The things we do for our children.
Last night, I went to Red Lobster for my daughter's 7th birthday. Red Lobster, to her, is the creme de la creme of restaurants, a nautical wonderland of bite-sized fried seafood. To the rest of us, it's a soulless wasteland of third rate shellfish and overworked food photography gracing the menu (It's Lobsterfest right now, and lobster has never looked so....man made).
My parents took me to Red Lobster as a kid, but the thing I remember most isn't the lobster. It's the hush puppies. After my first bite, it became clear my gustatory life had been incomplete without them. They had all the qualities a perfect food has - crispness, tenderness, saltiness, and a touch of sweetness. Plus, they were super cute. To an 8 year-old girl, super cuteness trumps everything else.
The hush puppies were so transformative, I feel I owe a giant debt of gratitude to whoever deep fried corn meal dough in the first place. I'd like to thank him, the inventor of the chocolate layer cake and the guy who put the first slice of cheese on a hamburger patty. You, my friends, changed my life forever, even more than Farrah Fawcett's hairdo.
So there I sat at Red Lobster, an authentic replica of a Clipper ship lantern hanging overhead, awaiting the one thing that would make this trip bearable. When the bread basket arrived with cheesey biscuits - and no hush puppies - you can imagine my upset. And, to add iodized table salt to my gaping wound, the biscuits were dry and flavorless. As was my lobster. How can you fuck up lobster? How can you take a succulent gift from the sea and transform it into a chew toy?
My daughter had popcorn shrimp. With all the breading, it was impossible to tell whether it really was shrimp, or something made in India. I would imagine the Red Lobster kitchen is a storehouse of food chemistry success stories: butter-flavored gels in five pound cans, powdered vegetables that magically reconstitute with a dribble of tap water, and seafood alternatives with names like Sea Legs and Ocean Bites.
Staying true to the nautical theme, we ended the meal with The Chocolate Wave. I was still reeling from the hush puppy debacle, and was appropriately despondent. Even reasonably good chocolate cake studded with mini chocolate chips and served with a scoop of chocolate-drizzled vanilla ice cream couldn't bring me back from the dead.
Next year, we're going to the Rainforest Cafe. I know I said never again to the pumped-in subtropical humidity that makes my hair look like Roseanne Rosannadanna's, and the guy in the benign-looking frog suit who - come on, just admit it, Rainforest Cafe corporate offices - is really a Poison Dart Frog, but anything's better than this.