Tom Shea's used to be - 25 years ago - a steak, seafood and salad joint with big flavors and a what we would now consider an old-school menu. The ownership changed hands in recent years and the interior now has the obligatory Cheers-style horseshoe bar and sports TV taking up one end and a dining room with fireplace on the other. The water views have not changed - the Essex River over a glass of wine is exquisite and romantic.....the late thunderstorm made it very dramatic!
To start, the service was sprightly and attentive without undue helicoptering. Since we were thinking pub food for a Friday night and perhaps a Bruins' victory, we got there too late to sit at the bar but requested a bar menu in the dining room - no problem. We were quickly served two crispy glasses of Chardonnay, one an Acacia / Carneros and the other a St. Jean / Sonoma, both in league with our expectations. There is nothing worse than 'value' chards like Turning Leaf or Corbett Canyon to ruin a wine selection.
My delicious dining companion and I split an order of boneless chicken in sweet chili sauce which was nice and spiky hot/sweet and sticky. I would say this is a top-choice for bar-top dining and we were happy to sip our wine and snack the appetizer as the Bruins jumped out to a 3 - 0 lead.
Dinner - well - I think we should have ordered better. It was going to be a home run (or maybe a bases-loaded double) for the Paella but instead, it fell pretty flat.. It barely qualified for the Paella Hall of Shame since it was really mussels, small strips of sausage and few slices of chicken in a saffron creme sauce over rice. We were REALLY hungry so we commented 'this is not really Paella...but...but...it is not all that bad". Well, it was. There were no clams, no peas, no spanish rice, no hint of any lobster - no nothing that would even make it close. And a saffron creme sauce???? Which culinary genius came up with THAT? It did not even LOOK like Paella. There are no short cuts for this dish so shame on me for not holding off until I got to an authentic Portuguese or Spanish eatery!
It made me wish I had ordered a Blue Cheese Burger, which is served with a crispy mound of thin french fries - one of those plates went by my table while waiting for the Main Event - and that is what I will order next time I am there. No more playing "stump the chef" in what is essentially a pretty up-market pub. OK, maybe the Roasted Duck or the Lobster/Shrimp Fettucine.... Unlike the Bruins, Tom Shea's gets another chance this season. Next time tho, I just may stick with the basics. And get there early to sit at the bar.
Tom Shea's Seafood Restaurant
122 Main St, Essex, MA 01929