Memphis visit for nephew's graduation
My nephew will graduate from law school in Memphis in a couple of months. Several family members will fly in (from NYC and Washington, DC) to celebrate the occasion. How is Lobster King? My parents and I were thinking of hosting a graduation celebration dinner there for about 10 people. I saw a couple of brief mentions in other posts but was hoping to get some more detailed responses. My family is originally from China so we're looking for some well-prepared dishes. Any feedback on what to order, or not, would be greatly appreciated.
My sister (nephew's mother) and her husband will host a dinner the following night in a private room at the Capriccio Grill at The Peabody. Also grateful for any comments or suggestions on this restaurant as well. I stayed at The Peabody a year or two ago. I found my room had paper-thin walls, and was totally unsatisfactory. The lobby was lovely and I'm hoping the restaurant food is equally appealing. For what it's worth, I share the views of some other Chowhounds who rate the Rendez-vous poorly. A big disappointment, in my opinion. Thanks for any suggestions or advice!
Thanks so much for all the suggestions and input! I've forwarded the posts to my parents and sister. I guess we'll huddle on things and come to some group decision. Tennreb, thanks for mentioning the fish at the Vietnamese shop next store. That's the way they did things at a seafood restaurant I visited in Guanghzhou, China. It wasn't even limited to fish - all kinds of exotic creatures ... Anyway, between the fresh seafood and the BYO it all sounds pretty good. Plus, with dinner at Capriccio on graduation night I think it would be fine to do something a little different the evening leading up to the Big Day.
My sister and brother-in-law will also visit Memphis between now and graduation time so they will have plenty of good dining options to test out, thanks to your suggestions, in addition to a nice hotel option. The graduation won't be till May but I'll report back then!!
In a nutshell, the overall consensus rating from our group was somewhere between a 3.0 to 3.5 out of 5.0 (best). I recalled tennreb’s description as we approached the strip mall housing the restaurant (where in the world were we headed!); the assessment was spot-on! As already noted in prior Hound reports, the interior was reasonably attractive, certainly relative to its exterior surroundings.
There were seven of us in total. Not surprisingly, we ordered far too much food.
Frankly, I was rather disappointed on arrival that the “hostess” greeting us (if you can even call it that) wasn’t a bit more welcoming. After all, not only had my sister reserved a table but my father, a native Cantonese speaker, had also called a week or two in advance to speak with the chef in Chinese about the restaurant’s special dishes and recommendations. I certainly wasn’t expecting any royal treatment, but perhaps a warmer welcome, or at least some enthusiasm that came even remotely close to our hopes for a lovely evening and meal would have been a nice touch. So be it. At least we got seated at a good-sized table without any immediate neighbors. (The restaurant was about half-full.)
Here’s what we ordered:
-Dried scallop soup
-Dim sum – (1) shrimp dumplings (har gow) with vegetables and (2) shrimp and scallop with vegetables dumplings
-Fried crab dumplings (these were a little smaller than the size of tennis balls and had actual crab claws stuck in them, I guess to hold onto as one ate
-Shrimps with walnuts in a cream sauce
-Sauteed soft shell crabs
-Steamed tilapia (two fish)
-Dessert – 3 mango ice creams and 2 fruit islands or something
Total cost: $285 ($330 with tip)
Since we knew the restaurant did not serve wine we brought our own, which the restaurant served us. My sister said there was a corkage fee but I never saw the amount.
No one in the party was really “wowed” by any of the dishes. My father was eager to try the soup, based on the chef’s recommendation that this was a “special” dish, but he didn’t find it anything special.
The dim sum probably went over best with the group. They were on the larger side (not necessarily a good thing), reasonably attractively prepared and tasted good.
I enjoyed the crab dumplings. I wouldn’t normally order them in a restaurant but I liked them fine once they arrived.
The shrimp dish was fine, but nothing special.
The Peking duck was also popular. The duck was served with steamed bread (more like mantou) than with the thin pancakes I’m more used to seeing. And instead of scallions they used cucumber strips. Again, fine, but nothing to write home about. (And not carved tableside for some reason.)
My mother felt there was too little meat in the soft shell crabs. I never got around to trying the Dungeness crabs but of those who did there were no rave reviews. I found the portion of lobster tail I had rather tough; others shared my view I learned later. At $65 for two lobsters this was disappointing. My mother complained the steamed fish didn’t taste fresh.
When it came time for dessert we were already stuffed but somehow managed to order three servings of mango ice creams for the table. These were rather generous servings in ice cream sundae (or parfait) glasses. We don’t’ know how we ended up with the fruit island concoctions. We actually asked whether oranges would be served (implicitly, on the house) since we eyed them at other tables. The waitress said “no” and somehow we ended up with two servings of the fruit dessert. (We got charged $10 each for five desserts so they definitely weren’t complimentary.) I guess I actually didn’t mind the mistake too much, in the end, and found the dessert refreshing and different. It was jelly cubes with some lychees and other fruits in a sweet syrup.
Frankly, I’m more used to having to pay on the order of $10 for dessert in more upscale Manhattan restaurants. Given the modest décor and mediocre service we encountered at Lobster King I would say the price was quite steep! After all, we’re talking about sugar water and some jelly and a few fruit pieces (canned, most likely). My parents who live in the Washington, DC area also found the dinner prices high. They go out for Chinese food more often than I do and should have a good sense of prices. Granted, some of the seafood dishes were “seasonal price” and we probably should have confirmed things before ordering. Given that this was a special occasion I doubt we would have changed our orders. It’s just that for seasonal prices and seasonal fare we expected fresh seafood. I’m not sure we got that.
Fortunately, the service overall was adequate enough and we were able to enjoy a reasonably pleasant dinner at a leisurely pace. Just to highlight that, in my humble opinion, the place isn’t quite ready for prime time, and certainly not at the prices we paid, the chef got into a very loud argument with one of the workers toward the end of the evening. They were actually shouting at one another right there in the main dining room!! By this time, we had finished our meal and were happy enough to leave.
I've been to the Capriccio Grill at the Peabody in Little Rock. While it's not absolutely off the charts, it's very good. The environment makes it seem a bit more special. Two other restarants are right there at the Peabody, Chez Phillipe and Texas de Brazil. I've been to the Brazillian steakhouse, and it's good but you do need to bring a large appetite.
I can't say anything regarding Lobster King, but it sounds like a place I may have to try... thanks for the tip there! I can't seem to convince my traveling companions that Chinese makes for a great dinner, the closest we get is somewhere with a Hibachi grill.
I can help on the hotel. I too stayed at the Peabody and was definitely not impressed. Loud, busy, noisy and the service was quite lacking. Since then I've found the Madison. It's nearby location is convenient, but it is a complete contrast to the Peabody. Quiet, service is spectacular and the Grill 83 next door is a pretty good restaurant. It's a very relaxing place to stay in the middle of downtown Memphis.
Hope you enjoy your stay in Memphis!
Lobster King isn't really ideal for a graduation party. Though the food is very good and the most authentic Chinese available in Memphis, it is in a run-down strip mall in a bad part of town. The inside is nice, though. The food is very good, so you may be willing to overlook the outside environs. Just order authentic dishes and stay away from their menu of American-style Chinese dishes (though I think this has been de-emphasized as they have discovered their clientèle actually wants authentic). The duck (carved tableside) is fantastic. Capriccio Grill is very good. It wouldn't be my first choice, but it will make for a nice graduation dinner. The steaks are USDA prime. One foodie I know says it is his favorite restaurant in Memphis.
Thanks, tennreb! What would be your top Memphis picks for a graduation party? The main requirements would be good and a variety of food options, attentive service and conditions conducive to conversation (don't want to have to shout to be heard). Capriccio was my nephew's request so I'm not sure how much leeway we have there but certainly my parents and I could consider another place. I'm glad to hear that at least the inside of Lobster King is nice so we're still considering it but just want to be sure not to overlook any other possibilities. : )..
Majestic Grille has a beautiful atmosphere, prices are very reasonable, and the food is good. It's not as good as Lobster King, but it is very good for the price range. Encore has a beautiful private room, excellent food, and reasonable prices (higher than Majestic Grille but cheaper than Capriccio). Stella and Felicia Suzannes are excellent and have a beautiful atmosphere, but they are expensive. I think Capriccio has great food, but in that price range I expect outstanding, though it has been four years since I've been.
I wouldn't completely rule out Lobster King. Your guests will have that "where are you taking me?" look on their faces when you drive up. You can go to the Vietnamese grocer next door and pick your fish out of the tank. They kill it and Lobster King cooks it, if that tells you anything. However, I think your guests will be pleasantly surprised by the food and environment once they settle in. And you'll be saving $$$, especially since you can brown bag. But if you want decent food at inexpensive prices in a beautiful atmosphere, go with Majestic Grille. If you are willing to spend a little more, go with Encore for truly excellent food.