Wait and See on EMC Seafood
When the Elephant Bar at Irvine’s Heritage Plaza closed its doors in 2014, we didn’t mourn the restaurant very much. But we were disappointed that a reliable place to meet friends and colleagues for a happy hour cocktail or two was no more.
So when it was announced that EMC Seafood & Raw Bar would take the Elephant Bar’s place, we put it on our “must try” list. Friends who had visited the original location in L.A.’s Koreatown raved about the cool ambiance, happy hour prices (especially on oysters) and late night hours.
We drove by the location several times as it was under construction, and were impressed by the major makeover of the location. Finally, we heard it had opened, so we dropped in one afternoon. Sitting at the bar and looking over the then-empty restaurant, we were amazed by the well-lit and airy design. The bar area is raised up, providing a view of the raw bar chefs plucking lobsters and other seafood from the ice lining the glass cases.
The first negative was that the vaunted happy hour menu was not available during the soft opening. So we ordered drinks and had a couple of appetizers to share. The bites we tried were OK, with the albacore carpaccio one of our favorites.
Despite our optimism about the place, we left with a decidedly mixed opinion. We had expected to be blown away, and we weren’t. But the restaurant had only recently opened, so we decided to reserve judgment and maintain our optimism.
Now, after several more visits, we’re in the exact same place about EMC Seafood & Raw Bar, though perhaps with a tad less optimism. The open and bright dining area is loud and a bit charmless when the place is packed. The service is friendly but a bit scattered. Dishes we ordered come out in no discernable pattern.
We’ve tried many of the menu items, and have been only occasionally impressed. After sampling the happy hour oysters, we’ve decided that this is one dish we’d rather not go cheap on. The $22 lobster roll had a fair portion of meat, but the bun was dry and unappealing. We quickly put in an order of the garlic noodles to keep the kids at our table occupied, but that only works if they get to the table quickly. It took 45 minutes.
There’s no mention of sustainability on the menu, or the provenance of the seafood (farmed or wild-caught), if that’s important to you. It is to us. For us, seafood is like steak: if it’s not amazing, it’s not worth it, no matter how much it costs. So far, we haven’t been amazed.
Still, the restaurant and bar are full of folks having fun. We will wait a few months, and hope the kitchen comes around.
It may be that EMC will serve as a more modern version of the Elephant Bar: a place we go for the happy hour and on a rare late night out. And that’s fine. But for now, it won’t be on our short list as a place to get great seafood in the city.