DINING REVIEW: Carytown Seafood at Innsbrook

Carytown Seafood at Innsbrook


Where: 4040 Cox Road (Shoppes at Innsbrook)

Phone: (804) 965-5514

Highlights: Carytown Seafood’s new West End restaurant and market doesn’t live up the original market’s precedent of consistently fresh fish. Entrees, including seafood, beef and pasta, are reasonably priced but zig-zag wildly between worthwhile and washout. Reservations accepted.

Smoking: Smoking and non-smoking sections in separate rooms Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday

Entr?e prices: $8.99-$28.99

Check for two: $84 (including shared appetizer, two entrees, shared dessert, alcohol, tax and gratuity)

Walking into a seafood restaurant with a fresh fish market attached? Good sign. Quickly realizing fried options outshine more refined entrees? Not so good.

So it goes at Carytown Seafood at Innsbrook Restaurant and Market. Yes, Carytown Seafood at Innsbrook Restaurant and Market.

We found the mouthful of a name to be a telling sign of our Friday night dinner experience. In attempting to be both market and eatery, Carytown Seafood has bit off more than it can chew.

Greeted by the market’s off-putting aroma, we were led through the restaurant’s bustling smoking section, marked by arched metal-topped bar, glowing aquarium and intimate, conversation-inducing bar tables.

At the back of the restaurant, the atmosphere morphed into a hotel banquet room. Uncomfortably close, linen-less tables were crammed amid a humdrum mix of terra cotta hues and wood trim.

Before we could settle in, an overzealous waitress arrived for our drink orders. The options include a pedestrian wine list ($10-$45), full liquor bar and the usual collection of draft and bottled beer.

The dinner menu ranges from basics, such as fried catfish ($9.99) and broiled salmon ($12.99), to pricier fare, such as whole Maine lobster ($23.99).

We started with steamed mussels in Chardonnay sauce ($8.99) and a fried shrimp and oyster basket ($9.99). The generous portion of mussels boasted an appropriately briny snap, but the sauce — a weak bath of butter, garlic, parsley and lemon — was lifeless.

Fried fare proved more seaworthy. The jumbo shrimp were tender, encased in a seasoned breading that added pizzazz, not grease. The oysters’ crispy coats were delicate, allowing the salty bite of shellfish to dominate.

One would assume a restaurant/fish market would excel at entrees beyond the scope of commonplace seafood creations, especially those with higher prices. One should never assume.

A bargain at $14.99, Doug’s crab cake dinner featured two massive cakes, pleasantly seasoned and light on filler. Whipped sweet potatoes were airy with sparks of cinnamon replacing the need for heavy cream.

Immersed in a sinful pool of melted butter, my baked stuffed shrimp ($16.99) overflowed with crabmeat. The sauce’s advertised roasted red pepper accent was undetectable but not missed.

Had Doug and I been dining alone, we would have deemed the meal enjoyable. Eric and Pat didn’t fare so well.

Ordering soft shell crabs at the end of their season isn’t usually a wise decision, but when they’re on the menu, one would assume the chef knows best.

Eric’s soft shells ($18.99) were inedible. Slimy and overwhelmed by brackishness, they were coated in a sour paste described as “lemon infused with white wine and butter.” Sides of smashed potatoes and country-style green beans were ice cold.

Except for the crab cake, Pat’s seafood platter ($18.99) shouldn’t have made it to the table. An ill-fitting side of Thousand Island dressing didn’t improve an unidentifiable whitefish’s dishwater taste. Scallops, oysters and clams were properly prepared but flavorless.

With Carytown Seafood’s successful history of delivering fresh seafood direct from market to kitchen table, one would assume a second location would follow suit. However, in its current state, substituting restaurant tables for kitchen tables is too ambitious.

Perhaps Carytown Seafood at Innsbrook needs more time to find its sea legs. I hope so because I hate not trusting my assumptions.

Freelance writer and graphic designer Dana Craig considers dessert the most important food group. The Times-Dispatch pays for the meals on her unannounced visits to restaurants. Contact her at [email protected].