Carytown Seafood at Innsbrook Restaurant and Market 

It takes more than fish to catch a clientele.

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I believe in always getting what I pay for, but at Carytown Seafood's new restaurant and market at Innsbrook, for the very first time I was charged because I asked not to have something.

The trend toward the $8 or $9 brand-name martini is unfortunately creeping into the bars of Richmond, but at this particular restaurant, they charge you not only for your brand of liquor (in this case, $6 for Grey Goose vodka) and the type of drink (a martini at an additional $2), but — wonder of all wonders — an additional dollar as well because said martini was prepared "up." For those of you sitting out the cocktail fad this time around, that means I was charged, in effect, for not having any ice in my drink. My olives, thankfully, were free. For now.

Cocktail price-gouging aside, there's nothing wrong with a basic seafood house. Some steamed crabs, a few fried shrimp to placate the younger set, and good fish and chips at lunchtime are about all you need. That and maybe a hole in the middle of the table for shell disposal. Carytown Seafood aspires to be more, however. No holes in the tables, a profusion of expensive models of ships and smaller boats dotting the walls, low lighting and cloth napkins all seem to point to loftier ambitions. Although hope springs eternal — especially in the restaurant business — wishing for something just doesn't always make it so.

It's a big place, with a long bar and a private dining room to one side, but most of the action takes place in the back room next to the kitchen. It must be a quite a walk to the bar, because the elongated layout seems to mean that appetizers arrive before drinks, and that refills are haphazard at best. It's hopping back there most of the time though, and if your polo shirt is clean and your jeans are pressed, you'll fit right in.

Decent fish and chips, with sweetly moist insides and a delicately puffed crust, can be found on both the lunch and dinner menus, but an oyster po' boy is stingy with its oysters and overly generous with its leaden French-bread roll. A crab-cake sandwich arrives on a grilled croissant, which would redefine lily-gilding, except that the excessive-breading-to-low-crabmeat ratio means this sandwich actually needs all the help it can get. The crabmeat and lobster bisque, a longtime Carytown favorite, would be better if its purported lobster pieces were discernible to the naked eye, and the truly good hush puppies that accompany all dishes would reach greatness if they arrived at the table hot instead of barely warm.

To the restaurant's credit, the crawfish appetizers, overcooked at most places, are not done so here, although it's odd to taste them in a buttery sherry sauce when traditional New Orleans spice is expected. Things like Alaskan king crab legs are like king crab legs everywhere else, and the softshell crabs have a nutty brown crust with a gentle crackle that doesn't get in the way of the meaty crab inside. The stuffed salmon arrives meagerly plugged with the same lackluster crab concoction that, in a different guise, may arrive at the table as a crab-cake dinner. The "smashed" redskin potatoes work better as an industrial adhesive, and the "country-style" moniker attached to the green beans is just an excuse to let them inelegantly turn to mush on a back burner. Corn seems to come from either a can or the freezer, but the fries are worth ordering for their slender, satisfying crunch.

Mostly, though, Carytown Seafood at Innsbrook Restaurant seems to have forgotten what makes its market great — an emphasis on good, reliably fresh seafood available at a decent price. If the owners decided to strip their menu down to the basics and offer only a few good steamed and fried seafood dishes, they might have more time to pay attention to little details that add up to the kind of restaurant experience that brings those tasseled loafers across the threshold another time. S

Carytown Seafood at Innsbrook Restaurant and Market $$
4040-B Cox Road
Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday,
11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
Nonsmoking section.

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