OBX. The all-encompassing Nags Head. No matter what you call the northeastern coast of North Carolina, it's popular with Richmonders, me included. During the spring and summer months, I'm one of many making the three-plus hour trek to the shore to lounge on the sand and eat fresh shellfish and other saltwater goodies. When I heard that there was a restaurant migrating to Richmond to mirror this awesomeness, I got excited. After visiting, my excitement has tempered to some degree.
Outer Banks Seafood Co. has the same feel as the previous tenant, Bottega Bistro. Warm interior colors are inviting and the ambiance is relaxed. Expecting busy and bustling, we're pleasantly surprised on multiple occasions that while heavy on patronage the restaurant leans toward the quiet side, primarily because of airy high ceilings and a sparse bar crowd. The wait staff is adept and easily answers questions about the menu. We're seated near the open kitchen where we get a nice view of the happenings in the back of the house. Toasty bread is brought immediately and served with an artichoke spread — an excellent touch in theory but overrun with garlic and on the chillier side.
We're satisfied but not impressed with our spicy shrimp appetizer ($7.95), five large breaded shrimp tossed in a very mayonnaise-y Thai sauce. When hot, the shrimp are delicately crispy and sport a nice kick from the sauce. If allowed to cool marginally, they become soggy and the balance is ruined. The coleslaw, described as sassy and served alongside, is an afterthought and tastes like it. Chesapeake crab fritters ($7.95) start as comforting but then come off a bit gushy texturally and are missing the menu-touted corn in their batter. Dredged in the mango-Dijon sauce, they're adequate but certainly don't transport me back to the east coast of North Carolina.
Where Outer Banks is agreeable is in its simply prepared dishes. The flounder is bright and, as expected, white and flaky. Scallops ($16.95) are large, sweet and fresh. A barely-there breading enhances their flavor with deft use of flour and salt. Large, really huge, crab cakes are weighty with lump crabmeat ($22.95). The shrimp are also big but lack the newness that the other seafood options possess. A curious quirk, and one I consider detrimental, is the lack of memorable sides. Each entree, save the pastas, is served with bland redneck risotto and a vegetable medley. The risotto, a scoop-shaped pile of white cheddar grits, never manages to reach our table hot. The lukewarm grit pile detracts from the simplicity of the seafood. The undercooked vegetables (mainly squash) add sloppiness to the dishes.
With the lovely surroundings, my hopes had run high, but my experiences prove to be underwhelming and frankly, a bit expensive. During each visit, our servers are quick to speak toward recent price reductions at the restaurant. I'll wait for June and make the drive south.
Outer Banks Seafood Co. ($$)
11400 W. Huguenot Road
Dinner: Sunday-Thursday 4-9 p.m.
Friday-Saturday 4-10 p.m.