Superior Seafood & Oyster Bar is a sprawling place, and it needs to be. An upscale offshoot of the Superior Grill chain of Mexican cantinas, the restaurant holds down one corner of an important Uptown intersection, where streetcars rumble past and Mardi Gras parades make their sweeping turns. It's major real estate that calls for something significant.
Superior Seafood also must be big to handle the many niches it's trying to cover, an undertaking that yields an unusual combination of an old French-Creole and modern family eatery, as if Galatoire's and Ralph & Kacoo's were combined. The result is a huge, pricey, busy, good-looking restaurant full of dichotomies, some of them fun (or at least useful), some of them just plain vexing.
Big slabs of butter arrive with bags of hot French bread, though on two of four visits the bread was stale. The restaurant stocks a decent wine list, ranging from perfectly quaffable carafe wines to better selections. But behind the long zinc bar, daiquiri machines dispense frozen drinks. It's a come-as-you-are place, where reservations are accepted but rarely seem to be made and where service continues until midnight on weekends. A couple ordering the marquee dishes can easily spend $120 for dinner (prices come down a good deal at lunch).
Quality varies widely, and it's hard to guess which dishes will satisfy. Price and complexity are not reliable indicators here. The $17 linguini with shrimp and pesto was a relative bargain on this menu and one of the better dishes I tried, as was a $27 entree of scallops, each crowned with a crisp edge and slivered garlic. Shrimp brochettes, filled with sausage and liquefied Monterey Jack and wrapped in charred bacon, were as delicious as they were indelicate.
But the $29 redfish arrived so heavily salted it could've lasted until winter. Many dishes share the same sides, namely uniformly scooped portions of spicy maque choux and standard-issue whipped potatoes. These all but buried a blackened drum Napoleon, which collapsed under a goopy crawfish etouffee. A good crabmeat maison should not feature shredded lump crabmeat. Superior's is an orb that mixes shrimp and crab and heavily favors the shrimp mixed with strands of crab.
Guests are paying for fine dining and getting something at least a full notch lower, but there are other considerations here. Families can bring wailing young children, and boy do they. Your cabal of visiting relatives all will be accommodated as readily here as at Superior Grill, a noted expert in crowd service, and everyone will find something to order somewhere on the menu.
Superior Seafood gets some credit just for rescuing this address, a former Copeland's that sat blighted for years after Hurricane Katrina. If nothing else, that's worth a happy hour stop for some slurping and sipping at Superior Seafood's beautiful marble altar of an oyster bar or lunch out on the sunny patio as the streetcars roll past.