Portola Valley Lobster Shack

meter-great-Portola Valley Lobster Shack is nestled away in a corner of Ladera Shopping Center along Alpine Road in, you guessed it, Portola Valley. Confusingly, this restaurant is sometimes called Old Port Lobster Shack, because that’s the name listed on the website. There are also two other locations listed under the Old Port moniker, but only one of the three follows this naming convention.

Yeah, I know. My head hurts too.

“Note: Flavor molecules may not actually exist”

Weird naming quirks aside, Portola Valley Lobster Shack is a wonderful little place. It’s quintessentially New-England-ish in its decor and food choices, but unlike many establishments actually located in New England, the people at Portola Valley are polite and friendly. What’s that, you say? I’m implying that people on the east coast are rude? No, I’m not implying that at all, I’m stating it as a fact. Hey, I used to live there so shaddap. (There, how was that for east coast charm?)

The menu at Portola Valley is a joy to browse. It’s one of those places where you just want to say, “One of everything please” and eat yourself into a coma. On my first visit I wanted to try the clam chowder because, well, how else are you supposed to judge a seafood restaurant? Then I saw the fish and chips and wanted that, but then I saw the lobster rolls. Oh boy. Sold. Then, just as I was closing the menu, I saw the mac and cheese! I am a rabid fanatic of baked mac, and I ended up going for the pulled pork mac & cheese. Yes I know it’s not a seafood dish, but it sounded so amazing I just couldn’t resist.

Pulled pork on baked mac & cheese. *dies*

Pulled pork on baked mac & cheese. *dies*

Before I knew it, my dish of baked heaven appeared before my eyes, and it was magnificent. The pulled pork was tender, smoky, and jammed with flavor molecules. (Note: Flavor molecules may not actually exist, but you get the idea.) The mac & cheese was excellent as well, but ever so slightly understated. This is actually a good thing because it worked well to highlight the pulled pork, undoubtedly the star of the show. Alone, though, it could have used a teeny bit more flavor and/or cheesiness. It was still all kinds of epic win though.

The brisket is remarkably good, especially for a seafood restaurant.

The brisket is remarkably good, especially for a seafood restaurant.

On subsequent visits and with additional fellow dinner-ists, I also got a chance to try the brisket sandwich. Yes yes, I can hear you whining that this is a review for a seafood place and I still have yet to try any actual seafood. Just keep your pants on, we’re getting to that. The brisket was on par with the pulled pork, meaning that it was very good indeed. The barbecue at this place is better than what you’d find at most dedicated barbecue places actually, and that fact goes a long way towards showing that the folks in the kitchen here really know what they’re doing.

I totally took this picture myself. Yep.

I totally took this picture myself. Yep.

There, see? I finally got to the fish and chips. More specifically, it’s haddock and chips, which is a nice little detail that really impresses me. Haddock is fairly common anywhere near the Atlantic Ocean, but seeing haddock this far west means that this restaurant is serious about being New England-y. Don’t take my word for it though. I dragged a native Bostonian here to give it a try, and he wasn’t very thrilled… until he saw that it was haddock. At that point (and after tasting the fish and chips) he changed his tune completely and had nothing but very positive things to say. On yet another visit I overheard a guy from England make a point of flagging down one of the people running the restaurant and complimenting them on the food. “It’s the best fish and chips I have had outside of London” were his exact words. And yes, I agree – the fish and chips are that good here. They are spectacular in fact.

At the end of the day, Portola Valley Lobster Shack is an excellent place to grab a bite to eat. If you’re hankering for a taste of east coast seafood or a bit of barbecue, this is the place for you. Rumor has it they make a mean lobster roll and a dandy cup of chowder as well, but my opinions on those will have to wait for a revisit. I hereby bestow a rating of 35,098,552,670,980 flavor molecules (out of 38,000,000,000,000 of course), which should land this restaurant pretty close to the middle of your radar screen. Visit here soon.

Portola Valley Lobster Shack / Old Bay Lobster Shack
Multiple locations in the Bay Area
www.oplobster.com

Portola Valley Lobster Shack on Urbanspoon


Lots of seating outdoors, not lots indoors.

Lots of seating outdoors, not lots indoors.


Standard Restaurant Review Disclaimer
The ambiguous and illogical rating system used in this review is not intended to be pinpoint accurate. It’s only there to give you a general idea of how much I like or dislike an establishment, and it also gives me an excuse to write silly things. If my rating system angers and distracts you, there’s a good chance you have control issues. I would also like to point out that I am not a highly qualified restaurant reviewer person, nor do I particularly care what that job is called. If you were under the impression that perhaps I was one of those people, consider your hopes dashed. Lastly, wow! You read the entire disclaimer. You get a gold star on your chart today.


Dutchman’s Seafood House

meter-good-My experience at Dutchman’s was a strange one. There were some parts good, some parts bad, and many parts plain old weird. In the end, this restaurant just isn’t as good as I remember it (back when it was called The Flying Dutchman), but it’s still a decent enough place to grab a bite to eat while watching the setting sun.

” It was like watching a rabid woodpecker go to town on a rain gutter “

I love California’s central coast. Some people call it “middle kingdom”, but that’s always sounded silly to me, as though at any moment a hobbit might spring out of a hole in the ground and invite you to tea with Gandalf. The geographic area I’m talking about is San Luis Obispo county, which lies halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. There are a lot of good places to eat in this region, provided you know where to look.

After only getting lost twice – I have the navigation skills of a heavily medicated toddler – I managed to shuttle a car load of family members to Dutchman’s for an evening meal. We put our name in for a table, and while we waited we enjoyed the spectacular view from the panoramic windows surrounding the dining area. After ten or fifteen minutes we were seated …and then nobody showed up to serve us. We browsed the menus, picked our entrees, discussed appetizers, and still no waiter. All of the tables around us were well attended, but none of the wait staff wanted to make eye contact. Empty tables nearby were seated, people got their drinks, then appetizers, and still we waited. Steam began coming out of my wife’s ears.

Dimly lit shrimp.

Dimly lit shrimp.

Eventually our helpful waiter, I’ll call him Twitch, did a drive-by and said “heysorryforthewaitbethereinaminute”. Okee dokee. After a couple minutes he stopped by again and took our drink orders. “Ok, I’m going to go get your drinks, and then come back and give them to you, and then I’ll take your food orders.” Before we could tell him that we’d been ready to order for a while now, he whisked himself away to a dark corner of the restaurant and began furiously jabbing at a touch screen in an apparent attempt to stick his finger completely through it. It was like watching a rabid woodpecker go to town on a rain gutter. After a few minutes Twitch returned with our drinks, just as he had instructed himself, and began taking our orders.

Years ago, The Flying Dutchman had hushpuppies on the menu that were to die for. Hushpuppies are basically fried balls of cornbread, a staple of any unhealthy diet. The new Dutchman’s menu was a bit different, but I spotted an appetizer called “seafood fritters” that looked like it might have been a version of my beloved hushpuppies. I asked Twitch if they were worth trying and without blinking an eye he said, “No, they aren’t very good.”

Awkward silence. “Oh, haha” I replied lamely. “Uh, so I guess they’re awesome?” Twitch just looked at me and said nothing. Alrighty then.

Dimly lit fish and chips.

Dimly lit fish and chips.

I ordered a bowl of clam chowder instead, we got some shrimp and calamari appetizers for the table, and everyone else ordered fish and chips. The food was brought out promptly by a different, surprisingly normal waitperson, and everything was …average. It certainly wasn’t bad, and in fact I would be happy to return to Dutchman’s for another meal of fried ocean goodies, but there was nothing special about it. Everything had the consistency and flavor of a typical low-to-mid-range chain restaurant, complete with generic tartar and cocktail sauces in little plastic cups.

As far as I’m concerned, any seafood restaurant hoping to be considered decent must first make an acceptable bowl of clam chowder. It is the first and most important test to pass, and I’m sorry to say that Dutchman’s didn’t do very well. The clam chowder was gluey, bland, and almost completely devoid of clams. It was overly thick and mounded up disconcertingly in the middle of the bowl with a flavor somewhere between sausage gravy and wallpaper paste. At least the little baggies of oyster crackers were good.

Dimly lit starchy substance.

Dimly lit starchy substance.

Twitch visited us several more times throughout our meal and continued to give himself precise instructions which he followed diligently. “I’m going to take this water glass and fill it up, then I’ll be back to take those two plates and the dish there and then I’ll come back and ask you about dessert”, and then he would whoosh off before we could get a word in edgewise. He made for an amusing experience if nothing else.

In the end, I have to rate Dutchman’s a mildly disappointing 7 out of 12 buckets of clam paste. The seasoned fries were good and the view of the sunset was amazing, but the mediocre quality of the food and weirdness of our waiter put a bit of a damper of the evening. I’m sure I’ll be back the next time I’m in the area craving fish and chips, but I’ll pass on the chowder. And the fritters too apparently.

Dutchman’s Seafood House
701 Embarcadero
Morro Bay, CA 93442
www.dutchmansseafoodhouse.com
Dutchman's Seafood House on Urbanspoon


Hey look, a picture that isn't dimly lit.

Hey look, a picture that isn’t dimly lit.


Standard Restaurant Review Disclaimer
The ambiguous and illogical rating system used in this review is not intended to be pinpoint accurate. It’s only there to give you a general idea of how much I like or dislike an establishment, and it also gives me an excuse to write silly things. If my rating system angers and distracts you, there’s a good chance you have control issues. I would also like to point out that I am not a highly qualified restaurant reviewer person, nor do I particularly care what that job is called. If you were under the impression that perhaps I was one of those people, consider your hopes dashed. Lastly, wow! You read the entire disclaimer. You get a gold star on your chart today.