Now here’s a sad confession. Growing up in rural Michigan, my idea of top quality dining was Red Lobster. This was the “go to” place for all special occasions. I even remember my first visit, hardly annunciating any words as I did not take pause when eating butter-dipped shellfish. And those cheddar biscuits, who in their right mind did not love those biscuits? Well, times have changed. Either Red Lobster has seriously fallen in quality, or my tastes have evolved. Either way, my last visit will indeed be my last. Looks like the people at the PR firm hired by Bonefish Grill already expected something like this.
So here’s the play by play: Red Lobster vs. Bonefish Grill.
Round 2 – The drinks: Red Lobster did have our stand-by restaurant Riesling, Chateua St. Michelle, but their ‘specialty’ drinks appeared to be pre-frozen mixtures that didn’t require a knowledgeable bartender to create. Just someone who knew how to push a button on a blender then pour the puree into a glass without spilling too much. My lovely fiancée had the Fresh Watermelon Martini at Bonefish grill and our server told her she was the lucky patron to receive the last one of the night. The kitchen staff underestimated the amount of chopped watermelon needed for the evening and discontinued the drink from there on. After sipping the sweet melon drink, she felt very fortunate to not miss out. We both commented about how even the drinks were mixed fresh from individual ingredients instead from premade frozen mixtures.
Round 3 – The salad: Red Lobster’s salad consisted of a plate of mixed greens that could have been one of those premade mixtures bought from a grocery store. It was a mixture of shredded lettuce, cabbage, and carrots. You had your choice of a few grocery store quality dressings. The lettuce used for the garnish underneath Bonefish Grill’s Bang Bang Shrimp made a better salad than the premixed, plastic bagged salad that Red Lobster tried to pass off as salad. Round three went to Bonefish Grill by default. Even though we had no salad there, there’s no way it could be worse than what Red Lobster served.
Round 4 –The shrimp: Red Lobster’s shrimp scampi was okay, but just okay. The breaded shrimp tasted only of something breaded and deep fried but no real shrimp flavor. The unfortunately named Bang Bang Shrimp won this round, also. The lightly coated breading did not conceal the tender shrimp underneath and the spicy sauce gave them an enjoyable zip.
Round 5 – The sides: Red Lobster’s broccoli was overcooked and squishy, the rice pilaf was completely dry, and the garlic mashed potatoes had a good flavor, but were cold. Bonefish Grill has an herbed jasmine rice that is light, fluffy, and moist. Their garlic whipped potatoes were pleasantly seasoned, garlicy, without too much of a heavy butter taste (AND served at a properly cooked temperature). They also added on julienned zucchini and chopped tomato, topped with grated parmesan cheese. The freshness gave the impression that each helping was individually prepared and not an evening’s worth of vegetables mass boiled in a vat until overdone and soggy, waiting to be portioned out over the night. And that so called shrimp linguini, UGH! The little shrimp were so tough and tasted as if they came from a can. The pasta and sauce were so bland that we had to douse it in pepper just to have any sort of flavor.
Round 6 – The tilapia: Here was Red Lobster’s only dish that didn’t completely disappoint me. The tilapia was nicely cooked, moist, and easily flaked into bite-sized pieces. The shrimp bruschetta topping was a good pick but it could have been better. The pieces of chopped tomato hadn’t ripened and therefore hadn’t matured into their full flavor. Also, and I have no idea why they did this, they heavily salted the tilapia. Tilapia has such a light flavor that it can be completely overpowered and they salted the daylights out of it. The Bonefish Grill tilapia was also cooked to perfection, moist, and flaked into bite-sized portions. I could also taste the wood fire sear with each bite. Your server will have suggestions on which of the four sauces goes best with each fish, but go ahead and try all four and see which fits your personal preference. The Lemon Butter and Pan Asian went well with the tilapia.
Round 7 – Dessert: We didn’t bother with dessert at Red Lobster. Go ahead and check out their menu and decide for yourself if everything looks premade, frozen, shipped, and warmed up when ordered. That’s how they looked to us. We had Bonefish Grill’s key lime pie. Thick, creamy, with only the slightest tartness, it was great. The roasted pecan crust was not uniform (it had thicker and thinner parts) which seemed like the pie was made on site. If it was frozen and shipped, it fooled me.
In the end, Bonefish was great, which was exactly what I was expecting. They obviously thought it was a sure bet to get me to compare them to Red Lobster. But honestly, I thought it would be a closer match. Not that I expected a lower quality from Bonefish Grill, but I expected Red Lobster to be so much better. I know it has been quite some time since I had dined at my favorite restaurant of my youth, but has it really gone down hill that far or has my taste matured that much? Maybe it’s a combination of both. Everything just seemed so mass produced instead of individually prepared. Red Lobster has gone over to the dark side of quantity over quality. I’m sure this surprises no one in the foodie world who avoid all mass commercialized chains like the plague. I guess this is similar to catching an old syndication of a favorite childhood show and realizing just how inane and ludicrous it actually was.