NEWPORT SEAFOOD: HOW LONG WILL YOU WAIT IN LINE FOR LOBSTER?
So, here is a question for the house.
How long would you wait in line to get a meal?
Until I moved to Los Angeles, my answer would have been a loud and clear NEVER. I would have screamed my negative response in your face and probably would have added a slap for good measure just for you having the temerity to ask such a stupid question.
In my nigh on thirty years living in London, I can count the times I have queued to get my dinner on less digits than Dave Allen’s right hand (and may your God go with you).
Each of those occasions occurred when someone else was paying and at one, a non event of a meal with Jay Rayner at Barrafina, we left in dismay after an hour of waiting, with dinner still no more than a hazy promise from the ruddy faced Brothers Hart and my hatred of "No Reservations" places cemented in my psyche.
Moving to Los Angeles, however, with its delight in concepts and love of style over substance, I have found myself forced to stand in line more times in a year than I had previously done in a lifetime to date.
In part, it is down to Sybil’s fearsome powers of persuasion
SYBIL: “Honey, I want you to stand in line for ninety minutes so we can buy a mediocre grilled cheese sandwich from a truck”
ME: “Er, OK”
In part it is because Los Angeles seems to be the spiritual home of the “No Reservations” restaurant, where milling about on the pavement for an hour before the host deigns to call you in for your meal appears to be considered an enjoyable part of the process. I tend to avoid these places like the plague, having discovered that the food delivered at the end of the endurance test will rarely, if ever be worth the time spent in line.
Where I can’t avoid it however is when I want to avail myself of LA’s excellent ethnic dining scene. Many of the Korean, Chinese, Japanese etc places simply don’t take reservations and, while this still sticks in my craw, I am prepared to put up with it for the simple fact that the resulting meals are always decent and often memorable.
I do have my limits however and a recent wait of nearly one hour at Shanghai Dumpling restaurant, Din Tai Fung pushed me to my very limit and my friends were only rescued from the resulting hissy fit by the fact that I had been before and knew that the baskets of steaming soup dumplings would be worth the wait.
There is a point to this, just in case you were wondering. Yesterday, as Sybil and I returned from a friend’s wedding in Palm Springs, she suggested we stop for “Linner” (a word she appears to have created to insert an extra meal into her day between lunch and dinner) at Newport Seafood Restaurant in San Gabriel. It had been a while since my morning muffin (ahem) so I agreed and we plugged the directions into our GPS system.
As we pulled up to the lot, I could see that it was already full and that there were about two dozen assorted Chinese folk milling about in front of the restaurant. My heart sank, it was, I recalled, Mothers Day here in the US and being a Sunday, the restaurant was operating its standard policy of not taking bookings.
I was ready to turn tail and head for home. But, as you know by now, Sybil is made of much sterner stuff and insisted that we find street parking and go and check how long the wait might be. She emerged from the restaurant clutching a ticket with the number 86 on it and told me it would be a thirty minute wait. I made a loud dramatic audible sigh and tried to persuade her that we should just pop across to the Carl’s Jr. burger joint over the road and get the hell out of there.
She was having none of it. Newport Seafood is, apparently, famous for its preparation of shellfish and one glimpse of an enormous place of lobster being transported head high by a waiter, from kitchen to table, meant I had less chance of getting her out of there than I did of being commissioned to produce my own kids show using belly buttons as puppets.
While I sat and sulked, Sybil put the waiting time to a better use. She grabbed a menu and, by the time we were finally called to our table, she had placed our order and we were told it was already on its way. They were not lying and, within the space of about five minutes our large table almost disappeared under the plates that the waiters dropped on it with a clatter, in rapid succession.
Courses of Salt & Pepper Squid, Seafood Noodles and Crispy Pork Chop were all excellent, but standard enough for me to think that we could have got them without so much fuss and certainly without making me wait in line. It was not until a huge plate of lobster arrived, red and steaming, that I suddenly had to admit that waiting for thirty minutes might be a very, very good thing indeed.
The 5lb beast had been boiled then cracked open and stir fried in a mixture of ginger, chilli, garlic, spring onions and soy sauce. The lobster flesh was still juicy and we sucked it from the carcass using the remaining shells to build an impressive pile of waste on our side plates. Best of all, it appeared that our lobster had been filled with roe and huge pink blobs of it had been used to thicken the sauce allowing us to play “hunt the egg” as duelled for the choicest bits of lobster with our chopsticks.
At $15 a lb, the lobster was not a cheap option and, in fact cost more than the rest of our meal combined. However, it was one of the best dishes I have eaten in 2011 so far and filled us up so much that supper became an impossibility and dinner the next day would be supplemented by boxes of leftover noodles, squid and pork chop.
Was it worth the wait? Well, for the lobster alone, I have to say a resounding yes indeedy. Sybil asked the obvious question as we staggered back to our car. “Would it have been worth an hour wait for the same meal?” I am not sure it would and I am pretty certain that I would not be fun to be around while we found out.
However, I am certain of one thing, the lobster at Newport Seafood in San Gabriel is worth thirty minutes of anybody’s time.