The Lobster Bar at Chops has long served as a reliable dining spot for my family. In years past, we would frequent The Dinning Room for our non-secular Christmas Eve dinner; however, in recent years we have opted for the more relaxed atmosphere of the Lobster Bar.
While both Chops and the Lobster Bar sit firmly entrenched amongst the small circle of "elite" Atlanta restaurants, you may find the experience fluctuates with regards to execution. However, in a city with a dearth of good seafood, the Lobster Bar stands up just fine. This past dinner was no exception, and I will do my best to mix in my past experiences with this post.
Chops is quick to identify itself as an "Atlanta Icon," that is consistently ranked as one of the top ten steakhouses in the country. I think that claim does not hold up today as well as it did fifteen/twenty years ago (when fine dinning in ATL was limited to P&P, Bone’s, or Chops).
Since the review here is for the Lobster Bar, and not for big brother upstairs, I will not elaborate further on Chops. However, I have always considered these two restaurants to be much closer in relation than say Rathbun’s and Rathbun’s Steak (linky). The menus are nearly identical; although, I have not dined upstairs in some time. As such, there may be some unique dishes at each place.
Upon entering, you are thrown into a world eerily reminiscent of the "art deco-esk" styling’s found at the Grand Central Oyster Bar. No street views here, and that’s just fine with me. Being holed up helps create the illusion of being underground. The Lobster Bar forgoes the omnipresent tiling, and instead, opts for tiled ceilings and floors with dark wood on the walls. The lights that hang from the LB ceiling are truly art deco and easily my favorite accent. The linens and table wares are straight forward and simple (in a good way).
I do appreciate the fact that the Lobster Bar went for a cleaner, more upscale interior than their counterpart in NYC. Part of the charm of Grand Central is their red and white table clothes combined with the fully tiled walls, floors, and ceiling. I much appreciate the tip of the hat the Lobster Bar gives Grand Central. I am often displeased when I see a restaurant essentially copy another’s decor.
The menu here is pretty straight forward. There is nothing outside the box and nothing that even approaches "pushing the envelope." That is not a criticism, just an observation. They do have a new menu; a few things were removed and some bone in items, amongst others, were added. This place is okay as a steak house; however, Rathbun’s gets my vote. The seafood here seems like the best options.
Executive Chef Darrell Glassman is a mystery to me outside of his bio on the Lobster Bar website. The long of the short is that he has lived in Atlanta for nearly 20-years and has been with the Buckhead Life Group the entire time. Prior to his stint with the LB, he served as Executive Chef at Veni Vidi Vici. The website goes on to identify his cooking as reminiscent of Northern Italy. Yeah right! I just have to call shenanigans on that one. While he certainly does Italian, there is little on this menu that makes me think of Italy. As I mentioned, being straightforward and classic American is not a bad thing, even in this day of foams, froths, demi-glazes and the such. Do what you do and be proud of that.
Ah, but back to the experience. Your eyes will almost certainly fall upon the mounds of ice on display a the bar. This is a great place to sit if your party is small or you are flying solo. The ice, as you may have guessed, is packed with a variety of fresh seafood, that is flown in daily. Being a seafood lover myself, I find this very appealing as they trounce the Fish Market as far as quality of ingredients. Then again, the Fish Market is a disaster, so that may not tell you much. As you settle in, you will find the service attentive and polite. This was certainly the case on Christmas Eve as our waitress had one of the sweetest dispositions I have come across.
Our food on Christmas Eve was hit and miss. When they did it right – it was damn good! When they dropped the ball, I was really befuddled. We started with table side steak tartar and two stone crab claws. The crab claws were fantastic. They were plump and fresh, the meat fell apart in your mouth just as it should. The tartar was a disappointment. Not bad, but not great. The meat they utilized was not the problem, the lack of spices was. The recipe needs to be kicked up. I would have appreciated more mustard, less oil, and it would not have hurt had they added some red pepper (or anything to give it the kick it so desperately wanted to have).
Between the three of us we ordered the Dover sole, a broiled (not boiled!!!) lobster, and the steak special. The sole had promise, though left me a bit disappointed. The fish itself was fresh as could be, not surprising, and cooked to perfection. The sauce was subtle and accented the fish just right. A number of species are somewhat bland by nature, and sole is just one such specie. So what’s the problem you ask? Well, the sauce was applied so inconsistently that one bit would be spot on, and the adjacent bite would make you think you had ordered something entirely separate. Unfortunately, I do not recall the cut of steak. What I do remember was that it was offensively salted; more so than any steak I have had in recent years. In addition, the steak was medium and not medium rare, as requested. That’s a pretty big failure for a steak house. The accompanying pom frit were not memorable. I went for the lobster and boy was I happy. The LB offers Pinchy in the two to five pound editions. I went with a 2.5 lb lobster as the smaller ones tend to have the best flavor. Why ruin a good thing by talking it to death: They hit this one out of the park!
We ordered the asparagus with hollandaise, white mushroom caps, and creamed spinach. The asparagus was poorly prepared and the sauce was too rich (and hollandaise is rich by nature). The mushrooms must have been doused in vinegar, ughgh. The spinach was excellent, though extremely creamy.
As an aside, the crowd here is 100% stuffy and about 15% tacky. It is entirely old guard, so try to not let that get you down. Although, it can have its’ benefits from time to time. Some of the outfits that walk into this place are very interesting. As they say, you can buy a lot of things – but taste isn’t one of them.
All in all, the meal was acceptable. I know some people can get hot and bothered with less than stellar meals at this price range (me included). Absent the mushrooms and asparagus, the steak was the biggest problem with the meal. They really should have been ashamed to put that out. While LB/Chops is not my first choice for steak in this city, this was an extreme exception. Normally, the steaks are solid. Bottom line: go hear for seafood (especially the shellfish) but do not be afraid of the steaks.