Smooth Sailing

Landry's Seafood House Provides Good Meals At Reasonable Prices.
By Rebecca Cook

FOR MANY YEARS, if you wanted to enjoy really good seafood, you had to plunk down big bucks at one of Tucson's finer restaurants. The only alternatives were to forego freshness and a reduced fat intake and buy some fried, fast-food flounder, or go to Red Lobster, where the fish, service and costs, at best, were middling.

Chow There wasn't much in between in the Old Pueblo.

Recently, however, the options have broadened with the opening of Landry's Seafood House, one of 50 such enterprises scattered among 20 states (a number lagging far behind Red Lobster's 600-plus units).

Restaurant chains don't usually inspire my enthusiasm, but then it isn't often that I see the kind of attention to detail and obvious quality control evident at Landry's. Without breaking the bank, you can sample seafood that's fresh, competently prepared and graciously served.

President and CEO of the Landry's empire is 39-year-old Tilman Fertitta, a man who set out to fill a niche in the restaurant world and wound up creating a successful multi-million dollar industry. Recently named by Forbes magazine as one of America's top-five small companies, Landry's has been on a juggernaut roll of financial fame and fortune that has lead, at last, to Tucson.

Housed in the old Carlos Murphey's on North Wilmot Road, Landry's is already a popular spot, especially on Friday night when waiting diners pour out the door to bask in the reflected light from Landry's trademark movie marquee.

At least that was the scenario for my first visit to Landry's, where we waited 20 minutes before we could be seated.

We ordered an appetizer of seafood-stuffed jalapeños ($5.99) and a couple of cold ones tapped from Landry's fine draught beer selections. The beers came in handy a short while later when our palates caught fire from the peppers.

Stuffed to bursting, dipped in a light batter and fried crisp, the tender jalapeños blended well with a filling of cream cheese, crab and other shredded seafood, diced red pepper and garlic. This was an elegant--and very hot--popper.

Shrimp and green chile chowder ($3.99) is another way to get your meal off to a satisfying start. It's a sumptuous seafood and tomato broth studded with medium-sized shrimp, chopped red potatoes, onions and green pepper accented with just a hint of red pepper warmth.

Entrees at Landry's are served with a salad for everyone at your table. It comes in a large bowl and the waiter tosses it tableside with a standard Italian dressing (we discovered, however, that other dressings are available upon request). Consisting mostly of iceberg lettuce, the serviceable salad also includes black olives, shredded cheddar cheese, sliced onions and tomatoes.

Landry's menu is fairly lengthy, with a number of seafood options to tempt the diner. (Landlubbers will be pleased to see beef and chicken items are also included.) Featured prominently are various shrimp dishes.

We chose the shrimp platters, which contain enough to feed a family of four. Our order consisted of the lemon-pepper, fried, scampi, cocktail and blackened variations in one fell swoop. At $17.99 and $16.99, these platters are not a bad way to go, especially if you can't make up your mind.

Other seafood cuts are prepared to order and served with a choice of accompanying sauces, including a tomato relish and two mango salsas.

Swordfish served with the mango-habanero sauce ($15.99) was a standout one evening. As fresh as that featured in many of the San Diego restaurants we visited this past summer, the grilled fish was tender and flaked easily into bite-sized morsels that went well with the sweet-hot salsa.

The standard fresh-catch ($14.99) was a surprisingly tasty dish of delicate pan-fried tilapia topped with a white sauce of fresh sliced mushrooms and crabmeat. The first bites of this dish were heaven, but as the meal progressed and the sauce became correspondingly thicker, the rich nature of the dish became evident--we opted for take-home Styrofoam.

Classic desserts such as New York cheesecake and chocolate cake are offered, as well as a signature bananas foster ($5.99) and key lime pie ($4.99).

The pie was requisitely tart and refreshing with a graham cracker crust, but the bananas were a disappointment. Based on the classic recipe created at Brennan's Restaurant in New Orleans, the dish usually consists of lengthwise slices of banana sautéed in a marvelous brown sugar, butter and rum concoction, which is then flamed and served atop scoops of vanilla ice cream.

Landry's has chosen to wrap the ice cream first in crepes, a superfluous gesture, and top it with crosswise slices of banana along with a caramel and a chocolate sauce. I'll stick to the original concept, thank you.

The same menu is offered for both lunch and dinner, although less expensive menu items are included with the midday meal. A children's menu is also available.

Landry's Seafood House. 410 N. Wilmot Road. 751-0050. Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Full bar. V, MC, AMEX, DC, CH. Menu items $3.99-$21.99). TW

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