Staff: The Wonderful Hostess Caith at the Lobster restaurant in Downtown Santa Monica. Merv Hecht

The Lobster

The Lobster restaurant above the pier in Santa Monica generates mixed reports.

Everyone agrees that it’s one of the great settings of any restaurant – anywhere in California. Not only does it have a great view of the Pacific Ocean, but it also sits over the Santa Monica Pier, where you can watch a crush of humanity walking up and down to and from the pier. And it’s been there for almost 100 years!

We were last there on July 4th, in the hopes that we might see some fireworks, but the main show was canceled. Yet there were some bootleggers and we did see a bit of fireworks. But the view can’t be beat.

And the bar drinks are very good. On the other hand, there’s the service.

There isn’t too much criticism of the food on the internet, and we found it very satisfactory. The lobster, probably the most served dish, was very fresh, well served, and very delicious. Lobster itself is very healthy – and then people like me dip it in butter! As in every lobster restaurant I know the butter is artificial and lacks flavor, so I usually spoon in some of the butter served with the bread, to enhance the flavor. The charred octopus is also excellent. Those are the only two dishes I know. I see a lot of agreement that the food is good, and while expensive, not overpriced for the neighborhood – although the Albright on the pier is a better venue for the price conscious. Of course when you are thinking about the price (the Lobster is about $40) remember to add about $25 for the tax, tip, and parking.

The clam chowder is too thick for my taste, with too many potatoes and not much clam. But the Caesar salad is good and there is a good selection of appetizers on the menu. Did you know that the original Caesar salad, by Caesar Cardini in Tijuana, used lime instead of lemon?

The criticisms on the web seem to center on the problems of seating and reservations. I can understand that – the restaurant is not very large, the bar is small, and there’s not much room even to wait to be seated. But there is no question that it’s hard to get seated on time, even with a reservation. Maybe that’s because those lobsters are tough to eat and it takes more time than expected to extricate the meat from the shell.

When a lobster is not so fresh, the shell is crispy and easier to crack. The shell in a fresh lobster is more pliant and so more difficult to crack. Sometimes it has to be cut with a knife, or you can do it with a fork. A fresh lobster will have delicious green fat under the tail meat – one of my favorite parts. Sometimes, if you are lucky, there might also be some coral, which is the red eggs of the lobster.

I was disappointed in our waiter. He had apparently never heard of a seafood fork (a necessity to get all the meat out of a lobster) but finally found two for us. Then he disappeared for a long time. On the other hand, when I complained that 20 minutes had passed from the time of our reservation, a charming, pleasant hostess said she was going to get us seated within a couple of minutes, and she did. She even arranged the seating so we got a table in the South-West corner as we had requested (for the view).

Finally a note on the wine list. The list of wine by the glass is very small and not very interesting. On the other hand, the bottle list is quite varied. But like so many restaurants now, there are very few bottles for under $100, and almost none under $80.

I miss the wonderful New Zealand whites and the great French Rhone wines in the $40-60 range and wish restaurants would go back to putting them on the wine lists.

Later that week we had lobster at Connie and Ted’s in Hollywood. The lobster was twice as big and twice as expensive. It too is a wonderful restaurant, but there’s no view!

Merv Hecht, like many Harvard Law School graduates, went into the wine business after law. In 1988, he began writing restaurant reviews and books.

His latest book “The Instant Wine Connoisseur, 3rd Edition” is available on Amazon. He currently works for several companies that source and distribute food and wine products internationally. Please send your comments to: mervynhecht@yahoo.com