We're certainly in Dungeness crab country in the Bay Area, but it's important to give some respect to the crustacean of summer. Lobster rolls, dripping with butter, spilling claw meat out of a glorified hot dog bun, just seems like the food of summer. Or, at least it is in New England.
Appropriately, New England Lobster Market & Eatery is an excellent local choice convenient for the Peninsula and very close to the city in Burlingame, tucked amongst the airport hotels just south of SFO.
Lobster is the name of the game here and the overwhelmingly preferred vehicle of enjoying is in lobster roll form (most of us are too lazy to crack are own lobsters and crabs it seems). There are three lobster roll options to choose from: dressed with mayonnaise, "naked" with nothing but meat with butter and lemon on the side, and a seasonal creation that right now is topped with bacon and avocado.
I'm a purist, so I took the naked route ($17.50). It's basic in a good way because the tender meat is the star, finely cut into cubes with a good mix of the softer claw and beefier tail meat. Far more meat is piled onto the griddled bun than its capacity, making this really a two-part dish as sandwich and a lobster side. First enjoy the lobster roll free of butter, then go ahead and douse the sandwich because butter really works wonders in drawing out the briny, salty notes of lobster. My only slight gripe was that I prefer buttered lobster rolls served warm and both the roll and the butter were room temperature. Still, it's a very worthy lobster roll that Cape Cod residents would approve of -- even if the lobster meat is currently from Nova Scotia, and the seasonal meat from Maine won't arrive until August.
Just as captivating as the lobster roll is the lobster corn chowder. Warm, creamy chowder doesn't speak of summer; then again, this is summer by the water just south of San Francisco. The rust-colored chowder tastes of lobster broth balanced out by sweet corn. There is just the right amount of stray lobster meat and corn kernels tossed about to keep things interesting texturally without potatoes or other superfluous ingredients you might find in other chowders. Best of all, for those like myself who have sampled too many thin and fishy lobster bisques, there is now a lobster soup to keep in mind.
It's a tough call between the chowder and lobster roll. Fortunately, the restaurant offers a choice of a half a lobster roll with a cup of soup for the same price as a whole lobster roll. Go the diplomatic route. Try both.
Several diners opt for the true New England meal by sporting a chic bib and tackling a steamed whole lobster. Also make sure to try the stellar coleslaw and Kennebec potato chips fried in-house (they come with almost every platter or sandwich). I've never met a coleslaw I've wanted more than a bite of before. This one was a shocking treat, beautifully light, deftly dressed with a touch of mayonnaise, and raisins tossed about. It's the perfect picnic side.
Dessert? It doesn't get more New England than homemade whoopie pie or more San Francisco than an It's-It sandwich, made about a minute away.
With New England in the name, the New England coastal lobster shacks are certainly the atmospheric theme too. The room is one half a fast casual, order at the counter set up with picnic benches, and one half retail, where you can introduce yourself to the lobsters swimming in tanks. Outside features more picnic benches but without being on the water or having a Bay view. There is no mistaking yourself for eating "in the rough" as they say about the humble lobster shacks dotting the Maine shoreline.
There is more than a hint of the Bay Area here, too. Dungeness crab melts and crab nachos speak of San Francisco. The lobster taco represents a hybrid of the two with a wonderfully soft corn tortilla and a generous serving of lobster meat, though it badly needed a garnish besides iceberg lettuce and optional Tabasco (salsa and cilantro please!). A decor of buoys and fishing nets convey the maritime history of both regions. Even the beer list represents both regions: You can order an Allagash White or an Anchor Steam.
824 Cowan, Burlingame; (650) 443-1559.