We have a ritual within our company when it comes to trade shows - one night we have to go out for dinner at a Mexican restaurant. This year, I tried to make reservations at Harry Morton's infamous Pink Taco restaurant at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino. However, I was told that reservations had to be made a week in advance for parties of 8 or more.
I then made a reservation at Macayo, a Phoenix-based chain of Mexican restaurants that has pretty good food, even for a chain. It was to be a night of food and margeritas.
About 4 p.m. in the afternoon, Dominic Baker, the international sales manager and chief engineer for Focal loudspeakers, invited our guys to dinner at Landry's Seafood House. Actually, we were invited to "crash" the Focal car audio international distributors dinner at Landry's. Since they were paying for it, my boss thought it would be good to forego the Mexican food night and do dinner with the people from Focal.
Dominic asked me, "Is Landry's a good restaurant, Will?"
I said, "Honestly, no. It's not that great."
He got a pained look on his face and jokingly said, "You're a salesman, Will! You could have lied to me!"
I've eaten at Landry's about three times - the first time at the one in Dallas, then the one in St. Louis, and we ate at the one in Las Vegas a couple years ago as guests of Focal's owner Jacques Mahul. The food is basic seafood, not bad, but definitely not great.
The history of Landry's doesn't lend itself to becoming a chain of seafood restaurants. In 1934, Don Landry opened a bar in Lafayette, LA. His brother, Ashby, joined the bar in 1939 and they began to cook cajun specialties and seafood in the place. Don's Seafood is still in business today, owned by Ashby Landry, Jr.
In 1980, the first "official" Landry's Seafood House opened in Katy, TX, outside of Houston. This restaurant satisfied the wants of area residents who would drive 4 hours to Lafayette for a fix of gumbo, shrimp etoufee or red beans and rice.
In 1986, Tilman Fertitta (right) bought controlling interest of the Landry's in Katy and two years later took sole ownership of the business. With an eye on expansion, Fertitta expanded the operation to 11 locations by the end of 1993. Since then, Landry Restaurants, Inc. has acquired or started many other restaurant ventures including Chart House, Willie G's, Rainforest Cafe and Joe's Crab Shack (look for an upcoming "Why I Won't Go There" post on Joe's). Fertitta also owns the Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas and is a minority owner of the Houston Texans football franchise.
The menu at Landry's Seafood House highlights a number of cajun varieties of seafood, shrimp and shellfish. They do have steak on the menu, as well as pasta, salads and specialty sandwiches, but they're mainly know for their seafood dishes.
Every Landry's has a movie-type marquee over the front door with some witty saying or pun on it. And like each Landry's, the decorative motif of the inside of the restaurant tries to capture the mood of an old time Louisiana crab shack. It's not as over-stated as the decor in a Joe's Crab Shack, but it's tastefully comfortable.
We were in a group of about 50 people at Landry's that evening. And because it was a banquet style, they wouldn't let us order off of the regular menu. They had a pre-planned menu for us which consisted of our choice of a char-grilled steak, a grilled chicken breast, grilled Chilean sea bass or a grilled tuna steak. I figured the easiest - and safest - choice would be the tuna steak.
First of all, I have to say the service at every Landry's I've ever been to has been suspect, at best. This evening was no exception. They had 2 waiters and one runner working the room. They were woefully understaffed. And because of this, the comedy of errors in ordering drinks, wine and appetizers grew exponentially.
When our food came, I will have to say that I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the tuna steak and how well it was cooked. It was a perfect medium rare and tasted very good. But it didn't overcome the effects of the poor service we experienced. Bad service trumps good food in any instance, in my book.
Dominic was mildly pissed about the service and somewhat embarrassed that he had us come to the restaurant for dinner. He told me the next morning, "OK, Will. From now on I'll ask you before we book a restaurant."
Landry's Seafood House is OK, not great. It wouldn't be my first choice of restaurants if I had to go for seafood. But I'd go to a Landry's long before I'd go to a Red Lobster.