Anyone who’s spent time in New England knows there isn’t any Maine lobster on the West Coast that compares to the crustaceans pulled right out of the lobster traps in the Atlantic Ocean, but there are a few places in the Bay Area that do a good job. Properly preparing lobster is deceptively simple; in reality, even steamed lobster is easily ruined – water gushing out as you crack the shells, overcooked and tough, undercooked and mushy, served too chilled. While you’ll definitely pay more for Maine lobster here than you will in Maine, every lobster dish on this list is under $30 (including sides), and I even managed to find one serious recession-busting deal with two lobsters for under $25. Here are five fabulous ways to satisfy your Maine lobster hankering without breaking the bank:
5. Monday night lobster dinner: Scoma’s Sausalito
588 Bridgeway Boulevard (near Princess), Sausalito, 415-332-9551, www.scomassausalito.com
Scoma’s Monday night lobster dinner is back – a three-course meal that includes your choice of a bowl of clam chowder or a Caesar salad, a whole Maine lobster and crème brûlée for $29.95. It’s one of the few places where you’ll find a broiled lobster (though I could do without the slathering of butter sauce). Still, it’s a good-sized chicken lobster (pound and a half) and it’s broiled to tender perfection. Scoma’s Sausalito is charming and quaint, set out on the pier with lovely views of the water and San Francisco.
4. Lobster with ginger and scallions: Happy Garden
815 Clement Street (at 9th), San Francisco, 415-387-4011
This just might be the best lobster deal in the entire Bay Area: two fresh Maine lobsters (fished from a tank right after you order) sauteed in an aromatic sauce of scallions and fresh hunks of ginger – drum roll, please – for $23.99. Not only is the price right, the preparation is perfection – tender chunks of lobster pull easily from their shells, while the sauce is lighter than most and finger-lickin’-good.
3. Bean Town Bake steam pot: Joe’s Crab Shack
245 Jefferson Street (near Taylor) on Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco, 415-673-2266, www.joescrabshack.com
The owners of Joe’s hail from the East Coast and they recently began offering a selection of steam pots. The Bean Town Bake comes as close to an authentic New England clambake as you’ll come on the West Coast – for $41.99 you get two whole Maine lobsters, a pound of clams, six plump peel-and-eat shrimp, corn, red potatoes, and a huge link of the best snappy, natural-casing sausage I’ve had in ages. The atmosphere is fun (it’s a bit like being in High School Musical 15 – every 45 minutes the staff breaks into an impromptu freestyle dance routine), and as I always say, anyone who pooh-poohs Fisherman’s Wharf isn’t a true San Franciscan. Grab a window seat – the views of the boats and the bay are fabulous, and it’s a great way for locals to spend a relaxing afternoon.
2. Broiled stuffed lobster: Red Lobster
Various Bay Area locations, 800-562-7837, www.redlobster.com
You can find steamed Maine lobster in quite a few upscale eateries and boutique seafood spots, but broiled stuffed is hard to come by outside of New England. The Red Lobster does an excellent steamed version fresh from their tank, but I always pay a little extra to have mine broiled stuffed – split down the middle, slathered with butter, fluffy crab and seafood stuffing in the cavity, and broiled until the tail meat has a little char. (Around $30 with a salad, a side and those addictive cheddar biscuits.)
1. Lobster Madness at Perry’s
• 944 Union Street, San Francisco, 415-922-9022
• 155 Steuart Street, San Francisco (in the Hotel Griffon on the Embarcadero), 415-495-6500, www.perryssf.com
The venerable Perry’s is celebrating its 40th anniversary – quite a feat in the restaurant world, where even the hippest new spots are often shuttered within a year. Perry’s is a favorite of politicos, San Francisco’s old-guard elite, and a whole new generation discovering the beauty of a classic cocktail and a homey, satisfying meal. Owner Perry Butler has provided a classy anchor on Union Street for years, and his newest location offers some of the only reasonably priced views of the Bay Bridge you’ll find on the Embarcadero. The famous “Lobster Madness” (Wednesday nights at Union Street, Sunday nights at the Embarcadero) includes a 1¼ pound steamed Maine lobster. In New England, they call a 1-pounder a “chicken lobster,” desirable for its sweetness and tenderness. A pound-and-a-quarter is about as big as I like my lobster – anything bigger starts to get tough and bland. So while these smaller crustaceans may not have the dramatic flair of their giant-clawed cousins, they’re a lot more tender, sweeter and tastier. Perry’s serves their lobster with the traditional fixings (corn on the cob and boiled potatoes) for just $22.95. The Madness starts at 5 p.m. and lasts until they run out – and they do run out, so make a reservation and get there early.