Restaurant Lobster Fare: Nearby Diners Beware
by Marjorie Dorfman
Restaurant Lobster Fare: Nearby Diners Beware.
Lobster is my favorite food in the whole world. Eating one, however, is more than a sumptuous meal; it is an art form requiring great finesse. All of my adult life I have tried to eat lobster like a lady and been thwarted with every turn of the seafood fork. It seems impossible, almost like discovering the treasure of the Sierra Madre or maybe just like Perry Como's old song, to eat this wonderful delicacy without getting part of it all over myself and other parts over innocent bystanders. There should be a sign next to my table that reads to all those who might sit there: Eat Here At Your Own Risk.
Whenever I order a lobster I always ask the wait-person for several bibs; one for me, one for my boyfriend sitting across from me, one for every one else seated at our table and one for all of those unfortunate enough to be seated at the table to my immediate left. (I am right handed and food flies proportional to seating. Trust me. I know.) After all the bibs are in place, I spend a nostalgic moment or two naming and apologizing to the poor red creature who has died such a piteous death so that I might eat. The guilt soon passes and then I proceed.
I have my very own system. I have never noticed what other people do as I am usually too busy eating to care. First, I eat the guts; you know, that green stuff in the middle of all that sweet meat. Most people don¹t like it and that¹s where I get lucky. Usually, others pass me their "green stuff". (Sometimes I trade it for a small claw or two, but not if I can help it; the whole lobster is mine, sayeth the Lord.) After I devour the guts, I proceed to the white meat that's out of the shell and easy to get to. Things are usually just fine until I arrive at the second lobster plateau where the meat is going to give me a run for my money. Here's where those small forks that are an attempt to lend some decorum to a barbarian populace cause some trouble. They are far too delicate for the job. Some meat is very stubborn and it is difficult to pry it out of the shell with such a little implement.
The crackers provided at the table to split the shells bring me to my next course of action. I know my Emily Post, but I still say that they are not sufficient. Miniature drills and shovels are much more effective and should be at the table setting of every lobster-loving patron. The final stage involves those small claws. Here's where things can really get messy. The meat here is fabulous, but pocketed in almost microscopic openings. I have found only one effective way to extract it and that's to suck it out. I mean gently, I mean quietly, but suck it out nonetheless. Have fun with it. Who cares who sees you? You're not running for office, or are you? (If you are, then eat lobster at home. I will cover that a little later.)
Allow me to linger on the subject of "crackers" for just a moment more. On a summer night on the Jersey shore a number of years ago a few friends and I went to dinner at a local restaurant. The disposable plastic crackers provided at each table setting told me there would be trouble right away for all of us die-hard lobster fans. My very first thought was that they didn¹t look strong enough to crack lobster shell, but I said nothing. When our lobsters arrived we were all very hungry. I was the first of five people to dig in.
I gobbled the guts as I usually do and had already eaten the sweet meat in the middle. Undaunted, I used the cracker to break off the shell from one of the large claws. A moment later the only thing in my hand was the cracker. The runaway claw had flown through the air and landed smack in the middle of the next table. (Fortunately, no one was seated there). We all laughed and I was very embarrassed, but things did not end there. One of my friends was cracking a claw and it slipped out of her hands, whizzed past my head and landed on the floor on the other side of the table. She couldn¹t even FIND her cracker afterwards.(It could have been worse. She could have lost the claw!)
Preparing lobster at home has its advantages, but unexpected repercussions can still occur as this true story will illustrate. One of my friends was married to a wealthy executive and about ten years ago he had a 30 pound South African lobster shipped in ice to his home. He instructed his wife to put it in a big pot and set the dining room table for 12 people. She did as he said and then went to her bedroom to call her husband and tell him that things were going according to plan. She was alarmed at the sudden barking of her French poodle, Antoine and the hissing of her Siamese cat, Ming. She looked up from the phone and saw two large feelers wiggling in the air and crossing the corridor in front of her bedroom. The cat pounced on it as if it were a mouse and the dog cowered in a corner, growling and barking at the shelled intruder.
She began screaming into the phone as she jumped up and down on the bed. What she hoped this would accomplish has never been clear. "Come home!" she cried. "It's mad at me and it's loose! Runaway King Kong Lobster!" South African lobsters can be enormous. Like their smaller brethren, they must be placed in boiling water head first in order to die quickly and painlessly. The water in her pot was luke warm and the creature didn't like being there. He (or she) lifted the lid with its weight and went for a stroll throughout the apartment. I've forgotten other particulars. It did get eaten in the end, but not without a lot of hysterics and tears in the butter sauce.
I opt for a future with a mutant lobster, a new breed that will make things easier for everyone who loves to eat them. First, they should be so fat that they waddle into the nets the fishermen provide. The loved ones left behind should be provided for until their "day of the net" arrives. They should have bigger guts and, of course, that means more of that green stuff. Softer shells would make it easier to get to all that great meat. (Will I like it as much if I don't have to fight for it? Tune in next week, same time, same station to find the answer.) They should also have two tails because so much sweet meat is in the tail. Sometimes I order lobster tails. The meat is great, but it's no challenge. There's no fun in eating meat that doesn¹t fight you back. Still, lobster tails can tell no tales of runaway crackers and dirty bibs. If they do, I try to listen and remain as generous as I can be. I still can't, however, promise that I'll share my lobster with you. I am, you see, very SHELLFISH!