The Crab House is a family restaurant that offers a break from some of its more freezer-to-fryer counterparts. If going to a medium-range seafood house has turned you off in the past because the menu only offered the option of a fried meal or lobster, the Crab House may be worth a visit. It serves up the expected with some occasional unexpected results.
Located in Richmond's West End at the Shoppes at Innsbrook, the Crab House attracted me simply because of its name. My father, who joined me for dinner, has an uncanny affinity for the crustacean. He samples crab dishes at every opportunity and is often seen in the kitchen with a pound of back fin in one hand, and a bottle of sherry in the other.
We arrived on a Friday night around 7 p.m. Tables overlooking the parking lot were still available, but we decided to sit down inside where the atmosphere was more inviting. Three-dimensional murals depicting crab boats covered a couple of the walls in the spacious restaurant. Covered in brown paper, the tables were prepared for the cracking of hard shells and were equipped with crayons for little fidgety fingers. Each table was also equipped with a crab-emblazoned flag that, when placed upright in its holder, alerted the waiter or waitress that you required service. It was a feature my father grew an immediate affection for. Our waitress was, nonetheless, exceedingly responsive and courteous.
My father perused the menu's selection of cocktails Crab Cooler, Blue Crab, Crab House Mary and an uneventful wine list, including a Chesapeake Blue Crab Chardonnay, before ordering a common house wine.
The list of appetizers, like much of the menu, included items typically found in most family-oriented seafood restaurants. It offered starters such as shrimp cocktail ($6.75), popcorn shrimp ($6.75), and mozzarella sticks ($4.95). I opted for the sauteed hot crab claws in garlic butter for ($8.25). My father chose to test the soup of the day: cream of crab ($4.25).
The menu offers an impressive selection of steamed items, by weight or per piece including shrimp, top-neck and littleneck clams, blue and green lip mussels, and of course, crabs. The absence of lobster, even on the menu's surf and turf entree (served with shrimp, scallops, or oysters), goes mostly unnoticed in light of the variety of other options. Dinners include fried frogs legs ($15.95), steamed sea scallops ($13.95) and catfish ($8.95 - $13.95), and are served with your choice of sides including coleslaw, fries, new potatoes, rice pilaf, applesauce and daily options. For those who prefer a dinner which neither swam nor hopped, there's a grilled Delmonico steak (16.95), chicken fingers ($9.95), and create-your-own pasta dishes prepared with your choice of Alfredo, marinara, or scampi sauces (beginning at $10.95).
The evening's special, a bourbon-marinated salmon, appealed to me. My father went for the crab cakes ($10.95 for one, $16.50 for two).
The appetizers arrived soon after we ordered them, just as the tables near us were beginning to fill up with both young couples and families. The sauteed crab claws were served unshelled their frozen history was deftly disguised in a oily butter sauce. My father's crab soup had a rich velvety cream base. It was appropriately seasoned with salt and pepper without a lot of extra ingredients. He thought it lacked enough crab, though. On the other hand, if the soup had been served with the amount of crab he expected, the price would have been, say, $46 a bowl.
The entrees were served punctiliously. The salmon was grilled to a perfect medium, lightly seasoned with salt and pepper and delicate in its natural flavor and grilled undertones without an overpowering bourbon flavor. The coleslaw side was predictably boring, and the tartar sauce it was served with had no business being on the plate a much too powerful sauce for grilled salmon. My father's crab cake was sauteed golden brown. It had a surprisingly pleasant crab flavor despite its slightly mushy center that belied the amount of filler (mayonnaises and breading) holding it together. It was served with the house's tiger sauce: a kind of mayonnaise that may have been introduced, briefly, to horseradish. Despite these minor sins, our meal was enjoyable. (The sauces were simply unnecessary and therefore ignored.)
The simple, yet appealing, dessert selections included a fudgy peanut butter pie ($3.95). It was silky without a lot of flare, yet thoroughly enjoyable.
Many seafood restaurants fall in the medium-price range, but The Crab House offers a more versatile menu than most. We felt its simple approach, despite its few shortcomings, warrants a return
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