Lobster House (closed)

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  • 1/5 Star Rating.

Based on 2 Ratings

711 S 38th St
Tacoma, WA 98418
(253) 471-8982

Beer and Wine Only, Credit Cards Accepted, Kid-Friendly, Take-out

The Review

Reviewed by: Jennifer Johnson

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At the Lobster House in Tacoma's International District a range of Chinese dishes can be had; radish cakes, congee (rice porridge), chicken feet, salt and pepper squid, chow mein, walnut prawns, hum bao, chow fun and the hot ticket item of the moment: dim sum. Think of dim sum as small meat and vegetable filled pouches, or even simpler as Chinese dumplings.

I first had dim sum and hum bao (steamed buns filled with barbeque pork) in an old part of Oahu, Hawaii. An ancient-faced petite woman wheeled a cart to our table and lifted lids. The escaping scents were enough of a sales pitch, as language mastery on either side was non-existent. Ordering consisted of pointing, smiling and nodding. Tearing open buns and dumplings and sampling mystery sauces felt like Christmas morning. While I identified some on taste alone, I'm still unsure of everything I ate.

The big debate is whether dining room cart service nods to authenticity or just expected tradition and ritual. Cart service doesn't equal fresher dim sum or decrease food quality. While the lack of cart service at Lobster House does detract from the overall experience, let the flavors deliver that. If the dim sum is good, who cares how it traveled to your plate?


User Reviews of Lobster House (closed) (3)

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Jack said on Apr. 15, 2012 at 2:31pm

I am totally baked on this Sunday afternoon, watching baseball and getting hungrier by the minute. After surfing around the 'net, I've decided to forego the trip to Seattle (Tacoma is pretty much a food wasteland, and I often find myself venturing back to the motherland where there is always something good to be had) and head to the Lobster House. Dim Sum may be over, but it sounds like I may be in store for a treat, if Internet descriptions are to be believed (generally, no, but I'm feeling generous today)(all the idiots on yelp and various other sites where anyone with an electronic device can spew about their favorite eateries have left me, a 20+year veteran chef, with little faith in my fellow human beings as far as taste in food goes, a bunch of seriously taste bud inhibited pouts they are, wouldn't know dog food from cassoulet or real Mexican from taco del mar), I may be in for a treat. At least I'm baked enough to where it won't matter if it isn't up to snuff. It (hopefully) will be satisfying. More on this a couple hours from now...

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  • 1/5 Star Rating.

Jack said on Apr. 16, 2012 at 6:41pm

Okay, so I'm a little late, sue me. I ventured out to Lobster House around 4pm. Parking was easy on the street (this area can be a real pain sometimes). Walked in, and the place is pretty spartan and vibes of seventies paneling and disco balls are heavy in the air. There's two other parties in, a four top and a deuce. I take the gunslingers seat (back corner, facing the door), and a cute young Asian girl came by with a smile,a pot of tea and two menu pages (laminated, single page, single side menus, one for regular menu items, the other a very short dim sum menu). Sometimes there's a good laugh in just getting thru an Asian menu. Between the typos and bad pictures, it can be a good laugh. At any rate, the options on either menu were pretty limited. Maybe fifteen items on the dim sum, and not a lot more on the regular menu. I was very disappointed with the dim sum menu. There was Xui Mai, steamed spareribs, the aforementioned "football dumplings, and some other stuff that was just not that great sounding or looking ( the pictures on the laminated menu helped nothing). On the regular menu, there are some downright ugly pictures of food that I tried to avoid as much as possible (food photography is an art and can make or break a menu, these weren't making any impressions). The picture of a crab dish was, well, let's say unappetizing. Orange colored crab in an orange colored sauce with some chunky stuff in it...need I elaborate?
The menu had your basics, eggrolls, fried rice 6 different ways, lots of chow mein options, and an equal number of congee dishes, which I happen to enjoy from time to time. But this place was scaring me. It's dingy and dirty and feels lime it hasn't had a good cleaning since the coke whores and the polyester clad disco daddies from 1978 ran out the back of the building as the cops and the people they owed came in the front. There's probably still coke on some of the tables, if your into that kind of stuff.
The four top was not too far from me, and seemed to be done eating. Most of the food on their table was still there, which I took as a bad sign. The two top sent something back and seemed to be having issues with their food. All this is not helping my appetite, but I'm still pretty baked and hungry enough to ignore all the red flags popping up like a bad eighties video. I decided I would take a chance on the salted fish/ chicken congee, but I started with the ubiquitous "football dumplings" and an order of salt and pepper tofu. The really cute young waitress came over and we talked about what I wanted to order. I asked some questions and she answered pretty well, though I had the distinct sense everything I said was going in one ear and out the other. On the tofu dish, we had a difficult time differentiating between chiles and peppers (I wanted only the garlic and jalapeños on my salt n pepper tofu, nothing else). I let her just bring the other two dishes as presented, only asking that the congee be served last.

Awhile later, not too long but definitely awhile, the dumplings (dump- ling, who thought of this word? it applies here) arrived, along with what I figured was my salt n pepa tofu. Football shaped dump-lings, check. Plate covered in a pile of cubes red bell peppers with some tofu, garlic and jalapeño underneath? Check. I was a little dumbfounded. I thought we had gotten the point of garlic and jalapeño only on the tofu. Apparently not. If you like your salt and pepper tofu covered in at least a pound of nicely cooked bell peppers, your gonna love this. I didn't. There was no garlic or jalapeño flavor to be had amongst the sweetness of the red bell pepper invasion. Salt? I think they left it out. And the tofu was overcooked to the point of almost breaking a tooth when I bit into it (think abou that, breaking a tooth on tofu). I decided to go with the football dump-lings next, while the bell peppers hopefully hydrated the tofu. The footballs were made of a glutinous rice dough with a tasty pork filling. When I got em, they were still super hot, steam pouring out of the nearly hollow dump-ling shaped thing in front of me. When it cooled enough to touch/eat, I got a good bite of the interesting dough. Very crispy on the outside, but the inside was undercooked, or at least too glutinous for my liking, and it wS very sweet. Pastry kind of sweet, in fact. Too sweet really, but I tried to get thru it. The dump-ling was good sized, not quite tennis ball sized (but football shaped, remember?), but there was only about a teaspoon of pork filling in there. It had all fallen to one end, so there was gonna be one, may e two bites of dough and filling together. Those bites were okay, but the sweetness of the dough was too much, though the crispy part of the dough was fantastic. Too bad it was study to the glutinous mess that was underneath it. And the pork, there needs to be about ten times more.'and cut back on the sugar in the dough, eh?

So now I'm kind of annoyed, and the waitress comes by to ask how things are. Not being a shy person, we discussed the plate of red bell peppers I had on the table. She was nice about it, understood the mistake, but made no offer to remedy the situation. Shortly thereafter, the congee came. It's pretty hard to screw up congee. Leftover rice simmered in a broth of sorts, season, add meat, veggies or what have you, and serve. It's not so different from oatmeal in a lot of ways, until you add salted fish or chicken. Mine had plenty of both, but the chicken tasted like it was cooked three days earlier, definitely not fresh, but plenty of it. The salted mystery fish was there too, though less in quantity. Salted mystery fish has little provenance, and generally doesn't go bad. The stuff in my bowl was okay (freshness not an issue here), not too salty, not too funky, and it was an appropriate portion. My only gripe about the congee was not the congee, but the hot sauce/chili oil they had on the table. There was a bowl of your standard, generic garlic-chili paste (which I usually avoid), but I went for what I thought was the chili oil concoction. It looked a little funny, and I noticed black beans in it, which may account for the funky smell I was getting from opening the lid. But no, it wasn't the black beans that smelled funny, there was a liberal dose of vinegar in there too (chili oil, fermented black beans and vinegar, sitting around for god only knows how long)(was it left by the polyester people?). I didn't realize the amount or the presence of the vinegar before it hit the bowl of congee. I stirred it in just a bit and was hit with a giant hit of vinegar, which kind of took my breath away for a second. I tasted the congee where I had fouled it with the vinegar concoction, and it was nasty, at least I hadn't mixed it it thoroughly, and I managed to enjoy what I could of the now tainted congee.

When the waitress came back by with the check, she asked how everything was again. I told her about my being surprised by the chili oil concoction. And she said something to the effect of Yeah, we get that a lot. Did you ever think of changing it? If people are complaining about something, fix it, dumbass.

All things considered, I will not be returning to the Lobster Hut, or whatever the name is. I kept thinking Starsky and Hutch were going to come running thru any minute, and the food was just not to my liking. I did end up bringing home the tofu and the dump-ling. I managed to save the tofu by making fried rice out of it, but (butt?) the dump-lings were so greasy I didn't even put them in the garbage disposal for fear of clogging it up.

Sadly, Tacoma remains a giant food wasteland, unless your looking for hot dogs (The Red Hot, baby) or pho or Korean. Other than that, I will continue to go north with my hard earned money.

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  • 1/5 Star Rating.

Jack said on Apr. 17, 2012 at 12:18am

Clearly, I was not as baked as I needed to be to enjoy this meal. To have been wasted enough to enjoy this would have required a half gallon of tequila and some quaaludes (appropriate for the seventies decor/vibe). With that on board, I could have produced something that looked like the house special crab dish that is unfortunately pictured on the menu with a simple finger down the throat (or a spoonfull of some of that chili oil vinegar crap on the table).

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