Open Monday through Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. AE, MC, V. Reservations suggested. Prices: Main courses at dinner $7.25 to $17.
The indoor pier at The Lobster Shed may not have the sunny environment of the real one down the street, but it makes the restaurant an endearing loosen-your-tie kind of place. And if the wall-length bar is meant to look like a waterfront bar, it succeeds to the extent that on a Friday night the crowd of drinkers act like a bunch of sailors on leave. If you're intending to dine at The Lobster Shed, leave your jacket and your decorum at home.
We have learned not to expect much from the kitchen when the bar is obviously raking in big profits. So The Lobster Shed exceeds our expectations. Nothing outstanding, but enough good food to suggest keeping it on your list.
The menu is all seafood except two steaks, but there are only one or two daily fish specials, which deflates the image of this being a seafood house. Choices are ordinarily limited to lobster, flounder, crab, shrimp, oysters and sometimes swordfish.
There are two recommended ways to start dinner at The Lobster Shed: An appetizer combination of one oyster, one clam, one baked shrimp and two clams casino is the kind of savory array that does actually act as an appetizer, whetting the appetite. It is $4.25 and probably more delectable in combination that a whole plateful of any one would be. That's because the clams casino are topped with a slightly pasty cheese and crumb mixture, the oversize clams are chewy and the oysters are a bit flabby. But if you don't like such a mishmash, order the Shrimp Crevette (sic), the shrimp butterflied and cooked and a sizzle of butter and garlic crumbs. Then dip your bread, which is unfortunately puffy and dull, into the aromatic butter. (Warning: one night the butter in our dish was rancid.)
Skip the soups. They are thick and starchy and pretty similar, the pink one said to be lobster bisque, the white one called clam chowder, and thinned, I assumed, to reappear as the sauce for Flounder Supreme.
Which brings us to the main dishes. That Flounder Supreme, its bland white sauce sprinkled with almonds and grapes, was good fresh fish just the slightest bit overcooked, not complemented by its sauce. Flounder Maitre d' is the same fish unadorned except for butter, and all the better for it. Opt for simplicity or for crabmeat. The kitchen produces a good creamy crab imperial (which could, however, benefit from more careful removal of bits of shell). It works nicely alone in a casserole, enhances a flounder or bacon-wrapped shrimp as stuffing. Crab is also served with Smithfield ham, this being Virginia. And it makes up some unorthodox but nevertheless delicious crab cakes. They are very large, coated with good fresh breading, and filled with just seafood and cream sauce, unusually creamy but a pleasant texture overall. The seafood in the crab cakes tasted as if shredded crab had been mixed with diced fish; but whatever it actually was, it added up to something good, priced at a respectable $8.75. Fried oysters were in that same fresh and crunchy breading, and were similarly carefully cooked so that the oysters were not much more than heated through. But they were, unfortunately, greasy.
And if you like to go straight to the top, the lobsters, one pound for $11.95, 11/2 pounds for $16.95, are expensive but sweet and moist, cooked just right and presented attractively.
The Lobster Shed does good and bad things with vegetables. Potatoes might be saut,eed with onions and herbs, their skins left on and their flavor excellent, though they are sometimes held too long until they have grown soggy. Zucchini one night was so overseasoned with herbs and pepper that to eat it scorched one's tastebuds beyond their ability to recognize fish from napkins.
For dessert, head for the pecan pie or skip it altogether.
Now what's so special about the Lobster Shed, one might ask after all this explanation? The service. The crew of waitresses have been some of the most knowledgeable and personable I've found, particularly in a fairly simple restaurant. One of them knew wine and how to properly serve it better than many a so- called sommelier. And the wine list, with choices from Virginia, California, even South Africa, is more interesting than one might expect from such a restaurant.
With its room-length skylight, unpolished wood floors, green tablecloths and old brick walls, the Lobster Shed has always been an attractive restaurant. Now, with new management, it has become a restaurant with uncomplicated, agreeable food and service that edges it a notch higher.