Steve Fields and pal in front of Fields' wall of wine
Steve Fields and pal in front of Fields' wall of wine
Tom Jenkins

Of Claws and Loins

Sitting in Steve Fields Lobster Lounge is like being in a lava lamp. Not because of blobs floating and bumping to the muffled sounds of Jefferson Airplane, The Troggs or a Floyd fugue. (Right now a bar pianist is tinkling a rendition of Coldplay's "The Scientist"--a solid entry in the anti-lava-lamp repertoire.) The feeling persists because the bar surface glows reddish-orange. Reddish-orange light bulbs ruddy up the back bar too. Strolling through the clustered bodies, the dim and din and the barely perceptible ribbons of smoke (great ventilation) has a thick, slow-motion feel.

The piano is a baby grand piano--an electric baby grand. It's wrapped in a black lip that plunges out from the piano's edge so it can serve as a launch pad for martinis. Stools are positioned around the lip so that patrons can belly up to the piano and toss out requests.

They're mostly Elton John numbers: "Border Song," "Little Jeanie," that sort of thing. There was Sinatra--always Sinatra--plus a few songs from Phantom of the Opera. But no "Rock Lobster" by the B-52's, "Lobster Bucket" by the Aquabats, "Lobster Girl" by Frank Zappa, "Lobster Lick" by D. Foster Logan or "Lobster & Steak" by Hella Brown. So what kind of a lobster lounge is this, anyway?

On Mondays it's lobsterrific. Menu announcements are reinforced by our server. "Today's Lobster Monday if you're interested," he recites in tones drained of ardor. "It's a pound lobster. It's going to yield about a handful of lobster meat, which is about three or four ounces. If you're hungry, it's not too much the way to go." This poor fellow is either trying to see how many lobsters he can't sell, or he's simply jaded about lobsterrific Monday.

We go for it anyway. It arrives in the typical manner: claws slumped over the plate rim, tail split, silver crackers installed near the edge. But before the beast with its diminutive fruits arrives, a ramekin of butter is positioned on the table with a flame underneath to keep it in top dipping form. Meat texture is near-perfect: plump, firm, moist. Flavor is robustly rich and sweet.

On weekends the Lobster Lounge is packed. On Mondays it's three-quarters so. Not on account of the pounder lobsters at just under four fins but on account of the drink specials: $2 shaved from martinis, $1.50 off cocktails and a buck off beer and wine.

The lounge is the energy source at Steve Fields. The din throbs throughout and bleeds into the restaurant, which has its own energy, though of much lower wattage. Example: On a mirror is scrawled, "If life gives you lemons, make some sort of fruity juice." --Conan O'Brien. Herbed salmon smoothies, perhaps. We didn't sample Fields' fish, though the usual suspects make an appearance: grilled tuna, grilled swordfish, grilled salmon and pecan-crusted trout. But we did try the "chop," a signature 22-ounce bone-in center-cut pork chop served with a cranberry demi-glacé.

This behemoth double chop is respectable; bones peering from the mass of meat, pinkness in the center, juices flowing. The only drawback is tepid seasoning. And herein lies the secret to Steve Fields: Success increases the closer a dish comes to steak house fare. Cranberry demi-glacé isn't exactly pork-chop boilerplate, but its presence isn't sufficient to break the rule.

Take the wedge. It's prototypical in that the hacked leaves are clean (no browns or bugs) and supple. And it has the conventional accompaniments: diced tomato (found an errant tomato core in there too) and an oozing pool of blue-cheese ranch hopped up on pepper. But it has un-expectations as well, such as bacon bits pummeling the salad where huge blue cheese crumbles usually roam. And that pepper-spice kick keeps it from dozing in the milky thickness.

Fried calamari is--as it is almost everywhere--a bit morose. Still, it is interesting. Instead of just breaded squid tethered to a couple of dips, there is fried spinach leafing through the tumbled tentacles and body rings that seem to animate the ramekin of marinara and the bulbous lemon-half for squeezing. The spinach is juicy, though the flow was disconcerting--grease. The calamari pieces are greasy, too, smearing a sheen across fingertips.

In the dining room, scrawled across another mirror is this: "One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well."--Virginia Woolf. True, yes. But this postulate could also be applied to drinking, which isn't always as easy as you might think in a place that lops $2 off of martinis at selected times. The wine list is reasonable, not only in its pricing but in selection, with more than 50 by-the-glass offerings. Plus the list isn't teetering under the weight of too much Cabernet and Chardonnay.

Yet if you wander outside the Chardonnay-Cabernet roster, you may find that many selections go missing. We hit two in rapid succession--the Yamhill Willamette Valley Pinot Noir and the Capestrano Montepulciano d'Abruzzo--before we are forced to settle on the Cambria Pinot Noir, not a bad compromise, actually. In fairness, our wines were comped in recognition of the outage.

No wonder. Steve Fields (the man) is a veteran of dining and night living. More than a decade ago, he was in the thick of the highly successful but now defunct Dallas Alley string of nightclubs and drinking parlors. He later assumed a pivotal role in the company that launched Truluck's and, later, Floridita Seafood Grill, in whose defunct remains his steak house has made a home.

In many ways, Steve Fields is a typical steak house with dark woods, thick shutters and prominent wine displays. Jeroboams and magnums are installed in banquette corners. A giant inflatable bottle of Stoli is stationed in the lounge. In the dining room the wine rests horizontally in vertical racks with the labels of the same wine precisely aligned, creating a consistent wine stripe in each section up and down the wall. Just inside the entrance is an enormous, burbling tank; not the smeary utilitarian vessels you find in fish markets but a highly polished tank trimmed in glistening metal. Lobsters of varying sizes stumble over one another, with the smaller ones seemingly trying to burrow themselves under the larger ones--a survival march perhaps driven by a fear of approaching Mondays.

Before the steaks arrive, a set of vicious daggers with metal handles is arranged on a black napkin near the edge of the table. It's a ritual executed with exacting care. And no wonder. Prime beef here is stunning. Prime bone-in rib eye is especially compelling, growing richer and more radiant as you carve closer to the bone with one of those vicious blades. Juices run freely. The outer char perceptibly crunches in the incisors and is well-seasoned. And though it isn't prime, the smoked bacon-wrapped fillet is delicious as well.

Yet beef struggles in the mixed grill, a melancholy rabble of shrimp, chicken and beef medallions. The chicken is dry and uninteresting. The medallions are mealy and overcooked. The shrimp is hoary, or at least that is the hoped-for affliction. It has an off whiff; the subtle kind that doesn't hit until you've bitten into the body and discover an inherent soapiness brawling with pungent stench hints--slight ones. This mess is caught up in a tangle of fried shoestring onions, which, like the calamari and its spinach leaf cohorts, are festooned in grease, which seems to drool over everything else.

Lobster Fields is a custom lobster dish whereby the shell is filled with a chunky lobster, shrimp and crawfish medley covered in a mesh of melted jack cheese. We settled on it after discovering that the Lobster Carino, a lobster husk stuffed with lobster and crab risotto, was an outage. Lobster Fields is sound. Yet at Steve Fields it's best to keep it simple and not stray too far from the steak-lobster-lettuce wedge trifecta. And you can comfortably enjoy all three in the Lobster Lounge. At the piano. While the pianist plays "Mobster Lobster" by the Fredrik Norén Band. It is hoped. 5013 West Park Blvd., Plano, 972-596-7100. Open for dinner 4:30 p.m.-11 p.m. nightly. $$$


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