The sign out front of Lost Roo announced Thursday’s weekly special, the flagship: prime rib.
When I pulled into the parking lot there wasn’t a space to be had. Besides the 20-odd cars filling the main lot, the make-shift area out back was full too.
Folks must really love their prime rib, I thought.
When I entered the main hall, past the Australia-shaped sign proclaiming “G’day!,” the restaurant was bustling, yet plenty of open tables remained. Maybe half full, the enormous eatery resembled a wooden airplane hanger, or a double-length barn. A chest-high wall divides the two sections: One, a little more sports-bar, requires ID. But, with a good deal of natural light thanks to west-facing windows, it’s really one giant shared space.
The name and kangaroo logo suggest affinity for the Land Down Under, but in practice Lost Roo seems less connected to Australia than Outback Steakhouse. With posters celebrating New York, Canadian whiskey, a slew of buzzing neon beer signs and glowing flat screen TVs, Lost Roo is essentially a family-friendly American sports pub. It’s clean, spacious and not quite as loud as you might imagine. It feels like a chain yet to franchise. Its menu resembles the same, like a more upscale Chili’s — the basics being beers and burgers with soft flares, like a bánh mì or crab melt. Some of the seafood comes from nearby, like Willapa Bay oysters and Columbia River steelhead.
On this day, though, it was clear what many were there for: the prime rib ($22). Across the tables and in the hands of servers you could see them, the little stakes sticking up out of the beef slabs, indicating how they’d been cooked. Mine read “medium rare” and was delivered as such, pink in the center, cooked on the outside. At 16 ounces, and at least an inch thick, the steak covered more than half my plate. A serious hunk, it was juicy, salty, tender, not too fatty or overrun with gristle. The seasoned outer edges were as delightful as the soft center. The serving of whipped mashed potatoes wasn’t as generous, though it too was comforting. The green beans were buttery, and the sautéed zucchini taut and supple. While more robust than exquisite, I could see why so many folks had come for the dish.
Nonetheless, I preferred the lamb burger ($13). Below the thick patty were loads of caramelized onions, lettuce and tomato. On top were smears of dry, herbed goat cheese and a mint chimichurri that left a wink of complexity. Instead of fries, the accompanying pub salad, with mixed greens, feta, seasoned pumpkin seeds and a pointy cranberry-orange vinaigrette did right by the peninsula by including cranberries. (Long Beach’s bogs are among the country’s significant producers of the tart fruit.)
My companion opted to have the Baja Fish Tacos grilled rather than fried. The dry, flaky Alaskan cod was lightly blackened and teamed up with a softly sweet cabbage slaw, flecks of green onion and cilantro on corn tortillas, with chili lime sour cream and pineapple salsa on the side. The salsa was sugary and needed punching up. The three tacos with no side felt almost like an appetizer. They would satiate only the lightest of dinner appetites. It was more mid-day snack.
The Thai Peanut Chicken ($15) included a easygoing coconut peanut sauce, more of the sweet cabbage slaw, and a dollop of sticky white rice. Like the fish tacos, its memory was fleeting.
The more I thought about the relative outliers of Lost Roo’s menu the more I wanted the basics: the mac and cheeses, the pulled porks and so on. Think football foods, sports snacks and the Bloomin’ Onion. No, wait — scratch that last one.
Indeed, it’s in the red meats where Lost Roo finds its firmest footing. Delicate constructions aren’t what the assembly-line, industrially sized kitchen is designed to pump out. It, along with the humongous dining room and the 40-foot long bar, are made to suds up groups of friends watching March Madness or satiate large, starving families after a day in the sand. It’s not a place to focus on the small things. (To that end, Lost Roo’s menu had just been pared down to accommodate the coming summer season rush.)
To its apparent teeming success, Lost Roo knows its lane. It delivers a well-established, reliable, if un-surprising experience — a modicum of quality on a massive scale.
Even if you haven’t been, you’ve been. Lost Roo isn’t really missing — it’s found.