Don’t expect a water view at the Boathouse in Short Pump, because, unlike its sister locations, this restaurant is dry docked and beneath a hotel. Just be sure to bring your wallet because it’s going to get a workout.
Owner Kevin Healy drew inspiration from New England for the interior with rustic wooden walls, garage-door windows that roll up on fine weather days and an oyster list that pleasantly surprises with Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula offerings from White Stone to the Piankatank River. But despite what appears to be a fleet of servers, during the course of three visits slow and friendly is the norm.
But let’s get down to it, shall we, because the only reason to go to a place called the Boathouse docked in a sea of asphalt is for extraordinary seafood, right?
Out of the gate, New England clam chowder ($5) goes down rich, creamy and studded with local bacon, but for those who embrace the more-is-always-better philosophy, consider that you can get your chowdah over fries with chives and bacon ($10) if you’re so inclined. A lighter opener, at least in flavor if not in price, are the lobster sliders ($18), four diminutive challah rolls with a bite or two of lush Nantucket lobster salad inside.
When nothing but a salad will do, strawberry salad ($8) shines with buttery local lettuces, candied pancetta, strawberries and marshmallow-sized hunks of fried feta dressed in a white balsamic-strawberry vinaigrette. Less winning is the Boathouse’s take on the classic wedge salad ($8), not because it lacks any of the essentials — iceburg lettuce, tomato, bacon and blue cheese — but for the unnecessary and unappealing drift of shredded cheddar that mars the flavor profile.
With the ubiquity of rockfish in these parts, it’s easy to forget what a prize catch it is. Wild caught rockfish ($28) drives home the point with a crispy cornmeal crust providing textural contrast to the sweet, moist fish within. Staged with corn and mushroom ragout and purple-tinged heirloom tomatoes, the dish broadcasts summer to taste buds.
Like the wedge salad, chicken Chesapeake ($24) has at least one too many components vying for attention. While I’m never one to turn my back on jumbo lump crabmeat or Smithfield Ham, I can do without the Fontina cheese or baby kale, while my companion thinks it’s the sherry cream sauce and grits that take it over the top. Depending on your taste, there’s a lot going on.
Competing for star billing on a platter of Southern fried seafood ($25) are mahi mahi, shrimp and Chesapeake oysters —the latter are most likely to be voted off the island because of an off taste I detect. The plate mates get mixed reviews: fat corn and jalapeño hush puppies shine, as does the not-overly-sweet coleslaw, but the fries are flaccid and forgettable.
Old Richmond loves its crab cakes, and the sandwich version ($18) boasts plenty of lump crabmeat. It’s likely to appeal most to those who prefer a creamier style crab cake rather than traditionalists.
Shifting the action to Asia, the mainsail-sized menu includes nine sushi rolls along with seafood ceviche salad, but it’s when I order a tuna poke bowl ($18) that I feel like I hit the jackpot. “That’s what I’m having for dinner after service tonight!” our server gushes. “It’s my favorite thing on the menu.”
That’s hardly a surprise given the abundance of rosy, marinated tuna, pitch-perfect seaweed salad, edamame and avocado atop a bed of sticky rice with pine nuts, yellow onion and wasabi dressing tying all the flavors together into one lovely package.
Desserts at the Boathouse skew safe — crème brûlée, bread pudding, apple cobbler — with the only vaguely chocolate choice being pizzookie ($8), which amounts to chocolate chip cookie dough cooked rare with vanilla ice cream. Meh. Far more seductive is mango-Key lime parfait ($8) that beautifully balances the sweetness of macerated berries and fresh mango with refreshing lime-tinged whipped cream.
With a crab cake entree priced at $32, a broiled seafood plate fetching $36 and the 8-ounce Oscar-style filet mignon a hefty $42, the Boathouse isn’t for the faint of pocketbook. It’s not waterside, either. But you can hook more than a few good catches. S
Mondays-Fridays 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.;
Saturdays 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sundays 10 a.m.-11 p.m.
11800 W. Broad St.