True to tradition

Captain Kidds’ has a refreshed, more welcoming entry. Photo by Richard Foss

Captain Kidd’s in Redondo has upgraded while keeping its character intact

I have fond memories of visiting Captain Kidd’s when my children were little. It was their favorite restaurant, where they could enjoy staring into tanks of crabs, looking at pictures of fishermen from past decades, studying taxonomy charts of fish species on the outside patio, and then eating more fried items than I would ever make at home. It was a treat for my wife and me too. While the kids were occupied with the other charms of the place, we could relax with a glass of wine or a beer and nibble at the smoked fish platter that was our favorite starter.

I fell out of the habit of going there about a decade ago as the place fell into disrepair and the food… well, let’s just say it wasn’t what it used to be. After a few disappointing meals, we found other places to indulge in seafood. A few readers contacted me over a year ago letting me know that the place had improved, but I didn’t get around to returning until last week. A friend who had moved to New Zealand was in town, and he was nostalgic for old haunts. Captain Kidd’s was near the top of his list, so we headed for the south end of Harbor Drive to see what the place is like now.

The lower level patio at Captain Kidd’s is a bright, welcoming space. Photo by Richard Foss

The bright red umbrellas over redwood benches create a cheerful look as you pull into the parking lot, and as you go inside there are obvious signs that some money has been spent to make the place welcoming. Everything has been renewed and painted, including the outdoor tables that I remember as being scarred with graffiti, and there is new flooring and lighting. The posters of weird fish that my kids liked so much are still there, as are the historic shots of the pier and the mounted trophies. The character is pretty much the same as the old place, but with a new commitment to making it a pleasant place to eat.

Ordering via the walk-up counter is still the same, but the choices have expanded. My friend from New Zealand, who was used to simple fish platters, was boggled by the possibility of ordering a lobster roll, or a steak and lobster combo. We ordered that combo for $63, about what a family of four would spend for dinner the last time he visited.

First, though, there were appetizers. Captain Kidd’s offers five soups. We ordered cups of three of them so we could sample the flavors. Every seafood shack offers clam chowder, and this one did not disappoint. It was less buttery than some around town, which is good for those who prefer the taste of seafood to dairy products, and I thought it was better with a dash of pepper, but that was a minority opinion at our table. The New Zealander scoffed at ordering the Manhattan clam chowder, which he referred to as tomato soup with some clams thrown in, but he was won over by this one. There was a tomato flavor, of course, but also clam juice, bell pepper, and other seasonings that added rich flavors. My favorite among the three was the lobster bisque, which had a silky texture that tasted like it had been enhanced with a little sherry or other sweet wine.

Starters at Captain Kidd’s include five seafood soups and grilled Mexican wild prawns. Photo by Richard Foss

We ordered three Fanny Bay oysters, small but freshly shucked and tasty, and a trio of large fresh Mexican shrimp with fries. Anyone in a mood for a light but varied meal might consider ordering that shrimp appetizer and a cup of soup, and calling it a day. The shrimp had some grill char but were still moist inside, just the way they’re supposed to be. Straightforward seafood is what Captain Kidd’s has always done best, and they’re obviously back on track.

For our mains we selected crabcakes, fish and chips, and that New York steak and lobster combination that had made us so curious. The crabcakes were disappointing, so heavy on red and green bell pepper and seasoning that the crab flavor was buried. When I called this to the attention of someone at the seafood counter, he shook his head sadly and said that other people had made the same complaint. I hope management pays attention this time, because crabcakes really ought to taste mainly of crab.

The fish and chips were flawless, the batter crisp but not greasy, the interior moist, and the portion generous. They’ve been serving this since the day Captain Kidd’s opened, so they can probably make it in their sleep and still have it come out right. As for the steak and lobster, the big surprise was that the steak far outshone the shellfish. It was a good quality piece of meat cooked to exactly the medium-rare we requested, tender as can be, and slightly smoky. The New Zealander asked, “Is it weird that I’m really enjoying a steak at Captain Kidd’s?” and though that was a rhetorical question we agreed that it was, just a bit. It makes sense to offer this, because if one person in a party doesn’t like fish, there is something here for them.

Entrees at Captain Kidd’s include, on the left top, fish and chips, left bottom, crabcakes with hush puppies and mushroom pilaf, and right, the steak and lobster combination with hush puppies and cole slaw. Photo by Richard Foss

The lobster, on the other hand, had been pre-steamed and then tossed on the grill to warm and pick up some smoky flavor. It had been left there too long, dried out, and become tough. Since that lobster tail was itemized on our bill at over $40, that was an expensive piece of leathery shellfish. I called this to the attention of the person at the fish counter who had selected the lobster and he agreed that it was overcooked, and offered a free entree the next time I came in, if he was there. A refund, even a partial one, would have been better customer service under the circumstances. I probably won’t order this again because lobster is fine freshly cooked or served cold in a salad, but even under the best of circumstances loses something when reheated.

The sides ranged from average (french fries were the standard item, but arrived hot and crisp), to excellent, as in the cole slaw that was light and fresh with a nice touch of dill. I’m not always a slaw fan as it often tastes mainly of mayonnaise, but if it was like this more often, I could be won over. The hush puppies hit the spot too, and made me respect the wisdom of the person who first fried cornmeal in fish grease for his dog, then ate some himself. It was the dog’s loss, but a great gain for Southern culinary practices. The mushroom rice pilaf was also satisfying, with a nice touch of red bell pepper and real mushroom flavor.

Cocktails on tap are offered. I found the strawberry lemonade vodka mix too sweet, though the pineapple refresher was closer to my taste. I ended up having a glass of La Terre Chardonnay, which I think went better with the food than the tart pineapple.

Desserts were offered, but we had over-ordered on starters and didn’t try the cheesecake or other items.

Dinner for three ran $189.49 before tip, though when thinking about how much you might spend you might keep in mind that we over-ordered, and the lobster alone cost more than two of our entrees combined. You can still dine well for a modest price at Captain Kidd’s, just as you did when the place opened in 1976. The recent changes have restored the ambiance and made the menu more varied, and that’s a win no matter what you order.

Captain Kidd’s is at 209 N. Harbor Drive in Redondo. Open daily at 10 a.m., closes 8:30 p.m. Sun. — Thurs. 9 p.m. Fri. — Sat. 8 p.m. Sun. Free parking lot. Beer and wine served. Wheelchair access good to most areas. Noise level low to moderate. (310) 372-7703. ER


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