Hit and miss and just plain odd

A server named Rob greets customers at the door at L&B Coastal. Photos by Richard Foss

L&B Coastal has a fine concept but is having trouble executing it

I remember when someone explained the idea of the elevator pitch, and how it could force a creative person to refine an idea. The concept is that if you can’t explain what something is in a brief time, you should rethink the idea. It’s not always right because some subtle or unique ideas can’t be summarized that way, but it’s a useful way to assess a concept.

An elevator pitch for L&B Coastal, which opened on Hermosa Avenue in May, is pretty easy: serve simple seafood, wine, and beer a block from the beach in a busy downtown. Model the food on successful places like Captain Kidd’s in Redondo, but make it a party atmosphere to fit the Hermosa vibe. Keep costs down by using disposables and having customers order on their phones, and watch the money roll in.

Bringing a popular style of dining to a beach downtown is a good idea, and on our first visit things seemed to be on the right track. An amiable employee named Rob welcomed us at the front desk and explained the online ordering system. He also let us know we could bypass it by ordering from him directly, and since the place had just opened and wasn’t busy, he had time to recommend menu items. We ordered a lobster mac and cheese as a starter, followed by a Maine lobster roll and a plate of fish and chips.

With online ordering everything shows up when it’s ready, so starters may arrive last. Since we wanted the mac and cheese as a starter, Rob allowed us to order that and then to put in the mains later. When the lobster mac arrived, our first thought was that it was odd this is listed as a starter rather than an entree, since the portion is large, and pasta is filling. I wouldn’t get this as a starter for fewer than four people, but would order it as an entree in a heartbeat, because it was very good. The fusilli pasta was properly cooked, there was plenty of lobster meat in a creamy cheese sauce, and the light crust of cheese on top added an agreeable toasty flavor. It was served in a tin foil pan that needed only a lid to be a to-go container, which was good because we were saving room for entrees.

I didn’t grow up eating lobster rolls, but my wife and I tried them with friends in the northeast and knew what they should be like. These hit the spot. There was plenty of lobster meat tucked in and stacked on a soft, puffy bum, with just enough Old Bay seasoning to give the real flavor of the East Coast. The light drizzle of lemon mayo accented it delicately, and we approved of the cole slaw that had a gentle touch of dill.

The fish and chips used tilapia instead of the codfish or whiting you’d find on the East Coast, and a seasoned batter that I’d expect on fried chicken rather than a beer batter. Tilapia is a freshwater fish that is much less oily than cod so is often dry when fried, and it has less flavor than cod. If you don’t usually order fish and chips because you’re concerned about it being greasy you’ll love this. (I thought it was pretty good but preferred the traditional versions.) The plate came with a hefty portion of wedges fried with the skin on, and these too had been battered before frying. I would probably ask for these to be made non battered next time.

Dessert was offered, a decent cheesecake topped with raspberry coulis, and we counted the meal as a success. There were a few minor problems with the experience, such as the fact that nobody ever came by to refill our waters. Toward the end of our next visit, when the same thing happened, somebody finally told us there was a self-serve water station inside. That would have been useful information to know at the start of the meal, but on neither visit did anybody mention it unprompted.

We liked L&B Coastal enough that a few months later, when a friend from the Northeast was visiting, we invited him to join us there. The restaurant was only about a quarter full on a pleasant Saturday afternoon, which surprised us. We took an outdoor table to bask in the late afternoon sun, and got ready for a taste of the East Coast. Unfortunately, we had several problems with the online menu, which has few descriptions and is poorly organized so that endless scrolling up and down is required. A paper version on the table so that diners could make their choices from something easy to read and then order using the app would be a great help.

Our friend saw a beer on the online menu he had always wanted to try, but when he tried to tap on the menu to order it, nothing happened. After many minutes of struggling with the app, I went inside to ask and was told that they had it in stock, but had just tapped the keg so weren’t sure it was ready. Until they did, nobody could order it. Since the large restaurant seemed to have only two or three servers and one busser working, anything that actually involved personal interaction was very slow. One of the owners who helped us sort out the beer problem apologized, and said he knows they need more staff, but has had trouble finding them, a common problem in the industry.

Our first order was a seafood sampler salad and “lobster mac bites,” deep fried versions of the starter we had on the first visit. The salad was a neat arrangement of lettuce, tomato, cucumber, and carrot topped by lobster and blue crab meat along with shrimp that were supposed to be grilled but arrived steamed. Unfortunately, there was no choice of dressing, and the vinaigrette that arrived had a sweet and vinegar balance that reminded me of a sweet-tart candy. When I went inside to ask about options the servers were busy, so we used the chipotle aioli that arrived with the lobster mac and cheese balls. Those were very good just as they were, and a starter I’d recommend.

For mains we ordered a 50/50 roll (lobster and crab) with seasoned sweet potato fries, lobster tacos, and a house special fried lobster platter. The roll and tacos took over 45 minutes to arrive, the lobster an additional 10 minutes. Our Pennsylvanian guest approved of the lobster roll, but not of the sweet potato fries, which arrived barely lukewarm. The lobster tacos had a nice flavor, but would have been better if the tortillas had been briefly griddled before being filled, because the uncooked tortillas absorbed moisture from the filling and became soggy almost instantly. It’s a little thing, but makes a big difference in texture.

The whole fried lobster platter at L&B Coastal.

The whole fried Maine lobster was the most successful entree, a good-sized lobster split and dipped in batter on the cut side and then fried, served over a lot of those wedge fries and a little salad. At $40 it’s the most expensive item on the menu, but it’s worth it. Get this and a lighter meal, like those tacos, and share them for a seafood feast.

We didn’t opt for dessert this time because we were comfortably full. Our meal for three ran about $170 with one drink each, a reasonable price for a place that specializes in fresh seafood. Most of that was good, but L&B Coastal has some problems to work out. I hope they get these worked out because Hermosa needs a classic seafood shack, and that’s their aim here.

L&B Coastal is at 844 Hermosa Avenue. Open Mo-Thu 11:30 a.m. – 10 p.m., Fr 11;30 a.m. – 11 p.m., Sa 10 a.m – 11 p.m., Su 10 a.m. – 9 p.m. Street parking only. Patio and indoor dining. Indoors loud, patio quiet to moderate. Beer and wine served. Few vegetarian options. (424) 231-8658. Landbcoastal.com. E

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