Roll Call: Guide to Lobster Rolls in L.A.
Inspired by the recent proliferation of lobster-related roundups (see: Tasting Table NYC's Claw-off, Bloomberg's Lobster Roll Hunt, Zagat's guide to purchasing live Maine Lobsters), we decided to do a lobster roll call of our own. Gothamist readers, the Mothership is still on the lookout for NYC's best lobster roll (We hear it's a guy who only takes your order if someone recommends you to him and drops your lobster roll off at an undisclosed location in Central Park to avoid the Health Department. Or Luke's Lobster).
Everyone has an opinion on what constitutes the perfect lobster roll. KCRW's Good Food and CNN's new food blog eatocracy are firmly ensconced in the anti-mayo camp, while the Huffington Post and a few pro-mayo bloggers make the argument that your preference should dictate the amount of mayo necessary for a roll. The mayo has always been a point of contention, and it's not going to go away anytime soon. Local restaurant BP Oysterette even sent out a newsletter in an attempt to please both factions and to settle the debate (by offering two different variations).
So what is a lobster roll? Contrary to popular (in the West Coast) belief, lobster clubs, sandwiches, and panino are not lobster rolls (but we still love the lobster club at Hatfield's!). The basic components? Lobster meat + hot dog bun = lobster roll. After this it gets a little complicated. Although the shack you frequented in the East Coast felt "authentic" for you, the lobster roll there might be very different from the lobster rolls your other neighbors ate in New England.
The two variations are the Connecticut and the Maine style lobster rolls. The Maine-style lobster roll has a split hot dog bun (or a New England style roll, that you can purchase here, and you might want to turn off the background music too) served with chunks of lobster and a bit of mayo. Some toast it, some don't. Some folks (like Thomas Keller and the Hungry Cat) add extra greens like flat leaf parsley, chives, or tarragon and others dust the lobster roll with paprika or old bay for an extra kick. Your East Coast friend might ask, "But what about lobster rolls with celery, pickles, and/or butter lettuce like at the Summer Shack or the Lobster Claw? It's mostly a Massachusetts thing (although a few noteworthy places in Boston like Neptune's Oyster will not include those ingredients), but there isn't a classification for a "Massachusetts-style" Lobster Roll. Yet (Did we just start a movement?). The Connecticut-style lobster roll is a little more elusive on the West Coast (we found one at the Water Grill), and serves the lobster warm and cooked/drenched in drawn butter. Best of all, greens need not apply.
You would think that with the surplus of lobsters available that the lobster roll would be relatively cheap (lobster was selling for 2.50 a pound!), but it's definitely not the case in LA, where the typical lobster roll will set you back 20-30 dollars. It's still cheaper than a flight back to the East Coast though, and if you need your lobster roll fix, there are a few alternatives to hold you over until your next trip back East.
We made a thorough list and decided to remove chains (King's Fish House), tourist traps (like Gladstone's, the Lobster, Cafe Rodeo), and temporary specials (at Sweetsalt and Mendocino). Fraiche, Simon LA, Craft, and Cafe Wa S have removed their lobster rolls from their menus, so we have removed them from this list. These are all firsthand accounts with a few repeat visits for quality control (read: we were too busy enjoying the lobster rolls and forgot to take pictures). If we missed your favorite lobster roll, please add them in the comments below.
- The Water Grill: Downtown, Lunch only, $29.00. The cream of the crop. And also, the most expensive.The Water Grill serves both Connecticut and New England style Lobster Rolls, but due to the scarcity of the former in LA, we'd go with that. If you're a Top Chef fan, this season's contestant Amanda is currently a sous chef there and you can even try a few of her dishes from the show. If you like thick cut french fries, you'll love their fries. The fries are huge. Like bricks. The picture doesn't do them justice. It's a formal dining room though, so dress up a little (No shorts, no slippers, no t-shirts).
- The Hungry Cat: Hollywood, Lunch only, $23.00. The most popular option for food bloggers/Boston transplants. It's got some parsley and tarragon on it though, if you're not a fan of greens. The lobster roll is only on the lunch menu, but we've ordered it for dinner before. Great place to eat before watching a movie at the Arclight or a show at Pantages. The fries are like In-n-Out fries, but better.
- Delphine: Hollywood, Lunch only, $18.00. If you're looking for a scene, you've got it here. But you might ask, why would you order a lobster roll from a French restaurant? Answer: You shouldn't. Too much mayo, tough lobster meat, generic bun, and it was the only lobster roll that felt overpriced. The fries are reminiscent of McDonald's fries (well it's been years but my dining companion agreed with me) and saved this dish from abject mediocrity. We would advise you to skip the lobster roll if you decide to eat there (especially since the Hungry Cat is just a few blocks away). And with the way they treat their regulars, we probably wouldn't go back anyways.
- Santa Monica Seafood: Santa Monica, All day, $19.00. The best thing about Santa Monica Seafood is the fact that you can order it for takeout. It's quick and easy. Decent fries, nice chunks of lobster, and a little wedge of lemon to cut into the mayo (I'm an easy-on-the-mayo type of guy). Unfortunately, it's pre-made and it's placed on a slightly stale hot dog bun.
- Sonny McLean's: Santa Monica, All day, $14.95. It's the cheapest and the least favorite (though Delphine was a close second). Ground/shredded lobster is a disservice to the lobsters that gave their lives for you to enjoy your lobster roll (and some places have been accused of mixing in imitation meat, but Sonny McLean's uses real lobster meat) and the change in texture is definitely a step backwards. Lettuce and lemon don't drastically alter the nature of the roll either. However, if you're a fan of all things Boston or a fan of all things Irish, you're in the right place. The menu is big enough to avoid the lobster roll, and there are plenty of TV's to watch your favorite (Boston) sports teams too.
- BP Oysterette: Santa Monica, All day, $22.00. If the lobster wasn't shredded, it might've been the best value lobster roll on the list. Nicely toasted custom brioche bun, chives, not too heavy on the mayo (anymore). The complaint about BP Oysterette before they changed their policy was valid- the amount of mayo on the roll was sickening. Too much of mayo is never a good thing. Fortunately they were receptive to the critiques of their customers and tweaked the dish. They will also let you substitute the homemade sweet potato chips with fries (seasoned with Old Bay!), if you really want to. We just order both. Their fried Ipswich clams always steal the spotlight though. They are just that good.
- Ocean Avenue Seafood: Santa Monica, Lunch only, $24.95. The website says 21.95, but it's not. It's the same company as Water Grill, but the restaurant just isn't as good (Water Grill is their flagship restaurant). It's great for a romantic lunch by the beach, and it has a great view. If you're looking for something a little more casual or foodie-friendly, BP Oysterette is only a block away, and the food is similarly priced.