and the lack of flavor in the dishes. We had been rooting for ELA’s to be our new go-to restaurant, and things looked promising at first. The restaurant has a lot going for it, and ambiance-wise, it’s great for a celebratory night out or a special occasion. But the entrees – I still can’t get over how bad they were. They were definitely hard to swallow, especially given the prices. The restaurant is on the expensive side, with appetizers ranging from $7-$15 and entrees primarily between $30-$35. Sadly, I’m not sure it’s a place we’ll revisit, although I’m tempted to give it another shot just because there was so much potential. The execution issues could have been because we were such a large group. We had friends dining there at the same exact time and they raved about their food – but they were a table of 4, not 14. Still, a restaurant of this caliber should be able to handle the volume, so it’s a hard call. We’re definitely running out of restaurants to try in Hilton Head!

ELA’s Blu Water Grille
1 Shelter Cove Ln.
Hilton Head Island, SC

Blue Duck Tavern – Washington DC

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013 by virginia


Last July (yes, over a year ago, in 2012), Josh took me to Washington DC and Philadelphia for my birthday. Both are places we’ve been to before, but I was seven months pregnant at the time and feeling a bit down about not being able to go on our annual “big” trip (ie., Peru, the Galapagos) due to my condition. Physically, I probably could have traveled overseas, but I didn’t want to go anywhere exotic or new/exciting for fear that I wouldn’t be able to fully partake in all activities, especially eating and drinking. DC and Philly were a great weekend getaway for us, with enough sights and foodie destinations to keep me occupied and happy.

I had a half day Friday at work so Josh picked me up in the city at 2 pm and we made the drive to DC in pretty good time, not hitting too much traffic along the way. He had made reservations for a relatively late dinner at the Blue Duck Tavern, which gave us plenty of time to check into our hotel and make our way over to the restaurant. That was fortunate because we were at a different hotel from where we thought we booked. Rather than staying at the Westin Georgetown, which is right across the street from the Blue Duck Tavern, we were actually at the Westin City Center, which is a mile down the road. It wasn’t a bad walk, although we were a bit hot and definitely hungry by the time we arrived.

The restaurant itself was not what I was expecting. When I think of a tavern, I picture something a bit rustic, with exposed beams and rough wood. The Blue Duck Tavern had extremely modern decor, with contemporary furniture and lots of clean lines. It was also a little more casual than I expected. We did have a nice view of the open kitchen from where we sat.

Open kitchen

View of the open kitchen

The menu looked incredibly appealing, with lots of options for appetizers and main courses. Josh and I decided to go a bit crazy and ordered lots of dishes, creating our own mini tasting menu. We told our waiter that we wanted to share everything, and that he should bring the dishes in whatever order the kitchen thought was appropriate.

We ended up starting off with the oven roasted bone marrow topped with ramp butter, which was decadently delicious. It was served with a head of roasted garlic and grilled country bread.

Bone marrow

Roasted bone marrow with ramp butter

We spread some cloves of roasted garlic on each piece of toast, then topped it with the melty marrow and ramp butter. The marrow was rich and flavorful, and it was an ample portion to split between the two of us.

Roasted garlic and bone marrow spread on grilled country bread

Roasted garlic and bone marrow spread on grilled country bread

Next up was the spinach and smoked ricotta tart, which was like a savory ricotta cheesecake. It was served cold, and we could really taste the smokiness of the cheese. It came with a side salad of fresh baby spinach leaves and toasted pine nuts, which helped cut through the richness of the ricotta. It was a simple dish but packed with lots of flavor.

Spinach and ricotta tart

Spinach and smoked ricotta tart

We moved on to the 12-hour roasted suckling pig, which was very tender, as expected. There was a mustard jus in the pan that definitely packed a mustardy punch, but overall I thought the dish was just ok. It wasn’t as intensely pork-y as I had hoped, although the big piece of fried pork skin on top was a nice touch. It was served with a gorgeous pile of roasted baby vegetables.

12-hour roasted suckling pig

12-hour roasted suckling pig

The next dish was butter poached lobster on top of crispy pork and split pea emulsion. It was really an interesting dish, with the tender lobster paired with what was essentially pulled pork formed together into a cake, breaded, and fried. The split pea emulsion was creamy and sweet. It was a nice mix of textures and flavors.

Butter poached lobster with crispy pork and split pea emulsion

Butter poached lobster with crispy pork and split pea emulsion

I was not a big fan of the course that followed, the braised beef rib with homemade steak sauce. Part of it was probably because I was very full by this point, and this was an extremely heavy dish. The beef rib itself was huge, incredibly meaty, and fork tender. However, I found the steak sauce to be completely overwhelming. It just covered the beef and was all I could taste. We had a hard time finishing this one.

Braised beef rib with homemade steak sauce

Braised beef rib with homemade steak sauce

On the other hand, I loved the crispy fried veal sweetbreads with mac and cheese and morel mushrooms. It seemed like this dish was made just for me! The sweetbreads were nicely fried, crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside. The morels had a nice earthiness to them. The mac and cheese was more creamy than cheesy though, and it could have used a touch more seasoning, but otherwise, it was a well composed dish.

Crispy veal sweetbreads with mac and cheese and morels

Crispy veal sweetbreads with aged cheddar mac and cheese and morel mushrooms

Lastly, we got a side of sauteed wild mushrooms. It was completely unnecessary – we had more than enough food on the table. The mushrooms were sauteed with olive oil and garlic. I found them to be a bit chewy, and the texture was sort of a turnoff. Too bad, because I usually love mushrooms.

Sauteed mushrooms with olive oil croutons, garlic, and parsley

Sauteed mushrooms with olive oil croutons, garlic, and parsley

Overall we enjoyed our meal at the Blue Duck Tavern, although there were a few hiccups with some of the courses. We generally found that the “appetizer” dishes (the bone marrow, spinach and smoked ricotta tart, butter poached lobster, crispy sweetbreads with mac and cheese) were better than the “entree” dishes (the suckling pig and the braised beef rib), though we may just have ordered poorly. The smaller dishes ranged from $11-$16 and the larger courses were mostly in the $25-$30 range. The appetizers were all shareable portions though, so it would be easy to make a nice meal out of several selections. We liked crafting our own tasting menu, and the waiter was very accommodating. The ingredients are obviously all fresh, and the menu even tells you where it comes from. The dishes are seasonal and the menu changes often, so I would definitely make a return trip if given the opportunity.

Blue Duck Tavern
1201 24th St. NW at M St.
Washington, DC

Brown’s Lobster Pound (Seabrook, NH)

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010 by virginia

The day after our nephew Alexander’s first birthday party in Massachusetts, we had half a day to spend with the family before we had to make the drive back home to NJ. Instead of staying around my sister’s house, we decided to head across the border into New Hampshire and try out the lobster at Brown’s Lobster Pound in Seabrook. According to my sister, this place has been featured on the Travel Channel and is famous for its lobster rolls.

It was about a 45 minute drive but the restaurant is just past the border so it wasn’t bad. We pulled into the packed parking lot and there was a huge line of people waiting at the windows where you can order fried foods.

People lined up to place their orders

Since we were getting lobster, we headed straight inside to place our order. If you’re ordering lobster and fried food, you can order inside where the line was much shorter. However, if you’re only ordering fried food, you have to do it outside. We got a few 1 1/4 lb lobsters, a few lobster rolls, a fried oyster plate for my dad, and a fried chicken plate for Adam, who hates seafood (seriously, what kind of New Englander is he? I guess you can’t expect much from a Red Sox/Patriots fan… haha j/k! Or am I?) We also wanted some steamers, which we had to order from a different counter inside.

The menu behind the lobster tanks

They gave us numbers for our orders, and we settled down at some picnic tables in the corner. The restaurant is pretty big, and even though the parking lot was full there were many picnic tables still available. The restaurant serves soda, coffee, tea, etc., but you can bring your own beer and wine. Most tables had coolers of beer, and one couple behind us was tucking into huge lobsters while drinking champagne from flutes. Pretty neat idea!

Rows of picnic tables

Our orders of steamers came up first, and we eagerly dug into the piles of clams. To eat a steamer, you pull off the skin around the neck, swirl it around in a cup of hot water to clean off any grit, dip it in melted butter, and eat.

Piles of steamers

These steamers were fresh and briney, with a pleasing texture that wasn’t too chewy. We swirled, dipped, and ate them until the rest of our food was ready.

Swirling a steamer in hot water

I opted for a lobster roll instead of a whole steamed lobster. Although value-wise whole lobsters are a better deal (they were about $12/lb while one lobster roll was $12), I wasn’t in the mood to get all messy. The lobster rolls weren’t huge, but they weren’t tiny either. There were big chunks of meat, and just enough mayo to keep everything moist and together but not overpowering. The bun was the New England style top loading hot dog bun that I love, and the outside was buttered and toasted so that it was slightly crisp but still delightfully chewy. It was only the second lobster roll that I’ve had in my life, and it was pretty good.

Lobster roll

Josh opted for a whole lobster, which was just steamed and came with melted butter on the side for dipping. It was approximately 1 1/4 lbs, and the meat was sweet and fresh.

Steamed lobster

Some of the lobsters had roe and tomalley, which my mom and I both love. They have a complex flavor that turn a lot of people off so I guess it’s an acquired taste, but we consider finding roe to be like hitting the jackpot.

Lobster roe and tomalley

Josh and I also split a cup of New England clam chowder. The chowder had great flavor and lots of clams but it was surprisingly thin. When I think of New England style chowder, I think of thick, velvety, rich soup. This soup had buttery and creamy flavor, but it was watery in texture. I didn’t really mind because it was a hot summer day, but if it were wintertime, I prefer something with more body to it so that it sticks to your ribs.

New England clam chowder

My dad isn’t as into lobster so he opted for a fried oyster plate. The oysters were decently big but they weren’t as briney in flavor as I would have liked. They were also pretty heavily breaded, and while the coating was nicely fried and crunchy, it kind of made the oysters feel overly dry in my mouth. We dipped them in lots of tasty tartar sauce but I felt like that defeated the whole purpose of having oysters. We could have dipped anything into the sauce and it would have been the same. At least the fries were good.

Fried oysters and french fries

Overall I liked Brown’s Lobster Pound but I think the appeal is the kitschiness of the atmosphere. You’re basically eating in an oversized shack, and the food is simple, hearty, and straightforward. Price-wise it’s probably comparable to other similar seafood joints, but if you’re going just for steamed lobster then it’s overpriced. Lobster at the supermarket is definitely cheaper than $12/lb (we actually stopped somewhere on the way back to my sister’s house to buy lobsters that were only $3.99/lb). Lobster rolls, however, cost $15 and up in NYC, so $12 is a relative bargain. If I lived nearby this probably wouldn’t be a place we would go to regularly, but as a tourist, I thoroughly enjoyed it. While the oysters weren’t great, the steamers and lobsters were very good, and it was a fun experience. The BYO aspect is also another huge plus.

Brown’s Lobster Pound
407 NH Highway 286
Seabrook, NH

Hilton Head Day 4 – Red Fish

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010 by virginia

In honor of Alice and Lloyd’s 32nd anniversary of the day they met, we went to dinner at one of Lloyd’s favorite restaurants in Hilton Head, Red Fish. Josh and I had eaten there once before, a few years ago, though I don’t really remember what we had. The restaurant has an adjoining wine shop where you can pick out bottles of wine at retail prices, and then pay a corkage fee to drink the bottle with your dinner. They also have a regular wine list, so I’m not sure what is the best deal, but prices in general seemed pretty reasonable.

After placing our orders, we were starving so we eagerly dug into the bread, which was a soft white bread with a chewy interior that had good flavor but wasn’t very crispy on the outside. Still, it was nice and warm, and it paired wonderfully with the accompanying soft butter and a tangy green chimichurri sauce that was a somewhat unusual but tasty offering with bread.

Bread with butter and chimichurri sauce

For our appetizers, Josh and I shared the BLT and the fried oysters. The fried oysters were served in an edible spring roll shell with a jicama slaw and tasso aioli. The oysters were freshly fried so they were nice and crispy on the outside. They didn’t have quite as much briny flavor as I would have hoped but they were still large and decently juicy inside. The aioli had a bit of a spicy kick to it, which was nicely tempered by the refreshing jicama slaw. It was a very nicely done appetizer, and a really large portion as well.

Fried oysters with jicama slaw and tasso aioli

The BLT was actually fried green tomatoes, prosciutto, spinach and goat cheese all layered and stacked into a tall tower. The tomatoes were also perfectly fried, and it was an unusual combination that really worked well together. The tomatoes were slightly sweet and slightly sour, the prosciutto was salty, the goat cheese tangy, and everything was bound together with a spicy adobo sauce underneath.

BLT – stacked fried green tomatoes, prosciutto, spinach, and goat cheese over adobo sauce

For our entrees, Josh and I shared the kobe beef burger and the lowcountry shrimp and grits. The shrimp and grits were served with chorizo gravy, fried okra, and sauteed kale. The shrimp were perfectly cooked and tender, and I loved the crispy little fried okra bites. The chorizo gravy was a bit heavy but it made the dish really hearty. While it wasn’t exactly summertime fare, it was still very tasty and well prepared.

Shrimp and grits with chorizo gravy, fried okra, and sauteed kale

I was really curious to try the kobe burger, which was also topped with foie gras. I’ve never had a “fancy pants” burger before, like the famous and uber-expensive DB burger by Daniel Boulud. Red Fish’s version featured ground kobe beef with foie gras, truffles, pepper jack cheese, and crispy onions. It also came with a port demi-glace on the side for dipping. I have to admit that I was a bit disappointed with this burger, as there was perhaps too much going on and all the flavors were muddled. I didn’t taste the foie gras or the truffles, which two of my favorite ingredients. The beef itself had a slightly funky flavor, more like a braised pot roast rather than a grilled piece of meat. The ciabatta bun also did nothing to help the burger, as it was dense and chewy and kind of overwhelmed the meat patty. I’m sad to say that I prefer a simpler burger without all of the fancy ingredients. The burger did come with truffled fries that were pretty tasty. The menu said steak fries but they were actually standard thin cut fries, which was a relief because I’m not a fan of steak fries. They were doused in truffle oil but weren’t so overpowering, which was good.

Kobe beef burger with foie gras, truffles, pepper jack cheese,crispy onions, and truffled fries

We got a side order of lobster macaroni and cheese for the table to share. The macaroni was chewy orecchiette pasta and it was covered in a rich, creamy sauce. There were visible chunks of lobster mixed in, and it was pretty decadent but not too heavy. This is definitely a must-order dish if you ever go to Red Fish.

Lobster macaroni and cheese

We all decided to split a dessert, which was called the Chocolate “Twix” Bar because it has similar components to an actual Twix bar. There’s a shortbread cookie base that’s covered in caramel and scoops of vanilla ice cream. Then the entire thing was covered in a chocolate coating. It was a simple flavor combination but the result was pretty fantastic, and very refreshing on a hot summer day.

Chocolate “Twix” Bar dessert

Overall we all really enjoyed our meal at Red Fish. From beginning to end everything was well prepared and well composed. The only dish I didn’t love was the kobe burger, but not because it wasn’t cooked properly, but because it just wasn’t my cup of tea. Josh liked it a lot and thought it was a great burger. Portions were pretty huge, and we were absolutely stuffed by the time we left. Service was fast and friendly. We told our waitress at the beginning of our meal that we were trying to make a movie (we went to see The Other Guys), and she made sure our dishes came out at an efficient pace. This is definitely a restaurant we will come back to the next time we’re in Hilton Head.

Red Fish
8 Archer Rd.
Hilton Head, SC

New Years Banquet at Zen Peninsula

Sunday, January 10th, 2010 by virginia

After we got back to the Bay Area, Claire and Sean dropped us off at my godparents house, which was about 20 minutes away from their apartment. I was thrilled to be able to meet up with my godparents for dinner before our flight from SF back to Newark. I hadn’t seen my godmother since our wedding in May 2008, and my godfather since the last time we were in California, in October 2005. They graciously arranged for us to have a New Years banquet dinner at a Chinese restaurant near their home called Zen Peninsula.

The restaurant was a pretty big and grand space, perfect for large banquets and wedding parties. It was decorated in similar style to restaurants in NYC Chinatown such as Jing Fong and the Golden Unicorn. There were 10 of us dining altogether so we had a big round table with a lazy susan in the middle. The meal started off in typical Chinese banquet fashion, with a platter of assorted meats sliced into small pieces. There was juicy bbq pork, slices of either pork or duck (Josh and I couldn’t agree on it but I still think it was pork) with super crispy skin on top, compacted tofu skin, and jellyfish.

A little taste of everything - jellyfish, compacted tofu skin, roast pork or duck with super crackly skin, and bbq pork

Funny story about jellyfish – if you’ve never tried it, it kind of looks like long, thick rice noodles, and has sort of a gelatinous, crunchy texture. For our wedding rehearsal dinner, we had a big banquet at Jing Fong where our meal started off with a similar platter of meats surrounding a huge pile of jellyfish. Most of Josh’s family and friends had never eaten or seen jellyfish before so they all thought it was noodles or some sort of vegetable, and gobbled up the entire serving. It was only later when they found out they had eaten jellyfish that they denied liking it, but the empty platter doesn’t lie!

Back to our dinner at Zen Peninsula, our next course was shark fin soup. It was served in a mild, clean-tasting, yet rich soup. The pieces of shark fin had a soft, loose texture, a bit similar to shreds of scallop or stingray.

Shark fin soup

Next was one of my favorites, peking duck. The pieces of duck were served with soft steam buns, scallions, cucumbers, and hoisin sauce.

Peking duck in a steamed bun

I was shocked when I saw the size of lobster in the following course. It was huge! It must have been at least five pounds, and was chopped up into large pieces that were battered with salt and pepper and deep fried. The meat was still moist and tender.

Giant lobster head

We also had a large dungeness crab that was battered and deep fried. I snagged one of the legs, which was sweet and flavorful.

Fried dungeness crab

A dish of vegetables followed, filled with bok choy, shiitake mushrooms, carrots, tofu skin, and what I think were ginko seeds. They’re the yellow round things and had a soft texture and a mild nutty flavor.

Assorted vegetables

Then we had a big platter of poached chicken surrounded by a bitter green vegetable. It was a simple dish but the meat had a very concentrated and deep chicken flavor.

Poached chicken with a bitter green vegetable

Next we had even more lobster, this time in a ginger scallion sauce.

Lobster in ginger scallion sauce

Then fried rice with pork and shrimp.

Pork and shrimp fried rice

Our last savory course was something that I’ve never had before, a braised lamb dish in a hot pot with assorted vegetables. The lamb wasn’t very gamey but the whole dish and a really interesting and complex flavor that was kind of hard to describe. Our waiter would come by every so often to reheat the pot and add in a few more vegetables.

Braised lamb in a hot pot

For dessert, we had mango pudding, which was the best mango pudding that I’ve ever tasted. It was like a thick and rich jello consistency, and the mango flavor was really intense. It actually did taste like mangoes, which surprised me since most other mango puddings have an artificial taste to them.

Delicious mango pudding

Then we had some Chinese petit fours, which were a small roasted bun with a sweet paste filling, a square of mochi covered in coconut, and a small, dense almond cookie.

Roasted bun with sweet paste, mochi covered in coconut, almond cookie

Last but not least, we had a traditional New Year dessert, nian gao, which is like a sticky crepe made with rice flour and was filled with crushed peanuts. It was sweet and salty with lots of interesting texture to it.

Sticky dessert crepe with crushed peanuts

After the feast, I went to look at the fish tanks in the front that held some of the fresh seafood we had eaten during our meal. There was a tank full of ginormous lobsters.

Ginormous lobster in a tank full of ginormous lobsters

And one with huge dungeness crabs.

Dungeness crabs

King crabs with super long legs.

Live king crabs

Some freaky and scary looking eels.

Scary looking eel

And some giant prawns that were bigger than my hand.

Giant prawns

Overall I really enjoyed the banquet meal that we had at Zen Peninsula. The food was delivered at an even pace, and all of the dishes were hot and freshly prepared. Seafood is obviously one of their specialties, based on the dishes we had and the large tanks they had out front. My favorite courses of the evening were the two lobster courses (who doesn’t love good lobster?) and the peking duck. The best part of the meal, however, was being able to catch up with my godparents. I get to see them so rarely and each time is a wonderful treat. I feel so honored and thankful that they held off on their New Years banquet for a few days because they knew that Josh and I would be in town that weekend. It was a great end to a really great trip.

Zen Peninsula
1180 El Camino Real
Millbrae, CA